Category Archives: links

The Rainbow Connection

A few weeks ago I did a recording for one of my fellow tenors in New Dublin Voices, jazz pianist Stephen Kenny. He has formed a duo with a Finnish singer called Milla Mamia and they needed a demo so they could advertise. I used my Zoom H4 recorder in my kitchen to make the recordings. Firstly, Milla and Stephen did the song and I took a direct stereo output from my Nord Stage piano. Then, I was able to have Milla listen back to that piano track through headphones and sing into the Zoom’s built-in stereo microphones. I then did some editing to do in Audacity, the final stage of which was adding reverb to Milla’s voice.

Check out their website: midnightbluejazz.com

One of the songs they recorded was ‘The Rainbow Connection’ by Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher. This song was pipped for a Grammy in 1979, the year Kermit the Frog sang it in The Muppet Movie. It’s been covered by many people since then (check out the list on Wikipedia’s entry for the song) but I couldn’t find one I liked as much as Milla & Stephen’s. Actual tears!

Kermit is, of course, the benchmark 🙂 I love the attention to detail – the way his hand moves on the chord changes and he strums the correct pattern. Genius puppetry.

The Low Anthem – Vicar Street, Dublin 8jan10

My friend Brian recommended The Low Anthem to me a few weeks ago and lent me ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’. It’s a mix of beautiful and barnstorming folk and I hadn’t even listened to the whole thing when I noticed, entered, and WON! a ticket competition in the last edition of Le Cool. Le Cool is a great e-zine that highlights interesting things happening in the city* every week. Or, as they more eloquently put it, “a free weekly cultural agenda and alternative city guide”. It works really well on the iPhone, too, with the pages sliding over to the side.

* It’s published for Barcelona, Madrid, Lisboa, London, Istanbul, Moscow, and Budapest, too.

The gig was in Vicar Street, having been moved from Whelan’s due to a large demand for tickets. The whole ground floor of Vicar Street was packed with 20s/30s cool people and older cool people. There were beards and checked shirts in abundance. We had our customary Jameson & Cokes in the bar. I thought it was more of a longneck beer night, but Brian has a predilection for that particular combo which wouldn’t be staved off and I joined him for auld lang syne. It’s a while since we saw each other and so we managed to miss the support act but we wandered into the main venue shortly after nine and contemplated where it would be best to stand. Having found the perfect spot that managed to suit our very different physicalities, we awaited the band’s arrival on stage. Tom Waits played over the PA system…

Photo taken using Hipstamatic iPhone app

At about twenty-five past nine they came on, looking just right. The lead singer said they’d be playing three types of songs: songs from ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, some new songs they’d been working on for the past six weeks, and some old American songs. I’m afraid I didn’t even bother trying to keep a setlist because I don’t know any of the titles and figured I’d have a hard time finding the names of two-thirds of the set anyway. Plus, it’s pretty nerdy to be tapping away on the iPhone during the gig!

It was all pretty chilled out for the first handful of songs and we were treated to the beautiful array of sounds they had brought to play for us: an old reed organ sat on the left of the stage; an upright bass, an electric guitar (Fender Mustang, maybe…?), a less-than-full-size acoustic; a lovely bits-and-pieces drum kit which comprised a proper marching bass drum, a snare drum, high hi-hats that wobbled about satisfyingly when they were played, and two great-sounding cymbals. In one of the early songs, a home-made shaker was produced. The girl interested me most (yeah, yeah, settle down…) as she played clarinet, bass guitar, electric guitar, sang, and played a set of crotales with a bow. Generally doing the kind of multi-instrumental shenanigans that I do 🙂 Her clarinet tone was lovely and I really liked the way she played – using a wide vibrato for the slower, more sonorous songs, rising up on her toes slightly for the higher notes, not shying away from some lovely high lines up at the top end of the instrument’s register… In one of the last songs she and the reed organ player did some sweet harmonies, the sounds blending beautifully, as you’d expect.

When they let rip (on tracks like ‘The Horizon Is A Beltway’), we were riveted for a completely different reason. I was really drawn in by their committed, raw performances. One of the stand-out songs was something about whiskey and women driving you insane (sorry, rubbish not to have a title, I know…!) and on each climax of the chorus they held a chord for *just* a bit longer, the girl going up to the next harmony until they literally couldn’t hold it any more. It’s this kind of thing that makes a live performance trump a recording every time. (If the artists are prepared to take those risks…)

Another lovely moment was in a song where three of the four musicians played wind instruments: the girl’s clarinet being augmented by another and also by a brass band-style horn (i.e. not a French horn). On the last horn break the singer took out two phones (he’d tried to explain this to us, but we didn’t really get it until he did it). He called one with the other and put them on speaker, whistling into them, causing feedback. It made a ghostly, theremin-like noise throughout the crowd (some people had copped on what to do…).

This person got some really good footage from up near the stage. On this song, ‘This God Damn House’, you can hear that lovely clarinet vibrato and then the mobile phone thing from 3’56”.

Here’s a clip of ‘Cage The Songbird’ that I recorded. You can hear the bowed crotales well from about 0’22”.

Here is Damien McGlynn’s review and much better photos than mine, from state.ie.

Question:

  • Since you all change instruments so much, how do you decide who plays what in each song?

The Rocky Road To Dublin

Jen and I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes film the other night in our newly reopened local Swan Cinema in Rathmines. I really enjoyed the film and we cheerfully chatted about it as we strolled home, me wearing my new deerstalker hat. That particular part of the traditional Holmes garb was left out of the film but I appreciated l’homage myself…

The cinema are going to be showing live opera from The Met apparently, which should be interesting to go and see.

