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An Interview With Craig Walker Of Power Of Dreams

(Originally published on Cluas.com)

Twenty years ago an exceptionally young band from Dublin released a debut album full of near-flawless indie-pop tunes. It had a confidence and ambition that was at odds with their youth and it is still talked about to this day as one of the great Irish debuts of all time. The album was called ‘Immigrants, Emigrants And Me’ and the band were Power of Dreams. Formed by songwriter Craig Walker (above, right) in 1989 while he was still at school, along with his brother Keith on drums and their friend Mick Lennox on bass, the success of the album brought  a certain level of fame and critical plaudits on the youngsters, both here and abroad. Flash forward two decades and I am sitting at Craig Walker’s kitchen-table listening to his recollections of the highs and lows of the last twenty years. Walker, now a youthful 38, looks back with pride on that debut album and the subsequent success his band enjoyed in the early Nineties. I tell him that his band was the first Irish band I was a fan of and his album was one I incessantly listened to on my Walkman on the way to and from school, along with ‘Nevermind’ and My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’. Yep, it really was that good. It holds a special place in Craig’s heart too.

‘‘I’m so proud of it’ he says, over our first mug of tea. ‘I didn’t even have a copy of it for a long time. For fifteen years I didn’t even have an actual physical copy! And then I got a vinyl copy about four years ago – a friend of mine bought it for me for my birthday, second-hand! It’s actually great to have it again – I think it’s dated all right’’ True, that. The album wouldn’t sound out of place if it was released today. ‘‘The songs were done when I was 16 or 17 and the album came out when I was 18, so yeah I was young – fucking hell! It was unusual for sure but we had been together for a while before the album came out’’

What is striking about the album, both listening to the remastered CD version now and that battered old tape I had all those years ago, is how accomplished it sounds for a band still a few years short of their 20th birthday. Craig sounded like he had been singing and playing guitar for decades and the lyrical themes he touched on belied his tender teenage years. Even the drumming is exceptional from Craig’s younger brother, Keith. So where does a 16 or 17 year old find that creative spark to write such grown-up songs? It seems the inspiration behind it was born from heartbreak.‘‘I got dumped in 1989 for the first time ever – the year before the album came out” he recalls now, with a wry smile. ”The first love of my life…she dumped me and I just retreated to the bedroom and wrote loads of songs about it.’ It seems this girl was unwittingly responsible for an album that people are still praising twenty years on. ‘’A lot of the songs are about her on the album like ‘Stay’ and ‘Never Told You’ and ‘100 Ways To Kill A Love’. I had my heart broken for the first time. It was real big thing for me then as I had never felt emotion like that before and suddenly I had a reason to pick up the guitar’’ Does he think he could be as creative if he wasn’t going through some sort of emotional upheaval in his life? ‘’Well, before, I would sit down and try to write songs and I was thinking ‘what am I going to write this song about’ so the only time to write is when you’re inspired, otherwise you’re trying to write songs to order. I’ve tried it (writing to order) but it’s an indefinable thing trying to write a song. It’s like when your emotions are on a high level, whether it’s sadness, happiness, or whatever but generally it’s when you’re feeling a bit sad that the songs come out.’’

I was always fascinated by the title of the album too – ‘Immigrants, Emigrants And Me’. Did he think the words just sounded well together or was there a deeper significance? Craig reveals that the title was a kind of homage to another excellent indie – band from that period, The Sundays. ‘’The title was actually a nod to ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’ which I thought was completely English. It couldn’t be any more English. Only an English band could get away with that! So I thought ‘What’s Irish and could fit into that?’ And that was that. I was also a big Pogues fan at the time, you can’t really hear it in the music but in spirit they were a big influence. I always loved the Philip Chevron song ‘Thousands Are Sailing’. This whole idea of having wakes for the Irish people before they went off to America because their families would never see them again – that really fascinated me.’’

After the success of ‘Immigrants’ Craig and the band moved to London and  he instantly connected with the city and he would remain there until returning to Dublin a couple of years ago.‘I think I always knew I was going to move away at some point, which I did as I had a fascination with England and its music’ he admits ‘I was obsessed with English music. I remember the first time I went to Camden Town and hanging out and going to see bands there – I just thought that was the best thing as these were the places where The Pistols and The Clash played. It was amazing so it was kind of connected to that.’

