Tag Archives: Nick Cave

THE UNHOLY TRINITY- SHANE MacGOWAN, MARK E. SMITH AND NICK CAVE

We were saddened to hear about the death of Mark E.Smith grumpy front man of the influential Manchester post-punk band The Fall. So seems an apt time to remember the time, back in February 1989, that the British music paper the NME sent two of its journalists, James Brown and Sean O’Hagan, to the boozer with three of music’s wisest (and wildest) men- Shane MacGowan, Mark E.Smith and Nick Cave… and gave them all £10 each to have a drink!

It’s not often that we mere mortals find out what the personalities of our heroes are but in this interview we can almost see them lapping it up in the lounge bar down the Montague. Nick Cave keeps his cool and his answers short and sweet, maybe down to him being the only sober one there perhaps (he had just spent seven weeks in rehab), while Shane (“… done some Ecstasy and had drunk a bottle of whisky on the way down”) is the amiable drinking companion we would always assume he would be dipping in and out and taking the piss in between bouts of seriousness. Finally Mark, at times abusive and hostile and others friendly and warm. His views were certainly militant but maybe not in the way many would like them to be but no denying the influence he had inspiring a generation of musicians from Sonic Youth to The Pixies and beyond. I had the pleasure of meeting him once in a pub in Sheffield around 1988 and he was as sound as you could expect a music hero to be when you’re a awed teenager. With more than thirty album’s and more band members than you could ever possibly keep up with The Fall didn’t make it easy to follow them but there were always Mark E.Smith steering them and always around but no more now. He will be missed.

“a kind of Northern English magic realism that mixed industrial grime with the unearthly and uncanny, voiced through a unique, one-note delivery somewhere between amphetamine-spiked rant and alcohol-addled yarn.

FEBRUARY 25th 1989. NME TALKS TO

“So the NME thinks we’re the last three heroes of rock’n’roll, do they?” laughs Nick Cave. “Smarmy fuckers,” adds Shane McGowan, “what they actually mean is that we’re the three biggest brain damaged cases in rock’n’roll.”

“Apart from Nick”, jabs Mark Smith, “Nick’s cleaned up.”
“yeah”, drawls Cave, “my brains restored itself.”

A bottle’s throw from Millwall FC, The Montague Arms, a mock Gothic fun pub for morbid tourists, plays host to a bizarre summit meeting. Amidst stuffed horses’ heads, skeletons on bicycles and mocked up corpses, three of contemporary music’s most infamous individuals are gathered at the NME’s request.

Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, Mark E.Smith of the Fall and Nick Cave all share an outsider’s attitude that informs their respective musical output. Both championed and castigated for their obsessiveness and extremism, this unholy trio are dogged by reputations that precede them.

That they agreed to such a meeting is surprising. What ensues is inspired and insane by turns. The fractured and, often fractious, conversation sprawls between the amiable and the aggressive- Presley to Nietzsche, songwriting to psychology, football to fanatics.

In an afternoon of sheer psychotic hellishness, Cave plays the diplomat to Smith’s bursts of contentious rhetoric whilst MacGowan transmits his thoughts from his own singular, rarefied wavelength.

WHAT REALLY WENT ON THERE ? WE ONLY HAVE THIS EXCERPT

NME Do you think it’s accurate to describe the three of you as outsiders?
NC “I think we have all tended to create some kind of area where we can work without particularly having to worry about what’s fashionable.”
MES “Yes, fair enough. But I think there’s a lot of differences in this trio here. Nick was very rock’n’roll to me but he’s turned his back on it which was cool. Shane’s more, I dunno. To me the Pogues are the good bits from the Irish showband scene, like the Indians. You had that feel, probably lost that now. Your work’s good though.”
SM “Fuck it man. Who wants to work in a place where there’s all these people looking at you ?”
MES “Are you talking about your gigs ? You should stop doing them, then.”
SM “Can’t afford to.”
MES “Fuck it, you could fight not to if you don’t like it.”
SM “…and leave the rest of them in the lurch ?”
MES “Nah, the rest of your band will always complain about not working. If you’re paying them a wage tell them to stay at home and behave themselves.”
SM “It’s a democracy our band.”
MES “Why aren’t they here with you then ?”
SM “Cos the NME didn’t want to interview them.”
MES ‘Cos nobody’d recognise them.”
SM “That’s it ! They want to interview us because we’ve got distinctive characteristics. They just want to interview three high-brow loonies.”
MES “In that case you should have brought your mate Joe Strummer along.”
SM “I said high-brow loonies.”

