Dead Men Walking is the long-time side project of Theatre Of Hate & Spear Of Destiny founder Kirk Brandon; an evolving collective of friends from the punk scene that over the years has seen its numbers swelled by the likes of Glen Matlock, Slim Jim Phantom, Mike Peters, Capt. Sensible, through to Pete Wylie, and Billy Duffy; the current and seemingly stable line up consists of Brandon, Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers and both Segs and Dave Ruffy from Ruts DC.
From 2001’s debut album, A few live recordings have been released, whilst ‘Graveyard Smashes Volume 1’ was the first studio recording, this was followed up in 2015 with ‘Easy Piracy’ coming out as the Jacktars minus Brandon – both releases being something of a rare find. ‘Freedom – It Ain’t On The Rise’ is Brandon at the wheel and Peters being dropped off a few stops back.
On this new release, we get thirteen tracks which include four new Brandon and Segs compositions specifically written for Dead Men Walking during the recent lockdown. With lockdown seeing bands have to take a new approach to recording and members having to phone in their parts or each individual recording their parts at Pat Collier’s Perry Vale Studio in South London and Jake Burns recording his contributions at his home studio in Chicago. The album was then mixed in Brixton by Greg ‘Wizard’ Fleming. This being the new way I guess.
Most people will be familiar with Ruts DC doing the acoustic thing after their Rebellion sets are some of the highlights of the festival of the entire weekend, so that transition from loud electric to a more subtle acoustic band not being such a stretch.
Both the mournful ‘Man Down’ and ‘Blame’ are new tracks, the former, a slower, brooding song but with the beating heart of their punk attitude as Brandon tells the guys story of being the Man Down. ‘Blame’ has Segs providing the vocal on this more bluesy number. The interaction of both guitar players Burns and Brandon is excellent throughout playing for the song and not interacting for the sake of it.
Brandon heads back to 1988’s ‘The Price You Pay’ album to revisit The Price. Arguably one of Brandon’s best songs and to have it interpreted by such talented musicians all looking from different angles pay dividends with Brandon’s howls never sounding so good.
‘Golden Boy’ was the Ruts DC ode to Malcolm Owen and was released on the bands ‘Music Must Destroy’ album, apparently a favourite of Kirk Brandon who insisted that it be included here; somehow this partnership has added extra emotion and a haunting string arrangement that compliments the vocals that sound like they could be a beat away from heartbreak the classical guitar break only adds to the heartbreak and drama making it such a monumental track. A beautiful highlight for sure.
‘Slave’ taken from Theatre Of Hate’s 2016 ‘Kinshi’ album, Is stripped back with an acoustic lick and minimal shaker and percussion before the backing vocals usher in a thicker arrangement. The whole album is given a kiss-off with each artist offering up a classic from their respected catalogues. The Ruts ‘Staring At The Rude Boys’ was almost a skiffle take but captivating and I found myself nodding in appreciation. Spear Of Destiny’s ‘Never Take Me Alive’ always one of the highlights at the countless DMW shows I’ve seen over the years. SLF’s ‘Wasted Life’ being something of a country-tinged vibe with the lyrics being poignant and the hushed tones of Burns vocal being spot on. Expect the unexpected being my advice on these classics. It’s like they’ve been given a lick of paint from the original owners but using different shades and tones. Of course you recognise them but shifting the focus a little is interesting. Not meant to upstage the originals (how could they) but they stand as a talking point and stand alone as worthy soundwaves.
A real melting pot of old and new borrowed and blue this Dead Men Walking is exceptional labour of love from four supremely talented artists. I love these collaborations and ‘Freedom It Ain’t On The Rise’ is a wonderful collection of songs that are arranged really well with thought , love and respect and that shines through.
Not sure if we have Covid and lockdowns to thank for this seeing the light of day but I’m glad these guys took the time and patience to work it out. Don’t be daft and pass this by you won’t regret investigating this release, not for a minute. It’s like a ray of sunshine streaming through a crisp morning haze.
Author: Dom Daley