Category Archives: Feature

The Tossers: A shot with T. Duggins

October 2005

The scene: a small nearly empty part of Providence in a nearly empty bar scattered with various levels of punk rockers. The bar itself in the basement of what used to be a club is laid out nicely and looks too classy for the clientele this evening. The bartender looks more like a rave kid who seems only mildly amused at his patrons this evening, but is pouring a wide selection of beer and booze. For most though the choice is clear, the nearly local beer Narragansett.

My brother and I made the Monday evening trip down to the bar in little over an hour which is pretty impressive considering I did get lost! Once we got there, there was plenty of parking and the neighborhood was very quiet. The door staff was nice and there was plenty of room to fit a lot of people, if only it were the weekend. I do my usual walk in and search for the smiling face to welcome me to the show, and sure enough it’s one Gobshite after another that finds me. A round of welcomes and thanks for coming outs leads me to such parchment I needed a beer, luckily this happens to be a bar that serves such libations so I bellied up and ordered myself a pint. Looking over to the merchandise tables I noticed another familiar face, so I went over to say hi. It was Aaron Duggins, the tin whistle player and quiet guy of the group, not that the rest of them mind you are chatter boxes, but you really have be good at holding your end of a conversation to talk at length with Aaron.

I made my way around the room as the opening act played on and weren’t too bad, but I was waiting for The Gobshites and The Tossers to come on. When Tony Duggins came down the stairs and made his way around the room shaking hands to the local fans and people he knew, I was talking with Pete from The Gobshites about some nonsense or other. I stopped Tony and introduced the two and we all began to talk. When Pete had to go set up Tony and I retired to the bar for a pint or two. Part way through The Gobshites set in which The Tossers were definitely getting a kick out of boys show up there on stage, I pulled Tony over to the bar to do a shot.

T. was much more talkative this evening than was his brother and we decided that it was ok to discuss the future of the band this evening. We were sharply distracted of course by the lovely golden nectar being poured into little glasses that stood in front of us. I asked a series of quick questions, and caught up on what he’s been into. So I suppose here’s where the dirt is dished, where I tell you all I know about the future plans of The Tossers.

Well their touring for most the rest of this fall with the Siderunners, which includes an early member of The Tossers, a great treat the band is one hell of a live act. It also seems there’s a good bond between the bands, which will make the days fly by. If you check the website you will notice that the end of the tour is back home for the band in Chicago, and there is a good reason for that. The band will be backing the studio recording their second CD for Victory records. “This is gonna be the sickest darkest one yet” claims Tony after I accused Victory of softening their political and dark side in favor of fun drinking songs like those of other big bands. Tony defends Victory by saying, even though they’ve changed interns and staff on the band he claims, “ We’ll be with them as long as they’ll have us.” That’s comforting since I kind of like going into those big chain music stores and seeing their CD on the shelf.

Before we got distracted by having to get on stage to do a limerick with The Gobshites we discussed his solo project, which he’s proud of but at the same time seems a little disappointed in. I asked him if he’d do another one which he seemed doubtful of, as he says it was done as a favor for Thick records which he feels he’s fulfilled his commitment to and left on good terms. Apparently it wasn’t a fun recording process and he wasn’t too comfortable discussing it in length.

So how was the show? It was great, lots of old stuff towards an audience that only knows the new stuff, you know how that goes. It was all capped off by my drunk brother going to take a piss off the Pike and taking a header down the embankment. Best quote of the evening goes to my brother Kevin, “The grass didn’t hold me up.” I still have the tufts of grass to prove it!

Grilled by – Therover413

Black 47 @ 21

2011, Sees Black 47 reach legal drinking age – 21 years old – so we thought we’d buy founder and front man Larry Kirwan a large glass of Paddy’s and ask him to reflect on the last 21 years – the highs and lows of the band, politics, life, Ireland and America.

So Larry, if you knew what you know now back in 1989 would you do it again or would you have high-tailed it back to Wexford, to Bridie and the bank?

No, John, I’d do it again. Going back to Bridie and the bank just wasn’t an option anyway. There are things I would do differently in life, but in general I would do most things the same as regards Black 47. When you look back from a distance you see that your influences and experiences pretty much ineluctably pointed you in the direction that you took anyway. We always tried to do the right thing with Black 47 whether it was politically or pragmatically advantageous, so I feel okay about that. But in a way, as the Dead put it, it’s been a long strange trip – so much so that you just have to shake your head about it sometimes.

Seriously, 21 years together is a huge achievement for any band and especially having kept a pretty consistent line-up (4 out of 6 members are original) and having done the major label dance and surviving been hung out to dry by them – that would have crushed lesser bands – what keeps the band together, fresh and relevant today?

Well, again that comes from the array of influences and experiences. Most of us came from an improv background so we’re very used to making every gig a very different experience. Besides each member came from a very varied musical background. We’ve never done the same set twice in over 2200 gigs – no one knows just how many gigs we’ve performed but I would say it’s under 2300. That would set us pretty much apart from most rock-based bands. But it also means that each gig is a very different experience. So that tends to keep you fresh – even when you’re fatigued.

Chris Byrne (uilleann pipes) left the band in 2000 and Joseph Mulvanerty has been with us since then. That was the big change. But in the early days we didn’t have a bass player and most of our replacements over the years have been with that instrument. Back in the early 90’s we might use a bass player or not, depending on different circumstances. When we didn’t use one, Fred Parcells (trombone) and I (guitar) would hone in on our bass notes, so even that was a different experience and each of us still taps into it from time to time on stage.

I always expected that we’d get “dropped” by a major label and we did – but twice. I had a major label deal before with Epic in a new wave band called Major Thinkers, so I was in some way prepared for the hurly-burly of it with Black 47. We set up the band so that we could operate independently of the system. Daniel Glass, who signed us to EMI, got fired and we got the boot with him – all very normal – but we didn’t miss a beat. I remember the evening we got called into EMI to be told the awful news, and Chris and I went off and did a show with the band and barely mentioned it.

What amazed me was that Danny Goldberg signed the band within a year. We hadn’t let the grass grow under our feet but went straight into the studio and self-produced Green Suede Shoes. Danny heard Bobby Sands MP from the CD, was totally moved by it and straight away offered us a deal with Mercury. Then he got fired and we were adrift again. I think Dickie from the Bosstones might have told me we were caput with Mercury – they were on the same label – but again it didn’t take a feather off me. If you dance with the devil, you have to be prepared for a little heat. The trick is to continue to do your own thing and let the big company help you in whatever way they can. A lot of good money was wasted but we were always in creative control.

As regards relevant – well, we were always political, so whether it was the British problem in the North of Ireland, or the invasion of Iraq, we were very involved and took major stands. That doesn’t necessarily make you popular, and we suffered a lot for it from a financial point of view, but it sure as hell keeps you on the cutting edge. My real amazement is just how little other bands and musicians were interested in these long simmering events. From a sheer creative and songwriting angle, you couldn’t beat those two conflicts for drama, heartbreak and sheer cussedness – the backbone of powerful songwriting.

Then again, our people were getting hurt in Belfast and Baghdad, so we felt we had no other choice but to get involved. I wouldn’t have felt right about myself if I’d just been writing about Bridie and the bank. Besides, political writing has some major rewards: James Connolly was and still is a breakthrough in songwriting; I never hear Bobby Sands MP without being transported back to the streets of Belfast in early 1981. And I only have to play a track from IRAQ and the feeling of those crazy years from 2003-2008 comes tumbling back. Many American troops feel the same way.

All of these things help keep you fresh and, up until now anyway, relevant. I guess the day that ends, the dance will be done – but until then…

BLACK 47 @ 21 PART 2

February 4, 2011

Larry, you mention two things that have been consistent in Black 47 songs – politics and historical figures.

With politics, you’ve worn your politics proudly on your sleeve and as you say you “suffered a lot for it from a financial point of view”, do you feel that being so vocal about the North or Ireland painted you as a bunch of “Fellow Travelers” in the eyes of those who control the media outlets in Ireland and basically doomed the bands chances in Ireland for success (when normally the Irish media would be falling over the hottest band in NYC)?

That whole aspect was never anything but a minor consideration. We always looked westwards rather than back at Ireland, we always felt that we were living in the city of Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Public Enemy and Television. If we looked back at Ireland at all it was to Sean O’Riada and the traditional music people. It’s not that there wasn’t good music coming from there, we just didn’t give it a lot of thought. As regards the politics, we were what we were, and to paraphrase Yeats, Was there another Troy for us to burn? We were political, though we never belonged to or followed any party – we were our own party and felt free to comment as we felt fit. We definitely didn’t feel as if the North of Ireland should be run from London. And we felt that we could present some of the viewpoints of the nationalist population of the North of Ireland. We didn’t agree with internment or trial without jury but, never, in any of our songs did we advocate violence. Neither did we think that you should thank the British Army for occupying Irish streets and terrorizing Irish people. But we were also full square against sectarianism. We always felt that these were very important stands and if they cost you commerciality, so what? That’ what we were and still are. But, really, what would Black 47 be without the political stands? A plain looking Corrs with drinking problems?

And with Irish historical characters you’ve written about – James Connolly, Red Hugh O’Donnell, Michael Collins, Bobby Sands and Robert Kennedy to name a few – what is your thinking when you choose to write a song about someone (are you interested in the person’s life story, what they stood for, to educate, or political idea)? Who else is out there that you would like to write about (Charles J Haughey)?

The characters have to be inspiring and stand for something. They have to really move me as a writer. I don’t write those songs as any kind of intellectual exercise – and they are not characters that I’ve just discovered. Usually, their memory or example or what they’ve stood for has been burning inside me for a long time. And that’s not just in the songs – but in the plays I’ve written also. I spent years working on Mister Parnell and if you really want to get to the heart of some of the characters in the 1916 insurrection then take a read of Blood. They’re both in a collection of my plays called Mad Angels.

