If I could get away with doing a one-word review for any release then this would be the one. The word? Beautiful!
But……even I’m not that lazy.
So expanding. Icons is a collaboration between Nick Burbridge (vocals, acoustic guitar, national treasure) who with McDermotts 2 Hours was one of the pioneers of folk-punk highly influencing both the Levellers and Ferocious Dog; and Dan Booth (fiddle) of the aforementioned Ferocious Dog and soon to be national treasures.
Icons is stripped down acoustic and fiddle versions of some of McDermotts best songs and new tracks co-written by Nick and Dan. And as mentioned before it’s beautiful – musically, lyrically, and sounding.
The Tossers – Johnny McGuire’s Wake McDermotts 2 Hours – Dirty Davey Gerard Smith – The Maid Of Cabra West 1916 – For Whiskey Irish Whispa – Hot Asphalt Greenland Whalefishers – Darkness Hugh Morrison – Old Scotland Jack Daw – Pigtail Man The Mahones – Girl With Galway Eyes Horslips – The High Reel The Mickey Finns – The Ballad Of Duffy’s Cut James McGrath – Race To The Bottom Dangerous Folk – Shipping up to Brisbane Brick Top Blaggers – Witness to My Own Wake
Shite’n’Onions – Can you give Shite’n’Onions a brief background on who you are and who are McDermotts Two Hours? You have released albums first as “McDermotts Two Hours” in late 80’s then the band dissolved and reformed later in partnership with the Levellers as “McDermotts Two Hours Vs The Levellers” for 3 albums then you went back to the moniker “McDermotts Two Hours” for “Goodbye To The Madhouse” and now you have collaborated with Tim Cotterell as Nick Burbridge – what makes an album a McDermott’s and what make it a Nick Burbridge?
Nick Burbridge – I’m, primarily, a writer. I work in different forms. As well as poetry, songs, short stories and plays, I’ve had a political thriller about The Troubles in Northern Ireland published under a pseudonym, and I was co-writer on the revelations of a military intelligence officer working there in the 70s; I also write somewhat eccentric articles and reviews for R2. This explains why I’ve dipped in and out of the music industry so much. McDermott’s Two Hours were born in Brighton U.K. out of the first folk-punk movement. I’d been playing guitar, mandolin, bodhran etc in Irish sessions, busking around Europe, and singing in folk clubs for many years; I hadn’t intended being the lead figure, but the bloke who wanted the job couldn’t sing in tune and had no sense of rhythm, so I was ‘volunteered’! The band were one of the Levellers’ main inspirations. The different collaborations have come about according to what, or who could be conveniently involved. For a long time I’ve written all the material – in that sense there’s no fundamental difference for me when it’s being conceived. But the albums can get heavy duty treatment, as on Goodbye To The Madhouse, or emerge as pure acoustic records, like the latest one, Gathered. It’s all down to what seems right. I’m glad I’ve managed to keep a foot in both camps as a result.
Shite’n’Onions – How did the collaboration with Tim (The Electrics) Cotterell on GATHERED come about? How has the album been received? What’s the story behind the cover art……its different to say the least. Any plans to tour to support the release?
Nick Burbridge – The current collaboration is a perfect example of how it goes. Al Scott (producer of albums from Levelling The Land to Ragged Kingdom) is still committed to bringing out a new full-on McDermotts’ record soon, involving members of The Levellers and the Oysterband, among others, but for different reasons it’s taking a long time to materialise. Meanwhile, I thought I’d write the stripped back acoustic album that’s been in me for some time, and so I turned to Tim, who’s played with the band on various instruments, a very good sound engineer and producer as well. The CD artwork? To keep it ‘in house’ I asked my son Ben (who once as a child sang a fragment of ‘Harry Brewer’ on The Enemy Within, but is now an Art History university lecturer) to bring in one of his favourite photographers. The front cover is a direct allusion to my song, ‘Fox On The Run’. It’s dark, as you say, but an apt image for someone who’s spent a lifetime battling with clinical depression, which as I get older, seems to be gaining the upper hand, and whose brutal demands probably account for my relative obscurity. When the band were playing big festivals, I had a publishing deal with Joe Boyd, and the Mean Fiddler organisation had taken us under their wing, by rights we should have hit the international folk-punk scene in a big way. Instead we’ve skirted the edges for decades. This leads directly to your other question: are we going to tour this album? No! Don’t get me wrong. I love playing live, and still do local sessions. It’s just getting out there and dealing with the industry that stand in my way! As it happens, I don’t think that’s so inappropriate when we’re talking about ethnic music, especially the Irish tradition, where the people who’ve kept it alive for centuries would hardly have been found on brightly lit stages with huge sound systems. And of course there’s always been a deep melancholic, even self-destructive strain running through the culture.
