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Midget Funk To Folk You Up!

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Friday, 4pm, sitting in a car while the rain beats down all around and I ring Wallis Bird armed with a notepad and a tape recorder. That’s hardcore journalism right there! Bird is as usual chirpy, pleasant and there is a constant air of devilment in her voice. We swapped stories, my favourite of which being how she blagged her way into Witness a few years ago with a blue shopping bag masquerading as an armband for the 3 day camping event. The imp. Then the professional work began and I asked her how the tour was going so far?

Good, all good so far. We started in Kilkenny and we had Meath last night. And tonight, I’m playing the hometown, Wexford. So all good so far, I’m enjoying it.

If you had to pick, do you prefer playing solo or with the band?

 If I had to choose? Oh, god don’t ask me that. Em, I like touring solo because it gives you a chance to strip back the songs to the skin and bone. And the audience hear just the music and the lyrics. But I also really enjoy touring with my band because if you’re all there you can have the crack. And with songs, you can have long jams and they can go on forever. Solo gigs kind of restrict you and you have to keep it basic.

Hometown gig? Are you nervous, happy or indifferent?

 Well, I’m surely not indifferent! No, happy, definitely happy. I’m really looking forward to it. And my brother Edgar is opening up for me with his band, Sticky Digit. They’re doing a short set before me. He really didn’t want to do it. But I said, “Ah, go on man, just do it!” He agreed and I am going to embarrass the s*** out of him tonight. He’s in for it.

Can we expect any surprises in the set list?

 Actually a few new songs will crop up in the set tonight. But there will also be some really old stuff, from years ago. So hopefully, there’ll be a nice mix of old and new material!

You’ve been writing some stuff then. How’s that going for you?

 Yea, been recording a few tracks in different places all over the world. Some in my home place, Brixton and some wherever I can meet my producer! And we’ve been recording on laptops, tape machines and in the studio. So it’s going to be a real patchwork of an album! And it should be out next March!

As we wind down the interview, I wish Wallis well with the hometown gig and I ask her how she would feel if I branded her music “Midget Funk.” Which results in heavy laughter and permission to use it? So, you heard it here folks, Bird has created her own genre, “Midget Funk”. And it will indeed folk you up!

http://www.wallisbird.com

Written by thepanch

May 14, 2011 at 8:09 am

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A Royal Celebration

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Dear readers, would you be upstanding to celebrate the pageantry, pomp and sheer rock and roll majesty that is Queen. Yes, they celebrate turning 40 this year. Well it marks the official anniversary of the full line-up. John Deacon or Deacon John as he’s billed on their first album (yes, I’m a Queen nerd) did not join as bassist until March 1970. And so in conjunction with this 40th anniversary the band have seen quite the

resurgence in popularity and have blessed fans with a huge bag of goodies to celebrate.

Their musical, We Will Rock You won the Laurence Olivier Award last month, an exhibition of early live photos has opened in London called Stormtrooper in Stilettos, and their first five albums have been reissued, re-mastered and repackaged with a new disc of bonus un-released material for each album. And I have had the pleasure of hearing all five. In the words of Mr. Mercury, “Let’s do it!”

The band’s first album, eponymously titled Queen, debuted in 1973. It was recorded in Trident Studios mostly at night-time. The night time sessions began when their label mate David Bowie was finished in the studio. Most nights would not begin until 3am as Bowie was a bigger star at the time. The sessions would have to end at seven as staff filed in and began to clean up in and around the studio. As a result there is none of the trademark Queen Sound. Brian May states that “there was all this technology around, but we were not given time to experiment.”

Roger Taylor also recalls similar problems with the recording. His drum sound was far too loud and not “fashionable, and so they pushed the dry drum sound on us.” This was achieved by taping Taylor’s drums to within an inch of their life. The album is not bad, and indeed has signs of what would later be defined as early 1970’s Queen. Mystical lyrics, harmonies and complex arrangements are all apparent if not as big as they would later become. The best examples are Liar, Great King Rat and Doing All Right. The album is central to the band’s development as it features their first single release, Keep Yourself Alive. The bonus disc features demos of Liar, Keep Yourself Alive and the Night Comes Down. The album was lukewarmly received but Queen was on the map, and indeed on the road.

To support the first album, they toured extensively. Mostly England and Ireland, but the itineraries were solid and wide reaching. All this experience would lead to an altogether tighter, more confident band on their second studio release. Again, signs of severe ego at work. The second album was called Queen II. You can’t really hate a band that deems their own names important enough for two album titles, can you?

