Archives for September 2012

Gotta Hear This #14

Stuart Bailie | 22:58 UK time, Sunday, 30 September 2012

We lost Frank Wilson a few days ago. Most of the obits have related to the producer's time at Motown, when he helmed some peerless sessions with Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Miracles and The Four Tops. He was also a singer in his own right - 'Do I Love You' is a stomper of the first order and the defining Northern Soul rarity.

The guy also co-wrote my most favourite anthem ever. 'Stoned Love' was the final US hit for The Supremes in 1970. Diana Ross had left by this time, but Jean Terrell was entirely capable. Actually, her voice has a richer timbre than her predecessor, and with the help of Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson, the song builds into this fierce expression of hope and deliverance. The way that it surges and flutters is perfection. No other record moves me so entirely. You can dance to it and it takes to this unique, beautiful place.

Kenny Thomas wrote the lyrics and while they don't look amazing on the page, there's a yearning sentiment that Frank Wilson finessed. Vietnam was surely an issue as Kenny figures that "a love for each other will bring fighting to an end". Bands like the Rolling Stones were priming this new decade for cynicism and defeat, but The Supremes sing it like they believe it to their souls. The original theme was "stone love", like a layer of granite, imperishable. But the change also works, because now the feeling is transformational and gone.

I became familiar with the record at a club night called The Locomotion in London. The Town & Country venue had a lovely old wooden floor and a high ceiling. The Motown beat resounded so sweetly there. To be honest, the first time it hit me there was a personal narrative (big love, horrendously unrequited). And while a bit of that feeling is still summoned up by the intro, the ensuing minutes are pure and cleansing. It makes me cry. But in a good way.

Nave New World

Stuart Bailie | 09:25 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2012

St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast is quite the venue. It has the gravitas, the stained glass light show, the classic dimensions, the imperial fragrance and the awesome acoustics. It's been expressly built to shake your soul, a tradition that's been researched and designed over a good few centuries. No wonder then, that they do it well.

But it rarely lends itself to the contemporary and the secular. That's not really the Cathedral's gig. However, they're making an exception for Culture Night and thus we ascend the steps above Donegal Street and glide into the place that has given this quarter its brand but which frankly, we don't experience much.

The first thing we hear is Ciaran Lavery and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. The spirit of Ian Curtis is with us and our hearts are instantly in bits. The singer keeps us there with a few of his own tunes that are also spare and lonesome. Such a voice. And all that demonstrable intent as he moves away from his former role with Captain Kennedy.

Next up is Soak, who wears a straw hat, ripped jeans and no shoes. She clambers onto the stool like Huck Finn, smiling and unworried. Then she plays these ferocious songs that spark and collide. The teenager introduces 'Trains' as her first ever composition. I've raved about it in this blog before but this evening it sounds even more beautiful and portentious. I've been a little concerned about the dark themes in her art but some of the new songs are spry and witty. So we rejoice a bit more.

Katharine Philippa is another artist who takes us out of the mundane and into the blue. She wowed the Ulster Hall in May and by the time she appears in the Cathedral, the nave is busy and the people expectant. The keepers of the Church have no reason to worry either as this individual sings from a sainted place anyhow. Even when she does her famous mash-up of 'Video Games' and 'Earthquake' you feel that significant themes have been raised. The journey steers us to the conclusion that is 'Home', with the wave sounds, the reverberating chords, the last exaltation.

Outside, Culture Night is getting feverish with the samba rhythms, the Wicker Man ritual, the cacophony and the release. But inside here, the experience is cool, meditative and deep. Nothing at all like it.

Playlist 24.09.12

Stuart Bailie | 10:17 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2012

My first show on Radio Ulster went out on September 24, 1999. It began with 'Ain't That Enough' by Teenage Fan Club - one of those songs that glistens with proper humanity. It included Bjork, a big harp and 'Like Someone In Love', leading into Chet Baker, sounding tender and gone. And it also namechecked Big Star, Alex Chilton and the piercing 'September Gurls'. Since then, Alex has left us while the show has mutated from a Friday relative of Across The Line into a Monday Late Show.

