Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Brave Dog Escapes Avalanche

Mr David Gaillard and Ms Kerry Corcoran Gaillard were backcountry skiing in Montana with their dog Oly when disaster struck. An avalanche buried Mr Gaillard, whose last words were to encourage his wife to escape to the nearby trees. When the snow stopped falling, Mr Gaillard had been buried and there was no sign of Ole, who was believed to also have been entombed.

However, four days later the brave little corgi appeared back at the motel where he had been staying with David and Kerry – four miles from the avalanche site. No one knows whether the avalanche somehow missed him, or if he was buried but managed to dig himself out. Either way the return of the brave little dog has been one bright spot in a sad time for the Gaillard family.

More (Christian Science Monitor)

More (Billings Gazette)

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Penguin Excrement Menace For Panda Viewers

The BBC reports that penguins have been defecating on people queuing to see the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo. It appears that the penguins are not jealous of visitors going to see other animals. Rather, the curious birds have merely been climbing on the wall of their enclosure to have a look at the people waiting to see the pandas. Due to an unfortunate design fault that does not inspire confidence in the zoo's ability to adequately house its animals, when the penguins then expel their bodily waste it drops down on the would-be visitors to the pandas.

According to an unnamed visitor who saw someone in front of him struck by the penguin excrement, the guano is "oily and stank of fish" and "looked like it would be really hard to clean off".


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Richard Thompson live – a short review of a concert from last year

I went to see Richard Thompson playing solo in Vicar Street, along with a load of others who were mostly older than me. Result. The support act was a local singer songwriter who was not very good, for all that the audience generally seemed to like her. Fail. Mr Thompson played tunes from his own solo career and one Fairport Convention song written by his former bandmate, the late Sandy Denny. I am relatively unfamiliar with his solo output, but I recognised a few tracks from when I first saw the bearded and bereted sensation some years back, including the wonderful motorbike death tune '1952 Vincent Black Lightning', a track that had me thinking that he should really have thrown one of the similarly themed Shangri-Las songs onto his 1000 Years of Popular Music covers album.

I wrote another, far longer piece about this concert, but I don't think it contained any information not in the above, apart from the quip that I once thought that Fairport Convention had a song called 'Meat On The Ledge', which dealth with the importance of food hygiene.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012


What is Afrocubism? Why, it is collaboration between musicians from Cuba and Mali. Maybe it should just have been called Malicubism, but that does not trip off the tongue the same way. These collaborative Cuban and Malian musicians were playing in the National Concert Hall, where I went to see them. This was ages ago, but I am only getting round to posting about them here now. Such is life.

There was a support act comprising a bunch of Irish fiddle players and a kora* player from Senegal (sadly not playing as Senegal-irelandism). The Irish guys were a group called Fidil, an amiable bunch from Donegal. The kora player was one Solo Cissoko, who played standing up, with straps around his neck to hold the instrument in place. Fidil played Irish tunes, with Solo improvising against them, and Solo played Senegalese tunes with the Irish guys improvising. It all worked very well musically and was an enjoyably interesting melding of traditions.

And so to Afrocubism. I understand that the Buena Vista Social Club project was originally meant to be an African-Cuban hoedown, with the very Malian musicians that we were saying tonight, except that visa faffology prevented the Malians from making the recording sessions. At a conceptual level, the Afrocubism project makes a certain amount of sense, given the long history of cross-fertilisation between African and Cuban music. However, I do not think that historically there has been much interaction historically between Cuban and Malian** music. And I do not think that many people from what is now Mali were transported to Cuba as slaves (as Mali is a bit too far away from the slave ports and a bit too low in population density to be a useful source of slaves), so the ancient African traditions of Cuba must come from elsewhere. And the African country where Cuban music has been most influential, ultimately filtering back to Cuba in a distorted and developed version of its music that proved very influential to Cuban musicians, was the Congo (sometimes also known as DR Congo, Dr Congo, Zaire, the Belgian Congo etc). So my impression is that getting Malian and Cuban musicians to play together is an example of throwing together different traditions as bizarre as getting a load of Irish fiddle players together with a Senegalese kora player. This was something that could only work as a juxtaposition of completely different styles and would not be anything like a joining together of traditions from a shared well of experience***.

