Roaring Jack Archives - 21st Century Reviews

This is where Roaring Jack fans can submit and read 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

Blyth Power - Fall of Iron (Downwarde Spiral DR012CD)

It’s now four years since Blyth Power’s last album, On the Viking Station, came out with promises that it would form the first part of a trilogy. Since then the band have had their time taken up with various distractions such as doing acoustic sets in folk clubs and, more alarmingly, having babies. As a result gigs have been few and far between and there has been little news of parts two and three. So for Blyth fans the long-awaited release of Fall of Iron is a real cause for celebration.

A bit of background for anyone who’s unfamiliar: Blyth Power came into being in the early eighties when Joseph Porter, after a few years playing drums in bands of a mostly anarchist punk persuasion, started putting together one of his own. Taking their name from diesel engine no. 56134, Blyth were soon established as one of the most eccentric bands around, describing themselves as a cross between The Clash, Steeleye Span and the Rubettes.? Since then they’ve had twenty-four members and recorded fourteen albums, and Joseph (now the only survivor of the original band) is still going strong. As well as his vocals and drums the current line-up includes Joseph’s brother Jerry on bass, Steven Cooper on guitar and Annie Hatcher on keys.

From the very first notes this is unmistakable Blyth, Joseph’s impassioned vocals supported by relentless guitar and close-harmony backings as they roll and crash through a voyage across the North Sea oilfields. As always the subject matter of these songs is wide-ranging and unusual and the lyrics are vintage Porter, perhaps on the wordy side but always memorable. ‘Where the backfisch roll in whalebone strakes/The heaving timbers groan/To pour on troubled waters/Out here to hand there’s oil enough for two’. It’s typical of this band that while the title track was inspired by the Kosovo war this is no straightforward protest song but an account of the war narrated by a world-weary bomber pilot.

Musically this album ranges from the punk-rock ranting of ‘Born in a Different England’ to ‘Cynthia’s Revels’, a poets’ drinking song which bounces along to Steven’s acoustic guitar and Annie’s accordion and quite literally demands that you join in with the chorus. (Listen to it and you’ll see that I really do mean literally!) Blyth Power’s distinctive take on folk music is best demonstrated by ‘Endgame’, an impressively menacing ballad which is also a bloodthirsty sequel to ‘The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy’ - complete with Whack-fol-a-day fol-a-diddle chorus. It may have been a quiet few years for Blyth but this has been well worth the wait, and for anyone who doesn’t know them Fall of Iron is as good a place as any to start.

Fall of Iron can be ordered from the band’s website. I think this is UK only, but apparently it will also soon be available from Townsend Records who (I think) can ship to anywhere.



Swill and the Swaggerband - The Day After (TMTCH, 2004)

Swill, as you probably know, is Phil Odgers, one of the voices of legendary English band The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The Men have just celebrated their 20th anniversary, and released a new album (Cherry Red Jukebox) in 2003. The Day After, dubbed a Swill solo project, gives Odgers the opportunity to kick back and play acoustic music with a bunch of mates. The result is a relaxed yet tight album where the musicians’ enjoyment is both obvious and infectious.

Some past and present members of TMTCH are in the Swaggerband, along with a couple of ring-ins. Bassist Ricky McGuire is there on several songs, his thumping acoustic bass adding much to the overall sound. A few tracks receive a further kick in the pants from Swill’s brother Jon, former TMTCH drummer, adding snare, bongos and shaker. Those usual suspects are joined by Tom Spencer of Fast Lane Roogalator (guitar and banjo) and Bobby Valentino on fiddle and mandolin. In addition, a few guests add flourishes of ukulele, harmonica and there’s even some yodelling! TMTCH’s Paul Simmonds doesn’t play on the album, but he wrote lyrics for seven of the thirteen tracks.

And the sound? Well, there are definite American influences here. I hear flashes of US country, folk and Eddie Cochran on this album, all blending in nicely to create Swill’s unique sound. And his vocals, of course, are singularly English.

