London Celtic Punks Album Review.(Return to the Stones)
About a year ago, I found myself at the Ragged Bear Festival in Warwickshire. This two-stage festival seemed tailor-made for anyone who’s ever been to a London Celtic Punks show, tailor made to anyone who loves a sea chantey as much as a moshpit, and indeed tailor made me. The Whipjacks’ played of some the speediest Celtic-Punk I’ve ever heard downstairs, and Greenman Rising, who organized the festival, brought their hardcore folk tradition to modern audiences on both stages.
Another highlight of the festival was Sons of Clogger. This Staffordshire foursome’s sweaty basement show felt like a folk session from long ago but unstuck in time, with traditional melodies and story teller lyrics over an rhythm section straight out of the ‘80s punk scene in London. Adding mandola, low-D tin whistle and a 12-string acoustic guitar created a sound evocative of pre-Christian Britain, a bit of ‘80s Camden Town, and an Irish Session.
Needless to say, it came as a massive surprise to me that the band’s first full-length album starts with a distorted guitar riff. And this album, indeed, is full of surprises – so much so that this review may warrant a spoiler alert. With ‘Return To The Stones’, the band continues to blur the lines between the ancient and modern, the Folk and the Punk, and even more genres.
After the unexpected electric guitar on the opening title track, the full band comes in with 4/4 rock groove a bit reminiscent of The Clash. I was wondering where the folk aspect of the band had gone. But as soon as DaveO’s vocals kicked in, I had my answer.
“We’re heading for the Northern Lights From town to town with you right by my side Oh Yeah, Bring me that girl today”
He croons with the command of a storyteller and the fury of punk, narrating a tale of the Callanish Stone Circle in the Outer Hebrides during Pagan times. The Narrator is a mother who had visited the stones 10 years previous to ask for a daughter. She is travelling to the stone circle again to thank the stones, this time with her daughter, now of course ten-years-old.
More definitive folk elements sneak into this song, too, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
The second song of the Album, ‘London Town’, also takes you back in history, though not nearly as far, and tells of decadent underground cults amongst the gentry in London. The band writes, “Over the last 300 years, underground gentry have worshipped various cults: Some celebrating homosexuality, some devil worship, and some even to this day celebrating the death of King Charles I!”
“Subterranean location Was shattered and prosaic It earned its reputation Was full of old posh rakes With lavish cars and fat cigars Certain gentry found I’ll meet you at the serenade Down in London Town.”
Once again, this song is driven by electric guitar and the Band’s tight rhythm section, but adds folky vocals and even a bit of mandolin over the main guitar riff.
Next comes ‘Harrignton And Boots’, a punky number a bit reminiscent of The Cockney Rejects, and tells of punks who have gone to serve in the military.
“My Brothers they said to me, What happens if we die? Better think about the last words that we’ll say.”
And the last words are the chorus:
“Bury me with me Harrington and Boots.” It’s “The Harrington Jacket and Doc Marten Boots worn by punks past and present,” The band writes, “It’s a soldier’s last wish to be buried in his true identity, not as a soldier, but the true honor of a lifelong punk.”
With the fourth Track ‘Ragged Bear’, the band’s folkiness is unambiguous. Starting with a vocals-and-mandola intro, the full band doesn’t come in until a minute in, and when it does, there’s a big, tin whistle lead with the bands ‘80s punk rhythm section still going strong.
The karmic tale starts with an abused bear, left in a horrible state, only to be healed by the devil, who sent the bear to take revenge on the humans who mistreated him so, and I challenge any listener not to shout “The Bear! The Bear!” along with the chorus. The Into of ‘Running Out The Guns’, blurs the line of ancient and modern a bit more, with an intro powered by a heavily echoed guitar and tin whistle, which gives into a big, tin whistle breakdown a bit reminiscent of Flogging Molly. The hard rocking, seafaring tune covers the tradition of the plight of sailors’ lives:
“We’ll bring ye Hell on the seas’ great swell We are the devil’s sons. While ye lye and the breast of thy own sweet maid We’ll be running out the guns.”
Next comes a trio of love songs. ‘On The Road’ is a guitar effects-heaving ode to long-distance love with a big chorus, and ‘Traveling Fair’ has a haunting, droney arrangement and tells of a collier’s son running away to be with a green-eyed Romani Gypsy girl, which ends with an jig that’s somehow reminiscent of The Clash.
Finishing the trio is ‘Punk Rock Girlfriend’, a hard rocking number that makes me think “hey, i know her!” every time I hear it.
She’ll shave her hair, give you the stare She’s hanging with the punks When you see here dancing, she’s dancing near the front Piercings of silver rings and green and purple hair She’s my punk rock girlfriend!”
Having met her at a couple festivals, these lyrics as far as I can tell are 100% accurate.
Closing out the album are ‘Beautiful Dream’ and ‘Goodbye’.
‘Beautiful Dream’ is an anti-war song with a nice jangly electric guitar-and-mandola wall of sound. The lyrics seems hopeful but also self-consciously naive with the chorus,
“No more war, Just love / Is a beautiful dream”
‘Goodbye’, the album’s closing number starts with a cinematic-sounding intro, powered by floor toms, spacey keyboards and sparse piano work. It builds to a hopeful song about moving on on life:
“I’m holding on, to something that’s killing me To something that’s thrilling me I’m changing things, you were my everything Ain’t nothing can be the same ‘Cause I’m leaving tonight.”
The band writes “It’s a goodbye to a love that’s lost; it’s a goodbye as in lost life; it’s a goodbye as in leaving drug or alcohol addiction.” A fitting hopeful ending to the album
Return To The Stones’, is an unpredictable journey, full of alluring settings, powerful stories and a colourful cast of characters. If you want folk and punk fused in a way that would even surprise the most loyal readers of London Celtic Punks, look no further.
2019’s Ragged Bear Festival will be held on the 25th and 26th of October at The Crew and Queen’s Hall, conveniently locked in the same building in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.