I spent an afternoon at Radio Caroline once. It was around 1991 and the glory years were long gone. The ship was moored on the Kent coastline and the former pirate station was then working as a dowdy, legitimate one. All I remember is a bunch of rust, some harmless records and the sense that another iconc story was not so impressive in real life.
Then again, the station had done its job - giving a geneation of DJs a sense of adventure and the chance to declare their passion for popular music in the face of an establishment that cared little.
I had made my modest pilgrimage with a Brummy band called Dodgy. They were good fun and would late write 'Staying Out For The Summer', which is possiby their pension plan. I was partculatly fond of drummer Matthew. I called him a "Black Country Belushi", a role he excelled at. These days, Dodgy are semi-reformed and Matthew also works as a co-manager of local champions Panama Kings.
The new Marianne Faithfull album is called 'Easy Come Easy Go' and it's another rich document from a quester, muse and hell-raiser. Her heath has been better, sales of the CD could well be modest, but there's such a wealth in that cracked voice and the fearless art. She is joined by old pals such as Jarvis Cocker and Nick Cave, while Rufus Wainwright puts in a show and Antony Heggarty joins in for a whooshing revision of Smokey Robinson's 'Oh Oh Baby'. I'm pretty sure you will like it also
I found an old XTC single, 'Statue Of Liberty' upstairs and it still sounds fresh, 31 years on. It was produced by John Leckie, and was therefore a good enough prompt to play something he did with the Stone Roses on that ever-amazing debut album, set for a remastered version to meet the 20th anniversary. Who knows where the time goes....
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Joe Liggins, Candy Rivers - Daddy On My Mind (Specialty)
Camera Obscura - Sweetest Thing (4ad)
Marianne Faithful - The Crane Wife (Dramatico)
Conor Oberst - Slowly Oh So Slowly (Wichita)
Alex Bradford - Feel Like I'm Running For The Lord (Specialty)
Super Furry Animals - Inaugural Trams (Rough Trade)
Eli Paperboy Reed - Am I Wasting My Time (Q Division)
Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings (Inspiration Information)
XTC - Statue Of Liberty (Virgin)
The Stone Roses - Waterfall (Silvertone)
Benjamin Taylor - She's Gone (Absolute)
Camera Obscura - French Navy (4ad)
Marianne Faithful - Oh Oh Baby (Dramatico)
Betty Wright - Shoorah Shoorah (Virgin)
U2 - Magnificent (Mercury)
The Big Pink - Velvet (4ad)
John Martyn - Couldn't Love You More (Island)
James Apollo - Morphine and Wine (Noalternative)
Plush - Found A Little Baby (Domino)
Marianne Faithful - Sing Me Back Home (Dramatico)
Henry McCullough - Burial Ground (There Wolf )
Colenso Parade - Not For Diamonds (white)
Morrissey - Something Is Squeezing My Skull (Decca)
Two Door Cinema club - Something Good Can Work (Abeano)
Tom Browne - Funking For Jamaica (Arista)
Detroit Social Club - Sunshine People (Fiction)
In a couple of weeks, I'd like to theme an hour of the radio show around hard times. I guess the tone shouldn't be facile or condescending. Neither should it be wholely depressing or my kind readers may look elsewhere for their Friday jollies. I'm aiming for a bit of empathy and the notion that our fellow citizens and songwriters have been down this road before and that deliverance is is distinct possibility.
What do you think of the song choices so far?
The Carter Family - No Depression In Heaven
Bob Dylan - Hard Times
Hank Williams - My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Pete Seeger- Banks Of Marble
Bob Marley - Talking Blues
Ry Cooder - How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live
Clarence Carter - Patches
Bruce Springsteen - My Oklahoma Home
Stevie Wonder - Living For The City
Desmond Dekker - Israelites
Tom Waits - Brother Can You Spare A Dime
Bessie Smith - Nobody Loves you When You're Down And Out
Gwen Guthrie - Ain't Nothing Going On But The Rent
Randy Newman - Mr President (Have Pity On The Working Man)
The Valentine Brothers - Money's Too Tight To Mention
Jimmy Cliff - Many Rivers To Cross
Over the last couple of weeks I've had the great pleasure of watching our rising talents on big stages. Thanks to ATL and the Ulster Hall, we saw the likes of Cashier No 9, LaFaro, Kowalski and The Panama Kings, playing it boldly to the masses. Then there was the largesse of Snow Patrol, who gave Odyssey support slots to The Lowly Knights, Iain Archer and Duke Special.
