Music from Mali has consistently brought joy to the Monday playlists. That would include Salif Keita, the late Ali Farka Touré, plus Toumani Diabate, Tinariwen and Oumou Sangare. This resource is seemingly deep into their culture. All of the above radiate a love for the music and a threshold of greatness that travels well.
Then of course there's Amadou & Miriam. Like many, I became a fan in 2004 with their 'Dimanche a Bamako' album, a great pulsing temtimony to one of the top musical cities. The furthered the story with 'Welcome To Mali' in 2008 and then last year there was the more contentious 'Folila'. This found the duo working with a variety of western hipster names, with questionable results. But that won't stop me getting in a fever about their appearance in this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, May 9. Prepare for maximum delight.
The Dells - Thinkin About You (Universal)
Johnny Marr - Lockdown (Warner)
Palma Violets - Johnny Bagga Donuts (Rough Trade)
Little Green Cars - Harper Lee (Island)
The Strokes - All The Time (Rough Trade)
Indians - Lips Lips Lips (4ad)
Johnny Marr - Upstarts (Warner)
Chelsea Light Morning - Heavenmetal (Matador)
Caitlin Rose - Old Numbers (Names)
Amidships - Lost (white)
Michael Stipe, Courtney Love - Rio Grande (Anti)
Le Carousel -The Good Times (white)
The Only Ones - Another Girl, Another Planet (CBS)
Barbara Acklin - Just Ain't No Love (Brunswick)
Palma Violets - We Found Love (Rough Trade)
Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell - Invitation To The Blues (Nonesuch)
Ryan Vail - Fade (white)
Johnny Marr - New Town Velocity (Warner)
Ciaran Lavery - Love Will Tear Us Apart (white)
Amadou & Miriam - Cherie (Names)
Indians - La Femme (4ad)
Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell - Old Yellow Moon (Nonesuch)
Marika Hackman - Retina Television (Dirty Hit)
Nick Cave - Higgs Boson Blues (Bad Seed)
So a friend wants to set up a Belfast café with a local music theme. Some menu ideas were suggested. It might feature a bit of word play on bands and song titles. Well, that was me off.
Working at the the NME in the Nineties was the like serving in the Harlem Globetrotters of pun. Every song title was an invitation for mischief and linguistic mirth. A great idea was bounced around by a series of other sharp minds until there were puns on top of puns and many layers of absurdity.
I'm no longer a grand-master of pun rock. But a bit of that skill has endured, and so I responded to the local café idea.
Might we call it Two Door Cinnamon Club? Spam The Man?
And what to serve? Some of the dishes might include:
Stiff Little Fish Fingers.
And So I Watch You From A Farl.
Sloe Patrol, featuring Jonny Quince.
Alternative Ulster Fry.
And So I Weight Watch You From Afar.
While she's not an artist from Northern Ireland, our favourite fried food might be represented by Pastie Kensitt. I for one, could not resist that calorific charm.
For pudding, the following came to mind:
Teenage Twix (so hard to beat).
Angel Cake Interceptor.
Girl From Mars Bar.
All finished of with a National Expresso. Just be careful though. Too much of the above and you might be turning into The Goutcasts. Go ahead puns, make my day.
Why are old punk rockers so reactionary? In particular, the creaky custodians of Alternative Ulster? I watched One Direction at the Brits
last night, mashing up The Undertones and Blondie, knowing full well that instantly, social media would be clogged up with humourless defences of 'Teenage Kicks'. Their irate brayings would make you believe that there was some kind of heritage order slapped on the John O'Neill song, that it was untouchable, subject to permission. The sole preserve of fifty something blokes who were there, man.
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and David Holmes
were talent-swapping back in 2000. He remixed 'Swastika Eyes' and they guested on his track 'Sick City'. It was the meeting of similar minds - curious, fractious and unapologetic. The friendship has sustained and David returned from Los Angeles last year with some great new Scream tunes (slipped into a set at The Menagerie, as I recall) and hilarious tales about a rock and roll gymnasium in Hollywood.
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Anthony Toner gifted us a swell record in 2011, 'A Light Below The Door'. The horns delivered that Celtic swing, the characters were richly defined, it had heart and empathy and was sure of the hope that flickers behind the frame. If you gave it the time and were a simpatico soul, it was the best companion.
