I reckon this photo was shot in 1962, but it might have been taken on Walton's Mountain a few decades earlier. The Bailie family must have travelled to some rural location to make busy with the flask of tea. That's me on the right hand side, engaged in some private distraction. Everyone else looks rather solemn, but that's how I remember such days. They were still getting over the austerity years, and the prospect of a moist tomato sandwich and a freshly boiled egg were something to consider.
My children were perturbed when they saw the shot. It looks properly ancient and the motor (maybe an Austin A40) would not have won any beauty contests, even then. The grandparents had unfiltered Ballynahinch accents and were fixed in their ways. I was a first generation townie, happy to visit the country, but never too keen to hang around in it.
The first time I heard Annie Lennox singing 'Shining Light' I was stupefied. The second time I roared with mirth. Now I find it compelling to hear. I'm picking out new parts of the song for my personal delight, like the lawdy-lawdy gospel finale and the way the arrangement creaks up toward the bridge section.
When Tim Wheeler recorded it with Ash, his band was facing bankrupcy and the record company was ready to walk. The song won him a commercial and artistic reprieve plus a Novello Award. He sang it in his breathless way, revealing the awe and a sincere, gauche quality that I've always liked in the chap.
I don't really know where Annie Lennox is coming from in her version. She keeps much of the Ash arrangement, but skids around the melody with little finesse. It sounds like a pub singer warming up. And the video is hilariously literal. Shining lights everywhere. You'd be disappointed if there weren't.
Legendary bands tend to have legendary managers. Joy Division was guided by Rob Gretton, who rode through the chaos, the strangeness and ultimately the death of the lead singer. His subsequent gig was to support New Order as they reimagined the music all over again.
I bumped into the guy once, at the Factory Records office in the final years, when Happy Mondays were losing it and the company accounts were getting silly. Shortly afterwards, I discovered that he was a distant relative - my mother-in-law's cousin. And at a couple of big Manchester weddings, I met the extended clan and caught up on the gossip.
Rob's notebooks were turned into a publication recently. This might seem absurdly trivial, but such is the mythology of the era that his perspective is compelling. The early days are harmless to-do lists and gig details. The enormity of it builds towards an American tour, but abruptly changes into funeral arrangements. Finally, there's the knotty decision of whether they should re-name the new band. There are cameo parts from Tony Wilson, Martin Hannett and Paul Morley. History is written by accident - or praxis, as Tony liked to claim. Every band manager should see this.
Ciaran and Chris from Captain Kennedy came in on Friday night to play an acousic session live on air. These can be jittery occasions but perversely,the chaps elected to play a couple of brand new songs - one of which had not even been heard by all the band members. They played them well and once more I was taken by Ciaran's voice - battered, winsome and tender. Hank Williams once said that "you got to have smelt a lot of mule manure before you can sing like a hillbilly" and I wonder what was in the air when this young guy from Lurgan got his style together.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Scott Walker - The Big Hurt (Fontana)
The Mighty Stef - Downtown (The Firstborn Is Dead)
Morrissey - I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris (Decca)
M Ward - To Save Me (4AD)
Nick Lowe - So It Goes (Proper)
Alela Diane - White As Diamonds (Names)
Vic Godard - Watch That Girl (Motion)
The Low Anthem - Charlie Darwin (End Of The Road)
Van Morrison - Sweet Thing (live) (Listen To The Lion)
Vetiver - Sister (Bella Union)
Captain Kennedy - Suppertime (session)
Captain Kennedy - Leave Before The Night (session)
The Band - It Makes No Difference (Capitol)
The Rolling Stones - Tumbling Dice (Rolling Stones)
The Gaslight Anthem - The Patient Ferris Wheel (Side One Dummy)
Andrew Bird - Oh No (Bella Union)
Ernie K Doe - A Place Where We Can Be Free (Evangeline)
Bene Kweller - Homeward Bound (ATO)
Neil Young - Unknown Legend (Reprise)
John Shelley And The Creatures - Long May You Reign (white)
Animal Collective - My Girls (Domino)
Duke Special - Digging An Early Grave (Universal)
The Apples - The Power (Freestyle)
Metric - Help I'm Alive (Metric)
Gruff Rhys -Wild Robots Power Up (Lo)
It means nothing to the rest of you, but for me, this is a significant ticket stub. It was my first ever gig and I found the evidence in a plastic bag in my mother's attic. There were other tickets in there also - from The Ramones, The Clash, Siouxie, Thin Lizzy, The Selecter, Elvis Costello, The Human League and the Boomtown Rats, but I will always feel a fondness for the Feelgoods. I'm also rather impressed with the fact that the serial number on the stub is 01. How early was I in the queue to get that one?
