(You can sample the whole of The Lucky Trolls EP below on the Bandcamp player)
Tag Archives: Ewan MacColl
The ultimate 60’s folk singing radical who put protest songs on the map and wrote the most sincere and provocative material of his day. I Ain’t Marching Anymore is Phil Ochs’ second LP and includes the awe inspiring title track that defined a generation.
There were those who fought and those who fought against the Vietnam War and Phil Ochs was the latter. He wrote the best song of the war, the title track of this album, which tells the tale of a soldier who has fought in all the wars throughout American history from 1812 to the Civil War right up to the World Wars of the 20th century but who now chooses to lay down his arms. The release of I Ain’t Marching Anymore became a defining moment during the War and catapulted Phil Ochs into the unofficial leadership of the anti-war movement.
“Oh, I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war
The young land started growing
The young blood started flowing
But I ain’t marching anymore
For I’ve killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying, I saw many more dying
But I ain’t marching anymore
It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all
For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes, I even killed my brothers
And so many others
But I ain’t marching anymore
For I marched to the battles of the German trench
In a war that was bound to end all wars
Oh, I must have killed a million men
And now they want me back again
But I ain’t marching anymore
It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all
For I flew the final mission in the Japanese sky
Set off the mighty mushroom roar
When I saw the cities burning I knew that I was learning
That I ain’t marching anymore
Now the labor leader’s screamin’
When they close the missile plants
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore
Call it, peace, or call it, treason
Call it, love, or call it, reason
But I ain’t marching anymore
No, I ain’t marching anymore”
Phil Ochs was born Philip David Ochs in El Paso, Texas, in 1940 to a New York doctor Dad and a Scottish Mammy. His father joined the army in WW2 treating soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge. His shocking experiences there would lead to mental health issues and in November 1945 he received an honorable medical. On returning home he would in later years suffer from bipolar disorder and depression, things that would later haunt his son too. Phil had dropped out of university and his interest in folk music and politics would see him move to New York in 1962 where he would become a fixture in the burgeoning Greenwich folk scene.
His debut release, 1964’s All the News That’s Fit to Sing, was the album that defined what he called his ‘singing journalist’ phase, strewn with songs whose roots were pulled from Newsweek. A year later Phil Ochs would release I Ain’t Marching Anymore, twelve original Ochs compositions plus a cover of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Ballad of the Carpenter and a version of ‘The Highwayman’ by the English poet Alfred Noyes set to music. The most notable was of course the title track but also ‘Here’s To The State Of Mississippi’, a six minute long biting attack on the states attitude to race relations. There is humour wrapped up in social commentary as on ‘Draft Dodger Rag’ where he rips a new one on those who cheer leaded the war while using any means necessary to get out of fighting themselves. ‘That Was The President’ is a loving tribute to John Kennedy written not long after his assassination. In the album’s liner notes he adds that his Marxist friends could not understand why he written this song and this was one of the reasons he couldn’t be a Marxist. His socialist sympathies showed with ‘The Men Behind The Guns’ but he also courted controversy among his left-wing fans when on ‘That’s What I Want to Hear’ he tells a jobless worker to stop moaning and fight. He also rails against the death penalty with ‘The Iron Lady’ with its memorable line
“And a rich man never died upon the chair”
but Phil Ochs had a way of softening the message and making it accessible and where some may have indeed be turned away by his politics many were charmed by him and the sentiment he would readily employ to great effect. We are happy to be able to bring you a free download of this landmark album that also includes an electric version of ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore’ which was originally released as a single in the UK. Simply skip to the bottom and follow the link.
In the early ’60s Phil was as well known as Bob Dylan but while his albums received critical attention he achieved little commercial success with only a string of minor hits behind him. By the early 70’s Ochs was still recording but his star had waned. His records weren’t selling and even the critical acclaim had dried up. Struggling with both alcoholism and bipolar disorder and distraught at the military coup in Chile, where the popularly elected government of communist president Salvador Allende had been crushed, he was in a downward spiral. He played a handful of shows in 1974 and by all accounts had lost none of his fire or his ability to move a crowd but on April 9th, 1976 aged just 35 Phil Ochs took his own life. As Congresswoman Bella Abzug said in the Congressional Record on April 29, 1976:
Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, a young folksinger whose music personified the protest mood of the 1960s took his own life. Phil Ochs—whose original compositions were compelling moral statements against war in Southeast Asia—apparently felt that he had run out of words.
FOR YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD CLICK
(Phil Ochs appears on Phil appears on Come, Read To Me a Poem on April 12, 1967 in New York City performing two songs and a lengthy interview)
LINER NOTES FOR I AIN’T MARCHING ANYMORE RE-ISSUE
by Richie Unterberger
Phil Ochs’s debut album, 1964’s All the News That’s Fit to Sing (also reissued on CD by Collectors’ Choice Music), established him as one of the foremost folk musicians in the topical singer-songwriter movement. While Ochs would eventually broaden his vision to encompass just as much personal and poetic verse as political protest, 1965’s I Ain’t Marching Anymore contained perhaps his most issue-driven songwriting. Militarism, American imperialism, the Vietnam War, labor struggles, and the explosive conflicts of the Civil Rights movement — one or the other of these concerns were behind the messages of almost every song. If this ensured that some of the pieces would be more dated than Ochs’s subsequent, more diverse repertoire, they also provide something of a snapshot of the mid-1960s social turmoil that both enraged and inspired his generation.
“He was getting better in his writing,” says Elektra founder and president Jac Holzman, who (as he had been on Ochs’s debut) was credited as production supervisor for the LP, with Paul Rothchild billed as recording director. “He was extremely prolific, but there’s a big difference between craft and art. He was becoming much more of a craftsman. It was tough being a songwriter [in that era], because of this 800-pound gorilla, Bob Dylan, who could dash off stuff in no time that was superb.”
That wasn’t stopping, of course, a legion of young singer-songwriters such as Ochs from stepping onto the road that Dylan had done much to pave. “He was angrier,” responds Holzman when asked what set Phil apart from his competition. “But not a nasty anger. But you could hear it. He had more edge. Buffy Sainte-Marie had edge of a different kind; some of her edge was a shrillness. But I think he had righteous edge. [Tom] Paxton was a better songwriter in the strict song sense, and he took a much lighter view of things, which I think sometimes is very effective.”
There was certainly no shortage of topical material for Ochs and Paxton to draw upon, and both were doing a lot of recording for Elektra in the mid-’60s. “There’s another thing that’s important about topical songs, especially on Elektra,” continues Holzman. “We came out with records frequently. We didn’t wait three years, or two years, between releases. Phil Ochs, he could have one out every six months. I learned a lot about the frequency of interaction between an artist and their audience from most of my singer-songwriters. We kept them recording.” Certainly Ochs had plenty of material ready to lay down when he went back into the studio to cut his second album, comprised entirely of original compositions, with the exception of a cover of noted British folk musician Ewan MacColl’s “Ballad of the Carpenter.” (Phil did give co-writing credits to Alfred Noyes on his adaptation of the poem “The Highway Man,” and to John Rooney on another such adaptation, “The Men Behind the Guns.”)
Undoubtedly the song that reached the widest audience was the title cut — not just via Ochs’s recorded version and concerts, but also via its subsequent adaptation as one of the anthems of the anti-Vietnam War movement, sung by crowds at innumerable demonstrations (and still sung at some such events today). “Oh yeah, it was a natural,” laughs Holzman. “It was easy to remember, it was catchy, and it was singable. All of those are good things.” It’s still not well-known that Elektra also had Ochs record an electric folk-rock remake of the song, “hoping to see if we could get some radio on it,” according to Holzman. With backup by the Blues Project (whose Danny Kalb had played second guitar on All the News That’s Fit to Sing), the 1966 single was only issued in the United Kingdom (and also as a flexi-disc with Sing Out! magazine).
The two other tracks on I Ain’t Marching Anymore to make the greatest impact also took on the era’s most controversial outrages. “Draft Dodger Rag” was, like “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” also picked up at many anti-war rallies, demonstrating that Ochs could blast the military with satire as well as earnest declaration. “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” — at nearly six minutes, a very long track for 1965 — generated some controversy of its own, particularly in Ochs’s advice for the state to find another country to which to belong. Phil himself likely remained proud of the song, as he updated it for the Watergate era, retitling the number “Here’s to the State of Richard Nixon” on a 1974 single (the other side of which, incidentally, was an updated version of another number from his early career, “Power and the Glory”).
Though I Ain’t Marching Anymore helped Ochs continue to expand his fan base, it wasn’t the sort of thing that could enter the hit parade. Nonetheless, Holzman has recalled how Phil, rather surprisingly, would constantly inquire about how his records were selling, though at that point his sales were modest and dominated by pockets of enthusiasts in big cities in the Northeast. “I thought that was kind of charming, as a matter of fact,” says Holzman of Ochs’s commercial ambitions. “He was always interested in how he was doing, always comparing himself to somebody else, and that drove him nuts. I think the seeds of it were certainly there at Elektra. I think it was clear to all of us that this is not how you did it, but his illusions did not stop that material from coming. If he had tried to write pop songs or much more popular-oriented songs for Elektra, I wouldn’t have recorded ’em. That’s not where I saw him. I would have given him his release and let him go elsewhere.”