But as regards the songs, Bobby Sands MP took me almost 15 years to write. It would have been a breeze to write some kind of trad song and notate his history, but I found it very hard to capture the times and the ethos of the man. I had to find a way inside his head – how does a person decide to make such an ultimate sacrifice? I found that way when I remembered he had a son. That was the link I needed and the song pretty much poured out then. It was actually maybe twice as long on a first draft and I edited it down to its present form. It may be Black 47’s finest recording. Anytime I hear it, I’m instantly back on those streets of Belfast in 1980-81 during the Hunger Strike. Amazing to think that it’s 30 years ago exactly now. I was touring Ireland back then with Major Thinkers.

James Connolly may be our best song because it’s the first of its kind. I had come from a background of writing plays. I wanted to take the Irish Sean-Nos form of traditional singing and bring it into the 20th Century. Not just to recount events as the Sean Nos form did, but to use modern psychology and method acting – where you use Stanislavsky techniques to become the character you’re acting. Instead of merely recounting Connolly’s history, I basically have to become him in the song – an ex-British soldier – and get to the bottom of why he’s about to give up his life for an ideal. I’m often asked what’s the greatest moment in B47 history – people often think it’s playing some prestigious gig or eing on Letterman, Leno, O’Brien; but no, it’s the first time we ever did that song in Paddy Reilly’s in 1990 and the silence that descended on that rowdy crowd, the first time we did it. Everyone in the room knew we had done something different.

The historical songs have to mean something – Red Hugh O’Donnell from Bankers and Gangsters is one of our best songs – and I’m thrilled to say so because it’s one of our latest. He had been a hero of mine as a boy. But he’s also just a bit too removed in time to be able to interpret him from a 20/21st century psychological point of view. I had given up on him until I took an interest in Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance in the war against the Taliban. He was assassinated by order of Osama Bin Laden on Sept. 10th, 2001. I couldn’t believe the parallels between him and Red Hugh – both nationalist, religious fundamentalists, fighting a losing war, surrounded by powerful enemies. By tacking into Massoud I felt able to channel another tragic and major figure, Red Hugh O’Donnell. I also wished to examine the paranoia of someone far from home who feels he may be poisoned by his enemies – in this case Queen Elizabeth of England. And he was right.

I won’t be writing about Charlie Haughey from a political/historical point of view. But he might fit into the Black 47 slightly rogue’s gallery. Who knows. You never know where the next song will come from. Right now, I’m trying to finish a new novel and a new play, so songwriting is on the back burner.

The Radiators (from Space) – The best band you’ve never heard of.

January 27, 2011

“Then the Radiators From Space came out, Television Screen, which was a great single, that was a real inspiration to us” – Bono, U2

Shite’n’Onions very f**kin proudly announces the North American Release of “Trouble Pilgrim”, by seminal Dublin punk band THE RADIATORS FROM SPACE.

The Radiators from Space – The best band you’ve never heard of.Some of you out there in readerland will be very familiar with The Radiators from Space, some of you might know the name and most of you will know squat. I would argue that the Radiators were the most important band in the development of the sound of modern Irish rock – sure there were great Irish rocks bands before The Radiators formation in 1976 – Them, Thin Lizzy, Taste and Horslips and I’m a big fan of all of them (including Them!) and each of them was uniquely influential and laid not only the foundations but also the walls of the house of Irish rock. It was The Radiators who I would argue that all the great and the should of been great Irish bands of the 80s and onward can trace their sound and attitude to – The Undertones, That Petrol Emotion, SLF, Cactus World News, Therapy?, A House, The Fatima Mansions, Blue in Heaven, Sinead O’Connor, The Pogues, The Virgin Prunes, My Bloody Valentine and of course those muckers from Ballymun and Malahide – U2 (and Bono even admits it).

The following feature was written a few years back my friend and Horslips fanatic Lora Templeton and originally posted on the excellent My thanks to Lora and Aidan Curran of for allowing me to reprint.

The Radiators From Space

June 16, 2004 was the centennial of Dublin’s most celebrated literary almanac entry. It would take a bold soul to launch any public venture not in line with the Tourist Board’s agenda for the day. But there were five bold souls – Philip Chevron, Pete Holidai, Steve Rapid, Cait O’Riordan and Johnny Bonnie – who did exactly that, when the Radiators (from Space) hit the stage again after a 24-year absence and re-emerged on the Dublin music scene as the Radiators (Plan 9).

And for the Radiators (Plan 9), this high-energy Village gig was the opening of a new and ongoing chapter in the history of one of Ireland’s most influential bands.

The Radiators (from Space) grew out of a succession of early seventies garage bands formed by singer Steve Rapid and guitarist Pete Holidai, notably Bent Fairy and the Punks, and in 1975, Greta Garbage and the Trashcans. The Philip Chevron Band also made their debut in the summer of 1975 at Blackrock Park, Co Dublin. Chevron established contact with Holidai at the end of the year and they begin rehearsing as a new band in the spring of the following year.

With the advent of Chevron (guitar), and then Jimmy Crashe (drums) and Mark Megaray (bass), a truly consistent group emerged as a threat to the moribund Irish music scene and quickly began making history. Band names tried and discarded throughout 1976 included Rockettes, The Hell Razors, Rough Trade, and finally the Radiators (from Space).

In September 1976, as Rough Trade, they recorded a demo for CBS man Jackie Hayden and Horslips drummer Eamon Carr, who had recently launched independent record label, Midnite. Shortly after the session, there was another name change, and the band became officially the Radiators (from Space). In November, Carr played the tape to Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll at Chiswick Records in London and the band signed a contract with Chiswick. That same month the Radiators made their ‘live’ debut as support to pub-rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods from Essex, England.

In early 1977, the Radiators recorded their debut single ‘Television Screen’ b/w ‘Love Detective’ with producer Roger Armstrong. In Ireland, it was licensed by Midnite to CBS Records and became the first Top 20 punk single anywhere in the world.

‘Both Television Screen and Love Detective outdistance most of the competition. The drumming is a powerful slice of rock’n’roll, the bass is neat and modest and the guitars don’t get carried away in their distorted frenzy. May best of all, the engineering concentrates on the higher frequencies, giving the songs real bite.’ (Charley Waters: Rolling Stone, October 6)

If the entire audience walked out of the Radiators gig at Asgard House, Howth, Co Dublin in January 1978, a sell-out show at legendary Moran’s Hotel, Dublin in March demonstrated how fast the band was rising in the music scene. In June, they performed alongside The Undertones, Revolver, The Gamblers and The Vipers at the University College, Dublin Punk Festival, a show marred by tragic violence when a member of the audience was stabbed and killed. In August, they played at Dalymount Park, Dublin, sharing the bill with Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker and the Rumour, The Boomtown Rats, Fairport Convention, Stepaside, and Stagalee. It was Steve Rapid’s last gig with the Radiators (from Space), although he remained a guiding light over the years that followed.

Singles released in September 1977 included ‘Enemies’ b/w ‘Psychotic Reaction,’ and ‘Sunday World’ b/w ‘Teenager in Love.’

‘No wall-to-wall sneers here, and after all living on the other side of the Irish Sea would justify them a lot more than those who insist on adopting such a stance just to be chic. A hit, I hope.’ (Steve Clark, NME, October 8 )

Following close behind the summer of singles, their first album TV Tube Heart demonstrated that beyond the fast-and-furious punk sound lay a couple of major songwriting talents in Philip Chevron and Pete Holidai. Then, an offer from Phil Lynott landed the band a support spot on Thin Lizzy’s 1977 UK tour, and with this, they left Dublin.

‘That what makes TV Tube Heart stand head and shoulders above so much of what’s currently going down. There’s hardly a song on the album that doesn’t have the kind of claw that sticks in the brain and just won’t go away… a great debut. It’s an album that puts the final stamp on what’s been an astoundingly good year for Irish rock.’ (Niall Stokes/Hot Press October 29)

Within four months of their arrival in London, the Radiators (no longer ‘from Space’) began work on a new album in Soho with producer Tony Visconti. The resulting record Ghostown, released in 1979, remains a unique outpouring of love, frustration, anger and heartbreak. Chevron and Holidai delivered songs that offered visions of Dublin and Ireland trapped in a childhood jam-jar and set free again in exile. The sheer scale of the material could be seen when ‘Million Dollar Hero’ became the great lost hit single, the late Agnes Bernelle performed ‘Kitty Ricketts’ in her West End show and Christy Moore (and later Moving Hearts) covered ‘Faithful Departed,’ adopting it as the perfect song with which to launch his own vision of modern Irish music.

Singles released in 1978 bridged the two albums, starting in April with ‘Million Dollar Hero’ from Ghostown b/w Blitzin’ At the Ritz’ Live, a TV Tube Heart composition. In July, another glimpse of Ghostown with ‘Walking Home Alone Again’ b/w the ‘The Hucklebuck’/’Try and Stop Me’ was scheduled, but cancelled. A remix of ‘Million Dollar Hero’ appeared in September.

‘The single of this summer… a new epoch in the Radiators story… This should be a complete and utter chart smash. For me the summer of ’78 will always be epitomized by ‘Million Dollar Hero.” (Hot Press) ‘If there’s justice, it’ll chart’ (Record Mirror)

In October 1978, the Radiators, with supporting band Stiff Little Fingers, performed to an unreceptive audience at the Electric Ballroom in London. It would be their last concert in the UK and they returned to Ireland in December.

‘If there is a lesson to be learned from last Tuesday’s performance at the Electric, it is simply that the band’s music has progressed so dramatically that they must now find a new audience to appreciate it.’ (Harry Doherty/Melody Maker Nov 11)

Despite gigs in Dublin, including a one-off conglomerate of the Radiators and Horslips playing as ‘The Meanies,’ Mark Megaray and Billy Morley left the Radiators in early 1979. The summer saw the release of two more singles from the Ghostown album. ‘Let’s Talk About the Weather’ b/w ‘The Hucklebuck’ and ‘Try and Stop Me’ in June, and ‘Kitty Ricketts’ b/w ‘Ballad of the Faithful Departed.’

Ghostown was not released until August 1979 and it bombed commercially. But reviews attested to what would become its enduring significance.

