Tag Archives: Headsticks

INTERVIEW WITH WOLVES FOLK-PUNK BAND UNDER A BANNER

With just over a week to go before their biggest ever London date London Celtic Punks interviews Under A Banner. Purveyors of passionate, powerful and poetic folk-rock and with a new album to plug and a headline tour we wanted to find out a bit more about them.
First things first can you give us a history of the band? The who, what, why and how? Were any of you in any other bands previously and what happened to suddenly make the leap to forming Under A Banner?
Under A Banner began as a duo around 6 years ago and other musicians were steadily gathered to fill out the sound and make the band a more viable proposition for recording and performing the music I always envisaged the band making. I am the only original member of the band now. I started the whole thing as I desperately wanted to return to performing original music live. I’d previously played in a fairly short-lived band called Approach and have also played acoustic covers in pubs; the termination of the latter course of action triggered a visceral response to what I saw as virtually non-existent local scene for original music. Although I hail from Wolverhampton, the five of us live in three different counties.
You’re from Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. Can you tell us a bit about what its like there to be in a band round there. Is there much of a music scene? What about for celtic music?
The unfortunate demise and subsequent closure of Wolverhampton’s Varsity venue hit the local live scene quite hard. We still have the Newhampton Arts Centre, The Slade Rooms and, a little further down the road, Bilston’s popular Robin 2 venue. Each of these regularly play host to both tribute/cover and original music. Without deriding the former too much, it seems that original music (in particular folk infused genres) is once again spearheading a palpable fight back against the nostalgia or copycat music market in the Midlands.

How would you describe yourselves. Folk-punk, English-folk, celtic-punk? Do you think it matters in particular. Who has been your biggest inspiration for Under A Banner?
When asked about Under A Banner’s genre we normally plump for ‘alternative folk-ish hard rock’. This is because we fit into a number of brackets and exist outside of them simultaneously. We draw our inspiration from a very far-ranging and eclectic pot of music. The single unifying genre is metal, which presumably explains the heaviness of a lot of our material, but my own personal influences include New Model Army, Tori Amos, Loreena Mckennitt, Tool, Ambrozijn and Alestorm – to name but a few. Other sources for inspiration include Opeth, Rush, Iron Maiden, Clannad, The Stranglers and Thin Lizzy. A number of these bands and artists have made significant contributions to the continuing popularity of music with a Celtic flavour.
I think it’s fair to say that you are a part of the same scene of big ‘folk-punk’ bands like New Model Army and The Levellers and more recently Ferocious Dog but do you think it’s more important to connect with their fans or get away from the folk-punk ‘ghetto’ altogether and get your music out to new people? What has been the reaction from their fans so far when you have played with them? Do they give you a fair crack of the whip or are they only interested in seeing the headliners?
We were fortunate recently to support TV Smith (formerly of punk heroes The Adverts) and a week later New Model Army. It’s often been noted by fans, reviewers and bloggers that we belong in the ‘Celtic folk/punk’ ‘club’. However, we’ve picked up as many new fans playing to rock and metal crowds. We went down well with the New Model Army crowd, in spite of an incipient chest infection which had begun to weaken my voice a couple of days before the gig. I managed to sing over and through the congestion and got the audience- quite a number of whom at least knew who we were- singing along. I have always known that followers of long standing cult bands like NMA are very devoted to their favourite bands, so, under the circumstances I think we did rather well.
Traditional folk music obviously influences Under A Banner so which individuals or bands do you think have been the important links between rock and traditional folk music in the past?
 In my opinion bands like Steeleye Span and Oysterband did wonders for the synthesis between folk and rock. Speaking personally, I prefer it when bands step out of genre boundaries so frequently that critics can’t pigeonhole them.

