On Saturday I was on Craig Doyle’s show, singing with James McMorrow. My fellow backing singers were Jill Deering and Peter Ryan and I did some tambourine, too. We sang a track from James’s album called ‘This Old Dark Machine’ and, unusually for telly, did it completely live and acoustic.
It was a great thrill to be part of the show. It’s recorded on Wednesdays and we were shown to a dressing room (with a nice big box of jelly beans to munch on), and had a lovely runner guy who took our dinner order and got us whatever we wanted. We were all too nice to ask for a while, but then I ventured a request for a Diet Coke (rock’n’roll, eh?). Doubtless the guys were summoning all sorts of debauchery after I left and they got a bit more bold 😉
Here’s the clip (the song starts at 03m13s…):
Thankfully the TV people taped our bit first, as I had to rush off to play piano for my girls choir at Loreto Senior Primary in Crumlin. They were doing their Spring show and I had two choirs to play for: the 88-strong group that had taken part in the Hallelujah Chorus project (massed school choirs get together each year to do a concert with a full orchestra), and the younger ‘school choir’. The 88 did an Abba medley and the school choir did two songs I’d been working on with them this term – ‘Colors Of The Wind’ from Pocahontas by the amazing Alan Menken (look him up and marvel at his body of work) and ‘The Peanut Vendor’, a Cuban song about a dude who sells peanuts. I got there with minutes to spare before I was meant to be on…I think the poor head teacher was a little emotionally frayed by the whole experience! Of course, I breeze in with not a bother on me 🙂
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.
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.
I entered the Séan O’Ríada competition that is run by the Cork Choral Festival. Sadly I didn’t win – a guy called Simon MacHale did, and I’m looking forward to hearing his piece next week at the National Chamber Choir’s festival gig. It was great working to the deadline, although I didn’t finish the piece entirely to my satisfaction. There’s one line that I think needs completely reworking and my choir director told me it was hard, so I must think a bit more about it and draft another version.
The rules were that the piece had to be for SATB with a small amount of divisi permitted. The text also had to be Irish, preferably. I found a great poem by James Joyce (whose poetry I didn’t know at all) called ‘I Hear An Army’ and fell in love with it, despite being warned that permission to use Joyce’s work is hard to get. I actually still haven’t heard back from the copyright holder…fingers crossed. I think it comes out of copyright in six years anyway, by which time I *might* be happy with the piece! My composition professor in university, Nigel Osborne, encouraged me to use comtemporary poets’ work but there is something to be said for not having to worry about copyright. Assuming the publisher/poet is nice, though, it’s still nothing to be put off by, really. You’ll probably have to pay a bit to use the text and write emails and talk to people, but that helps one feel like a proper composer. Which is half the battle.
Two videos to finish. I have to return some instruments that I borrowed for some ‘Introduction to Musical Instruments’ sessions I did the other day for some lovely kids in Chapelizod. I brought along my piano (“…but you said it was a keyboard…” “Yes, yes, you’re right, it *is* a keyboard. It sounds like a piano, though, doesn’t it?” “Sort of…”), guitar, clarinet, drum, shaker, some violins, some chime bars, some lovely bass chime bars and we had a marvellous time playing all those and talking about them and all the other, far more interesting things that they thought of that second. Kids are great 🙂
First video is of Conor O’Brien (whose band, Villagers, are about to release their debut album) singing on Jools Holland. I think he’s a very very good performer and songwriter. I saw him play a solo set last summer and I was hooked. Enjoy 🙂
Second video is of the lovely Kristin Chenoweth singing ‘The Girl in 14G’. I was rehearsing this song with Suzanne McDonnell for her recital on Tuesday week. Fun piece and another great performance. Quick gripe: the recital may have to be in the afternoon, not the evening as it has been in previous years. Why? Because of the work-to-rule that the unionised university employees are following. It means that family and friends don’t get to come and the students play to an empty hall. Brilliant.
I just found this video for OK Go’s song, ‘This Too Shall Pass’, via Graham Linehan’s feast of a blog, ‘Why That’s Delightful’. There’s something about the surprise elements of this video (and the other, amazing domino-machine one) that takes my breath away. For some reason, too, the song itself appealed to me much more in the context of the marching band video than it did in the domino one. Live performance…especially when we can see those lovely glockenspiel breaks…and the gradual expansion of the cast (creating, like in the domino video, a continual sense of delight). Great stuff. Truly important, bar-raising art for an internet age of living, loving human beings.
Read the band’s guitarist’s piece in the NY Times, too, about the short-sightedness of record companies. Specifically EMI in this case. If we enjoy watching videos on YouTube, and we love music, then we should know about this stuff.
I was introduced to the Mouth Off! podcast this week, an intoxicating mix of gushing enthusiasm, Americanisms that would make a Dublin Southside teenager blush, and great contemporary acapella music. I loved it and will definitely be listening again.
They reviewed The Swingle Singers’ latest album, ‘Ferris Wheel’, and I was all for buying it but couldn’t find it on iTunes. One of their recommendations I did find, though, was Riltons Vänner. Check out this sexy, slick slice of singing:
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.
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…
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”.
Came across this funny article (via Twitter) about children’s programmes on Nickelodeon Jr. Now, I don’t have kids but I do work with little ones sometimes. The guy who wrote the article rates the shows’ songs and music, too, which I found interesting. His descriptions led me to check out Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! on YouTube…
I liked the slightly unexpected melody in the chorus and the harmonies. There’s an effect on the voice, too, that’s like when you add upper harmonics to an organ sound – a breathy doubling at the octave.
At the end of the article is another treat – Yo Gabba Gabba. He includes a YouTube clip from this show of a song called Party In My Tummy. Now I know catchy and *this* is catchy!
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’:
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.
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!
I sometimes look back on my diaries from my student days (sadly only appointment diaries: I’m not a memoir person…yet) and marvel at the sheer variety of things I used to do. Well, since beginning life as a freelancer, it sometimes feels quite similar and my diary for this weekend was pleasingly mottled with some interesting engagements.
So, on Saturday, Jen and I (along with Margaret O’Shea, a fellow New Dublin Voice, and her friend John Wade) went in to a TV studio to take part as backing vocalists in the broadcast of a music segment for a show. I hadn’t done this kind of work before and it was good fun and actually pretty challenging. The song was a track called ‘The way old friends do’. I didn’t know the song before – it’s an old ABBA number – and my opinion about the song has fluctuated wildly in the short time of my acquaintance with it. I just watched a video of ABBA singing it and it’s rather poignant watching them perform together.
This morning I played keyboard at the service in St George and St Thomas (Church of Ireland) church on Cathal Brugha Street. The regular organist was away and I agreed to dep(utise) for him although, not being an organist, I used the church’s Roland keyboard. I grew up in the Church of Ireland, in fact the minister of St George and St Thomas was coincidentally a curate at my church in the North when I was a teenager. I enjoyed the warm hospitality of the people and the familiar liturgy. We sang ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ at the end of the service and, despite being few in number, the congregation made a joyful noise!