Shite’n’Onions – When I listen to your songs they are often focused on those who drew the short stick in life and often those who’s short stick seems to be getting shorter and in many cases like Shane MacGowan you write about the Irish in the Britain but your songs are like short stories – what influences you to write the lyrics you do and are the folks you sing about people you have know (like Johnny and the Jubilee) ….they seem so realistic?
Nick Burbridge – Most of the songs are based on real characters. And, yes, short sticks abound! Three of my grandparents were Irish, and moved over to England, so that explains many of my preoccupations. I do tend to think narratively – in short stories themselves – poems, or songs. ‘Johnny and the Jubilee’ is a good example: it concerns a mingling of characters I’ve known, with a dose of artistic licence. My favourite literary genre is what they call American Dirty Realism – Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Jayne Anne Phillips etc – so that’s a factor, too.
Shite’n’Onions – Have you ever had the inclination to write a happy song about someone who wins the lottery or say an Irish property developer who skips out on the banks and his debts and continues to live the good life in Mayfair or Chelsea?
Nick Burbridge – Unless it was a complete piss-take, I wouldn’t have any interest at all in either of those characters, would you? Happy songs, though, can be found on the albums, if you look hard! But, as you say, my purpose is to speak up for those in adversity, one way or another, though their stories may be set, ironically or otherwise, to upbeat traditional-type jigs, reels and hornpipes.
Shite’n’Onions – Finally, who was McDermott and what was he doing for his 2 hours?
Nick Burbridge – Tommy McDermott had his two hours of fame in the riots in Derry in 1968, as recorded in the book, War and an Irish Town, by Eamonn McCann. Left alone at the controls of Radio Free Derry for a couple of hours before he was hauled off, instead of playing the Falls Road hit parade, he put on the Incredible String Band etc and told people to “love one another an’ keep cool”. When we were looking for one of those macho folk-punk names beloved of most outfits, I came up with McDermott’s Two Hours. I think it betokens the different angle we were coming from, alludes to the politics we’ve always been concerned with, but at the same associates with someone who, in conventional terms, got it wrong. My kind of bloke…
The now long running musical merger of McDermott’s 2 Hours, one of the forefathers of the whole Celtic-punk scene and their prodigy The Levellers has been joined by UK folk rock institution Oysterband on Nick Burbridge’s swansong for McDermott’s 2 Hours, Besieged.
If your not familiar with the work of singer, songwriter, playwright & poet Nick Burbridge, he is one of the finest Anglo-Irish songwriters and lyricists, a Beckett or Kavanagh to MacGowan’s Behan or even a Springsteen in his lyrical imaginary of the ordinary or downtrodden.
I’ve had a copy of Besieged since 2017, I listened continual to it though 2018 as I waited to be given the ok to review the advance copy. I can say it truly that Besieged is a great album, brilliantly crafted songs and lyrics and beautifully produced. An album that has passed the test of 12 months. The only question is Besieged the best album of 2017, 2018 or 2019?
Resolved is the second outing of the partnership between McDermott’s Two Hours signer, songwriter (as well as novelist, poet, playwright and general smart guy) Nick Burbridge and fiddler, multi-instrumentalist and producer Tim Cotterell (also of Scot’s Celtic-rockers The Electrics). Like the duo’s first outing, Gathered, Resolved is not an immediate collection of music in anyway but worth (well worth) the investment. Beautiful poetic lyrics of ordinary lives livedm, overlaid with sparse and haunting Celtic melodies in a Dylan meets Planxty style. The main songs on the album are inter-spaced with Tankas – short poems in Japanese style (had to look that up!). Check out a couple of samples from Resolved below and give’em a few listens.
