Archive for the 'Music' Category

26th Mar 2009

On stuff

Firstly, Scott Meyer’s Basic Instructions is bloody good this week.

Secondly, Pádraig Ó Méalóid has posted scans of the complete third issue of Big Numbers!  I believe this is the issue that Bill Sienkiewicz, exhausted from the first two issues, drew in a drastically stripped-down style before quitting the series, rather than the version that Al Columbia (allegedly) painted and then destroyed.  Pádraig has sought, and got, the blessing of the big beardy fellow to post the scans, but it’d be interesting to know what the two artists thought…

Thirdly, Jake Thackray was a genius.  My mum and dad used to listen to him when I was small, and I remember them letting me listen to a song of his called “The Hole” (there weren’t many of his songs suitable for children) and finding it amusing.  So on a whim I purchase his 4-CD set Jake in a Box and his live double CD Live Performance, and by god he was good.  He’s best known for his funny songs, but there’s a whole lot more to him than that.  One I’m quite taken with is “The Little Black Foal”, which on first impression sounds like a rather sweet folk song about a foal clip-clopping along, then becomes a very perceptive song about infatuation, and finally leaves you wondering what the narrator actually did with the girl he met last night whose name he can’t remember, and why he’s so keen to avoid meeting other members of her family.  But it’s not on YouTube, so here’s “The Bull” instead.

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21st Feb 2009

Debut Album (meme)

Another meme I got off Rol

What would your own album look like if you were in a band? Follow the directions below and find out…

Here are the rules:

1 – Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random” [or click this link to get there]. The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band.

2 – Go to Quotations Page and select “random quotations” [or click this link to get there].  The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your first album.

3 – Go to Flickr and click on “explore the last seven days” [following Rol, I’ve modified this one slightly: to avoid copyright infringement, I found a page of images with a Creative Commons licence, sorted by “most interesting”].  Third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 – Use Photoshop or similar to put it all together.

Here’s what I came up with…

(The title is the punchline of a Tommy Cooper joke.  The image is “Galanty Show” by Martin Fisch.)

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13th Oct 2008

Music meme

I’ve decided to revive this blog as a receptacle for stuff that doesn’t fit at (comics, Irish mythology, and comics based on Irish mythology) or The Disillusioned Liberal (political thoughts).  Which means I’ve now got three blogs.  What of it?

So here’s a meme I got from Rol Hirst:

1. Put your music player on shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must put down the song name no matter what.

What would best describe your personality?

“Tragically Optimistic Freedom Fighters”, Kula Shaker

What do you like in a guy/girl?

“Missed the Boat”, Modest Mouse

And how tragically true that is.

How do you feel today?

“On Yer Own”, Dan Donelly and Sonovagun

Now this is taking the piss.

What is your life’s purpose?

“Ya Ya Ya”, The Detroit Cobras


What is your motto?

“Turkish Revelry”, Loudon Wainwright III

What do your friends think of you?

“2000 Light Years From Home”, Rachel Yamagata

Now that’s not true. My friends moved away, I stayed here.

What do you think of your parents?

“Let It All Go”, Mark Knopfler

What do you think about very often?

“Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck)”, David Ford

I think most people who know me will recognise that one.

What do you think of your best friend?

“A Great Grey Grasshopper”, Ivor Cutler


What do you think of your crush?

“Higher Ground”, Stevie Wonder

What is your life story?

“Honey Don’t”, Carl Perkins

Yeah, that really is the story of my life…

What do you want to be when you grow up?

“Some Surprise”, Gary Lightbody, Lisa Hannigan and the Cake Sale

Yeah, I like that.

What do you think when you see your crush?

“We’re an Army”, Francois and the Atlas Mountains

What do your parents think of you?

“She’s Not There”, Santana

Yeah, probably true…

What do strangers think of you?

“Ancient Drums”, Iain Archer

How’s your love life?

“Virginia”, The Jeevas

Apt. No, not like you think. “Oh sweet Virginia, yeah she is a witch…”

What will they play at your funeral?

“Bright Side of the Road”, Van Morrison

That’s a funeral song all right…

What will you dance to at your wedding?

“Whoopin’ the Blues”, Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee

What is your hobby/interest?

“Seven Swans”, Sufjan Stevens

Oh yeah, I love me some swans…

What’s your biggest secret?

“The Pink Panther Theme”, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

What do you think of your friends?

“Beachcombing”, Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler

Well, we do like to get together and go to the seaside once in a while.

What song do you listen to when you are sad?

“First of May”, Jonathan Coulton

(Outdoor fucking starts today…”)

In love?

“(Straight to Your Heart) Like a Cannonball”, Van Morrison

(What is all that with) bits of song titles in brackets anyway?

What song do you air guitar to?

