30 May 2005

A great double-header down the local last night:

Jinx Lennon has to be seen to be believed. It's impossible to describe what this man does, and more so to someone not from this island. Let's just say that, though he plays guitar and sings songs he wrote himself, the label "singer-songwriter" hardly fits him. And though he also uses verse and spoken word, "poet" seems too heavy-handed a description. Sometimes "bingo caller for a new generation" might fit, but the important thing to remember with an artist like this is: once you've applied a label, the next time you look he will have shucked it off and moved on to something entirely different. Jinx Lennon's repertoire is what it is, entirely unique.

You really had to be there, then, to see him play - no doubt you'll get a chance again. By turns Lennon's stuff is funny, scary, bizarre, but most of the time absolutely spot-on. The planet is full of singer-songwriters whose chief ambition seems to be making the opposite sex feel sorry for them. Lennon, who comes from Dundalk, is actually using his talent for a very different purpose, one we're only beginning to glimpse. He writes about the real Ireland, the seamy side of things, life on the Louth/Armagh border, the FÁS instructor taking course participants out for a feed of drink, the view from Forkhill, how easy it is to get sucked into The Circle Of Shit. He gets a lady called Paula up to sing a few with him and their voices blend perfectly. There is nothing like this kind of music on the planet, and more people should hear it.

Things kind of went down a notch when he pulled out a keyboard and started doing stuff to programmed beats. Some of it worked, some of it needs work, but it's all part of the push towards Free State Nova I guess, and it actually got people up dancing, which is cool. It's hard to get your head around Lennon's music sometimes, but it's worth the effort; this stuff is entirely unique and You Couldn't Make It Up.

James Joyce, or at least Stephen Dedalus, spoke of how he wanted to "forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race". This may sound a bit much, but Jinx Lennon could well end up doing something similar.

The Ramonas then. What can you say? They're an all-girl Ramones tribute band, they look just like the brothers, erm, except they look prettier than the brothers. They obviously love the music and lash in to every tune with gusto, prefaced by the obligatory shout of ONE!TWO!THREE!FOUR from the bass guitarist. They sound brilliant. In an ideal world, they would be playing in your local every weekend.

Your calves sore from all that pogoing and bobbing on the balls of your feet, feeling fourteen years old, with a big grin on your face, some of the coolest popular songs ever written running through your head - why isn't going home from a gig always like that?

23 May 2005

Bang bang, the mighty fall...

B. A. Robertson is a man with a pedigree. If you haven't heard of him, chances are you own something that he has a hand in, either as a producer, songwriter or session musician. He's worked with everybody. Stateside music fans will know him best as songwriter and occasional member for Mike and the Mechanics: he wrote Silent Running and The Living Years. Over here, he's remembered chiefly as the guy who had a string of novelty hits in the late 70s-early 80s: silly but witty and enjoyable tunes like Kool In The Kaftan, Bang Bang and Knocked It Off. In his time, Robertson was also responsible for the more credible end of the (ahem!) Cliff Richard repertoire. I'd forgotten that he also wrote the old Scotland World Cup Squad anthem, We Have A Dream...

So, last night in the Róisín Dubh we crusty old music geeks were probably expecting some colossus-bestriding-the-industry type figure, instead of the lanky, down-to-earth Glaswegian who slid surreptitiously behind an enormous Kurzweil piano (I want one!) and started quietly playing some of his tunes. He's still plugging away out of the limelight and apparently does a lot of songwriting workshops for different communities here and there. Plus, he's after bringing out a new album called I Didn't Mean To, I Just Did.

It turned out to be an enjoyable night; with Robertson doing some fine readings of tunes that have been big hits for other people, as well as showcasing a few of his new, less well-known tunes. They're pretty fine, especially the one about Martin Luther King. There was an obligatory run-through of some of those old novelty hits, though Robertson didn't remember many of the lyrics. It fell to the audience of crusty old tossers with way too much spare time to help him with the lyrical gaps.

All in all, Robertson came across as a decent sort who genuinely enjoys playing and writing music, and was happy to meet and chat with people afterwards. Not a bad way to spend a wet Sunday night atall atall.

18 May 2005

Another good man gone.

Monday night saw a(nother) bit of an impromptu session in the local. I live close by so I went around the corner and grabbed a mandolin. One of the bar staff sings and plays in a local band, and I hope to write something nice about them soon once they bring out their CD. In any event it was a pleasure to play a couple of tunes with him.

Just before we started, we were shocked and saddened to learn of the passing, only a few hours before, of one of Galway's best musicians - guitarist Dave Coen. He died suddenly at the age of 49, leaving a wife and two grown kids behind him. The man will be missed indeed. The enormity of it didn't sink in until we'd finished, and I suppose it was apt, in a way, to play half-an-hour's worth of tunes in memory of a great musician and a good man. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, as they say.

16 May 2005

Bom-bom-bom-ba-bom-bom, bom-bom-bom-ba-bom-bom, I feel free...

