Live : Red or Dead


Red or Dead play folk punk with a clear heritage stretching back to the early Pogues and The Clash. They have a restless, undimmable energy derived from the political anger that drives all four of them. Most importantly they have, since their busked-but-televised debut protesting in song outside a UKIP conference, become a fearsome live act.

Last time I saw Red or Dead they came on stage to a Friday night pre-election pub audience that had found an intoxicated niche somewhere between everyday bacchanalian excess and post-apocalyptic disinhibition. The band played a withering set, but it was not enough, and two weeks later the country accidentally voted for another Conservative government.

Red or Dead responded by releasing an energised, coruscating political album, Trotsky Waltz, to rave reviews at the start of 2018. Since then they have played a series of live dates, often raising money for the causes (refugees, homelessness) close to their collective hearts. There is nearly always a raffle.

From the lyrics the socialism they espouse is best summed up by a Bill Shankly quote: "The socialism I believe in isn't really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day." At the Shiloh they rattled through a set reaffirming this creed.

Starting with the clipped opening chords and immediate revolutionary fervour of I Am The Fire (a song with the complacency of the 1% in its crosshairs) you could hear that what started out as an angry busk is now a tight, aggressive, animated performance.

In the next envenomed forty minutes they tore through songs off their debut LP, No One Is Innocent, Colin Cambridge (a wistful folky moment in the maelstrom), Watch It Burn, Strummer & Burnel (which should be a shoe-in for the eventual greatest hits compilation) - with Fall Down (from their first EP), their recently released single, UK Publicity Machine, and a couple of new compositions (including a snarling Limited Vision) woven in.

It all came to a clamorous close with Never Again, with its always worth repeating chorus cri de coeur of 'Never again will I bow down to a false idea or a faded crown, never forgive, never forget, never yield and never relent'.

If there is one palpable distinction from a year ago Dave Sunerton-Burl's bass lines are more fluid and confident, but the whole unit has gelled and frontman Rob Murray seems to feed off that in his on stage exuberance - which is a necessary counterweight to introductions such as, "This next song is about the rape of the planet by the human race".

Folk punk is necessarily rough around the edges and earthy. It has humour and self-deprecation built in, but when it works it has a message, and Red or Dead's is as straight forward as a political t-shirt slogan - and that, with the spirited music, is what makes them essential.