Pyrates – Five Years At Sea: Album Review

Long-overdue live album from Anglo-Dutch shanty crew Pyrates.  Guaranteed to fill your sails and get your old timbers a-creakin’!

Release Date:  18th August 2023

Label: Self Released (Bandcamp)

Formats: Digital

It’s a huge pleasure to welcome Anglo-Dutch purveyors all things nautical, all things folkworthy, Pyrates to the At The Barrier pages.  To be honest, I can’t understand how we’ve managed to wait this long without giving this super-accomplished, super-exciting band even a mention – they’ve been around since 2006, although it doesn’t appear that their recorded output is particularly prolific; their last album, Uncharted Lands, first did the rounds back in 2014, but, then again, on the clear evidence of Five Years At Sea, Pyrates’ are at their fearsome best when they’re in front of an audience – and I’d defy even the most self-conscious and indolent concert goer to resist shedding inhibitions and leaping about like a banned firework when THESE guys are on stage…  

Pyrates are a familiar fixture at festivals throughout Europe and particularly in the UK, Germany, Poland and their home base, The Netherlands.  Indeed, Five Years At Sea is a recording of their set at the July 2018 Triskell Celtic Festival, held in Trieste, Italy and there’s absolutely no doubt – they’re in their element.  Five Years at Sea is a veritable showcase of a live whirlwind, at their most very potent.  

For such an exciting live act, it’s amazing that they’ve waited so long to release their debut live album.  As regular readers of our blog will appreciate, we love live albums here at At The Barrier and we’ve often suggested that the best live albums are those that make the listener feel he or she is there, at the gig – and Five Years at Sea certainly does that, with room to spare.  Having just returned from this year’s Cropredy Festival, and this album transported me back to the festival field so vividly that I could almost smell the burgers and taste the beer!  No – Pyrates didn’t play there this year, but the Cropredy field is just WAITING for them to make their mark.  

Pyrates have had a shifting line-up over the years – always with skipper Dave Gallows at the helm and, for this outing, Dave’s lead vocals and powerful guitar were fleshed out by Vincent de Raad’s bass, Stephen van Haestregt’s drums and the fluid fiddling of Rowan Schuddeboom.  All four band members are accomplished vocalists and their harmonies are an enduring feature of the band’s signature sound.  

And it’s those delicious harmonies that introduce The Diamond, the album’s opening track, before Stephen’s thumping drums and the full sound of a band that’s ready to cook take over. They’re tight, by thunder, and loud, and the contrast between the solid rock of the band and Dave’s almost operatic vocal tones is a marked one.  A burst of the well-known tune Cock Of The North kicks off the nearly-as-well-known (at least to fans of The Pogues) Gentleman Soldier.  Pyrates’ version of the song is smoother, far more tuneful, yet just as powerful as anything ever served up by McGowan and Co and the humour in the song’s lyrics comes across loud and clear.  And it’s rounded off by Dave’s plea – nay – order for a roar of “Arrr” from the crowd.  They duly oblige, and not for the last time, either.  

EVERYONE knows The Irish Rover, and it’s certainly clear that the Triskell crowd do, as they clap hysterically along.  Pyrates deliver a frantic, flawless take of the song, without any of the rough edges that can often accompany such tunes when the audience mood has reached fever pitch.  And I love Dave’s cry of “Dive! Dive! Dive! As the ship meets its fateful, watery, end.  

Vincent’s bass intro to The Wellerman almost had me convinced that we were about to get a rendition of Another One Bites The Dust, before Rowan’s snatches of the theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly threw in a further curved ball.  In fact, it was another shanty that the guys had in mind, another cracker, too, with lots of “Blow Me Up Billy Boys” in the narrative.  Fuzz guitar provides the bedrock to a rollicking take on old standard Whiskey in the Jar, this version spiced up with plenty of “Hey-Hey-Hey-Heys” thrown in for good measure – an embellishment to which the audience willingly latch on, and the reggaefied coda to such a well-known song is a pleasant surprise, too!  

Raucous interpretations of old favourites are a Pyrates specialty, and we get another example of that skill with the glorious Old Dun Cow, that comical story of arson, intrigue and sheer drunken debauchery as the Dun Cow’s regulars sup up the pub’s wares whilst the pub goes up in flames around them.  The initial sense of panic as the customers realise the situation they are in, and the boozy revelry as they seize the opportunity presented are beautifully conveyed and the anarchic antics are made almost visible.  

The drum-and-vocal Chicken on a Raft starts at super-speed and head into warp factor territory, before the band move on to a version of Unfortunate Tailor that will be far more widescreen that any version familiar to devotees of Ashley Hutchings’ Morris On album.  Full Sail Mates and High Barbary are both raucous shanties, packed with references to Davy Jones, the ‘Frenchies,’ treasure hoards, cannons, sails ablaze and collisions with rocks.  And they’re both peppered with copious “Yah-hars.”  It’s exactly what we pay our entrance money for, and the icing is placed upon an already sumptuous cake by some stirring guitar from Dave, and Rowan’s constantly breathless fiddle.  

The shuffling rhythm of High Barbary is continued into The Sailor’s Wife, a breakneck set of tunes with Rowan’s fiddle in the spotlight and the band rock solid in the wings.  The speed and fluency of the playing and the ecstatic response of the crowd make this feel like a set-closer but, oh no – there’s quite a bit more left in the tank just yet.  A full-force version of South Australia is next, enlivened – if that’s possible at the pace we continue to travel at – by snatches of Paddy On The Railroad from Rowan, a tune that will be thoroughly familiar to anyone who’s heard Fairport play Dirty Linen.  And that’s probably anybody who’s reading this.  And Dave almost cracks the glasses in the cupboard as he reaches for – and hits – that high final note.  

Anyone who’s listened this far will just know that the half-paced Scotland The Brave intro to New World Medley won’t last long, and it doesn’t as we head into a supersonically-charged Oh Suzannah, with Dave and Rowan urging each other onwards, upwards and sound-barrier-wards, before the medley bursts into Camptown Races, and you can bet all of the money that you would have otherwise placed on any old bob-tailed nag that these boys can certainly play.  The medley closes with a full-paced return to Scotland The Brave, and the crowd just love it, showing their ample appreciation with a few more “Arrrs” and a chant of “We want more.”  

And more they got.  Pyrates returned to the stage for an encore of I’m Into Folk.  It’s maybe the only song on the album that doesn’t quite make the transformation from stage to vinyl, but the reel that Rowan adds to the end of the song certainly does, and, once again, the crowd loved it.  Pyrates try to escape their clutches, but the audience won’t let them go, and they’re enticed back to the stage for one final fling.  The Dreadnaught is an epic tale recalling the early years of transatlantic adventure, but it’s the final volley from Dave and Rowan that provides the frenzied close to this fine live album.  The audience must surely have been knackered by this stage, but the excitement doesn’t let up right until the very, very end.  

Pyrates have made an excellent live album, and one that’s been well-worth waiting for!  I think I need a towel and a lie-down…

Watch Pyrates play Old Dun at Triskell in 2022 – you’ll get the idea! Watch here:

Pyrates: Website / Facebook / X / Instagram / YouTube

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