HITS AND MYTHS

NME You must be aware that, consciously or otherwise, you’ve each created a particular myth that has arisen, in part, from your songs.
SM “Nobody created my mythology, I certainly didn’t.”
NC “No, you (the press) created it.”

SM “The media has a lot to answer for, you’re all a bunch of bastards however friendly you are.”
NC “Let’s not talk about the media. Why the hell are you talking about mythologies ? That tends to suggest it’s somehow unreal.”
SM “It seems to me that in your songs, Nick, you’re doing a Jung-style trip of examining your shadow, all the dark things you don’t want to be. A lot of your songs are like trips into the subconscious and are therefore nightmarish.”
NC “Possibly.”
SM “You’re exploring the world through the subconscious. I’ve done that on occasions for various reasons, whether it be illness or self abuse, or whatever. Once things start to look grotesque I don’t write them or sing them. I couldn’t write them the way you do, I couldn’t-making nightmares into living daylight…”
NC “I think you do a pretty good job of it in some of your songs.”
SM “The minute it gets dark I shoot back, retreat. I haven;’t always but I do now ‘cos…”
MES “Don’t give too much away Shane, don’t tell them. Hold a bit back.”
SM “I haven’t told them anything yet.”

NME “How do each of you approach the actual mechanics of songwriting ?”
MES “When you ask that you induce fear in a songwriter. I just go blank.”
NC “It’s not a cut and dried process.”
SM “For a start I’ve got to be out of my head to write. For a lot of the time it’s automatic writing. ‘Rainy day in Soho’ was automatic.”
MES “Its gotta be subconscious and off the wall. He says he’s got to be out of his head, and a lot of the time I have too. Sometimes, I just wake up and do it. It’s one of the hardest questions you ever get asked. For instance, you sometimes hear things that would make a great idea for a song but you never carry them out.”
SM “I do. Like the “Turkish Song of the Damned” was a Kraut trying to tell me something and I misheard him. He said, “Have you heard ‘The Turkish Song’ by the Damned”. Then I woke up.
MES “My German song’s better than your yours, I bet. This is like one of those night-time discussions on Channel 4.”
NC “I write songs in batches then record them and then can’t write again for ages. I try and build one song upon another, they may not look obviously inter-related but often one song acts as a springboard into another.”
SM “You haven’t been back to the swamps for a while, have you ?”
NC “The swamps ? Heh,heh. I’ve written a novel about that.”
MES “Nick thinks a novel’s two pages long. Very novel, heh, heh.”
NC “What’s it called ?”
MES “It’s called ‘It’ll Be Ready in Another Five Years’. You should write more aggressive songs, Nick, you’re getting too slow.”
NC “I haven’t sat down and thought about the mood before I wrote them.”
MES “I find your work almost English Lit oriented, like Beckett, things crop up again and again.”
NC “And your songs are very deceptive Mark, in the way they’re sung. They might appear at times like streams of consciousness but that’s deceptive.”
MES “One thing that eally annoys me is that stream of consciousness thing. I wouldn’t let on to it normally, but it annoys the shit out of me. I put a lot of hard sweat into them, I think about them. They have an inner logic to me so I don’t really care who understands them or not. I see writing and singing as two very different things. My attitude is if you can’t deliver it like a garage band, fuck it. That’s one thing that’s never been explored, delivering complex things in a very straightforward rock’n’roll way. My old excuse is if I’d wanted to be a poet, I’d have been a poet.”
SM “And starved.”
MES “I can write, boy, I can write. That’s what I do. People like you sit around moaning about the state of pop music…The trouble is it’s too bloody easy for people, that’s why music is in the sorry state it is. Any idiot, actors mainly, can go in there, sing a chord, bang on a machine…I’m not objecting to that but when people get at me for trying to say something in a rock’n’roll mode it’s as if I’m a freak.”
SM “All this talk about the state of music, rock’n’roll, Irish music, soul, funk.”
MES “Salsa.”
SM “Its been proved by Acid House that anyone can make a record.”
MES “We’re not thick, we all know that.”
SM “Look, I’m talking about the implications of Acid House”
MES “There’s nothing new in Acid House for me, pal. I’ve been using that process for years. Bloody years. It might be new for you but don’t assume it’s new for anyone else, because you’re fucking wrong, pal.
SM “What the fuck are you talking about ? Have you made an Acid House record ?
MES “It’s the same process, right. Have you had some sort of bloody revelation about Acid House ?”
SM “Hah ! It’s obvious if you listen they put Eastern melodies over it, bits of this and that…”
MES “That’s what music should always have been like.”
SM “It always was.”
MES “Why haven’t you been doing it for years then pal ?”
NC “I think they have been doing it. I’ve heard zithers and so on. Eastern stuff and Turkish stuff.”
MES “We had jazz arrangements in ’82 when the rest of those tossers were playing cocktail lounge music and fucking pseudo new wave, so don’t talk to me about it because I know what I’m talking about pal.”
SM “Fucking hell, what’s he on about ?”