Once upon a time there was a three-piece rock band. They were successful and highly respected in the industry, but beset by personality clashes. The drummer and bass player hated each other with a passion and fought constantly. It fell to the guitarist, a quiet, unassuming type, to try and mediate between them. A terrible pity, because they were a good band in their day. The truth is, they'll probably never play together again. But that's enough about the Police.

Not too long ago, Cream got back together again for a couple of dates in their old stamping ground, The Albert Hall.

Marie's the name.

Most Sunday nights I go into a quiet little pub in Lower Salthill where two brilliant ladies sing and play their hearts out, and a couple of people sometimes sit in for a few tunes. Last night they did His Latest Flame by request. A local guy I'll call Fred had asked for it. The mandolin player then did Wooden Heart - he made quite a tasty job of what's usually regarded as a throwaway tune.

Fred danced around with an expression of sheer bliss on his face. From a far corner, a chap called Eamon pitched in with his version of The Wonder of You. Yours truly had a guitar plonked in front of him and ended up being persuaded, with the aid of sharp sticks and the offer of a free pint, to rattle through Heartbreak Hotel and Suspicious Minds. All in all, a very King-centric evening, uh huh.

There wasn't a big crowd in the pub - about 25 people at best, and most of us knew each other. Fred explained to a few of us how he was devoted to Elvis in his teens; he was one of those European fans who hoped against all hope that some day The King was going to come and play over here. It was not to be, but the teenage Fred had saved up some money just in case. "And then," Fred told us, "then some woman came along and ruined my life."

He was joking; I know the woman he was talking about. Her name was not Marie, but then his name isn't really Fred either. They married young, had a son, and split up, but they remained friends. Marie died five years ago. She did not ruin his life, and he knows it well; she enriched it considerably. Mine too. Fred doesn't remember, but I was the guy who stole her off him.
The bell hop's tears keep flowing
The desk clerk's dressed in black...

13 May 2005

The Friday Frank

(Originally inspired by a visit from The Muffin Men.)

1. Billy was a mountain. Ethel was a tree growing off of his shoulder. One day they decided to take a vacation. Where did they decide to go? If possible, use music in your answer.

2. Do you have a kitchen? Is it dangerous? Why or why not?

3. What does the poodle do after it bites?

4. Do you think it is great to be alive? If so, exactly how great to be alive is it?

5. Are you familiar with the music of Frank Vincent Zappa, or is he just someone your dad likes?
Why the Beatles invented heavy metal @ Yorkshire Soul.

12 May 2005

"I'm the one who comes on Radio 1 late at night and plays records made by sulky Belgian art students in basements dying of TB."

The Perfumed Garden was the name of John Peel's show on the pirate station, Radio London, back in the 60s when I was but a sprat. But now there's a blog called The Perfumed Garden, run by Kris from Burning World, where you can get a listen to some sessions from Peel's BBC radio show from over the years. Good to see someone doing this sort of thing.

And the silly title for this post came from this fine compendium of Peel quotations.

10 May 2005

Wizardry in William Street West

Massimo's bar, that haven of Chelsea supporters, tobacco addicts and Cian Campbell's love children, are hosting a songwriters' night on Monday called the Listening Lounge. Checked it out last night and it was not three bad atall atall. For four euros (ie. pretty much the price of a pint of lager) you get to see a handful of local talent, and I have to say the stuff on display last night was very good indeed. On the night, there must have been five or six artists but I only got a proper listen to three.

David Lydon has been around for a while now; he did a few of those Galway Bay FM Jon Richards sessions. I've seen him a few times and enjoy his stuff; he's definitely an underrated talent. If you can dig up one of those old Origin compilation CDs he contributes a couple of tracks that are highly recommended. Guitar playing is very spare and unhurried and his voice, when it gets going, is a great expressive instrument.

Next up was Tulpa, a.k.a. Bushy who used to be in the band Beretta. Hadn't seen him solo before, and it was a pleasant surprise. It's hard to categorise his stuff but you could almost put him in the same bag as writers like Sufjan Stevens or Davendra Banhart - a lazy comparison, but it might give you some idea. His voice is unique, smoky and full of character, and his twelve-string playing is stellar. The songs are sometimes strangely put together, but they're compelling and they draw you in. More please.

In all honesty I'd come to see my pal Roger Martin, a.k.a. Stone Orr, who was playing last. Roger is from Ardee in the county Louth and has been mixing sound for bands here in Galway for the last few years. I'll admit my bias but I have to say Roger acquitted himself very well, doing some accomplished solo readings of a few songs from his CD. (Maybe I'll post one or two of these, if it's okay with the Wookie himself.)

So there you go; I've said it before and I'll say it again: In Galway, we're spoiled for music. Where else can you wander out on a Monday night and end up being captivated, spellbound even, by a selection of local talent that barely even scratches the surface of what goes on around here?

Anyway, the Galway Advertiser gave the Listening Lounge a plug last week: there's a .pdf version of it here.