Levellers: Static On The Airwaves

pic by Ami Barwell

Preferring a punk strain of folk rock there has never been real interest and need here to dive into the wealth of admittedly the generally enjoyable and well crafted folk tunes of Levellers through their soon to be 25 years of existence. The snarl of a Dropkick Murphys, the socially charged directness of a Flogging Molly, and the wicked mischief of a Smokey Bastard always held an irresistible lure in front of what is accepted as an enterprising but safe band in Levellers. This is just a personal preference but does mean it is hard to compare the brand new album Static On The Airwaves to their previous acclaimed and at times less eagerly accepted releases. The talk is that this their tenth album marks their return to roots and is possibly their best album in a long time, that is for fans to judge but it has to be said it is a surprisingly engaging album with more unpredictable moments than expected.

Produced by the returning Sean Lakeman who assumed the same role on previously acclaimed album Letters From The Underground, the new release has been the source of much eager anticipation and from the twelve tracks which confidently please the senses it should follow or maybe exceed the garnered praise of its predecessor. Released June 25th, via their own imprint On The Fiddle, the band does not exactly ignite any burning fires but there is a certain infectious lure from the majority of the songs to ensure occasional visits ahead when the muscle and intensity of other releases require a respite.

Opening with the title track, a brief defiant stir leading into first full song We Are All Gunmen, the album creates an intriguing atmosphere which the second track embraces. With its pulsating reggae spiced bass and resonating guitar slices behind the expected fine vocals of Mark Chadwick breeding an emotive breath, the song lights up the ear with its electronic spotlights and spikier guitar presence. A comment on the war like air which sweeps the world it is a strong and impressive track.

Next the two singles from the album take their turn. The first from the release is Truth Is which leaps in with an excitable energy and joyously melodic heart. The track is arguably not offering anything dramatically new but it is a deeply pleasing romp and an irresistibly catchy piece of fun. With fiddles and banjos at the ready it is an instant friend to party with any time of the day or night. The following After The Hurricane is a decent enough emotive piece of work where the words hold more grip than the music. It is well balanced with the melodic craft one expects from the band but it fails to induce an enthused response, though neither does it incite a thought about the skip button.

      Our Forgotten Town is a definite highlight to the album, simply adrenaline driven fiddles flashing with sonic sirenesque persistence across the senses with the vocals of Chadwick and band harmonising. A menacing tar thick bass essence adds a haunting ambience to what is a simply a thoroughly compulsive track and the biggest triumph of the album.

The likes of the enjoyable No Barriers with a deep stimulating intro which is unfortunately not sustained throughout the song, Raft Of The Medusa the true historical tale of French Naval frigate the Méduse, and the acoustically driven Traveller, ensure there is always something agreeable to focus on. The latter of the three carries a familiar gait which defies recognition but makes for an openly engaging companion.

The album ends on a high with firstly the dust kicking commentary on virtual reality lives Second Life. With its banjo leading welcome the song is a warm blend of heated harmonica, teasing keys, and contagious melodic energy. The more you hear it the more the song takes a deeper hold and is insistent on a return. The closing track The Recruiting Sergeant is a foot tapping reworking of the Black Watch anthem. Lyrically the band transports the song to modern times with the warning from a petty criminal who with persuasion enlisted and ended up in the stark reality of Afghanistan. It is equally poignant and irrepressibly fun, a great climax to the album.

Levellers fans will definitely love Static On The Airwaves and for the rest of us there is more than enough to make the album worth a visit but probably not to join their devoted followers.

RingMaster 19/06/2012

MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected

The best and easiest way to get your music on iTunes, Amazon and lots more. Click below for details.

Interview with Matt of Smokey Bastard

Halloween saw the release of possibly the year’s most fun, energy and deliriously addictive album in the shape of Tales From The Wasteland from UK punk folksters Smokey Bastard. Bursting with 13 tracks of essential raucousness that come with an intoxicating mix of traditional folk, real punk, and deeply infectious enthusiasm, the album from the Reading band is frenzied and irresistible. Currently deep into a tour supporting the release guitarist Matt spared time to talk to us about the band and album.

A big welcome and many thanks for taking time during your busy tour to talk to us here at The RingMaster Review.

Firstly please give us a breakdown of the members and their roles within Smokey Bastard.

Currently, Macca plays the face, guitars and mandolin, Mike vomits gravel and plays the bass and Aled plays all the stuff that’s too hard. Buttons plays the drums, apparently. I (Matt) do some guitars most of the time.  We swap instruments a lot. There’s some mad woman called Lottie playing accordion at the moment. I don’t know. The line-up changes a lot and it’s hard to keep track. I’m fairly certain that there are between five and nine of us…

The band started in 2007? Give us some idea of those initial years for the band.

We just played for fun and as a hobby. We’ve never really aimed for success or anything but little opportunities would occasionally pop up. I think if you’re aim is to ‘make it’ you’ll probably end up compromising musically and failing anyway, so we try and avoid thinking like that and have fun with it.

How has the band evolved from then over the four years to this point in time?

