London Irish Folk Punk
Somewhere between the Pogues and Ian Dury with perhaps a dash of Madness.
He’s back. Guess whose back? Aye it’s the all round Mr. Nice Guy Anto Morra to sort the English folk scene right out! Even more prolific than Matilda’s Scoundrels Anto presents his new album that came out at the arse end of last year giving us no time to get a review in so with things a little quiet on the celtic-punk scene it’s a perfect opportunity to revisit this great album and give it the review it deserves.
This is not quite a new album though it’s more of a concept album. Offered some free time at a recording studio near his adopted home in Norfolk he decided to revisit some of his older works that were either never recorded or recorded in bands that he was previously in. Having laid down the bones of this album on a hot summers day in July Anto realised this would be a fantastic opportunity to bring in some of his ex and present band mates and also some of the talented musicians that he had hooked up with since the start of his solo career. The songs here were all written between 1986 and 1996 during a time when Anto says
“my only ambitions were to have as much sex, drugs and rock’n’roll as a young man could handle”
Sadly three of Anto’s close friends passed during the time when he began recording From The Vaults to it’s finish. A strange coincidence was that they all had birthdays on the 19th the month, different months and different years so in tribute to them the album was released on the 19th December.
Regular readers will need no introduction as he has featured on these pages numerous times due to his more than abundant releases! Just in case though we’ll give you a wee run down before the review starts. Born Anthony Morrissey and raised in 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. His Irish background provides the backbone for much of his music and focuses on the confusion of being brought up between two cultures that were so opposed to each other. Old animosities are thawing but the relationship remains an uneasy one. Flitting from punk band to band during these years he eventually washed up in the Norfolk countryside and he began to further explore his roots with Whirligig, a four-piece ceilidh dance Band. In 2013 he left the band after ten years deciding to concentrate on songwriting and solo performances.
From The Vaults is another of Anto trademark releases with a huge booklet packed with photos and information on all the songs including a very lovely mention of yours truly that I was very touched by (thanks Anto). The album is fifteen songs and as usual he has squeezed as much as possible in. Coming with a cover painted again by famed London Irish artist Brian Whelan (check out his wonderful art here). We kick of with ‘Lifting The Lid’ which sees Anto reminisce about his Catholic Irish background and the realisation that it wasn’t as restrictive and as he thought it was when he was young. Something that comes to most people of Irish backgrounds when they grow up I think. As stated it’s not just Anto here and to read out the list of collaborators would take up a whole page so suffice to say the backing he receives here is absolutely terrific and lifts the album into the premier league! ‘Bomb Alert’ looks back to the early 90’s a time when the Gulf War lit up our TV’s and the Boys were still blowing up parts of London. ‘Tall Story’ is my favourite track here a catchy upbeat punky number from his days as vocalist in indie-punk band Fountain Head in the mid-90’s. Anto gives his voice a good work out next in ‘Martyr’ with a tale living in a bedsit and seeing fellow members of the underclass finding themselves deeper and deeper in poverty. Acoustic guitar backed by mandolin as Anto gives us it straight from the heart, as he always does, while backed on vocals by his Mrs Julie. The song goes straight into ‘Dance’ and fiddle comes into play and the oldest song featured here at over twenty-five years old! Anto thinks its a bit Jimi Hendrix you’ll have to make up your own minds on that. 90’s insomniac plagued sleepless nights inspired ‘Fugitive’ based around the TV show of the same night fiddle, flute and banjo manage not to sound Celtic somehow! ‘Better Place’ and ‘High In The Night’ both tell the highly personal stories mental health and drug issues but done with panache and a lot of style. ‘Crazy Chris K-Hole Glasto’ is the only song on the album written this century and is about a trip to Glastonbury festival with his auld London Irish mate Chris. To K-Hole is to hallucinate while on drugs and sadly Chris was one of the friends who passed away during production of From The Vaults whilst battling addiction.
” His brutal honesty and wit made him such great company and fun to be around”.
A fantastic tribute to him which features Chris having a ‘episode’ outside Anto’s tent while he recorded him on a wee tape deck. RIP Chris. ‘Dragon Hide Away’ is slow and mournful just how a song with accordion should be.
There’s even brass out for ‘Changeless Angel’ a story of a burlesque dancer with a happy ending for a change. We in for some more heartbreak next with ‘Youre Not Here (Sadder Than Asda)’ from 1992 about a particularly tough relationship break-up. Most men can relate to the words here but as Anto says on the album notes “strange how returning to the song could become such a positive joy”.
Time is a great healer it is true. Just Anto and Kerry Selwin on piano it ends on a perfect bittersweet note as Anto sings the chorus repeating “You’re not here” until the final words “Thank the Lord!”. Typical Anto! ‘Wrecked On Love’ tells of the cycle of relationships we find ourselves on until we find the ‘one’. We coming rolling up towards the end and ‘Happy Ending’ is dedicated to all the musical geniuses that left before their time. Written on hearing the news of Kurt Cobain’s suicide Anto is backed here by John and Thim from Anto’s current collaborators in the folk-punk band The Punkfolkers. In the main its been a reflective album, obviously, but the curtain comes down with ‘Seen It All’ and a song to send you off into the dark with a wry smile and a bursting heart. The kind of song where the words will pop into your head at some random point and make you smile.
Yet another hit from one of the nicest people in celtic-punk and while this release is missing much of the trademark humour that has made Anto so popular and well received his warmth still spills over from the CD into us. A wordsmith and a modern day seanchaí his words have a sincerity about them that would make many so called artists weep in jealousy! That he can both keep up the output and the quality of his releases is outstanding and we have been promised another album soon in The Punkfolkers release Night Bus To Tombland. Forty years of protest, rebellion and punk and with records like this we can look forward to another forty as well!
Chris McCormack * John (Ribsy) Vick * Tom Paley
Buy From The Vaults
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(‘The Blacksmith’ from the recent Folkpunkers single )