Tag Archives: Fairport Convention

ALBUM REVIEW: SONS OF O’FLAHERTY- ‘The Road Not Taken’ (2017)

Who are Sons Of O’Flaherty? Six good friends who grew up in the Celtic nation of Brittany in love with punk rock, folk and traditional Celtic music.

Yec’hed Mad and see you soon !

Now the history of the celtic nations and their people and culture and their languages has never been a particularly happy one with each nation experiencing waves of repression ever since they were taken over and with none of them free this repression continues but out of adversity springs hope and what I love above all else is to hear a band out of the Celtic nations embrace celtic-punk as a way to promote their identity and culture. The Sons Of O’Flaherty hail from Vannes in the north-western tip of Brittany, an area where almost 10% of children are brought up in Breton speaking schooling so were definitely talking about that rare thing here. A Celtic celtic-punk band!!
Now the Celtic League, the main body incorporating all the Celtic nations, identifies only Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales as being Celtic nations. What is left of the once mighty Celtic peoples who stretched from Ireland to Turkey and tied by language and culture and traditions. There are of large Celtic connections to all of Britain and present day France and parts of Belgium (the Gaulic tribes) and Spain (Galicia) but these are not considered to be “Celtic” by some. The Celtic League classifies only the 6 nations as countries where their native Celtic language is spoken into modern times. I’m not alone in thinking this a rather closed mind classification and anyone visiting Galicia for example is struck by how similar it is to the Celtic nations rather than Spain. Every Celtic nation has suffered war and plunder as well as suffering attempts to destroy their culture and languages. The British governments crimes in this regard are well documented but the French have also long tried to suppress any cultural and lingual distinctions of the Celtic Bretons. Like the other five nations this has led to massive emigration and Celtic Breton communities all over the world especially in Canada and America.
Now, like me, you may remember Asterix the Gaul and his band of merry men and their exploits fighting against the Roman invader. Originally as a comic and then a cartoon that featured on the TV all through my childhood and it was it is in the northwest tip of France, in Brittany, that the famous stories were set. Asterix and his tribe were Gauls taking on the ‘Latin’ invaders who had spread across a large part of western Europe, establishing their towns and villas and changing for ever the history of Europe. Pushed westward it was only in the furthest northwestern extremity of France that the ancient Gauls, with their Celtic language and culture, managed to survive; and they have done so to this day, leaving Brittany – the land of the Bretons – as the largest outstanding stronghold of Celtic heritage on the continent of Europe. The Breton people are proud of their identity, and many think of themselves as Bretons not French. Throughout Brittany, small festivals and other events strongly stress the region’s distinct Celtic heritage and cultural identity. The most important event in the annual calendar is however the massive annual InterCeltique festival. Taking place every year in early August, in the port of Lorient. Founded in 1971 it has now become one of the biggest festivals in Brittany and France with well over 600,000 visitors attending each year.
The flag of the Bretons may be a modern design but is now recognized and accepted as a representation of the Breton folk. The nine horizontal stripes represent the traditional dioceses of Brittany. The five black stripes indicate the French speaking areas, while the four white stripes represent the Breton speaking regions. The flag has a canton in the upper left corner, indicating an ancient Breton coat of arms. Speaking and teaching Breton was prohibited til 1951 but ever since the French government have tried to chip away at the Celtic speaking inhabitants. 
Successive French governments, left and right, have consistently refused to sign the European Charter of Minority Languages and to recognize the linguistic rights of the Bretons. Despite the large amount of speakers and the interest in learning the language there are little to none radio and television broadcasts. The use of the Breton language in legal and commercial documents, as well as in publicity, is against French law and are therefore illegal. It remarkable then that the language has survived to the extant that it has and has been expanding for over a decade with more and more young people taking it up and Breton nurseries and children’s schools opening up across the region.

