Bill Fay has been a guiding musical noise to me over the past six months. He sings with the wisdom of a guy that's been embraced by the music industry, then ignored for a few decades before the reappraisal and the dignified return. You may have seen him on 'Later... With Jools' this week, beautifully understated on 'The Never Ending Happening', an old fella with the piano and some steady metaphysics.
People differ over the exact chronology but 'Life Is People' is his first proper collection of new music in over 30 years. That's quite a gap, and in his rare interviews, he doesn't provide too much information about the interim. What we do know is that he's been
thinking plenty about the big themes. Like the pain in your soul, the certain destination that is death and the possibility of a divine figure up there, some place.
Mind you, his early records, 'Bill Fay' and 'Time Of The Last Persecution' were never full of laughs. Back then, he was musing about his shed, the war dead and the phoney representation of the world. His new record is way out of fashion also, but that's surely part of the fascination. Jeff Tweedy from Wilco has been a longstanding fan and he has helped to coax this album into being.
The voice is a wonderful, worn instrument that makes Leonard Cohen sound sprightly. Meanwhile those lyrical meditations are delivered with the cracked tone of a venerable songwriter like David Ackles.
If you're the kind of person who forages for online tracks, rather than full albums, then I suggest that most collections lives will be bettered by 'Be At Peace With Yourself' and 'The Healing Day'. Pure balm for the heart.
See the Jools clip here, while you can:
I saw two films this week that portrayed regime changes in rock and roll. The first was 'Charlie Is My Darling' the documentary of the Rolling Stones in Ireland, 1965. It was the vision of a band getting assertive and cool, appreciating their power to mess with old-fangled society. The footage of them lashing out 'Satisfaction' while a priest stands rigid in the middle of a feverish crowd was a powerful metaphor for the age.
The Stones were larking around plenty, and so was their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham. But there was a more subtle story in there also. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were a powerful double act, playing off each other's sympathies and rival energies. Already, they were voicing the bold themes of the baby boomers.
However, the ghost figure in all this was Brian Jones. He was arguably the founder of the Stones, originally the sharpest practitioner of the blues and a glowering influence on their bad boy allure. In 1965 he still had the aura, the musical chops, the hair and the cheekbones.
But presently, Keith would steal his girl and his modus operandi. Brian had four miserable years before ejection and then drowning wrote him out of the script. In this film, the invisibility is already starting to settle.
Two days later and was at the QFT in Belfast, watching 'The Rise And Fall Of The Clash'. Directed by Danny Garcia, this was a more conscious study of a band in uproar. Once the core loyalty had gone and the heroin-dependent drummer had been evicted, The Clash and their gang mentality were effectively busted. The drama was hastened by success in America and the return of their old manager, Bernie Rhodes.
The latter claimed to have instigated punk in association with Malcolm McLaren, provocateur with the Sex Pistols. Bernie had pressed the band to be more political and abrasive, but he was also a crass manipulator in the tradition of Tin Pan Alley operators like Larry Parnes.
The final stages of the film are depressingly downbeat, as founder guitarist Mick Jones is isolated and then removed. This leads to The Clash II, a lightweight exercise with Bernie co-writing the songs while the band's reputation slumps. This part of the story is normally
treated as a brief interlude, but Danny Garcia fixates on the pettiness and the moral decline of this era. It's also an opportunity to see how once-famous rockers deal with decline - lost in post-traumatic stress, regret and abuse. Not exactly pretty to watch, but time that particular tale was told.
Poor old Johnny Thunders. He died in a mess of drugs and errant
circumstance in New Orleans, aged 38. Nobody knows what happened
exactly, but clothes and personal effects were stolen from room 37 of
St Peter's Guest House and the body was discovered in a grotesque
state. He doesn't get mentioned so much these days, but Johnny's
sprawling guitar style (more loose than Keith Richards, fall-about
Check Berry,) was the fundamental element of the Sex Pistols and every
punk combo afterwards.
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Last week I was blogging about the voice, the songs and the potential of Rosie Carney from Downings in Donegal. Now here's a video to outline the talent further.
No point me wittering further at this point, other than to say that she plays Moira Baptist Church on November 21 around 7.30pm. It's a homeless benefit, with Scottish
player Steph Macleod. Don't say we never warned ya.
Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons were two of the most beautifully met
voices in popular music. He was a southern boy from an affluent but
dysfunctional background, fated to hang out with Keith Richards and to
die from a drugs mishap at the Joshua Tree Inn in 1973. His tour
manager tried to burn the body in the desert and while there was a
hint of glamour in his life, it was also tough on the survivors. Gram
is redeemed because his music was sweetly wracked and the songs are
Emmylou was born into a military family and was singing folk music
when she was spotted by Gram's friend Chris Hillman in a Washington DC
club. She joined Parsons with the Fallen Angels and they recorded two
impeccable albums, 'GP' and 'Grievous Angel'. Gram encouraged his
protégée to listen to the Appalachian harmonies of acts like the
Louvin Brothers and she responded intensely on 'We'll Sweep Out The
Ashes', 'Love Hurts' and 'Return Of The Grievous Angel'. Later she
sang his memory home on 'Boulder To Birmingham' and the heartache is
First Aid Kit are Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. Their
current album 'The Lion's Roar' is an impressive collection of
left-field Americana, aided by Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers.
