A bru­tal beauty

The Spook of the Thir­teenth Lock’s sec­ond al­bum is bold, rel­e­vant and de­fi­antly mod­ern, writes Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

IT’S THE BOLD­NESS of The Bru­tal Here & Now that will turn your head. The sec­ond al­bum from The Spook of the Thir­teenth Lock of­fers a strik­ing sound and vi­sion. A lot of acts talk about head­ing for the higher ground and fol­low­ing their own star, but very few ac­tu­ally do it. Bet­ter to fol­low in the slip­stream of oth­ers than blaze your own trail.

Allen Blighe will for­give us when we say that he doesn’t quite look like a trail­blazer. A quiet, be­spec­ta­cled lad sit­ting in a corner of a de­serted Dublin city-cen­tre ho­tel on a week­day lunchtime, Blighe is the lyri­cist, vo­cal­ist and founder of the band who take their name from an Arthur Grif­fith poem. But it’s the quiet ones you have to keep an eye on and Blighe and his band­mates have pulled off quite a feat with their new al­bum. While they started their en­gines with con­sid­er­able con­fi­dence on their 2008 self-ti­tled de­but, the mag­nif­i­cent mu­si­cal thump and in­trigu­ing lyri­cal ex­plo­rations on The Bru­tal Here & Now leave that work in the ha’penny place. An al­bum that ex­plores mem­ory and his­tory in swathes of rock, trad and elec­tronic swirls, it un­folds in dra­matic, spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion.

It was partly the demise of Blighe’s for­mer band which lead him down the trad path. “Holy Ghost Fa­thers just ran out of steam due to ba­bies, mar­riage, work, houses and travel, the usual stuff,” he ex­plains. At the time, I was get­ting into Ir­ish folk and there were a cou­ple of key things that set me off think­ing about folk mu­sic. I knew for sure that I wanted to do some­thing that fused that folk mu­sic with more mod­ern rock mu­sic, but that was as far as the plan went.”

He wasn’t the first to have this no­tion and ad­mits some of the prior jux­ta­po­si­tions may have queered the pitch a lit­tle. “It’s a very dif­fi­cult line to walk and some bands suc­ceed bet­ter than oth­ers. We’ve seen a lot of Celtic rock bands com­ing from Europe with ideas of mythi­cism and a hip­pie feel to them and that wasn’t our thing at all. We wanted to do some­thing quite mod­ern rather than a nostal­gia trip.”

From songs in Ital­ian (a nod to Blighe’s wife’s roots) and Ir­ish and ref­er­ences to Oliver Cromwell and Roger Case­ment, The Bru­tal Here & Now is a much more ad­vanced, com­plex and ac­com­plished work.

For Blighe the lyri­cist, it was a chance to ex­plore how mem­ory plays tricks with and of­ten rewrites his­tory. “The idea that re­ally stuck with me when I was writ­ing the songs was how mem­ory and his­tory are in­ter­linked and how crit­i­cal his­tory and mem­ory are at this time with what the coun­try is go­ing through. The Cromwellia­n pe­riod, for in­stance, is a very in­ter­est­ing pe­riod be­cause it was the be­gin­ning of the end of the Ir­ish lan­guage in pop­u­lar cul­ture and it saw so much forced mi­gra­tion. That’s some­thing I ref­er­ence when I talk about how some­times you have to for­get to move on.”

The prob­lems with col­lec­tive mem­ory about past events are also rel­e­vant to this coun­try’s more re­cent his­tory.

“I see a real de­nial of what has hap­pened here,” says Blighe. “You can say that events will al­ways be re­peated, re­gard­less of whether peo­ple re­mem­ber what hap­pened or not, but you’ve got to try to re­mem­ber. That trend of try­ing to move on and gloss over things is very cor­po­rate. I’ve worked in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment for a long time and you see it again and again. It’s not good, it’s not a real way to move on.”

It’s also noth­ing new. “I re­mem­ber a very in­ter­est­ing idea from that BBC Folk Hiber­nia doc­u­men­tary about how, in the con­text of the Ir­ish folk re­vival, if the pol­i­tics of the day raised awk­ward ques­tions that there was a sense of look­ing in­ward and down to avoid the big­ger ques­tions,” says Blighe. “It has its neg­a­tive sides and folk singers need to see the whole picture and not just sing about myths and le­gends.”

This, you could say, also ap­plies to Blighe’s peers in Ir­ish bands to­day who seem reluc­tant to ad­dress the is­sues of the day. “I don’t un­der­stand why other acts haven’t com­mented on what’s hap­pened in the coun­try. It’s an in­tim­i­dat­ing is­sue so per­haps peo­ple are con­fused and dis­ori­en­tated by what is go­ing on. Maybe it’s a case that peo­ple are still so far be­hind in try­ing to process what has hap­pened.

“Maybe it’s still a de­nial stage or shock. Re­cently, though, with the op­po­si­tion to the prop­erty tax and water charges, there’s a sense that there’s a lot of real anger out there which is only be­gin­ning to come to the sur­face. Maybe there’s more on the way, but the lack of com­men­tary is very odd.” As a lyri­cist, Blighe also de­cided to try writ­ing in Ir­ish and Ital­ian.

“It’s a whole dif­fer­ent spec­trum of sounds and words to grap­ple with,” he says. “Writ­ing in Ir­ish, there were a cou­ple of good po­etry books and dic­tio­nar­ies which I was ref­er­enc­ing and I got some ad­vice and gram­mat­i­cal cor­rec­tions from Gaeli­ge­ors such as Jim Hoey. But mostly, it was me look­ing through those books and tear­ing my hair out. I’d love to im­prove my Ir­ish, just as much as I’d like to im­prove my Ital­ian.”

Blighe has also been ex­plor­ing Italy’s na­tive sounds with great in­ter­est. “A lot of English-lan­guage mu­sic jour­nal­ism is fo­cused on Bri­tish and Amer­i­can bands. You get this An­gloAmer­i­can per­spec­tive as a re­sult, which is of­ten dis­dain­ful of ev­ery­thing else, but that shouldn’t be the case at all. From trav­el­ling around Italy and hang­ing around record shops, I’ve come across great con­tem­po­rary mu­sic and amaz­ing ex­per­i­men­tal stuff from the 1970s that you’d never come across out­side of the coun­try. In Ire­land, it’s prob­a­bly the ex­act same.”

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