It would be easy to be under the impression that Craig can craft perfect indie-pop songs with a kind of effortless ease. There is barely any filler on ‘Immigrants’ or even on its follow-up ‘2 Hell With Common Sense’. On the subsequent albums ‘Positivity’ and ‘Become Yourself’, though patchy, there are still moments of real magic. How easy or difficult does he find the song-writing process? ‘’I’ve had periods where I’ve struggled, for various reasons’’ he says, as he gets up to put on the kettle again. ‘’You get blocks – they’re always a mental block. It’s something that you have set up yourself. You’re thinking: I’ve done that…I can’t repeat that…you can kind of think yourself into a corner with songwriting and end up creating music that you don’t like. And I’ve done it; I’ve done it in the past. You try to make music to please the record company as you think there is a fan base there that might enjoy this and, to be honest, anything that’s done like that will never work. It’s taken me a while to realise that.’’

Around the time Power Of Dreams appeared on the scene in 1990, U2 were going through a transitional phase from the American bombast of Rattle and Hum to that new irony set in the heart of Europe that was ‘Achtung, Baby’. Walker talks of his fascination with English music so did U2 hold any sway with him? ‘’Up until ‘Rattle and Hum’ I totally admired them. Growing up in Dublin, I looked at them and thought: if those four blokes from Dublin can do it and get themselves up to that position, well…it was just really inspiring. They were a big inspiration in that sense. It was possible to be from this little island and end up on fucking Red Rocks. It was like ‘Wow, that’s one of ours doing that’. That was the spur. It was like: if they can do it, fuck it – we can do it too! They were definitely an influence – especially ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, that was a real magical album’’ And who were the other bands, the other albums that informed his taste in music and shaped the sound of Power Of Dreams? ‘’I was a massive Smiths fan – the biggest Smiths fan you could possibly be. Bought all the records before they came out. I would come into town on a Monday to go into HMV on Grafton Street to buy the twelve-inches on the day they were released, rush home and listen to these amazing songs and the B-sides and everything. The best lyricist I have ever heard – I don’t think there is anyone that comes close for me to Morrissey. My brother was a total music fanatic which was great for me. He was five years older and that’s where I did all my learning – through his record collection!’’ he laughs  ‘ABC, Heaven 17, Human League, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen – loved ‘Ocean Rain’, which is one my favourite albums of all time. I discovered The Smiths through him, The Jam through him. The Jam were another amazing band for me – particularly the singles. The first album I ever paid cash for was ‘Sound Affects’ (The Jam’s fifth album) – just great songs, great lyrics. We signed to Polydor because that was The Jam’s label, all those seven inches. And The Who were on it as well. I think England always throws up good music but I don’t hear it now. It seems a little bit dull at the moment’’

After the success of the debut album, the band toured the world before releasing an assured follow-up album called ‘2 Hell With Common Sense’. It’s the sound of a band who had tasted success and seen the world. It was a denser, darker collection of songs but the soaring melodies were still there. ‘It was heavily influenced by My Bloody Valentine’’ says Craig ‘’I was taking loads of ecstasy at that point and listening to ‘Loveless’. I discovered drugs when I discovered ‘Loveless’ really. Ecstasy and My Bloody Valentine are actually a great combination!’’ he laughs ‘’My taste in music was changing at that time, through Kevin Shields in a way. Like a melody doesn’t have to come with an acoustic guitar, it didn’t have to be The Smiths, melody could be part of a real intensity. We spent a lot of time on it, about six months but I don’t think it’s as good as the first album. I would probably have to go back and listen to it again with fresh ears. I was really pleased with it but the thing is it was tainted because we knew the record company were just not into it. And that was devastating to us because it were worked on it for six months.’

