Posts Tagged ‘ Bass ’

The desire lines on a mythical map or the art of complicating simplicity.

My first band (as regular readers know) were called Mythical New Underground. As curator of our story and our ephemera it should fall to me to write this retrospective. Indulgent? Yes. Merit of said piece? Well it gives an insight into the progression of music over the last quarter of a century. So, here we go. Mythical were formed back in the summer of 1994; grunge was still on the throne, yet fading after the death of Kurt Cobain, Britpop was gathering a full head of steam and music was still a viable industry. We gathered ourselves together during the death throes of our local scene. Band such as Little Sally’s Dead, The Haggard and Genital Mishap has been and gone and it was from the ashes of  latter that MNU were formed. We were out of step with the music of the time playing a hybrid of punk/thrash/ reggae/ska with finicky rhythms and changes. The guitar player and I were from the hinterland of two bigger towns: Kildare and Newbridge and it was from Newbridge that the other members hailed. 

We were dreamers, all musicians are and our music was ambitious both in terms of scope and lyrics. We wanted to change our world. Ireland was still a drab country largely known for terrorism and Catholicism. Socially conservative but morally bankrupt. There seemed to be little hope of change. I can only speak for myself but I wanted to write music that would change things and I wanted to be a professional musician. Back then the record companies controlled the flow of information, they owned the means of production and the majority of musicians were on the outside looking in. We practiced in sheds, standing toe to toe with shovels, buckets, toolboxes and paint thinners. We had a small PA and cheap guitars. We made a glorious noise. That summer was magical. I felt like I had arrived. We managed to bag gigs. In hotels, in the back rooms of bars and we’d bundle into an old post-office van to get there and play. Booze flowed after. Life was good. We recorded in a small studio and produced our first demo: Newspeak. We were in thrall to Orwell, 1984 was a reality and the state could not be trusted. Four songs made the cut: Start a Revolution, Concrete, Proof and Confessions. Our names inside: Poggy (Vocals) Byrnie (Drums), KON (guitar) and Head (bass). It cost 60 quid. It is muddy but it is ours. 

Released in 95 we were soon to lose our singer Poggy. There was a wilderness period but we ploughed on. Songs were written which are now lost to time. Some I remember and others are gone for good. We did replace Pog at first KON took to the mic and then with a guy called Derek. I can’t remember his second name. Our friend Murf played as a second guitarist once. We could have carried on but Byrnie left for the States and KON and I wound it all down in ‘97. That was that(I’m leaving out details because somethings should remain private). How many bands have a similar story? All the dreams give way to reality. The search to be recognized gives way to a deeper love of the music. Bands of my youth flash before my minds eye: Brinskill Bomb-Beat, Cuinus, Arnheim, Scum of Toytown, Coitus, The Blue Babies, Striknein DC, SMH etc etc. bands that meant so much. There are nameless others each with their own story. 

Flash forward to 2008: we reformed for a one off gig for Pog’s 30th it is raucous and rowdy and it lifts us up and onward to the next phase of our life. It is fun and we all think that is that for a second time. 2018 roles around and we celebrate his 40th and we do it again. We are older and wiser. We can harness the energy, know when to rise and when to fall. How many times do you get to play with your first band again? To weather the storms of 24 years of history. Not often. We are lucky. The gig is modestly attended but that doesn’t really matter. It’ll be the last time…until Pog’s 50th. 

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edge of the night

Soften the edge of the noon
into the night
yesterday comes too soon
a heart on fire.
Reason gives way to mood
falling to life
a melody whispers the tune.

In the loss of reason
Love gives way to a lie
you and I together
getting lost.
We know nothing
except the edge of the night.
Open up to a life
that we’d forgotten
as we danced against time.
Elemental feeling
aches from the void
in an age of reason
how we long for the night.

Pay to play…please.