Nobody let the side down and all of the audiences were receptive. A special recommendation goes to the Lowly Knights, who were largely unknown last year and who can now haul their 12 members into any situation and thrive. At the Ulster Hall they played a version of 'Something For The Weekend' as the song's author Neil Hannon watched with a pride that was almost parental. The fact that some well-groomed gals were singing the big chorus lines also seemed to cheer him. And at the Odyssey on the first Snow Patrol date, the Knights were joined by Gary Lightbody and Iain Archer, who sang 'You Can Tell A Man By How He Lifts His Hands' with the utmost in feeling.
You can take all this for granted. But these really are exceptional times. Our musical story had been characterised by boom and bust, feast and famine. But for this era, the good times are prevailing, and even improving.
American comics were a source of wonder in my youth. At the front end, you had the superhuman characters, the vivid colours and the bold stories. When you'd digested all that, there was an additional thrill in looking at the classified ads, and getting some kind of measure of the US lifestyle. They had grits for breakfast, whatever that was. They wore X-Ray Specs and incredibly, they kept sea-monkeys in a jar.
Apparently, you just added water, and these fabulous creatures emerged. There were illustrations of these beasts, and they looked oddly human, with regal expressions and happy, family units. I used to dream of sea-monkeys and imagine how they would enrich my life. They would be my personal pals and I their ultimate ruler.
Later I grew more suspicious of advertisements and my fetish for sea-monkeys abated. But miraculously, Father Christmas delivered a package to our home a few months ago. We had sea-monkeys. And so my kids prepared the little chamber for them, adding powders and nutrition. The mysterious eggs were added. Over a period of weeks we noticed some little creatures in the water. From modest specks, they have grown into discernible swimming creatures. They hang out together, they negotiate the plastic galleon and I suspect that they are starting to breed.
They don't look remotely like monkeys though. They are brine shrimp. But I don't feel too bad about this. Another childhood aspiration has been fulfilled.
Friday's show was a repeat of the Urban Hymns live recording - namely the Inishowen Gospel Choir with Foy Vance, Duke Special, Bronagh Gallagher and more, revving it up in May Street Church, Belfast. The first broadcast was Boxing Night and due to some digital glitch, it was not available On Demand. Some of the people who attended the concert were disappointed that they couldn't catch it on radio, so hopefully they are all now satisfied.
The project still has legs, though, and the very talented Will McConnell of Bandwidth Films is due to present a documentary about the gig during the Belfast Film Festival. I've seen a few edited highlights, and they provide roaring evidence of the night's tremendous spirit.
So I got myself some new spectacles to cope with the wonky eyesight. My first pair of varifocals and they weren't cheap, despite the alluring offer of two pairs for one. Still, I avoided the common boxy style and went for something more curvaceous. People were saying complimentary things and that also eased the financial blow.
Anyway, my working life is so fierce that I was quickly immersed in other issues. Despite the best efforts to be ruthless with time, the clock always defeats the day and the evenings are a weary add-on. On Wednesday night, though I was on the bike and getting home before dark, confusing the family with my early arrival. Then I noticed something . The new glasses weren't in my jacket pocket.
I had to get back on the bike and to retrace the journey back into Belfast city centre. And I found them on the kerbside on the Albert Bridge. They had fallen out, and yes, it had been dumb to carry them in my pocket. A series of cars had crushed the stylish design and there was an absurd moment when I picked up the mangled legs and the busted frame and wondered if a repair job was possible. Not even Jack Duckworth and a giant roll of sticking plaster could have achieved this.
So I returned to the shop where I bought them and produced the shrapnel of my once stylish spectacles. They looked genuinely sorry for me. But they didn't promise much. Once again, I have learnt that when you cross over the line between busy and manic, your productivity and human ability to function is severely warped.
In the days before rock and roll there was a big guy from Waco, Texas called Hank Thompson. He sang songs about cheating and losing and drinking, loosely based on the Western Swing method. But while Bob Wills and some of the other operators preferred their music quite slick and musicianly, Hank was happy to wrestle the words back into the elemental dirt of the human condition. His massive song was 'Wild Side Of Life', but the song that's indelible for me is 'Blackboard Of My Heart'.
Released in 1956, it's a song about getting over the girl. The big metaphor relies on the idea that children were once taught to write on a simple slate, which they would routinely clean. Now in Hank's version, the heart is the item that needs cleansing, and this is done with the tears of the wretched lover. Hank sings it plaintive and intense like some honky tonk philosopher, turning a laboured idea into a classic.