Alan Stivell

In the world of celtic-rock Breton music has played a major role with the Breton cultural revival of the 1960’s exemplified by Alan Stivell who became the leading proponent of the Breton harp and other instruments from about 1960, he also adopted elements of Irish, Welsh and Scottish traditional music in an attempt to create pan-Celtic folk music. This had considerable impact elsewhere, particularly in Wales and Cornwall. From 1972 he began to play electric folk with a band including guitarists Dan Ar Braz and Gabriel Yacoub. Yacoub went on to form Malicorne in 1974 one of the most successful electric folk band in France. After an extensive career that included a stint playing as part of Fairport Convention in 1976, Ar Braz formed the pan-Celtic band Heritage Des Celts, who managed to achieve mainstream success in France in the 1990s. Probably the best known and most certainly the most enduring electric folk band in France were Tri Yann formed in 1971 and still recording and performing today. As is often the case the Breton’s have embraced the celtic-punk revolution with open arms and bands like Les Ramoneurs De Menhirs, The Maggie Whackers and Sons Of O’Flaherty use their Celtic heritage to push for more civil rights and recognition for their language. The Breton’s have often looked to the Irish for influence when organising resistance to this oppression with several armed groups going back to the 1930’s with Gwenn Ha Du (Breton for “white and black”) to the Breton Liberation Front (Talbenn Dieubiñ Breizh) which was active in the 1960’s up to the 1990’s which in turn led to the militant Breton Revolutionary Army (Armée Révolutionnaire Bretonne, ARBwhich is still active to this day. The ARB, unlike its counterparts in Corsica with the (FLNC) and the Basque country (ETA) does not seek to hurt any individuals but instead to cause economic damage. Support for the ARB may be smaller than at it’s hayday in the 70’s when it attracted thousands to its demonstrations but its non-lethal attacks and policies still attract widespread tolerance and a certain level of support.
Sons Of O’Flaherty debut record was a self-titled five track EP released back in 2010. Clearly influenced by trad Irish ballad groups like The Wolfe Tones and that is reflected in the choice of songs with two Irish folk covers and a song titled ‘Bobby’ about legendary Irish hero and rebel Bobby Sands. It has since been made available as a Free/Name Your Price download so follow the link below.

Though not a ‘proper’ release they also gathered a few random tracks and released them as a 3 track EP titled Misc Songs last year and have also made them free to download.

The Road Not Taken was released at the end of last month and from the first couple of bars you know you are in for a good time here! I don’t know how much content their is of Breton music here as the Bhoys sound soooo fecking Irish they could be from Ballylooby! From the first song onwards I am simply astounded (and extremely, extremely jealous) at the quality of the lyrics here. ‘Dead And Gone’ opens the album and is a fast and furious pipes’n’punk tune about the day we die and then party/wake we want in our honour that name checks “the sweet hoarse voice of” Mike Ness, the Dropkicks and Sick Of It All.
“Have one last drink, one last laugh and maybe one last song
The last one for the road, the funeral’s upbeat
We’ll see you soon, we’ll miss you and please keep us a warm seat”
What a start. Ticking all the required boxes to get a great review after just one song the Sons Of O’Flaherty confirm it next with the Dubliners favoured ‘Sam Hall’. An old English folk song about a bitterly unrepentant criminal condemned to death. The song was known originally as ‘Jack Hall’ an infamous thief who was hanged in 1707 at Tyburn. Jack Hall’s parents sold him as a climbing boy for one guinea, which is why he is identified as a chimney sweep. The celtic-punk is flowing out and ‘The Lucky Ones’ tells about how lucky the Bhoys feel to be in a band and their determination to keep going.
“I don’t care how hard it will be, my songs I’ll always stammer out”
The harmonica is out for this and I always love hearing it. It may finally be finding its rightful place in the celtic-punk world judging by recent album’s I have heard.

