The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Aidan Curran'


Ah, Christmas in Paris! Even for those more cynical than your blogger, it's something quite marvellous here. We strolled down the Champs-Elysées a few nights ago, shivering in the cold but our hearts warmed by all the lights along la plus belle avenue du monde (below right).

Champs-Elysées in Paris, lit up for ChristmasOver on the Boulevard Haussmann, the grands magasins (department stores) have their epic Christmas window displays, the best free show in town. As usual we inspected the windows of Galeries Lafayette and yes, our favourite was there: a toy stuffed animal bashing the bejaysus out of a drum kit.

You might have heard about the recent bomb scare at Printemps, the other big department store on the Boulevard Haussmann. Almost bizarrely, the bomb squad found the device - five sticks of dynamite. French police have pulled in Yosemite Sam for questioning.

One huge difference between Christmas in France and in the English-speaking world: the radio stations are not churning out wall-to-wall festive classics. "Ah," says you, "no doubt they play their native Christmassy hits!" Well, no.

Quite simply, there are no French Christmas pop songs. No Yuletide singalong hit by Johnny Hallyday or Serge Gainsbourg, no modern indie Christmas songs by Phoenix or M83. Rien de tout. The reason, we suspect, is that French acts take themselves far, far too seriously.

But this doesn't mean the French aren't open to influences from off foreign. One indie music radio show this week did a feature on English-language Christmas pop songs. Gobsmacked with wonder, they played snippets of obscure festive songs by The Beach Boys and The Ramones. And then, we swear, there was the following exchange between the two presenters:

Guy: Finally, we have a real treat - a Christmas song by... John Lennon!

Girl: No! You mean, with The Beatles or solo?

Guy: Solo. It's called 'Happy Xmas (War Is Over)'. In England they play this all the time at Christmas. Here it is...

And then they play the first verse, with the same air of awe and bemusement as if they were peering into a pharaoh's tomb. (Closing the tomb lest the curse get out, they cut the song before Yoko started singing.) So, France is a land without Christmas pop music - and without any versions of 'Hallejulah'. Imagine there's a heaven.

For most French people, one song is synonymous with Christmas - a dainty little ballad called 'Petit Papa Noel' dating from the 1940s. Here's the definitive version, sung by Tito Rossi. Joyeux Noel!

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Like selling the proverbial sand to the proverbial Arabs, Carly Sings (below right) has released her album of Paris-flavoured pop in France. 'The Glove Thief' is available on import in FNAC, the country's biggest chain of record stores. (They also sell books, computers and other home entertainment stuff.)

Carly SingsThe first big review for 'The Glove Thief' came in this week's issue of top-selling music and culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Though their reviews don't carry ratings à la CLUAS, Les Inrocks are clearly intrigued by Carly and impressed by her album.

Intrigued, because the reviewer calls her "une fluette" (a slight, fragile person), a pretty Irishwoman with a sexy accent and a crystalline voice. (We won't dispute that.) Impressed, because the final verdict is that 'The Glove Thief' is "un écrin précieux propre à embaumer l'âme pour au moins quelques semaines" - "a precious jewellery box to soothe the soul for at least a few weeks" (our translation).

Why not read the review in French and correct us on our translations? Or, perhaps lessfun but more soothing to the soul, listen to some tunes from Carly Sings' MySpace page and watch the video for 'Apple Tree':

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For all our talk of Nantes indie-rock and Grenoble disco-pop and Riviera synth-shoegazing, when you in Eire think of French music it's most likely Parisian electronica that comes to mind. So here's a French gig in Dublin that'll suit you.

Birdy Nam NamAcclaimed mixing quartet Birdy Nam Nam (right) are doing a DJ set at ALT in Dublin this Friday (12 December). Kick-off is at midnight - so should this be in the listings for Saturday 13 December instead? And what's the difference between DJs doing a DJ set and DJs doing an ordinary set? We're fairly confused. 

Birdy Nam Nam's thing is that there's four of 'em milling away at the turntables and twiddly knobs at the same time. So, they're like a DJ band, if you want to be simplistic about it. Their creativity and innovation has already made them world champions - they won the DMC Technics team prize in 2002. More recently, they've made it onto the soundtrack of 'Transporter 3', though admittedly that doesn't have the same cachet as winning the world championships.