CONTAINER DRIVERS

MES “The trouble with the music biz is that its become so bourgeois. A middle class executive business like the police force.”
SM “A middle class executive police force ? You must be mad ! They’re stormtroopers nowadays, thicker than they ever were.”
MES “Can we drop the cop talk ? It’s the same with everything else, like lurries…” SM “Lurries ? What are lurries ?”
MES “Lurries. Containers that deliver your fucking food to your fucking house, alright ?”
SM “Lorries ! Yeah right.”
MES “The drivers are paid the lowest wages because everyone wants to sit in the office and be a ponce. You can’t just go into a hotel and write your name, you’ve got to fuck around on a bloody computer. Nobody wants to work anymore.”
SM “Oh God ! You make me wanna puke sometimes, you do. Of course nobody wants to work. Who in their right mind wants to work ?”
MES “Alright, alright, that’s obvious, the sky’s fucking blue. Soccer’s the same. None of the fuckers want to hit the ball in the back of the net. They’re all too fucking muscley. And thick. Running up and down the field like bloody morons. The England team are all bloody minor executives who can’t kick the ball in the back of the net, can’t do the bloody job they’re hired to do. I do loads of gigs, that’s my job to play loads of gigs, I’m not an executive, I don’t mind playing in front of a load of sweaty people.”

NME “Do you two still enjoy playing live ?”
NC “I don’t know if I do. The first Kilburn show was a nightmare.”
MES “What’s new with The Bad Seeds ?”
NC “I used to hate playing live totally, just the whole physical exhaustion was too much for me.”
MES “Bleeding workshy Australian. Australians never do any work.”
NC “The last tour, going on stage was a release.”
MES “Sexually ?”
NC “As my life gets more constipated and cramped going on stage I’m able to purge myself in some way.”
MES “A bowel release.”
NC “I feel more relaxed.”
MES “With Mick Harvey behnd you with the vaseline.”
NC “Put a muzzle on this guy.”
SM “The gigs I enjoy are the ones where I am so angry and paranoid, and I hate the audience so much, that I put everything into it to feed off the aggressive side of it. I don’t actually hate the fans but when I’m feeling angry, pissed off and full of hate, it’s a good gig for me.”
NC “An audience is the perfect thing to unleash that hate and venom on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you hate everyone in the audience but when you’ve got a so-called adoring mass in front of you, it’s a perfect target for that kind of disgust. Sometimes you find yourself in a position where you’re venting your disgust on an audience and a lot of them keep coming back because they actually like that aspect. In a way that diffuses the feeling and you don’t get the same release.”
MES “You gotta reassess your audience, make sure they aren’t just coming to throw ashtrays at your head for fun. Shane says he goes on full of twist, you’ve got to. If you don’t you’re fucking fucked, that’s whats wrong with a lot of acts these days, they do fucking yoga before and go on all fucking relaxed. I’ve been with Fad Gadget and he was doing incense and headstands. The English soccer players could do with a lot of twist, they should be put in a room and made to go round in circles, and told “if you don’t do a good gig tonight then you’re not getting paid.”

