Archives for February 2012

Behind NME Lines

Stuart Bailie | 17:01 UK time, Wednesday, 29 February 2012

NME book cover

Happy birthday NME. You might still be the arbiter of cool and the supporter of bands with unwieldy names and daft apparel. But some of us know that you are actually 60 years old, that you were once twinned with Accordion Times and that back in the early days, you were rather fond of Dixieland jazz.

But still we love you. For establishing the first record sales chart in 1952. For getting loose in the early Seventies with writers like Nick Kent and Charles Shaar Murray. For making sport with punk rock and indulging writers such as Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Danny Baker. After punk you might have veered to the over-indulgent with Paul Morley and Ian Penman, but hey, such were the times. And anyway, with those cover images of Anton Corbijn, the paper still felt iconic, a rare institution.

My own NME tour of duty lasted from 1988 to 2000. It was still an amazing place to work then, and I witnessed the ages of Madchester, acid house, grunge, Britpop and superstar DJs. You had the best access to bands, a license to hang with the likes of Radiohead, U2, Primal Scream and the Manics. And then you could write 5,000 words of supreme babble in return.

I was flattered to be interviewed by Pat Long for his new book 'The History Of The NME: High Times and Low Lives At The World's Most Famous Music Mag'. My instinct on opening it today was to check out my name in the index. I was never one of the star performers, but there I am, commenting on the habits of cracked freelancers, describing the first Morrissey war, the Kurt Cobain obit and remembering how we invented the Battle of Britpop. Noel Gallagher may not thank me, but I've still got a few campaign medals.

I might blog again about the book when I've actually read it. Surely, the story will be a fierce one.

Playlist 27.02.12

Stuart Bailie | 13:44 UK time, Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Glen Hansard tells great stories about watching Jeff Buckley at New York's Sin E club in the early Nineties. I guess it was some time after the release of The Commitments, and according to every account, the scenes in that venue were transformational. Rufus Wainwright would also hang out there, totally aware of Buckley's talent and deeply envious of it. Glen and Jeff got on well, however, and as I recall, Bronagh Gallagher also sat in the presence of this outstanding deal. My experience of the man was some time later at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. I was sitting near Tracey Thorn and Elizabeth Frazer. Two impressive voices but they were pure fans at that show. I remember Jeff taking off his shirt and doing a weird kind of strip tease with his vest at the front of the stage. The girls were screaming and so were the boys. Then he sang and the entire audience swooned. It was extraordinary. Miss him.

BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
Eddie Cleanhead Vinson - Cherry Red Blues (Signature)
Weird Dreams - Hurt So Bad (Tough Love)
Wah! - Story Of The Blues (WEA)
Sleigh Bells - End Of The Line (Sony)
Buzzcocks - Promises (UA)
Hospitality - Betty Wang (Fire)
Grainne Duffy - Everyday (white)
Phoebe Killdeer - Innerquake (Kwaidan)
The Shangri Las - The Dum Dum Ditty (Mercury)
Sleigh Bells - Leader Of The Pack (Sony)
Sinead O' Connor - The Wolf Is Getting Married (One Little Indian)
Timber Timbre - Too Old To Die Young (Full Time Hobby)
Madness - Wings Of A Dove (Stiff)
Lost Brothers - Bells They Won't Ring (white)
Mark Lanegan - Harbourview Hospital (4ad)
Frederick Knight - Let's Make a Deal (Stax)
Bronagh Gallagher - Fool (white)
Jeff Buckley - The Way Young Lovers Do (Big Cat)
Tanlines - Brothers (Matador)
Kathleen Edwards - Change The Sheets (Zoe)
Timber Timbre - Lonesome Hunter (Full Time Hobby)
Wah! - Story Of The Blues Part 2 (WEA)
Peter Broderick - Colin (Bella Union)

Putsch Comes To Shove

Stuart Bailie | 10:56 UK time, Monday, 27 February 2012

I'm not sure that there have been many songs written about the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, 1923. It was a pretty significant moment - Adolf Hitler making an opportunistic snatch for power and failing badly. But I do know one lyricist that covered the theme during the post-punk era. Friends, I was that writer.

