Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Long Forecast Gig Roundup

If you're like me and you need a lot of notice to organise yourself because you're a disorganised individual, the following are a few live shows coming up over the next few months that I'd recommend heading along to, and will probably end up at most of myself....

Easter Sunday, 5th of April - FOR JAYSIS SAKE, The Sugar Club

Featuring a solo set from Mark Austin from The Minutes, with support from Spines, Segrasso, Gavin & The Icons and The Dead Sets. I'm not up to speed on some of the support here but Segrasso live will be worth the visit in itself. Having recently seen them support Naoise Roo at her single launch in The Workman's Club, they blew the stage apart live.

Segrasso, 'Cell'

Friday, 17th April, Kevin Nolan, The Workman's Club

I've missed one or two of Kevin Nolan's recent live shows so I'm pretty excited about this one, previously interviewed here on the blog and his debut album reviewed, the wondrous Frederick & The Golden Dawn, the Dubliner's live show promises to be enigmatic, theatrical and memorable. There will also be support from Thomas Truax, The Revelator Orchestra and Al Doyle.

Photo: Mihai Cucu

Kevin Nolan, 'Ballade to St. Dymphna'

Saturday, 18th of April, ¡NO with Gavin Prior, T-Block Smithfield, 4pm

Concrete Soup is a monthly improv performance with house band ¡NO having a new guest on each occasion, both perform separately and then together for the finale of the evening, without preparation, and let the music do the talking. I previously attended the January event and it was a great experience, something everyone should check out at least once.

Photo: Remy Connolly

¡NO, 'paper tiger paper snake'

Tuesday, 5th of May, Public Service Broadcasting, The Button Factory

Also recently interviewed on the blog, Public Service Broadcasting's The Race for Space has been up their with Panda Bear, and now possibly Sufjan Stevens, as my album of the year so far. I've also been equally and belatedly hooked on 2013's Inform - Educate - Entertain, I have my tickets for this one already and one of the most appealing aspects of seeing them live will be the audio-visual experience (taster below), should be well worth the paltry ticket fee of €17.35.

Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting, 'Go!'

Saturday, 15th of May, Duke Special, Vicar Street

Duke Special
Photo: Remy Connolly

Duke Special, 'Nail on the Head'

With his new album, Look Out Machines! out this week, Mr.Special is playing both Belfast's Mandela Hall and Vicar Street in Dublin. I recently saw him in the now legendary Abner Browns Barbershop in Rathmines, Dublin and really enjoyed the whole performance despite the fact I hadn't heard any of the songs previously. Duke Special goes deep with his music, lyrics and singing and also does a damn good job of entertaining in between songs, I'm not sure what his set up will be in terms of a backing band but it will be good to see him again with more musicians and being more familiar with the new album which is currently streaming in full on The Irish Times website here

Saturday, 30th of May, Sinead White, The Sugar Club

Sinead White
Photo: Dave Kelly

Sinead White, 'Every Breaking Wave' (U2)

The great thing about the aforementioned Abner Browns is that without fail the support act rivals the main act every time, such was the case when singer-songwriter Sinead White came on before Duke Special on the same night. Incredibly powerful voice, quirky instrumentals, and most importantly good songs, ranging from soft to high-powered, even in an acoustic set. To give an idea have a listen to her make a track off U2's slightly maligned recent album sound fantastic above. White is definitely a rising star on the Dublin music scene and now is the time to catch her.

More gig guides next month, including a certain local festival I'm quite excited about.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

E.P.: Carpool Conversation - 'African Queen in a Brazilian Dream'

Carpool Conversation, 'African Queen in a Brazilian Dream'

Info: In the bands own words; 'After a chance meeting at a dental hygienist and a near drowning incident in a Hyde Park Lido, Carpool Conversation began it's London leg.' What do you mean you don't know what a lido is? Okay, I didn't either,'A lido is a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim, lie in the sun or participate in water sports. On a cruise ship or ocean liner, the deck with outdoor pools and the surrounding facilities are often designated the lido deck.'

Carpool Conversation's second E.P. is steeped in 60's psych-garage rock but also jumps into ska on at least more than one occasion. Opening track 'Night Owl' sets what is an unrelenting tone through the whole 4 songs on the recording, feverish drumming and guitar riffs that bring forth The Yardbirds 'For Your Love' and the United States of America (the band, not the country). Lead single 'African Queen in a Brazilian Dream' is a delightful skiffle that mixes ska leanings with the aforementioned psych-rock, like if The Specials were given a new synthetic hallucinogen and asked to play 'Miserlou' backwards. 'Toil' is a nice piece of fun as well, and the most ska feeling song on the E.P., hard not to conjure images of Madness on this one with a tiny hint of light-hearted Clash. Altogether a very entertaining, sometimes explosive and cool contemporary homage to an under-appreciated sound.

