The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Entries for 'Aidan Curran'

19

The list of nominees has just been announced for the 2007 Prix Constantin, France's equivalent of the Choice, Mercury, Shortlist and Polaris prizes. The award, France's most prestigious for music, will be presented at a ceremony in Paris on 15 November. The shortlist announcement was made by this year's jury president, rai-rocker Rachid Taha.

The award aims to recognise the year's best new or emerging act. Unlike its Anglophone counterparts, therefore, it's impossible for an act to be nominated more than once.

You may have noted the qualifier 'emerging': an eligible act can have released any number of under-the-mainstream-radar albums during a long musical career - the only stipulation is that none of their recordings have ever attained gold disc status in France, i.e. over 75,000 sales. For instance, Phoenix were nominated for last year's prize on the strength of their third album, 'It's Never Been Like That'. If these rules had applied to the Mercury then past winners such as Suede, Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys would not even have been eligible for nomination.

Another peculiarity of the Prix Constantin is that it's not confined to French acts. The regulations only demand that the record have been released on a French label. It's not even necessary to sing in French. Again, last year's nominees included a case in point: German-Nigerian jazz chanteuse Ayo, who sings in English. Theoretically there's nothing in the rules to stop an Irish band from coming to France, making an album here, releasing it on a French label... and winning the Prix Constantin (it's more likely than an Irish band ever winning the Mercury, says you cynically).

So, who are this year's nominees? Well, you should all be familiar with Justice by now - surprisingly, they haven't reached gold status in France, despite D.A.N.C.E. being a huge airplay and dancefloor hit here. You might also know Keren Ann -  the Israeli-born Dutch-raised English-language singer-songer (there's this year's non-French exception) whose Leonard Cohen/Lou Reed-influenced fifth album (again, hardly a 'new' act) has received favourable reviews internationally.

As for the other nominees, the current French fad for female first-name-only acoustic singer-songers is represented twice, by Daphné and Rose. There are three male singer-songers; Renan Luce, Florent Marchet and Ours. Meanwhile, Kaolin are the only indie band on the list, an under-representation which should tell you plenty about French musical preferences as compared to English-speaking countries, where alternative acts dominate prize shortlists.

Abd al-Malik, Prix Constantin laureate 2006Last year's winner was rapper Abd Al-Malik (left) with his album 'Gibraltar', and this year there's another rap nominee in the shape of the fiercely political Keny Arkana (who, despite her first name, is a woman). The shortlist is completed by duo AaRON (dig the upper/lower case precision), who had a minor hit this year with a maudlin piano ballad in English called 'Lili'.

Another difference to Anglophone culture: French people don't bet on anything except horses, so we can't enjoy the traditional pastime of speculating on the odds of various nominees. Your blogger may be tempted to open a book on the Prix Constantin, were it not for the fact that it's impossible for an outsider to call the winner - last year's beaten nominees included Phoenix and Emily Loizeau, both of whom made albums we're still raving about. On verra.

The 2005 winner was Camille (with her wonderful second album Le Fil), who accepted her award with the legendary words "J'ai envie de faire pi-pi" ("I want to pee"). We're still waiting for a follow-up album from her - lately she's been performing choral works by Benjamin Britten in Paris churches, and she sang the theme tune to Parisian-rat-in-a-restaurant cartoon 'Ratatouille'. The Prix Constantin was not her only victory of 2005; she also scooped the equally-prestigious honour of this column's Best French Tune of 2005 with her single 'Ta Douleur' - here's the appropriately idiosyncratic video:


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18

Monsieur may be waiting a while for that train...Live from central Paris, in the news for today's traditionally French transport strike. In fact, your blogger is lucky enough to live on a line that had a skeleton service this morning - at 7a.m. we hopped on a full (but not crowded) train and arrived at Gare Saint Lazare to be greeted by a swarm of journalists hoping we would look suitably disgruntled (and is anyone except your breakfast show DJ ever on chirpy form at seven in the morning?). No such luck - most commuters generally accepted the inconvenience and understood the train drivers' position.