NME “Shane, you obviously don’t enjoy playing live anymore, is that through being on the road too much ?”
SM “I feel like I’ve spent the last five years of my life on the road. It hasn’t affected my songs but it has probably affected everything else about me. Obviously, the more you travel, the wilder the things that keep happening to you, the more likely it is that complete strangers will knock on your hotel room door.”
MES “Nick and I don’t related to that ‘cos the people who come up to us either hate our guts or wouldn’t really want to be alone in a room with us. You’re a very amiable guy, Shane.”
NC “I’m not sure what you’re talking about here but the way people related to me in the dressing rooms and so on was incredibly aggressive. They know every record and they seem to think they should nudge me or bump into me as they go past.It was this incredible performance that used to amuse me. I think we share something in common on that level ‘cos, like, in the early days, people were drawn towards us like they’d be drawn towards a car smash…”
SM “I read about the fan mail that Freddie Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street movies gets-real sicko stuff, loads of letters from genuine corpse freaks and child killer types. It frightens him shitless. That sorta thing freaks me out.”
NC “There is a definite relationship between that fanaticism and the fact that, as a performer, you expose more of yourself, of the undercurrents of your personality. Most rock personalities subdue that or chose not to explore it.”

“It’s rare when a group comes along that has any real soul to them.” (Cave)

HEROES AND VILLAINS

NME “Mark, of the three of you, would you admit to being the professional cynic ?”

