This Friday I'll be playing a few tunes from the Bob Dylan album. So far, I'm enjoying it plenty. He sounds like an old stumblebum with bronchial issues, reading a joke book backwards. Not quite as morbid as recent offerings, but still blithely aware that the Reaper is busy sharpening that blade. I love the cover for the album which makes a choice use of a Bruce Davidson image. There's even a little video on Amazon that continues the theme. Check it out here.
I've also rediscovered the CD from And So I Watch You From Afar which was misplaced in the CD mountain when the builders evicted me from the office. A timely find that you may thank me for.
I've not been reading the music monthlies much - too many dead people on the covers and all these dense, forensic essays about underwhelming moments. But I did enjoy the coverage of Island Records in the current Mojo magazine. I liked it because it tried to understand the ethos of a label that was once successful and different. It delivered Bob Marley and U2 to the world. It gave space to Tom Waits and John Martyn, to Grace Jones and PJ Harvey. They were one of the rare places that allowed the liberty for people to develop. Sometimes they event treated their investments like... artists.
There's an interview with the founder Chris Blackwell in the issue. He talks about his first hit record, 'My Boy Lollypop', by Millie. To celebrate the achievement in 1964, he arranged a motorcade ride back to her shack in Tivoli, Jamaica. When the singer reached her home, her mother came out and curtsied. The family dynamic had been shattered by fame. Thereafter, Blackwell insists, he would treat his signings as slow-burning album prospects.
There was definitely a degree of that at the old Island Records building in West London. The employees were generally chilled and into the music. Acts didn't get dropped when their second single missed the chart. Famously, it took four albums to break U2, and the company held out for the ride. These days, the label has been subsumed into the Universal building in Kensington and it's hardly the same.
There was a connecting thread in the George Best drama on Sunday night. I'm not sure it even tried to be accurate, but the central theme seemed real enough to me. Sudden fame is nasty and corrosive. It messes up the innocent and it turns character flaws into gargantuan problems. And a lot of people don't escape intact. I wonder if Eoghan Quigg was watching.
Around noon today I was on Pembroke Row in Dublin, checking out the natty refurb job on the IMRO offices. The carpet was luxuriant, the furniture was swish and the audio-visual bobbins were all blinking with style. In comes the Irish President Mary McAleese, accompanied by a lady in military regalia and IMRO chairman Keith Donald. The President makes a strong speech about music copyright, the prevalence of Irish songwriters and the importance of getting these people their dues in a volatile age. Everyone nods. She sums up the moment and she notes, with some approval, that the lawyers are also getting plenty of work out of the process. Paul Brady is in the house and during Mary's exit from the building, she stops for a three way conversation with himself and Keith. A Dublin journalist suddenly notices something: the Nordies are collectively holding their own.
On the train back, I look behind to see the poet Michael Longley, deep in thought in Second Class. He is surrounded by industrious types in pinstripe attire, toiling over laptops and hand-held devices. Michael has a neatly ruled notebook and a big old pen. He asks for a coffee from the hospitality trolly. The voice is astounding. It has authority and a sonorous grace. He makes conversation about a Kit Kat sound like something from the Trojan Wars. When I grow up, I want to be like that.
The Men They Couldn't Hang didn't change the face of rock and roll, but they gave excellent value for a few years. They were one of the acts that featured in the Cowpunk Festival of 1984 at the Electric Ballrooom, Camden. They were mates with The Pogues, and indeed their name was one of those that was rejected by the aforementioned. And while they didn't have quite the ferocity of Shane MacGowan's firm, they released quality tunes like 'Ironmasters', 'The Colours' and their cover of Eric Bogle's 'Green Fields Of France', which topped the UK indie chart for months.
I met them in 1985, around the time of their 'Greenback Dollar' single. This was just after some yahoo had taken a swing at Phl "Swill" Odgers and had broken his jaw. So I interviewed a man with his jaw wired together. He wasn't massively articulate, but he did manage to pour an impressive amount of stout through a little gap in his teeth. I'm glad for the memory, and the band's return to the recording studio for the first time in six years is something to celebrate.
