Thursday, August 29, 2013

Film: "Beware of Mister Baker" [2012]

This is a documentary film about the drummer Ginger Baker. The title comes from a sign by the gate of his compound in South Africa. It begins with a bit of a conversation between the film director and Mr Baker, who is now pretty old and walks with a stick. The conversation turns into a disagreement, whereupon Baker starts laying into the director with his walking stick. That sets up the film's view of Ginger Baker as an ornery character prone to sudden and irrational rages, a man inclined to alienate people who might help him. The film itself then goes on to largely present the other side of the story - Baker as the musical genius, possibly the greatest rock drummer of all time. But the film keeps nodding to Baker's self-destructive side - not just his cantankerous rage, but his problems with drug addiction and unwise business decisions.

The film is very well made, an impressive mix of archive footage and interview material, both with Baker himself (a surprisingly engaging interviewee, for all his grumpiness) and then with various other figures - family members and past musical collaborators (pretty much all of whom have fairly problematic relationships with Baker), with good use of animation for sequences that would otherwise just be a visually unappealing montage of talking heads. But there was a slight problem with the film that had me doubting its veracity and wondering how accurate its portrayal of Baker was. Basically, any time we had the director providing narration or asking Baker questions, I found that he (the director, one Mr Jay Bulger) came across a bit of dick. If I was being asked questions continuously by this guy I would probably have got a bit annoyed over time and I could imagine finally cracking and laying into him, for all that I am not a man known for his violent tendencies (any of those people I have hospitalised in fights will testify that they started it). Still, I feel bad saying that, because for all that I found Bulger's manner irritating, it's not like I know him or anything, and he has made a great film.

The film as a whole follows Baker's career from his early years and rise to prominence as drummer with Cream. After that we get a succession of bands, wives and countries, as things do not work out for Baker somewhere and he has to hightail it somewhere else. Financial travails remain an ongoing theme. At one point during the discussion on Cream it is mentioned that all the Cream song-writing money goes to Jack Bruce and some other guy who wrote the lyrics, with the result that Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker have made relatively little money out of that popular bands' recordings. This is presented as a terrible injustice and a reflection of how unfairly the music industry is biased against drummers and in favour of melody writers (a point reinforced by Stewart Copeland of the Police, who pops in to have an implicit moan about his band's melody writer). But two things struck me. Firstly, a more astute player would have negotiated a deal before Cream was formed that songwriting credits would be split three ways. Secondly, even if Baker had made loads of money on Cream he would probably have blown it all. Later in the film he plays in a Cream reunion concert, pocketing some $5,000,000 for his trouble; this money is all gone a couple of months later.

With many music documentaries, the recurring plot is about the musician who ruined themselves with drøgs. Baker did have his problems in that area (notably a long addiction to heroin), but what seems to really have ruined him was a love of horses. While living in Nigeria (he was mates with Fela Kuti) he somehow developed an interest in polo, joining the local polo club and then starting to buy and breed horses for the sport. This basically was a disaster for him - hanging out with the polo set alienated him from the more radical associates of Fela Kuti, while horse-breeding proved to be a money-pit into which Baker spends the rest of the film throwing away his cash. Don't do horses, kids.

Still, for all Bakers' grumpiness, problematic relationships with family members, business travails and so on, it is really the music that will stick in my mind from this. Before seeing this, I only really knew Baker as the drummer with Cream and as someone who played with Hawkwind for a short period (an episode not mentioned in the film, apparently because Bulger does not like Hawkwind - see, I told you he was a gobshite). The film uses a lot of footage of Baker playing to bring home what a great player he is. So we see him in action with Cream, but also in Nigeria, playing in the States with jazz drummers (in drummer face-offs, clearly the best thing ever if you like two drummer action), with his son (another drummer), and so on. Possibly the most intriguing music in the film for me was that of Ginger Baker's Air Force, a large ensemble he formed after Cream and Blind Faith broke up. Although I do not think he had made contact with Fela Kuti at that point, there seemed to be a real Afro-Beat vibe to this, with its brass and poly-rhythms, and I found myself thinking I would like to hear more of it.

One final oddity. I reckon the only interviewee in the film who unproblematically has good things to say about Ginger Baker is… John Lydon, who talks about him as an inspirational figure and someone who was great to work with. But then the film says nothing whatsoever about their musical collaboration. Further research revealed that he did indeed play drums for a couple of tracks on Album (now available as Download?), though apparently he never actually met Lydon during the recording process.

image source

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More analogue photography

I took some more pictures with my wonky Holga camera. Some of them are of cats, feral and domesticated.

Eager cats

Furtive cat


Others were of things seen on the streets of Dublin.

Fence doll

Street art

As is traditional with cheap film cameras, I accidentally exposed one frame twice.

Double Exposure!