Shellshock CD sleeve

I came up with the song as a teenager in 1980. I had an 'O' level in history and was emboldened by bands like the Clash to think about the big political issues. So I came up with this cautionary tale about the rise of Fascism. It was performed live by my band Acme, and received rather well. A year later, we recorded the track at Homestead Studios in Ahoghill. In a jittery session, we recorded and mixed four tunes in five hours. We sold a few cassettes of the demo before it was quietly retired.
However, the tracks have just been revived by Spit Records on a new compilation, 'Shellshock Rockers'. Acme are generously represented, alongside The Androids, Shock Treatment, The Ex-Producers and some other roaring ingrates from the NI scene. Apparently a load of CDs have already been shipped to Japan, though I'd say that an offer to tour there is unlikely.
'Beer Hall In Munich' is all earnest bluster and vapid couplets such as: "Bavarian politicians tried to keep the peace, but Weimar was crumbling round their feet". The guitar line was a homage to Rudi and 'The Pressure's On' while the Teutonic rumble was probably inspired by The Skids and their portentous 'Days In Europa'. A mate at school read the words and reckoned it was about as meaningful as 'Rasputin' by Boney M. Ouch.

Playlist 20.02.12

Stuart Bailie | 08:28 UK time, Thursday, 23 February 2012

I interviewed Philip Glass in Belfast in 1998. I left with a stupendous grin on my face and a signed poster for Beauty And the Beast. It was one of those meetings that gets more significant as time passes. Back then it was a last minute media call and the chance to blether with an associate of David Bowie and Brian Eno. Now I think I would have more to ask the guy and I might also have a greater sense of occasion if I encountered him. Respect to Mr Glass, because he must have sensed that I wasn't immersed in his work, but he was still amiable and gave excellent quotes. My Philip play tonight was 'Runaway Horses' from the Mishima soundtrack. Six minutes of pure surge and rapture. Reliably immense.

BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM

Mondays, ten - midnight

Louis Prima - Hey Boy Hey Girl (Capitol)
Simone Felice - You And I Belong (Reveal)
The Ramones - Rock And Roll Radio (Sire)
Dan Sartain - Now Now Now (One Little Indian)
Perfume Genius - Dark Parts (Turnstile)
Philip Glass - Runaway Horses (Nonesuch)
Captain Kennedy - Paper Cut (white)
Kindness - Gee Up (Polydor)
Kathleen Edwards - Sidecar (Zoe)
Conor Mason - Misunderstood (Armellodic)
Mark Nevin - Oh Mama (Rare Song)
Perfume Genius - Sister Song (Turnstile)
Rustic - Surph (Warp)

Everly Brothers - Gone Gone Gone (Rhino)
Carolina Chocolate Drops - I Truly Understand (Nonesuch)
Zola Jesus - In Your Nature (David Lynch Remix)
Scott Walker - Duchess (Fontana)
Jim White - Infinite Mind (Loose)
Six Miles North - Still Waiting For The Revolution (white)
Robert Ellis - Westbound Train (New West)
Al Green - One Woman (Demon)
Aaron Shanley - Some People Just Fall Out Of Love (Love Gum)
Kathleen Edwards - Pink Champagne (Zoe)
Simone Felice - Gimme All You Got (Reveal)
Ryan Adams - I Love You And I Don't Know What To Say (Sony)
The Neville Brothers - A Change Is Gonna Come (A&M)
Perfume Genius - Normal Song (Turnstile)

Forever Changes

Stuart Bailie | 20:54 UK time, Monday, 20 February 2012

One of the most remarkable parts of the Whitney funeral was that rendition of 'A Change Is Gonna Come'. The song was performed by Pastor Kim Burrell, and there were liberties taken with the lyrics. Instead of looking to a bright future for all mankind, the singer insisted that the change has already come, that the spirit of Whitney is in the presence of the eternal.

I thought it was remarkable because the song is essentially a soul anthem, even a protest song. It was written about justice on earth, about the African American struggle and the potential for civil rights. Which of course is the pure delineation between gospel and soul. The latter is about the physical world - the pain, the heartache, the injustice - while gospel looks to a victory beyond the grave. Soul was the upstart that left the church - signalled by Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Artetha and the rest. They took the emotion, the sweet voices, the call-and-response and made it secular.

