Roaring Jack Archives - 21st Century Reviews - Older Reviews

This is where we keep the older reviews. Go here for more recent ones.

Roaring Jack fans can submit reviews of recent recordings. We are interested in reviewing any material related to Roaring Jack: for example, material featuring past members or the band, or songs that Roaring Jack recorded or played live. We are also happy to review anything that other Roaring Jack fans may enjoy: if it's Celtic, punky, political or all of the above, we want to hear it!

Special Features



McGillicuddys - Kilt By Death (Retch Records, 2002)

The latest recording by this Canadian five-piece was released some time ago, but I want to make sure that all you Roaring Jacksters are aware of it. For a start, there’s a cracking cover of a Roaring Jack favourite, ‘Buy Us A Drink’. This song’s been covered by a couple of other Canadian bands, but the McGillicuddys’ version is the most punk rock so far. The guitars are cranked up really high on this song, and throughout most of the album for that matter!

The punk rock guitar, bass and drums make a great noise, but they still leave lots of room for the traditional instruments to shine through. There are lashings of mandolin, whistle and accordion, and the plaintive strum of an acoustic guitar can sometimes be heard through the glorious din. Much of the music kinda brings to mind the Pogues plus powerchords. However, lead vocalist Mike Walker sounds nothing like Shane MacGowan, so there’s no way the band can be dismissed as mere Pogues clones.

While the album’s title may prepare you for a dose of Scots highland culture a la the Real McKenzies, much of the music within owes more to the traditions of Ireland than those of Scotland. Oh, there’s a cover of the great Scots tune ‘Nancy Whiskey’, but the other covers – and the MacGillicuddys’ originals – sound pretty Irish-influenced to me. Along with the obligatory version of ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ (covered not only by the Pogues and Roaring Jack, but also more recently by the Dolomites, Amadan and others), there’s a cover from way outta left field of the Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers classic, ‘One Track Mind’. I live for moments such as this. It’s great to see bands break the mould and pull out songs that have never received a Celtic punk workout before. More, please!

The band’s originals tend to cover some time honoured themes, like drinking to forget, revenge and picking one’s broken heart off the floor. However, they make such themes their own by dropping in a bunch of local references. Thus we’re transported to lowlife pubs like the Lady Owen Arms (‘Lady Owen’) and to seedy neighbourhoods like New Cross (‘Let It Rain’) to watch the losers in McGillicuddys’ songs drink their unpleasant little lives away. Unlike the characters in their songs, there’s a lot of hope in this band and Kilt By Death is well worth a listen. Now, any chance of an Australian tour? (AC)

Mick Thomas and the Sure ThingThe Horse’s Prayer 2CD (Croxton Records, 2003)

It s rare to find a double record (sorry CD) that holds the attention. I remember The Clash’s London Calling with fondness but who can recall many other double CDs that last the distance? So it s pleasing to see an Aussie songwriter succeed where so many have failed. It is the quality of Mick Thomas’s quirky lyrics and versatile instrumentation that makes this CD great. His lyrics examine Australian characters using their own language in real everyday life. These phrases reverberate in every song and he is one of the few singers not afraid to sing with an Oz twang. There are so many notable songs that I'm not going to highlight every single one. The Sure Thing in their present line-up with their rocking but smooth delivery are the perfect complement to Thomas’s vision. The body they add to these songs makes the journey through Thomas’s landscape sound like the great Australian novel that he will one day finish. But for now I am happy just listening to these short stories. (Perce Blakeney)

Mutiny - Bag of Oats six-song CD and Digging for Gold three-song CD (Haul Away)

Here’s a Melbourne band that’s been around for ages. They describe their music as ‘folk-punk for punk folks’ and it’s a pretty accurate assessment. ‘Relentless speedfolk’ comes to my mind as I listen to the incredibly fast-paced ‘Digging for Gold’ and ‘Bag of Oats’. These songs and several others are driven by blinding accordion and mandolin riffs (great work from Dan Green and Gregory Bones respectively) and augmented by the raging tin whistle of Lobby (who doesn’t appear to be in the current lineup of the band).

