Another one I’ve been meaning to mention for ages is this record. Despite its simple premise and great execution, it’s been difficult for me to put into words just exactly why it’s so much fun to listen to and why I’ve taken it to heart so.
English folk and punk, with the benefit of hindsight, are somewhat natural bedfellows, even if neither side probably wanted to admit it at the time. Their music defined their communities and told their stories, placing their songs at very specific points in history for others to pick up and pass on.
The two perspectives have been brought together before; bands such as New Model Army and the Levellers took elements of each, keeping the elements of both alive when fashion and culture went elsewhere, the unique spirit of each genre finding homes in steadily-growing enclaves of people with shared musical and political ideals.
But what of the old songs that shocked the nation in the background of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the bin-collectors’ strikes of 1977?
They’ve kind of become gentrified over the years, curated on any number of fun but largely vapid compilations (is Airport by the Motors really a punk song? I have three CDs here that say “yes they are”, I however remain unconvinced), stuck in such a brief segment of history (1976-78 in all honesty, before things started to change and skinny ties began to creep in) and losing their original meanings through overused and over-sentimental marketing.
Step forward then, Adrian Edmonson – better known in many parts as medical student Vyvyan Basterd (who must have qualified eventually, as he showed up not too long ago in Holby City. But I digress), and someone who knows all about being at the forefront of edgy entertainment that has dated in the strangest manner possible (The Young Ones now views as surreal and almost inpenetrable Beckettian tragitheatre with occasional appearances from Amazulu and Motorhead – the latter who have their work wonderfully covered here).
Ade was a teenager when punk hit, and the effect was obviously profound as the songs that formed the background to his growing up stayed with him, just as they do with all of us. And the coming-together of the Bad Shepherds came about as an act of chaotic punk happenstance when Ade bought a mandolin after a somewhat ‘refreshing’ lunchtime (something we’ve all probably considered), and discovered that it made his old favourites sound very interesting indeed.
So what we have here on the Bad Shepherds’ second album is a continuation of their 2009 debut where old faves are given new life by applying centuries-old musical ideas.
And like its predecessor, this is no comedy/parody record. It’s played incredibly straight and with the utmost respect for the important originals. Opener Anarchy in the U.K. comes across almost as a funeral lament, with Adrian’s vocals delivered alongside the drone of the uileann pipes that back him, combining this folk buzz with the eccentric pronunciations of Johnny Rotten offered intact.
XTC’s Making Plans For Nigel‘s recession-era aspirational satire is given extra teeth in its new setting where there is no British Steel anymore to have a future in, which would have come as a bitter blow to the family investing their hopes for a brighter future in the titular hero. Nowhere is the passing of time better felt though than in Ever Fallen in Love, where teenage angst is now replaced with middle-aged melancholy arranged with heartbreakingly gentle reminiscence firmly in mind, same as with their take on the Smiths’ Panic, coming across as an armchair tale of how most stuff on the radio was as crap then while all this great stuff was going on in the background, just as it is now.
By Hook or By Crook however is at its potent best when it retains the energy of the original songs. A medley of Ramones favourites bounces along with the fun and verve of its antescedants, as well as letting the violin and pipes bounce along their own unique timeline as well before the familiar “Hey ho let’s go!” of Blitzkreig Bop zips through the midst of it all, and the Clash’s White Riot ends the album with a boisterous snarl.
Reaching way back to move things forward may seem like a strange approach. But the Bad Shepherds’ method of making generation-old music vital works brilliantly, no doubt bringing misty-eyed “ah, them were the days” romantic memories to many a bank manager.
For the rest of us who missed out the first time by whatever margin, it’s breathing new life into (admittedly usually accidental) important stories relating just what it was like to be young and angry, no matter what generation we may belong to. And if it doesn’t relight or stoke the fire in your belly, it might just kindle a warmth in your heart, and that’s just as brilliant.