It’s got better. We’re pretty embarrassed by a lot of our old material; it’s too generic and derivative. The new album feels a lot more progressive and unique to us. If The Dreadnoughts have taught us anything (and they’ve taught us lots of things…,) it’s that there’s still life in the genre of folk punk provided that you’re dedicated to avoiding complacency and formulaic song writing… that, and how to open a wine bottle with a shoe.

Your new album Tales From The Wasteland has just been released in the past few days, the excitement must be overwhelming?  

Must be.

Would you say the album fully encapsulates your thoughts going into recording it or went further and maybe surprised you a little?

It’s much closer to what we wanted it to be; certainly compared to the first album. The first album never really sounded the way it was intended and we were sick of it before we even had the hard copies. The new album sounds how I’d hoped and imagined it would in my head. And the item itself – the artwork, the packaging, it’s just a beautiful thing. I want one.

Who and where do most of the songs come from and what is the writing process leading to their final version?

Mike and I tend to write a song and then we all get together and flesh it out. Aled describes the process thusly; “Matt or Mike bring in a lyrical potato and the rest of us bring a selection of different eyes, eyebrows, noses, mouths, ears, facial hair, hats and feet to make it into a delightful Mr. Potato Head. We then change things until it looks like Jeff Goldbum. That’s how we like it”.

Your sound has obvious influences in the likes of Flogging Molly, The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys but is there something further that inspired the folk side of your sound?

Yeah. Folk music. The Transatlantic Sessions are a goldmine. If you can find Arthur McBride and the Sergeant by Paul Brady then go and listen to that; it’s a prime example of the power of folk music to tell enthralling and immersive stories. We’re also big on Americana for the same reason – The Boss and Tom Waits and the like. They write mythical songs that make you feel like you’ve watched a whole movie in four minutes.

Lyrically you are not as openly forceful as the likes of Dropkick Murphys and infuse great humour to your intent, is this deliberate or simply a natural thing form the personalities involved?

I’m guessing by ‘forceful’ you mean we don’t put across any specific political agenda? Personally I find explicitly political song writing kind of naff. That’s just my opinion. There are probably enough punk songs about not liking Nick Griffin now. It should kind of go without saying. That being said, I once saw an Interview with Matt Kelly from Murphys saying if you want to know about politics, read a book and don’t listen to college dropouts in punk bands. I think humour in song writing is important in order to prevent you from taking yourself too seriously. Dropkicks use a lot of humour in their song writing too, after all.

What are the literal influences that have inspired the lyrical writing style of the band?

The Black Freighter storyline in Watchmen, Viz magazine… I can’t really think of any specific literary influences. We do like good prose though…and good grammar…and deliberately bad grammar, wot we find hilarious.

It probably is  wrong to single out any tracks when all are so inventive and enjoyable but please give some insight into a couple,  ‘Mongrel’ with its potent message and ‘Dear Mol’ which I have to ask did it come from someone’s personal experience?

Mike wrote Mongrel. Its message concerns the artificially constructed notion of ‘native’ Britons and the benefits of multiculturalism. Mol is loosely based on personal experiences, yes…

The art work on Tales From The Wasteland is stunning where and who did that come from?

It came from the majestic Tom McGrath. He’s an art student from Lancashire that we found on deviant art. We had an ambitious concept with regards to the album artwork so we were lucky to find someone who could actually pull it off as beautifully as he did. We wanted to make the physical copy as desirable as possible to draw people away from buying it in a digital format at 192kbs a second. As great an invention as the iPod is, I think it will probably ruin everything. It encourages people to buy individual songs rather than albums. You can’t listen to a great album on shuffle. Fuck shuffle. Fuck it

The single from the album is ‘Yuppie Dracula’ which has a great video accompanying it. Who came up with the video storyline and made it?

The song is about a guy who is a bit of a letch, but for the video we thought an actual vampire would give us more scope for visual gags. We sat in the pub and worked out the story, borrowed a chat up line from my friend Ed (Do you want to come back to my place? I have both Savage Garden albums…) and then got the awesome fellas at Pork Chop Pictures to make it happen. If you enjoyed the video go check out their web series Meat. Funny stuff.

You have just started an extensive UK tour in support of the album and we are grateful you have made time for this, what can people expect from your renowned live shows and where can they best find info on dates and places etc?

Our website is looking a little ‘under construction’ at the moment but the gig list is bang up to date. Head over to www.smokeybastard.com and while you’re at it, friend us on Facebook…

Good luck with the album and tour and again thanks for sharing time with us. Would you firstly like to end with a thought for the day?

I’m all out. Here’s one courtesy of The Reverend Kevin Eldon in the 90s:

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!” said my daughter the other day whilst giving birth. “EEEUUUUURRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS!!!!”

“Ah my poor fool” I said, “for it is written that pain in childbirth is God’s punishment to women for Eve’s betrayal of God in Eden, and therefore you deserve every scintilla of agony you are experiencing oh whorrish spawn of mine. And thus, justly chastised, did she complain more quietly…

And secondly the track Mong Some Hoof, there is really a game it was inspired from and what’s the chance of it catching on as a craze sweeping the nation? Maybe some mid set fun on your tour dates?

