Johnny Marr Gig Review

Venue: The Academy, Dublin                                                                               Date: Wednesday, 27th March 2013

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Johnny Marr like presents. And if you were recording this gig on your phone, make sure fans going to his forthcoming Japanese shows know about this fact. After being given a gift of a t-shirt with Django Reinhardt on it, by Ger in the balcony, Marr came out wearing it for the encore, with his tailored suit jacket still keeping the style points up.

Opener ‘The Right Thing Right’ saw Marr cleverly change the lyrics to “Dublin citizen”, while the infectiously catchy ‘Generate! Generate!’ was dedicated to “people who think too much.” A rollicking rendition of ‘Lockdown’ cemented ‘The Messenger”s ability to sound just as excellent and engaging live as it is on record.

The crowd pleasers were unsurprisingly songs by The Smiths, ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ drew the most affection from the crowd and ‘London’ was a welcome surprise. Marr did Morrissey’s trademark crooning to perfection, while seamlessly throwing out riffs like they were the easiest and most obvious things in the world.

In the intimate surrounds of the full-capacity Academy Marr showed why he has become so legendary in the music industry; he has been a part of one the most influential bands in the history of British music, he has written some of the most incredible riffs that our ears have had the good fortune to hear and 31 years later is still writing and performing music that many new bands could only wish to have as part of the their back catalogue. Veering from nostalgia for The Smiths to the unfamiliarity of his most recent but lesser-known songs the crowd’s enthusiasm still remained throughout, while the raven haired guitarist left the stage beaming.

Making money from making music: Is it a distant dream?

A dull hush descends over the room as Peter Hook, of Joy Division and New Order fame,  takes his seat on the stage. All eyes are fixed on him, as the sound of someone gently tapping their foot on the wooden floor interrupts the silence. Hook’s Mancunian drawl fills the air as he recounts good times and bad living at the behest of a tour bus. Most of the questions he enthusiastically answers are punctuated with a familiar sentiment among many musicians, “I still have to make a living, you know.”

Peter Hook at a book signing in Dublin

Peter Hook at the book signing in Dublin

Two books and a semi-successful nightclub later the man affectionately known as Hooky still has to make a living using other means outside of being a touring, recording musician. Some musicians can spend an entire lifetime touring and recording, yet they still have to find other sources of income to make a living.

Recent statistics from the Future of Music Coalition Organisation suggest that most musicians aren’t making any money from music streaming sites; this coupled with a decrease in album sales significantly affects a band’s income. Gone are the days when musicians can dream of being the next Liam Gallagher or Mick Jagger, maybe there isn’t a living to be made in making music after all.

“Nowadays it is a significant achievement if a band breaks even from a release,” says Kieran O’Reilly, lead singer of Dublin band White McKenzie, talking about how bands earn money in the modern music industry. “As an independent artist, you are directly exposed to three main avenues of earnings: live shows, merchandise and record sales. My exposure is confined to a local level on all three.”

Kieran O’Reilly from White McKenzie

Ireland’s independent music scene contains some of the most talented and interesting bands in the industry. Every year the Hard Working Class Heroes festival showcases some of Ireland’s best musical talent, but the issue for many musicians is that their bands’ exposure can be confined to local levels, giving little opportunity for bands hoping to turn making music into a career to grow outside of the Irish music scene.

“In Ireland the only people, other than a couple of major mainstream acts, making full-time careers are people who have started their own labels or have a couple of side projects like ourselves,” says Gavin White, front man of electronic-garage band White Collar Boy. “There is always the point where you need to decide whether to stay in Dublin or to move to somewhere more influential like Berlin or New York.”

Bands often move to larger cities with more vibrant music scenes in a bid to get a bigger profile and to expand their fan base. Similarly to musicians living in Dublin, it seems in other cities bands are struggling just as much to earn a wage. American indie rockers The National all had to maintain days jobs for several years between tours, even as recognition of their band grew. Only when they sold 600,000 copies of their fifth album ‘High Violet’ could they finally make writing, playing and recording music their day job. “Even though we have gigs internationally and we put out records we still have to keep part-time jobs to have a back-up,” says White Collar Boy’s Gavin White.

White Collar Boy

White Collar Boy

Another anonymous band on another anonymous stage. The thud of the drums makes the ground shake, the distorted guitars pierce through the air with ferocity as the singer screams into the microphone. The air is heavy as a throng of people are thrown together with no space to move, all you can do is remain and embrace the music pulsating through the room.

