Monday, November 26, 2007

Normal Service Will Be Resumed Shortly

In the meantime, a little "light" music...

Frazier Chorus "Typical" (1989)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No Music Day

Will anyone observe the third "No Music Day" today? I must admit, I forgot all about it until just now... I haven't listened to any music thus far so I may follow Bill Drummond's advice to see if I feel any different having spent a completely music free day. Here's what Drummond has to say about in on his Guardian blog today...

I feel shit. It has just gone 6.30am and this is when I usually feel my best, when my mind is at its sharpest, when the ideas start tumbling into place and I am eager for the day ahead. But this morning I feel shit.

I've no right to claim this state; I mean I'm not living in cyclone-hit Bangladesh or stuck down a mine in the Ukraine or wherever it is.

Now that I have got that out the way I'm feeling better already. First thing to be done is this 600-word blog for the Guardian, then get emails sent before the others get to their Macs and PCs.

The reason that I got invited to do this blog is because Wednesday November 21 is No Music Day. Now in its third year, No Music Day was something I made up. I didn't go to any authority to have it sanctioned. I do not know if there is anywhere one is supposed to go to anyway. I made it up just for me, a way of addressing my jaded relationship with music amongst other things, but it seems to have been catching on. Last year the London-based cult radio station Resonance FM decided to embrace it. This year BBC Radio Scotland, a national radio station with several million regular listeners, has elected to observe it. This I feel good about and to this end I will be catching the sleeper up from Euston tonight, arriving in Glasgow bright and early on Wednesday morning. The day will be spent at the radio station being a guest on a number of the shows, fielding calls, making my case and placating doubters. Of course I will have to defend myself against those that think it all some sort of publicity stunt, prank or even worse - a cynical scam. If you want to know why I felt the need to have a No Music Day and why that day is on the November 21 click here to read what I wrote last year for the Observer's Music Monthly.

The major thing that has changed since writing that piece is that I've decided to limit it to just five years. I do not want to spend every November, for the rest of my life, trying to breathe new life into a concept, that should have been left alone years ago.

So this year being the third, I'm already half way through. Next year I would like to focus No Music Day on film. With so many films I feel that the soundtrack music just gets in the way. It is used to lend drama and emotion but so often it just cheapens and allows for lazy film-making. For the final No Music Day, on November 21 2009, I would love iTunes to shut up shop for the day. Hang the closed sign in their window for 24 hours. Give the world a break and themselves a day off.

But all that is some time away. Between now and catching the sleeper up to Glasgow tomorrow night, I've got to spend today typing up the last chapter in a book entitled 17. I've been working on this over the last 12 months and the final draft was supposed to be with the publishers last Friday. If the book has a central theme, it is about our culture's evolving relationship with music. How, as we delve deeper into the 21st century, the primacy of recorded music is beginning to look more and more like a hangover from another era, we will start developing ways of making, consuming and thinking about music in vastly different ways to what we have been used to for the past 50 odd years. All big stuff, and not something that I can even start on in a 600-word blog, but lying in bed this morning I had an idea. It was for the closing lines of the book; I wanted to use the quote "Say bye-bye, Sooty. Say bye-bye, Sweep". I got myself very excited about it, but couldn't work out why. The quote has no relevance to the rest of the book and anyway how many people would know it?

Last night I presented a performance of The17 at the Seventeen Gallery in London. The17 is a choir, which I have been developing over the past couple of years and will not be going overground with for some months.

Today will be spent working with Mark Lawson, putting together a feature for this evening's edition of Front Row on BBC Radio 4. We are going to be interviewing various people involved with music making and business, about the idea of No Music Day.

And now that I have got this blog done, I will make myself some porridge and walk my youngest son to school.

- Bill Drummond, the Guardian, Nov 21st 2007.

Friday, November 16, 2007

You May Have Missed...