And I clipped the top of an object I was photographing.

head cut off


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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When Museums Expand

Jewish Museum exterior
The Portobello area in Dublin was once the centre of the city's Jewish community. With the passage of time, that community has moved away from the area, leaving two relics of its presence behind. One is the Bretzel bakery, which continued to obtain kosher accreditation for its products long after it came into non-Jewish ownership. The other is the Irish Jewish Museum, located on Walworth Road, a quiet residential street.
"No to the un-neighbourly over-development"
There are plans afoot to expand the Jewish Museum. They seem to be meeting opposition from some people in Portobello. Walking around the area, one can see posters opposing the expansion stuck to trees and lampposts. They are also visible in the windows of many houses, including houses beside and across from the museum on Walworth Road itself.
Beside the Museum
It is hard to know what to make of all this. On the one hand, the posters do suggest a certain petty-minded nimbyism. Yet they are right to say that Portobello is a quiet neighbourhood, and having lived next door to a building site myself once I know how disrupting a large construction project can be. But there is still something a bit disturbing about the posters. Ireland is a country with planning rules and procedures, so if people have legitimate concerns about the expansion project there are channels through which they can contest the process. The anonymous posters seem a bit creepy. They call to mind the less enlightened past when members of the Jewish community had to endure persecution and hostility from their non-Jewish neighbours. In this conext, I wonder if it is significant that the various posters keep referring to the "Walworth Road Museum", never mentioning its Jewish character.
"No to the un-neighbourly expansion"
For all that, I am myself ambivalent about the expansion of the museum. As it stands, the museum is one of Dublin's little gems and my fear would be that any expansion would remove its appealing character. From one report in the media, it seems that the original synagogue inside the museum is to be demolished and reconstructed, which arguably would affect the site's authenticity. I would also have concerns that the general expansion could sterilise a museum that currently is a direct relic of the community that once lived around it. But I have not studied the expansion plans and so cannot say whether these concerns are justified. In any case, if there is to an Irish Jewish Museum anywhere, expanded or not, Portobello is the place for it.
"Save our neighbourhood"

Residents appeal against redevelopment of Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin (Irish Times)

Proposed expansion to Irish Jewish Museum (from the Come Here To Me blog about Dublin life and culture)

In Dublin’s Little Jerusalem, Museum Begins Expansion (Irish America)

Irish Jewish Museum website

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Residents to appeal decision

Monday, August 26, 2013

E is for 'Ebeneezer Goode'

This is a track by The Shamen. It was released as a single in September 1992 and also appears on their album Boss Drum. The Shamen were on a bit of an upswing at the time. Partly the world had caught up with their electronic dance music sound, but I think also they had managed to craft their work into something sufficiently polished to attract daytime radio play.

By this point Will Sin, one of the classic Shamen duo, had died in a drowning accent in the Canaries. The reconstituted Shamen comprised Colin Angus (the other one of the duo) on music and one Mr C on rapping, with various other musicians and singers on bits and bobs. I think I saw this line-up, pre-'Ebeneezer Goode' at Glastonbury in 1992, and I did not like it. My recollection is that Mr C was annoying and that their "raved up" music attracted a rather unruly element to hear them play.

But 'Ebeneezer Goode' changed my tune. The track is a euphoric up-tempo dance tune, but what really makes it is the contribution of Mr C. He raps the tale of some shifty promoter from the early days of rave, the eponymous Mr Goode, but to anyone with half a brain this promoter is more than that - he is a human stand in for the popular dance drøg Ecstasy. Mr C raps about how this Mr Goode character is responsible for all the good times on the dance scene, that he is perhaps a bit edgy and must always be respected for all that he is the main geezer and a real crowd pleaser. And the chorus, where even the especially hard of thinking must have started wondering if there was something else going on:

"Eezer Goode! Eezer Goode!
He's Ebeneezer Goode!"

In the ponderous words of Wikipedia, "the first part […] is audibly identical to, "E's are good" – 'E' being common slang for the drug ecstasy". Despite this, the song went to number one, was played on the radio and the Shamen even got to perform it on Top of the Pops (it is said that Mr C told the BBC that his cries of "Underlay! Underlay!" were not a nod to Speedy Gonzales and amphetamine use but rather a "gratuitous rug reference").

I suppose this was the moment when all this crazy dance music started being semi-respectable and impressionable young people started thinking that it might be worth engaging with, and perhaps, just perhaps, this mysterious death drøg Ecstasy might itself be worth giving a go.


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Friday, August 23, 2013

I went to Cork

Cork is Ireland's second largest city. It has everything Dublin has, and more. I went there and took some pictures.

Found.. is being well looked after
Someone found a dog. It is being well looked after.

I also went up Shandon Hill. This is a mysterious old neighbourhood to the north of the city centre.

Mother Jones
I saw a plaque to Mother Jones, the American labour activist. She was born in Cork.

Fishy Church
Shandon is famous for the church at the top of the hill, over which there is a weathervane in the shape of a fish. I have long suspected that the church serves a congregation of Deep One hybrids.

There were loads of flags flying from ropes connected to the church.

Loads of flags.

I did not photograph anywhere else in Cork.


