Astral Weak?

Van Morrison’s 2015 rerelease of the classic Astral Weeks — hit or miss?  Liam Ronayne explores:

Astral Weeks was acknowledged as one of the best reissues of 2015 in many end-of-year lists.  This reissue is, nevertheless, a peculiar thing.  The sound is definitely better – warmer, richer – than the first time it was issued on CD, and one can appreciate  Richard Davis’s bass-playing even more.  Plus, there are four additional tracks.

But it could have been so much more, with little effort and just a bit of imagination from the record company.

Unlike the Moondance ‘expanded edition’ of 2013, which gave us a second CD of earlier takes and alternative versions and thus adding to our enjoyment of the record, there is nothing like that here.  In fact the strongest reaction is that of an opportunity missed.

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Log in and request a copy!

Order of songs

When Morrison played the entire set of Astral Weeks live in November 2008 (40 years after its original release) he made it clear that he had wanted the order of the songs to be different to how they were on the original.  He had wanted the album to reflect the thematic and emotional development of the songs, culminating in ‘Madame Joy’.

Lewis Merenstein was the man chosen by Warner Brothers to produce the album.  Merenstein brought his own vision to it, and saw that the songs needed jazz musicians rather than R’n’B sessionmen.  There is no reason to believe that Merenstein wanted to sabotage Morrison’s vision; it was just that the time limits imposed by vinyl meant that he had to change Morrison’s order.  Morrison’s preference would have meant the first side was 19 mins 40 sec but the second 26 mins 25 sec.

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Full length versions and ‘bonus’ tracks

There has been some (not much, to be honest) controversy about whether there was extra music in the Warner Brothers vaults from the Astral Weeks sessions of Sept–Oct 1968.  Morrison alluded to there being two songs but, in his usual elliptical way, Merenstein was always clear that there was nothing.

The two previously unheard takes included on the reissue – ‘Beside You’ and ‘Madame George’ – do not add much.  The rough versions of these two, recorded when Morrison was under contract to Bert Berns, are more interesting, as we can hear how much the songs developed over 12 months.  These versions were included in a ragbag compilation called This is where I came in, released in 1977 by Bang, which collected the eight tracks issued on Blowin’ your mind with the less awful tracks Morrison had to cut to satisfy his contract obligations with Berns.

The long version of ‘Ballerina’ is welcome, but the ‘full’ version of ‘Slim Slow Slider’ is a bit of a mystery.  Apparently those who played on the session remembered that the song developed into a long jazz improvisation, but we only get a hint of that here.

Madame Joy’ or ‘Madame George’?

When this classic song was first recorded it was known as ‘Madame Joy’, and it was under this title that Morrison played it at the Hollywood Bowl in November 2008.  Maybe you’d need to be an expert on the East Belfast accent to be absolutely sure, but to these ears it sounds like he’s singing ‘Joy’ more often than ‘George’.

So how might it have been better?

Simple:  A two-disc reissue, with the ‘original’ Merenstein album as Disc 1, and with Disc 2 using Morrison’s preferred order, the original title ‘Madame Joy’, and the (slightly) longer takes of ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Slim Slow Slider’.

Then let the public decide which is better.

Liam Ronayne Cork City Librarian
Liam Ronayne
Cork City Librarian

Credit: Photo used in header image of Van Morrison at Notodden Blues Festival 2013 by Jarvin. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Bowie on Blarney Street!

Music lover and library member Deb Murphy reminisces on growing up as a David Bowie fan on Blarney Street in Cork city:

Thanks to my three brothers, who were huge David Bowie fans, I can honestly say I can’t remember a day in my childhood when Bowie wasn’t being discussed or being blasted out on our old record player.  That’s the great thing about being the youngest in the family: all the cool music gets ingrained in you before you can even speak!  I remember, clear as if it were yesterday, back in the mid-70s, asking Denis why he liked Bowie so much (because it seemed every birthday/Christmas all he wanted was a Bowie album) and he replied:

‘He’s amazing Deb and you’ll get to like him too.’