The Beatles, “Ticket to Ride”

What should be your signature karaoke song?

“It Must Be Love”, Madness

Actually, I do a mean “Try a Little Tenderness”.  Or I did once, in a student bar in Brussells full of Belgians doing Evanescence and Metallica.

What is your greatest desire?

“Disconnect the Dots”, Of Montreal

What does next year have in store for you?

“The Things That I Used To Do”, Guitar Slim

Now that’s depressing.

What’s your outlook on life?

“Parklife”, Blur

How will you die?

“I Feel it All”, Feist

Sounds like one of those “becoming one with the universe” ends.  Cool.

Do people secretly lust after you?

“Where Do You Think You’re Going”, Dire Straits

(If they do, they’re keeping it bloody secret)

The best advice you will ever get?

“Hard Headed Woman”, Wanda Jackson

“A hard headed woman is a thorn in the side of a man”.  That’s pretty good advice.

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05th Oct 2008

Watercress on iTunes!

Back in the early aughts there was a fantastic band in Belfast called Watercress. They were an accoustic four-piece that included mandolin, string bass and disgeridoo as well as the traditional guitars and drums, they sang in their own Belfast accents, their lyrics and melodies were imaginative, odd and funny, and they played with a jazzman’s sense of comic timing.

They recorded a bunch of EPs, and an album, Bummer. They were really, really good. And of course they never made any money and broke up.

Last I heard Dan Donnelly, the mandolin/didgeridooist, was performing and recording in a more conventional singer-songwriterly idiom in America with his band Sonovagun. What became of Brian Acton, the guitarist, or the drummer and bass player whose names I can’t immediately remember I have no idea.

When my copy of Bummer wore out I had to source a second hand copy over the internet. But good news! You can now get Bummer on iTunes!

I can’t recommend it highly enough.  I can hardly give you a sample of the music, but for those of you who like lyrics, here’s my favourite song on the album, “Skyrocket”:

I’m hopelessly chasing a skyrocket
I’m hoping to put it in my pocket
But I know if ever I got it
It would burn me and hurt me with ease

I once thought that maybe I could get it
But in order to keep it I would wet it
So maybe it’s better I should let it
Burn brightly and leave me behind

I can’t help but try and catch it
There’s no other beauty can match it
I know that I’ll burn, but I’ll never learn
To just sit back quietly and watch it.

With a bit of luck they’ll put the EPs on next, and the glory that was Watercress will be reborn!

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02nd Jun 2008

Seven songs

There’s a music meme that’s doing the rounds – Rol’s done it, PJ’s half-done it. It goes:

‘List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to’.

I don’t play chain letters, so I’m not going to tag anyone, but I thought I’d have a go.

1. Great Lake Swimmers, “Your Rocky Spine”

Never thought I’d describe a song with prominent banjo as “gorgeous”, but this one is. Perhaps best described as a love song to a landscape.

2. Van Morrison, “Crazy Love”

One of my party pieces – if you’re ever stuck at a party with me and a guitar, this one’ll get an airing. Sadly, I can’t find a video of it.  Last’s night’s episode of Doctor Who had a character called River Song. It seems Stephen Moffat, as well as being the show’s best writer, has musical taste as well.

3. The Jeevas, “Virginia”

Crispian Mills may be a bit of a twit, but he’s also a bona fide authentic old-fashioned guitar hero. When Kula Shaker were out of action, he made two albums with a band called the Jeevas, and, despite the Hindu-kitch name, reined back on the Indian stuff and just played rock and roll.

4. Feist, “1 2 3 4”

The Jeevas’ first album was called “1 2 3 4”. So was Feist’s breakthrough single, which you’ll know from that advert, but who cares. If they put it on the end of a Kevin Costner film, it’d still be a class song.

5. Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, “Thou Shalt Always Kill”

I hate rap, but I like this one. “Thou shalt not judge a book by its cover, thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover”.

6. Duke Special, “Brixton Leaves”

Belfast’s favourite dreadlocked dwarf gets hometown to cheer him for telling them to go away.

7. Emily Loizeau, “Jasseron”

The album version is a duet with Franck Monnet, a very sincere ballad about a holiday in the Alps. This version, sung with her drummer, Cyril Aveque, is more fun.

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28th Nov 2007

A musical complaint

I could probably be accused of taking music too seriously. I have found myself recently getting nostalgic for my late teens and early twenties, when music really mattered – it wasn’t just a matter of taste what kind of music you liked, it was closer to a matter of moral principle. I found myself right back in that mindset tonight.