Anyway, you can visit Birdy Nam Nam's MySpace page to check them out before you head along to ALT. And you can watch them in action here, in the video for 'Abbesses':

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Parisians may not be eating our pork, but tonight they'll have two tasty helpings of our pop.

The ScriptThe Script (right), the latest new U2/Van/Cranberries, are capitalising on the incessant French airplay for 'The Man Who Can't Be Moved'. They're playing at the Pont Ephèmere, a small venue in the north of the city.

The show sold out ages ago; the CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris) has been contacted by people looking for tickets, based on the logic that only a dozen people live in Ireland and we all know each other well enough to have loads of tickets for each others' concerts. Which is true, of course.

Gavin FridayThe French media is more sophisticated that to reduce The Script to 'the new U2'. No, Paris has pondered and its position is that the band play 'Celtic soul' à la Van the Person. Again, incontestable logic from the land of Descartes.

From the new U2 to the anti-Bono: the mighty Gavin Friday is also in Paris. He's at the Centre Culturel Irlandais (a.k.a. 'the Irish College') as narrator in Ian Wilson's work "The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World".

So, none of his own tunes tonight from the erstwhile Fionan Hanvey. But it's a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the cracking singles he has made with his long-time associate Maurice Seezer: from early '90s RTE music show 'Electric Ballroom' here are stripped-down versions of 'I Want To Live' and 'King Of Trash':

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We had been wondering which city could be called France's capital of rock. (It's not Paris, obviously. Rock ruffles your clothes, musses up your hair.)

One popular suggestion was Clermont-Ferrand. We also considered Rennes, Nantes and Grenoble as contenders. And after a Tidy Towns-style inspection and judging process, we've come to a decision.

The capital of French rock is London.

Only last week we featured John & Jehn, the lovey-dovey art-rockers who've set up shop Thames-side. Before them there were The Teenagers, swearing like troopers.

Underground RailroadNow we've discovered Underground Railroad (right), three more Frenchies bringing noisy alt-rock to Her Majesty's gig-spots. They're named after a 19th century secret escape network that helped slaves free Southern states and head north to freedom, so QE2 would want to watch out for the subversive French element loose on the royal thoroughfares.

Further to that, in French a hit single is called 'une tube'. And they live in London, where the underground railroad is called the Tube. And they're a band, right, so they could have hits. And they'd be 'tubes' in French. And... oh, forget it. We thought it was clever.

The trio - Raphael, Marion and J.B. - recently released an album, 'Sticks And Stones'. It's bloody good. For some reason the promo blurb on our copy compared them to The Pixies, which is absurd - if anything, their squally post-rock sounds a bit like Sonic Youth. But with a few catchy tunes. You can check some out on their MySpace page.

Here's the video for a fine recent Underground Railroad single, 'Kill Me Now':

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Does your local public library have a music section? Not just music-related books and magazines, but a section where you can borrow CDs and perhaps also DVDs.

There are two large public multimedia libraries (in French, ‘médiathéques’) near Château French Letter and both have extensive music sections, or ‘discothèques’. Yes, ‘discothèques’. (The French term for a disco is ‘une boîte de nuit’, which literally means ‘a night box’. Sweat box, more like it.) We do the rounds of our libraries every Saturday morning. (They also have lots of novels in English.)

Both libraries are quite quick in stocking the latest releases, so it’s an essential source of new music. Within a week or two of their release, we were able to take out this year’s albums by Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, dEUS, Hercules & Love Affair, Portishead, Foals, Tindersticks, She & Him and any other worthwhile record of 2008. (It helps that alternative music is a minority sport in France; no one else seems to have borrowed them before us.) We also discovered obscure classics from ye olden days (Young Marble Giants) and overlooked gems from more recently (Nicole Atkins).

As well as saving money on new music, our libraries allow us to experiment, risk-free. In this way we’ve tasted other genres, chipped away at our monolithic ignorance of jazz, classical and world music. So now we’ve discovered Rachid Taha, Ornette Coleman, Tom Zé, Amadou and Mariam – and made a start on the works of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. It’s been a wonderful education.