We’re big fans of Brighton based McDermotts 2 Hours here at Shite’n’Onions towers. Easily one of the best (though overlooked) Celtic/folk/rock bands evhaaa!, with one of the finest songwriters/lyricists the UK has every produced – Nick Burbridge. McDermotts 2 Hours have a long and influential relationship with UK heroes The Levellers, including The Levellers covering Dirty Davey from the first McDermotts album and essentially supplying the rhythm sections for numerous McDermotts albums. Anticlockwise is a 14 track compilation that documents the history of the band and celebrates the release of the their back-catalog via iTunes on The Levellers label On The Fiddle. haven’t heard McDermotts 2 Hours before then Anticlockwise is a great introduction and now they are on iTunes and the like there is no excuse. Highly recommended as is the entire back-catalog.
Nick Burbridge is a someone whos work I’m very familiar with through both his main gig – McDermotts 2 Hours and his poetic writing. Tim Cotterell’s work I know as both a producer and as fiddler for Glasgow’s The Electrics. Both are very fine musician’s so I’ve been very excited to get to hear this collaboration.
First off, the cover artwork of Gathered sets the tone of the collaboration – a black and white photo of what looks like a dog hanging dead in the forest. Very Blair Witch Project. In fact if I didn’t recognize the names on the sleeve I’d have assumed it was a misdirected Norwegian black metal album. Fortunately, the 12 tracks within have nothing to do with skinny Scandinavians with scary face pant – Its more bleak then that – Burbridge writes songs and stories about real people and real life – failure, resignation and defeat and that’s a lot more fearsum then cartoon horror. The music is equally stark and bleak with acoustic guitar, fiddle and Burbridge’s rich vocals all immaculately crafted together into song smith perfect. Gathered is not an immediate album by any stretch but if you work at it, it will be very rewarding and something that will stick around for a long time.
I’ll make no bones about it, McDermotts 2 Hours are easily one of my favorite bands on the whole Celtic/folk/Rock scene – Why? Great songs, great playing and amazing lyrics in the best story telling tradition. “Goodbye To The Madhouse” is the McDermotts 4th release since the band reformed in 2000 and the 1st without The Levellers branding on the CD cover – though various Levellers are still very much involved and it’s out on “Otf recording”, The Levellers own label – if that’s not an endorsement I don’t know what is. “Goodbye…”, certainly doesn’t disappoint and reaches all my expectations and those were set way high. Again, the songs are great, the playing and production masterful and they lyrics powerful and tragic. Highlights – all 11 tracks, but especially Molloy, Crusaders, The true story of Eugene McQuaid
While M2H have had quite a storied history dating back into the eighties, in all honesty I had never heard of them until my trusty postman pushed a copy of their most recent collaboration (Disorder) with their old friends The Levellers through the Shite’n’Onions mail box. I promptly (honest) review it for S’n’O and posted a good review – though my thoughts being these guys are real good but not really my cuppa. Nick Burbridge, vocals, guitar and songwriter for M2H was good enough to forward a couple more McDermott’s CDs (The 1986 debut and their first paring with The Levellers, 2000’s World Turned Upside Down) to listen to – which I did, but moved on quickly.
Most recently I reviewed McDermott’s latest release, a live CD, and was struck by just how good M2H really are and so after repeated plays of the likes of “Laying the Sligo Maid” & “Harry Brewer” I went back to listen to them on the studio version and was total and utterly blown away by how good M2H are and especially on World Turned Upside Down – It’s not an immediate album (and that’s my excuse for missing it on the first pass) but give it a chance because it worth it – possible one of the best Folk-Rock (with a heavy Irish twist) CDs ever made in my book and certainly one of the best I’ve every heard. The songwriting is superb, as too is the playing and the production. The aforementioned “Laying the Sligo Maid” & “Harry Brewer” (which compares to The Green Fields of France as an anti-war classic or in this case anti-war but if your going to fight do it for something you believe in) are must hears along with the Spanish flavored “La Passionaria” which is the song The Pogues were trying so hard to write on Hell’s Ditch.
World Turned Upside Down will be very much towards the top of my best CD’s of the year list – 2000 release or not
While the D.I.Y.-ish cover of Live a Ferneham Hall give the appearance of a bootleg there is nothing bootleg or D.I.Y.-ish about either the music or production on this superb live CD (recorded in March ’05) from one of the most influential Celtic-folk-rock bands of the 80’s (ask The Levellers). If your unfamiliar with past works of this Brighton, England based Anglo-Irish quintet then think Bragg, Moore (Christy of course), Strummer and of course MacGowan and the Pogues and not as mere imitators but as peers.