Carpool Conversation, 'Night Owl'

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Single: Bells Atlas - 'Future Bones'

Bells Atlas

Bells Atlas, 'Future Bones'

Info: Bells Atlas emerges from the vibrant cultural and musical backdrop of Oakland, CA. Blending soulful vocals, an affinity for rhythm and an adventurous spirit, this dynamic group has arrived at a sound their own. Self-described as 'kaleidosonic soul punch afro-soul, rhythm pop-sicles taste the rainbow Missy Elliot meets Bjork meets the Malian-born love child of David Longstreth and Annie Clark or something like that'. 

'Future Bones' gets straight down to business with it's stark beats and chillwave electronic sounds from the get go. It certainly is an afro-soul track, with it's sequenced heavy drumming introduction, and my god, those vocals from lead singer Sandra Lawson-Ndu are to die for, like the perfect melding of Sneaker Pimps and Beth Orton, and musically Blueboy's 'Remember Me' tempered by good indie-pop. It's hard to describe in a way but it's very easy to listen to, and I also quite enjoyed their studio performance of their older song 'Video Star' as well (below). There's a nice effortless blend of styles in Bells Atlas' music and it's highly enjoyable. 'Future Bones' is out today.

Bells Atlas, 'Video Star'

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Saturday, 28 March 2015

Single Release: Astronauts, etc. - 'I Know'

Photo: Ginger Fierstein

Astronauts, etc., 'I Know'

Info: If there was some way of putting music in a future date diary, 'I Know' would be immediately slotted into the calendar for the first hazy summer evening of the year. Astronauts, etc. are from Oakland, California and are the new musical project of Toro Y Moi keyboardist Anthony Ferraro. Self-described as somewhere in between Grizzly Bear, The Bee Gees and Sade, I can see where they are coming from with the intro guitars and harmonies. The later guitar solo at the opening of the track is such a nice lazy blues riff and the gentle percussion throughout combined with acoustic guitar are deep down mellow. Images of falling in slow motion from the clouds and landing on a giant ball of cotton wool abound and are enough to create a desire to hear more offerings from Astronauts, etc.

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Interview: Frank Kearns of Cactus World News

Cactus World News, 'Years Later', 1986

Info: Cactus World News were formed in 1984 when founding members, guitarist Frank Kearns and front man Eoin McEvoy, met up in a flat in Cabra and wrote 'The Bridge' (below) together. Shortly after their inaugural jamming session, Wayne Sheehy (drums) and Fergal MacAindris (bass) would complete the band's line-up and Cactus World News were ready to set off on an incredible musical voyage together. It could be said that the seeds of this journey were planted years before however, Kearns attended Mount Temple school in Clontarf at the same time as U2, who needless to say, had a shared passion and whose musical paths would cross time and time again over the coming decade in particular. All four band members already had 6-7 years experience in various bands behind them before CWN got together which prepared them to a degree for tours of the United States, supporting The Cult on their U.K. tour in 1985 and their appearance at the epic 14 hour long, 1986 Self-Aid concert at the RDS in aid of the 250,000 unemployed in Ireland at the time. 

The more I've researched the band in the last week and especially following my conversation with Frank, the more I've come to the realisation that the story of Cactus World News is a fascinating one, a treasure trove of rock music history from the 1980's and a new perspective of the scene in my home town from that era, here's their story as told by Frank Kearns himself;

To start off I wanted to know more about about Self-Aid in 1986, the benefit concert held in aid of the unemployed when there were 250,000 people out of work in the country, with over 350,000 on the live register at the moment, (admittedly with a larger population), were things worse back then than they are now?

I think things are pretty much the same except we have the benefit of more advanced technology and also we have a lot more people from different backgrounds in the country now, it was such a monoculture back then, other than that it's pretty much the same. With regard to Self-Aid, you have to remember, back in those days you obviously had U2 starting off and they were actually doing really well, and that was kind of inspiring, and everyone felt 'Well hold on, people actually like us somewhere else, like in America'. There was very little to be proud of, there was nothing in fact to be proud of. Coming from that background, it was a breath of fresh air that in America, people were very receptive to music in Ireland and the whole story, and obviously U2 benefited from that. Ourselves in Cactus, we were happy to appear on stage that day and play, it was a real sense of coming of age, 'this is our music, this is what we do', Irish music didn't have to be just diddly-eye any more, that wasn't something I was ever into, having been raised on rock music, especially The Ramones, for example.

