House Concert with The Mekons , Strathpeffer 18th August 2014. A review.
The Mekons rolled into Bella, captured some tartan hearts and then took off on a tour of the highlands and islands entertaining Dan Dare, punk, folk and country aficionados en route. Tonight, they pitch up at Steve Square Wheels Macdonald’s for a not to be missed house concert, so, glad I didn’t miss it.
The Slim Panatella’s with Alisdair Bodhran on djembe set the scene nicely in their own unique and endearing style. With an inspirational mix of home made instruments, home grown lyrics with a hint of the surreal, the observational and a determination to make things rhyme or be damned. Playing it seriously for laughs the first yodels of the night are let loose in the Strath.
If you come across Cigar Box Don in a superstore at night reading the labels and taking notes, it’s not because he is on a health kick, he is far more interested in making a list of rhyming products; lychee, coffee, banoffee . . . you get the idea. And if the recent tour of the islands has taught them one thing it’s be careful what you wish for; seems that the classic ode to highland hospitality, ‘Hotel Caledonia’, turned out to be me more prophesy than fantasy.
From Philly now living in Chicago and touring with The Mekons, Robbie Fulks pads up to the mic in his socks. He rolls out a set that is at once traditional and contemporary. Lyrical observations of life’s harsh realities wrapped up in soft subtle melodies some really fine guitar playing just shy of full dulcimer tuning, he scats along with some blisteringly good guitar breaks – if George Benson did country. There is plenty of humour and some satire in among the classic subject matter of love, death, divorce and patricide.
Southern country heart nailed firmly to his northern sleeve his roots are always on show. If you are going to reference Flatt and Scruggs alongside Benny Martin then there will be a strong whiff of newgrass. Fulks is also channelling some mighty fine Nashville sources here, so, ‘traditional’ perhaps, but truly accomplished – this is no shallow homage. And what a voice.
Immediately accessible it is mellow and powerful with some serious technique on show and yet it seems effortless. He sustained with ease one of the longest notes I have heard live outside of some grand old opera. My ear had Robbie harmonising perfectly with Albert Hammond or Dewey Bunnell. Robbie Fulks: talented, contemporary and charming; his critically acclaimed new album ‘Gone away backward’ is well worth checking out.
The Mekons take a thirty-year road trip from Leeds to Strathpeffer via Chicago to deliver a musical banquet – hanging off the bones of punk they gave birth to cowpunk and raided the English folk tradition to great effect (think Mumfords but with integrity). This very evening, the core of this unique collective are in very fine form indeed.
There can’t be another band on the planet that could wrap up that much experience with such diverse references and produce a cohesive performance that will always have the neophyte punter asking ‘where have The Mekons been all of my life’: if there is one back catalogue worth opening right now – it’s theirs.
Story songs sit alongside others born of eloquent stream of consciousness lyrics littered with distinctively English references. They regularly erupt into raucous sing-a-long choruses – the crowd go for it but they are never going to out-sing five Mekons and Robbie Fulks in full voice.
The energy in the room dials up and stays there; there is a sense that this could only be improved by dissolving into a shambolic undignified middle-aged punkfest. The exchanges are funny, very funny, bladders are tested (one fails) and I laugh so much my asthma kicks in and yodelling, is once more rolling through the Strath. It’s a great night.
If you do want to dip into that back catalogue – then invest in their album ‘Ancient and Modern’ for starters. Meantime keep and eye open for the recently released documentary Revenge of The Mekons, it’s a blast.
Last but not least, round of applause to Steve and Clancy Macdonald and Rob Ellen, without whom