Yester-d: The Jakeys
Folks didn't go to a show by The Jakeys to hear the music.
Folks went to sing along, to drink along, and to see other folks of a similar mind, including those Jakeys. How is that different from going to see your favorite band? Jake! That's how. Folks went to make a moot for the Clan McShite.
When it was first tossed to me by Michael McConnell about a hundred years ago, this hand-scribbled copy of The Jakeys debut album, No Second Spring, lived in my CD player for more than a few weathers, and the return of it to that sacred slit has bubbled-up those views of all-things-Jakey in a shift for the better — like a fine left-cheek sneak in the movies. Not the Wonder Woman movie, cos, well, nevermind. I digress.
Once upon a time in a bar that allowed smoking, Seamus Delmont and Chris Welch decided that they needed to make an Irish Band. An equal amount of well-intended cursing, well-placed boozes, and hangly, clank-hearted songs later and The Jakeys were birthed. Nine-pogue strong, riding a Kerry Bull of a debut CD, and no bottom of the tun in sight, they mumbled "scrbbledyfackbibble" and loosed themselves upon us like a 5-year-old thwarting the sneeze-guard at Pancho's.
To look back at this bunch, you'd likely never guess they were an Irish Band, even here in Texas. They looked more like a casting call for Young Guns 3: That's Yer Ass, but if you look with yer eyes (and yer liver), you'll get a fill of the earnest that this band of mates carried like a pint glass across a finish line.
It's worth noting here in hindsight that, from the beginning, the decision was made to not be a 'traditional' Irish band. "We're not going to recycle the same old Jiggs and Reels," allowed vocalist/autoharpist Michael McConnell. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I think our foundation is songwriting." And so they followed themselves.
In 2010, I sat in on Jakeys practice one night at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios (RIP), then caught up with McConnell a couple of days later at Dan's Silver Leaf. In the between time, he'd slipped me a copy of the upcoming album. After a feverish run at me for a season or two, it lay fallow on my shelf, next to some Mk7 Space Marines and a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Without irony, or design. it just did. Recently, I picked it up, and like some Jameson-fueled TARDIS, or a Spinal Tap video, it took me back.
The air at Rubber Gloves (RIP) that evening was thick with the beautiful fumes of a Denton nothing, and I probably lit a fag and thought about a booze. Something. Welch arrived first, followed by Seamus. We bantered a bit around some beers while the rest of the band arrived over the course of the next half hour. I recall Jeff Barnard rolled up next with his dog, Skillet. Perfect. Those Jakeys were a dog band. There's no lounging about in a sunbeam in between self-lickins like some cat with these lads — they wore unapologetic like a band uniform, but never carelessly. See, for a Jakey, there's a time and place to lick yer balls, but never a reason to be ashamed of it.
Barnard was the percussionist, quietly keeping the beat and bad company with a traditional bodhran. He would mind his own during practice and on stage, holding down a folding chair and a few beers, steady and underpresent as a heartbeat. He'd nod a lot to the talkins, and that seemed enough for him.
Typical Denton, Delmont allowed that they'd rarely have all nine members present at every practice (two of the Jakeys were actually Oklahoma residents at the time), but, also Denton'd, they always got things done. This particular practice was a run-through of the setlists for the 35 Confrette...not to be confused with a "covfefe", by the way. Oh, just Google it.
The trio on hand warmed up with a little Sonny Boy Williamson—a not-so-subtle nod to one of Welch's other bands at the time, Old Warhorse. The Cicada Killers were years away yet. This was Jakeys time, and St Paddy's Day was approaching as well, and there was musics to be freed!
But, as I recall, even before the first Jakeys album dropped, they'd two more in the pipe. The second album, Seaward, would prove to be a concept album in the traditional Irish storytelling sense — full of love and tragedy, the sea and drinking.
Released in 2011, it took almost two years to record No Second Spring — longer than the lives of some Denton bands and an eternity to the current crop of house-show hunters roaming these North Texas plains. "We're true Irish musicians, we've no agenda," explained Delmont. "We'd rather take in every day, and leave time to get drunk."
So. There we were.
Delmont was the only 'true' Irishman in the pack, having arrived on these golden shores more than 30 years ago, but the last 15 or so have still been here in Denton. He played solo or with others, and plays just about every 'traditional' instrument you could imagine, but in the Jakeys he mainly played whistles and a harmonica. He carried a share of the vocals as well. It wasn't until he and Welch (and whiskey) sparked the idea that there was any thought of a real band. Welch explained to me as he easily cracked his second Guinness that there was never any question of the originality of the band. "We never want to be known as a traditional Irish band," he told me. "Authentic? Yeah, but not typical." "We'd stand up over there, though," McConnell assured from the side. "Texas has a real mystery to it in Europe, and we're fuckin' genuine. I don't think for a minute that we're not a 'real' Irish band."
