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ALBUM REVIEW: McDERMOTT’S 2 HOURS Vs. LEVELLERS & OYSTERBAND- ‘Besieged’ (2019)

Second generation Irish singer-songwriter, Nick Burbridge, has been playing Irish-influenced acoustic music since his teens influencing countless others, including in their own words, The Levellers. His band McDermott’s 2 Hours were among the first to ever think of combining punk and Irish folk and his new album Besieged sees him accompanied by members of both The Levellers and the Oysterband and showcases his work as not just a musician but also, in the best Irish tradition, as a poet, playwright and novelist as well.


When writers wax lyrical about the rugged Celtic beauty that came to fruition with The Pogues and Shane MacGowan, they often seem to suggest that time has stood still and that Irish music had been sitting,waiting, since the mid-sixties ballad boom of The Dubliners et al for something suddenly to connect the urgency of punk with the heart and soul of traditional music. But out in the rough and ready bars of Hamburg and a hundred other German hostelries a band was carving out and whittling its own take on the beauty of Irish folk music; adding fire, vitality and punk-style energy while handling the travails of fights and frolics, women, dark streets and drink.  The band morphed into McDermott’s 2 Hours in 1986 (named after a wonderfully unexpected happening on pirate radio during the Battle Of The Bogside as recalled in Eamonn McCann’s War And An Irish Town) ‘being Irish and in the wrong place and at the wrong time’ – to paraphrase MacGowan. In the pubs and clubs of Brighton and London they built a reputation for their incendiary live performances that have become legend. Among their wild and youthful admirers were a gaggle of friends who, a few years down the line, influenced by the spirit, fire and camaraderie of Nick Burbridge and McDermott’s 2 Hours, would strap on guitars and call themselves The Levellers. Those in the know realise that Nick Burbridge has been, and continues to be one of the best songwriters in the Anglo-Irish tradition. He fashions songs that, as well as perfectly capturing the gritty underbelly of the Irish experience in 60s/70s mainland UK, beautifully capture the longing for home and reality of the Troubles with all the evocative magnificence of Beckett or Joyce.

But that was then and this is now.

Besieged is not so much a final curtain as a magnificent encore, serving as the last instalment of a magnificent career. Singer, songwriter, poet, playwright and frontman with folk, rock, roots and punk outfit McDermott’s 2 Hours, Nick Burbridge has released his final album with the band. Besieged sees Nick again team up with members of The Levellers (Jeremy Cunningham and Simon Friend), Oysterband (Dil Davies and Al Scott), Ben Paley (son of the late folk music giant Tom Paley), plus Tim Cotterell and friends, for the album’s twelve tracks. Released via The Levellers On the Fiddle Recordings. Given the artists involved in this album it is of no surprise to hear contemporary folk music of the itinerant outsider, travelling through Europe delivering great tunes and hard hitting poetical lyrics that stand out and are clear. All this amongst the traditional melodies expertly delivered . Fans of the artists will be delighted with the blood sweat and tears gone into this production, but this is no compilation of hits gone by,  but something new and fresh, so even if you come to’Besieged’ as an innocent abroad, looking for an anecdote to the monotony of apolitical electronica or a die hard folkster extending their collection, listen up and be inspired.

This album has everything you’d want from a folk album, laments of the itchy footed; murder ballads; the loss of young lives; drinking songs; anti establishment reeling and railing and a call to join the march of protest. Yet while the tunes are heavily rooted in tradition the lyrical content oft recounts tales of modern society, forgotten tales of the tragic loss of young life in contemporary Ireland. This theme is particularly stark in ‘This Child’, ‘Forlorn Hope’ and ‘All That Fall’.

‘This Child’ like so many a folk song laments the loss of young life, gunned down for being in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” But this is not a song of 17th century highway robbery or even a tune of the innocent Irish during the troubles. This is a song of South Manchester’s Moss Side in the 80s. The time is emphasised by electric jarring chords that blend so well with the rest of the strings, that, incidentally, give us a haunting solo in the middle eight, and a good old fashioned punky 4×4 drum beat.  This is a song of a time when the press dubbed the area ‘Gunchester’ a killing field on our doorstep when young Jesse James, the lads rightly don’t dwell on the irony of this young kids name, was shot while innocently riding his bicycle across a piece of wasteland. All this told clearly and melodically with enough rock guitar to bring on  a crescendo end of the echoing tones of feedback. ‘Forlorn Hope’ rocks us to Portadown and asks us to jig to the tale of a town divided by sectarian violence, where a night on the gear  may be followed by a morning of throwing rocks at the Orange drumming bands, where any attempt at peace was thwarted by those whose interest it was to keep communities apart. The female protagonist of the piece seems to survive but could have easily met the fate of Alice McLoughlin, shot in the back of a Portadown police car or poor Catholic Bernadette Martin shot down while sleeping in bed with reformed Protestant Gordon Green. No wonder our song’s heroine here ends up  high in Camden town. All this to growling guitars across the verses with singing violin instrumentals.