It’s at this point that things started to go awry for the band. The record company, sensing the critical plaudits the band were receiving were still not resulting in them become  the next U2, eventually lost interest and decided not to push or promote the album ‘One day a guy from Polydor came down to see us. He sat us down and said: ‘I’ve got some really bad news –  the single has only charted at 46’ but we thought that was something to celebrate! But yes, I was still only 19 and it was big knock to the confidence. Really, really was. It felt like our backs were against the wall and we were in trouble.’’ They soldiered on but Craig knew that this was the beginning of the end for the band. ‘We did two albums on indies after that (Positivity and Become Yourself) which are okay in parts. I sound depressed on them – I sound like how I felt at that time. It felt like career over at 21. It felt like we were being written off and it took me a while for me to get over that. After Power Of Dreams it was extremely difficult to get back in the saddle’ he admits ‘I was so sick of the industry – this business is so fucking ruthless. People who you’ve worked with for two or three years, or whatever, overnight will suddenly stop taking your calls. It was a harsh reality to have to face up to but I kept going’

The band went their separate ways in 1995 but Walker remained in London, to explore new avenues ‘’I stayed on in London and then eventually I got a band called Pharmacy with Ian Olney from Power Of Dreams together but we spent a year rehearsing an album that was never recorded (The record company they signed to went bust). Then I started with (British trip-hop outfit) Archive. It was different but I was really in to it at that point. Did three or four albums with them, a lot of touring, spent a lot of time in the studio. The first single I did with them is sixteen-minutes long! It was a total new adventure for me wth Archive as their way of working was the polar opposite to how an indie band would work or how I would have started out. We would spend six days a week, six months a year in the studio working on songs’’

While he enjoyed working with Archive initially and was happy to be  be part of a band again, he soon tired of their working methods and the inevitable compromises involved when collaborating on music ‘’It was interesting but I wouldn’t want to do it again. I wouldn’t want to spend that much time in the studio again. There were three people creating which is always the wrong number as somebody is always going to feel left out. I had loads of ideas I wanted to get out but there but there wasn’t an avenue for them as the writing had to be shared out. I had been in bands for so long that point that I thought I have to in charge of my own destiny again or settle down and be in this band and be a part of it’’ Eventually he quit the band to concentrate on being a solo-artist. ‘It was a tough descision but I’m glad I did it. I can now work with who I like and whan I like and I have no one telling me if  I can’t do it or if it would piss off the band. Our tastes were different, the direction of the band was going where I didn’t want it to head. It was heading more of a ‘Wall’ phase which was my least favourite phase of Pink Floyd. Roger Waters orbiting his own ego! But I was very proud of the music’’

After he left Archive, there was no new music from Walker until the relesase of his debut solo album ‘Siamese’ last year. It’s an album that shows that Craig’s gift for songwriting is very much intact. It is more low-key than the raucous teenage rock of his old band but Walker is now older, wiser and enjoying creating music again, quietly and on his own terms. ‘’The three key albums for me, if I had to pick three, are ‘Immigrants…’, ‘Noise’ with Archive and this one ‘Siamese’. We took our time on it, it became like a labour of love. I have never spent so long working on an album as in having time to sit back and listen to it. I would have a six-month period to work on just two songs – I wish I could that with all albums! You get to really figure out what you need to do and to see what the next part of the album should be. I’m really proud of it’’

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their debut album, the band are reforming for some eagerly-awaited dates in Ireland and the UK. A 2 CD limited – edition of the album, containing all 14 original tracks plus the  “A Little Piece of God” EP and various b-sides was released earlier this year. Listening to it again, with fresh ears, reiterates what a truly great album it is. The band will play it in its entirety at the gigs. Craig is happy to be back on stage with his brother and friends once again. What have the other members been doing in the intervening years? ‘’Everyone has continued to play music apart from Mick (Lennox) . He’s a promoter and I think he manages bands here in Dublin. He’s still involved in music but on the business side. Ian joined the Sultans and he’s in  band called Red Atlas. He still gigs and is a really solid musician. Keith’s in America and is in a band called The Bollox!’ he says, laughing ‘He’s a great drummer, phenomenal drummer for his age back then  – really solid and fast and I hope he’s still like that!’

For Craig, after the success they enjoyed as teenagers, the touring, the parties, living it up in London and Japan and all points between, he felt the band went out with a whimper rather than a bang. Which means the possibility of a brand new album and maybe a more-term reunion? ‘‘We’ll see how it goes. I’ve got a load of songs that I haven’t used over the years that would sit perfectly on an album. If we get on, it’s a definite possibility – I don’t see why not. I think the first two albums are great but the second two are not so great so I would like the fifth one to be a really good Power Of Dreams album. I don’t like the fact that ‘Become Yourself’ could be seen as the last album as it was not the best album we ever did. If we don’t kill each other we might do it!  For the gigs we are going to the whole of ‘Immigrants…’ and we’ll see what else we will throw in. I think it’s important we play the album in full – we get the sweetest emails from people who either fell in love to it or met each other at a Power of Dreams concert’’

This writer was too young to see the band live first time around. I can’t deny there won’t a few hairs rising on the back of my neck when I hear the opening strum of the album’s first track ‘The Joke’s On Me’ live down in Whelans.  It’s good to be able to talk about Power Of Dreams in the present tense again. Their story may not be over yet.