Queen II opens up with the first of Brian May’s forays into guitar based experimentation, Procession which shows the guitarist’s intricate use of guitar as an effect. This minute long intro was used as a precursor to every Queen live show for the next two years. Father and Son follows, which is possibly one of my favourite early Queen songs. The songs on this album are very heavy and obviously influenced by The Who and Led Zeppelin. It’s all heavy guitars and drums, no tape on Taylor’s drums this time around. This album is also significant on vinyl, as it is divided up into two sides, Side White and Side Black. The Black Side is dedicated entirely to fantasy, the white side to emotional tracks.

The standout tracks on Side Black are Ogre Battle, The Fairy-Teller’s Master Stroke and the track that many see as the precursor to Bohemian Rhapsody. The March of the Black Queen signifies the Queen of this era. That is long, epic songs that feature different styles and indeed different time signatures. This song is a pure primal beast.

 

Their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, which was my first exposure to Queen as a youngster age 8, is my favourite Queen album. Kerrang Magazine voted the album in at Number 8 in their list of 100 Greatest British Rock Albums of All Time. Musically, lyrically and production wise it is in my opinion, their heaviest and indeed greatest album. And it featured their first, accessible hit in Killer Queen. The track is musically, the least complex and as such easiest to digest song on this album.

Elsewhere on the album, all four members are represented. May wrote Brighton Rock, which featured a more intricate use of the techniques he used on Procession on Queen II. Deacon wrote the tropical, throwaway but highly infectious track, Misfire. And Taylor wrote Tenement Funster. A typical Taylor song, dealing with youth and rebellion. The song was the first in an overlapping 3 song melody which would segue into Flick of the Wrist and the beautiful, aching last part, Lily of The Valley.

This album also featured perennial Queen rocker, Now I’m Here. The song used to open the shows to accompany the tour. A tour which indeed was to date Queen’s biggest. It was their first world tour, consisting of a 7 month trek across 77 dates. Taking in mainland Europe and more importantly the USA, where the album climbed to Number 20 on the Billboard Chart. The album would cement the band’s hard rock reputation, and the success gave them the opportunity to spend more time in the studio for their next album, A Night at the Opera.

Named after the famed Marx Brothers movie, this album is touted by Queen purists as their “masterpiece.” Indeed all the factors that would give this argument weight are evident. Every song is completely different, but sounding like a band that finally found their musical feet. Styles range from prog rock (Sweet Lady, The Prophet’s Song), vaudeville (Seaside Rendezvous), folk (’39), radio friendly rock (You’re My Best Friend) and the daddy of them all, Bohemian Rhapsody.

I’m probably going to be shot, but due to over familiarity this is my least favourite song on the album. That being said, the album is nothing short of fantastic with the only dip in quality being the tired sounding Sweet Lady. Gripes aside, the album delivers on every level and shows Queen at their studio peak. The touring would only increase from here, and by this stage they had cemented their reputation as a live band. As a result, their studio output suffered. Not in lack of quality, but from Opera on, their studio work was solid but not challenging or groundbreaking.

This can be said of their fifth and the final of the reissues, A Day at the Races. Again, the Marx Brothers provide the title. There are some quality songs, Somebody to Love, Tie Your Mother Down; You Take My Breath Away and the Millionaire’s Waltz. Critically the album was uber – successful, going to Number One in the UK, Japan and The Netherlands. It registered in at a not disappointingly number 5 on the US Billboard. The album was supported by in this writer’s opinion the strongest live line-up on the band. I have heard and seen bootlegs of the band from this tour and they are on fire.

If you’re a Queen fan you will, or should own all these albums already. I do, including two on vinyl. But these re-issues should not be viewed as mere cash ins. The sound quality, which was fine the first time out, is beautifully toned up. Every nuance is captured in every song, and the work is clear to be heard. Queen was not and never will be a fashionable band, but these albums speak for themselves. They serve as an aural scrapbook of a band going through their paces, and fine tuning their sound until they found that sound that is as recognisable as the birds in the trees or the traffic on the roads. Bow down before the majesty of Queen; crank the speakers up to 11 and crack open the champers, darlings!!!