We hit our first drinking song next with ‘Once Upon A Binge’, a straight forward punk rock tune garnished with mandolin and tin whistle while ‘Saint or Sinner’ tells of a bartender’s guilty conscience while the punk is turned up even louder with mandolin standing out proudest above the thrashing guitar.
“I don’t care what they think or say it’s death I’m selling”
The wonderful of pipes take the song out into ‘Red Wine Teeth’ and it’s more of the same. The Sons Of O’Flaherty could stand on their own feet as a punk band but the Celtic instruments add so much more. They are not just played over the top of the rock music but you the impression if anything it’s the other way round. 

Now any band who records ‘Fields Of Athenry’ in this day and age better be prepared to have it savaged unless they have managed to find a way to record it that takes it out of Irish ‘showband’ territory. They play a solid punk rock version with gang vocals and I always love to hear the “Let the free bird fly” add on. Gang chorus and the whole band having a go on vocals give the song a nice touch even though its pretty much influenced by the Dropkicks version.

The DKM’s influence pops up again on next song ‘The Better Claim’ with male/female vocals about the break up of a love affair that was never meant to be with some wickedly hilarious lines
“I met you, I loved you, you were all I hoped for
I gave you all I had, everything I had in store
I met you, I loved you, and your loss I’ll deplore
But things changed, now this can’t go on anymore”
that of course has the fella as the villain and rightly so in my experience! Rolling towards the end and ‘Glory Days’ starts off with a country vibe before the band rock out. A class song with the band playing magnificently here. Slow and epic sounding with a great chorus and clever and meaningful lyrics about a old mans life and what he has left to show for them. 
“I am now facing an old wrinkled man, his life has come and passed and his skin’s there to show
That even though his glory days might be far behind, there’s no regrets to have and no will to let go”

This is the album standout for me and though English may not be their first language, or even their second, by Christ you wouldn’t know that reading through their lyrics. Luckily for you they are included on the Bandcamp page so follow the link below and have a good read of them. ‘Love Me’ returns us to fast paced punk and then ‘The Townspeople’ brings the curtain down on an album with a gentle country folk number that is the perfect ending.

Those expecting a band from a Celtic nation to provide a purely folk album will be sorely disappointed here as Sons Of O’Flaherty are as equally influenced by Social Distortion as they are by Soldat Louis! Here is eleven songs with two covers lasting near forty minutes that keeps your interest up right until the very end. If we ever needed evidence that celtic-punk has begun to make inroads into celtic music we need look no further than Brittany and Sons Of O’Flaherty.

(have a listen to The Road Not Taken before you buy at the Bandcamp link below)

Buy The Road Not Taken

FromTheBand  iTunes

Contact The Sons Of O’Flaherty

WebSite  Facebook  Bandcamp  YouTube

You should also check out THE FOLK’N’PUNK BRIGADE which is a local celtic-punk collective similar to London Celtic Punks. A group of friends and musicians from French bands The Moorings and Saints and Sinners and Breton bands The Maggie Whackers and Sons Of O’Flaherty- Facebook

The Celtic League is an inter-Celtic political organisation, which campaigns for the political, language, cultural and social rights, affecting one or more of the Celtic nations- Facebook  WebSite

THE HISTORY OF CELTIC-ROCK MUSIC

Today the 30492- London Celtic Punks web zine is four years old today so what better way to celebrate our birthday than to give you this small but perfectly formed potted history of Celtic-Rock. We have never just wanted to be a place that only reviews new records we want to celebrate everything that makes us celtic-punks. Our love of our roots and our history and our traditions and the love that those with no Celtic ancestry have as well. Celtic-Punk is for all that share our common values of friendship and solidarity and the love of a good time. Music cannot change the world but it can certainly make it a better place to live in and in these uncertain times that is something we all need. The roots of celtic-punk should be important to us as that is where we come from and we must never forget that.

The London Celtic Punks Admin Team

Celtic rock is a genre of folk rock, as well as a form of Celtic fusion which incorporates Celtic music, instrumentation and themes into a rock music context. It has been extremely prolific since the early 1970’s and can be seen as a key foundation of the development of highly successful mainstream Celtic bands and popular musical performers, as well as creating important derivatives through further fusions. It has played a major role in the maintenance and definition of regional and national identities and in fostering a pan-Celtic culture. It has also helped to communicate those cultures to external audiences.

