Tag Archives: The Narrowbacks

ALBUM REVIEW: THE NARROWBACKS- ‘By Hook Or By Crook’ (2019)

New York Irish Music

The Narrowbacks are back with their third album of Irish-American Celtic-Rock and conceivably their best yet! If Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan and Bruce Springsteen survived a drinking session through the 5 boroughs, the hangover would be called The Narrowbacks. Fire it up!

nar·row·back /ˈnæroʊˌbæk/ [nar-oh-bak]
–noun Slang.
1. Disparaging. an Irish-American.
2. a person of slight build who is unfit for hard labor.

Across the major cities of the Irish diaspora you will find one (or two if your lucky!) band that comes to totally represent the Irish of that city. Like the Dropkicks in Boston, the Mollys in LA, The Wakes in Glasgow and The Bible Code Sundays and Neck in London these bands are a rallying point to the Irish community and help to keep alive the past, present and future of that community. The painful history of tragedy and hardship became a sense of pride and celebration that today across the world the Irish community is flourishing. Even though their are several bands that could lay claim to to the title of NYC’s most prominent Irish band and with competition from greats such as Shilelagh Law or Black 47 The Narrowbacks with this their third studio album By Hook Or By Crook have nailed the honour with this flying colours.

In a city where everyone is fighting for space the the working class Woodlawn area of the Bronx remains to this day a predominantly Irish area, the neighborhood is still referred to as ‘Little Ireland’. Young Irish still flock to the area on their arrival to the States due to the area hosting both the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and the Aisling Irish Community Centre as well untold amount of pubs and construction companies where many of these newly arrived Irish can find work. It was in Woodlawn that the Irish-Americans that form The Narrowbacks grew up. Formed in 2010 as the brain child of a future banker and a drop out bartender as a drunken joke that soon enough developed, under popular demand for them, into the next big thing on the New York Irish music scene. Taking their name from the slang name historically used to describe a Irish-American who was considered too soft to do hard physical labour.

The Narrowbacks left to right: Reilley Vegh – Fiddle * Fionn McElligott – Electric Guitar * Barry Walsh – Acoustic Guitar/Banjo/Mandolin * Seamus Keane – Lead Vocals * Anthony Chen – Bass * Chris Moran – Drums * Pat Keane – Button Accordion

The Narrowbacks pursuit to take over the NYC Irish music scene arguably began when Black 47 called it a day back in 2014. The undisputed ‘Kings Of NY’ were a Celtic-Rock band, formed in 1989 by Larry Kirwan and Chris Byrne taking their name from the the summer of 1847, the worst year of the ‘Great Famine’ in Ireland. With them out of the way the scene was set for some new blood and following their debut album, Fire It Up in 2013, they really came into their own with the EP After Hours and their second album release Arrogance And Ignorance in 2016 the year that also saw them opening for the likes of Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. The album peaked at #2 in the London Celtic Punks Best Of 2016 album chart so much did the assorted wastrels here rate it!

So The Narrowbacks are back and they have a lot to live up to. Arrogance And Ignorance was one of my favourite albums and is still regularly given an airing over at London Celtic Punks towers. The Christmas themed ‘Prodigal Son’ is particularly glorious. An auld fashioned Christmas song about an Irish mammy waiting for her off-the-rails son to come home. Capable of bringing a tear to the eye its nay on impossible to make a truly unsentimental Christmas tune but The Pogues and The Narrowbacks have done it. Based in singer Seamus Keane’s pub in Woodlawn, Keane’s Bar And Restaurant, where music is supplied seven days a week by up-and-coming Irish and Irish-American musicians the band are not just leading the cities music scene but are also helping to make it flourish with their support of other artists.

Tribal drumming and distortion kicks off By Hook Or By Crook with the title track and soon, after only forty seconds, comes to an abrupt end and ‘Streets Of Woodlawn’ takes over and was the first single released in advance of the album. Instantly giving a sense of London’s own Bible Code Sundays due in no small part to the prominence of fiddle and accordion it’s a rip-roaring song the kind of track that gets you screaming at the top of your voice along with the band or a singalong down at the pub smacking your glass on the bar shouting along with the Bhoys “In the streets of Woodlawn”.

Over in a flash of under three minutes The Narrowbacks are not hanging about and the addition of the excellent fiddler Reilley Vegh has given the band that little bit extra buzz. Next up is ‘Tripping Up The Stairs’ and Reilley again shines and his contribution really rounds off the bands sound nicely. The song ticks along nicely with Seamus having perhaps reigned in the ‘gravelyness’ of his vocals. Maybe he’s given up smoking!?! The song ends with a fab trad fiddle solo showing their are no boundaries here and ‘On The Radio’ they have one ot the albums stand out tracks. As catchy as hell with a great chorus and infectiously fun the song gives the whole band to shine individually while not disturbing the flow of the song.

So far its been fun fun fun but as anyone will tell you its not all fun being Irish and ‘All I Know Is Woe’ is the song to bring down the mood, but only a wee bit as the music is still catchy as hell and completely uplifting. While the Bible Codes never really passed into Celtic-Punk remaining firmly embedded in the London Irish pub and trad scene it’s great to hear The Narrowbacks thrash out a bit and ‘Delirium’ is the track to do it in. Still with both feet firmly in Irish music the song has a bit more bite to it and even sounds louder than the other songs here!! The song even touches on that most Celtic-Punk of themes that of the pub and alcohol. On an album as strong as By Hook Or By Crook it seems a wee bit unfair to point out the better tracks but ‘Jackson Notes’ is certainly one of them. Again as catchy as a New York Yankees baseball mitt it’s a rollicking good ride with great vocals from Seamus alongside the whole band stepping up to the plate a great chorus to top it all off. We are nearing the end and nay sign of any ballad yet and ‘Sackcloth And Ash’ is not one either. A more folky approach here despite Fionn’s thrashy guitar, Chris’ drums and Anthony’s rumbling bass best attempts to keep it rocking. The longest song here at nearly five minutes it never outlives its welcome and is, here’s that word again… catchy! The folk instruments are supplied by Patrick on accordion and Barry on both banjo and mandolin as well as Fionn on fiddle. ‘Last Call’ carries on in similar vein with a folky base. Talking of life on the working class streets of NY and not everyone is a king in the US of A. Another great song giving the album a strong ending as ‘Bitter End’ brings down the curtain on By Hook Or By Crook. As Seamus rallies his friends together in a song about how friendship and family determines who we are and tells us to “hold our heads high”. A fantastic ending to an outstanding album.

