Tuesday, 17 April 2012

apolla: (Black Rose)
I'm going to try and do this once a day (won't happen)...

Post the Second in 100 Awesome Musical Things to be Found on YouTube:

(Trigger Warning and General Good Advice: Do not read the comments on YouTube videos. That way bigotry and trolls do lie)



"The Octopus Jig" - The Dubliners.

You might need to watch this twice to get what's going on. Let me lay it out for you:

Barney McKenna is the little dude with the beard and the banjo.
John Sheahan is the auburn-haired dude with the beard and the violin.
Ciarán Bourke is the tall dude with the beard and the tin whistle.
Luke Kelly is the dude with the ginger afro and the beard and the glass.

Now, it gets complicated.

Barney is picking the banjo with his right hand while his left is fingering (oo-er, get over it) the notes on the violin..
John is bowing the violin with his left hand and fingering the notes on the banjo with his right. He is also blowing (oo-er, get over it) the tin whistle.
Ciarán is fingering the notes on the tin whistle. And drinking a glass of something unspecified but looks like a pale ale to me.
Luke is pouring beer down Ciarán's throat.

There are versions on YT with Luke's introduction but the quality is shite and these are the fifty seconds we're interested in. So anyway, if your mind isn't at least a bit blown by this I'm not sure you've quite understood what's going on.

Can you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? It's a bit like that, only really fast and with the great complication of needing to find different notes.

Next question: do you know someone else well enough to be able to coordinate it with them? Have you ever tried to pat your head and rub someone else's belly (with their permission, please) and do it in time?

Barney McKenna died a couple of weeks ago, having a cup of tea at home. He was, as the press said, the last of the 'original' Dubliners, but given Sheahan's been in the group since 1964 (they started in '62) it seems a slightly trivial fact to me, but hey-ho. I've been listening to the group again on and off since. I find their astonishing go at The Mason's Apron really useful for cycling in the gym...

Luke, he of the clear-as-a-bell voice, died in 1984. He's the fellow who sang the near-impossible Rocky Road To Dublin some of you will recognise from Sherlock Holmes. Seriously, try and sing along... If the Dubliners were good at anything, it was making the Really Difficult seem Really Easy.

Ciarán died in 1988 after years of ill health (Check out his last TV appearance here, worth it for the faces in the crowd...).

Ronnie Drew, he of the coal-under-a-door voice, who you see in the background of the Octopus Jig video, died in 2008. I don't mind telling you that when I heard the news I burst into tears. I love voices you see, and his is so distinctive, so interesting and full of soul...

By the time I was attending Dubliners gigs, Luke and Ciarán were long dead. Ronnie had left the band and rejoined and left more than once. I saw them first with my mammy at The Cambridge Corn Exchange. The crowd were having a nice time but being very English and muted about it. The other times I saw them was in Dublin itself, at Vicar Street. Vicar Street is probably my favourite venue in the world, and mostly because of them... and in spite of the bar prices.

I had the chance to be at their Royal Albert Hall gig not long ago but balked at the ticket prices and with the sad feeling derived from the last time I saw them that they were not quite at their best anymore. The last time I saw them, at the 'A Time To Remember' show at Vicar Street, some of their zest and zip was missing. They are, after all, old men. I don't say it to criticise: on my best day I'm not half the musician they are on their worst... just that I couldn't quite face the creeping mortality of my heroes.

The Octopus Jig never fails to make me smile. It's silly and funny but still breathtaking. I've seen it dozens of times - linked a bunch of people at work to it randomly back in March sometime - and it still make me go 'whuh? how?'. I wish I was in a band where we were all so awesome, so in tune with each other that we could do something like that... I suppose that's why I like this particular moment so much, because you can't do that without being so close as to share a single musical brain. Are there even any other groups who have done it? I don't know.

The Dubliners are the sound of the home I miss and never fully had. It's not simple dewy-eyed and rose-tinted ah jaysus isn't Oireland in the Rare Aul' Times de best? nostalgia for an Ireland which never actually existed. The Dubliners to me are the warmth of Gallagher's Boxty House on a rainy night; they're a walk through Stephen's Green or up the Liffeyside; and of driving though County Kerry's majestic beauty with my family; of the solitude of an empty road in Galway; of dark moments of desperate yearning; of a wet August Sunday morning in Cork; singing "Raglan Road" and "Love Is Pleasing" myself; walking through Islington late one night yelling "The Sons of Roisin" along with Luke; walking to work on a Tuesday morning past the British Museum... a thousand everyday moments half-forgotten but fully lived.

