Archive for the ‘ Punk ’ Category

It’s a swindle…

imageFor a band that changed so much in our music and culture the Sex Pistols have, by and large, been ill-served on the movie front. Shortly after the band split The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle (directed by Julien Temple) was released. In many ways it is a fun film and offers some great footage of the band. There are classic scenes of the chaotic US tour including such highlights as Sid whacking a guy over the head with a bass and, of course, Lydon’s parting shot on the San Francisco stage where he looks out and says: ‘Ha ha ha, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ Steve Jones plays a Philip Marlowe like character, albeit a foul-mouthed version as he fucks and blinds his away around England and Brazil. There are oddities aplenty, Ronnie Biggs (a train robber, then on the run and living in Brazil) is shoe-horned in for no apparent reason and an most bizarrely mentions of ‘who killed Bambi?’ which is never explained (it comes from an earlier script). However, it is wrapped in a narrative which creates the impression that Malcolm McLaren (their manager) was some great puppet master that pulled the strings behind the scenes. The band are reduced to a play-thing for the machinations of their malevolent manager. It becomes little more than an ego-stroking exercise. What is rather ironic is that in the fictitious telling of the story whereby McLaren wants to make the band out to be anti rock n’ roll his story makes them the most boring rock n’roll cliche. He destroys the bands power; he reduces them to a cheap carry-on farce and robs them of any real potency. All that is left is the cartoon version of the band, the one that can’t play, the one that pukes all over the place and the one that was essentially a boy band created to sell clothes for Malcom’s infamous shop, Sex.

Sid and Nancy was directed by Alex Cox and was released in 1986. Gary Oldman stars as the doomed Sid Vicious but just like the aforementioned Swindle the characters are reduced to caricatures. Oldman does a great job with the material as does Chloe Webb in her role as Nancy Spungeon alas, the rest is shocking. Lydon is portrayed as a bean-eating joke,one that is is jealous of Nancy. Steve Jones and Paul Cook are just in the background but criminally when Cook is shown he is an idiot that for some reason the band don’t like. Verisimilitude is absent from the gig scenes, punks with day-glo Mohawks are pogoing about despite the fact Mohawks weren’t to arrive on the scene until the 1980s, Poly Styrene, half Somalian lead singer of X-Ray Spex is transformed into a white woman and it all just seems off. Again, the potency of the band is neutered.

In the end maybe a fictitious telling of the Pistols story is impossible. If you are interested in their story read Lydon’s No Irish, No Blacks,No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, Glen Matlock’s I was a teenage Sex Pistol and Steve Jones’ Lonely Boy. Three films I would recommend are Don Letts The Punk Rock Movie, DOA by Lech Kowalski and The Filth and Fury by Julien Temple. Get off your arse.

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Little Known Irish Classics (Vol. II)

 

No discussion of Irish music would be definitive without mentioning Microdisney. Fronted by Cathel Coughlan the band were lyrical and representative of the ’80s indie led sound that, whilst the norm for our near neighbours still wasn’t really in vogue in Ireland. Record companies were scouring Ireland looking for the next U2. Microdisney weren’t that but we are none the worst for it! Helicopter of the Holy Ghost.

 

 

 

With influences from Echo and the Bunnymen and vibing off Joy Division and The Cult (to a lesser extent) Into Paradise continued building on the idea laid down by bands like The Blades, Microdisney etc. Growing up in the late eighties and hearing Irish bands that weren’t like U2 or playing acoustic showed me I could pick up an instrument and give it a go. Rains come down indeed.

 

Ciunas  were part of the punk scene that had re-emerged in Dublin (and various parts of the country) during the early nineties. For a small number of us bands like this are a reminder not just of that scene and time in our lives but also for the independent record company: FOAD. There were bands such as Brinskill Bomb-beat, The Blue Babies, Coitus and, of course, Paranoid Visions on the roster. The song ‘Life’ is a near perfect slice of hardcore and skank inducing ska. Yes, it dealt with some clichéd lyrical themes (which doesn’t take away from the lyrics itself) but it is propelled by a driven guitar and melodic bassline it very much proved that Punk was alive and kicking in the Ireland of my youth.