Conventionally, people reckon that soul was a more commercial form, effectively stealing from the fountainhead. And that explains some of the guilt that the famous soul-stirrers have experienced over the years. But when Kim Burrell sang her version of 'A Change Is Gonna Come' she was reversing the trend.

Sam Cooke wrote the song in 1963, inspired by Bob Dylan and drawing on his own experiences of racism and family tragedy. His recording breaks your heart, and so do versions from Aretha , the Neville Brothers and many others. But if the entire Whitney funeral was about bringing a departed friend back to her spiritual roots, so Kim Burrell reinstated the gospel that ran through the voice, the words and the majesty of Sam Cooke. I'm not sure that I liked her version, but I fully understand that it was a critical homecoming. I'll be playing one of those versions tonight.

Cooling With King Monkey

Stuart Bailie | 10:44 UK time, Friday, 17 February 2012

It's 1997 and I'm in a bar in Chorlton, south Manchester, with Ian Brown. His Stone Roses days are behind him, apparently, and he's got a flaming new single called 'My Star'. I like the solo record and while we've had a few episodes in the past, we're getting on well.

Ian Brown and Stu Bailie

Ian's Mexican girlfriend Fabiola is filming the occasion and Noel, and old mate from the Roses days, is keeping things together.
Some old fellas from the other end of the pub are nudging each other and looking curious. Finally, one of them comes over and asks for an autograph.
"Here lad, are you famous or what?"
"I'm Ian Brown"
"Ian who?"
"Ian Brown. I used to be in a band called the Stone Roses"
"Sorry, I've never heard of ya. But listen, could you do us a favour? Could you sign this bit of paper for me grand-daughter?"
Ian is in obliging form. No problem. And then the old guy drops in a fantastically tactless remark.
"Of course, you know who we thought you were? We reckoned you were that lad out of Oasis."
"Nah" says Ian, not missing a beat. "He just thinks he's me."

Playlist 13.02.12

Stuart Bailie | 16:37 UK time, Tuesday, 14 February 2012

If you have any sympathies with Seventies reggae, then there's a good chance you have 'Heart Of The Congos' in your collection. There might be no better example of the honeyed melodies, the mysticism and the great sonic adventure of Jamaican music as this. The record dates back to 1976-77 and was recorded in Lee Perry's Back Ark Studio. Hence the bubbling acoustics, as the instruments and harmonies are perpetually bursting into each other's space. The songs are suffused with Biblical legends and the Rastafarian urge to get away from sufferation and back to a state of grace. Therefore the mood is torn between deep sadness and unspeakable joy.
The record gets a fine endorsement from The 2 Bears and their 'Heart Of The Congos' track. It's an unaffected testimony about the power of music and its ability to inform your soul forever.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight

Rod Stewart, PP Arnold - Come Home Baby (Immediate)
Tribes - When My Day Comes (Island)
St Etienne - Tonight (Heavenly)
Michael Kiwanuka - I'm Getting Ready (Communion)
The Impressions - People Get Ready (MCA)
Malojian - Often Wonder (Public Sector)
Alabama Shakes - Hold On (Rough Trade)
Justin Townes Earle - Memphis Rain (Bloodshot)
Two Bears - Time In Mind (Republic Of Music)
Champion Doug Veitch - Not The Heart (Drum)
Gemma Ray - Rescue Me (Bronze Rat)
Timber Timbre - Black Water (Full Time Hobby)
Tribes - Alone Or With Friends (Island)
Nick Lowe - I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass (Proper)
Eugene McGuinness - Shotgun (Domino)
Rainy Boy Sleep - One After One (Hidden Art)
Drive By Truckers - Where's Eddie (PIAS)
Eddie Hinton - Here I Am (Raven)
Donnie Fritts - Breakfast In Bed (Oh Boy)
Drive By Truckers - Everybody Needs Love (PIAS)
Peter Broderick - I Am Piano (Bella Union)
Sweet Inspirations - Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday (Soul Jazz)
Amy LaVere - Tennessee Valentine (Archer)
Jeb Loy Nichols - To Be Rich (Decca)
The Congos - Solid Foundation (Blood & Fire)
Two Bears - Heart Of The Congos (Republic Of Music)
Peter Broderick - A Tribute To Our Letter Writing Days (Bella Union)

Notes From The Emergency Ward

Stuart Bailie | 14:29 UK time, Monday, 13 February 2012

In 1997 I listened to Bjork as she outlined the previous five years of her career - from 'Debut' and 'Post' to the more reflective 'Homogenic'. She had sold many records but the human purchase had been severe. There were spats at airports, stalkers, a letter bomb and finally the suicide of a misguided fan. The only way she could manage this plus the promotional schedules and media scrutiny was to pitch herself into a sustained "state of emergency".

