‘Johnny Favourite’ was a David Holmes release on the Warp label in 1994, a clanking, 15 minute descent. The title was a nod to Mickey Rourke in the film Angel Heart, a private investigator hired to find the elusive entertainer Johnny Liebling. The journey took Rourke to New Orleans, where he encountered blood and bad magic, lashing him into a voodoo loop, a Faustian buy-out. At the end of the film, Lucifer repossessed his soul and the elevator took him on a terminal ride to Hell.
Alfredo De La Fé was born in Havana, and then active in the New York clubs from the age of 12. He played with Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. The boy was part of the birth of salsa and his drugs career began at the same time. Ultimately, he was so pinned before a scheduled performance in front of the Pope that he missed the gig. That was 30 years ago and he’s been off the drugs since.
We meet in Bogotá, his adopted home. “Be careful when you visit Colombia,” he says with a wink. “I came on a visit 14 years ago and I’ve never left the place.”
I once spent a messy, dawn moment on the slopes of Dingle with Steve Cooney. The Australian guitarist had been initiated into the ways of Aboriginal mysteries and he explained some of the benefits between puffs on a roll-up.
He said that he was able to experience the spirit and the energy force in the mountains and the rivers and other parts of the landscape. In the Australian Outback, he explained, it felt massive. In Ireland, he said, it was a bit less intense but it was there, absolutely, pulsatingly true.
Come on in if you favour a piece of elegantly cloaked heartbreak, a spooked-out waltz, a deal of silence and maybe some looping fatalism. The Darkling Air provide all this on their debut album, ‘Untamed & Beloved’. There are strings and sense of scale. The vocals are measured and sorely present. The stories often take place offstage, but that won’t stop you becoming absorbed. You will hang with the pauses and hold out for a decent resolution, for a chance that the light may win over.
May 17, 1986 and I’m at the RDS Stadium in Dublin for Self Aid, Ireland’s response to Live Aid. Many of the big acts are present, including U2, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and The Pogues. There is talk about the endemic of unemployment and the evening will end in a woozy farewell to Phil Lynott who had died in January. But the moment I recall most vividly is when Christy Moore performed ‘Back Home In Derry’.
It seemed like everyone was singing that chorus and Christy had the presence to encourage the thousands of voices as they lifted into the spring evening. It was yet another song about Irish rebels being deported to Australia. The tune was borrowed from Gordon Lightfoot but the inescapable truth was that the lyric had been written by Bobby Sands, IRA hunger striker.
Even when Gerard Dillon is absent from his own paintings, there is still a blue moon, a lonesome Pierrot, misty essence of the man. That’s the Belfast painter in the sky, illuminating the Connemara Lovers who recline under the expanse of indigo, unaware of that looming feature with the lost smile. In the later paintings like Brothers, the carnival is emphatically over and the fraternal bones hold no comfort for the survivor with his head on the soil.
Dr. John Dee brought drama, anxiety, knowledge and thrills to the Tudor court. He was a seeming authority on the planets, geometry, the navigation of major land masses, cryptology, language and alchemy. He advised the royals with his horoscopes and he proffered Queen Elizabeth a channel into the otherworld.
He was across science and magic before the terms were divorced. He massed up a huge library at his home in Mortlake, much of it esoteric. He is a likely model for Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and was later mocked by Ben Johnson in The Alchemist when his reputation was in decline.
Shallogan, May 1964 and the American songwriter and archivist Pete Seeger is in a caravan during a rainstorm. Fortunately, he is in the company of John Doherty, an iterant fiddle player from south west Donegal. The latter was born in nearby Ardara in 1900 and while he has rarely travelled far from the Bluestack Mountains, his reputation has gone further.
Seeger is joined by his wife Toshi, who films the encounter. Dr. Malachy McCloskey, a patron and supporter, is helping to manage the conversation and the musical flow. Peter Kennedy, the English collector is recording the audio and pushing for content.
It’s at the chill end of 2006 and I’m at Macfin near Ballymoney with Henry McCullough. It’s not exactly a country spread, but there’s a tidy porch out front and space behind for a few hens. Henry and his partner Josie look content as they fetch out tea for the guests and set more wood in the pot belly stove. It might be a rural scene from any number of places in County Antrim but we’re also in the company of a guitarist with an outstanding reputation, a master of tone and emotion, internationally travelled and feted.
For Every Silence (Hidden Arch)
“They’ve done experiments with Egyptian pottery made on a wheel thousands of years ago – they play the plates backwards and receive a recording, a very primitive recording of what took place in the room. Your ghosts. So, I’ll buy that.” – Tom Waits
And I’ll buy this also. Ryan Vail and an inherited piano. Reverberations, real and imagined. A room that that is animated by wood and wire, tusk and iron. Humans giving love and a piece of machinery that is complicit in the act. ‘For Every Silence’ catches the words, the histories and the soul of an instrument that came into his wife’s family in 1927 and is sweetly operational again.