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I suppose by definition protest songs are often going to be angry, from the style of performance and delivery to the syntax of the word choice. Taken from that perspective, Icons delivers in spades. Nick Burbridge has been influential in the taking of Celtic folk and infusing it with the rawness of punk since the 1980s. He has certainly been around the block a few times since then and, as evidenced by the content of his compositions, still has fire in his belly.

It has been said that Nick perfectly captures “the gritty underbelly of the Irish experience in 60s/70s mainland UK” in his songs and that they “beautifully capture the longing for home and reality of the Troubles with all the evocative magnificence of Beckett or Joyce.” A major influence on the ethos and formation of The Levellers, his storytelling and poetic abilities are given full reign in this album. There is much to applaud and contemplate in the actual writing, which is now much broader in scope than the early days, ranging from Letter To Abraham, a song about the dispossessed Palestinians at the hands of the Israelis, to the fickle lottery that fortune deals us at birth, as in the sorry tale of Dirty Davey.

Icons is a collaborative piece with Dan Booth, known to many as the fiddle player with Ferocious Dog, with whom Nick has previously worked extensively. It also features Sarah Huson-Whyte on cello and Tim Cotterell on bouzouki. Whether this marriage of music and songs works is a matter for the listener to decide; personally I found the repetitive, narrow band of the lead vocal line in many of the songs quite challenging to listen to. The music is largely supplied as a counter to the sometimes half spoken, half sung lyric. This approach is certainly a device to employ, but leaves the listener with a dichotomy - would the music be better without the lyric or would the sheer poetry of the words be better without the music?

John Oke Bartlett


This review appeared in Issue 143 of The Living Tradition magazine