All posts by Jay

Musician, aesthete, lover of concord.

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Today is the birthday of Mack Gordon (1904 – 1959), songwriter and lyricist. Soon after Mack was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1904, his family emigrated to America and he grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He and his songwriting partner, Harry Warren, wrote ‘At Last’ — Etta James’s signature version is the finest — and also ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’. Check out these brilliant lyrics:

You leave the Pennsylvania station ’bout a quarter to four / Read a magazine and then you’re in Baltimore / Dinner in the diner, nothin’ could be finer / Than to eat your ham and eggs in Carolina / When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar / Then you know that Tennessee is not very far / Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’ / Whoo whoo, Chattanooga, there you are!

The melody that goes with this verse part of the song is really catchy. Listen to Glenn Miller’s wonderful arrangement of Chattanooga Choo Choo (from the 1941 film “Sun Valley Serenade”) which features the voices of Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and The Modernaires. It was the first record to sell more than one million copies and Glenn Miller was presented with a gold record at CBS Playhouse in New York City in 1942.

 

‘…martyred and mussed, feeble and fussed…’ (quote from ‘The Ginger Man’ by J.P. Donleavy)

Sometimes the sun would sneak in. Then Marion beating barefoot on the linoleum. Entreaties. O do get up. Don’t leave me to do everything every morning. In my heart where no one else can hear me, I was saying, now for God’s sake, Marion, be a good Britisher and get down there in that little nest of a kitchen and buzz on the coffee like a good girl and would you, while you’re at it, kind of brown up a few pieces of bread and I wouldn’t mind if maybe there was just the suggestion of bacon on it, only a suggestion, and have it all ready on the table and then I’ll come down and act the good husband with, ah darling good morning, how are you, you’re looking lovely this morning darling and younger every morning. A great one that last. But I come down martyred and mussed, feeble and fussed, heart and soul covered in cement.

Review | Flecks – Girl

What a thoughtful review! It’s so exciting to see this EP making its way into the world. Can’t wait to play the songs live again soon, can’t wait to write more (we’re aiming for another few singles over the summer).

Have a listen. We’d really appreciate a ‘follow’ on Spotify — click the three dots beside any of the song titles and click ‘Go to Artist’, then click the ‘follow’ button.

We’re also on iTunes (your purchase would help pay for the mastering and uploading).

You can find us — @weareflecks — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, YouTube…

Drop us a comment and say hi 🙂

The Last Mixed Tape

FlecksThe Last Mixed Tape reviews Girl, the debut extended play from Dublin based synth-pop act Flecks.

Atmosphere is a word I often use in reviews, and the thing about atmosphere is that it’s incredibly difficult to build one and even more difficult for it to be believable. Such is the case with a the dramatic synth atmosphere of Flecks’ Girl.

“Nothing’s every gonna feel like it was when you were that stupid girl at the back of youth hall crying” sings vocalist Freya Monks during the E.P’s opener and title track. I’d like to take a moment to point out exactly how important this lyric is the rest of the record’s success. In the space of one line, we get a sense of where we are, where we were and where we don’t want to be. This made all the more relatable by the inclusion of “girl at…

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David Rooney, whose album I’ve been recording piano and vocals for, and his striking portraits of 1916

Arminta Wallace interviewed David the other week and her article appeared in this weekend’s edition of The Irish Times — this weekend was the actual anniversary of the 1916 rising. 

Here, from David’s forthcoming album, and with me on piano, is ‘The Rising’:

1916 as you’ve never seen it before

Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times — Saturday, 23 April, 2016

By his own account David Rooney was an unlikely person to be asked to illustrate a book about the men and women of 1916. “For me growing up, everything associated with 1916 was coloured by the Troubles,” he says.

“My dad grew up near Enniskillen, and came down here to join the guards, getting away from the poisoned land, as he saw it, of sectarianism in the North. And I wouldn’t be alone in this: many people of my generation would have a real repugnance about the continuation of violence.”

But when Rooney got into the nitty-gritty of his research for the project he was fascinated by what he discovered.

“I’ve been reading the 1916 stories for more than a year, and there are so many instances where everything changed in people’s lives – and the lives of everyone around them. They fragmented, altered, spun off in all sorts of directions. Maybe the anvil of an event like this produces really extraordinary arcs of story – or maybe the stories always happen, and we just don’t register it. But when war happens, when conflict happens, the natural trajectory of things is altered. Like the refugee situation now. And we’re still living in the broken mirror of 1916.”

Rooney’s 42 thoughtful black-and-white drawings give the book 1916 Portraits and Lives, a collection of biographical essays published by the Royal Irish Academy and based on the academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, a visual – and, indeed, emotional – heft that helps it stand out from this year’s 1916 publications.