And who were these musicians? Well, they were largely people I had never heard of. On the Cuban side, some of the older people were ones who had made their way onto Buena Vista Social Club films and records (the originals of which have somehow not yet crossed my radar). Grizzled old campesino guitar player Eliades Ochoa comes across as someone who surely must have appeared on that record. He also kept it real, Cuban-style, by yapping away to us at great length in largely incomprehensible heavily accented Spanish between each song. Claro, claro. The younger Cubans were broadly playing he kind of instruments you expect from a troupe of musicians from that country. The Malians, meanwhile, were playing a fascinating melange of instruments traditional and modern, with Toumani Diabaté (who is quite famous) on kora and Djelimady Tounkara on electric guitar (and many others on all kinds of things). Toumani Diabaté favoured the sitting down style of kora playing and probably was the person present who spoke the best English, while Djelimady Tounkara's guitar playing seemed intriguingly to reference the Shadows rather than the janglisms of Congolese guitarists****. That said, he sounds a bit more jangly on record.

I suppose in some ways this was like a scaled up version of the Fidil-Solo Cissoko set – they either played Cuban tunes, with colouring from the Malians, or Malian tunes with Cuban colouring. It felt a bit like two world music concerts for the price of one, all very enjoyable. It all worked, without coming across like a forced throwing together of incompatible styles. It was also pretty dance-tastic – by the end of the night whitey was getting down in the aisles, no doubt to the dismay of the National Concert Hall staff.

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* The kora is a tall stringed instrument from West Africa, played upright. You probably know this already.

** Not a lot of people know this, but Africa is divided up into many different countries and regions and does not have a single continent-wide musical tradition.

***after writing the previous paragraph for the readers of Frank's APA I discovered that this Afrocubism thing was not the first instance of Mali-Cuban musical collaboration. Although it is now a democratic country, Mali for a while had the kind of state socialist government seen in Cuba, and there were some cultural exchanges between the countries in the interests of building socialist solidarity and all that. These links seem to have persisted even after the transition in Mali.

**** I always like to think of every village in the Congo having a statue of Johnny Marr in it, with there being some remote areas where he is revered as a deity, but I suspect that the jangly guitar style of that country probably precedes the emergence of the Smiths and influenced Mr Marr, rather than the other way around.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2011 Favourite Albums

I have been thinking about what were my favourite new to me records of 2011. And the following are the ones I came up with. A fuller write-up of these will appear soon in the pages of Frank's APA and ultimately on Inuit Panda. Where possible I have linked back to my original reviews of these records.

Jane Weaver
The Fallen By Watch Bird [2010]

My favourite record is this piece of somewhat psychey neo-folk from Jane Weaver, Bird Records supremo. If strange folky sounds are your thing then check this out.

Bo Hansson
Lord of the Rings [1970]

Mr Hansson wrote his own musical accompaniment to the Tolkien-classic back in the past. He seems a bit more interested in the dark and sinister aspects of the great book.

The Flaming Lips
Embryonic [2009]

Some say that the Flaming Lips have become dull and mainstream. They may not have listened to this.

Broadcast & The Focus Group
Broadcast & The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age [2009]

Spooky electronic music from this interesting collaboration, lent a certain poignancy by the recent death of Trish Keenan of Broadcast.

Dean & Britta
13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol's Screen Tests [2010]

A series of tunes recorded to accompany showings of Andy Warhol screen tests, some covers and some original. Sonic Boom has some production input and it does all end up sounding a bit neo-shoe gaze, but in a good way.

Tom Tom Club
[Untitled First Album] [1982]

Funky side project band from Talking Heads rhythm section, together with input from their friends and relations. Impossible not to like.

Richard Thompson
1000 Years of Popular Music [live] [2006]

Mr Thompson and his two lady friends perform tunes from the last thousand years, including quite a few pop tunes of the last 100 years. Given that this is Richard Thompson we are talking about, most of these songs are a bit sadface.

Black Mountain Transmitter
Black Goat of the Woods [2009]

This seems to be an Irish-made record, so I am for once doing my bit for Team Ireland. It is like a soundtrack to a low budget 1980s horror film, and all sounds vaguely Lovecraftian. Iä! Iä!

Magnet & Paul Giovanni
The Wicker Man OST [1973]

A collection of original neo folkie tunes and creepy instrumental pieces from the film that made people think twice about trips to isolated Scottish islands.

v/a nlgbbbblth CD 11.14: Níl sé anseo [CD-R]

Mr Nlgbbbblth's offering is a rare example of a CD-R that deserves a commercial release, painting as it does a picture of Ireland in the late 1970s and early 1980s from musical pieces, TV jingles, snippets of news programmes, and so on. Also features priests.

v/a Rajasthani Street Music [CD-R]

This is a version of something due to appear on Sublime Frequencies at some stage. It is a selection of pieces recorded by Mr Seb Bassleer on a trip to India and is delightful to the ear.