Ken Fallon

Power Of Dreams play Whelans this Friday, 12th of March which is sold out. A second show for the 14th at the same venue has also been added. They also play Cork’s Pavilion on the 13th and the Spirit Store in Dundalk on the 11th. Craig Walker’s solo album ‘Siamese’ is out now.

www.myspace.com/powerofdreams

http://www.myspace.com/craigjohnwalker

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What, No White Stripes? 100 Best Albums Of The Decade

01. Mogwai The Hawk Is Howling

02. Mark Kozelek April

03. Cat Power – You Are Free

04. Ulrich Schnauss – Faraway Trains Passing By

05. The KnifeSilent Shout

06. EfterklangTripper

07. Boards Of CanadaGeogaddi

08. M83 – Before The Dawn Heals Us

09. Midlake The Trials Of Van Occupanther

10. American Music Club Love Songs For Patriots

11. Fever Ray – Fever Ray

12. DovesLost Souls

13. Willard Grant Conspiracy – Regard The End

14. God Is An AstronautAll Is Violent, All Is Bright

15. MogwaiHappy Songs For Happy People

16. Hope Sandoval and the Warm InventionsBavarian Fruit Bread

17. SparklehorseIt’s A Wonderful Life

18. Ulrich Schnauss – A Strangely Isolated Place

19. EelsDaisies Of The Galaxy

20. PJ Harvey Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

21. Bat For LashesTwo Suns

22. Stars Of The Lid The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid

23. The NationalAlligator

24. Kathleen Edwards Back To Me

25. Explosions In The SkyAll of A Sudden I Miss Everyone

26. The Cinematic OrchestraMa Fleur

27. Telefon Tel AvivMap Of What Is Effortless

28. Ann Scott We’re Smiling

29. RadioheadKid A

30. Primal ScreamXtrmtr

31. Kate Bush Aerial

32. The NationalBoxer

33. MumFinally We Are No One

34. Massive Attack100th Window

35. Aphex Twin Drukqs

36. Sigur Ros( )

37. PortisheadThird

38. KraftwerkTour De France

39. Apparat and Ellen AllienOrchestra Of Bubbles

40. The NotwistNeon Golden

41. LowThings We Lost In The Fire

42. The Postal ServiceGive Up

43. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Nocturama

44. BroadcastThe Noise Made By People

45. The AvalanchesSince I Left You

46. David HolmesBow Down To The Exit Sign

47. Joanna NewsomThe Milk-Eyed Mender

48. SlayerGod Hates Us All

49. The Books Lost And Safe

50. Neil Young Living With War

51. Arcade Fire – Funeral

52. Wilco A Ghost Is Born

53. Von Südenfed Tromatic Reflexxions

54. Gillian Welch (Time) The Revelator

55. Bowery Electric – Lushlife

56. Bon IverFor Emma, Forever Ago

57. Richmond Fontaine – Winnemucca

58. PJ Harvey – White Chalk

59. MIA – Arular

60. M83 – Red Seas, Dead Cities & Ghosts

61. This Will Destroy You – This Will Destroy You

63. Doves The Last Broadcast

64. Bibio Ambivalence Avenue

65. Peter Broderick – Home

66. Mogwai Mr Beast

67. The Handsome Family In The Air

68. Ten Speed Racer10SR

69. Stina Nordenstam The World Is Saved

70. I’m Not A Gun Our Lives On Wednesdays

71. Maps We Can Create

72. Ryan Adams Demolition

73. The FieldFrom Here We Go Sublime

74. Fuck ButtonsStreet Horrrsing

75. Amiina Kurr

76. Murcof Cosmos

77. The Album Leaf In A Safe Place

78. American Music Club The Golden Age

79. EditorsThe Back Room

80. Khonnor Handwriting

81. Ludovico Einaudi –  Divenire

82. Manual Until Tomorrow

83. Mark LaneganField Songs

84. The Shins Wincing The Night Away

85. Stafraenn Hakon Ventill/Poki

86. InterpolTurn On The Bright Lights

87. Efterklang Parades

88. Tortoise Beacons Of Ancestorship

89. I Love You But I’ve Chosen DarknessFear Is On Our Side

90. Bat For Lashes Fur And Gold

91. Jenny Lewis And The Watson Twins – Rabbit Fur Coat

92. To Rococo Rot Hotel Morgen

93. Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun

94. Daft PunkDiscovery

95. Burial Untrue

96. Trespassers WilliamSeeing Stars

97. FenneszEndless Summer