Central Paris this morning looked like Beijing - the streets were full of cyclists. Some had succeeded in the wild-eyed search for public bikes; others had blown the dust off their old boneshakers and were wobbling precariously across the road, their first time up on a bike since the days of Bernard Hinault. And the taxi drivers are delirious...

Fortunately, the weather today is fantastic - a crisp, sunny day that really shows Paris at its most beautiful. A lot of people walked to work for the first time this morning - and many people we met have told us that they'll continue their new habit. After all, walking for thirty minutes through Paris is no hardship at all. Your blogger might stroll home this evening, stopping in some nice café in Square des Batignolles along the way. Again, no hardship in that.

Today's strike doesn't enjoy mass support; few other unions have joined the transport workers .Strangely, the staff of both the Opera and the Comedie Française (Paris's most prestigious theatre) have stopped work in solidarity.

No such strike contagion at Dublin's premier French entertainment, French Friday at Thomas House. However, we understand that tomorrow night's edition will be the last at its current location and for the near future.

We've only heard rave reviews from our Dublin friends who've been along, so we've no doubt that French Friday will return very soon. If you're heading there tomorrow night, bonne soirée.


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17

MalajubeWe saw Quebec indie-rockers Malajube at La Maroquinerie in Paris last night. Despite a sluggish start (with - our bad luck - a relatively listless version of 'Montréal -40°C', our favourite song of theirs) they soon picked up steam. Literally - the place was roasting and clouds of mist were rising from the overheating crowd.

No one suffered more from the heat than lead singer Julien Mineau. For some reason he had decided to wear a platinum-white moptop wig that hung sheepdog-stylee down to his upper lip, completely covering his eyes and nose.

Hot stuff: Malajube singer Julien Mineau (without wig)He was obviously hot under there - two songs in and already the poor guy was leaking buckets of sweat (and probably nostalgic for the minus forty degrees of home). Perspiration was pouring off him, running down the front of his guitar and spraying the front row teenage girls whenever he made a sharp movement. We hadn't seen such hot sweatiness since that time in Pigalle when we [Snip! - CLUAS Legal Department]

Despite Mineau's socially embarrassing discharges, his band played a storming set made up mostly of cracking tunes from their 2006 album 'Trompe L'Oeil'. We dug the music, but even your blogger (with his fluent French) had problems comprehending the band's Quebec accents - and they didn't help matters by deliberately exaggerating or putting on fake French accents. The Quebec accent is a source of ridicule in France - only today someone explained to us why punters last night were playfully heckling Malajube with shouts of 'Skiddooo!'

La Maroquinerie (the name signifies the building's former life as a leather goods factory; the 'maroc' comes from Morocco, traditional land of leather production) is a smashing little venue - the gig space is a cavernous cellar, and up on ground level there's a nice, spacious bar and restaurant. Already this year we've been there to see excellent shows by Peter Bjorn and John, The Decemberists and Simple Kid (who gave a masterclass in winning around an audience). It's in the 20th arrondissement, a bohemian district of Paris that's full of fine little bars, restaurants and concert venues (our beloved Flèche d'Or is there too).

As for Malajube, they now have a healthy following in France. As well as playing Paris, they also visited Rouen, the city where Joan of Arc also suffered badly from the heat. Warding off the flames, here's Malajube treating local website Domino TV to an acoustic version of 'Montréal -40°C'. That's 'mon-ray-AL MWAN kar-ONT' to you:


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15

Bertrand Cantat, during his trial in Vilnius in 2003A judicial hearing in Toulouse has granted conditional early release to Bertrand Cantat, singer with French rockers Noir Désir.

Cantat (43) has served three and a half years of an 8-year sentence for killing his girlfriend, actress Marie Trintignant, during a violent argument in a hotel room in Vilnius, Lithuania in 2003.

The court agreed with lawyers for the singer that Cantat had been a model detainee and had 'made efforts at social readaptation'.

However, the judgement stipulated that Cantat is not allowed to make any public comment on the case or his offence.