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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Film: "A Field in England" (2013)

This is the latest film from that Ben Wheatley guy, who made Kill List, which I have yet to see.

This one is set during the English Civil War (actually during the Second Civil War, history fans, as there is a reference at one point to the Engagers; see dull historical note below), which made it essential viewing for me as that is one of my most beloved periods of history. It focuses on four guys pegging it from a battle (battle not shown for budgetary reasons). Three of them are soldiers and the other is something else - some kind of scholarly servant of someone who has had things taken from him. Quite what he is doing in the battle in the first place is not adequately explained, like much of what happens in the rest of the film.

The four guys tramp across some fields looking for a pub one of them reckons is in the vicinity, but then a series of transitions occurs. One of the four is not what he seems. A fifth character appears, one with his own sinister agenda. There is a wonderfully horrible scene in which he takes the scholar into a tent and does something to him, something that makes him scream while the others stand outside looking horrified. Then the stranger brings out the scholar who seems physically unharmed, yet somehow transformed.

The film is notable for its strange logical leaps and discontinuities. The characters are doing one thing - and then they are doing something else. Some events occur that do not seem to make any sense at all (like the rope they are all pulling on at one point, what was that all about?) And there are a series of odd tableaux in which they seem to be posing like characters in a painting for the camera (of which some feature in the clip above). In these regards it reminds me more of a continental European arthouse film of the 1970s more than anything else being made around now.

What it does have is a great visual look. It is filmed in black and white, which suits the odd and surreal nature of the film (though lurid colour probably would have done the same). The baggy 17th century costumes are wonderfully realised and did have me thinking that it would be great if people started dressing like that again. And there is a fantastic representation of the effects of imbibing magic mushrooms (it is that kind of film).

The sound is also intriguing. There is some old English folk music, sung by the character themselves. The overall soundtrack mixes in folky motifs with orchestral and electronic sounds to create a generally disconcerting aural environment, mirroring the fear and confusion of the characters. The soundtrack is mostly by Benjamin Power, but a pre-existing piece by Blanck Mass called 'Chernobyll' also makes an appearance.

Overall, this is an intriguing if perplexing film. I think it is one best appreciated by people who enjoy the feel and atmosphere of films rather than their simple plots.

Dull Historical Note

The First English Civil War is the famous one in which the armies of the King and Parliament laid into each other at such battles as Edgehill, Marson Moor and Naseby. Parliament allied with the Scots and eventually overwhelmed the King. He surrendered to the Scots and they handed him over to Parliamentary forces.

The Second Civil War was an attempt by the King's party to reverse the results of the first. English Royalists staged a number of uprisings. The imprisoned King also reached a secret alliance (known as the Engagement) with some of the Scots. This Scottish faction, known as the Engagers, sent an army into England. However the Parliamentary armies were able to crush the Engagers and the English Royalists, after which the King was put on trial and executed.

None of this historical information is needed to enjoy the film; I have merely posted it to show how clever I am.

Image source

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Monday, August 19, 2013

The shortest way with unruly children

Burying beetles are one of those insect species where mothers take an interest in the early lives of their offspring, bringing their larva tasty treats to eat. Hungry larvae pester their mothers for food, as is the case with many other species. Scientists have discovered, however, that exasperated burying beetle mothers have a direct punishment for any of their young who beg too much for food - they eat the greedy little bastards.

"It's the only language they understand", commented a burying beetle mother, whose young are careful to only beg for food when they are very very hungry.

Scientists have cautioned against a similar approach being applied to human offspring.


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My Life in Music

In the pages of Frank's APA I somehow found myself reminiscing on music and my early life. Read on to join me in a trip down memory lane.

My recollection is that my parents did not listen to music that much when I was young, though the things they did listen to they listened to a lot. So I remember my dad having a Neil Diamond compilation that he played all the time. My dad had - and has - a fondness for extreme heat, so I associate the Neil Diamond record with sitting in a stifling hot front room on a Saturday evening. My dad also had some tapes of music by Planxty that would get played in the car. I remember being a bit scandalised by some of the risqué lyrics.

My parents had some older vinyl records, which we would listen to on a Dansette that was given to my sister and I when my dad got himself a more advanced sound system. I think these included a couple of musical soundtracks, with a cast recording from a stage production of The Sound of Music particularly sticking in my head.

At some point I started developing my own interest in music and mastered the art of taping songs off the radio. However, I was only able to do this for a while, as before too long the taping facility of my dad's sound system packed in. If those tapes still existed and were playable they might be an interesting record of my own pop tastes back in the early 1980s.

What might be especially fascinating would be the tracks I taped from when one of the pirates counted down through the songs its listeners had voted as their favourites, a concept that was entirely new to me at the time. I was very excited by this and expected that it would reveal the official greatest songs ever. I can still remember some of the songs in the top ten, and they were a pretty sorry bunch of late 1970s softy rock - 'Lying Eyes' by The Eagles, 'Follow You Follow Me' by Genesis, shite like that. But the number one track was 'Stairway to Heaven', and I think this would have been the first time I heard it.