Recently, I whiled away an evening by taking Garry Mulholland's excellent book "This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk and Disco" down from the shelf and reading as much as my tired eyes could take in one sitting. While I did so, I played as many of the records he mentioned as I could put my hands on (i.e. whatever I could find on my iPod). After a couple of hours, I realised I had only managed to get as far as listening to the entries he chooses for the years 1977 and 1978. It's incredible how many great singles were released over the winter of '77/'78. The book is a real treasure, it has me gagging to track down singles I haven't heard, and re-discovering singles I'd neglected to listen to for a long time. There are (rare) occasions where I don't think he writes enough on a single (his treatment of Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky" is a bit lazy, but I suppose I should be happy he chose to include it at all). One of the best things about the book is the reproductions of single sleeves inside. The author is obviously passionate about artwork as well as the records in question, so the thrill of pop oozes from every page. If you haven't read it, make it a Christmas present for someone and have a sneaky read of it yourself. His follow-up book, "Fear of Music", which follows a similar format, and applies it to 261 (?) albums is also worth a look, but not as good as "This Is Uncool". One small gripe: this is a book about "important" singles, which necesserily neglects the detritus that makes pop music so exciting and ridiculous. So no mention of "The Lone Ranger" by Quantum Jump, or Haysi Fantayzee's "John Wayne Is Big Leggy". Maybe some of the best singles just defy any kind of logic you could try and apply to them.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: How Great Is The New Girls Aloud Album...?

BLOODY great is the answer you're looking for. Or to put it another way...

ALBUMS IT IS NOT AS GOOD AS; The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds", The Beatles "Revolver", ABBA "Gold", that sort of thing.
ALBUMS IT IS BETTER THAN; Kylie Minogue "X", Britney Spears "Blackout", Sugababes "Change", all of the previous Girls aloud albums.
ALBUMS IT IS ABOUT AS GOOD AS; Pet Shop Boys "Please", Betty Boo "Boomania!", Pulp "Different Class", TLC "CrazySexyCool", Goldfrapp "Black Cherry", Annie "Anniemal", Madonna "Confessions On A Dancefloor", Róisín Murphy "Overpowered"...

Alright, I'll review it properly. And in lieu of an image of the album sleeve popping up on google search, another pic of ver 'Girls.

GIRLS ALOUD "Tangled Up" (Polydor/Fascination)

What comes to mind when you think of Girls Aloud? Popstars: The Rivals, Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh? The phrase "Wives and Girlfriends"? Generic daytime radio blandpop? Fake tans? Very well, but only a buffoon would deny that Girls Aloud's best singles are among the most memorable and exciting British pop has provided us with in recent times. They've been lumbered with some iffy cover versions from time to time, but hopefully they're a big enough prospect to ditch the overwrought run-throughs of other people's hits. This album (their fourth, excluding last year's compilation "The Sound Of Girls Aloud") gives them the chance to step up a gear and, brilliantly, they do so.

This is not just a Girls Aloud album of course. It is also a Xenomania album. For the first time, every track on a Girls Aloud album has been written and produced by Xenomania (i.e. the production team which comprises all or some of the following; Brian Higgins, Miranda Cooper, Nick Coler, Gisele Somerville, Matt Gray, Toby Scott, Tim Powell and Lisa Cowling). Xenomania have been responsible for a lot of the greatest British pop music of the last decade. In Girls Aloud's "Biology", they produced what The Observer called (rightly, in my view) the Single Of The Decade. In other words, expectations are high here, and "Tangled Up" it resolutely NOT a let-down.

