Last Thursday on RTE 1 there was a documentary by Cork filmmaker, Tony McCarthy called U2 agus an Arc. It focused on the halcyon days of Cork’s Arcadia Ballroom in the late 70s and early 80s as a venue for visiting English bands like XTC, UB40 and The Specials as well local bands like MicroDisney and Nun Attax. However, it was an up and coming band from Dublin, formerly known as The Hype and now calling themselves U2 that was the centre of attention here.
U2 played the Arcadia 10 times from 1978 to 1980 building up a strong fan base and developing their style and craft onstage to become within a few short years one of the biggest bands on the planet.
The documentary was a fond look back at the how the gigs were organised by Elvera Butler, as part of the Downtown Kampus, which moved from the Science building in UCC to the Arcadia. Although there was no footage of the U2 gigs, there were many striking black and white photos of the band in action on stage in the venue. With insightful contributions from people like John Spillane, Niall Stokes from Hot Press, and Paul Morley from the NME, this is a must see film for those interested in the music scene of Cork in recent years.
It is still available to watch on the RTE player until tomorrow. Go watch it!!!
The news that at the end of 2016 sales of vinyl records had reached a 25-year high is, on the face of it, surprising. It is not too long since we were told that all physical formats, including CDs, were dinosaurs and that in the era of downloads and streaming, they would disappear. It hardly needed to be mentioned that vinyl’s day was done.
So what are we to make of the end of year figures from the UK?:
In fact vinyl sales have been increasing for eight consecutive years.
All this talk about downloads and the disappearance of physical formats has obvious implications for a public music lending library, such as the Rory Gallagher Music Library [RGML] on the Grand Parade, Cork. How could the RGML continue to collect and make available music for its patrons, if the major companies just stopped producing? If there was no economic basis for the popular music business, could there be a future for a music lending library?
Stephen Witt’s 2015 book How music got free: the Inventor, the Mogul, and the Thief is a compelling account of how the technology to enable virtual or digital music developed, and of how it became increasingly difficult to charge for it. Jonathan Taplin’s newly published Move fast and break things is equally compelling but from a very different angle.
The story begins with a German inventor called Karlheinz Brandenburg. An engineer by profession, he never expected or intended that illegal downloading would evolve from the creation of the mp3 which he had developed in the early 1990s – the ‘mp’ stands for Moving Pictures Experts Group. Mp3 technology is reliant on our less than perfect hearing for its success – it compresses sound to about 70 – 75% of the quality of a CD, but our ears seem happy to accept it. The first ever mention of mp3 software, and what it was about to unleash, was in May 1997, in a report on file sharing among students in Stanford University. A student put 110 music files on his personal web server, and in no time more than 2,000 people each day were visiting, representing more than 80% of the University’s outgoing traffic.
When legislators and moral guardians – usually self-appointed – sought to protect teenagers from what record companies wanted to sell them, the mighty dollar almost always had the muscle to win out. Ironically, but unsurprisingly, when a later generation of teenagers started to share files, the legislators were slow to listen to the complaints of these record companies.
The story of how music got free pits huge companies against small fry. There are now only three major record companies – the so-called ‘Big Three’ of Warner, Universal and Sony – who between them control a shocking 80% of the record industry. Huge companies also control technology development. As the music business struggled with what illegal downloading was doing to their profits, the ingenuity of US big business seemed to offer a way out: Steve Jobs of Apple, who strongly disapproved of file-sharing, developed iTunes “whose calm white interface and slick expensive iconography promised to cleanse the world of sin” to quote Witt.
As for the small fry, those who tried to make music free have included a very disparate bunch: Brandenburg who did not foresee where his invention would lead; employees of CD-production plants and distributors who were happy to make a few bucks through bootlegging; idealist file-sharers; hackers doing it because they could; those who saw an opportunity to make a few bucks; and even the Pirate Party who got elected to some Northern European parliaments and even the European Parliament on an anti-copyright platform.