Ten songs that, all penned by the band themselves, comes in at just over thirty minutes. With seven members the production could get a bit messy but it is as clear as crystal and all the various instruments from folk to rock are clearly balanced along with Seamus vocals. Whoever mixed and produced the album deserves a tip of the hat for such a fantastic job. While The Narrowbacks are probably not a ‘celtic-Punk’ in the traditional sense they are common among Irish-American bands in that they keep one foot in the trad folk scene and come across as a Folk band playing Punk/Rock songs. In these days with the Irish community in the States seemingly at last happy in it’s role in American life bands like those that inhabit the Celtic-Punk and Rock scenes play an important part in keeping the community grounded and to not to forget its past and what others went through to give them the confidence they have today. Seamus Keane sums up the Irish-American community in in his own inimitable way

“Irish America in 2019 is its own thing altogether. One part Donald Trump, two parts Civil Service, construction and pubs, mix in equal parts GAA and AOH, finish with three parts Wolfe Tones. A contradictory recipe for a terrible conversation at Thanksgiving Dinner.”

By Hook Or By Crook gives Arrogance And Ignorance more than a good run for its money and the songs fly past in an whirl and show a growing confidence The Narrowbacks have in themselves. How they are not more widely known is a mystery to me but the Irish around the world love Irish-America (we are all secretly obsessed with it!!) so hopefully this album will receive them the exposure they so greatly deserve. Destined to be at the higher end of this years Best Of Album chart By Hook Or By Crook takes you instantly to the smoke filled bars of Katonah Avenue. Places built on the blood, sweat and tears of generations of Irish and Irish-Americans who still keep a flame alive in their hearts for a place that many will never see.

Buy By Hook Or By Crook  CDbaby  Apple  Amazon

Contact The Narrowbacks  WebSite  Facebook  Instagram  YouTube  Bandcamp

(The Narrowbacks live set opening for the Dropkick Murphys during their St. Patrick’s residency at The House of Blues in Boston in 2016)

GET IN THE FESTIVE SPIRIT WITH THIS CHRISTMAS CELTIC PUNK TOP-TWENTY!

It’s the first of December so let your pint glass be half full for a change and get into the festive spirit with what started as a Top Ten but but soon became the London Celtic Punk’s Top Twenty of the best kick-arse Christmas celtic-punk tunes ever written and absolutely no surprises at #1.

20. THE PRIESTS FEATURING SHANE MacGOWAN-  ‘Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth’

Yeah you read that right. It may not quite reach the heights of Bing’n’Bowie but feck it nothing this man does is anything short of brilliant!

19. THE RUFFIANS- ‘Christmas In Killarney’

The Ruffians cover the holiday classic ‘Christmas In Killarney’ on their 2005 Christmas EP Together at Christmas.

18. REILLY- ‘Paddy’s Christmas’

Milwaukee Celtic punk band Reilly’s version of Snoopy’s Christmas, now called ‘Paddy’s Christmas’ on their 2008 album Kick Ass Celtic Christmas.

17. THE GOBSHITES- ‘Christmas Eve In The Boozer’

Boston Celtic punk band The Gobshites’ cover of the Yobs’ Christmas Eve in the Boozer. On The Gobshites’ album When the Shite Hits the Fan.

16. IRISH ROVER – ‘Christmas Time In Hells’

Performed entirely by  Rover MacChroi and one for the miserablists out there. This guys glass is definitely half empty!

15. DROPKICK MURPHYS- ‘AK47 [All I Want For Christmas Is An]’

Proof the Murphs can do no wrong…

14. THE REAL McKENZIES- ‘Auld Lang Syne’

Now not strictly a Christmas song but I’ve met Scots who actually enjoy Hogmaney (New Years Eve) more than Christmas!

13. THE MAHONES- ‘Angels Without Wings/Merry Christmas Baby’

From The Mahones 2012 album Angels & Devils here is their awesome Christmas song featuring Felicity Hamer.

12. SHANE MacGOWAN- ‘Christmas Lullaby’

Gotta love this tune. Irish blues with a punk rock edge. McGowan nails it again.

11. STIFF LITTLE FINGERS- ‘White Christmas’

Belfast punk rock legends, and still going from strength to strength, cause Bing to rotate in his grave with this which appeared on the B-side of ‘The Edge’ 7″ in 1979.

10. SHILELAGH LAW- ‘Christmas In New York’

Christmas is many things to many people. I will always remember that a good mate Steve died on Christmas Eve and so it’s also a good time to think of those who have passed and raise a glass to them. Here’s a tribute to the victims of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, by NY’ers Shilelagh Law.

9. MALASAÑERS- ‘Xmas Tree’

Rousing celtic-punk from Spain and available to download for free at: malasaners.bandcamp.com. Watch out for their new album due any day soon.