Some other day I'll tell you about my trip to Iceland with TMTCH, an event that was promoted by the hairdresser who had brought the feathercut to Reykjavic. And I may also decribe some infernal nights at the Bushranger in Shepherd's Bush, where I pulled foaming pints for Chelsea fans and the space-time continuuum was regularly lost.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Bo Diddley - Let Me In (See For Miles)
The Whispertown 2000 - Old Times (Acony)
Eels - My Timing Is Off (Polydor)
Malcolm Middleton - Travellin' Socks (Full Time Hobby)
Thomas Truax - In Dreams (SL)
Tony Christie - Born To Cry (Universal)
Jarvis Cocker - Angela (Rough Trade)
Rick Nelson - Mystery Train (MCA)
Steve Earle - Loretta (New West)
Woodpigeon - Cities Of Weather (End Of The Road)
The Byrds - The Ballad Of Easy Rider (CBS)
Friendly Fires - Jump In The Pool (XL)
The Men They Couldn't Hang - Aquamarine (Irregular)
Imelda May - Johnny Got A Boom Boom (Universal)
Panama Kings- Golden Recruit (Broken Sound)
Jimmy Scott - People Get Ready (WSM)
Teenage Fan Club - I Don't Want Control Of You (Creation)
New York Dolls - Cause I Sez So (ATCO)
Eef Barzelay - Could Be Worse (Freeworld)
Diana Jones - Something Crossed Over (Proper)
Dwight Yoakam - Home Of The Blues (Reprise)
James Grant - This Could Be The Day (Vertical)
Thomas Truax - I Put A Spell On You (SL)
David Holmes- Theme IMC (Mercury)
The Flatlanders - No Way I'll Ever Need You (New West)
Louis Ramirez - The New Breed (Harmless)
The Handsome Family - The Loneliness Of Magnets (Loose)
Nina Simone - Mood Indigo (Crimson)
Basement Jaxx - Raindrops (XL)
Last night I had an exceptionally wonderful time at the launch of Belfast's new music exhibition. Henry McCullough was there, and so was Billy Harrison from Them. I was talking to a couple of Stiff Little Finger drummers, while Briana Corrigan, the former voice of The Beautiful South, made an appearance. Terri Hooley brought a mob, and you'd have been be disappointed if he hadn't. Essentially, we had a party.
The Oh Yeah firm, including myself , have been working on this for several months now. There's still a list of desirable artefacts out there but so far we've got some lovely gear. My fave is the Fender Telecaster that Andy Cairns from Therapy trashed onstage at the Mandela Hall in 1992. And the Outcasts clobber - all punk rock studs and attitude - is also excellent. You can watch a video of it all here:
Anyone who watched a recent BBC Documentary on the Rough Trade record label might have concluded that the heart of indie music is still beating strongly. 'Do It Yourself: The Story Of Rough Trade' told the story of a record shop in west London that became a record label and distribution service that delivered Stiff Little Fingers and The Smiths to the world, went bust and then resurfaced with The Strokes, The Libertines and more. The story suggested that the idealist ethos had even translated to the success of Duffy, who was managed by the Rough Trade family.
Really? Every time I see Duffy getting on her bike and pedalling enthusiastically for a soft drinks corporation, I feel rather nauseous. Here's a singer who's been in the public eye for just over a year. She's been successful, sure, but as I mused at the time of the record's release, Duffy has become a commodity first and an artist second. She can't have needed the extra cash and her profile is already over-extended. I don't hear the indie ethos in any of that. I hear the remorseless clang of a cash register.
The new Steve Earle album, 'Townes' is simply that - a tribute to the outstanding songs of Townes Van Zandt. We already know that Steve has named his first son Justin Townes Earle and that he wrote 'Fort Worth Blues' the night that his hero died in 1997, so this record is a logical move and an emotional statement.
