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Single Review: Castro – The Merchants.

The Merchants are three Wirralians (if you don’t know, look it up!) – Harry Bowness (vocals/guitar), Harry Strachan (drums), Joe Abraham (bass), and a Mexican, Ernesto Sandoval (guitar). I have seen them a few times, usually in the middle order of a local festival, or supporting someone at one of Merseyside’s multifarious venues – most recently Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard at Liverpool Arts Club. Invariably, whoever I have seen the night before, I wake up with one of The Merchants effortlessly catchy tunes still going round my head. Usually it’s the bounding Hostile or their new single Castro. Castro as a song has been part of The Merchants‘ live set for a little while now, but will be released as a single on 21/4/2022.

The Merchants at Liverpool Arts Club

The Merchants describe their creative process as this – ‘taking acoustic song writing influences, mix them with chopped noughties indie, sprinkle them over a base of fat sounding drums and carefully curated riffs and melodies, season with Scouse and Mexican spices and throw them in a working class oven until ready to be released. Best served loud’. If The Merchants‘ sound was a beverage it would be an intoxicating mix Brimstage Lager and a shot of Jose Cuervo.

According to the band, thematically Castro is a tune sung ‘from the point of view of a person who feels they’ve been misled by someone they trusted and admired’. Hence lyrics like ‘You’re useless on your own and I’m fed-up of all your lies’. Once the peso has dropped, the lyrics alter as realization dawns – ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take, things have gotta change’. At this point the song becomes about attempting to get back on track after being led astray by someone who has no regard for anyone but themselves.

The song starts in dramatic style. Anxious, clipped drums and choppy guitars – very reminiscent of The Jam‘s ‘A’ Bomb in Wardour Street – tell you something is afoot. Harry Bowness’s gruff, determined, deep, gravely vocals, tinged with vibrato kick in. He sounds a bit like a Scouse George Ezra, only with a pair of bollocks. He’s got more important things to discuss than what he did on his holidays. The Wardour Street rhythm is the rock solid foundation of Castro and allows Ernesto Sandoval to construct some extravagant, embellishing guitar solos.

The Merchants at Future Yard, Birkenhead.

I really like the way The Merchants employ the use of tempo in Castro. The tune starts angrily and impatiently – mirroring the contempt for the songs protagonist. Castro maintains this edgy pace as the lyrics list the misdeeds of the perpetrator. The tune slows as the realisaition dawns that things have got to change. Once that decision is made the tempo picks up again in a much more positive vein and the song ends with a rising, crescendo of electric guitar energy. We’re ready to move onwards and upwards. Vamos!

Castro was produced and mixed by Tom Anderson at Giant Wafer Studios in Wales and mastered by Mike Cave at Loft Mastering. It’s available from your usual friendly, neighbourhood, music-streaming site from 21/4/2022.

It’s still early days, but up to this point, whatever The Merchants have been selling, be it live performances or recordings, I’ve been buying. Check out their wares.

Ian Dunphy.

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