Ochs did actually dent the lower reaches of the Billboard charts for the first time with his third and final Elektra album, 1966’s In Concert. Yet this did indeed occasion his release from the label. As Holzman recalled in his autobiography Follow the Music (co-written with Gavan Daws), “We kept him on Elektra for three of the six albums we could contractually claim, and then he asked to be released because he felt we weren’t doing enough for him. In a way that was true, because by then…the whole music scene was shifting away from what Phil did, or at least what he did best, which was the topical political song. With fewer people listening, his personal devils took over.” I Ain’t Marching Anymore, however, captures him at a younger, fresher time, when he was reaching his peak as a master of topical song, even if his artistic restlessness would move him onto different fields as well in the future.
For more on Phil Ochs
(The best documentary on Phil Ochs on the net. PBS American Masters- Phil Ochs There But For Fortune. Written and directed by Kenneth Bowser)
CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: EWAN MacCOLL and DOMINIC BEHAN- ‘Streets of Song. Childhood Memories of City Streets from Glasgow, Salford and Dublin’ (1959)
Scottish folksinger Ewan MacColl and Irish singer Dominic Behan delve into their childhoods to present the songs and chants of working-class neighborhoods in Dublin, Glasgow, and Salford. Unaccompanied—in keeping with tradition—the 100 songs include rhymes, ditties, counting games, skipping-rope pieces, jibes, taunts, oaths, street ballads, seasonal songs and insults. In between selections, Ewan and Dominic provide context by explaining the circumstances in which the songs were performed.
A fascinating real piece of working class history performed by two legendary figures who have featured on these pages many times. Some listeners may recognize songs from their own childhood their are certainly more than a few I recognise from my younger days on the streets and playgrounds of South Yorkshire. Both Dominic and Ewan spent their lives preserving and archiving music from days past and now almost sixty years later we can present this remarkable album to you. It comes as a free download so feel free to take a copy and enjoy and if you wish follow the link below to get the accompanying booklet that came with the album.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
For nearly 60 years, Ewan MacColl, an activist and left-wing socialist, expressed his views as a playwright, social activist, songwriter and performer. During the course of his lifetime he composed a body of work that ranks among the best in the folk genre. He was born was born as James Henry Miller at 4 Andrew Street, Broughton, Salford, Lancashire, the son of a Lowland Scots father and a Gaelic-speaking mother. Both parents had an extensive repertoire of Scots folk songs and ballads, and a large part of MacColl’s tremendous repertory was learned from them. After leaving school at the age of 14, he spent the next 10 years working odd jobs between periods of unemployment and one day out busking, he was noticed by a BBC director and given his first radio broadcast in a programme called Music of the Streets. Soon MacColl began to devote an increasing amount of his time writing programmes for the BBC, including his first group of Folklore broadcasts. Included among his many folk music activities have been the collecting of folk songs for the BBC archives and in addition to being one of these island’s leading folk singers Ewan MacColl’s fame lives on in the songs that he both saved from extinction and those he wrote including ‘Dirty Old Town’, ‘Freeborn Man’ and his Grammy Award-winning song ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, a hit single for Roberta Flack in 1971, which he wrote for his longtime collaborator and life partner, Peggy Seeger. After many years of poor health (in 1979 he suffered the first of many heart attacks), MacColl died on 22 October 1989, in London, after complications following heart surgery
Dominic Behan was born in Dublin, Ireland, having a traditional Irish fiddler as a father and a folksinger as a mother. Born into a family of committed republicans, it was no surprise that even at the age of six he joined Na Fianna h-Eireann (republican Boy Scouts) and by sixteen was an active fighter for the IRA. His activities on behalf of his political convictions resulted in his being imprisoned, in Dublin and in London, four times between 1951 and 1954. Following in the footsteps of his uncle, the noted rebel song-writer Peadar Kearney (who wrote the Irish national anthem) he penned a number of rebel ballads, including the well-known ‘Patriot Game’. During the 60’s and 70’s he wrote almost twenty plays for British TV as well as writing several books though it was as a songwriter that he excelled and had more than 450 songs published during his lifetime. Dominic had well publicised spats with both Liam Clancy and Bob Dylan over use of his songs where lyrics were changed or omitted. He took the view that his work was written to make some form of social, historical or political statement and should either be used as an entire piece of work or not at all. Dominic died at home in Glasgow, aged 60, on 3 August 1989.
Streets Of Song sleeve notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein
Childhood memories of City Streets from Glasgow, Salford and Dublin. The Oral Lore of Children
“It can — so far as kids are concerned — be made only by children who own so little other rights to amusement that they must sing and make up songs about themselves and the places they inhabit; tenement house schools, neighbours, and, most and biggest of all, their playground — the streets. Maybe this is not quite true, maybe other classes of folks’ children make up other classes of songs. All I can say is if they do, I have never heard them.”
DOWNLOAD STREETS OF SONG
DOWNLOAD THE 8-PAGE INSERT BOOKLET HERE!
Great article on the Life And Work Of Dominic Behan here
with thanks to Zero G Sound- if you want music like this to light up your life then go find them here.
THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS ‘STEPPIN’ STONES’ CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW SERIES
You can find our Steppin’ Stones page here with the full list of albums to choose from.
(if any links are broken please leave a comment and we’ll do our best to try and fix it)
The first new release from Blackbeard’s Tea Party in three years takes traditional songs and folk tunes about the whaling industry and gives them a heavy edge but with a playful arrangement and driving dance rhythms.
Blackbeard’s Tea Party have been together since 2009 and in that time became firm favourites on the English folk scene. An independent band with four albums to their name, Blackbeard’s Tea Party have also completed a number of successful UK headline tours. So it’s been a bit of a mystery as to why they went quiet on the recording front and this is their first release since Reprobates in 2015. They continued to tour and are still as popular as ever but in this game you have to have regular output otherwise there is always another new band waiting in the wings to take your place.
Anyroad they are back now and with this great EP celebrating the history of the whaling industry. Although whaling had existed for thousands of years it was in the 17th century that industrial whaling emerged with organised fleets that by the late 1930’s were killing more than 50,000 whales a year. Communities along the coast around the world have long histories of subsistence whaling and harvesting beached whales. On Leviathan! Blackbeard’s Tea Party play out the history of an industry that once made the fortunes of ports such as Hull, Whitby and Peterhead. Thousands relied upon the practise but it would eventually drive the species to the verge of extinction so much so that in the 1980’s it was banned though many countries still hunt whales under so called scientific purposes.
Leviathan! is the bands fifth studio release and even though only five songs its a mighty fine way to remind any fans who have lost touch that they are still around! The EP begins with the traditional folk song ‘The Diamond’. Popularised by Scottish legends The Corries (check out their version here) the song first appeared on Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd’s 1957 album Thar She Blows! Lloyd recorded it again in 1967 for his album Leviathan! Ballads And Songs Of The Whaling Trade. I would guess these two releases have been very much influence on Blackbeard’s Tea Party.
On the song A.L. Lloyd commented on the Leviathan! album sleeve notes:
Sad events lie behind this most spirited of whaling songs. By the 1820s the relativity milder northern waters were fished clean, and whalemen were having to search in more distant corners of the Arctic, notably round the mighty and bitter Melville Bay in Northwest Greenland. In 1830, a fleet of fifty British whaleships reached the grounds in early June, a month before they expected. But the same winds that had helped them also crowded the Bay with ice floes and locked most of the fleet in, including the Diamond, the Resolution, the Rattler (not Battler) of Leigh (not Montrose), and the Eliza Swan. Twenty fine ships were crushed to splinters and many bold whalermen froze or drowned. The Eliza Swan was among those that got free and brought the sad news home. Our song must have been made only a season or two before that tragedy for the Diamond‘s maiden voyage was only in 1825. One wonders if the man who made the song was up in Melville Bay, the year of the disaster, and whether he was lost with his ship.
Blackbeard’s Tea Party have always been an innovative band and their version skates through English and Celtic folk music while adding some surprisingly modern touches while Stuart Giddens sumptuous (their description not mine!) vocals ably fit the music. His voice may not be that of a crooner but it is strong and versatile and reminiscent of folk singers of old but without the trademark finger in the ear. They follow this up with the first of two instrumentals and ‘DLFN’, written by the bands Laura Barber and Dave Boston is certainly a bit of a shock. With Blackbeard’s dark bite it chugs along with a real foot slamming beat. The fiddle shines throughout and only adds to the somber mood of the song. Next up is title track ‘Leviathan’, written by Giddens it’s a song that verges (or even passes!) on folk-punk and steams along at a mighty pace with Stuart telling the story of the albino sperm whale known as Mocha Dick that lived in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century and went on to inspire the story of Moby Dick by American writer Herman Melville in 1851. This song shows Blackbeard’s Tea Party in all their glory as story-tellers as all the finest folk musicians truly are. The song plays out the excitement of the hunt while never shirking from the blood thirsty reality of a whalers life at sea where these mighty creatures may at any moment strike back and take the ship down. We now have another Boston/ Barber instrumental in ‘The Lost Triangle’. Again the fiddle shines and the darkness of the song evokes the bloody reality of life out at sea. At nearly seven minutes long the song is loud and bombastic and ends with a real doffed cap to the early days of English folk before speeding up again and ending with a real flourish reminiscent of 70’s folk/prog rock.. Leviathan! comes to an end with another traditional folk song, ‘Weary Whaling Ground’. The song is about whaling in Greenland during 1840-50. Again A.L. Lloyd recorded it for Leviathan! Ballads And Songs Of The Whaling Trade and his album notes sum up the feeling of the poor souls aboard ship better than anyone.
“Three emotions dominated the old time whalerman: exultion in the chase, a longing for home, and disgust at the conditions of his trade. This latter mood descended heaviest upon him when the fishing was poor and he became “whalesick” (like homesick, only sick for whales). The man who made the complaint for The Weary Whaling Grounds must have been very whalesick.”