 

Queen                                      6 / 10

Queen II                                  8.5 / 10

Sheer Heart Attack                  9.5 / 10

A Night at the Opera               8 / 10

A Day at the Races                  6.5 / 10

 

 

 

 

Written by thepanch

April 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm

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The Rocker

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Despite shuffling from this mortal coil in order to join the great rock and roll party upstairs 25 years ago, Phillip Parris Lynott has never left the Irish consciousness and as it should be. For my money, the greatest rock star Ireland ever produced. I mean what was not to love? A six foot frame, cheeky Irish smile all topped off with a jet black head of afro curls. Oh, yea and some of the best songs ever committed to tape by an Irishman. The man oozed rock and roll, sex appeal, danger and friendliness all in the same breath. No mean feat, and indeed a feat that has yet to be repeated.
The Phil Lynott Exhibition is running for an extra month in St. Stephen’s Green, until May the 4th. For the small sum of €10, you can immerse yourself in all things Thin Lizzy, and indeed Phillo. Myself, Fiona and the little lady went up on Thursday last and we were not disappointed. As luck would have it Philomena, Phil’s ever so devoted mother was in, signing copies of her book.
Truly a wonderful woman, I found her warm, welcoming and ever so happy to talk about her boy. The mere mention of his name makes her emerald green eyes shine and she gives you a wide, friendly smile of a mother that not only loved her son dearly, but loves the fact that most of the country and indeed the world felt and still feels the same way.
The exhibition itself is a must for Lizzy fans, or at that music fans in general. You name it and it is there. Phil’s bass guitars, tour itineraries (they played Tramore in 1971 for the princely sum of £132!), tour jackets as worn by the big man, every vinyl single and album including Phil’s personal gold discs. The true finds are all the handwritten pieces. Ranging from lyrics to postcards to poetry, these were my favourite part of the tour.
Phil Lynott was, in my opinion, the greatest rock star we ever produced. The man bled green and was so proud to be Irish. As he said himself, “When I’m in England, I say, I’m from Ireland. When I’m in Ireland, I say, I’m from Dublin. When I’m in Dublin, I say, I’m from Crumlin. When I’m in Crumlin, I say, Leighlin Road. When I’m in Leighlin Road, I say, I’m a Lynott.” Phil was a great lover of all Irish culture. We should carry on that tradition. Go to Stephen’s Green and enjoy the life and work of our own Roisin Dubh, Phillip Parris Lynott.

Written by thepanch

April 6, 2011 at 7:34 pm

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Come All You Dreamers

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“I played in the opera house one night, and a bat went mad. It’s a strange name to give four walls and a roof, opera house. Probably needs a bit of bingo to knock the edges off it.” (Christy Moore, The Way Pierce Turner Sings, Disc 4, The Box Set). There were no bats in the audience, or the rafters for that matter on Saturday last. However, there was as usual with a Christy Moore / Declan Sinnott gig a lively mix of young and old, big and small.

The show began at 8.05 pm, and the two boyos kicked off with a rendition of Wise and Holy Woman, a song written about Christy’s mother, Nancy. Followed by Ordinary Man, and a song I have never had the pleasure of hearing live, apart from the Live at The Point CD, Welcome to the Cabaret. The song featured references to Mick Wallace and the FCA.

Three songs in, and Christy and Declan were smiling, and the crowd were as Christy spotted, “just warming up.” So he kicked into Nancy Spain, and there was a gentle, low hum of voices throughout the Opera House. The vibe of the place, and the audience participation picked up a bit then and kept the pace for the rest of the night. It was jukebox time after a few more tunes, and the coins were rattling. Christy and Dec gladly obliged all requests. They seemed in great form with a lot of laughing between songs, and during them. Safe to say, the gig is definitely a duo and not a solo outing. The duo is ten years down the road, and their friendship shines through, despite the intense work on stage.

A lone voice called out, “The Rose.” Christy took to laugh, and he said, “If I can trawl it up, we’ll come back to it. Alright, horse?” And he came back a few songs on. I had never heard this song until tonight, I am ashamed to say. A true tour de force of trademark Christy humour and that rare dying art of story telling. I could picture every image in the song. My personal favourite being the image of Christy posing as a white South African in a house run by a woman from Rosslare!

Declan Sinnott graced us with a song then, a gorgeous, bluesy version of the Bob Dylan song, Corina, Corina. Watching Declan throughout the gig, no matter how many times I’ve seen them, has me utterly enthralled. The man adds so much to songs that have been sung thousands of times before.  He weaves stories and colours with his playing. Declan truly is a master of the weapon that is the six string guitar, and if anyone asks why Christy tours with Declan, then you’re clearly watching the wrong show!

As expected, there was an encore. But there was none of the old showbiz razzle dazzle. As Christy said, “There’s no point in walking off and waiting in the wings. When there’s an encore goin’, ya should take it!” The boys got up, accepted their applause and sat back down to do a blistering version of Lisdoonvarna. And a heartfelt, audience assisted version of The Voyage. I have seen Christy and Declan ten times and counting, including last Saturday. Safe to say, this was the most enjoyable gig I have ever attended. Joy is infectious, and the boys were having a great time onstage, that joy was beamed out to every smiling face in the audience. Fol-de-dee, get outta that. He was a quare one!