The Simmonds/Odgers tracks are catchy and pull at the heartstrings at the same time. While Phil’s voice is unmistakeable, nothing on the album really sounds like The Men They Couldn’t Hang. Even the famous title track (the original version of which opened the Men’s debut album, Night of a Thousand Candles) is totally different from the version I knew and loved. It still kicks though! ‘Ready to Blow’ is an upbeat track that stands out, along with ‘The Story’. Who can resist a chorus that goes "God bless Joe Strummer for ‘Know Your Rights’ / God bless Chuck Berry and the Skatalites"? On the gentler side, ‘Tightrope’ and the unforgettably catchy ‘Ordinary Girls’ are my highlights, the latter deserving to be a big hit single. But the best moment is a rambunctious instrumental called ‘Hanwell Shuffle’. Something about this one conjures up visions of The Clash as a skiffle band. Truly great.

The banter between tracks just demonstrates how much fun Swill and the Swaggerband had in creating this album. Their enthusiasm has certainly rubbed off on me, and I’m itching to hear more! (Andy)

Neck - Here’s Mud In Yer Eye! A Psycho-Ceilidh Retrospective (Hibernian Records, 2004 - available through Shite'n'Onions)

New listeners start here! If you haven’t stumbled across Neck before, then Here’s Mud In Yer Eye is the best place to begin. This album is a compilation of 12 tracks recorded between 1997 and 2002. And even if you already have most of the tracks, this album is so lovingly packaged, arranged and annotated that you really can’t be without it. There’s even a glossary of terms in the liner notes, so that we’re all equipped to understand the Irish slang and cultural references appearing in Neck’s songs!

Leeson O’Keeffe is the band’s singer, guitarist, banjo player and mainstay. He has assembled a floating but tightly knit combo, with his own instruments augmented by tin whistle, fiddle, bass, drums and then more guitars! Most tracks have an Irish sound about them, but it’s beefed up with punk and other rock influences. For example, ‘Suzie McGroovy’, a tribute to a purple-haired Newcastle lass, strikes these ears as Celtic glam rock. And ‘A Fistful of Shamrock’ is a brilliant rumbling instrumental, like the soundtrack to an imaginary ‘potato western’.

Neck is a London-based band, but its heart certainly remains in Dublin. The Republic’s capital features heavily in many Neck songs, either as a backdrop or as a reminder of what all those Irish immigrants the world over have left behind. They’re not nostalgic, though. It’s as if Dublin is a place that it’s quite easy to return to for a while, even if you’re unable or unwilling to make your living there permanently. Another topic featuring heavily in Neck’s originals is getting slaughtered on the piss. Like many of my favourite writers and singers, they’re well acquainted with the place of alcohol in contemporary life, for better (‘Loud ‘n’ Proud ‘n’ Bold’) or worse (‘Hello Jakey!’). A special mention goes to the title track, a gentle and uplifting tribute to Willie O’Keeffe, one of Leeson’s own who fought the Black and Tans and managed to live a full and fruitful life thereafter.

This compilation features an even number of originals and covers. Along with traditional tunes like ‘Spancil Hill’, ‘I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’ and ‘The Maid Behind the Bar / The Sally Gardens’, we get to hear Neck energise Dominic Behan’s legendary ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’ rip through the Saw Doctors’ ‘To Win Just Once’. Then there’s Pete St John’s classic ‘The Fields of Athenry’, the song so beloved of folk in the stands at Lansdowne Road and Celtic Park. This song has been covered by quite a few Celt-punk bands recently, including the Dropkick Murphys and the Greenland Whalefishers. I’d have to vote for Neck’s version as my favourite, though. It starts with a little boogie riff before kicking into gear. It’s not as frantic as the Murphys’ version nor as reverent as the Whalefishers’. The version here was released as a single to coincide with Ireland’s efforts in soccer’s 2002 World Cup, and it is superior to one which appears on Necked: A Few Odds From the Ould Sods (2001). This version ends with the band launching into that famous ‘ole ole ole’ chant you hear at football grounds the world over, which really is a fitting end to an extraordinary compilation. (Andy)

Flogging Molly - Within A Mile Of Home Side One Dummy, 2004)

This is the third studio album from Southern California’s Flogging Molly. Their earlier efforts (Swagger, 2000 and Drunken Lullabies, 2002) were so raucous, frenetic, melodic and brilliant that I wondered what album number three would offer. Would it be their If I Should Fall From Grace With God or their Peace and Love?