‘It’s a monumental achievement in rock, possibly the most significant Irish rock album ever… its greatness lies partly in the fact that it’s not purely dismissive, that it explores aspects of what it’s challenging and in doing so discovers a language which is all the more moving for the associations it evokes.’ (Niall Stokes/Hot Press August 10) ‘An epochal statement of Irish rock, an utterly indispensable artifact in even the most selective collection of Irish albums… Ghostown is – to utilize that much debased word – a classic. It positively redefines the artist terms of Irish rock… the Radiators rise to the top of the class of ’76.’ (Bill Graham/Hot Press August 10) ‘A magnificent record… full of inspired and memorable urban images’ (Mark J. Prendergast/’Irish Rock’ O’Brien Press 1987)

Four on the Floor, an EP featuring ‘Television Screen,’ ‘Psychotic Reaction,’ ‘Enemies’ and ‘Teenager in Love’ was released in February, 1980. Other singles that year included ‘Stranger Than Fiction,’ produced by Hans Zimmer, b/w ‘Prison Bars’ and ‘Who Are The Strangers’ in July on the Chiswhick label and again ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ b/w ‘Paddy ‘Guitar’ Paddy’ and ‘Who Are the Strangers’ on Mulligan, the Radiators’ Irish label. In September, various mixes of ‘The Dancing Years’ were released and the Radiators made three major Irish TV appearances, including The Late, Late Show. An autumn and winter of gigs throughout Ireland followed.

‘Before a packed audience in the Project, they played a fine set that made a mockery of their fruitless search for gold across the water.’ (Joe Breen/Irish Times Nov 4)

In March 1981, ‘Song of the Faithful Departed’ b/w ‘They’re Looting the Town’ was released. That same month the Radiators cancelled their proposed Irish tour and ceased work on the demos for a third album (to be called Absent Without Leaving). The band formally broke up.

But it was still only 1981 after all, and it would take a few more years before the world was ready for a band expressing a new generation’s view of Irishness. By then, Philip Chevron was himself a member of that band,The Pogues. They went on to tour the world, sell millions of records, craft modern classics such as ‘The Old Main Drag,’ ‘Thousands are Sailing’ and ‘Fairytale of New York,’ and inspire wave after international wave of bands eager to find out what happens when you smash the genres of traditional folk and do-it-yourself rock-n-roll together.

Meanwhile back in Dublin Steve Rapid, the Radiators member who chose to stay behind in 1977 and concentrate on both his graphic design business and building a local scene, crossed paths with Dublin band The Hype, Rapid demonstrated that he had not lost his aptitude for striking band names and The Hype soon became known as U2. Steve (aka Steve Averill) also designed the sleeve of the band’s U23 EP and continues to be involved in their design process to the present day.

Under Clery’s Clock debuted at a one-off gig at Hawkins, Dublin in 1985, when the Radiators reformed for one night only at AID TO FIGHT AIDS, a Dublin charity event. In 1988, the band recorded this song and Plura Belle, another new composition, with Chevron and Holodai producing. Released as a single in January 1989, Under Clery’s Clock was named NME’s Single of the Week in February. That same month, both songs appeared on the digitally mastered CD release of Ghostown.

‘This really and truly was the one that got away, one of the most important and enduring LPs in my life… This is outrageously masterful stuff.’ (Carol Clark, Melody Maker Mar 11)

‘The transcendence of its art means that it will endure beyond the wildest aspirations of albums which have sold 100,000 times more. No contest.’ (Panel of 95 Irish music business/media people vote the album #16 of all time/Hot Press Yearbook 1989)

And the music endures, even thrives, beyond its own time. In February 2005,

Ghostown appeared in the Hot Press People’s Choice readers’ poll of the top 100 greatest Irish albums of all time. In April, Brian Boyd of the Irish Times reviewed the Ghostown reissue and reminded his readers that ‘Musically, the album was audacious for its time; lyrically, it’s never been better. Ghostown represents the first time in Irish cultural life that a rock music 33rpm could sit pretty alongside the country’s literary and dramatic outputàquite simply: a monumental artistic achievement.’

The Radiators’ Bloomsday gig of 2004 was not a one-off. The new band, with former Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan and Those Handsome Devils drummer Johnny Bonnie joining Chevron, Holodai and Rapid, rocked the Oxegen Festival in Ireland soon after. On June 24 2005, they were special guests on U2’s Dublin homecoming show at Croke Park. An EP The Summer Season was released in the same month. Tracks include ‘Hinterland’ a new and stunningly current Philip Chevron song, ‘The Girl with the Gun,’ and ‘live in the studio’ versions of ‘Sunday World’ and ‘Electric Shares.’ An active official website and discussion forum illustrates that the Radiators now have international and second-generation fans as well as the original punk kids who first rocked out to ‘Television Screen’ at Moran’s Hotel, Dublin.

Reissues of earlier albums TV Tube Heart and Ghostown in 2004, as well as news of recording of a much anticipated third album in 2005 show that the band continues to live up to the Sounds magazine pronouncement of ’77 that ‘The Radiators are [still] playing FIVE-STAR ROCK’N’ROLL PETROL.’

by Lora Lee Templeton

The Tossers: Shamrocks, Brains and Guts

July 2001

“There weren’t any bands out there playing real music, emotional music that you could dance to, or laugh to or cry to…..” -Shane MacGowan

Lester Bangs once said rock-n-roll would die an empty death once it’s turned into a corporation fit for mass consumption. This it most certainly has. Examples abound, nowhere more sickeningly than in the “free thinking” world of punk rock: Has it lost its edge? Does its inability to seem exciting and fresh spell it’s own demise, even though it is more popular than ever? Do the hordes of Bad Religion and Blink 182 clones’ successes translate into punk’s ultimate meaninglessness? Mass produced bands and massed produced crap?
There is currently a movement within the punk rock genre that, to some critics and fans, is facing a similarly detached future. The fusion of Celtic folk with ’77 Style punk rock really isn’t a new concept. Shane MacGowan and Spider Stacy were toying with the idea as early as 1980. Nearly everyone has heard this experiment’s results: the almighty Pogues. One of the best bands of all-time, to be sure. Certainly, Stuart Adamson of the popular ’80’s band Big Country used Celtic sounds and attitudes to that group’s advantage. Adamson’s early punk band, the long defunct Skids, were a definite precursor to this genre. Listen to “Into the Valley” and tell me Stuart’s guitar doesn’t sound like bagpipes on purpose. Then there are the groups that just never made it big, like The Men They Couldn’t Hang. So, no, the genre isn’t new, but to a whole new generation, it seems relevant and exciting. My question is – is it? Or is it, too, being prepackaged and sold to a new generation for them to “fit for mass consumption” and, subsequently ruin, as Bangs theorized? Is this genre overstaurated?

It wouldn’t take long before one could list quite a few current punk/streetrock bands whose sounds are described as ‘having an Irish folk flavor” or sound “kinda Pogues-y.” Many have actually covered old Irish folk songs on vinyl. Actually, it is almost the norm nowadays. It’s almost refreshing to read a review where the reviewer doesn’t use the aforementioned terms to describe a new Oi! or streetrock album. Zines like Hit List and Flipside complain about the ‘overuse’ of Celtic sounds in much of today’s punk. Are they right? Is this genre becoming watered down and boring?

Lest you think me cynical, I do believe there are bands out there today and one local band in particular, that have proven to me that the genre is still relevant. For all the Irish folk/punk/Oi! bands that are becoming bigger and more popular, and for all the ones who form or incorporate Celtic sounds simply because it is the “in” thing to do, for all the ones whom some critics accuse of falling prey to the banshee that cries “sell-out,” hope awaits. It exists in the form of the bands who have been around, those who have paid their dues, those who have remained true and understand that there is more at stake than just money. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Chicago’s favorite sons, The Tossers.

Only the End of the Beginning
“And we just thought: Fuck it. What we’re doing is good, no matter how badly we’re doing it. It’s good because it’s based on good music.” -Shane MacGowan

I’m not saying I was there at The Tossers first show. I have, however, been following them since their first demo “Pint of No Return” and have been to countless shows over the years. I’ve seen them on their own in dinky, fucking dank bars and I’ve seen them open for legends like Stiff Little Fingers and the aforementioned Shane MacGowan. They have paid their dues, took their lumps and logged their miles without the level of success that some ‘newer’ bands have tasted – and still, here they are.

“Damn near ten years” Tony Duggins, singer and mandolin player, says, when I ask how long the Tossers have been at it. He says this with a look that seems to be a cross between pride, wistfullness and maybe a bit of weariness. Today, the Tossers line-up is as follows: T. Duggins handles the vocals, guitar and mandolin, his brother Aaron Duggins is on tin whistle, Dan Shaw is on bass, Clay Hansen is on banjo and Bones handles the skins.

Back in 1992, when the Tossers started, there weren’t as many bands doing the Celtic punk thing, as many are now. Tossers bassist Dan Shaw gives an appropriately MacGowan-esqe ‘vague’ description of the Tossers humble beginnings: “Everybody but Clay grew up together. It just happened, I don’t really remember much of the details but I guess it was mostly luck.” Luck, guts and a bastard talent. The early gigs were described as “Pretty much the same as now – consuming intense amounts of alcohol, playing all night and not getting paid”. Eventually, the band began to get its name out. Clay Hansen joined in 1997 after the violinist (Jason Lovell) quit and as Shaw recalls, Hansen ” had never played a banjo before but didn’t tell us that. We gave him a copy of the disk and he borrowed a banjo and 2 weeks later he showed up at his first show. That was almost 5 years ago.”