MES “No, cynicism and defensiveness are two things constantly levelled at me. Look, I’ve got time for people, I’m good mannered. I usually find that when you are down, nobody has a bloody minute for you. If I was a nobody, you wouldn’t even talk to me.”
SM “You are nobody.”
MES “Fuck off. It’s bloody true. Neither would you, Nick.”
NC “Bullshit! That’s bullshit I take offence at that.”
MES “I’m not levelling anything at you. People, in general, don’t like being upfront and civil. They hate you for it. They label you a cynic ‘cos you’re reasonable.”
SM “You’re no reasonable though. You’re a rude bastard. That’s fair enough.”
SO’H “Ok I’m cynical. But I’m not defensive. I’m slightly paranoid which is healthy.”
NME “Slightly?”
MES “Listen, Sean, do you walk around London embracing everybody? If I was in the bleeding gutter you wouldn’t piss on me.
SO’H “I would.”
NC “Your reaction is becoming very defensive, Mark.”
MES “You’re a failed psychiatrist.”
NC “I’ve analysed you, alright-defensive paranoid with delusions of grandeur.”
MES “I’ve had discussions like this all the time in pubs. I end up beaten half to death on the floor. I try to be civil and people assume I’m attacking them.”
SM “You attack people all the time. In the press.”
MES “I used to. It became too routine so I gave it up. Nietzsche said ‘Embrace your enemies’. You two aren’t my enemies so I won’t embrace you.
SM “Read a lot of Nietzsche, have you?”
MES “All his stuff. I can’t quote him. I’m not into him anymore, gave up three years ago. He taught me a lot, though. We’re not all born public school boys like you.”
SM “I’m not a born public school boy.”
MES “Do you like Brendan Behan, he’s good.”
SM “Yeah, he’s not a fascist maniac posing as a philosopher.”
MES “If we’re gonna talk philosophy, that’s a load of crap ! The Nazis adopted his creed and distorted it, they misquoted him all the time.”
SM “‘The Will to Power’? Try re-interpreting that statement. You can’t. It says what it says.”
MES “He wasn’t a Nazi-you’re only saying that because some polytechnic fucking lecturer told you he was.”
SM “I’m saying it ‘cos I read two of his books where he dismissed the weak, the ugly, the radically impure, Christianity, Socrates, Plato. He was anti anyone who hadn’t a strong body, perfect features…”
MES “That’s the coffee table analysis. He was the most anti-German pro-Semitic person…”
SM “His books were full of hate.”
MES “You’ve just said you’re full of hate when you go onstage.”
SM “I don’t go around saying Socrates was a cunt, Jesus Christ was an idiot, do I ?”
MES “Jesus Christ was the biggest blight on the human race, he was. And all of them Socialists and Communists- second rate Christianity. It’s alright for you Catholics. I was brought up with Irish Catholics. Some of my best friends are Irish Catholics.”
SM “listen to him.”
MES “Hitler was a Catholic vegetarian, non-smoker, non-drinker. The way you’re talking about Nietzsche is that anyone who’s a non-smoker, non-drinker is a Nazi. That’s the level of your debate, pal. You don’t know fuck all about Nietzsche, pal.”
SM “You’re anti-socialist, too, aren’t you ?”
MES “Yeah. I’m an extreme anti-socialist. You don’t live on a housing estate where there’s been socialism for thirty years and they keep saying it’s gonna get better all the time and it never does. Thirty fucking years of it getting worse and worse. You obviously haven’t experienced that, living in London.”
SM “What’s the alternative ?”
MES “I don’t have to worry about that. I’m an adult. I’m working class, me. I come from a generation that fucking created this nation pal. You lot, you just sit around and talk about socialism, you’re the bloody problem. Eighty percent of this country are white trash, working class. How come they don’t vote Labour? ‘Cos the Labour Party are a fucking disgrace, that’s why. Engels- he was a factory owner in Manchester exploiting 13 year old girls. Learn your history, pal, learn your history. I suppose you blame all Ireland’s problems on the British. All the problems of the world are down to Britain. That’s what you think, why don’t you say it? You can’t tell me anything about oppression ‘cos, I’ll tell you something pal, if you’d been part of Germany, you’d have been liquidated. If you were part of Russia, you wouldn’t even exist. Don’t tell me about oppression, my parents and grand-parents were exploited to the hilt. Sent to wars, they had gangrene in their teeth. My grandfather was at Dunkirk and all you can see is Margaret Thatcher on my face when, actually, She’s on Nick’s face. Isn’t she Nick ? Come on Nick, help me out. Basically, I like to discuss things right down the line and I don’t agree with anybody…”

KING INC

NME “This is getting a bit out of order, can we talk about something less acrimonious. Heroes ?

SM “You’re into Presley, Nick.”
MES “A lot of Presley’s good stuff was overlooked. Like the NME viewpoint that he died when he came out of the army. I think the opposite, his best stuff came after the army.”
SM “That figures. He was a pile of shit when he came out of the army compared to before he went in. His mother died when he was in the army. That was one of the causes. Anyway, he did some good stuff in the late ’60′s after the army- ‘Kentucky Rain’, ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘In the Ghetto’ as opposed to ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’, ‘That’s alright Mama’. I suppose that’s all shit to you , is it ?”
MES “I’m not saying that but everybody writes the later stuff off…”
SM “Who ever writes off Elvis ?”
MES “Look, pal, Elvis was the king, right? To me, Elvis were king. He was only the king ‘cos he sustained it. You probably think he’s some kind of criminal ‘cos he went in the army for a few years. You’re insinuating that I’m pro-army and if you have anything to say on that score, say it now, pal and I’ll fucking argue right through you !”
SM “What ! He’s off again.”
MES “I’m into Mersey Beat at the minute- The Searchers. I respect Dylan. The only good thing I’ve heard of his is that LP he did with George Harrison and Roy Orbison.”

NME “You seem to prefer older music, is there nothing contemporary that appeals ?”