My parents used to sing this tune together on summer drives around Millisle and Ballywalter, Cloughy and Comber. The journeys seemed endless and very often the windscreen wipers would keep time as they bleated out these fatalistic lyrics. Just play me a bit of Hank Thompson and I'm back there in the back seat, wondering just how many tears it took to clean that slate.
I've gone through a variety of St Patrick's Days across the ages. As a young man, it was a sporting occasion. As a student, it was a fairly indolent event. It was only when I moved to London and the homesickness kicked in that I became a born-again yahoo, roaring and expressing myself in immoderate terms. Often this took place at the Forum in London and the soundtrack was delivered by The Pogues.
The ceremony took up most of the day around Camden and Kentish Town. The fun was mostly good-natured although I must confess that there were refreshing drinks involved. The theme song was 'The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn', a crazed Shane MacGowan lyric about Irish folks abroad, about dispossession and parlous behaviour. And in a sense, everyone at those gigs felt a little bit of that. We were exiled in the big smoke, a bit lonely, a bit neurotic, and on every March 17, we were glad to be with mutual travellers.
This year I'm planning a sober but positive Paddy's night, in the company of Ursula Burns, Jackson Cage, Paul McMordie and more, It's an event that's been set up with the encouragement of the Universities and their Community Relations Department. I'll, um, drink to that.
I first saw Beth Orton upstairs in a Soho bar around 1994. The Wednesday nights at the Crown And Two Chairmen on Dean Street were generally good value and provided a less hectic alternative to Sundays at the Heavenly Social. For those of you who follow the label, you'll know that Heavenly was releasing stuff from St Etienne, Manic Street Preachers, Flowered Up and Monkey Mafia. There was no musical style, but a unifying theme of connection and enthusiasm. Everybody who worked there was mad for the music and it was Tash Cluney who organised the acoustic nights.
Beth, we learnt, had some previous form with William Orbit. She was also experimenting with Andrew Weatherall, so we expected important stuff, and it was slightly anti-climactic to hear her gentle tones in the hubub of the bar. Happily the album 'Trailer Park' came out in 1996 and everything made sense; the folksy parts, the wash of techno sounds, the surprises and the heartbreak.
Soon she became crowned as the Comedown Queen, essential listening after dance-related adventures. There were award nominations and work with The Chemical Brothers and later, Ryan Adams. New work is expected presently, but for now the Legacy Edition of 'Trailer Park' has bonus features such as the Terry Callier duets and that winsome version of 'Dolphins'.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fontella Bass- Surrender (Chess)
Morrissey - All You Need Is Me (Polydor)
Imelda May - It's Your Voodoo Working (Universal)
Great Lake Swimmers - Pulling On A Line (Nettwerk)
REM - Real Wild Heaven (Warner)
John Shelley And The Creatures - Long May You Reign (white)
Yppa - Gumball Machine (Ninja Tune)
Neil Young - Johnny Magic (Warner)
Waylon Jennings - Are You Ready For The Country (Vagrant)
Andrew Bird - Oh No (Bella Union )
Spokes - We Like To Dance (Counter)
Beth Orton - She Cries Your Name (Heavenly)
Bonnie Prince Billy - Your Only Friend (Domino)
Bob Dylan - Desolation Row (CBS)
The Divine Comedy - Tonight We Fly (Setanta)
Pete Greenwood - Penny Dreadful (Heavenly)
Morrissey - When I Last Spoke To Carol (Polydor)
Cashier No. 9 - When Jackie Shone (Only Gone)
Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee - Whoopin and Squallin (Ace)
AneBrun - Treehouse Song (Determine)
M Ward - For Beginners (4AD)
Kate Bush - Women Of Ireland (EMI)
Queen Latifah - Hard Times (London)
The Handsome Family - Wild Wood (Loose)
Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal (Bella Union)
Beth Orton - I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine (Heavenly)
Marcus Miller -Burning Down The House (Drefus)
Sometimes a song presents itself as a ready-made comment on the times. At the moment, the number that says it for me is 'Desolation Row' by Bob Dylan. I'm sure you know it well. Eleven minutes of slowly evolving horror. The author gives us scorn, despair and a mocking harmonica solo. And one of the greatest ever intros: "they're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown".
Those lines really say it for me. Rough justice has been turned into a division of the entertainment industry. There's a regime change and it's probably worth your while to go with the new diktat. We meet Dr Filth and the hunchback, Ezra Pound and TS Eliot. Morality is on the slide while insurance men and faceless agents are on the lookout for dissenters.
