Cheers, then 2012. Thank you for revealing the pure talent of Soak and for gifting us with so many of her astonishing gigs. Thank you also for the various premieres and previews of Good Vibrations, at the QFT, the Ulster Hall and Leister Square London. To watch Terri Hooley and the film team take their dues with good humour and grace has been very
special to witness.
It's been a privilege to hear those accomplished records by Bobby Womack and Bill Fay - two senior believers with seemingly little ego, just voices and major grade hearts. And blimey, Dexys came back after a 27 year sojourn and emoted, big style. Nice also to see the emerging skill of Alabama Shakes, Howler, Perfume Genius, Jake Bugg, the Two
Bears and Daughter. In Belfast the Northern Songbook event was stunning, as was Orbital, commanding utter fever at the Ulster Hall. And yes, Springsteen in Austin was a masterclass in rock and roll fortitude.
No Monday Late Show with Stu on Dec 24, but I'll return for New Year's Eve at 10pm, covering many of the musical moments from the above. I also plan to end the show with a very credible act and some bagpipes.
Can I pipe it? Yes, I can.
We lost Joe Strummer ten years ago. He died on December 22 from a congenital heart defect. It could have happened at any time - during one of those ever-intense Clash shows, but instead he was at home after walking the dogs, reading The Observer.
Ten years of reflection and reassessment have not damaged the reputation much. The Chris Salewicz biography showed all of the contradictions and still Joe emerged well. Likewise with the Julian Temple film. I adore that archive moment on stage in America when he's asking for a little hostility from the crowd - just some token of aliveness and humanity. They don't teach that at X Factor, baby. And as I mentioned recently, the recent Danny Garcia film, The Rise And Fall Of The Clash is also a forensic and unforgiving work. Except you forgive him, still.
The music endures and still inspires, but the other body of work is the slogans, the truth attacks, the aphorisms. Each one could give you a lifetime of direction. Namely:
"No input, no output."
"Without people you are nothing."
"Be mythic and prolific."
And the one he co-opted from an un-named source: "Ignore Alien Orders."
Good steers, all of them.
Miss you, fella.
Andy White captured the feeling with a Zen observation some years ago when he noted that "peace is the sound of no helicopters". I've been thinking about the line in recent nights as the sound of the chopper blades return each night to the Belfast sky, muttering into your
dreams and your daytime consciousness. It nags and depresses, sometimes accessorised by a fire engine or ambulance siren. Clear thought is compromised. The bad old days are hatefully reprised.
I'm thinking also of the Simon & Garfunkel recording of 'Silent Night' from 1966. On one level, it was a chance for those impeccable voices to work together. But there was an additional feature on the mix, the sound of an American news broadcaster, Charlie O' Donnell. He was reading out reports on Civil Rights activities, the escalating war in
Vietnam, the death of Lenny Bruce, a heinous murder trial and Martin
Luther King versus the National Guard.
The particulars have changed, but the dread remains. Neither calm, nor bright.
This was the penultimate show of 2012 and therefore a chance to look fondly over some of the tunes that have distinguished this year. The champion selection will go out on New Year's Eve, but that shouldn't be much of a slight on the December 17 set and the wondrous Cat Power, who took an electronic steer to her new music and the 'Ruin' album.
Likewise with Hiss Golden Messenger and the woozy soul twang of MC Taylor. Or Patterson Hood, voice of Drive By Truckers. Or London-based threesome Daughter (that's Elena, Igor and Remi) getting tremulous and
announcing greatness for 2013.
