Discover more from Roll And Go: Dreadnoughts Blog
Devil In The Kitchen
2nd Wave Folk Punk Began in Canada
Folk-punk as I understand it has two, maybe three waves. The Dreadnoughts are a second-wave folk-punk band. And though I might be wrong about this, the very first second-wave folk-punk song ever released was by a Canadian: Ashley MacIssac.
MacIssac is infamous in Canadian folk circles for being a bit of a wildman, a loner, prone to pushing envelopes, and for getting in all kinds of trouble in a country where musicians aren’t supposed to genuinely break the rules. Yet, his best-selling Hi, How are You Today? (1995) is full of transcendent fiddling, and it introduced a whole generation of Canadians to the magic of the Cape Breton fiddle. A few years later, after his fall from grace, my Celtic band opened for him at a festival, and he answered our heaps of praise and general fanboying with a single question: “Do you guys know where I can score some drugs?” And that was that.
Yet, so far as I know, MacIssac pioneered second-wave folk-punk with one song, Devil in the Kitchen. Let’s break that idea down.
First-wave folk-punk was the Pogues. There was no-one else, they literally defined the genre. A huge number of copycat bands eventually arose, and lots were even quite good, but none ever touched the wizardry and genius of the Pogues. This variety of folk-punk was all acoustic, but featured noisy drums, growling vocals and aggressive, brilliantly played accordions, whistles, fiddles, etc. That’s the first wave.
In order to understand second-wave folk punk, you need to look at how punk was evolving. There is no better illustration of this evolution than Bad Religion’s “We’re only Gonna Die (for our own arroagance)”, released in 1982.
Until the early 80s, many punk sungs were much slower, plodding, lumbering 1-2-3-4 ditties. Think “God Save the Queen” or “Career Opportunities”. Bad Religion, along with a lot of other bands at the time, realized that you could make punk a lot faster, a lot more 1-2 (i.e. 2/4 time, polka time), a lot more intense and melodically interesting in a way. One brilliant thing about this song is that it starts with that but then reverts back to the old-school feel and tempo in the middle, before triumphantly re-emerging as a second-wave punk song.
There is way more to the story, but basically by 1991 the major bands like Bad Religion (and NOFX and Rancid) had perfected the second-wave, keeping the faster tempo and complexity but adding a bunch of vocal harmonizing and melodic, sing-along choruses. The second wave had arrived, and it’s what I was raised on. It’s why the Dreadnoughts sound like we do.
But who was the first to blend this newer punk sound with celtic/folk/trad? People will say the Dropkick Murphys, but they didn’t get going until 1996. An argument can be made for the Real MacKenzies—also Canadian and also kicking off in 1995—but to my mind their early sound is much more like the Sex Pistols+folk than Bad Religion+folk. By the time the MacKenzies had released the wonderful blitzer “Old Mrs. Cuddy”, they had fully embraced the second wave, but not yet in 1995.
No, for me, the clearest and earliest example is this bloody masterpiece by MacIssac, something that blew my mind the first time I heard it. Listen to how sonically similar it is to the BR song above; they are very close cousins:
You could literally sing “we’re only gonna dieeeee… for our own arrogance” along to this track. (Hmmm… maybe we should record that?) They are basically complementary tracks, with MacIssac blistering away on a distorted fiddle and the backing band playing straight-up second-wave punk.
That is second-wave folk-punk, and it was the style that Flogging Molly was to perfect. They were the Pogues of second wave folk-punk, and no-one even came close to them in their prime. And it’s what we followed on, blending a bunch of other styles in as well. The end.
And what is third-wave folk punk, you ask? I guess it could be that genre that lots of folks seem to like now where people strum bluegrass/folk instruments quickly and sing about how sad they are. This style draws heavily from emo-punk, which I am on record as not being for, so I guess it’s no accident that we will always stay in the second wave. Vive la difference!
Anyway, Ashley MacIssac was the first that I know of to clearly make folk sound like Bad Religion or NOFX. Am I wrong? Did someone else get there first? Leave a comment and tell me how how wrong I am!
EDIT: a commenter below reminds me that I’ve left out The Tossers, and the Greenland Whalefishers, excellent examples of bands taking folk-punk towards the second wave.