The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011

Blogs

From 2007 to 2010 CLUAS hosted blogs written by 8 of its writers. Over 900 blog entries were published in that time, all of which you can browse here. Here are links to the 8 individual blogs:

15

Glastonbury Pyramid StageThe lineup for Glastonbury 2010 was announced yesterday and it's a whopper (as you'd expect for  the 40th anniversary of the festival). Over the 3 days of the festival there are 285 different musical acts scheduled to perform (and that's not even counting the acts earmarked for the "Poetry and Words" stage).

Playing are Muse, U2, Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Pet Shop Boys, Orbital, MGMT, Midlake, The xx, The National, Editors, Grizzly Bear and Broken Social Scene. And the list goes on...

[Aside: Having managed last Sunday morning to secure one of the last tickets to Glasto 2010, I do be terribly exicited]. 

However what's disappointing is the Irish delegation at the festival. Yes, U2 are headlining on the Pyramid stage on the Friday night (and could well deliver a highlight of the festival, it being their first time in over 20 years to deliver a full set without any visual gimmickery in front an outdoor crowd) but otherwise you have to dig very deep to find Irish acts.

As far as I can see there are, in addition to U2, only 8 other Irish acts in the entire lineup (or 9 if your definition of Irish stretches to including Rodrigo y Gabriela). And half of those (The Saw Doctors, Christy Moore, Brian Kennedy and Ash) could not credibly be held up as representative examples of where the Irish music scene is today. 

So what's the reason behind this? Well I have no clue. Is it that the more recent waves of Irish acts are not selling themselves hard enough to the Glasto promoters? Or are they doing so, but the promoters are not interested? Or does the best of Irish scene not cut the mustard for such a prestigious festival? Or some mix of the above? Any insights out there?

Here are the Irish acts confirmed so far for Glasto 2010:

  • U2
  • Two Door Cinema Club
  • Brian Kennedy
  • Julie Feeney
  • Ash
  • Christy Moore
  • Imelda May (who is actually playing two gigs at Glasto 2010)
  • The Saw Doctors
  • Fionn Regan

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10

You might remember our former blogging colleague Key Notes and his epic Dublin Marathon run last year. (Sample sentence: "It was now all about ignoring the pain in my right knee (akin to replacing your knee joint with a testicle and running on it for 12 or so miles), and just finishing the race.")

This year, all the CLUAS long-distance running responsibility fell on the shoulders of your Seine-side correspondent. And so this morning your blogger ran in the Paris Marathon for the second time. (You'll remember that Joe Strummer once ran the Paris Marathon, as well as the London equivalent twice.)

The 2010 Paris Marathon setting off down the Champs-Elysées.

The course is quite impressive - starting on the Champs-Elysées, out the rue de Rivoli past Bastille, a tour of the Bois de Vincennes, back into town along the river past the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, then through the Bois de Boulogne and home on the Avenue Foch, just behind the Arc de Triomphe. The route is relatively flat - there's no long uphill drag to compare with the notorious Milltown-Clonskeagh stretch of the Dublin Marathon. And the weather - sunny but not too warm - was great.

Your correspondent, mindful of being your representative in Paris, ran hard and well. For many Parisian women watching the race, it was their first time seeing a real man - medical services performed many corset-loosening procedures along the route.

There was a musical aspect to the marathon - every mile or so a live band or DJ provided motivational tunes. Things began badly: the race started to the inane shouting of Black Eyed Peas. Fortunately, the very first live act was a brass band playing Blondie's 'Atomic' - this set the scene for a pop-tastic marathon.

Most of the live music came from samba groups or brass bands, both great for the spirits. Just before halfway, one brass band was playing 'Thriller', which sounded fun. A French rock band was murdering 'One' by U2, inspiring us to dash out of earshot.

But our abiding musical memory of the 2010 Paris Marathon is an unlikely yet inspired tune. Two miles from home, along a seemingly-endless stretch through the Bois de Boulogne, we passed a loudspeaker blaring out a disco-pop song you wouldn't associate with long-distance running - 'In Private' by Dusty Springfield. Now, both of Dusty's parents were from Tralee, your blogger's home town, and even at the height of her popularity she performed there. As well as that, it's a cracking song - one of several classy singles she made with the Pet Shop Boys.

So, for all you marathon runners out there, here's the erstwhile Mary O'Brien, first-generation Kerrywoman, with the excellent 'In Private':


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09

Recently Pink Floyd were successful in their bid to sue EMI because their tracks were being sold unbundled. After they argued that their record contract with EMI “expressly prohibited” the unbundling of album tracks, and had expected there to be a lock on their songs so they could only be purchased as full albums. When it came to light that their songs were made available as single tracks, this of course was a bone of contention for them.

