Thursday's adventures finished with a trawl around Camden in the company of Ash and sundry diehards. The band was a third of the way though their A-Z tour of the UK - a night off between between Hastings and Ipswich - and team spirit is high.
Their support act is NI combo Panama Kings, manfully keeping up with the Ash team on a collective budget of £100 per day. They've even determined to play the Jersey date, even though the finances will be mortally challenged. But they're also playing well and selling their new EP en route. There have also been mishaps, and when one band member and roadie fell asleep in the Ash bus, a rock and roll initiation took place. The Ash crew went to work with permanent markers, drawing obscene pictures on hands and faces, even colouring in one fellow's spectacles. They were promptly deposited in a strange town and left to fend for themselves until showtime. It's a merciless caper.
Atilla The Stockbroker was ranting, the Mekons sent their regards and so did Billy Bragg and the Redskins. Fanzine culture was saluted and all we needed was a Miner's Strike to make the evocation of mid-Eighties agit-rock more complete. Actually there was one other dimension missing, and that was why we had gathered in a North London pub on a sweet Thursday night. We were remembering the late NME writer, Steven Wells.
I mentioned his passing few weeks ago, and while there was a get-together just after, this was more expansive. There was clips of Swells when he featured on the Whistle Test -having sport with John Peel and mugging with style. We saw bits of the videos he made for the Manics, Skunk Anansie and more. I'd forgotten his involvement in the unreleased Ash movie, and we heard Ewan McGregor manfully reading the Swells script. His mates from Chumbawamba read out his hilarious dismissal of Belle And Sebastian and another pal, Tony White, gave us excerpts from Steven's novel, Tits Out Teenage Terror Totty.
The guy's humour and contrary style filled the room and many old friendships were revived. He used the exclamation mark like a pitchfork, he had moral purpose and the common consensus was that they really don't make them in that manner any more.
Here's me, rightfully happy to see two old colleagues, Terry Staunton and Dele Fadele.
The Observer takes great pride in celebrating the photographic legacy of Jane Bown and now it's the chance to appreciate her 60th year with the paper. Even if you aren't a fan of this particular trade, you probably recognise some of Jane's iconic work. And if you're a bit curious, there's now a beautiful online portfolio of her best portraits.
I've got about half a dozen of her books, but I guess I should also purchase the new one, Exposures. Her method is a neat one. Using just a manual (and inexpensive) Olympus OM camera and a couple of simple lenses, she sublimates the job down to the light, the setting and the significant micro-expression. She's a perfect diviner of mood and character, which also helps. Legend.
The 'Unforgettable Fire' box set looks like a chocolate box - stuffed with the original CD, the out-takes CD, the DVD, the book and the art prints. I found much pleasure in all of this, and when I wasn't ogling the Anton Corbijn pictures I was listening to the Kervorkian mixes, the Eno departures, the improvisations, the daft interludes and the moments when U2 were prepping themselves for 'The Joshua Tree'.
