ALBUM REVIEW by Mal Content – Monkey on my Back – Muddy Summers & the DFWs

monkeyme“I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose.No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard travelling.… I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood.  I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what colour, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work.”                            – Woody Guthrie

Muddy Summers and the Dirty Field Whores is an informal collaboration
between Gail Something-Else and a variety of other musicians who as the
name implies meet and often jam together on the festival circuit; all the
songs start out as poems, then lend themselves to different instrumental
arrangements, but can be read as they stand. This is actually Gail’s
second album, the first being credited to Ms Something-Else and the
Reverend Phil Dread, who also crops up on this one.

The album can be ordered online or, conscious of the fact that many of our
class do not have money for food let alone entertainment, downloaded on
Pay What You Can for anything or nothing. Of course Woody gave his music
away and the Clash encouraged people to tape their records, they just
wanted you to hear what they had to say.

First up is an acoustic version of the magnificent ‘Beat the Rich’ my
favourite track from the last set. It has morphed from a sort of electro
reggae beat to what might actually be a tango, played by Tony Hopkins.
Must admit I’m still stuck on the electric version, but this does
emphasise the vocals.

Gail’s voice is sweet and haunting, with a strange inflection that seems
to combine toughness and vulnerability in a way that’s hard to pin down,
the mood shifts constantly, ice and fire, rage and graveyard humour. The
voice comes into its own on ‘Silent screams’ recorded with Fool’s chaos; a
catchy and finely crafted pop song that reflects Gail’s growing musical

‘Status’ is much more my line, a jolly Latin tune with witty lyrics about
alienation, commodity fetishism and reification, ending in an exhortation
to smash the television. ‘Old time’ is mellow and atmospheric and reminds
me a little of Nick Drake, so I just had to check who played guitar on it
and it seems it was Gail herself!

There follows a new version of the well-known ‘Parody’ with a simple piano
accompaniment which focuses the mind on the absurdity of consumer culture,
then the old live favourite ‘Fascist Fuck Train’ featuring the legendary
Doozer on guitar.

‘Poor little rich boy’ is socially conscious filth as only Ms
Something-Else can dish it up; I’m not going into it, you’ll just have to
listen to the bloody record! The tune by Bellicose is jazzy dub, with some
muted trumpety bits going on*. ‘The Dress’ with Lee Bowers is vintage
psychedelia, which takes me right back to, er, somewhere I’ve been.

* You’ve probably gathered by now that I know more about dissident
politics than I do about music.

An abrupt change of mood follows; ‘Dear Riot Copper’ is a true story and
very personal. Just one tale from the 26th of March 2011, the TUCs ‘march
for the alternative’ a day few of us will ever forget; the cops having
been shown up all afternoon by a cheeky black bloc tried to redeem
themselves by battering some kids having a party in Trafalgar square. The
lyrics are spoken evenly over the Rev P’s electronics. This is for all
those who still think the police are just workers in uniform doing a very
difficult job. Their job is of course impossible, as their masters would
have them confine the entire economy into an ever-tightening kettle. It
also begs the question: what kind of person would see fit to bash someone
as eminently reasonable as Gail Something-Else over the head? I’ll leave
that one with you.

The answer lies with the next track, which opens an older wound and goes
back to the source of the violence; ‘Warren James’ has the makings of an
English rebel classic. A contemporary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, James is
the folk hero of the Forest of Dean; transported for riot in 1831 after an
abortive attempt by several thousand forest Freeminers to return the land
to commons, his name is still invoked in social struggles locally. Like
the Swing rebellion, this incident has largely been written out of popular
historical narrative.

Two centuries ago, in the tumultuous 40-year period between the enclosure
acts and the poor law, modern capitalism was born hand-in-hand with the
present-day concept of law enforcement; the people having been
dispossessed of the land were forced into wage labour and the police force
was founded to keep them there. Only the pious Tolpuddle martyrs and the
rowdy Luddites have made it into the schoolbooks – and our illustrious
leaderless army that tied up 16,000 troops for 3 years is misrepresented
as a mob of backward superstitious yokels – this is our history and we
want it back!

What would Woody Guthrie be doing if he were still around? ‘For the when’
has a menacing beat and an eerie woodwind motif with contrasting voice
clips from Tony Benn and David Cameron, it contemplates the rollercoaster
of doubt and certainty, isolation and comradeship, which is the activist’s
path. ‘Weirdos in my inbox’ is a humorous talking blues over a techno
beat; a side-splitter with sinister overtones, watch out for the punch
line! The title track closes the album, stark and minimal, the poem is
chanted over a simple war drum, and it works extremely well.

Buy the album or listen to it free, share it around, sing it on the
barricades; it’s what Woody would have done.

Mal Content 2013.