Happily, 'Sing Under The Bridges' is a bookend. Clive Culbertson is producing again, well tuned to the Toner method. Ronnie Greer plays blues guitar with coiled precision. John McCullough features on gospel piano and organ and on the final stretch of 'Things Fall Apart' he ascends, beautifully.
There are songs of perseverance and quiet trouble. 'All The Empty Pockets Of Ireland' is set in the twisted present, but there's a dream-fable about unloved millionaires and levitating parents. 'The Road To Fivemiletown' is a rural escape story without the get-out clause. And you cheer on the author when he sings 'Most People Are A Pain In The Ass', because his benevolence gives way to something less giving. "If life was a journey, you'd slash their tyres in the driveway," he figures. It's like watching a fella smile while spitting tobacco juice out of the corner of his mouth.
There's a Dixie shuffle here, a bit of John Prine humanity elsewhere and a significant moment on 'The Only Child In The World' when the floor disintegrates and all seems done. Yet by the end of the song, Anthony is out of the wreckage and determined to fail, better. Just like you hoped that he would.
Some wonderful news about this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
in Belfast. The swoonsome John Grant
with a new album. Will Self
and his caustic soda. Adam Ant
putting the punk into panto. And, ultimate joy, the chance to see Dexys
in the festival marquee, bringing out the drama of 'One Day I'm Going to Soar', demanding intensity, love, folly and big demin pants with enormous cuffs. See you there, soul brothers and sisters. Check out www.cqaf.com for developments.
What tune was best to mark the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath's demise? Surely not Ralph McTell and the sappy 'Sylvia'. Meantime, the intensity of Paul Westerberg, remembering her suicide on 'Crackle And Drag' might be best kept for another night. Likewise with The Manics and 'Faster', spitting out Plath and Pinter. And there's never a good time for Lady Gaga and 'Dance In The Dark'. You know that.
So the call went out to Everything But The Girl. A track called 'Little Hitler' from their 'Baby The Stars Shine Bright' album - sumptuous heartache from 1986. Produced by Mike Hedges, who also worked with the Manics on their other Sylvia tribute, 'The Girl Who Wanted To Be God'. The latter track was co-written by Richey Edwards, one of his last creations before his apparent suicide.
'Little Hitler' has an expansive, Nashville-lite arrangement and a slightly foreboding air. Tracy Thorn, with her first in English Lit, is pretty effortless in the way that she references the Sylvia Plath poem, 'Daddy' to portray a dark, domineering figure with renegade politics and heavy manners.
Dexys Midnight Runners - Jackie Wilson Said (EMI)
Palma Violets - Step Up for The Cool Cats (Rough Trade)
Depeche Mode - Heaven (Sony)
Mary Margaret O'Hara - profile
Mary Margaret O'Hara - Then Said the Captain To Be (Anti)
Ron Sexsmith - She Does My Heart Good (Cooking Vinyl)
Scream Blue Murmur - The Secret Life Of Gam Bambino (white)
Tom Waits, Keith Richards - Shenandoah (Anti)
Eels - Wonderful Glorious (E Works)
Jens Lekman - The End Of The World Is Bigger Than Love (Secretly Canadian)
Professor Longhair - Go To The Mardi Gras (Proper)
Caitlin Rose - Only A Clown (Names)
Eels - Brave Little Soldier (E Works)
Shane MacGowan, Johnny Depp - The Leaving Of Liverpool (Anti)
The Leisure Society - Fight For Everyone (Full Time Hobby)
The Five Satins - In The Still Of The Night (Standard)
Fionn Regan - 67 Blackout (Universal)
Everything But The Girl - Little Hitler (WEA)
Patrick Gardiner - He Isn't Right For You (white)
Eels - True Original (E Works)
Fats Domino - Mardi Gras In New Orleans (EMI)
Ed Harcourt - Hey Little Bruiser (CCCLX)
Yo La Tengo - Ohm (Matador)
Sinkane - Runnin (City Slang)
I was recently looking at a weekend newspaper when the image of a well-presented gentleman caught my eye. He was wearing a seersucker jacket and a crisp, complementary shirt in baby blue. His chino pants were flat-fronted and he wore a cravat with a fetching print. Nothing wrong with that, but when I looked up, I realized that the attire belonged to Nicholas Parsons (89), the voice of Just A Minute and granny-pleasing presenter of Sale Of The Century. And I then asked myself, how did I get here?
