THEIR NAME was inspired by an eccentric preacher from Kansas, they play music brought by the Scots and the Irish to the Southern US states, but their view of the world is shaped by the pioneer spirit of Canada.
The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Judd Palmer, Bob Keelaghan, Peter Balkwill, and Vladimir Sobolewski - will bring their punk-laced, edgy Delta blues, and Appalachian mountain folk to the Róisín Dubh on Wednesday September 23 at 9pm.
Based in Calgary, the largest city in Alberta state, Canada, the band have won acclaim for their raw, wild, take on bluegrass and Appalachian music, and their albums Saint Hubert, Fighting And Onions, and Ten Thousand.
The List said their sound is “as much Beefheart and Tom Waits as it is Son House and Howlin’ Wolf, the Calgary foursome make a noise that will snare rock kids, folkies, and hardcore country fans”.
Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir is quite an attention grabbing name and according to Judd Palmer it is partly inspired by his larger than life great-grandfather and all around character Grandpa Fields.
“The band name is connected to Grandpa Fields, who ran a half way house for the insane and drunks in Kansas city,” Judd told me when I interviewed him last year. “He had his own religion which happens as Protestant sects - both bizarre and wondrous - proliferated throughout the US and Canada.
He and his wife, Grandma Fields, were the only initiates and each Sunday they would hold church in the house for their own metaphysical purposes. Grandpa Fields would preach and Grandma Fields would be banging away on a piano, her enormous arms flapping as she did so, and all the insane and drunk boys in the house would sing along for their soup.”
Calgary is one of Canada’s major distribution and transportation hubs, a favourite winter sports destination, and hosts a major folk music and Caribbean festival. How has Calgary shaped the AMGC and its members into the band it is today?
“Alberta is the barbaric fringe of Canadian pioneer country,” says Judd. “It’s home to people you wouldn’t find in eastern Canada. Eastern Canada has a population that’s been there 400 years. Calgary started out as a wooden fort 100 years ago where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had to quell the drunkards.
“People out here have a kind of Texan feel as when oil was discovered here a lot of Texans, like my family, moved in, and they did what every good west Texan does, they opened a ranch. Every year for once a week we have a ranchers festival, where everybody pretends to be a cowboy and gets drunk.
“But there are people from everywhere in Calgary today so it has this rough and tumble roots to its music. It is rough as we are ranchers out here and the ghosts of cowboys and hobos wander our streets but we try to vary things and draw from the cultural traditions across the world.”
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.