I can count on the fingers of one hand, with at least the thumb left over, the number of singer-songwriters whose work I tolerate, let alone enjoy. That puts Nick Burbridge, the powerhouse behind McDermott’s 2 Hours, in rare and precious company. Although I’ve never met Nick, talked to him on the phone, had an email exchange with him or even seen him perform live, I feel as though I know him well — and I really, really like what he does with words and music. Of course, his frequent collaborations with the Levellers only raise him higher in my estimation. I think we have every recording he’s ever done, with or without the band. Goodbye to the Madhouse is his latest offering.
Nick is a seasoned writer and performer of Irish heritage now based in Brighton, England, where he’s involved with an activist theatre company also named after Tommy McDermott — a man whose claim to fame was calling for peace and love during the Derry Riots back in 1969. Nick’s political beliefs incline him to take the side of the underdog in most power struggles; thus one of his best-known songs, “Dirty Davey,” features the rousing chorus “Corrupt, corrupt from the bottom to the top and you tell me it’s the law.” Around the Green Man offices, this has become a mantra we recite when we hear about a politician trying to do something really stupid — like every day.
The core membership of McDermott’s 2 Hours numbers half a dozen blokes. On Goodbye to the Madhouse, Nick has definitely brought in the reinforcements. A mind-boggling 15 musicians and vocalists (all cleverly referred to as “inmates”) are credited as taking part. I strongly suspect, although the liner notes provide no evidence one way or t’other, that not all these folks play on every track. Nonetheless, the overall effect is of a solid wall of sound (dominated by fiddles and pipes), rendered in a traditional Irish fashion that brings to mind the Pogues at their very best. Nick’s voice is a bit on the rough side, as always, but if you can handle Shane MacGowan, you can handle anything. And Nick does a much better job of articulating his lyrics.
And his lyrics will knock your socks off. Bless ‘im, Nick thinks so highly of his writing that he’s included the complete text for all of the songs in the liner notes for Goodbye to the Madhouse. The CD includes 11 tracks and will keep you going for 50 minutes and change. Although all the songs are decent enough, the real standouts for me are “Crusaders,” a challenge to the Iraq War with the chilling refrain, “Blood on your hands” and “The True Story of Eugene McQuaid,” about a man who died under suspicious circumstances while transporting weapons from Ireland to Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
If you have any other CDs by McDermott’s 2 Hours, or if you like the Pogues, the Levellers, or even Black 47, I definitely recommend that you track down a copy of Goodbye to the Madhouse to add to your collection. You’ll be glad you did — and so will Nick.
(Off the Fiddle, 2007)