I was sceptical until he said:

‘He even mentions Mickey Mouse in a song.’

‘Yeeeaaah riiiiiiiight!‘ I exclaimed.

‘Listen’, he said, and he played ‘Life on Mars’, and I was delighted to hear the line, ‘Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow.’  But it wasn’t just that.  I remember even back then thinking it was the most beautiful song imaginable.

My Mam was mortified because Bowie graffiti would be spotted around Blarney Street and Strawberry Hill occasionally, and I remember her saying, ‘Couldn’t they just like Abba like everyone else ’cause it would be much harder to narrow down who was behind Abba graffiti!’

Bowie Graffiti Blarney Street
Bowie Graffiti Blarney Street

We called our dog ‘Davy’ after him.  Davy lived from ’76 till ’89 and had the good grace to howl along to many a Bowie track, and I was lucky to see him live in concert twice — the man, not the dog!

Davy the dog!
Davy the dog!

What a legend. The world of music has changed forever.

Deb Murphy
Deb Murphy

 

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Riding the Storm with Lemmy

As I sat in the car this morning which was rocking from side to side with the parting blows of the night’s storm, I knew this was going to be a rough ride. I was going to need help in the form of the right travelling companion and there was only one man on my mind: Lemmy Kilmister.

So, off I go, barrelling down the hill, swerving around fresh pot-holes with the bass intro to Ace of Spades thundering through the speakers. As usual, it struck me how fresh this album sounds, even after 35 years. It’s the perfect soundtrack to the almost post-apocalyptic scene that’s unfolding before me as I near the bottom of the hill.

‘Love Me Like a Reptile!’ bawls Lemmy, as I turn on to the road I lovingly refer to as ‘The Gauntlet,’ at this time of year. It’s ten kilometres from here to the main road but the route winds like a snake through an area of forestry dotted with lakes and criss-crossed with streams that would be bloated from the torrential downpours of the night before. Coupled with the debris left in the wake of the gale-force winds, this would not make for a comfortable ride.

Click to find this album in our catalogue!
Click to find this album in our catalogue!

‘Here we go Lemmy!’ I utter aloud, trying not to let my voice betray the trepidation I was feeling in my gut.

‘Live To Win!’ he shouts back at me.

With that cue, I launch our Silver Machine (well, black Honda Civic) into the fray and as I expected, it’s a hairy ride. Around every corner awaits a new surprise: a felled tree, a pile of scree, a mini lake, or worst of all; a gaping chasm masquerading as an innocent puddle! But we rolled with the punches, Lemmy and I, and ignoring the knocks and bangs and tidal waves cascading over the windscreen, we eventually had our goal in sight – a slight incline which leads to the turn off for the main road – when we’re stopped in our tracks. There’s a dip in the road and it’s completely water-logged. There’s no way around it and the sheen on the surface suggests it’s menacingly deep.

‘What do I do Lemmy?’ I ask, audibly dismayed.

‘Bite The Bullet!’ he roars in response.

‘You’re the boss!’ I say and stomp on the accelerator.

White water is foaming on both sides and up over the bonnet as I hold the wheel in a death grip, while my right foot is in danger of breaking through the floor. Lemmy doesn’t seem too bothered though, as he reminds me that ‘The Chase Is Better than the Catch.’ My initial bravado is starting to fade however, as I feel the car stutter and stall beneath me. But Just as it begins to look like it’s all over, I feel it pick up pace and suddenly we’re through!

I pull the car over and get out to give it the once over. There are a few mud-splatters and scrapes and the front right hub-cap is hanging off but no real visible damage. I jump back in, ‘We made it Lemmy!’ I exclaim, relieved.

‘Believe Me, the Hammer’s Coming Down!’ he retorts.

‘Maybe,’ I say, ‘but not today.’

