Thursday, 17 March 2011

Captain Bastard and the Scallywags - The Racing Legend E.P.

Irish folk-punk sounds like an utterly retarded genre on paper. On the one hand, copious amounts of Guinness and lots of drunken acoustic singalongs with bizarre instruments, all about the devil and sometimes leprechauns, and on the other, frenetic anti-establishment electric guitars singing about sticking it to the man. Or perhaps masturbation. Anyway, my point is, it's hard to see on paper where the crossover would be, but in practice, it results in one of the most outrageously fun and unique musical genres you can ever experience. Which is why it's a shame that there aren't that many bands ploughing this furrow; I guess digging around for the necessary assortment of mandolins, accordions, violins, harpsichords and triangles is too much effort when you can just sling a couple of guitars and a bass together and call it job done, but the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly have both proven the amount of riotous fun one can have when this pick 'n' mix of instruments is unified together for the greater cause of getting bladdered and shouting yourself hoarse.

Enter Captain Bastard and the Scallywags, an assorted band of misfits and punkers who swore allegiance to this new life of Guinness, crammed stages, bemused soundmen and bellowed backing vocals late last year. After a clunky start, with timing and drumming issues that made Paul Smith look like Dave Grohl, the group quickly settled in as a unit, and having gotten a decent raft of gigs annoying punters all over Kent under their belts, we arrive now at their first recorded output: The Racing Legend E.P.

It's always difficult reviewing a band's recorded output having already seen and heard the songs in a live setting, and nowhere is that more true than here. All four tracks are originals and staples of their live show, and translating that onto record whilst retaining the chaotic energy of a live show performance was always going to be a tough ask, particularly with the production quality being relatively low-res at best. The mix does a good job of balancing the acoustic instruments, but this comes at the expense of proper electric guitars - on the few moments you do actually catch snatches of guitarist Lucas Razell's riffing, it sounds like he's plugged into a Fisher Price My First Guitar Amp by mistake, which is a shame, as this is a vital component to Captain Bastard's music. Still, I'm not going to hold it against them, and they won't loose points for it; placed in comparative terms to most big bands, their recording budget amounts to about 50p, a Cadburys Cream Egg and a packet of used condoms, and the clarity of the various acoustic instruments mean that the lack of electric meat is never a deal-breaker.

What it does mean, though, is that the songs have to stand up on their own merits, and unlike big shiny bands with their big shiny mixing desks and copies of Pro-Tools, any weaknesses cannot hide behind glossy production - they have to stand up to the raw scrutiny of my ears. And on that front, the Captain and his Scallywags are looking very strong indeed. In an ideal world, 'Getting Out of This Town' would be a radio hit, with it's outrageously catchy backing vocal lines at the chorus and deft pennywhistle melodies from Kayla Harlow throughout the song, as well as a really strong vocal performance from singer Andrew Keech. The lyrics overall are impressive, and seeing as they mostly get lost in the carnage live, it makes a change to actually be able to hear what Keech and co are singing about. Harlow is probably the unsung heroine of the piece, given a free role to float over the riffs and crop up where she likes, and she embraces it nicely.

With the electric guitar suffering from malnutrition, Tom Gardener's jangling acoustic guitar chords carry each song forward, with Jordan Harris' choppy and nicely woven mandolin playing augmenting the Captain's assault. Nowhere is this more evident than band anthem 'Along Came A Spider', which kicks off the E.P. in rifftastic, gung-ho style. Gardener and Harris are responsible for most of the backing vocals on show, and they succeed in elevating the choruses to shouty singalongs full of emphatic, uplifting power, particularly on '...This Town' and 'Nine Layers of Hell', which contains chorus harmonies to make Brett Gurewitz nod approvingly. Bill Gower's bass playing is unfussy and tidy, which contrasts with the drumming of Keith Sargeant, haphazard as ever, teetering as it does right on the edge of disaster. Accordionist Ben Gower provides melodic backup to the stringed instruments, and it works to add to the Celtic vibes permeating throughout like someone spilt a pint of Guinness on the disc.

It's scratchy and rough around the edges, and about as slick as a pile of broken glass on a gravel driveway - I swear one song is shorn of an entire verse/chorus cycle - but more importantly, it's fast, frenetic, and most of all, fun. All four tracks are strong, and the consistency is admirable. The main point of short EPs are to showcase the potential promise that may or may not lay in wait for the future, and on this evidence, Captain Bastard and his Scallywags have a voyage of fun and beer-swilling to look forward to, and I'll enjoy watching and listening to the results.

Rating: 81%

Standout Tracks:
'Along Came A Spider', 'Getting Out Of This Town'.

Record Label:

Release Date:
March 16th, 2011

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