Once upon a time long long before they became the go to outfit for Celtic mystic atmospherics and had all the big name collaborations and special appearances Clannad produced albums like this – Dúlamán, their third album, released in 1976. They might not be the Ramones or the Pistols, but mighty fine they were in their own way: albums filled with spare traditional standards, beautifully produced and performed. And yet with an odd undercurrent. Cumha Eoghain Rua Uí Néill (Lament For Owen Roe) typifies this strand, albeit the guitars are perhaps that bit more emphatic than might be expected.
And therein lies the fascination of this album for me, the way the title track- surely one of their finest moments – has something of their future in its vocals and arrangements, particularly the central part and the end which nod to (then) contemporary folk and rock. It reminds me of what Robert Christgau once observed about the second Boston album, that there was some hint of corruption of the form that pushed it beyond the purely formalistic. To me that’s a strength rather than a weakness and the proof seems to me to be the effortless way they blend the styles together. I won’t overstate it. Such excursions were far from unknown in groups then and now.
But the approach is replicated to a greater or lesser extent on track after track. Two Sisters, with lilting vocals that are just about crystal clear and which within a minute or so pushes in a more muscular direction. Or what of the multi tracked wordless vocals that open Éirigh Suas A Stóirín (Rise Up My Love) and the genuinely lovely instrumental arrangement of the song – is it too much of a stretch to suggest someone had been listening closely to CSN and those of that ilk?
The Galtee Hunt also moves from traditional music in a more folk direction fairly sharpish. This pattern is evident in many of the tracks, Éirigh is Cuir Ort Do Chuid Eadaigh (Dress Yourself) where semi-instrumental passages arrive about half-way through. It’s as if a subtly different aesthetic is smuggled into the music. The rhythm guitar on Mo Mháire is yet another example.
A lot to like here.
Éirigh Suas A Stóirín (Rise Up My Love)
Éirigh is Cuir Ort Do Chuid Eadaigh (Dress Yourself)
Cumha Eoghain Rua Uí Néill (Lament For Owen Roe)
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Three Years ago I popped up some songs from my days in a band.. . Well I have some more and it’s weird because I hadn’t listened to them at all in the past year but was prompted during the week to give them a listen again…. and sure if you lot wont listen to me nobody will :)
Some of it is shite but funnily enough the ones I think are shite, other people have thought that they were less shite.
The beleaguered population of the United Kingdom? Well, the Tories back, again. A supine centrist LP. Murmurs and more of the UK breaking up. It’s just like the late 1970s all over again.
What better time for a documentary on The Damned – punk survivors, but more than that? And here is the trailer…
Doesn’t it look great? And so it should because the Damned released the first British punk single, released the first punk album, were the first British punk group to tour the US. And yet others tend to have a greater prominence. It’s difficult to quite explain this. The documentary suggests that they should have released one album and had one of their number die.
I can’t help but think that it was a mixture of the sense they were messers (the names of various members Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible spoke of a sense of humour), that despite or because of the punk, later goth and garage stylings they achieved a fair measure of chart success as something remarkably like a pop group – even became, whisper it, popular… and that yes they stayed the course mostly, surviving and even prospering. And perhaps too their visual style, a most unpunk like tilt towards the melodramatic, Dave Vanian being exhibit A with his Hammer Horror movie look, didn’t help either for those who liked to keep it pure.
Perhaps it also was the duality of their output, particularly early on. There was a rigour to their singles – I Feel Alright being a good example, but also an underlying melodicism. Their first – that historic first punk single in the UK full stop – New Rose, was a perfect blend of rock and roll and punk, a combination of the energies drawn from both sources. But listen to their output as they progress and it was clear that psychedelia, garage, a pinch of prog, proto goth and eventually goth proper and other strands were as, if not more, important.
