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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Dougie MacLean September 20, 2014

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It had to be a Scottish artist this weekend, so I had a rummage , wondered how a Rod Stewart CD had ended up in the house, skipped The Proclaimers, Simple Minds, The Jesus and Mary Chain , Big Country , The Blue Nile, Trashcan Sinatras and others ….. and ended up with Dougie MacLean.
I gather his “Caledonia” was used by The ‘Yes’ side of the recent Scottish Referendum and many of you will be familiar with the Dolores Keane version from The best selling “A Woman’s Heart”. Many moons ago he was a member of The Tannahill Weavers and briefly Silly Wizard. There has been a Dougie MacLean Festival running in Perthshire since 2005. He has performed with different artists over the course of each Festival. The Fesival Website
He is not just a fine singer ,guitarist and composer but also a noted Traditional Scottish Fiddler, Indeed the first tune here is his composition “The Gael” which was used in the film “The Last of The Mohicans”.

This Weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… Siouxsie and the Banshees. September 13, 2014

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Siouxsie and the Banshees, pop, goth, rock, new wave, more than a hint of dance, punk. All of those and more. Ploughing a deeply individual musical path from the late 1970s and as a solo artist effectively to the present day. Their/her roots firmly in punk but somehow managing to move on a very clear trajectory away from that while never in any way disowning that history.

And with that so much to choose from in that career. The early singles – for Siouxsie was very much a chart group? They’re great raw artefacts from post-punk, though the lyrics are on occasion… troubling. Later material which saw her move in what she might term pop, but few of the rest of us would? Fascinating and compelling in their own way.

But for my money the years 1983 through to 1986 were a particular high point. Here her/their sound was consolidated, moving beyond the simplicity and vital rigour of the early material into a more experimental, thoughtful area. A Kiss in The Dreamhouse from 1982 clearly reflects that dynamic, but Hyaena and Tinderbox, released in 1984 and 1986 respectively, are for me the quintessential Siouxsie releases. There the blend is just right, great singles such as ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Cities in Dust’ matched by equally strong album tracks such as ‘Belladonna’ (with a fabulous skittering percussion and almost early New Order bassline and oddly joyous chiming chorus) ‘Cannons’ and ’92 Degrees’ (note the sample taken from 50s SF film ‘It Came from Outer Space’ and it’s proto-Fields of the Nephilim guitars). And surely covering ‘Dear Prudence’ was a massive statement of intent (just to be absolutely clear, the single wasn’t on the vinyl version of Hyaena, but was added later in a CD age – to good effect).

Actually I tend to view these albums, albeit two years apart as being of a piece. This isn’t to say they’re identical, Hyaena is denser, more layered, more tricky – less immediate and arguably the better of the two. By contrast Tinderbox is sparser, poppier, more airy (and yet on tracks like ‘The Sweetest Chill’ there’s a hint of Cocteau Twin’s or a seductive moodiness as on ‘Land’s End’) though I’ll happily skip past ‘This Unrest’ any day. And yet there’s a definable aesthetic thread, something that nods to Goth while not being subsumed by it. I’ve often thought that they’d make a great double album with a little judicious editing, and that on the Tinderbox side.

Throughout there’s that unique pop element that Siouxsie (and the Cure, and a number of other post-punk groups) managed to make much their own transiting from that aforementioned stark rigour of their origins into something decidedly different while somehow retaining its essence. With Robert Smith it was, perhaps, the bleakness of vision even as the melodies spun and circled in ever more cheerful ways, for Siouxsie it was in that remarkable voice, stentorian at times – to the point that it sometimes wanders away from the melody entirely, at other times whisper soft. But always her voice.

It’s interesting that Smith’s name comes up, because he was in effect a member of the Banshees for Hyaena, and despite his – ahem – primary role as guitarist with them his influence is evident in the profusion of keyboards that fill in the background of this quite guitar oriented album – check out ‘Dazzle’, surely one of their greatest songs. But it is to do a disservice to Siouxsie and the rest of the group, Budgie on drums, Steve Severin on bass and John Valentine on guitars on Tinderbox, to see this as simply an artefact of his personality. His input may deepen the sound but no more so than the direction Siouxsie was taking it in anyway. He had long left by the time Tinderbox emerged and perhaps that explains the tauter sound. Worth noting that Steve Severin had begun to dabble in electronics in addition to bass on the latter album, something that can be heard in quite a number of tracks as a backing element.

