My Favourite Shirt

September 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’ve just spent a good hour with a needle and some wool, tending to my favourite shirt. It’s not something I habitually do, but the garment needs some care and I couldn’t manage without. We’ve done 15 years together. A John Smedley special in apple red. The unimpeachable Dorset style in fine, Merino wool, with the turnback rib cuff and the collar that always sits just so.

 
smedley2Me and the shirt have done formal meetings and fierce parties. We’re travelled a bit and met interesting people. Even when the going has been messy, the shirt has sustained a fibre of grace, even when the wearer was lacking. It’s a shirt that gives everybody a bit of a chance.
I bought my first John Smedley shirt about 1986 in Camden. I seem to remember getting it in an early Reiss shop, but such details are elusive. But I’m sure it was a navy short sleeve in sea island cotton, and I soon added a red version of the Isis design. We went to warehouse parties and north London dive bars. It was accompanied by a black MA1 jacket, selvage Levis, Doc Martin shoes and  eventually Weejun loafers.

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Spooling Around

September 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Happy Cassette Store Day, all. Currently reeling on the Dig With It tape deck is a 1990 release by the Cranberry Saw Us, indie combo from Limerick. Say it quickly and you might figure the pun, a legacy from former singer and jape-meister, Niall Quinn. His replacement was Dolores O’Riordan, who soon came up with a song called ‘Linger’ and The Cranberries were off.

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1982 and Van Morrison is onstage in Belfast, chasing his rapture across ‘Summertime In England’. A roll call of the poets, the mystics, the romantics and the lightning catchers. More than eight minutes, and not a bit of it surplus. He’s calling out to Coleridge and Wordsworth, Blake, Whitman and Beckett. On saxophone there’s Pee Wee Ellis, sometime James Brown associate and he’s matching the singer’s fever, blowing with abandon. As is his wont, Van revises his  lyrics from the recorded version, sending more names into the ether.

“Mister Heaney,

I read your book,

Preoccupations,

Among the regions”.

And then he’s off again, citing RS Thomas and DH Lawrence as the song makes a squalling case for feeling and sensation: it ain’t why, it just is.

You might have supposed that Van and Seamus Heaney were connected. The most prolific writers on the island. The pair of them deep into their sense of place, their local resonances, the names and the townlands, the squelch and the smell of it. Like Kavanagh before them they could find the epic in the commonplace, the small-town Homers. While the poet would find amazement in a water diviner, Van channeled his magic through the transistor radio and the wavelength.

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Los Angeles, and David Holmes is in a recording studio finishing off the Primal Scream album. That’s going well but he’s simultaneously working on the soundtrack to the Good Vibrations film, working to a small budget. Some of the songs have been written straight into the script, so there’s no issue with Hank Williams, Rudi, The Undertones and The Outcasts.

good vibes soundtrack200That still leaves plenty of space, but the setting of a record shop is the perfect chance to be bold. Why deal in the obvious – your Bob Marley, your English punk – when Terri Hooley’s ears might be resounding to Lee Perry and The Upsetters, to Bert Jansch, The Small Faces or The Saints? So David is grafting each morning on this mission, downloading the new rushes from Belfast and matching them up to the tunes that he keeps filing away.
But there’s an abiding problem with the end title music. It needs to be something iconic – the big sayonara to this emotional story. A possible contender has been ‘Gloria’ by Them, but it’s just not achievable. Then Bobby Gillespie comes up with the genius suggestion.

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Back in the day there was File Under Easy listening. They were not afraid to rock and the teenage Nathan Connolly played his guitar slung low and turned up high.  Colin Murray was their cheerleader / manager and F.U.E.L. released a tune called ‘Closure’ that showed promise. Somewhere in my archive I have a photo of their singer giving me the finger from the Nerve Centre stage, supporting Snow Patrol in May 2000. Innocent times.

matadorNathan got his call-up papers to the Patrol shortly after. But he must still have the urge to rock, hence his new project, Little Matador. They play their first show at the Goat’s Toe in Bangor. Dave Magee, sometime F.U.E.L. stalwart and LaFaro shaker is on guitar. Likewise Troy Stewart from The Windsor Player. Gavin Fox from Turn is the bass guy, while Paul ‘Binzer’ Brennan bashes the skins.