Having added a second drum kit to the band it has given the band a much rougher and tougher edge and with dark material like this it works a treat giving it a doom and maybe even Gothic touch they never had before. Their may be only one new song here with lyrics but the band have turned out two extremely good original instrumentals and have taken two songs from relatively ancient times and breathed new life into them. That new song ‘Leviathan!’ shows the new found power of the band and their flair for storytelling which places them in a direct line from the likes of Ewan MacColl to today. There was a time when the folk purists (or snobs as we call them!) would have approved of Blackbeard’s Tea Party but maybe they are trying to distance themselves from the ‘party approved’ AOR folk of the likes of the Mumford’s but the move into darker territory suits them well.
Leviathan (2018) * Reprobates (2015) * Whip Jamboree (2013) * Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober (2011) * Heavens to Betsy (2009)
For more on the sea why not dip your toe into our Classic Album Series review of ‘Steady As She Goes. Songs And Chanties From The Days of Commercial Sail’. Released in 1976 the album is dedicated to the workers of the sea. Undoubtedly hard and very often tyrannical under many a vicious Captain’s rule. The workers said “a song is as good as ten men” and the songs were used in the manner of field work song’s. These shanties tell the tales of loneliness, the families these men left behind and the daily hardships of an unkind sea and nautical life.
Many of the albums featured in the series (here) come with free downloads.
All the way from Argentina it’s the new EP from Raise My Kilt. Celtic-Punk that is 100% attitude and 100% fun!
Well what can we say except that its become common these days for bands in the celtic-punk scene to schedule their releases around St. Patrick’s day and 2018 has been no different and we have been overwhelmed here at London Celtic Punks with both the number and the quality of recent releases. One such band is relatively new to me. Raise My Kilt hail from Buenos Aires in Argentina and are one of a handful of bands ion that country playing celtic music. Last year they self-released their debut EP, Gaitas And Tanos, which received a great review over at Celtic Folk Punk And More (here) which brought them to many people’s attention and thank Heavens they did. The title of the EP refers to Gaitas which is a local Argentinian word for people from the celtic nation of Galicia and also the word for Bagpipes while Tanos is the local word for Italian people and as the band are all of Italian and Spanish descent.
Their new EP, A New Tartan, consists of six songs and similar to that debut has a fine balance of traditional folk songs and original compositions. While some may roll their eyes at some of the bands choice of covers its important to remember that not everyone has grown up on these songs and while I may have first heard ‘Dirty Old Town’ in the womb I respect everyone who chooses to do their own version of it. As long they inject it with a bit of life and a bit of their own personality then Good Luck to them. Its also worth remembering that this is not for our market here it’s for their own country where many wont have heard them before.
Raise My Kilt have trodden a similar path to many of their contempories in the celtic-punk scene in that a bunch of friends in the Buenos Aires punk and hardcore scene had started to listen to some traditional folk music and before they knew it an idea to start a band had formed. To take the trad folk of Irish legends like The Dubliners and The Chieftains and to mix in the energetic and raucous sounds of Celtic-punk legends like the Murphys, McKenzies and Mollys. That was October 2013 and little more than a year later the band played their debut show. With over three years of shows behind them we would much rather be reviewing an album but I suppose a EP will have to do… for now!
The EP kicks off with the title track, ‘A New Tartan’, and if you like bagpipes then this is the band for you. Obvious comparisons to major league hitters like The Real McKenzies and Pipes Or Pints but these guys have their own take on things too. The drone of the pipes begins the song and its a sound that fills my heart. You can hear why the sassenach would often run from it in battle or why you would follow it into battle. The band chip in half way through and run it down as an instrumental trad punk number. Now I was expecting more of the pipes’n’punk but ‘New Arcadia’ takes me by surprise and is a much more trad folk-punk number with the banjo leading and some ace gang vocals. To top they close out the track with ‘John Ryan’s Polka’. This song may have been a better choice to close the EP but what the hell do I know. No pipes in that number but they are back for a healthy version of ‘Dirty Old Town’. Chugging guitars and them wonderful pipes give it the Raise My Kilt stamp and yeah it may be done to death here but fecking hell when it’s played this good you’ll forget you ever heard it before. After all Ewan MacColl who wrote the song hated The Pogues version so whose to say anything! Again they surprise you with ‘1982’ up next. Played as a a straightforward punk rock number with the pipes coming in and out its catchy as hell and a real foot tapper. A great song and shows the bands versatility in the different strands of celtic-punk on display. Nearing the end and we get a celtic cover of the Cock Sparrer favourite ‘We’re Coming Back’. The banjo and pipes accompany on a song that I’m sure will have any dance floor filling. The EP comes to an end with a fast and furious version of the Scottish anthem ‘Scotland the Brave’ that would have many a other band diving for cover.
With the recent retirement and somewhat resurrection of Black Tartan Clan and bands like Krakin’ Kellys and The Clan raising the pipes throughout Europe it would seem that Bagpipes in the celtic-punk scene have not gone away. Some would say that the sound may be an acquired taste but when you have band’s that really care about how they use the instrument in their songs it really makes a huge difference. These are not just punk bands with a piper attached playing along to the tune these are songs where the pipes are an integral part of the song every bit as much as say the drums or guitar are. Raise My Kilt are a solid addition to the worldwide celtic-punk scene and as one of only a handful of bands in the South American continent playing celtic-punk we ought to get behind them and show them our support. Here they have only whetted our appetite for a full length release and I for one cannot wait to hear it.
Buy A New Tartan
Contact Raise My Kilt
A cracking new Irish band from Bristol in South-West England and with bands like this the celtic-punk scene is in safe hands!
I came across Blackwater Banshee on Soundcloud a few weeks back but didn’t listen to any of their recordings till last week and what an eejit I was to wait so long. The five piece band are based in Bristol in South-West England and formed earlier this year. The band is made up of Karin Gormley on banjo and tin-whistle who is originally from Derry in Ireland, Richard Chapman is the vocalist and also plays mandolin, Bryn Llewelyn is Welsh and is on guitar and backing vocals and then we have Nige Savage on bass and Richard Underhill on drums. Bryn and Nige played in a classic rock band together and were looking to form a celtic rock band so after seeing his profile on Bandmix showing his background in Irish music they approached Rich and gathered him in. They then found Karin playing in an Irish folk session in Bristol. They soon started rehearsing back in June and recorded the EP in October. With Karin and Rich’s background in Irish folk and Bryn and Nige’s in rock they got the right blend of Irish folkness and rock to fit right into the celtic-punk scene.
The EP is only four songs and as such is just a taster really of what they are capable of. All the songs are pretty standard trad Irish covers and concentrate on showing their folkier side. It begins with ‘Nancy Whiskey’ an old trad song that is about the dangers of drink rather than the dangers of women!
“I bought her, I drank her, I had another
Ran out of money, so I did steal
She ran me ragged, Nancy Whiskey
For seven years, a rollin’ wheel”
it’s played straight up and if your looking for comparison try O’Hanlons Horsebox or even the Bible Code Sundays. Its folk-rock designed to be played in an Irish Centre or pub full of 1st, 2nd, 3rd generation Irish and their friends. Their are several different versions and this is the one favoured by Shane MacGowan. Up next is the classic ‘Dirty Old Town’. Written by Ewan MacColl who has featured many times on these pages (have a look here where you can still get some free Ewan album downloads) back in the 1950’s and recorded most famously by himself, The Dubliners and The Pogues. Ewan MacColl actually hated The Pogues version of his song. In an interview Ewan’s wife Peggy Seeger, a renowned folk artist in her own right, contends that when Ewan wrote the line
“We’ll chop you down like an old dead tree”
he was implying improvement of Salford rather than destroying it. While as writer Jeffrey T. Roesgen quite rightly saw it
“In the Pogues performance we have little trouble seeing Shane, with spite seething from his lips, wielding his axe like a banshee, hacking his dismal town to splinters”
Love the tin whistle here at the beginning and the Banshees certainly give it their all. ‘Spancil Hill’ follows and is famous as one of the saddest songs about Irish emigration, and as you can imagine there’s at lot of competition when it comes to that subject. Recorded by Christy Moore with Shane MacGowan, The Wolfe Tones, Johnny McEvoy I’d go so far as to say its been recorded by just about everyone. Written by Michael Considine who was born in Spancil Hill in County Clare and emigrated to America around 1870. He intended to bring his love out to join him but knowing it would not happen he wrote the poem and sent it back to Ireland to his nephew and in 1873 he was dead at only 23 years old. The tragic story of poor Michael’s life only adds to the sadness of the song.
“I dreamed I held and kissed her as in the days of yore
Ah Johnny, you’re only jokin’, as many’s the time before
Then the cock, he crew in the morning, he crew both loud and shrill
I awoke in California, many miles from Spancil Hill”
More than once with a drink in me I have found that last line a bit too much myself… Blackwater Banshee make this their most personal song of the four adding electric guitar and the wonderful mandolin while the drums keep up the beat giving it a real pint in the air feel with Richard belting it out with real conviction. The EP ends with ‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ and it’s one of the livliest of Irish folk songs. Liverpool was once one of the major sea ports in the world. It was collected by Richard Maitland, a resident of Sailor’s Snug Harbor a home for retired seamen on Staten Island, who learnt it on board The General Knox around 1885. Designed to be shouted at the top of your lungs while banging your pint on the table during the chorus. Here the tempo is high, the energy is up and just listening to it now has got me headbanging away.
