In the UK, the proud working-class port of Liverpool is known for a humble local stew of lamb or beef called “Scouse”; and the natives of Liverpool are known as “Scousers”. Liverpool is also known for live street music by skiffle bands; four local boys who started out in a Liverpool skiffle band made it big in the sixties. You’ve probably heard of them.
Bolshy is a band of young white kids from those hard streets of Liverpool who play precise, manic and righteously angry punk-edged pure Jamaican Ska for the public and now for us on a new EP called RADICAL. ANARCHIC. BOLSHY. SCOUSE. It’s inevitable when reviewing a UK Ska band to hold them against the gold standard of the two-toned UK 1980’s Ska explosion; The Selecter, featuring Pauline Black. The Selecter was a mixed-race band who played angry, edgy original stuff as well as immortal ska classics like “The Tide is High” and “Carry Go Bring Come”, and whose sound influenced contemporaries like Blondie, The Clash, The English Beat, Madness and beyond, to bands like No Doubt and Sublime.
As unfair as it is on the face to compare two bands from different eras, one could argue that Bolshy takes Ska a step farther. Their original songs manage to foment class struggle embedded in euphoric music that makes you want to dance and feel good. There’s nothing coy or shy about the lyrics in the wildly successful “Counting F***s” or “Payroll Call”; they don’t call themselves Bolshy for nothing.
Working class teenager Lorde tells us gently that she doesn’t care about diamonds on her timepiece. With a big happy smile on their faces, Bolshy tells you where you can put your damn timepiece, and screw your crappy job, too.
These kids play almost any time or day and night in the street to the delight of onlookers and themselves; it’s hard to imagine Lenin or Mao with a credo of “Accept No Limitations, Dance and Be Happy!” On reflection, maybe that’s what the Revolution needed.
They seem to be classified most often as Ska/Punk, even by themselves, but like most musical definitions, that one fails; they definitely have the energy and swagger of both forms, but they sing and play with breathtaking, breakneck precision, occasionally spacing things out with a judiciously placed dollop of dub.
The heart of any good Ska band is the horn section; in this case, Jennifer Birchard-Collins’ tireless, fierce trombone and Robyn Hargreaves’ exuberant saxophone rise together to weave with the driving beat provided by Andrew Lockhart’s drums, Sam Harrison’s bass and precise, aggressive guitar work by Harley Stewart and Louis Kushner.
Ivy Jlassi has one of those voices you must hear to understand. Her vocals are powerful, calm and confident but melodic,sweet and a little sly at the same time. She can growl, too, especially on a song like the superb “No means No”. Backing vocals by Louis, Harley and Sam are disciplined, passionate and well executed; one has a feeling this is a band that will change your life if you see them live.
The whole package is a powerful one; a goofy, anarchic force of nature that never misses a beat or a trick, both echoing and amplifying the voice of the young and others oppressed by tradition, class structure and a game that’s rigged against them. Just dance, Comrades.
Having crowdfunded £1,885 in 30 days, Bolshy are now set to release their debut five track EP RADICAL. ANARCHIC. BOLSHY. SCOUSE which will be launched at District on the 28th June 2014. Download their free single ‘Spaceman’ via Bandcamp.