Hamell On Trial: Punk’s Not Dead. It’s Just Jet Lagged.
A nutcase returned to the Errigle Inn the other night. Real Music Club had brought back Hamell On Trial, and he ripped up that stage with his in your face, punk instilled, debauched, Tr*mp-worrying anti-folk.
He moved the motley crew that we were, from the side of the room to front of stage. Then he got stuck in. Audience and performer were glad the other had put the effort in to be there, and as the night progressed he stoked-us-up, and joined-us-in, and pushed-it-all-too-far. Way too far.
Before all that though we had lap slide wizard Clive Barnes. He’s Irish, but you wouldn’t know until the music stops and his baby faced brogue kicks in between songs. “This next song is called ‘I’ve been In bed With More People Than This” he told the small audience in front of him.
Problem is, I believed him – I thought that was the name of the song. Anyway, it wasn’t. He started his set with the lap slide based number “Get Low” – the busy, twangy Delta title track of his next album. It didn’t make sense though, the fast dancing notes didn’t add up to the still presence on that stage. His hands were moving slower than that sound. The voice was old, aged, rough. It was a bit like somebody else had taken over.
For “Dust”, from his album The Ghost Country, he swopped guitars and gifted us some acoustic blues. But that’s not completely true. It was acoustic blues, and jazz, and there was some Irish balladry in there, and that guitar noodle in the middle was funky as hell. There were ghosts in those words, and railway tracks, and letting down his girl. I wanted to get more of the story but by nature of that voice it turns the words into sounds that melt into the guitar. Or maybe he just doesn’t enunciate so clear. Either way I had to wait to read the lyrics on the CD when I got home. (You can’t beat a CD with lyrics). He ended on the classy “Kitty Twist” with its melodies, high blues, spring notes and that ingenious hint that his guitar is doubling as a club track bumping through the glass of a car window. Quality.
Then it was time for the star turn. “Hey, fuckface, I’m trying to teach my kid to respect authority…. but now I’m just trying to teach him to not get shot,” Ed Hamell raged at us in a close to the bone, fast, loud ditty about his faith in the law enforcement agency. And as if it wasn’t hard hitting enough with those lines repeated, and the intervening verses of incident after incident, he ended the song with three crystallised little words – “And I’m white”. Nothing more needed to be said.
Songs were introduced and ended with stories, jokes, politics, bile, clever stuff, and occasional sweetness. There was even a confession of what type of relations he would like to have with David Blaine. (He’s an open minded kind of guy).
Audience participation came in the form of “fuck it”. “It’s cathartic” he told us. So we trusted in Hamell and indeed there was a purgation of emotions – we were pretty good at shouting “fuck it” on command.
On his last album The Happiest Man In The World, there’s a track “Ain’t That Love”. It’s just him and his beat up Gibson, as he thinks from another side of his brain. It’s slower paced with a vague “Norwegian Wood” feel to it as he pours his heart out. “I don’t want to live without you baby, I don’t wanna try.” The version onstage at the Errigle kept that Norwegian wood burning, it kept the feeling intact. Just him and that old Gibson.
He started a big fast spoken word piece, and then he stopped. He’d forgotten the words. This didn’t faze him. He stood with his hand on the mic stand, mouthing the poem to himself to try and remember. It was hilarious. And this is an interesting point, because even while doing this, he owned the stage, owned the room, he was still in control. It wasn’t just that it didn’t matter that he’d forgotten the words; his reaction to it was part of the act, we got to enjoy that too.
He’s a master of his craft is Mr. Hamell. A mouthy vendor of scorn who fears for his kid’s future, identifies with the seedy, questions the status quo, fully expects us to give a shit, and takes it all out on his depression era guitar. Punk’s no dead. It’s just jet-lagged.
Video Credit: Gerry McNally – “Hamell’s footage was unusable due to him being too loud for the mic…..”
Originally posted in CultureHub Magazine