Touts. 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.
Peadar Ó Riada recently took the road north to Bellaghy, determined to pay tribute to Seamus Heaney. He sat at the piano in the Helicon room of the Heaney Home Place and he gave soul and airs to the poet’s memory. Sometimes he was elegant but on occasion, the notes were awry, loose. It was not about finesse, but he absolutely meant it.
Peadar has achieved much with his music, his arrangements and his guidance of the Cór Chúil Aodha, a male choir from Muskerry, Co. Cork. They sing as Gaeilige in an intense, spiritual manner. The choir was formed in 1964 by Seán Ó Riada, his dad, who brought a radical ear to Irish music in the late Fifties and across the next decade. Seán was only 40 when he died but the legacy was vast. Two weeks before he passed, he asked his son to look after the choir. The boy was 16. Peadar put marks on the keyboard and thus he could manage the chords. He was off.
At the opening of a QFT retrospective on John T. Davis, we see a 20 minute sample of his ongoing film, Mshiikenhmnising. The artist is 70 and he has reprised many of his themes. America is an expanse, a colour field, a challenge and a con job. Like Walt Whitman, he is drawn to the rhythm and the fervour, those haunting chimes of freedom. He connects to this tradition through the beat poets and their outsider prosody. It’s about the groove, the riffology, the swing of it all.
I met James Brown at a Redskins gig in Liverpool, March 1986. It was a miners’ benefit and he was selling Issue Nine of his fanzine, Attack On Bzag. He told me I was too old to be a music writer. I was 24 and he was righteously teenage and northern.
He was down from Leeds and all over London later that year, freelancing for Sounds, operating out of an old cigarette factory in Mornington Crescent. The ground floor was open plan and the various music magazines belonging to Morgan Grampian would crank up their rival sound systems across the partitions: Record Mirror, Sounds, Music Week. The winner was inevitably Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule, art designer at Kerrang! who prevailed with Motörhead, hip hop and piratical guffaws. By November, every office was blasting out ‘Licensed To Ill’ and the party was most definitely on.
In Sugar Land Prison they used to say that if the Houston train shone its light into your cell, you were going to get parole. It’s a keen hope that makes up the chorus for ‘Midnight Special’, one of the many train songs from the Ulster Hall playlist by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry. The tunes are from the songbooks of Lead Belly, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and The Carter Family. The ‘Shine A Light’ record was recorded in transit across America and it carries a load of heartbreak, injustice, love and deliverance.
“This is not a nostalgia project,” says, Joe, who has produced greats like Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint and Bettye LaVette. Tonight we hear some of his own piercing work including ‘Trampoline’ and ‘Our Song’, but the core mission is to revisit the songs that Joe believes are “vividly alive”.
When Glen Hansard was in Tulsa, Oklahoma last September he got a personal tour of the Woody Guthrie Center. And there it was in the archive, a lyrical put-down of Fred Trump, father of Donald and a landlord with questionable housing practices in Brooklyn.
Glen has used the spirit of the words to inform his version of the Guthrie tune, ‘Vigilante Man’. The original dates back to 1940 and pictures the thugs who patrolled California, fighting off the poor incomers from the Dust Bowl states. In the Glen version, the baddies also include Fred Trump and his son, collectively “rotten to the core”.
I’m in the King’s Cross district of Sydney, Australia in February, 1990. The Pogues are installed at the Gazebo Hotel and there’s a deal of havoc. Frank Murray, the band’s manager is riding it out. Musicians are arriving, going errant, cussing and misbehaving. Frank has lost a handsome new watch but gained an Aboriginal painting. Later the watch will turn up on the arm of a crew member who was keeping it safe after it had been detached from the owner the night before.
Frank Murray is a mench, a major dude, a high-ranking member of the Murphia. He tells the best stories, sucking his teeth at dramatic moments. He dresses well, like a cast member from Mean Streets. Before taking on the Pogues gig, he was a tour manager for The Specials, Dexys, Elton John and most importantly, Thin Lizzy. He enjoys the life and seems to be uniquely able to sustain the band as a functioning carry-on.
Steve McQueen was a famously tough guy with a daily two hour exercise programme. He had a wiry presence and the stamina to take on the film work with the stunts and the intense car scenes. But there may have been a particular weakness. McQueen had “delicate feet” according to John Rushton, the footwear sage of Wimpole Street, London.
The solution was to wear chukka-style ankle boots. Suede uppers in a wraparound style with a plantation rubber crepe sole. Two eyelets, tobacco brown. Steve wore them on several films, notably Bullitt, but they also featured on The Thomas Crown Affair and even Papillion. Continue Reading…
Bap Kennedy had experienced tough times and lived through an awful era in Belfast. It was not cool to show your feelings so much then. Many people chose to be gruff and inward-facing and there was an aspect of that with Bap. This was compounded by the fact that he was involved in the music industry, where the game face and the shtick were expected. That wasn’t his way.
So he may have seemed awkward at times. Back in the ’80s he sometimes joked on stage, clowning his way though the preacher routine on ‘Pain Heartache And Redemption’. That was less common. His default was tenderness. That’s when he left the restraints of place and circumstance and instead he was lit with grace.
‘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.