Before the emergence of many of today’s Celtic-punk bands—Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, The Tossers, Meisce, Catgut Mary, The Real McKenzies, Kilmaine Saints, and The Swaggerin’ Growlers—there was the Irish-born Canadian band The Mahones. In fact, the only major Celtic-punk bands to predate The Mahones were The Dubliners and The Pogues. It is, therefore, indisputable that bandleader Finny McConnell and his mates were among the pioneers of the genre, the first bold few to experiment with combining traditional Celtic music with punk rock.
When The Mahones first formed in 1990—in Kingston, Ontario, and on St. Patrick’s Day, no less—their sound wasn’t as balanced and evolved as it is now; back then, their music consisted chiefly of Celtic-influenced song structures, and less gritty, driving punk rock compositional touches. To say they have since come into their own, or found their musical voice, as it were, having long since developed their distinct beer-swilling, whiskey-glugging, dynamic Irish-punk sound, is an understatement. In finding their musical voice, they in turn found a substantially increased fan base and plenty of favorable worldwide recognition. And…appreciated by both the underground and mainstream alike, The Mahones are still blazing a helluva trail at breakneck speed through today’s ever-shifting music world, suffering no fools and taking no prisoners and passing no pubs, with no sign of slowing down.
To add weight to the above statement I will point out that The Mahones have announced two newly scheduled releases: in February 2014 their upcoming live album titled A Great Night on the Lash: Live in Italy, and on an unspecified date in 2014 their forthcoming double album titled The Hunger & the Fight. Both the former and latter release will be released on Whiskey Devil Records, the recently established label owned and operated by The Mahones. Clearly, for The Mahones’ fans in specific and Celtic-punk fans in general, there is a lot to look forward to from this band in 2014.
With extensive touring, plenty of memorable performances, and the band’s latest full-length Angels & Devils, The Mahones are many years and miles away from their humble beginnings, yet their considerable fan base, impressive catalog of releases and other noteworthy accomplishments prove them as dedicated as ever to the good people that have supported them throughout their twenty-four-year career and their ongoing tradition of fine and original song-crafting. And although The Mahones have seen a fair number of lineup changes over the years, founding members Finny McConnell and Dom Whelan remain the band’s two constants. Even so, their sound has not suffered as a result. If anything, The Mahones’ sound has gotten better over the years, leading up to Angels & Devils, considered by many to be their best collection of songs to date. I, admittedly, share that opinion. Then again, I don’t only feel that way about Angels & Devils (2012) but Here Comes Lucky (2001) and Black Irish (2010) as well.
If one is familiar with The Mahones’ long list of original songs, one knows that while they are all quite good, that while most of their songs leave little to be desired in way of composition and execution, unquestionably, there are those truly great ones which stand out among the rest. Take the song “Great Day to Go on the Lash,” for instance, a boisterous Irish-punk composition and good ol’ boozing song, with a dirty stream of vocals and brazen lyrics in which Finny McConnell mentions “…drinking with Shane McGowan” and later tells certain applicable parties to “Kiss his Irish ass!” “Shakespeare Road,” one of The Mahones’ newer offerings, is a catchy whirlwind of a song with a very capable fiddle player and Irish whiskey-soaked vocals. “Angels & Devils,” the title track on their latest album, possesses an almost rock anthem quality, with heavily distorted guitars, a hard-hitting beat, solid low-end, and an undercurrent of accordion manipulation, and features Jake Burns. Though “Angels & Demons” certainly doesn’t disappoint, it seems worthwhile to point out that the vocals are very much like those belonging to Mike of Social Distortion, so much so that for a moment I thought it might be him.
Over the years, throughout eight studio full-lengths, a live album, and a best of release, appearing on compilations, having songs featured in popular films, and shared the stage with a veritable who’s who of rock, punk rock, Celtic-punk, hardcore, folk, and popular music. Additionally, The Mahones have also launched their very own record label as a vehicle to move their music to the masses. Another one of my favorite songs by The Mahones is “Drunk and Lazy Bastard,” a raucously catchy paddy folk and punk rock hybrid with strong vocals and outstanding lyrics. There are plenty more I could mention, but it would get a bit redundant. Besides, this feature is getting quite lengthy as it is.
As a six-piece band that assisted in pioneering the Celtic-punk movement, The Mahones’ members have all the tools of the trade. Most of them are multi-instrumentalists, or at the very least play their instruments and provide backing vocals. And one can easily pick out the instrumentation employed in each song. Quite simply, The Mahones’ sound is built on what the members skillfully strum, pick, bang, squeeze, push, pull, and blow, all together, while McConnell’s unmistakable vocals are added to the mix—guitar, mandolin, accordion, banjo, harmonica, bass, tin whistle, and drums. A very effective combination, that.
If you are from the States, the east coast in particular, I am sorry to inform you that you probably just missed out on your chance to attend a Mahones show. There are only a few more dates remaining for December of 2013, all of which are in Canada. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming shows, though, as The Mahones will undoubtedly take to the road in support of their two 2014 releases.