My Chemical Romance have released a thoroughly bad version of the song, but the Dylan original from 1965 is ferocious art. He's performing off the cuff while the musicians around him are winging it, playing it like a cowboy ballad. Which makes Bob sound even more like the anointed hipster.
It's a song about control and distortion, from the faceless courtiers in the castle to the riot police on the ground. The common enemy is individuality and the clampdown is causing the moon and the stars to look away in shame. Nice.
So, last night was the rock and roll launch for the Ulster Hall, as bands and audience members were collectively giddy over their memories of the freshly renovated place. Don't be asking for a detailed summary of the night - frontstage and backstage were properly tumultuous. But here are some scattershot memories:
• Neil Hannon looking rather happy that the Lowly Knights had made such a fine job of 'Something For The Weekend'. In turn he does 'Gigantic' by The Pixies.
• This presenter asking the crowd for an Ulster Hall cheer. And getting one. Then introducing The Panama Kings, who do a dance version of 'A Life Less Ordinary'.
• Ash stealing 'Shining light' back from Annie Lennox.
• Happy faces and loud guitars from LaFaro and Cashier No 9. See also, Fighting With Wire and Andrew Ferris.
• Gary and Nathan from Snow Patrol making a surprise appearance with Iain Archer, singing a few of their own tunes plus 'Lay Me Down by The Frames'.
• Duke Special and Foy Vance, crowd surfing.
• Steve Wickam from the Waterboys, joining Duke Special for 'Fisherman's Blues'.
• Mike Edgar introducing Therapy. Who rock. And swear plenty. Then play a blistering rendition of 'Alternative Ulster'.
• Tim Wheeler bringing his dad on stage for the encore of 'Teenage Kicks' as the fireworks fizzled and all the bands exchanged hugs.
• All credit to Paul McClean. Rigsy and the extended ATL family. A milestone event.
Don't forget to listen to ATL on Radio Ulster tonight, to hear a throbbing celebration of the Ulster Hall and its rock and roll legacy. Tickets were allocated a long time ago and expectancy is currently off the chart. Some of the rumours are so rich that even the organisers are having trouble separating the truth from the outlandish confection.
The music starts at 7.30pm and I fear that the celebrations will extend past midnight. With the likes of Ash, Therapy and the Divine Comedy in the house, it's a family reunion you wouldn't care to miss.
Back in 1975, it clearly bothered Rick Springfield that there was anther contender for the rock crown and his name was Bruce Springsteen. So when the latter was hyped to the heavens with his 'Born To Run' album, his name-a-like from Sydney, Australia responded with an amusing song called 'Bruce'. Everyone in the song confuses Rick with Bruce, even his own mother.
Springfield had some kind of consolation with 'Jessie's Girl', which topped the US charts in 1981 and won him a Grammy. He's also had a parallel acting career with his General Hospital role. So the Springsteen rivaly should have abated by now. But strangely, when Bruce released 'Radio Nowhere' last year, some critics felt it sounded vaguely familiar. Like Rick Sringfield, actually.
My Friday playlist also features the first known recorded on Van Morrison, playing sax on a supremely barmy recording, 'Boozoo Hully Gully' with the Monarchs Showband, We all gotta start somewhere...
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
The Delphonics - Ready or Not (Soul Jazz)
Bell X1 - The Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella (ADA)
Delaney Bramlett - Sweet Inspiration (SP)
Captain Kennedy - Bright That Light (demo)
Justin Townes Earle - They Killed John Henry (Bloodshot)
David Honeyboy Edwards - Wind Howling Blues (Rounder)
Golden Silvers - True Romance (XL)
Shuggie Otis - Strawberry Letter 23 (V2)
Gomez - Airstream Driver (East Sleep)
Rick Springfield - Bruce (SP)
Bruce Springsteen - The Wrestler (Sony/BMG)
Comet Gain - You Can Hide Your Love Forever (Fortuna Pop)
Brindsley Schwartz - What's So Funny Bout Peace Love And Understanding (Proper)
Two Door Cinema Club - Something Good Can Work (Abeano)
The Detroit Spinners- The Rubberband Man (Rhino)
U2 - I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (Mercury)
Mark Black - Sweet Rescue Blues (Dizzy)
Jackie Greene - Uphill Mountain (Freworld)
Nick Drake - Time Has Told Me (Island)
Van Morrison - Cyprus Avenue (live) (Listen To The Lion)
The Monarchs Showband - Boozoo Hully Gully (white)
Miles And Bob Pratcher - I'm Gonna Life anyhow (rounder)
Fujiya & Miyagi - Sore Thumb (Full Time Hobby)
Bell X1 - The Curtains Are Twitching (ADA)
Rockingbirds - Older Guys (Heavenly)
Jape - Strike Me Down (V2)
Thursday night was a music quiz in aid of Action For Children. I was sharing a table with my comely wife plus Joe Lindsay and Donna Legge from the BBC. We played a stormer and were rather stupefied when our team, 'George Formby And The Destroyers, only came third.