Definition

The style of music is the hybrid of traditional Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton musical forms with rock music. This has been achieved by the playing of traditional music, particularly ballads, jigs and reels with rock instrumentation; by the addition of traditional Celtic instruments, including the Celtic harp, tin whistle, uilleann pipes (or Irish Bagpipes), fiddle, bodhrán, accordion, concertina, melodeon, and bagpipes (highland) to conventional rock formats; by the use of lyrics in Celtic languages and by the use of traditional rhythms and cadences in otherwise conventional rock music. Just as the validity of the term Celtic in general and as a musical label is disputed, the term Celtic rock cannot be taken to mean there was a unified Celtic musical culture between the Celtic nations. However, the term has remained useful as a means of describing the spread, adaptation and further development of the musical form in different but related contexts.

History

Origins

Celtic rock developed out of the (originally English) electric folk scene at the beginning of the 1970’s. The first recorded use of the term may have been by the Scottish singer Donovan to describe the folk rock he created for his Open Road album in 1970, which itself featured a song named ‘Celtic Rock’. However, the lack of a clear Celtic elements to the self-penned tracks mean that even if the name was taken from here, this is not the first example of the genre that was to develop.

Ireland

It was in Ireland that Celtic rock was first clearly evident as musicians attempted to apply the use of traditional and electric music to their own cultural context. By the end of the 1960’s Ireland already had perhaps the most flourishing folk music tradition and a growing blues and pop scene, which provided a basis for Irish rock. Perhaps the most successful product of this scene was the band Thin Lizzy. Formed in 1969 their first two albums were recognisably influenced by traditional Irish music and their first hit single ‘Whisky in the Jar’ in 1972, was a rock version of a traditional Irish song. From this point they began to move towards the hard rock that allowed them to gain a series of hit singles and albums, but retained some occasional elements of Celtic rock on later albums such as Jailbreak (1976). Formed in 1970, Horslips were the first Irish group to have the terms ‘Celtic rock’ applied to them, produced work that included traditional Irish/Celtic music and instrumentation, Celtic themes and imagery, concept albums based on Irish mythology in a way that entered the territory of progressive rock all powered by a hard rock sound. Horslips are considered important in the history of Irish rock as they were the first major band to enjoy success without having to leave their native country and can be seen as providing a template for Celtic rock in Ireland and elsewhere. These developments ran in parallel with the burgeoning folk revival in Ireland that included groups such as Planxty and the Bothy Band. It was from this tradition that Clannad, whose first album was released in 1973, adopted electric instruments and a more ‘new age’ sound at the beginning of the 1980s. Moving Hearts, formed in 1981 by former Planxty members Christy Moore and Donal Lunny, followed the pattern set by Horslips in combining Irish traditional music with rock, and also added elements of jazz to their sound.

  • THE POGUES AND IRISH CULTURAL CONTINUITY (here)

Scotland

There were already strong links between Irish and Scottish music by the 1960s, with Irish bands like the Chieftains touring and outselling the native artists in Scotland. The adoption of electric folk produced groups including the JSD Band and Spencer’s Feat. Out of the wreckage of the latter in 1974, was formed probably the most successful band in this genre, combining Irish and Scottish personnel to form Five Hand Reel. Two of the most successful groups of the 1980s emerged from the dance band circuit in Scotland. From 1978, when they began to release original albums, Runrig produced highly polished Scottish electric folk, including the first commercially successful album with the all Gaelic Play Gaelic in 1978. From the 1980s Capercaillie combined Scottish folk music, electric instruments and haunting vocals to considerable success. While bagpipes had become an essential element in Scottish folk bands they were much rarer in electric folk outfits, but were successfully integrated into their sound by Wolfstone from 1989, who focused on a combination of highland music and rock.

