Celtic punk: Suggestions for a great St. Patrick’s Day

Creating a new musical genre – well, this was certainly not, what the Irish-British lads Shane McGowan and Spider Stacey had in mind, when they first met in London in the early 1980s. They started mixing elements from punk rock and traditional Irish folk music and so formed a brand new sound that now is referred to as celtic punk.Celtic punk is punk rock mixed with traditional Celtic music. Celtic punk’s origin is in the 1960s and 1970s folk rock musicians who played electric folk in England and Celtic rock in Ireland and Scotland, as well as in more traditional Celtic folk bands such as The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. Scotland band The Skids were possibly the first UK punk band to add a strong folk music element, as they did on their 1981 album Joy. Around the same time in London, England, Shane MacGowan and Spider Stacy began experimenting with a sound that became The Pogues. Their early sets included a mixture of traditional folk songs and original songs written in a traditional style but performed in a punk style. MacGowan left the band in 1991 due to drinking problems but the band continued first with Joe Strummer and then with Spider Stacy on vocals before breaking up in 1996.The band reformed in 2001, and has been playing regularly ever since.


But celtic punk is not an Irish, British or European phenomenon. Bands celebrating their Irish heritage can be found all over the globe, where people of Irish origin live. Especially in the US. The Tossers are a six-piece Celtic punk band from Chicago, Illinois. They formed in July 1993 and are therefore one of the oldest celtic punk bands in North America. Coming from the predominantly Irish neighborhoods of Southside Chicago, the Tossers have been expanding the boundaries of contemporary Irish music since the early ’90s. The band chose their name for its derogatory meaning, “ throw away”. The term dates to Shakespeare, and depending who you ask it also means commode, drunk, to agitate, disturb, or disquiet. Although their name may be irreverent, their music is not. The heart of their distinct sound is derived through the melding of traditional Irish and Punk Rock roots. Combining the folk instrumentation of mandolin, fiddle, tin whistle, and button accordion with amphetamine fueled guitar, bass and drums, the Tossers play with a furious edge that teeters between rage and raucousness.

Younger of age, but more well-known is the band The Dropkick Murphys – the flagship of celtic punk at the moment. They were formed in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1996.The band was initially signed to independent punk record label Hellcat Records, releasing five albums for the label, and making a name for themselves locally through constant touring and yearly St. Patrick’s Day week shows, held in and around Boston. The 2004 single “Tessie” became the band’s first and one of their biggest charting singles to date. The band’s final Hellcat release, 2005’s The Warrior’s Code, included “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”, which was featured in the Academy Award-winning movie The Departed and went on to become one of the band’s biggest singles, one of their best-known songs, and an anthem for Boston sports teams. The bands early influences were punk bands like, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ramones, The Clash, and Sex Pistols, and, of course, The Pogues.

Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly is a seven-piece Celtic punk band from Los Angeles, California, founded in 1997, led by Irish vocalist Dave King, known for his work with Fastway alongside “Fast” Eddie Clarke, formerly of Motörhead, and bassist, Pete Way, formerly of UFO. They are signed to their own record label, Borstal Beat Records. Flogging Molly’s music is influenced by artists such as The Dubliners, Horslips, Johnny Cash, and The Clash. The album Within a Mile of Home is dedicated to Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash – both died. Their music ranges from boisterous Celtic punk, like the pirate-themed “Salty Dog”, “Cruel Mistress”, and “Seven Deadly Sins”, or the defiant “What’s Left of the Flag”, “Drunken Lullabies”. Lyrics typically touch on subjects such as Ireland and its history, poverty, drinking, politics, love, death, and include several references to the Roman Catholic Church.

Fighting Jamesons

Though the obove mentioned bands are already in the business for quite a while, there are still young bands following their footsteps. One of them are The Fighting Jamesons from Virginia. “We figured that naming the band after Jameson’s whiskey would be a great way to encourage people to send whiskey to the stage. That idea has led to lots of drinking and lots of hangovers. Drinking and fighting go hand in hand, so we decided to call ourselves the Fighting Jamesons”, says Jeff McLoughlin in an interview with www.altdaily.com.

