Tag Archives: Stiff Little Fingers

EP REVIEW: BENNY MAYHEM- ‘Song For Absent Friends’ (2017)

Australia’s folk-punk troubadour!

Just a few days before we review the new EP from Tasmania’s premier folk-punk outfit The Dead Maggies and it’s more of the same with more Aussie fare from Benny Mayhem. Not a name known to us till recently it would seem that Benny has blessed Europe quite a few times before as both a solo artist and as the shirtless, writhing front man of kick-arse smart alec punk rock party band Project Mayhem. He tours as both solo and with a band and if plans go to plan he will return to England with both in 2017 while inbetween Benny will be studio-bound applying the finishing touches to his latest LP.

From his home base on the west coast of Australia in Perth, Benny Mayhem has toured the world as a wandering troubadour and in England has gone from busking outside tube stations to the festival circuit in only two years. The EP begins with the title song ‘Song For Absent Friends’ and is an ode to the multitude of people that have helped Benny on his journey’s around the globe delivering folk-punk to the masses. It was in the Fuelled By Cider Studio in Somerset that Benny realised the three original songs delivered here needed the backing of a full band to realise their full potential. Returning to Australia he set about mixing the songs and gathering the right musicians for the job.

“Now I’m sitting in my room,
Thinking of times I shared with you,
And I wouldn’t be me today…
If it wasn’t for you”

He wrote the opener in a hotel room in the Austrian Alps and its poppy’ness’ and Cali-punk style belie its snow laden roots! It may not have much in common musically with The Dead Maggies but the Aussies seem to have cornered the market in great song/story writing.

(acoustic version of the full band song on the EP)

Benny and his acoustic guitar start the show next with the amazing ‘Mother Nature Will Have Her Revenge On Old Fatty’. Great well thought and inspiring lyrics as well as a great sense of humour. Listening to this song especially you can tell it would have worked as just Benny and that guitar but the band takes it into a different territory and will I am sure open many more doors for him.

“You’ll watch the jungle close in
Just as it always has before…
And the waters will rise
Just as they always have before…”

‘Bulwer Street Waltz’ is next and again it’s mostly Benny and his guitar with minimal but crucial backing from the band. A tale of mis-spent youth that ends with the absolutely fantastic line

“We were glared at in clubs
But we didn’t care
My only regret is that I didn’t dance”

What a line. I love it.

Song For Absent Friends ends with a class acoustic version of the Stiff Little Fingers standout ‘Suspect Device’. Jake Burns spits the original out with real bile while Benny plays it much calmer. Perhaps taking inspiration from Anto Morra who did an amazing job with SLF’s ‘Wasted Life’ proving you can do an angry song without an angry voice (here) Benny nails it regardless.

“Inflammable material, planted in my head
It’s a suspect device that’s left two thousand dead”

You can file Benny Mayhem in the folk-punk section with fellow Aussies like The Rumjacks and The Go-Set but just don’t be expecting the same celtic fuelled raucousness of said bands but more hook laden, catchy and contemplative songs from an artist whose journey has only just started. Whether that journey will lead him away from his trademark folk-punk sound who can tell but wherever it does end up you can be sure Benny will be delivering it straight from his heart.

(listen to Song For Absent Friend here for free before you buy)
* Benny Mayhem will be playing at Rebellion festival in Blackpool on August 4th so look out for dates across the country around then in what will be his fifth visit to these shores.
Buy Song For Absent Friend
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ALBUM REVIEW: SMZB- ‘The Chinese are Coming’ (2016)

The new album celebrating the twentieth anniversary of SMZB.

One of the scene’s best bands and the only celtic-punk band in China!

smzb

smzb-logo

yes.. look again!