The first record I ever bought with my own money was a cassette of Adam and the Ants' Prince Charming. But more iconic for me is my first vinyl album, a second hand copy of Geoff Love and His Orchestra's Star Wars and Other Space Themes (officially the first record I bought with my own money, though a cassette copy of Prince Charming by Adam And The Ants may actually have that honour). This is an odd record. Geoff Love (and his orchestra) play a number of themes to science fiction films and TV programmes. In several cases, they rearrange the tracks into disco tunes. At the time, this rather annoyed me, but now it is a key part of why this record has remained in my collection. The cover is also amusing; the record company clearly did not have permission to reproduce identifiable material from the various films and programmes, so the cover shows things that look similar to but not too like recognisable space ships and characters.

In secondary school I did not really hang out with the kewl kids who liked kewl music, so I did not pick up anything from them. Most of my friends were largely indifferent to music although one of them was a bit more seriously into it, though his tastes failed to rub off on me. As I grew older I remember getting a number of records as Christmas presents, because I asked for them - the likes of U2's Unforgettable Fire, The Very Best of Christ de Burgh (pre-'Lady in Red'), Kate Bush's The Whole Story, Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms and, on cassette, Talking Heads' Little Creatures. A copy of Tchaikovsky's Romeo & Juliet had also come into my life. I remember also having a strong interest in musicals around this time, largely through being in them at the time and having naïve aspirations towards writing them with a more musically talented schoolmate.

Time passed, I went to college, and I met the people who became more formed influences on my musical taste. For some reason it was only at this point that I registered the existence of the music press. Not too long after leaving college I joined Frank's APA, a collective of people who have remained the biggest shaper of my musical interests.

Neil Diamond His 12 Greatest Hits

The Very Best of Chris de Burgh

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Live at the RDS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Neil Young & Crazy Horse played a lot of feedback heavy electric tunes. This annoyed members of the audience who were hoping for non-stop acoustic Neil action, but it pleased more forward thinking members of the audience. Towards the end of the concert a man sitting a bit away from me did something funny.

I went to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse playing in the open-air bit of the RDS, one of the few Dublin venues I had not previously been to. I went with some foreboding - the RDS has a reputation for dreadful sound, and I would also have to go on my own, with all the risks of terrifying social alienation that involves. But I resolved to give it a go anyway, partly driven by a listen or two to the likes of Rust Never Sleeps.

I missed the first act on the bill, some local act who would have played to a near empty arena after the gates opened. I did catch some of Los Lobos, who were playing as I arrived and acclimatised myself to sitting up in the stands and reflecting on how far away the stage was. So I found their set slightly alienating.

Initially they seemed to be not that great, serving up what seemed like an unexciting stew of old school rock 'n' roll of a kind you can hear from any rock standards covers outfit. But as their set progressed I liked them more. Maybe I was just overcoming that stadium rock alienation, but their playing some Tex-Mex numbers finally brought forth their unique selling point. They also played a Johnny Thunders cover and finished with a storming version of 'La Bamba', dealing with the one-famous-song problem by basically singing the lyrics to an entirely different tune, in this case 'Like a Rolling Stone'. The latter part of their set also featured a red-haired woman in a red dress and boots dancing below on the pitch, more or less alone. This will be one of the abiding visual memories of the event for me.

After that I got talking to another person attending on his own who was stuck in beside me in Billy No Mates corner (the event had reserved seating). I initially thought he was a bit odd (no sane man goes to a stadium concert alone), but then discovered him to be an interesting enough character, someone who liked music a lot, albeit music very different to what I go for myself. I tend to think of stadium rock attendees as being people who go to one or two gigs a year, but he seemed to go to loads and would travel to catch favourite bands who were not playing Ireland. And he had basically come to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse on spec, not really knowing their music that well but wanting to cross a legend off the list.

The Waterboys were the main draw for my neighbour, being one of his favourite bands, and they were on next. I was not excited about seeing them but I liked them a lot more than I expected to. They had an impressive stage presence and appeared to have successfully integrated traddy elements into a big rock sound, with Steve Wickham's fiddle taking the place of lead guitar in several of the songs. And they also reminded me of how many catchy tunes they have - aside from bunjo anthem 'Whole of the Moon', there were such toe-tapper sing-a-longers as 'Fisherman's Blues', 'A Girl Called Johnny' and 'Don't Bang the Drum'. They also had a few songs that saw Yeats poems set to new bluesy music, which I found surprisingly un-embarrassing.

All in all I was impressed by the Waterboys and found myself (gasp) contemplating the vague possibility of listening to them on record.

And then Neil Young & Crazy Horse. For the benefit of people who live under a stone, Neil Young is a Canadian musician who sings and plays guitar, and Crazy Horse are his sometime collaborators, associated with Young's more hard rockin' musical efforts. When they all came onstage I was so far away that it took some time to work out which of the people onstage was Mr Young (it was the guy in black). And from the word go, it was clear that this would be would be be a no-frills show. I had already seen that there would be no big screens, but there was also no big light show (perhaps because it was still bright when they started). It was just some old guys on stage, rocking hard.