Influenced heavily and obviously by The Pogues, Jakeys songs often start with a story from Delmont, some lyrics from McConnell, and the bones of the music from Welch. Wallace Campbell, his own self a virile, highlander-lookin' kinda guy, brings in the bass. Other members fell into place as the music found its voice: Holly Manning (fiddle) and Patrick Newkirk (mandolin) rounded out the core. Welch shared more than a few Jakeys with his other bands and projects: Pinebox Serenade, Ol' Warhorse, and currently in Chris Welch and the Cicada Killers. But, hey, this is Denton.
Somewhere along the line Kelly Evans joined in to add a female voice to the burly-hood, but ended up leaving town towards the end of the record. She eventually re-joined Welch's side in the Cicada Killers, but meanwhile... along came Kate. Kate Wilcox was already playing her violin over in Tombstone Whiskey (lovingly referred to as a Jakeys cover band) with McConnell and Delmont, so it seemed natural to pull her into The Jakeys.
And she proved to be well up to the task. So much so that she ended up as a Cicada Killer as well. Chris Welch seems to be like Denton's own Tony Stark, assembling arcadian Avengers to combat... well, umm... doldrums? Ennui? Sobriety? Dallas? Anyway. Here in the Jakeys, Kate brought a sweet voice for harmonies and a real Denton-girl-next-door look, but don't be fooled. I distinctly remember our first meeting. She was ten words in the door and three of 'em were blue. Her eyes flashed at me as she shook my hand, introducing herself. She repeated my name to me to make sure she'd got it right (cos it's a bit off in the first pass), lit a fag, and stole my seat. Ten minutes in and she'd kept up with every bit of filth that tumbled from the gobs of her bandmates. Jake!
But, the record. No Second Spring has proven to be as timeless as your favorite church key. It is a rolling, hold-yer-hand, hold-my-drink party doxie that'll make out with yer summertime speakers, or cuddle with 'em in the fall.
Recorded by Brent Best out at Transient Camp, No Second Spring is sixteen all-original songs. No secret songs, no traditional covers, no gimmicks. Sixteen.
Even the cover, made by local artist/author Darin Bradley, evokes the subtle reality of this band. It's stark, it's a little complicated. It's not something you can just glance at, like the band. And the songs on it are well-plotted. They move together nicely. I took in most of it while driving around on a Sunday morning, and it was perfect. I was, and remain, pleasantly and happily surprised.
After attending a dozen or so Jakeys shows, after drinking and cussing with these guys, No Second Spring felt like a birthday present. Like they'd picked up my tab.
The album opens with "A Pint is All I'm Wanting," and it's safe to say that like the best openers, and bottle-openers, it sets a tone. The music continues with a sound you know well, the Irish archetype, the high-ends and strums, the 4/4 of a soul tired from the exhaustion of an honest life. And it brings you down like a wonderfully warm and creeping boozefog through "Forlorn Drunkard" and "Derelict," over to some day-drinking for "Rolling Hills", and a hint of light like a candle through green glass with "Seaward," until the carnival-morning hangover "Traveler's Song" brings your shoulders back to form for the celebratory demi-chanty of "Kelly," and THEN full to your frackin' feet again with "Paddy Wagon." "Paddy Wagon" proved to be the sing-along, and McConnell raised his pint to the Clan McShite each and every time the song rallied the crowed to form that mob. A glorious thing, that memory.
"Happy Song" is the most deviant song from the pattern, but Delmont's vocals tie it to the album with ease, sliding from the influence of the Belfast Cowboy (that's Van Morrison, kids) into "Embalmer," which could easily be a Pinebox Serenade song. But so what. There's taters in the pot and not a damn thing wrong with fries.
The Jakeys begin the halfway point of No Second Spring with "The Tear." It's a sting-picking, whiskey-heavy romp, a plea ("please don't tear me down") and a promise ("I'll be back around"). And with no uncertain reminder that this is an Irish band, above all. "Mother's Weave" keeps that mood, but darkly, until once again the next tune, "Keep the Gates Open," brings us back to a place that "Rattle and Bog" is most effective. This is by far the moodiest song on the album, and maybe my unofficial favorite. It features a brilliant chorus that's surrounded by the strength of melody and composition of these Jakeys. The sound, the tone, and story of it is as heavy as a dog sleeping on your foot and makes you equally as unwilling to interrupt it. But it happens. And the Jakeys wind down this event with an original Irish Ballad, "Jack McCory." It is a glorious sway, with each of them in turn taking a verse to tell the tale of the man who could easily be Chieftan of Clan McShite. It's a wonderful reminder of how this album began, some fouteen tracks ago, and why. Jake.
And you want a closer? Well, "Eileen" is the last drink. It pours like the best parts of a last drink or a drunken kiss: a brilliantly terrible idea, a lot of noise and movement, then a warm non-feeling of satisfaction. It starts the ending well, and turns up its own lights without a thought of what's next.
But "No Second Spring?" Well, that has proved a bit of a misnomer. Because, for The Jakeys, as long as there's a pint to be raised, a mate to tote it with, and a tomorrow to be denied, that season could never end.
(No Second Spring is available on Spotify. The rest of The Jakeys doings are on Bandcamp, Reverbnation, iTunes, and maybe yer tab.)
Header Image Design by Christopher Rodgers