So their you have it. Four songs sixteen minutes. Admittedly their is nothing unusual here but what you get is some expertly played Irish trad that promises much much more for the future. When playing live they feature tunes from The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys so there is definitely a punk element to their sound. They are certainly a band to watch as if they can play these standards so well we gotta look forward to some of their own material and soon I hope. For a new band its always hard to get going so give them a like on Facebook and have a listen to the EP and lets awake the world to Bklackwater Banshee!
Contact The Band
Where folk and punk collide to provide a passion infused commentary that is as raw and honest as it comes…
Nothing particularly ‘celtic’ going on here but if you’re after some fantastic played and in-yer-face folk-punk then the second album from Headsticks is for you. That’s right Headsticks not The Headsticks and they may be familiar to readers as we gave their debut album, Muster, a glowing review back in August, 2014. Since that album they have concentrated on playing live taking the stage at some decent festivals including the anti-fascist 0161 Festival in Manchester. The band come from the once proud industrial town of Stoke. Famed for the manufacture of pottery (hence the reason the area is known as The Potteries) those days are long gone and along with coal mining and steel making all of the areas main industries have been decimated by successive governments of Labour and Tory who care little for the working classes while they chase the votes of the urban middle class.
“I’ve got tickets for the weekends match, for the boys in red and white,It’s the third round of the cup you know, if I missed it well, it wouldn’t seem right,We can meet up in the town tonight, and we can drink this world to rights,We can raise a glass to liberty, and to the glory of the fight?”
“There’s rumours in the pubs and bars, whispers on the streets,The crooked cross is on the roll, hear the sound of marching feet,Strange fruit growing on the trees, like in Billy Holiday’s song,The years pass by, more old men die, those who stood and fought so strong…
The rise seems to have been checked but not won. The ‘victory’ was based on ‘if you vote BNP you are scum’ no way to win the working class over to the left so the people of Stoke simply retreated to apathy. I feel for Stoke as it reminds me of my home town. Another once proud industrial town with a strong left-wing ethos virtually destroyed by a corrupt (and criminal) Labour council. I don’t know why but the more harmonica led songs like ‘Pay The Price’ seem also to remind me a bit of The Housemartins.
“Like the fiercest fire burning through the night…Everybody has their price to pay,it’s killing me to walk away…”
Another catchy as hell track with superb lyrics. Andrew, the vocalist, wrote all the songs and is one of those writers I’d describe as a story-songwriter.
The songs here are beautifully written and given the subject matter most of the time they are never sloganeering or badgering but just pure passion and compassion for other people. The plight of the common man is never far away her and ‘Tomorrow’s History’ tells of
“See the man who’s toil has built this land, a land they call great,Reduced to bitter hatred, served their bile upon his plate”
but then hits us with
“Today we’ll write tomorrow’s history, so tomorrow we can liveSo tomorrow we can live”
reminding us that our destiny is in our own hands we must only grasp it. ‘Every Single Day’ is about the media and the propaganda that spills out that if its not telling us that immigrants or travellers are responsible for the ills of society then its promoting the dumbest and most stupid to levels of fame unknown in the past. Politicians and the media don’t just lie to us they try to convince us we are worth nothing and our history and the hard (sometimes we won!) battles of the past were for nothing. Headsticks are here to remind us to take pride in those battles and to look forward to next one. ‘Burn The Sun’ gets all funky guitar while it puts the boot into The Sun newspaper. Read almost exclusively by the working classes while being written almost exclusively by middle class ex-public school children it has long left much of the authentic left amazed at its popularity amongst those it regularly abuses and victimises. Football, bingo, telly and tits have served it well and one of the benefits of the decline in printed media is that less and less people read this shitty paper all the time. The song ends with
“Where’s the justice for the ninety six?Justice for the ninety six”
which refers to the lies pumped out by the Sun after the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 where 96 Liverpool supporters went to a football match and thanks to the ineptitude and criminal failings of the police never made it home. The album ends with the ballad ‘Falling Out Of Love Song’ and Headsticks save the best till last. The longest song here and it gives them plenty of time to vent their spleen at the political correctness that the m/c have somehow managed to inject into the left. Where once the left were able to call a spade a spade now we cannot even question important issues as even the idea of bringing them up can see people labelled as racist or right wing.
you can read our review of Headsticks debut album Muster here
Fearless and uncompromising Ewan MacColl’s influence is still felt far beyond the folk world. We owe him a lot… more than we can ever imagine.
Regular readers of the London Celtic Punks blog will all know how much we like Ewan MacColl and we have regularly featured him within these pages. Though long gone Ewan’s massive volume of work lives on and only the other day were we raving about the Irish-American celtic-punk band 1916 and their amazing version of another Ewan song (sadly not featured here) ‘Hot Asphalt’. Ewan’s songs were uplifting whether proclaiming love or war or peace. He wrote about things that would now be forgotten about and has kept their memory alive. He gave birth to a folk revival that continues to this day, many years after his passing, that remains in great health. The songs he wrote and championed are still being played and explored and adapted and still being made great. Ewan MacColl’s musical legacy is, to put it simply, just out of this world. We owe him a lot… more than we can ever imagine.
Ewan was the Salford born son of Scotish parents. A Gaelic-speaking mother and Lowland father from whom he inherited more than a hundred songs and ballads. He worked as a garage hand, builders’ labourer, journalist, radio scriptwriter, actor and dramatist. After the end of World War II Ewan wrote and broadcast extensively in Britain about folk music. He was general editor of the BBC folk-music series, ‘Ballads and Blues’, and frequently took part in radio and television shows for the BBC.
His folk song publications included ‘Personal Choice’, a pocket book edition of Scots folk songs and ballads, and ‘The Shuttle and the Cage’, the first published collection of British industrial folk songs. Eventually he was ousted from the BBC due to his socialist beliefs. He wrote many songs that have become folk (and celtic-punk standards) the most famous of course being ‘Dirty Old Town’ popularised by The Dubliners and then The Pogues. It is wrongly assumed to be about Dublin but it is in fact about his home town of Salford in Manchester. He is also famous for writing one of the greatest ever love songs ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ which he wrote for his second wife, the influential American folk singer, Peggy Seeger. He was also the father of Kirsty MacColl who of course guested on The Pogues enormous Christmas hit ‘Fairytale Of New York’. After many years of poor health Ewan died on 22 October 1989 but it can be safely said of him that his songs and influence will live on forever. Comparable only to Woody Guthrie in more than one way.
This fantastic double album marks 100 years since Ewan MacColl’s birth and the album has been produced by two of Ewan’s sons, Calum and Neill, and features a wonderful bunch of diverse artists from right across folk, rock, pop and celtic music. Disc one begins with, for me, one of the stand out tracks with Damien Dempsey singing ‘Schooldays Over’. The only song here we have heard before nevertheless it is more than welcome. Made famous by the late great Luke Kelly’s version with The Dubliners Damien is no stranger to Ewan’s work and does him truly proud.
This is followed by a track from one of the most influential figures in folk music today, Martin Carthy and is the first of several and several individual contributions by the Waterson-Carthy family. He performs the unlikely tale of a fish delivery man in ‘I’m Champion At Keeping ‘Em Rolling’. The Unthanks may sound like a rock band but are in fact two sisters (Unthank is their great surname) who perform a gentle lullaby ‘Cannily, Cannily’. Tracks from legends old and new follow from Seth Lakeman and Marry Waterson and Bombay Bicycle Club are up next, BBC famously include one of MacColl’s grandchildren, Jamie. They contribute a moving version of ‘The Young Birds’, a song written back in 1961 to commemorate a tragic plane crash that killed 34 London children of whom some were known to MacColl’s oldest son, Hamish. Another artist we are familiar with here is Dick Gaughan who contributes ‘Jamie Foyers’. Dick is an influential Scottish musician, singer, and songwriter who was a founding member of the famous celtic band Boys Of The Lough. Martin’s daughter Eliza Carthy, ‘Thirty-Foot Trailer’ and Chaim Tannenbaum, ‘My Old Man’, are up next before honorary Irishman Steve Earle presents a new take on a song that needs no introduction ‘Dirty Old Town’, except to say that it does sound like the spirit(s) of Shane MacGowan were present at its recording.
The first discs last song is from Jarvis Cocker and the erstwhile Pulp front man gives us a amazingly beautiful whispered version of ‘The Battle Is Done With’. I am sure it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but its great to hear something that just isn’t a straight cover of Ewan’s work.
Disc two begins with the most famous of Ewan’s compositions and Paul Buchanan vocalist of 80/90’s Glasgow indie band The Blue Nile croons beautifully through the ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Ewan wrote the song for Peggy Seeger and it became an international smash hit in 1972 sung by Roberta Flack. On hearing this version it made me wonder how Shane MacGowan would have mastered it. Paul Brady will be a name known to many and his version of ‘Freeborn Man’ shows Paul to have lost none of his talent in a career that spans right across modern day Irish folk music. Another travellers song follows and Norma Waterson provides us with a fauntless rendition of the gypsy’s plight in ‘The Moving On Song’. Karine Polwart’s version of ‘The Terror Time’ is again beautiful, and Martin Simpson, The Father’s Song, is up next before the ultimate Irish living folk legend, and former band mate of Paul Brady in Planxty, Christy Moore appears with ‘The Companeros’. Again yer man has lost nothing and its a stunning version. Now there’s one name missing from this album so far and he’s up next. It must be written into law that Billy Bragg must appear on any folk compilation and whatever you think of him he gives us a really nice but angry copy of ‘Kilroy Was Here’ which strips Billy back to those early days when he was at his best. Folk siblings Rufus and Martha Wainwright play the magnificent ‘Sweet Thames, Flow Softly’. A small gentle snapshot of life before Kathryn Williams, ‘Alone’, and David Gray brings the whole project to an end with one of Ewan’s best but sadly little known songs, and album title, The Joy of Living.