I’ve already mentioned other projects of hers, and it’s remarkable to think of how she has so seemingly easily sustained a career that has spanned five, count ‘em, five decades.

Dazzle (video, with ad before it)

Dazzle (no video and no ad).

Blow the House Down

Belladonnna

Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man

Dear Prudence

Cities in Dust

92 Degrees

Cannons

The Sweetest Chill

Land’s End

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Imagine Dragons September 6, 2014

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Children….. they take over car radios, car tape players, car CD players… Over the years I’ve been forced to listen to Nursery Ryhme tapes , Tapes with Nellie The Elephant and other classics like The Grand Old Duke Of York, Jack And Jill, Old McDonald and so on. In the early days with the tapes you’d have to constantly rewind a certain song too. The CD came in and they had to listen to the same song over and over again. Then you arrive somewhere and they wouldn’t leave the car until the song was finished!
From the nursery rhymes to stories on CD, then a fascination with musicals. “Annie”, “Bugsy Malone”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Oliver” and many more all played constantly.
Then they developed their own taste in music …… Much of it isn’t my cup of tea but a while back my son got Imagine Dragons ‘Night Visions’ CD and pretty soon it made its way to the car. Its quite good, maybe I’m skewed from years of listening to dross in the car , but its certainly the best of my Childrens current music tastes.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Helen Love – the Radio Hits August 30, 2014

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Long live the UK music scene Long live the UK music scene Long live the UK music scene
Each night I get down on my knees And say, hey God, I can’t believe We’re losing the UK music scene
Hey, all you kids, there’s a fab new sound So put your Nintendos and PlayStations down ‘Cos Chris Evans and Shed Seven will save the UK music scene
Hey, Johnny Cigarettes and Steven Wells Don’t get upset, your paper will still sell
Chris Evans and Shed Seven will save the UK music scene.

Cynical, humorous, clever… yep, that’ll be Helen Love, the almost all woman group from Wales (founder members being Helen, Sheena, Roxy and Mark), formed in the early 1990s, who seamlessly melded Ramones inflected punk and bubblegum pop into indie pop. And it is pop, speeding by in two and three minute increments, with great hook laden arrangements.

Conveniently, their first three albums were essentially compilations of EPs and so on, the Radio Hits Compilations. The title, is, as is the way with such things, a humorous reflection on the small fact that many of these never came near being radio hits, no, not one, though they should have in an ideal world. But that hasn’t stopped them having a long and fruitful and continuing career. Favourites of John Peel, they also played with Joey Ramone – subject of their early song (Sheena’s in Love With) Joey Ramone. He also sang on one of their records and Helen Love sang backing vocals on one track on his solo album.

Radio 1 pulls together their early EPs and singles. Check out Rollercoasting which is a love letter to music. Radio Hits 2 and 3 are no less brilliant, the latter including “Beat Him Up” which is feminist, ironic, deeply serious and utterly to the point about violence against women perpetrated by men. When they sing ‘Girl Power’ as a refrain in the opening bars of “Formula One Racing Girls” … it’s knowing and cynical, but it’s also somehow genuine. And if the instrumentation (and composition) is nowhere near as crude as some reviewers make out, well, that’s all for the good because however much they love the Ramones they aren’t the Ramones, but something different again – those tinny keyboards and choppy guitars notwithstanding.

Did they improve across the albums? Well, the production certainly toughened up, and so did the guitars, and there was an increasing dance/electronic tinge to keyboards (Jump Up and Down, Atomic Bea Boy, Big Pink Candyfloss Haircut and so on), but in essence it wasn’t so much an improvement – or that much of a real change – as a redefinition (and some, like myself, will find the dance remixes entertaining).

You might think that if you have Radio Hits, 1, 2 and 3 you have as much Helen Love as you might ever need. This though would be a mistake for they have released subsequent albums right up to the present day, all of which are well worth a listen. Indeed, I’m always struck by how many tunes they have managed to wrest from what seems like an incredibly constrained format. There’s the intro to Girl About Town, or listen to “Greatest Fan” and there’s a chunk of the Go! Club’s joyous melancholy, the tinny keyboards, the summery vocals, the muted guitars, the… well, it’s all there.

Cool.