They opened with something from Ragged Glory, from the get-go opting for a rough and distorted sound (helped by the sonic problems for which the RDS is famous). I somewhat think of Ragged Glory as being only alright rather than awesome, but the tracks from it worked well live, being very suitable for a Crazy Horse chugathon.

Over the whole concert they did not play that many individual songs, with each tune being stretched out by soloing and/or false-endings that led into prolonged feedbacky messing. Some people liked this, some people did not. I loved it, obv., and the two mad for it older women in front of me seemed to be enjoying the rocking out, but quite a few attendees felt the lack of the nicey acoustic songs from the likes of Harvest.

Things became seriously hairy with a song the Internet suggests is the currently unrecorded 'Hole in the Sky'. As the song came to what would normally have been its end, the band launched into what became some ten minutes of feedback and tuneless guitar noise. I thought this was the best thing ever, but quite a few members of the audience actively hated it, with some slow hand claps and the like coming from further up the stands behind me. Other people were just a bit bored - you could hear the kind of crowd noise you get when people lose interest and start talking to their mates.

What this all reminded me of was something like the first time My Bloody Valentine did The Holocaust, before it was something expected, when it was still something that would have audiences reacting with confusion and awkwardness. Both then, and with Neil Young & Crazy Horse, there must have been people thinking "Holy Jesus, are they going to keep doing this for the rest of the night?" (to which I would have said, "Bring it on!").

Eventually that stopped and almost as a concession to the hostiles Young switched into solo acoustic mode, doing one of his own nicey songs and then treating us to a cover of 'Blowin' in the Wind'. The nod to Dylan may have been meant to remind more astute attendees of how Bob had once upset his fans by going electric. Either way it settled the more contrary members of the audience. "Now that's proper Neil Young!" commented a previously disgruntled character sitting near me.

This acoustic interlude provided a perfect opportunity for me to avail of the facilities. On returning, I found that Crazy Horse were back onstage and the concert was electric once more. There was no repeat of the extended messy feedback outro from before the break, but it all remained rather ragged. The disgruntled character mentioned above became disgruntled once more and took to booing at the end of every song, though he was drowned out by others' applause.

One great thing was a performance of 'Fucking Up' from Ragged Glory, which featured this big long bridge where it all went surprisingly funky on us (or as funky as a load of old white rockers can be, you dig?). My sense is that the crowd generally loved it, but the grumpy guy was not having it. As the song ended and people were applauding he booed a bit and then called out to like-minded souls, "Am I missing something? It's not just me, is it?" His wife was embarrassed.

After a storming version of 'Hey Hey, My My' the band went off and then came back for an encore. By now, a lot of the lightweights had left, realising that they were not going to be getting 'Heart of Gold' or 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart'. Mr Grumpy himself got bored with his booing and made his way to the exits as the opening chords of 'Cortez the Killer' started to waft through the stadium… only to suddenly appear back at his seat after the vocals had started.

"It's my favourite song!" he exclaimed.

And that, pretty much, was that. I had a ball, enjoying both the music and the confrontational nature of the performance.

As a treat for anyone who has made it this far, here is a live recording of 'Hey Hey, My My', apparently made on the Ragged Glory tour in 1991; it features the most rock and roll audience reaction shots ever filmed:

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Friday, August 16, 2013

The Lion-Dog of China

Visitors to a Louhe city zoo in China's Henan province were looking into the cage labelled "African lion", perhaps thinking the beast inside was smaller than expected, when the animal astonished them by making a noise. However, instead of making a majestic roar, the cage's occupant let out a bark. Investigations revealed that it was not actually a lion, but a Tibetan mastiff, a large and hairy breed of dog, whose head hair could perhaps be mistaken for a lion's mane if you had only ever read descriptions of that fearsome feline's proud coiffure. The zoo's lion had been taken away to a breeding facility and the mastiff placed in its cage because of "safety concerns".

Elsewhere in the zoo, another dog was in an enclosure labelled as a wolf, while a leopard's cage was found to contain a fox.

For all that this is basically being presented as a comedy story, the grim-looking cage shown in the picture, coupled with the falling apart sign, suggests to me that this is one of those zoos based on earning a quick buck from animal cruelty. I hope it is shut down and its inmates moved somewhere nicer, released back into the wild (where appropriate), or else humanely killed.


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Daft Punk "Random Access Memories" (2013) - a preliminary non-review

I bought this with a record token for Golden Discs that my sister gave me - yes, readers, Golden Discs still exists. I have listened to the whole record a bit and need to do so more to form a considered opinion. 'Get Lucky' I have already listened to a lot on my iPod. You have probably heard this too. I like its yearning vocals and its Nile Rogers guitars and feel that it will go down as the emblematic tune of 2013 even for people who hate it (kind of like the way 'Crazy in Love' was in whatever year it came out).

