All posts by Jay

Musician, aesthete, lover of concord.

Memory

Maybe it’s because I’ve been looking through my dad’s old diaries that my mum gave me, but I’m in a sentimental mood. I just finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s latest Revisionist History podcast episode, too. It’s one of my very favourite podcasts, thoroughly researched (as you’d expect) and always interesting and touching.

Jen and I went away with Mum this weekend. I was driving and I usually prefer spoken word rather than music to keep me alert. We listened to four episodes of Revisionist History on the trip and this one I’ve just listened to, ‘Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis’, continues the theme of memory. In it, Gladwell explores an idea that’s very close to my heart and experience — how difficult it can be to perform songs that have a great personal connection.

There’s a moment near the end of the episode when he’s talking to songwriter Kaci Bolls (thanks to a reader for correcting my spelling!). She’s singing a song she wrote about her mother and gets choked up as she tries to recall and perform it. Gladwell doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable feeling, in fact that’s his whole thesis, and just as the other person in the interview pulls up out of the discomfort, Gladwell interrupts, ” wait, Kaci, could you play that song?”

I really admire that, because I know how very much she wants to sing that song in that moment even though it’s hard. And not in an arrogant way (people often think performers are just looking for a chance to show off), but she wants to sing it despite knowing she doesn’t know it that well. It’s an act of connection with the subject of the song, her mother.

I recently sang a song of mine, ‘Make It Home’, at a gig with David Rooney. It has lots of little references to my memories of home as a child and never fails to bring a lump to my throat. But I still love it and I want to sing it. I was encouraged by Gladwell’s empathetic conclusion that “a lesser person would’ve sung it perfectly.”

Check out this classic American march arranged for ukulele

I used to play clarinet in a marching band when I was growing up in Northern Ireland. We’d have these ring-bound books that clipped onto our instruments using special attachments so we could play while marching along. We played a lot of tunes by the great American composer John Philip Sousa (Monty Python fans will be familiar with ‘The Liberty Bell’, which was used as the signature music to the cult British sketch show).

Jen and I saw ‘The Post’ last week, so maybe that’s why this particular tune jumped out at me when I was idly searching for a tune to work on. The film stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and retells the proud history of the newspaper’s stand against Nixon’s administration.

Sousa was asked to write a march in 1889 for The Washington Post’s essay contest awards ceremony (read all about it in this article by Post writer John Kelly) and he came up with this piece, which apparently was great for dancing the two-step.

I hope you enjoy my ukulele arrangement! It uses a style of playing called campanella that has been a bit of a revelation to me in my approach to the instrument. If you want to find out more, seek out Jonathan Lewis’s YouTube channel and his website jons-ukulele.com.

Being snowed in these past few days, thanks to Storm Emma, has meant I got it finished. Check out my video — the tabs are here, too, if you’re interested.

ukulele tabs PDF

My ukulele arrangement of John Philip Sousa's march, 'The Washington Post'.