Once I looked to the punk fire-starters for my style. I wore magenta striped socks because they were endorsed by Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers on the cover of 'L.A.M.F'. I learnt to use my mother's sewing machine to convert my flares into drainpipes. I had a DIY screenprint operation in the garage to make my Clash T shirts. I made a 'Sid Lives' badge on the day that the Sex Pistol died, and wore it to the local youth club with unassailable cool . Now here I am, several decades along, no longer copping ideas from NME's Tony Parsons, but from his namesake Nicholas.
Still, it's hard to resist an attractive bit of neckwear. The gold standard for rock and roll has been the Tootal scarf, maintained by Paul Weller, Liam Gallagher, Steve Marriott and inevitably, Robbie Williams. The brand goes back to the nineteenth century and was a dapper accessory with the RAF before mod culture appropriated the look. The cravat actually goes back to Croatian mercenaries in the seventeenth century, impressing Parisian royalty and then the court of Charles II. According to the new issue of GQ, the cravat is "your neck's best thing" and are recommending a Louis Vuitton number for £220.
The likes of Peckham Rye and Nicholson And Walcot are servicing a more discerning clientele, including Martin Freeman, a hobbit with panache. Alternately, you can prevail with vintage versions from Tootal and Sammy, manufactured in Rayon and Viscose ("wash as silk"), in patterns of paisley, geometric and ersatz oriental. Good enough for Nicholas, and acceptable for necks in the city.
What's not to like about 'Werewolves of London'? Recorded by Warren Zevon in Los Angeles, 1977. Produced by Jackson Browne with the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section sustaining the groove. A purely playful song, written in response to Phil Everly, a fan of the 1930 horror film who requested a dance song with the same title. Once a few absurd ideas and the chord progression were put together at LeRoy Marinell's house in Venice, California, the lyrics tumbled out. Abetted by guitarist Waddy Wachtel, it's the sound of rolling delight, musicians at their best, howling on the chorus. Kid Rock couldn't resist its charm it for 'All Summer Long' and neither could Dexys Midnight Runners, with 'One Of Those Things'. A design classic.
The Byrds - Have You Seen Her Face (CBS)
Christopher Owens - Here We Go Again (Turnstile)
Pulp - After You (Rough Trade)
Harper Simon - Bonnie Brae PIAS)
Yeahsayer - Second Hand News (Secretly Canadian)
Daughter - Still (4ad)
Warren Zevon - Werewolves Of London (Rhino)
Balthazar - The Oldest Of Sisters (PIAS)
Jarrod Dickenson - Ain't Waiting Any Longer (white)
Youth Lagoon - Dropla (Fat Possum)
Django Django - WOR (Because)
David Bowie - Fame (EMI)
Lord Huron - Lonesome Dreams (PIAS)
Rosie Carney - You Will Smile Again (session track)
Dale Watson - Wine, Wine, Wine (Retro World)
Mogwai - What Are They Doing In Heaven Tonight (Rough Trade)
My Bloody Valentine - New You (white)
Bill Fay - Be Not So Fearful (Esoteric)
Rosie Carney - My Old Guitar (session track)
The XX - Sunset (XL)
MMoths - All These Things (SQE)
My Bloody Valentine - She Found Now (white)
Richard III was punk rock. We know this because Johnny Rotten formulated his twisted stage persona in response to the 1955 film in which Laurence Olivier played the malodorous monarch. Johnny mentions this in his autobiography, 'No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs' and clips of the film were spliced into the Sex Pistols film, The Filth And The Fury.
After Glen Matlock left the Sex Pistols, the bassist formed the Rich Kids with Midge Ure. Their third single was 'Ghosts Of Princes In Towers', another reference to Richard and the Plantagenet story. Richard has been cited by Morrissey while the Manic Street Preachers referred to "the winter of my discontent" in 'Love Letter To The Future'. Even Van Morrison delivered a passing reference to the line in 'Sense Of Wonder'.
Meantime in 1997 Supergrass had formulated a moody song for their second album, 'In It For The Money'. As was their habit, they gave the track a working title, reflecting the the billowing tone. 'Richard III' it was, and title stuck. Fortunately for us, really.