Events conspired to have me attend, at short notice, a Crowded House concert. I was really there for the support act, Duke Special, but I thought it’d be only polite to stay for the main feature. Crowded House aren’t a band I’d go out of my way to listen to, but if they came on the radio I wouldn’t turn it off. Not especially exciting, but melodic, harmonic, goes down pretty easy. I thought that, even if it wouldn’t be the most exciting gig I’d ever been to, it would at least be pleasant. How wrong can you be.

Four or five songs in I wanted to shoot the bass player. Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum, every single beat of every single bar, always the root note, no variation, no harmony, no dynamics. The bass is a musical instrument, but it was being played like a pneumatic drill. I couldn’t take it. I had to leave.

It didn’t help that I was tired, confused by the last minute arrangement that had got me the ticket, the venue was a big barn with all the atmosphere of the moon, and while everybody I knew had seats, my ticket was for the standing area in front of the stage, so I was on my own in a densely packed crowd, and feeling lost in a crowd never does wonders for my equilibrium, so I was a bit irritable. But by god that bass player irritated me.

But not only am I reverting to a teenager, I’m simultaneously turning into my dad. He sings in a choir specialising in baroque and renaissance music, which is all a bit involved for my tastes, but we had a conversation last week where we agreed that so much of rock music has no concept of dynamics.The bass and drums are just a box to keep the song in, and the guitars chug or thrash away at a constant rate and volume. The fact that the voice is amplified means the singer doesn’t have to go for volume like an opera singer, and can instead exploit the more subtle, intimate, conversational qualities of the voice – like a film actor can use more subtle expressions than a theatre actor because the camera’s right up next to him and he doesn’t need to project his body language to the back of the hall – but they very rarely do.

We also agreed on that fantastically irritating tendency of adverts to cut out all the beats when nobody’s singing, like that horrendous AA advert where the rhythm and timing of James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend is cut to ribbons. It has often occurred to me that there are people who don’t “hear” music, they only hear the words. It always strikes me, listening to live albums, that when a song is played that has a very distinctive instrumental intro, there’s a cheer from the crowd when they recognise the intro, and then there’s another cheer when the first line is sung – all the people that love the song but can’t identify it from the intro.

But I’m rambling. Tonight I was both the dad and the kid in a rock and roll movie, getting annoyed because a bunch of experienced, successful, professional musicians just don’t know what they’re doing, dammit. Duke Special, by the way, was excellent as ever, despite being handicapped by playing in the aforementioned atmosphere-free barn. He didn’t do John Lennon Love, which is my favourite of his songs, but he did doBrixton Leaves, Everybody Wants a Little Something and Portrait, so I can hardly complain.

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10th Nov 2007

Beth Rowley

The most inspired cover since Union Avenue did The Ace of Spades: Beth Rowley’s Leaning on a Lampost. Brilliant.


Saw her supporting the mighty Duke Special last week and she was amazing. One of those voices that makes the hair stand up on your back. Here she is doing Nobody’s Fault But Mine:


And Beautiful Tomorrow:


And here’s her website.

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13th Jun 2007

Musical meme

Got this from Rol Hirst:

On your MP3 device of choice, set it to random, or shuffle, or whatever system it uses to play all of your music randomly. Then enter the first song that comes up into the first category in the listing below, then the second song into the second, and so on, until all of the moments of your life have a random song assigned to them. You can cheat but, as ever, you’re only cheating yourself.

I have cheated slightly, but only by skipping tracks by an artist that’s already appeared on the list.

Opening Credits –
T. Rex, Girl in the Thunderbolt Suit
Nice upbeat opening. Not much relevance to my life, but it’s a T. Rex song, so looking for meaning is probably futile.

Waking Up –
Elvis Presley, Blue Moon of Kentucky
Very early Elvis. Not bad for an awakening.

First Day at School –
George Harrison, My Sweet Lord
No relevance at all that I can see.

Falling in Love –
McAlmont & Butler, What’s the Excuse the Time
You have no idea how apt this one is.

Fight Song –
Duke Special, Portrait
Kind of appropriate. “Your broken heart was never on my mind”.

Breaking Up –

Dominoes, That’s What You’re Doing to Me

“I wanna laugh, I wanna cry
I wanna live, no I wanna die
Can’t you see,
That’s what you’re doing to me.

“I wanna leave, I wanna stay
I wanna fight, no I wanna play
Oh baby
That’s what you’re doing to me.”

That works.

Sixth Form Disco –
Stevie Wonder, Living for the City
When I think what a dog-eat-dog environment school was, that’s quite good too.

Life is Good –
Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler, Red Staggerwing
Quite a feelgood song. Aeroplanes and guitars.

Mental Breakdown –
ELO, Secret Messages
Heh heh.

Driving –
Small Faces, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake
A good instrumental. Works for me.

Flashback –
Iain Archer, Frozen Northern Shores
Malin Head, County Donegal, February 2003. Happy, before my life took a turn for the worse.