It kicks off with "Call The Shots" (last week's Single Of The Week here, see below) which is as good as anything Girls Aloud have released so far. A lovely contemporary synth pop tune, it is great in the way "Love Comes Quickly" or "Love Action" are great. It is the first in a run of six absolutely great tracks - potential singles all of them - on what in the old days we would have called "Tangled Up"'s side one. "Close To Love" and "Girl Overboard" are brisk and sparkly. The former is reminiscent of early Duran Duran, the latter is a wonderful minor-key marvel. Both sound machine-driven but not overly icy or distant. Something for Kylie's (or indeed Britney's) "people" to consider next time out. "Sexy! No No No" exemplifies Girls Aloud's trademark sound, rawk guitars, stomping beats...quite difficult to dance to, or indeed to sing along with for the most part, but then the chorus sqauts in your brain and refuses to leave. "Can't Speak French" is particularly impressive" - witty lyrics "I can't speak French, so I'll let the funky music do the talking...", set to an odd honky tonk type rhythm. It calls to mind Goldfrapp's "Satin Chic". From this point on, all sorts of styles are thrown into the album's musical palette; drum 'n' bass ("What You Cryin' For"), house-y reggae ("Control Of The Knife"), disco ("Damn") and yet more mean-rockin' riffs ("Fling", "I'm Falling"). If the album is missing anything, it's a killer-ballad. Closer "Crocodile Tears" is as close as we get, but it's still mid-tempo, harking back slightly to the brilliant 2003 single "Life Got Cold".

Undoubtedly, "Tangled Up" is a "result". (9 out of 10)


ESTELLE "Wait A Minute (Just A Touch)" (Atlantic)

"1980" feels like a long time ago doesn't it. Since that we haven't heard much from Estelle but now she's back! Back! BACK! She's enlisted John Legend and Will.I.Am from Black Eyed Peas to concoct a terrific comeback single, which could see her achieve her biggest hit yet. It's Brit-soul with a shuffly rhythm, a smidgin of brassy stabs and a killer chorus. Oh, and what can only be described as belchy noises. Lyrically it reverses the rampant misogyny of that other Will.I.Am collaboration, The Pussycat Dolls' "Beep". This single has more in common with, er, Common (whose "I Want You" is another excellent Will.I.Am aided hit from earlier this year). "Wait A Minute (Just A Touch)", happily, makes the winter feel like summer, so listen to it throughout the forthcoming cold, frosty mornings and be thankful.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Because Six Months Is Too Long To Wait For Another Fix Of Eurovision...

In 1973, ABBA entered the Swedish "melodifestivalen", which is their Song For Europe, with the song "Ring Ring". They came third, and would have to wait another year for Euro-glory. Here is the song which won that 1973 competition, "You're Summer" by Nova. It contains the legendary line "Oh your breasts are like swallows nesting". Let's face it, that's why I'm posting it here.

(Ireland gave it five points in the '73 Eurovision Contest proper, by the way...)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Snigger all you like, student indie-snobs, one day you'll have a mortgage to pay too.

DAVID GRAY “Greatest Hits” (East West)

There are lots of people out there who seem to dislike David Gray intensely. For some it’s because he brought busking into the charts. Some people dislike him because they doubt his sincerity, others because his voice seems affected. Yet more people dislike his apparent wetness, and to some he’s a villain because he paved the way for the even less fondly regarded James Blunt. Gray’s rise to popularity seemed to usher in the age of what some commentators are fond of calling “mortgage rock”; a clearly dismissive term which puts paid to having to write anything at all sensible or thoughtful about bands such as Keane, Coldplay and Snow Patrol. A listen to this Greatest Hits album, does not reveal the blandorama Gray’s critics accuse him of cooking up. His reworking of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” is not included here, which will be either a blessing or a swizz depending on where you stand the David Gray “issue”. However, the memorable, gentle piano ballad “This Year’s Love” is present and correct, as is the really quite excellent single “Sail Away”. The admittedly overplayed, but really-not-as-ropey-as-you-might-remember-it “Babylon” is also included. Elsewhere, lesser known singles such as “The Other Side” reveal some surprisingly dark lyrics. Fans will own everything here bar two tracks, one of which is recent single “You’re The World To Me”, but there are pleasant surprises in store for the open-minded. (8 out of 10)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"Avoid Rock and Roll. Really. There's no money in it."

Irish indie hopefuls The Immediate split up this week. Helplines have been set up to console their weeping fans (music journalists, most of them) so as we bid a fond farewell to the band who Could Have Been Bigger Than An Emotional Fish, I present an interview I did with their bassist Peter Toomey earlier this year. It was intended for publication in a student paper but a cock up meant the music section never got printed. (Ciarán accepts no responsibility whatsoever for The Immediate splitting up).