As you may expect traditionalists might not appreciate some of the versions here but this enhances, rather than detracts and all the various strands of Ewan’s political and musical life is represented here. This double album does not pretend to be the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ as with an artist with such a massive repertoire it would be impossible to please everyone but it does provide a gateway. Collections like this serve only one purpose. That is to steer listeners away from the modern day versions to the original source and with Ewan their is plenty to catch up on. We have included some links at the bottom where readers can find more information and free downloads so I hope you take the opportunity to. It is impossible to calculate the range and influence of this remarkable singer and song-writer but we can rest assured his memory lives and this album is a great testament to him.
“My function is not to reassure people. I want to make them uncomfortable. To send them out of the place arguing and talking”
1. Damien Dempsey – Schooldays Over
2. Martin Carthy – I’m Champion At Keeping ‘Em Rolling
3. The Unthanks – Cannily, Cannily
4. Seth Lakeman – The Shoals of Herring
5. Marry Waterson – The Exile Song
6. Bombay Bicycle Club – The Young Birds
7. Dick Gaughan – Jamie Foyers
8. Eliza Carthy – Thirty-Foot Trailer
9. Chaim Tannenbaum – My Old Man
10. Steve Earle – Dirty Old Town
11. Jarvis Cocker – The Battle Is Done With
1. Paul Buchanan – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
2. Paul Brady – Freeborn Man
3. Norma Waterson – Moving On Song
4. Karine Polwart – The Terror Time
5. Martin Simpson – The Father’s Song
6. Christy Moore – The Companeros
7. Billy Bragg – Kilroy Was Here
8. Rufus & Martha Wainwright – Sweet Thames, Flow Softly
9. Kathryn Williams – Alone
10. David Gray – The Joy of Living
Buy The Album
Official Ewan MacColl Sites
For more on Ewan MacColl the internet is awash with sites but trust us and head straight to the official sites but also to Wikipedia as well as this tribute from the Working Class Movement Library here. You can listen to some of his music for free here on LastFm.
We have a regular series ‘Classic Album Reviews’ where we feature records from the past that have had influence far beyond their years. Ewan (of course!!), Leadbelly and several compilations have featured so far and all come with links to free downloads. You can check out the full series here.
(Just to prove Ewan’s work lives on here’s the aforementioned 1916 from New York with their recent version of the classic Ewan song ‘Hot Asphalt’)
AND FREE DOWNLOAD!
2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the legendary Ewan MacColl’s birth and although ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ and ‘Dirty Old Town’ remain his biggest ‘hits’ he also wrote and recorded hundreds of traditional songs baring the experience of the working class. A huge body of work that demands to be heard. We have often featured Ewan on these pages, much to the chagrin of some who don’t see what he has to do with celtic-punk, but here we like to introduce a bit of history and context into proceedings. Good old Wikipedia states
“celtic punk is punk rock mixed with traditional celtic music”
so as much as the punk bands have influenced the music it is really the folk and traditional music of our parents and grandparents generation that have really made celtic-punk what it is today. In this series of ‘Classic Album Reviews’ we have seen their have been musicians who would put Ozzy Osbourne to shame with tales of their excess, or dazzle you with their wordplay, stories of sadness and joy and of rebellion and death and of remembrance and much much more. All music that has had an untold influence on modern music. We would ask you to take a chance. Check out this music from another era and remember at the time this was the music that your parents AND the government did not want you to hear!
EWAN MacCOLL was the Salford born son of a Gaelic-speaking mother and Lowland father from whom he inherited more than a hundred songs. He worked as a garage hand, builder’s labourer, trade union organizer, journalist, radio scriptwriter, actor and dramatist. MacColl wrote and broadcast extensively about folk music and frequently took part in radio and TV shows.
Of the songs he included in this album, MacColl recalled
“I can remember as a child being allowed to stay up at Hogmanay parties when a dozen Scots iron-moulders and their wives would settle down to serious drinking. ‘A Wee Drappie O’T’ would be sung with everyone joining in the chorus with maybe a few English friends looking a bit embarrassed at this display of celtic emotion and the beer jugs would be circulating freely and whiskey bottles would empty at an alarming rate. In between the songs the company would argue the merits of Edward Clod’s ‘History of Creation’ and Volny’s ‘Ruins of Empires’ and then as the singing became more and more rough I would be sent off to bed. As these junketings often lasted for a whole week I had plenty of opportunities to learn the songs”
‘SCOTS DRINKING SONGS’ ALBUM LINER NOTES
It has been observed that the pattern of social drinking in Scotland corresponds roughly to the three movements which comprise a pibroch. First, there is the leisurely philosophical discussion, argument or monologue during which the theme of the evening is stated. The second movement consists of a set of variations in the form of repeated patriotic utterances and the last movement is a scherzo in which amorousness and bawdiness are combined to show the national prowess in a sport which, as far as we are concerned, has all the competitive features of international football. The first movement is non-melodic; being confined to pure talk. The second movement is a synthesis of talk and patriotic song and the third and longest movement is wholly song.
Scots licensing laws have done their best to destroy this ancient pattern by making singing in pubs an offence and, wherever possible, by segregating the sexes. The legislators appear to have operated on the basis of the good old Calvinistic maxims that women are the root of all evil and that singing and licentiousness are interchangeable words. However, what is lost in the pubs is gained in the family circle and many a child who might otherwise have grown to ignorant maturity has learned some of the more interesting and pleasurable facts of life from listening to songs sung by Auntie Mag and Uncle Alec at a Hogmanay (New Year) party.
As in Italy, love is the great theme of Scots folk song but, unlike Italy, it is the act of love rather than the emotion which is celebrated. John Knox might rave against the sins of the flesh and numerous Holy Willies might rant against evildoers but the commons of Scotland had a healthy, realistic attitude on love which no amount of Calvinistic preaching could pervert. True, there were the prying elders and the cutty stool to be faced after the act but the joys of love and the body’s needs outweighed all such considerations.
The frank expression of physical desire in Scots folk song has been a subject for dismay with collectors and anthologists for more than two hundred years. Only David Herd’s collection (“The Ancient and Modern Scots Songs,” 1769) escaped the embalmer’s knife of polite hypocrisy. Bishop Thomas Percy, famed for the “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,” offered to clean up Herd’s collection but Herd, being an honest man, refused and published the songs as he had found them.
Since that time, the majority of Scots collectors, apparently unaware of the fact that babies are not found under cabbage leaves, have divided their time between attempting to castrate the muse and apologizing for Herd and the lower classes’ capacity for lovemaking.
The fig leaf of Calvinism cannot disguise the virility and appetite of the Scots muse and under the influence of a few drinks the fig leaf disappears through the window and the muse, with a smacking of lips and a bellow of laughter, proceeds to celebrate the most universal of man’s pastimes.
1. WE’RE A’ JOLLY FU’: This centuries-old song lends itself to interminable improvisations and is a great favorite at all-male drinking sessions where the fantasy tends to become exclusively sexual after a while.
2. THE CALTON WEAVER: The linen mills of the Calton district of Glasgow have been gone these fifty years but this song is still well known among those who take their drinking seriously. Alf Edwards accompanies me on the concertina.
3. WHEN SHE GAME BEN SHE BOBBIT: I learned this from William Miller of Stirling. The Laird of Cockpen, though largely a mythical figure, is the questionable hero of scores of Scots songs and ballads. A brushed up version of this song was made by Robert Burns but the folk song anthologists have, without exception, avoided the older and broader versions and made use of Lady Nairn’s admirable little song The Laird of Cockpen in which the original ribaldry is replaced by a rather pawky humor.
4. THE LAIRD OF THE DAINTY DOON BYE: It is strange that Professor Child did not include a version of this traditional ballad in his collections for it was already of considerable age when it first appeared in print in Herd’s collection in 1776. It is still a prime favorite with good company. I learned it from Jeannie Robertson of Dundee.
5. BLOW THE CANDLE OUT: Originally an English song, but now widely sung throughout lowland Scotland. It has been popular in various versions in the bothies for the best part of three quarters of a century. In this and all other numbers employing the guitar I am accompanied by Brian Daly.
6. DONALD BLUE: The drunken wife is a popular subject in Scots folk song and, indeed, Scots classical literature, too. It was from songs such as this one and The Drunken Wife of Galloway that the 16th and 17th century poets like William Dunbar and Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount took their fabulous heroines.
7. THE BREWER LADDIE: A ‘cornkister’, this song has been popular in the North East for at least the last hundred years. The forsaken and jilted heroes and heroines of the bothy ballads do not die for love; instead they meet their misfortunes head on and, with a good deal of sound sense, start looking around for another sweetheart.
8. WE’RE GAYLY YET: This is sung at the height of the party, when the drink is flowing freely and all the barriers are down. I learned this from Samuel Wylie of Falkirk.
9. A WEE DRAPPIE O’T: This is the work of Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), the cotton weaver bard of Paisley. Like many other Scots workers of his time, he was inspired by the example of Robert Burns to write poems and songs in the language of his workmates. At least three of his songs have become part of the. Scots tradition. This one belongs to that part of a drinking session which is characterized by the first glow of good fellowship and a good deal of philosophizing.