Still, it was no bother to return Bjork and Big Star and the Fannies to the playlist, 13 years on. They still fill your heart. The method and values of the show have not changed, and it would seem that you, kind listeners still respond well. We've welcomed in excellent guests such as Radiohead, REM, Nick Cave, Brian Wilson, Billy Bragg, Nils Lofgren, David Holmes, Ash and Neil Hannon. The live sessions and local bands have served us well. And while my presenting skills are not exactly smooth, they have improved since those early days when I would stumble and ramble in alarming ways.

So cheers all. I have played something like 15,000 tracks and most of them have been tremendous. The pleasure, the privilege is mine.

BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM

Mondays, ten - midnight

Teenage Fan Club - Ain't That Enough (Creation)
Lord Huron - Time to Run (PIAS)
Laura Nyro - Sweet Blindness (Columbia)
Master And Dog - Devil Knows How (white)
Betty Lavette - Dirty Old Town (Anti)
Bill Fay - This World (Dead Oceans)
Malojian - The Deer's Cry (white)
Rachel Sermani - Breathe Easy (Middle Of Nowhere)
Moon Duo - Trails (Souterrain)
Jon Spencer - Zingar (Bronze Rat)

Big Star - September Gurls (Ryko)
The Kennedys - Big Star Song (white)
Bill Fay - Jesus Etc (Dead Oceans)
Bob Dylan - Early Roman Kings (Columbia)
Farriers - San Remo (white)
David Byrne, St Vincent - Outside Of Space And Time (4ad)
Malojian - All I Need (white)
Tift Merritt - Sweet Spot (Yep Roc)
The XX - Sunset (Young Turk)
Band Of Horses - Heartbreak On the 101 (Sony)
Cat Power - Cherokee (Matador)

A Good Year For The Moroseness

Stuart Bailie | 09:05 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2012

In the most recent episode of New Girl, Jess deals with a broken heart by playing 'River' by Joni Mitchell. Again and again. At first, her friends and flatmates offer consolation. By degrees, they grow weary of the song and the listener's self pity. They become antsy and eventually, they make up a mocking dance routine, turning the sadness into high comedy.

But hey, we've all had those moments. Music and melancholia are long-standing companions, and there's nothing like an album's worth of wretched tunes to accompany the ride. When long-playing vinyl came into its own, Frank Sinatra was there to commiserate with 'In The Wee Small Hours', tasting the woe like a proper connoisseur. Ava Gardner had torn him apart and didn't we know it.

In The Seventies, the singer songwriters became the ruling nabobs of sob. Joni Mitchell was thin-skinned and desolate on 'Blue'. There was another bust-up chronicle with Bob Dylan's 'Blood On The Tracks', and a more bitter response with Marvin Gaye's 'Here My Dear'. Classics all.

It's a mark of your humanity to have a saddo soundtrack. Over the years, I've favoured 'Almost Blue' by Elvis Costello, a bit of Hank and Billie, Sinead, Spiritualized and Nina Simone. You cannot stay unmoved by 'There Is a Light That Never Goes Out' or Aretha getting lost on 'Somewhere'. And while I'm not massively keen on the chorus of Dylan's 'Just Like A Woman', I still quake when Bob sings about the day when he'll meet his ex girlfriend again. They may be introduced as friends and will probably smile at each other. But actually, they'll be concealing deep fathoms of their tragic, shared history.

Many years ago, I made a morose mixtape for a friend. On some level I must have been enjoying her pain, because I included 'I'm Still Waiting' by Diana Ross, a testimony to self-abasement only rivaled by Jacques Brel's 'Ne Me Quitte Pas'. I capped the tape off with Soft Cell and 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye'. It was the 12 inch version, mind, with the clarinet solo and the unending spiral into desolation row. The perfect finale. Dry your eyes, mate.

Playlist 17.09.12

Stuart Bailie | 10:05 UK time, Wednesday, 19 September 2012

I played 'Fallen' by Katharine Philippa on September 29, 2011. I think it was her first time on the radio, although a few come-lately chancers have suggested otherwise. I wrote a slightly pretentious blog entry also, making comparisons to Emily Dickinson and Judee Sill. Well, that's how I tend to roll and on this occasion, the fancy words were justified.