Celtic-punk in 2016 is truly a global music genre. Gone are the days when it was the preserve of spotty second, third or fourth generation Irish kids and welcome now to the World Of Celtic-Punk! SMZB hail from Wuhan in mainland China and were one of the first original Chinese punk bands forming in 1996. The name SMZB means Sheng Ming Zhi Bing and in English is literally, ‘Bread of Life’. Unsurprisingly when you hear their music the Chinese authorities have never taken kindly to them and so three of their albums have been banned at home. Sometime around the mid-noughties they made the decision to move away from their original raw sound of early British punk, ska and ’80s hardcore and add bagpipes, flutes and fiddles to their sound. Sounding like a combination of The Pogues, the Murphy’s and Rancid they have deservedly become absolutely huge in their native country and their fame is growing outside China too. They have toured Europe a few times, including earlier this year though sadly never visiting these shores, as well as recording several acclaimed albums including a split with Norwegian celtic-punk legends Greenland Whalefishers.

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The Chinese Are Coming was released on Maybe Mars Records on September 30 this year and begins with the drone of bagpipes through the ‘Intro’ with pounding drums joining in and soon enough the album explodes in your earholes with some quality celtic-punk. SMZB may have been the first and still are arguably the best Chinese punk band but the video to the album’s real opener ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Rebel’ shows they are not alone and features several other local punk bands and is a tribute to Lei Jun China’s first skinhead and Beijing’s punk godfather, who passed away a year previous to this video being premiered this year on the 6th of May.

Reading through the lyrics and knowing the conditions they live in you can only marvel at how brave the band are for singing what they do. It certainly shows up some of the ‘revolutionary’ bands in the west who seem more concerned with getting on the bill at Rebellion festival and getting a huge payday.

“You cannot change anyone in the world,
The only one you can change is yourself.
When you find out the truth and their lies,
That’s when you should do something”

The band to be referenced most here is of course The Dropkick Murphys and SMZB have nailed their sound perfectly. It is all bagpipes and catchy as hell punk rock. Up next is ‘The Chinese Are Coming’ which was the first single off the album and begins with a Ramones-ish

“Hey, Ho! Where shall we go?”

and while on the accompanying video the lyrics are sung in English on the album its in their native language but the words show SMZB’s great sense of humour as well as adding in a great bit of Irish folk thanks to some expert tin whistle playing.

‘Born In The PRC’ is not a celtic-punk version of The Bosses song but an angry and vitriolic response to the nationalism of their government and what punk means to those who face real oppression on a daily basis not like the pampered students here in the west whose oppression is only inside their own imaginations.

“I was born in the P.R.C., it’s such a tragedy,
It’s a so-called nation, but really a fake nation.
I don’t want to living here, I don’t have any choice,
There’s only one party here, I want to be their enemy.
I was born in the P.R.C., the nation with autocracy,
Punx Rebellion of China, is what it means to me.
I was born in the P.R.C., in 2 years I’ll be 40,
Still can’t live freely, that’s why I’m still on stage”

SMZB keep up the pace with ‘Road To Petition’ which brings in the banjo to great effect while ‘Generation’ has a much more traditional folky feel to it showing that the lads can turn it up and down when required. The next song is ‘Flower Of The Socialism’ and is fast heads down, balls out, two fingers to the world, punk rock which slows down only briefly for a few seconds of tin whistle while band founder Wu Wei spits out the words that obviously come straight from his heart.

“You have to try to play your role well, or choose to be a bastard.
You have to try to forget your dream, and then into the arm of reality.
You can’t to extricate yourself from here, you are the one of scars.
Socialism already in bloomed here, you have also sprouted in this land”