8. FINNEGAN’S HELL- ‘Drunken Christmas’

Sweden’s Finnegan’s Hell deliver an unorthodox Christmas anthem and yeah, yeah, yeah some Irish stereotyping sure but get over yourselves. What is it you think The Dubliners sang about? My house at Christmas was more like this than what you see on the BBC I can tell you. Anyway judge for yourself!

7. CelKILT- ‘Santa Santa!’

CeltKilt from France even released a full album of Christmas themed songs Kiltmas Songs! in 2015 and as they say themselves, and it sounds better in French I think, “festive celtic rock celtique festif”.

6. THE WAGES OF SIN- ‘Merry Christmas From The Wages’

Enjoy the festive sights, sounds, and smells of the season with Wages Of Sin and their first, and possibly last, holiday single!

5. DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE- ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’

Possibly a bit much for this Catholic Bhoy to bare so if you of a delicate disposition skip to #6. It is hilarious though from this Oregon band from their 2007 album Christmas Songs for Drunken Atheists.

4. KRAKIN’ KELLYS- ‘Christmas In Kelly Green’

This space was previously occupied by West Virginian Celtic-Punk legends The Gentlemen but the You Tube account closed and the video has been lost in the ether so after a bit of thought to find a replacement I settled upon Krakin’ Kellys 2018 Christmas themed track ‘Christmas In Kelly Green’. The hottest new band in Celtic-Punk its hard to imagine these Belgian rockers only formed in 2017!

3. THE NARROWBACKS- Prodigal Son (I’ll Be Home For Christmas)

Part filmed at Paddy Reilly’s in New York this song actually brought a tear to my eye when I first heard it. After a couple of years of not speaking to my Mammy after a stupid argument we had only just made up. Kids look after your family. Keep them close and love them lots.

2. THE DROPKICK MURPHYS- ‘The Seasons Upon Us’ (2016)

Unfortunate to go up against The Pogues this is The Murphys superb Christmas epic. Hilarious video of Irish-American life. Sure to lift the spirits.

1. THE POGUES FEATURING KIRSTY MacCOLL- The Fairytale Of New York

When you see other Christmas best of list’s they always put ‘Arguably the greatest Christmas song of all time’ well we’ve no time for that bollocks. It is without a doubt THE greatest Christmas song of all time so there! R.I.P Kirsty

so there’s our Top Twenty. If you think we missed any post in the comments as is usually the way with these things we couldn’t stop there so bubbling under here’s one to play loud and proud!

…and so we end with some great words “let’s not fight tonight”. Just listen to The Ramones instead.

LONDON CELTIC PUNKS PRESENTS THE BEST OF 2016!

Yes I know it only seems like five minutes since the last one but it’s that time of year again when we give you, for what it’s worth, our opinion on who made the best music in the celtic-punk scene over 2016. It’s been another outstanding year for the music that we all love and some truly fantastic records came out in the last twelve months. So read on to find out who came #1! Remember though this is only our opinion and these twenty-five album’s are only the tip of the iceberg of what was released last year. Feel free to comment, slag off or dissect our lists. We don’t pretend to be the final word as that my friends is for you…

bestof2016b

TOP 25 CELTIC PUNK ALBUMS

1. THE RUMJACKS (Australia)-‘Sleepin’Rough’  Review

2. THE NARROWBACKS (New York)- ‘Arrogance & Ignorance’  Review

3. THE CLOVES AND THE TOBACCO (Indonesia)- ‘Across The Horizon’  Review

4. MICKEY RICKSHAW (Boston)- ‘Behind The Eight Ball’  Review

5. THE WAKES (Glasgow)- ‘Venceremos!’  Review 

Absolutely no surprise here at all. For the first time we had an unanimous vote from all the admin’s that sees The Rumjacks sail away with the #1 spot for the second year running. It’s been an outstanding year for the Bhoys and with an American tour on the horizon they about to take another giant step in their campaign of world domination! Other notables were NYC’s Narrowbacks whose second album really showed the depth of their songwriting and could just have easily won the folk/trad best of too! The Cloves And The Tobacco deserve plaudits galore in another fantastic year for Indonesian celtic punk bands while Mickey Rickshaw could probably be said to have won the ‘unified title’ across all the various celtic-punk sites. In all we have twenty five bands from fourteen countries including USA x 6, Australia x 3, Indonesia x2, Germany x2, Netherlands x2, Catalonia x 2, Scotland, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Spain, Czech Republic, Russia and Belarus with The Wakes being the only Celtic country based band which goes to show how international the scene has become.

6. THE CLAN (Italy)- ‘All In The Name Of Folk’  Review

7. HOIST THE COLORS (USA)- ‘Mourners’  Review

8. SIR REG (Sweden)- ‘Modern Day Disgrace’  Review

9. FOX n FIRKIN (Australia)- ‘No Vacancy’  Review

10. FIDDLER’S GREEN (Germany)- ‘Devil’s Dozen’  Review

11. LUGH (Brazil)- ‘Histórias Do Mar’  Review

12. JAY WARS AND THE HOWARD YOUTH (Australia)- ‘Love In The Time Of Fear’  Review

13. BUNCH OF BASTARDS (Netherlands)- ‘My Drinkin’ Ain’t Done’  Review

14. SIGELPA (Catalonia)- ‘Rabant Original’  Review

15. TENHOLES (Indonesia)- ‘Loyalty’  Review

16. THE O’REILLYS AND THE PADDYHATS (Germany)- ‘Seven Hearts One Soul’  Review

17. 13KRAUSS (Spain)- TheEnd Is Nigh’  Review

18. DRINK HUNTERS (Catalonia)- ‘Shameless’  Review

19. PIRATES OF THE PUBS (Czech Republic)- ‘Drunken Forever’  Review

20. THE MUCKERS (USA)- ‘The Muckers’  Review

21. LQR (Netherlands)- ’10 Pinter’  Review

22. THE Пауки/THE PAUKI (Russia)- ‘La Isla Del Muerto’  Review

23. Всё CRAZY (Belarus)- ‘По Морям’  Review

24. RUSTY NAIL (USA)- ‘Bitter Ale, Bitter Heart’  Review

25. THE LANGER’S BALL (USA)- ‘Whiskey Outlaws’  Review

A special mention here to the ever prolific and always a pleasurable experience The Mahones who released a greatest hits entitled The Very Best: 25 Years Of Irish Punk which couldn’t be included in the Top 25 but if it did would have given The Rumjacks a run for their money!

