Fuckin’ A! I thought that I’d never hear the equal of The Band of Hope, a Leftist protest band; I noted on their sole album to date, Rhythm & Red, that ‘these are great songs full of piss and vinegar that will stick in your heads for weeks after you hear ’em!’ Good, loud, and catchy protest songs are rare creatures indeed. That the Levellers offer some instrumental aid to this endeavour is a nice touch too, but this is very much the work of Nick Burbridge (words) and Tim O’Leary (instrumentals). Peter Massey, in his review of Claws and Wings, said ‘If you’re thinking this a strange name for a band, you’re not alone, because so did I. But it’s the music that’s important, not what they want to call themselves. In fact, the album appears to be a collaboration between members of two bands, McDermott’s 2 Hours and The Levellers. All the songs are written by Nick Burbridge who sings and plays acoustic guitar for McDermott’s 2 Hours, along with Tim O’Leary on fiddle, cittern, whistles, viorla, guitar and backing vocals. For the Levellers, you have Charlie Heather on drums and percussion, Jeremy Cunningham on bass guitar and John Sevnik on extra fiddle. Plus a few guest musicians — Nigel Adams on trumpet, Phil Nelson on bassoon, and Jake Rousham, ‘music maker’. Although it has a strong Irish feel to it, the whole project was recorded and mixed at Metway studio, Brighton, East Sussex, England.’
Do not go into the experience of McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers expecting that what you’re gettin’ is the Pogues or a variant thereof. No: Nick, though of both Irish and English ancestry, is no near-toothless drunken Irishman who mumbles his way, more or less, through the lyrics. Nick’s far too intelligent for that! Like the blokes who made up the one-off that was The Band of Hope, Nick is not ‘tall shy about his politics. Yes, I know that Sean McGowan could sing bloody fine political lyrics as he did with ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ but it was Phil Chevron who actually wrote it! Or ‘The Auld Triangle’ which Brendan Behan penned, but in general the material he penned himself was not really political in nature. Not that Nick’s not capable of a good rave-up — Right now, ‘Laying the Sligo Maid’ off World Turned Upside Down is playing, and it’s a wonderful riff upon playing music while living in a town that’s seen better days: ‘Jesus, it’s better than picking a fight / Playing “The Sligo Maid”‘. The tune Nick’s referring to is an oft-played traditional Irish reel and is often played here in the *Green Man* Pub by the Neverending Session musicians, who are very fond of it. What it shows is that Nick indeed knows his traditional Irish material very, very well.
Nick’s Irish, Nick’s political, and Nick’s one of the best fuckin’ songwriters I’ve ever heard. His Web site says ‘He has been active for over twenty-five years as a poet, playwright, novelist, documentary, short story and song writer. His writing is characterised by a commitment to the dispossessed.’ World Turned Upside Down, the first CD that had two members of the Levs on it, sets the tone very nicely for all of the McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers albums — edgy, literate writing, folky, almost Celtic music, and an FHL (Faster Harder Louder) approach that even puts the Pogues at their very best to shame. It’s that good!
I really should stop babbling and give you some specifics. OK, so I will. World Turned Upside Down leads off rather appropriately with ‘World Turned Upside Down’, a Medieval-ish meditation — which would fit well into the Steeleye Span canon alongside ‘The Shaking of the Sheets’ — on how easily the rich and powerful fall when Death comes calling: ‘Reel with your partner into the hereafter / When the dancers cannot part / Here comes rich man turned into a beggarman / Here comes a master bound for a thief / Here comes a father led by his daughter / Here comes a priest with no belief.’ Chilling to the bone would be a fair way to sum up this song. BRRRR! Like Steeleye Span, McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers has an affinity for making new material sound like it was written long ago. That’s a trick that very few bands do well.
(Side-note. McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers sounds a lot like the Levs, who, somewhere I read, and I’ve forgotten where now as I visited the Pub this afternoon, rather appropriately credit this band as the inspiration for their sound. Cool!)
Let me put this as simply as possible — every McDermott’s 2 Hours vs Levellers should be purchased by you. Now. I’ve heard these two plus Claws and Wings. It took me repeated listening over a week’s period before I finally had enough of ’em. They are that good. The newest outing from them, Disorder, is every bit as good as the other two, with the best bit here prolly being the bitter anti-royals song, ‘Johnny and the Jubilee’ which shares the honour with ‘Farewell to the Crown’, the Chumbawamba-Oysterband tirade off the Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping CD-Single, and ‘Mother Knows Best’ off Richard Thompson’s Rumor And Sigh album, as the three songs I know of a political nature least likely to have been played at the funeral of the now late, and hardly lamented by most of us, Queen Mum. Well, the Band of Hope song, ‘Boxing Day?’, though not specifically anti-monarchist, certainly would colour the cheeks of the Bonnie Prince Charlie as well . . .
While I was looking at the crwth, a Welsh medieval fiddle/lyre, earlier today, I asked Eithne, our Archivist, what she thought of this band. She said it was one of the finest English bands she’d ever heard. That’s sentiment that I agree with.
Now I must beg your leave as I’m off to see if I can track down one of their most elusive affairs, The Enemy Within. I hope I can find it!
(Hag Records, 2003)
(Hag Records, 2004)