It is the first side of the album that is particularly steeped in modern day tales of tragedy and track 6 is no exception. ‘ All That Fall’ is an uplifting ballad told from the perspective of the victims of abuse that have risen to have a life now “looking back in hope, not in anger”. These “daughters of Mayo” stride history and geography and could be many a farm girl or boy abused in a barn with a sack upon their head or even daughter of Mayo, Mary Ann, kidnapped and abused with a pillowcase on her head in Reading 2005. The tune is acoustic and clear like a Christy Moore ballad that leads us to hum along, the chorus strong that anybody shaking the dust from their feet to live again will feel and the female vocals at the end soft on our ears and full of hope.

The opener of side one ‘Firebird’ gets us in a great mood and sets the tone with fiddle and guitar delivering a folk rock and reel of a Phoenix rising from the ashes with a strong vocal and sing along chorus. This is quickly, it seems,  followed by ‘Erin Farewell’ a swaying anthem for the inevitability of the natural roamer leaving behind the toil of the fields of home and the bed of his marriage under the pretence of chasing a better life in the big smoke. It reminds us of many a navvie or brickie’s song whether that come from Ian Campbell, The Fureys or indeed The Pogues. The worker here admits that it is not just the money but  the excitement and camaraderie of like minded men in a strange land he seeks. Like so many of us his yearning ping pongs him from ‘over there’ to the warmth of home, it is a lucky man who has an understanding wife. Side one also includes a rallying call to protest, ‘The Last Mile’  “Lets take it in the old style, that’s your arm through mine” they cry to an Anglo folk rhythm that has uplifting strings and drums that send a tingle right through you.

Side two  content eases us into historical ground. ‘Warrior Monk’ with strong bass, marching guitar riff and somewhat Arabic strings, walks us to the time of Crusades from the fall of Jerusalem in the 12th century to its’ Moorish reinstatement under Saladin. The song has a crusader’s bastard Moor son of the east ending in battle with his other Christian son of the west. A timely reminder of the futility of war when many a brother fights with another, we are, after all, Christian, Jew or Muslim, sons of Abraham! The jarring electric chord at the end reminds us that this is a song of now as well as then. The songwriters knowledge of history and how it weaves its way through our DNA and indeed a curse upon all our houses continues with title track, ‘Besieged’ . A wonderful trip from fortresses of 17th century Rheinfels to monastery walls, Irish tenement houses right up to date through Cornish fisherman’s houses to the so easily kicked over castles in the Sand. A lyrical metaphorical trip through the history of life and love like Bob Dylan gave Al Stewart a large dram and they wrote a song together. ‘Crossed lovers’ brings us into a timeless familiar territory of a familiar lovers quarrel “How can you hear me if you won’t listen” brought to us by two voices in a slow melodical ballad.  This is juxtaposed by  the raucous drinking song of ‘Damned Man Polka’ backed with reels and military marching drums.

This wonderful album’s penultimate song is a kick in the teeth to the abuse that taints the Church with hard hitting ‘All in your Name’ a duel tempo choppy guitar with bouncing verse and drawled accusational chorus before once again calming us down with the final track, ‘ The Ring’. A traditional sound, a beautiful song of love, land and nationhood with string, flute and voice as crisp as snow underfoot reminding us who we are, “here, now and always”.
Every listen of ‘Besieged’ is indeed time well spent.

Buy Besieged 

Limited edition two CD set released 8 February includes the Best of compilation, Anticlimactic but you can buy several versions including the download direct from Nick here

Also available from all streaming services inc. Spotify, Amazon etc  here

Contact Nick Burbridge-  WebSite  Facebook

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

ALBUM REVIEW: RUNA- ‘Live’ (2016)

Timeless, flawless, innovative and award-winning Irish-American Celtic roots music.