For the people cramped on the tiny stage, making ends meet by following their passion alone may be unlikely, but even if the music industry continues to be in turmoil it’s moments like this that make you realise that for the fans in this room and the musicians on the stage this devotion to and passion for music won’t end because of a lack of pay cheques or low attendance at gigs.

Making a living from making music may be a distant dream for many musicians,  but this hasn’t made their passion wane. Even though 56-year-old Peter Hook highlights how he can’t make a living from making music alone, not even for a brief moment does he look unhappy about this. He works to make music, he doesn’t make music to work, and it seems that this applies to many other passionate musicians too.

The Listening Post: Findlay

findlay Music is pointless if it doesn’t grab your attention. If it doesn’t make you feel something, anything, then it’s just not worth hearing. Every so often a band will come along where the songs don’t necessarily have to be heartfelt and tap into the emotions of Thom Yorke to make you sit up and listen, they’re just amazing because they are. Sometimes a band is just making brilliant music without any need for analysis.

Enter Natalie Findlay, better known by Findlay alone, the incredible Mancunian singer whose rock-tinged teasing vocals on the unforgettable ‘Your Sister’ are enveloped in a cacophony of crashing drums and chugging guitars. And what’s the most impressive thing? It’s believable, every breathy vocal and cymbal crash is just so, well, Findlay. There’s already a definitive enrapturing sound and Findlay have only released two songs so far. You can get a free download of the brilliant ‘Your Sister’ by signing up to the mailing list here, and believe me: you’ll be listening to it non-stop for days once you’ve heard it..

 

2013’s most anticipated albums..

..which is code for my most anticipated album releases of 2013. It’s shaping up to be a pretty exciting year so far in terms of music releases, some of my favourite musicians are returning to the studio after a few years hibernating while others are gleefully releasing their debut with all eyes watching. So, let’s get started:

Johnny Marr – The Messenger

The Messenger is Marr’s first release as a solo artist, the prolific guitarist is currently dividing his time between Portland and Manchester

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and the tracks he has released so far sees a variety of influences seeping through into his songs. Listening to his solo material will have you questioning why his vocal and lyrical talents have been hidden for quite so long.

The Messenger is a song that has quiet, peaceful, even slightly dream-like vocals, teamed with Marr’s unmistakable signature guitar riffs. On first listen the song seems quite tame, until you realise that it will be in your head for days on end, which is definitely not a bad thing. And if after all this the video of the former Smiths’ man running around in a forest in black and white reminiscent of an art college video doesn’t draw you in then I don’t know what else will.

Kodaline – In A Perfect World

Currently Ireland’s favourite poster boys for indie (and why shouldn’t they be, they’re brilliant) Kodaline deliver tracks filled with beautiful melodies and thoughtful lyrics. Listen to their music on the bus, listen to their music at home, wherever you want, because the captivating harmonies and melodies will not fail to have you hooked wherever you hear them. And who knows, maybe their success will signal the beginning of the Irish indie music scene finally getting the attention it deserves. Watch the excellent video for ‘Perfect World’ below.

I Am Kloot – Let It All In

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I Am Kloot’s ambitious follow up to 2010’s sublime ‘Sky At Night’ so far shows the band

heading in a more anthemic, uplifting direction. ‘These Days Are Mine’ is a song which bristles with excitement before reaching the bellowing chorus, with the backing vocals sung by waitresses from a cafe near where they recorded this album.

The chorus lifts and soars in the most subtle way, it’s impossible not to imagine it being sung by a few thousand people at Glastonbury. ‘Hold Back the Night’ has a sound that harks back to ‘Sky At Night’’s more emotive stripped back sound. There’s no such thing as a disappointing I Am Kloot release, and judging from the excellent songs they’ve released for this follow-up this trend is set to continue.

In Their Thousands – As yet untitled EP

Beautiful. The only word you need to sum up In Their Thousands’ music is beautiful, but that would make for a shitty blog post so I’ll happily elaborate. Do you like guitars? Do you like mournful, aching vocals that call for your attention and, apologies for the cliché, but your heart too?

Not a million miles from Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes this Donegal outfit expertly combines acoustic instrumentation with jagged rock vocals. Every single word that they sing they mean, each song is brimming with passion and emotion. Again, utterly beautiful. Your ears deserve to hear them. They’re releasing an EP later this year, which technically goes against the point of this blog post, but what the hell: consider it an honourary and very necessary mention.

The Courteeners – Anna

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It seems that every time The Courteeners release a single they move further and further away from the lad-rock that dominated their debut album ‘St Jude’. Their first single off ‘Anna’, called ‘Lose Control’ seems like the next logical step from their last album ‘Falcon’.