98. Godpseed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

99. Grandaddy The Sophtware Slump

100. ApparatMultifunktionsebene


Cork Rock: From Rory Gallagher To The Sultans Of Ping

There are two songs that I remember from my teenage years that evoke a kind of carefree, youthful abandon. Both songs signified our last hurrahs before the grim reality of adulthood. One was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana. The other? ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’ by The Sultans Of Ping. These two disparate pieces of music, both rock songs yet polar opposites to each other, could bring people together on the teenage -disco dance floor like no other – ‘Teen Spirit’ was angry and cathartic while ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’ was playful and silly. It resonated with the teenagers who were jumping around to it because of those very qualities. It was song about losing your jumper at a disco – possibly a nice, well-fitting jumper that the girl you fancied spotted you in and you desperately wanted back. It was about the nothing and the everything, life-affirming yet throwaway. When I was out jumping around to it as kid, it meant everything, in the same way ‘Teen Spirit’ did. The genius of ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’ lay in its exuberant and childish simplicity. Like ‘Teen Spirit’ it still sounds amazing today.

How this song came about and the coming together of the band that created it is recalled in Cork-based music journalist (and Cluas contributor) Mark McAvoy’s superb new book on the secret history of the Cork music scene: ‘Cork Rock – From Rory Gallagher To The Sultans Of Ping’ (Mercier Press). With a generous amount of first-person quotes from some of the main players (Donal Gallagher, brother and manager of Rory, Cathal Coughlan, the Sultans’ Niall O’Flaherty) McAvoy traces the music scene of his hometown from the showband era of the sixties right up to the present day and in doing so makes a good argument that probably the most memorable and idiosyncratic bands to come out of this small country in the last few decades originated from the banks of the Lee.

There are the bands and musicians that are familiar to many: legendary guitarist Rory Gallagher, who jumped aboard the showband wagon to further his own musical aims; the great Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions and of course the Sultans and the Franks but my favourite passages in the book are when McAvoy reappraises bands that may have slipped under the radar or who existed only briefly on the margins of the Irish or UK music scene. Nun Attax, fronted by Belfast blow-in Finbarr Donnelly, whom McAvoy describes as having, a ‘rather menacing appearance and a confrontational yet humorous persona’ were probably this country’s first significant punk rock band and would prove to be a considerable influence on a young Cathal Coughlan. After splitting up but reforming with some new members under the unusual moniker of Five Go Down To The Sea? (question-mark is intentional, don’t ask), they moved to London and eventually received recognition by the NME. Sadly, Donnelly died in a tragic, if somewhat bizarre, accident in a lake at London’s Hyde Park. Another intriguing band from this period were Stump. Also fronted by a compelling vocalist in the gangly shape of Mick Lynch, Stump garnered some significant success in the UK, appearing on the iconic UK music show The Tube and making the cover of Melody Maker (a BIG thing in those days). To see this weirdly fascinating and probably unique band for yourself, check out the truly extraordinary ‘Charlton Heston’ on YouTube. Stump’s absurdist approach to music would serve as a template for better-known bands that would follow in their wake, namely the Sultans of Ping and the Frank and Walters.

