Alestorm supported by Heidevolk and Korpiklaani- London Kentish Town and O2 Academy, Birmingham UK

    Photos by Artur Tarczewski Review by Alistair Wiseman


    It’s a Friday night in Birmingham, and I’ve found myself in the 02 Academy again. This is becoming something of a habit, but this time the band I’m here to see are, as Monty Python would’ve put it, something completely different. Alestorm.

    If you’ve heard of them, it’s probably because of the song “Drink” which gets hammered in every rock pub from Lands End to… well.. at least as far north as Perth in Scotland, which is where they hail from, but what you might not know is what they’re really all about. “Pirate metal” is the genre they’ve been dubbed to be proffering to the world, and they do it with some serious silliness!

    Before that though, I’m in for something of a surprise. There’s two bands preceding Alestorm and the first, Heidevolk, have drifted across from deepest darkest Netherlands, a land I lived in for nigh on nine years. They’re from closer to the German border (Arnhem) whereas I lived in Leiden, and sing in Dutch but with something of an accent meaning it takes me a while to actually register quite why I’m struggling with the lyrics! It’s been a looong time since I’ve spoken it, and given Heidevolk’s penchant for singing about various mythologies I doubt I’d’ve known most of the terminology anyway. They did include a decent solo in the first song, and sounding like a chilled out Manowar is never a bad thing. Somewhat surprisingly after two songs in Dutch there’s an English language song, “A Wolf in my Heart” which went down well with everyone there. Later, there’s another “Drinking with the Gods” it’s introduced as and a little research tells me there’s an English and a Dutch version, so it was nice that this was done “met engels” (with English).


    Korpiklaani are up next, a Finnish folk metal band complete with violins and accordions, and they’re not as abrasive as those who came before them, and that’s probably just as well as the whacking great big top hat the singer Jonne Järvelä is sporting would never have coped! Looking suspiciously scarecrow-esque and opening with “Man with a Plan” these guys are working from music that sounds like someone fed Morris dancers opiates and then gave them instruments, then subsequently instructed them to warm the crown up for pirates! The crowd warm to them and there’s a very definite theme of drinking, with some drinking, and possibly a side order of drinking to go. “Wooden Pints” “Vodka” and “Beer Beer”, are just three of the song titles if you think I’m exaggerating! It’s fun, a tad daft, and completely in keeping with what’s to come. Making an unexpected appearance in the middle of all this.. a Boney M cover, “Gotta go Home” and suddenly I’ve an urge to exclaim Barbra Streisand with gusto, but fortunately I keep my composure! “Upbeat”, is how a colleague described them and I can’t find an issue with that at all. I guess with 20 years of experience behind them it’s to be expected that they know their business, but I take nothing for granted these days and thus, this was a happy well received occurrence indeed.


    A full two and a half hours after Heidevolk first took to the stage, it’s finally time. Sporting a giant rubber duck on stage, the size Kris Kristofferson would’ve been proud to have on his 18-wheeler, they enter to a tune that had more than a hint of Rasputin to it which, although that could just’ve been the residual effects of the previous exposure, and kick off with “Keelhauled” followed swiftly by “No Grave but the Sea”. The singer Christopher Bowes is sporting a kilt, which as a Scotsman pleases me greatly! Represent! Resplendent!

    In truth it looks like they’re all enjoying themselves and it’s bleeding out into the audience, who know every word that’s being sung. As “Wenches and Mead” is introduced it strikes me that the sound here is fantastic, and the lyrics have been crystal clear all evening, something that causes me consternation at probably 80% of gigs! The songs are being sung, rather than bellowed, and the sound crew are managing the driving rhythm over the lyrics brilliantly. I’m impressed, and that takes a little bit of doing these days. Amusingly as this dawns on me the singer decides to replace all the lyrics with “Woof”, somewhat negating the need for articulation but hey ho, I once meowed the whole of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” of Blue Oyster Cult fame to my cat, while completely oblivious to the fact that I’d left my microphone on my pc turned on, much to the amusement of an old friend on the other end of it, so I can let them off!

    The new EP song “The Voyage of the Dead Marauder” gets its first Birmingham outing, as too does “Big Ship, Little Ship” both with Patty Gurdy, vocalist and hurdy-gurdy player from Germany. The former feels a little more dramatic than what’s come before and I suspect it’s Patty’s introduction that makes it so. The shared vocals and instrumentation flow into each other while they tell their (presumably dead men’s) tales, and these feel like they’re benefiting from perhaps better production than some of their earlier songs. For a band that’s supposedly got roughly three types of songs, (Daft, rude, and epic), it’s good to see that “epic” is getting the treatment it deserves.

    Speaking of credit, it bears mentioning the skill of the instrumentation here. The guitar work is excellent, “P.A.R.T.Y” was a great example of this, the bass keeps everything running well, and the drums drive everything, sounding crisp, clean, and uncomplicated. Even the monstrosity which is a keytar (part keyboard part guitar part abomination!) fits in well, along with keyboards and other incidental additional instruments. When “Drink” kicks in for the first part of a three-song encore there’s a very definite feeling of “We enjoyed that” rippling through the people gathered here. The spectacularly childish “Fucked with an Anchor” finishes the evening complete with the aforementioned audience singing along with far too much pleasure than should’ve been extrapolated from such indelicate lyrics! How old are we all again?


    I quietly shake my head, acknowledge that I’m turning 50 this month, and then chuckle on my way out. “Arr me hearties!” I voice message a mate who I’ve lost somewhere in the venue, and then make my way home, pondering if I should mentally force myself to walk a metaphorical plank for having enjoyed myself too much. I consider sending a message to the girlfriend about her treasure chest, but stop myself just in time. The word “Anchor” floats across my psyche, possibly with a silent “w”, and instead the night closes in around me as another evening ends with a smile.

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