The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

03

One of the joys of traveling in China is that you can pick up CDs and DVDs you won’t get in the capital. Like yesterday evening, on Kunming’s Wen Lin Jie shopping/café area I found a treasure trove of recent releases, including the Kaiser Chief’s latest for RMB10, about a euro. The packaging varies between provinces too. This place had some of the neatest packaging, CD cases in paper casing with nice rounded corners. There’s the mystery of the yellow sticker on CDs. Does that mean they’re the real deal, licensed imports? Technically yes.

So why the different packaging? 

A pleasant high-altitude city in the country’s southwest, not far from the Burmese border, Kunming has a thriving backpacker culture and plenty of cafes for travelers who’ve just buses or flown up from southeast Asia. Fakes CDs abound in Vietnam but tend to be poorly packaged by comparison, using paper photo copies of the original sleeves.

There are certifiably real CDs in the shop. Not as nicely packaged as the other albums, there’s Guns N Roses’ Appetite For Destruction and Coldplay’s Rush Of Blood to the head. Many other, mostly pop and lite classics (Cliff Richard is in that section) come with a “Special For China” label applied.

The choice of real albums in Chinese book store chain, Xinhua, is always curious: a lot of Sting, some Tori Amos, Roxette, and always some U2 – curiously prevalent is the lackluster seller Pop.

 


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03
As part of the annual People of The Year Awards, the 2007 edition will see a special award being presented to Ireland’s Greatest Living Musician. The 15 most popular nominees, chosen by the general public, will be whittled down to one by a “top class adjudication panel.”
 
The People of The Year Awards website gives some indication as to what genres they think most people will look to when casting their vote. Amongst the names mentioned are Phil Coulter, Enya, Paul Brady and Ronan Keating, all, well, nearly all, fine musicians in their own right, and all appealing to a very particular demographic, “The Mammy”, or “Female 35-50” as I’m sure she’s known to the marketing department of the awards sponsors. 
 
Of course, the names above are also mentioned as they are almost guaranteed to get that particular demographic voting. I don’t see names like Richie Egan (Redneck Manifesto, Jape), Ollie Cole (ex TURN) or Kryz Reid (Fairuza), for all their musical ability, inspiring the same response. Other contenders deserving consideration, though equally unlikely to get a look in include Dave Geraghty (BellX1, The Rotators), Shane McGowan (depending on your definition of “Living”) and purveyor of all that is good about Irish music at the moment Duke Special.
 
It is with regret that I must exclude Van Morrison from the running for inflicting Brian Kennedy upon us.   Likewise, Sinead O’Connor lost her shot at it the first time she heard John Peel play Horace Andy. Therefore, my choice for Ireland’s Greatest Living Musician is Neil Hannon, and not just because he penned “My Lovely Horse”. 
 
Starting with 1990’s “Fanfare for the Comic Muse” Hannon, who essentially is The Divine Comedy, has produced a vast collection of work that circumvents the law of diminishing returns (something Ryan Adams should take note of). In February 2007 Hannon was awarded the Choice Music Prize for “Victory for the Comic Muse”, The Divine Comedy’s ninth studio offering, perhaps more in recognition of an outstanding career than that particular album.
 
However, I have feeling that Neil Hannon won't win.  One can only hope, therefore, that the voting for this award helps to raise a lot of funds and awareness for a worthwhile cause, to make up for what is sure to be a decision based more on popularity and the cult of personality than on musical ability.  Yes, I believe Bono will win.

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02

On Sunday 15th July, Dublin will see the first Irish performance of Glen Branca's "Hallucination City: Symphony for 100 Guitars". Below is a taster of what you are likely to hear on the night. Personally, I think it is great but then I also dig Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' and Steve Reich.

 


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02

First off, the man who in my opinion is, along with his cousin Jack, one of the two lost fathers of country music, Woody Guthrie.

 

Now, the man who first tuned me into Woody, the Boss himself, performing a Johnny Cash favourite.

 

Now, the Man in Black, performing one of his greatest and darkest songs.

 

Next, a guy who is one of America's greatest songwriters, John Hiatt.

 

Finally, a guy who became a hero to me at 14 and remains so decades later, Steve Earle.

 

Until next time; ride hard, die hard, and keep on twangin'


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02

Until I saw Karen Taylor on BBC3, I thought that casting Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones could not be bettered, now I'm not so sure. Taylor is the first English comedienne in recent years to emerge from the British club comedy scene who looks like she could steal the crown of Victoria Woods or Dawn French. The second episode of her series for BBC3, "Touch me, I'm Karen Taylor" saw her turn the Arctic Monkey's hit "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" into the sort of glitzy, big band ITV dance extravanganza that Morecombe and Wise used to lampoon so memorably. Karen Taylor is funny and sexy, one to watch, and here is a taste of her smart, modern and ribald humour courtesy of YouTube.

