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Passionate, powerful and poetic Midlands folk-rock band Under A Banner release their superb third studio album.
Under A Banner have been on our radar for a couple of years now and apart from an appearance at a free music festival in Croydon they have as yet, as far as I know, not managed to get a gig in London town. This is something we hope to remedy soon and on the strength of this album it will be an absolute pleasure. They are one of a bunch of Midlands bands playing political folk-punk that straddles everything from the celtic-punk of Ferocious Dog to the anarcho-folk of The Silk Road. Under A Banner play an infectiously catchy brand of folk-punk caught somewhere between The Levellers at their softest and New Model Army at their punkest with a smidgeon of Ferocious Dog and youthful Billy Bragg, before he fled Barking to live in Dorset in a massive mansion and vote Lib-Dem.
Based in Wolverhampton and formed only four years ago they are mostly most famous for their close relationship with their fans and their constant gigging around the country, though not London as we said! The Wild Places came out September 30, 2016 on Bad Elephant Records and has already garnered some pretty amazing reviews across the internet so hopefully they won’t mind another positive one!
The Wild Places was recorded at Park Studios in Birmingham, between March and June 2016 and was produced by Alastair Jamieson and the band themselves and a very nice job they have done as well. The album kicks off with ‘In The End’ and it’s a simple start. Just singer-songwriter Adam above an acoustic guitar and cello from guest Isaac Collier. Adam’s passion flows through the song and out through it into you. This track captures Under A Banner perfectly showing off their folky roots while title track ‘The Wild Places’ has them rocking out and is a perfect example of their rockier side. Two songs in and already their range is staggering. Catchy is a very overblown word used during album reviews and if anyone knows a better one can they please let me know it! Up next is ‘Birdsong’ and a song that slows it down again that soars with an almost Gothic feel to it that reminds me of miserable Leeds sods The Mission. There’s an epic feel not just on next song ‘Sunburst’ but throughout the album due in no small part to the excellent mastering and the aural wizardry of Jon Astley who has famously worked with Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who among others. The albums longest track is ‘Snow Song and was The Wild Place’s first release. One of the album’s standouts mixing the acoustic and the electric together.
“What a perfect time to celebrate!
Love in a silent world creates another rush of hope;
something is coming”
It’s easy to see why they chose Snow Song as that first release seeing how it showcases everything that Under A Banner do so well. From the catchy (their we go again!) and simply effective tune to the outstanding lyrics this is them. The second release was the following song ‘Nothing’s Ever Really Gone’ and again the folk-rock shines with a briliant chorus that is a sure fire toe tapper at the very least!
The second half of the album begins with ‘About Love’ and is certainly different from the rest of the album but Adam’s voice and lyrics keep it interesting. I maybe didn’t much care for it on first listen but its grown to be one of my favourites.
“There’s nothing wrong with love songs”
Adam sings and the word that springs up here is ‘Hope’ even though it’s not mentioned once within the song! One of the things I hate most in reviewing albums is that if a band isn’t too well known you are forced to bring up better known, not necessarily better though!, bands as points of reference. For instance the band Under A banner are most likend to are New Model Army and on ‘Kill It All’ they sound most like them on this album. From the lyrics attacking consumersism and false religion to the music this is the sort of stuff NMA fans would go potty for. That is not to say of course that Under A banner are merely copying NMA or any of the bands mentioned before. They can proudly stand on their own or alongside any of the bands coming in or out of the folk-rock scene. They proclaim
“There’s more of us than their are of you”
while calling us to the barracades on ‘Legion’ and they continue the rockier momentum with ‘On Top of This Mountain’. Penultimate song ‘Already There’ sees another thing that the band revel in. A simple tune on acoustic guitar while Adam’s voice cracks with passion and the return of the stunningly beautiful cello only adds to the effect.
“The beauty was already there”
If I had a small, tiny in fact, issue with The Wild Places it’s that they don’t quite unleash their power and go for it a little more. That is not to detract from the quality here mind you, it’s just that maybe one or two of the songs could have done with a slightly harder edge to them. It all comes to an end with ‘World of Hope’ and nowhere on else on the album does Adam sound so pissed off and angry. Looking back and wondering what happened to those chances we had to change things. Nostalgia is not only about ancient rockers at Rebellion, long given up on anything they once believed in but the times we had.