Liam Fray’s snarling vocals which marked the band when they first began have been gradually replaced with a more polished sound, and more developed vocals ultimately leading to the brilliant track ‘Lose Control’.

The Courteeners have the unerring sound of a band with a few more tricks up their sleeve, which only adds to the excitement surrounding the release of their third album.

The Listening Post: Apple Rabbits

London-based Apple Rabbits is a one man band which is the brainchild of multi instrumentalist and singer songwriter Jay Fisher. Most recent single ‘I Could Not Care Less’ has a distinctive sound, from the understated vocals to the clever use of  strings leading the song without overpowering it.

The most captivating thing about Apple Rabbits is that the songs sound like they’re being sung just to you, even with the expansive range of instruments being used Apple Rabbits’s music never loses the quaint indie feel to it. It always sounds personal, it never soars to dizzying heights in an explosion of strings; the beauty is in the definitive vocals and simplistic instrumentation. Listen to Apple Rabbits, get completely lost in the lyrical content of the songs and wonder why ‘Get Paid’ isn’t a massive song already.

The Listening Post: Gemma Dunlovely

Sublime harmonies entwined with understated instrumentation makes Dubliner Gemma Dunlovely’s sound nothing short of captivating. Rarely does her music stray from the tried-and-tested vocals and acoustic guitar formula, and is all the better for it.

Dunlovely’s beautifully melodic voice perfectly compliments the stripped-back instrumentation, from her calling out in the catchy and uplifting ‘Stevie’ to her sweet and affecting vocals on the Laura Marling-esque track ‘Cold Winter Mourning.’

She also recently collaborated with electronic duo White Collar Boy on their track ‘Capslock’, showing that her voice  can span different genres and still sound as inviting as it does on a raw demo. You can listen to Gemma Dunlovely’s music here.

The Stone Roses Gig Review

Venue: Phoenix Park, Dublin.
Date: Thursday, 5th July 2012.

Feeling like an important part of musical history is unfolding right in front of you is surreal, that moment when you realise that the show you’re at is going to be remembered for a long time. As the strobe lights shone out into the audience while backdrops of fluorescent lemons complemented the stage it seemed a far cry from the band who split up in the 90s, sans John Squire and Reni, after their now infamous set at Reading ’96.

The setlist featured an equal mix of songs from their eponymous debut and ‘Second Coming’ , though the loudest cheers were saved for crowd-pleasers ‘Sally Cinnamon’, ‘This is the One’ and ‘She Bangs the Drums’.

Amid all the rumours surrounding the band after Reni’s walking out during a gig in Amsterdam the Roses managed to prove everyone wrong. It was evident that they enjoyed every moment on stage as part of one tight unit.

Most memorably the band launched into ‘Don’t Stop’, while it definitely wasn’t the best song of the night the fact that Ian Brown was willing to sing a song that’s ‘Waterfall’ in reverse was enough to gain massive amounts of respect.

The most sublime moments were during the instrumentals which followed certain songs, in particular for closer ‘I am the Resurrection.’ The instrumentals were peppered with moments where the band gelled together perfectly, where if Reni hadn’t been drumming, if Mani hadn’t been playing bass and Squire wasn’t playing guitar then it would’ve been incomplete.

Squire effortlessly flitted through flawless riffs before making the Hendrix-like move of dragging the neck of his guitar across the amps, adding to the already pumped atmosphere. The Stone Roses proved that they’re still important, that even after all of the doubts after a series of disastrous shows in the 90s they really can play live.

As the show drew to a close, and the last few chords of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ rang out, Ian Brown draped the tri-colour around Squire’s shoulders, and as their farewell the band hugged each other and joined hands. It’s very easy to be cynical about it, but the affection they showed each other seemed genuine and their live performances now are probably the best that they’ve ever been.

Even after navigating your way through the mud bath following signs for an imaginary exit you could still hear groups of people chanting Stone Roses songs. This is a show that won’t be easily forgotten, and unlike Reading, it’ll be for all the right reasons.

U2 1978-1981: Photographs by Patrick Brocklebank at the Little Museum of Dublin

Long before the tinted sunglasses, and when playing arenas was nothing more than a distant dream, U2 were just like every other struggling band – barely filling small venues and playing support slots for an audience that wasn’t interested.

Patrick Brocklebank’s U2 1978-1981 photography exhibition in the Little Museum of Dublin shows early photos he took of u2 before they hit super-stardom, one of them featured the band play in a small half-filled venue and another shows the band doing their best poses for press shots taken in the Arts Block of Dublin’s Trinity College.

