31 May 2011

"You've been saying you're a fisherman since you were seventeen..."

Stan Deely, once a dental technician from Devon Park, managed to become a highly respected artist in the 1970s, releasing 7 acclaimed hit albums and working with some of the industry's finest session musicians. Rolling Stone called his body of work "awesome in its conceptual longitude" and Down Beat even pointed out clear similarities in Deely's ouevre to similar groundbreaking work by many giants of the jass music scene such as Mavis Diles, Thunk Melonius and of course Marley Chingus.

Wherever you were in 1972, anywhere on the globe, it was hard to go through a typical day without hearing Stan Deely's first hit, You'll Do It Again Till You Get It Right, Like blasting out of some transistor or other. Carried along on an irresistable chorus and bolstered by Zedrik Turntable's electric bouzouki solo, it sent a generation out to the shopping malls in search of comfortable footwear. The ensuing album, Ain't Got A Clue (its very title a nod to Harence 'Frogman' Clenry) made real inroads on the international music scene, though prudish elements objected to its lurid cover which featured a line of girl scouts waiting in the street for the local confectionery to open.

Its 1973 follow-up, Countdown To Mitsubishi, consolidated Deely's reputation as a world-beating songwriter and prog-jazz composer, containing as it did such highly distinctive tracks as Bobby Shafto and the lightning-fingered guitar stylings of such session luminaries as Judge "Coon" Wapner and Denzel DiAdipose. Despite a warm critical reception it failed to yield any major hits, as uncannily predicted in the album track Any Major Hits (Elude You).

All was not lost for Stan, though, as tracks like Your False Teeth and Midnite Boozer garnered respect in the industry, and Reelin' In The Trout became a sleeper hit.

Stan Deely's next offering, Tayto Logic from 1974, spawned the international hit Hang On To That Number Rikki, If Ya Know What's Good For Ya Like and featured the percussive prestidigitation of session drum virtuoso Barry Towne. The following year, Stan Deely further confounded expectations with his next album, R. D. Laing, named in tribute to the British "anti-psychiatrist". Critics and fans alike were divided on this album, mostly over apparent drug references in the track Doctor Who, which dealt with the thorny topic of getting wasted and watching cult sci-fi programs.

Deely's reputation was further solidified, though, in 1976 with his fifth album, The Royal Shimozzle, which featured the international hit Tijuana Wedding as well as the FM favourite The Caves of Ailwee. For many though, Stan Deely's magnum opus came with the next album, an ode to the mysteries of the Orient entitled Chinese Takeway. Burnt out and disillusioned with the music industry, though, Deely called it a day after 1980's classic Groucho album, which featured such hits as Ballina Cisterns as well as the playing of highly respected Brit guitarist, Marc Dumbkopf (best know for his work with 'Dire and Straight').

Nearly two dissolute decades later, Stan Deely re-emerged with a searing indictment of what he felt to be the evils inflicted upon music by a certain four-piece Dublin band, his acclaimed (by everyone except Bono) comeback album U2: Against Nature and its follow-up, Everyone Must Blow.

(Thanks to Stan Deely aficionado and sometime session sideman Domhnall Óg McFagen for some illuminating insights that greatly aided the compilation of this retrospective - not bad at 40 a quarter.)

05 May 2011

another day, another danelectro

So yesterday morning I had a brainwave. I'd spent the last couple of days practising a short set for the support slot that evening. I'd thought up one at the weekend and decided, nah, scrap it. I was, in a word, Stuck. I bought a new guitar - a PRS SE custom semi-hollow - two months ago and I'm well happy with it, it's lovely and playable. But I felt I was neglecting the equally lovely twelve string electric I bought two years ago. It's a Danelectro DC-12 with a beautiful retro look and feel and I love playing it. Plus, I reflected, the twelve-string would more suit the sort of support set I was doing - a swift half hour of (hopefully) memorable tunes before the main act. I'd never used it live before… why not string it up and use it for the gig?

I'd spent the last couple of months staring at two sets of nickel-wound strings I'd had to order online especially for the twelve-string. Here in busker-town you can find a set of bronze-wound, acoustic "twelve-string strings" no problem. But nickelwound for electric? No way José. Fine if you want to be Leadbelly but not if you want to be Roger McGuinn. But praise the lord for the good people at strings.ie - I got two sets of nickelwound strings shipped practically overnight, with a voucher for a discount on my next order. They weren't cheap but they never are.

I love the sound of the twelve-string guitar. My uncle Batt had one that my mum bought for him. My dad got me a nice Eko Raider twelve-string for my 21st birthday, which was neither yesterday nor the day before. It's still going strong though it probably needs the frets done. I love the way you can get an enormous ringing sound playing simple chords with a lot of open strings. Simple arpeggios and legato figures turn into something else completely - that's the whole sound of the early Byrds right there, for instance. There's also plenty of scope for melody and lead playing if you put your mind to it. And I've always found it ideal for solo accompaniment - you're encouraged to keep your playing simple and concentrate on putting across The Song.

