The legendary Woody Guthrie performed with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar and he was a major influence on many songwriters over the years.
Will there will ever be an artist like him in today’s world; one that follows their muse in breaking through the accepted norms? England produced Billy Bragg who has been a very politically charged musician over his career and has fought against social injustice. He often spoke of his passion for the principles that Woody Guthrie stood for.
However, there is also an American equivalent, someone who is hiding in plain sight and has been delivering important messages for the last 20 years…
Tonight, I am reacquainted with the performance phenomenon that is Hamell On Trial.
It has been quite a few years since I last encountered this force of nature in a live setting and I was blown away by his passion and energy and his razor sharp wit. He also displays a verbal dexterity that is quite something to witness when he is riffing on a theme and his laser precision intelligence is aimed at many deserving targets.
He is a wordsmith, street-poet, a rebel with a cause who questions the basis upon which society works and the values that are held dear within the ranks of conventional thinking and Government spin. Nothing is safe from this punk poet. He is a country-rap artist and an urban guerrilla who stands tall against all that is hypocritical in the world.
Drawing from his twelve previous releases and debuting songs from an upcoming release, Tackle Box, we are given a 2-hour set that is full-on, with unrelting energy and a commitment to lift the audience into a new space, despite suffering from severe back pain; something he returns to at regular intervals and jokes around. Indeed, his penchant for joke telling is an integral part of the performance and his stories and observations from a life spent in the trenches are often hilarious. We get songs about divorce (his own), drugs, parenting, gun violence, the passage of youth, the media, hate crimes, religion, dead-end day jobs, old age, whores and Politics - with plenty of Trump references throughout.
Finishing with the iconic Johnny Cash song Folsom Prison Blues, Ed Hamell plays with rapid and powerful strumming on his heavily amplified Gibson acoustic guitar, while bringing all the pieces together into a statement of being your own man and living life to the max.
He has a tattoo that reads ‘The Chord is Mightier Than the Sword’ which encapsulates the Woody Guthrie stance and although the performance on guitar is impressive, dare I suggest that it is his poetic bullets that truly hit the mark.
Also on the bill, as support, was the ever-impressive Clive Barnes who joked about his 18 years of remaining anonymous in the music industry despite playing close on 200 gigs a year. The five song set displays his great talent on slide and acoustic guitar and he is a player with some serious licks who also sings like an old bluesman from the deep South. Always a joy to hear and one of our premier Irish musicians. He has a new CD, his sixth, to be released soon and is well worth tracking down.
Review and photograph by Paul McGee