The Filthy Tongues, in their previous guise as Isa and The Filthy Tongues passed me by little (writes Andy Wood).
Despite two rather fine albums, singles and writing songs for Richard Jobson’s dark, dystopian Edinburgh set film New Town Killers I hadn’t really kept up with them. That has all changed with the release of Jacob’s Ladder, ostensibly their debut album as The Filthy Tongues.
It’s a pretty classy album, full of killer tunes and disturbing, razor-sharp lyrics topped off by beautiful, multi-layered arrangements. Quite often the music lures you in with its scuffed beauty before you realise you are listening to stories of cannibalism, self-abuse and a sense that the world is not as it seems.
Martin Metcalfe has described Jacob’s Ladder as ‘pleasingly grotty and more than a bit gothic. All based around a dark neo-feudal Edinburgh’ and, as descriptions go, it’s a pretty good one.
It’s more than just a sleazy trip through the underbelly of Scotland’s capital though. The lyrics are not merely exercises in shocking the sensibilities of listeners but also full of gallows humour, defiance and sympathy as well as despair with the characters including the burnt-out bar-room faces in ‘A Long Time Dead’ who work at their self-destruction as though they are artists and their battered bodies canvases or sculptures or the heartbreaking ‘Violent Sorrow’ which catalogues the roads that lead to self-destruction. The elegiac, gorgeous chorus suggests sympathy or sorrow, while valid, are not enough:
Sorrow – such a beautiful thing.
Such an easy game to play.
Such an easy place to stay
‘Violent Sorrow’ seems to be a turning point in the narrative as it’s followed by the call to arms of the underdog ‘Children Of The Filthy’ where The Filthy Tongues demand ‘It’s time to take the stage tonight / It’s time to kill the King.’ It’s pretty epic stuff, the music driving it forward with a relentless surge.
Jacob’s Ladder is a beautifully written and constructed record that keeps revealing little twists and pleasures within the songs and has constantly been an album I reach for again and again. It’s a record that isn’t afraid of being ambitious and intelligent and wears these traits well. The eight songs have a restless beauty and while a narrative path runs through the eight songs each of these songs also stands out alone as great songs that would hold their heads up high above much of what is on the airwaves these days.
The Filthy Tongues may have been around for a long, long time in various guises but throughout Jacob’s Ladder they sound fresh and fiery. Older and wiser, possibly but possessed with a fresh impetus and a raw energy harnessed in beautiful songs they have produced a fantastic record and a classic work of urban noir.
We are both really excited to be promoting one of their forthcoming shows to promote Jacob’s Ladder and, in order to celebrate, we asked Martin Metcalfe to answer some questions.
Jacob’s Ladder has been described as your debut album although previously you released several records as Isa & The Filthy Tongues. How did you end up reverting to a three piece and does it now feel like a new band?
“Stacey went off to be a Yoga guru and we wanted to make a male LP anyway. Isa & The Filthy Tongues are not dead though. Just buried. It feels a bit like a new band and a lot like a new era.”
Martin at the O2 ABC at the Jacob’s Ladder LP launch (Photo Stephen Brown)
Can you tell us a little bit about the writing and recording of the album please?
“We wrote and recorded this mainly in our homes with new technology. Largely because of financial restraints. At some points we’d venture into cheap studios and record drums or loud amped guitars.
“This process takes longer because of the temptation to re-mix or rework things. So it’s cheaper but takes longer. We’d fire different mixes back and forward over the internet until we’d came to an agreement over the best versions.
“It’s mainly engineered by us and all mixed by us. It was quite a challenge but we’re pretty pleased with it overall.”
The album has some fairly dark themes in it and you describe it as being ‘pleasingly grotty and more than a bit gothic. All based around a dark neo-feudal Edinburgh’. Could you tell us a bit more about the inspiration for the album?
“Strangely enough it took its cue from Shirley Manson – her and a guy who goes under the name of Hamell on Trial. It’s that vignette style of characters in song of Lou Reed and it was revived in a big way by Ed Hamell but also a song called ‘Bleed Like Me’ by Garbage got my attention a while back. It’s a renewal of that story-telling angle through disparate characters.
“It’s also referring back to Trainspotting & Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit To Brooklyn. The neo-feudal side of it come from the way western economies are going. The rich are now so powerful that we’re moving towards begging for alms from them.
“We also seem to have no say over paying for their wars. This situation causes desperation in the lower portions of society (the 99%) and creates a kind of self-destructiveness seen previously in devastated nations, for instance after the Highland clearances and in Ireland over the centuries.
“It creates a reverence for intoxication and embeds it in the society. It’s voluntary genocide.
“This LP is like a Dickensian movie for the mind, a look at Christmas future. Not a pretty sight.”
Compared to you when you first started out making records how do you find the contemporary music world? What are the most obvious changes that you think have affected you?
“Well, we seem to have come almost full circle. We can create vinyl LPs now which is fantastic. We thought that format had gone forever.
“Also CD’s aren’t doing terribly badly either, not in our fan base anyway. Both those things are great because it means we have objects to sell which pays for the manufacturing and gives us a bit more cash to pay for doing gigs where we lose money. London, Manchester etc.
“So it gives us a chance to start building outside of Scotland again.”
There were two singles, ‘Crew Cut’ and ‘Lethe Walk’ a few year ago that didn’t make it onto Jacob’s Ladder. Why was this?
“That was part of a different project. Those songs were released on a mini LP which was married to a book of my visual artwork with poetry by my friend Paul Hullah. It was almost an accident that we ended up creating that LP.
“Anyway there wasn’t enough room for any other songs on this record. They’re all pretty long songs and we ran out of space on the vinyl which is limited to 20 minutes per side. Otherwise the sound quality takes a dive.”
How has the response been to Jacob’s Ladder so far and how did the launch gigs go?
“It’s all been quite unbelievable so far. The gig, the reviews, playing live on STV. It’s taken us by surprise. It seems like the journalists can really get their teeth into describing the LP so they’re having fun with it.”
Martin, weren’t you meant to quit singing a few years back for medical reasons? If so, what changed? If this is an apocryphal internet rumour we do apologise.
“Not really. I quit drink and drugs and felt a bit weird on stage for a while. I always loved playing lead guitar so Angelfish and Isa were perfect for me. In Angelfish I fell apart and in Isa & The Filthy Tongues I got my shit together.”
Having played together since the mid-1980s you have quite a history together. How does that effect the dynamic of The Filthy Tongues and how you approach making music together? Does it ever feel like a burden?
“Well, it’s been different at different times. Now it’s a well oiled machine and we’re in harmony (spiritually speaking, singing in tune is a whole other story).
“Our expectations of each other are reasonable. We all have to make a living outside the band still so it can be frustrating that we’re all not 100% free to sup at opportunities or that sometimes we’re off each other’s radar.
“But we accept it for now and it’s great to work with people who are on the same page taste-wise. We have a unified vision.”
What plans do you have for the coming months?
“We’re looking at playing in England now. So, yes, back to the madness!
“We also hope to play Aberdeen and Inverness soon and we’ll keep pushing this LP. The response has been so great and it’s inspiring us to keep at it.
“Then we’ll get on with the next one.”
Anything else that you would like to add?
“I would like to add that the (apocalyptic) next financial crash is coming any minute. So sell stuff you don’t need and buy some pitchforks. You’ll definitely need them.”
The Filthy Tongues play Beat Generator Live in Dundee this Friday (15th April) with support from A Hooker Without Jesus and Atom Tan. Tickets for the show are available in person from Groucho’s or online from We Got Tickets. More info on the show here.