This essentially precludes the singer from performing or recording any songs that refer to the death of Trintignant or to his culpability in the matter.

Noir Désir's record company, Universal France, have previously stated that the band's contract remains in force and that new material is awaited.

Cantat will leave the prison in Muret, near Toulouse, tomorrow (16 October). A media frenzy awaits him, as does renewed controversy and public debate about a perceived lack of adequate protection for women who are victims of domestic violence. France has also been rocked by recent cases involving repeat offences by convicts on early or temporary release, though the court in Toulouse today was satisfied that Cantat would not re-offend.


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14

French transport strikes in 1995So all of France is in a state of gloom after being knocked out of 'their' Rugby World Cup by the old enemy.

And if that wasn't depressing enough, there'll be a transport strike this Thursday. President Sarkozy wants train drivers to give up their extra pension benefits so that they'll have the same retirement age and wrinkly-money as the rest of the public service.

To Sarko's surprise, the train drivers would prefer to keep their benefits - and so the rail unions are all out on Thursday. There's a legal obligation on the unions to provide a minimum transport service on strike days, but it remains to be seen if this will be honoured. There's also the possibility that the strike could continue for days or even weeks, as happened in the winter of 1995.

Anyway, the strike reminds us of a French song you sometimes hear on the radio in Ireland and elsewhere - a jazzy little ditty that goes "Je ne veux pas travailler..." You know the one we mean?

Pink MartiniOf course you do. The song is called 'Sympathique'  (which means 'nice') and it's from the 1997 debut album of the same name by a 12-piece jazz-lounge-pop band called Pink Martini (left). Strangely, despite the heady Gallic flavour of the song, the band aren't French - they're from Portland on the west coast of the USA, home to The Dandy Warhols, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and many other alt-rock bands.

Also, even though it sounds like an authentic artefact from the days of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker, the tune was written by the band's core duo, singer China Forbes and pianist Thomas Lauderdale. But they didn't write the lyrics, which come from a piece of whimsical verse by the celebrated early 20th century French poet and man-about-town Guillaume Apollinaire. (Among his other feats: he coined the word 'surrealism', was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa, received a serious head wound in the trenches of World War I, died of Spanish flu two days before the Armistice and was buried in Pere Lachaise.)

The song came to prominence when it was featured in a TV ad for the Citroen Picasso (very useful in times of transport strikes), and it seemed to spread in popularity by word-of-mouth and occasional radio play. Your future blogger, before The Great Leap Frenchwards, recalls hearing it a few times on Ray D'Arcy's show on Today FM around 2001-02.

However, you might be surprised to learn who claims to have been the first to play the song in Ireland - none other than football commentator George Hamilton (right, on television). Now, we hasten to add that George wasn't spinning discs during Irish international games - he hosts a fine little music show called 'The Hamilton Scores' on Lyric FM on Saturday mornings. George also writes an interesting classical music column for the Irish Independent every Saturday.

[On a related football commentator/music DJ point, did you know that the Irish Top 30 chart show on RTE radio in the 1960s was originally presented by Jimmy Magee?]

For such a sweet little song, 'Sympathique' is actually quite subversive (the French rail unions would no doubt approve). The chorus goes: "Je ne veux pas travailler / Je ne veux pas dejeuner / Je veux seulement oublier / Et puis je fume" - in other words (i.e. English ones), "I don't want to work / I don't want to have lunch / I just want to forget / And so I smoke". In both French and English, 'smoke' here is clearly understood as being of the Cheech-and-Chong kind.

Pink Martini have just released their third album, 'Hey Eugene', which continues the band's cabaret sound and tradition of terrible titles and album covers (their second record was called 'Hang On Little Tomato').

Anyway, out of solidarity with our fellow-workers, here's Pink Martini and 'Sympathique'. The video is anything but sympa, by the way:


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08

Review Snapshot:

Atmospheric chillout electronica that's chilled out to the point of being boring, and which also sounds like no more than the sum of its influences (Sigur Ros, David Sylvian). Gemma Hayes pops in to sing a track.

