It’s been a closely-run thing tonight making sure that both Your Humble Reviewer (this time accompanied by both Editor Girl AND the Elder Offspring) gets both himself AND his camera through the door at Liverpool’s Camp and Furnace, but thanks to the fine fellas that are Kneecap and Greta from the venue, all barriers (apart from the one at the front) have now been removed as we bundle through the door excitedly, ready for my second outing with Béal Feirste’s finest.
The last time we crossed paths was back in May at the Brudenell in Leeds, and a fine evening it was too, so I have high hopes for tonight’s shenanigans.
Using socially conscious lyrics blended with humour, and harsh reality delivered via absurdity, they use their platform (in a similar way to compatriots and great admirers Enola Gay) to highlight the plights of those living their lives in post-Troubles Northern Ireland and Belfast in particular, mostly using a language which wasn’t even officially recognized until late last year by the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act.
So, what’s been happening in the world of Kneecap since last we met? They’ve certainly come a long way since 2017’s bus stop/spray paint incident, which resulted in debut release C.E.A.R.T.A. (Irish for “Rights”), that’s for sure.,
Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí (he of the excellent balaclava that never comes off) have moved closer towards the release of their debut album with the release of, “Better Way to Live”, featuring none other than Fontaines D.C.s Grian Chatten and Tom Coll on vocals and drums respectively. Following up on the success (in controversy terms, at the very least) of last year’s Hawthorn Street mural featuring a burning PSNI Landrover, and which incredibly was also produced as a Lego set, they followed it up with another one, released just before their triumphant Falls Park gig back in August.
This one features the slogan “England Get Out of Ireland” and shows both land masses within the Island of Ireland painted in green white and orange, so it’s clear to see exactly why tonight’s show will be no place for either Tories or monarchists, both of whom came in for a fierce lambasting six months ago, and indeed, continue to do so, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Whilst a gig review isn’t necessarily the best place to delve into the politics of what Kneecap are trying to achieve (a visit to the General Post Office exhibition in Dublin recently, only served to confirm the complexity of Irish history and politics, and others have written about them from a far more informed viewpoint than me), it’s fair to say that their aims are passionate, along with their continuing support for Palestine, mirroring the aspirations of many of their Irish compatriots including the magnificent Mary Wallopers.
“We don’t want to get anyone out of Ireland apart from the British Government”, they say “In the Shankill and Falls and other working-class areas, we are all the same. We are all one. It is about the community and love.” And you absolutely can’t argue with that.
The public release of Rich Peppiat’s “Kneecap” film, featuring Michael Fassbender as well as the lads (as “Heightened versions of themselves”, apparently – how THAT will pan out, heaven only knows) grows ever closer after finishing shooting in May and October saw a triumphant U.S. tour, featuring gigs in Toronto, Boston, New York, Virginia, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It’s fair to say that Kneecap aren’t letting the grass grow under their collective feet – they hit the ground running with the first leg of their UK tour in Newcastle last night and tonight they’re accompanied by much merch (and hopefully a fully functioning card reader) with which I will doubtless be sorely tempted before they scamper back to Belfast with their spoils – and good luck to them too.
The crowd has already been whipped into anticipation by energetic sets from Manchester rap acts Cooper T and OneDa, and as the lights drop, a frisson of excitement passes through us, rising to a roar of approval as DJ Próvaí appears from the gloom, identity always and forever hidden beneath his green white and gold balaclava, clutching a bottle of Buckfast in which he’s already taking quite an interest. He ventures to the front of the stage.
Then down into the pit where I’m lucky enough to be, climbing the barrier to shake the hands of some of his adoring fans, before taking his place behind his decks as Mo Chara and, Móglaí Bap bounce jauntily onstage and launch straight into “It’s Been Ages”.
Although the majority of the song (like most of its set mates) is sung in Irish, it really doesn’t matter – “It’s been ages, since we made the front pages” isn’t strictly true – front pages were MADE for Kneecap. “It’s back to basics, a scumbag hood I’m shameless, take more than that to tame us – all your fault ‘cause you made us famous”. Everybody here knows at least SOMETHING for which the Belfast trio are (in)famous, otherwise they wouldn’t be here, and they punch the air in approval as things get underway.
“Liverpool, what’s happenin’?” we’re asked, and by the size of the roar, something very much IS. “It’s a fcukin’ pleasure to be back in the 33rd county of Ireland!” is met with equal volume. Tonight is NOT going to go gentle, that’s for sure. “Not bad for a Tuesday night” is quickly amended to.
