Stuck in the house with no end in sight, spending days on endless work video conferences and e-mails, losing track of which day it is. Welcome, my friends, to another week of Covid-19 lockdown. But, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and the first unexpected silver lining of the lockdown cloud has got to be the debut album from Belfast Ska punks The Skallions. Bridging the gap between past festival favorites Pocket Billiards and newer up-and-comers like Swall Monkey, The Skallions borrow intros and riffs from old school dub and late-era Specials before slamming straight into classic ska knees-up territory. Having built a reputation as a compelling, buoyant and dynamic live act, Skallion Battalion promised to provide something to lift your spirits and get you up on your feet.
Punk and Ska have always been regular (if strange) bedfellows and in Belfast, the two have stubbornly refused to fade away since the late 70’s. If the punk/ska relationship was ever condensed into a single track, then ‘Cut Out The Middleman’ might just be it. Rattling along at a breakneck pace and delivered in great old Belfast vernacular, it’s like the ska that you’re used to, only on speed.
‘Strike It While Its Hot’ is pure Two Tone complete with Fionuala Cullen and Darso McGuig’s female/male vocals mirroring those of the great Pauline Black and Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson; this is a modern re-working of ‘Too Much Pressure‘ and instantly transported me back to studying for my A levels in the early 80’s. Or maybe failing to study that well since I spent too much time listening to music like this. Talking of The Selector, the band members who provide the punchy horn accents and breaks have definitely been influenced by listening to early Madness and their forerunners.
Crucial to any band of this genre, the rhythm section of John McKeever (bass) and Georgie Ramone (drums) are rock steady and provide the engine room of both the band and this album. Frantic and energetic (check out ‘Inner Belfast Violence’) they drive the sound. McKeever’s opening to ‘Johnny Reggae‘ is worth a listen.
The wonderful chopping and in-your-face guitar of Decky Cullen lights up every track on the album, none better that on ‘Parklife (Life’s A Blur)’. This is nothing short of pure, unadulterated fun and is a celebration of the joys of sitting in the local park with a carry out and your mates on a sunny day. Oh for the days when you could do that over the Easter holidays; I don’t think the band thought that this song would ever be seen as a piece of nostalgia.
Skallion Battalion is an arresting debut from a band with a lot to offer both live and on record. Although they have only really been on the local music scene for a couple of years, at this time of year you would be expecting The Skallions to be ripping up festival stages all over the country. Sadly, all we have right now is this album; listening to it is guaranteed to make you feel at least a tiny bit happier, although I suspect it could even put a great big self-isolating grin on your oul social distancing bake.