They deliver a traditional style of Celtic music with an aggressive and energetic modern approach. Formed in 2009 in the tradition of legendary Celtic acts such as Flogging Molly and the Pogues, the Fighting Jamesons have quickly developed a strong national presence thanks to their updated versions of classic Irish and American folk songs, as well as a growing catalog of original tunes. They’ve shared the stage with legendary Irish rock acts such as the Dropkick Murphys, the Saw Doctors, and the Young Dubliners, and earned headlining slots in venues and festivals in the USA. Since releasing their self-titled debut, they have stormed on to the live scene as one of Celtic Rock’s most sought-after groups.

Based in Sydney is the band The Rumjacks. Heavy boozing, violence – this is not only a vital part of the celtic punk song-lyrics – more or less typical of all mentioned bands.  In April 2012 the Sydney punk scene was reeled  with the news that singer Frankie McLaughlin has been jailed for 16 months, with an additional parole period of twelve months, in relation to an incident of domestic violence; one which was reported to have taken place almost three years ago. An anonymous blog called The Rumjacks Uncovered broke the allegations days ago, before McLaughlin’s court appearance. As a result all upcoming gigs and recording plans had been cancelled. Whether the band will return to the stage, and who will be the singer, remains open to date.

Ramshcakle Army

Melbourne Celt folk-punks The Ramshackle Army had a real headstart into their career,  kicked it off 2012 in bombastic style, playing to over 50.000 people as guests of the Dropkick Murphys – who invited Ramshackle along for the ride, first in the younger band’s hometown of Melbourne then along the United States East Coast as part of the Dropkick Murphy’s St Patrick’s Day tour. Considering that The Ramshackle Army only celebrated their second birthday in the middle of 2012 the band have had quite a ride.

Sunday Punchers

And even South Africa has a celtic-punk tradition and this tradition has a name:  The Sunday Punchers are a Celtic folk punk rock and roll muck up. Traditional Irish music, as well as deep rooted South African folk have a lot in common in terms of music styles, they say. A couple of guys, some from Irish/Scottish heritage and others from their deep rooted Afrikaans heritage decided to do away with their noisy punk rock riffs and look a little deeper into their roots. And they are still quite at the beginning of their career. The Sunday Punchers first set sail on their journey in mid 2010, with only two members, Shaun Hillary and Francois Mostert, who were then joined by Jose Mostert on drums, Michiel Kruger on electric guitar, Ankia Van Der Merve on Violin, Genedior Clarke on bass guitar and Clinton Hattingh on harmonica they were later joined by new drummer Quintin Koekamoer. The first year was not smooth sailing, the waters of the South African music industry for a new band are not the easiest to navigate, with financial problems and commitment issues (some of them were still on college at that time and the band almost broke up) a few members where lost. In early 2011, the original Punchers knew that they needed some new crew. This was when they added Darryn Small on the drums, Gavin Sadler on bass guitar and Brandon Ramnath.

For about 75 Million people worldwide, March 17th is a very special date to remember and to celebrate. It is St. Patrick’s Day and one of the most popular holidays for people of Irish origin around the globe. It dates back to the early 5th century, when Christianity arrived in Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official feast day in the early seventeenth century. Drinking, culture, identity – this is what is being celebrated in pubs. Fortunately there are plenty of bands that preserve and celebrate their Irish heritage and provide a perfect soundtrack for this occasion. Andreas Nöthen

Essential listening:

The Pogues

Fairytale of New York


The Tossers

The rocky road to Dublin

The Dropkick Murphys

Shipping up to Boston

Rose Tattoo

Flogging Molly

Drunken Lullabies

If I ever leave this world alive

Ramshackle Army

Uprising young citizens

The Rumjacks

An Irish Pub song unplugged

The Sunday Punchers


The Fighting Jamesons

Drunken Sailor