Anyway, I forgot about all this and left the strings in their padded envelope, on the little stand where I leave my rent money for the landlady every Saturday. And then just yesterday, feeling like I'd come up against a brick wall in terms of inspiration, I suddenly said to myself, "Stop bleeding procrastinating - string up the Danelectro and see how it feels; if it's good, it might be just the thing for the gig tonight." So in between sips of tea and reading the news online, I strung the bugger up.

The beauty and uniqueness of this type of instrument comes at a price. Twelve strings are a pain to tune and set up. For one thing, twice the amount of strings to thread, wind, and tighten. Higher tension. All those extra harmonics clanging around and confusing the ear. The Danelectro compounds the usual logistical difficulties by having the strings go two different ways into the bridge. Each pair of strings is on a separate saddle - one string is threaded in through the body, from the back, and the other string is threaded in via the bridge on the top. It's an ingenious arrangement once you get used to it and I guess it makes intonation easier. But (like all good things in life I suppose) it's worth taking the time to do things right.

So, all strung up, I rattled through a bunch of tunes again. They sounded much better this way. After months of six-string playing on guitars with smaller necks, the right hand had to work harder, but again that's part of the price you pay for admittance into the glorious, ringing, chiming, harmonically rich world of twelve-string-dom. It was a little psychological thing but it worked. I felt a lot better about the set now.

I don't usually drink before gigs, but I had a hot brandy and port in the local to clear the voice a bit, and called a taxi into town. Turned out that the sound engineer for the night was my pal and former housemate Diesel. The Tectonics soundchecked and I brought up my own bits - twelve-string, little Vox amp and a Headrush delay pedal just to thicken the sound a bit. Tuner and capo. Tried a couple of snatches of sounds and they sounded a bit rough, but eventually fell into place. I didn't really have time to do full numbers but they seemed okay. The doors open and people started coming in - fortunately a few familiar faces among them.

The night was fine. Wished more people could have been there - there was another gig on that night, and friends of the band were actually playing support. Most of the people who turned up on the night were family and friends, and a few stragglers just in to check out some new music. I don't think anyone was disappointed.

Marcus, Eoin and Seamus of the Tectonics brew up a fine power-pop sound, with the occasional touch of 80s-style 'white reggae'. Hard to describe unless you hear it for yourself. All three of them write and sing and there are some fantastic moments when their voices locked into very sweet harmonies. Eoin is a nimble but understated guitarist who makes great but economical use of effects; Marcus and Seamus (Sykes) are a rock-solid rhythm section having played together in various bands since the year dot - they're probably best known for their spell in The Big Geraniums.

I was pretty happy with my own set, I guess all the grief of preparation was worth it. Afterwards we popped into Massimo's for some late drinks. Pure joy seeing all those beautiful girls dancing; if nothing else that made the night worth it!

Thanks a million to the band for having me on as support - I'm definitely going to be doing this sort of thing more often. Gratuitous plug for Kelly's bar because it's a fine place and a more than decent music venue. As for the loudmouthed heckling arsewipe, I hope he dies roaring. Kudos also to my brother Kev (you know him, he's famous) and my pals Frank, Liam, Hugo and especially to the legendary man Diesel on sound. \m/

04 May 2011

tectonic place

They're the Tectonics, and they're launching their new single tonight in Kelly's Bar - a fine venue. Last time I was there was when the SawDocs were doing their album launch last year.

Yours truly will be playing support but I doubt I'll be doing the tune posted below ;-).  I will be doing this tune though, and probably this.  Who knows? 

Since I have the week off work, I've had plenty of time to practise a set and scrap it completely.  I was tempted to use my gorgeous new guitar but today I got this sudden hunch that it might be a good idea to string up the old Danelectro 12 and use that instead.  I don't know though, putting on 6 strings is enough of a pain in the bum...

The Tectonics will also be playing at the Mercantile in Dublin on Friday, and Eddie Murphy's in Thomastown (Co. Kilkenny) on Saturday.  Their tunes (what I've heard of them) are dead good and I hope this goes well for them. 

01 May 2011

budget day blues (redux)

Okay, here's a piece I came up with last November (yes, around the time the Budget From Hell was announced by the previous government of my country).  It's fourteen minutes long and in six parts; it starts in a pub in the winter and ends in a garden in the summer. 

Turns out I have a gig next week playing support to some folks I know.  Don't think I'll be playing this one though - I somehow doubt it would be possible to fit a four-piece horn section, viola, cello, pedal steel and piano players as well as a bassist and drummer on the stage in Kelly's.  At least not with the headlining act's backline up there too.  ;-)

Budget Day Blues breaks down as follows:

i)   the next king of ireland
ii)  budget day news
iii) meat and jam
iv) threshold
v)  harvest
vi) the loose boot

  budget day blues by theboogalaxy