TOP TEN CELTIC PUNK EP’S

1. MICK O’TOOLE (England)- ‘A Working Class Battalion’  Review

2. THE RAMSHACKLE ARMY (Australia)- ‘Whitewashed Graves’  Review

3. DRUNKEN FAIRY TALES (Russia) – ‘Пьяные Сказки’  Review

With The Rumjacks returning a year later to sweep the Album Of The Year it’s no surprise then that Wiltshire lads Mick O’Toole follow up last year’s win in the EP Of The Year awards to do the same thing. A great year for them that has seen them play less and less within the celtic-punk scene and really start to make waves outside of it. A foreign tour and more support slots to various punk rock legends than most bands play in a lifetime and all in the space of twelve months. The Ramshackle Army EP got lost in the post leaving us to do a rush-job review and given time I’m sure they may have given the O’Toole’s a run for their money. Drunken Fairy Tales impressed everyone and Matilda’s vinyl only release deserve a mention as well Mick O’Toole grabbing the 5th spot too.

4. MATILDA’S SCOUNDRELS (England)- ‘Crowleys Curse’  Review

5. MICK O’TOOLE (England)- ‘False Flag Collapse’  Review

6. BAY STREET BASTARDS (Canada)- ‘Small Batch’  Review

7. LEXINGTON FIELD (USA)- ‘Redwood’  Review

8. HANDSOME YOUNG STRANGERS (Australia)- ‘Battle Of Broken Hill’  Review

9. MATILDA’S SCOUNDRELS (England)- ‘The Organworks Recordings Session’  Review

10.  BALSALL HEATHENS (England)- ‘Life’s Too Short’  Review

TOP TEN FOLK/TRADITIONAL RELEASES

1. ANTO MORRA (London)-’16’  Review

2. THE LOGUES (Ireland)- ‘Comin’ Of Age’  Review

3. MICKEY RICKSHAW (Boston)- ‘Wild Atlantic’  Review

Possibly the hardest Best Of List of them all to do is this one as so many releases cross over the genres between rock and punk and folk and trad but our good friend Anto Morra, the ‘London Irish folk-punker’, just edging it from The Logues with his superb tribute to the 1916 Easter Rising. Mickey Rickshaw swept to third with their specially recorded acoustic EP that came out for their European tour and ShamRocks put out an album of high quality and original Irish folk with imagination galore. A special mention for Blackwater Banshee whose EP came out later in the year and shows enormous promise and one or two original songs would have seen a much higher position I am sure.

4. ShamRocks (Ukraine)- ‘Captain’s Log’  Review

5. LARKIN (USA)- ‘A Toast To St. Jude’  Review

6. FOLK THE SYSTEM (England)- Unrest In The Wolds’  Review

7. SHAMBOLICS (Australia)- ‘Riot On Race Day’  Review

8. CLEAR THE BATTLE FIELD (USA)- ‘Set Me Free’  Review

9. SOLAS (USA)- ‘All These Years’  Review

10. BLACKWATER BANSHEE (Bristol)- ‘Blackwater Banshee’  Review

TOP CELTIC PUNK WEB-SITE

Now this has over the years become the Celtic Folk Punk And More Top Celtic Punk Web-Site award so often has that esteemed site walked away with the top spot but there’s a new kid on the block and this year we are happy to award top spot to our good mates over at Mersey Celt Punks. They only kicked off the site a few months ago but super regular postings on all manner of celtic-punkness has seen them triumphant. You can join their fun over at Twitter and Facebook and we heartily recommend you do. A special mention here also for Viva La XV another new kid on the block which looks amazing but sadly as none of us can read Spanish we can’t tell if it’s as good as it looks! We’re sure it is and you can check it out for yourselves at the Blog or over on Facebook.

mersey-celt-punks

Right now the details. The Best Of lists were cajoled and bullied out of the four admins on the London Celtic Punks Facebook page. The various scraps of crumpled paper were received and then tallied up over several pints of Guinness in Mannions in north London while watching the football on the telly.

We are now in our fourth year of doing these Best Of lists so if you would like to have a look at the previous years best in celtic-punk then click the link below the relevant year.

all the major players in celtic-punk do Best Of lists so click below to check out what they thought

CELTIC FOLK PUNK AND MORE

PADDYROCK

MacSLONS IRISH RADIO

CELTIC-ROCK.DE

remember any views or comments we would love to hear them…

Only one more thing to mention about 2016 and that is to remember here Erik Petersen the lead singer of the influential folk-punk band Mischief Brew who sadly passed away earlier this year. I still find it hard to believe that he has gone but he will always be commemorated.

“So tattoo our arms and raise our glasses, call out your name at New Year’s Eve, maybe next time we kneel at a casket, we can say at least the story’s complete”

Read our obituary for Erik here and raise a glass the next time you get the chance to.

 Rest In Peace comrade.

 Sláinte, The London Celtic Punks Crew- January, 2017

CELEBRATING A CELTIC CHRISTMAS 2016. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL THE LONDON CELTIC PUNKS FAMILY

All the best for a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year for us all…

Every year we pick the best Christmas themed song we’ve heard to showcase in our end of year message and this year the runaway victors is from NYC’s The Narrowbacks.

