On a bitterly cold Thursday night, you generally don’t expect to see a crowd of Pirates in central London. But Piratefest is in town, and the sold-out O2 Kentish Town Forum was descended upon by more eye-patches and plastic swords than you can shake a peg leg at. Luckily the venue had stocked up with enough Kraken and Coke to keep everyone happy.
It seems every Pirate in the British Isles has come ashore, and by the time California’s Dread Crew of Oddwood take to the deck there’s barely enough room for the guy dressed as a parrot to swing his smaller, inflatable parrot. Featuring an accordion, whistle, lute, and double bass in lieu of any electric instruments, The Dread Crew are more of a high-octane folk band with The Muppets’ Animal on drums. It’s all piratical and comedy sea shanties with a thunderous rhythm section – props to anyone who can play double bass Steve Harris machine gun style – and the crowd lap it up.
It’s fun, it’s energetic, and the Dread Crew know how to rile up the crowd. It’s folk enough it could appear at a twee country festival, but with enough songs about drinking and questing to go down a storm at something like Bloodstock. One of the best opening acts I’ve seen for a while.
Rumahoy, however, are ok but never quite reach the same level of fun. Scotland’s other Pirate Metal outfit – ‘The World’s Best True Scottish Pirate Metal Band’ by their own account – take the ‘metal’ side of Pirate more seriously than the rest of the line-up. But compared to the constant party and sing along merriment of The Dread Crew or Alestorm, there are just too many middling moments. When they get it right, it’s a sight to behold; the German Europop of ‘Pirate’ is addictive and hilarious and shows they can get the whole crowd dancing when they tone down the shredding a bit. Shame there wasn’t many more moments like that.
Though they didn’t invite it, Alestorm is the North Star of Pirate Metal. In the last ten years, they’ve somehow managed to go from a band with a schtick into one of the best party acts around.
Considering they recently re-released their début album to celebrate its 10th anniversary, you could have been forgiven for expecting a set of nostalgic ‘yar-hars-hars’ all drawn from Captain Morgan’s Revenge (Napalm). But not so.
The set plays like a greatest hits; all the best treasure from the last 10 years are present and correct. From early classics such as ‘Nancy the Tavern Wench’, ‘Wenches and Mead’, and ‘Keelhauled’ to the likes of ‘Drink’, ‘Magnetic North’ and ‘Fucked With An Anchor’, every corner of the band’s back catalogue is catered for.
On record, some of the newer material doesn’t sound particularly inspiring – and the fact they did a whole bonus disc featuring only dog barks shows they don’t take themselves too seriously. But live it just makes perfect sense; there’s less dramatic Turisas-style battle horns but more singalongs, swearing, and shouts of things like ‘Drink!’ and ‘Beer!’. Which is what all a modern-day pirate on a quest for rum and booty really wants. The packed-out crowd goes wild for every song, every chorus is bellowed out, and it’s just the best kind of party atmosphere you can get at a gig. Fun from start to finish.
Also, there’s a giant rubber duck on stage which is never addressed or engaged with. It’s just of there. Ducks are pirate and metal, right?
WORDS BY DAN SWINHOE