Under A Banner’s third studio album certainly hits the spot and will appeal to anyone who likes any of the bands mentioned in this review. They would be only a fiddle player away from being able to call themselves a celtic-punk band so I’m sure it will appeal to our more regular readers as well. With a blend of influences from right across the musical scene while incorporating folk and rock to wrap around Adam’s clever and intelligent lyrics they play with a passion missing from a lot of bands these days. Their is defeat and loss but always with hope and they manage it all with a sincerity that makes you believe they play these songs from the heart and soul and not out of some songbook.
(listen to The Wild Places by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)
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FromTheBand (£10-CD £5-Download)
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Hard hitting celtic punk from the Lowlands
Grab your pint, put your fist in the air and scream along!
The first ever gig we ever put on under the banner of London Celtic Punks was way back in August,2009 and starred these fantastic celtic-punkers from Holland. Since then they have popped up on the internet loads and despite releasing a cracking album, ‘Weekend Warriors’, in 2010 and an even better EP, ‘Diggers’, in 2012 they have not really been recognised much on this here web-zine. This we will rectify today with a review of their new mini-album. Too big for a EP and not big enough to describe as an full album ‘Year Of The Goat’ is seven songs and over twenty minutes of celtic-punk delight!
Formed back in 2002 every release by Circle J has been received extremely well by both fans and critics alike and with ‘Year Of The Goat’ you get pretty much more of the same but hey that’s no bad thing when that same is as good as Circle J’s. Their reputation has spread well beyond their native Netherlands too as shown by their recent announcement on their Facebook page
“Circle J finally tops the charts! More than 6000 illegal downloads from a certain kind of torrent-site in 3 days. It won’t pay our bills, but it’s kinda funny and punk”
so no one can accuse them of being devoid of a sense of humour!
The album begins with ‘The Ones We Left Behind’ and the bagpipes and banjo and electric guitar throw up an almighty clash and we get off to an almighty start. Over before we know it and ‘Fields of Pretend’ comes right up at ye! Again the electric guitar drives it along and keeps proceedings firmly in celtic-punk territory. Jasper’s furious banjo picking comes out nice and clear and if you like that sound then Circle J are one of the best bands in the scene. Two songs in and the energy level is busting through the roof!
The whole band is giving it their all but even Circle J cant keep it up for ever and they slow it down a wee bit for ‘Warrior Monkey Princess’ with tin-whistle shining through and Tomba sounding like an American pop-punker . The song may be slow but still has a heavy sound and the electric guitar is still present and they cant resist speeding it up near the end anyway! ‘Lost And Found’ could easily be any number of recent English bands we have reviewed here like Jack Of All and Under A Banner. Beginning with acoustic guitar the song gets well under way before the rest of the band join in. An under stated song but one of the stand outs for me. ‘Jenny’s Song’ returns Circle J to what they do best a rocking celtic-punk number with the band playing very strongly together and the chorus of ‘sha la la’ ringing in our ears as well as a few Oi! Oi! Oi!’s as well.
Sadly ‘Year Of The Goat’ is coming to and end and ‘Beyond the Edge’ continues with the drums, metal guitar, mandolin kicking of a hell of a racket before Tomba’s voice comes in and the track sails off with him crooning away. The whole thing ends with ‘Knockapoulka’ a grand old Irish traditional stylee instrumental with… watch the video below and you’ll get the gist. Getting faster and faster you can bet this song has seen plenty of beer spilt in its time. Not a favourite of the person who has to clean up after the gig I would imagine. Short and sweet, a lot like the whole thing to be honest.
Circle J are certainly one of the European celtic-punk scenes more famous and popular bands and deservedly so. They tour like mad and their record releases are without doubt regularly among the best when end of year polls and Top Tens are done. We are ever hopeful they will return to these shores again soon and we’d just like to add that in those six years we have got a lot better at organising things as well!! Watch out for Circle J washing up in your town or at nearby festivals and get on your toes to catch them. You will not regret it!