Messers they might be, and messers they were, but they could play – Vanian’s voice was great with a range that covered punk, crooning, goth, whatever – and they clearly had ambitions beyond the often self-imposed constraints of punk. Perhaps too it was that in some ways those ambitions were quite traditional. Look at that list again, psychedelia, garage, prog, goth and so on. It’s not that they never used sequencers – their goth phase and before saw them couple their sound to some fairly rigid beats, but when you’re releasing a cover of Alone Again Or in the late 1980s it’s fairly clear that your vision is one positioned firmly in a certain context. And perhaps that’s it, they didn’t go the post-punk route, not at all. They remained a rock group.
But what a rock group. It’s difficult to pick out individual albums. Damned Damned Damned was an abrasive burst of punk – guitarist Brian James, later of the entertaining and often excellent Lords of the New Church with Stiv Bator, brought a certain tortured aspect to the group on tracks like Feel The Pain. Roughly produced, raw, elemental, these are key document from the front line of punk.
But tellingly their next album, Music For Pleasure was almost an F.U. to punk tropes. Produced by – of all people – Nick Mason of Pink Floyd (and with an intriguingly New Wave styled cover by the peerless Barney Bubbles) it was goodish, perhaps hinting at rather than attaining the potential promise of their sound, but poorly received critically. Machine Gun Etiquette from 1979 had a much stronger welcome, not least due to tracks like Smash It Up and Love Song which seemed to crack the melodic/punk issue perfectly. The Black Album from 1980 was a two disc magnum opus – tinged with proto-goth numbers but not forgetting their punk past (check out the times of the tracks, most are under four minutes). Strawberries was excellent, a sort of distillation of its predecessor. Phantasmagoria was commercial, if by commercial one means a sort of goth pop with tracks like The Shadow of Love, Grimly Fiendish and so on. All tongue in cheek, but given a certain pathos by Vanian’s none more deep vocals. But by now Sensible was long gone and with him a certain oddness that added something intangible but important to the group. That said I’ve still a soft spot for the follow up album Anything, though it’s hardly a masterpiece and was a commercial flop.
An hiatus in the 1990s led to Rat Scabies releasing an album under the Damned name, with Vanian on vocals, though it seems to not be regarded as canon. The late 1990s saw Sensible return and with him Patricia Morrions, late of the Gun Club and Sisters of Mercy and now partner of Vanian. They released a good album Grave Disorder, that pushed back towards their garage/goth roots, and more recently, which is to say seven years ago Vanian and Sensible with assorted accomplices released the even better ‘So, Who’s Paranoid?’
Actually I’ve never seen them as an albums band really. Years ago I got The Light at the End of the Tunnel two disc/tape/CD compilation best of and while I’ve acquired a fair few of the individual albums subsequently it never struck me as a bad testament to the group – spanning the Brian James years, the Captain Sensible and post Captain Sensible period and on up to their surprising return to the charts in the mid to late 1980s. Indeed the sense of them as an excellent singles group comes across loud and clear – and not just singles. All the albums have non-single gems like Stranger on the Town, Disco Man amongst others. That said there are albums I do like, Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album, yeah, even, for all its gloss, Phantasmagoria (look closely at the cover, by the way, you’ll see a jet in the background of the none more gothic cover photograph).
Saw them three times, once in the SFX in 1984 or 1985, later in the Top Hat in 1986 and then in the Music Centre, as was, ten years ago. They were pretty great on all three occasions, though at a push the first and last gigs were most memorable – the latter perhaps because Sensible was back in the fold. They’re still going and I’m looking forward to the documentary. By the by, those interested in their garage/psych roots will probably like a spin-off album released under the name Naz Nomad and the The Nightmares.
Plan 9 Channel 7
Smash It Up
History of the World (Pt. 1)
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde
I Just Can’t Be Happy Today
Stranger on the Town
Shadow of Love
Given that they are in the news I figured that this weekend I’d be listening to some songs about buses. Some good songs in there too. Ironically its on the bus that I listen to most music these days too.