Don't forget, ATL is looking for your old Ulster Hall tickets, in the run-up to the live concert on March 9, featuring Ash, the Divine Comedy, The Lowly Knights, Therapy and more. It will deliver an epochal night, a TV production and much more. Check out Rigsy's thoughts to gauge the mounting sense of occasion.
I had a dream last night that I was in Forestside Shopping Centre, Belfast shortly before closing time. I had been in such a rush to get there that I hadn't changed into something practical. I was wearing striped pyjamas in a fetching shade of blue. But, I reasoned, no one would notice.
And of course everyone noticed. The shopping experience turned into a meta-surreal version of This Is Your Life as a bewildering number of acquaintances came over to meet me in conversation. A few kind souls pretended that nothing was amiss. But most of them wanted to know what I was doing in a shopping centre late at night, wearing inappropriate gear. One of them even commented that I had rolled up the cuff of one leg. Was I paying tribute to Eighties icon Don Johnson, who folded up the sleeves of his linen jackets? I believe this conversation went on for 20 minutes.
You may suppose that I'm supremely mad and you may be correct. I'm doing the usual thing and wondering that if dreams are great metaphors about your spiritual condition, what does this say about mine? I think it's a variation of the old naked-in-public scenario. I'm alarmed at being found out. And yes, my life is currently a series of bluffs, bold statements, mad rushes and half-baked realisations. I am the Great Pretender in PJs and frankly, I'm not resting easy.
Back in 1994 there was a great single and an astounding B side. Yes, bubs, it was a seven inch record, smartly dressed, primed to excite the soul. But in a reluctant, indie kind of way. The author was Liam Hayes from Chicago, sometime pal of Will Oldham and Royal Trux. With a deal of arch vanity, he called himself Plush. The release appeared on the Drag City label and while 'Three Quarters Blind Eyes' was designated track to play, the word soon spread that you really had to listen to the darkside, 'Found A Little Baby'.
And so we did, often and earnestly. It became a kind of anti-anthem in the NME office as the melancholics would swoon to the French horn parts and the weary vocals. This was the kind of record that encouraged cub hacks to type "hauntingly beautiful" onto their Mac Classics, like they had just invented the phrase. The older fellas were thinking of Jimmy Webb, Alex Chilton and Dennis Wilson, those other nabobs of despondency. In short, this was a song for swinging saddos.
Plush might have been successful. But the records that followed were infrequent and contrary. Liam had a cameo role in High Fidelity, playing piano. He is still a regular name-drop in those winsome conversations between senior music writers with few friends, too much vinyl and the compulsion to anchor every emotion to a charmingly obscure record.
I came away from the Unconvention event in Belfast with a clatter of CDs. My favourite so far is The Benjamins. They play songs that hurtle and aim towards a rhapsodical moment. I also like the way the players stop occasionally and then resume the music with much intent. With luck, I'll see them at the Speakeasy this Thursday, supporting the Panama Kings.
