MAWKIN – Down Among The Dead Men (Good Form Records MKN005)

Down Among The Dead MenI was thinking that it was rather too long since I’d heard anything from Mawkin when David Delarre got in touch to ask if I’d like an advance copy of their new album. It would have been rude to refuse. In the three years since they released The Ties That Bind Mawkin have been building their live reputation as one of the best folk-rock bands in the country and that comes together in Down Among The Dead Men, an album that’s turned up to eleven.

There is a lot of drinking going on here – dead men referring to discarded bottles – and while there is absolutely no suggestion that the boys were in any way inebriated while recording this it certainly sounds like they enjoyed the process. This is a melting pot of all sorts of influences from traditional folk to rock as song segues into tune and on to the next track before you’ve caught your breath. There’s an exuberance that is reminiscent of – whisper it – Bellowhead with sudden changes of tempo and unexpected arranging tricks. The closing ‘Jolly Roving Tar’ is a perfect example.

‘Midnight Ranger/Midnight Ramble Reel’, the opening track, is also the first single. It is fairly typical of the band’s modus operandi: a mash-up of a couple of old songs with rewritten lyrics and tune combined with a tune written by David. Next they rock up ‘Blind Fiddler’ and meld it with ‘The Cabin’, a tune written by James Delarre. They switch things round with the Kipling/Bellamy ‘A Smugglers’ Song’ with the traditional ‘Daniel Wright’s Hornpipe’. I’m sorry that they opted to change the word “Valenciennes”, though – don’t underestimate the intelligence of your audience, chaps.

I love the thinking behind ‘To Wednesday’, a tune celebrating the hardest day of the folkies’ year. The Wednesday of Sidmouth week sees five days of drinking behind you with three days still ahead. It leads neatly into James’ wild ‘Old Fool’ about the perils of over-indulgence. ‘My Husband’s Got No Courage In Him’, ‘Diamond Ship’ and ‘Ugly Fish’ leave the booze behind but the title track takes us back there with a tribute to the Roman god Bacchus although the style and lyrics are a touch funereal.

Down Among The Dead Men really is a fine album and it’s good to see a band that isn’t content to sit on its laurels but takes the time to develop and progress. Good on you, guys.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.mawkin.co.uk

The fancy new ‘The Blind Fiddler’ video.