(On which point: at school shouldn’t we listen to classic music they way we read classic literature? Imagine the morning of the Leaving Cert exam: “Yeats and Mozart both came up last year, so this year it’s definitely Austin Clarke and Jelly Roll Morton!” And then the post-mortem afterwards: “Thomas Kinsella and Fela Kuti!?!? Sure we never did THEM!”)

It’s interesting to see the differences in stock between the two libraries. The music desk at the older establishment is staffed by hard rock fans, and that library always seems to be buying reissues by ‘70s leather-rockers like Scorpions. The other, newer place has indie-kid employees and has more indie-kid new releases, apparently inspired by the pages of French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Although a librarian friend of ours insists that stock is bought by administrators and not influenced by staff, we suspect otherwise.

Another curiosity of French music libraries (and record stores): French-language music is shelved separately as ‘chanson française’, a rather loose concept that covers traditional balladry, MOR and anything considered mainstream. French-language pop like Yelle or Housse De Racket goes in here too, but rock en français (like Dionysos or the dreaded Noir Désir) is filed under international rock. Music by Air is filed as international rock/pop, while the album they made for Charlotte Gainsbourg is considered chanson française even though it’s in English. But then, your local HMV (or whoever)lumps all non-English music in as ‘world music’.

We’ve mentioned before the large market here for music aimed at small children: bouncy pop performed by cartoon characters. So the libraries have sizeable sections of these works: one of our local libraries has more children’s records than it has metal, electronica and country combined.

Given that we pay more tax in France, and spend it more wisely, it’s slightly unfair to compare France with Ireland in this regard. But just for comparison’s sake:

From our last days in Dublin, four years ago, we remember that the ILAC Centre library had a music section. Is it still there? If so, hopefully it’s been spruced up and restocked. Back in the day, it was fairly run down. Inlay cards were tattered, faded or simply photocopies, and cases were cracked or broken. There was hardly any rock or pop – certainly no recent releases. Most of the best jazz albums, including the entire stock of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, were missing, probably stashed in some Dublin bedsit and never to return. That said, there was still enough on the shelves to make the ILAC music library interesting.

For reasons that would surely bore you, the CLUAS Foreign Correspondent (Paris) turned up in Portlaoise public library two years ago. We saw that they had a fair-sized music section.  Having looked them up on the web at random, we see that the local libraries in Tralee, Ennis, Cavan and Athlone don’t have one but Ballina, Wexford and Carlow do.

Here’s an experiment: go to your local library and, if it has a music section, see if they have these five records: (1) ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division (2) ‘Birth of The Cool’ by Miles Davis (3) Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’, played by Glenn Gould (4) 'Around The World In A Day' by Prince (5) ‘Egypt’ by Youssou N’Dour. Five points for each album-plus-artist you find, for a maximum score of 25. Three points if you can only find another album by the same artist, or if the Bach is performed by someone else. Two points for a compilation or soundtrack featuring any excerpt from these five albums. One point for a compilation/soundtrack with any track by these artists.

From an album and artist we’d never have heard of but for the wonderful French public library system, here’s New Jersey singer-songer Nicole Atkins and the video for ‘The Way It Is’, from her fantastic 2007 album ‘Neptune City’. Not to build it up too much or anything, but that chorus is something else:

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A paper tiger is something that appears threatening but is in fact quite harmless and inoffensive.

Papier TigreThis has no connection to French alt-rockers Papier Tigre (right), whose name actually means 'tiger paper'. As in, you pop into Eason's for some stationery and spot some black-and-orange-striped envelopes and writing pads. (Perfect for the mammy's present this Christmas.)

Papier Tigre, from Nantes on the west coast of France, make shouty '90s-sounding alt-hard-rock. If your Mastermind specialised subject is "The Works of Steve Albini 1989-95", this band will appeal to you. They've also picked up a bit of Rage Against The Machine, lest they be accused of being limited. 