“Not bad when you’ve no fcukin’ job in the morning!”, to everyone’s delight as we drop straight into “Amach Anocht” – in which much joy is to be found picking up words we understand amongst the machinegun-paced Irish lyrics that are being hurled at us (I’m particularly fond of “Postman Ket”) Plus this one includes THAT sampled scream – you know, the one from, “Jump Around”, but WHERE does the scream originate – is it Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ or is it Prince’s “Gett off”? Either way, there’ll be no royalties flying anywhere soon from THESE fellows.
Everyone tonight knows the chorus to “Fenian Cnuts” (and no, I’m not dyslexic), which is introduced with the sentiment that, “The only good Tory is a dead Tory” – just checking. The subject matter, more or less, concerns a Protestant who discovers (slightly too late) that her current partner is a Catholic (although, “You can call me King Billy if you want to” seems to make up for any misunderstanding, and you can consult your history books if you need any background to THAT lyric, Dear Reader). What comes across time and again is the tongue in cheek and irreverent manner in which Kneecap approach their subject matter – you absolutely can’t help but like them.
Controversies aside, they’re ultimately just three fellas trying to make it through the Belfast day, but happy to share their experiences with the folk from across the water.
The bass from “Thart Agus Thart” is almost enough to rip the flesh from your bones, taking us back to the searing monotony of being trapped at home during the lockdowns. There is much belching as further volumes of Bucky are consumed, before we’re given a fairly graphical description of one particular solitary activity that consumed much of Kneecap’s days and again the mischief and glee is never far from the mics.
The lyrics of “Incognito” cover the use of secret language and slang to stay underground and evade the police while participating in somewhat less than legal activities, apparently and it’s gratifying to hear the youngsters nearby singing the Irish lyrics as the English ones. “Fcuk RTE”, blends nicely into “Fcuk BBC”, and, much to the probable dismay of Mr Tumble, “Fcuk CBeebies”.
Poor Noo Noo. Next up is current single, “Better Way to Live”, which is introduced with an apology for the absence of Grian Chatten (much do the disappointment of Editor Girl), so we have to be content with some very creative miming. “This is our first time doing this”, is met with a roar of approval, but the statement is quickly qualified with, “In Liverpool”, so it’s not a Scouse live debut after all.
Produced by Toddla T, it’s definitely more Eminem than Beastie Boys as Mr Chatten’s nasal cadence blasts out of the speakers. Of the song, Kneecap say, “A Better Way to Live’ is all about finding that little spark of joy in the monotony, in the day-to-day things that you barely bat an eye at. In between the moments of that repetitive lift of the pint, or spark of a cigarette, there is an opportunity for bliss.
Underneath that constant noise, there is a silence that can breathe new life and inspiration breaking through the mundane.“ and the video, directed by Peadar Gill was filmed in Madden’s Bar in Belfast where Kneecap and Grian first met – it’s well worth a watch, if by some miracle you haven’t seen it already – “Underneath all the thundering there’s magic, and if there’s a better way to live, I’ve gotta have it” – in a miserable world, we all need to find our own magic, for sure.
“Sick in the Head” is preceded by a plea to the sound man to address the sound between the vocals and the backing track – “My vocals DOWN, track UP – Fcuk ME!”, but it seems that the request is a little on the technical side and has to be repeated a couple of times before everything is to their satisfaction. It’s another song that’s going to feature on the upcoming album, and returns to a more Public Enemy/Cypress Hill vibe. A shout out goes to whoever organized the mosh pit, which became self-aware a couple of songs ago – “Calm the fcuk down, whoever organized that – we’re not even halfway through!”
The crowd are eating out of their hands by now as the inevitable chant of “free Palestine” erupts, to the waving of flags, scarves and banners supporting said cause. “Love Making” is another new track from the album, and heads off in a more soulful direction, but this still provides no challenge to Mo Chara and, Móglaí Bap as their clever wordplay continues unabated with DJ Próvaí alternating between doing what he does best on his decks and coming forward to form a MOST Unholy Trinity with his compatriots.
Next up is crowd favourite “Sniffer Dogs”, for which all the lights are turned down – “You can call me ‘Mo Chara’, a local celeb i Gconemara, I haven’t been a scumbag in years Mr Garda, I just wanna have a few beer Mr Garda, And I swear I haven’t got any gear Mr Garda” – not that ANYBODY is speaking from experience, of course.