That said, I can see why 'Get Lucky' and the album as a whole is being seen as problematic in some quarters. Random Access Memories seems like little more than a pastiche of music from the past rather than any attempt to make anything new or contemporary. When the past music you are pastiching is disco (as opposed to, say, 1980s softie metal) this is not an entirely bad thing. Nevertheless, it lays bare how the creative well has run dry, leaving today's musicians unable to do anything but endlessly recycle the past.

There may be people in the world who have never heard 'Get Lucky'.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

New small but fierce animal discovered in Ecuador

Scientists have discovered a new fierce little animal living in Ecuador. It is the Olinguito, described by the Guardian as "a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat". The odd thing about these fellows is that they were not unknown to science - specimens have been exhibited in museums and a female Olinguito called Ringerl spent many years living in the zoo system of the United States. But scientists had previously mixed up the Olinguito with the Olingo, an entirely different animal (which explains why zoos were unable to persuade Ringerl to breed, as they kept trying to mate her with Olingos).

The Olinguito is classed as a carnivore, meaning that it belongs to the order Carnivora with dogs, bears, lions, cats and other fierce animals. However, Olinguitos primarily eat fruit, though they are still very fierce for their size.


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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Live Music: White Hills / Twinkranes

I mentioned that I went to see the popular film Good Vibrations. When I left the cinema, I found myself brimming over with fondness for the world of live music, so I decided to go and see the a concert that night by White Hills and Twinkranes. This was in the Grand Social. And I went alone - that's how crazy for rock and roll I am.

Twinkranes are a local band. They used to comprise two members of a previous band called The Transformers, who may have been made up by advertisers to sell some kind of product and were most famous for having funny haircuts. This time round they had lost one of the funny haircut people and now were a two piece, comprising the blond haired guy who I kind of think of as Mr Twinkranes and another guy who lacked a distinctive coiffure. The blond guy played drums and did vocals while the other fellow did stuff with what looked like pretty old-school synthesisers. The music they make is interesting, treading a strange line between avant garde nonsense and impressive musoiness. By the end of their set I found myself thinking I should make the effort to see them again sometime and perhaps even check out their album on Finders Keepers.

White Hills are a three piece - a guy on drums, another guy on guitar and lead vocals and a woman on bass. The bassist has a slightly "hello sailor!" quality to her attire, wearing a fetching red suit with a rather short skirt and high red boots, while the guitarist looks like he might have wandered in from the set of a Tolkien adaptation. Their music is of the "yeow!" variety, so they serve up lots of psych-rocky stuff to us. They are pretty good and they do rock hard (particularly the lady bassist) but I ended up thinking that maybe they are only pretty good and not the truly amazing live band they aspire to be.

White Panda

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hunters Moon 2012

What's this, you say? Well readers, I am finally having a crack at writing some kind of review of the Hunters Moon festival of October 2012, because the tickets for 2013 are now on sale and writing about last year's might just help to drum up some interest. I am writing this in a rush, so everything is a bit sketchy, but maybe some interest will be found.

As you will recall, this festival takes place in the small town of Carrick on Shannon, a conveniently short train journey away from Dublin. Carrick is in Leitrim, a county to which many artistic types have decamped over the years. I like to think of Hunters Moon as their festival. It typically combines music and stuff to do wit the visual arts, with performances taking place in the Courthouse arts venue and also in an olde church and, this year, in a couple of coffee shops around the town.

Many of the people who had played at the 2011 Hunters Moon also played at this one. But in some of these cases, they were startlingly different, or else my opinions of them had somehow undergone a radical metamorphosis. So, Jennifer Walshe performed this year, not alone but with Ludo Mich, an old Belgian fellow who is a surviving veteran of the Fluxus art movement. You may recall that I have previously failed to enjoy Jennifer Walshe performances, but this was completely brilliant in a hard to describe way. Mich and Walshe were doing voice work, and their performance was like some kind of strange non-verbal dialogue. At times it was like Walshe was some kind of sorcerer and Mich an unruly demon being summoned and bid to work. Or maybe they were meant to be something else, but there was a lot of her holding a hand forth at him and gibbering while he gibbered in a different way and tried to break free of her spell. If that description is not very helpful then I must ask you to take my word that their performance was awesome.

As with 2011, it turned out that the mad for it weirdoes wandering around all weekend at the festival were in fact members of GNOD, who are a music group from somewhere in England. Their appearance seems a bit different this year, which matches their complete change in musical nature. In 2011 they were like a psych rock freak-out band, but this time they had ditched all the rock instruments and gone electronic. So they were more like a techno dance act of yore, only still with an acid rock freak out mindset. There were three of them on the music (and it was interesting to try and work out which of them were the least mad for it and so the most responsible for the music) and one lad on vocals, which again seemed to be of a largely non-verbal nature.