The Tossers crew hails from Chicago. Chicago, as those from there know, wears its Irish history like a badge of honor. While their loyalty to the town is undying (“Chicago is the best fuckin’ rock-n-roll town in the states” Clay said) I wondered how they got their start with punky Irish folk. When asked if it was the South Side influence or the passing down from family member to family member that made the lads want to play the Irish stuff, Hansen replied. “Yes, it was handed down but I think we got sucked in cause the songs were mostly about drinkin’ and fuckin.’ We enjoy drinking and fuckin’ so it felt good to play those songs. We all came from different bands who were trying to be rock stars so we didn’t really feel the need to play anything anyone would like. We just got to play what we liked.” The Tossers also posses an unquestioned work ethic. “We played anywhere, anytime, for anybody, with anybody” is how Clay summed it up. How, then, do they feel about the rising popularity of the Irish punk/folk thing? About bands who are quite popular like the Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly? (Both of whom I am a great fan of) Tony said he loved both bands and Hansen replied “We don’t think about it. The Dropkicks rock and Flogging Molly are nice guys. We don’t give a fuck about fads. If we did we would have started a boyband.” Well said, mate.

Rebel Songs and Blow Jobs
“When I was really little, I was brought up by the people in Tipperary who knew millions of songs. It was real gut level stuff, music that’s been handed down from generation to generation” – Shane MacGowan

I was in Champaign, Illinois on June 12th at a local Irish bar called Mike and Mollys and caught up with the Tossers there. After the Tossers second of two sets ended, I stepped back and thought about what I had just seen and was, quite simply, amazed. And I began to think about the difference between the Tossers and other popular Celtic Punk/folk bands of the day and wondered why the hell I think the Tossers are so much better at what they do than most. The answer seemed to me to lie in what MacGowan termed the “gut level stuff.”

The Tossers two sets on a balmy 90 degree night included no less than TWENTY old Irish folkie standbys and as many of their own originals. The sets also included the American folk classic “The Long Black Veil” and the sea shanty “South Australia.” All of it immediate, ‘gut level stuff’, nothing forced or phony there. While certain bands may choose the most obvious of Irish songs to cover, Duggins and company dug deep. The standards were there, of course: “The Wild Rover”, “The Irish Rover” “I’ll Tell Me Ma” “Seven Drunken Nights” etc, etc, but also were the lesser known gems (at least among the Champaign crowd) like: “Monto” “Muirsheen Durkin’” “Home Boys Home” and “Poor Old Dicey Riley.” Hell, they took two requests from me: “The Fields of Athenry” (not really a request, per se as their own “A Night On Earth” segues into it anyway) and one of my personal favorites “Holy Ground.” (By the way, the Skels of New Jersey do a blistering version on CD, as well as a little bootleg with Pat Kennedy of the late Molly Maguires fame on piano) T. Duggins started and re-started “Holy Ground” until he had it how like he liked it and blazed through it. This, to me, is guts, ladies and gentlemen. Fucking do it until it’s done right. Take requests and if you fuck up, who cares? Give it another damn shot. Gustiest of all may well have been when T. Duggins sang alone, without any accompaniment from the band, and he did this several times that night. The last being “The Parting Glass.” Fucking brilliant. This is band that knows its material and respects it’s roots.

The band took requests all night and when I shouted, “play the Clash,” Aaron Duggins replied “The Clash were pussies” but then I heard the familiar strains of “London Calling” being played on mandolin. Tony Duggins strikes again- that cheeky bastard. Their own songs included the by now Tossers classics: “Buckets of Beer” “When You Get Here” “Aye Sir” and newer favorites like “The Crutch” with it’s “So Give Me Two Pints of Stout – Oi!” chanted chorus well intact and “Mad Riot” tearing things up as well. All in all, they must’ve played damn near 40 songs.

Afterwards, when I got a chance to talk to Tony, he was soft spoken and laid back (or was that drunk?) I told him I wished they had played a favorite of mine from the first CD “We’ll Never Be Sober Again” a slow-burning song called “Alone” where Duggins speaks of rebels wives who ‘wear black’ for their lost husbands. It’s a haunting piece, the mood very somber, and the lyrics of “Mrs. Ryan wears black, Mrs. O’Shea wears black, Mrs. Kelly wears black” drive the point home. “That’s a good rebel song, that one” Tony told me. Which brings me to a point. I remembered the Pogues and Shane in particular had gotten accosted several times for their ‘rebel leanings’ and Black 47 were dubbed the ‘musical wing of the IRA” by the British press. I wondered if the Tossers had ever encountered any physical violence from this or any other scenario. “Yes,” Clay said. “I had a girl try to stab me in the eye with her keys once while her boyfriend tried to steal my amp. Actually, there have been a lot of times we have gotten into scuffles but we are pretty non-violent so we usually talk our way out of fightin.’ Sometimes it can’t be helped. We used to fight a lot more when we were younger and found out it wasn’t that much fun getting the shit kicked out of you.” Hansen also revealed a bit more about these confrontations. “Most fights start over one of us fucking some dudes girlfriend or wife. I had a girl in a club suck my cock in the balcony while her husband was down stairs one night. He came looking for her wondering why she was gone so long and he didn’t get the joke. All the boys were downstairs boozin’ and didn’t know I was getting an ass-kickin.’” Are you sure these guys aren’t rock stars? That sounds pretty Keith Richard-esqe to me. Should they be re-christened Motley Tossers?

All in all, it was a great show and the Tossers were a great bunch of guys. As they were loading up, they were wondering if they indeed had a show in the next town they were scheduled in. Who knows, but they were going to get drunk anyway. Road warriors, each and every one of them. And a damn fine band. A damn REAL band who know their roots and play for the sake of playing.

Buy A Tossers CD
So it goes – The Tossers were one of the first in the current ‘revival,’ as well as being one of the best and, if there’s any justice, will reap the rewards in the near future. It’s funny, having talked with T. Duggins, it is apparent that he is down to earth and is in no way buying into the hype-ridden world of punk rock. And sometimes this isn’t any easy thing to do. Sometimes even bands with the best intentions and truest to their roots, become bigger, and can fall prey to mid-level success. There are always those among the punk rock locals who sanctimoniously kiss ass and get backstage and ‘party’ with the bands, due to the free tattoos they give, the beer they supply or something of that nature. Sometimes some of the real fans seem to get overlooked. Sometimes, with new popularity, and new fans, the new crowd take the band over as their own. Not so with the Tossers. I had never talked with Tony before, but once I told him my purpose, to get an interview/article for a zine promoting the Irish Punk/Folk scene, he didn’t think about it for a second. “Sure, definitely”, he said. And I could tell it wouldn’t be uncomfortable and he was actually going to listen to my questions, rather than cut me off to tell someone to “go get him a t-shirt” so he could give it to some skirt in the crowd. Nah, he was content to discuss issues, his music and music in general. Hmmmm…. Maybe there’s hope for this genre after all……Tony Duggins and the Tossers are for real, folks…

The Tossers have two full-length CD’s available: “We’ll Never Be Sober Again” and “Long Dim Road”. A complete discography can be found at Purchases can be made there as well. Future releases include an upcoming 6 song EP with 2 originals, 2 traditional and 2 covers: Jerry Lee Lewis “Rockin’ My Life Away” and Bob Dylan’s “7 Curses.”

Clay said it turned out good. Then again, he’s the bastard that got the blowjob in the balcony. Rock star, indeed.

By Sean Holland

The MAhones -Tribute

You’ll probably be aware that The Mahones are putting out a tribute to themselves CD soon with some really great bands involved – a full preview is up on . I was honored to be asked to write the sleeve notes by head Mahone, Finny, so in my best Lester Bangs, I give you The Mahones…….

I first came across The Mahones sometime during late summer 1995 – I had gone to the 1st (and only) Cambridge, Celtic festival run by the then and now excellent The Druid pub. I was interested in checking out The Mahones as I heard they were a bit like The Pogues – well were they that and more! The guy with the porkpie hat and the mass of blond hair underneath let out a banshee wail that shook me to my foundations and the band, a musical equivalent of a faction fight knocked me for 10. Yeah they were like The Pogues but instead of just having a punk attitude The Mahones were punk – Celtic Punk.

I caught The Mahones a 2nd time that night at a party in the old Cambridge House of Blues for Dan Aykroyd’s Celtic Pride movie (awful movie, great title track from The Mahones) that me and me mates somehow crashed (Trev, Paddy where are you?). After the gig, The Mahones thanked me and the lads for jumping around and generally acting the goat during the set unlike the rest of the Hollywood type posers who made up the audience. Finny (the guy with the hat, the hair and the wail) then handed me a piece of paper – “it’s our web site check it out when you get a chance”, he said – me, I was highly impressed with this printout and said I would. Of course, I don’t think I had ever been on the internet at that point in time (it was ’95 kids, The Dropkick Murphys were still working on construction sites and saving pennies for their 1st 7″ a year later, and Dave King was still doing the hair metal super group thingy).

I lost touch with The Mahones after that as they went through issues with their major record label and the tragic death of bass player Joe Chithalen.

In 2001, now internet savvy and having just started Shite’n’Onions, I tracked down The Mahones and bravely sent a email to their new indie label looking for a copy of their new release – Here Comes Lucky – to review. Two weeks later very pleased with myself that the label had actually sent me the CD, I popped it in the CD player and wow, Finny was still screaming like a banshee and The Mahones were even better and louder then I remembered.

By the early to mid 2000’s Celtic Punk had become a whole genre, a genre that The Mahones founded.

Unfortunately for The Mahones, while Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys were able to build huge followings through hard touring, The Mahones were forced to look on as visa problem keep them out of the US for 5 years. Now, with visa problems out of the way, and with another great album under their belt – Take No Prisoners – and another – The Black Irish – on its way, combined with almost constant touring, The Mahones are poised to claim their place on the top of the Celtic Punk pile. All hail The Mahones!