This will be the third time that I have mentioned the seminal Irish punk survivors Paranoid Visions in my list however, around 1993 the band disbanded but some of the members re-surfaced as Striknein DC. Circus is a little cracker and a bit like the previous band DC melded hardcore with ska and reggae. The movement was heavily influenced by UK bands such as Citizen Fish and AOS3 however, Irish bands weren’t merely aping the scene but were actively shaping it. I will allow myself a bit of nostalgia on this one as the band I was in the nineties (Mythical New Underground) supported the DC in the now defunct Newbridge venue: Cox’s. That night was a crazy one as skinheads started to run amok and I remember DC’s singer Deco exhorting the audience to ‘Fight the real fucking enemy’. What a night that was!

Back to the early nineties but away from the punk scene we find The Pale. They were one of those odd Irish acts that emerge every so often that sound nothing at all like what people think of as an Irish sound. The Pale had this Romany gypsy vibe but not in a commercial sense. Dogs with No Tail was not as big as their hit-single Butterfly but that is no bad thing. I love the mandolin infused tune and the delivery of the vocal. They were totally out of time with their surrounding but they produced a fantastic album that is proof, if ever it was needed, that Ireland can produce a lot more than the traditional music clichéd lens that we are often viewed through.

Sandinista!

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Sandinista! stands as a result of a new found confidence on the part of The Clash. Burning incandescently on the comet trail of the double album and dizzy with ambition the band decided on an aural smorgasbord with a triple album (yes that is six sides). After the disastrous and Ill-conceived Cut the Crap this is the album that divides the faithful: in many ways one could argue that with a steadying editing influence this would have been a masterpiece fusing the raw power of punk with the newly emergent hip hop or on the other hand that the spiral sprawl allowed for a freedom which demands you listen to each and every note at least once. The album opens with Magnificent Seven: all funk and form, bristling with the new New York movements and with a bass line that carries all before it. Hitsville UK follows and it is a hopeful skank and call to arms that recalls the apogee of the arrival of punk and ska in 1970s/ 80s Britain. Junco Partner is a Brixton dub reggae tune, reminding us that the band have not lost touch with their London roots. The Leader continues London’s Calling Rockabilly vibe in a fine vein. Ivan meets GI Joe is Cold War disco writ large and is followed by Something about England, Mick Jones sings about the death of the post war dream through the eyes of a homeless Londoner and again the echoes of the Cold War can be felt like a Dickensian ghost. Rebel Waltz is concerned with the American Civil War by way of Jamaican dub reverb and is a trope followed up by both Paul Simonon on The Crooked Beat and by Strummer and Mickey Dread on One more time (and One more time: Dub ) which is biting social The Clash, reggae and roots are all to the fore with Joe singing to the world in a desperate bid to get us all to listen. Sandwiched in between all that is the Mick Jones classic Somebody Got Murdered. Have I forgot anything? Yes in between all that is a version of Mose Allison’s Look Here. This is two sides in and there are four more to go.
Rather than labour over every song on the album I will just mention some of the highlights The Call Up is pure anti-war, Joe singing about wanting to see the wheat fields rather than murder and maim for God or country. Broadway is beautiful and sparse, all feeling and awe and you can tell that America has been digging in to the bands psyche. Charlie don’t Surf uses that famous line from Apocalypse Now and the subject of Vietnam would be a subject to which the band would return. There are strange bedfellows in Career Opportunities reworked into a mad lullaby sung by kids, Mensforth Hill is just Something about England played backwards, there are dub versions of If Music Could Talk, Washington Bullets, Junco Partner and an instrumental in the shape of Shepard’s Delight. There is an Eddy Grant cover: Police on my Back. At times it feels like the album is going to tip over into a free form jam as the coherence dips and you feel that the band are laying down every demo idea that they have jammed. They want to make you work to find the brilliance and the album reminds me of how bland and uniform soundscapes have become of late and how artificial the industry has become. The Clash wanted to expand minds, talk politics even the name of the album is a statement of intent giving a massive fuck you to Reagan politics and Thatcherite gloom. This wasn’t introspective navel gazing but all out balls out broadside balladry for a new age. This group really believed they were the only band that mattered and were on mission: that mission was clear Lydon had screamed get off your arse but The Clash were going to kick us off our arse one at a time if needs be. God bless them it was a big ask and one that ultimately failed as music is now full of the whingeing generation who couldn’t be bothered lifting an amp never mind putting their shoulder to the wheel to try to pull down the walls of conformity. Yes they may have been Don Quixote, tilting at windmills but there were enough of us willing to be Sancho Panza and jump on for the ride. Will we ever again have an age where a band will get away with a triple album like this? Alas I think not but fuck it, it is only rock and roll but… Ah you know the rest