Living on the bottom rung of music is a difficult place to be. Starting out as a young musician you have aspirations to make a career out of that which you love. However, Ireland doesn’t really have the avenues to make a living out of music. There are many reasons for this but there are three major ones that I believe hamper the scene and creativity in general: (1) a lack of dedicated places that put on original music (2) too many bands and (3) unwillingness to pay bands. The first two points are difficult and impossible to solve respectively. Pubs are the venues for gigs in Ireland and the punter wants music that they recognize. On the second point, you can’t stop people playing so, an overcrowded market exists. Point three is the kicker and it is the one that really stifles the Irish musician.

Firstly, we all have to admit that we have devalued music. All of us. We don’t think we have to pay for music. Spotify, YouTube etc. etc. pay very little we all know this and now we are beginning to see the fruit of this as even successful bands have to tour constantly to make money. ‘Well screw them’ you might say ‘they have enough money already’. That may be the case but I’m thinking more about the bottom rung musicians and in Ireland, when you are there well money doesn’t exist.

‘What system does exist?’ I hear you ask. For the most part, exploitation. A tad dramatic? No not really. You see I come from a working class background and my parents couldn’t afford to bankroll my dreams. ‘Never stop believing’ is easy to say but let’s be honest that doesn’t pay for guitars, amps, PAs, strings and petrol. Look at point two again. Yes, too many bands. You see there will always be a band that will play if you don’t. Starting out I never cared about money, of course I didn’t I was 14 when I started. But when I turned 18 I was expected to work. Nothing dulls a dream like an empty pocket and nothing kicks you in the stones like working on songs only to be told: ‘We will give you the gig , we can’t pay you but (and every bottom rung musician knows the next line) it’ll be great exposure!’ We all believe this at the start but only a fool believes it down the road. Or so you would think.

I’m writing this because I believe that most musicians live in a bubble or suffer from a psychosis. I’ll never forget my girlfriend asking me ‘How much did you get for that gig?’ I was in my thirties and playing in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. I’ll never forgot the look on her face when I replied ‘Nothing’ (I lie we each got one pint). She looked at me like I was mad. I was. You see that look pulled me out of the reverie but to be honest that had begun to happen a long time before.

It happened one night in a pub in the inner city, I won’t name names here as I’m classy like that ah what the fuck they probably need the exposure. It was The Mercantile and we were waiting to go on and the drummer turned to me and he said: ‘I’m sick of playing up and down in the same places for nothing’. He looked so dejected that I knew that night his heart was gone out of the band and truth be told mine had begun to. It wasn’t really the band. It was more that I had to try to hold down a job and then get to a venue and play to about fifty people who didn’t really care. I’m from the punk school of music so I put on a show but it was hard. What was harder was the realization that when you don’t pay for something you don’t appreciate it. We weren’t getting paid, and we weren’t getting paid for all the hard work that we had done and because of that people treated it as next to nothing. Harsh? Yes. True? Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

I’ll leave it on this, I was in another band and we got an opportunity to appear in a short film. You know the story, it’ll be great exposure yadda, yadda. So, I ring to find what we would need (as I’ve never been in a movie) and the most ignorant waste of space has the temerity to start getting snotty with me as I’m asking are they providing a PA for us to play through. He starts to launch into an attack about how I should know and why am I ringing. I stop him dead in his tracks and tell him in no uncertain terms to never talk to me like I’m an errant child and remind him we are doing him the favour. Against my better judgement I borrow a PA to bring with us to the shoot. We drive fifty miles to a pub at the designated time of one o’clock. No one is there. When they do arrive three hours later we set up etc by eight that evening we have still not started the shoot. I talk to a guy back stage ( I don’t want to embarrass my band mates) he has a word and eventually at around 9:00 the shoot begins. It’s all over by ten but we have to pack up and get back. We were promised food. That’s all we asked. Food. They bought eight pizzas for about eighty people. I got one slice. I arrived home at one. I did twelve hours for a slice of pizza. That was two and a half years ago. The film has never been released and the band have since split. Exposure? When you’re on the bottom there ain’t no such thing!

A wave that breaks.