smzb-logo-2The next couple of songs, ‘Sunny Speculation’ and ‘One Night In Prison’ are sung in their native language again. Fast tuneful Murphyesque punk is the order of the day. They may have started as a straight up punk band but its thanks to the fantastic abilities of Tang on bagpipes and tin whistle and Tu Dou on banjo that that transition has been so successful. ‘Welcome To China’ sees a return to English in a song that bites back against tourism and the attitude of tourists when they visit China. Now if you have heard ‘White Noise’ on the Stiff Little Fingers album Inflammable Material then you will get what the breakneck ‘The Chinese Are Coming Again’ is about. If you haven’t heard it then give it a quick blast here. Its fair to say their still enormous mistrust of Chinese immigrants and here SMZB expose the bigots that would treat people as a mass rather than individuals. ‘Colonial Trip’ features a guest female vocalist and is reminescent of The Dubliners/Pogues until an electric guitar bursts in and we are brought up to the present day. A great song that nicely straddles both the past and present and even ends with some trumpet playing thrown in to the mix. ‘Tattoo The Earth’ again is more Poguesy while ‘Redemption Song’ takes Bob Marley’s original song and turns it into a celtic-punk classic with the pipes playing loud and proud. The Chinese Are Coming comes to an end with the absolutely stunning ‘Song Of The Seagull’. The longest track on the album, at well over seven minutes, its a tribute to Lin Zhao. A Chinese student from Peking University who was jailed in 1960 for pro-democracy activities. The song is based on a poem she wrote in prison where, forbidden to use pens, she composed countless articles and poems using a hairpin dipped in her own blood. In 1968 she was executed and in 1981 Lin was officially exonerated though the Chinese government still to this day are reluctant to allow any mention of her or her writings. Find out more about the tragic life of Lin Zhao here.

Beginning with just piano, acoustic guitar and the beautiful voice of their guest vocalist (sorry but I couldn’t find her name anywhere) before the full band kicks in with their tribute and some angry celtic-punk rock brings the curtain down on the song and the album. I simply cannot imagine a better way to end this album. A song dripping with emotion and meaning and that symbolises everything that SMZB stand for.

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Fifteen tracks and over fifty minutes to boot that gives you more than enough for your money and if there is ever a band in the celtic-punk scene that demands your support than it is SMZB. Being the only celtic-punk band in your state or city can be a lonely experience but SMZB have become an icon of Chinese music that deserve to be heard far beyond their own country. What they have to say is important and we can be grateful that they have chosen to wrap it some of the best celtic-punk music you will hear.

(listen to The Chinese Are Coming for free by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below before splashing out your $10 on buying it and supporting this awesome band!)

Buy The Album

FromTheBand

Contact The Band

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(full concert of SMZB from their 15th Anniversary show back in 2011)

ALBUM REVIEW: ANTO MORRA-’16’ (2016)

London Irish Folk Punk

Anto16

Somewhere between the Pogues and Ian Dury with perhaps a dash of Madness.
The ever prolific Anto Morra returns with this sixteen track album tribute to the 1916 Easter Rising. In the 100th Anniversary year of the Rising their have been many books and musical tributes paid to that heroic act and I have to say that ’16’ is up there with the best of them. For those that don’t know the Easter Rising took place in April 1916 in Dublin and is one of the most important events in Irish history. It was an attempt to win independence from the United Kingdom by force of arms. Lasting only a few days from April 24 to April 30 around 1500 members of the Irish Volunteers, led by school teacher Pádraig Pearse, joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly, seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed an Irish Republic independent of Britain. They called on the Irish people to rise up and follow them but their call fell on death ears and they were quickly crushed by the huge police and government forces sent against them. For nearly a week Dublin was paralysed by street fighting before British artillery bombardments finally compelled Pearse and his colleagues to surrender. Sixty-four rebels were killed during the fighting, along with 134 troops and policeman and at least 200 civilians were injured in the crossfire. James Connolly whilst dying from shrapnel in his chest was carried on a stretcher to the courtyard in the prison and after confessing his sins to a priest and receiving communion he was shot while tied to a chair to stop him falling out of it. When asked by the priest would he forgive the men who were about to shoot him, James Connolly replied
“I will pray for all men who do their duty according to their lights [conscience]. Forgive them father, for they know not what they do”.
After only six days the Rising was over and fifteen leaders were court-martialed and executed at Kilmainham Jail in Dublin. A sixteenth, Eamon de Valera, was saved from a death sentence because he was an American citizen. The executions caused a wave of revulsion against the British and turned the dead republican leaders into martyred heroes. Despite its military failure, the Rising was a significant stepping-stone in the eventual creation of the Irish Republic. These men would soon prove to become an inspiration to the next wave of freedom fighters in the War Of Independence who would eventually force the British Empire to it’s knees.