Beat Him Up

Punk Boy (with Joey Ramone – natch!)

Formula One Racing Girls

Girl About Town

Diet Coke Girl

Rockaway Beach For Me, Heartbreak Hotel For You

Jump and Down

Shifty Disco Girl

We Love You

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Music from ‘Grease’ August 23, 2014

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A few weekends ago there was an Outdoor Cinema put on by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in Marlay Park. I was given a choice …….. “Dirty Dancing” on the Saturday night or “Grease” on the Sunday night. I opted for “Grease”.
I came home from The Limerick Kilkenny match in Croke Park, dried out a bit and off the family plus German exchange student went. The ground was sodden in places but armed with rain gear a groundsheet , an umbrella and some shopping bags , a flask and picnic we found a spot. I was surprised at the amount of equipment some people had brought along, fold up chairs, tents, tents open on one side, big thick plastic sheets to make bivouacs and lots more besides. The best one I saw was a crowd who on arrival each got into a big black bin bag, sat on the ground and then covered themselves in a tarpaulin.
I’d seen ‘Grease’ performed as a school musical before but as the movie came on I realised that I’d never seen the movie before. I would have been too young at the time and my older sister would have seen it in the Cinema or in the school hall where they showed year old films on Friday afternoons. I saw some great films in the school hall over the years …. and “Abba The Movie” !!
The music in ‘Grease’ was good and Travolta could really move. “Summer NIghts” and “You’re the one that I want” (which as 8 and 9 year olds myself and my brother though went ‘you’re the wibbleawong’ ) which was number 1 in the charts for an eternity. It was also one of the first videos on Top of The Pops.
I hadn’t realised either that Stockard Channing was in the movie.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Chrome Hoof August 16, 2014

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Prog, punk, soul, dance, electronica, metal, experimental chamber rock orchestral tracks – it must be Chrome Hoof. They’ve been around since 2000, and were established by Leo and Milo Smee, the former of whom is a member of the late and very lamentedCathedral, purveyors of doom metal, who themselves took a prog turn (though not too much of one) an album or two back. Their sound is eclectic and filled out by trumpet, bassoon, saxophone, violin, viola and more. There’s a crossover with some personnel having been in Knifeworld and associated groups.

So if you think they’re like Cathedral, well, they ain’t. Their latest album, released last year, Chrome Black Gold, is to my ears amazing. As noted on emusic, by having a range of female lead vocalists, including Chantal Brown and Shingai Shoniwa of the very excellent Noisettes it ‘offer (s)a defiantly un-macho take on prog, traditionally the hoariest of rock sub-genres’.

Sure, there’s the straight ahead prog of When Lightening Strikes, until the point where Shoniwa steps in and suddenly it’s not straight ahead prog at all. There’s Knopheria which surely must be a disco hit in another universe completely (and those of us partial to Cathedral may recognise one familiar keyboard sound in it). Tortured Craft reminds me just a little of Rip, Rig and Panic, and is none the worse for it. Instrumental Kestrel Dawn comes over initially as a sort of electropop/EBM before… before… before… what might be a beefier take on hauntology, meets some prog and then fades out – all in the space of a minute and forty eight seconds. Varkada Blues has fantastic doom rock vocals, from I’m presuming Leo Smee, tricksy keyboards, a great female vocal which wanders in from another song entirely but is entirely appropriate to the track and ends in neat electronica and Exo-Spektral is strange and great, a weird cross between ELO, Siouxsie and Kurt Weill. It’s that kind of an album.

Highly, highly recommended.

Nopheria (ft. Shingai Shoniwa)

When Lightning Strikes (Live)

Kestrel Dawn

Tortured Craft

Varkada Blues

When Lightning Strikes

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Tower Of Babel August 9, 2014

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Tower of Babel were a Goth band from Dublin that were around from 1986 to 1989. The wonderful Fanning Sessions has a 1988 Session up on the site and that prompted me to go atticwards to see if I could find the bands first single which I have. There was no luck , so hopefully it is still in my Mothers attic.
I found a few bits on youtube but like many long gone Irish bands they had a Soundcloud page. I must have seen them at some stage as I wouldn’t have bought the single otherwise. I may have seen them in McGonagles , I wouldn’t have been a goth although I had a few friends that were. So I must have been persuaded to go along by them.
Were there many Irish Goth bands? and did any of them have any success?