There are two different arguments about this, one of which is if the consumer downloaded one track it may entice them to buy the whole album eventually. However, it’s equally as likely that one track will be downloaded, and even if it’s considered to be a fantastic track, that will be the end of that. What’s the point of buying the album when you already have the one song you definitely like and want?

One musician strongly in support of songs being locked so they’re only available as album purchases is Elbow’s Guy Garvey who believes the album is a dying art form, stating that, “You spend a large chunk of your life making [an album] and you think about every note, squeak and crackle. When you put your heart and soul into something you want people to hear it as it was intended.” It would be very easy to accuse the musicians of being greedy, and that this is just some veiled attempt at trying to get as much money from the consumer as possible, but in truth I’m inclined to agree with Guy Garvey.

I tend to look at albums as being like books, a series of chapters containing different scenes and insights. Purchasing a track, that isn’t at the time being released as a single, I see as being like buying one chapter of a book because you know it’s the one chapter you’ll definitely like. But what about the rest? Albums are meant to be played as a whole piece, and I think in some instances people will be missing out. What if the majority of people had only bought ‘She Bangs The Drums’ from The Stone Roses’ debut album, or ‘Grounds For Divorce’ from Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’? Those albums, full of cohesive and defining tracks, could easily have disappeared into oblivion if this was the case.

Naturally this is all subjective, but I personally am in support of locking some bands back catalogues so their music can only be purchased as full albums. Otherwise, bands may see albums as being a waste of effort and time and will only release singles. Could this be the future of music?


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02

This week, it seems, is a week for a change in band line-ups. First there was the frankly surprising news that Caroline McKay, the drummer for Glasvegas, has decided to leave James Allen & Co.

This was followed by the announcement of Matt Rubano and Matthew Fazzi’s departure from Taking Back Sunday. And I was just getting over seeing Taking Back Sunday without Fred Mascherino!

Meanwhile, while temporarily taking a break from mourning the demise of Copeland (they had so much left to give!) I went out and bought Laura Marling’s latest album ‘I Speak Because I Can.’ Simply put, it’s one of the best music purchases I’ve ever made. Here’s a brilliant video of her perfroming the first single from the album, ‘Devil’s Spoke.’

 


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31

After her successful L.A. double-act with Beck, Charlotte Gainsbourg is duetting again. But this time she's not straying so far from home.

The award-winning actress, now established as an indie pop star, will release a version of 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)', the notorious 1969-70 single by her parents, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. From 2 April, Serge's birthday, the track will be streamed on Charlotte's website and downloadable from online music-sellers; all profits will go to charity.

Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg in 1986

Charlotte's version is based on a 1967 demo version of the song from the recording session by Serge and Brigitte Bardot, for whom the song was originally written. Due mainly to protests by Bardot's husband, this version went unreleased at the time. Two years later, Serge met Jane Birkin and the two brought the song into everlasting infamy.

The new 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' features the late Serge in his original role - his voice mixed into a ghostly, eerie echo that suggests the great man is singing from the nether world (as opposed to the nether regions). Charlotte sounds as refined and demure as ever. Despite a rather treacly remix of the trademark Gainsbourg symphonic strings, the duet works well.

Will this version cause as much controversy as the original? Well, it can hardly be as controversial as the last Serge/Charlotte duet - 'Lemon Incest' from 1986, where papa and 14-year-old daughter extolled the virtues of 'a love that will never be'.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is touring Europe and North America this summer, though she has no Irish concert scheduled yet. It remains to be heard if 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' will feature in her setlist.

 The amateur videomakers are already on the job - here's Charlotte and Serge with 'Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus)' version 2010:


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22

The ‘Greatest Hits’ album. We’re all familiar with it in some capacity, usually the ploy of the record label. It used to be that greatest hits albums signalled the end of a band, as though they were saying, “Right, this is as good as we’ll ever get.” Now, they seem to occur intermittently. Remember the odd Biffy Clyro singles release a few months ago? I’m just cautiously waiting for there to be a ‘Best Of’ album for Elbow.

There are very few ‘Best Of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ albums that I like, and I’m certain this is the same for almost every other music fan.  I thought The Cure’s Greatest Hits was pretty good. While naturally it was filled with their most commercially successful songs you could tell the songs weren’t just thrown together, that some thought was put into the track listing and it worked out perfectly. I mean, of course I’ll bemoan them for not including ‘Fascination Street’, ‘Catch’ or ‘Prayers for Rain’, but whatever song selection is picked for these albums I always have some sort of issue with the tracks that either are, or aren’t, on it.