Around the time of Self-Aid and the endemic unemployment, expectations were lower, we've just gone through a huge Celtic Tiger false economy boom based on house prices, people thought they had this piggy bank and their house was giving them all this money, but the whole thing was built on sand, when the rug was pulled away people went into shock. I think back then we didn't have that, we weren't coming from having something and then losing it, we never had it to start with, we had nothing and were coming from nothing. Emigration was the only real answer, I emigrated to London with my band Blue Russia for 2 and a half years, and I really didn't want to do that but we felt we had to do it because there was nothing really happening at home, when I came back to Ireland in 1984 to form Cactus with Eoin, the guys (U2) had just done the War album. 

I felt things were looking up for Ireland, you could feel the energy growing, we just got our head down and worked our asses off. To go on stage at Self-Aid and to look around at all the PA and equipment and the organisation, just so shortly after Live Aid was amazing, this was our Live Aid, you kind of feel proud, you know, yeah we can do this and put this stuff together, because we're always putting each other down. You have to remember as well back then that RTÉ and 2FM, with all their bollocks about supporting Irish music, didn't support Irish music, they didn't play the bands, or if they did there was the usual comment of 'Not bad for an Irish song', I actually remember hearing that lots of times, there were exceptions to the rule of course, but that was the national inferiority complex in full swing.

It seems that things haven't changed that much in terms of Irish bands getting airplay, shows that focus on unsigned or independent artists are rare and seen as a novelty, with the big stations almost looking for a pat on the back for featuring such acts for an hour here and there per week.

Some of the programmes are just vehicles for advertising, but there are good ones, Fiachna Ó Braonáin stood in for John Creedon I think on RTÉ radio there recently, he was great! Playing Robbie Robertson, The Sex Pistols, it was great to hear that. 

Going back to Self-Aid, there were some incredible acts in the line-up like Thin Lizzy (minus Phil who passed away four months previous sadly), U2, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Chris Rea, The Pogues and it was also The Boomtown Rats last performance, it must have been amazing to be around such musicians, do you have any particular memories that stand out at that time and how did you perceive your own status back then?

We were compared here obviously with U2, because we were of the same era and no matter what we did, we were never going to be as successful as U2 were in Irish peoples eyes, we sold over 250,000 albums which would be unheard of nowadays, we toured the States and were signed to the Mother label, but when we did Self-Aid, that gig gave us a sense of pride, here we are, we've arrived to this point, that yes, everyone needs a role model to look up to, a sense of if they can do it, we can we definitely do it. I'm actually working on a book at the moment, it's not an ordinary music book, like a timeline or anything, a memoir if you like, my own life from the very beginning, I have so many anecdotes from that period, people say 'you should write this stuff down'. It got me thinking that, you know I've never actually talked about my early days with U2, my background, I was in Mount Temple with the guys, Larry was my best mate, I formed Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers, which is what the Killing Bono film was about, I was played by the actor David Fennelly, it's not War & Peace but it's kind of a comedy, it's a funny, interesting movie. After Frankie & The Corpses I formed The Fast, a Ramones cover band, then Blue Russia and finally Cactus.

Cactus World News, 'The Bridge', Self-Aid, 1986, RDS

Another musician who performed at Self-Aid was Rory Gallagher, he was a special talent to say the least.

You know what, I totally agree, he's like Stevie Ray Vaughan, he always had that energy coming through his hands, Stevie Ray Vaughan had really heavy gauge strings, and so did Rory, and that's how he got the tone, when myself and The Edge were in school in Mount Temple in 1978, The Edge was a big fan of his, songs like 'Bullfrog Blues', and all his solos, Rory Gallagher had a lot of respect around the country, everyone just knew he was coming from the heart, he spoke through his hands with his music. I think you couldn't have picked a better artist to be into, it's like food, you are what you eat and it's the same with the music you listen to. Thin Lizzy were our icons growing up, we just loved Lizzy, they were a proper rock band and rock stars. I was lucky enough to have Phil Lynott produce one of the songs on my band Blue Russia's single release 'Russian Around / She Never Came', in Lombard studios, and we toured around Ireland with him at the time back in 1982 which was an experience in it's own.