Starring Rigel Byrne as Santa Claus. Filmed by Tamara Lee and James Haag. Recorded at Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar, 519 Second Avenue, New York. The Narrowbacks music available on iTunes and Amazon.

Buy The New Album- iTunes  Amazon
Contact The Narrowbacks-

FIRE IT UP!!

CELEBRATING A CELTIC CHRISTMAS

According to long standing theory, the origins of Christmas stems from pagan winter festivals. One main reason early Christians were able to spread their religion across Europe so quickly came from their willingness to embrace celebrations already common among regional populations. One such example is the Celtic ‘Alban Arthuan’, a Druidic festival that took place around December 21st. the Winter Solstice. This traditional fire festival celebrated the re-birth of the Sun. Although a celebration of the Son’s birth replaced that of the Sun’s, still a number of ancient Celtic Christmas traditions remain today.

Christmas

As we look across the Celtic nations, it is interesting to note some similarities among Christmas traditions that cross geographic boundaries. They include, for example: Holly (a symbol of rebirth among Pagan Celts, but also of hospitality—it was believed fairies sought shelter inside the evergreen leaves to escape the cold); Mistletoe (believed to have healing powers so strong that it warded off evil spirits, cured illnesses and even facilitated a truce between enemies); fire and light (most notably the Yule log or candles placed in windows to light the way for strangers and symbolically welcoming Mary and Joseph); and door-to-door processions, from wassailing to Wren Hunts.

Each of the seven nations possesses its own variations of Celtic Christmas customs. Surrounding cultures and local identify shape theses practices as well.

SCOTLAND

Flag ScotlandChristmas was not officially recognized in Scotland for nearly four centuries. The Puritan English Parliament banned Christmas in 1647 and it did not become a recognized public holiday in Scotland until 1958. However, according to Andrew Halliday, in his 1833 piece Christmas in Scotland, Scots were not discouraged from celebrating Christmas. Halliday wrote

“We remember it stated in a popular periodical, one Christmas season not long ago, that Christmas-day was not kept at all in Scotland. Such is not the case; the Scots do keep Christmas-day, and in the same kindly Christian spirit that we do, though the Presbyterian austerity of their church does not acknowledge it as a religious festival”

Halliday’s 19th century account went on to describe festive sowens (sweetened oat gruel) ceremonies, “beggars” (actually “strapping fellows”) singing yule song, dances and card parties and children’s teetotum games. Despite Puritan rule, some long-time Christmas traditions are preserved. These include burning the Cailleach (a piece of wood carved to look like an old woman’s face or the Spirit of Winter) to start the new year fresh; or on Christmas Eve burning rowan tree branches to signify the resolution of any disputes. The Celtic tradition of placing candles in windows was also done in Scotland to welcome “first footers” (strangers, bearing a small gift) into the home. Traditional dishes also continue to be featured at Christmas lunch and throughout the holidays, including Cock-a-Leekie soup, smoked salmon, beef or duck, Clootie dumplings, black buns, sun cakes, Christmas pudding and Crannachan.

Because Christmas was not an official holiday until the late ‘50s it is no surprise that today, for some Scots, Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) is the most important event of the season. Arguably, locals ring in the new year with much more gusto than any other place on the planet.

IRELAND

flagAn Autumn clean up was a common practice in Irish homes to prepare for Christmas. Women looked after cleaning the interior, while men took care of the outdoors, including whitewashing all exterior surfaces. Then holly, grown wild in Ireland, was spread throughout the house with cheer. Contemporary Ireland also highlights this clean-up ritual; once complete, fresh Christmas linens are taken out of storage.

Other customs include the Bloc na Nollaig or Christmas Block (the Irish version of the Yule log), candles in the window (perhaps one for each family member), and leading up to Christmas, ‘Calling the Waites’ where musicians would wake up townspeople through serenades and shouting out the morning hour. Christmas Eve Mass is still a grand affair; a time for friends and family to reconnect. It is not uncommon for churchgoers to end up at the local pub after service to ring in Christmas morn. On Christmas Day, traditional dishes include roast goose or ham and sausages, potatoes (such as champ), vegetables (such as cabbage with bacon) and plum pudding, whiskey, Christmas cake and barmbrack (currant loaf) for sweets. Traditionally on December 26th, St. Stephen’s Day, Wren Boys with blackened faces, carrying a pole with a dead bird pierced at the top, tramped from house to house. Today the custom sometimes sees children caroling throughout the neighbourhood to raise money for charity. It is also quite common to go out visiting on this day.

WALES

Flag WalesMusic was and still is a major part of Welsh holidays. Plygain is a Christmas day church service, traditionally held between three and six in the morning featuring males singing acapella in three or four-part harmonies. While today this may be mainly practised in rural areas, Eisteddfodde (caroling) is abundantly popular in homes, door-to-door and as part of annual song-writing competitions.

Dylan Thomas’ story ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ is renowned around the world. An excerpt offers a glimpse of a traditional Welsh festive season:

“Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang ‘Cherry Ripe’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake’s Drum’… Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-coloured snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night”

Other intriguing Welsh traditions include toffee making; drinking from a communal wassail bowl of fruit, spices, sugar and beer; children visiting homes on New Year’s Day looking for their Callenig gift; and Mary Lwyd (Grey Mare) featuring wassail singers going door-to-door carrying a horse’s skull and challenging residents in a contest of mocking rhymes.