For music libraries, and music librarians, the experience of community-oriented file sharing is interesting, for example the so-called Oink Pink Palace. Created by a self-effacing Englishman named Alan Ellis, the file-sharing service grew incredibly quickly, reaching 100,000 ‘members’ by 2006. According to Witt, Ellis “mandated civility of discourse . . . He seemed at times to promote an almost utopian vision, except his utopia actually worked. The result was illegal, of course but it was also something of great value”.
He did not charge; it was done apparently for the love of the music and the principle of sharing. Not only did the record companies not get their share, neither did the artists. The record industry could hardly let this continue, so he was tracked down, arrested and prosecuted. Whatever one might think about the huge recorded music industry going after a small fry like Ellis, one could legitimately ask Ellis and his co-sharers “how is a musician supposed to earn a living, if everyone is downloading for free?”
Jonathan Taplin looks at this issue – how to ensure fair payment for digital music – from a very different angle, that of the musician and artist. Taplin, still active at 70, started out as a young man working as Bob Dylan and The Band’s tour manager, and then became a movie director.
Levon Helm was the drummer in The Band. For years after the group stopped touring and recording he would make about US $100,000 a year on royalties from their records. “He made a living,” says Taplin. “Then Napster hit in 2000 and he got throat cancer the same year and it made his life a living hell.”
Taplin’s first aim in the book was to understand how Helm and people like him, creators of the music which attracts fans in the first place, lost out so much, while the big companies that were exploiting that music made billions. Taplin “thought of it as a culture war”; “but once I came to look into it I realised that it was really an economic war.” Taplin’s book makes a passionate case for the rights of the creators, and deserves the widest readership.
So, if we are facing an increasingly digital world, yet seeing increased sales of vinyl, what does this seemingly contradictory picture mean for the Rory Gallagher Music Library and public facilities like it? What is the future, for music creation, record production, music libraries, and the consumption of music product? Is it best summed up in that phrase from the Hollywood mogul William Goldman “no one knows anything”?
One thing for sure, not for a moment can the RGML sit on its laurels. Its future, like the future of public libraries generally, depends on trying to figure out what is around the corner, and being clear on what has to be done so that we can stick to our principles.
It is impossible to be absolutely certain what form the Rory Gallagher Music Library will take in 10 or 20 years time, because of the changing nature of recorded music and how the public access it. Flexibility will thus be key for this section of the Library. What can be said is that space will always be required for:
continually growing music collections in all genres and in all relevant formats: CDs. Vinyl, DVDs, scores, books;
the informational and reference role of the Rory Gallagher Music Library for all aspects of musical culture in the city, and its support for the music curriculum.
Space will be required for classes in music appreciation and instrument tuition, and rehearsal, and a regular calendar of live music performances and gramophone recitals.
Space will also be required for enhanced permanent display of music heritage items, e.g. Rory Gallagher, Aloys Fleischmann, Cork Choral Festival, and material relating to Cork musicians, composers, bands, etc.
Witt fesses up that a few years back he sold his collection of more than 100,000 mp3 files and bought a subscription to Spotify. “What I’d thought of as my personal archive was just an agglomeration of slowly demagnetizing junk”. The book ends with his description of how he took the collection to be destroyed. Music librarians cannot help but wonder if that is what is in store for all physical collections of recorded music, if everything will be virtual, held on a cloud, in the future?
Way back in September 1990 I attended my first Iron Maiden concert. I was a fifteen year old Heavy Metal Fanatic and this was a big deal for me. I remember vividly the sense of excitement and the feeling of camaraderie as we walked in our thousands—clad in denim and leather and the obligatory white sneakers—along the quays towards the old Point Depot.
Twenty seven years later, I’m partaking in the same pilgrimage and the air is charged with that same sense of anticipation. It’s a beautiful day in May and Dublin is swarming with metal fans. Loud rock music is blaring from Lanigans and other pubs along the quays as we make our way to the venue. The mood is high and the atmosphere is that of a carnival.