The Electrics: Diary of a Scottish Madman

October 2002

Just in case you out there in reader land thought life in a rock’n’reel band was a glamorous jet set life of groupies, drugs and fast cars, think again. The Electrics’ Jimmy D. the tells us about the bands recent US tour that managed to include playing at a society wedding and a born again Christian rock festival (with a gig in Paddy Reillys to complete the tour)

The U.S.A trip had its ups and downs, but I’m glad we did it. We flew to Heathrow, where we should have met up with Tim, the fiddler. His bus was delayed by 2 hrs to the airport though, and they wouldn’t let him get on the plane, although they had JUST closed it a minute before. Thanks Virgin Atlantic!
So we had to go without him, he got to NYC next day. A good start ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

As soon as we landed, (Thurs night-11pm) they had lost my bags. JUST mine,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Guitar leads / fx /clothes /toiletries etc. Everything. It didn’t arrive for three days by which time I had to buy new clothes and stuff. The airport had said that I was entitled to $60 per day that it was missing,, but have since told me that its ONE payment, not per day, which cant be right. We called and called, but no answer. We didn’t get a chance to chase it up until we were leaving again, by which time I was given the brush off’/run around by the Virgin staff. It’s a disgrace. After a couple of hours spent going from one side of the airport to the other, they told me that even if I was entitled to more money, ,that it was too short notice to get it that day and that I would have to sort it out with Virgin UK! Dirty bastards eh? So we got to our hotel the first night, which was booked by the groom (WEEKS before) to be told that they don’t have the rooms we booked with one double and one single bed, but they can give us an extra bed, for MORE money.

We had no choice. We had the next day off to explore NYC, so Sammy his wife and me were out on the streets of Manhattan at 8am. Magic! Its some place, and it is like walking around a film set at times. We also went to the Ground Zero site too, which was very eerie. Saturday was the big event,,,!

The wedding in Manhattan was incredible. I’m guessing that the families have a FEW dollars. It was outside in a park/square type thing, with the big restaurant right beside it. It was the full thing with the shirt n tie waiters carrying the trays around, free cocktails etc. THEN the sit down meal and reception downstairs, with the posey food that nobody actually likes, but costs a packet. Sunday should have been a giggin day, but turned out not to be. So we traveled up to Harrisburg P.A. Home of the HUGE Hershey Chocolate Company.

We won’t be doing things the same way next time mind. We will set stuff up ourselves,and just go and do it. No messing about waiting for gigs to be confirmed, then cancelled at a days notice etc. Two were lost, one was a festival that couldn’t get insurance for the outdoor event, dunno about the other. Which meant we had two more nights in hotels to pay for, with no money comin in. The guy in Pennsylvania was fantastic though,,,,
He told us to come up there the day before, and HE paid for an extra night in a hotel for us. What a guy. Then took us to his house to spend the day in his pool, and have some food. Magic. Wish I could swim though,,,,,!
We went and did a wee spot on a local radio station, WJTL–P.A and the poor guy didn’t know what had hit him. Good fun though.

The gig that night SHOULD have been a total disaster. The p.a. was broke all night, Sammy’s fx broke, then mine, then the fiddlers! I was playin through a 60 watt Keyboard amp, with no overdrive obviously. Then that broke. Then worked again, then one channel died, then the other! I ended up havin a guy hold the lead in while I played. Mad! It still went down a storm though, thankfully. We took about 30 t-shirts with us, and sold them all at the first gig! DOH! Could have sold LOADS more too.

Tuesday meant goin BACK to NYC to gig in a tiny Irish bar. That was great fun. Though it was empty. Maybe 30 or 40, though it only holds 74 full! First band on were called Warsaw and The Poland Brothers. Punk/Ska/Funk/Celtic stuff. Mental. They have done 300 gigs a year, for the past 8 years. The gig was broadcast live by webcast, through the site too!
We made $80 on the door. The plan was to drive for an hour or 2 out of town, et a cheap hotel and crash out. Didn’t happen. EVERY one we stopped at, VERY one, put up the price when we asked them. Some of them were really cheeky too. So we kept drivin, and drivin,,,,,,,By the time it was 5.30 am, we were still lookin to get a place, sleep till 3 or so, then head on. But no. Couldnae get ANYWHERE.
It got more expensive he further we went. We ended up goin in for breakfast, and headin right on up to near Boston to stay with a friend of Sammy’s. What a long day that turned into. Davie was not surprisingly knackered, with playin, then drivin all night. The 96 degree heat wasnt helpin eiher.

Got to the guys house, they ALL slept. I couldn’t. Stayed up, went into Boston, bought CD’s, had dinner. I was now TOO tired to sleep. We had no gigs for 2 days now, cos of mess ups. We all bought bike jackets in a big mad cheap place. Except the fiddler, cos he is English, and therefore a fudd! Lightweight leather, excellent. About £22 I think. Bargain. It will go nicely with the 2 I have already. DOH! Boston is a very cool city, with some crackin CD shops. I saw the famous Cheers bar, and Harvard Uni etc, but I was too brainy to be allowed in!

We headed off next day to do the big festival, at LOON MOUNTAIN! Aye, I pissed myself when I saw the name. Took us ALL day to get there, and we arrived 45 mins before we were due on. We booked into a big log cabin, with a pool etc, which was magic. It would have cost about the same for 3 rooms, for us, and Sams friends. The Friday gig went down a storm, but only about 100 folk there, in this cafe place. The Saturday gig was fantastic, in a big tent to about 3/400. Sammy appeared side-stage before it, furious. He didn’t want to do the gig, because he had just been told that the festival takes 25% of the merch sales, AFTER you pay them$125 to sell stuff in the first place. They basically screwed us, and everyone there.
Food prices were terrible, $5 for a grilled chicken sandwich, $2.50 for a bottle of water? Shocking, especially for a supposed Christian event. Disgraceful,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

He eventually decided to do it, cos the place was full by now. But he told everyone there not to buy ANY stuff from the festival, but to get our CD’s online. We still sold about 25 or so, but had to give the man $98 from that. I took Scotland wristbands to sell, and a few blue shirts with the lion on them, but we threw them to the crowd, rather than give them any more money. It was a disgrace. The gig was brilliant though, cos we were so pissed off. At the end, I leaned over to lift Sams bass out of the way, and tweaked my back. AGONY! The worst I’ve done it for years. Could hardly move. And JUST as I did it a woman comes over and asks me to get a picture with a crowd of them. I’m standing, in agony with a bunch of wee lassies around me, tryin to smile. She THEN pulls out one real camera, and SIX wee disposables. AAARGGHH!! I’m standin like a cripple, and the flashes are doin my eyes in.

We packed away and headed to the lodge,,10 mins away. I could feel somethin else not right on the way. I got a full on migraine too, brought on by the 7 flashes in a row I think. What a horrible night that was for me.
I couldn’t even see to find my medication or anythin. I spent the night lyin on the floor, with a migraine ice patch on my head, an eye mask to block the light, and the clothes I wore at the gig. I wasn’t even able to get washed.

I woke at 7, with my back REALLY hurt, and the dull leftover head pain. Had an hour in the bath which helped a wee bit, but I didn’t think I would make the 1pm show at the festival. Turns out I did, and it was maybe the best show of all. Best sound, etc. And that was that,,,,,,,

It was a LONG trip back with my sore back though. Although I did get a better seat than the rest of them, cos the old woman at the check-in liked me, ,cos she had been to Glasgow once and liked the people. Hehehehe, more legroom for Jimmy D!!! I got told off on the plane for using the “1st Class” toilet. There was ONE guy in 1st class! I replied by telling the snobby stewardess that the others were occupied, and that I HAD to go. And asked her if she would rather have me shit myself on the plane. She didn’t reply! Hehehehe! Funny that.

And just to cap it all off nicely, we got back to find that ALL our bags were missing. Got them next day. Bastards,,,,,,,,Still, mustn’t grumble eh? Er,, is that enough info?

The Dubliners To the Dropkicks – Luke Kelly, Shane MacGowan and Ken Casey: The Rebel Irish Tradition

September 2001

“Wife, I thought to myself, children forgive me for what I do this night, terrible as it may be, for this is Ireland in the rain of an ungodly time.…Where the dead must go to die” -Ray Bradbury

From Ireland they come. A land of terrible beauty, to use a well-worn cliché. A place forever at war with it’s past, yet eternally connected to it. Forever in love yet combat until the end of time. Yes, to be sure, the story starts with the land itself. A land symbolized by Green. Green everywhere, as far as the eye can see. Even green shadows. This Green land – a symbol of life? What of the contradiction? Green with life, but a history full of death. A land of hope, but a people forced out into exile. Where life itself flourishes. Where the dead go to die. A history filled with heart-swelling victory and even more so with deep seeded loss and regret. A story within a story within a tragedy. And a people more resilient than a people ever were. And out of this land, rebels were born.
Within this piece, I want to give a brief history of early rebel musicians like Luke Kelly and the Dubliners, and explore how being Irish has shaped them and the men that have followed in their whiskey-stained boot steps. Devices such as themes of rebellion, freedom, war, drinking, sex and more drinking are prevalent in all of their works. Being an Irishman and growing up in certain circles shapes the way one views life, ones attitudes and beliefs. It is no secret, then, that the rebel Irish musicians who inhabit this piece, whether born to Ireland herself or born of the great Irish Diaspora which history tells us of, have shared experiences that contribute to the uplifting, sad and angry music they make and the uncompromising way they live their lives.

“I started singing folk songs after realizing that they were not as square as I had been led to believe.” -Luke Kelly

Born in Dublin in the year of Our Lord 1940 was Luke Kelly. Luke grew up in the rough, tough-n-tumble dockside area of Dublin. A strong working-class upbringing had a huge effect on this future leader of the legendary folk ensemble, The Dubliners. Luke, at first, rejected the idea of doing folk music. He opposed the idea, thinking, as many do, that folk was simply fluff. Upon closer inspection, however Luke realized the themes contained within the songs were hardly light-hearted material. Luke immediately related to the themes of the Irish folk song, themes any working-class member of Irish society could: drinking, fighting, loving, living and dying. Matt Kelly of the Dropkick Murphys once noted that “folk songs are more punk than most punk bands songs anyway.” And right he was. Luke Kelly and the rough and tumble cast of characters who make up the Dubliners did folk how it should be: from the gut, no bullshit. The response they got was immediate. Their version of “Seven Drunken Nights” made them the toast of the folk scene and concerts everywhere sold out. They were a smash! Hit albums and tours continue to this day. Their status as legends is secured. Not what you expected from a bunch of hairy people who “looked like they’d just been dragged out of a seedy bar via a hedge (backwards) and dropped on London from a very great height” to quote an accurate description I once read.