ISLE OF MAN

Flag Isle Of ManCarolling also holds a special place in Manx Christmas celebrations, but traditionally an unconventional twist characterized it. On Christmas Eve, large numbers attended church for Carval. While the congregation sang, all of a sudden women would begin the traditional food fight, having peas on hand to throw at their male counterparts! Accounts from the 1700s and 1800s describe 12 days of non-stop Christmas celebrations where every barn was filled with dancers accompanied by fiddlers the local parish hired. The Reverend John Entick recorded in 1774

“On the twelfth day the fiddler lays his head on one of the women’s laps, which posture they look upon as a kind of oracle. For one of the company coming up and naming every maiden in the company, asks the fiddler, who shall this or that girl marry? And whatever he answers it is absolutely depended on as an oracle”

As in Celtic fashion, Hunting the Wren processions occurred on the Isle of Man and today the practice is going through a revival, characterized by costumes, singing and dancing.

Other Manx customs include Mollag Bands, wearing eccentric clothing, swinging a mollag (fishing float) and demanding money (a practice since outlawed); the kissing bush (a more elaborate ornament than a sprig of mistletoe); and Cammag, a sport that originated on the Isle of Man traditionally played on December 26th and/or Easter Monday. In older times but even as recently as the early 20th century, Christmas decorations were not taken down until Pancake Tuesday (when they were burnt under the pancake pan). Now holiday décor tends to be packed away on Old Christmas (January 6th).

CORNWALL

Flag CornwallAs a result of Oliver Cromwell banning Christmas, authentic holiday carols began to fade through much of Britain. However, throughout the 1800’s, Cornish composers and collectors sparked a revival of local Christmas song.Certain carols well-known around the world, such as Hark the Herald Angels and While Shepherds, are credited to Cornish origins.

“Contrary to the effect Methodism might have had on the English carollers, in Cornwall its impact was to stimulate song,” states the Cornwall Council (Cornish Christmas Carols – Or Curls, 2011). “In those areas where Methodism was strongest, music and signing had their greatest appeal, and notably so at Christmas. The singers would practice in chapels and school-rooms, some of them walking miles to be there”

Today, Cornwall erupts in festivals, fairs and markets during the holidays. The Montol Festival in Penzance (named for Montol Eve on December 21st) is a six-day celebration highlighting many Cornish traditions. These include Mummers plays, lantern processions, Guise dancing (participants dress in masks and costume, such as mock formal dress, to play music and dance).

Montol is also the time for burning the Mock (yule log). A stickman or woman is drawn on the block of wood with chalk. When the log burns, it symbolizes the death of the old year and birth of the year to come.

BRITTANY

Flag BrittanyBrittany boasts a wealth of folklore and supernatural beliefs around Christmas time. Christmas Eve was known as a night of miraculous apparitions from fairies to Korrigans, and at midnight, for just a brief moment, waters in the wells would turn into the most sweet-tasting wine. It was also at midnight, when families were either at mass or in bed, that ghosts would surface; traditionally food was left out for deceased loved ones just in case they visited.

During the holidays, Christmas markets come alive in many Breton towns vending hand-made crafts and toys, baked cakes and bread and ingredients for Christmas dinner. You can also buy Gallette des Rois at stalls, as well as bakeries, which is traditionally eaten on January 6th (Epiphany). A tiny figurine (the fève) is hidden inside the puff pastry cake; the person who finds the figurine in their piece gets to be king or queen for the day and wear a crown. Another special tradition through all of France is a meal after Christmas Eve’s midnight mass, called Réveillon. Specifically in Britanny, the traditional dish for this occasion is buckwheat crêpes with cream.

GALICIA

Flag GaliciaGalicia has its own unique Christmas gift-bearer that pre-dates Christianity. He is called Apalpador, a giant who lives in the mountains. For Christmas, he descends into the villages below to make sure each child has a full belly. He brings treats, such as chestnuts, and well wishes for a year full of delicious sustenance. While Apalpador may not be widely observed in Galicia, his legend is seeing a revival.

Food is very important during the Galician holidays, featuring at least two feasts (on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Not surprisingly, seafood is on the menu, including lobster, prawns, shrimp, sea bass, and cod with garlic and paprika sauce. Other culinary delights consist of cured meat, cheese and bread, roast beef with vegetables and for dessert tarta de Santiago (almond cake), filloas (stuffed pancakes) and turrones (nougats). The children of anticipate the coming of the Three Kings or Magis by filling their shoes and leaving them outside on Epiphany Eve, January 5th. Many Galician’s communities also parade on the 5th.

So there you have it the old traditions just like the traditional music we all love live on…

Nollick Ghennal as Blein Vie Noa (Manx Gaelic)

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath ùr (Scottish Gaelic)

Nollaig Shona Dhuit agus Bliain Nua Fe Mhaise (Irish Gaelic)

Nedeleg Laouen na Bloavezh Mat  (Breton)

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda (Welsh)

Nadelik Lowen ha Bledhen Nowyth Da (Cornish)

Now go have a drink…

ALBUM REVIEW: THE NARROWBACKS- ‘Arrogance & Ignorance’ (2016)

If Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan and Bruce Springsteen survived a drinking session through the 5 boroughs, the hangover would be called The Narrowbacks.
narrowbacks
nar·row·back /ˈnæroʊˌbæk/ [nar-oh-bak]
–noun Slang.
1. Disparaging. an Irish-American.
2. a person of slight build who is unfit for hard labour
The Narrowbacks are from New York City and don’t they let us know us with their new album released this month Arrogance & Ignorance. Around the world Irish bands represent their city like The Wakes and Glasgow or The Bible Code Sundays and London and even though their are several absolutely brilliant New York Irish bands none are quite so linked to the city as The Narrowbacks are. They live and breathe their community and a listen to them brings alive the past, present and future of that community. With a sometimes painful history of tragedy and hardship that became a history of pride and celebration the Irish community today is again flourishing with increased emigration from Ireland and the way the Irish pass on that pride in their roots. One instance is the massive explosion in the playing of Gaelic Games in America and not just because of the newly arrived but those of Irish descent as well. With many of the old areas changing and other communities moving in, those places once known as Irish ghettos are no longer but the Irish still exist in vast numbers and their pubs and sporting venues are still reeling them in.
narrowbacks-band