  • HOW THE IRISH AND THE SCOTS INFLUENCED AMERICAN MUSIC (here)

Brittany

Brittany also made a major contribution to Celtic rock. The Breton cultural revival of the 1960s was exemplified by Alan Stivell who became the leading proponent of the Breton harp and other instruments from about 1960, he then adopted elements of Irish, Welsh and Scottish traditional music in an attempt to create a pan-Celtic folk music, which had considerable impact elsewhere, particularly in Wales and Cornwall. From 1972 he began to play electric folk with a band including guitarists Dan Ar Braz and Gabriel Yacoub. Yacoub went on to form Malicorne in 1974 one of the most successful electric folk band in France. After an extensive career that included a stint playing as part of Fairport Convention in 1976, Ar Braz formed the pan-Celtic band Heritage des Celtes, who managed to achieve mainstream success in France in the 1990’s. Probably the best known and most certainly the most enduring electric folk band in France were Tri Yann formed in 1971 and still recording and performing today. In 2017 celtic-punk band Les Ramoneurs De Menhirs fly the flag for Brittany singing in their native language and playing regularly and often accompanied on stage by Louise Ebrel, daughter of Eugénie Goadec, a famous traditional Breton musician.

  • ALBUM REVIEW: LES RAMONEURS DE MENHIRS- ‘Tan Ar Bobl’ (here)

Wales

By the end of the 1960’s Wales had produced some important individuals and bands that emerged as major British or international artists, this included power pop outfit Badfinger, psychedelic rockers Elastic Band and proto-heavy metal trio Budgie. But although folk groupings formed in the early 1970’s, including Y Tebot Piws, Ac Eraill, and Mynediad am Ddim, it was not until 1973 that the first significant Welsh language rock band Edward H Dafis, originally a belated rock n’ roll outfit, caused a sensation by electrifying and attempting to use rock instrumentation while retaining Welsh language lyrics. As a result, for one generation listening to Welsh language rock music could now become a statement of national identity. This opened the door for a new rock culture but inevitably most Welsh language acts were unable to breakthrough into the Anglophone dominated music industry. Anhrefn became the best known of these acts taking their pop-punk rock sound across Europe from the early-80’s to mid-90’s.

  • TRIBUTE TO WELSH PUNK ROCK LEGENDS ANHREFN (here)

Cornwall and the Isle of Man

Whereas other Celtic nations already had existing folk music cultures before the end of the 1960s this was less true in Cornwall and the Isle of Man, which were also relatively small in population and more integrated into English culture and (in the case of Cornwall) the British State. As a result, there was relatively little impact from the initial wave of folk electrification in the 1970’s. However, the pan-Celtic movement, with its musical and cultural festivals helped foster some reflections in Cornwall where a few bands from the 1980s onwards utilised the traditions of Cornish music with rock, including Moondragon and its successor Lordryk. More recently the bands Sacred Turf, Skwardya and Krena, have been performing in the Cornish language.

  • ALBUM REVIEW: BARRULE- ‘Manannans Cloak’ (here)

Subgenres

Celtic Punk

Ireland proved particularly fertile ground for punk bands in the mid-1970s, including Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, The Radiators From Space, The Boomtown Rats and The Virgin Prunes. As with electric folk in England, the advent of punk and other musical trends undermined the folk element of Celtic rock, but in the early 1980s London based Irish band The Pogues created the subgenre Celtic punk by combining structural elements of folk music with a punk attitude and delivery. The Pogues’ style of punked-up Irish music spawned and influenced a number of Celtic punk bands, including fellow London-Irish band Neck, Nyah Fearties from Scotland, Australia’s Roaring Jack and Norway’s Greenland Whalefishers.