Guy Ritchie, who directed the Sherlock Holmes film, creates a wonderful world for his Sherlock reboot. London looks great and is alive with possibility: Tower Bridge is being built, Britain is at the height of her power, scientific advance and enquiry strain at the leash. And Holmes, of course, embodies that searching spirit. I felt the same admiration for the character that I felt about House in the first few seasons (before they explored his nastiness) – the thrill of watching a great mind pursuing truth and appearing totally in control.

[I think I may have copped on why American programmes are now referred to as ‘seasons’: what is the plural of ‘series’? Yes, it’s ‘series’. Not confusing at all. I found a wonderfully narky entry in Wiktionary, too, under ‘programme’:

Funny.]

Anyway…one of the most delightful things about the film was the use of The Dubliners’ recording of ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’ as the music over the closing credits. I usually sit to the end of the credits in films because the music info (what songs were used, the composer, musicians etc.) is always right at the end. Sometimes, though – like with Avatar recently – the credits go on for about a day! And the music wasn’t great anyway. This, however, was a real treat. Luke Kelly’s masterful vocal rolling and tumbling the words of this slip jig (three triplets in the bar) with barely a pause for breath. Have a listen. No, have two listens…first time read the words, too…

Now with the band…

PS No sooner had I posted this but I remembered that House is, of course, based on Sherlock Holmes! Holmes, House, Watson, Wilson, House lives at 221B, takes drugs, plays music, etc. etc.

Joy be with you all

Played banjo on RTÉ’s arts programme, The View, last night with James Vincent McMorrow.

I also sang carols with some of my fellow New Dublin Voices on the steps of The Gate theatre in full Victorian garb, complete with top hat. They were celebrating the opening night of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and it was probably as interesting for us to see the parade of Dublin’s finest heading up the steps as it was for them to hear our singing!

(Quick plug – NDV gigs in John Field Room (11th), St Ann’s (12th), and Blanchardstown (19th).)

Loving the banjo at the moment. I didn’t know that it was actually invented by African slaves in the US by combining different African instruments. (One of the best banjo players in the world is Béla Fleck. I’ve seen him play a couple of times in Dublin. He made a film tracing the banjo’s African roots: trailer looks good…) I’ve been practicing by playing traditional Irish tunes out of a book I found years ago at home called ‘Whistle and Sing!’. It was compiled in 1974 by a man named Eamonn Jordan who lived in Portadown (where I grew up) and it’s an absolute treasure trove of songs, airs, and dance music from Ireland.

Despite not growing up on the side of the fence that celebrated Irish trad music I will be forever indebted to my dad for passing on and fostering a love of our musical heritage. He never learned to play an instrument himself but encouraged me and my sister to play. He brought me along to my first session when we were off on one of our mountain-climbing trips – me barely able to play more than a few chords on my first, high-actioned, acoustic guitar!

Sláinte, dad xo

First gig with Hamlet in ages

Last Wednesday Hamlet and I played our first gig together in ages. He’s been busy at work (and honing his stand-up comedy skills) and I’ve been teaching full-time in primary schools. It was great to play his songs again and dust off the keyboard. I’m sure it’s been glaring at me, albeit in an inanimate, non-ocular sort of way.

Hamlet doesn’t often do covers so I was very pleased when he said he wanted to do Christy Moore’s wonderful ‘Ride On’.

Here’s the evidence, courtesy of Franziska Blum:

Next gig with Hamlet is on 15 December in the Odessa club.

My dear sister was also using my keyboard this week – playing on the RTÉ Sunday Morning mass with some other Trinity alumni and students. You can watch it here until 29 November.

Master of the Unusual

I’m just back from my Friday ‘Magic of Music‘ school.  It’s the mid-term break next week and all the kids had dressed up for Halloween.  There are twelve classes in the infant school and this morning they all gathered in the assembly hall.  Some of the costumes were fantastic!  A few that caught my eye were Bart Simpson (limbs and head completely painted yellow), a great witch with face painted a ghoulish green and a straggly wig. and a Michael Jackson (black shoes, white socks visible beneath the too-short trousers, black jacket with buttons, hat and the single, spangly glove).  Each class in turn marched around to show off their finery.  This is were I came in – supplying suitably scary improvisations on the twenty year-old Casio keyboard the school had in the store.  I refused the teachers’ offers of a duster as it would have ruined the Halloween effect 😉  Splendid fun!

One of the tunes we use with the kids who do the ‘Magic of Music’ programme is ‘Wipeout’ from Dirty Dancing.  It’s a great one to get them to hear the low, middle and high chords.  Here’s a novel approach from Michel Lauzière (his rollerblade version of music from Carmen is doing the rounds amongst my Facebook friends at the moment):

Wonderful music site for kids and grown-ups!

I found this site via @laputean on Twitter.  It’s by a Dutch guy called Paul van Coeverden and, being entirely based in Flash, doesn’t need a lot of computer power.  He doesn’t shy away from using music that might be considered difficult, in fact the first animation I watched was of a teddy bear and was set to a piano piece by Arnold Schoenberg, the architect of the atonal movement.

There’s a fun game where you choose which track a train should travel on, matching the landscape it will pass through to the music you’re hearing (an overture by Rossini).

I can’t wait to explore it more.  It looks ideal for musically curious kids but don’t let that stop you from checking it out yourself 🙂

For another all-age treat, have a look at the animations on YouTube by Dimitriya.  They are, again, very much set to the music and so provide lots of fascination as the viewer ‘sees’ the music on the screen.