The Narrowbacks from left to right: Anthony Chen – Bass (No Irish Ties) * Chris Moran – Drums (Irish American a few generations) * Seamus- Vocals and Patrick Keane- Accordion * (Father from Connemara Co. Galway, Mother’s family from Cork, Clare and Limerick) * Barry Walsh – Banjo, Mandolin (Father and Mother from Dublin) * Fionn McElligott – Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar (Father from Kerry, Mother from Kilkenny)

This is The Narrowbacks second album after Fire It Up in 2013 and they also released an outstanding EP last year, After Hours (review here). These records have for the main taken the same route of some seasoned Irish trad covers, some unusual or rare Irish trad covers and a smattering of self-penned numbers so it was a lovely surprise to see that every song here is one of the band’s own. All twelve tracks are written and arranged by the band and none disappoint too. If you thought they could do a catchy as hell version of ‘Sean South Of Garryowen’ then you need to hear them playing ‘Shannon’!
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Arrogance & Ignorance opens with ‘The Banner County’, which for those who don’t know is the nickname of County Clare in mid-west Ireland in the province of Munster. The song was written by Seamus and is about his and Pat’s Uncle Matt who is from Clare, who got drafted to go to Vietnam and ignored advice to dodge the draft so he could stay in the States. The accordion, played by Seamus brother Pat, leads the boys out and tits all at a fast and furious pace and it may be mostly acoustic but these are not your normal finger in the ear folk band by any stretch. The song moves along and is a superb catchy start to proceedings telling of Seamus Dad’s arrival in America and his dream of
“going back to the Banner county someday”
This is followed by Shannon which came out as a single for St Patrick’s Day earlier this year as an album taster and this song runs away as the album standout. That New York Irish feel is all over this song and only two songs in and I’m already using the word ‘catchy’ twice!

The accordion and banjo are amazing and Seamus vocals are raspy and hoarse but in a way that won’t put off your Mammy or your Nanna. Its heading towards St Shane but still manages to fit the music perfectly. ‘Loisaida’ slows it down a little and is the first taste of the band playing a real Irish traditional song. Even then there’s room for a bit more and song takes in a few styles and influences under it’s Irish wings.narrowbacks-pale‘Home’ brings out the tin whistle and its a rollicking good tune about you know what. It would seem that the NYC Irish and the Irish here in England never stopped dreaming of ‘home’. As the saying goes ‘Home is where the heart is’ and The Wolfe Tones hit the nail on the head with their song ‘My Heart Is In Ireland’. ‘Whiskey River’ slows it down again and its the usual tale of the love/hate relationship we Irish have with alcohol as well as some unrequited love thrown in its a bad mixture. ‘Fourth Of July’ is up next and is the biggest American holiday and also known as Independence Day when the war started that saw the British Empire given the boot. Nowadays its just an excuse for a big party and why not! Accordion and banjo again are flying here but I must add that none of this would be as effective if it wasn’t for the rock instruments of bass and drums. The whole band play as a unit and the album’s production is exemplary with the mix of everything absolutely perfect. Nothing is competing to be heard but rather it all accompanies including the voice,for as we know the Irish voice is also an instrument. Chugging guitar and a track that wouldn’t be out of place with that other son of Ireland The Boss singing with ‘Rosie’ and ‘Prodigal Son’ is a good auld fashioned Christmas song directed at a Irish mammy waiting for her off-the-rails son to come home. Starting off as a, here’s that bloody word again, catchy Irish tune it feels like it may go off at a tangent at some point and then it doesn’t disappoint and it all comes off with some beautiful words about making it home all wrapped it a nice touch of ska/reggae that doesn’t stick out at all.

As hard as it is to make a unsentimental Christmas tune The Narrowbacks have managed it. A real beauty. I’ve had this song stuck in my head for a week and we have made it the London Celtic Punks Christmas song of 2016. ‘Ole’ is up next and this has to be the bands signature tune. Not sure why Irish football supporters have embraced this song so much but embrace it they have. This is the kind of tune that their gig’s must get messy to!
“my Daddies a Paddy and I’m a Narrowback”
We are nearing the end and another album standout track is ‘Want you Back’ featuring the amazingly wonderful voice of Emily McShane. Acoustic guitar and piano start the song off and Emily and Seamus sing to each other about a terrible mistake. The flute gets an airing for ‘Out On The Avenue’ and excuse me but its a fecking glorious sound! An excellent song that leaves the final song as ‘Bastards Of The Borough’ where Seamus is unaccompanied on acoustic guitar and belts out the names of those old Irish areas of NYC with gusto and pride.

narrowback-jfkTwelve songs that, as we said, are all penned by the band that comes in just shy of three quarters of an hour. The Narrowbacks are the sons of Irish-immigrants who found each other at their local pub in the Bronx and for that we and the New York Irish can be grateful. We a expressive race and there is nothing we love better than a sing-song and with the Irish communities outside of Ireland changing and having to re-adapt bands like The Narrowbacks have never been so important . Our history needs to be remembered and passed down to the next generations. Those that sacrificed before us must never be forgotten.This six-piece group may propel itself with punk rock in its heart but it has the soul of an old Irish folk band and we are blessed that they do.
Buy The EP
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EP REVIEW: THE NARROWBACKS- ‘After Hours’ (2015)