They have a song called 'Emmylou' that seeks out an unquenchable love,
like in one of those old songs. "You'll be my Gram and Johnny too,"
they croon in unison. Nothing like setting your sights high.
Dan Penn - Come Into My Heart (Ace)
Our Krypton Son - This Jealous Heart (Small Town America)
The Jim Jones Review - Where Da Money Go? (PIAS)
Don Covay - Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (Ace)
Calexico - Puerto (City Slang)
First Aid Kit - Emmylou (Wichita)
Ben Kweller - Free (Noise)
The Would Be's - Let's Play Dumb (Fifa)
Little Walter - Oh Baby (Chess)
The Bonnevilles - Machine Born To Think (Twenty Stone Blatt)
Sinkane - Runnin' (City Slang)
Jesse Boykins III - I'm New Here (Ninja Tune)
Free - My Brother Jake (Rhino)
The Raveonettes - She Owns The Streets (Beat Dies)
Cat Power -Silent Machine (Matador)
Rosie Carney - I Won't Let You Fall (white)
Dawes - If I Wanted Someone (Loose)
Duke Special - How I Learned To Love The Sun (Adventures In Gramophone)
Alex Dingley - Cats Eyes (Too Pure)
Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale - It Hurts Me ((New West)
Our Krypton Son - Twitch (Small Town America)
Wanda Jackson - California Stars (Sugar Hill)
Rams' Pocket Radio - Love Is A Bitter Thing (white)
Atoms For Peace - What The Eyeballs Did (XL)
Sinkane - Jeeper Creeper (City Slang)
How many amazing Ulster Hall nights have there been in the past year
or so? The Northern Songbook overture with the Ulster Orchestra, the
Alzheimer's Benefit featuring Tim Wheeler's astounding speech about
his dad, the Good Vibrations filming session, the return of Orbital
and now, Stiff Little Fingers, perfectly back on their own territory.
Later, Jake Burns will shed a tear, but as the encore commences, he's
all smiles and vitality. The snare drum makes with a martial beat and
the crunching chords are received with audience cheer. The song is
'Johnny Was', released by Bob Marley in 1976, describing the
sufferation of gun-rife Jamaica. Bob sang it with tenderness for the
grieving mother, but the SLF version on their debut album was
ferocious and irate. The setting was flipped from Kingston to
Belfast but when that shot rang out, you still knew the impact.
It's not quite a history lesson in 2012 because the guns are still
not quiet. But for the old punks in the house, it's a reminder of
really desperate times and music's critical retort. To their credit,
SLF continue to play it with feeling while all the teenage songs,
daughters, nieces and nephews in the moshpit are also getting the
intensity. If there was every a doubt that this song was the template
for U2's 'War' album, then behold, the bloody predecessor.
Hearts are moved by the night's opening song 'Wasted Life', also by the
return of 'Gotta Getaway' to the set list, by the lament of
'Strummerville' and the surge of 'Tin Soldiers'. Naturally there's
some extra delirium for 'Alternative Ulster', the mission statement
that's only now being realised. That anthemic tilt and the roaring guitar, a good
34 years in the delivery and ever-resonant. We'll grab it and we'll
take it, thank you.
Rosie Carney is 15, comes from Donegal and her voice is astounding. It's got the power of early Joni Mitchell, singing purely out of a lonesome place. On a song like 'What Have You Been Looking For' she sounds preternaturally old, battered by tough experience but still questing. On 'I Won't Let You Fall' she has some of that Laura Marling bite, utterly assured with the challenge of getting the tune and the intensity out.
