Tag Archives: Ewan MacColl

EP REVIEW: BLACKWATER BANSHEE- ‘Blackwater Banshee’ (2016)

 A cracking new Irish band from Bristol in South-West England and with bands like this the celtic-punk scene is in safe hands!

blackwater-banshee

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.

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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!

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ALBUM REVIEW: HEADSTICKS- ‘Feather And Flames’ (2016)

Where folk and punk collide to provide a passion infused commentary that is as raw and honest as it comes…

Headsticks F and F

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.

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The band describe themselves as “where folk and punk collide” and remind these ears of classic British folk-rock acts like the New Model Army or a more punky Levellers or Billy Bragg (when he was good) and more recent bands like Ferocious Dog. Formed out of the ashes of two much loved, and long gone, celtic-punk bands ‘Tower Struck Down’ who were one of first English celtic-punk bands back in 1985 and Jugopunch. Gone are the celtic touches from those bands but what remains is the urgency and honesty and just plain good old folk’n’roll that made them popular first time round.
Headsticks1Feather And Flame kicks off, literally, with ‘What Do You Want?’ which bemoans the fact that the working classes have been conned into only aspiring to own the latest mobile phone or big screen TV rather than any control of their own lives. With a world to win its football that takes priority but why not.
“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?”
We all need something to lift us from the gloom occasionaly! Quick, punchy and punky a great start and only enhances those folk-punk credentials. ‘Cold Grey English Skies’ tells of the desolation and depression of growing up (and old) in an post-industrial English town. The reality of the world far away and out of sight and out of mind of the cosmopolitan middle classes. ‘Go Move Shift’ is the Headsticks take on the famous Ewan MacColl penned song ‘The Moving On Song’ and it’s a version Ewan would most definitely have approved of. They extend the song, originally about travellers, to be about the police shooting of a homeless man sleeping rough in Los Angeles. The boys show their heritage, and a sly sense of humour, next in ‘Old Folk Songs’.
Never sounding more new wave than here the music harks back to an earlier age while the politics also hark back to a time when people were more united and willing to stand up and work together. I love a bit of harmonica and ‘Foxford Town’ supplies it. As with the whole album its catchy and Andrew’s vocals are to the fore standing out clear and strong. In recent years the city of Stoke has been blighted with the rise of the far-right. Betrayed by those they voted into power for the last God knows how long and a left that considers them ‘white trash’ the working class turned to groups like the fascist BNP in their droves. ‘Mississippi’s Burning’ tells this story eloquently
“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 live
So 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.

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Forty minutes of passionate punked up roots rock with a sense of history most bands could only dream of. Its not always fun to listen to what they are saying as Headsticks are a band forged by their environment. The England they once knew and loved is changing and sadly not in a good way. Their music is a rallying call to stop the erosion of our rights and our humanity and as heartfelt as it is it is also compelling. Headsticks are Andrew on vocals and that harmonica, Stephen on guitar, Nick on bass and Tom on drums.

you can read our review of Headsticks debut album Muster here

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ALBUM REVIEW: ‘JOY OF LIVING: A TRIBUTE TO EWAN MacCOLL’ (2016)

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.

Joy Of Living

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 Scots-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’ 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.

Ewan MacColl 1His 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.

Ewan MacCollDisc 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”

Disc 1
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

Disc 2
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

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Official Ewan MacColl Sites

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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’)

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: EWAN MacCOLL- ‘Scots Drinking Songs’ (1956)

AND FREE DOWNLOAD!

Ewan

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

EWAN MacCOLL was the Scots-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[1]. 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.

SIDE ONE—

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.

SIDE TWO—

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.”

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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.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘RUM, SODOMY AND THE LASH’ by Jeffrey T. Roesgen

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,

Rum, Sodomy And The Lash

 “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.

Rum Sodomy And The Lash

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?”
“Pogue Mahone”
The officer made his eyes slender. “Pogue Mahone?” He fiddled with the sparse whiskers on his chin.
“A Gaelic expression”
“Gaelic?”
“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.

Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl

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

Amazon  Bloomsbury  Audible(TalkingBooks)

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.

For more information on the series there is a Blog here as well as the Bloomsbury site here

*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

In The Wake Of The Medusa * Paddy Rolling Stone * The Parting Glass * Pogues Facebook Page

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?

ALBUM REVIEW: THE RATHMINES- ‘Ramblin With The Rats. Stolen Songs of Struggle’ (2015)

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.

The Rathmines 1

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 Rathmines

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.

(left to right) Marcus - Bass, Vocals; Rene - Cajon; Egidio - Accordion; Martin - Guitar, Vocals

(left to right) Marcus – Bass, Vocals; Rene – Cajon; Egidio – Accordion; Martin – Guitar, Vocals

‘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)

Contact The Band

Website  Twitter  YouTube  Facebook  Bandcamp  Songkick  ReverbNation

Buy The Album

FromTheBand

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.

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: EWAN MacCOLL AND PEGGY SEEGER – ‘The Jacobite Rebellions’ (1962)

AND FREE DOWNLOAD

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger - The Jacobite Rebellions (1962)

to get your free download of this great album simply click on the album sleeve

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.

The Jacobite Rebellions

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.