NC “It’s rare when a group comes along that has any real soul to them. Rock’n’Roll history isn’t long enough. There’s three or four blues people that I like after filtering through loads of blues. There’s about three gospel bands, a handful of country ones. I have to draw on the….what are you laughing at, Mark ?”
MES “Oh nothing, heh heh, I’m really into John Lee Hooker myself. He’s great solo without a band. His bands are crap. I was always into more experimental bands- Can, Faust. I won’t say German ‘cos Shane’ll have an epileptic fit. I think Nick’s more traditional and I respect that but, I’m into things like Stockhausen, The United States of America and Gene Vincent and rockabilly. That’s my influences. And I always preferred Lou Reed to the Velvet Underground.”

NME “What do you think of the blanket critical approval of Morrissey ?”

MES “Morrissey’s another Paddy! A South Manchester Paddy. Shane’s got more to say than Morrissey.”
SM “I think you guys are encouraging Mark to be like this. You journalists love it.”
MES “Of course they do. That’s the NME policy, they love a good argument. Don’t you lads ?”

Things fall apart. The unholy trinity climb on the pubstage. MacGowan on drums, Smith on guitar and Cave on the organ. A jam of sorts ensues- The Velvets meets Hammer Horror with a hint of Acid House. Totally wired. Summit mental.

(Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan and Kylie Minogue sing Bob Dylan’s ‘Death Is Not The End’)

What became of them after the tape finished we can only guess but I doubt they just got up and went their separate ways! These days its hard to imagine any publication with any influence doing something like this but we learn a lot about all three gents and though acerbic and argumentative Mark E.Smith certainly gets his point of view over and is heard. Gone before his time but he lived his life hard and wild and is one of a small bunch of working class musicians of which we can truly say that when they pass we will never see their like again.

MARK E.SMITH- 5 MARCH 1957 – 24 JANUARY 2018

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ALBUM REVIEW: T.C.COSTELLO- ‘100 YEARS AGO’ (2015)

some have called it folk-punk with an archaic edge…

T.C. Costello- '100 Years Ago' (2015)

If T.C.Costello was a drink he’d be equal parts punk rock and folk music, a bit like a Whiskey Mac perhaps! Originally from South Carolina in the United States this is his fourth record release and for certain its his most ambitious. Throughout the album runs the theme of, the only song not written by T.C, the old sea chanty ‘100 Years Ago’.

T.C.Costello

whiskey is his spirit animal…

T.C.Costello is you see one of them really annoying people who can play a multitude of instruments and can seemingly turn his hand to just about anything. For those of us with feet for hands we really hate that! The album features everything from your normal celtic-punk gear such as acoustic guitar, Irish Bouzouki, tin-whistles and accordion but doesn’t just end there as there’s also the sounds of horn pipes, a Chinese instrument called a Hulusi that sounds like bagpipes and even a khaen, an ancient bamboo instrument from Laos. The music itself has the vibe of celtic-punk, no suprise what with T.C Irish-American roots, but is more reminiscent of pirate punk due to the subject matter. These genre’s are basically the same anyway and even if you don’t agree with that they definitly overlap. The songs are all told with humour and and in a story-telling style. The music is the background to the words and with the clear and crisp vocals you can make out every word T.C tells. As for comparisons the only ones I can think of are a maybe piratey Tom Waits / Nick Cave perhaps but with a twisted Irish/ Balkan thing going on. He also reminds me a lot of a London band called Folk Grinder who are well worth checking out. All the songs on ‘100 Years Ago’ are self-penned except for the title track and with eighteen tracks it flies by, with no dragging or filler, super quick at just over thirty five minutes. A lovely wee album and I have already checked out his other albums. This is not an album to jump around to but any lovers of celtic-punk should be well use to moments like these. Sometimes the point of the music is the words in the song. As the left-wing band Easterhouse once said “music is not enough…”

As already mentioned it’s virtually all original songs of classic Irish-American folk music but with punk intensity and with a cheeky side. Often humorous and sometimes political but always fun and in T.C’s own words the songs “without exception go well with beer…”

(to play the whole album through click play below)

Contact T.C.Costello

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Buy The Album

From T.C.