If one was to take away these traditional instruments – a real cornerstone of Mutiny’s sound – we’d be left with a very impressive punk rock band. Alice’s bass, Paul Cage’s drums and Calum’s guitar sound are classic punk. Some of the riffs and feels remind me of the wonderful bands that were coming out of Sydney in the early ‘80s, like Itchy Rat and Vigil-Anti. Especially with the super raw vocals of Chris Patches. Imagine a younger, angrier version of Dave Steel (he played with Weddings Parties Anything early on and contributed lead vocals to a few tracks) and you’ll have some idea of what I mean.

Mutiny’s lyrics come equally from their experiences on the streets of Melbourne and from their fascination with radical history. There are observations on life the seamier, poorer suburbs of Melbourne. We hear tales of local yobs who live in poverty and blame the immigrants (‘Two Up Alley’), the soup kitchens and all the vacant shops out Collingwood way (‘Shot Tower’) and when there’s nothing in your pantry but the ingredients for porridge (‘Bag of Oats’, which appears on both CDs). Throughout there’s a spirit of rebellion and an understanding that there are ways out of the poverty and meaninglessness of life in the suburbs. The historic angle comes into play in songs like ‘Police Strike Riot’, which relives the police strike which left Melbourne lawless briefly in 1929, and ‘Digging for Gold’, which encounters greed and violence on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. One of the standouts for me is the slower and hugely melodic ‘Struggle Town’ and its stories of fighting in the streets: ‘And Father O’Brian punches the chief of police / Not a bad left hook for a priest’.

So, here we have two releases that are well worth your purchase if you like it fast, raw, angry and folky. And you’re all Roaring Jack fans, so of course you do! (AC)

Steve Towson - 1 Shot At Freedom (CrimInAll Records, 2003)

Towson’s back, and boy is he pissed off!

On this, his second CD, Steve Towson sounds better than ever. It’s not a polished release by any means, as the electric guitar still sounds raw as anything and the vocals are rough and ready and probably all done in one take. But there is something about the sound quality than raises this album above In A Shattered State, Steve’s release from last year.

The album kicks off with a short and angry piece, ‘Standing Enflamed’, which clocks in at under a minute. As with the previous release, hearing this one I close my eyes and see Richard Hell fronting The Saints, with the bass and drums turned off. But maybe that’s just showing myself up as the old bastard I’m rapidly becoming.

Towson presents a mixture of the personal and the political, with even the personal relationship–type songs showing the effects of life in a pretty fucked up world. He can sound like a one man thrash band on some songs, while on others like ‘We Don’t Need This’ and ‘My Time Will Come’, a more laid back reggae style shines through. There’s also the supremely melodic pop-punk of ‘When the Devil Wields A Pen’ – surely this one deserves a spin on intelligent radio (if there is such a thing)?

The tension on this album builds until all pressure is released on the killer final track. ‘Madness of King George’ is Steve Towson’s take on George W. Bush and his place in world. Amazingly, this song was written before the present conflict in the Gulf. This track roars with anger and contains a killer riff that matches Towson’s classic from last year, ‘When the Revolution Comes’. It’s undoubtedly Towson’s best vocal effort, calling to mind the sound of Bob Mould screaming himself hoarse in the early days of Husker Du. (Sorry, once again the old bloke drags out ancient comparisons!) If Steve continues to play this one live, I can only fear for the long-term future of his vocal cords.

So, Steve Towson is improving with age as world gets ever crazier. Get this one while you can, and look out for Steve Towson playing in your neighbourhood soon. (AC)

John Kennedy
Kennedy Town: Uncharted Songs from the Wilderness Years
Laughing Outlaw Records

John Kennedy spent much of the 1990s (the Wilderness Years in the title) in Germany. This album was recorded with his German band, the Honeymooners in 2000 and released that year on John’s own label, Urban and Western. Now that John has returned to Sydney, the good folks at Laughing Outlaw have released it locally, so we Aussies have no excuses for letting this little gem pass by.