What themes do you write about for Under A Banner? Do any of you have backgrounds in folk music and if so does this influence your writing and performing? The folk music scene is very stuck in the mud in my opinion and not very open to change so how has the folk scene been towards Under A Banner?
When writing new songs (I pen the lyrics and chordal skeletons of our songs) we draw upon a number of themes. Not all of our songs are agit-socio-political commentary, and not all are angry. I suppose we write about the same things (life, the universe and everything) as a lot of other bands do; the trick is in being able to express these ideas and abstractions in new and original ways. We at least try. Regarding the repetition of themes on the folk or folk-rock ‘circuit’, there’s something of a tradition within these genres to rage against the system, whatever that actually means.
One thing I have been very impressed with is the connection the band has with it’s fans. Do you think its important to foster a sort of family relationship? 
It would appear that in today’s musical climate, the most successful of bands – especially those without significant financial backing of major labels or other benefactors – are those who foster an ongoing two-way conversational relationship with their fans. This is something that we are acutely aware of and happy to participate in. We make regular use of both a Facebook band page and a gig group as well as Twitter (which appears to be on the decline actually) and a mailing list. The maintenance of each of these is key keeping people abreast of the band’s plans. We have made quite a few friends this way, so it doesn’t feel too arduous.
Now Wolverhampton is a very working class town and like most of the industrial parts of England outside the south-east has suffered under both Labour and Tory governments over the last few decades. How has this changed the town. It’s still massively pro-Labour and was pro-Brexit but what is the town like. Has regeneration achieved anything for the ordinary man and woman in the street. What is their that makes you proud to be from Wolves?
As I previously touched upon, being from Wolverhampton is a mixed blessing. The city doesn’t have such an active and enthusiastic live scene for original music as other places we’ve played, although metal bands seem to have plenty of opportunities to combine forces and work with local promoters. Having said this, Wolverhampton is far from a cultural dead zone. The resurgence in the popularity of real ale and craft beer here has begun to improve the city’s nightlife experience, with several new real ale bars and micropubs springing up in and around the city centre. When these venues host open mic nights at least some small gesture is made to revive part of the live music scene. The recent regeneration projects in the heart of the city’s shopping complex are also beginning to gentrify my hometown. The expected and ubiquitous giants of commerce are still very much the major players, but while some smaller independent retailers have given up their long-held plots under the hammer of ever increasing ground rent, some have clung on and continue to flourish. Metamorphosis has to happen in cities, whatever their size; there are of course winners and losers in this process. On the whole I’m happy to be part of it all. If we, as a band, can make more of a mark with what we do then I could definitively say that Wolverhampton has played its part; it is, after all, where we draw our largest crowds outside of festivals and big support slots.

Now the question that’s caused more rows on the London Celtic Punks Facebook page than the “who hates Maggie Thatcher the most” one. What do you think of Frank Turner? Folk-punk troubadour or spoiled posh brat who hangs around with the royal family?
In answer to your Frank Turner question, from what I’ve heard he’s done quite a lot to give less wealthy musicians a platform. I do like some of his music too. I think it would be churlish to dislike someone on the grounds that they may or may not have had a ‘leg up’ in their chosen cultural or artistic field, that is, if their own brand of art is worth taking heed of. I do, however, have a problem with vapid and vacuous celebrity, especially when its derived from equally facile junk TV shows. Now there’s something to kick against!
That’s it then Under A Banner. Anything you would like to add and people you would like to thank…
 Under A Banner have just embarked on a Spring tour with folk/punk comrades Headsticks. We are also playing festivals right up to Autumn and will continue to write new material. As ever, massive thanks to all the people who’ve connected with us and travelled to see us play live. See you out there.
(have a listen to the latest album from Under A Banner ‘The Wild Places’ by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)
Contact Under A Banner
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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.

Headsticks 3

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.

Headsticks 2

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

Contact The Band
Buy The Album
Tower Struck Down WebSite here

EP REVIEW: BLUNDERBUSTER- ‘Self Titled EP’ (2014)

AND FREE DOWNLOAD
Six crazy bastards making lots of noise!
Blunderbuster EP (2014)
Not sure what they’re putting in the water up north but hot on the heels of us reviewing the debut album of Stoke’s Headsticks (here) comes this EP from Blunderbuster from Derby. Blunderbuster were formed in 2010 and their sound mixes elements of traditional British folk music with punk and metal as well as elements of celtic music giving it a real celtic punk feel. Though be warned this EP is not for the faint hearted and any folkies out there may find it a bit too much but for us here its rocks our socks off and we cannot wait to hear more!
Formed out of a mutual love of all things folky and all things heavy. Blunderbuster started life with a vastly different line-up including a different bassist and drummer, as well as an accordian player and a tin whistle and banjo player. But as we all know sometimes life gets in the way and changes had to be made. The dropping out of most of the folk instrument players curved Blunderbuster’s sound to be much heavier and more punk oriented. Thus creating the sound that you can now hear on this EP.
Blunderbuster
The EP kicks off with ‘Danis House Party’ and with the gruff vocals and metally guitar it could steer itself into folk metal territory but luckily it stops just short and returns to good auld celtic punk with touches of the more punky side of The Dropkick Murphys. ‘OLd MacQuarie’ follows and begins with acoustic strumming and nice vocals until some furious drumming continues the assault. ‘Picked Up And F**ked Up’ is the alcholocaust song of the EP. Telling the tale we all know only too well of…well you know what! ‘Kick Arse Celtic Punk Band’ is definitly the most celtic sounding track of the EP but the guitar vocals drumming and frantic fiddling stop it well short of sounding like Enya! Final track ‘The Crucible’ rounds it all off nicely with a bit more of a metally song. 
Loadsa swearing and catchy choruses and not just fist in the air but fist through the window moments. Blunderbuster are for sure one of the heavier punk bands around at the moment in the celtic/folk punk world and carry it all off brilliantly. Just under 20 minutes and the band have made it available for free download so head over to their Soundcloud page and get clicking. Looking forward to hearing more from Blunderbuster and if you like the punkier side of celtic-punk then these ‘six crazy bastards’ will be right up your street!
Contact The Band