‘Cork Rock’ reminds us just how successful the Franks were in the UK in the early nineties. After moving to London, the weekly music indies Melody Maker and the NME took to the band in a major way, giving their EPs rave reviews which led to appearances on Top of the Pops and The Word and sell-out tours where they were supported by PJ Harvey and Radiohead. Yes, Radiohead. It’s heartening to note that the band is still a going concern all these years later. The Sultans also broke through in the UK around the same time. It seemed that British indie-kids wanted something ‘refreshingly light-hearted’ as McAvoy describes it, as an antidote to the angst-ridden grunge scene and two bands from Ireland’s real capital were providing it in spades. The book also discloses the truth about the location of Sultans front man Niall O’Flaherty’s beloved jumper (how could it not?). The word in Cork was that it was lost at a hip indie-music club called Gigantic but, as O’Flaherty gamely admits, the truth is little more prosaic. In fact, the jumper was misplaced at what seems to be a rather cheesy disco called Spiders. So now you know.

The book neatly concludes with an overview of the Cork scene in recent years. Apart form Fred, it seems the quirky tag associated with Cork music has faded in this decade. Bands like Cyclefly and Rubyhorsewould embrace metal and mainstream rock respectively, both acts achieving some considerable if short-lived international success before going their separate ways. Simple Kid and the criminally underrated Stanley Super 800 are also bands that developed their own identity while still retaining that singular, indefinable quality that makes Cork music so fascinating. One band that rejected the quirky tag outright was the now sadly defunct act Waiting Room, whose inventive and mainly instrumental album ‘Catering For Headphones’ received very positive notices when it was released in 2004. Dave Ahern, a member of the aforementioned band, designed the eye-catching cover for this insightful and well-written book.

Highly recommended.

Ken Fallon

Originally published on Cluas.com.

Things The Grandchildren Should Know

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Over the course of last weekend I read ‘Things The Grandchildren Should Know’ an autobiography of sorts by Mark Oliver Everett, better known simply to his fans as ‘E’ of successful US cult band Eels. I’ve been a fan of his band since hearing the weird, looping sound of ‘Novocain For The Soul’ over ten years ago. It was a strange song. Something about it didn’t sit quite right with me and I think that was what I found fascinating about it. They were, and still are, impossible to pigeonhole. Not quite alternative. Not quite pop. Not really a rock-band. Hell, they’re not even a proper band per se. Eels is basically E and whatever musicians he chooses to work with at a given time. Everett would go on to write ‘Daisies of the Galaxy’ and ‘It’s A Motherfucker’ which are, in my book, probably the two most exquisitely beautiful songs ever written. Songs that are perfect in every way, my desert island discs. You listen to them and everything is all right in the world.

So it’s quite incredible to think that such rare, flawless musical artifacts could come from the mind of someone who has experienced such horrendous personal loss in his life so far, loss he writes about in a disarmingly unpretentious manner in this remarkable book. Where do we begin? Well, his renowned American quantum physicist father Hugh Everett III died suddenly at the young age of 51 when Everett was still a teenager. His troubled, Neil Young-obsessed older sister Liz would go on to take her own life after several failed attempts and finally his mother Nancy would die of cancer. Death follows E everywhere. After he moved to LA, his kindly landlady would pass away, then a close female friend, his roadie, more friends and associates. Just as E believes the Grim Reaper has decided to leave his side for good, death returns in a rather spectacular and scarcely believable way. On September 11th, 2001, his cousin Jennifer and her husband were on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.  If a movie-script were to be written on E’s life, it would never get the green light – too implausible and far-fetched, they would say. But it’s all true. Nearly everyone important to him has died yet E writes so movingly and without self-pity that it never becomes too emotionally overwhelming, as it’s leavened by E’s self-deprecation and dry wit. There are even laugh-out loud moments, especially when he describes how, a few years before her death, his mother acquired a ‘boyfriend’ so old (85) that he actually knew one of the Wright brothers – ‘one of those guys that invented FLIGHT!’. Running concurrently with the story of E picking up the pieces of his life every few years as someone else close to him is dispatched to oblivion, is his struggle to be taken seriously as a musician and all the music-industry bullshit and false dawns that entails. Eventually, he succeeds and Eels are now are one of the most respected acts in the world right now. Against the odds, Everett succeeds and survives and has managed to stay sane and reasonably functional as a human being. He is one of very few people on the planet making money from doing what he loves. It seems like a reward for all the shit he has waded through. Now 46, Everett will release an eagerly awaited new album on June 2nd called ‘Hombre Lobo’. The story continues and is far from over. I hope Everett lives to 100.