I'm still not sure about the live recording of 'Astral Weeks'. The title track is incontestably great, certainly when Van makes the confession, "I believe I've transcended myself," He makes it sound like a happy accident. But there are other times when the lyricism is strained and the voice doesn't soar with the authority he commanded back in 1968. Still, I'll give the record some time.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
The Detroit Spinners -Mighty Love (Rhino)
Ben Kweller - Things I Like To Do (ATO)
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (live) (Listen To The Lion)
Josh Ritter - Snow Is Gone (Independent)
The Benjamins - Love Like Fire (demo)
The Handsome Family - Linger, Let Me Linger (Loose)
Jimmy Cliff - Synthetic World (Island)
Bishop Allen - Dimmer (Dead Oceans)
Everly Brothers - Love Is Strange (Rhino)
Hollow Kind - Down Under The Sea (Other City)
Bjork - Like Someone In Love (One Little Indian)
Bon Iver - Beach Baby (Jagjaguar)
Bell X1 - The Great Defector (ADA)
The Impressions - Keep On Pushing (Kent)
Van Morrison - Cyprus Avenue (live) (Listen To The Lion)
Beirut - On A Bayonet (Forte)
Chet Baker - My Funny Valentine (Pacific Jazz)
Amy Lavere - Tennessee Valentine (Archer)
The Magic Circles - Meet Me In Milan (Creeping Bent)
Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime (Sire)
Kowalski - untitled (white)
The Miracles - Baby Don't You Go (Motown)
Chew Lips - Solo (Kitzune)
The Replacements - Talent Show (Reprise)
Carosel - Easy As It Flows (Reekus)
The Detroit Spinners -Are You Ready For Love (Rhino)
In recent days, the Bruce Springsteen approval ratings have soared and then crashed in extremes. He's had his Obama days, his Wal-Mart moments, his new record, his trials and his cool times. The credibility jag that came with the Seeger Sessions has given way to a more ambivalent figure, and the temptation to yell 'phoney' has overcome a few people. Have you ever read the bletherings of Bob Lefsetz?
Now here's a rather amazing blog from the Boss himself. I'm not sure how much enlightenment you can get from a figure who's so accustomed to the profile game, but I do feel like I know the fella a little better. He gets a bit nervous sometimes. He still gets on well with the wife. And even now. I believe he's essentially likeable. Don't you think?
I believe this was taken backstage at Club Citta, Kawasaki in July 1994. Primal Scream were touring their wonky rock album, 'Give Out But Don't Give Up' and they were feeling rather elated as this was the last night of the tour. I'd been following the proceedings through Tokyo for an NME cover story to coincide with their appearance at Reading Festival a month later.
Some day, I'll write a proper story about this era. It was bedraggled, weary trip, with band members loosing their sense of gravity and gangsters circling the hotel on motorbikes. In one of the most drugs-intolerant nations in the world, the Scream Team were testing these limits and sustaining a real feeling of dread.
From left to right: Martin Duffy, the essentially mad keyboard player, Scream associate Paul Harte, Stubey and Bobby G.
I can't say that I've played any Cyndi Lauper on the show before, never mind a Cyndi segueway. Now that I've just typed in the concept, it sounds even more horrific. But there I was on Friday, batting from 'True Colours' to 'Time After Time'. There was some rationale in the choice because the former song was covered by the reliably engmatic AneBrun from Norway, while Miles Davis and his contrary trumpet dealt with the latter.
Afterwards, a friend chastised me for playing a mid-Seventies Eric Clapton live track. This may have been in dubious taste for the old punks, but to hear a man wracked by drugs and opiates, bleating out 'Presence Of The Lord' was too intense to ignore.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Willie Hightower - Nobody But You (Honest Jons)
Two Door Cinema Club - Something Good Can Work (Abeano)
Love Affair - Rainbow Valley (Columbia)
Ben Kweller - Hurtin' You (ATO)
Buffy Saint Marie - Soulful Shade Of Blue (Vanguard)
Ry Cooder - Footprints In The Snow (Nonesuch)
Mercury Rev - Snowflake In A Hot World (V2) Diana Jones - Soldier Girl (Proper)
AneBrun - True Colours (DetErmine)
Miles Davis - Time After Time (CBS)
The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra - Stop All The Clocks (white)
Julee Cruise - Rocking Back Inside My Heart (Warner)
Speech Debelle - The Key (Big Dada)
Eric Clapton - Presence Of The Lord (Polydor)
Gene Vincent - Red Blue Jeans And A Ponytail (Poppy Disc)
The Uglysuit - Chicago (Quarterstick)
Ben Kweller - Fight (ATO)
Karen Dalton - Katie Cruel (Light In The Attic)
Wake The President - You Can't Change That Boy (Electric Honey )
Robert Wyatt - Shipbuilding (Domino)
Bellowhead - Fakenham Fair (Proper)
Bruce Springsteen - Outlaw Pete (Sony/BMG)
Dan Michaelson And The Coastguards - Bust (mi)
Diana Jones - If I Had A Gun (Proper)
The Triffids - Estuary Road (Mushroom)
The Vals - Yesterday Today (Electrique Mud)
In case you miised the Hearts And Minds special on protest music the other night, here it is. A special cheer for Cara Robinson and Anto from the Tin Pot Operation, who made a tidy case for music with a message.