  • FROM OPPRESSION TO CELEBRATION- THE POGUES TO THE DROPKICK MURPHYS AND CELTIC PUNK (here)

Diaspora Celtic Punk

One by-product of the Celtic diaspora has been the existence of large communities across the world that looked for their cultural roots and identity to their origins in the Celtic nations. While it seems young musicians from these communities usually chose between their folk culture and mainstream forms of music such as rock or pop, after the advent of Celtic punk large numbers of bands began to emerge styling themselves as Celtic rock. This is particularly noticeable in the USA and Canada, where there are large communities descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants. From the USA this includes the Irish bands Flogging Molly, The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, Black 47, The Killdares, The Drovers and Jackdaw, and for Scottish bands Prydein, Seven Nations and Flatfoot 56. From Canada are bands like The Mahones, Enter the Haggis, Great Big Sea, The Real McKenzies and Spirit of the West. These groups were naturally influenced by American forms of music, some containing members with no Celtic ancestry and commonly singing in English. In England we have The BibleCode Sundays, The Lagan and others.

  • THE EFFECTS OF NEW DIASPORA CELTIC PUNK: THE CREATION OF A PAN-CELTIC CULTURE (here)

Celtic Metal

Like Celtic rock in the 1970s, Celtic metal resulted from the application of a development in English music, when in the 1990s thrash metal band Skyclad added violins, and with them jigs and folk voicings, to their music on the album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1990). This inspired the Dublin based band Cruachan to mix traditional Irish music with black metal and to create the subgenre of Celtic metal. They were soon followed by bands such as Primordial and Waylander. Like Celtic punk, Celtic metal fuses the Celtic folk tradition with contemporary forms of music.

  • CELTIC-METAL’S TOP FIVE BANDS (here)

Influence

Whereas in England electric folk, after initial mainstream recognition, subsided into the status of a sub-cultural soundtrack, in many Celtic communities and nations it has remained at the forefront of musical production. The initial wave of Celtic rock in Ireland, although ultimately feeding into Anglo-American dominated progressive rock and hard rock provided a basis for Irish bands that would enjoy international success, including the Pogues and U2: one making use of the tradition of Celtic music in a new context and the other eschewing it for a distinctive but mainstream sound. Similar circumstances can be seen in Scotland albeit with a delay in time while Celtic rock culture developed, before bands like Runrig could achieve international recognition. Widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding voices in Celtic/rock is the Glasgow born Brian McCombe of The Brian McCombe Band, a pan Celtic group based in Brittany.

In other Celtic communities, and particularly where Celtic speakers or descendants are a minority, the function of Celtic rock has been less to create mainstream success, than to bolster cultural identity. A consequence of this has been the reinforcement of pan-Celtic culture and of particular national or regional identities between those with a shared heritage, but who are widely dispersed. However, the most significant consequence of Celtic rock has simply been as a general spur to immense musical and cultural creativity.

ALBUM REVIEW: STEELEYE SPAN- ‘Dodgy Bastards’ (2016)

With the release of Dodgy Bastards, the 23rd studio album of their career Steeleye Span remain one of the most influential names in music. Pioneers of folk-rock, they changed the face of folk music forever. Taking it out of small clubs and into the world of gold discs and international tours. Steeleye Span have remained at the forefront of the genre they helped to define and 38 years later have become an institution in British music.

steeleye span LP

Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention were two of the most successful and popular British band’s of their generation. Both bands made their mark on the music scene by taking traditional British folk material and adding rock arrangements, something that hadn’t really been done before and both featured female singers, Sandy Denny for Fairport and Maddy Prior for Steeleye. Both mixed self-penned and traditional songs but it can be argued that it was Steeleye Span who went on to have a much more lasting effect on the folk-rock scene and indeed on music in general too. At their peak Steeleye Span’s revolving door of members certainly kept their fans on their toes but the one constant in the band has always been the ethereal voice of Maddy Prior that gave the band their identity at all the different phases of their existence. The major difference between the bands was that Fairport came to traditional folk from a rock background, whereas Steeleye Span arrived from the opposite direction.