GNOD combined their set with amazing projected visuals of the conspiracy theory nutter variety (New World Order, Illuminati, Secret Chiefs, Orchestrated Money Crash, Freemason breeding programme, Zeta Reticulii Greys, etc. etc.). I love conspiracy theory nonsense, even though I do not believe it (apart from things that have been objectively proven, like the sinister role played in the world financial system by the Knights of Columbanus). So I found the visuals a great foil to the dance-tastic music, though I understand that some who are less open to THE TRUTH found them a bit challenging.

In fairness, I should add that there was one element to the crazy conspiracy stuff with which I was somewhat uncomfortable. Basically, it did seem like they were leaning a bit close to going on about evil Jewish financiers rather than evil financiers generally, and we all know where that kind of talk leads.

Some other interesting acts included the following.

Josephine Foster played in the St. George's Church venue, backed by a small band that included that drummer guy from Trembling Bells (seen by me some years ago supporting the Unthanks). They seemed to suffer a bit from the acoustics in the church not being ideal for rock instrumentation but I am not one of those people who worry about such things. For me the focus here was really on Foster herself, and it was this performance that formed my impression of her as someone who both is very serious and calculated at what she does while being somewhat reserved and possibly uncomfortable as a live performer. For all that she threw herself into her performance, she retained a certain austere detachment. The music itself was of the broadly folk-rock variety, with the tunes designed to give free rein to her soaring voice. And yet there is a loose, sinuous quality to the music that makes it more than just filler. Writing this makes me glad that I will be seeing her later this week when she plays with The Swans.

Melodica Deathship are an Irish hip-hop duo. Wait, come back! I think possibly one of them (the rapper) is actually American, but even if he was not they would still be fascinating. Their thing is that they make doomy nautical themed music that some have dubbed ship-hop. The songs all seem to be about haunted ships, murderous pirates, people cast adrift on rafts with no hope of rescue, and so on. And they play melodicas. You could imagine them making a concept album based on the Black Freighter from Watchmen. Their set accompanied by some great visuals that may have included particularly doomy images from the film of Moby Dick. They also sampled vocals from a decades old tune from Irish folk-rockers Mellow Candle, which seemed to amuse Alison O'Donnell of that band, who was herself performing at the festival.

Tarracóir were billed as 'death metal jazz', though they seemed to be more freak out rock than anything else. There were three of them, and they played unbelievably loud music in a tiny café in the middle of the afternoon. It would have been great if some old dear had come in to for a nice cup of tea only to be blasted out by them, but sadly the place was filled with festival heads who all enjoyed things greatly.

Tomuttonttu is apparently the main guy from Finnish superstars Kemialliset Ystavat and may also be the fellow who runs Fonal Records. In today's guise he was largely providing us with full on electronic dance music while presenting us with a series of comedically clichéd visual images of Finland - snow, reindeers, Moomins, people wandering around in the nip, etc.

Wizards of Firetop Mountain are that great Irish post-ironic rock band. This time they played to the visual accompaniment of Hot Chick Stoner Barbecue (in which some biker ladies describe how to safely prepare a tasty barbecue while stoned on drøgs). The Wizards continue to rock hard and I hope that one day they will release a record of some sort that people can buy.

We did have a bit of a look at some of the experimental film stuff, which was of variable quality. One piece I saw seemed to be a series of very low quality images of people in the past being miserable. I made my excuses and left. Later, however, I read about its bizarre genesis in the programme and saw it again with more enjoyment. The film was called The Poorhouse Revisited, directed by Michael Higgins. All the footage, however, came from film rushes from an earlier film he found abandoned and decaying in Ringsend. The rushes were from an earlier RTÉ drama directed by Frank Stapleton and adapted from a short story by Michael Harding set during the Famine. The film stock found was apparently a load of outtakes, camera tests, and the like. With that back-story to its origin I could forgive the final film its poor visual quality and lack of any discernible narrative. Instead the decaying images seemed to evoke the horror and despair of that dark time in Irish history.

But for all that watching films about the Famine, I did not go hungry, eating take-out pizza from a restaurant in the town that made a most delicious product.

There were many other exciting people and things at the festival. And there was a noticeable lack of wankers in the audience, making this somewhat unique among Irish festivals.

It was recently announced that the 2013 festival will be taking place on the 25th to 27th of October - perhaps I will see you there? I think the "big draw" this year is Rhys Chatham, though I suspect and hope that all the Hunters Moon regulars will show up again. Further details are available at .


My experiences at the 2011 Hunters Moon: Part 1, 2, and 3

Hot Chick Stoner Barbecue (trigger warning: meat)

The Poorhouse Revisited

more amazing pictures (not including cat picture)

When I saw Kemialliset Ystävät

Hunters Moon store - where you can buy a copy of the Hunters Moon Drome Dome CD, making that cat somewhat happy.

An inuit panda production

The Sad History of King Henry VI

I went to York. I went to see plays. The people that run Shakespeare's Globe in London were touring performances of Shakespeare's three Henry VI plays to places in England that are significant to the action within them (including to some of the battlefield sites). York is significant because one of the big battles takes place near to it, with the loser's head ending up stuck on a pole over the city walls.