ProclamationThe tradition of rebel music in Ireland dates back many centuries, dealing with events such as the various uprisings over the years, the hardships of living under oppressive British rule, but also strong sentiments of solidarity, loyalty, determination, as well as praise of valiant heroes. Though not confined to Ireland it can be said that the Irish have mastered the art of oral history in song and rebel songs are a massive part of that history.

Anto’s album contains sixteen tracks that include some surprising inclusions as well as as some of his own compositions. He is accompanied on several songs by his great friend Tim Chipping on mandola and banjo but for the most part this is pure Anto. Pure London Irish folk punk as Anto puts it himself. Raised in west London by Irish parents his formative years were as a punk rocker floating from band to band and dole cheque to dole cheque in Thatcher’s Britain. Moving from the rat-race of London to the quiet of the Norfolk countryside Anto began to further explore his Irish roots by joining Whirligig, a four-piece ceilidh dance band. In 2013 he left the band after ten years and decided to concentrate on his songwriting and solo performances.

16 begins with the first of Anto’s compositions the ballad ‘Blood On The Shamrock And The Rose’ and is the story of the feelings that the war in Ireland evoked on both sides. Hatred is never a good thing and for the those of us would like to see a united Ireland sooner rather than later hate is not the way to achieve it. A truly great anti-sectarian anthem. This is followed by Kelly From Killane. Made famous in the past by The Dubliners and more recently Damien Dempsey and written by the influential poet Patrick Joseph McCall (1861–1919) about John Kelly who fought in the 1798 Rebellion. He was one of the leaders of the victory over the English at the Battle of New Ross, but was later captured from his bed and hanged and decapitated by British soldiers on June 22, 1798. A up tempo version more akin to Damo’s version. Anto is unaccompanied on ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ a ballad written by Robert Dwyer Joyce (1836–1883). A beautiful tragic song telling of a young man doomed to fight and die in the 1798 rebellion spending his last moments with his loved one. ‘The Rising Of The Moon’ follows and is one of the most covered of all Irish songs and is again based on the 1798 rebellion. One of my personal favourites is up next. hearing this for the first time on one of my Grandad’s old records. ‘Down By The Glenside’ tells of a old woman of around the time of the 1916 Rising recalling her youth.

“Some died by the glenside, some died near a stranger
And wise men have told us their cause was a failure
But they fought for old Ireland and never feared danger
Glory O, Glory O, to the bold Fenian men”

A somewhat modern classic is up next with ‘Back Home In Derry’. A song written by Bobby Sands who was the leader of the Irish Republican Army prisoners in the Maze Prison and led the infamous hunger strikes of both 1980 and 1981 which would eventually lead to his death on the 5th of May 1981. Before he died Bobby was elected as an MP to the British parliament gaining 30,492 votes which dwarfed the votes his many enemies (including Thatcher) had received in that parliament who called him a criminal. He borrowed the tune from Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ for his tale of a young Irish rebel being transported to Australia. Covered by many artists including Christy Moore and Neck it’s a beautiful song and all the more tragic that Bobby’s light was extinguished so early. ‘Wasted Life’ follows and its a brilliant version of the Belfast band Stiff Little Fingers punk rock hit from the late 70’s. Taken from what I think is the best punk rock album of all-time Inflammable Material.

Fast and emotion filled and over in a flash and Anto sings next of an emigrant thinking of his home in ‘Charleville’ in north Cork. ‘Song For Ireland’ is another classic beautiful song. Made a hit in the 70’s it was  written by an English couple, Phil and June Colclough, and was inspired by a trip they took to the Dingle Peninsula. It has been recorded by Mary Black, Dick Gaughan, Barleycorn and Clannad to name but a few.