Tower of Babel have a great flickr page of images which contains pictures of gigs , press coverage etc.
Their Soundcloud page , where some of these tracks came from :)

Oh and I also came upon this site whilst searching for Tower of Babel material which may be of interest to some of you.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Queen Adreena August 2, 2014

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Never a big fan of Daisy Chainsaw, their crazed indie/garagey/polite punk thing wasn’t bad, but it didn’t feel… solid. Too much of a construct, too much of a filling in of one tiny sliver of the musical pie… too considered. But, then what happened. They went away and reformed in all but name as Queen Adreena (later Queenadreena) and while according to more or less the same musical template somehow they were simply better.

Perhaps it was because singer Katie Jane Garside took over lyric writing duties, or perhaps because there was an interval of a good half decade and more. Sure, there were echoes of PJ Harvey and others, but Garside’s voice was all her own and Crispin Gray’s guitar lines provided crisp garage rock scribbles that underpinned the individual songs.

So, what about Taxidermy, their first album? Opener Cold Fish typifies much of their sound: great circular riffs that fade in and out, with added Jimmy Page style sliding swathes of sound borrowed/appropriated from Whole Lotta Love. All the while Katie Jane Garside sings and whispers above it. Soda Dreamer uses a finger snapping rhythm that stops and restarts with squalls of guitar before the vocals appear and Garside’s ability to switch from abrasive to smooth is put to particularly good use. I Adore You sums that up even more perfectly, an almost inevitable choice for a single with its twisting sub-metallic riff.

And there are nice touches throughout, from the multi-tracked vocals on Yesterday’s Hymn to the rearranged traditional air on Pretty Polly (a gloomy little tale of murder – natch). Yemaya slides along on a soft fuzz of feedback and not a lot more. X’ing Off the Days is almost Zeppelin in its approach, albeit a lot speedier and with the addition of breathy, sometimes breathless vocals.

They released a number of other albums that didn’t radically alter the template before finally breaking up at the end of the 2000s and with Garside pursuing a solo (and collaborative) career.

Throughout there is more than a hint of goth in all this – though more Bat Cave goth of the early 1980s than the later excess of the Sisters of Mercy et al. In other words a goth, or proto-goth, anchored to that point where a tranche of post-punk encountered what Siouxsie, early Cure and others were doing, liked what they heard and ran with it – Garside’s public and performative persona certainly locked right into that proto-goth/art school area – for better and worse. Indeed there’s a studied quality to this, for all the abandon, which may for some be a significant failing, and fair enough. But, I’m reminded of Christgau’s review of Boston’s second album where for all the precision of the guitars and the arrangements he found sufficient corruption in the work to make it interesting.

I Adore You

X’ing Off the Days

Yemaya

Soda Dreamer

Cold Fish

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Rubyhorse July 26, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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In the mid 90’s I lived in Cork for a period. Rubyhorse were a Cork band just releasing their first album. One of my co workers knew one of them and I went to see them live a few times and bought the Album ‘A Lifetime In One Day’. The Album was good, although they were better live.”Horses” and “Touch and Go” were two particular favourites. They were big enough in Cork but hadn’t been heard of much in Dublin.
Their lead singer , David Farrell, was the ultimate showman, Cork and cocky he had an incredible stage presence. He was so confident he was almost dislikeable but worked the stage well.
In 1997 , rather than relocate to London as many Irish bands had done, they moved to Boston in the US and started again from scratch. They built up a following there got signed to a major label (Interscope) and moved to LA. They recorded an album that was never released….. and split from the label.
They toured the US for a number of years and performed on The David Letterman show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. They split in 2004. In their time in the US they released four albums ‘Rise’, ‘Any Day Now’, ‘Goodbye To All That’ and ‘How Far Have You Come?’.
They did some renunion gigs in Cork recently.
Their Facebook Page

The first album ‘A Lifetime In One Day’ is available to Stream on Grooveshark
“Fell On Bad Days”

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Cocteau Twins, EPs from 1985 July 19, 2014

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Ah, the Cocteau’s. What a group, and how typical of the 1980s, able to construct their own defined musical and aesthetic universe, seemingly detached from all that had come before or would come after (though, that last is perhaps arguable). They seem to me to fit into a line of groups, the Jesus and Mary Chain are another, and perhaps Echo and the Bunnymen on a good day a third, who simple were, as if they came into being perfectly formed at that one point in time. Treasure was… well… a treasure. Overplayed, surely. What album purchased before the advent of CDs, and in particular digital download, wasn’t? There was less music, or at least less obtainable music, and truth is less money and you made do with what you got, be it Easterhouse EPs or BFG singles and if they weren’t much cop, well, you probably weren’t going to admit that quite as readily then as now. Indeed there’s academic papers to be written about genre loyalty, and how it existed in such a curiously defined way back then and… like… where the hell did that go?