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: VARIOUS ARTISTS- ‘People Take Warning! Murder Ballads And Disaster Songs 1913-1938’ (2007)

AND FREE DOWNLOAD

people are always drawn to the scene of an accident and it was no different in the past either…

A simply stunning 3 x CD box set that is now out of print and unavailable unless you’re willing to pay an absolute fortune. It’s the real deal of authentic folk and country from black and white performers from the dawn of the roots of America’s musical traditions. Seventy  beautifully remastered recordings with over half on CD for the first time. So here’s your chance to download it but be quick and if you have any problems leave a comment.

VARIOUS ARTISTS People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs 1913-1938 (2007)

Close your eyes and hear the suffering through the ages, as disasters both great and small are relived in song by roving musicians with only a fiddle or a guitar to stake their claim on history.

Close your eyes and see the carnage reenacted. In Frank Hutchison’s ‘Last Scene of the Titanic’, see all the pretty ladies in their evening gowns and all of the tuxedoed gentlemen plummet over the deck of the great juggernaut as it collides with a massive iceberg, sending them wailing and flailing and thrashing in a demonic ballet into the icy Atlantic waters.

Open your ears and hear the plaintive cry of a child in the night, who wakes from a portentous dream in which his daddy is trapped in the interminable blackness of the coal mine, Blind Alfred Reed’s ‘Explosion in the Fairmount Mine’, only to discover that dear daddy was indeed trapped in a mine explosion and is one of 200 unrecovered miners never to see the light of day again.

True-life scenes such as these are the subject of this massive box-set, in which seemingly congenial-sounding folk and blues songs from the early twentieth century document disasters and real-life tragedies with a quiet intensity that disturbs the casual listener far more than any contemporary death metal band could. This is not Sturm und Drang, this is real pain and suffering devoid of fantasy or romanticism. These are songs for the legions of anonymous dead, musical coffin markers for the ones who were lost along the way.

Highlights range from the grim to the funny. In ‘Mississippi Heavy Water Blues’, Robert ‘Barbecue Bob’ Hicks complains that the murky brown flood waters have washed all the wimmenfolk away. The original version of ‘When the Levee Breaks’ by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie remains a haunting testament to the 1927 Mississippi Flood. Charlie Poole’s ‘Baltimore Fire’ is spectral in its account of hundreds consumed by the flames of a raging inferno. Then there’s my personal favourite, Bob Miller’s ‘Ohio Prison Fire’, in which a distraught mother is asked to identify the charred remains of her late lamented son:

“I’ll take my boy back now.

The state’s finished with him.

The state’s finished with all of these bodies.

These poor, charred bodies!”

Disc Three switches the focus to murder ballads, showcasing songs of cold-blooded homicide that have clearly influenced the work of such hard boiled musical greats as Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, and Tom Waits, the latter providing the eloquent introduction to this set. Early versions of such blood-soaked ballads as ‘Billy Lyons and Stack O’Lee’, the legend of Stack O’Lee or “Stagger Lee” exists in many forms, and ‘Darling Cora’, also known as ‘Darling Corey’, stand alongside lesser-known death row oddities like ‘The Trial of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Pts. I & II’ an ode to the murderer of the Lindbergh baby. True crime buffs may favor this disc as much as musicologists.


Special mention should be made to the impeccable sonic reproduction by Christopher King, who understands the mystical power inherent in the snap, crackle and pop of old 78 records and faithfully reproduces the elusive sound of the victrola, cranked up and wailing away like a banshee in a tin can. The static of these old grooves perfectly encases the sadness of bygone eras like ancient beetles trapped in amber. Timeless and lifeless.

In today’s post-9/11 world, the fear of arbitrary annihilation is almost taken for granted, yet this collection serves as a moving reminder that tragedies of every kind have always lived on in the music of American folk musicians, perhaps to serve as a talisman for future generations.

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DISC ONE- MAN v MACHINE

DISC TWO- MAN v NATURE

DISC THREE- MAN v MAN 

ARTWORK AND LINER NOTES

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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