Getting Back Together –
Bjork, Earth Intruders
Reasonably mad even by Bjork’s standards. I tend to agree.

Wedding –
Mark Knopfler, Quality Shoe
Kind of reflects my low expectations of the whole business, really.

Paying the Dues –
Eric Clapton, Kind Hearted Woman Blues
“These evil hearted women, they will not let me be.” I’ve paid those dues all right.

The Night Before the War –
The Tears, A Love as Strong as Death
Now that’s a good match.

Final Battle –
The Undertones, Julie Ocean
I think I’ve already had this battle.

Moment of Triumph –
Michael Jackson, PYT (Pretty Young Thing)
Hollow laughter.

Death Scene –
Camera Obscura, Tears for Affairs
If I’d got this song under this heading three years ago, I might have taken it as an instruction. Then again, the record only came out last year, so I’d have been safe.

Funeral Song –
Joseph Arthur, In the Sun
Nice. Elegaic.

End Credits –
The Fratellis, Doginabag
About as much relevance to my life as the opening credits, but a good song, and I can see the credits rolling over it.

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17th May 2007

Have you heard this?

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t help it. Here’s Jonathan Coulton singing “Baby Got Back” on YouTube.

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21st Nov 2006

Divine Comedy and Duke Special at the Mandela Hall

The Divine Comedy played the Mandela Hall at Queen’s University, Belfast on 11 November. While I’m fond of Neil Hannon’s songs, and have his Greatest Hits and everything, I was mainly there for the support act, Duke Special. We’ve kind of lost touch, but I used to to know Duke quite well. He even accompanied me once when I sang the blues at a friend’s wedding party. My brother, who went to school with him, has been badgering me for a while to listen to the stuff he’s doing now. I wasn’t particularly grabbed by his first album, Adventures in Gramophone, when I heard it, but the song “Last Night I Nearly Died” finally made me sit up and take notice. How the hell that’s not a hit single I’ll never know. Anyway, I bought the new album, Songs From the Deep Forest, really liked it, and got a huge kick out of knowing someone who could make such cool music, and Alan told me if I thought that was good I should see him play live. And as luck would have it…

So here he is with his ludicrous haircut and marginally less odd percussionist, crouching over his fake piano (it’s a wooden box with a synthesiser in it!), making a remarkably full sound with so few instruments. The album’s quite lushly arranged, with strings and clarinets all over the place, and he doesn’t miss any of it. “Brixton Leaves”, in particular, hits a lot harder live, and not just because of the added rude words. In the last verse he rails against Northern Irish intransigence and militarism, concluding “Belfast… leave me alone.” The audience, as audiences do, cheered wildly at the mention of their home town, only to be told to go away. Made me smile.

It was a short set, and he made a good selection of songs, from the jaunty “Portrait” to the impassioned, hymn-like “Low”, with “Everybody Wants a Little Something” and the aforementioned “Last Night…” that I could sing along with. He finished with “Salvation Tambourine”, with it’s odd, slightly disturbing “I could go to London” refrain and big, noisy finale in which he nearly threw his fake piano into the crowd, and off he goes. Great performer, hugely enjoyable performance. The Divine Comedy had something to live up to.

And they did, and more. Neil Hannon had always given me the impression of a rather earnest, high-minded chap, but the “Comedy” part of his stage-name is entirely justified. The way he finished “Lucy”, which is essentially a couple of Wordsworth poems set to music, with three quick George Formby-style chords, for example. The lighting of a cigarette immediately after singing a single note for about a minute and a half. “Forgetting” the chords to a song he was playing solo on accoustic guitar. He played the audience like a virtuoso.

The songs were great as well, although I knew maybe half of them. “Becoming More Like Alfie” was particularly cathartic, with every man in the audience singing raucously along in joyous celebration of not having clue one about women. “Songs of Love” may be the Father Ted theme, but it also has killer lyrics (“Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice/Fortune depends on the tone of your voice”) and had the crowd swaying. The set proper finished with the peerless “Tonight We Fly”, which nearly made me cry it’s that bloody good (the last verse in particular is Waterloo Sunset-standard songwriting, just world class). Then the encore, with the singalong of “National Express” followed by an absolute punch to the gut – “Sunrise”, a song I’d forgotten the existence of, and perhaps the ultimate expression of the idiocy of our stupid, fucking stupid little conflict, fighting over who rules a tiny wee corner of a speck in the Atlantic and expecting the rest of the world to take it seriously. This time Hannon did make me cry, the bastard. Then I looked up at Lucy the violinist (who, if I may be so shallow for a moment, is gorgeous) and she looked close to tears herself. This is a man who makes his own backing band cry. God, but he’s good.

And there you have it.

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