Terje Oye’s excellent website describes the Luke and the Dubliners influence as follows: “The number of artists that list The Dubliners as one of their major influences and idols, is endless. They have brought folk music to millions of people all over the world, people who never would have been interested at all. That isn’t only because of the folk music, the instrumentals alone, it’s because of The Dubliners, their astonishing voices, their indescribable instrumentals, the wild life style and drinking, late sessions, their enormous beards, their extensive touring, their charisma and characters. It was, and still is to a certain extent, a blend the world will never see again.” Sadly, Luke Kelly passed due to cancer in 1984. The world lost a great man, but the influence left behind remains even to this day. Luke and the lads certainly did bring folk into the spotlight, and proved what attitude, heart and belief could do for a group, and their influence on those who came after looms large over the Irish music scene to this very day. If there is one group that Luke Kelly and the Dubliners could claim are closest to their own hearts, one most true to their own visions and one whose influence among generations of future musicians is nearly as great as their own, it would have to be the almighty Pogues, led by Shane MacGowan.

“We were heavily influenced by The Dubliners who I thought were the band that demonstrated Irish pop music the best.” -Shane MacGowan “A Drink With Shane”

Shane MacGowan was born in Kent, England, on Christmas Day, 1957. Although he grew up with firm Irish roots, his tale differs from Kelly’s in some ways, but the parallels do run deep. MacGowan’s father, Maurice, had grown up in Dublin, and his mother, Therese, had grown up on a farm in Tipperary. Shane actually lived in Tipp during his early years, and spent the summers of his youth there. He was surrounded by traditional Irish music and had many relatives who played instruments such as the banjo, fiddle, accordion, tin whistle, etc. All of this would stay in his memory for his lifetime and would contribute to the masterpieces he later produced with the Pogues. During his early school career, Shane had an acknowledged gift for writing and most other subjects. Shane spent his hours reading old Irish poetry and in time learned to write his own rhymes. He seemed headed for an impressive scholarly career, but it wasn’t to be for Shane, though. He got kicked out of a prestigious private school for illegal drug possession and was bound for greater things.

Before embracing the folk of his childhood, however, MacGowan would come up in the blossoming punk scene of London in the late ‘70’s. Shane became a face on the scene early on after the infamous ‘ear-biting’ incident at a Clash show would land the bloodied Irish teen on the cover of London’s largest newspaper. The energy, violence and power of the punk scene would also leave a lasting impression on the young Shane and he began to harness the creative energy he possessed, with his life-experiences of being a young London Irishman. After a few semi-successful tries and one damn fine group, the Nips, Shane decided to put his two natural musical loves together, Irish folk played with the breakneck energy and bombast of punk rock.

Shane has always acknowledged that his main influence for the Pogues was Luke Kelly and the music he made with the Dubliners. Add to the mix the excitement Shane felt after seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time, and a unique vision was born. “ I never understood why it took me so long to make the connection,” Shane said “I had a mental block that said Irish music was one thing and pop was another.” Spider Stacey tells of going to shows with Shane and going back to his flat, where they would put on Dubliners records and sing along. He recalls Shane playing along at top speed on an acoustic guitar until it suddenly became so obvious that they couldn’t believe they hadn’t thought of it before. Play the folk songs at the Pistols pace, complete with the filth and the fury. The kicked around at various bars in London, using various names like the New Republicans, until they finally solidified the line-up and a name was chosen: Pogue Mahone, Gaelic for “kiss my arse.”

The Pogues went from conquering London to conquering the world. It wasn’t long before Shane’s “Poguetry” had everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Waits to Elvis Costello watching in complete awe at the sheer spectacle of it all. The Pogues could go from a drunken, rambling bunch of hooligans to a soulful, even beautiful group making some of the finest Irish music of the last century. And Shane did so under the watchful tutelage of the Dubliners, respecting what had come before and even collaborating with them on occasion. The Pogues, today hold a huge influence over the current punk scene and most every city has a band or two that cover a Pogues tune. They are, more than ever, in vogue. One band that aided in this popularity resurgence is Boston’s own Irish-American mouthpiece, the Dropkick Murphys.

“Until I heard the Pogues, I wasn’t Even Sure If I Liked Irish Music” -Ken Casey

Ken Casey’s Boston-Irish immigrant family experience is in many ways very similar to Luke Kelly’s own. Casey’s father passed away at an early age and his main father figure in life was his Grandfather, John Kelly. Kelly was a union-organizer, working with longshoreman on Boston’s docks. Coming from a working-class upbringing and the struggles of the everyman that accompany it were a large part of Casey’s childhood and were forever intertwined into his psyche. He, like Luke Kelly, used these experiences to tell the personal tales found in Dropkick Murphys songs such as “Boys on the Docks” which was written for and about John Kelly. The Irish working-class experience had shaped the band the Dropkicks are today.

Another parallel to Luke Kelly is that Casey, by his own admission, had Irish folk ‘shoved down his throat’ at an early age and wasn’t sure what he thought of it. At family get-togethers, parties and wakes, it was always the background piece, always propelling life along, for better or worse. I speak from experience when I say that hearing these songs at funerals and wakes, one can begin to associate them with life’s darker moments and sometimes this creates a prejudice of sorts.

In his youth, Casey became involved in the legendary Boston hardcore scene of the early ‘80s, seeing bands like SSD, Jerry’s Kids, DYS, Gang Green and the like. He credits these and other bands of the genre with inspiring him. “I have to say it inspired me into the whole lifestyle which eventually led to the music and making music” Casey said. So punk rock and hardcore was Casey’s earliest love, but what about Irish folk? How did Casey go from a lukewarm feeling about it to the fire he now possesses for it?

Ken Casey says he wasn’t sure what he thought about folk until he heard the Pogues. The Pogues, for Casey and so many others, gave the younger Irish generation a voice. About the folk/Pogues connection, Casey says: “I hated it as a kid,” he recalls, “but it was smashed into my head so much that I gained an appreciation for it as I grew older. Then when I saw The Pogues, I started to make the mental connection between their music and folk music. So when we started the band we figured we’d just combine folk music with punk and see what happened. I think you could take any one of our songs and play it on an acoustic guitar in a pub.” Casey, like Kelly, had to admit to himself that the folk music of his ancestors wasn’t ‘square’ but was a powerful voice of an oppressed people. With some help from MacGowan, Casey embraced it. So, Luke Kelly’s influence shaped MacGowan, who in turn, influenced Casey. The circle remains unbroken from Ireland to London to Boston.

The power and ‘punkiness’ of Irish folk lies in its subject matter and the way it’s delivered. Much of the material that runs through the Dubliners music deals with the Irish struggle for freedom and the wars and loss that accompany it. “The Foggy Dew” “Off to Dublin in the Green” and “Roddy McCorely” all tale tells that no pop song would dare. They celebrate the lives and deaths of Irish rebels. Pride in ones heritage shines through many an Irish folk song as well. Ireland and being Irish is celebrated with a glee only the Irish seem to muster. Luke Kelly covered classic after classic of these type tunes, from “A Nation Once Again” to “The Town I Loved So Well” written by Phil Coulter specifically with Kelly in mind.

Shane MacGowan also celebrated Ireland and it’s rebellion with classics like “The Broad Majestic Shannon” and “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” but he spent many a tune singing the praises and scouring the gutters of his home turf – London. As a young London Irishman, MacGowan gave a unique and slightly different view of the Irish Diaspora. Surely classics like “The Dark Streets of London” “Lullaby of London,” “London, You’re a Lady” “A Rainy Night in Soho” and the rest tell the unique tale of what it’s like for the displaced Irish in Her Majesty’s Kingdom. Shane, too, covered many the rebel song over his recorded career, including “Paddy Public Enemy Number One” and has been doing “A Nation Once Again” live. In his new book “A Drink With Shane MacGowan” he says he regrets not joining the IRA and laying his life on the line for Ireland and Shane always said his mother came from an IRA family. Rebel with a cause, indeed – to get his message across through a folk/punk rebel hybrid.

Likewise, Ken Casey sings the praises of living in Boston and the American immigrant experiences and hardships his family have encountered – again, a uniquely different Irish tale, but with common threads connecting to both Kelly and MacGowan. “Yes, we have Irish backgrounds, but we’re an American band and we don’t go after the Irish-American community as a fan base on purpose. We’ve always had songs about Boston, and we’re spouting off about the Bruins or whatever. We’re carrying the Boston torch with us. Sometimes I think we should get a couple of bucks from the Chamber of Commerce for promoting tourism. We’ve had so many kids from other parts of the country and from different scenes come up to me and say, ‘I’m moving to Boston; it sounds so cool, you have so many different bands,’ and then they move here and it’s cold and people are mean, and they’re like ‘This place sucks, I’m getting out of here’” Casey laughs. Still, it is easy to see that the Boston Irish pride and fierce loyalty burns deep within the Dropkick Murphys.

It’s not all pride, rebellion and war in Irish folk, though. The good times, complete with gallons of booze, is another required tale in the canon. From the Dubliners “Seven Drunken Nights,” “Whiskey You’re the Devil” and ”Whiskey in the Jar,” the Irish make a case for the stereotypes of being the world’s greatest boozers, and Ireland being ‘the birthplace of good times.’ The Dubliners not only sang about boozin’ but also the Church-frowned upon subject of illicit sex as well. They played “Monto” with a wink and a nod, knowing that the Montgomery Street area in Dublin, which it is based on, is notorious for prostitution. Likewise the men saying goodbye to the women in “The Holy Ground” are the sea-bound sailors of Cork and the women they were with, prostitutes.

The Dubliners drinking exploits soon became the stuff of legend. Taking a cue from them in both song and action was Shane and the Pogues. Shane’s songs are full of boozy characters in drunk tanks, of love lost and mourned for over whiskey after whiskey, of drunken priests and fathers, of soiled, drug-addicted prostitutes and the like. Shane, Spider and the rest of the boys also came under much scrutiny for their drinking habits. Friends eventually intervened for fear of Shane’s life, and, according to some, his drinking led to his dismissal from the band. Shane remains as optimistic as ever, acknowledging that he drinks when he chooses and loves to do so. (For those concerned or those who have him as a choice in their local death poll, Shane actually didn’t look too bad the last time I saw him play a few months ago in Chicago.)

