'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' was written by Ewan MacColl, singer, folk icon and father of Kirsty. According to legend, he put the song together for his partner Peggy Seeger, relating the melody down a telephone line. Roberta Flack did the song no bad service when she brought it into the soul tradition, to the top of the American charts, picking up a Grammy along the way. According to her version, love can be leave you bewildered and wiped out. The earth may move, but there's little scope for feeling giddy or flip. All of the neural pathways are confounded and the outside world is a mere sideshow. There's a new recording by The Flaming Lips and Erykah Badu that works deeper into the theme of getting lost. It's a ten minute exploration, wilfully fuzzy, unhurried and suffused with reverb. An alternative road map to true love ways.
David Bowie - Heroes (EMI)
The Gaslight Anthem - Howl (Sony)
VerseChorusVerse - Get Over You (white)
VerseChorusVerse - Bankrobber (white)
Sean Rowe - Downwind (Anti)
Big Joe Turner - Howling Winds (Signature)
Deer Tick - Main Street (Loose)
General Fiasco - Hollows (Dirty Hit)
Cowbell - Tallulah (Damaged Goods)
Chic - Good Times (Atlantic)
David Holmes - I Heard Wonders (Mercury)
Underworld - Caliban's Dream (white)
Led Zeppelin - Trampled Underfoot (Atlantic)
The Gaslight Anthem - 45 (Sony)
Soak - Sea Creatures (white)
Cocteau Twins - Pearly Dewdrops Drop (4ad)
Deer Tick - Now It's Your Turn (Loose)
General Fiasco - This Is Living (Dirty Hit)
Carole King - Like Little Children (Universal)
Sean Rowe - Bring Back The Night (Anti)
Shangri Las - I Can Never Go Home Anymore (Mercury)
The Flaming Lips, Erykah Badu - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Bella Union)
Reptar - Houseboat Babies (Lucky Number)
Here's a picture of myself and Nile Rodgers, mainstay of Chic, associate of Sister Sledge and producer pal of Madonna, Bowie, Michael Jackson, Duran Duran and INXS. We met briefly at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast in September 2010 when he was delivering the keynote speech at the start of Belfast Music Week. The chap was in astonishing form that day, theoretically in conversation with Radio Ulster's Paul McClean, but actually just riffing on his own agenda, shamelessly name-dropping and telling the most wonderful accounts of disco's heyday, a life of extremes and even some anecdotes about working with Van Morrison.
Only days later, he was diagnosed with cancer and he took to blogging from New York about that particular experience with much soul and scattershot memories of absent friends. To be honest, I supposed that his remarkable resilience was perhaps used up. But great joy - the man is back in Belfast with a biography and with the legendary Chic. The book will be promoted with a free question and answer session at the Stiff Kitten tomorrow (Wednesday 1 August) at 6.30pm. Later that night, 'Le Freak' will prevail at the Mandela Hall. How can it not be great? Big fun, to be had by everyone.
I was standing in the grounds of Belfast City Hall on Friday night when a familiar tune kicked in. Like a many other people, I looked up to the big television screen for context and there was David Beckham in a speedboat, lashing along the Thames, en route for the Olympic stadium, fixing to deliver that torch. The soundtrack was 'I Heard Wonders' by David Holmes and it sounded just about perfect. Not everybody may have noted the reference, but within seconds, the Twitter and Facebook accounts were fizzing with approval. Mr Holmes was representing.
Later, I was at the Stiff Kitten watching General Fiasco when Alex Trimble from Two Door Cinema Club had his moment in the stadium. I watched it afterwards on iPlayer and this was also excellent cheer. It was a new song by Rick Smith from Underworld called 'Caliban's Surprise'. Which was itself a neat reference back to Shakespeare's lines from 'The Tempest' that Kenneth Branagh had used to usher in the ceremony. Both Shakespeare and Danny Boyle may have had a different island in mind from our own, but only the most contrary cuss could not feel included in this ceremony.