 


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02

The band with most influence on the Paris scene? The Libertines, who seem to have inspired the formation of half the guitar acts in the city (Plastiscines, for example, met up one of the London band's Paris concerts).

It's somehow logical, then, that the most popular band of the Paris scene sound so similar to Pete Doherty's former group.

Naast, namechecked by every young Paris band as the best of their peers, share The Libertines' raucous rough-cut garage style. In short, your attitude towards Naast will depend largely on your attitude towards The Libertines.

In a further act of imitation, this time of The Ramones, the four members use the band name as their surnames. Hence Gustav Naast the lead singer, Laka Naast on guitar, and so forth. And they also share some of Da Bruddahs' attitude (but, alas, none of their pop quality).

They do show one streak of individuality, however - they sing in French, whereas most of their fellow bands have at least a few English-language tracks.

And they can certainly walk the walk. After a recent Bordeaux gig, where a hostile crowd hurled cigarette butts and beer cans at the stage, Gustav is alleged to have attacked the 15-year-old bass player of local band Cowboys In Africa - specifically, by stabbing him in the eye and body with a fork. At the time of writing, the matter has not yet been resolved.

Not altogether ironically, one of their singles is called 'Mauvais Garçon' ('Bad Boy'). Here's the video:


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02

The things you have to do to get a name in China. Like playing a half hour set to Communist Party cadres in a cinema in Wangjing, an industrial zone on Beijing’s northeast outskirts. "We were cultural envoys," explains Owen Hopkin, drummer of British band The Crimea, who caught up with Beijing Beat in a Beijing tea house recently. "The inititiave was taken by the British Council and our local label, Jingwen. The translator didn’t translate very well and the band got shunted around between bemused officials for photos, handshakes and “how’s your plectrum” before they boarded and bus for the hour long ride back up to a hotel miles away in Haidian district.

London-based The Crimea picked up the invitation after Hopkin came out to Beijing in September 2006 with the British-based Association of Independent Music and the Department of Trade & Industry. A wiry and wily drummer, Hopkin isn’t short of good ideas, or a knack for doing things the Chinese way. He had the Crimea draw up a Communist-style five year plan to world domination. It didn’t involve a big record deal or conquering America: Rather, free downloads of the group’s second album, and going to China. “If we can be big in China it can be Beatlemania on a scale not even the Beatles experienced!”

So far the 5 year plan seems to be running politburo-smooth. The band’s second album Secrets of the Witching Hour scored 11,000 downloads in two days when posted on the band’s website. “You don’t make much money selling physical CDs any more,” explains Hopkin. “The cash comes from merchandising and publishing and live concerts. We have to get it out to those who wouldn’t normally buy the Crimea.”
 
The PR value of the stunt may be convincing those punters. Britain’s music press and trend-setting radio shows played the songs for the novelty - it helped that the Crimea is also talented. The Crimea began life as The Crocketts, signing to a UK major label, V2, in 1998 with which the group recorded two albums.  In 2001 Hopkin and singer Davey MacManus formed The Crimea, which they compare to their former band in an early press release: "if the Crocketts were four cavemen banging stones together, [then] this is the sound of four Tchaikovskys banging Kylie Minogue".
   
Chinese music impresarios liked the sound when Hopkin came over last September with a satchel of CDs and tramped all over Beijing handing them out. “I met as many industry people as he could get around to. “I handed over a lot of CDs and met with MIDI and the Beijing Pop Festival and with ring tones people.”
 
The organizers of the MIDI Festival, Beijing’s annual left-field rock festival put them on the main stage. “We were sandwiched between two heavy metal bands. It was really chilled out.” Always sensitive to the PR value of a trip to the world’s most populous nation, Hopkin, himself a sometimes contributor to Britain’s Kerrang! magazine, convinced a rock writer from British daily The Independent to come along to document a Crimean MIDI set and a week gigging Beijing during the annual socialist-style May holiday in the Chinese capital.
 
 “There were no toilets backstage and only four toilets on the whole site! You had to find different ways of peeing before you go on stage.” The crowd made up for the lousy sanitation: they were “going apeshit” during the band’s set. Though the band didn’t pick up a fee, they commend the hospitality and stage hands supplied by the organizers, a European-funded modern music school of the same name, which runs the festival on a shoestring budget. Denmark’s Ministry of Culture helped with the stage. “There were good stage and sound managers. There were a lot of Danes helping out.”
 