The sound and the presentation of 'The Unforgettable Fire' made it look rather commanding, when in fact the Barry Devlin film doc shows a band in nervy straits, particularly Bono. On one famous occasion, the singer is simply scribbling 'HELP' on his lyric sheet. Brian Eno helped to spice things up in the Slane Castle sessions by getting Bono to make lyrics up on the spot, hence the ramble that is 'Elvis Presley And America'. But essentially, U2 got away with it, and the appearance of 'Pride' and 'A Sort Of Homecoming' made up for some of the fuzzy parts.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
U2 - A Sort Of Homecoming (Island)
Mariachi El Bronx - Litigation (Wichita)
Mumford And Sons - Winter Winds (Island)
John Fogerty - I'll Be There (Verve)
Erin McKeown - The Foxes (Righteous Babe)
Cat Malojion - Alphabet Song (Bad Paw)
U2 - 60 Seconds In Kingdom Come (Island)
Monsters Of Folk - Whole Lotta Losin (Rough Trade)
Big Bill Broonzy - Frankie And Johnny - (Righteous)
Andrew Bird - Effigy (Bella Union)
Eels - The Look You Give That Guy (Polydor)
Sam Cooke - Out In The Cold Again (RCA)
The Very Best - Julia (Moshi Moshi)
Patti Smith - People Have The Power (Arista)
Florence And The Machine - You Got The Love (Universal)
Candi Statton - I'm Just A Prisoner (Capitol)
Mumford And Sons - Awake My Soul (Island)
Joe And Rose Lee Maphis - The Parting Of The Ways (Righteous)
Frightened Rabbit - Swim Until You Can't See Land (Fat Cat)
John Fogerty - When Will I Be Loved (Verve)
Andrew Morgan - As Long As We're Together (Broken Horse)
The Blue Nile - Happiness (Warner)
Phantom Limb - Draw The Line (Naim Edge)
Rickie Lee Jones - Old Enough (Fantasy)
The Sleeping Years - Into Sunlight (TSY)
U2 - Wire (Kervorkian remix) (Island)
I spent some time with Henry McCullough recently and as ever, he was wonderful company. He had just been rehearsing one of his songs, 'Big Old River' with the Inishowen Gospel Choir, and the spirituality that was latent in the words was now powerfuly apparent. We were enjoying the afterglow when Henry told us the story of how he was 'saved' in Portrush at the age of 14.
He has seen the poster for a travelling tent show, and one of the guys was playing a beautiful Gibson guitar. That was invitation enough. And at the end of the service, when they were inviting people up the the front to be saved, Henry and his mate ran up there.
The narrative had become cloudy in Henry's memory over the years, but his sister and some other people had recently filled in the gaps. The punchline is that Henry was saved by none other than... Billy Graham.
"So you've got your passport stamped, then Henry?"
'Happiness' is the opening track on the Blue Nile album, 'Peace At Last'. It's a record that appeared with little fanfare in 1996 and was only the act's third album release in 16 years. But for Nile watchers, this was a monumental appearance. The band's records are subtle, considered and quietly emotional. There were a few forlorn reactions at first, in that the new songs seemed to be led by acoustic guitar, rather than the electronic washes of 'A Walk Across The Rooftops'(1983) and 'Hats' (1989). And while those earlier records were full of questing, forlorn messages, this time around writer Paul Buchanan seemed comfortable in his own skin, even spiritual.
But the record had much to recommend it, and 'Happiness' was even used by the Scottish Tourist board. Some years later, I was co-presenting a radio show with the writer and music industry veteran Paul Charles. He had named a book 'Family Life' after a song on the album and he took great pleasure in talking about the birth of 'Happiness'.
The nub of the story is that Buchanan didn't want a professional choir on the song, and through a mixture of chance and design, he found some keen amateurs, who gave the track its proper charm. I guess Ronan Keating must have also been wise to the song's power as he performed it at Stephen Gately's funeral . And I think I shall play the Buchanan version on my next Monday show.
The Feelies were college rock before anyone really knew what college rock was. They were too nerdish for punk and they jangled in a rather sublime fashion that couldn't compare that much to the Velvet Underground. But still this combo from New Jersery had the alternative gumption in them. They used intelligence for their own ends and weren't compelled to go the macho way of other NJ barnstormers. They wore jumpers and murmured softly. Which is probably why early REM were intrigued and why Peter Buck co-produced the bands' second album, 'The Good Earth'. I really didn't like that record when it came out in 1986, but it makes sense to me now.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
Shangri Las - Give Him A Great Big Kiss ( )
Nat Johnson And The Figureheads - Wonderful Emergency (Damaged Goods)
Editors - You Don't Know Love (Sony)
Wilco - You And I (Nonesuch)
Jimmy Webb, the Webb Brothers - Bad Things Happen To Good People (Proper) The Feelies - On The Roof (Domino)