Moving away from one’s homeland often helps writers shape and sharpen their perceptions of home. John Kennedy adds to his famous catalogue of songs on inner western Sydney with the fabulous opener, ‘The Ghost of Newtown’: ‘I’m sitting on a headstone, in St Stephen’s Cemetery. Newtown, Newtown, do you still remember me?’ This one jangles away fiercely and never fails to give me the chills. Kennedy’s warm and earthy vocals take us on a little trip through a Newtown which has long since vanished as he comes to terms with growing older and facing a changing world.

Kennedy’s world moves far beyond suburban Sydney as he spills the beans on places as diverse as Alabama, Berlin, Hong Kong and Liverpool. His music takes in elements of country, folk and blues and adds some wonderful Shadows-style electric guitar (especially on ‘On A Ferry’ and, not surprisingly, the instrumental ‘Hank B.’). That voice, though, that striking voice dominates the album with its overwhelming infectiousness. Overseas readers might be reminded of Elvis Costello circa King of America, or Canada’s The Lowest of the Low.

In ‘Brisbane ‘82’, John Kennedy revisits the city in which he spent his adolescence. This one is a chilling reminder of life in Queensland during Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s reign: ‘It’s a tidy town and they like it neat so blacks and gays get off the street’. ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’ tells of Kennedy’s visit to Berlin – 25 years after another John Kennedy had made his monumental appearance there – and just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kennedy’s senses of history and place are spot on once again. This album is full of classic moments like these. Essential. (AC)

Highlander - Pipe Dreamers (McTinshed Music, 2002 - email the band for details)

From the highlands of my birthplace, Newcastle NSW (well, Rankin Park and New Lambton are pretty hilly) comes a thunder of pipes, drums, fiddle and electric guitar. Highlander positively bursts through your speakers with the opener, ‘The Blue Cloud’. A long intro consisting of throbbing bass, drums, fiddle and a soft drone from Justin Body’s bagpipes builds up the tension and anticipation. Then – blammo! - Dave Venaglia’s guitar fires off some serious powerchords, the pipes and drums are cranked up really high and we’re off. And hold on tight, for it’s a pretty intense ride. Twelve tracks of stomping Celtic rock from a band which knows when to hold back and when to rock out.

The first four tracks are all instrumentals, and you’re bound to recognise some classic Scots and Irish folk tunes interspersed with the original ones. The terrific fiddle of Nikalla Garret leads the way in most tracks. Big noise guitar and pipes combine in awesome fashion, especially in the intro to ‘The Electric Jigs’. It is all underpinned by the tight-as rhythm section of Rob Dilley (assault and battery) and John Gottery (low notes). Roaring Jackies take note, one of the later tracks opens with ‘The Battle of the Somme’, a beautiful Scots tune that was appropriated by Roaring Jack on Steph Miller’s composition ‘Go Leave’.

We get to witness the vocal talents of members and guests on a number of tracks. Bassist John contributes a great lead vocal on the seafaring singalong, ‘The Whale’. Dave manages a vocal performance worthy of Mick Thomas (Weddings Parties Anything) on the spooky ‘Prison Ship’, on which Justin swaps his pipes for tin whistle and ring-in Dean Finch helps out with some excellent mandolin. Justin bellows his way through a blazing Celtic-metal-bluegrass cover of AC/DC’s ‘Long Way to the Top’ and while his vocals don’t match those of the mighty Bon Scott, his pipe solo certainly does! There’s a magic moment when the song mutates into ‘Scotland the Brave’ and Justin screams out ‘We need more bagpipes! Where’s that bloody pipe band? Get in here!’ Next thing you know, they’re joined by a full assemblage of pipes and drums, kicking up a fearful racket.

There’s even a Slade cover – yep, you guessed it, ‘Run Runaway’. I would love to see the pipes and fiddle let loose on a really good Slade song, like ‘Coz I Luv You’ or ‘Far, Far Away’. Vocal duties on this track are handed to guest singer Craig Goddard, who also lends his lungs to the closer, ‘Flower of Scotland’. He is joined by a high school choir and they turn in a real emotional performance of this modern standard. A good job!

In all, here’s an exciting release that just screams out for your attention. If you like your Scots tunes played by a rockin’ band with passion and a sense of fun, then this one’s for you. And me. (Andy Carr)

More recent 21st Century Reviews
Oldest 21st Century Reviews
Roaring Jack Archives Home