That was five years of adrenalin and self-administered fever. She had once been a carefree, spontaneous soul, conditioned by anarchism. Now here she was, unhappily manic and co-opted into the music biz. So in 1997, she was starting to steer herself away from the mainstream, not wanting to be consumed so utterly.

So what must Whitney Houston have gone though? She had been succoured in music as a child and schooled in the great traditions of gospel and soul. Her mother Cissy had been party to many legendary recordings, likewise with cousin Dionne Warwick and godmother Aretha. And with record boss Clive Davis, she had the protection of a proper music man.

But her success had been so exponentially huge that there were no signposts out there. The Eighties were about the brand, the visuals and the market penetration. Whitney delivered the voice, the looks and the application. Records sold: 170 million. Emotional distress: incalculable.

A few musicians have been able to live with this intensity. But for many there's a whiplash effect some time afterwards. It might become manifested in drugs or some related kind of over indulgence. Becoming famous needs a fixity of purpose, huge resources of discipline. But in the post-traumatic period, the going can become inversely messy and the record sales taper off. Which may put the lifestyle into a more horrendous tailspin.

That seems to be the essential curve of the Whitney story. Amazing commercial results but a G-force that couldn't be humanly sustained. Tragic, of course.

A Lovable Brogue

Stuart Bailie | 19:22 UK time, Friday, 10 February 2012

brogue shoe

If you stand a brogue shoe up on its toe, the embossed cap traces out a pattern like the letter W, or a set of wings. In many such shoes, the wings taper off to meet the midsole. This is the sort favoured by city gents or weekend amateurs. But for brogue aficionados, the only acceptable design is when the wings stretch right back to meet at the back of the heel. This is known as the longwing, or the American brogue, although confusingly, the Americans call it the English brogue. Anyway, the style rocks, and has been loved by jazzers, savvy entrepreneurs and teenage moonstompers alike. The daddy of this shoe was the Florsheim Imperial Shell Full Brogue Derby, a classic of its day. The show was made of cordovan, horse hide with a signature look when it started to wear in. Today's equivalent is the Alden Longwing Blucher, available in one of Belfast's upmarket menswear shops. Talk to your bank manager and see if you can prise upwards of £500 for the pleasure. Assuming that funds are challenged, there are alternatives like the Allen Edmonds McNeil or the Loake Royal. The latter has been revived from the Seventies design and is a shiny invitation to get on the good foot.

O' Connor, The Incomparable

Stuart Bailie | 12:07 UK time, Thursday, 9 February 2012

Back in 1986 I was working near Mornington Crescent in London and I would routinely bump into a publicist called Patrick, who worked by Camden Road. He was an affable chap of Irish descent and he often talked about his friend called Sinead, who was writing songs, making a record and giving birth.

Sinead O'Connor

Then one day, he brought me into his office and put a test pressing on the record player. The tune was called 'Troy' and I was transfixed.
A couple of weeks later and I had my first meeting with Sinead O' Connor. She was soft-spoken, but hated Bono with a passion. The hair was cropped, the eyes were piercing and the Doc Martin boots brokered no forgiveness. I thought she was the best. Soon there was a wonderful album that quoted from the Bible and WB Yeats, that referenced Synge and West African dancers, fierce love and a lesbian from Amsterdam.
There were controversial spats and a mind-blowing gig at the Dominion Theatre. You'd meet her sometimes and she was thriving in this new era. Then the second album came out, she went stellar and the distress also increased. I interviewed her around the time of 'My Special Child' and she spoke about her miscarriages. Then I watched her at the Bob Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden in 1992, not long after she had ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. Some of the audience cheered, but the overwhelming sound was of hatred and contempt. I've not heard anything like it since. I sat with her four days later and all she wanted to talk about was revolution.
Anyway, Sinead has a new record coming out, called 'The Wolf Is Getting Married'. The voice is perfection, the emotions are ablaze and the raw, personal ciphers take me back to that first album. In a moment, you forget about the tabloid stories, the erratic times. Listen and behold.