Flaming Lips - a Change At Christmas (Warner)
Bob Dylan - Here Comes Santa Claus (Columbia)
Malojian - I Often Wonder (white)
Haim - Don't Save Me (Polydor)
Bill Fay - profile
Hiss Golden Messenger - Isobel (Black Maps)
The Chieftains, Bon Iver - Down In The Willow Garden (Universal)
AM, Shawn Lee - Dark Into Light (18th St Lounge)
Cat Power - Manhattan (Matador)
Sinead O' Connor - The Wolf Is Getting Married (One Little Indian)
Low - Just Like Christmas (Tugboat)
The Henry Girls - Mr Snowman (white)
Patterson Hood - Better Off Without (PIAS)
First Aid Kit - Emmylou (Wichita)
The Beach Boys -That's Why God Made The Radio (Capitol)
The Time Jumpers - Yodel Blues (Rounder)
Friends - Friend Crush (Lucky Number)
Amadou And Miriam - Dougou Badia (Because)
Daughter - Smother (4ad)
Kevin Doherty - I'm Going Now (white)
Kate And Anna McGarrigle - What Are You Doing New Year's Eve (Nonesuch)
Efterklang - Apples (4ad)
If you're planning a shindig of major proportions, then you might want to reference 'Curious Invitation: The 40 Greatest Parties In Literature'. Pulled together by Suzette Field, the premise is a simple one, but the detail is impressive.
It starts with the ambitions of Trimalchio, the nouveau riche chancer from the Satyricon, who rocked the dinner set during Nero's rule. He was the model for F Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, the momentous striver who though he might impress upper class Daisy with his legendary West Egg throw-downs.
We are also reminded of prime descriptions from Lewis Caroll, Dickens, Jane Austin, and erm, Jackie Collins. There were nights with Belshazzar, the Devil, some hobbits and Winnie the Pooh. Unspeakable things happened in Gravity's Rainbow while The Bonfire Of The Vanities torched so many pretentions.
Serious party planners need to think about zithers, bagpipes, plum puddings, mutton and lamé harem pajamas. Acrobats and the actual suicide of the host are optional, perhaps.
An educated guess would say that Harry Holler is a disguise for Neil
Hannon of The Divine Comedy. The recording of 'One Ear Up One Ear
Down' is a fun pastiche of Johnny Cash in his chicka-boom period, the
narrative of a lost dog in search of a deserving family. And you would
suppose that his backing band the Hooligans has been gathered together
at the behest of Cathy Davey, songwriter of note, partner of Neil and
driver of a new album called 'Oscar The Hypno-Dog (And Other Tails)'.
It's a benefit for the charity Dogs In Distress and so a fine
community of artists has gathered to serve the cause. Lisa Hannigan
works it with Father Ted writer Graham Linehan. Villagers find
exceeding sadness with 'Casey The Wonder Dog' while David Gray and
Sharon Shannon also feature. There's a gig at the Workman's club in
Dublin on December 14 and some happy hours listening to the ruff
Emmy The Great, Tim Wheeler - Marshmallow World (white)
Harry Holler - One Ear Up One Ear Down (Dogs In Distress)
Frank Ocean - Sweet Life (Mercury)
Soak - Trains (Other Voices session)
The Heartbreaks - Hand On Heart (Nusic Sounds)
Our Krypton Son - Fire (white)
Indians - I Am Haunted (4ad)
Band Of Horses - How To Live (Sony)
Master And Dog - Canada (white)
Irma Thomas - Sweet Touch Of Love (Rounder)
Fimber Bravo - The Way We Live Today (Moshi Moshi)
JD McPherson - Twinkle (Decca)
Long Ryders - Looking For Lewis And Clark (Polygram)
The Sand Band - Reason To Believe (Full Time Hobby)
Birds Of Chicago - Trampoline (white)
She And Him - Baby It's Cold Outside (Domino)
Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (CBS)
The Phoenix Foundation - Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep (Full Time Hobby)
Rufus Wainwright - Perfect Man (Universal)
Jeff Buckley - Corpus Christi Carol (Columbia)
Matt McGinn - You Have your Dreams (white)
Frank Ocean - Bad Religion (Mercury)
Tracey Thorn - Joy (Strange Feeling)
The Horrors - Moving Further Away (Andrew Weatherall mix) (XL)
I've had good times with musical literature this year. Mostly it was
with Pat Long and The History Of The NME - a 60 year story that was
funny and peculiar and of its time. The idea of Tony Parsons and Mick
Farren throwing punches in the office over the honour of Julie
Burchill is one that I will never forget. Likewise the accordions, the
jazz and the enormous circulation figures.