Many moons ago I worked as a bus conductor and there were tape players in the drivers compartment. So if the driver was agreeable my walkman was opened and the bus would be listening to Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, AC DC or some other musical delights. The reaction was generally good , especially at the quieter times of the day.
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It’s not often someone suggests I might like to listen to a group based on the recommendation that they’re a cross between Neu and chamber orchestra and…while… er… some of their stuff is a bit twee that’s okay and I shouldn’t let it put me off. Further investigation uncovers a description of North Sea Radio Orchestra as ‘a small orchestral ensemble led by a married couple’ – not words that would usually be calculated to inspire any great affection on my part. And yet…
That description was taken from a review of the group on BBC which also notes that they ‘have made two previous albums which used poetry by the likes of Chaucer, Hardy and Tennyson instead of pop lyrics. Occasionally sound like the music Oliver Postgate used to backdrop Watch With Mother. They feature a bassoon. North Sea Radio Orchestra really should be smug, boring and irrelevant. So how do they make this stuff so exciting?’
The short answer is probably because Craig and Sharron Fortnam, who are at the heart of the ensemble, cleave to a template pretty much their own – one which is classically inflected, contains elements of folk, electronica and so on but combined in a way that allows those influences to swim in and out of focus sparingly. It’s pared back, resolutely not rock, and all the better for it. The range of references in reviews are interesting, from Vaughn Williams, to Zappa, the Incredible String Band, Neu (natch), Tortoise, Kate Bush and more.
And yes, no surprise that prog has embraced them to its tricksy little heart, not least given that Kavus Torabi and MelanieWoods of Knifeworld and Sidi Bou Said are just some of those who have worked with NRSO previously while there are other connections to Ginger Wildheart, the Cardiacs, and a classical outfit – Instrumental – who cover Orbital and so on.
NSRO’s most recent album (and their third album proper) is I a moon – released in 2011, from which the tracks below are taken. Well worth a listen.
Morpheus Miracle Maker
The Earth Beneath our Feet
Mitte Der Welt
This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Peter Mulvey April 18, 2015Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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It was 15 or so years ago when I first saw Peter Mulvey, he was supporting Chris Smither in Whelans and staying for a few days on a friends floor. He was I think touring his album “The Trouble With Poets” and also had a live CD “Glencree” for sale at the gig too. They are both decent albums and have received plenty of play in my house over the years.
He had quite a distinctive style of guitar playing and a lovely husky voice…. like many artists he fell off my radar until I read that his latest album had been produced by Chuck Prophet (who had a spell in one of my favourite bands ‘Green on Red’). I had a listen and really liked it.
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I first heard Lonelady, aka Julie Campbell, a few years back – she was one of those who contributed to a cover album focusing on Power Corruption and Lies by New Order. She delivered a neatly individual take on Cries and Whispers that frittered away none of the power of the original while somehow sounding more…organic. I include it below because it’s well worth a listen.
In any case, there was something entirely appropriate about that selection. Campbell, who is Mancunian based, produces post-punk and what I’ve seen referenced as post-pop. On a previous album she worked with Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, which again seems appropriate. Tracks like album opener Into the Cave seem to have managed to unearth synth sounds that wouldn’t be amiss on a Japan or Simple Minds track from circa 1981 with percussion and basslines that would be a credit to pretty much any Factory act of the same period. Gang of Four and even Comsat Angels lurk in the wings.
And yet if that suggests that this is a hollow exercise in revivalism that would be very wrong. She is on Warp, and that oddly enough is also appropriate. Because this is a taut and efficient album led by her voice (and guitar) which in parts combines confidence and tremulousness in an oddly individual sort of a way. A track like Bunkerpop is just… well, great. A slab of lost post-punk perfection channelling that specific period while managing to be entirely of the 2010s. Skittering rhythms and sliding keys, soft monotonal synths and that chorus. Groove It Out has great tugging keyboard lines that underpin the end of each chorus hinting and more than hinting at dance… and the way the track begins to almost deconstruct in places merely adds to that impression. And so on, track after track, this is textural, layered, simple but busy. The beats are rapid for the most part, propelling the album through its economic forty seven minutes or so.