Ken Fallon

A Mogwai Weekend

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A couple of weeks ago Glaswegian masters of post-rock Mogwai came to town to play a three-night  weekend residency at the Academy venue on Abbey Street, Dublin. I went to all three as the Mogwai live experience is like no other. I’ve been to a lot of gigs and only My Bloody Valentine can equal the sheer intensity of a Mogwai gig. As a friend said at one of the three gigs – Mogwai never disappoint. It’s true. I’ve seen them eleven times now and they just get better and better. If you go a lot of gigs the thrill of live music can dissipate over time but going to a Mogwai gig is like going to a gig again for the first time. It’s a visceral, immersive, musically dynamic experience. The strange sounds  they wrangle from their guitars. The precise strangely hypnotic drumming. A back catalogue so rich that  there is rarely a fear of a mid-set slump. The volume levels that make your ear-drums swell inside your head, though if truth be told, they’re not as loud as they once were (I was completely deaf for a few hours after seeing them for the first time in 2001). These days, they’re still loud but it’s a contained, structured loudness – not just loud for loudness sake.

But what’s most unique about them is that they’re not slaves to fashion or fads or styles. They don’t have any other agenda. They never appear in their own videos. They’re so ordinary looking even their own fans wouldn’t recognise them on the street. It’s ALL about the music and these gigs just accentuated how gifted they are. They varied the setlist so much that they ended up playing over twenty-five different songs over the three nights. Friday night they rolled out the ear-bleeders: ‘Like Herod’ then ‘Batcat’ and a rare outing for ‘My Father, My King’ as a encore. A shimmering ‘Helicon 1’ is one of the highlights of Saturday’s gig while Sunday night is a quieter affair, with some nice revisits to their bleak masterpiece from 1999 ‘Come On Die Young’

For a band that provide little or no vocals, no visual accompaniment, no rock-star histrionics, no bona fide ‘frontman’ and not much banter with the audience, it’s near-miraculous that they can still be so utterly compelling for two hours. It’s the beauty of the music, each piece of music structured as a musical crescendo that takes you on a journey, however corny that may sound. If each song is carefully and precisely structured for full emotional impact, then the gig as a whole has clearly defined pattern also. With that strategic set-list they keep you in suspense, teasing you with all their more downbeat, gloriously brooding tracks, lulling you into a kind of aural comfort zone until that big, destructive, apocalyptic maelstrom of guitars and drums and squealing feedback at the end that leaves you stunned and floored. It’s a strangely addictive experience. Three nights were not enough.

SETLISTS

Friday

The Precipice/Small Children In The Background/Friend Of The Night/Scotland’s Shame/Travel Is Dangerous/Hunted By A Freak/Thank You, Space Expert/Summer/I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead/Killing All The Flies/Like Herod/Batcat/My Father, My King

Saturday

I’m Jim Morrison,I’m Dead/Friend Of The Night/TN/Scotland’s Shame/I Know Who You Are But What Am I/Ithica/Thank You, Space Expert/Travel Is Dangerous/Hunted By A Freak/Helicon 1/2 Rights Make One Wrong/Ratts Of The Capital/Batcat/Kids Will Be Skeletons/Mogwai Fear Satan

Sunday

Autorock/Hunted By A Freak/Cody/May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door/I Love you, I’m Going To Blow Up Your School/I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead/Christmas Steps/Scotland’s Shame/Friend Of The Night/Killing All The Flies/Thank You, Space Expert/We’re No Here/ You Don’t Know Jesus/Glasgow Megasnake

‘Anvil! The Story Of Anvil’ could change your life.

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A few weeks ago I saw ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil’, the fantastic documentary about Canadian thrash-metal pioneers Anvil,  as part of the brilliant Jameson Dublin Film Festival. On the festival programme it stated that the band would be in attendance, along with the film’s director Sacha Gervasi. Upon entering the cinema however, I saw placed incongruously beneath the massive grey cinema – screen, a drum kit, bass, guitar, mic and some Marshall amps that go all the way up to 11. Not only were they here but  Anvil were going to play live straight after the film! How exciting! Forget 3-D – tonight we were going to witness Anvil step from the screen and materialise before our eyes like some rock ‘n’ roll version of  The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