steeleyespan-band

Formed at the beginning of 1970 in in Winchester, Hampshire that original line-up included Ashley Hutchings, at the time bassist in Fairport Convention, who had wanted to pursue a more traditional folk direction and so left them and joined forces with future Pogue Terry Wood, who had been in a trad Irish group called Sweeney’s Men, Maddy Prior, who had been in a folk duo with guitarist Tim Hart and Gay Woods (Terry’s wife) to become the starting line up of Steeleye Span. Lasting only one album Terry and Gay soon left and were replaced by Martin Carthy, one of the most respected artists on the folk circuit. While Bob Dylan fought his own fans and the critics to introduce electric guitar into folk music in the mid-1960’s Martin Carthy was instrumental in taking Steeleye Span in the same direction. They may have played folk music but they played it damn loud! Hutchings and Carthy left by the end of 1971 and while the loss of their two most influential members would cripple most bands the ‘Span not only drove on but actually entered into their most successful stage. Tim Hart was quoted as saying that the group wanted to

“put traditional music back into current musical language — to make folk music less esoteric”

New bassist Rick Kemp became Maddy Prior’s husband and in 1973, they added drums for the first time to the band. With the revolving door of players, artists as famous as David Bowie and even Peter Sellers guested on their albums. Their first major hit came with the Christmas song ‘Gaudette’ reaching #14 in the British music charts and in 1975, they released their huge smash hit ‘All Around My Hat’ which charted all over the world and made them big players everywhere. With the coming of punk and new wave in 1977, they took on even more traditional elements with the return of Martin Carthy, and the addition of John Kirkpatrick on accordion. Sadly though they split the following year. However they periodically reunited while pursuing their own projects and the occasional studio album appeared while the group performed at festivals and toured with enough regularity making it confusing whether they were a band that was together or not. They had a strong and large enough fan base that remained extremely loyal to them ensuring that whatever they did they always had an audience to hear it. Of all the ‘Span members it was Terry Woods who went on to have the most success playing mandolin in The Pogues while Martin Carthy may not have had the commercial success of Terry Woods but certainly commanded great respect

“If the English folk revival of the 1960s had a single “father” and guiding spirit, then Martin Carthy was it”

Maddy Prior’s most notable work was her recordings with the respected folk singer June Tabor. Tim Hart released a handful of notable solo outings before retiring to the Canary Islands, where he sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2009.

steeleye-span-band-2

So all this, and that intro could easily have run into several thousand’s of words (have a look at their Wikipedia page here to see how!), lands us in 2016 and Steeleye Span’s new album. Dodgy Bastards is their 23rd album release is a mixture of self penned songs, traditional songs and some original tunes put to traditional lyrics. The group today consists of Prior, Kemp, drummer Liam Genockey, guitarist Julian Littman, fiddler Jessie May Smart, and Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair, who was filling in for six-year member Pete Zorn before Zorn passed away from cancer in April 2016. The main inspiration for Dodgy Bastards is taken from the work of the 19th century American Francis James Child. Starting in 1860 Child began to anthologize over 300 traditional ballads from England and Scotland, and their American variants. Their lyrics and his studies of them were published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The themes were often dark and thought not suitable for the times containing such subjects as diverse as romance and half-human creatures or enchantment and forbidden love. The abuse of authority and the depiction of very real historical events and the boldness of outlaws and folk heroes made these songs dangerous to the authorities.

Dodgy Bastards begins with ‘Cruel Brother’ and from the start we have a song about a man who kills his sister! It’s classic Steeleye and starts with just the voices of the band before it kicks off. It’s certainly gentle and even hard to believe that this was classed as folk-rock back in the day but it’s catchy and extremely well played and Maddy’s voice is still as striking as ever. Lasting almost eight minutes it never outlasts it’s welcome and if you think this was gentle then ‘All Things Quite Silent’ takes it down further. Maddy’s voice dominates over a simple backing of guitar and fiddle. ‘Johnnie Armstrong’ is the story of Scottish raider and folk-hero Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, who was captured and hanged by King James V in 1530. Big and gutsy, again it lasts over seven minutes. This is powerful stuff and the words can be dated to before 1724. This leads us nicely into the only song here I knew before, ‘Boys of Bedlam’. Loud and bombastic and with great fiddle and guitar.

