No easy task keeping the tricolour flying for Pennsylvania’s large Irish community but Hold Fast do just that. Whether tales of the sea, songs of whiskey, or lessons on love and life. Back with the follow up to their debut album three years ago Hold Fast provide more rowdy Celtic-Punk and Irish Folk.
Hold Fast can get a rebellion started and keep it going long into the early morning!
In this day and age we have easy access to music of all kinds and as you can imagine we get plenty of new music here at London Celtic Punks. So much in fact that sometimes I can find myself listening to nothing but new releases for days on end. Saying that some ‘older’ album’s do stand out and one of them has been Hold Fast’s debut album, Black Irish Sons, which I have revisited many a time in the years since it came out.
“moments of fast punk rock and slow and gentle ballads mixed together to make an album that is laid out perfectly and at a ideal pace. The bands Irish roots are stamped all over things and they may look to the past of the Tones, Clancy’s and Dub’s but are not stuck there and have added their own stamp to everything they do.”
Black Irish Sons was universally well received at the time sitting just outside the London Celtic Punks Best Album Of 2018 top ten in #12 and finishing Top Ten for both Paddyrock and Celtic Folk Punk And More. So with the winds at their back they continued doing what they do playing regularly around their home state until the Covid lockdowns and things were put on hold. The recent appearance of Last Of the Rebels signifies two things to me. The triumphant return of Hold Fast and the return also of (even if just a little) a normal life.
Founded in 2016 in the state capital of Harrisburg Hold Fast are but part of a flourishing local Celtic-Punk scene along with the mighty Kilmaine Saints, Bastard Bearded Irishmen, Punkabillys, Lucky Lad Green and The Tradesmen the best known and all of whom have featured on these pages at one time or another. The Irish make up the State’s second biggest ancestry group at just under 20% (#1 is German) but in many places that rises to over 40% and so there’s a very good reason for such a wealth of Celtic-Punk bands alongside the State’s many traditional Irish Folk acts.
So can Last Of The Rebels compete with Black Irish Sons or not is the question? The first thing I noticed is the number of tracks on their debut was a bog standard ten but here the album stretches to fourteen songs and lasts just under a hour. That’s a risky thing with peoples attention spans not being what they were and especially in Celtic-Punk where we all accept that the best place to hear the music is down the pub in the company of others rather than sitting at home. The album kicks off with ‘Silver Shamrock’ and while I was expecting a ditty based around the unforgettable theme tune from Halloween 3 it turns out to be a rocking Paddy-Punk bagpipe heavy tribute to the Silver Shamrock tattoo parlour run by a horror mad Irishman. Not the blazing opener I was hoping for but a good toe-tapper singalong and anyway ‘Three Can Keep A Secret’ supplies the rowdiness next and it’s top quality Piratey Punk. Cole’s vocals are just the right side of raspy here, strong and powerful. Not quite Tom Waits but Shane-ish compared to most. Glad also to see our auld mate Mike McNaughton has joined the cast here since the album’s release on drums too.
Title track ‘Last Of The Rebels’ was the first single from the album and came out with a rather uninspiring video but these guys don’t have time to get all artsy-farty and the video did it’s job in letting us all know that Hold Fast had lost none of their spunk in the intervening years. Hold Fast keep the covers to a minimum and concentrate on their own material like ‘Magh Meall & Tir Nan Nog’ a Punky, fast and furious (the shortest song here) modern sea-shanty. On past experience the ballad holds no fear for Hold Fast and Cole’s vocal range can more than handle it and so they show on ‘Prodigal Sun’. A outstanding song with some great writing too. They follow this up with a dark and foreboding short instrumental ‘Gentlemen And Rogues’ which more than tips it’s cap at legendary Irish act Horslips. ‘The Sails Are On Fire’ takes us on another nautical voyage which even includes some nice brass instruments. The challenge from piper Jon was to find the Tuba and if I had to guess than I’d say it was here. Of all the American sports I think it is Baseball that we over this side of the Atlantic don’t get the most. As far as I’m aware its the sport of choice for the working-class American and especially the Irish-American working class. As an aside I live about a 20 minute walk from where the first ever Baseball game was played! Still I just don’t get it but I’m happy and willing to agree that it’s more than just a American version of Rounders! ‘The Ballad Of Joe Savery’ is next and when I looked up the name I found local Philadelphia sporting idol Joe Savery but on listening to the song it has bugger all to do with him and is another superb tribute to sailors.
‘To Davey Jones’ tells of the well worn metaphor (Davy Jones Locker) for the bottom of the sea where the souls of drowned sailors dwell and shipwrecks lay consigned to the depths of the ocean. Jon puts down the pipes to concentrate on accordion duties and another great song of the sea. When the Yuppies were doing their sea-shanty impersonations a while ago on Tik-Tok I never seen one that you could even compare to this. Time for another crowd pleaser and ‘Brody’s Lament’ gives them that. A great singalong chorus and plenty of thigh slapping Country infused elements here to enjoy. One thing missing so far has been a proper overt Irish rebeller and they don’t disappoint with a great version of the famed Wolfe Tones track ‘Erin Go Bragh’. On Black Irish Sons they performed another Tones song ‘Big Strong Man’ that they absolutely owned and is well worth checking out. Here named simply ‘The Erin Go Bragh Suite’
“I’ll sing you a song of a row in the town
When the Green flag went up and the Crown flag came down
Twas the neatest and sweetest thing ever you saw
And they played the great game they call Erin Go Bragh”
The song is about the events that took place during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and was written by Peadar Kearney, who also wrote the Irish national anthem. At almost 10 (ten!) minutes it can definitely be described as the album’s epic and as I hinted earlier never outlives it’s welcome. Played slow and purposeful before half way through a sudden surge into life and a Punky Celtic-Punk tale of the ‘boys’ taking on the Tans in county Cork and wiping out the whole ‘f**king lot’. Well worthy of being called epic it’s the album standout track and shows Hold Fast cramming every element that makes up Celtic-Punk into one song. We are treated to another great cover next as the album comes to an end. ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is a Scottish Folk song that is perhaps best known as played by Irish acts like The Pogues and The Dubliners ( and indeed The Pogues And The Dubliners) and this is a perfect example of how to play a popular standard. Take it and inject it with some energy and passion and some of yourselves too. ‘Raise Your Glass’ takes us back to where we all like to be- the pub before the curtain comes down with the final track and ‘Slán’. Irish for goodbye Hold Fast say goodbye with a gang-vocal cover of ‘Raise Your Glass’ accompanied on piano before a few seconds of silence before the bonus track and I’ll say no more and leave it to you to find out.
(The Hold Fast set from the Paddyrock Live Stream fiesta from this years St. Patrick’s Day)
So an absolutely outstanding album from the Hold Fast Bhoys. To be honest I was never in any doubt, These guys have the spirit of Irish-America flowing through them and seem to know exactly what the community (and it’s friends) want. This is a great record but sadly for many of us we will never get to experience it in it’s ideal environment. Why the public house of course!
(You can stream / download Last Of The Rebels on the Bandcamp player below)