I've seen this artist live around ten times now. Back in May, she was onstage at the Ulster Hall, at the Northern Songbook event. She was giving fresh insight into 'Days Of Pearly Spencer' while the orchestra made some respectful swoopings. Then again, Katherine has held her own at the Students' Union and even kept her decorum in a hotel bar, when a festival launch party was in full swing and the ignorant guests chattered at volume.

There should be less of that on Friday, September 21, when Katharine will perform in St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast. It's part of the ever-swelling Culture Night celebrations and she will be sharing this rare venue with Soak and Ciaran Lavery. Three exceptional voices, no admission fee, pure value.

BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight

The Supremes - Back In My Arms Again (Motown)
Band Of Horses - How To Live (Sony)
The Raveonettes - The Enemy (Beat Dies)
T Rex - Mambo Sun (EMI)
Little Comets - A Little Opus (Dirty Hit)
SOS Band - Just Be Good To Me (Tabu)
Howler - Told You Once (Rough Trade)
Aimee Mann - Living A Lie (Proper)
Seven Summits - Burning Heart (white)
Band Of Horses - Electric Music (Sony)
Two Door Cinema Club - Settle (Kitsune)

Edwin Collins - A Girl Like You (Setanta)
Aimee Mann - Charmer (Proper)
The Wooden Sky - Child of The Valley (Loose)
Villagers - The Waves (Domino)
Ry Cooder - Let's Work Together (Rhino)
Folks - Say Something (Ignition)
Katharine Philippa - Fallen (white)
Bessie Smith - Take It Right Back (Orbis)
Diana Darby - Looking For Trouble (Delmore)
Cold Specks - Hector (Mute)
The Supremes - When You Wish Upon a Star (Motown)
Ryan Vail - Turning (Auntie Flo remix)
Atoms For Peace - Default (XL)

Playlist 10.09.12

Stuart Bailie | 14:49 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2012

Forty five verses about the sinking of the Titanic. No choruses. Almost 14 minutes in duration. You might argue that late night radio broadcasters live for such a lengthy affair - a chance to sort out the paperwork, to scan the alarming messages from late night obsessives plus a bit of Facebook dalliance. But sometimes you just have to give a long tune your attention.

Bob Dylan stretched the pop song to spectacular ends in 1965 with 'Like A Rolling Stone' and he has often returned to longform on 'Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands', 'Visions of Johanna' and more recently, 'Highlands'. So now we can add 'Tempest' with its Titanic theme. There are some powerful songs from the tradition about this event, but bizarrely, Bob seems to be getting his storyline from the James Cameron movie. Fictional characters have the run of it. Dylan is such an abstract guy that you're not entirely sure if this is an homage or some ever-rolling gag. Over to you, kind listeners.

BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight

Bob Dylan - Narrow Way (Columbia)
Master And Dog - Canada (white)
Palma Violets - Best Of Friends (Rough Trade)
Ry Cooder - profile
Alt J - Something Good (Infectious)
Calexico - No Te Vayas (City Slang)
David Byrne, St Vincent - Weekend In The Dust (4ad)
Stealing Sheep - Shut Eye (Heavenly)
The XX - Try (Young Turks)
Bob Dylan - Long And Wasted Years (Columbia)
Van She - You're My Rescue - (Modular)
Beth Orton - Magpie (Anti)
David Byrne, St Vincent - I Am An Ape (4ad)
The Time Jumpers - Nothing But The Blues (Rounder)
The Lost Brothers - Tumbling Line (Bird Dog)
Otis Clay - I Die a Little Every Day (Demon)
Bill Fay - Be At Peace With Yourself (Dead Oceans)
Grimes - Genesis (4ad)
Dan Deacon - Pretty Boy - (Domino)
Bob Dylan - Tempest (Columbia)

Here Comes Your Van

Stuart Bailie | 08:55 UK time, Tuesday, 11 September 2012

When I was a little boy, the air over Belfast Lough was busy with Short Skyvans, Blackburn Buccaneers and the Avro Vulcans with their bold, delta wings. They were being tested, fixed and finessed. My dad worked at Sydenham Air Yard and I felt that he was personally responsible for their worthiness in those skies.

