Last week’s Chain Gang entry was award-winning acapella trio The Young’uns’ version of Billy Bragg’s ‘Between The Wars’.
That song was also covered by Northern English americana / folk / protest singer-songwriter, Quiet Loner – aka Matt Hill – on his 2012 live album, ‘Greedy Magicians, which AUK gave a 10/ 10 review to. Now, nine years later, Hill – he’s since dropped the Quiet Loner moniker – has recorded the follow-up to that record, ‘Greedy Magicians II – Return of the Idle Drones.’
Released on CD and download via his Bandcamp site earlier this year, it’s a collection of ‘live in the studio’ modern protest songs. Recorded in two days by Hill, long-time associate, James Youngjohns (Last Harbour, Willard Grant Conspiracy), and engineer Adam Gorman of The Travelling Band, in a Victorian mill in the historic Ancoats district of Manchester, it is described as ‘the sound of two musicians sat two metres apart, as they rip through the songs as if they were playing a concert.’
It’s a brilliant record – stripped-down and intimate, angry, acerbic, funny and moving, with musical nods to genres including folk, country, blues and European balladry.
“My original plan was to do this as a ‘10 years on’ project recorded in front of a live audience in the same venue, with the same musicians.” says Hill. “Sadly, the pandemic scuppered that, so we did it as a ‘live in the studio’ album with just me and James. It allowed us a bit more freedom and I’ve tried to channel some broader musical influences here, such as Randy Newman, Scott Walker or Glen Campbell.”
The song ‘Strike’ is about the matchgirls’ strike of 1888, while ‘Talking It Out’ is about today’s billionaires, oligarchs and the super-rich. Aside from social commentary, there are personal stories too – the middle-aged person struggling to work whilst chronically ill (‘Times Are Getting Tough’), or the soldier and his wife trying to settle back to normality in post-war Britain (‘Making Sense of the War’).
For this week’s Chain Gang, we’ve chosen the latter track, which is easily up there with anything Bragg has written. It also features a Nottinghamshire accent uttering the local term of endearment, ‘duck’, which could well be a first for an AUK song choice.