Analogue Dreams and Digital Bubbles Part One

I was listening to the radio recently and the guest was talking about his life in general and his career in music in particular. It was both an insightful and entertaining conversation but the thing that really piqued my interest was the section on his time spent in the studio recording albums. It got me to thinking about my own time recording and the experiences I have had putting down songs, both good and bad. My first band, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, was called Mythical New Underground and back in the dark and grimy recesses of January 1995 we recorded our one and only release: Newspeak. It was a demo tape and consisted of four songs namely: Start a revolution, Proof, Confessions and Concrete. A demo, for the uninitiated, was a demonstration, usually of risible quality, of a bands oeuvre. We recorded it in Poppyhill Studio, Co. Kildare. The demo was part of an exam by the budding producer Shane Leigh (who later worked on national TV on a programme called 2phat).I mention it was part of his exam brief as because of this the recording only cost us the princely sum of sixty pound.
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The night before was spent practicing for the day to come and when it finally arrived we all bundled into a van and set about on our merry way. I can remember being very excited at the prospect of getting into the studio and the band belted into the four songs. That I was so excited might seem a bit odd in the digital age but back then to have something recorded was alien and new. We quickly realised that there was a lot more to recording then we had previously envisioned and that we were a lot looser then we actually thought. Still, we had a tape and I couldn’t wait to hear it. However, when I got home it was really disappointing as it was very muddy sounding. Little did I realise that I was about to learn a hard cold truth :recording and the word disappointing were to go hand in hand. All that aside listening to it now transports me back to the writing of the songs and a more innocent time in my life. Start a revolution was the first song that Con (the guitar player) wrote and the first I had a hand writing the bass line to, our drummer, Mark added the beat and our singer Poggy added vocals and lyrics, it was a real collaborative effort.Proof was written by a friend called Joe ‘O Sullivan, Concrete was ,lyrically, a real Poggy number and Confessions had a funky, jumpy little bass riff and an intro that both myself and Mark made up in his parents garage.
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I thought this would be the first of many recordings under the band name and as time progressed Con and I honed our skills and started to write songs that had tasty little hooks. I am not too proud to admit I miss that songwriting partnership as it was a fruitful one but none of those later songs got recorded (there is a live recording of our one and only reunion show from 2008 I love it but it has no new songs on it) they remain but a trace in my memory. Again, recording and disappointment.

Even though the end result of my first foray into recording was a mixed bag I thought I would get chances to rectify my mistakes and learn more about the studio environment. However, the next time I had anything complete and recorded was a live gig from 2006! This was another collaborative effort with a singer/songwriter friend of mine by the name of Pierce O’ Donnell. We both spent the June of that year writing together,in his house and down in a shed in Kilkenny, to produce and bring to the stage his songs. Pierce had hit a songwriting vein that saw him tackle both the political and the personal and we really followed a muse over those thirty days. I learnt so much about my playing during this time and even though the recording of the gig was never released when I listen to it I am transported back to that summer night. There is just an energy and a joy that was captured that makes me think of this recording as part of my discography.

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The band that night also included Domo Thorpe(percussion),Davy Long (drums),Gordon Turner(guitar, Ashling and Laura Cahill(backing vocals) and Imogen Gunnar(violin). The set list read Times Like These, Cool, Two Cars in the Drive, Just Another Shadow, Who Showed You How to Groove, Pinches, The Scent of Your Skin, Afterglows, Night Out With the In Crowd, Almost an American and the beautiful After The Rain (see link below). It would be remiss of me not to mention that Pierce sung a song that was originally written by his late mother, and was entered into the Eurovision Song Contest, called Walking the Streets in the Rain. Listening to him sing it, is without doubt, one of the most emotional and affecting experiences I have ever had on stage. I had hoped that those songs would be recorded in a studio but alas, the fates had again conspired. Surely it had to get better…

Mythical pasts.