There’s so much good music out there that it’s ever increasingly difficult to get a sense of the broad terrain, and that’s even before the listener has to admit to something like defeat in simply keeping up with long held favourites or preferred genres. But it’s albums like this that make it worth the effort.
Into The Cave (Live)
Groove It Out
Cries and Whispers
This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Luka Bloom April 4, 2015Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Barry Moore worked and released a number of albums under his own name before in 1987 he headed off to the US. On stage he became Luka Bloom and in 1990 he released “Riverside” which despite over a dozen albums since, still remains my favourite album of his. The slightly pedaled guitar with an unusual strumming style.I’ve seen him live on countless occasions and he is engaging and witty. He does some unusual covers especially ‘live’ although he has recorded a good few such as a version of U2s ‘Bad’ and LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” . His ‘Keeper of the flame’ album is purely covers.
This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to… The Units March 28, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Until recently I’d never consciously heard of this crowd, a US based – also involved in performance art – early electronic/new wave group who were extant from the late 1970s until 1983. It was only reading this piece here from a 1980s magazine – on a pointless quest to find out how Japan got that sequenced synth bass sound on Quiet Life, and if anyone has any idea how it is done I’d appreciate it – that I read of them.
Wiki, as can be seen above, has some information on them and there’s bits and pieces of their output on the web. YouTube has a good selection of their songs.
First up a caveat or two. The music is often clunky as if they’re not quite sure whether to go new wave or electronic/synth pop, and the production is – at times – different. But that aside there’s some interesting sounds here, with songs that – well, mix electronic/synth pop and new wave.
What’s interesting is that it takes a different route entirely from, say, John Foxx or Gary Numan, though there is more than a hint of Ultravox. In part it is because it is more abrasive. This isn’t the steely and somewhat detached alienation JG Ballard, this is a different sort of alienation entirely, fuelled as much by punk as by 1970s electronic experimentation.
Now some of this is more than a little bit like Talking Heads – which is not necessarily a good thing in my book. But then again it’s early Talking Heads, and that’s a bit better in my book. Go has a cracking synth line. Digital Stimulation is pretty good in an early 1980s style. And then Cowboy sounds weirdly like a demo track from Boards of Canada. And that points up something very curious about the group, there’s plenty of electronic sounds here that sound, for all the dodgy production, remarkably more modern than the release date would suggest. It’s not difficult to see these reworked completely into instrumentals, or near instrumentals – and lo, well read below.
Perhaps not entirely surprisingly they broke up after a horribly misconceived foray into commercial synth pop. But there have been some interesting remixes of their material in subsequent years…
Anyone reading here who remembers them from back in the day?
High Pressure Days
Cannibals (debut single from 1979)
Go + Mission
Warm Moving Bodies
The Units – High Pressure Days (Dynamicron Remix)
This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… The Fat Lady Sings March 21, 2015Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Another Dublin band from the late 80’s and early 90’s (and who later reformed for a while around 2005) were The Fat Lady Sings. I saw them numerous times live and a while back found a recording of one of their concerts in a box of tapes in the attic.The wonderful Fanning Sessions Archive has the very same tape of a concert on their site , it really is worth a listen. Its from The Seven Bands On The Up series which was on in the SFX which I was also at.
“Be Still” and “Arclight” in particular are two of my favourite songs and even my Children like them. Singer Nick Kelly had a certain cool elegance and in the past few years I’ve run into him at formalish occasions but am still too dumbstruck to say how much I admire his music or I suppose even acknowledge that I’m a fan.
They released a good number of singles and two albums ‘Twist’ (1991) and ‘Johnson’ (1993). They broke up in 1994.