ALBUM REVIEW: HEADSTICKS- ‘Muster’ (2014)

“shoulders back boys

hold your heads up high…

don’t ever let them bastards see you cry”

Headsticks- 'Muster' 2014
Headsticks are a relatively new band to me coming from Stoke-On-Trent in the northern Midlands of England. The area is named The Potteries after its main industry of pottery. Sadly those days are long gone and along with coal mining and steel making all of the areas main industries have been decimated. Headsticks prove though that in an area where fascists until recently made up the official opposition in the local council that their is hope for the left, and by that I mean the real left not the trendy middle classes who helped destroy Stoke and its communities.
The band describe themselves as inhabiting the place
“where folk and punk collide”
and is very reminiscent of classic British folk-rock acts like the New Model Army, Billy Bragg (when he was good) and Blyth Power. Formed out of the ashes of two much loved celtic-punk bands ‘Tower Struck Down’ from Crewe in Cheshire who were one of the original scene bands formed way back in 1985 and the band that came out of them Jugopunch who featured on the Shite’n’Onions 2nd Volume Compilation CD.
Headsticks
Headsticks have been kicking up a bit of a fuss around their home and now further afield as well with the release of this their debut album. Last year they released a 3-track demo which was pretty well received but the reception to ‘Muster’ has been universally impressive.

Twelve tracks and an impressive 45 minutes long ‘Muster’ pulls you in from the first seconds of brilliant opening track ‘Flatline Town’ telling the well known story of what happens to places when you systematically set out to destroy them by closing down the industries that those places were built on. Its worth remembering though its not the towns but the people in them the rulers of this land wanted to destroy and ‘Muster’ is testament to the resistance to that. Despite only having acoustic guitar and harmonica as ‘folk’ instruments the album has a traditional british folk sound to it but despite not being celtic at all I’m absolutely 100% sure it would appeal to all fans of celtic-punk. ‘Youre Killing Me America’ is an anti-imperialist anthem that is particularly apt at the moment while the USA funds the Israeli’s attempted genocide of the Palestinians. ‘Cold’ takes Headsticks over to Mullingar and is me fave album track about love gone wrong. A slight C’n’W feel due to the great guitar playing. ‘Two Sides’ slows it right down and the harmonica (which regular readers will know I love!) is to the fore and again in the next song ‘Wishing’ which to these ears reminded me of The Housemartins. They speed it up again with ‘Fanatics’ and the social commentary is flowing and we’re glad to see these boys plant themselves firmly on the left. ‘Ghost’ sees the Headsticks heading back to Ireland to Achill Island. ‘World Away’ and ‘Teenage Widow’ continue the theme of trying to find out what happened to the working class of the northern cities and ‘Every Dog Will Have Its Day’ shows the gritty dark humour of the band
“You’re standing outside Wilkinson’s
Strumming on your guitar
To buy a liquid lunch and another pack of ten”
‘Paper Flowers’ tells of young men being sent away to kill and be killed in wars that we shouldn’t be involved in. ‘I Love The Way’ ends the disc with another great anthem and fist in the air chorus.

A great album and recommended for all here. Despite only being formed in 2012 I can see these boys shortly becoming firm favourites on the festival scene. Their music will appeal to all from the teeny punk bopper to the grizzled old folkie and with sound politics and even sounder ethics this is a band we can all put our trust in.
Contact The Band
Tower Struck Down WebSite
Buy The Album
there’s a nice review of the album here on Louder Than War

 

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