(not the version on Dodgy Bastards but still worth a spin)

Recorded by Steeleye before as a simple folk version above here they give it plenty of welly and show those folk-rock credentials loud and proud even including a rap from Alex Prior, son of Maddy and Rick. Unrecognisable next to the earlier version from 1971 album  Please To See The King. The sleeve notes say of the song

“Priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem at Bishopsgate founded in 1247 became the male lunatic asylum known as Bethlehem Hospital or Bedlam in 1547. In 1815 it was moved to Lambeth in the buildings now housing the Imperial War Museum and in 1931 was moved to Kent. The hospital of St. Mary Magdalen was its female counterpart. During the 16th and 17th centuries the man in the moon was depicted as a bent old man with a staff leading a dog, carrying a thorn bush and lantern”

It’s an album standout for me though that’s hardly surprising I’m sure. On ‘Brown Robyn’s Confession’ recent addition to the band Jessie May Smart takes on the lead vocal before the distinct tones of Maddy joins her during the superb chorus. Another unusual tale this time of a ship’s captain and his men who go to sea and encounter a terrible storm. They cast lots to learn who is to blame, and it is Brown Robyn himself who is thrown overboard with him admitting that he has fathered children with both his mother and sister. Before he drowns he sees the Virgin Mary, who offers to let him come to heaven or return to his men. He chooses heaven. Next is ‘Two Sisters’ a murder ballad recounting the tale of a girl drowned by her sister with a great production as it is throughout the album. Accordion is great here and a real foot stomper of a song with Maddy’s voice soaring. The next song is about the dodgiest bastard of them all! A new song penned by Rick ‘Cromwell’s Skull’ clocks in at nearly nine minutes and with a beautiful fiddle solo from Jessie May Smart in the middle.

So now to the title song ‘Dodgy Bastards’ and folk music is jam packed with them and this jig is a full on tribute to them all. Great guitar work and shows exactly what great musicians they all are. Energetic and full of life which is what music should be. No one dies in ‘Gulliver Gentle and Rosemary’ which reminds me of a few songs that became successful in the 70’s/80’s. Them at their most pop friendly they soon return to darker themes with ‘The Gardener’. Nearing the end we have another new song, this time written by Julian, ‘Bad Bones’ in which Steeleye show their humorous side in a story of a right bastard. A totally unrepentant right bastard! The song includes another spoken word/rap and again it doesn’t feel forced or seem out of place. Not many bands could get away with it I tells you. Dodgy Bastards comes to an end with the epic ‘The Lofty Tall Ship/Shallow Brown’, lasting a serious ten minutes. Beginning as a slow ballad before gaining momentum its a is a traditional Scottish folk song about Henry Martin who turned to piracy to support his family. This develops into a beautiful rendition by Maddy of Shallow Brown a West Indian slave song/sea shanty and this then becomes another instrumental that brings the curtain down on this exceptional album with the highlight saved for the end.

(great half hour sampler of the album below)

The album is appropriately titled with its tales of murder, religion, incest, honour killings and tormented spirits and with their 50th anniversary fast approaching it’s simply unbelievable the quality of their work. Their work rate is incredible with Dodgy Bastards their eighth album in twelve years. The stories here are at the very heart of the what we know as Steeleye Span. The album clocks in at a incredible seventy-one minutes and deservedly so as the themes here are not for the short of attention span. Their audience these days may well be the preserve of the middle aged but they show here that they deserve better than to be pigeonholed like that. Constantly innovative and inspiring and as inspirational as ever they need to be heard and any readers here interested in the development of celtic-punk must make Steeleye Span one of their first stops.

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Band Members Sites

Peter Knight  Maddy Prior  Gay Woods  Troy Donockley

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