Just as well money wasn’t a priority for the Crimea’s China tour. Aside from the Midi main stage, the Crimea played five other shows, during six days in China. The EUR15 they got from the New Get Lucky Bar was enough to pay for the taxis home after the show. Mao Live was more generous: EUR80 – split between the five of them. A typical bar gig in UK yields the group GBP500 while a recent club show for Carling beer was worth GBP5,000 to the band. “After a week here you realize quickly that it’s not the country for making a quick buck in as a rock band.”
 
Venues in China are very small by UK standards, says Hopkins. Whereas the band fits nicely into the Barfly’s chain – capacity 150 – China has cramped bars and karaoke parlours. Recently opened Mao Live was about right: it fits 150. The Stone Boat gig was to “expats” and not what the band flew out for. The coziest venue in the city, 2 Kollegas, worked best. “You get the impression it’s the wild west, but not really.”
 
And what of the local talent? There’s “pockets,” says Hopkins. "[Joy Division-like] Retros are very good. Tongue is very good, so was PK14. You come out as a western artist thinking you know the score. But come out here and there’s good local musicans playing conventional western style. We wouldn’t have the first idea how to play Chinese musical styles. Right now they’re not creating so much as copying, but that will develop." As for The Crimea singing in Chinese. “Well, singing in Welsh might be a problem!”
 
Seven shows in six days was a lot, even for this group, which, in five years together has toured with the likes of Stereophonics and Snow Patrol. “We came out prepared for the worst and expecting the best and went home exhausted.” Aside from cramped venues and lousy pay, language was a barrier.  “The whole equipment thing was very stressful, having to lug cases around town in taxis with hardly a word of Chinese between us.”

The Crimea hopes to be back for the Beijing Pop Festival 2007. “It’s important to come out here because at the moment they don’t distinguish between the Crimea and the White Stripes. Rock is a niche.” It’s not like the band is unknown in China. The band’s first album has already been bootlegged here whileSecrets of the Witching Hour came out in June through a subsidiary of state-run record distributor/label Jingwen.  Big as the Beatles, in China? “It’s definitely a punt.”

 


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29

I turned on the radio this morning to Phantom FM, a station I normally don't get to listen to, and what did I hear ? A surf report giving surf conditions for Ireland! Hey, all I can say is that Sound Waves has caught the zeitgeist.


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29

First things first: we must shatter a popular myth - Django Reinhardt never lost any fingers. For all of his life he had the full set of ten. Look at the picture below right and count them (okay, so you can't see his thumbs).

However, what is true is that, because of injuries he sustained in a fire when he was 18, two fingers of his left hand were badly withered (due to the same incident his right leg was so badly damaged that he had to use a cane for the rest of his life). Although he depended on his two left forefingers to do nearly all his fretwork, he occasionally could use the two damaged fingers.

Disability was not the only obstacle Django had to overcome. He was a gypsy at a time (the Nazi occupation of France) when many gypsies were deported to concentration camps (the Third Reich tolerated neither ethnic minorities nor jazz). He escaped to Britain during the war with the help of a Luftwaffe officer called Dietrich Schulz-Kohn (known to his friends as 'Doktor Jazz') who was a huge fan of Reinhardt and his music. After the war he returned to France and his encampment to the north of Paris - today if you take the train between Charles de Gaulle Airport and Paris, you'll still see modern gypsy camps in the same area near the Stade de France.

Reinhardt never adapted to modern life nor sought to join the settled community. Happily for him, the modern world would, out of admiration for his astounding music, often adapt itself to him. One of our favourite Django stories (and there are loads out there) tells of the time that the Belgian royal family, huge fans of his music, invited him to dinner in their palace in Brussels. When salad was served Django ignored the cutlery and began eating with his fingers. After several seconds of stunned silence the royals, not wanting to offend him, also began eating their salad with their fingers.

Reinhardt lived his final years in Samois-sur-Seine, outside Paris, and this weekend the town honours him by hosting its annual festival of the 'jazz manouche' (or gypsy jazz) style he defined.

Django's most famous works are those from his time with the 'Hot Club de Paris', the group he and violinist Stephane Grapelli played with in the jazz bars of Saint-Germain. The recordings that Reinhardt and Grapelli made are essential listening and continue to influence artists of all genres. In particular, we loved the Hot Club Of Cowtown, a Texan trio (now split up, unfortunately) that mixed jazz manouche with country swing. Strangely enough, the English band called Hot Club De Paris plays indie-rock.

From the rare surviving footage of Django in action, here's 'J'Attendrai':


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28

The Live Earth concerts are on 7/7/2007. This is about the event, this is the full lineup of artists performing, and this is how you can take action to help.


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Nuggets from our archive

2002 - Interview with Rodrigo y Gabriela, by Cormac Looney. As with Damien Rice's profile, this interview was published before Rodrigo y Gabriela's career took off overseas. It too continues to attract considerable visits every month to the article from Wikipedia.