There was a very different scenario in Belfast, 1982 when Northern Ireland beat Spain in the World Cup. I was in the Eglantine Bar and the entire place turned to the TV screen and broke into a chorus of "Are you watching, Jimmy Hill?" The feeling was that the team had won in the face of UK media indifference - a panel of commentators that was often partisan, Anglo-centric, male, middle-aged and just about capable of acknowledging the "plucky Irish". That night's result in Valencia had felt like a double victory. And boy, did we gloat.
So I was a little fearful of the Olympic ceremony, that the nations would be patronized and that the capital would be over-bearing. But Danny Boyle brought everyone into his production and worked a new narrative through his sustained sense of wonder. It rocked and it was unconventional. Caliban, the outcast, the put-upon, misunderstood islander, is surely smiling.
The Mighty Shamrocks had a brief bloom in the mid Eighties - cosmic American music with nuances of reggae and flecks of blarney. They came from the north west of Ireland, where musicianship was valued and the width of your trouser leg was not such a handicap. Micky Stephens sang with a woozy, Jaggeresque pitch. His songs were literate and sweetly maudlin - 'Breaking Up With Harry' seemed to be about a dalliance with Sister Morphine. Terri Hooley was a fan and I recall the cover of their 'Condor Woman' release on the wall of the Good Vibrations store. There was an aspiration to release an album on Terri's label and sessions were handled by Mudd Wallace at Homestead Studios, but when the shop went bust in 1983, all was shelved and the masters presumed lost.
Occasionally I'd meet someone like Bap Kennedy, who would talk keenly about the myth of the Shamrocks and how the band had had hipped him onto country music. And less frequently I'd hear rumours of the missing album, magically extant. And now, it seems, the collection is finally ready for release on the Good Vibrations label. There's a long version of the story, but it seems that Fran McCloskey, dedicated music supporter, had safeguarded a copy of the mix. Terri and the band's former manager Willie Richardson got the chance to package it together, the band gave it their blessing and sleevenotes were fetched up, with a remembrance of Paddy, their late drummer. The release date is August 6 and behold, they will even play three dates: The Portrush Playhouse (August 10), the Belfast Barge (August 11) and Connolly's of Leap, (August 12).
Blur - Tender (Parlophone)
Bobby Womack - Please Forgive My Heart (XL)
Calexico - Splitter (City Slang)
Ike And Tina Turner - It's Gonna Work Out Fine (EMI)
Dirty Projectors - Dance For You (Domino)
Duke Special - Stargazers Of The World Unite (Adventures In Gramophone)
The Herbalizer - The Lost Boy (Department H)
Soak - Sea Creatures (white)
Glen Hansard - High Hope (Anti)
Dirty Projectors - Swing lo Majellan (Domino)
David Byrne, St Vincent - Who (4ad)
The Mighty Shamrocks - Coronation St (Good Vibrations)
Madness - It Must Be Love (Stiff)
Hat Fitz And Cara - Freedom (white)
Euros Childs - That's Better (National Elf)
JD McPherson - Your Love (Rounder)
Big Joe Turner - Born To Gamble (Proper)
Soak - Doorstep (white)
Cold Specks - Hector (Mute)
Paul Buchanan - My True Country (Newsroom)
The Mighty Shamrocks - Marie (Good Vibrations)
The XX - Angels (Beggars)
Karine Polwart - King Of Birds (Hegri)
Dylan Leblanc - Part One: The End (Rough Trade)
Bessie Smith - Reckless Blues (Proper)
Ben Glover - No Means Yes (white)
The internet recently fetched up a scan of my Record Mirror review of Self Aid from the RDS Stadium, Dublin 1986. That was quite a day, with music from U2, Elvis Costello, the Pogues, Bob Geldof, Van Morrison, Christy Moore, Paul Brady, The Chieftains, and a tribute to the recently deceased Phil Lynott, led by Gary Moore. I wouldn't claim that the typewritten copy I filed was particularly insightful, but I had an exciting time of it, grabbing quotes from the artists and trying to articulate some of the contrary feelings on the day.
Interestingly, my review probably arrived on the streets 10 days after the event. The magazine was published in London, the turnaround was not fast and the public was reasonably tolerant of such deadlines. That continued during my NME days, certainly the Glastonbury coverage of the late Eighties, when you might just about sneak in a few weekend news stories, images and a sketchy review.