The game Mong Some Hoof is one of many games invented inside Mike’s university house “The Fat Handed Twat’s Crooked House”. The game itself involves partly inserting a shoe onto your favourite foot and trying to flip it, via a kick, into your own mouth without touching it with any other part of your body. A fun game, involving black eyes and frustration. A partial list of other games includes:

Can you strictly come mong some segway?
(a two player variant on Mong Some Hoof)
You probably shouldn’t engage with the dress down
(Looking up whilst standing in a doorway and jumping as high as you dare)
Where’s Merick?
(Not telling a house mate that we had the internet. This game can last up to two months)
Antigravity where’s Merick
(Hiding pictures of goats in Matt’s textbooks)
Skim the chief
(playing darts where each throw requires the dart to touch the ceiling before the board)
Stab the loaf
(A variant of skim the chief where the dart must pass through a slice of bread thrown by a second player)

Tales From The Wasteland is available via Bomber Music and for details on this and the tour go to http://www.smokeybastard.com  and https://www.facebook.com/smokeybastard

Read the Tales From The Wasteland review @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/smokey-bastard-tales-from-the-wasteland/

RingMaster 10/11/2011

MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected

Photobucket

The best and easiest way to get your music on iTunes, Amazon and lots more. Click below for details.

Smokey Bastard – Tales From The Wasteland

With more fun, energy and deliriously addictive punked up melodies than should be legally allowed comes the new album from UK punk folksters Smokey Bastard. The seven piece from Reading unleash Tales From The Wasteland via Bomber Music on October 31st bringing 13 tracks of essential raucousness from their tavern of intoxicating mix of traditional folk, real punk, and deeply infectious enthusiasm.

Since forming in early 2007 the band has whipped up a strong reputation and following for no holds live shows and a sound that brings the bands influences into a frenzied and irresistible sound of their own creating music that teases and plays upon the instinctive rebel within us all. Tales From The Wasteland the follow up to their debut album Propping Up The Floor last year, is further evidence and impressive proof that the combination of Macca (Vocals, Guitars, Mandolin), Mike Wood (Vocals, Bass), Matt (Guitars, Banjo), Nick (Accordion, Mandolin), Andy (Tin Whistle, Guitars, Banjo), Aled (Banjo, Mandolin) and Buttons (Drums), make music that excites the ear and deeper.

Smokey Bastard takes flavourings from the likes of Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, though their sound is more removed from the celtic punk sound towards the earlier beginnings of folk punk. They come from a rogue punk base as brought forth in the 80’s by the likes of The Pogues, the use of mandolins, banjos and tin whistles alongside the electrified aggressive energy a mesmeric blend. The brilliant ‘Wasteland’ opens up the album and instantly tells you all you need to know about the band to want more and more of their boisterous and rousing sound. Starting with a slow and firm crawl as the gruff vocals of Macca declares this wasteland my “sweet fucking home” the track erupts into a rowdy and beckoning invite to join its anthemic charms.

Showing their skills and varied influences the melodic folk instrumental ‘Token Folkin’’ skips into view next before unleashing more infectious folk punk frenzy with ‘Eden Holme  as rasping vocals and group shouts add to the engaging melodic play. The interplay between the mandolins and bass towards the end has the foot tapping even harder than before and as with every song on the album brings the feeling of defiant celebration, ‘Mongrel’ coming up next the perfect proof with its proud, irrepressible and urgent dynamism. There is a slight ska lining to the song that brings more effortless and eager response from the senses.

Four tracks in and the album already had stated its claim for essential listening classification and album of the year nomination. Songs like ‘My Son John’ a wonderful and humorous folk acapella piece that reminded of 80’s band The Dancing Did, the exhilarating ride of instrumental ‘Mong Some Hoof’, and the mesmeric storytelling of ‘Cheer Up, Love (Worse Things Happen At Sea)’ a breathtaking tale that galvanises the senses, all continue and increase the carefree but wonderfully inspiring atmosphere. One gets the feeling the band would like to be seen as being a bunch that just turn up and play or throw things together for a laugh but their musicianship and stirring songwriting reveals all.

The single from the album ‘Yuppie Dracula’ is another excitable and appealing track though not the best on the album but with the immensely grin inducing ‘Dear Mol’ a bittersweet leaving note to an ex- lover which twists things up when she comes back with her own snarl mid song via a great female vocal, and the reflective report on past failures in the splendid punk edged ‘‘Aspirations, I Have Some‘, keeps the album at its great and impressive level.

Tales From The Wasteland is a fully satisfying release of great incessant joy, its lively and rip-roaring sounds guaranteed to brighten up any day and most of all the album again shows Smokey Bastard as one of the best and strongest rock bands in the UK.

RingMaster 11/10/2011

MyFreeCopyright.com Registered & Protected

Photobucket

The best and easiest way to get your music on iTunes, Amazon and lots more. Click below for details.