‘Thanks for your help Lemmy. I couldn’t have done it without you.’

 

Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister

24 December 1945 – 28 December 2015

RIP

 

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Credit: Photo of Lemmy by Jonas Rogowski, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Joy of Ewan

The Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl – Various Artists

Fifty years ago, at the height of Ireland’s so-called ‘ballad boom’, The Johnstons had a number one hit with Ewan McColl’s ‘The Travelling People’.  The following year Paul Brady joined the group, which had started out as three Johnston siblings.  So it’s a pleasure to hear Brady’s hearty version of the song – here called ‘Freeborn Man’ – on the double CD album issued in autumn 2015 to mark the centenary of Ewan MacColl’s birth.

Brady’s is one of four songs from MacColl’s 1964 BBC Radio Ballads ‘The Travelling People’ set.  Of these Karine Polwart’s ‘The Terror Time’ is the strongest, and indeed it is the standout track from an excellent album.

She is one of the younger artists featured.  As well as Paul Brady, the album features long-established singers like Christy Moore, English folk veterans Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson (and their daughter Eliza Carty), plus Scottish legend Dick Gaughan (a typically fiery and passionate ‘Jamie Foyers’, one of MacColl’s earliest compositions, about a Scot who died in the Spanish Civil War).

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Find this CD in our catalogue. Click here!

It is the younger artists who, surprisingly perhaps, bring most to the set.  Rufus and Martha Wainwright and their half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche do a fabulous version of ‘Sweet Thames, Flow Softly’, for example.  It would surely have pleased MacColl to see the tradition being carried on.

MacColl was a master of the simple direct lyric.  He did not believe in art for art’s sake, rather that songs, theatre and other artforms must aid the cause.  In ‘The Moving On Song’ he contrasts the lot of a traveller baby with the Christ child

“Born at the back of a blackthorn hedge
When the white hoarfrost lay all around
No wise men came bearing gifts
Instead the order came to shift . . .”

and

“The wise men came so stern and strict
And brought the order to evict”

Other highlights here are two of MacColl’s lesser-known songs:
‘The Father’s Song’, in a great version by Martin Simpson, is both
a lullaby for a son, and a no-punches-pulled indictment of the social order that son will soon encounter.

“Stop crying now, let daddy dry your tears
There’s no bogeyman to get you, never fear
There’s no ogres, wicked witches
Only greedy sons of bitches”

Kathryn Williams’ ‘Alone’, written after MacColl met a teenage girl on the streets of Salford in the 1960s, is hauntingly beautiful.

Liam Ronayne
Liam Ronayne, Cork City Librarian

‘Fairytale of New York’ – the best Christmas song ever?

In late November 1987 The Pogues, featuring Kirsty MacColl, released ‘Fairytale of New York’. It went straight in at number one in the Irish Charts and peaked at number two in the UK, only kept off the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of ‘Always on my Mind’. ‘Fairytale of New York’ was composed by Pogues’ banjo player Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, and featured on The Pogues’ album If I Should Fall from Grace with God. By November 2015 the song had sold 1.18 million copies in the UK alone and was certified platinum in 2013. Its popularity with listeners and critics shows no sign of abating and every December it re-enters the singles charts in the UK and Ireland and many other countries around the world. In Ireland, at least, Christmas hasn’t officially started until you hear ‘Fairytale’ on the radio and it’s often the closing song of the night in pubs and clubs across the country during the festive season.

Shane_macgowan_moscow
Shane MacGowan

What’s so good about it and why is its appeal so enduring?

Fairytale of New York’ is quite simply a masterpiece. Like all great Christmas songs, it’s not really a Christmas song at all. The events just happen to take place at that time of year. Apart from the last line of the chorus and a couple of other cursory references, most of the lyrical content would be considered anathema to everything that the common conception of Christmas brings to mind. Far removed from the Disneyesque setting of most other, more well known, seasonal staples — featuring smiling Santas, prancing deer, and ‘chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ — ‘Fairytale’ would be more at home in the world of the Abbey Theatre of a century ago and has more in common with Synge and his Playboy of the Western World than with Bing Crosby and his ‘White Christmas’.

