Every now and then you can come across a new act or artiste that literally blows your socks off and you just cannot work out how you had never heard of them before. Well this is exactly what happened recently with ourselves and Mr Anto Morra. Without going into the twists and turns of fate that brought us together I somehow managed to hear his track ‘London Irish’ which I deemed so worthy I gave it it’s own post here on the blog, something previously only Grammy award winning Macklemore had achieved! Contacting Anto was easy so we sounded him out about playing one of our gigs. He said he’d love to so last Monday he took to the stage supporting The Dead Maggies at TChances in North London and blew us all away. He’s a very nice, genuine and humble man with a great sense of humour and this all comes across in his show. We will have him back soon as we can!
Afterwards Anto gave me a copy of ‘Never Had To Shout’, his recent album, to review and having marvelled at his set I promised it would be a good one. So how did I feel once I sobered up and got home and listen to it a few times? Well it wasn’t the Newcastle Brown talking and indeed this is going to be a very good positive review!
First off a bit of background on Anto. His real name is Anthony Morrissey and he was raised in London by Irish parents and 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 ‘Never Had To Shout’ 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. It is after all an interesting fact that rather than be associated with England the Irish in England call themselves London Irish or Yorkshire Irish rather than the English Irish and unlike Irish Americans or the Irish Scots. We have touched on the role punk played for the 2nd generation Irish in Britain before here. Moving from the rat-race of London to the quietness of the Norfolk countryside Anto began to further explore his roots by joining Whirligig, a four-piece ceilidh dance Band. In 2013 he left the band after ten years deciding to concentrate on his songwriting and solo performances.
But enough of that as the opening track ‘Ballad Of Anto Morra’ will tell you just about everything you want, or need, to know about Anto. The track is an unaccompanied autobiographical song in the great Irish ‘air’ tradition and bursts with humour and the story of Anto’s life. Originally intending for the album to be just himself, his guitar and his bodhran he ended up roping in some fantastic musicians to help him out and even though the songs would have been powerful enough I’m glad he did. ‘Gypsy Smile’ follows and the simple accordion and guitar are a perfect foil for Anto and the fantastic Norwich band The Woodland Creatures voices.
‘Shamrock And The Rose’ 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 true anti-sectarian anthem. ‘Tale Of The Sligo Widow’ is a lovely story of magic and romance and inspired the amazing London Irish artist Brian Whelan to paint the picture that adorns the back of the album cover. ‘London Irish’ is another worthy anthem that reaffirms Anto’s identity. A nostalgic song that tells the tale of the changing face of London and those parts of London that were Irish but are now home to untold races. The Irish even though not as visible as in the past haven’t gone away and are still here fighting their battles big and small! On the vinyl album thats the Irish side over and done with and so begins the English side with ‘Time’ and some good advice for the young on not following the crowd and learning to love being yourself.
“To football down at Loftus Road I was taken by my Dad
Learnt to win and lose with dignity when I was just a lad”
The title track follows and is a grand story of a young lad called Jimmy and has a upbeat punk sound and a brilliant story that I wont spoil for you as it has such a great twist at the end its worth finding out yourselves. The electric guitar makes its first appearance on the album and is a worthy addition.
Next is ‘Wrong Path’ began as a song twenty years ago but was finished during the London riots of 2011 and is a sad indictment of what happens in working class communities when children are left without the correct guidance. ‘Desperation’ is yer traditional feminist murder ballad and Anto is accompanied again by The Woodland Creatures to great effect ‘Conscientious Odd Drinker’ is an anti-war song telling the tale of both what happens to soldiers when they return from wars and of the soldier who refused to do a second tour of duty in Afghanistan. Mostly just Anto and his bodhran and some good friends, including his Mrs, Julie, and Brian Whelan, assisting in the chorus.
“have a drink with me my friends
have a drink with me my friends
before I have to go away
have a drink with me my friends”
So there you have it. A whole bunch of reasons why you should buy this great album. But perhaps the greatest reason of all is that Anto raised the money to self release ‘Never Had To Shout’ by flogging off his punk record collection so get a tenner (or £15 for the vinyl) off to Anto so he can replace it them.
Ten tracks of mostly autobiographical story songwriting with lovely music in a mostly Irish tradition but with strong elements of British folk also. The album runs for just over forty minutes and moves at a grand old pace, never dragging and with Anto’s clear and distinctive vocals and London Irish brogue keeping your interest all the way through. I have to tell you though not to get the download of this as the actual package the album or CD comes in has had time and devotion lavished on it. As previously mentioned Brian Whelan’s artwork is quite simply breathtaking and his painting of Anto in the mouth of a devil on the album sleeve is worthy of yer cash alone. I would definitely recommend getting the heavyweight vinyl of this, if you’ve got a record player that is, as not only does it contain all the lyrics and descriptions of the songs you also get the CD as well.
So we can be very grateful for those twists and turns of fate as otherwise we wouldn’t be able to bring this fantastic album to your attention and Anto would have continued on under our radar but London being London I’m sure we would have run into each other eventually and the wait would still have been worth waiting!
Contact The Other Artists
The Woodland Creatures- acoustic folk and bluegrass duo here
Brian Whelan- absolutely amazing artist whose work adorns many London Irish bands records including The Popes for one here
and watch this space for news of ANTO MORRA AND THE FOLK PUNKERS coming soon…