The CLUAS Verdict: 5 out of 10

Full Review:

Anti Atlas - Between VoicesChris Hufford, the man behind Anti-Atlas, is Radiohead's manager. He is also part of the management team of that other famous (and, for this reviewer at least, more enjoyable) Oxford band, Supergrass.

'Between Voices' sounds nothing like either band. It's a chillout album of lush strings, ambient layers and easy-on-the-ear female singers - including Lady Marmalade-Voice of Ballyporeen herself, Gemma Hayes (also managed by Hufford), on 'It's A Shame'.

To add a Sigur Ros-style chilly atmosphere (as Radiohead sometimes do) there are plenty of Scandinavian and Icelandic contributions: for instance, Norwegian singer-songer Kristin Fjellseth performs 'On The Bottom Of The Sea (Paa Havsens Bunn)' in her native language.

And as no slowcore electronica album these days is complete without some existential angst from Japan, Yuki Chikudate sings 'Spring Lullaby (Haru No Komori Uta)'.

The record is also built with brief samples cut from hand-to-the-brow Romantic composers like Mahler (who, we can assume, unwittingly contributed the Mahler-esque droning string sounds that drift like mist around this album), Debussy, Dvorak and the like.

All of this put together results in an album that shares a lot with the arty slow-motion electronica of David Sylvian and Perry Blake, as well as the bleak soundscapes of Hector Zazou and the aforementioned Sigur Ros - and fans of those acts should find in 'Between Voices' much they will like (or will find an outrageous rip-off - one or the other).

However, for non-fans of the above, the overserious pretentiousness of Sylvian and Blake is also evident here - and try as they might, Anti Atlas can't match the superior work of Zazou and Sigur Ros.

'Between Voices' is not a bad album - one could call it harmless in its way. It's just not very interesting or original, has little in the way of personality, and gets a little boring long before the end.

Come to think of it, maybe their manager's music has a lot in common with Radiohead after all. Start hanging out more with Gaz Coombes, Mr Hufford.

Aidan Curran

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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08

U2 fan sites such as U2Achtung.com and U2Valencia.com are currently carrying reports (apparently originating from Universal Music in Spain) that U2 will release a 20th anniversary edition of 'The Joshua Tree' on 10 December.

According to these reports - unconfirmed by the band or their official website - there will be four formats:

- a single-disc remastered version of the album

- a 'deluxe' 2-disc version, of which the second disc will feature studio out-takes, alternate versions and a cover of Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready'

- a 'super deluxe' version, including a DVD featuring U2's 1987 show at the Hippodrome de Vincennes in Paris (for this blog there had to be a French angle, obviously) and Barry Devlin's 1987 documentary 'Outside It's America'

- a vinyl version

It is also still unclear if the 'super deluxe' version comes with extra fries.

A catalogue from Universal Music in Austria features the deluxe edition as one of its forthcoming releases. However, while the U2 fansites mentioned above claim to have received confirmation from Universal Music in Spain and France, Universal Music's sites have not (at the time of writing) made any announcement of an imminent U2 release.

U2 fans will no doubt remember that the album was actually released in March 1987, not December.

From the aforementioned 1987 Paris show, here's U2 performing 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For':


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05

Review Snapshot:
A band living off an old song and a stale image, Alabama 3 hit the photocopy button one more time. Bland songs plastered in cliched sounds; the only refreshing thing is the unintentional honesty of the album title. Someone, put a cap in their ass.

The CLUAS Verdict? 2 out of 10

Full Review:
After eight years, Alabama 3 are still trading on their debut album, 'Exile On Coldharbour Lane'. That 'Sopranos' theme, 'Woke Up This Morning', was its best-known song and on the basis of their tired new album they'll be depending on that old track for a long time yet.

The album's name is meant to be ironic but, as usually happens when a band jokes about sounding uncool, is completely accurate. The title track of sorts, 'Middle Of The Road', pays tribute to The Eagles. By this we mean that the lyrics are about The Eagles and the music sounds like The Eagles too (to be specific, 'Take It Easy'). Hardly the stuff of the Deep South honky-tonk good ol' boys that Alabama 3 seem to admire.