While in some instances the Greatest Hits album is merely an introduction to the band for some people, sometimes a band has so much excellent material that it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down into one album. The Smiths’ Very Best Of is a prime example of this, with no less than 23 songs on the album. And prior to that album release there were two volumes of ‘The Best Of The Smiths’. Some bands, it seems, should just remain untouched. If you were to go out and pick up any one of The Smiths’ albums it would be filled with consistently enthralling material. There was never really any need for a ‘Very Best Of’.

On several occasions some bands are unaware that their label is compiling a ‘Best Of’ album, let alone going to release one. Free from any consultation from the band, it proves an irritating and sometimes embarrassing addition to their discography.  This happened to AFI in 2004, when they left their then-label Nitro, the label released a collection of songs from their previous albums that they saw as being the best. It’s still something the band rarely talk about, but when they do the disdain is always evident.

So, are greatest hits album really so heinous? The Best of R.E.M captures the band at various different stages in their career, and no doubt provides an excellent introduction to the band. Similarly, the Best of Depeche Mode is a stunning collection of their songs. Maybe without those albums, very few bands would be appreciated as much as they are now. In some instances, it can shine a light on a band that had previously been only vaguely known by people. Here’s hoping that Doves’ Best Of garners them all of the attention they’ve so long deserved. The verdict? The Greatest Hits album: a necessary evil.


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18

The story so far: Two French musicians toil away in semi-obscurity, resigned to life under the radar. Little do they suspect that someone is watching them. Now read on:

Some musicians are happy to be local heroes, cult artists avoiding the harsh media glare and 'Hello'-wedding of celebrity.

But no profile is low enough, no cult act obscure enough, no home-made CD-R indie enough to hide you from the CLUAS gaffer. He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows when you're awake.

And so your Paris correspondent received orders: find Natural Snow Buildings!

Natural Snow Buildings

So, Natural Snow Buildings (right) are a duo: he's Mehdi and she's Solange. They come from Bourgogne, the eastern region of France we know in English as Burgundy - home of fine wine, delicious beef stew and a shade of red that never looks good on trousers.

By any definition, Natural Snow Buildings are a cult act. They've been making records since 1997, often home-made and with careful artwork. Each of them also puts out solo work - Mehdi as TwinSisterMoon and Solange as Isengrind. Their product is usually released in very limited quantities - 500 copies is a typical pressing run. And most of those copies get snapped up by eager devotees.

What do they sound like? Well, what we've heard so far is lo-fi alt-folk with a touch of experimental post-rock.

And is it good, this lo-fi alt-f. with the touch of exp. p-r? Yes, it is. We recommend their most recent album, 'Shadow Kingdom', and an earlier double-album called 'The Dance Of The Moon And The Sun'. The music is beguiling and thoughtful, the vocals warm and careworn.

You can hear some tracks on the Natural Snow Buildings MySpace page. From 'Shadow Kingdom', here's what they probably think of all this paparazzi-esque CLUAS celebrity spotlight - 'Go Away, Disappear':


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18

Congratulations are in order after Adrian Crowley won the Choice Music Prize with the brilliant ‘Season of the Sparks’ album. He had some tough competition in the form of Valerie Francis’ ‘Slow Dynamo’ and Bell X1‘s  ‘Blue Lights on the Runway’ among many others. A CLUAS interview with him can be read here.

I recently got Fionn Regan’s ‘Shadow of an Empire’, which has a lot more electric instrumentation than his debut ‘The End of History.’ While it doesn’t entirely veer away from the folk style he’s known for it does display his immense musical talent, sometimes experimenting with some more traditional sounds.

He has the lyrical sensibilities of Bob Dylan with the sometimes melodious and engaging vocal style of Johnny Cash. Judging by this album, Regan can only ever get more interesting and creative with his music.

The album covers a lot of different ground, starting from the raucous and hooky ‘Protection Racket’ to the personal and intimate in ‘Lines Written in Winter’. Throughout the album it seems as though not a word was wasted in the lyrics, everything has some sort of significance.

Here’s an interesting snippet of the song ‘Protection Racket’, the first single from ‘The Shadow of an Empire’.


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09

The first of France's major summer music festivals to announce its 2010 bill is Les Vieilles Charrues. The annual trip to Carhaix in Brittany takes place on 15-18 July.

Les Vieilles Charrues 2010

You might remember that last year's event featured Bruce Springsteen in his only French show of 2009. This year's stars are not as legendary but still attractive enough to ensure a healthy turnout.