Steppenwolf - Rise With Me (MCA)
Arctic Monkeys - Cornerstone (Domino)
The Maddox Brothers And Rose - Hangover Blues (Proper)
Brian Houston - Glory Glory (BHS)
Editors - Bricks And Mortar (Sony)
Dot Allison -Paved With a Little Pain (Arthoused)
The Feelies - Tomorrow Today (Domino)
Aretha Franklin - Satisfaction (Atlantic)
The Ramones - Out Of Time (Chrysalis)
The Flying Burrito Brothers - Wild Horses (A&M)
Basement Jaxx - A Possibility (XL)
The National - Ashamed Of The Story I Told (Mezzotint)
Joshua Radin - One Of Those Days (Mom And Pop)
Kate And Anna McGarrigle - Complainte Pour Ste Catherine (Munich)
Vampire Weekend - Horchata (XL)
Pearl Jam - Just Breathe (Universal)
Ginuine - Last Chance (Notifi)
Microdisney - Singer's Hampstead Home (Virgin)
The Broken Family Band - I Love How You Love Me (cv)
Ron Sexsmith - Gold In Them Hills (Parlophone)
Basement Jaxx - My Turn (XL)
The Boy George interview in the Times magazine yesterday was as interesting as I hoped it would be. George has been through the rehab process a few times and his recent jail sentence was properly shocking. Normally, pop stars manage to keep out of prison, even though their behaviour might land mere mortals in the chokey. But George was on a cocaine binge and he took the sentence in apparent good grace, reading books, keeping a journal and preparing for a relationship with Narcotics Anonymous. One of his new projects is an alcohol and drugs-free club night called Godspeed. It's so unfashionable, it might just be a cool idea. But will the self-regarding people of north London actually buy the concept?
Tomorrow evening I will be with my old pals from Across The Line, watching a succession of bands playing in the freshly reopened Great Hall of Belfast's City Hall. The acts are: Oppenheimer, Mojo Fury, A Plastic Rose, The Benjamins and Key Of Atlas. The setting is rather special, the bands are promising cool new material and it's an all-ages bash. It wasn't so long ago that the City Hall was reserved for more formal occasions, so it's an additional pleasure to hear some big tunes emanating from the walls. There may be a few tickets left, so investigate here.
I had a peek at the Ulster Museum renovation a couple of weeks ago, and it looks well. They've created more space out of the same basic footprint and have tamed some of the peculiarities of the old, mutant bolt-together. The entrance feels more inviting, there's less of the torrid concrete and there are some spectacular pieces in the central lobby.
I'm not disposed to say much more, other than the fact that Takabuti, the essential mummy, is given more space and context. Which means that many future generations of kids will be royally frightened by her style. In one cabinet, there was a blacked-off exhibit, which will soon reveal how modern technology has recreated her actual features. It's all coming to BBC NI on the documentary, Show Me The Mummy. I'm keen to see.
Utterly by chance, the playlist featured three acts from Scandanavia - Farnfarlo, Friska Viljor and Simon Lynge. Thankfully, there's no stylistic scene, and in the case of Fanfarlo, the HQ is London, not Gothenburg. Otherwise the Moday playlist was a chance to praise the new Bunnymen album (massive tunes, bouyant form), Great Lake Swimmers (essence of early REM) and the barmy vision that is Micah P Hinson and 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
David Bowie - Cat People (EMI)
Friska Viljor -Old Man Crying Bob)
The Impressions - Make A Resolution (Soul Jazz)
Fanfarlo - Fire Escape (Fanfarlo)
Echo And The Bunnymen - I Think I Need It Too (Ocean Rain)
Phantom Limb - My Love Has Gone (Naim Edge)
The Divine Comedy - The Certainty Of Chance (EMI)
The Deadstring Brothers - Smile (Bloodshot)
Weezer - If You're Wondering If I Want You To (Interscope)
Echo And The Bunnymen - Shroud Of Turin (Ocean Rain)
Simon Lynge - Infinitely You (Lo Max)
The Fountains Of Wayne - Better Things (Ryko)
The Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing (Warner)
Ray Davies, Damon Albarn - Waterloo Sunset (Ryko)
Emily Loiseau - Sister (Bella Union)
Raphael - Saadiq - Keep Marching (Columbia)
Bobby Womack - Across 110th St (Soul Jazz)
Eileen Rose- Trouble From Tomorrow (Free world)
Micah P Hinson - Are You Lonesome Tonight (Full Time Hobby)
Anthony Toner - The Duke Of Oklahoma (white)
Lisa Hannigan - Lille (Hoop)
Great Lake Swimmers - She Comes To Me In Dreams (Nettwerk)
Tom Russell - Mississippi River Running Backwards (Proper)
Yes Cadets - Canada (white)
The Cocteau Twins - Sugar Hiccup (4ad)
You probably all know how a guy from Ballymena, David McWilliams, wrote a beautiful song called 'Days Of Pearly Spencer'. It was massive in 1967 across Europe and it was a constant feature on pirate radio. The song was later revived by Marc Almond, who hauled it into the charts in 1992. But I was never aware of an Italian version until now. Have a look of this and note the judicious playing of air violin. I also suspect that Caterina has taken a few liberties with the lyrics.