The determination and perseverance of the band is what shines through in these photos. When you look at the earlier shots, in particular one of Bono onstage as support to The Stranglers when they played in Dun Laoghaire, you don’t look at the photo and instantly think “U2!”, because by that stage they weren’t recognisable as U2, they looked the same as every other band valiantly trying to make this ‘music thing’ work.

The vast majority of the photos are in black and white, and they capture a band trying to find their way musically and, in one photo where Adam Clayton’s wearing a questionable woolly jumper seemingly to try out a new look, stylistically too.

In these photos they merely look like naive but confident lads from Glasnevin trying to be the next big thing. The only photo in the room where the exhibition is housed which suggests the phenomenal success U2 went on to achieve is just by the door, conveniently placed so you only notice it just as you leave the exhibition. In contrast to the other photos, this one is in colour and shows Bono talking to a line of U2 fans who are on the other side of a wire fence at Slane. When you glance back at a photo of them playing a half empty venue on the other side of the room it’s hard to believe how far they’ve come.

It’s rare to see anything related to U2 that genuinely focuses solely on them when they were unencumbered by fame. The photography in this exhibition captures the beginning of U2’s road to success, and only the beginning, because we all know how the story unfolds after that.

The Listening Post: White McKenzie

When you wake up in the early hours of the morning, regretful about the things you did in the past and terrified of what your life seems to be becoming and where your future is pushing you, there are certain songs that can expertly latch onto your feelings and magnify how you feel. When this happens it’s like being in a movie where the soundtrack perfectly suits the rising emotions, and it takes a while to find that band, that song, that epitomises your temporary night terrors.

‘4am’, a track by Dubliners White McKenzie, sounds like it wouldn’t be a million miles from The National’s dark reflective music, and was made for those moments of unnerving doubt that grab you when you least expect them.

Punchier track ‘The Big Man’ could easily be mistaken for a Pearl Jam track, with frontman Kieran O’Reilly’s vocals bearing more than a passing resemblance to Eddie Vedder’s. Part remnants of 90s American grunge, part sweet-but-bitter indie, this is White McKenzie’s key track that sounds unquestionably radio ready. White McKenzie released their debut EP ‘Absence’ in 2011 and are currently working on new material. You can listen to them here. If you like powerful vocals mixed with punchy chords and understated drumming then you won’t be disappointed.

What the Stone Roses’ reunion means to a 20-year-old music obsessive

I was 16 when I first heard ‘She Bangs the Drums’ and my final year in school was looming. I’d read about The Stone Roses in NME several times and finally decided to see what all the fuss was about, and when I did I was hooked. Similarly to when I discovered The Smiths two years before, no one in my class knew who these weird, old bands I was talking about were.

I listened to The Stones Roses for two months straight, the September and October of my Leaving Cert year was a blur of psychedelic surreal music. I was never without my mp3 and nine times out of ten I had my headphones in. What’s the point of listening to people talk when I can be listening to incredible music instead?

Probably the most infuriating thing about finding out about bands that I swiftly became infatuated with was that most of them had split up and, in the cases of Joy Division and Nirvana, the frontmen were dead, so the likelihood of ever seeing these bands play live was slim. Very, very slim. It was a fact that I begrudgingly accepted, and soothed my very melodramatic teenage pain by listening to The Stone Roses over and over again and imagining that I was watching them play live.

What followed was a half-hearted interest in Ian Brown’s solo career, but I was always acutely aware of the fact that it would never compare to The Stone Roses. It wasn’t just about the music, it was about John Squire’s inimitable artwork that adorned their albums (and his guitar), the image of four Mancunian boys done good and Ian Brown’s unquestionable confidence. They didn’t need loud, overbearing guitars to get their point across, simply all that they were, and all that they could be, was The Stone Roses.

I don’t need to tell you about the utter excitement and elation I felt when The Stone Roses reunion was announced; unlike other bands that I’m completely fanatical about like The Smiths, I actually really wanted to see The Stone Roses reunite and there is no doubt about their capabilities. I still haven’t managed to get a ticket for their Dublin concert in the Phoenix Park, the one that Ian Brown’s t-shirt was advertising when The Stone Roses played Warrington Parr Hall last week, but that doesn’t matter. I’ll eventually get one (I have a strange knack for getting tickets for sold out concerts a few days before the show) and then I’ll get to see the second coming.

The reunion means a lot to people who were around during The Stone Roses’ peak in the 80s and will get to relive the experience, but it also means a lot to another generation of music fans who weren’t fortunate enough to be there the first time. We’ll finally get the chance to see The Stone Roses live, we weren’t there for the birth but we can say that we were there for the resurrection.

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