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jd-fennell-headshot_1When the writing is in him and the urgency is on, he’s busy at 6am and aiming for 600 words before the day starts, proper. That’s when the other job takes over yet when JD Fennell is back in the evening, he’s got the headphones on and the writing recommences. “You’re in for the kill,” he figures. “It has to consume you.”

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taylor editWhat a great, hurtling debut this is. Endless shouting and emoting. The urgency level does not relent. Big tunes, related by the criss-cross vocals of Taylor and Lauren Johnson. They namecheck Neutral Milk Hotel They know their Front Bottoms from their Elbow. They have some of that emo vulnerability and Taylor puts out wounded epigrams in the Morrissey manner, but essentially, Brand New Friend are over-brimming with the fizz and the precocity of youth.

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raving-beauties-album-cover-low-resWe miss Bap Kennedy. There was a tone in his music that will not be replaced. It was an authentic part of the man and there was a grain in his voice that related like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt or Gram Parsons. Fathoms of blues. Untold stories between the cracks in the words. His lyrics hinted at the deeps but he wasn’t inclined to put it all out there. You had to trust Bap, and we did.

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CS1220920-02A-BIG‘Sunrise’ by The Divine Comedy is a song that begins in the murk and ambiguity of Northern Ireland in the Eighties. Neil Hannon puts out the idea that his birthplace, Londonderry is also known as Derry City. His home is Enniskillen but historically it’s about the mythology of Inis Ceithleann, water and land and ancient footfalls. The singer gives his dues to the different narratives and steers a self-conscious path between them. Then on November 8, 1987 the bomb goes off at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday and there is no easy way to walk that line:

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Jackie3The health is not great and Jackie Flavelle is sore because he can’t load up the gear and go touring with his bass and his comrades in jazz. It’s the life he has known for 60 years. His talk is hepcat jive and north Belfast grit. He cusses often and the eyes are undimmed behind those lenses. Medical procedures will keep him off the road for some time, tethered in Donaghadee. He will be 79 in October. Time to pause a moment and review a substantial life.

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cover140Twenty years ago, NME commissioned me to write a cover story about Radiohead and the release of ‘OK Computer’. It was an exciting ask, and the story would involve a visit to Oxford in late May to meet Colin, Ed and Phil, followed by a trip to New York and a ride with Radiohead in a minivan to the Tibetan Freedom Concert on Randall’s Island. Continue Reading…

longley140He counts the birds and recites the enchanted names of flowers. Michael Longley wows at the whooper swan and parses the natural joys on the Atlantic reach of Carrigskeewaun, County Mayo. In recent years, his poetry collections have seemed prolific, yet they also feel precious and rare. Angel Hill appears just ahead of his 78th birthday and it resounds with themes of family, absent friends, migrations, arrivals and generations at their song.

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KP4The gull can’t help it. This is the domain of the birds – high up on the Belfast skyline with the cranes and the cathedral, the new builds and the vintage nesting spots. Tonight however marks the start of the Women’s Work programme, and the flat roof of the Oh Yeah building is host to a few dozen humans and a live performer, Katharine Philippa. So the gull swoops and disapproves while a few seabird mates gang up on nearby ridges and flues, all feathered annoyance and minor Hitchcock menace.

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rothko140Mark Rothko is a massive kvetch. He hates Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. He despises the art dealers and the chattering class of Manhattan that misunderstands his art and would prefer a nice colour for the overmantle.

He scorns the Seagram Corporation that has paid him $35,000 to put a new collection into the Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue. They have afforded him scale and status. He wants control over the lighting and the placing of his great canvasses. But already there is stress. Continue Reading…

ToutscropTouts. What a top mess of noise and sedition, punk and petulance. Tunes that run out of road after a minute and a half – every second screeching with need and urgency. Songs about walls and clampdowns, shameful deals and base electioneering. A realisation that the vision might be compromised and lost in transit. But still there’s a sway in being engaged and inflamed, seeking transcendence in Saturday thrills, in the reckoning of a back alley or in a brute chorus.

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