Feather and Flame..
I was really remiss in picking up a copy of Feather and Flame – released back in Spring this year, Headsticks‘ second album. It was at Deerstock I finally got my mits on it, when Andrew handed it to me – then of course there’s been quite a bit of festivalling so whilst I’ve been listening to it and loving it, it’s taken me a bit of time to get around to getting all the event-based blog posts done (and of course make sure I’ve really got to know the recording well too!).
Headsticks are making real waves certainly in my musical circles – hard-hitting folk-roots with a healthy slug of punk chucked into the mix. As I’ve been listening to it Andrew’s vocals are the distinctive driving force, a real transformation from his quietly-spoken off-stage manner. At times there’s Johnny Rottenesque elements, other times he reminds me of Justin Sullivan – that’s not to say he’s by any stretch a soundalike for either, sometimes chanting, sometimes singing – unashamedly in his own accent, he sounds like – well, he sounds like Andrew from Headsticks!
The subject matter is universally fairly bleak – the album is evocative of a dystopian and disfunctional society, it rails against this, protest music – but delivered with chugging guitars, leaden bass and insistent drums with the occasional sting of harmonica. Topics might be bleak – but the music is irresistably danceable and the insistant and passionate vocals (you don’t quite get the effect of Andrew eye-balling you like at a live performance – but you can pretty easily bring it to mind with the album on!).
I’m going to run through the first few tracks, and then – well, you’ll have to go forth and discover for yourself, you’ll get bored if I write about every track individually and it’ll take too long for me to do it anyway, and let’s face it – this review is already horribly overdue!
They set their stall out straight up with one of this year’s festival anthems What Do You Want kicks in with guitar, bass and drums with the immediate cry after the first couple of bars of ‘So what do you want? I want revolution! When do you want it? Now!’ – contrary to the rebellious chorus the verses chart the routine of watching football, going for a beer, quiet nights in with takeaways or being lulled into televised football coverage as you wind down the week where some leisure can take place again. No time for that there revolution, then, I guess! Damn you, modern life!
The bass riff that introduces Cold Grey English Skies instantly reminds me of Sultans of Ping FC’s Give Him a Ball and a Yard of Grass, the comparison kinda ends there as melodic guitar and gentle drums kick in – the vocals tell the story of a severely disadvantaged person struggle to make ends meet, desperate times can call for desperate measures after all. There’s something very poignant about the line ‘the sun it never shines in the shadow of the fat cat’s greed, and all he ever dreams of is a warm bed and a bloody good feed’.
I could make out like I’m a right smart-arse when writing about Go, Move, Shift – but I won’t. I had no idea it was a cover (of sorts) until Brian Stone started playing it around a campfire at Farmer Phil’s at the weekend just gone. So I had a bit of a Google (only to discover the answer to my questions could’ve been found in the sleeve notes) – it’s a modernised interpretation of Ewan McColl’s The Moving On Song – the original from 1964 is slower and melodic, and charts the fate of travelling folk being summarily evicted.
Only the chorus really remains – Headsticks have really made this their own, super-charging the pace and transferring the scene trans-Atlantically and focusing on homelessness, whilst brokers and bankers walk on by – ultimately ending in tragedy at the hands of the police. Old Folk Songs is more about the muse that inspires old folk songs rather than being one itself – in this case drunken story-sharing in a bar – it feels like there’s something under the surface of this narrative – musically it’s slower paced and more ‘backgroundy’ so you can focus on the words.
The remainder of the album keeps up the quality – a variety of paces, styles – if you’ve seen Headsticks live a few times over the summer (then the chances are you’ll already have the album) then you’ll marvel at the familiarity of the songs – epics like Mississippi’s Burning, Tomorrow’s History and Burn The Sun in particular have been regular features in festival set lists. The production and mixing (Tom Carter) and mastering (Al Scott – again!) are top notch, these sound great without detracting from the raw live sound the band have.