The last time I reviewed Two Finger Salute was a couple of years ago when they competed in Planetrox China 2018; they were still playing songs from their debut album ‘Anger and Pride’. Back then Phil Gough angrily growled about institutional unfairness using ever bit of air his imposing beer belly would give. That album had tracks like Things I Hate and Kids Will Riot – still classics though I’m not sure if they’re legally allowed to perform the latter nowadays. It was a different time and a very different Two Finger Salute.
I distinctly remember chatting to the band after Planetrox and asking what exactly makes them Working Class Heroes, the title of one of their songs that night. After all, I was looking at five British expats who worked pretty decent paying white-collar jobs in Hong Kong. “We’re the exception” said Phil “We all came from very poor working-class backgrounds and we made it out, but we haven’t forgotten where we came from”. Or something like that anyway; they treated me to a few beers. It’s blurry. Phil would later leave the band and pass vox to bassist Simon Griffin who has a much less gravely, much more melodic, much more understandable but much less “fuck you” singing voice.
Their new single Who I Am is a musical answer to the question I asked Phil back then, and it’s a shame it’s not Phil singing it (though Simon sounds oddly like Phil on this track). The single begins with a slow ballad guitar solo, alternative and tinged with Oasis-esque melancholy, the intro (which takes up almost half of the 2’30 song) is a bit of a contrast to the lively punk that takes up the rest of the song.
After a bit of a fleeting trip down memory lane in the intro, Simon sings ”When I was just a young boy, such a very long time ago. Jesus tried to save me, I said fuck that, I said no. I stole from shops, and I broke into cars. I tried almost anything, to sort my inner city scars.”
Well, Phil didn’t tell me that in 2018.
Two Finger Salute’s songs are never hoity toity fancypants reminiscences on life, they’re straightforward, personal reflections that anyone can understand. The experience they lay out in Who I Am doesn’t glamorize the “council life”, they simply tell you how it was, and although their experiences are personal and tied specifically to working-class British culture, the ideas are universal. The upbeat positive atmosphere of the single tells you that though they suffered, it was normal; it wasn’t depressing, it wasn’t glamorous (or perhaps ‘rustic’ as some might now describe that sort of life), it was normal. The song looks back in melancholic fondness at a very difficult upbringing which every member of the band got out of.
“Drinking down the boozer, It was just the council way, lining up the dole queues, unemployment here to stay. Never forget where I’m from, And who I am. I got myself outta here, And made myself a man.”
That Phil told me about.
Reviewed by Cyril Ma
This single comes with a second part: the ‘orchestral version’. I included this as a PS because I think the orchestral version and the single itself are two very different beasts. In short, I think it’s interesting, but I don’t like it very much.
For a start, the ‘Two Finger Salute Philharmonic’ is clearly a mid-range synthesized orchestra. I’ve got nothing against synthesized orchestras, I use them myself for small projects and think that music technology like that greatly democratizes musical creation to the masses, but I don’t think it works here. I really liked when the guitars came in halfway, bursting through the violins to a recording of Churchill (is it Churchill?). That was awesome and I wish we had more of that. Perhaps an instrumental where the production adds to, rather than is focused on, will be a better move forward. Nonetheless, it is an interesting experiment. If you told me two years ago that Two Finger Salute would attempt an orchestral arrangement of their work, I’d have told you to fuck off in a deep growling voice, but I think we’re on to something.