Last Halloween I dressed up as a mad scientist and schlepped over to an abandoned railway arch in Southwark that had been decked out as a hellish Victoriana bazaar – Frankenstein was being projected onto a glitter ball, there was some murderous immersive theatre that commanded your attention every few minutes, you had to step through a book case to get into the building and the night ended at a house party where a guy I know – not a friend, maybe before, but not since - demanded I look at his cock in the middle of a lounge. It was a weird evening, with peaks and troughs, and the more I think about it, it was the perfect atmosphere for my first Felix Hagan & The Family gig.
It’s apt that Frankenstein was playing that night, because really, Felix Hagan & The Family are somewhat Frankenstinian (fuck off, it’s a word now) in their output. Folk, rock and roll, 80s power ballads, Vaudeville show-tunes and Disney montage songs all bubble together in a witches’ cauldron of sound, suggestive dance and striped trousers. Their new six-track EP, String Up The Entertainer, is a perfect introduction to their music, here’s why you need to join the cult.
You get a good sense of what kind of band this is within the first 10 seconds of opening track “My Lords and Ladies,” as a tinkling piano calls to mind perilous silent movie scores, which is then punctuated by a, well, fairly lustful sound from Ellie Cowan, one of Hagan’s two decadent song-wenches who flank him at all times – pro tip guys, if you see the band live then stand near the front, you’ll almost certainly be kowtowed into some kind of dance off, once I had Happy Birthday sang to me. Second track “Go Back Home” really showcases one of the strongest weapon’s in Hagan’s arsenal, that being the ability to write a mountain-sized chorus that will burrow its way into your ear and not leave for a good while – when I first heard it at the aforementioned Monarch show, a friend leant over and said “this is the song The Eagles spent their career trying to write,” which isn’t a bad summation.
And then, a gear-change of epic proportions, from banjo-infused country-rock we’re thrown into the gaudy cabaret of “Poser Boy,” in which Felix eschews his up-til-now soaring vocal in favour of, well, rapping, for want of a better word, which suits his lyrical dexterity brilliantly. So much of the songs and indeed the live performances have a kind of carnality lurking between the chords, here it’s not so much lurking as it is inhabiting each bar – “Then the lights go down, and now you’re sneaking around, you just can’t wait to find some hearts to break and it’s great, cos some girls will come like hounds to receive your affection” – one can assume Felix knows exactly what he means when he sings “come like hounds.” And y’know what, why don’t pop bands sing about fucking anymore anyway? Like, we all do it, it’s brilliant. I blame Snow Patrol and their “if I lie here, will you lie with me and just forget the world” bed-wetting nonsense. You’re not better than Marvin Gaye Gary Lightbody.
The album closes out with the brilliantly theatrical duet “My Little Lusitania,” that sees Felix vocally duel with Louis Barrabas of Debt Records, the band’s label; “Sing Your Last Lullabye,” which tows the line between an 80s Rock of Ages style power ballad and something from the Hercules soundtrack (if you don’t think that’s a combination of epic proportion then we probably wouldn’t get along) and finally “My Tyrant,” the most overtly folkish song off the record but one that still outlines a deliciously sordid relationship.
Now, if any of y’all follow the church of Frank Turner – and such is the devotion of his fans I feel comfortably referring to him in such dogmatic terms – you’ll have seen the punk-poet turned outlaw-country-rocker gushing about F&TF on his blog recently. “It’s original, it’s clever, it tiptoes along the line between kitsch and parody and successfully skips past both into excellence by way of its sheer, unashamed, joie de vivre. There’s just enough tongue in their cheek (and in their kisses) to subvert their natural enemies and win over even cynical old punks like me.” The band recently opened for Frank in front of 2,000 people at The Hatfield Forum, unlikely to be the last time they welcome an audience of that size into their congregation.
You can buy “String Up The Entertainer” for a ruddy fiver from Felix’s bandcamp, as well as his first record “Dawn Breaks, The Monster Wakes”
Felix Hagan & The Family launch String Up The Entertainer at the Camden Barfly on Friday 27 September – get your tickets you chumps...