The journalist in me wants to talk about the triumvirate of Soak, Katharine Philippa and Rosie Carney and the emergence of some of the greatest Irish talent ever. The music fan in me is merely delighted.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, Ten - Midnight
Al Jackson - It Ain't Gonna Be Like That
Patterson Hood - Better Off Without That (PIAS)
Paul Banks - Arise Awake (Matador)
Don Was - Profile
Silences - James (white)
Balthazar - The Oldest Of Sisters (PIAS)
Hightower Brothers - Come By Here ( )
Rosie Carnie - What You Have Been Waiting For (white)
Martin Rossiter - Let The Waves Carry You (Drop Anchor)
The Penelopes - Now Now Now (Pour Le Monde)
Joe Brown - Ace Of Spades (Joe Brown)
Aaron Shanley - My Favourite Secret (Love Gum)
J Shogren - Thief River Falls River Thief (Jaha)
Wanda Jackson - What Do You Do When You're Lonesome (Sugar Hill)
Kevin Doherty - Poor Boys (white)
John Handy - Hard Work (Impulse)
Soak - Fingers Crossed (white)
J Shogun - Place To Breathe (Jaha)
Patterson Hood - Come Back Little Star (PIAS)
Bill Fay - Cosmic Concerto (Dead Oceans)
Peter Gabriel - Don't Give Up (Real World)
Nosaj Thing - Eclipse / Blue (Other Hand)
Terri Hooley and the Lord Mayor were in cahoots this afternoon on Hill Street. It was the former site of the old Harp Bar, punk headquarters and a dive bar that was once frequented by the Official IRA and visiting strippers. The meeting was convened to unveil a plaque, celebrating Terri's achievements and to mark the community of bands, people and ideals that had taken seed there in 1978. A journalist asked me what it had been like in the Harp and I told her that it smelt of armpit and sick, that the toilets were terrifying and that the squaddies used to stand at the back, watching the bands, cradling their rifles. Altogether a bit rock and roll.
Terri was on the right side of unruly, making inappropriate jokes and prompting some creative backchat from the Mayor. There was some heckling from the old punks in attendance and a rocking version of 'Big Time' by Brian Young from Rudi. We had fun again.
'Over The Rainbow' is as beautiful and as affecting as you want it to be. Judy Garland does it quietly but with transcendental stardust. Jerry Lee Lewis steers it close to danger and despair. There's a Gene Vincent rendition that breaks your heart, weirdly and makes Eva Cassidy and her mitherings quite redundant. Likewise that fella with the ukulele. I recall a completely bonkers version by the Virgin Prunes in the mid Eighties. However, I do like to hear the way The Checkers take it to doo wop heaven in 1952. The baritone rocks, the intro moves your soul and the bluebirds are infused with the boogie. Human voices carry most of the song, but the saxophone is wisely enlisted and several minutes in, your troubles melt like lemon drops.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, ten - midnight
BB King - Jump With You Baby (Prestige)
Madness - My Girl 2 (Lucky Seven)
Dead Fingers - Rings Around Saturn (Affairs Of The Heart)
Malojian - Often Wondered (ATL session track)
Fantasy Rainbow - Condominium (Heist)
The Frank And Walters - That's Life (Fifa)
Joshua James - Surrender (INR)
Foxygen - Shuggie (Jagajuar)
Madness - Never Knew Your Name (Lucky Seven)
Eugene McGuinness - Sugarplum (Domino)
Sparks - Number One Song In Heaven (Repertoire)
Fimber Bravo - Orisha Brazil (Moshi Moshi)
The Checkers - Over The Rainbow (King)
Calexico - Epic (City Slang)
Beth Orton - Call Me The Breeze (Anti)
Little Rivers - Little Lea (white)
Willie Mason - I Got Gold (Fiction)
Scotty Moore Trio - Have Guitar Will Travel (Famous Flames)
Knoxville Morning - Knoxville Morning (Firstborn Is Dead)
David Bowie - Wild Is the Wind (EMI)
Hiss Golden Messenger - Row (Blackmaps)
Little Rivers - I Hope In Colour (white)
Tracey Thorn - Joy (Strange Feeling)
Little Annie And Baby Dee - State Of Grace (Tin Angel)
If I could do some time travel in the name of rock and roll, I might opt for Bob Dylan, 1961, Greenwich Village. I would follow him around the Café Wha and the Gaslight, across Washington Square and Gerde's Folk City. I would witness this ambitious boy from the mid-west, learning how to work his songs, to create drama and humour, to move a subculture and to swiftly grow into that immense, maddening talent.
Until the time travel machine is beta tested, I will console myself with yet another Soak gig. I've seen her maybe eight times this year and it's always an event. Each time, Bridie gets more confident in her own skin, she allows those songs to grow more splendid while the audience is increasingly wowed.
This most recent occasion is an all-ages gig in Belfast and she nails it, hilariously. "I normally play for elderly people," she quips. Meaning us folks at the back. However, near the front, there's a circle of her peers, intent on each word, emotionally connected to the words about moving schools and losing dear friends.
There's a brand new tune, apparently without a title, that sketches out the pure shiver of a close relationship. There's an "embryo" song called 'Forget' that also trails the extremes of love. And she closes with a version of Bon Iver's 'I Can't Make you Love Me' that is delivered with sheer authority and heart.
We play a game of 'spot the record company guy'. Maybe five of them here tonight. They have the mannered haircuts, the expensively downbeat jeans and the body posture of music biz ennui. A few of them have sharpened up considerably by the end of the night and well they should. You see, this kind of potential only rarely announces itself. And right now, this is Soak, before the deluge.