They’ve surely put in the rehearsal time and have worked plenty on the album, but that hasn’t excused Nathan from party time at Voodoo until 6am on gig day. You might say that it adds to his appeal: paint the words LOVE and HATE on his knuckles and he’s a ringer for Robert Mitchum in ‘Night Of The Hunter’, all hooded eyes and cool wastage.

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facemag330I’ve thrown out most of my old magazines, but this one’s a keeper. It’s an issue of The Face magazine, September 1982. By then, the publication had been on the stands for two years, revving on street culture and post punk confections. We were urged to wear zoot suits and Westwood, pirate chic and kamikaze prints. Music was headed out of the rock venues and into bespoke clubs where the DJ ruled and style was all. Here was a mag to pilot the transition.

 
Some of it was dreadful, but The Face expressed the verve of the time. You can see the first 50 covers here, and appreciate how they took a steal from the NME and the other newsprint inkies. A decade before, Nick Logan had steered the NME from a trade paper into a music weekly with attitude. Then he established Smash Hits, bringing mirth, wit and irony to the pop kids. But The Face was a different mission as Logan invested his own savings, set up in a little office on London’s Mortimer Street and evolved his vision away from the corporate houses.
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The Abbey Habit

August 5, 2013 — 1 Comment

It’s a BYOC night at Bangor Abbey tonight. As in, Bring Your Own Cushion. The seating may not offer much in the way of luxury, but the concept is still inviting. It’s the work of Open House Festival in Bangor, Co Down and we’re about to witness Farriers with the Arco String Quartet. So we grab a pew and join in the expectancy with 400 other witnesses. The stained glass is illuminated by the weakening light in August, the faux candles flicker and Farriers begin to enthrall.

farriers320Last September, the band’s first significant outing with the Arco String Quartet took place in the tiny Picture House at the Ulster Folk And Transport Museum. That was the most special night. Bluegrass and folk tunes with bonus strings and the singular arrangements of Michael Keeney. And if the early Farriers gigs relied on a Mumford-like stomp, their evolving manner has taken on a delicacy also.

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This shot of Conor J O’Brien was taken on Gordon Street, Belfast on Sept 10, 2010. He had just soundchecked at the Black Box and I’d interviewed him for my Radio Ulster show. The ‘Becoming A Jackal’ album was four months old and was already imprinted in my soul. I was reading Herman Hesse and wiring up my own connection between Steppenwolf and the Villagers’ story of lupine dread and alienation. I was quite lost. No point in trying to say this much to the author. He had heard many other compliments and was playing it courteously.

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We had met briefly in 2006 during his time with The Immediate. I liked their album ‘In Towers And Clouds’ but it was over-fussy and too many heads were involved. The live shows were turbulent but not always in the best sense. I guess I must have seen him perform with Cathy Davey but I became a proper fan at sxsw in March 2010 when he seemed to materialise at potent moments, singing about lonesome vigils, rituals, zombies and exile. Elsewhere on Austin’s Sixth Street, there was mass fakery and music with little heart. Meantime Conor was there with his battered Spanish guitar, singing a quiet, true commentary.

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From Bad To Verse

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

When Mick Jones was evicted from The Clash, he didn’t get bitter. His response was a quality band, Big Audio Dynamite and a tune called ‘The Bottom Line’. The lyric declared that “the only thing to do is climb”. And thus he was refortified, ready to rock again.

asiwyfa_2_400I guess Tony Wright can relate. He played guitar with And So I Watch You From Afar until November 2011. His final gig was at the Ulster Hall, when he was literally carried away by the audience. Apparently the split was not so gracious, but neither party has revealed much in public. Tony has since returned as VerseChorusVerse, releasing a collection of punk covers last year and now there’s a self-titled album. The tone is mostly affirmative, the regime is bristling folkabilly and the conclusion is that Tony is largely over it.

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In the early hours of May 7, 1992, Richey Edwards slipped a postcard under the door of my hotel room at the Sofitel, Beverly Hills. I looked at it and smiled. We had been shopping together on Melrose two days before when he had bought the Barbie card. It pictured the famous doll in her boudoir, with a speech bubble that read, “Every morning I wake up and thank God for my unique ability to accessorize.”

On the other side, he had written a message in his singular, scattershot style. “Hollywood and Disneyland are the legacy of Europe’s cultural imperialism. We gave them nursery rhymes and they gave us back film. Televised riots are as American as Barbie / Big Macs. Tomorrow the riots will be forgot but Mickey Mouse will still be there. Welcome to Disneyland. Love Manic Street Preachers.”

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