Last week I had this beautiful (well to my mind) blog half written about my first band. We were called Mythical New Underground. The whole idea behind it was to tell everyone about the role of punk and music in my teenage years ( a recurring theme), the way in which music taught me about politics and history and more importantly it was going to be about the friendships at the heart of that band that endured for a long time after the band ceased to be. There were the practices we had, mainly in a garage in Newbridge, sometimes in an old wooden shed, a few times in a sitting room and once in a friends kitchen. The excitement of making out a song and the unbridled joy of writing one made us all feel like kings. The nights spent at parties talking about the meaning of Anarchy, the freedom of the individual, the state of the world and the corrupt politicians that ran it were all part of the education. Writers like Orwell and Rimbaud were bandied around. Lyrics of bands such as Crass, AOS3, Subhumans, The Scum of Toytown were dissected. Local bands like Little Sally’s Dead, The Haggard, Genital Mishap, Sumerian Cry, The Buzzers, Sleeping Village, The Malenky Bits and The Zimmermans ( to name a few) were bands that should have, at the very least, made a decent EP but never really got the chance. Filthy jokes and smut, buckfast, cider and cigarettes mixed together with teenage hormones and righteousness made for a great era of my life (we were meant to do a tour of England supporting one of our favourite bands, alas it never happened).Underpinning it all was the friendships. There was for a time that all I wanted to do was to be famous but it didn’t last long. And as much as I loved playing and being part of music and the music scene to be honest when the gigs faded the friends I made were always more important.
So, that was the blog I was going to write. The Mythical New Underground gigs faded years ago (except for a one off gig that we held to celebrate the singers 30th there is a YouTube video of it floating out there somewhere) our one and only demo: Newspeak remains largely unheard and all but a very few even remember us. None of that really matters. How many bands go the way we went? Millions. It is no great tragedy. The real tragedy of Mythical New Underground is the friendships ended ( well all bar one). The friendships survived the break up of the band,one of the band members emigrating and coming back, my mother dying, relationships coming and going and the usual trials and tribulations that people experience in life. In the end it was music that drove the wedge between us, how ironic is that eh? As Yeats once wrote ‘Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart’, as usual that auld Sligo seer of the soul was right. C’est la vie.

The Low End

We often give out about the fact we are a materialistic society however, what we own or have owned can define moments in our life and help us recall memories and a time that no longer belongs to us. The first time I ever played bass guitar was on an acoustic guitar, which had no name i.e. manufacturer and had the worst action ever. It was an absolute bollocks to play and the tuning pegs were really hard to turn. I can truly say that I had absolute zero love for the instrument but it was the first one I ever played a bass line on whilst accompanying a guitar (the song was Jump in the Fire by Metallica). My first actual bass was an Arbiter and it was Sunburst and really heavy and of course it was missing a tuning peg, so I couldn’t put an e-string on it, a major impediment for any Bass player as the E is the lowest string on the conventional 4 string. No matter, it was still an actual bass guitar. I can’t remember playing it that much but I do remember buying the wrong sized tuning peg and making it fit, but it was too large and it made the bass look ugly. 

I would have been stuck with it for a long time, as I couldn’t afford another , but the dad of a friend of mine wanted it and I swapped that Arbiter for an Encore bass. This one had a jet black body and a wood coloured neck, it was also a small bass which suited me fine as I was only a beginner. I loved that bass, as in truth it was the one that I learned to play on. I remember sitting out in my kitchen learning Thin Lizzy albums on it, trying to master Metallica riffs and endlessly playing Love Cats. That was the bass I played in my first punk band, you know those bands that you join and you think: ‘God, I am so lucky that my first band is the best band ever and that it will be the only band I will ever be in.’ Well we never made it, but it was a great band and I have realised that more importantly it was a good laugh. 

During my time in that band there was ‘the one that got away’ and it was an Aria Pro II. It belonged to our singer (he also played bass) and I would play this Aria during my first couple of gigs and on our one and only demo.It was a lovely bass, it had stickers all over the body and had a maple neck. It was a joy to play but for some reason I never owned it! What can I say I was an idiot. Anyway, there came a time when I had to let the Encore go and I bought a Yamaha, it was black (a trend developing I see) and very light and for the next few years it was my bass of choice.  In the end though it wasn’t enough I always wanted another: enter Fender.