Blue Russia, 'Russian Around'

How did Cactus World News start off and can you tell us a bit more about Bono's involvement with the early days of the band?

I remember returning from London on the boat, and rang Larry (Mullen) as soon as I got back, and he told me that this guy, Eoin McEvoy is interested in forming a band with you, because he knew I was pissed off in London. Larry gave me his number and I called Eoin and we arranged to meet in a small flat in Cabra, and I brought my white Strat, a small amp, overdrive peddle and a delay peddle and he had an acoustic guitar and I was like 'What the fuck is this? Buddy Holly shit! This is not going to work', but then I heard him sing and I was like woah hang on a second this is a really good voice, and we basically came out with 'The Bridge' there and then, and we thought, how could this be so easy? Then of course the electricity went, because back then you had to put money in the meter, so he said 'Look, I can give you lunch or we can continue to jam?' and I said 'Fuck the lunch!' and he put the money in the meter and we kept going. 

We ended up writing a good few songs together and Eoin knew Mark Coleman, who was an engineer in SCS studios, who went on to be PA for Bono in the 80's, but before that he was the engineer at SCS and we went into the studio with him and had a really enjoyable demo session, 'The Bridge' was called 'Night Tide' at that stage, we finished that and then Bono was asking 'Eoin how is your demo getting on?', and then he listened to it and thought 'this is incredible', he got really excited about it and insisted on coming down to the rehearsal studio. At the time we were the loudest band in the country, we used to cause earthquakes in that place, I was using octave pedals, Fergal was doing his big bass and I was using feedback as well, 15-20 years before anyone else was doing it, we used to have this amazing sound coming out and top that off with the vocals and acoustic guitar. 

Shortly afterwards Bono came into this absolute storm of a rehearsal one day, in the middle of December in '85, it was snowing heavily as I recall and Bono came down and we played him 'The Bridge' and went over the arrangements and he said he wanted us to sign to Mother. We were thinging 'Great but shit, what are people going to think?' (because of our close relationship) but Bono said you know it doesn't matter what people think, it's either a good song and people will like it or it's not. So we ended up in Windmill Lane at a weekend in the office upstairs where the drum sound was much better, the police were called because of the noise and it was manic, Bono kept telling us to get more and more into it and it got crazy. He brought up a load of U2 fans who'd travelled all the way from Germany into the room which was mad and they loved it, so we thought, well, if the Germans like it.....! 

It was the 6th of January, 1985, and we got into the car with him after and listened to a few mixes and then he said 'Look I've got to go to the States, I don't want anyone to listen to these tapes, we've got 6 mixes, I'm going to listen to them myself, and I'll phone you from over there and we'll choose a mix.' So two weeks later he phoned me at home and said 'What number do you like?' I said I liked 5 and 6 and he said 'Yeah I like number 5 the best', so I said I'd ring Eoin and the others and call him back, and we agreed we wouldn't let anyone hear the tapes. 

He had to head off again for a month, but in the meantime, someone in Windmill had leaked a copy off the tape and gave it to a London record company, who went absolutely apeshit over it, and started calling me every hour on the hour after, saying (cockney accent) 'Listen mate, come on over, we've got a limo ready for ya', I remember telling Eoin and the rest of the band that this guy wants to put a limo outside the studio, drive us home to get our passports and fly us over to London! But we knew it was not something we wanted to do. From that time on things started really hotting up, more phone calls, making copies of the cassette and handing it around, and then we had our first gig. I think it was in the Iveagh Rooms, and the place was just packed with about 30 A&R label men from the UK, the place was like a feeding frenzy, they wanted to sign us immediately, we got a manger and ultimately agreed that MCA records would be the one, and then it all really took off. 

The 1980's is a neglected era as far as my generation and those a bit younger are concerned, and people would know very little about the bands in Ireland from that time, apart from Thin Lizzy, U2, 
Boomtown Rats etc. I always think there must have been so much more going on just underneath the surface. I only heard about The Blades, for example, in the last few years. What are your thoughts on exposure for bands back then versus nowadays?

