Celtic punks the Dropkick Murphys descended on Birmingham for the last night of their extensive Celtic Punk Invasion European tour and brought along with them tour mates The Mahnones and Blood or Whiskey.
Blood Or Whiskey wasted no time in firing up the Birmingham crowd with their own blend of folk punk. The currently unsigned six piece from Ireland, fronted by lead singer Dugs Mulhooly on acoustic guitar really gave a taste of what the rest of the evening would hold. Mixing in nods to Birmingham’s tradition of reggae music through bands like UB40 and The Beat went down well with the Brummie crowd, as did the request to create the largest circle pit of the tour. Whether it was actually the largest pit or not the crowd appreciated the accolade, and I’ll bet you’ll not see a more smiley circle pit any time soon! Before leaving Blood Or Whiskey made clear their political edge by calling out the governments of both Ireland and the UK and warned them not to mess with a man’s sanctuary — their pubs.
As talented a front man as Finny McConnell is, there really is only one visual focal point for The Mahones and that’s accordionist and vocalist Katie McConnell. Besides the obvious aesthetic appeal, the way in which she throws her accordion around the stage really has to be seen to be believed. She further enamored herself to the crowd by admitting that she wasn’t actually sure whether she’d been to Birmingham before due to the amount that she used to drink.
The blistering pace of their set and working of the room barely gave them or the crowd time to catch their breath, at times the tin whistle of Michael O’Grady almost sounding fever pitch. Like Blood Or Whiskey before them the Canadians made clear their knowledge of the Irish connection in Birmingham and also to Birmingham being the birthplace of heavy metal, perfectly demonstrated with a brief cover of Paranoid by Black Sabbath. They did lose a few points from me by their mention of Aston Villa, but then you can’t win them all and at least half of the audience was impressed.
As the stage was rebuilt, anticipation built for the arrival of the evening’s headliners with repeated chants of ‘Let’s go Dropkicks’. All lights went out as a haunting female vocal backed with a slow drum/bodhran beat served as an extended introduction to Your Spirit’s Alive, which as it kicked in caused the stage to explode in green and white light and the crowd to explode into movement. Without taking a breath the Dropkicks launched straight into The Warriors Code, seeing lead vocalist Al Barr make his first trip to the barrier to share his mic and gravelly tones up close and personal with front row.
During the first break in proceedings we were told that this was the last night of a very long tour and that the tour crew had written the set list for the evening. I have to say that they did a great job of sifting through the significant DKM back catalogue to find songs that would keep the Academy crowd moving and singing along all night — for all twenty-seven tracks! Peppered throughout the evening were a variety of covers from bands such as AC/DC, The Bruises and The Who but the highlight for me was a cover of 78 RPM by Stiff Little Fingers.
Musically DKM produced the same massive, layered sound that they always do. Al Barr and Ken Casey providing vocals atop a variety of folk instruments including the accordion, bagpipes, tin whistle, banjo and mandolin all delivered with their trademark punk attitude. As the set progressed, so did the party atmosphere the sea of arms clapping along only parting to pass crowd surfers to the front. Showers of beer (or at least I hope it was beer) were regular but no one seemed to care, the same way that no one remotely cared that the vocal harmonies during Rose Tattoo were a little ropey, by that stage there’s not much that could have dampened the crowd’s spirits. Fans were asked to provide help with the vocals on Forever and they willingly obliged, the noise was almost deafening. DKM welcomed The Mahones and Blood Or Whiskey back on stage to close out the set with probably their most recognizable song I’m Shipping Up To Boston.
The encore kicked off with Baba O’Riley (The Who cover) and then when Kiss Me, I’m Shitfaced started up and the stage was invaded by pretty much every lady in the audience I relaised that the party was actually only just starting. Ken Casey bobbed and weaved through the packaged stage giving everyone chance to mic grab for a few lyrics. Things got a little more cosy as the Dropkicks and ladies were joined by the guys from the crowd for Skinhead On The MBTA, T.N.T. and finally Boys On The Docks.
Whether the folk/Celtic punk crossover is everyone’s thing I’m not sure, but one thing I am sure about is that it makes for one hell of a party and there’s aren’t many (if any) out there that can do it better than The Dropkick Murphys.
Review and photographs: Steve Kilmister