€5.00

Andy Irvine & Paul Brady at Vicar Street, 20 May 2017

“Apparently there are 102 strings on stage,” quips Paul Brady as he tunes one of the impressive array of instruments ranged behind him and Andy Irvine. Dónal Lunny has a couple of string instruments to go along with his bodhrán and keyboard. Kevin Burke seems comparatively modest with his violin’s four strings.
The more unusual instruments, like the bouzouki and the hurdy-gurdy, and the guitars in various tunings, are a testament to the restless curiosity that culminated in the 1976 album ‘Andy Irvine and Paul Brady’. Tuning between songs allows time for stories to flow, and Irvine and Brady give background to the original compositions (“from the mad brains we had back in the 70s”), and to those songs sourced from others such as Eddie Butcher, Andy Mitchell, Shirley Collins, Paddy Tunney, and Sam Henry.
The wounded soldier’s love song, Bonny Woodhall, from Sam Henry’s collection, has a beautiful accompaniment that swirls around Irvine’s clear vocal. The instrumentation builds throughout, drawing the listener into the story as it unfolds. Most of the instruments are picked up by microphones so there is a wonderful immediacy as every pluck and bow is amplified.
The two Sligo tunes that follow, Fred Finn’s Reel and Sailing Into Walpole’s Marsh, are lead by Brady and the reflective mood of the previous song is chased away by the banter between the four musicians (“drain that marsh!”). Lunny picks up the bodhrán for these, lending a very satisfying, full bass sound to the melody instruments.
Brady tells of receiving a letter while “languishing in the US in the early 70s”, from Liam O’Flynn asking him to join Planxty. The only song he had was a version of Arthur McBride and the Sergeant. Irvine recalls the first time Brady sang it for them in Donegal, and we are treated to a genuinely moving performance of this treasured favourite. The crowd burst into prolonged applause after the final “…for it being on Christmas morning”, and as the assembly settle back into their seats, Lunny confirms with a smile that “…they let him into Planxty!”
Irvine’s plaintive Autumn Gold follows, preceded by his amusing recollection of singing it in a barn to the girl he wrote it for “…just the two of us there…she never said a f**king word!”
After these two moving songs comes The Jolly Soldier, sung by Brady. His voice is in fine form, rich and strong. Andy Irvine’s excellent harmonica playing leads the charge in the jig that follows out of the song, The Blarney Pilgrim. Brady can’t resist lilting along.
It’s forty years since the album’s release. The performers and the audience are older, this music now a precious thread woven into all their lives. There is deep joy and exhilaration shared in Vicar Street tonight as it is spun out again through the hands of these four master musicians.
——–
This review appeared originally on GoldenPlec.com.
David Rooney‘s scraperboard picture appeared originally in Hot Press magazine. Check out some of the other pieces he’s done for Hot Press over the years.

Joey Dosik at The Sugar Club, 17 April 2017

One of the reasons that The Sugar Club is such a beloved venue is its layout. The cabaret-style tables step down from the back wall bar to the front and, unlike most venues, patrons enter right by the stage.
Tonight it’s a fairly simple setup for the first of Joey Dosik’s two nights at the club. (He was first in Dublin in September, supporting Vulfpeck at Vicar Street. Later, Dosik asks how many people were at that “crazy show” and, when answered with enthusiastic cheering, remarks “I’d forgotten how loud ya’ll are!”) A microphone, a Fender Rhodes, a Fender amp, and a Korg Univox drum machine are the only things on the stage. As the room fills up, a playlist gets us in the mood: Save The Last Dance For Me, Tequila, God Is Love, Tracks Of My Tears, Say A Little Prayer, Doesn’t Really Matter (Janet Jackson), At Your Best (Aaliyah), Adorn (Miguel), and some more subtle jazz that my phone’s Shazam app can’t discern…
Dosik comes on shortly after nine dressed in a grey suit, white shirt, and reddish patterned tie. Nice shoes, too. Beaming a smile to the audience, he settles down behind the Rhodes. Opening with Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic, which he bashfully introduces as one he likes to warm up with, it’s immediately apparent that there is a lot of love in the room for this man. His soulful, sunny delivery of the song proves too irresistible a groove for us and as we joyfully match his stamping backbeat in the outro he riffs “I like the way you clap”. (“C’mon yo, clapping on the first song?!”)
The tone of the evening is set and, in all but the quietest of songs, Dosik’s fans clap along and sing harmony and generally exude warmth towards him. One song, Simply Beautiful, he does with the guitar completely off the mic. It’s difficult to pull that off in this venue because, even with the most supportive crowd, the bar is still operating at the back. His guitar playing isn’t quite on the same level as his keyboard playing, but this just lends these songs a charm of a different sort. Together with the completely acapella version of Bill Withers’ Stories, they do serve to vary the dynamics of the evening, as does the use of the drum machine. He operates the device with a foot pedal, to greatest effect on the EP title track Game Winner.
The other songs from the EP – Competitive Streak, Running Away – and the title track of his forthcoming album, Inside Voice, are particular highlights, as is his cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Happening Brother.
There is such a sense of style and fun and genuine love from Dosik, it’s easy to see why he inspires such enthusiasm in his crowd tonight. As we leave the empty venue there are still easily twenty people queuing to meet him and to buy merch. Hopefully he’ll be back (with a band!) to charm us again soon.
First published on GoldenPlec.com