There are musicians I've loved for longer, ones I've loved more passionately, more obsessively, more intensely... but the Dubs are part of the musical fabric of my heart and soul. You know me: that means that they are my heart and soul.
apolla: (Night Life)
Enjoying it so far? Anyone reading so far?

Anyway, we had the Allman Brothers, then the Dubliners. And now something a little different:

[General Trigger Warning for comments on the YouTube videos, read at your own risk]



"Got To Give It Up" - Marvin Gaye - live, Montreux 1980.

One day some years ago now, one of my dearest friends in the entire cosmos said "You gotta listen to this!" and sent me the studio version of this song. I was hooked like a fish on a reel. My first instinct is not usually towards disco music. I like some of it very much but the bad stuff is really bad and a lot of it feels very mechanical/clinical to me and I need to feel my music.

It is not unreasonable though, to assume that disco in Marvin Gaye's hands is not going to be bad... and it isn't. I love the twelve minute version. I love walking home to it because there are few songs that I end up walking so fast and yet still have a swing in my hips and a dancey step to my gait. You should see me waiting to cross the road when this is on: there I am on a busy London street bouncing like a child. When this is on the iPod I'm not walking through Central London at rush hour, I'm grooving down the line on Soul Train.

In fact, I was going to post Marvin's appearance on Soul Train to perform this as today's video, but it's miming - though it's cool when he joins the crowd dancing.

But I posted the live version because it's a bit more interesting. For a start, I love and want that jacket. I know it's not a musical thing, but I do. I find it both amusing and sad that he needs several introductions before he comes out. And I love that sparkly waistcoat. I would wear those both myself.

Anyway, what I love about the live version is that it's looser, funkier than the studio version, which has a touch of the clinical disco about it - much as I love it. Also, Gaye had such a way of moving on stage. It's not quite dancing and it's almost awkward in comparison to the slick choreography we get these days, but he's into the music... and that's what's so gorgeous.

The song itself isn't strictly disco and the lyrics rather poke fun at disco - the protagonist is a wallflower who can't bring himself to dance until the power of the music gets him and he gets his funk on. And while it's a bit of a mockery, isn't that exactly what great dancing music is about? I love how it's 'disco' but it's funky as hell and I do defy anyone to listen to this and not move. Right now I'm sat in my armchair under a duvet (tis cold!) with my computer on my lap... and my feet are rocking in time to the music. My head is going from side to side and I'm almost typing in time. I defy anyone to listen to this and stay still...

A long time ago I saw a documentary where Marvin was referred to as 'The Black Frank Sinatra'. I think it might've been one of those VH1 Behind the Music type things. While I see the point whoever-it-was was making, I disagree. Marvin Gaye was Marvin Gaye. You don't need to qualify it more than that, not to me. Perhaps it's white bourgeois privilege talking, but Marvin Gaye wasn't the Someone Else of anything. I don't say this to devalue or ignore his race or anything, but to call him "the Black xxxxxx" to me, is to imply he's only good in a black context and that's simply not true. Marvin Gaye was the only Marvin Gaye and that's more, much more, than good enough for me.

In 2006 I visited Detroit, MI. I really like the city generally but the touristy highpoint was being in the Motown Historical Museum, stood under the echo chamber and being asked to sing a bit to demonstrate it. My friends and I were surrounded by late-middle-aged black American tourists (I can't remember where they were from) who were die-hard Motown fans. I stood under the echo chamber which Marvin himself had used and prayed my voice would not give out. I managed a few phrases from "Dancing In The Street" before my nerve gave out, but I will never, ever forget the sound of my own voice bouncing back at me with that unmistakable Motown vocal echo. One day I want to go back and try again - and do better. Or record, better still ;)

People who are supremely talented are always fantastic to observe at work. Marvin was one of those people. I won't say that every song he ever recorded was fantastic. Of the well known ones, I really don't like "Let's Get It On" as a song, although that might partly be because it's been so devalued over the years... but on his day, he was one of the golden gods. There's so much I could've picked for this... I think he'll show up again on this 100 Things Challenge.

To quote the song itself: "let's dance, let's shout, get funky what it's all about!"

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