“Dreaming in the night
I saw a land where no one had to fight
But waking in your dawn
I saw you crying in the morning light
While lying where the falcons fly
They twist and turn all in your air-blue sky”

‘Only Our Rivers Run Free’ is another personal favourite of mine and the title is self explanatory. Mickey MacConnell wrote the song in 1973 and it became a huge hit for both Christy Moore and Irish living legends The Wolfe Tones. Never has Anto sounded better but then straight away he goes one better with ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’. A song written during the American Civil War era about an injured Irish soldier fighting for the Union who dreams of returning to Ireland. ‘The Merry Ploughboy’ is known wherever you’ll ever find an Irish person from the terraces of Celtic Park to bars and clubs though out the world. It’s the first of two consecutive songs written by the great Dominic Behan (1928-1989), brother of writer Brendan. Both were committed socialist’s and republican’s and were among the most influential Irish artists of the 20th century. Anto gives it plenty of ‘ooompf’ and sings with gusto for one of the few, especially on this album(!), joyous and uplifting songs on this album.

“And when the war is over, and dear old Ireland is free
I’ll take her to the church to wed and a rebel’s wife she’ll be
Well some men fight for silver and some men fight for gold
But the I.R.A. are fighting for the land that the Saxons stole”

Definitely one of those songs that gets the blood racing and would get even yer most avid ‘west-brit’ up on a bar stool baring his chest and belting out his lungs. We are back to more serious matters next with ‘The Patriot Game’. One of the most tragic songs ever written about the war in Ireland and also contains some of the most savage put downs you’ll ever hear of the

“quislings who sold out the patriot game”

Telling of Fergal O’Hanlon, from Monaghan who was killed at the young age of just 20 in an attack on a British Army barracks on New Years Day in 1957. Another volunteer, Seán South, was also killed during the raid. ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’ is an upbeat Irish classic, an incredibly fast-paced 19th century song about a Irish man’s experiences as he travels to Liverpool from his home in Tuam in Ireland. A live favourite of Anto’s he performs the song accompanied only on the bodhran. Written by D.K. Gavan, known as ‘The Galway Poet’, for the English music hall performer Harry Clifton who made the song famous.

Another live favourite of Anto’s is up next with ‘The Foggy Dew’ perhaps the best and most widely known, and covered, of songs about the 1916 Rising. It was written by a Catholic priest, Canon Charles O’Neill (1887-1963), sometime after 1919. The song encourages Irishmen to fight for the cause of Ireland, rather than for Britain, as so many young men were doing in World War 1. The most famous version of which is by the The Chieftains and Sinead O’Connor to which The Dropkick Murphys have been taking to the stage for the last decade. With nearly an hour on the clock 16 finally comes to an end with Anto’s song, his own ‘Green, White And Gold’. Anto’s take on the 1916 Rising is well worthy of its place here amongst some of the best Irish songs ever written.

16 is released next week as a limited edition digipack gatefold CD on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2016. The cover art, as on all Anto’s releases is by the famous London Irish artist Brian Whelan. It is more than refreshing to hear these songs sung in a London Irish accent as I noticed that even in my head I was singing along in a Irish accent! Anto is a unique talent with an ability to tell a story in a way that grabs you and forces you to listen. Famed for his wordplay and the way he manages to inject the spirit of punk rock into his acoustic folk he has taken these famous songs and re-told them in a way accessible to everyone. One of the most moving things about this album is surprisingly not one of the songs but the small tribute on the record sleeve that I will end the review with.

“This album is dedicated to my Dad Edward Anthony Morrissey and my Grandfather Daniel Forde. Both brave Irish men who fought for the British and survived World War 1, World War 2 and the Korean War and always dreamt of an united Ireland”

Buy The Album

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Contact Anto Morra

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Pogues at WRYou can pick up a copy of 16 at the official record release show on St Patrick’s Day at The Water Rats in Kings Cross where Anto will be supporting the #1 Pogues tribute band The Pogue Traders well into the early hours. This is the same venue where The Pogues played their first ever gig so come along and be part of history! Tickets are only £7 and are available in advance from here and you can find all the details including set times nearer the date here on the Facebook event page.

  • we have much much more musings in the Anto Morra vaults here if you would like to catch up with them.
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