My generation was one of the last to bum a ride on the Welfare State - three years at college on a vocational trail of fun, learning and self-absorption. At the time I was reasonably sure that I would be some kind of jobbing rock and roller before the course was out, but with hindsight, that was rather silly. As a bonus, I read masses of delightful books before emerging with a First in English Lit and the slightly alarming idea that I would need to find paid employment.
Therefore I sought out the careers office. They were remarkably kind to me, given that I'd not darkened their doors in the preceding years. And a very charming lady called Andrea Henderson got me to fill in a massive questionnaire, which was then fed into an old-fangled card-index computer. After some delay, the machine gave me a dramatic steer: Stu Bailie, landscape gardener.
I think my reaction gave Andrea the impression that I wasn't really a topsoil and manure kind of a guy. "I think you want to be creative," she figured. "And if you want to be creative, there's no point looking for jobs in the paper. You have to knock on doors."
That was one of my Top Ten moments of perfect clarity. She had divined my style in minutes and gave me a totally graphic solution to my working life. Pretty soon I would be knocking those doors and extending the brass neck. The positive responses outnumbered the kickbacks, and while the culture back then was still heavily in favour of job security, I enjoyed the loose nature of it all.
Occasionally I meet some whey-faced youth who cannot decide between college media course and 'real' life. I give them a summary of Andrea's suggestion and tell them that you can generally learn all the valuable stuff on the hoof and that the media graduates tend to be full of rigid, academic and impractical stuff. In my experience they need to be deprogrammed after their course. Which doesn't mean that you can't have a couple of years doing the student thing. Just don't be looking for the final destination in the Jobs Vacant section.
Back in the frivolous old days, when the music biz had light-hearted accountants and the West End was awash with rock Dollars, young journalists competed with each other to get the most outrageous expenses claims past the Editor. It wasn't especially dishonest, more a bunch of puerile larks. Such as the guy who found a receipt for £6.66 and marked it down as "drinks with the devil". Or the guy working for Loaded who tried to get the wife's breast enhancement on exes.
Back at the NME, one bloke claimed £20 "just for being me". And it was duly signed off. Meantime in the interest of cutting edge journalism there was £50 on a sheet for interviewing a prostitute. Me, I was a paragon of virtue, but I did manage to claim for an entire fencing kit for a duel with Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. I was aiming to get back into the sport, but I was already too old for the piste and not creative enough with the spreadsheet. The realy audacious moves were documented in Frederic Dannen's Hit Men, when bar mitzvah parties and Californian blow-outs were not uncommon and tacitly tolerated. Ah, the good old days.
Blimey, the Monday shift is on. Around 9.45 I was live on ATL with Rigsy, talking up the new show and recalling the highlights of the Panama Kings gig on the Saturday. There was an ISDN link to Radio Foyle where Stephen McCauley was revving up for the midnight handover and was rightly enthused about the idea of a five hour partnership of reasonably hip programmes.
