Alt Folk, Irish, Trad, Celtic.
The debut release from Crock Of Bones the newest band on the London Irish Folk and Trad circuit.
I first met the Brothers Byrne oh maybe twenty odd years ago. Having not long moved to London from the northern wastelands I was surrounded by Irish at home but the only ‘proper’ Irish I knew were everyone’s Mam and Dads so I was in no way prepared for quite how Irish London was back in the early 90’s. Every pub and street corner seemed on loan from the Emerald Isle itself and as I slowly immersed myself into the London punk scene I found that was no different either. Every band seemed to have an Irish connection and with any Celtic-Punk scene years off it was down to the punk scene for this
plastic paddy 2nd gen Irishman to get his kicks. Living in Hackney back then punks were ten’a’penny and it was impossible to just take a wander up to the shop without bumping into someone you knew and their was a good chance that person would be Irish! Among the bands active in north London at the time that were mixing up Irish folk and punk were The Daltons, Brassic Park and Under The Gun but the best of the bunch were Pitful Of Ugly. Featuring Hugh and Mike (the Brothers Bryne) and their drumming Kiwi bus driver mate Jason they played loads round Hackney, especially at the famed Acton Arms, home of punk rock in London for a few years around 1995. Pitful Of Ugly played a few of their own songs in among some classic Irish folk songs and tunes that the Bhoys speeded up and tampered with. It was great stuff (so it was!) and though very popular they didn’t quite get the breaks to take them out of the Hackney punk ghetto. Fast forward a few years and every now and then I’d bump into the Bros. and even bought a CD of Hugh’s new band The Obscuritones, a rockabilly group he was playing guitar in. Next thing I heard was recently when I received a email from a new band LOCKS and there was Mike with his double bass. Once again I was suitably impressed (they are well worth checking out by the way!) and we fell back in contact. So that was it until Mike starting dropping subtle hints about a new project I would be interested in and 2019 has seen it unveiled as the traditional Irish folk band Crock Of Bones and needless to say their record of being in bands I love shows no danger of being overturned!!!
So not having strayed far from Hackney in the intervening years Crock Of Bones were born this year in North London and Nasty, Brutal And Short is the bands debut release. The Bros call it “a description of the Irish we first made friends with when we emigrated to London”. The rest of the groups members, whose backgrounds stretch back to 90’s celtic-punk, gypsy jazz, dark folk and rock, include a fellow member of LOCKS, Marian McClenaghan on fiddle, Jim Wharf from the band Red Eye on banjo and guitar and Lost Revellers Caitlin Roberts on accordion alongside Hugh on lead vocals, guitar and fiddle and Mike on double bass.
So with a pretty diverse line up what is the new approach that Crock Of Bones can bring? Well as Hugh says
“This time we’re using traditional instruments, fiddle, accordion, banjo, guitar and double bass and three vocals to get the same energy and power as we used to get from distorted guitars.”
and their is a certain unpolished feel to it all and when I say that I in no way at all mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that it’s universally agreed that Irish music is best played down the pub and in that environment a certain amount of ‘ramshackleness’ is not just tolerated but actually required to give it that authentic feel. The five songs here swing from ballads to full-pelt foot-stompers and though their trad numbers are well played its their original numbers that that impressed me the most.
The Nasty, Brutal And Short EP kicks off with the first of the original numbers ‘Just One Of Those Things’ and its a slow swirling number with fiddle and accordion leading the way while Hugh sings of lost love. He’s got a great voice and the Dublin accent now also has a wee bit of a Cockney twang about it! Next up is one of the best songs ever about the Irish on this side of the Irish sea. Written by Ewan MacColl (no stranger at all to these pages!) and made massively popular among the Irish diaspora chiefly by The Dubliners and then The Wolfe Tones. The song tells of the comical goings on among a gang of Irishmen digging the road up in Glasgow and laying the ‘Hot Asphalt’. Somewhere along the way a policeman falls in a pot of boiling asphalt and the gang cover up his death! Played in the same style as the Dubs the song is quick and catchy and dare I say it as almost as good a version as I have heard but for the best version of all time then check out New York cities 1916 and their version here it’ll knock yer socks off!
“‘Tis twelve months come October since I left me native home
After helping them Killarney boys to bring the harvest down
But now I wear the gansey and around me waist a belt
I’m the gaffer of the squad that makes the hot asphalt”
Following this is the EP’s second original number ‘Ferry’ and anyone of a certain age will remember the trip back and forth to Ireland on the ferry from Fishguard or Holyhead over to Ireland in the Summer. Packed to the absolute rafters like cattle we ran around like maniacs till we collapsed on the floor and slept in corridors while our Mams and Dads sat in the bar drinking and, depending on whether we were coming or going, talked of Ireland in either glowing or disparaging terms. Hugh writes a great lyric here about a long distance relationship about a couple saying goodbye at the ferry terminal. It’s a sad mournful song that comes to an end with the great line “waiting for a voice on a landline telephone”. Next they kick up a bit of a storm with two tunes cobbled together nicely ‘Cooley’s Reel/Mountain Road’ and I love these kind of instrumentals. Owing a lot to The Dubliners they are as catchy a tune as has ever been written in music and if you’re looking for full-pelt foot-stompers then this and the EP’s closing track, ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’, are the ones for you. An old song celebrating the defeat of an army of 3,000 English soldiers by Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne (any relation?) at the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580. The air dates back to then and the words to Patrick Joseph McCall in 1899. Its a great rousing rebeller and Crock Of Bones give it plenty of oompf and i recommend looking up the words as theirs not many more… err… ‘descriptive’ Irish songs and it’s a glorious joy to be belting them out at the top of your lungs believe me!
(You can stream Nasty, Brutal And Short on the Bandcamp player below before you invest your hard earned in this great wee release)
So an amazing addition to the London Irish scene and well worth the cost of the download. The band have plenty of expertise about them but as I said it’s just the right side of being not too professional and it’s all the better for it. This is the same music our Mams and Dads once listened to in smoke filled boozers packed with fellow immigrants a generation or two back but Crock Of Bones have given it a subtle modern twist and the energy and passion is self evident. Be sure to check them out live in concert around London.
Buy Nasty, Brutal And Short FromTheBand