Skinny Lister will be known to some as a band who’ve shared a label and toured with Frank Turner; to others, a band who’ve made regular appearances at festivals, their quasi-drunken jigs designed to gee up those unwashed tent dwellers well on their way to having a skinful of Doom Bar. …And “designed” is somewhat of a sticking point here. Where you may feel The Pogues had a natural flair for drunken gigs and aggressive performances – it’s well documented that the Pogues bought the party with them wherever, whenever necessary – with Skinny Lister, any relative rowdiness seems very much a facade. Like Bellowhead (a bunch of public schoolboys trying to fool us into thinking they have deep traditions and folk roots) or Mumford & Sons (folk music for those who know almost nothing about folk music), Skinny Lister often sound as if they’re landing on their chosen bandwagon with a mighty thud. The bulk of ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ is faux folk of the very worst kind.
The “by design, not nature” feeling at its most obvious during the album opener, ‘Raise a Wreck’, a four minute drone punctuated by bass drum pedal. As the other elements creep in, things never improve. The vocals sound like a gang of workmen singing The Strawbs’ ‘Part of The Union’ without any flair, while the strummed guitars are a dead ringer for ‘Prince Charming’ by Adam & The Ants. All bluster and no melody, this four minutes represent the absolute nadir of folk-rock. To make up for the lack of decent tune, the shouting continues…and it’s truly horrible. ‘Cathy’ – a tale of lost love – comes across as an all bellowing, insincere mixture of Frank Turner’s Sleeping Souls and the wretched Marcus Mumford. Looking past the simplistic tune and heavy handed musicianship, the overly loud voices jar somewhat, while the main hook of “Woah Cathy, you’ve got me on my knees, my knees, my knees” is basic song writing 101 and instantly grates.
Worse still, ‘Six Whiskies’ is a lumpen, faux Irish waltz, full of clichéd ideas about drinking and sounds like a Pogies reject, all accordions, penny-whistles and gang shouting, while ‘George’s Glass’ and ‘Bold As Brass’ are drunken jigs of the easy, very much tried and tested sort. These bring out some of Skinny Lister’s worst traits, sounding like a bunch of chancers impersonating The Pogues. Frankly, if this style is usually your bag, you’ve probably no need to hear this…just stick with your much-loved, worn out copy of ‘Rum, Sodomy & The Lash’.
Despite having more than its share of misfires, ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ isn’t a total washout. Single release ‘Trouble On Oxford Street’ is an enjoyable fast paced romp driven by hard acoustic guitars and accordion. Unlike many of the other tracks, the gang vocals appear more considered here and the overall arrogance shows exactly why they’ve been taken on the road by Frank Turner – the lyrics are particularly matter-of-fact, reminiscent of a few of Turner’s own, while hints of Billy Bragg and The Levellers jostle beneath. Despite the lead vocal carrying a slightly irritating affectation, this is an example of Skinny Lister ticking all the right boxes – half-decent melody, a story to be told, tight musicianship, potential for winning over a live audience…it’s all here, provided you accept its pop roots. Likewise, the mellower ‘This City’ with its dual male/female vocal fuses the sounds of Kirsty MacColl and The Wonder Stuff to great effect. In terms of reaching for a melody and not over-egging, this is the album’s clear standout. A heartfelt performance with real warmth, It’s a pity their material doesn’t have this level of charm more often. Also worth a listen, the soft and lilting ‘Bonny Away’ – showcasing the talents of the underused Lorna Thomas – evokes further memories of Kirsty, with a few minutes of pleasant Celtic balladry that dreams of places hundreds of miles away from where the music was created.
There may well be a couple of reasonable pop tunes on this disc, but to call it folk is almost an insult to the many hard working genuine folkies out there. Sticking an accordion and an upright bass on everything and writing sub-Irish singalongs does not equal “folk band”. Anything potentially raucous comes ready-shined and with a giant safety net – this is pop music with an accordion and best viewed as such. By their insistence on labelling their averagely written, Irish-tinged sounds “folk”, Skinny Lister are already heading for a fall. This release lacks the sophistication and all-round heart of well-played English folk and the result – ‘Down on Deptford Broadway’ is listen that’s often verging on being an irritant. It tries hard, occasionally comes up with a winning formula akin to the early nineties bands that teased with folk elements – as demonstrated very well on the Wonder Stuff pastiche ‘The City’ – but there’s no doubting that it often little bit too hard, leaving behind a long-player that sounds genuinely forced. Like the recordings of Mumford & Sons, there’s always a nagging feeling that this is designed for those listeners who just don’t know folk music…but if it’s a gateway to better things, then at least there’s hope.