Bank Holiday Monday sees those in the know (Your Humble Reviewer and trusty sidekick Editor Girl – who is also developing a knack with the old Nikon – I shall have to watch her closely, dear Reader) heading into Manchester for the evening’s hot ticket, namely Meryl Streek, sharing tonight’s bill with the wonderfully-named Dead Sheeran.
As it hasn’t been a work day, we’re able to hit YES at a far more respectable time, allowing time for natterage with friends, introducing friends to OTHER friends, and ordering pizza from this fine establishment for the first time.
This ends EXTREMELY well, it has to be said with broadcasters meeting reviewers, togs meeting writers and all manner of information being exchanged – in fact, everything that you’d expect from the folk that do their best to support new artists, short of actually getting up and having a go (definitely NOT recommended) themselves.
However, to the matter at hand, as we descend the stairs into the writhing mass of Bank Holiday bodies that already occupy YES Basement, just in time to take our places at the front, to revisit Mr Streek and say a first hello to Mr Sheeran.
Like Meryl Streek, Dead Sheeran is now the proud owner of a fan-run Facebook group, going by the name of The Dead Shed, many of whose members have already participated in a get together on YES’s roof bar tonight. Fan support is vital, so kudos to Natasha Stokes for setting up The Dead Shed, sitting proudly alongside Doireann Tierney’s Bon Secour, Bonjour Meryl Streek group. It’s also great to see that both Dead Sheeran and Meryl Streek are members of, and regularly participate in their respective groups.
Springing from the rear of the stage accompanied by the theme from Midlands-based 60s-80s TV Soap “Crossroads” (ask someone as old as me, if you can FIND someone that old) and eschewing his trusty Roland from Grange Hill tee shirt in favour of natty suit and dangling bowtie, Mr Sheeran pauses only to greet us with a bellow of, “Manchester, how the fuck are ya?”, before we career headfirst into “Can things get any worse?”, the opening track from November 2020’s “A National Disgrace” album.
Dead Sheeran (or we could also refer to him as “Paul”, for that’s his name) describes himself thus, “Solitary artist, well versed in the dark side of the Force. One man and a trusty laptop. Like an all-star tag team of the Sleaford Mods, Crass and the Cockney Rejects going for it. All influences proudly worn on the sleeve, no apologies.
Born from frustration at the state of everything. Don’t like the Tories, don’t trust Labour either…no win situation” and you can tell from the outset that NOBODY is going to be cut any slack tonight. From his Twitter, I also love, “Like Lily Allen if she was an old bloke from the Midlands. 100% Woke and Anti-Tory. End of.”
Boasting a musical career spanning 25 years (although you wouldn’t think it to look at him and that’s not what we’re here to discuss today, anyway) and with an output crossing many genres, he prowls angrily back and forth on the minimally lit stage, punching the air in frustration and peppering the air with profanities, but given his anger with British politics and the state of the country generally, it’s not only necessary, it’s positively welcome.
The laptop spits out Pacman bleeps and warbles that would sit comfortably in a horror film, all interspersed with drum and bass rhythms as he delivers an intelligent, wry and frustrated social commentary in pieces the channel the best of The Streets, Goldie Lookin Chain, M.C. Tunes and a whole host more.
As the focus of the songs is definitely the lyrics, as with Meryl Streek, the backing tracks complement them just enough not to be a distraction. “It’s mental these days” the opener from September 2020’s “Dead Sheeran” EP, is next with its cry that, “They try to tell us it’s all going well, Rishi – it’s fcukin’ clear that it’s not”. Paul’s/Dead’s anger, whilst on the surface merely targets an underclass, is also aimed at those who refuse to look beyond what they are told, those in control who have CREATED that very underclass, and those who are happy to BE that underclass (“This was YOUR decision”) without realizing that that’s what they have become.
“There’s nothing great about Britain” released in March, continues the theme – “This country’s a right fcukin’ state”. Paul reminds me a little of Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman as he frantically stares down the crowd whilst prowling within the confines of the Basement’s stage like a caged tiger and whilst you’re pretty sure that the targets of his ire lie outside these four walls, you wouldn’t want to ask him about it, just in case.
You can see why Meryl Streek has picked him as a running mate for this series of shows – there are many similarities in their respective approaches from the angrily spoken lyrics (“The people have had enough!” from “Kicking off in the streets”) through the effective use of backing tracks and effects right down to the grunts of frustration throughout the songs – this isn’t a mere performance – it’s a belief system and a call to arms. Dead stares around like the world weary manager of a working mens’ social club that’s gone to the dogs.
The jacket is off as the tempo picks up for “Who’s that tw*t”, dedicated to a friend who’s unfortunate enough to be a Tory too. How this happened, we’re not quite sure, but he tells us all about it, so it MUST be true. “One Thing After Another”, released earlier this month, is terrifying in its pessimism (“We’re on the brink of World War Three, my friends – I’m pretty sure that we’re fcuked – while we’re puking radiation, they’ll be hiding, laughing in their bunkers”) and gives us WAY too much food for thought, as those who we are supposed to trust to have our best interests at heart come under Paul’s/Dead’s steely gaze.