Read the rest of this entry
Are there many rock and roll references to the pagan god Pan? Well, both Pink Floyd and Van Morrison have delivered songs called 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn', which picks up the story of the goat-footed deity from 'Wind In The Willows'. Stevie Wonder and Animal Collective have made a few Arcadian allusions and of course there was a Top Of The Pops dance troupe called Pan's People.
But the most consistent Pan's person has been Mike Scott from The Waterboys. On his 1985 album, 'This Is The Sea' he invited his listeners to take a steer towards 'The Pan Within'. Five years later and the god's image featured on the artwork to the 'Room to Roam' album, followed by a 1993 track, 'The Return of Pan'. Mike was inspired to evoke the figure by writers such as Dion Fortune and WB Yeats and when I met him in the west of Ireland in the late Eighties, Mike was convinced that he'd found the essence of Pan in the horned landscape near Dingle and about Inishmaan in the Aran Islands.
Some of this is discussed in his autobiography, 'Adventures Of A Waterboy', which was previewed earlier this year in the Belfast Book Festival. It's a proper, engaging read; a quest to find meaning and transcendence through music. The Irish expeditions are full of joy and mystical reveals, but there are also memorable sections that narrate the glories of Foyle's bookshop on the Charing Cross Road, that describe meetings with Patti Smith and the royal mess that was Johnny Thunders. Mike has not suffered a dull time of it.
By coincidence, I recently took 'Jitterbug Perfume' on holiday with me. Written by Tom Robbins (author of 'Even Cowgirls Get The Blues' and 'Still Life With Woodpecker'), it's a lusty yarn about immortality, the perfume industry and the presence of Pan. Outlawed by Christianity and unloved in Europe, some intrepid chancers contrive to take Pan on a boat to the New World, disguising his animal stench on the boat with a customised fragrance of jasmine, citron and beet pollen. I first read the book around 20 years ago and I liked it anew. Viva Pan.
Only a couple of weeks until the release of the new Soak EP, 'Sea Creatures'. So for now we still have to depend on the previous 'Trains' EP to measure the talent of Bridie Monds-Watson. That's also a top achievement. At 16, she's already got the presence, the sense of self, the style and the tunes. She plays guitar in open tuning and recalls Nick Drake and John Martyn. She can do intrigue and I suspect she will also have political teeth before long. Like Katharine Philippa, she manifests great talent the way that zebras wear stripes.
Thanks to Paddy and Niall from the Glasgowbury organisation for driving down for the radio show and for importing some of that singular zest. There's more competition with music festivals in these parts, but Paddy has taken the years to cultivate the welcome and the sense of occasion under the Eagle's Rock. Arrive early to witness Soak, Kowalski and many others.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
The Jodimars - Now Dig This (Now Dig This)
Band Of Horses - Knock Knock (Sony)
Therapy - Nowhere (A&M)
Kowalski - Letters From The Height Of Summer (white)
Neil Young - Rocking In The Free World (Reprise)
Soak - Trains (white)
Betty Wright And The Roots - In The Middle Of The Game (S-Curve)
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Man On Fire (Rough Trade)
Rufus Wainwright - Jericho (Polydor)
Crystal Fighters - In The Summer (Zirkulo)
Mull Historical Society - Must you Make Eyes At Me Now (Xtra Mile)
Bloc Party - Octopus (French Kiss)
Beach Boys - That's Why God Made The Radio (Capitol)
Best Coast - The Only Place (Wichita)
The June Brides - January Moon (Occultation)
Ry Cooder - Wall Street Part Of Town (Nonesuch)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Only In My Dreams (4ad)
Villagers - Delayed Reaction (The Stables)
Duke Special - Nothing Can Come Between Me And You (Reel To Reel)
Kurt Vile - In My Baby's Arms (Matador)
The Triffids - Save What You Can (Mushroom)
Patrick Watson - Step Out For A While (Domino)
Ry Cooder - Take Your Hands Off It (Nonesuch)
Bruce Springsteen - Rocky Ground (Sony)
Spector - Never Fade Away (Fiction)
Cat Power - Ruin (Matador)