Make way for a Celtic punk superduo! When the highly respected and prolific Nick Burbridge contacted Ferocious Dog’s Dan Booth, he suggested making an album together. Dan quickly agreed, and the project was on. The result is Icons, an unorthodox folk-punk album that showcases more fine work from these two men. Check it out!
As we all know, Celtic punk often boasts the crunch of an electric guitar and the crack of a drum head. That’s why Icons is not your typical Celtic punk record. The album is entirely acoustic, a stripped-back undertaking that sounds like it could be played at a spontaneous pub session. But don’t be fooled: Nick Burbridge has lost none of his musical competence from the days of McDermott’s Two Hours. His wit is as sharp as ever too, with an onslaught of clever, poetic and politically aware lyrics. The album launches us straight into the action with the title track. “Icons” points the finger at imperialist figures of the past, and the human rights atrocities that wouldn’t be tolerated today. If we all pull together, we can tear these figures down, begins the chorus. Together with the line We stand as one and take the knee, this song makes a clear statement for the current times. The use of the word “icons” is meant in a disdainful, rather than respectful manner.
Nick has struggled with depression over the years, and as such, he uses his work to call attention to people who feel (or simply are) rejected by mainstream society. This theme continues on “Soldier’s Heart”, a song that provides a grim insight into the day-to-day horrors of war, and its ugly brother, war crimes. This creates an atmosphere that only lets up during the mid-section, where a drop in pitch makes way for the warmer tones of Nick’s voice. Another track that provides a temporary break from the hard-hitting lyrics is “Judgement Day”. I had to smile at lyrics like My friend Flynn’s on the last train in, and the line about a sex worker who describes her male customer as “awful small”, to which he replies: I’m gettin’ old now, you’re lucky there’s anythin’ there at all.
Dan Booth, Ferocious Dog and The Levellers
So far, we’ve praised Nick’s contributions highly. But the other half of this record is Dan Booth, fiddler and founding member of Ferocious Dog, no strangers to the Celtic punk fan. Dan takes over the proceedings towards the end of “Cover Me”, which the Dog themselves recorded on 2019’s Fake News and Propaganda. It’s got working down the pit, it’s got prostitution, it’s got fighting. And it’s got wounded souls, who are longing for some protection from the world. As I listened to Dan’s jig, I was transported straight to a pub in Ireland, watching an evening session in an intimate setting. Dan regales us with more slick, fast-paced interludes in “Living on Thin Air”, another Dog number, and if ye’ve never seen the version where Dan, Ken and the lads were joined by Nick on stage, take a look ‘ere, ye ken:
“Dirty Davey” is another title you might recognise. None other than The Levellers covered this one way back in ’93, on their self-titled effort that went all the way to #2 in the UK. The band have cited Nick and McDermott’s Two Hours as a key influence, and the opening piss-take of English Country Garden here is sure to make you smirk. The song then continues in its verbal abuse of political corruption, and the associated treatment of suspects and prisoners.
Corruption and oppression
When Nick released War Without Honour, a collaborative non-fiction book from 1989, it kicked up a storm. This album might achieve the same, if the intended political targets were to listen to it (it’d be good music for a party). Sadly, it’s doubtful that they will, but the twelve tracks here are still fine examples of Nick’s poetic prowess and Dan’s signature fiddle runs. Icons is a protest album that relentlessly goes for the bollocks, but is sensitive at the same time, looking out for the oppressed and lamenting the corruption of the masters, whatever their various guises may be.
It’s clear that the main goal of the Nick’n’Dan project is not commercial success, but to remind people that corruption and greed are always present. And that it’s up to us individuals to keep them in check. In that sense, congratulations to Nick and Dan on conceiving this unique album, and an additional “thank you” goes to Sarah Huson-Whyte and Tim Cotterell, two more greatly skilled musicians who supplied additional instrumentation to the record.
You can get your copy of “Icons” by going HERE. You’ll also find A3 prints of the artwork that Jez from the Levellers produced for the album! Alternatively, if ye need to support the artists for free, the album is also available for streaming on YouTube, Spotify and the like.