Racism, pollution, downright stupidity, politicians – nothing is safe. “Pretty sure that we’re fucked” might not be a chant with which you’d expect an audience to readily join in, but the themes have clearly struck a chord with tonight’s crowd, who echo back the refrain enthusiastically. “Mentality Street” warns us that, “We’re going back to the dark ages”, whilst May 2022’s “Midlife in a small town” tackles the growing issue of struggling with mental health as “people fight battles that you might never know”
Paul shuffles unnervingly from one foot to the other with a gait reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster looking for help from any quarter as the strobes flash through the darkness – “It’s not supposed to be like this – I’m struggling – we’ve learned nothing”
“The problem with this country“ is, apparently, that “It’s full of fcuking tw*ts” and to be fair, it’s not a statement with which you can really argue. Thirty-three thought-provoking minutes draw to a close with a thank you to the Dead Shedders in the audience and set closer, “Things were better in the Eighties” which, if you think about Choppers, Scalextric, Hornby trains, Panini stickers and any of the myriad reference points that Paul drags out of our collective subconscious (well, at least those of us who REMEMBER the Eighties), is absolutely true.
“Things will never be the same again” chimes the laptop, and you know, it’s probably right, as Dead finishes with a flourish of, “I want to help you, Ro-land”. Only Grange Hill kids around in the 80s will get this!
Thought-provoking, witty, intelligent and accusatory, warm and at the same time totally unforgiving – if you’re looking for food for thought, stop by Dead Sheeran’s table and wait for his crumbs of wisdom to fall, as you watch for another release from his conveyor belt of social commentary. There are a lot worse places to find your sustenance.
Dead Sheeranplayed: Can things get any worse, It’s mental these days, Nothing great about Britain, Kicking off in the streets, Who’s that twat, One thing after another, Mentality Street, Midlife in a small town, The problem with this country, Things were better in the Eighties.
You’d maybe imagine that some artists would run out of steam, or at least out of anger, given the number of social, political and religious issues that Meryl Streek has taken on board. Tonight, The Humble Reviewer is pleased to report that this is not the case.
A couple of other plus points to note, as if the two artists on tonight’s bill weren’t enough – firstly, the presence of conspirator Molly Vulpyne in the tightly packed crowd, which bodes well, and also the fact that as the light drops to almost blackness (to the despair of the togs in the crowd, but to the delight of everyone else), a request to “Shhh” passes between us.
As regular readers of my wordy meanderings will testify, chatterbox audiences are a particular bugbear of mine, so it’s pleasing to see that the folk here tonight want to see AND hear and don’t consider what THEY have to say to be of more importance than the message of the artistes. To cite the Emperor Palpatine meme, this pleases me greatly.
Those of us who have followed Mr Streek around for a while will confirm that whilst we’re looking forward to an outing of many tracks from critically-acclaimed debut album “796” as he can squeeze in, recent gigs have provided us with an indication as to of what its successor’s contents will consist. What remains of conversation quickly dies to a respectful hush as the by- now-familiar beats of anti-Catholic Church/child abuse anthem “The Start” ring out – “Ireland was once one of the most Catholic countries on earth – not anymore” peals out the sampled news commentary.
It’s a brave man who can open his set with a topic as guaranteed to have the hackles rising as this one, but Meryl has never been one to shy away from things that need to be spoken about, nay, yelled from the rooftops. “All words, no actions” is the accusatory run out, accompanied by a mournful church bell as the Dublin wordsmith that is Meryl Streek appears from the rear of the stage to a massive roar of approval. Is he going to turn any lights on? Sigh, no, he is NOT – it’s just him and that feckin’ torch – ah, well, here we go, then.
“Full of Grace” opens with the lyric, “I once mitched off school to dodge learning the ten commandments, when all along the inventors of such bollox have been dodging them all along.” These aren’t rants that wash over your head, these are lyrics that you want, no NEED to listen to. From the minute you realise to what the 796 of the album title refers (go Google, dear reader, if this has STILL somehow slipped underneath your radar), you recognise that here is a man who has lived (and continues to live) through what he sings about.
In much the same way as Mr Sheeran earlier. I can’t quite get the idea of “Streek and Sheeran” as being an old and established firm of solicitors dating back to the 19thcentury, out of my head, but then that’s probably just me.
“Yesterday”, with its mournful refrain of, “You left-when I needed you most you, said I thought you meant it – but you took it back for the craic – just like that”. This is one of my favourite lyrics – you can put your own take on it, but it sounds personal and seems to hurt him every bit as much as the wider social and political issues that he seeks to address on behalf of the downtrodden and those without a voice.
It merges effortlessly into “Death to the Landlord” – “I make these songs to remind me of the days that have come and gone – you’ve lied so much, your teeth have become rotten… and I don’t give a sh*t if you like this album or not” – it’s always about the message, never about how it’s received, although it’s clear tonight that the message is being received loud and clear.