Maiden are known for their elaborate stage shows and The Book of Souls Tour does not disappoint. The stage is beautifully decked out in Mayan themed imagery that matches the artwork of the latest album to the finest of details. The video intro which leads into IfEternity Should Fail, the opening track from The Book of Souls, is enough to drive the capacity crowd into near frenzy and by the time the band hit the stage, the 3Arena is a cauldron of noise.
The set list is one of the best in recent years and classics like The Trooper and Wrathchild sit nicely alongside new tracks like The Book of Souls and The Red and the Black without interrupting the flow of the show one iota. Children of the Damned was one of the highlights of the night, in my opinion and the version of Powerslave was absolutely masterful. Death or Glory from the new record is fast becoming a fan favourite, evidenced in Dublin by the thousands of voices singing along with Bruce Dickinson, who takes the opportunity to show that he doesn’t take it all too seriously, singing the whole track while wearing a monkey mask. Those who know the song will know why!
All the necessary elements needed to make up a great Iron Maiden show were there: Steve Harris machine-gunning the front row with his bass, Bruce Dickinson ping-ponging about the whole stage like a man half his age, the scrap between Eddie and Janick Gers, and a huge, brooding Baphomet overshadowing the band during The Number of the Beast.
The fact that Iron Maiden, after so many years of recording albums and touring around the world, can still fill huge venues and present a set list containing nearly fifty percent brand new material is incredibly impressive. It demonstrates how relevant the band still is to the world of rock music and how committed and hard working they are as musicians. Their fans of course realise this and that’s why Maiden are still at the apex of the metal pyramid. Here’s hoping that there will be another album and another tour.
Uncut magazine has called it “a year with a hex on it, a year gone rogue”.
As 2016 draws to a close there is no escaping the portents of mortality, especially for those of us who grew up in the late 1960s and early 1970s:
Fidel of course, although he may not have graced as many bedroom walls in those days as his compañero Che; the irreplaceable Muhammad Ali;
Carlos Alberto, captain of Brasil 1970, the greatest ever football team, and Johann Cruijff, one of the four or five greatest players ever;
The music world has been the big loser: BB King, Ben E. King, Ornette Coleman, Allen Toussaint, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Mose Allison, Merle Haggard, and far too many others. Not all of them were really old either: Prince, Glen Frey (of The Eagles), Chris Squires (of Yes) for example. Closer to home the artist called Black, AKA Colin Vearncombe, died from injuries he had suffered in a car crash near Cork Airport.
Back in the mid ‘60s, The Who famously sang
“Hope I die before I get old”.
50 years on they still play that song, with two of the original line-up.
In those days they also regularly covered Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’:
“well the young man ain’t got nothing in the world these days
You know in the old days, the young man had all the money”.
Times have changed, that’s for sure. Sad and all as these deaths are, the longevity of those music icons who died in 2016 – and those still making music – makes one wonder whatever happened to the notion that rock’n’roll is a young man’s game. Most of those who died this year lived a half century longer than say Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and yet their loss is being deeply felt.
Leonard Cohen’s You want it darker came out to rave reviews in the autumn. For example
‘this exquisite 14th album from the Montreal poet’ (The Observer)
‘like a magician Cohen makes images reappear in different songs and guises’ (Sylvie Simmons in Mojo)
‘this wonderful new album . . . wise and honest and full of life’ (Alexis Petradis in The Guardian).
When he sang ‘I’m leaving the table / I’m outta the game’ most critics either misread what he was saying or preferred not to grasp it.
Mind you, reading between the lines there was an element of ‘imagine he’s still alive and still bringing out records, at 82!!!’
‘eighty-two years old and still at the top of his game while mining the depths’ (Mojo again).
Not for the first time he knew more than the music critics. We now know that his album was a farewell; it was a struggle for him to record the songs as he was dying of cancer.
Some of the old masters are thankfully still around.
Van Morrison, still hale and hearty at 71, has received a lot less press for his Keep me singing, released at the same time, although this is a fine piece of music-making. It features some gorgeous melodies ― ‘Memory lane’, ‘Every time I see a river’, and ‘In Tiburon’ ― and a blues ― ‘Going down to Bangor’ ― that links County Down with the south side of Chicago. There is great singing by Van, and beautiful playing by Fiachra Trench on keys and Paul Moran on Hammond, and Van himself on blues harp on a couple of numbers.