I was actually hired as a DJ for a rare Townes gig in London around 1990. The venue was the Powerhaus in Islington and the audience consisted of about 50 middle aged men, in awe of the guy. Myself and my pal Terry played upbeat tunes by The Burrito Borthers, The Mekons and Jerry Lee Lewis, and then Townes sat on a little chair and sang these flimsy but beautiful songs. When he was done, we shook his hand and played some more rowdy tunes. With hindsight, we might have been more respectful.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Billy Paul - Let Em In (Philadelphia International)
Morrissey - When I Last Spoke To Carol (Polydor)
John Shelley And The Creatures - Long May You Reign (white)
Tom Waits - Lie To Me (Anti)
John Shelley And The Creatures - Good Down Blue (white)
Elliott Smith - Twilight (Domino)
Steve Earle - Delta Momma Blues (New West)
Doug Sahm - Don't Turn Around (Edsel)
Bill Callaghan - My Friend (Drag City)
Madness - Dust Devil (Lucky 7)
Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks (Warp)
Leonard Cohen - Dance With Me Til The End Of Love (CBS)
The Undertones - Chains Of Love (Sire)
Phoenix - Lisztomania (V2)
The Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing (Virgin)
Seeland - Goodbye (LoAF)
Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong - Under A Blanket Of Blue (Verve)
Graham Coxon - Sorrow's Army (Transgressive)
Blur - Coffee And TV (Parlophone)
Steve Earle -White Freightliner Blues (New West)
Elmore James - Done Somebody Wrong (Instant)
Ape School - My Intention (Counter)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Little Shadow (Geffen)
Shirley Horn - Return To Paradise (Verve)
Ape School - Wail To God (Counter)
Escape Act - Cabin Fever (Volte Face)
Mexican Institute Of Sound - Yo Digo Baila (CV)
Somewhere in the deeps of my record collection, there's a 12 inch pressing of 'Chant No. 1' by Spandau Ballet. And frankly, I'm not too ashamed of it. Back in 1981 it seemed like an interesting steer. I liked the timbales and the congas and the studied cool. Beggar & Co. supplied the brass section, which was ace. It seemed like this bunch of North London boys was making an exit from the New Romantic stable and doing something with more texture. It was the era of Blue Rondo A La Turk and yes, Modern Romance. Everyone, it seemed was wearing a zoot suit and reading The Face, while pretending that there had always been a salsa element to your music.
Soon after, they became a pop band. Like every other chart act of the time, Spandau Ballet's songs featured insincere saxophone solos and were graced by foolish videos. I nodded sagely when the NME singles reviewer compared 'True' to Fascist architecture. Looking back, it makes no sense at all, but hey, they were the enemy and we were prepared to fight them on the indie beaches.
Around 1987 I interviewed Gary Kemp of Spandau for the NME. It was for a section near the front of the paper called Material World in which the artist talks you through their cultural penchants. I was suitably snooty. After all, he had written the 'Through The Barricades' with its patronising thoughts on Belfast and the rancid quote from WB Yeats. But Gary wasn't bothered by my distain, and proceeded to run rings around me with his knowledge of modern art, cuisine, couture and travel. He didn't need that pressure on, and ultimately, I felt rather foolish.
The Easter driving was generally great, with sunbursts, fine scenery and fresh lambs a-leaping. Our tradition for holiday drives is that family members confer on a playlist or two, burnt especially for the occasion. And so we got an unexected bonus in Blur's 'Coffee And TV', plus 'Devotion' by the Lowly Knights, which creates a mood of freewheeling delight.
The song that worked best was 'Long May You Reign' by John Shelley And The Creatures. You may have heard snippets on the Tourist Board TV ad. Now we were reinventing that footage as we rumbled up the Glenshane Pass, loving the music, the season and the communal fun. Note to self: must pursue a bit of joy more often.
The new Decemberists album is barmy. Musically, it's influenced by the English folk acts of the late Sixties, by Sandy Denny and by Anne Briggs, who accidentially gifted them the title, 'The Hazards Of Love'. Thematically, it's a billowing fairy story, full of rich characters and dramatic upswings. All of the above might suggest that a visit from the Taste Police is pending, but somehow the team from Portland, Oregon, make a decent confection.