Well, the opening two tracks indicate that Flogging Molly have gotten tighter and faster, if anything. ‘Screaming at the Wailing Wall’ is a speedy, thumping critique of the American government’s need for enemies. The Cold War’s over, but America needs a War on Terror to boost the economy and generate mindless patriotic fervor. ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ rolls along like a drunken punk sea shanty, with fiddle and accordion fighting to be heard amidst the fuzzy guitars. The albums settles down with ‘Factory Girls’, a mellow (well, mellow by this band’s standards, anyway) take on American industrial town life where lead vocalist Dave King shares the mike with the wonderful Lucinda Williams. I’d love to hear Lucinda do more Celtic punk, as her gravelly whiskey voice fits the genre beautifully.

There are some fine moments on this album. We get to hear some gentler tracks like the stirring ‘Whistles the Wind’, where Bridget Regan’s fiddle finally manages to rise above the din and shine on its own. Look out for the acapella ‘The Wrong Company’, and the closing ‘Don’t Let Me Die Still Wondering’, which has Dave King crooning over a Salvation Army-style backing. The band seems to be finding a lot of middle ground between the gentle and the frantic. ‘Tomorrow Comes A Day Too Soon’ combines a terrific Cajun-style accordion sound with a bouncing bassline and shuffling beat.

Dave has copped some flack in the mainstream press for his vocal style. A review in the Washington Post said that on the slower songs, Dave sings ‘like Popeye gargling’ and that on the faster songs he sings ‘like Popeye gargling a cat’. But I beg to differ. Dave King, to these ears at least, sings strongly and sings in tune. So what if he sounds like an Irish version of Noddy Holder at times? Since when have perfectly dulcet tones been a prerequisite of punk and folk, anyway? (AC)

Various Artists – Shite’n’Onions Volume 1 (Omnium, 2004)

Folk music and punk rock have both been described at various times as the music of the people. The Pogues were probably really the first to combine punk and Celtic folk into a new and potent musical force. They have inspired many bands over the past twenty years, including our very own Roaring Jack. This new compilation showcases some of the best 21st century exponents of Celtic folk punk, with contributors from various stops along the global bus route.

A blast of feedback gives way to a frenzy of drums, accordion, mandolin and powerchords, and you know you’re in good hands. It’s the mighty Mahones leading the way with ‘The Queen and Tequila’, their classic imaginary tale of drinking with Shane MacGowan. This band’s updated take on the Pogues is a splendid way to begin proceedings. Their speedy ‘Drunken Lazy Bastard’ follows, then it’s Norway’s Greenland Whalefishers, another band with undoubtedly heavy Pogues leanings. Next up is two tracks by the Skels with the raucous ‘One for the Road’ and – gosh! – it’s a Pogues cover (‘Streams of Whiskey’).

Before you start entertaining thoughts of a Pogues tribute album, let me set you straight. There’s a tremendous amount of stuff on this album that does not sound like Shane and the gang. There are elements of classic streetpunk in the Nogoodnix, Big Black Cadillac, Bates Motel and Devil’s Advocates, with the latter two incorporating traditional instruments into the mix. My favourite track so far might be ‘Killiecranked Up’ by Scotland’s The Electrics. They take a stirring verse by Robert Burns and set it to a glorious fiddle-driven, foot-stomping tune. It’s more Proclaimers than Pogues, but with an absolutely huge twin guitar attack. Priceless!

Roaring Jack fans will be interested to hear The Tossers cover the traditional Irish classic, ‘Dicey Riley’. This is one that the Jacks played live, probably a little faster and more profane than the Tossers’ version. Better still is their original ‘Monday Morning’, a sad and desperate ode to drinking and self loathing. Other highlights come from Canadian band Siobhan, Londoners Neck (whose utterly brilliant instrumental is the title track of this comp) and Ireland’s Blood Or Whiskey, whose vocalist Barney Murray makes ol’ MacGowan sound like Tony Bennett. For the closer, The Croppies take on a Pogues tune, ‘Young Ned of the Hill’. The most traditional sounding band of the lot, they’ve reworked the song so radically that it sounds like it came from Cromwell’s time rather than from 1989.

It must have been some task for the crew at online zine Shite’n’Onions to assemble this compilation. Imagine the headaches deciding which bands, and indeed which tracks would make the cut. Nonetheless, they’ve done a terrific job on this the first volume. Recent editions of the zine feature loads of other interesting bands. Let’s hope that they manage to recruit some equally important bands for future instalments of the compilation. And wouldn’t it be great to hear some female voices along with all those blokes? (Andy)

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