Manifesto

In July this year, I went to a Bowie tribute night entitled “Art of the Song” in the National Concert Hall, where a number of Irish Performers (including Duke Special, Lisa Hannigan and Adrian Crowley) played Bowie hits. I like Bowie (who doesn’t) and the night was widely regarded as a success.

Moreover, the title for the night has stuck with me. Bowie was a great songwriter of course; so were Lennon & McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Andrew Gold, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Neil Hannon, Todd Rundgren, and Andy Partridge of XTC. Some had more commercial success than others, but the fact remains these people were first and foremost, Artists, who turned their particular talent to the art of songwriting. In the great Musical Art Galleries of the world, these guys’ paintings would be everywhere.

Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but in a financial and technology centred world, where bands (great bands) cut commercial deals and deliver new musical works for minimal cost or free, it gets confusing. We risk thinking the whole thing is about the platform, the brand, the hype, the marketing and the money. There’s a conference this weekend in Dublin (Hard Working Class Heroes), which sets out to articulate and analyse the factors behind commercial success in a contemporary music context. It’s a tough job and conferences like this have their value for new (and old) musical protagonists. I have attended such conferences in the past and benefited from them.

But there’s not the main deal.

Songwriting is something that transcends genre, fads, formulaic response or success. It’s not great prose – it’s great writing. Not everyone can do it: a percentage I suppose, and fewer enhance and their craft until the output reaches new, unsurpassed levels. Some maintain the standard for years. People like Aphex Twin, and Chilly Gonzales are breaking new ground in song writing in the genres of dance, technology and groove. I heard Planet Parade for the first time recently and was impressed with their innate song crafting ability; so too with Laura Doggett and Rubin Hein.

Painters’ paint and there are lots of them – many of which I don’t know yet (I’m glad to say). But when I get confused about what I’m listening too, what I’m hearing, what I like and don’t like, I come back to basics.

The Art of the Song. It’s why I’m here, doing this, writing this. It’s what “The Purple Songs” is all about.

GIG Review – MinMix, TBlock, Smithfield, 26 September 2014

It’s rare that an artistic event genuinely surpasses expectations.

We show up time after time at large concert venues, to hear beloved performers do stuff we’ve already know. We enjoy it, yes, but in the same way we enjoy a trusted recipe, the punch line of a familiar joke, the karaoke experience of a 70’s rock anthem.

But in our heart we know it’s a bit of a cod. It’s been fun but not great. It’s been enjoyable but not inspirational. “Yeh – it was good” – that killer compliment.

Well Nialler9’s minmax surprise party was one of those rare “more than” experiences. Three bands – Planet Parade, God Knows + My Name is John, and Le Galaxie, one by one, turned us upside-down, inside-out, and spinningtop-round before unceremoniously bulldozing right over the top of us.

And made up believe that Ireland’s music scene was once again one the verge of ground-breaking greatness.

Why? Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Perhaps the lyricism and song-writing abilities of Planet Parade, clearly having invested the last four years in creating some intricate and elevating new songs.

God Knows and My Name is John were simply a revelation. This was not a copy-cat DJ rap outfit, bursting with energy, power and message. They were unique, precise, even dangerous. We were bullied by musical greatness into participation and elevation. The grooves, licks and anthems were forced on us, unsettling and uplifting. By the end of sweaty, glorious 30 minute romp, we were left dazed and unsure. Did that really happen, in this modern cube of post-yuppy art-world?

And finally, Le Galaxie. Clearly on the verge of musical stardom. Their pace, exertion, dazzling show-style-performance and final thumping glory – weaving old and new into a dance unity between and audience, left us happy, unhappy, happy, unhappy.  You get the drift.

And when the lights came on, and the guards had left, we wished, really wished there was more.  Much more.

Did I really say to someone on the way out, the “new Dandelion market”…

U2 – it’s still about the music

Poor old U2. Look at from their perspective. On the back of their worst selling previous record, six years in the making, they come up with a clever contemporary solution, that seems to tick all the boxes. All except one: the music box.

One must assume, if everyone loved what they got for free, then everyone would be happy – wouldn’t you? The viral communication door swings both ways, it seems.

So what about the music – how good is “songs of innocence,” and do we want “songs of experience” or whatever else is coming down the tracks from U2?

The answer is it’s good, not very good. Sorry, I like many others would love to wax lyrical about this album, but there’s just not not enough in there, to do that. Songs like the opener,” Joey/the Miracle,” “Raised by Wolves” and “Volcano” have anthem qualities and occasional musical brilliance, while others, though personal and touching, fail to leave a permanent mark. Moreover, a week of listening later, I still can’t identify the song or songs fans will be singing five or ten years later.

Perhaps the next batch of songs will address that. Maybe the nugget of gold left in the bag will raise the boat of others. I hope so. I want U2 to be great and believe behind the fame and money, the torment and turmoil, the band want the same.

That’s the trouble with the muse: it’s unpredictable, it’s uncertain, you certainly can’t buy it, and now it seems, you can’t give it away fro free.