Although this album is listed as being by Southwick’s punk poet extraordinaire, it is in fact a wider collaboration than the cover at first glance suggests. A quick look at the “who played what” section on the back of the CD will reveal that although Attila does indeed front the band contained herein, the bulk of the members are actually from The Fish Brothers. The Fish Brothers (not to be confused with the car dealership of the same name) are a sort of Victorian music hall meets punk outfit, which must be seen to be believed. Anyway the point is guitar, bass and drum duties are handled by these madmen. The fifth member of the band is Mr Tim O`Tay who contributes recorder playing to the proceedings. Recorders in a rock band are you mad? All will become clear.
After years of peddling his own brand of angst ridden and political poetry and musicianship as a solo performer, in more recent years John Baine to give his actual name has worked as part of a full band fronting the category-defying Barnstormer. Just a look at some of the instruments credited here will give some indication that this is not the usual derivative and predictable rock music. Violin, okay that’s not that unusual, Mandocello, well certainly different but a tenor crumhorn, surely they have made that up. No I assure you it’s not only a real instrument but also it features quite prominently on a number of tracks.
As the opening track, Bombarde begins with a mournful lone drummer beating an executioners time you are get the feeling that you are being whisked away to the seventeenth century. A few bars in the tenor crumhorn nails your feelings on the head and you could almost be a spectator at Charles I execution. The mix of these older sounds mixes with the modern electric bass sounds and a recorder and Barnstormer reveal one the more unusual side to their work. This instrumental number is followed by a second and by now you could be forgiven for thinking that you had been conned into buying a Baroque pub band time shifted from the Goose and Gridiron or the Mermaid Tavern or one of those historical drinking dens. But just when you are getting to grips with this style, the pace has moved up a notch and the violin is carrying an upbeat jig, Barnstormer do the unexpected, they present us with something more normal. The historical is put away and a semi-punk rock song appears on the scene, The Blandford Forum. Everyone is back on their familiar ground. The Fish Brothers contingent is playing punk and Attila is waxing lyrical about the political state of his neck of the woods.
Cheering The Plough manages to combine all that has gone before. Recorders mingle with a guitar with the Heavy metal pedal on, timeless social issues are raised and a fist in the air and two fingers are waved at the moneymen. It’s as if Purcell or Tallis were given a modern recording studio to use and put to music the concerns of the Civil War revolutionaries. Sarajevo returns to the modern era and allows Attila to express his interests in European political injustices. This is not a man singing from a detached view point, in the twenty odd years that he has been treading the boards he has played all over the continent and become politically involved in many areas.
After the Mandocello and Recorder duet that is inexplicably called Worms we come to a set of three songs that sit together to make a fantastic suite of music. March of the Levellers is an Attila penned instrumental, dedicated to those seventeenth century rebels who raised the concerns of the lower classes in Cromwell’s supposed brave new world. The Diggers Song comes to us from its original composer Gerald Winstanley stalwart of the English Civil War, via fellow punk activists Chumbawammba. Basically lyrics sung to a drumbeat, as was a normal way to perform popular song, the Diggers were a group of revolutionaries who tried to take back the enclosed common lands of their communities. And just when the tension has risen to boiling point by the solitary back beat the music explodes into the fury of Leon Rosselsons much-covered standard, the World turned Upside Down. A perfect conclusion to the rising dynamic and subject matter of the three songs.
The next song, a personal favourite appeared on an Attila solo album many moons ago, but here what was already a great song is raised to the ranks of immortality by the extra musicianship. Tyler Smiles begins with a recorder led riff, gentle guitar playing and a soothing voice, which is unusual for Attila, but soon the temperature is rising and the volume with. But before reaching breaking point the little teases drop back into the former gentle tones. The analogy of the song is that with the resignation of Margaret Thatcher would have made had socialist folk hero Wat Tyler smiling in his grave. A nice sentiment and a great song.
Tirana sees Attila dreaming of Albania, a country he has more than a passing knowledge of and a women that he loves. Not known for love songs, this is one of those few of the genre that is actually well crafted and very listenable. No cheesy sentiment, know throw away Valentine card sound bites here, just from the heart honesty and some great descriptions. The simplicity of the piece emphasised by the Mandolin that is the only accompaniment need here, it’s all about the words on this one. Old Teenagers, a joint composition between Martin Cooper, the Fish Brothers and Attila, returns to the punk rants, this time those in the firing line are those followers of fashion who fall into the routine of a boring job, no social life, over draughts, soap operas and the like, twenty one going on sixty. The Siege of Shoreham and The Torchbearer are both instrumental pieces in the usual Baroque meet modern styling that you are by now used to.
Before the album ends there are a couple of wonderful poetry renditions by way of a bonus. The Zen Stalinist Manifesto, recited to a wonderfully brash anthem, is Attila’s view of a new world based on “the loving and pacifistic approach of Zen Buddhism, the political clarity of Stalinism and the lyrics of the Alarm” It sums up much of what Attila is all about. Political to the end but with a self-deprecating humour running through his work. A couple of comedy items follow telling the story of his first encounter and subsequently the cleaning of Joseph Porter’s sleeping Bag. Porter being the front man of Blyth Power, a band holding solidarity with Attila view of the world. There and you thought id get through a review without mentioning the most underrated band in England.
At just under seventy minutes there is good value for money to be had here. Whilst there is an obvious left wing bias to the lyrics and Attila’s voice is not the smoothest in the world, what you do get is some great music ranging from unusual historical compositions to full on punk rants. The love of his native land, of Europe and the world in general comes through in the clever and thought provoking lyrics as does his despair at what the empowered are doing to it all expressed with a tongue firmly in the cheek and a sly grin just out of shot.