10. THE CUCKOO’S NEST: The veneer of Calvinism is wafer-thin as far as the Scots working class is concerned. A few drinks are all that is needed to set the company singing songs like this one. I learned it from Jeannie Robertson.
1. GREEN GROW THE RASHES, O: In spite of Burns’ remaking of this old song, the old version continues to be sung fairly widely. Both the original and Burns’ song would be likely to turn up at most any drinking session.
2. THE DAY WE WENT TO ROTHESAY, O: In rural Scotland they still sing The Tinker’s Weddin’ O, but in the towns the tune has become fixed as part of Urban folklore and the saga of a rough weekend in Scotland’s most popular resort will bring down the house at any south Scots ceilidh.
3. THE BONNIE LASSIE WHO NEVER SAID NO: This is a real song of low life, one of the great corpus of such songs which inspired Burns’ folk cantata, The Jolly Beggars. The scene is a drinking howff (part pub, part brothel). A man and a harlot make a night of it and when the woman passes out the man robs her. The choice of gin as the liquor suggests that the song is the product of the early eighteen hundreds when every town in Britain had its ‘Gin Alley’. It is unusual for any other drink than whiskey to be celebrated in a Scots song.
4. THE MUCKIN’ O’ GEORDIE’S BYRE: This is probably the most well known song in Eastern Scotland and no “boose-up” is complete without at least one rendering. I know it from the singing of Jimmie MacBeth of Elgin.
5. JOCK HAWK’S ADVENTURES IN GLASGOW: This is a bothy song set to a tune dear to all bothy singers, The Guise O’ Tough. The basic bothy theme of the ploughman being taken-in by the rich farmer is altered slightly and becomes the ploughman taken-in by smart city folk. The general bothy pattern is, however, the same; as always, the ploughman implies that nobody is to blame but himself.
6. THE BRISK YOUNG LAD: Here is a song of rich, native humor. The boisterous chorus makes it a natural for a boozy gathering. I originally learned it from my mother and later collated the text with the one found in Herd’s collection.
7. I WISH THAT YOU WERE DEAD, GUIDMAN: Here is another song that first appeared in print in Herd’s collection. It is still popular at masculine drinking sessions at which a number of verses are sung which never get into print.
8. THE WIND BLEW THE BONNIE LASSIE’S PLAIDIE AWA’: A great favorite in the bothies, this ballad has appeared in a number of printed collections usually somewhat cleaned up for popular consumption. It is a typical example of the Scots’ genius for calling a spade a spade, Presbyterianism notwithstanding.
9. ANDRO AND HIS CUTTY GUN: Burns described this as “one of the bonniest and certainly one of the most vigorous of our old songs.” As a record of a drinking party it is certainly unequaled in Scots national music.
1 The dictionary defines pibroch as: “A wild, irregular form of martial music played by Scottish Highlanders on the bagpipe, consisting usually of an air with profusely ornamented variations.”
FOR YOUR FREE DOWNLOAD CLICK
For more on Ewan MacColl the internet is awash with sites but trust us and head straight to Wikipedia for the basics as well as this tribute from the Working Class Movement Library here. You can listen to his music for free here on LastFm but for absolutely everything you need to know then check out the Official Ewan MacColl Website here.
“My function is not to reassure people. I want to make them uncomfortable. To send them out of the place arguing and talking.” – Ewan MacColl
Part of the ‘Classic Album Reviews’ series (here) where we bring you something a little bit different. Lost gems that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.
30 years to the day of the release of Rum, Sodomy And The Lash.
Fleshing out The Pogues second album into a pocket sized, historical and musical mix of fact, fiction and nautical friction. Perfect for yer summer holiday,
“You can smell The Pogues through the writing”
Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of The Pogues classic album ‘Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’. I dare say that their can’t be that many of us that heard it back then and didnt find it a life changing moment in the way that only music can be sometimes. Easy to forget that The Pogues were the first celtic-punk band and though first album, ‘Red Roses For Me’, introduced the band it was this album that really set off the fireworks!
As Melody Maker said back in the day
“The brightest, most intense moments of Rum…aren’t about particularities of style or delivery. This is, apart from anything else, music to hang on to other people by to stave off brutal fact and the weight of history. While The Pogues make music for drunks as well, probably, as anyone has they’re also dragging an oft-ignored folk tradition into the daylight with an altogether improbable potency… Rum… has soul, if not a great deal of innovation, and somewhere among the glasses and the ashtrays lie a few home truths”
The albums title was suggested by drummer Andrew Rankin who said
“it seemed to sum up life in our band”
and the cover of the album has The Pogues members faces superimposed on the Medusa’s shipwrecked sailors in the famous painting by Theodore Gericault called ‘The Raft Of The Medusa’. Nautical themes abound as well as tales of male prostitution, the Spanish civil war, peace-keeping in the Lebanon and a multitude of stories telling of Irish emigrant life. Jeffrey T. Roesgen has taken these tales and wrapped them up in a book that is half nautical novel and half a history of The Pogues. Though you would expect such a specific book to be aimed squarely at the die hard Pogues fan audience the book actually reads very well. Sure the characters in these songs (Frank Ryan, Jesse James, Jock Stewart, Sally MacLennane etc.,) lend themselves to great story-telling but Roesgen deserves credit for writing a book that would interest maybe not quite anyone but certainly anyone with the faintest appreciation of The Pogues.
The story begins with The Pogues arriving on the dock and boarding The Medusa and follows them till they find themselves on that raft suffering
“unrelenting heat and torrents of waves”
A incapable captain and a corrupt French Governor interweave with and drink and fight with band members and the characters from the album.
“An officer rushed over to our group. He stood before Spider, rigid and ornate, and nodded to the bags and cases at our feet.
“Musicians” said Spider, releasing Shane.
The officer winced and brought up a collection of papers he’d rolled behind his back. He squinted at it. “Your name?”
The officer made his eyes slender. “Pogue Mahone?” He fiddled with the sparse whiskers on his chin.
“A Gaelic expression”
“Kiss my arse” Spider shot back.
The officer widened his eyes and poised his head above the group.
We were quiet, looking to our feet. The officer shifted himself rigid. He looked to Spider. “Aboard this ship you will be Pogues”
The chapters are short and each part of the story is interrupted by a smaller section explaining how the song came into being. These pop up as they appear in the book and not in the album’s order so having a good knowledge is not all that important, though some of it will sail over of your head I am sure.
The classic Ewan MacColl penned song ‘Dirty Old Town’ receives a chapter to itself. As The Medusa navigates a storm we are told that Ewan MacColl actually hated The Pogues version of his song. In an interview Ewan’s wife Peggy Seeger, a renowned folk artist in her own right, contends that when Ewan wrote the line
“We’ll chop you down like an old dead tree”
he was implying improvement of Salford rather than destroying it. Roesgen quite rightly sees another side to The Pogues version
“In the Pogues performance we have little trouble seeing Shane, with spite seething from his lips, wielding his axe like a banshee, hacking his dismal town to splinters”
Roegson tells a great tale of the story behind the album and brings out the connections between Irish music and punk rock as well as American folk as well. Steering clear of anything too overly dramatic this wee book is worthy of passing the time away one day and is small enough (only 119 pages) to be read in one go. Therein lies the problem though in that you are left gasping for more. So the only possible solution is to pour yourself a generous drink, put ‘Rum Sodomy And The Lash’ on, turn it up loud, sit back in your deckchair and enjoy!
“With Spider singing, Shane and Frank Ryan jigged among the band. Ryan hadn’t expected James’s theft and his canonization, but it played into his plan for revolt. And he danced. Together the two men gulped from the jug, embracing amid the music. “Jesse James,” the crowds called over and over, diluting even the music we played”
Buy The Book
33⅓ (Thirty-Three and a Third) is a series of books written about music albums, featuring one author per album and published by Bloomsbury Publishing. The series title refers to the speed (33⅓ revolutions per minute) of an LP album and as of June 2015 over 100 titles had been published.
*if you’re interested in The Pogues we have a multitude of great articles on them-
‘From Oppression To Celebration- The Pogues And The Dropkick Murphys And Celtic Punk’ here
‘A Wee Biography Of Shane MacGowan’ here
‘30492-London Celtic Punks Top Twenty Celtic-Punk Albums Of All Time’ here
‘Film Review: If I Should Fall From Grace With God- The Shane MacGowan Story’ here
‘Book Review: Irish Blood, English Heart- Second Generation Irish Musicians In England’ here
‘Red Roses For Me And Me’ here
‘Film Review: I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’ here
The Best Pogues Related Sites
For me though the best place on the internet for The Pogues is this unofficial group on Facebook (here) all the diverse views you would expect from a bunch of people who follow The Pogues. Be sure and join up won’t you?
Berliner celtic-folk-punk band The Rathmines debut album is superb and done with a passion and a feeling and a joy for Irish music that very few Irish bands have. A must hear album.
With Irish/ celtic music’s popularity blazing across Europe we must make a stop over in the country that has truly embraced the music like no other. For whatever reason celtic music and culture have taken off in Germany and they have produced some of the best celtic-punk bands in the scene as a result. The Rathmines are the latest in a line that includes Fiddlers Green, Mr Irish Bastard and, now sadly disbanded, Auld Corn Brigade.