The upcoming Panama Kings single finds the band in the company of techno wideboay Alex Metric, who takes the latent dance dimension and boosts it plenty. It's already pleasing the 6 Music playlists and will hopefully take the band that little bit further into the hearts of the people. Finally, a recommendation for Thomas Truax, who has put together an album of music that has previously graced the soundtracks of David Lynch films, 'Baby Please Don't Go' locates the paranoia and the loathing that has always lurked in the lyric.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
Larry Williams - Short Fat Fannie (Specialty)
Imeda May - Smothering Me (Universal)
Phoenix - Liztomani (V2)
Lost Bothers - Fallen (Bird Dog)
Michelle Shocked - Anchorage (London)
God Help The Girl - Come Monday Night (Rough Trade)
The Congos - The Wrong Thing (Blood And Fire)
Amadou & Miriam - Ce N'Est Pas Bon (Because)
Tom Waits - In The Neighbourhood (Island)
Thomas Truax - Blue Velvet (SL)
Passion Pit - The Feeling (Columbia)
Sandie Shaw - Hand In Glove (EMI)
Decemberists - The Hazards Of Love 2 (Rough Trade)
St Germain - Sure Thing (Blue Note)
Paul Simon - The Obvious Child (Warner)
David Kitt - Beat A Retreat (Gold Spillin)
Thomas Truax - Baby Please Don't Go (SL)
Panama Kings - Golden Recruit (Broken Sound)
Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet (CBS)
The Aliens - Sunlamp Show ( Pet Rock)
Shirley Brown - Yes Sir Brother (Stax)
Ladyhawke - Back Of The Van (Modular )
Betty Hall Jones - This Joint's Too Hip (EMI)
MJ Hibbert - We're Old And We're Tired (AAS)
Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Mama Guela (Ryko)
Camille Howard - X Temporaneous Boogie (Specialty)
Steve Stockman and myself were on the William Crawley programme last Sunday, talking about religion and rock and roll. The starter for the discussion was the success of Bluetree in the American religious market. In the course of the next few minutes, scores of Northern Irish musicians were 'outed' as members of the greater Christian community.
It doesn't take any great insight to note that Neil Hannon, Foy Vance and Nathan Connolly are all sons of preacher men. Even the Presbyterian Moderator, Stafford Carson has a direct connection to the local indie scene. Add to that the likes of Brian Kennedy, who learned how to sing in Clonnard Monastery, and you'll see that music from these parts is still coloured by religion in a way that our counterparts in Coventry and Stoke may not be.
For me, the ultimate question is: does it produce interesting art? When I returned to Belfast after 11 years in London, I was very wary of the church scene at the time, and the support they were lending to rather wishy-washy material. I thought it was vesting a false sense of importance to music that wasn't creative. But interestingly, a lot of those artists have become great songwriters, informed by useful record collections. It's more about Sufjan Stevens and Nick Cave than Sir Cliff.
Some of the acts have actually come out the other side of organised religion. Others are happy to find the ambiguity and the stealth in their mission, using the 'Achtung Baby' stratagem. Which amounts to a fascinating discussion and some sparky recordings. Which is a good thing: right?
You may know him as Ken Haddock, guitarist, songwriter and owner of a sweet, grumbling voice that recalls the emotional expanse of John Martyn. He also has a parallel skill as a photographer, and this passion was clearly rekindled during a recent visit to Austin and Nashville.
Check out his images here, to see the local terrain, plus shots of Ken's fellow travellers; Bap Kennedy, Ben Glover, Eilidh Patterson, Anthony Toner and Foy Vance. Some of the shots have the poetic twang of Robert Frank's legendary collection 'Americans', which is some going.
The Stray Cats aren't celebrated so much these days, but in 1980 they were awesome. They played rockabilly with a punk rock ethos and it was a marvel to hear what you could actually do with a big old semi acoustic, a whammy bar, stand up bass and a bloke blattering the life out of a snare drum. 'Runaway Boys' was a rumbling invitation to check out Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Sun studios and maybe even Groovy Joe Poovey.