The Jacobite RebellionsScotland benefited materially from the Union with England. Its trade and manufacturing industry increased enormously and, thanks to the superiority of Scottish education over anything, existing south of the Border in the eighteenth century, Scottish businessmen, inventors and intellectual leaders figured amongst the giants of the Industrial Revolution. Adam Smith, the economist; James Watt, inventor of the improved steam engine; and Macadam and Telford, the famous road builders, were amongst the most outstanding.
The real increase in the prosperity of Scotland as a result of this important contribution to the processes of industrialisation was, however, unevenly spread. It was concentrated in the Lowlands and in particular in Glasgow, which was rapidly becoming a large commercial centre. The Highlands were scarcely affected by it. In this extensive mountainous area an ancient feudal system based on subsistence farming remained dominant. The clans which maintained it were cut off from both the material developments and currents of thought of the outside world. Personal loyalty was highly valued; the old religion of Roman Catholicism was still strongly entrenched; and with it affection for the exiled ‘King across the water’ and a romantic attachment to the ‘auld alliance” with France against England. In view of this dour resistance to all the forces of innovation which were beginning to transform England and the Lowlands in the eighteenth century, it was natural that the Stuarts should look to the Highlands as their main hope for a revival of their fortunes.
James II had gone into exile in France, where he died in 1701. His son James, the ‘Old Pretender’, inherited the claim to the thrones of England and Scotland, and it was in support of him that the Jacobite Risings occurred. The Act of Settlement of 1701 had ensured that the crown would pass to the Protestant House of Hanover. This happened in 1714, and the first Rising was thus timed to take advantage of the unpopularity of George I. But as it was inadequately planned and badly led, the Rising of 1715 never presented a serious challenge to the new regime. Apart from an abortive expedition in 1719, thirty years passed before the Stuarts made their next and final bid to recover power.
On the 25th July 1745, the 25 year old Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the ‘Young Pretender’, set foot on the Scottish mainland. Less than a month later he raised the standard of his father at Glenfinnan, and the clansmen began to rally to him. By a daring march on Edinburgh the Jacobites captured the city and repulsed an effort to dislodge them at the Battle of Prestonpans. The Prince then led his army southwards towards London, hoping that support would come to him from the inhabitants of the northern English counties. He was disappointed. Although he reached the River Trent just south of Derby on 4th December, he received an extremely cool welcome from the towns and countryside through which he passed. And his clansmen became increasingly disgruntled the further they moved from their native glens.
Meanwhile, the government had been desperately raising an army, and although hampered by incredibly bad communications a force was now ready to take the field under the generalship of the Duke of Cumberland.
The Prince was forced to retreat, and his forces fell back into Scotland and then into the Highlands, Cumberland pursued them towards the inevitable engagement. This took place on the morning of 16th April 1746, when the clansmen were mown down by the superior armaments of the government forces on Culloden Moor.The Jacobite Rebellions
The Battle of Culloden marked the extinction of the last Jacobite hope of recovering the British crown, and Prince Charles spent many hunted weeks as a fugitive before he managed narrowly to escape to France. But it marked more than that — it was also the end of an ancient social order. The government determined that there should never be another rising in the Highlands, and Cumberland earned himself the nickname of ‘The Butcher’ by ruthlessly carrying out the policy of breaking the clan system. Estates of the leading Jacobites were confiscated, and the wearing of the tartan prohibited. Even more important, the feudal powers of the clan chieftains, with their own law courts and the right of claiming military service from their tenants, were abolished.
These measures were effective. Law and order was imposed on the Highlands. Roads, bridges and harbours were built and improved. The introduction of English practices of land ownership led in time to the establishment of large estates as deer parks, and resulted in large scale depopulation. By 1759 Pitt was able to remove the ban on tartan wearing and to recruit regiments of Highlanders to assist in the conquest of Canada. In 1784, the government felt able to restore most of the forfeited estates to their original owners. Meanwhile, the whole country had begun to show signs of the rapid acceleration in the processes of industrialisation which brought greater prosperity to the nation. Industrial and commercial success in the eighteenth century did more than Cumberland’s troops to cement the political foundations of Hanoverian Britain.
With the pacification of the Highlands, the Stuart cause was dead. But like many lost causes, that of the Jacobites has retained its attraction and its power to move the spirit. More than most, the Jacobite cause, though lost, has been won in the persistent appeal of the songs which it evoked. These songs recall a social order which has long since passed away under the wheels of the locomotive, the arterial road, the factory, and the hydroelectric power station. They recall the bravery of men who died for a cause in which they believed. And above all, they recall the loyalty felt towards the young prince who, with grace and charm, came to lead the clansmen in his fathers’ cause; and who, though doomed to failure, won the hearts and devotion of men and women in his own generation and in those which have followed.
– ANGUS BUCHANAN
for more on the Jacobite uprisings you can do worse than going to Wikipedia for a start before heading to The Jacobite Rebellions or Scottish Warriors.
Greentrax Records recently released a compilation album ‘For Freedom Alone- The Wars Of Independence’ and you can read our review here and order it too!
more information on the wonderful Robert Burns can be had from this great web site here.

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: EWAN MacCOLL -‘Bad Lads And Hard Cases: British Ballads Of Crime And Criminals’ (1959)

AND FREE DOWNLOAD

Ewan MacColl - Bad Lads And Hard Cases (1959)

for your free download click on the above album sleeve

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 Scots-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. Ewan MacColl 1His 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.

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger

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.

IVOR
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.

GILDEROY
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:

  1. Ballads about outlaw heroes;
  2. Ballads about crimes of passion;
  3. Songs of confession and remorse;
  4. Transportation ballads;
  5. 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.

Ewan MacColl

Find Out More On Ewan MacColl

Wikipedia 

listen to his music for free here on LastFm

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.

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