Given the proximity to my final Friday show and a fairly full weekend, it wasn't a lavishly prepared show, but there was still time to digest the best bits of the David Bazan album, to fillet the Susan Enan record and to remember the lovely aspects of Kraftwerk. I felt somewhat jetlagged the next day, but soon the weeks will have a proper rhythm again and the airwaves will sing as before.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
The Charlatans - North Country Boy (Beggars Banquet)
The Big Pink - Dominoes (4AD)
Prefab Sprout - Sweet Gospel Music (Kitchenware)
The Staple Singers - Everybody Will Be Happy (Ace)
The Swell Season - Low Rising (Anti)
David Bazan - Bless This Mess (One Four Seven)
Steeley Dan - Any Major Dude Will Tell You (Universal)
Noah And The Whale - Love Of An Orchestra (Mercury)
Susan Enan - Monoplain (Feast)
Naturalites- Picture On The Wall (Charly)
The Cribs- We Share The Same Skies (Wichita)
Kraftwerk - Radioactivity (Capitol)
Camera Obscura - The Sweetest Thing (4ad)
Les Negresses Vertes - C'est Pas La Mer A Boire (Delabel)
The Vals - These Little Reasons (Eletrique Mud)
Julian Casablancas - 11th Dimension (Rough Trade)
Pete Molinairi - We Belong Together (Damaged Goods)
David Bazan - When We Fell (One Four Seven)
Dexys Midnight Runners - The Way You Look Tonight (Mercury)
Bap Kennedy - Howl On (Lonely Street)
Hope Sandoval And The Warm Inventions - Blanchard (Nettwerk)
Robin James Hurt - Come Away Home (RJH)
David Bazan - Curse Your Branches (One Four Seven)
John Fogerty - Blue Moon Nights (Warner)
Dengue Fever - Tiger Phone Card (Proper)
Kraftwerk - Franz Schubert (Capitol)
There were a couple of sentimental choices on the final Friday show,but not many. I couldn't resist Hamilton Bohannon, which is joyous rhythm and a record that totally sums up New York in 2001, just before 9/11. And I guess 'Don't Look Back' by Them has an obvious value. I also chanced upon 'Misti Blue' by Nottingham act A Million Sons, which myself and Rigsy adored in 2003
I'm starting to enjoy the Fanfarlo album, and Lou Barlow is no slouch either. So onwards then, to the Monday slot. As Bono famously reckoned, we have to dream it up... all over again.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Fridays, ten - midnight
The Jesters - Cadillac Man (Sun)
Manic Street Preachers - Rock And Roll Music (Sony)
Wilco - Sonny Feeling (Nonesuch)
Bobby Bland - Ain't Nothing You Can Do (Ace)
Fanfarlo - Ghosts (Fanfarlo)
Levon Helm - When I Go Away (Vanguard)
Julie Feeney - Impossibly Beautiful (Mittens)
Tilly And The Wall - Falling Without Knowing (Moshi Moshi)
A Million Sons - Misti Blue (London)
Alela Diana - Tatted Lace (Names)
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (Rhino)
Villagers - On A Sunlit Stage (white)
Davd Accles - The Road To Cairo (WMTV)
Nakatomi Towers - Cut Me Out (white)
The Clash - One More Time (CBS)
Graham Coxon - Brave The Storm (Transgressive)
Eels - That Look You Gave That Guy (Polydor)
The Impressions - Choice Of Colours (Charly)
Animal Kingdom - Silence Summons You (Warner)
Leela James - A Change Is Gonna Come (Warner)
Lou Barlow - The One I Call (Domino)
Tinariwen - Tenhert (Independiente)
Fanfarlo - Good Morning Midnight (Fanfarlo)
Emmylou Harris - My Antonia (Grapevine)
Down To The Bone - The Brighter Side (Freestyle)
Malcolm McLaren - Buffalo Girls (Virgin)
Them - Don't Look Back (Decca)
Hamilton Bohannon - Let's Start The Dance III ( Electric Chair)
Here it is then, my last Friday evening on the radio. I'm swiftly moving to the 10pm slot on Mondays, starting Oct 5. I guess the atmos will be different, but the consolation is being sandwiched between Rigsy and Stephen McCauley. That's an interesting way to get the week moving.
I hope some of my parish will make the move, or at least follow the flow on demand. Over the years I've gathered an interesting composite picture of the Friday listener... finishing the carry out, opening a bottle of something refreshing, putting the kids to bed, rolling a fat one, lounging in the bath, or possibly breakfasting in New Zealand. Some pals say that Mondays are actually better radio nights as the social diary is less demanding.
But if you've a message or a request for tonight, fire it in.
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