Nick Burbridge of McDermott’s Two Hours interviewed

August 29, 2012

Shite’n’Onions – Can you give Shite’n’Onions a brief background on who you are and who are McDermotts Two Hours? You have released albums first as “McDermotts Two Hours” in late 80’s then the band dissolved and reformed later in partnership with the Levellers as “McDermotts Two Hours Vs The Levellers” for 3 albums then you went back to the moniker “McDermotts Two Hours” for “Goodbye To The Madhouse” and now you have collaborated with Tim Cotterell as Nick Burbridge – what makes an album a McDermott’s and what make it a Nick Burbridge?

Nick Burbridge – I’m, primarily, a writer. I work in different forms. As well as poetry, songs, short stories and plays, I’ve had a political thriller about The Troubles in Northern Ireland published under a pseudonym, and I was co-writer on the revelations of a military intelligence officer working there in the 70s; I also write somewhat eccentric articles and reviews for R2. This explains why I’ve dipped in and out of the music industry so much. McDermott’s Two Hours were born in Brighton U.K. out of the first folk-punk movement. I’d been playing guitar, mandolin, bodhran etc in Irish sessions, busking around Europe, and singing in folk clubs for many years; I hadn’t intended being the lead figure, but the bloke who wanted the job couldn’t sing in tune and had no sense of rhythm, so I was ‘volunteered’! The band were one of the Levellers’ main inspirations. The different collaborations have come about according to what, or who could be conveniently involved. For a long time I’ve written all the material – in that sense there’s no fundamental difference for me when it’s being conceived. But the albums can get heavy duty treatment, as on Goodbye To The Madhouse, or emerge as pure acoustic records, like the latest one, Gathered. It’s all down to what seems right. I’m glad I’ve managed to keep a foot in both camps as a result.

Shite’n’Onions – How did the collaboration with Tim (The Electrics) Cotterell on GATHERED come about? How has the album been received? What’s the story behind the cover art……its different to say the least. Any plans to tour to support the release?

Nick Burbridge – The current collaboration is a perfect example of how it goes. Al Scott (producer of albums from Levelling The Land to Ragged Kingdom) is still committed to bringing out a new full-on McDermotts’ record soon, involving members of The Levellers and the Oysterband, among others, but for different reasons it’s taking a long time to materialise. Meanwhile, I thought I’d write the stripped back acoustic album that’s been in me for some time, and so I turned to Tim, who’s played with the band on various instruments, a very good sound engineer and producer as well. The CD artwork? To keep it ‘in house’ I asked my son Ben (who once as a child sang a fragment of ‘Harry Brewer’ on The Enemy Within, but is now an Art History university lecturer) to bring in one of his favourite photographers. The front cover is a direct allusion to my song, ‘Fox On The Run’. It’s dark, as you say, but an apt image for someone who’s spent a lifetime battling with clinical depression, which as I get older, seems to be gaining the upper hand, and whose brutal demands probably account for my relative obscurity. When the band were playing big festivals, I had a publishing deal with Joe Boyd, and the Mean Fiddler organisation had taken us under their wing, by rights we should have hit the international folk-punk scene in a big way. Instead we’ve skirted the edges for decades. This leads directly to your other question: are we going to tour this album? No! Don’t get me wrong. I love playing live, and still do local sessions. It’s just getting out there and dealing with the industry that stand in my way! As it happens, I don’t think that’s so inappropriate when we’re talking about ethnic music, especially the Irish tradition, where the people who’ve kept it alive for centuries would hardly have been found on brightly lit stages with huge sound systems. And of course there’s always been a deep melancholic, even self-destructive strain running through the culture.

Shite’n’Onions – When I listen to your songs they are often focused on those who drew the short stick in life and often those who’s short stick seems to be getting shorter and in many cases like Shane MacGowan you write about the Irish in the Britain but your songs are like short stories – what influences you to write the lyrics you do and are the folks you sing about people you have know (like Johnny and the Jubilee) ….they seem so realistic?

Nick Burbridge – Most of the songs are based on real characters. And, yes, short sticks abound! Three of my grandparents were Irish, and moved over to England, so that explains many of my preoccupations. I do tend to think narratively – in short stories themselves – poems, or songs. ‘Johnny and the Jubilee’ is a good example: it concerns a mingling of characters I’ve known, with a dose of artistic licence. My favourite literary genre is what they call American Dirty Realism – Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Jayne Anne Phillips etc – so that’s a factor, too.

Shite’n’Onions – Have you ever had the inclination to write a happy song about someone who wins the lottery or say an Irish property developer who skips out on the banks and his debts and continues to live the good life in Mayfair or Chelsea?

Nick Burbridge – Unless it was a complete piss-take, I wouldn’t have any interest at all in either of those characters, would you? Happy songs, though, can be found on the albums, if you look hard! But, as you say, my purpose is to speak up for those in adversity, one way or another, though their stories may be set, ironically or otherwise, to upbeat traditional-type jigs, reels and hornpipes.

Shite’n’Onions – Finally, who was McDermott and what was he doing for his 2 hours?

Nick Burbridge – Tommy McDermott had his two hours of fame in the riots in Derry in 1968, as recorded in the book, War and an Irish Town, by Eamonn McCann. Left alone at the controls of Radio Free Derry for a couple of hours before he was hauled off, instead of playing the Falls Road hit parade, he put on the Incredible String Band etc and told people to “love one another an’ keep cool”. When we were looking for one of those macho folk-punk names beloved of most outfits, I came up with McDermott’s Two Hours. I think it betokens the different angle we were coming from, alludes to the politics we’ve always been concerned with, but at the same associates with someone who, in conventional terms, got it wrong. My kind of bloke…

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