Thom's Ween TOAD [CD-R]

This CD-R from my old friend and quaffing partner Thom has been my introduction to the music of Ween – and I like it.

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Organisation Man: Chapter 10

In which we make the acquaintance of Claire Maguire and Lexa Hackett. They're new characters, so you don't need to know anything about them.

The Chief was sitting behind his desk, looking perturbed. Things were not going well. To his right, at an adjacent chair, sat Kearney, with the same look of displeasure that he always sported. And in front of the Chief's desk sat two women, their faces suggesting that they shared in the general sense of bad fortune.

"A chailiní", began the Chief, "Ba mhaith liom sibhse atá anseo, ach tá brón orm ar na rudaí atá muid ag caint. An- "

But at this point one of the women interrupted him. Her name was Lexa Hackett, and this is what she said: "Chief, sorry to interrupt, but I went to a Protestant school, and I don't want to sound anti-national or anything, but it would aid my understanding a lot if we were to conduct this conversation in the one of our official languages that everyone here can understand".

The Chief looked somewhat pained, but this did not stop him acceding to her request, albeit without acknowledging it.

"Unfortunate occurrences have unfortunately occurred", he continued. "Ones about which I think we will all be most concerned. You will of course be aware through office gossip that our colleague Barry Ryan is away conducting some fieldwork. You may also have noticed that he has been away for some time now, perhaps thinking that his mission was a long one. Well, I can reveal to you that it was nothing of the short. We expected him back long before now, but he has not returned".

"I see", said the other woman, whose name was Claire Maguire.
"Have we heard anything from him?"

"No, we have not", the Chief answered. "Not a peep. It is most disturbing".

"Mr Ryan seems to have vanished", said Kearney. "We sent him to London, to execute a task arising from a previous mission there. But he has not returned and he has not sent us any message".

"Well, could he just be taking his time?" asked Hackett. She had the impression that Ryan was something of a slow worker.

"I said that he seems to have vanished", said Kearney, glacially. "We made inquiries through the usual consular channels. He checked into the hotel we had booked for him, but he did not show up for breakfast and was not seen there again".

"It is most untoward", said the Chief.

"Again, through consular channels we contacted the British authorities to see if they knew anything of the Ryan's whereabouts. Though of course we gave them the name he was travelling under. They knew nothing, beyond his seeming to have vanished from the hotel. Or nothing they were letting on".

"I think they know more than they are telling us", said the Chief. "That's the way the Brits like to play it".

"And has London Station been of any assistance here?" asked Maguire.

"No", answered Kearney. "We do not want to risk compromising them in this matter".

"So where do we fit into this?" asked Hackett, though she already knew the answer.

"You're two clever girls" answered Kearney, permitting himself a slight smile. "I'm sure you can work it out".

"In a nutshell", continued the Chief, "We want you to go to London and find out what has happened to Ryan. And we are giving you full discretion to sort it out. I know some people here like to moan about the Organisation, but one thing that we have always prided ourselves on since long before I rose to this position, it is this – we never leave one of our own behind. So if you can extract Ryan, do it. If you find where he is, but can't get him out, let us know and we will ransom or exchange him".

"And there's another thing, of course", said Kearney. "The Organisation does not tolerate turncoats".

"Yes, I think that is something we can all agree on", agreed the Chief. "If you find that Ryan has gone over to the Opposition, well, I think you will know what to do".

Hackett and Maguire looked at each other.

"You know what I mean, girls?" said the Chief, trying to sound as ominous as possible. "Make sure he tells no more of our secrets, one way or another".

"I hope it won't come to that", said Maguire. Hackett nodded her head in agreement.

"It won't come to that", said the Chief, trying to lift the mood. "I know Barry Ryan, I know the kind of lad he is – he's an Organisation man through and through. He won't let us down. Just concentrate on finding him and bringing him home".

"But", said Kearney, now definitely smiling, "if he has turned, you will have to sort him out".

"Now girls", said the Chief, smiling and trying to sound as cheerful as possible when you have just asked someone to be ready to kill one of their colleagues should the situation warrant it, "I have some important matters to attend to, but Mr Kearney here will be able to fill you in on everything you need to know before you head off on your mission. But I'm sure I can count on you. I think I can safely say that you are the two best girls we have working here".

