Category Archives: beautiful minds

The first time ever I heard you sing

I’m looking forward to playing The Stables in Mullingar on Friday with Hamlet Sweeney.  We’ve played there a couple of times and it was there that I first heard Audrey Ryan.  This time we’re supporting ‘Villagers‘, who I first heard in the distilled form of village chief, Conor J. O’Brien, performing solo at the launch of the Purty Loft a couple of weeks ago.  I was also introduced to the music of Andrew Bird yesterday.  This is a radio slot he did on Californian station KCRW’s ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ show (thanks to Gail for this and, indeed, for introducing me to Mr Bird).

There’s something wonderful about hearing somebody for the first time and them drawing you in with whatever it is.  It’ll be different after that, but the first time everything is new.  The lyrics may be the aspect that delights you, some turn of phrase that makes you laugh or catches you off guard with its honesty.  It may be the music, some charming riff or perhaps an instrument or combination of instruments that sounds beautifully fresh on your ear.  Whatever it is, it hooks you and beguiles you and crowns your day.

What a perfectly marvellous thing this music can be 🙂

Flash, focus, record

Waiting for the water to heat so I can finish the washing-up this morning, I just came across Nicholas Bate’s ‘The Rules of Life‘ e-book on Eclecticity.  (I also just read John Althouse Cohen’s ’15 rules of blogging for myself’, where he cautions fellow bloggers to write thoughtfully.)

Maxims and advice abound on the vast internet and selectivity is the name of the game.  To indulge myself in the metaphor of my title: there are lots of flashes going off, attracting our attention, but it’s up to us to focus and record the things that can be classed as either ‘important’, ‘investing’, or ‘interesting’.

Something I noticed about ‘The Rules of Life’ is that Bate encourages his readers to take a moment each day to mull over the truths he presents so they begin to sink in.  As much as we want to behave like machines and file things away, bookmark them, post links to them, we don’t work that way and my nice metaphor doesn’t really transfer to a human being’s brain.  We need to read, to re-read, to question, to think, to sleep on it, to talk about it.  Machines we most certainly are not.

photo by Jean-noël Lafargue (2005); used under terms of the Free Art Licence

live MUZU TV video of one of Hamlet’s songs

Back in October, Hamlet and I went into the MUZU TV studios and recorded ‘I am a man’.  Looks good, methinks.  Keep watching and you’ll hear a couple of short interviews and ‘El Capitane’ as well as a video of David Bowie talking to Russell Harty, Hamlet’s choice from the fascinating archive available on the MUZU site.

For example, this video of Dionne Warwick interviewed on ITV.  Which runs into a fabulous little chat on a tower block roof with Ian Dury…stick around for Jonathan Richman, Kate Bush being cute…you could be there all day!  I was going to write that I thought there should be more tags, ways to search for a subject, but I actually quite like just diving in and discovering new things.  Like TV, I suppose…

And what is it with presenters and names?  “Dionne War-wick”… “Kate Bush…or is it Bush (rhyming with Lush)?”

A friend of mine posted a video of Arcade Fire, recorded in an elevator by the wonderful Vincent Moon for La Blogotheque, on Facebook.  I’ve mentioned the site before, but it really is superb.  Don’t be afraid of the fact that it’s in French – click on the archive, find your favourite band in the list and, chances are, you’ll find some great, inventive video.

cover versions

One of Rowan Manahan’s first posts of the new year was about finding your voice.  It is, for most of us, our primary tool and yet we often don’t think about how best to vocalise our message.

Rowan mentioned a number of actors renowned for their fine speaking voices, all of whom I recognised except one: Anna Deavere Smith.  (I’ve never seen The West Wing.)  I did a quick search for her and, since it was on the quality of her voice that she was being recommended, I looked at this video of her speaking at a TED conference.

She has travelled America recording conversations with people and, in her performances, she faithfully replicates those characters.  Truly breathtaking skill.  She must have a wonderful ear to be able to mimic the (remarkably) various voices.  The idea of a ‘cover version’ is very common in music, but it’s viewed differently when a singer mimics another.  I was talking about this in a guitar lesson today – how, when we learn to play songs, the final step is to make it our own.  It’s useful to study other players and singers to learn new techniques, but then there’s the extra step of finding your own voice.  To me that’s the same thing as Rowan’s talking about – being believable and fluent in what you say, sing or play.

While searching for cover versions on YouTube, I found this wee dote, Sam Scott:

Sound admonishment

Back in 2004 I went to a Bill Hicks tribute night in a pub in Temple Bar. They showed a couple of Hicks’s recorded stand-up shows as well as some documentary and interview material and we all sat – on the ground, mostly – and watched and laughed. I don’t keep a diary but I’ll occasionally note down something that has an impact on me. That night I wrote one sentence: “Play from your fucking heart!”.

A significant thread of Hicks’s material stemmed from his love of music and his disgust at the cynically marketed stuff that is presented as music in the mainstream. He screamed that sentence with utter conviction and it shook me. I couldn’t sit back and chuckle smugly, as I could when he vilified people in advertising or politicians. This was me, as a musician, that he was raging at.

I read a post today by another great cultural commentator with a love of music, Seth Godin. He urges us, with less of Hicks’s white heat but with no less passion, to Sing It. “If,” he writes, “you’re going to go to all the trouble of learning the song and performing it, then SING IT.  Sing it loud and with feeling and like you mean it.”

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John Cage

I stumbled upon this video of John Cage talking about sound – interesting guy and there’s something inspiring about his views on music.

(After his segment the rest is in French but stay tuned for a cute clip of a baby listening to its mother singing :-))

The belief that everything has to have meaning is terribly constricting and requires a sizeable amount of mental gymnastics to sustain (which gives us a lot of nonsensical ‘arty’ talk and theology…).

Here’s one of John Cage’s sonatas for prepared piano.