The film itself follows Robb Reiner (drums) and his best friend and bandmate Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow (vocals, guitar) as they try yet again to resurrect their metal career. In the early eighties they enjoyed some success, playing on the same festival bills as The Scorpions and Whitesnake while their debut album ‘Metal On Metal’ heralded the dawn of thrash metal. In the film Lemmy, Slash, Lars Ulrich and Anthrax’s Scott Ian admit that Anvil were a huge influence but while they took the ‘Metal on Metal’ blueprint and ran with it to achieve long-term success, it appeared Anvil’s brief fifteen minutes of fame came to an abrupt halt and they promptly disappeared. Fast forward to the present and they now have families, live in sensible suburban semi-detached houses and hold down day-jobs they hate yet still hope of hitting the big time again. They track down an old producer and begin work on a new album. They do a tour of Europe organised by a crazy Swiss-Italian woman but no one turns up. They miss their connecting trains. Robb and Lips fight and make up and fight again. It’s at this point you start thinking if it is a mockumentary a la ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. The correlations with that classic film are numerous: references to Stonehenge, the vaguely comical album titles ‘Forged In Fire’, ‘Backwaxed’, ‘Winged Assasins’, the interview in a delicatessen. Most spookily though is that, give or take one B, Robb shares his name with Spinal Tap’s director Rob Reiner! But it’s all real and brilliantly documented by director Sacha Gervasi, who was huge fan of the band as teenager and this film is somewhat of a labour of love for him. It’s heart -achingly sad but also joyously uplifting, affectionate, inspiring and side-splittingly funny.

As the final credits rolled, the band appeared below the screen and launched into ‘Metal on Metal’ and some tracks from new album ‘This is Thirteen’. Lips ran up and down the cinema aisles, fingers frantically whittling up and down his fretboard. Robb banging away on his drums as if still a teenager back at his parents’ basement. It was a surreal experience but a highly memorable one. After the performance, Lips spoke to everyone and Robb quietly signed autographs. I asked Lips how does he still have that unquenchable spirit and positive attitude after all these years (he and Robb are now in their early fifties). The reason he is on this planet is to play guitar in a heavy metal band, he said. He looks at his brother who has a safe job as an accountant, plenty of money in the bank, a safe pension but who’s utterly miserable. There’s no existential angst with Lips however, no regrets, no what-ifs. He knows why he’s here and he loves being alive. How many people can say that? Fundamentally, it’s a film about never giving up. Go see it.

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil’ is currently showing at the IFI and Cineworld, Dublin. Anvil play The Academy, Dublin on June 14th. See you down the front.

School Of Seven Bells pay tribute to MBV in Whelans.

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There’s a song on ‘Alpinisms’ – the debut album of School Of Seven Bells, a nu-gaze band from New York made up of Benjamin Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines and identical twins Claudia and Alejandra Dehez – that is the best homage to the way out sound of My Bloody Valentine since, well My Bloody Valentine. It’s called ‘Face to face on high places’ and it’s very, very good. You don’t listen to it and decry the band for being such copyists. You applaud them for coming up with such a good song that just happens to sounds like an outtake from ‘Loveless’. It’s one of the reasons I went along to see them in Whelans last Monday. Could they replicate the woozy, lazy, shoegazy sound of ‘Alpinisms’ in a live setting? Well, yes actually.

They still look a little unsure of themselves on stage. The beautiful Dehez sisters’ eyes dart around the room alittle self-consciously  : one on keyboards, the other on vocals and guitar. In between is Curtis, eyes down, lost in the music, his previous role in Secret Machines a dimming memory. Behind them there is no drummer which is little disconcerting. And no bass-player. Yet they still manage to propel a rich, full sound however, a sound atop which the twins’ voices sing intertwined, seamless and crystal clear. They play  that song. It sounds great. As does ‘Half Asleep’ which contains the line ‘One day, suddenly, time took a turn that once felt so brief/I blinked to see polite ghosts fading quickly’. Worthy of Auden or Kavanagh is that.  It’s a short set, we forgive them: the tickets were cheap and they have only one album out. They disappear to return to ‘their house party in Swords’.

There is a fine line between homage and unashamed replication. It’s a line most bands don’t see or care about. School Of Seven Bells know where the line is. They take their MBV blueprint and distill something fresh out of it while still sounding like MBV.  They’ve nailed it. They’re good.

‘Half Asleep’