Top of the bill are Muse. Now, the English trio are playing two huge concerts at the Stade de France in Paris this June, so it might seem strange that they play another large French show only weeks later. However, Les Vieilles Charrues attracts fans for the unique experience of a festival in the remote west of Brittany - which is also relatively accessible for English fans. Also, Brittany in July is full of young holidaymakers from around Europe, so Les Vieilles Charrues has a greater potential audience than its isolated location suggests.

Back to the line-up - the other name that interests us is Phoenix. However, the Grammy winners are surprisingly far down the bill - tugging the forelock to Mika but also to four other French acts. Who are these artists that the home fans seem to prefer over Phoenix?

We featured Indochine early last year - '80s post-punk veterans who will also be filling the Stade de France this summer. Diam's is a tomboyish rapper who raised some eyebrows when she converted to Islam recently. Alain Souchon is one of these old chanson française guys that you non-Frenchies don't need to know about.

Jacques Dutronc

The other French headliner is Jacques Dutronc (left, in his youth). If that name sounds familiar, it's because you may have heard it in the original version of 'Brimful Of Asha' by Cornershop - at the end, when Tjindar Singh is listing his old records, he mentions "Jacques Dutronc and the Bolan boogie".

So who is Jacques Dutronc? Well, as a young man in the 1960s he was a pop star, and by the '90s he had become a respected actor. He is the partner of Françoise Hardy, perhaps France's coolest female pop singer ever - and their son Thomas Dutronc is now a star himself, making a likeable kind of jazz manouche-influenced acoustic chanson-pop.

And what does Jacques Dutronc sound like? From looking at his picture (left), you'd imagine such a suave and dapper man to croon like Bryan Ferry. In fact, Dutronc père has a rasping, hectoring voice, like a hoarse Mick Jagger. Indeed, his '60s hits bring a touch of Stones raucousness to the chanson française genre - lots of words and little melody, but with enough attitude to compensate.

As for other acts at Les Vieilles Charrues, dance music fans will recognise Vitalic and Etienne de Crécy. Revolver make a rather nice skiffle-pop sound. But you don't need to bother with Gojira or Gaetan Roussel. And if you're travelling all the way to deepest Brittany to see one-hit-wonder Mr Oizo, him of the Flat Eric fad in 1998, then you've got issues.

On which point, how does one get to deepest Brittany and Les Vieilles Charrues? First you go to a major west Breton town like Lorient or Brest (by air), Roscoff (by ferry) or Guingamp (by train). From there, the regional authority has organised coaches to Carhaix for only €3 return. Full practical details are available here in English.

Tickets for Les Vieilles Charrues went on sale last week and already all 35,000 four-day tickets have been sold - unless you choose a four-day package including transport to and from faraway French cities like Dijon or Toulouse. Never mind - you can still get a three-day pass for €88 or a one-day ticket from €37.50 to €51.20, depending on which day you choose. Muse are playing on Thursday 15 July and Phoenix on Saturday 17 July (with Indochine headlining that night). You can find full ticket details on French online ticket agents like FNAC.

For more information on the festival, check out Les Vieilles Charrues' website (in French apart from the practical info page in the link above). Here's a pleasantly bizarre song from Jacques Dutronc that Neil Hannon has been known to perform live - 'Les Playboys':


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06

The most prominent Irish act in France this month is Declan de Barra. The Waterford man is here for a series of shows around the country between now and May.

Declan de Barra

We've featured de Barra (right) on this blog before - he performs frequently in France, most notably a recent Paris show on the same bill as alt-country legend Josh T. Pearson. He's also been picking up good reviews from the native press.

Fans of acoustic singer-songering will certainly be impressed by de Barra's intensity and poeticism. So far he's made two albums - a 2005 release called 'Song Of A Thousand Birds' and its 2008 follow-up 'A Fire To Scare The Sun' - and alt-folk aficionados should check them out.

On his current spin around la hexagone, de Barra visits places such as Saint Brieuc, Lens and Saint Etienne. This Friday, 12 March, he has a show in the Paris region, at Les Mains d'Oeuvres in Saint-Ouen (not far from the Stade de France).

Full details of his tour, his life and his works are available on Declan de Barra's MySpace page. No news yet of any upcoming gigs back in the E.I.R.E.

Here's a striking video of Declan de Barra from a previous Paris visit. French music website Le Hiboo ('the owl') filmed him singing a capella at the Madeleine, a famous church just off the Place de la Concorde. He's singing 'Throw Your Arms Around Me', a favourite among his fans - and he's in his bare feet on the marble floor. We feel the cold just looking at him:


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Nuggets from our archive

2008 - A comprehensive guide to recording an album, written by Andy Knightly (the guide is spread over 4 parts).