If you judge a song by how well you can sing along with it, then Moonlight Ale’s new song “Banned for Life” that drops Sept. 16 is a winner. The local alt-folk outfit’s woozy, wave tune is one that a bar full of people could sway to as the lyrics tell a dark-but-funny tale.
Moonlight Ale’s guitarist and mandolin player George Stevens wrote the song, which tells of a despondent man alone in a lively pub contemplating his burdens. Overwhelmed by life, he finds catharsis in hurling an empty pint glass into a mirror, then leaves the bar feeling oddly uplifted.
Stevens actually witnessed a moment like this nearly a decade ago, and it stayed with him ever since.
“I was at a bar here locally,” Stevens said. “It was a packed night. The bar was just good energy, a lot of happy people. Then all of a sudden there was just this smash, like breaking glass, and it wasn’t just like somebody dropped a glass. It was very forceful. Everybody in the whole bar got quiet and turned, and this guy got up and walked out, and the bartender’s barking after him. And that was where I drew the song from.”
“Forgive me friends for what’s about to happen,” Stevens sings with more than a little mischief in his voice, “but I’m about to get banned for life.”
It might come off as the story of a bad drunk if the song wasn’t so damned catchy. It’s also a perfect encapsulation of what Moonlight Ale does, blending traditional Irish folk with Americana and just a bit of ragged punk intensity. Sinead Farrelly’s accordion swells on the track and her tin whistle adds the perfect touch of the Irish to Stevens’ woeful tale.
“Banned For Life” is just the most recent iteration of what Moonlight Ale has been doing for more than 20 years. Summerville guitarist Jimmy McElligot formed the band back in 2000 and a revolving cast of musicians and friends came and went. Stevens joined the group in 2017 to round out the lineup that included bassist Chuck Hamilton and drummer Patrick Brown in addition to McElligot and Farrelly. The new song features Mount Pleasant singer-songwriter Becca Bessinger and violinist James Anderson.
“I had a chance encounter with one of the departing members,” Stevens said. “We were talking music and she was like, ‘Oh, my band is going to need a new instrumentalist.’ ”
At the time, Stevens didn’t know a lot about Irish music other than the classic Celt-punk outfit the Pogues, but he decided to give it a shot.
“It was kind of new territory,” he said, “but come to find out they were more than just an Irish band. It’s a fusion of Irish and Americana and all these things, and we just clicked.”
By the time Stevens joined, Farrelly had already been in the band for a few years, and she had the background for it.
“Both of my parents are actually from Ireland,” she said, “and I grew up in the New York-New Jersey area where there’s a large community of Irish and Irish American individuals. Most of us were the children of Irish immigrants taught by the generation above us.”
Farrelly said that Stevens’ Americana influence was just one of many styles that the band has incorporated over its years of constantly evolving and changing. The lineup has seen a few bluegrass musicians and even an orchestral violinist.
Both Stevens and Farrelly said that the band’s objective is to make every gig feel like a night out at a traditional Irish pub, whether they’re playing in one or not.
“To me it feels like I’m sitting down with a group of friends, and we’re in an old Irish pub and we’re just playing for ourselves and for each other,” Farrelly said. “But all the people in the pub or wherever we are become part of our group. It’s great to be able to sit and share the music … and do what we love doing together as a band.”
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