Jem Finer
Jem Finer

Shane MacGowan’s ingenious tale of modern Gaelic tragedy contrasts beautifully with Jem Finer’s uplifting melody, and the verbal tug-of-war between the male and female characters, constantly teetering on the brink between tenderness and outright venom, is littered with sardonic wit that could have come straight from the pen of Brendan Behan or Patrick Galvin.

Thematically, MacGowan — who, coincidentally, was born on Christmas Day in 1957 — deals with matters very close to his own heart. This is a song about emigration, addiction, hope, broken dreams, and lost love. It’s an anthem for the downtrodden.

Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl

When the song was released in 1987, Ireland was experiencing its worst recession since the founding of the state and the country’s youth were leaving en masse in search of a better life elsewhere. The UK was deep in the throes of Margaret Thatcher’s anti-socialist regime and it’s no surprise that the song struck a chord with people in both countries and, by extension, with Irish emigrants around the globe. Here, at last, was an honest Christmas song that spoke to the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. The song is as popular today as it was when first released, which is hardly surprising, considering that in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland the youth are again leaving in their thousands. You can be sure that ‘Fairytale’ will be sung by many of them this Christmas wherever they are in the world. Also, it’s a damn good song with an infectious melody and a hypnotic 6/8 folk-waltz rhythm that would incite anything short of a corpse to tread the boards!

As the winter solstice approaches and the sky darkens, it’s not only those smug crooners in snow-sprinkled ivory towers that reflect on the year past and on what’s been lost or gained, but also the homeless, the exiled, and the addicts who look to the rising of the new sun with hope for a better year to come. ‘Fairytale of New York’ is a song for the latter group.

 

Bob Dylan’s Cutting Edge!

Random thoughts on Bootleg Series 12

I didn’t recognize most of the songs, why doesn’t he do them like the records?” is a common complaint of people who attend occasional Bob Dylan gigs.  Listening to the three versions of ‘Just Like a Woman’ on the recently released The Cutting Edge: Bootleg Series vol. 12 might make such people think again.  We hear Dylan and his band of Nashville studio musicians try three very different versions of the song: different tempos, different lyrics, until they get close to the version that was released on Blonde on Blonde.  But was that the ‘definitive’ version?  Some years after, when he went back on the road with The Band, he sang the song solo (available on the live album Before the Flood), a version more passionate and pointed in its delivery than the studio version.

It’s a similar story with ‘Visions of Johanna’, one of Dylan’s great songs of that or any era.  For Dylan fans it is an article of faith that Levon & The Hawks, the group of four Canadians and one Arkansan (Levon Helm) that became The Band, were his best collaborators.  Despite his rapport with them, so evident on The Basement Tapes: Bootleg Series vol. 11, he just can’t get them to give him what he wants here.  It is ironic then that it was “the flawless musicality of Nashville’s session players”, to quote the liner notes (with the vital addition of Al Kooper on organ), that delivered the sound and dynamic he wanted for that quintessential New York song ‘Visions of Johanna’.  He made at least 14 takes with the Hawks in New York, but, for whatever reason, they couldn’t nail it.  Two months later in Nashville he had what he wanted, after a couple of false starts and just one full take.

Bob Dylan Studio Portraits Side Light: 1965-330-007-082 Manhattan, New York, USA 1965

But less than six months later, on the 1966 European tour, Dylan was singing ‘Visions of Johanna’, solo — just his voice, guitar, and harmonica.  The version recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall (the same gig that has the infamous ‘Judas’ shout) is equally as strong as the Blonde on Blonde version, and allows us to digest and understand things we don’t get from the studio version with backing musicians.

Maybe it’s best to just listen to, and accept, whatever version Dylan is in the mood to give us?