Still, refreshing drinks were taken, jokes were plentiful and the live music was themed around Thin Lizzy. Philomena Lynott, mother of Phil, was there, and looking regal as ever. The guys from Tizz Lizzy were rocking while Eric Bell, the original Lizzy guitarist and the guy who gave the band their name, was also on stage. For the first time ever, a series of people came over with the line "I've read your book". Hilarious, but oddly pleasant.
I've been thinking a lot about Ottilie Patterson lately. She grew up in Comber but her mother was from Latvia. She was smitten by Bessie Smith and various blues singers as a student and by 1955 she was working with the Chris Barber Band in London and beyond. Ultimately, she worked with the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
I had always reckoned that Van Morrison had been the first of the species, but Ottilie was singing 'Baby Please Don't Go' when Van was still in his school blazer. Have a look at this clip to appreciate some of the lady's style:
The Tuesday's Child initiative was originally intended the raise aid for children in Bosnia and has since extended its remit to other troubled places. Two gigs at Vicar St, Dublin in February involved the lives of Neil Hannon, The Waterboys, Lisa Hannigan and Jack L, while other projects have been endorsed by Snow Patrol and Duke Special. There's an event at the Black Box this Wednesday, featuring Henry McCullough, Bap Kennedy, Cara Robinson and Jackie Rainey. Admission is £10.
I've been glancing at the weekend papers and it seems that U2 bashing is in season. The band may be getting busy on corporation roofs and all over the rock monthlies, but there's a virulent opposition in news features, blogs and opinion columns.
Bono has been consistent in his defence of George Bush - certainly in terms of the former President's aid to Africa. That's quite a payback. The band seem to be better at defending their Dutch tax arrangements. The early interview with Q magazine found them rather flustered when the subject was raised. Most bands can shrug off the their financial dealings to the media, but as we know, Bono is asking a moral response from the rest of us.
So it's very hard to be objective about the actual music. The intense marketing may indeed produce an adverse reaction, something that 'Rattle And Hum' could never escape from. Which would be an unfair response to '...Horizon'. Now I've had some time to hear the album and it still seems to me that the album begins and ends with declarative statements and hurtling tunes. The middle of the record still sounds unfocussed. But 'Achtung Baby' sounded like an ungainly clatter at first, then the songs revealed themselves later. The summer tour will also give the music context. I believe it would be hasty to damn them too early.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
PP Arnold - Everything Is Gonna Be Alright (Immediate)
Dexys Midnight Runners - There There My Dear (EMI)
U2 - Magnificent (Mercury)
Neko Case - This Tornado Loves You (Anti)
Lowell Fulson - Reconsider Baby (Chess)
Great Lake Swimmers - Palmistry (Nettwerk)
U2 - Cedars Of Lebanon (Mercury)
The Handsome Family - A Thousand Diamond Rings (Loose)
Mississippi John Hurt - Stack O'Lee (Snapper)
Doves - There Goes The Fear (Heavenly)
Jack Penate - Tonight's Today (XL)
Caetano Veloso - Nao Enche (Wrasse)
The Acorn - Crooked Legs (Bella Union)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero (Geffen)
The Everly Brothers - Gone Gone Gone (Rhino)
Buddy and Julie Miller and Robert Plant - What You Gonna Do Leroy (New West)
Cashier No 9 - When Jackie Shone (Only Gone)
The Gaslight Anthem - Great Expectations (Side One Dummy)
Neko Case - Magpie To The Morning (Anti)
U2 - No Line On The Horizon (Mercury)
The Handsome Family - The Loneliness Of Magnets (Loose)
Webb Pierce -Sitting On Top Of The World (Proper)
Clem Snide - With All My Heart (Freeworld)
Billy Bragg- World Turned Upside Down (Go Discs)
Fever Ray - When I Grow Up (Rabid)
Thin Lizzy - Me And The Boys (live) (Thin Lizzy Productions)
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