Hamell on Trial for Smashing the Speakers and Swearing at People
Bloody hell. Where do you start with this? Not only did Hamell on Trial (super-fast, punk-infused anti-folk, anti-hero) play Belfast; he was supported by Irish punk poet and voice of the rankled, Jinx Lennon.
According to Wikipedia, Lennon is an Irish punk-funk poet from Dundalk, who uses a “rap-like vocal style.” Yes, that “rap-like vocal style,” rang with angry deadpan tonight. His themes ranged from the young obese, “Workplace Hitler”, tea-break bollocks, rabble, living in your car, and general bile-laced observations on what is wrong, and what is simply going on, around him.
I saw him a few years ago for about 10 minutes. I’d arrived late into his set supporting John Cooper Clarke. So I thought I had an idea what to expect. My mistake. Tonight he was on stage with his guitar and his drum machine, lurching from one song into the next. I barely caught titles, and barely wrote notes. I was blown away. The buck-naked and frankly eccentric music left me listening hard to the lyrics to make sense of all this. I don’t think it would be clever to quote any of those lyrics here, out of context. You need the lines before and after, and you need the ongoing “ooh ooh ooh” from the drum machine. However, all this ice-sharp honesty and wry savaging wasn’t just hilarious, it was also on the button, and strangely uplifting. His guitar is a magic wand – it really is.
With inter-song discourse like “here’s to you budding singer-songwriters – fuck you and your beards and your check shirts” and “I have to do this, it’s like therapy,” the fierce authenticity of Jinx Lennon’s mind was on display and he didn’t care whether I liked it or not. I did, though. It was bizarre and in my face, and it was superb.
“Does anybody sit here? It’s right in front of the stage” protested Hamell on Trial, scanning the room as he pointed at a couple of empty tables. “Anybody? No, not you – now I gotta look at you all night. No pretty girls? It’s like a sausage fest in here.”
He was in Belfast as part of his Choochtown 15th Anniversary Tour. It’s a tour to celebrate an album about the urban underbelly, with thugs and dealers and strippers and survivors. It’s a book of short stories. It’s pulp fiction. No seriously, it is. He was hugely influenced by the film as he was writing it – Pulp Fiction and Biggy Smalls. So he has toured around Ireland and the UK to perform the album in its entirety, for our listening pleasure.
On saying that though, he opened with “A little Concerned That’s All,” off the Tough Love album; stoking his 1937 Gibson acoustic guitar like an overhead helicopter. Apparently it’s a favourite of his for opening with, and it was a perfect starter. It showed us the level of energy we could expect from the night. As the whoops were filling the room during the applause at the end, he just carried on with a polka beat and the opening lines of the next song, “Three absolutely true, drug related incidents … ”
Three or four songs into the set, he landed on Choochtown. He finished “Happiest Man in the World” with a raspy last note, and after the barest of pauses, started strumming sad, haunting chords. “Hey you”, he spoke calmly into the microphone, “You wouldn’t make a phone call, if it didn’t serve you. / You turn up at the Funeral, and you think you’re the big mohawk / Go fuck yourself”. It’s the infamous first track of the album – apparently he reckoned he had nothing to lose, making it the first track, as he wasn’t signed up to a record label anyway. Tonight though, the seal was broken, he was on Choochtown for the rest of the show. The sad love story guitar carried on as his voice became more animated through the song, and on spitting out his last line, he moved on immediately.
The high energy rushed in again with “When Bobby Comes Down”, with its discordant, super-fast guitar and overheated engine finale. The man had yet to break a sweat. It was really pretty impressive. And there was still no pause. The tone was more chilled for “I’m gonna Watch You Sleep”, though. This is a lovely song about really enjoying loving somebody:
I’m gonna watch you sleep awhile
you don’t like it when I’m gawking in the morning
before you’ve had your coffee
you say I am warning you.
Then straight, direct, and unflinching, a sweet Dr Feelgood riff kicked in for “Uncle Morris”. His voice was great in this; it got a bit screechy and upset, while the riff underpinned everything. Following the order of the Choochtown track list, he launched immediately into “Disconnected”. On the album, this has a Bob Log III talking-through-the-telephone effect on his voice; tonight it was just Ed Hamell’s voice, sounding strong without the effects.
It was relentless. “Nancy’s Got a New Boyfriend” was massive. How much sound can you squeeze out of an acoustic guitar? Hamell was playing the hell out of that machine. In the middle of “Bill Hicks”, a speaker fell off the table. Lennon jumped onto the stage. It appears it may have been his. The sound engineer came out from his lair for some shuttle diplomacy and to put the plug back in. “We have a team of experts working on the problem” announced Hamell. Order was eventually restored.
I could go on, but I think you’ve got the picture. This was a superb night.
Photo Credits: Jim Heaney. Video Credit: Turpinz
Originally published on Creative Voices NI