I never heeded it that much, and nor did any whose musical tastes and opinions I knew then and respected, or now, come to think of it. Music is music and the good stuff is everywhere and the bad stuff is everywhere too.

But there’s no question that – say 1984 or 1985, the predominance of certain forms of what we now, unfortunately, call indie but then was post-punk, was remarkable. And there was album after album just simply great music appearing in a way that wasn’t matched – for my money, until the early to mid-1990s and the rise of electronica, IDM, and perhaps tangentially drum’n’bass (though hip hop was an early precursor of this overall trend).

Which is where the Cocteau’s came in. This seamless sound, opaque vocals, chiming guitars, echoes and more echoes and all of it carried off with a sort of confidence that undercut any questions of pretension. They released three EPs in 1985, each encapsulating their approach. And what I find interesting is that I like the group a lot better now than I did then. Sure, I liked them, I got that Treasure was great and did indeed overplay it, but they were always just a bit too much, whereas now at this remove they sound genuinely remarkable – perhaps recontextualised by all those who they influenced and in turn influenced others again. That said I never stopped liking the EPs perhaps because the shorter format suited them better.

Liz Fraser’s voice was indeed beautiful, but it was a beauty rooted in the anger of punk itself and is sometimes difficult to listen to, both complementary and grating – which is as it should be. Listen to the yelps and barks she emits on Quisquose from Aikea-Guinea, or on Melonella from the Echoes in A Shallow Bay EP. And then listen to Pale Clouded White with guitars that stretch behind the choral sounds and simple vocal melodies. That too, that sense of dissonance fading into melody also came from punk. This might be goth, at a stretch, but it was goth opened up, widening to the horizon, not limited by sub-Joy Division retreads. That last may be slightly unfair, but it’s not, I’d guess entirely inaccurate.

Aikea-Guinea, the title track from the EP of the same name works perfectly. Kookaburra, if overly mannered vocally, even for a group where overly mannered vocals were all, surges on. Rococo, a neat and powerful instrumental harks back to Garlands and their own Joy Division influenced phase. The Tiny Dynamine EP contains Pink Orange Red, Cocteau Twins by numbers – that reverbed strummed beginning, and then almost shouted chorus, with a lovely guitar melody underpinning it – until one remembers that this was from … There was no by the numbers for it to be compared to. Ribbed and Veined is… chunky… high pitched guitar notes cascading downwards against an almost cinematic percussion, as if it were the soundtrack to a film. Plain Tiger has a typically convoluted vocal line, that folds in on itself and then opens out again.

And I throw in Millimillenary just ‘cos it may well be my favourite of all their songs. It was released on The Pink Opaque compilation in 1985 but had been written a number of years earlier when Simon Raymonde arrived in the group.

Special word, as with Lush some years later, has to be mentioned as regards the physicality of their EP and albums, the designed materials accompanying and framing them. Vaughan Oliver’s genuinely luscious visual and typographic solutions.

Actually all that in mind in a way, I’d argue that they went on too long. There was a sense that by the late 1980s the project was flagging, the albums becoming if not predictable somehow less transcendent. And it’s impossible to apportion blame. That just happens. Fraser has essentially retired from music, Guthrie continues, but none of his solo albums have reached the heights of these compositions (though, in all fairness, I should namecheck a fantastic album he did with Harold Budd entitled Before the Day Breaks from 2007).

Aikea-Guinea (Aikea-Guinea)

Kookaburra (Aikea-Guinea)

Pink Orange Red (Tiny Dynamine)

Plain Tiger (Tiny Dynamine)

Melonella (Echoes in A Shallow Bay) – by the way check out the lyrics.

Pale Clouded White (Echoes in A Shallow Bay)

Millimillenary

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