Look, I am going to say this, I love Fender basses they look cool and they sound great and the neck is exquisite and they are what I think of when I think of bass. So, my next purchase was a Japenese Fender with a black body and a white scratch plate. Of all the basses I have ever owned I still miss this one. This was the one that made me feel like a real player. I bought it in 1994 and still had it ten years later. This was the bass that carried me through leaving school, losing friends, losing lovers and the death of my mother. In the dark nights this was the instrument I played to sooth the ache and I know this probably sounds funny to those that don’t play but it was like a dear old friend. I added an acoustic bass in 1998, Hohner by the way, but that never really felt like mine, don’t ask me why that is but it just doesn’t. 

Anyway, I let the Fender (precision for those that care) go as part of a trade in for a Fender Jazz coloured, surprisingly enough,black with a white scratch board. It cost me a bit as it is a US model but I love playing it, it responds to me! It is my main bass these days (although I do have a five string Cort and a Westone fretless both of which are black the latter is really heavy and the former very light) and was the one I recorded an EP with the last band I was in, you know the band I was going to make it with this time around.  

I suppose what I am trying to say is this:  the basses I have had since I started playing back in 1992 have, in a very real way, been like friends to me. Not all our material belongings are transient. They tell a story, my story, no matter how small that may be. I wonder where the basses I have let go are now? I hope that somebody is playing them and that they are not lying in a corner somewhere and I also pray that they have brought somebody the joy they brought to me.

Metal Box

Some people manage to be involved in one masterpiece in their life, others, such as John Lydon, manage the feat twice. Not content with being involved in one band that changed the face of music, namely the Sex Pistols, he went on to break new ground with Public Image Ltd.  Brilliant, defiant, anarchic and joyous as the Pistols were,PIL,in many ways, were the better band. For one, their body of work surpasses that of the Pistols and for another the music had more depth. There are many great PIL moments from the pulsating debut single ‘Public Image’, the eastern tinged ‘Flowers of Romance’, the commerce baiting ‘This is not a love song’ and that ode for every alienated outsider (and we have all been that person at times) Rise, they are a band that always try something new.

However, their magnum opus is Metal Box. A dark dub fuelled bass courtesy of Jah Wobble underpins the scratchy, twitchy guitar of the great Keith Levene (drums were handled by Wobble, Levene, Richard Dudanski, Martin Atkins and David Humphrey) over it all we have Lydon delivering some of the most pivotal vocal performances of his career.  Albatross is a free form classic that drives forward, menacing and dark, Wobble’s lolloping bass, Levene’s stabbing guitar and Lydon singing about getting rid of the Albatross, throwing off the shackles of the past and riding the crest of a wave onward. God, I will never forget the first time I heard this, on vinyl, aged 15, it showed me that music could be pitch black dark with a atmosphere that can only be described as both hypnotic and claustrophobic.  The song Memories follows and it is both dancy and angry. The production is fantastic as at a point the sound changes altogether and lifts the song ever higher. Where to go from there?

A good band finds a tune a great band finds a classic:  Death Disco is an epic, Wobble doesn’t waste a bass note, Lydon sings, wails, screams about the loss of his mother to cancer and Levene plays the motif of Swan Lake on guitar. Somehow when I write that it looks like it shouldn’t work but by God it does. It manages to be skanky and terrifying in one breath and for some reason that I can never figure out the BBC let them play it on Top of the Pops ha ha.  Speaking of Pop (seemless segway) we have the song Poptones, which has an absolute beaut of a bass line, again we have dark lyrical themes as John says: “It’s straight out of the  Daily Mirror so I can’t guarantee its authenticity.” “This was another newspaper story which fascinated me. A girl bundled blindfolded into the back of a car by a couple of bad men and driven off into a forest, where they eventually dumped her. The men had a cassette machine with an unusual tune on the cassette, which they kept playing over and over. The girl remembered the song, and that, along with her recollection of the car and the men’s voices, is how the police identified them. The police eventually stopped the car and found the cassette was still in the machine, with the same distinctive song on the tape.

Careering is a song about an IRA man turned businessman and has a synth that just drills in to you, driving into your spine and makes you want to move. No birds do sing , Graveyard,  The Suit,  Bad Baby and the Socialist all add to the rich texture of the album but Chant is an absolute belter, it feels like an army should be singing it. In the end, the album is rounded off by the instrumental track Radio 4 and is a mellow ending to a gothic/dub classic. Look I feel like putting it on now…but before I do I would just like to add that the original pressing of this album saw the vinyl in a metal canister like the ones they used to put films in. Genius. Buy it.