Originally the plan was to use photographs of the characters concerned, but in some cases the available imagery was of poor quality or simply nonexistent. So the academy’s graphic designer, Fidelma Slattery, had the idea of using original artwork. Its managing editor, Ruth Hegarty, ran with the idea, and Jackie Moore of the Office of Public Works – “the third part of that triumvirate of powerful women”, as Rooney puts it – came on board to support the project by buying the originals for the State.

How did Rooney get so up close and personal with his subjects?

“A friend of mine told me to read James Stephens’s The Insurrection in Dublin. That had a huge impact on the colour of it, because Stephens’s account is really what a journalist would do now. “It’s moment by moment. ‘Here I am on the corner of Abbey Street . . .’ It’s amazing – and an amazingly neglected document.”

The 1916 Portraits and Lives project has taken off to such an extent that it now has a life of its own. The book won a design award and was shortlisted for the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year. The ebook was made available for free download, and such was the uptake – more than 65,000 copies downloaded worldwide – that the offer has been extended until the end of April.

Limited-edition prints of the portraits are available to buy from the Royal Irish Academy’s website, and the originals will be on display at an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol from May 12th.

As for Rooney himself, after 30 years as a visual artist, the illustrator with the highly distinctive visual “voice” is now developing another voice – as a singer-songwriter.

“There have always been guitars around, and I liked the idea of writing songs but didn’t know where to go to find them.”

A chance meeting with Glen Hansard changed all that. “I went over to his house, and I saw him working on the songs that became his Grammy-nominated album [Didn’t He Ramble]. To see them as pencil sketches – well, I recognised something in that. I thought, I know where to find my songs. They’re in the same well as the drawings, but much further down – and much harder to get at.”

Hansard has become a close friend and a constant source of musical inspiration. And with Declan O’Rourke producing and a band that includes the jazz drummer Conor Guilfoyle and the pianist Jay Wilson, who plays with James Vincent McMorrow, Rooney has now recorded 10 songs for an album due to be released this autumn. “It has been an absolutely incredible journey. With the drawings the best ones come if I get out of the way and let it flow. With music I have to be totally present at all stages of it.”

As for recording and performing, that’s a collaborative process that is a shock to a perfectionist who is used to working at home alone. “I’m in total control of the images. With the music I have to let go. Take that de Valera image. If that was music, okay, I get to do de Valera, but I’ve to get you to do the swan, because you’re the person who can do swans. While we’re rehearsing, the swan is exactly like it’s going to be here. And then comes the day of recording, and you’re thinking more of a goose. ‘Why does it have to be a swan,’ you say. ‘Can’t it be a cormorant or . . . a shag, maybe’?” He laughs. “Yeah. And you have just to say, ‘Okay. Let’s try that’.”

The Chills – my wedding / event band

We are a five-piece band. I play keyboard and sing, Freya Monks sings, Scott Halliday plays guitar, Alan Elliott plays bass, and the lovely Paul Kenny plays drums. (They’re all lovely, but I’m singling Paul out because I’m feeling guilty at listing him last.)

We recorded some demos in February this year. Please have a listen and pass on this link to anyone who you think might like us. As I wrote in our bio, we are ‘seeking to spread music and joy throughout the land’!

A full-on share on your Facebook page would be absolutely wondrous. A message to a friend who’s looking for a band for a wedding or event would be sublime.

(I also love to play at ceremonies…)

Anyway, here are the songs we did demos of – enjoy 🙂

I started off today resenting Jimmy Fallon and went on a glorious journey

I thought I knew what I was going to do this morning. There are definitely things that I *should* have done, but I got terribly, wonderfully sidetracked.

I saw a tweet to a Joe.ie article about Michael Stipe performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ on The Tonight Show. I was intrigued – I perform that song when I play in The Candlelight Bar. If you haven’t already watched it, take a look:

I wondered who the piano player was. I wondered even more when I realised that he was accompanying Michael Stipe as an equal, with an obviously classical sensibility, not as some background chord player supporting a star. There was a notated arrangement on the music stand of the piano, it was a nice piano, it was a beautifully played, sensitive accompaniment.

A quick Twitter search gave me the answer, it was a composer called Paul Cantelon. His name wasn’t mentioned at all on the show, which really irked me. The various ‘articles’ that attach themselves to pieces of content like this did their usual job of contributing nothing. Jimmy Fallon is obviously a music fan, too, but it was an unusual moment for his show. The pop world has taught us not to acknowledge the musicians that accompany singers (either solo artists or band members). I felt bad for Cantelon when Fallon came over at the end and just impolitely ignored him.