The Dropkick Murphys albums are also full of the celebratory drinking song, covering such anthems as “The Wild Rover” and “Finnegan’s Wake” but Casey often times approaches drinking from a cautionary standpoint, having spent early years in barroom brawls and drunken stupors. Songs like “Caps and Bottles” and “Curse of A Fallen Soul” attempt to steer the wayward soul away from mistakes older, wiser men have made, but like the lives of their friends and family, many Dropkick Murphys songs have unhappy endings. Untimely death is a theme of much of the band’s work, and songs like “Noble” are cautionary tales as well as tributes to the deceased. “Yeah, these are people I knew,” Casey says. “I would go to the wakes of guys who died of drug overdoses, and I would see friends there who were drunk or high themselves, and I couldn’t believe it. I just want to tell them they’re going down the same road that killed a friend.”

The connection between Irishmen like Kelly, MacGowan and Casey and the various forms of folk music they all chose to communicate their stories with isn’t accidental. The Irish, on their home turf, in London and in America, have been treated as less than human. Starvation at home, and no work and horrid conditions in London and America equaled some of the hardest immigrant experiences ever encountered and the music itself was a release. The music spoke of common themes of rebellion and loss, rebellion and success, love and death and glory – all real life themes the Irish encountered. All real life themes to help keep their chins up. Music, as a medium, is powerful, but it acts as a medicinal device as well. It helps heal the soul in times of woe. So, it became, naturally, the voice of the working-class and the oppressed. Irish folk has always celebrated the underdog. From the IRA soldiers fighting against British oppression in “The Patriot Game” or “Johnson’s Motor Car” to the young immigrant arriving in New York scared and bewildered in the Wolfe Tones “Streets of New York” and Shane MacGowan and Ken Casey are insuring that this is not soon forgotten.

Coming from Irish backgrounds, and sharing traits and experiences dictated by heritage and history, it is no surprise then that the three ‘Irish Rebel Musicians’ evolved the way they did – honest and uncompromising, with a ferocious lust for life in it’s good times, and all the while keeping the faith strong during the bad, and, most importantly, retaining their uniquely Irish visions. So, it seems, that the “land of terrible beauty” which has a history so steeped in pain and loss, has produced generations of Irish sons, both at home and displaced, who are and were dedicated to seeing the music of Ireland preserved for eternity.

By Sean Holland

The Dolomites: A Nostalgic look into the Drunken Dolomites Of Pirate Portland

May 2003

A Nostalgic look into the Drunken Dolomites Of Pirate Portland. So, the day has just passed, the day we watched the Dolomites gypsy caravan slowly ride off into the soggy Portland fog…A true collective of oddfellows. The resident evil-circus-band has just left town for good. As the caravan disappears off in the distance, we remember what they left behind…Some odd, yet, fantastic music. In the form of constantly played albums, amazingly demented shows, to the freshly cooked food on stage. We sing the songs, and drink our drinks, and eat our fish & chips. Sure seems like it was yesterday, when Portland witnessed the Dolomites swashbuckling ship of scallywags dock along the riverbank in Portland.Fresh from wandering the old world, they began telling the tales of sea shanties, the late night drinking stories, and general debauchery to all the local landlubbers, like the true salty dogs they were.That band was good. Damn good. Didn’t matter if it was the sea shanties, or the gypsypunk, or the psycho-circus show.Looking back, the first show I witnessed was a perfect introduction…It was Paddy’s Day, and I was the doorman at a local Irish pub checking ID’s. As I glanced over countless birth dates, I noticed a band setting up some instruments in the corner of the pub. After a few pint chugs, The Dolomites started their set. Out came the Pogues covers, and out came the heavily influenced Poguesish originals. Perfect!!! It was just like the real thing, except more teeth. I was so distracted, I could not concentrate on the line of patrons angrily flashing ID’s in my face! Finally, a tap on my shoulder, my shift was over! Time to drink some of the black gold, and figure out who band that was. I bought the first album “The Buckfast Superbee” and I made sure to see as many Dolomite gigs as possible.

Not long after I had my first Dolomites encounter. A man by the name of Shane MacGowan had his first encounter. So the story goes… Before a show, Mr. MacGowan took a little stroll from the Crystal Ballroom where The Popes were playing that night, down to Kells Irish Pub and ordered a pint(s). The Dolomites were playing over the house stereo. After a moment he asked “Is that music playing, me?” Even Shane himself wasn’t sure what he was hearing. Could it be? Was the “story” real? Could The Dolomites fool The Master himself with their music? Hmm, a close call.If there was a band that could fool you into thinking they were The Pogues, it was these guys. By the way, If you haven’t heard “A Lovely Day For A Hogshead Of Whiskey” yet, you’re missing something very special. Imagine The Pogues having children, and imagine if those children snuck into a studio one drunken night, and recorded an album. Chances are it would sound exactly like “Lovely Day For A Hogshead Of Whiskey”. And that’s a compliment.

So that’s how it was around Portland for a while. If you wanted to drink yerself silly, dance a sloppy jig, spill your drink on a fellow drunk who was also dancing a sloppy jig, all you had to do was crack open the local paper and see if The Dolomites were playing. The odds were in your favor. I spent many a dollar, and spilled many a drink, during those great times.

Then it all changed. I’m not sure the exact date, but what I do recall was going to a Dolomites show and having to do a double take, and a double listen. What the fuck!, Gypsy Carnival punk? Was it true The Dolomites gave into the landlubber and the landlubbing ways? Well, yes they did. They shed the pirate image and adopted the styles of the gypsy. Including the nomadic roaming, by finally going on a nation wide tour. At first I was disapointed in the new sound, considering they had the Celt-punk thing down so perfectly I never thought they’d quit, but, as that show went on, I realized they were playing some of the most original music around. I began to understand the transition. They started out playing the style of music that would ALWAYS be compared to The Pogues, to playing a style of music that was uncatagorizable. You couldn’t call ’em a “Pogues band” anymore, and maybe that was the idea in changing the tunes all along. It was easy explaining the celt-folk-punk description, but how the hell do you explain psyhcotic-gypsy-circus-punks who cook fish & chips in a garbage can during the live shows for the hungry crowd? Possibly,Tom Waits being kidnapped by bi-polar Hungarian fisherman on LSD who had drank way too many Bavarian beers? I tried to use that description once, and it didn’t work. No matter what the description was, we all had some great times with those guys playing. It’s a shame that so few of us witnessed a Dolomites Show.

Some folks insist that The Dolomites were kicked out of town.Call it ironic, but Portland’s nickname is “Bridgetown”, and quite possibly, The Dolomites just burned too many bridges around town, and that’s why they were calling it a day. Considering they were banned from The Roseland Theatre for stealing The Popes liquor, after they opened up for Shane & Company, it could be true. They were also banned from Satyricon, (their longtime home) for setting the bar (and barkeep) on fire. Even back in the early days, they were booted from the Dublin Pub for lying about their ages. Quite simply, they may have just ran out of places to play. Maybe, just maybe, they will rise again, in a far away land, and those that dwell in that far away land will see and hear, what everyone in the Pacific Northwest were singing about all along. It’s over now, and the fat lady has began to sing.

Review by Brian “One More Bottle” Gillespie

During their last show in Febuary, The Dolomites record label, Walking Records, “officially” released “The Medicine Show”,(two years late) The Dolomites also released a video containing footage of the band in action, live in Las Vegas, live in Portland, and other random scenes that captures the band on the road, like the band performing “The Muppets Theme” in their hotel room. Also on the tape is a great video of “Lizzie Borden”,(also can be seen on their website) and some other footage. In my opinion, it doesn’t capture the shows that I witnessed, but then again, that might be a good thing!

Update – January 2011:

Stefanko Lanuc took the The Dolomites to Brooklyn, NY and added Japanese folk to the Gypsy Carnival punk and in 2007 he went east to Toyko to complete the transformation to Japanese-Romanian Global Gypsy

Swingin’ Utters: No Labels Need Apply

August 2001

“We’re a cross between The Pogues and The Ramones – You come up with a title” -Johnny Bonnel ( interview)

Labels. Everyone uses them. Everything has it’s own neat little label. Products are made and shipped each and every day and each one of them fits under a little label. Clothing. Electronics. Books. Food. The music industry is no different. Every band can be neatly summed up by one nice little label. Or can they? Can each band be branded one specific genre?

Well, the Beatles were pop…or were they rock’n’roll? Perhaps punk is more easily classified. Are the Cockney Rejects punk….Oi!….or rock? What about the Ruts? Punk…reggae…rock? And the Who? Mods….rockers….mockers? It seems that one definite label doesn’t always apply neatly to everything. Music is constantly crossing genre lines and in labeling music, we often, quite accidentally, help stagnate it.

Face it kids, labels needn’t apply to every band out there and the Swingin’ Utters are one such band. Eager to avoid the sweeping labels that sometimes are associated with the punk rock scene and the limitations these labels sometimes create, the Swingin’ Utters have branched out into one of the finest examples of music I’ve heard in the last twenty years. The back of the split LP with Youth Brigade describes the band as such: “there will always be a bit of sadness to make you appreciate how fucking wonderful this band is becoming, has been and where they’re capable of taking you.” My sentiments exactly.

Shite ‘n’ Onions is committed to not only informing readers of the current happenings in the Irish-folk-punk-whateverthefuck (or whatever label you want to throw on it) world, but also educating and paying tribute to the forebearers of the current trend. I can think of no other band worthy of success or said tribute then the men who make up the Swingin’ Utters. They are: Johnny Bonnel, singer, Darius Koski, lead guitar, violin and accordion, Max Huber, lead guitar, Spike Slawson, bass guitar and Greg McEntee, drums.

