Category Archives: performance

Man in the Mirror

I accompany the Gardiner Street Gospel Choir each Sunday evening at the 7.30pm mass in St Francis Xavier’s Church on Gardiner Street. This Sunday was a special service to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Joseph Wresinski, who strongly believed that “extreme poverty is the work of mankind and only mankind can destroy it”. He founded the organisation ATD Fourth World in the 1950s and it continues to bring the voices of the world’s poor to the corridors of power.

Take a moment and read the last letter he wrote before he died in 1988:

last-letter-jw-1988

We sang Michael Jackson’s song ‘Man in the Mirror’ (written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard) after the mass as a special tribute to Wresinski’s legacy.

Such a great track (sidenote: there are apparently two versions in the new Lego Batman movie). The outro is just fantastic. The choir (The Andraé Crouch choir, The Winans, and Siedah Garrett), the synth bass, the whole thing in a slightly other world at the end. The song’s key change lifts us from G major up to A flat major (listen how the electric piano sound is switched out at that point for a grand piano…Greg Phillinganes really lets loose!). The whole last section rests on a variety of the IV chord – D flat sus 2 – which provides the ‘open’ feeling. The bass that punctuates every six bars rather than eight, as we might expect, and this also destabilises the listener. You just have to relax into it. The singers are so confident, though, as is the bass…it leans us out over the edge of the chord, starting on a B flat, but draws us strongly back in…B flat, F, C, A flat, D flat. So satisfying! I love that the song stays in this place right to the end. Michael’s final urging to ‘make that change’ flies off at the end with infinite possibility.

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FLECKS to play Gigonometry – Thursday 13 October

FLECKS will share the stage at The Workman’s Club on Thursday with three other acts, Buffalo Sunn, Dreaming of Jupiter, and Maria Kelly. Last week, we played at The Bello Bar alongside David Rooney and The Straw Gods. Here are some photos and video from the night:

 

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 🙂

…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: 3

Juuuust sneaking in ahead of the deadline for this one today! I’m deviating from the Christmas theme a bit in honour of the fact that today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of ‘Rubber Soul’ by The Beatles. Their sixth album, and probably my favourite of theirs.

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Workers at EMI factory in Hayes, Middlesex, packaging Rubber Soul, 1965

I recorded this on my Yamaha Clavinova and used an app called Drumgenius for the drums. Check it out, musicians, if you’d like to replace your metronome with more interesting beats. There are over 400 loops on it now. You get three free when you download the app and then you can buy bundles (10 for €0.99, 50 for €2.99).

The arrangement is from a book called ‘The Beatles for jazz piano’: eleven classic Beatles songs arranged in jazz style by Steve Hill.

Click on the image below to view it on Amazon:

Please like and share 🙂