Thursday, 31 October 2013

REVIEW: McDermott's 2 Hours - 'Anticlockwise' (On The Fiddle Records)

To some, Brighton would seem an unlikely breeding ground for Irish flavoured folk-rock with a burning punk spirit, yet the town has played home to the two groups who have done it best over the past few decades. One of them, the Levellers, are familiar to a lot of people. The other band are McDermott's 2 Hours, the lesser known but hugely influential unit led by Nick Burbridge. Members of both groups have crossed paths many times, teaming up for three collaborative albums, as well as touring together. Despite having such a close connection, the two groups have travelled very different paths. While the Levellers scored more gold and platinum discs than any other UK artist during the 90's (a little known fact, but true), Burbridge preferred to use his talents for various artistic outlets rather than for any sort of commercial purposes, writing novels, poems and theatre plays as well as continuing to make some fine records. 'Anticlockwise' is a 14 track compilation that brings together some of the best moments from the six previous MD2H albums, along with two awesome new tracks. 

Active for over 25 years now, they remain one of British music's best kept secrets, a lack of commercial success being the result of never fitting in with any trends and always refusing to compromise. Besides, the mainstream and the music industry don't deserve them anyway. Burbridge doesn't play the game, instead he gets more satisfaction from bringing his ideas to life in an unmistakably raw, expressive way. Those tired of the increasingly conservative, industry-approved coffee table folk that has become popular in recent years will find these songs a refreshing and encouraging antidote. They rage with the spirit of the underdog, a voice that acts as an outlet for pain, fury and dogged defiance. And these are songs that could have only come from the mind of someone who has experienced as much turbulence as Burbridge has throughout his life. He's able to channel the pain of others as well, the storming opener 'Dirty Davey' based on a real life story concerning the death of a punk in police custody, a classic track that was covered by the Levellers themselves in 1993. Buoyed by the same uptempo momentum is the excellent 'Darkness And Sail', while the medieval-sounding 'World Turned Upside Down' is a truly remarkable piece of songwriting topped with Gregorian flavours, tangled acoustic guitars and some utterly superb vocal arrangements. 

The celebratory yet poignant 'Harry Brewer' pays tribute to the author's grandfather, an Irishman who enlisted to fight for the British Army in the First World War, while the fantastic 'Song For A Brother' pours scorn on a cruel and incompetent care system. Again voicing his own struggles and the pain of those close to him, it tells of how after 50 years safe keeping in hospital, his disabled brother became a victim of Care in the Community. It's personal struggles such as this that bring the untamed emotion to his music, which in his own words “draws on the grit of personal experience: entanglement with mental illness, havoc wreaked by hard drugs and homelessness; sexual thirsts inappropriately met; the search for an abiding faith.” It's often claimed that tortured souls are the ones who create the finest art, and here is a man who definitely hasn't had it easy, at one point suffering a nervous breakdown caused by depression, a relationship split, parenting pressures and a tough time helping his brother with his battle. His experiences, knowledge and staggering talent shape these songs in a unique, profound way. The words and music really put the listener in the picture, as the emotive, expressive vocal delivers vivid lyrical imagery and the tunes bring to life atmospheres, places and a wide array of feelings.


With its haunting fiddle making up part of the stunning instrumentation, 'Black Sun (Of Genoa)' is another astonishing moment that grows more intense with each verse, while the mournful tone and wonderfully poetic flow of words that move through the brilliant 'A Fable From Aigge' combine with a glorious vocal. A powerful tribute to the strength and determination of Irish travellers, 'Molloy' is one of those songs that you find yourself singing along to during the very first listen, and its chorus packs one hell of a punch. Elsewhere, the mysterious charm of 'River' plays partner to an infectious melody, something that can also be found on the stormy, untamed 'Trickster'. The two new tracks that close the collection find the group adding angered electric guitar to their sound for the first time, to create a grittier sound. The rousing 'Erin Farewell' provides a bittersweet Celtic flavoured singalong in contrast to the furious 'All In Your Name', addressing some of the problems and misery that religion can cause.

These are songs of despair, songs of anger, and songs of hope. They also provide a fantastic introduction to the work of this massively underrated artist, a true genius in the world of modern folk music. Although Nick Burbridge never gets the credit that he deserves, his recent and well deserved Spiral Earth Award for Best Songwriter may be a sign that more people are starting to acknowledge his brilliance. After hearing these 14 songs, you may very well be glad that you also took notice. 8.5/10







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