The threesome are currently in Ireland. (There's a paper tiger/Celtic Tiger witticism waiting to be minted there by some enterprising young social commentator.) Tonight (Saturday 29 November), they're playing at Cyprus Avenue in Cork. Then tomorrow night they're in Dublin, at Twisted Pepper (formerly Traffic) on Middle Abbey Street. 

The band's new album, 'The Beginning And End Of Now' came out earlier this month and it does the hard rock thing quite well. Even your indie-pop blogger likes it. Check out some tracks from it on Papier Tigre's MySpace page.

From what we believe is a Brazilian TV show, here's 'Restless Empire':

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John & JehnMeet John & Jehn (right), a French couple living in London. Not only do they share romantic moments over tea and scones, but they also make pop music together.

What kind of pop music? Well, let's follow the logic of most reviews we've seen of them in the French press: they're a couple who play guitars and wear shades, often at the same time, and so they are The French Kills or The French Ting Tings.

In fact, John & Jehn jumble up acoustica and indietronica to make an agreeably home-made patchwork of alt-pop which sounds not-much like their perceived English peers. You who don't like them might find it all self-consciously shambolic in the style of Noah And The Whale, with whom they're touring. Yes, John's voice often veers towards the laboured artlessness of NATW singer Charlie Fink

But they're never as irritating as their English tourmates. In fact, we find them quite charming. Someone told us about them AGES ago, but it's only this week that we simultaneously found their first release and the scrap of paper on which we had scribbled their name.

John & Jehn have just whipped out their first album, self-titled, and it's very nice indeed. With every listen, it elbows its way a notch further up our 2008 Best French Music poll. You can hear bits and pieces from the record on their MySpace page.

A recent single, here's the video for the rather excellent '20LO7' by John & Jehn:

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Asa, winner of the 2008 Prix ConstantinThe 2008 Prix Constantin has been won by Asa (pronounced 'Asha') for her eponymous debut album. The folk-pop singer (right), real name Bukola Elemide, received her prize at a ceremony in Paris last night.

Born in France but raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Asa has found success with her brand of acoustic pop, mixing gentle afro-folk rhythm with soulful melody. You may recognise her from the MOBO Awards, where she was nominated for Best African Act.

(You may recall that your Paris correspondent feared Asa would be a rank outsider for this prize. So much for our tipster ability.)

Here's the video for the best-known song from the album, 'Fire On The Mountain':

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Until quite recently, all we seemed to hear from the French alternative music scene was shy, poetic acoustica. Now that seems like years ago: today it's wall-to-wall indie-disco-pop.

We mentioned Paris pair Housse de Racket a while back, and New Yorkers The Virgins are having huge success here with 'Rich Girls'.

Tahiti 80The best of the home-made groups strutting the alt-pop dancefloor is Tahiti 80 (right). From Rouen, where Joan of Arc was made toast, this foursome have just released their fourth album. And they've called it 'Activity Centre' after the Fisher Price toy from back in the day! (What with Minitel Rose, there's a definite '80s nostalgia vibe about French indie these days.)

Anyway, 'Activity Centre' is a smashing album, full of soulful pop, sweeping string arrangements and jangly chords. Lead singer Xavier Boyer has a pleasant voice and bass player Pedro Resende keeps it funky from start to finish. All in all, great stuff. If you can't find your Curtis Mayfield or Orange Juice records, they probably ended up in here.

Tahiti 80 also embody one of pop's greatest clichés. Yes, they're Big In Japan. It's all thanks to the cult figure of Cornelius (maker of the wondrous 'Fantasma' all those years ago), who put the lads on a compilation album a few years ago. Their track, 'Heartbeat', duly became a hit. Now they can't go down the street in Tokyo without being beseiged (probably). 

From an album packed with potential singles, which you can hear on their MySpace page, Tahiti 80 are currently enjoying huge airplay with 'All Around'. As if the song itself wasn't already likeable, the video is quite charming too - unless you're a hamster:

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Nuggets from our archive

2006 - Review of Neosupervital's debut album, written by Doctor Binokular. The famously compelling review, complete with pie charts that compare the angst of Neosupervital with the angst of the reviewer. As you do.