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*there’s a great review of ‘Year Of The Goat already posted in the excellent ‘Celtic Folk Punk And More’ web-zine site here be sure to check it out.
Under A Banner are a folk-punk band that are passionate, powerful, poetic and rock hard!
We planned to review Under A Banner as soon as we came across them early last year but unfortunately it went in the ‘To Do’ pile and just stayed there and got no further. Thankfully this prolific band had another record release just around the corner and it has given us the chance to put things right. Just recently we seem to have been inundated with folk-punk bands. From the solo acoustic of Bryan McPherson to the punky Mischief Brew to the beautiful Jack Of All it seems that ths is the folk-punk moment in time! As with the before mentioned bands there’s not possibly a great deal if all you’re interested in is solely celtic music but London Celtic Punks blog is not just about celtic-punk and if we like something we cannot wait to share it with you. Which brings us back to Under A Banner.
Based in Wolverhampton in the Midlands Under A Banner play an infectious and catchy brand of folk-punk caught somewhere between The Levellers at their softest, New Model Army at their punkest and a smidgeon of Ferocious Dog and a wee bit of the youthful Billy Bragg before he fled to Dorset and started voting Lib-Dem. The tunes are quintessentially English with both the folk and the punk influences. They gig relentlessly and its easy to tell that they have honed their skill as a live band with this perfect release.
Under A Banner have done the near impossible for any band and have managed to transfer that great live sound onto record. They have even released a free five track live album so you can sample them doing what they do best for yourselves. I don’t know exactly why it is but it always seems hard to genuinely capture celtic (or folk) -punk bands energy on record. One of the problems I suppose is that we are a genre that is best experienced live in concert with good friends, a lively appreciative crowd and with one or two (or more!) drinks with you. Anyhow download it by clicking on the record sleeve and you will see for yourself what I mean. Needless to say you will end up hooked like I did.
With one release at least every year since they formed Under A Banner have kept up an incredibly high standard of songwriting and they have surpassed themselves again with ‘Victory Time’. From the opening bars of ‘The Network’ the EP punches you in the gut and leaves you reeling. Kicking off with the sound of an accordion and some fast paced drumming and Adams vocals driving the tune along and a song about how things like facebook and television leaves us all isolated from each other.
“this network wastes my bloody time”
The second track is title song ‘Victory Time’ and is as good a drinking song you will hear. Its a real pint in the air moment with a raucous catchy tune and real singalonga chorus. The title refers I think to when you get a lock-in in the pub. It certainly feels like a victory to me when it happens anyway!
‘Leaving Here’ doesn’t slow things down and with the organ pushing things along the New Model Armyish tune will have you feeling the need to leap about in your living room. Next up is firm fan favourite ‘Summer Skies’ and it is the only song that on the EP that isn’t brand spanking new and is a re-working of the track that first appeared on their 2012 LP ‘The Ragged Rhythm Of Rain’.
The EP ends with ‘Magic Is Real’ and Under A Banner pull out all the stops with a multitude of instruments on the go and although it never gets going in the same way as the EP’s other songs its a real grower. At just under twenty minutes you definitely get your hard earned worth and the EP is available for Download or on an actual CD from the band themselves below.
Of course by far the best way to experience Under A Banner is to see them live and if you live in or near London you will have the perfect opportunity coming up soon at the Ambition Festival in Croydon. The band are playing this free festival on Saturday 25th July headlining on the ‘Queens Garden- No Rubbish Stage’. So stock up on beer and sun-cream and join us at the front of the stage at 7pm. The following day, on the Sunday, London-Irish psycho-ceilidh celtic-punkers Neck are also playing the festival so looks like being a full on South London weekender! The full festival line-up, maps and any other details you will need can be found here. This looks a really good event and, for what we like, its completely free too so we all doff our scally caps to the organisers. So have a listen and then check out Under A Banner and come see them live you will have no better excuse I tells you!
(you can listen to the whole EP by pressing play on the Bandcamp player below)
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Buy The EP