The fishmonger by trade is an ancient one, a guild officially recognised, ratified, protected, and regulated by the crown as early as 1212, and forms one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London. Today, better known as the Fishmongers’ Company, or the far more grandiose Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, they still stand as a significant authority in upholding the standards, of retail and trading within the seafood industry. Safe to say, they have a lot of heritage and history to celebrate for what is commonly revered as a humble and modest profession. It is exactly the kind of heritage and lore that bards and folk musicians have thrived upon for centuries; to able to artistically recollect tales in such rousing fashion, that their own words, songs, and melodies, endure as long as the history they’re based upon. Bristol’s Nasty Fishmonger, of course based in the West Country, a realm with its own rich history and unique traditions upheld, are no exception to this mentality.
For this trio of university friends, what initially began as a one-off, tongue-in-cheek performance, has shifted and expanded into a bright, burning new star on the UK folk scene, within just eighteen months. Going from corpse paint in their local venue, to sharing the same stage with Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends in under a year, is some real heavyweight endorsement. That’s no matter of luck either. The union and chemistry between Captain Rehab, Lizzie Blower, and Shanty Dan, generate a formidable, infectious energy so powerful, the pride of Her Majesty’s Navy would be envious. Fitting then, that their first recorded output honour the life and times of fearsome Irish pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, who infamously stood against Elizabeth I.
In their riotous live performances, Grace O’Malley has become their opening gambit; four minutes of stomping punk rhymes and sharp-tongued narration, driven by the feisty fretwork of Captain Rehab. Gentle, perhaps understated plucks of mandolin, interject beneath the already tremendous kinetic force of acoustic guitar, those singular notes so subtly adding emotional depth to this ballad, it deserves commendation for how rich their songwriting strength really is. The story begins with O’Malley’s pleads to accompany her father overseas to Spain, to share in the family’s trade forays in that coastal domain, performed with the command of a town crier, mere inches away from a full-on punk snarl or a pirate’s growl seeping into the vocals. The fact neither fully engulf the dialect, yet those ever-so familiar tones linger in every inflection, carry that rebellious spirit marvellously. Then the thumping of kick drum begins, alongside several sustains from the recorder, the harmonies imbuing a sense of romanticism and airiness, a sea breeze if you will, to the recollection of O’Malley’s brief marriages, that pumping tempo leading straight to the chorus, and into her chief role of defending the shores from English oppression. The unison at the end of everybody’s vocals, emphasising the teachings of O’Malley, has the pair of male vocals more prominent, and while maybe or maybe not intentional, serves a clever little juxtaposition and only further reinforces the pirate queen as a brilliant, but sorely forgotten figure of historical feminism.
Details of the conquest of Doona Castle, and the aforementioned confrontation with Queen Elizabeth later unravel, the duly noted refusing to bow before her, and carrying a dagger as protection, causing quite the stir for its time, and afterwards, led to her support of Irish insurgents in the Nine Years War. You could even argue that the final minute of the song, the manic adrenaline of guitar, banjo, and recorder, with the kick drum gathering pace, encapsulates an aural metaphor for battle frenzy, or at its loosest listen, some form of wardance. In any case, after such a tall tale, to create that kind of exhilaration, the kind that this fascinating character led her entire life by, is a fitting testament and tribute. And to think that only begins a Nasty Fishmonger live show. Plainly and simply, for a first single, this is a band with the incendiary attitude, and the devotion and ingenuity to translate fables and folklore, into the most rapturous, yet meticulously textured history lesson you’ll ever participate in.
Grace O’Malley is released 17/04/20, with a live stream to celebrate the single launch to follow.
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