CLICK HERE TO READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE RATHMINES
The thing that immediatly leaps out on you as you listen to this album is the degree of respect The Rathmines have for the music. This is no imperialist appropriating of the culture of others this is the joyous celebration of Irishness and inclusiveness. The boys all come from a punk rock background and was a Pogues gig in their home of Berlin that persuaded them to put away the electric instruments and get all folky. The music itself is of the kind our mam’s and dad’s use to listen to but done in such a way that the energy and spirit of punk comes shining through. The albums sixteen tracks come in at just a few seconds under a hour and its a hour well spent trust me.
The album kicks off with celtic-punk standard ‘Drunken Sailor’ and it amazes me that you can get sick of hearing a song until you hear it done in a way that brings it back to life for you. Nothing particulary different but just a great version. ‘Hot Asphalt’ the Ewan MacColl penned song, made famous by The Dubliners ,follows and again theres nothing that should stand out but what you get is a enjoyable enthusiastic romp through the story of Irish immigrants to England digging the roads.
“Well, we laid it in a hollows and we laid it in the flat
And if it doesn’t last forever, sure I swear, I’ll eat me hat
Well, I’ve wandered up and down the world and sure I never felt
Any surface that was equal to the hot asphalt”
The first of the albums self-penned tracks is the Parisian style ‘How to Steal Horses’ with accordion drifting through and percussion keeping the beat while the vocals tell a story telling you exactly how to steal a horse and why. ‘Impossible’ is yer classic celtic-punk song about drinking and how missing your love can drive to further into the drink. Another self penned number from The Rathmines and again they hit the spot. The tune moves away slightly from traditional Irish and is all the better for it as it breaks the album up from being just a hour of trad. Hadn’t heard much of ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya’ since I was a kid until the Dropkick Murphys recorded it and The Rathmines give it a blast with a great version and follow it up with more songs made famous by The Dubliners ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ and, made famous recently by its recording by The Boss, ‘Mrs. McGrath’. ‘Oró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’ is a song originally written during the Jacobite rising in 1745-6 but was re-written by the great Irish patriot and leader of the 1916 Uprising in Dublin, Patrick Pearse. It was sung by Volunteers as a fast march during the Irish War of Independence.
“Óró, sé do bheatha ‘bhaile/ Anois ar theacht an tsamhraidh
Oh-ro You’re welcome home…/ Now that summer’s coming!”
Sung in Irish by the bhoys and with guest vocals by Alexandra Arnsburg it is truly a remarkable song when you consider even how few Irish bands use their own language. Full marks for The Rathmines for this and for pulling off what is an acoustic-reggae-ska-trad Irish version that I am sure has Patrick smiling down from above.
‘Paddy’s Taksim Square’ is another Rathmines number and the albums highlight for me from the great lyrics to the catchy as hell tune.
Again it strays a little away from their usual traditional Irish sound but manages to keep within the celtic camp.
“Her yer Taksim, her yer Direniş’
Paddy has no difficulties ever understanding this
No matter if it’s Istanbul, Brazil or day or night
Everywhere is Taksim-Square and everywhere we fight”
With their love of The Pogues its perhaps a bit suprising that we get towards the end of the album before a more famous Pogues track surfaces. ‘Poor Paddy (Works On The Railway)’ yeah I know The Dubs did it first but it was The Pogues that I would say are more famous for playing it. During the mid-19th century poor Irish immigrants worked almost exclusively to build railways in the United States. Untold thousands of Irish section crews worked as track layers, gaugers, spikers, and bolters and the song begins in 1841, during the time of the famine. ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ is another Dubs classic while ‘Sog Nischt Kejnmol’ is dedicated to
“all fighters who died in prisons, camps and on the battlefields against Fascism during the dark years when Fascists in Europe slaughtered the workers’ movement, Jews and all others”
It is an interpretation of a Yiddish partisan song written 1943 in the Vilnius ghetto by Hirsch Glik who joined the ‘Fareinikte Partisaner Organisatzije’ and participated in 1942 in an uprising in the Ghetto. He was caught by the German troops and deported to an Estonian concentration camp from where he escaped. After this he joined the fight against the German troops and died aged 22.
A worthy tribute to Hirsch.
“Sure the hour that we’re dreaming for will come/
We’ll arrive with steps pounding like a drum”
Talk of ‘The Boss’ earlier and on hearing the traitional murder ballad, Two Sisters, you can almost hear Bruce singing it. Made most famous by Clannad its truly a monstrous song not that you’d notice as its so beautifully done! ‘Whisky In The Jar’ and ‘The Wild Rover’ complete the ‘Stolen Songs of Struggle’ and the album ends with the last of The Rathmines self penned tracks ‘Years Of Depression’. Another standout song that rails agains the bankers and their kind
“All you boldholders, bankers and fuckheads in the firms”
and wishes upon them
“Years of depression will be yours”
From beginning to end this album is brilliant. Recorded, self produced, mastered and designed by the band themselves in the living room of their singer it surely deserves a wider audience and I have noticed they have began to make a few waves in the celtic-punk scene over in Europe so hopefuly that continue. The Rathmines are not trying anything particularly different but what they are doing is doing it superbly and with a passion and a feeling and a joy for Irish music that I wish more Irish bands had.
(to hear the entire album press play below)
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if you are on Facebook then get yourself directly to the ‘Irish Folk, Celtic Rock, Celtic Punk – Deutschland’ group here for up-to-date news and more on the German scene.
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It has certainly been a year of contrasts for the proud nation of Alba/ Scotland. With the loss of the Independence vote I’m sure I was not alone to slump into a form of depression but the wave of proud and non-sectarian nationalism that has swept Scotland since has been a joy to behold. With the red tories of the Labour Party about to swept into oblivion things have never looked beter and that election loss can be seen for what it is. A small blip on the way to a fully independent Scottish republic.
This review is another in our series of ‘Classic Album Reviews’ (here) where we aim to introduce you to lost gems that have inspired and provoked music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Here we have the legendary Ewan MacCool with an album from over fifty years ago dedicated to the memory of the Jacobite Rebellions. They were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars across Scotland, Ireland and England between 1688 and 1746. They ended in failure and the repression that the english rained down on the Scots after their victory would end with untold thousands leaving Scotland to make better lives in the America’s.
In these Jacobite songs every battle became a cry against oppression, and every soldier exhibites ideal courage, boldness and strength, without blemish. The songs are glorious. Through them the Jacobites have won their rebellions, for the songs live on, moving us who are so far removed from the events, the causes, the feelings of the Fifteen and the Forty-Five; who live in other countries and pursue other destinies. As Ewan MacColl writes
“To a world which has become familiar with the concept of genocide, which has known fascism and two world wars, the Jacobite rebellions appear as no more than cases of mild unrest. They have grown dusty in history’s lumber room along with all the other lost causes. The Stuart cause is forgotten and nothing, remains of it except the songs. And what songs they are”
As with everything Ewan put his hand, and voice, to it is witty, tender, proud, bitter, ribald, delicate and passionate. Genius is a word easily matched with his name. These are the songs of the Scottish people. People with a great zest and appetite for life. The songs of a people who after all these centuries are optimistic again. Freedom is in sight and we can see it. Let these songs inspire us all to make that push towards it.
“What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro’ many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor’s wages.
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour’s station;
But English gold has been our bane –
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!”
Such A Parcel Of Rogues In A Nation. Robert Burns. 1791
the following essay is taken from the original album’s sleeve notes
After centuries of conflict, the kingdoms of Scotland and England had been brought together in 1603 when the Stuart King James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Although united in the person of their ruler the two states retained quite different governments and institutions. They remained separate until the Act of Union in 1707 established a single government for the ‘United Kingdom’. By this time the Stuart dynasty had been deposed in the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, when the Roman Catholic James II (VII of Scotland) was replaced by the Dutch ruler William of Orange, who had married James’ elder daughter Mary. This had been a victory for the powerful landowning and commercial classes which had been rapidly increasing in strength during the preceding century. They were strongly Protestant in religion and they were, moreover, determined to restrict the power of the monarchy permanently.
CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: EWAN MacCOLL -‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ (1959)
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Man cannot live on celtic-punk alone and its long been one of the purposes of this blog to introduce you to music and bands/singers from the past who have inspired us, as well as celtic-punk to become what it has. A fine addition to any decent folk collection would be this extremely influential album ‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ by the legendary Ewan MacColl. Charting the penal history of these Isles in song it has stood the test of time as have many of the songs and as criminality and criminals have long been a subject matter for celtic punk bands then this album fully deserves a listen.
Ewan was the Salford born son of a Gaelic-speaking mother and Lowland father from whom he inherited more than a hundred songs and ballads. He worked as a garage hand, builders’ laborer, journalist, radio scriptwriter, actor and dramatist. Since the end of World War II Ewan wrote and broadcast extensively in Britain about folk music. He was general editor of the BBC folk-music series, ‘Ballads and Blues’, and frequently took part in radio and television shows for BBC. His folksong publications include ‘Personal Choice’, a pocket edition of Scots folk songs and ballads, and ‘The Shuttle and the Cage’, the first published collection of British industrial folk songs. Eventually he was ousted from the BBC due to his socialist beliefs. He wrote many songs that have become folk (and celtic-punk standards) the most famous of course being ‘Dirty Old Town’ popularised by The Dubliners and then The Pogues its wrongly assumed to be about Dublin but it is in fact about his home town of Salford in Manchester. He is also famous for writing one of the greatest ever love songs ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ which he wrote for his second wife, the influential American folk singer, Peggy Seeger. He was also the father of Kirsty MacColl who of course guested on The Pogues enormous Christmas hit ‘Fairytale Of New York’. After many years of poor health Ewan died on 22 October 1989 but it can be safely said of him that he was these islands Woody Guthrie and his songs and influence will live on forever.