Absolutely not. The chorus of, “Your sniffer dogs are sh*te!” echoes out over a sinister and minimalist drumbeat as the mosh pit smashes from a circle almost as wide as tonight’s venue to an epicentre of bodies, beer and flags, to the absolute delight of our troublesome trio“. Finishing off with “Ill say it before and I’ll say it again – a dog… should NOT… have a job!”
“I Bhfiacha Linne” is another new track, as the mosh pit is now shaped and curated, ready to be detonated ad the appropriate signal, but there’s a stern warning, “Also, if somebody falls, pick them up – don’t be carrying on like a fcuking American trying to elbow someone!”, before the song kicks off with the intro from 808 State’s “Cubik” and the sea of bodies comes together once again. Has anybody seen those nice people from St John’s Ambulance – they’re going to be busy, for sure as the pace picks up with lyrics spat out left, right and centre.
“How are all the pensioners doing out the back?”, they ask scornfully. Editor Girl, Elder Offspring and I wouldn’t know, as we’re right down the front, with me making frequent forays onto the photo pit, to make sure I capture as much of the evening as I can. They ask how we are too, not forgetting the people in the middle too. Most inclusive.
Thanks go out to the crowd for the energy we’re contributing to the gig, especially in the face of some newer songs that not everybody might know, and when this is met with approval, we slip noisily into another new tune.
“Fine Art” which, apparently includes some samples from TV and radio presenter Stephen Nolan (“The first time he’s ever got a cheer”) and starts out with a mournful backing track, over which Móglaí Bap Mo and Chara rap effortlessly, before the unfortunate Mr Nolan makes his sampled appearance (“Today, above a burning police car, chants of ‘Get the Brits out’” – it’s almost as though we’re being prepared for something…).
Not just yet, though, as a warning of the after effects of drinking Buckfast at every gig are graphically described. “Parful” drifts effortlessly into “CEARTA”, (the Irish word for “Rights”, in case you STILL weren’t aware). Folk are up on friends’ shoulders and flags are thrown from one end of the room to the other as a wave of what I can only describe as pure delight threatens to engulf Camp and Furnace as even Tinky Winky gets a shout out before we hear the sound of the pompous (and ever so slightly English sounding) Garda –
““Young man we caught you damaging public property, and you are coming to the station so we can talk properly” – you can hunt down the story of the spray painting incident yourself, but needless to say, it didn’t end up QUITE like that.
The pace picks up as we slip into, “Guilty Conscience”, starting its heavy rave influence, then progressing into an Enola-Gay-esque industrial beat so hot you could fry an egg on it, and you can be sure that a conscience, (guilty or otherwise) isn’t going to be keeping Kneecap awake for too long tonight “New guds, happy days, so much comfort when you don’t have to pay, and when I’m happily tripped in designer gear, then all of you are getting one behind the ear”. Ah, so THAT’s what “OBE” stands for…
It’s almost the end of the night, with “Get Your Brits Out”, featuring the beat and beeps of the 60 second BBC News trailer (you KNOW the one – possibly the most “Establishment” sample they could have employed) – check out the lyrics for yourself, Dear Reader, as there’s much more to be learned about the frustrations that drive Kneecap than I have space to describe here, but it’s a tale that needs to be told.
And just as importantly understood. A final plea to “Free Palestine” rings out into the night before an equally enthusiastic plea for whatever energy we have left for the final song of the night, namely, HOOD – “I’m an H – double O – D. Low life scum, that’s what they say about me” – if you’re a fan of Meryl Streek, you can’t fail to love this one.
And then they’re gone and we drift out into a rainy Liverpool night, to the chant of Pigbag’s 80s standard “Fcuk the Tories” (are you sure that’s right? Ed.), still buzzing, bouncing and beeping from the energy of what we’ve just witnessed. Although you don’t NEED to know the back story behind every song, nor do you need to run every lyric through Google translate, if you’re planning to see Kneecap (and I strongly suggest that you SHOULD).
It also wouldn’t do any harm to give a listen to those songs with which you might be less familiar, nice though the sniffer dogs are. Ostensibly under the (w)rappings and trappings of having a good time, they have a serious message to deliver to those with half an ear to lend, and just as importantly, to those who DON’T want to listen. Fun, but fun that might just take you off down a rabbit hole you might never otherwise have explored – honestly, what’s not to love?
Kneecap played: It’s Been Ages, Amach Anocht, Fenian Cu*nts, Thart Agus Thart, Incognito, Better Way to Live, Sick in The Head, Love Making, Sniffer Dogs, I Bhfiacha Linne, Fine Art, Parful, CEARTA, Guilty Conscience, Get Your Brits Out and HOOD