Paul Cantelon is a fascinating character, as I just discovered by listening to a wonderful podcast conversation between him and Joseph Arthur. (I hope you can listen, as it’s on SoundCloud, which is currently changing its access model…) It’s a remarkable series of stories over two and a half hours(!), and what emerges is a picture of a fascinating life and the gracious, humble musician who has lived it. He grew up as a child of an evangelical preacher, was publicly shamed by Pierre Boulez at the age of 11, spilled hot chocolate over sheet music notated by Ravel, swung a piano into a 12th century Parisian church window, attended the 1st Church of the Surf, had an awkward encounter with Nina Simone, was in a coma for three weeks… Funny, charming, poignant, and profound. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend you take a listen.

In a weird way, Jimmy Fallon’s rudeness did me a great service. If Paul’s name had just been noted in the blurb at the bottom of the video, I’d not have found out about him. Such is the world we live in. “Oh right, that’s that bit of information, I’ll hurry on.” This might not be that moment for you – it’s supremely unlikely that you will have anything like the connection and experience I’ve had this morning with this person I never knew before. That’s the joy of life, the joy of autobiography, of story-telling, of honesty, of seeking meaning and beauty and creativity.

Here’s a Spotify link to one of his compositions for the film ‘Effie Gray’.

…maybe some other time

Last night I recorded a version of one of my favourite songs by The Divine Comedy, ‘Bad Ambassador’. (One take, so as not to annoy our neighbours too much…it’s not the sort of song that works quietly!)

It was the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Regeneration, the album that the track is taken from, on 12 March 2001.

Fifteen years ago I had just moved back home after graduating from the BMus course at Edinburgh. I was working at the Ulster Orchestra as their Education & Community Outreach Assistant. My diary reminds me that I was teaching clarinet to a wee girl called Sarah; I took her and her mum along to see the orchestra performing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. I was helping prepare the confirmation class at our church. I was playing in a band with my friends Jonny Boyle, Gareth Leslie, and Gareth’s brother-in-law Ben.

I didn’t work out how to play this song until years later, but Neil Hannon’s acoustic version was definitely released as a b-side…free with a weekend paper, I recall. Also on that CD were some behind the scenes videos of Neil in the studio with producer Nigel Godrich. He was renowned for his work with Radiohead and there were certainly tell-tale similarities in some of the sounds and techniques on the album.

I didn’t see the video to Bad Ambassador until mid-2014, and that was in rather a roundabout way (that I blogged about at the time).

Advent calendar: 18

This month saw the 150th anniversary of the birth of Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. His music exists on the outskirts of the classical music mainstream, but his symphonies and symphonic poems are really wonderful. The opening of the 2nd symphony impacted me greatly when I first heard it as a teenager. It was part of ‘The Great Composers’ series that my dad collected. Finlandia, Sibelius’s best known work, contains this beautiful chorale melody that was used as a setting for the iambic pentameter of the hymn ‘Be still, my soul’. It occupies the rather risqué position of number 666 in the Church of Ireland hymnal, but it certainly contains some of the most poignant lyrics:

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall thou better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.

I played it on the organ at St Ann’s on Remembrance Sunday, 11 November, 2012. I took lessons that year from Charlie Marshall, the organist at St Ann’s. Finlandia is a good one for beginners, as it can be done effectively using just the manuals.

We also sang it at my dad’s funeral seventeen years ago this month. It was his favourite hymn.

Advent calendar: 14

Behind today’s window is the angel Gabriel, no less 👼 This is an arrangement for piano that I did of the carol ‘Gabriel’s Message’. (Click that link to go to my original post, where you’ll find the SoundCloud player. You can download the track by clicking the arrow in the top right corner of the player.)

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
‘All hail,’ said he, ‘thou lowly maiden Mary;
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!’

‘For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honour thee,
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold;
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!’

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.’
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
Most highly favoured lady — gloria!

S. Baring-Gould (1834-1924)

Advent calendar: 13

(So I’ve missed a few – I’ll fill in the gaps next year!)

Today, I’ve made a tutorial video for a piece that you might recognise from Greg Lake’s moody Christmas hit, ‘I Believe In Father Christmas’. It’s called ‘Troika’ and was written by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and is in his ballet ‘Lieutenant Kije’. This easy piano arrangement was done by the prolific composer and arranger Pauline Hall and is one of the 2016 Preliminary exam piano pieces set by the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

Troika is the Russian word for three-of-a-kind and here depicts a team of three horses pulling a sleigh.

Enjoy!