Written by thepanch

March 16, 2011 at 7:56 pm

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Meeting Christy

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They say you should never meet your heroes. You’ll only be disappointed. This writer has to disagree wholeheartedly. Walking the hallowed backstage halls of the Wexford Opera House, me and my father were ushered in by Christy’s manager, Paddy Doherty. Paddy asked if we would wait “side-stage”. So we stood silently in the wings and waited. Without even opening my mouth, Christy spotted me and came straight over, extended his hand. “Howya, Pancho.” I took his hand in mine. “Howya, Christy.” And so I had met one of my heroes, Christy Moore.

He was every bit the giant I expected him to be, from seeing countless shows and dvd footage. However, a gentle giant. I found him to be soft spoken, unassuming and very accommodating. We discussed the airing of the Barrowlands show on BBC4 the previous night, and the inclusion of my grandfather in the folk documentary that followed. Then we posed for a photograph. “Jaysis, Pancho ain’t it awfully handy having your father doing the photocalls? And I can tell by the cut of him, he knows what he’s doing.”

Job done, I dropped my professional face and went into fan mode, asking Christy to sign three autographs, which he did very graciously. Sadly business reared it’s head and the sound check beckoned, so he extended his hand once again, I extended mine. “Best of luck with it, Pancho. Keep her lit, man.” Thank you Christy, I intend to do just that!

Written by thepanch

March 16, 2011 at 7:54 pm

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Chaz Bar

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Contrary to popular belief, and my haircut, I am not nor have I ever been a member of The Beatles. As such, I have never played The infamous Cavern Club. However, there is a little venue in Wexford that has that same small but deadly vibe bouncing off the four walls. The Chaz Bar on the Quays in Wexford is hands down for me my favourite venue to play. And I’ve played up and down the country.

The Back Door takes place every Monday night, and is run and organized by the lovely Ms. Patricia Bird. A venue for local artists, originals and covers to play and I cannot recommend it highly enough. With the snow and the new year beginning, it was on hiatus until Monday the 21st of February. But now it is back, and back with a bang.

The 21st saw two quarters of my own band opening up, Love Muffin. Our guitarist and bassist were incognito. If I know them boyos, and I do, I can safely say they were probably bringing the horse to France. And so the set was shook up to suit myself, guitar and vocals and Fiona Byrne, vocals. It would be egotistical to write my own review, so let’s just say we didn’t sound too bad, and thoroughly enjoyed the gig. Oh, and I played a banjo.

We were quickly followed by Mr. Noel Quaid, a musician I first encountered when we played our first public gig, nearly eight years ago. Noel was playing in C.C. Riders, and he was brandishing a fretless bass. I could not believe it, it just seemed to be magic. No frets, surely he’s a wizard? Noel didn’t have the fretless bass this night, sadly, but he did have a borrowed acoustic guitar and some lovely tunes. My favourite was Angel, a song written by Noel. Always liked that tune.

The gigs are running every Monday night for the rest of the year. For bookings or info, contact Trish on: 0860307832.

Chaz Bar on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=136205075311

Chaz Bar on Myspace:

http://www.myspace.com/thebackdoorchaz

Written by thepanch

March 3, 2011 at 11:00 am

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John

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First gig. Bricking it. You check everything, sound check times, stage times, getting down to the venue. You’re on top of it. Last minute tuning, string snaps, well that’s that up the river. Wait, Clokes will be open. And it was. So I ran up and told John the catastrophe, he gave me two strings and never even charged me. The gig went swimmingly and the new strings sounded lovely.

That same summer, we all got immersed in music and all things musical. As a result, we spent our Saturdays rehearsing in Patrick O’ Brien’s front room, and his mum would bring sandwiches. Then we would go “up town” and spend the rest of the day in Clokes’ For Music. Looking at guitars, talking guitars and music in general. John was nothing but accommodating, we only had the money to buy maybe a set of strings every two weeks, but John didn’t seem to mind. If you wanted to talk music, you could spend hours in the shop.

That tradition is still carried on today. Whether I went in for strings, drum heads or plectrums, there were always young musicians in there. Coming and going from lessons, picking up guitars attempting to play Sweet Child of Mine. And all the while, John would be behind the counter smiling away and talking about the best guitar to get.

The music scene in Enniscorthy and indeed the town itself has lost a great, great man. John would go out of his way to help you and always had a smile for everyone that entered the shop. Every time I play Whiskey in the Jar now, I’ll think of John, because that was the song I was playing when I suddenly needed new strings. Sleep well, John.

Written by thepanch

March 3, 2011 at 10:58 am

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