Generation X was the label of my generation. We were/are the slackers, the cynics, the ones that had lost all trust in authority and just kinda shrugged at it all. Well at least that was the cliche. Who knows what we were or are for labels are handed out in an arbitrary fashion usually at the whim of journalists or sociologists. What is true is that the movement known as grunge brought the underground overground as it were. There were many bands involved but there were four that stood out for me: Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Well we all know what happened to Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley of Alice in Chains died after. That left Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell. Unfortunately Chris Cornell died in May. There is a deep sadness that the bands that changed so much lost their frontmen. Of all the four Soundgarden were my favourite and I had the pleasure of seeing them live in Dublin some years back. Sleep well Chris and thank you for the music.

A Wave That Breaks

The remnants of my youth
carried on the updraft of your voice.
It echoed through the rooms of my thoughts.
Images formed of fragments
the possibility of the now,
the slow trudge of an ending
and the beginning of newer age.
What gifts the seer brings
harnessing the whisper to create the scream
showing the believers the worth of their dreams
knowing the unknown
keeping us alive
measuring the distance
of rooms a thousand years wide.

She Speaks

image…boop,boop.Metronomic time, ceaseless and unforgiving.Under her watch fingers freeze, throats tighten and pulses race. In the moment four fight from going under the sonic waves they have created. Outside there is the alley. The artery. Rain falls in giant globs running from Pearse Street to Lombard finally coming to rest at the side streets end.

Some months before and the half whistled shapeless melody is given form by the guitar player’s hands.Lucid dreams given substance. Consonants and vowels drift from the larynx and the word is made flesh. Bass flitters between the gaps, wild and old. This new ship is anchored by the drum. Happiness fills the space.How easy it can be to make worlds.

Joyce’s Liffey everflows to the sea. The eastlanders follow on to Westland. Time passes.The metronome is tamed. Beginnings give way to ends. Parents to our children (all eight of them and those we lost) we coo at them, play peek-a-boo with them. Afraid to let them go but let them go we must.

I think of them now and then. I wonder where they are and what they are doing? Our children. Out of nowhere She Speaks. I hear the lady clearly and remember our moments, frozen now in my mind. Silently, I thank her and all the minutes we shared. All the seconds. Bip, bip….

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.

The sound and the fury.

The growth of the digital age has changed the face of music. Not a bold pronouncement by any means but rather a cold statement of fact. The means of production and consumption has altered and like any epoch there are good and bad aspects. One thing I’ve been pondering over the last few weeks is the production. Digital recording has allowed for a cleaner, more uniform sound. Ostensibly this should be a good thing however, it presents two problems namely uniformity and also it highlights the ‘bad’ sound quality of older recordings.

These recordings can range from the old Delta blues masters, jazz classics, big bands, show tunes, garage rock etc. Within the punk rock fraternity the rawness of the recording was part of the aesthetic. The DIY nature of the movement often necessitated working outside and against the mainstream. Underground bands from Minor Threat, Subhumans, Crass, Black Flag, Minutemen (the list is endless) represented a rawness of sound where the message and energy was king, the medium less so. Here is the song, take it or leave it. Some of my favourite tunes and albums are less than pristine and less then polished. Those bands were chipping away from the outside and their lack of aural finesse, often necessitated by lack of funds, became part of the whole.

Today bands are often too packaged for my liking. To well put together. One eye is on getting the audiences money. The experience of listening to music has become, in many ways, less pleasurable. The medium has become more important than the message. With the advent of grunge the underground went overground and in that process the underground disappeared. The digital revolution has, in a very real sense, removed the raw, unbridled sexual energy of music and in it’s wake left a pristine almost antiseptic landscape. Don’t get me wrong it isn’t all bad as digital quality recordings can be made in anyone’s bedroom and as the breakdown of the wall between artist and audience has occurred. However, call me an old romantic but I sometimes yearn for the Lo-Fi thrill of a cheap recording one that may not be nuanced but has a heart as big as a whale!

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