On this album Ewan is accompanied on the guitar and banjo by Peggy Seeger. A real classic of folk that you all need to hear.
Here’s the actual sleeve notes from ‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ as written by Ewan himself
TURPIN HERO —
According to Chappell’s ”Popular Music of the Olden Time’, this ballad was written in 1739. just before Turpin was executed. There are several broadside versions of it, the oldest of which is contained in a pamphlet entitled ‘The Dunghill Cock; or Turpin’s valiant exploits’ it is fairly widely known among south country traditional singers, but only in this version.
SPENCE BROUGHTON —
This confession from the gallows tells of a Sheffield robber who was executed at York on April 14, 1752, for the robbing of the Rotherham postman on Attercliffe Common. After the hanging. his body was strung up on a gibbet post near the scene of the robbery. This song is still fairly widely sung by country singers to a variety of tunes. The version recorded here was learned from Harold Sladen of Manchester.
The hero of this ballad is said to be a lately deceased matinee idol and writer of musical plays. The ballad had a great vogue in the middle ’40s and is said to be the work of a trusty doing time in Wormwood Scrubs prison. American listeners will recognize the tune as that of The Gal I Left Behind Me. The ‘sky-rocket diver’ referred to in the first stanza is rather elaborate slang for a pick-pocket.
THE BONNIE BANKS OF AIRDRIE (Child #14) —
This ballad is also known as Babylon, The Bonnie Banks of Fordie, and The Duke of Perth’s Three Daughters. In other versions, the crime is not only murder but sororicide. for the robber finds out, all too late, that it is his own sisters that he has slain. I learned this version from my mother.
SUPERINTENDENT BARRAT, and BARRATTY-PARRATTY —
These are but two of the many songs which swept Scotland after the ‘lifting’ of the Stone of Scone from West-minster Abbey. So popular did these songs become that they even penetrated the dance halls where they were sung by crooners until such time as the police stepped in and put an end to this dreadful flouting of authority in public places. Both songs are the work of Thurso Berwick, a young Glasgow school-teacher and poet who has played a leading part in the Scottish folksong renaissance.
GO DOWN YOU MURDERER —
In 1953. Timothy John Evans was sentenced and executed for the murder of his wife and child. He died protesting his innocence to the last. Later John Christie, the mass murderer of Notting Hill Gate, confessed to having murdered Evans’ wife and child. The case made a profound impression on British public opinion and is quoted frequently in the campaign to abolish capital punishment.
VAN DIEMEN’S LAND —
This is probably the most circumstantial and certainly the most detailed of all the known versions of Van Diemen’s Land. The tune is a variant of the widespread Banks of Sweet Dundee. I learned this version from the singing of Harry Cox, farm laborer of Dorset and probably the greatest traditional singer of that region.
WHISKEY IN THE JAR —
A favorite Irish street song, this ballad appears to have been introduced into Scotland by Irish sheep herders during the 19th century. It has been collected widely throughout the English-speaking world, several versions having been recorded in Canada, the United States, and Australia. I learned this version from Hughie Graham of Galloway.
BILL BROWN —
In 1769, a poacher by the name of Bill Brown was shot by a gamekeeper in the village of Brightside, near Sheffield. Various broadsides told of his unhappy death and carried the ballad into the southern English counties where it became widely known by traditional singers. This version comes from Kidson’s ‘Traditional Tunes’ (1891).
THE BANKS OF THE ROYAL CANAL —
I learned this unusual prison song from the singing of Brendan Behan of Dublin. When I asked him where he had learned it, he answered: “In Mountjoy” “And what were you doing there?”, I asked him. “Eight years,” he said, “for shooting some detective sergeant or other, but praise be to God he was no countryman of ours.”
THE BLACK VELVET BAND —
According to Harry Cox, this was a popular pub song among farm workers more than half a century ago. It has been collected as far away as Australia, and in the United States was a favorite hobo ballad — both as recitative and song. It still survives in England. Its history is rather obscure, but it appears to have originated in the last half of the 19th century.
HARD CASE —
I wrote this song in 1933 while in prison awaiting trial for breach of the peace, i.e. for ‘resisting the police while carrying out their duty’. Actually I was on a hunger march and resisted being batoned by a couple of cops. The song has achieved fairly wide currency in the past 20 years; indeed, an old man who had just finished a stretch in Walton Jail, Liverpool, told me he had known it all his life.
THE BALLAD OF BENTLEY AND CRAIG —
The title characters of this ballad were two teenage youths who shot a policeman in Croydon, Surrey, in 1951. The 17 year old Craig, who actually fired the shot, was considered too young to meet the hangman. Bentley, just turned 18, was not so fortunate. The trial and execution created widespread public indignation and. to some extent, resulted in a government ban on the importation of the more lurid type of American comics. This ballad, the work of Carl Dallas, a young Newcastle newspaper reporter, is one of half a dozen songs which the trial produced.
TREADMILL SONG —
This song, from Sussex, is an unusually detailed account of life in stir in the early 19th century. Prisoners attitudes about incarceration have apparently changed but little since that time.
In James Johnson’s ‘Scots Musical Museum’, we are told that ‘Gilderoy was a notorious freebooter in the highlands of Perthshire, who, with his gang, for a considerable time infested the country, committing the most barbarous outrages on the inhabitants’. He was finally apprehended and died on the gallows in July, 1638. The ballad is said to have been composed by a young woman ‘who unfortunately became attached to this daring robber, and had cohabited with him for some time before his being apprehended’. The version sung here is from a broadside published by Harkness of Preston, in the British Museum.
Here are Ewan’s sleeve notes from the original album insert
The mammoth sales of tabloid newspapers specializing in the gory and sensational, the popularity of detective novels and ‘thrillers’, the countless films and TV features dealing with acts of violence, all point to public interest in crime and criminals.
This somewhat morbid fascination with underworld activity is no new phenomenon. A glance through Professor Child’s collection of “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads” shows that rather more than one in three of the traditional texts assembled there deal with assorted acts of violence. Theft, treachery, assault, rape, kidnapping, cattle-rustling, piracy, murder in all its forms … there isn’t a crime in the police gazette that hasn’t been put to music.
Broadly speaking, the treatment of crime and criminals in our popular music falls into five main categories:
- Ballads about outlaw heroes;
- Ballads about crimes of passion;
- Songs of confession and remorse;
- Transportation ballads;
- Songs describing prison life.
The hard core of the real popular heroes of the traditional ballads is that swaggering band of hard-living, hard-riding and hard-fighting outlaws — Johnny Armstrong, Jock o’ the Side, Johnny o’ Breadislie, Hughie the Graeme — the moss troopers who ranged the debatable lands of the Scots lowland borders and refused to acknowledge the laws and proscriptions of Kings.
These guerillas of the border peasantry inherited the mantle of Robin Hood. Their qualities are the qualities of all the heroes of folk poetry. They were strong, courageous, skillful with weapons, scornful of authority, witty, fair-minded; they were loyal to their friends and just to their enemies, and they could face death with a jest on their lips. Though they were hunted men, they were the living embodiment of the peasantry concept of freedom, and this at a time when freedom was only a dream.
They were the progenitors of all the ‘bad men’ heroes of the English-speaking world: of Dick Turpin, Claude Duval, Brennan of the Moor, Jesse James, Sam Bass, Billy the Kid, Bold Jack Donahue and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Where crimes of passion are the themes of traditional ballads, the events move towards the violent climax with all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. And, as with the characters in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the protagonists are larger than life, filling the landscape so that there is no room left for irrelevant detail. Here there is no moralizing on the evils of murder. It is sufficient to state the act of violence and the events which led up to it; the rest is silence.
The ‘Confession from the Gallows’ type of ballad belongs, both in feeling and in structure, with the ‘broadsides’ which flourished from 1500 to 1800, though confessional ballads continued to be made until such time as public executions were discontinued. For the most part the ‘broadsides’ deserve professor Child’s characterization as ‘veritable dunghills’ and yet, here and there, one comes upon flashes of pure feeling. And traditional singers, who always have the last word, have kept a surprisingly large number of them alive.
The element of protest, almost entirely absent in the confession songs, is a distinct feature of the ‘Transportation Ballads.’ Though these songs are generally cast in the same mold as the confession songs, they display fewer traits of Grubb Street construction and, on the whole, the poetry, though often crude, is not without vigor. As a body they represent the most recent and perhaps the last great impulse towards song-making on the part of the English peasantry.
Prison life in Britain has produced few genuine folk songs. Parodies exist in plenty, but they are generally of an ephemeral nature and rarely outlive a prison sentence. The only British songs which can compare with the convict group songs of U.S. southern prisons and state-farms are those which came out of the late 17th and 18th century treadmills. Several of these are still current with English south country singers. They represent an important part of our prison literature.
The present folksong revival in Britain has made many thousands of young people familiar with these old songs; it has, in addition, produced a growing number of new ballads about crime and criminals, ballads characterized by an understanding of the social causes of crime. In every city between Dundee and London, there may be found groups of young people who sing songs like The Ballad of Bentley and Craig and Go Down You Murderer.
tribute from the Working Class Movement Library here
many thanks to ‘Celtic Born And Bred‘ facebook page where I first heard this great album. Go and join them here and you’ll find a treasure chest of similar great music.
Part of the ‘Classic Album Reviews’ series (here) where we bring you something a little bit different to what you’re use to. To lost gems that have inspired and provoked folk music and musicians right up to modern celtic-punk music. Usually out of print so we can provide a free download link for you.