Andy Kershaw was angry, unsparing and witty on 'No Off Switch'. His
reading at the Black Box was proof that he's not been softened by
serious times. Nile Rodgers was also in Belfast, and you attended to
hear again that this guy has been royally lost in music, forever. Not
always in a healthy way, but the race has been pursued with tireless
cool. At his Stiff Kitten book launch for Le Freak, he namedropped
with gusto and pictured a night at a Madonna's house, spending the
entire party in the men's room with Mickey Rourke. Blimey. Later, Nile
took to the Mandela Hall stage with Chic and it was such a privilege
to see him, post-cancer, lashing out the hits.
Mike Scott revealed many things in Adventures Of A Waterboy. Of
special interest was the post 1986 steer towards Ireland, when he
abandoned the Big Music in exchange for fiddles, Spiddal and Yeats -
the definitive, raggle taggle excursion. The record companies indulged
a lot of his errant ways, mostly because he had charisma and tunes,
but you feel certain that the budgets would not be so accommodating
Jim McGuinn published a signature collection of photographs -
traditional musicians in their homes, backstage and in transit. Many
of those players have passed on to that session in the sky, and the
sight of those characterful prints on the walls of the Red Barn
Gallery made The Light Of Other days an additional wow.
The book I would recommend above all others is Pulphead by John
Jeremiah Sullivan. It's not a music book as such - more a wide-ranging
collection of essays in the great American magazine style. He's got a
vivid, novelistic way about him that recalls Stanley Booth and Tom
Wolfe. He lights on figures such as Axl Rose and Michael Jackson and
he thinks hard, researches plenty and then comes out with a fresh
illumination. He does the same with Christian rock festivals,
fanatical blues archivists and an electrocuted indie performer who
returns from the dead. Indeed.
It must have been nearly ten years ago that I played a recording of
Mari Jackson singing 'Mercedes Benz', a tune made famous by Janis
Joplin. And I guess I had Mari down as a wailer and a shouter in the
Janis vernacular. But in recent times, her style has softened and
become more subtle. December 3 was the first broadcast of two new
recordings, produced by Mudd Wallace and featuring many of the local
jazzers and session luminaries. The songs were written by Mari and
delivered to a high standard, revealing a more subtle manner. These
days she sounds more like Sarah Vaughan, close-up and understated,
suggesting that you investigate the song, get to know the story and
stay there for the duration.
BBC Radio Ulster, 92-95 FM
Mondays, Ten - Midnight
Small Faces - Sorry She's Mine (Decca)
Mull Historical Society - Xmas Is Here Again (Extra Mile)
Dr John - Revolution (Nonesuch)
Chris Campbell - Inability To (white)
Paul Banks - Young Again (Matador)
Bjork - One Day (One Little Indian)
Telemann - Christina (Moshi Moshi)
Bo Diddley - Mumblin' Guitar (Famous Flames)
Ian Skelly - Time (Watertown)
The Lost Brothers - St Christopher (Lojinx)
Smoke Fairies - If I Were A Carpenter (Fill Time Hobby)
Yeasayer - Second Hand News (Secretly Canadian)
The Rubinoos - 1,2,3 Forever (Beserkley)
Lucero - On My Way Downtown (Loose)
Mari Jackson - Bring It On (white)
Mari Jackson - Unspoken Love (white)
Grizzly Bear - A Simple Answer (Warp)
Glen Hansard - This Gift (Anti)
Fryars - In My Arms (679)
The Henry Girls - December Moon (White)
Bettye LaVette - Time Will Do The Talking (Anti)
Kwes - Rollerblades (Warp)