"Thanks Chief", said Hackett, trying to sound only partially sarcastic. "You can rely on us".

"And Miss Maguire", the Chief continued, "I believe you are the most senior girl here, so I am appointing you commander of the mission".

"I'll do my best", said Maguire.

"Aye aye skipper", agreed Hackett. The Chief looked quizzically at her.

Kearney stood up and moved towards the door out of the Chief's office. "Come this way, please", he said. Hackett and Maguire followed him to his office. Once they had left the room the Chief took the newspaper back out from his briefcase and went back to the crossword.

Kearney briefed Hackett and Maguire on Ryan's first trip to London – why they had sent him over and what he had done there. He described the salient points in Ryan's report of his trip and his encounter with Agaskayon, and then he gave them a copy of the report to read at their leisure; likewise with his own report on his debriefing session with Ryan. He outlined to the two women the practicalities of their trip to London – how they would travel over, what names would be on their travel documents, how much money they would be able to bring, and so forth. He also flagged to them that Ryan had been working on another matter for the Chief before the passport issue had come to light.

"I don't think it's relevant to the matter in hand", he said. "In fact, I think it's little more than a wild goose chase. I mean, an enemy spy ring using a music publication to transmit intelligence, how likely is that. But you know how the Chief is on things that take his fancy. And you should still look into it. Just in case". He gave them a passkey to Ryan's lockers and said that he had arranged their access to his computer files.

Kearney also made clear that his opinion of Ryan differed somewhat from that of the Chief. "You will have heard the Chief sing Barry Ryan's praises", he said. "You will not hear anything of the kind from me. It is quite possible that Ryan's cover was blown and he was taken out by the Opposition. Or maybe he has indeed gone over and is even now selling us out to the Brits. But I think it is far far more likely that he just made a stupid mistake and fell into a hole he couldn't climb out of. But keep your minds open to all possibilities".

On leaving Kearney the two went and poked around Ryan's computer and in his desk locker. "Here's that music thing", said Maguire, pulling out the dog-eared sheaf of stapled papers from under a stash of used envelopes. She held it by the spine to see where it flopped open.

"Let's have a look at it", said Hackett. They started to read.

"The real daddy of the funny vocal music was one Dylan Nyoukis. He just stands on stage and makes funny noises, without any obvious sign of electronic treatment or sampling. He had already started when I came into the Dock he had already started, and for the first few minutes I did find myself wondering whether this really was the kind of nonsense that gives avant-garde music a bad name. But then I noticed that some of the small children present were laughing their heads off at him (in a good way), so started appreciating what he was doing on a less poncily cerebral level. What he does is both very impressive and very entertaining, though one might argue that he sails a bit close to the ethnically stereotyping wind.

"When Mr Nyoukis finished his performance, some people suggested that he had not played for long enough, with the small children being particularly vehement on this point. So he invited anyone who wanted to have a go up on stage, and they (children and adults) all shouted away for a couple of minutes. It was a bizarre moment.

"What I think was striking about all the voice stuff in general was how high quality it was. One could easily imagine some chancer being inspired by this kind of thing to get up onstage and start making ugly grunting noises in the hope of finding themselves added to the bill of some weirdo music festival, but all the voice performers had an air of polished technique that buried any "Sure anyone could do that" scepticism. This was especially true of Jennifer Walshe, for all my ambivalence about how her work fitted with that of Tony Conrad.

"Another big element in the festival's line-up was what might broadly be called psych-rock. Or just rock. Dublin band Seadog did their twin-guitar thing, managing to sound like a post-rock Thin Lizzy with occasional nods towards the motorik sounds of Neu!. I liked them a lot… must establish whether I did actually buy one of their albums which I then never got around to listening to.

"GNOD were also entertaining with their tunes calling to mind the likes of Hawkwind and other purveyors of weirdo space rock. Their line-up was rather large, and it was noticeable that it included quite a few of the odd festival characters who had been wandering around at Hunters Moon beforehand. Their drummer swigged from a flagon of cider while playing, and looked momentarily non-plussed when it seemed to have been moved beyond his reach by one of the other members of the band… fortunately he was then able to access his backup drink source, a bottle of Jägermeister.

"GNOD also saluted the passing of the great Jimmy Saville by incorporating the
Jim'll Fix It theme into their set".

"Do you think there might be anything to this?" asked Maguire.

This question will be answered in the amazing part 2 of chapter 10, which is coming your way real soon.

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