HOW’S THE SECOND ALBUM COMING ALONG? We’ve recorded demos in Donegal and they’re sounding good. We’ve played a few new songs live and they’ve gone down really well. We played at Whelan’s last night actually.

WHAT HAS THE RESPONSE TO YOUR MUSIC BEEN LIKE IN ENGLAND? Gigs have been really good there, but it’s a tough place to crack. We played in Brighton and Sheffield and toured with The Young Knives. It’s tougher in London. The audiences are more cynical and jaded there, they’ve seen it all before and they can be hard to please. But we’re going back to Brighton in the summer to play a festival.

IS DANCE MUSIC REALLY MAKING A COMEBACK? I don’t know about this New Rave. All these bands like Enter Shikari…they’re all shouty guitars and squelchy noises over the top. Slightly folky stuff like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom…that seems to be more where things are going now. So, I’m not sure about this NME New Rave scene, no. I suppose it’s all about getting your music out there.


HAVE THE NME IN IRELAND HELPED YOU AT ALL? Well, they mention us a bit but they’ve so many bands to cover. Yes, it’s a difficult one to break into really.

WHAT’S THE BEST BAND YOU’VE SUPPORTED OR BEEN SUPPORTED BY ON TOUR? The Young Knives…or Doves. I didn’t want to like The Young Knives but they won me over, they were so good. I was already a big fan of Doves, we got to play a few shows with them down the country and at The Olympia. Also there’s this U.S. band called Dios Malos, they were great too.

YOU USED TO WORK IN A RECORD SHOP. DID YOU EVER GET TO SELL A COPY OF YOUR OWN RECORD TO A CUSTOMER? Yeah! Before Christmas I sold a few copies of it. I just grinned. Some of them knew I was in the band, others didn’t.

DID ANYONE EVER TAKE THE RECORD BACK AND ASK TO EXCHANGE IT FOR SOMETHING ELSE? No, not in my presence anyway. If they had done would I have allowed their refund? Oh yeah! Of course…

WHAT WAS THE LAST ALBUM YOU BOUGHT? A compilation of stuff by Tim Hardin. I’d heard covers of his stuff by people like Scott Walker and The Small Faces. Also I bought a record by Au Revoir Simone. They’re three girls, really good…

SHOULD MORRISSEY HAVE ENTERED THE EUROVISION? I think so. He’s a big fan of sixties and seventies Euro-pop. He knows his stuff. But maybe he was just joking about actually entering himself. I think he would have done well, he’d have looked slick in front of the Eurovision viewers around Europe. Yes, I think they’re ready for something like that at Eurovision.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH POP MUSIC AT THE MOMENT? Too many bands are trying to be The Arctic Monkeys! Too many bands sound the same. You don’t get the weird one-hit wonders like you did in the seventies. It’s not as much fun now. You used to get things in the charts like (daft 1972 number one) “Mouldy Old Dough” by Lieutenant Pigeon. The guy had his mother on piano! And things like that would sit alongside stuff like The Sweet and T Rex. You don’t get that kind of thing now.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE IN 2007? Just to get the record out and about a bit more here. People don’t know us well enough yet. We want to release the album (i.e last year’s superb “In Towers and Clouds”) in France. That’s it really. I’m looking forward to going to France…

DO YOU STILL HAVE TO GO TO LONDON TO ACHIEVE BIG SUCCESS OR IS IT POSSIBLE TO STAY IN DUBLIN? I suppose you do in a way have to go to London. But Europe is good too. It all filters down anyway. A lot of the bands from the sixties and seventies that I like are English bands but these days most of the bands I like come from the U.S. People like Wilco. But it’s good to do well in places like France, Germany and Scandinavia too, so we might concentrate on there a bit.

BONO : “YAY” OR “NAY”? (Not much hesitation…) Yay. It’s begrudgery isn’t it, all of these people putting him down. He must be doing something right. I wouldn’t mind being as successful as him.

