Scottish folk-punker Billy Liar hits New London's 33 Golden Street Sunday night
When you think about it, Pete Seeger was just as peeved as The Clash; he just utilized a different musical dynamic — one reflective of the times — to express his societal frustration.
In that spirit, modern Angry Young Guitarists like Tom Morello — ex- of rap/metal giants Rage Against the Machine and currently a folky/protest entity known as The Nightwatchman — gleefully dance the tightrope between punk and folk without any thoughts whatsoever of a sonic fissure between the two styles.
One of the brightest stars of this cross-pollinized genre is the Scottish songwriter known as Billy Liar. He's an Edinburgh-based troubadour whose frenetic acoustic style crackles with barely contained energy, devotion and a fluidly literate lyrical sense. On albums and EPs such as "The Ghosts of Punk Rock," "All I've Got," "It Starts Here" and the new "Lies Lied Live," Liar embodies an in-the-blood honesty that passionately observes global politics, cultural curiosities, real-world triumphs and sorrows — or even drinking all night/making a fool of himself with a pretty girl.
Despite the disparity of topics, it's all personal and it's all 100 percent Liar; he definitely speaks not just for himself but for kindred spirits near and far — and for those who can't otherwise be heard.
"I feel like I do what I do not just for me but for all of my friends from back in Scotland and from around the world," says Liar, who graciously and wittily participated in a protracted email exchange as he tours the States, an exercise in road-fever that lands him Sunday in New London for a show at 33 Golden Street. Mark Leonard, Courtney RI and Paddywagons appear in support.
Liar continues: "A great friend of mine, who was a very talented artist and musician, took his life when he was 17 — and things like that give me the strength to keep working hard, so I can do it for him since he can't do it himself."
That Liar — the stage name is an homage to the Keith Waterhouse novel "Billy Liar" — forged a "folk-punk" style at an early age is in part attributed to his childhood.
"I've always been into all forms of music," Liar explains. "I played the viola before I played guitar, so I was learning folk music before I properly learned about punk. (Plus) my parents were a big influence on me musically. My Dad was constantly playing great CDs in the car, and he gave me so many influences. I distinctly remember him playing Tom Waits on the way back from (soccer) practice. I remember thinking that the dude could not sing. (About the same time), I started getting into bands like The Offspring and NOFX and working back through their influences and their influences' influences."
As part of that musical homework, he also retraced, with new appreciation, steps back to Waits and others from his father's record collection. Ultimately, it all fused in Liar's ongoing sense of musical identity. The process was lyrically refined by Liar's interest in literature, authors and poets. He cites the Beats — Bukowski, Kerouac, Fante, Burroughs and Ginsberg – as well as Hemingway and Sylvia Plath, Waterhouse, Alan Sillitoe, Edwin Morgan and — yes, a local hero! — Wally Lamb.
"If I ever need to be reminded to keep things straightforward, direct and to the point, I need to read one of those writers," Liar says, adding, "(But) I'll read anything that someone recommends to me. I love recommendations."
As Liar joyfully, relentlessly forges ahead, he seems unconcerned about changes or trends in the music business, the DIY ethic or the decline of major labels. He describes the easy accessibility of the Internet as a good thing — and yet a convenience that can make an artist lazy. He also laments the passing of an age where folks bought records and CDs unheard — based on a review or the cover — just for the joy of racing home to listen and study the sleeve artwork.
"I guess everyone in the punk scene has gained the ability to market their music globally more easily, but, at the same time, now we all sell a lot more T-shirts than we do records," he says. "I've always just done what I do, and I will continue to do that, regardless of record labels or the 'industry.'"
Billy Liar, 8 p.m. Sunday, 33 Golden Street, 33 Golden St., New London; $5; (860) 443-1193.
View from the stage
While Billy Liar is known and celebrated across the globe by an increasing legion of fans drawn to his art and magnetism, there are a variety of ways his followers show their appreciation. Based on his performance experiences, Liar can anticipate a multitude of reactions — and the only thing he can reliable count on is that folks at a Billy Liar show are not going to just sit there. Ain't gonna happen.
"Every city in every country is different, on any given night, so I never know what to expect — which keeps things interesting," Liar says. At the same time, after such extensive travel, Liar can draw a few conclusions about specific crowd behavior based on geography.
• The States: "There is more crowd-surfing and more shots of Jamesons and picklebacks in certain places." (Note for the insufficiently thirsty: a "pickleback" is when you follow a shot of liquor with a shot of pickle brine. Hey, don't grimace: in the 1920s, young revelers swallowed goldfish — the animal, not the snack cracker!)
• Australia: "A lot of punks do a thing named 'a shooey' where they drink a pint of beer out of their — or someone else's — shoe. People kept trying to hand me shoes full of beer while I was playing. Although it's a very sweet gesture and I enjoy the sentiment, I've not partaken so for. Maybe next time, Australia!"
• The UK: "There are often more human pyramids in the crowd and more 'fun' dancing antics — like a lot of punks getting down on the floor and pretending to row a boat."
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