Playlist 06.02.12

Stuart Bailie | 10:43 UK time, Wednesday, 8 February 2012

'Crazy To Love You' by Leonard Cohen is a song about the devastating potential of true love. You have to jettison all dignity and self-respect. There's no guarantee that the deal will be requited. Leonard sings it with the parched dismay of someone who has bet everything and may not emerge with a fibre of comfort. The guitar is forlorn, barely involved. The singer tells you about his time in the tower, the relentless decline. Leonard can caress the words when he wants to, with that spectacular baritone. But on this occasion, the words are unadorned, the art all purchased out.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight

The Dramatics - Since I've Been In Love (Stax)
Zooey Deschanel - Hey Girl (itunes)
Summer Camp - Losing My Mind (Moshi Moshi)
Marianne Faithful - profile
School Of Seven Bells - The Night (Full Time Hobby)
Nick Lowe - Somebody Cares For Me (Proper)
Sweet Lights - Endless Town (Highline)
Mark Lanegan - Harbourview Hospital (4ad)
Sinead O' Connor - The Wolf Is Getting Married (One Little Indian)
School Of Seven Bells - When You Sing (Full Time Hobby)
Thin Lizzy - Bad Reputation (Vertigo)
Jane Bradfords - Debris (white)
Liz Green - Bad Medicine (PIAS)
Wilco - Dawned On Me (Dbpm)
David Lyttle - Uncertain steps (Lyte)
Benjamin Francis Leftwich - Pictures (white)
The Five Royals - Think (King)
Craig Finn - Jackson (Full Time Hobby)
Duke Special - Cherry Blossom Girl (Reel To Reel)
Maccabees - Feel To Follow (Fiction)
Shelby Lynne - Even Angels (Everso)
Leonard Cohen - Crazy To Love You (Columbia)
Robert Ellis - Friends Like Those (New West)
Nick Lowe - Stoplight Roses (Proper)
David Lyttle - This Moon Of Ours (Lyte)

Zooey Stardust

Stuart Bailie | 11:22 UK time, Monday, 6 February 2012

Zooey Deschanel rocks, but you knew that already.

Zooey Deschanel

She digs The Smiths and Buddy Holly. She's a fan of Janis Joplin and Nancy Sinatra. She hangs out with significant indie people and plays the ukulele. Her music with M Ward (billed as She & Him) has yielded a couple of fine albums and she even put in some contributions to Gary Lightbody's side project, Tired Pony. I actually liked her crooning 'Baby It's Cold Outside' on the Elf soundtrack.
Zooey is no stranger to the Monday Late Show playlist, and I'm aiming to put something on tonight's show. It might be an M Ward collaboration, but I'm also very keen on her TV series, New Girl. The writing is amusing, the situations are tremendously silly and Zooey's character makes me laugh, often. At first, I though it was an off-the-shelf Deschanel character - goofy, unlucky with guys, bespectacled - but I've watched Episode Five a couple of times now and the wit is considerable.

Big Mac, Listings To Go

Stuart Bailie | 20:09 UK time, Friday, 3 February 2012

Mariella Frostrup was at the Harbour Commissioner's Office in Belfast today to mark the imminent opening of the MAC building. Anyone who has followed the story of this prestige construction will know that it's been more than 15 years of effort, havoc, team heroics, brinkmanship and obstinacy.
Most days I get to walk past the site at St Anne's Square and the building is rapidly taking shape now. And at today's launch there was talk of the actual programming from April onwards. An exhibition of paintings by William Conor and LS Lowry. An unusual piece of Titanic Theatre by Owen McCafferty, literally scripted from the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry, 1912. Duke Special will curate some music and art for early September while for Xmas, Cahoots will deliver a production based on the Oliver Jeffers' The Incredible Book-Eating Boy.
The mood at the launch was naturally bright, with endorsements from artists, writers, music makers, political leaders and even a quote from Meryl Streep. Another moment to pinch yourself, to reflect on the arrival of the next bold project and to believe that the artistic import of Belfast is rising, irreversible.

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