With this release, as with many box sets, it could be said that it’s for people with more money than sense.  And indeed in a throwaway culture why should anyone be buying music laid down almost five decades ago?  Except that it is so wonderful to listen to, so wonderful to immerse yourself in.  That a good enough reason?

Liam Ronayne

 

Liam Ronayne Cork City Librarian
Liam Ronayne
Cork City Librarian

 

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Metal fans are violent, sour & dumb – Don’t ya think?

Well, the research would suggest otherwise

Let’s face it: Metal fans get a bad rap. They’re generally regarded as being unkempt, uncultured, loutish, and dour. And with that racket they listen to they must be a bunch of violent morons, right?

WRONG! Various academic studies in recent years have confirmed that metal fans are not guilty of all the offences listed above, and more.

Earlier this year, University of Queensland’s School of Psychology honours student Leah Sharman and Dr Genevieve Dingle conducted a study to monitor the effects of heavy music on a person’s mood and behaviour. The results showed that, in comparison to listeners of other music genres, metal fans were mainly calmed and inspired by their music! — despite the fact that the genre is awash with violent lyrics and imagery.

Cannibal Corpse, the world's top-selling Death Metal act.
Cannibal Corpse, the world’s top-selling Death Metal act.

Another study published this year found that, among its subjects –  fans of various musical genres in the 1980s, it was the heavy metal fans who turned out to be generally more content and happy in later life. Three Decades Later: The Life Experiences and Mid-Life Functioning of 1980s Heavy Metal Groupies, Musicians and Fans, published in the journal Self and Identity (via Pacific Standard), found that while “metal enthusiasts did often experience traumatic and risky ‘sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll’ lives, the metalhead identity also served as a protective factor against negative outcomes”.

That’s all well and good, but they’re still stupid right? Nope. Apparently quite the opposite:

In March of this year it was revealed that a disproportionate number of members in the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, based at the University of Warwick in England (a body of 120,000 students which represents the top 5% of academic achievement), list heavy metal as their favourite kind of music.

There’s also a metalhead among the team that recently discovered water on Mars. Nepalese-American grad student Lujendra “Luju” Ojha, one of the discoverers of recurring slope lineae, the lines of flowing salt water that were observed on Mars, used to play in a metal band himself!

So, there you go: Metal fans are calm, happy and smart. Maybe YOU need more metal in your life!

 

Cork’s Soprano, Rita Lynch

The Lyric Feature (RTE Lyric FM)

Friday 9 October, 7 – 8 pm

Rita Lynch was born in Macroom in 1914 and showed an early talent for singing which was encouraged by her mother. Despite having her early career disrupted by the Second World War she went on to record for HMV and to tour extensively performing in operas, concerts and
oratorios in Ireland, the UK and the USA. In this programme Evelyn Grant visits the soprano’s daughter Mary Shaw as she sifts through the
extensive personal archive of letters, programmes, costumes, recordings and stories which her mother left behind.

Rita Lynch Portrait

In 2014, The Rory Gallagher Music Library  made available, online,
selected images and other materials relating to Rita Lynch as part of the celebrations to mark the one hundredth anniversary of her birth. If you would like to visit the Rita Lynch Archive then please click on the link below:

Rita Lynch Archive

A CD of Rita Lynch’s music is also available to borrow from Cork City
Libraries.

Rita Lynch CD

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A Treasure Trove of Taste!

Liam Ronayne, Cork City Librarian — as those who know him are aware — is a huge music fan and is always happy to spend a coffee break chatting about the latest goings-on in the music world or about revered legends of the past. It isn’t often, however, that Liam would have the time to put pen to paper on the subject, but considering that this is Rory Gallagher & Taste and that Liam himself is a fan, he’s gone that extra mile: 

The Taste Box Set, I’ll Remember — recently released by UMG / Polydor — is a four-disk treasure trove.