RUNA Live

After four superb studio albums the brilliant Runa release a live album, imaginatively titled Live, that captures perfectly the sound of this amazing band. With a pedigree second to none, made up of vocalist and step-dancer, Shannon Lambert-Ryan of Philadelphia, Dublin-born guitarist, Fionán de Barra, Cheryl Prashker of Canada on percussion, Dave Curley of Galway on mandolin, vocals, bodhrán, and step-dancing, and Maggie Estes of Kentucky on the fiddle they are surely bound to hit the heights again with this album and they have deservedly earned their reputation as one of the most innovative and unique Irish bands of recent times.

Claude was a evangelical preacher, faith healer and singer-songwriter who helped popularise the music of the Appalachian mountains and was one of the fore-runners of the birth of rock’n’roll. Great percussion here keeping a fantastic beat while Shannon’s beautiful voice confers the greatest respect for Claude’s music. The opening song contains all those elements that make Runa such an interesting band. Based in the music of the celtic nations there is so much going on here that to simply call it celtic music does not give you anything like the full story. ‘

“Still I sing bonnie boys, bonnie mad boys,
Bedlam boys are bonnie
For they all go bare and they live by the air,
And they want no drink nor money”

In the 18th century it became a popular diversion to visit the hospital to watch the antics of the poor inmates. Admission was one penny and the hospital realized an income of four hundred pounds a year from visitors. The song Fionán de Barra takes over vocal duties and murderer. Excellent fiddle and a real thigh slapper that gets the audience here really involved and singing along.

“False Sir John’s a wooing gone
To a maid o’ beauty fair
May Colven was this lady’s name
Her faither’s only heir”

“Then myself and a hundred more to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be making we were thinking
When we landed in Yankeeland they shoved a gun intae our hand
Saying, Paddy you must go and fight for Lincoln

General Meagher to us said, If you get shot and lose your head
Every mother’s son of you will get a pension
In the war I lost my leg, all I’ve now is a wooden peg
By my soul it is the truth to you I mention

Now I think myself in luck to be fed on Indian buck
In old Ireland the country I delight in
And with the devil I do say, Oh Christ curse America
For I’m sure I’ve had enough of your hard fighting”

One of the saddest of the Irish emigration songs it is unusual in that songs of that time were written by the people escaping the ‘famine’ back home and extolling the virtues of the ‘land of liberty’. To put it glibly ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’. Truly not every man is a king in the US of A. Fionán takes over the lead vocals again and his whispered hushed tones fits perfecting the sadness in the song. ‘The stereotype of whale fishermen is a of a hairy chested, hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting men of the sea and while, no doubt the description fitted many of them, they often showed a strong liking for gentle ballads like these. The first parts tells the whalefishers story while part two tells of how closely we came to the extinction of this majestic animal.

“My soul has been torn from me and I am bleeding
My heart it has been rent and I am crying
For the beauty around me pales and I am screaming
I am the last of the Great Whales and I am dying”

1947 between a young boy and a false knight (the devil in disguise). The child gets the better of him and damns him back down to hell. Steeleye Span, Oysterband, The Blue Velvet Band have all recorded the song and here Runa give it as good as anyone with Shannon’s vocals shining out. So ends Set One and begins Set Two.

RUNA inside

All rested Runa return to rapturous applause and kick off their set with fiddler and composer born to a Irish musical family in Chicago, Illinois. next up is ‘

“Mhí mise lán den tsaoil is bhi cion amuigh is istigh orm
Nach mór a dáthraigh an saol nuair nach bhfuil eion ag duine ar
bith orm? / At one time in my life I was dearly loved by everyone
Haven’t times changed when no one cares a whit for me?”

(“Fine girl you are!”) version beloved by Irish pub dwellers worldwide but another less well known song written by Gerry O’Beirne about a man who leaves Ireland and ends up in the America southwest, eventually dying fighting and dying for the Mexican Army in the San Patricio Battalion (St Patrick Brigade).

“There the winds of change they blew so far
Of liberty and revolution
And it seemed that each man heard in his breast
the drumming of a nation”

Robert Dwyer Joyce

“Twas hard the mournful words to frame
To break the ties that bound us
Ah, but harder still to bear the shame
Of foreign chains around us
And so I said, ‘The mountain glen
I’ll seek at morning early
And join the brave united men’
While soft wind shook the barley”

and Aoibhneas Eilís Ní Cheallaigh/ Filleadh An Bhadora

Discography

Jealousy (2009) * Stretched On Your Grave (2011) * Somewhere Along The Road (2012) * Current Affairs (2014)

Buy The Album

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Contact The Band

WebSite  Facebook  Twitter  ReverbNation  YouTube  Soundcloud

  • For the review we published of the last Runa studio album Current Affairs check here
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