Punters kick out Celtic jams on new CD
They're a band whose name is UK slang for the folks down in the front. It's a typical incongruity for Newfoundland's The Punters, whose combo of high steppin' Gaelic tunes and catchy pop hooks has brightened many a night in the shadow of Signal Hill, not to mention several points west.
Still, it's a bit of a jolt to see Punter Patrick Moran lean into his fiddle, while singer, and chief songwriter, Larry Foley strikes a Pete Townshend pose with his sunburst Les Paul electric guitar. Playing an instore promotion this week at the Spring Garden Road HMV for their new album, She Said She Couldn't Dance, the band dazzles the lunch time crowd with the same energy they'd pour into a club show. With a fair amount of adrenaline still in his system, Foley, an animated talker with a lilt that seems suspended between St. John's and Cork, Ireland, where he studied sociology, explains why the band couldn't sound any other way.
"All of us are a little bit schizophrenic musically. I grew up listening to the Clancy Brothers singalong thing, and then spent years where all I listened to was unaccompanied singing and the purest of Irish instrumental music, and then back into the rock thing again. You go to write a song, and it's rock, and as soon as there's a lead break, there's Pat with the fiddle, and he's been playing since he was seven. And he plays Jimi Hendrix on the fiddle."
Foley, Moran and fellow Punters Brian Kenny (bass) and Bob Hiscock (drums) aren't content to simply put a heavy backbeat on to familiar ditties. The bulk of the new album is original, alternating between pop tunes with folk underpinnings and vice versa. Throughout, Foley- reveals himself to be a thoughtful romantic even when the band is at its most frantic."
On Friday night you should be able to go out and dance to the band," Foley says. "On Monday morning you should be able to put on the CD and really listen to the words: I think it's that kind of album. If you really want to get into it and check it out in a more cerebral fashion, you can, but if you just want to get up and jump around, you can do that too."
A-quick peek at She Said She Couldn't Dance's lyric sheet shows one of the few ballads Brunswick Street is loosely based on a real-life incident outside a Halifax nightclub, but Foley likes to think of the songs as being a bit more universal in scope.
"Anyone who's ever walked past the Palace has either seen a relationship begin or end, it seems to be that kind of street."
The Punters' first self-titled album and mainland gigs were followed by a personnel change, losing two members and gaining drummer Hiscock, so they approached the second album as a fresh start and a chance to really make a big splash, spending a bit more money, and hiring a familiar face to provide advice from behind the recording console as they lay down tracks this past winter.
"It was one of those intensely powerful situations where everything happened at the right place, right time, right people, right moment," explains Foley. "We recorded over the space of a month in St. John's with Dave Panting (of Rawlins Cross fame), who was really great at helping us execute what we wanted to do.
"I think it was magical, without getting too hokey, and too Celestine Prophecy-ish. It was a just a good vibe."
The Punters are also picking up on good vibes this summer, making the most of the Cabotmania of the 500th anniversary of the explorer's landing on The Rock by playing shows and festivals from one end of the island to the other. Most notably, their recording of Green Grow The Rushes O became the soundtrack to ads for the souvenir brew of the summer.
"Labatt had Cabot Beer for the summer, and we did all the music for that campaign," says Foley, with a note of pride in his voice, "which was quite fun: 'Hoist one for the crew!'"
Using tradition to appeal to a young crowd is nothing new to breweries, who know that those who like it, like it a lot, but Foley says his band isn't trying to appeal to a demographic or use marketing schemes to find the sound that will earn them shows and fans. It's just the way the band is, and always will be.
"If I was to do a solo gig, I'd sit down with the acoustic and the mandolin, and play them all night. I'm stuck between the old world and the new one, but Newfoundland is like that anyway. Meatloaf sold the most albums in Newfoundland than anywhere else in North America. That should tell you something right there. We're all rock pigs at heart. Rock pigs in a Celtic world."
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