Masters of Celtic Fusion, The Celtic Social Club, return with expanded UK release of their stunning third album, From Babylon To Avalon.
Release Date: 11th September 2020
Label: Kitchen Disco Records
Formats: CD / LP / Digital
The Celtic Social Club are an international treasure! Taking the Buena Vista Social Club concept as an inspiration, the band was formed in 2013 from the nucleus of Breton band Red Cardell and have grown into a loose(ish) collective of musicians that take the native music of the Celtic nations and do wonderful things with it. The end result is an irresistible fusion that integrates reggae, hip hop, blues, punk, metal and straight-ahead pop into the base mix of Breton, Irish, Scottish and Asturian sounds. Throughout the whole mix, the wonderful Uilleann pipe playing of Ronan Le Bars predominates and, to a long-standing admirer of Planxty and Moving Hearts, that’s a formula to warm my heart!
The band’s current lineup includes founder Manu Masko on drums, percussion, keyboards and samples, co-founder Mathieu Péquériau on harmonica and washboard, Dan Donnelly (from The Wonder Stuff) on guitars, Pierre Stéphan on fiddle, Goulven Hamel on guitars, mandolin and banjo, Richard Puaud on bass and the aforementioned Ronan Le Bars on those incredible pipes.
From Babylon to Avalon was originally released in April 2019 on the French label editions Musicales Francois but didn’t break the surface over here in Blighty. Now, at last, it’s been made available in expanded format with this new UK release.
It’s a fantastic album, packed from start to finish with lively, strongly performed and highly enjoyable songs and tunes. Similarities to Moving Hearts and Planxty are so obvious as to be hardy worth a mention; there are also strains of The Pogues, Big Country, The Clash, Edward II and even U2 in the band’s music but, whatever basic influence may, or may not be detectable, the sound they produce, and the ingredients they mix into that sound, is ultimately unique.
The album opens with Sunshine, a slice of summery pop with a chorus that recalls U2’s Beautiful Day (and I hope that they don’t mind me pointing that out!) and which gives us a first taste of the Uilleann pipes that add so much to the whole album. We get the first taste of punk/Celtic fusion in second track, Dead End, which combine fast drums, furious vocal delivery and thudding bass with more tasteful work on the pipes. I’m Free is one of the album’s especially outstanding tracks – a quieter, acoustic-driven song with a strong vocal line (and let’s take it as read from this point onwards that the pipes apply the finishing touch not only to this song, but to every other song from here on in…)
Remember Joe Strummer is, perhaps, the album’s centre-piece. It’s a lovely chunk of Clash-style reggae that contains the line that gives the album its title and it represents the ultimate fusion of punk, reggae and traditional Celtic music. It even contains a few words of wisdom, spoken down through the years by the great Joe Strummer himself! If you haven’t heard this song, you should definitely seek it out, and the royalties earned from the song all go to the Joe Strummer Foundation, a charity that gives opportunities to aspiring musicians and support to projects around the world that create empowerment through music.
Pauper’s Funeral is another excellent track – a raucous, fast and furious Irish rant, with lyrics that namecheck famous people (Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville et al) that died in penury, all delivered with a strong Belfast accent. Santiago slows the pace but retains the theme of death, before we launch into It’s Morning John, the first of the instrumental tracks on the album. It’s a band composition that sounds for all the world like a traditional Irish reel and it’s a tune that’s guaranteed to get an audience leaping around in delight and abandon.
Black is the colour provides a short interlude – a brief chorale that mixes Donovan with Robert Burns – before the distorted guitars and vocal lines of Black Lives deliver a thought-provoking ode to all things black and beautiful. OK Let’s Go is a poppy Irish salsa that celebrates getting pie-eyed. It’s great fun, even if the spoken call and response passages are a bit cringeworthy…
The original issue of the album closed with Buffalo, the second of the band-composed instrumental tracks. Along the same line as the things Edward II did with English traditional tunes, the tune comprises a heavy reggae bassline overlayed with a quasi-traditional pipe tune. There’s loads of echo-y effects and a long, spacy fadeout, and it all really works!
The new tracks, added to this latest issue of the album are a bit of a mixed bag. I’m not sure whether the Manc-accented rap from TL actually adds anything of value to the second version of Buffalo (which was already one of the album’s strongest cuts) but the live versions of Remember Joe Strummer and It’s Morning John both sound fresh and sparky and give a real taste of what The Celtic Social Club have to offer.
Be in no doubt, this is a brilliant album that will appeal strongly to anyone with a taste for Celtic folk or rock and to anyone who would like to try their punk or reggae served with a different dressing – give it a listen – you won’t regret it!
Watch the official video for Remember Joe Strummer from the album below.