 But then everything about this band - the preacher-man stagenames, OTT 'American' accents and cut n' paste  blues, soul, country and '70s rock - is a tiresome, unconvincing gimmick trying to distract you from the blandness and unoriginality of their songs. Whether they're straining to act like hoodlums ('Lockdown And Loaded'), barflies ('Monday Don't Mean Anything') or free spirits ('Are You A Souljah?') they just sound irritating and ridiculous.

All of which wouldn't be a problem if the songs had any bit of spark or muscle to them. Instead they can only muster up lame cliche-riddled pastiches like 'Fly' and 'Work It (All Night Long)'. Even an appearance by The Proclaimers on album-closer 'Sweet Joy' fails to lend any bit of personality - you'd hardly know they're there.

Anyone who still finds the Sam Snort column in 'Hot Press' wild, daring and hilarious might like this album while driving home from the office or fitting kitchen cabinets. Otherwise, keep in by the side of the road and let this  manure truck roll by.

Aidan Curran

 To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.


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03

We hope that by now our regular readers are regularly visiting the Take Away Shows, the indie-busking series of films featured on French music blog La Blogothèque.

Elvis PerkinsThe latest addition to their stellar archive is Elvis Perkins, one of the essential new American acts of the year. His debut album, 'Ash Wednesday', is a fine collection of stark and heartfelt acoustica which will be sure of a place in the upper reaches of the 2007 best-of polls.

The Take Away Show team filmed two Perkins songs: below, you can watch 'While You Were Sleeping', filmed in Place Vendôme (home to exclusive jewellers and the Ritz Hotel). Perkins serenades a rather sceptical-looking toddler and various groups of tourists (gathering in front of the Ritz due to it being the point where Princess Diana et al started their ill-fated flight from the paparazzi in 1997) before heading up to the Opèra to find (quelle coincidence!) his band waiting for him on the steps.

If you visit the Take Away Show site you can watch the second clip, a medley of 'Emile's Vietnam In The Sky' and 'All The Night Without Love' performed at plush department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. The security guards aren't too impressed, but Elvis handles them with Parisian sang froid.

Here's 'While You Were Sleeping':


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03

If you were at Daft Punk's Marlay Park show in the summer of 2006, then you may have seen this band, the support act that evening. We doubt you could have forgotten them.

Fancy: Monsieur may want to wax those forearms...From the east Paris suburb of Montreuil, Fancy are a three-piece group that mix New York Dolls glam and AC/DC hard rock the way teenagers mix lager and cider. The results are just as potent (but less likely to have you getting sick all over yourself).

Feather boas, razor-sharp cheekbones, spandex, lashings of make-up, squally guitars, confused sexuality - in other words, a proper pop band! Hurrah!

We reckon they sound a lot like The Gossip (which is a good thing) - even down to the Beth Ditto-esque screams of lead singer Jessie Chaton. And yes (before your parents ask pop's greatest question: 'Is that a boy or a girl?'), Jessie is a man, with the same helium voice as our other French pop discovery of 2007, Christophe Willem.

And just to show that Chaton has got credentials, you've already been dancing all year to one of his songs - he co-wrote 'D.A.N.C.E.' by Justice.

Their new album, modestly titled 'Kings Of The World', has just come out in France. It being Fashion Week in Paris, and given Fancy's sound and look, the record has come at just the right time to be the soundtrack for some serious pouting and flouncing.

No Irish dates upcoming for Fancy, although if you're in London on 22 November you can catch them at Koko with OK Go and Simian Mobile Disco.

Check out some of their tracks on their MySpace page. Here's the video for their single '17 (Wollmar Yxkullsgatan)'. You can leave out the bit in brackets when you're asking the DJ for it:

 


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Nuggets from our archive

2001 - Early career profile of Damien Rice, written by Sinead Ward. This insightful profile was written before Damien broke internationally with the release of his debut album 'O'. This profile continues to attract hundreds of visits every month, it being linked to from Damien Rice's Wikipedia page.