On Wednesday night I visited the Island Arts Centre to see the Tim Millen exhibition. You may know the fella as well-respected musician, who has worked with the likes of the Amazing Pilots, Burning Codes, Peter Wilson and more. He's also the artist who came up with the images that have graced a number of Duke Special albums and videos. As I recall, he also took the photos that turned up on a Brian Houston album. I've probably missed a score of other music connections.
Yet all of these things are secondary to his vocation as a fine artist. I've seen individual pieces before, but his 'Folk Tale' collection was something to witness. He plainly likes his big skies, either vivid or luminous and a little reminiscent of Paul Henry. In most of the images, we see nature in some attractive array. But there is generally a human presence there also - a scrappy tree house, a writer's hut, some graffiti or a curious mask. The people seem transient and a little pathetic. To quote from that old Native American line, the earth only endures.
Adios, Lux Interior. You were unique, of course. The last time I saw you, you were clambering up the lighting rig of the Hammersmith Odeon, topless, wearing lame pants, with the microphone tucked in the back as you scaled even higher. When you had reached the top of your ascent, you grunted a few salacious lines, saluted the audience and then rammed the fetid microphone into the far reaches of your throat.
Your age was always rather indeterminate, since you had drunk from the magical essence of rock. Now I learn that you were 62 when you passed in Glendale, California. Your heart was bad, but then again it had worked plenty for so many years. I can't say that I listened to The Cramps all the time, but there was generally a mood or a streak of special folly that would demand some of that virulent twang and strut. It's unlikely that another soul can replace that function.
Yesterday, I took the train down to Dublin and watched with amusement as the landscape turned white along the way. It was like a Robert Frost poem without the discomfort. Mind you, when I stepped off at Connolly Station and felt when chill wind lashing off the Liffey, the winter was properly manifest.
My mission was to cop a listen to the new U2 album and while I can't disclose the details until the middle of the month, I can report that the record is grandly ambitious, that it blasts and berates, and that there are indeed some little introverted moments that provide the necessary contrast. As ever, the Old Testament is a key influence on Bono's lyrics.
I'm thinking about an A-Z special on the band on the radio show, sometime in late February. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
By way of a warm-up for the Belfast Nashville festival, I invited Jackson Cage in for an acoustic session on Friday night. Paul and Declan brought the guitars and a mouth organ and they played succinctly. If you missed it, then attend to that Listen again facility to appreciate something fine.
I pulled out the One Dove album from 1994 and it still sounds gorgeous. It was a response to Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica' and it was produced by Andrew Weatherall - all sensory rises and falls, the sweetest thing.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Bruce Springsteen - My Lucky day (Sony/BMG)
John Martyn - Johnny Too Bad (Island)
Beirut - La Llorona (Pompeii)
Jackson Cage - Lay With Me Tonight (live session)
Jackson Cage - Hard Night In The Kitchen (live session)
White Lies - A Place To Hide (Fiction)
One Dove - Breakdown (London)
M Ward - Rave On (4ad)
Animal Collective - Bluish (Domino)
The Holy Cross Choir - Ayikh Indlela (Nascente)
John Martyn - Death Don't Have No Mercy (Independiente)
The Equators - Baby Come Back (Stiff)
The Real Tuesday Weld - Last words (Antique Beat)
Bruce Springsteen - This Life (Sony/BMG)
Miss Lana Rebel - Loneliest Love Song (Loose)
Maddox Brothers And Rose - Mean And Wicked Boogie (Proper)
Emiliana Torrini -Jungle Drum (Rough Trade)
Jimmy Webb - Fallow Way (Wildflower)
Brian Ferry - Positively Fourth Street (Virgin)
Peter Bjorn And Jogn - Nothing To Worry About (Wichita)
John Martyn - I'd Rather Be The Devil (Island)
Bruce Springsteen - The Wrestler (Sony/BMG)
Gene - Sleep Well Tonight (Costermonger)
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.