WILL YOU VOTE IN THE UPCOMING GENERAL ELECTION? I think so, yes. I’ve got to get my voting card though! Should rock be political? (Thinks for rather a bit…) Nah. I don’t like when it gets too political. I like story songs, that’s what I try to write anyway.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR THE BUSINESS STUDENTS OF TRINITY COLLEGE? (Appears rather stumped…) Advice? Do I have any advice for them? (Thinks for about five years…) Um, keep your bus tickets, recycle them… Career advice? Oh. Er, apply for lots of jobs. Should they give it all up for rock and roll? Oh no. Avoid rock and roll. Really, there’s no money in it.

DID YOU CARE ABOUT IRELAND DOING WELL IN THE CRICKET WORLD CUP? I didn’t know we were in it! It gets a hard time of it in Ireland, cricket. I used to listen to it in the background while I studied. There was just something very relaxing about it. I didn’t really understand the rules, no.

WERE YOU A HAPPY TEENAGER? Like any teenager really, I was moody sometimes but I was happy. Did I ever write a song about my moodiness? I tried to write songs, yeah. They were a bit rubbish though.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST SONG YOU EVER WROTE? I just wrote some lyrics and gave them to Conor in the band (Conor O’Brien, The Immediate’s guitarist/ drummer/ singer!). He spent ages putting music to my lyrics. That was it really. I don’t really write songs by myself.

THE IMMEDIATE ARE RENOWNED FOR THEIR KNACK FOR SWAPPING INSTRUMENTS. IS THERE ANY INSTRUMENT WHICH YOU’VE TRIED – AND FAILED – TO MASTER? The guitar! I play drums and bass, but I never managed the guitar. There’s no competition among us over who’s the best guitarist, no. We’re all good at our instruments in different ways. We have different styles. We each bring our own thing to it.

WHAT’S THE MOST ANNOYING QUESTION YOU GET ASKED IN INTERVIEWS? “What do you think of the Irish music scene? Aren’t Irish bands doing well?” That’s because there are lots of bands in Ireland! Once this journalist tried to get us to slag off another Irish band. He was comparing our sales with theirs, things like that, trying to create competition or something. Yes, it was a bit nasty.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SO NERVOUS BEFORE A GIG THAT YOU WERE SICK ON YOUR AMPLIFIERS? I get very anxious before a show but it gives you adrenalin. I’ve never actually been sick, no. You get a better performance out of it really, so nerves are a good thing. I don’t really mind having to come out from behind my drum-kit to sing. It just gives me the right frame of mind.

WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING THINGS WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO DO: (A) GO DOWN THE BOOZER WITH AMY WINEHOUSE; (B) GO TO A VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT WITH CHRIS MARTIN OR (C) DISCUSS GUITAR TECHNIQUE WITH GLEN HANSARD OF THE FRAMES? (Thinks for several aeons…) I can only pick one, can I? Go drinking with Amy, probably. Failing that, guitar technique with Glen Hansard. I could probably learn a thing or two off him. What if Amy got drunk and started causing trouble? Well, I’d walk away at that point I think…

THANKS, PETER OF THE IMMEDIATE. Thanks! (Click! Brrrrrr…..)

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Girls Aloud "Call The Shots" (Polydor/Fascination)

After the disappointment of the Sugababes' below-par album and The Spice Girls' comeback - a damp squib of a single if ever there was one - it's left to Girls Aloud to rescue British girlpop once again. Happy to report then, that "Call The Shots" is their best single since "Biology". We're talking triumphant mid-paced synthpop, wistful midwinter disco. It seems that Brian Higgins and his Xenomania pals are incapable of writing a bad tune, and they seem to save their very best ones for GA. If this doesn't whizz into the Top 5 next week, there really is no justice in the world. It is simply one of the most charming pop releases of the year and bodes very well for their imminent album "Tangled Up". Their guest appearance on X Factor next week will hopefully give it an added sales boost. Hurrah!


It's Late

From now on, I'll write some bits and pieces here.

You have been warned. :-)