Often, the impact of Californian beat poet-cum-cult singer songwriter Tom Waits can be understated. I’m sure you know plenty of people that own at least one Waits record, and many more of your friends probably love his music without you even realising.
That’s the point of cult music after all – left of centre, quirky and slightly underground. All of these adjectives can also be applied to Ger Whelan, who first came to prominence in Ireland in An Emotional Fish in the early 1990s.
The band, who toured across the US and Europe, sharing festival bills with Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers and the Pixies among others, enjoyed a measure of success in Ireland at least, but split after releasing their third album, Sloper, to relative critical acclaim in 1995.
Fast forward to 2002, and Jerry Fish And The Mudbug Club are formed from the ashes of An Emotional Fish. The fish (and mudbugs) must have bought a tankload of Tom Waits albums in the intervening seven years, as the rock outfit is reborn as a smoky barroom, whiskey-bottle blues, roots and country collective.
Like another Irish group, The Thrills, who seem to think they are from a beach in California, the imaginative ‘Bugs play and sing like something from a tavern in New Orleans. Double bass twangs underpin the blues sound of the songs, with a searching trumpet jousting with Mr Fish’s husky voice for the listener’s attention.
The laid back, country/roots vibe carries the listener through the record, and the guitars, which sound like they’re taken straight from a nostalgic beer commercial, are nonetheless not immune to some innovative flourishes in certain corners of the album.
Some female backing singers, including a guest appearance from another hit on the Irish scene, Maria Doyle Kennedy, also join in the jamming fun, even though they probably wouldn’t even have been allowed into a real mid-20th century blues bar.
The title track is a particular highlight, featuring a collaboration with fellow Irishman, Damien Rice. Like Rice’s debut album, O, which was catapulted from Irish success to world renown, the Mudbugs’ Be Yourself first came out in Ireland over a year before its UK release.
This deep-sea swimmer and his dirt insects are unlikely to be met with such an overwhelmingly positive reaction as Mr Rice was, but among the sizable Tom Waits fanbase, they are sure to find a few welcome faces for their particular tonic. Blues with a twist of Irish – mine’s on the rocks…