Their UK success was a prelude to even greater acclaim in the US, and I followed them through a couple of less interesting records. Then in 1988 I got the invitation to meet Brian Stezer as he worked on his solo career. Would I like to hook up in Milwauke, home of the beer, the Harleys and Happy Days? Oh go on, then.
So myself and Brian hung out for a couple of days, as he played the State Fair, and dazzled on his Gretsch. After the gig, we convened in his hotel room with a renegade bass layer, a giant bust of Elvis and some golf clubs. For the next couple of hours, we pitched and putted with no great finesse. I've witnessed more excessive rock and roll activities in hotel rooms, but I've rarely had so much fun.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
The Pogues - Rainy Night In Soho (Stiff)
Imelda May - Feel Me (Universal)
Andrew Bird Fitz - And The Dizzy Spells (Bella Union)
Morrissey - One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell (Polydor)
Ben Kweller - Fight (ATO)
Stray Cats - You Don't Believe It (Arista)
Great Lake Swimmers - She Comes To Me In Dreams (Nettwerk)
Diana Jones - Soldier - Girl (Proper)
Elvis Costello - Psycho (F Beat)
Buddy And Julie Miller - What You Gonna Do Leroy (New West)
Graham Coxon - Look Into The Light (Transgressive)
Mahalia Jackson - I'm Gonna Wait Until My Change Comes (Metro)
Jon Hopkins - Light Through The Veins (David Holmes mix) (Double Six)
Peter Bjorn And John - I Want You (V2)
Stevie Wonder - Tuesday Heartbreak (Motown)
Stephen Marley - Master Blaster (Motown)
Peter Bjorn And John - Blue Period Picasso (V2)
Diana Jones - Something Crossed Over (Proper)
Everly Brothers - So Sad To See Good Love Go Bad (Rhino)
School Of Seven Bells (Full Time Hobby)
Max Wall - England's Glory (Stiff)
Holly Golightly - Run Cold (Damaged Goods)
Ben Kweller - Sawdust Man (ATO)
Teenage Fan Club - Mellow Doubt (Creation)
Teenage Fan Club - Planets (Creation)
Mark Black - Travelling Riverside Blues (Dizzy)
Junior Boys - Hazel (Domino)
I was rather taken aback by the new U2 album cover when it was launched. The band members were not featured and neither had they used their old friend Anton Corbijn to take the shot. Instead, they opted for a powerful image by Hiroshi Sugimoto, taken at Lake Constance, Switzerland.
There has also been some speculation about how a commerce-wary artist may have come to an arrangement with the band - how this finely detailed shot, full of subtle tones, could have translated to the supermarket shelves. Now we know. In a recent interview with Japan Times, the photographer describes his meeting with Bono and their decision to do an art swap, rather than talking cash. Interestingly, the title track by U2 was actually inspired by the image, rather than Bono's team digging out a convenient photo after the event.
'Cherry Bomb' as you probably know, is the new film from Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D'Sa. The soundtrack has been furnished by David Holmes and yon guy from Harry Potter is talking in a Belfast accent and necking loads of pills.
My initial worry was that it would be a film purely about being young and getting furiously wasted. The good thing is that while teenage drug-prowlers are frequently summoned before the camera, the story is a more layered comment on Belfast at a critical time. The Troubles are an (apparently) dim memory, the house prices are still roaring upwards and there's a moral vacuum in the soul of the city.
So while there are fun times in the Lifeboat Bar - actually filmed inside the Rotterdam, but happily with Brian Young and The Sabrejets on stage - the rising tide of the Lagan is nearby. Just as Travis Bickle yearned for a real rain to wash the filth away, you feel that the 'Cherry Bomb' energy is just ahead of a horrendous deluge.
Which is probably a good time to edit in the sound of Robyn G Shields, crooning 'Hello Death My Old Friend', and when those closing titles come up, it's a strange comfort to hear Danny Todd and Cashier No. 9, singing a morbid lullaby. In every dream, a heartache.
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