On disk 3, the five numbers culled from a 1970 BBC Radio 1 live set are introduced by John Peel, so laid-back he’s virtually horizontal. Peel remarks that, “Taste are one of those bands . . . who need to be seen and heard live to be fully appreciated”. That’s a view that most would agree with, borne out here by pillars of Taste’s live set, like ‘Catfish’, ‘Gamblin Blues’ and ‘Sugar Mama’, and by the version of ‘What’s Going On’ captured live in Stockholm not long before the band split up, which breathes so much more into the song than the studio version. Gallagher’s legendary energy, fantastic technique, and joy in the music are all to be found in the many live cuts over the four disks, and especially on the Stockholm set.

But it would be very wrong to overlook the beautifully crafted songs that make up ‘On the Boards’, Taste’s second studio album. This is a very special artefact in itself, and much more than a keepsake of the live sets. In the title track, the band, all three of them, stretch out to great effect: the dynamic, the groove, the bluesy sound all remind us what was lost when they did split up.

Another rare Taste postcard

Another unmissable aspect of the Box Set for Rory fans from this part of the world is having a full 56 minutes of the original line-up from 1968, with Eric Kitteringham on bass and Norman ‘Sticks’ D’Amery on drums. Seven numbers were recorded in the Maritime Hotel, Belfast (Van Morrison & Them’s old stomping ground) as a demo to interest record labels; there are versions of ‘Blister on the Moon’ and ‘Born on the Wrong Side of Time’, recorded as singles for the Major Minor label (run by Belfast promoter Phil Solomon), songs that were re-recorded with Wilson and McCracken for Taste’s debut album on Polydor the following year. The four tracks recorded at the Woburn Abbey Festival in England in the summer of 1968 showcase a lively, powerful band, with a great sense of fun.

Liam Ronayne Cork City Librarian
Liam Ronayne
Cork City Librarian

The Road to Hamburg

‘A Question & Answer Session with Johnny Campbell’

Cork City Library, Thursday, 27 August, 7pm

During his musical apprenticeship with the Fontana Showband, the young Rory Gallagher, a mere fifteen when he joined in 1963, learned his craft as a touring musician. Never to be content as a cog in a machine churning out safe, dance-hall friendly, pop hits, night after night, Rory would inevitably push himself to the fore. As his reputation as a guitarist began to grow, the Fontana changed their name to The Impact in 1965 to reflect a more blues/rock-oriented set list showcasing Rory’s fiery guitar work.

Ireland’s conservative music scene was hardly the ideal stomping ground for this new direction, however, and The Impact was forced to find work abroad. As a natural metamorphosis, a stripped-down three-piece version of the band — featuring Rory on guitar & vocals, Johnny Campbell on drums and Oliver Tobin on bass — eventually found themselves on the club circuit in Hamburg, Germany.

heritage week poster 2015

For three Irish teenagers arriving in Hamburg in 1965, a city still reverberating with the aftershock from legendary performances at the Star Club, from the likes of The Beatles and Jerry Lee Lewis, it must have been like walking on to a film set, such was its legendary status. Even today, Hamburg is a city which pulses with primal, hedonistic energy. We can only imagine what it was like back in its heyday of the 1960s.

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Monument to the legendary Star Club in St. Pauli, Hamburg

Throughout this relatively short but formative period in Rory Gallagher’s career, Johnny Campbell was the man behind the drum kit. As part of the 2015 National Heritage Week programme of events, Johnny will be in Cork City Library on Thursday, 27 August, at 7pm, for a special ‘Question & Answer’ session on his time with The Impact Showband and Rory Gallagher. So, if you’d like to hear it ‘from the horse’s mouth’, then here’s your chance!

In 1966, Rory Gallagher quit The Impact and went on to form the Taste. The rest, as they say, is history. And what a history it is! even if it ended prematurely. Like another Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, Rory Gallagher lived a short life that was filled with glory and his name will live on as part of musical lore until the last Fender Strat is plugged into the last Vox AC 30.

 

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