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Thee Faction

At Ebbw Vale (Soviet Beret)

By • Dec 2nd, 2010 • Category: Album review

“Recorded in situ”, Thee Faction’s first ever official release, At Ebbw Vale was possibly recorded at an NUM benefit in Ebbw Vale in 1985. Whatever the exact genealogy of this recording, it’s as real as Billy Bragg and Wilko Johnson having a pint with Arthur Scargill in the wooden snug of a flat cap pub while, what Dylan Thomas would term a “giggle of schoolgirls” screams by, its members ensconced in a white stretch limo or decommissioned fire engine, oblivious to all but their own future X-Factored diva status.

In days gone by, when Britain knew the dignity of labour as opposed to the indignity of wannabe celebrity culture, the Welsh steel town of Ebbw Vale was the constituency of Michael Foot, a fashion disaster, perhaps, but a truly inspiring politician. Prior to this, your correspondent’s political hero Aneurin Bevan, the “father” of the National Health Service, represented Ebbw Vale as a Labour MP. Nowadays the steelworks have gone but the valleys remain. Even if it is indeed twenty-five years since this set was recorded, the surrounding hillsides surely still resonate to the invigorating backing vocals that help arm ‘Union Man’ the song sends At Ebbw Vale crashing into earshot. Seldom can an anthem against the decimation of Trades Unions have rocked so hard. Rock&roll and old-school R&B are sliced together in nicely nasty fashion throughout this record. There are distinct elements of Dr Feelgood in belters such as ‘Charm Alone’, a rhythm and blues stomper that scuzzes and pounds, and “Hands Untied”. and especially throughout the rousing ‘Don’t Sell Yr Consent’ as the down-and-dirty vocalisations of Billy Brentford intone, “they wanna keep you ignorant, behaving like an infant, it’s called Manufacturing Consent.”

‘Conservative Friend’ sounds like the Rolling Stones meets AC/DC with added juggernaut guitar, hijacked in the backing vocal zone by the Pixies. The lyrical conceit: “you got a Conservative friend – then that relationship, why it’s gotta end.” seizes The Specials’ ‘Racist Friend’ motif and, as heard now, re-establishes it for the Coalition generation. Brentford delivers both French and English lyrics with an appropriate sting in his wail on ‘The Catcus’, a taut, springy rendition of Jacques Dutronc and Jacques Lanzmann’s withering critique of aspirational mid-60s French society. ‘Gone Too Long’ adds more supercharged freakbeatery which really lives up to that garage band -style “Thee” in the band’s name. Sonic gears change seamlessly as ‘Rise Up, Don’t Give Up’ showcases the stirring yet lilting vocals of the splendidly-named Kassandra Krossing.

Ramones-ish both in title and execution, ‘Julie Got A Raise’ proves to be an excellent powerpop song about enlightenment in the workplace…this is Da Brudders for the Brothers and Sisters: foot-tapping and energetic, turbocharged, but with no excess flesh on the bone.

In the liner notes to this record, Thee Faction comment appropriately that their song ‘Social Inclusion Thru Marxism’ is “far catchier than its title suggests, comrade,” and while ‘4Evry1’ may read like an unreleased offcut of Prince-style funk, it turns out to be a back-to-basics guitar-led crunching celebration of life after the Marxist revolution (“We’re gonna have a good time when capitalism falls”). Utopian, perhaps, but a glorious vision nonetheless, and all the more so for being wrapped up with ‘White Riot’ guitars.
Reserved, according to the band, for the “bourgeois pantomime of an encore”, ‘I Can See The Future’ builds via Phil Spector drums into an anthem of clear-eyed idealism.
Whether in 1985 or 2010, Thee Faction project a musical and lyrical vision that reinforces the ideal that it’s the moment that counts: it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. And At Ebbw Vale is a very good place to be.

Thee Faction play Glasgow’s 13th Note on Sunday 5th December.
In advance of the show the band have put up some tracks from the album for download by itm? readers – get them

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