Artist: Phat Bollard
Album: Spare A Little Change
Label: Propagation House
Release Date: 02/15/2015
Phat Bollard might just be the most important group you’ve never heard of. Hailing from Cornwall, England, they survive by busking the streets, touring the UK and living out of their van. Generally a five piece unit featuring two guitars, mandolin, washtub bass and percussion, they raise a ruckus with joyful noise and highly nuanced songs that deal with some of today’s most important issues. Their lyrics confront listeners into thinking about poverty, inequality and waste, but point to a higher path via love, nature and- above all- change. And in their scrappy, irreverent, heavily accented delivery, one can trace musical threads from the early English bards to punk rock.
Their refusal to omit expletives keeps them off corporate radio, but so much the better. This authenticity has helped them garner over two million YouTube hits, most notably for their song “Millionaires.”
The first track, “Cornish Prayer,” is a cryptic, presumably farcical take on The Lord’s Prayer recited in Cornish, recognized as a minority language in the UK. “Breathing Is Bad For You” is a comment on impending eco disaster, while “Longing To Be Lonely” reveals a need for the quiet of the country and space to contemplate. “Streets” contrasts an appeal for equality with the reality of repressive council law. The merry, rousing chorus “The Streets Should Be Free” makes it hard to disagree.
With Django-esque guitar chords, dulcet female harmony vocals, and clever wordplay, “Spare A Little Change” is a mad gypsy lament about the trials and tribulations of busking, including jail time and police brutality. “Tacky Tattoo” asks the vital questions “Why is it we don’t see; there’s no place for you and me? If we cut down all the trees, and pollute the air we breath?” and juxtaposes those with the capricious desire for superficial self improvement via tattoos and implants.
The band shows stylistic range with “Autumn Days,” a bittersweet reel that embraces the encroaching end.
I’m in my autumn now
I love the cool short days
When I can wonder
In and out at will
“Money Trickles Up Not Down” is a minor key swinger that debunks the typically benevolent narrative of capitalism. With an almost hip hop flow, Bollard densely raps:
There’s a myth perpetrated
by the people in the pockets
That we’re bringing something back
and say they’re filling all the wallets
but financial antigravity
Money Trickles Up Not Down
“5 Pounds In The Hat” comments on how consumerism coerces us into buying useless ‘shite’ while passing over those truly in need. “Skimming Stones” describes the despair of near starvation. “Millie’s Birds” is a sweet snippet, featuring acapella singing by a band member’s daughter, and “Love” provides a ray of light amongst the darkness.
Left for last, “Millionaire” showcases the group’s most brilliant, pointed lyrics.
Instead I give my money to
Wal-Mart, for its tax evasion
Primark, for its child labour
Texaco, for the next invasion
Don’t give a fuck about you
Instead I give my money to the millionaires
And I don’t give a fuck about you
I know of no other group today that sings about the troubles of the world with such conviction and soul. Fat Bollard are the real deal and deserve to be heard. Like most great discoveries, they are rather elusive but well worth seeking out.
If there is any justice, Phat Bollard will be lifted out of poverty, their message heard, understood and acted upon. But one also gets the sense that for all the hardships, they might actually prefer the freedom of the road they’ve chosen. In the meantime, the least any of us should do is “spare a little change.” Highly recommended.