And of course, to cap it all, Bob Dylan (75 last May) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan is the first artist since George Bernard Shaw to win both an Oscar and the Nobel Prize. If anyone from the popular music world was to win a Nobel it was going to be either him or Cohen. While he is still touring and his latest album of new songs (Tempest) was issued only in 2012 ― the 5th set of new songs since 1997 ― the citation for the Nobel stressed his work from the 60s and 70s.
Plenty critics were unimpressed that he was given that award, hardly surprisingly. Maybe we should give the last word to Leonard Cohen on this. Giving Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize, he said, was like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.
Chuck Berry is 90, Little Richard 84, Jerry Lee Lewis 81; let’s hope 2017 will be kinder . . .
As 2016 draws to a close, we say goodbye to yet another iconic figure in the world of popular music. Leonard Cohen joins a star-studded list of fallen legends, including Leon Russell, George Martin, Glen Frey and Prince.
Leonard Cohen was widely known to be an elusive interview candidate but there are some great conversations with him to be found online.
Here’s an interview we came across which was originally broadcast on Sounds Like Canada in February 2006. The interviewer, Shelagh Rogers, had been trying to secure a meeting with Cohen for twenty five-years and was well aware of the rare opportunity that was being afforded her:
The interview took place in cavernous Studio 42 in the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto, on a Saturday morning in February 2006, the day before five of Cohen’s songs were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. There were two chairs in a corner of the studio, one for me and one for Leonard Cohen. It was stark, dark, and intimate. Leonard Cohen rarely gives interviews. I got lucky.
The piece makes for a very interesting read and it can be found in the November 2016 issue of Brick magazine. Click the link below and enjoy!
Sunny Days Are Here Again is an exhibition of Irish Fanzines compiled by CIRCA ’91 in conjunction with the Forgotten Zine Archive and Loserdom. It will be on display in Cork City Library, Grand Parade between Tuesday, 16 August and Saturday 27 August.
The exhibition features examples of fanzines from all over Ireland dating from 1970s to the present day with a focus on publications produced in Cork during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Colm O’Callaghan tells the story behind the fanzines in a great article over on the Blackpool Sentinel blog. To read it, just click the link below:
We’ve got a special treat for you on the first of October at 3.30 pm as we play host to Belgian guitar virtuoso, Jacques Stotzem, as he stops off at the RGML for an intimate show as part of his European tour. The gig is, as always, free of charge, so if you’re in the neighbourhood why not drop in and be part of a very special acoustic tribute to the late Rory Gallagher. Stotzem’s latest album, ‘To Rory,’ is a tribute to the great man himself and features acoustic versions of some of Rory’s best known tracks.
The following is from Jacques Stotzem’s press release and if you’d like to learn more, see the link to his homepage at the end. For a full list of events in the RGML please click here.
“To Rory” is Belgian guitar virtuoso Jacques Stotzem’s tribute to the late Irish rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Rory Gallagher. Honouring the 20th anniversary of Gallagher’s premature passing, Stotzem recalls his guitar hero’s dynamic playing and, as he says, “unmatched musicality,” by presenting the music on solo acoustic guitar. Fusing the powerful nature of Gallagher’s music with his own expressive playing, Stotzem pulls off this considerable feat with aplomb. Employing the dynamic, playful style that has become his trademark, Stotzem impresses with fast runs, groovy basslines, and percussive elements, all paired with a musical sensibility that allows him to interpret Gallagher’s powerful repertoire without sacrificing his own identity.
Skillfully using various fingerpicking techniques and even bottle-neck slide, Stotzem is equally adept at interpreting the driving beats found in Moonchild as he is at capturing the ballad feel of Wheels Within Wheels. “To Rory” is not only a homage to a legendary musician, it also affirms Stotzem’s own place as one of the leading European acoustic guitarists.