People have always labeled the Utters. In fairness, it is often easiest for a critic to describe a band with labels. Sometimes this helps to generally paint a picture for the reader of what to expect if they listen to a band. I do it in nearly all of my reviews and certainly some of the all-time great bands do fit neatly into a label. Take the 4-Skins, for example. I doubt anyone likens them to Blink 182 or accuses them of ‘inspiring’ the world of, say, techno, or even, for that matter, pop punk. They are textbook oi of course and have written countless genre classics. But then there are other bands that don’t fit as easily into a preexisting category. The Utters…what about the Utters?

Over the years, the label I have seen most associated with the band is the oi or streetpunk label. While certainly not an insult, sometimes this particular label has a tendency to strangle the life and air out of a band, to stifle talent and creativity. And creativity and talent aren’t normally associated with it (I happen to love it, even if it is simple-minded.) “There’s a lot of oi that I love” Max Huber said. “Now, I go back to some of those records and they fucking suck. Seriously. Some of those records are terrible. The Last Resort is so bad.” Darius Koski puts it this way: “I’ve always thought the oi thing was kinda weird. I mean, we all listen to that type of music and we have a lot of friends who are skinheads and blah blah blah and skinheads are in the band, but I’ve never, ever considered us an oi band.”

The Utters, while undeniably influenced by legends of the oi and streetrock sound, like Sham 69, Cock Sparrer and the Business, as well as the ’77 punk of the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, have evolved into so much more than just a poor copy of the past. Lyrically, the musings of Koski, Huber and Bonnel are far beyond 90% of their contemporaries. They explore real life, as it is, but in an “everyday-sort-of-elegant-hooligan” way. They seem to preach “the stars are best viewed from the gutter, drunken on your back” mentality much like a Joe Strummer, Shane MacGowan, Tom Waits or Paul Westerberg, but with a more lyrical, prosey-poetic style, seemingly influenced by Elvis Costello, Jack Kerouac or James Joyce. Musically, now more than ever, they have carved out their own sound. Over the last few albums, (“Five Lesson Learned” and the newest, simply self-titled, the most) a definite folksy influence has reared its head. They aren’t content with playing in the piss-stained pub built by others – they’re building it themselves and staining it with their own piss. “There’s more to their sound than aping their musical forebearers, enslaved to imitating the indisputable and feared musical drinking champions of the pubs and streets…”

“These guys aren’t post punk or post oi, they’re post Pogues!” -Todd and Money (BYO Split LP Jacket)

So the description reads on the back of the BYO split and it is currently the label I see most associated with the band – “Poguesy.” For those of you not familiar with the Pogues (all one of you) the almighty Pogues are the standard by which all other ‘Irish punk’ (more about this label later) bands are judged. The Pogues combined the fury and aggression of punk and combined it with old Irish songs from singer Shane MacGowan‘s upbringing, added instruments like the tin whistle, the banjo, the mandolin and the accordion (the latter two the Utters both utilize) to create one of the most original, and in my eyes, best bands of all-time. The band doesn’t deny the Pogues greatness and are all huge fans. Singer Johnny Bonnel put it like this: “I don’t think any band that does incorporate this type of instrumentation with the energy of punk should deny a Pogues influence. They were the first band to do this well.”

Certainly, the influence the Pogues currently exude over the streetrock and Oi scene is great, but it is not new to the boys in the Utters. Daruis Koski’s accordion playing skills were showcased on the first album, “The Streets of San Francisco” way back in 1994. Koski, also a classically trained violinist, explains: “There was a bit of accordion on our first record but there would’ve been a hell of a lot more if we had the time and money.” In a sense, the Utters later albums typify the sound they have always wanted to achieve but couldn’t due to lack of funds, studio time, etc. The move from smaller labels to a larger independent like Fat Wreck Chords has helped the band realize the sound it wanted. “Honestly, all of our records would sound a lot more like this one (Five Lessons Learned) if we had the time and money we had on this one.”

“I just don’t want to be pigeon-holed – we are anyway because we’re a punk band – we ARE ALLOWED to play a lot of different styles of music.”-Darius Koski (Flipside Interview)

Labels and pigeon holes certainly don’t appeal to Koski, and the oi label isn’t the only one he’s tiring of hearing. “I actually don’t really like my songs being called Irish songs because I’m not really going for that at all and none of the songs I’ve written have anything to do with Irish culture, at least not purposely. I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, I’m half Finnish and half Persian, and that’s it, so I would love for people just to know that I’m not writing Irish songs, not that there’s anything wrong with them but I just get that sooooo much.” I find this attitude extremely refreshing. As I’ve pointed out, the number of bands using the term “Irish punk” or covering old Irish folkies has grown to a large number which has caused many to dismiss it as ‘a trend’. And much of it sounds like shit anyway. When I asked Johnny his thoughts on it, he simply replied “Sounds like crap. Make it stop”

Simply because the Utters utilize the mandolin and the accordion does not make them “Irish Punk.” These instruments have been around folk music and music in general for many the years. The Utters deserve respect for utilizing these instruments and sounds many years ago. Songs like “One in All”, “London Drunk” “A Promise to Distinction” “Fruitless Fortunes” “Mother of the Mad” and “Smokestack Dreams” are all fucking wonderful examples of this bands complete understanding of how to incorporate this folk sound with the energy and brutal fucking honesty of the punk rock genre. It pays respect to the sounds of the folk past as well as raises a fist with the past and present soul of the street hooligan. Makes me want to pour a pint and put on a record.

While the Utters no doubt love the sounds of acoustic folk/punk, it is Johnny Bonnel and Daruis Koski’s side band, The Filthy Thieving Bastards, that really opened the floodgates for Pogues comparsions. I, myself, at first, used such comparisons. They seem to sound a helluva lot like the toothless one’s old band, in spirit and in execution. In some ways, this seems fair -Johnny’s voice has always been compared to MacGowan’s (a compliment if there ever was one) and my friend thought “One in All” was Shane. They do use similar instrumentation. Lyrically, however, Darius and Johnny aren’t singing about ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’ or “The Sunny Side of the Street” nor are they musing about spending time in a disheveled bar in Cork. They simply are singing songs that relate to their own lives, propelled along by a spirited soundtrack, which happens to include mandolin, accordion and acoustic guitar. So, the more one thinks about it, the less it becomes “Irish music” or “Irish Drinking Songs.” No lyrical connection to the Emerald Isle and, as previously stated, the Irish weren’t the only ones to utilize mandolins or accordions. Old folkies, country artists and bluegrass boys did as well, and as Daruis said, these are also among the Utters influences. “I love traditional music of all kinds. I love traditional American country music, bluegrass, etc and also the Irish stuff but I’d prefer the Pogues over the Dubliners or the Clancy Brothers anyday.” Johnny adds “I listen to both the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers but some of the other older stuff wears thin on me…old bluegrass shit is a little more toward our liking in the Utters.”

When asked about the Filthy Thieving Bastards origins, Johnny said, “Darius and I wanted to do some acoustic numbers as a stripped down Pogues rip-off band that just sort of snowballed into a great writing outlet for me. We wanted it to be only acoustic to separate it from the Utters, but I cheated, I’m sorry, no more electricity” he jokes, (like he’s the anti-Bob Dylan, taking flack for going from acoustic to electric) referring to the two electric cuts on the album. The FTB album is excellent. There is something more genuine about it than most of what floods the ‘folk/punk’ market. It has a “lived in” feel, like a Faces-style “old raincoat” which will never let you down. Johnny and Darius have obviously logged the time in the hangover poems they recite, and have looked the future in the eyes with pride, and, maybe a bit of heartache.

Todd: How much do you drink as a band? Johnny: More than anyone would want to know”

A common-theme that does run through both the Pogues albums and the Utters/FTB is the love of a good night out on the booze and the consequences the following morning. The Pogues had “Streams of Whiskey” “Sally Maclennane” “Bottle of Smoke” “Boat Train” “Gartloney Rats” and many, many others that sang the praises of booze, and the Utters are second in line, with many a good tale themselves. Songs like “London Drunk” “The Black Pint” “Brazen Head” and “The Green Glass” all lend a sympathetic ear toward the life of a drunken rogue. However, they seem to have just as many that explore the weariness that it all brings as well, the morning sickness, eyes matted shut, dehydrated hell and the coming down of it all, just like Shane himself did with the Pogues. It not all red roses, and the seedy, un-rosy view of it all is explored as much as the good times, because, life is equally both singing and puking, and the Utters sing about real life as it is.

It is well known and well documented that the Pogues crew (Shane and Spider the most) were hardcore imbibers. Shane’s drinking binges alone now rank along side his idle Brendan Behan (who died in his 40’s due to drink) and that of Welshman Dylan Thomas. Both were geniuses to be sure, but both lives cut far too short. The seeming contradiction of both the tragedy and elation of the drink is how it is – it’s just like that sometimes. And it is documented as such by poets like Huber, Koski and Bonnel. Max explains “you could say I’m miserable now because I drank way too much last night. And I’m drinking again. You’ve got to have some vice.”

The Utters backpages are full of boozy tales the Pogues may even envy: tales of drinking in Spain and showing up for shows with mouths and clothes stained red from anight on the puke. Johnny’s drunken night fairly tale on the mountain, where he pissed himself and went to Taco Bell, paid with a piss-drenched dollar bill, actually led to the bands first moniker “Johnny Peebucks and the Swingin’ Utters.” I asked Johnny, given the band’s hard-earned rep for fondness for drink, who might win in a band drink-off, the Pogues or the Utters. “Give ‘em the nod for Shane alone” was his reply. Maybe…..well, most likely, but ones thing seems certain, the universal theme of the underdog drunk and the daily upheavals he faces seems to have secured itself a place in the Utters music and attitudes.

Labels. Darius and the Utters have grown tired of them. As Max states: “The labels and the banners are meaningless. For us, it’s either good or bad.” Don’t classify them. Just listen and enjoy the sounds of a band making some of the best music around these days. It’s “something different than straight 1-2-3-4 punk rock” as Johnny explains. This band doesn’t conform to a label – The Swingin’ Utters are, simply, the Swingin’ Utters.

By Sean Holland