New York Irish music.
THE NARROWBACKS- 'After Hours' (2015)

(left to right) Seamus Keane- Vocals, Barry Walsh- Banjo/Mandolin, Pat Keane- Button Accordion, Chris Moran- Drums, Fionn Mcelligott- Guitar. Anthony Chen Bass

nar·row·back /ˈnæroʊˌbæk/ [nar-oh-bak]
–noun Slang.
1. Disparaging. an Irish-American.
2. a person of slight build who is unfit for hard labour
I’ve had the chance to go into the history of the American Irish plenty of times and in a country built on immigration it is the Irish in particular that built the foundations of that great country in spite of racism, intimidation and oppression. In the years following the Irish community stayed true to their roots and still exist in numerous pockets (though you would be hard pressed to call them ghettos these days!) and in every city, town and village in the United States. Just like the Irish elsewhere one of the main things that has kept the community strong has been the role of the pub and the most important aspect of the pub after the obvious one is of course music. It has been music that has kept our traditions flowing from generation to generation. The Irish in America have never felt the need to apologise for their beliefs and what they believe and The Narrowbacks are the latest in a long line of bands that have contributed to passing on those traditions to the next generation. Lead singer Seamus Keane explains the bands heritage.
“My father is one of 11 from Connemara, from the Irish speaking section, My mom was born in Queens and moved back to Clare. They met in the Bronx, moved up to Pearl River, and had six kids, including my brother Pat on the button accordion. Chris Moran on drums and Mike Moran (since left the band) on bass are Irish American brothers as well”
Formed in 2010 The Narrowbacks were the brainchild of a bartender and banker who wanted to inject a punk rock attitude into an old-time Irish folk group. They released a stand out album back in 2013 called ‘Fire It Up’ which contained a host of original compositions and a smattering of covers. Their choice of covers ranged from the popular to the less than well known and show a band in touch with their and their communities history. Like so many of us it was Shane and The Pogues that inspired us to dig into our family’s record collections and find the original recordings of those Pogues songs.
“Obviously, we come from the tradition of the Pogues. So many of us hated Irish music growing up until you hear Shane, and it creates this gateway to Irish music. Then you reach back into things like The Clancy Brothers and Luke Kelly to see what influenced Shane.”
Having shared the stage with just about al the big hitters in celtic-punk, the Molly’s, the Murphy’s, Black 47, Gogol Bordello, Mahones, Tossers and even The Rubberbandits when they washed up in New York!
IrishAmerica
In a music scene where its not uncommon for celtic-punk bands to include All-Ireland medal winners in their ranks those early days must have been intimidating for The Narrowbacks but over the years they have matured into a band that can comfortably take its place on any stage and in front of any audience. Currently on tour promoting their recently released EP ‘After Hours’ and in preparation to begin recording for their follow up album due out in the next few months. The EP’s five songs were recorded at Audio Pilot Studios in Boonton, NJ with Rob Freeman and a quick glance at the list of musicians who guested on the EP speaks volumes for how highly thought off they are. Joe Mulvanerty of the sadly missed NYC legends Black 47 on uilleann pipes, Andrew McCarrick of Jamesons Revenge on tin whistle and flute and Katie Linnane of Broken Banjo Strings on fiddle all contribute greatly to proceedings.

What you get is four punked up takes of Irish ballads and one recording of a pissed up drunken after hours sing song in a bar in the Bronx. The EP begins with ‘Star of the County Down’ one of the more common trad covers you are likely to hear but given The Narrowbacks superb treatment it comes up shiny and fresh. Simply brilliant from the first note and I’m sitting here listening to it imagining myself going off my head in some New York hostelry. The band have nailed a sound that is as home in the pub or the home. There is simply not enough uilleann piping in celtic punk and Joe is on fire here with his superb playing. This is followed swiftly by the ‘Rising of the Moon’. The song recounts a battle between the United Irishmen and the British Army in the rebellion of 1798.
“Death to every foe and traitor
Whistle loud the marching tune
And hurrah, me boys for freedom
‘Tis the rising of the moon”
Following is perhaps the most famous song in Irish history the ‘Fields of Athenry’. It wasn’t always so and I remember this song most for being on an album called ‘Irish Songs Of Freedom’ belonging to the auld fella. Over the years this beautiful song has been adopted by Irish sports fans as well as Celtic supporters and if I tell you that the version The Narrowbacks play is the one you’re most likely to hear at Celtic Park then I am sure there’s a good few of you will know what I mean!!
“By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters Mary when you’re free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled they ran me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity”
The song tells of a young man transported to Australia for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. It is only fitting that this song should become a national treasure but what does come as a suprise to most people is that it was written in the 1970’s by Pete St.John. The last ‘proper’ song is ‘The Patriot Game’ and is sang as a rousing ballad rather than the bands usual fired up celtic-punk. The history of Ireland in song and the heroic death of Fergal O’Hanlon. Written by Dominic Behan and made popular by The Dubliners.
“And now as I lie here, my body all holes,
I think of those traitors who bargained in souls,
And I wish that my rifle had given the same,
To those Quislings who sold out the patriot game”
Certainly one of the most hitting rebel songs ever wrote. The EP ends with ‘Aqueduct, 4:15am’ which is the band and their mates raving it up after a night on the lash. The sort of track you’d give your wages to get on! Can’t wait to hear the new album and if it continues in the same vein as ‘Fire It Up’ and ‘After Hours’ then the bhoys will have a surefire hit on their hands. With the sad retirement of Black 47 it certainly looks like the NYC Irish have found the band to represent them.
The Narrowbacks: American First, Irish Always.
(you can have a listen to the bhoys official bootleg ‘Live At The Stone Pony’ in New York city below by pressing play on the Bandcamp player)
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