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.
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Once there were the Field Mice, and very fine they were too, Sarah Records mainstay, feminist, thoughtful, rather sad, with hints and more than hints of New Order mixed in with their guitar pop.
And then there weren’t. But Field Mice alumni Bob Wratten and Annemari Davies regrouped as Northern Picture Library with drummer ark Dobson. NPL were a bit heavier on the electronica. And they stopped too. After which Trembling Blue Stars were unleashed upon the world with initially much the same line-up – the name copped from the Story of O, so it is said.
Now, it’s fair to say that there was never a great deal of difference in their sound. They often remind me of a Disco Inferno who instead of diving headlong into experimentation and making occasional forays into pop (of a sort) decided to keep a foot in a more melodic camp with very occasional forays into experimentation.
One notable aspect of all these groups has been the strain of melancholy that runs through them. But rarely has solitude, regret and melancholy sounded so attractive. Bob Wratten may well be a man who needs to get out more, but given what he and his comrades have produced perhaps it’s as well he doesn’t.
Beth Arzy came on board as bassist and across a number of albums provided lead vocals on an increasing number of tracks.
The “Last Holy Writer” from 2007, which while a late entrant in their canon demonstrates that a group can provide something close to a classic at any point in their career. but… if he and Arzy and the rest of the group can fashion songs so perfectly on note as these perhaps it’s as well he doesn’t. Arzy’s vocals both lead and backing are crystal clear, precise and cooly emotional.
And Wratten and Arzy clearly understand that albums like this need light and shade and speed as well as reflection. So it is that we are offered the New Order inflected pop/dance of This Once Was An Island, or the slower Darker, Colder, Slower or the bitter sweet almost Church-like jangle pop of November Starlings, and that’s just for starters. Idyllwild is kind of joyous. Mileage may vary on the, by now, characteristic dabbling in dance and techno. Personally I always liked that part of their output but others may disagree.
There’s a soft countryish tug to some of the melodies, not least the closer, A Statue to Wilde. It is heartening to see that Arzy and Wratten are back with a new outfit, Lightning in A Twilight Hour, this very month and are releasing new material under a new label.
This Once Was An Island
Darker Colder Slower
A Statue to Wilde
Left Archive: Sinn Féin Today, c.1987(?), Sinn Féin March 9, 2015Posted by WorldbyStorm in Sinn Féin, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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To download the above please click on the following link. SF TODAY
Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.
This short three page document is typewritten. It is undated, but given mention of the ‘Hillsborough Deal’ in the text it would appear to date from the late-1980s.
It suggests that:
SF has a leading role in the struggle to establish a 32 Democratic Socialist Republic. Its role is vital to achieve that goal and therefore it is just as important as the role of the volunteers engaged in armed struggle – neither can win without the other. What is this vital role that Sinn Féin has?
And it answers that question by addressing it in the context of ‘The 6 counties’, ‘The 26 counties and ‘The 32 counties’.
Notable is how it presents itself:
By its presence on the ground and in elections SF has challenged the S.D.L.P. voice as the voice representing the wishes of the nationalist people. This is of great importance in the propaganda war – and guerrilla war is really a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people – so it is vital to speak out in sport o the armed struggle.
But it also notes:
On the international level the SF electoral victories have destroyed the British strategy of criminalisation and normalisation. The Hunger Strike made this possible but without SF electoral victories the effects of the Hunger Strikes would be quickly forgotten – think back to the emotional wave that followed Bloody Sunday and how we failed to harness it.
It also suggests that ‘SF spokespersons from the 6 counties are constantly giving interviews on TV and to magazines and papers from all over the world, explaining the situation in Ireland and exposing the lies of British and Dublin propaganda about it being a sectarian conflict.’
It also argues that that ‘a no less important result of a strong SF presence on the ground in that the isolation of the IRA is made impossible’. And it suggests that ‘the presence of SF elected representatives on the Councils in the 6 Counties has effectively ended local government because of the Loyalist reaction to them’. And it further suggests that this presence destablised the British presence and ‘produced the Hillsborough Deal… [which] is an attempt to stabilise a rapidly worsening situation by drawing in the SDLP and Dublin behind the British in looking for an internal political solution… so SF has effectively destabilised the whole thing. Of course it could only have been done in the situation created and maintained by the armed struggle’.
The brief section on the 26 counties includes the following:
The net effect is to produce a more nationalist outlook even in political parties or organisations like trade unions who might have otherwise taken a Workers Party line’.
Some intriguing thoughts too on Sinn Féin in the 32 Counties, albeit truncated due to the short space afforded them.
In some respects it is an unusual document, and it is not clear if it is intended for general distribution or some internal education function. Any assistance on its provenance would be very welcome.
This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Waulking Songs March 7, 2015Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
Last Sunday night I got into the car after seeing The Gloaming in the NCH, such was the sheer brilliance of their performance there was a debate between myself and my son if we should turn on the radio. You know when you have just been at a magical gig and you want to keep the sounds as fresh in your mind as possible… often you get into a taxi and theres some awful tripe on the radio spoiling your mood. Either way I won and we switched on RTE Radio 1. What was only only a documentary by David Attenborough about making a programme on Folk music in the 50’s for the BBC (alas it is no longer online). It was fascinating stuff as he had worked with Alan Lomax on the show. We drove home to the sounds of Ewan McColl, Margaret Barry and Waulking songs from the Outer Hebridies.
Waulking is the working of the Tweed mainly carried out by the islands women. I was captured by the rhythm of the tweed being waulked as the rhythm for the songs. They are almost universal in that you could imagine some of the songs being Native Americans or indeed any other ethnic songs. I’ve also included a number of Waulking songs being sung in an instrumental environment. The eagle eyed among you may spot Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh of The Gloaming in the second last clip here.