Mad Dogs & Englishmen,
Going Down with Alice
(Whippet, 2000)

Mad Dogs & Englishmen appear to be the quieter alter ego of the Whiskey Priests. The latter are one of the best sounding live bands on the English scene. The new recording line-up gives a more restrained rendition of the same top-caliber material. The line-up consists of Glenn and Gary Miller along with Joseph Porter. With a combination of accordion, guitars, mandolin and percussion divided among them, they turn in some memorable work.

The theme running through the CD is of history and they do a great job of bringing the past alive with passionate music and energetic performance. "A Rich Seam," the first track, could describe what we are mining here with every track written by the band members. "House of Fear" brings the horror of war in all its guises under scrutiny including "Ulstermen marching out of bounds, holy wars and trumpets shake the ground." The same motif recurs in the song "Soldier on the Mantelpiece." This is fabulous in that as a sad story it is sung with an unusual upbeat tempo and it works so well. It is very well done in that a simple song about a model of a soldier can bring us to the realization of war.

Joseph Porter's "Canard's Grace" is like a document in social history set to music. The song is sung with a sort of anger that can raise goosebumps as we realise that the scene was played out in thousands of homes in the past. The girl sings of her "father as bloodstock was bartering me." A more lighthearted view of English history is presented in "Cynthia's Revels" as they gallop through Elizabethan England of the virgin queen who "died on her golden throne, a dried-up husk of a wrinkled crone." They give us views on Shakespeare, John Donne and Sir John Roe, which could make history lessons very interesting.

"It's Your Time to Leave" is a powerful song of leaving that is very well performed and is all the better for its simple production. "Full Circle" has a great drum track that draws us in as the Gary Miller song tells us of the steam engine. "An iron beast of burden I tore through the veins and guts of the land" only to "fall to the diesel age." The full circle is a tribute to the enthusiasts who restore these historic machines so that "people flock again in awe, to celebrate, to see, to touch." I never believed that I would hear such a passionate song about a steam engine but this is as powerful as the subject matter and is sung with obvious feeling.

We often make the mistake of forgetting the social history of England and that there is such a strong tradition of folk music -- history concentrates too much on kings, queens, battles and colonisation. Here in 10 tracks, this group does much to regain that ground and renew the influence of the great English folk groups.

The saying goes that mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Let's hope that this group goes out in many such suns, and stages and clubs, and gets the airplay to bring this great set of songs to the world.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 11 January 2003