You wouldn’t want to bump into Mr Streek at a fancy party, not realise who he was and tell him that you owned a large portfolio of rental properties, that’s for sure, as though “And this song goes out to any two-faced prick politician making money off a mother and two kids for a bedsit – your day is gonna come” hadn’t already given you a clue.
Next up is “Matter of Fact”, cheerfully introduced with “This one goes out to anyone working in the music business, because you’re all a bunch of fcuking di*kheads”. I promise not to mention The Cure’s “A Forest” this time (see my Kneecap/Meryl review, where I DID), but if you were there, you’ll know what I mean.
Give it a listen and tell me I’m wrong, 80s kids. Off the back of “Having faith in bands your whole life, it’s a way to sudden death, always fronted by some fucking dickhead like myself”, we’re led by the nose into, “You know what the fuck to do – Manchester, get your fucking hands in the air”, and we do, joyously, stamping and clapping as if our lives depended on it. I honestly don’t think there’s an album that I’ve anticipated and enjoyed so much, and whose lyrics I have dissected so forensically. You really owe it to yourselves to get your hands on a copy of 796 and soak in that lyric sheet. Even if it only sends you down one rabbit hole of investigation, it really will have been worth it.
Banshee-like, Ms. Vulpyne joins Meryl for “Demon”, and although you can scarcely see her in the gloom, you sure as H E double L know that she’s there. “We are each our own devil and we make this world our own hell” Sobering stuff indeed. The pair of proceed to target politicians with “Educated Mates”, “Please, please, please just tell me how you got elected? And what you’ve been doing? I’m baffled. I’ve got a mind of my own, and I know I’m 10 times more productive and smarter than you”. Molly makes her bows, takes her applause and hops off the front of the stage to disappear into the crowd as silently as she arrived.
Suicide is next, as Meryl leaps down into the crowd and parts us, Moses-fashion from stage to merch stand, pounding furiously up and down the channel he has created, before we’re treated to a brace of new songs, staring with “Paddy”, dedicated to Meryl’s uncle of that name, and someone who has clearly had a profound effect on him, who will “Always be remembered, always be missed, always be loved” – sometimes it’s nice to see Meryl the Man peer out from behind Meryl the Voice as we realise that for all his targets, anger and messages, he’s just the same as us – he’s loved and he’s lost, and we happily join in with a tribute to a man that none of us knew, but who is brought to life by the passion and sincerity of his nephew singing his soul out before us.
Meryl thanks us for coming out on a Monday and directs us to the merch stand, so he can keep a promise to his ma that one day he’d sell tee shirts, so there’s no emotional pressure on us to buy in order to make her dreams come true – AT ALL. May the 16th saw the release of latest single “If This Is Life”, another swipe at landlords and unaffordable rents when all the time, all he really wants is the chance to “Own a gaff by the sea and see if dreams can be made”. Molly reappears, wraith-like, to join in with the refrain of “If this is life, I don’t want it” as the sampled newscasts report the dire statistics of the number of young adults still living with their parents, because they can’t afford to move out, something borne out in one of the comments on the YouTube video for the track “Absolutely brilliant!
Please keep going, this feels like everything that flies through my head every day. I’m a 29-year-old, have a shitty paid job (working with the NHS), live at home with mum and I don’t know what future I have.” On the surface, it’s a lighter-sounding song, but dive beneath the surface and it’s just as hard hitting as its predecessors – “ I wanna see affordable rents with no blood sucking landlords about” – you can dodge, but Meryl’s sights are never far from you.
796’s “False Apologies” sees the evening’s proceedings start to draw to a close, taking a twin swipe at the institutes of both Church and State, one responsible for atrocities, the other facilitating them – “False apologies, just give it to me straight, and you’ve shed more blood than John Rambo, covered up by the fcuking state”.
The set closer is a new, as yet untitled track on whose lyrics we pounce eagerly, like baby birds awaiting the return of their parents – Meryl makes sure we know it’s about former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil politician Bertie Ahern, so we already know he’s about to go out with a bang. It’s fair to say that the next three minutes don’t go tremendously well for Mr Ahern as Mr Streek clearly doesn’t hold him in highest regard. The applause rings out as Mr Ahern’s annihilation draws to a close and we rush to meet the men of the moment at the merch stand (can’t beat a bit of alliteration in a review).
Following an album as hard hitting as 796 was always going to be a challenge, but on the basis of the three new songs we’ve heard tonight, it seems that Meryl Streek has things well in hand and we can only set our collective breath to “Maximum Bate” as we await the arrival of its successor. Please don’t keep us waiting TOO long, sir – our patience may not be wearing thin, but it’s certainly starting to craic a little. More about Meryl Street can be found HERE
Meryl Streek played: The Start, Full of Grace, Yesterday, Death to the Landlord, Matter of Fact, Demon, Educated Mates, Suicide, Paddy, If This is Life, False Apologies and Untitled (The One About Bertie Ahern)