They (The Blades) were huge back then, neck and neck with U2 at one stage, it was a different kind of music, for me the guitar playing wasn't overly interesting, but what I didn't get at the time was what a great song-writer he was. My whole thing is sound, whereas Eoin might be more into lyrics, like a French person listening to REM, they may not understand the lyrics but they get the message from the sound. With regard to your question though, back then you only had RTÉ1 and 2 and maybe BBC 1 & 2, if something came on the radio or tv that was it, 'Bam!', 5 million people might see it, there was no fragmentation, huge exposure immediately. We also had an ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic country at that point, anything could be shut down and suppressed and the old guard were still in power. But at the same time, the monoculture created a very definable sound, if you try to limit things in creativity you actually often end up with more creativity. 

What I find today in the studio producing albums for bands is that people have too many choices of music they can listen to with the advent of the internet, they don't know what to do with it, they get paralysed, and when they do finish it they end up with anxiety. It's like if you go into Xtravision and can only rent 1 of 10 films, you're content with your choice, but if there's a thousand films to choose from you pick one and walk out wondering was there a better one you could have chosen, it's overwhelming in a sense. Ultimately you've got to write the music that's in you, not what you think other people will like, the result of that is happiness, whereas if you pander to what you think others want to hear you end up with all the worst parts of it.

You're currently on the cusp of releasing previously unheard and rare materials from the Cactus World News archive on, titled Found, tell us more about the release?

It's been great in helping to reconnect with people, I've always been pissed off we never got our legacy sorted out, we've been busy doing different things over the last 20 years or so, but now it's great for people to get to know the band again and find out what we're all about it. The thing about Found is that it's not just a bunch of B-Sides, it's really quality stuff that we were writing towards the end but just never got to release. We were totally passionate about our music, that first album Urban Beaches is a classic album, it just never got the respect it deserves over here, there was just so much politics at home at the time, people thinking we got a leg up because of our connections with U2, and disregarding the fact that we'd all been in bands for numerous years before Cactus. This was 1986, and a lot of the stuff on that album was way ahead of it's time and that never seemed to be acknowledged for some reason.

Cactus World News, 'Urban Beaches', 1986

Finally Frank, what local bands were you a big fan of at the time CWN were starting out in the 1980's, and are there any Irish bands today that tickle your fancy?

Two that stand out are Into Paradise and Blue In Heaven (both from Churchtown). Blue In Heaven went off to the Compass Point studios in the Bahamas to record and signed with Island Records, we were both coming from a rock background, and we were kind of at the same level in Ireland at the time. Who I love right now? I like Future Islands, that's my kind of music, I feel something when I hear their music, it's not all over the top trying to be clever, that's to say, over-thinking and up it's own arse, it makes you move, it's life-affirming, and that's what I want from music.

A huge thanks to Frank for taking the time to share some of his memories with the blog, you can check out a load of cool Cactus World News merchandise and music at the Pledgemusic page
and more info on the band's discography and previous releases here

Couch By Couchwest: Online Music Festival

Couch By Couchwest Ireland, 'Heyday'

Info: Couch By Couchwest began in 2011 with the novel idea of bringing the music festival online, taking it's name from the well-known Texan festival South By Southwest, it runs in tandem with SXSW each year from the 15th-21st of March. The concept revolves around musicians / artists submitting videos to the festival website of performances from their living-rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, wherever. The CXCW crew then select the best performances and put them online for music fans to enjoy, for free. 

Running the Irish side of things the past three years has been our own talented song-writer Tony Fitz who featured on the blog's Best Irish Tracks of 2014.In addition to Tony, Irish acts performing on CXCW this year included Participant, Sive, We The Oceanographers, Gráinne Hunt and a surprise visit and performance or two with Glen Hansard. As well as the performance of Mic Christopher's 'Heyday' above, you can watch all of the other performances on the CXCW site here

Monday, 23 March 2015

New Track: Waterstrider - 'Nowhere Now'

Waterstrider, 'Nowhere Now'

Info: Waterstrider are a five-piece act from Oakland, California comprised of Nate Salman on vocals and guitar, Brijean Murphy on congas / percussion, Scott and Drew Brown on synths and bass / guitar respectively and Walker Johnson on drums. They release their third album, Nowhere Now (see above title track), on the 6th of April. 'Nowhere Now' is easily one of the most addictive indie rock tracks I've heard in quite some time, it's like a mad concoction of MGMT and Modest Mouse before Brian May rushes in in his leathers and gives it some welly on the guitar. I've listened to a few tracks on their Bandcamp page and the below video for the song 'Calliope', which is also on the forthcoming album and it's all good. I'm not sure if it's still the case, but according to their Facebook page they are unsigned which I find bizarre, this is proper alternative indie rock with a thin slice of pop fusion.

Waterstrider, 'Calliope'

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