Many of the adults I knew were working on planes, hired by the shipyard or in one of the engineering works nearby. A lucky few were in the drawing offices or some other tidy location but mostly it was about the dirt and the din and the dynamic of the east. I still remember my grandfather's shins, mottled with bruises, and the metal shreds in my dad's hands.

The noise and the scale of that era has largely gone. But on this September occasion, you trust that Van Morrison has not forgotten. It's imprinted in his music. You hear it in the lyric of 'Into The Mystic' when he sings about the foghorn wailing him home as the saxophone starts to swell. And therefore we've all come to Aircraft Park, part of the inaugural East Belfast Arts Festival, blessed by sunshine and hoping that Van Morrison might also feel a sense of occasion and place.

We'll not assume too much from Van, but indeed, the artist seems to be sharing some of that sentiment with us this evening. He opens with 'Brown Eyed Girl' and soon there's the autumnal vista of 'Orangefield'. The band is throbbing skillfully, the singer's daughter Shana is steering the harmonies and there's a very delighted audience beneath the canvas. We hear the shimmering invitation of 'Moondance' and a version of 'Jackie Wilson Said' that officially perks the night.

He sings the old blues stomper 'Help Me' with apparent delight and during 'Star Of The County Down', his arms are pointing out the map references like a giddy traffic cop. All of this is pure value but the transcendence happens during 'On Hyndford Street', a homage to the backstreets off the Beersbridge Road. On the recorded version it's all about the reverie and the powerful Sunday silence. But tonight he's riffing and reminiscing like Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg. Those beat guys were writing poetry with a jazz attitude, loving the sax of Charlie Parker as much as they admired a word-slinger like Walt Whitman. And so Van channels his memory out of those same viaducts, taking us way, way back and simultaneously so high. Moment of the year, I'd say.

'Gloria' is lashed out with such authority and emphasis that you know an encore won't be optional. A major musical figure, back in his own parish, singing it home and exciting your soul. That's where it comes from, man.

Waiting For The Van

Stuart Bailie | 13:16 UK time, Saturday, 8 September 2012

I got a little excited on the radio yesterday morning. I had been invited onto Good Morning Ulster to talk about the Van Morrison gig at Aircraft Park, September 8. They wanted to know if there was a significance in his return to east Belfast, the place that had nurtured him and the inspiring landscape for so many songs. So I said it was like a salmon returning to the spawning ground, that he was literally bringing it all back home. Then I was asked if the ticket price was good value. Absolutely, I answered. You're playing to see a legend in his natural habitat. The fact that this was the very first East Belfast Arts Festival was also a bonus for some of us.

Van's setlist is currently featuring the likes of 'Ballerina' and 'Little Village'. The latter isn't particularly well known, but to my ears, it's a sweet meditation about Bloomfield and Ballyhackamore, about the sensibilities of a baby boomer who grew up with a parochial sense of place, before the city spaces filled up and the differences became less marked. And if there's anything I expect from tonight's gig, then it's a glimmer of that world, the portrait of a young Van and the days before rock and roll.

Better By Design

Stuart Bailie | 10:01 UK time, Thursday, 6 September 2012

There are many things to admire about the Paralympics, but I get some extra sentiment from the use of 'Design For Life' as a TV theme. It's the Manic Street Preachers tune from 1996, a song about the Welfare State, about class prejudice and the crushing effects of economic policy. I love the strings, the grandeur and the swelling belief of James Dean Bradfield. But most of all, it's the context of the song that chokes me.

It was the band's first release after the disappearance of Richey, their in-house lyric writer, ideas factory and provocateur. Working alongside Nicky Wire, he delivered the fearsome themes to 'The Holy Bible' and was subsequently taken to The Priory for treatment after a history of self-harming and unstable behavior. There was a hope that he was recovering, but he disappeared in February 1995. By now, we should suppose that he jumped off the Severn Bridge, but when 'Design For Life' came out there was still uncertainty for the band and understandably, much trauma.

That's why their comeback record was so moving. There was no self-pity. The opening line, "libraries gave us power' was a lift from a sign at Pilgwenlly Library in Newport. There was a reference to the concentration camps in the lyric, "work came and set us free" - a slogan that decorated the entrance to Auschwitz and other such places. What an image. Such a pop song.

Of course, the Nazis were fond of the eugenics philosophy, aimed at eliminating the "undesired" people in society. And if Hitler had prevailed, there certainly would not be a Paralympics. Every person at that event who crosses a finishing line, hits a target and makes a heroic leap is a rebuttal to that idea. Which is something to sing about.

Is Viv There?

Stuart Bailie | 17:11 UK time, Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Here's a photo of myself and the bearded contrarian, Vivian Stanshall. It was taken at the Borderline club on Tottenham Court Road, London, 1990. The NME had just released a charity album called 'The Last Temptation Of Elvis' featuring cover versions of Presley songs. The record launch had encouraged people to get up and to perform tunes made famous by the big guy. Pretty soon I was on that stage, perhaps encouraged by a refreshing drink. I sang 'Return To Sender' and a few moments later I was joined by an NME colleague, Terry Staunton. And then there was an altercation at the back and this major buffoon in a kaftan crashed the party.

Vivian had earned his reputation with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, performing surreal songs in a tea party style. 'Jollity Farm' was their big tune, but Viv also dabbled in art, writing, hung out with Keith Moon and was a formidable raconteur. That's his voice you hear on Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells'.

Anyway, Viv made a few animal noises onstage at the Borderline and then hurled himself into an appreciative crowd. I never met him again. He died five years later in a fire at this north London home.

I mention all this because there's a live event tonight at the MAC in Belfast, curated by Duke Special. Three Bonzos And A Piano are in town to revive some of that vintage Viv panache. Altogether, it's a good programme for the week, with the Duke also booking The Blockheads, Cathy Davey, The Futureheads and the mighty DJ78, who will be in the foyer tonight, busy with the gramophone decks.

Playlist 03.09.12

Stuart Bailie | 11:18 UK time, Tuesday, 4 September 2012

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Van Morrison's recording career. Just as the Beatles made an inconspicuous studio debut as the backing band for Tony Sheridan, so Van found himself in Cologne with the International Monarchs showband, playing on a novelty tune. The instigator was a weird looking chap called Ronald Kovacs who worked with CBS Germany. According to Johnny Rogan's 'No Surrender' biography, the record executive was more taken by George Jones from the band, and arranged a session for the Belfast combo at Ariola Studios. I owe a debt of thanks to George who provided me with a copy and so, 'Boo-zooh (Hully Gully)' earned a celebratory spin on my show. It's a slightly bonkers recording, bits of rock and roll shrapnel and received teen-speak hurled into a two minute rush. The Van Morrison legend was on hold until 1964, the appearance of Them and some dirty, petulant blues from the Maritime.

BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM

Mondays, ten - midnight

Small Faces - Sha La La La Lee (Decca)
Alabama Shakes - Hold On (Live at Electric Picnic)
Duke Special - Stargazers Of The World Unite (Adventures In Gramophone)
Ian Dury - Reasons To Be Cheerful (Stiff)
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - Jolity Farm (EMI)
The Monarchs - Boozoo Hully Gully (white)
Cathy Davey- Little Red (Hammer Toe Ltd)
Two Door Cinema Club - The World Is Watching (Kitsune)
Cat Power - Nothing But Time (Matador)
Villagers - The Waves (Domino)
Alabama Shakes - Hang Loose (Live at Electric Picnic)
Friends - A Thing Like This (Lucky Numbers)

Manic Street Preachers - Design For Life (Sony)
Two Door Cinema Club - Sun (Kitsune)
Patterson Hood - Disappear (PIAS) ~
Bronagh Gallagher - Make A Move (Salty Dog)
The Flatlanders - Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown (New West)
Bill Fay - The Healing Day (Dead Oceans)
Rachel Sermani - Waltz (Middle of Nowhere)
Patterson Hood - Come Back Little Star (PIAS)
Van Morrison - Little Village (Blue Note)
Anthony Toner - East of Louise (Dozens Of Cousins)
Willie Nelson - Midnight Run (Sony)
Antony And the Johnsons - Kiss My Name (Rough Trade)

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