Although the plays are known to us now as Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3, they were not written in that order and were not conceived as a trilogy. And they were only given those titles retrospectively by some posthumous publisher of Shakespeare's plays. It seems that our Parts 2 and 3 were performed first, with titles something like The Houses of York and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York. Our Part 1 was written later, as Harry the Sixth, for a different theatre company, to tell the early years of the reign of Henry VI (who ascended the throne as a young child on the early death of his father). This makes it one of history's first prequels, with all that that implies.

The first play is mainly about the loss of the English empire in France as bickering nobles fail to assist the brave fighters there against the treacherous Frenchies, who have managed to enlist the aid of one Joan de la Pucelle, a young woman in league with satanic forces. The play has great bits in it (the Joan of Arc scenes, the heroic English fighters in France who are blatantly maniacal nutters, a worldly bishop, a scene where it is ponderously explained to Richard of York that he is actually the rightful king of England, etc.) but it seems to be one of those plays were loads of things happen without there being any real narrative thread. Strangely, this seems to have been the most popular of the three plays back in Shakespeare's time, with the story of the loss of the French empire and the death of heroic figures like Talbot (a blood-crazed thug) having audiences weeping in the aisles.

In the second play, the feuding of the English nobles explodes into vendetta and then open conflict. Richard of York stakes a claim for the throne, backed by some powerful nobles. He also has his sons behind him, with the thrill power ramping up considerably once this trio of badasses appears. He is opposed not so much by the King, a saintly figure a bit too prone to simpering, but by the King's wife and various other nobles. They all lay into each other in a series of battles. York, an ambiguous figure, also causes trouble by inciting a mob of revolting peasants to descend on London and murder anyone who can read, Khmer Rouge style.

It all turns into a bit of a bloodbath, with various nobles murdering each other and then being murdered themselves by their victims' friends and relations. One of the grimmer scenes is the one in which Richard of York is humiliated and tortured by the Queen and her associates, before being beheaded (it was his head that ended up on a stake on York's' walls, over a guardhouse near to where I was staying).

By the end, Richard of York's son Edward is reigning as King Edward IV, largely because everyone else is dead. Well, his two shifty brothers are still alive but one of them has changed sides so often that no one could take him seriously. And the other (Richard Jr, Duke of Gloucester) - well he is a deformed hunchback so there is no way he could be plotting to engineer everyone's death so that he can become king, right? So all is well, kind of like at the end of a game of Family Business when peace reigns because the graveyard is full.

The portrayal of Gloucester, the future King Richard III, was interesting. In the Globe last year I saw a performance of Richard III, the play that depicts his final rise to the throne and brief but bloody reign. Mark Rylance played the part of this great Shakespearean villain in a manner reminiscent of Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius, someone using physical disability as a mask, in this case to hide his lust for power. In the last two parts of Henry VI, Simon Harrison plays the younger character as a creature of pure malevolence. To a modern viewer, however, the continuous jibes he receives about his twisted form are strikingly unpleasant.

With our more enlightened views of such matters, it seems hardly surprising that someone subjected to such abuse would develop a warped character and a general hostility to the human race. I think perhaps this is what makes Shakespeare's character oddly sympathetic to modern viewers. He is a violent and malevolent creature, to be sure, but with a modern mindset we can see him as made like that by society rather than cruel fate. And with the hostility he has had to endure from his fellows on account of his form, he makes for a perfect outsider anti-hero.

If you have ever been to the Globe in London you will know that music is a big part of the way their plays are presented, with musicians playing before the performance starts and then accompanying the dance of the actors that happens at the end. With these performances the music was a bit stripped down, perhaps because it was a cut-price touring production. Any music in the play was made by the actors themselves. This was either percussive (good for the military stuff) or made by scraping the edge of something to create strange disconcerting droning sounds. The latter in particular sounded almost electronic. Perhaps because the plays were being performed over one day, making them seem like one monster play, they left the actors' dance to the very end.

These plays are on over the summer in a number of places, including back in London. I encourage you to see them, ideally all in one day for the fully immersive experience. If that sounds like too much, you could skip Harry VI, and if you reckoned one would be enough then I say to make that one The True Tragedy of the Duke of York.

Seeing these plays has also got me thinking about other theatre marathons that would appeal to me. One thing I would love would be if someone could stage all eight of the Plantagenet plays (dealing with the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III) over, say, four days with two plays a day. Another obvious one would be the Oresteia of Aeschylus, the only surviving trilogy of plays from ancient Greece. That one deals with a terrible cycle of murder and vengeance within the kind of dysfunctional family that is so common in Greek tragedy. A performance of all these plays in one go would make for a fascinating theatrical experience.


These plays are being performed in the Globe and around England and Northern Ireland, sometimes in places of relevance to the occurrences depicted, including battlefield sites. See if they are playing near you here.

Shakespeare on the battlefield: the Globe theatre step out - a piece in the Guardian on the battlefield staging of these plays, with particular reference to Towton, the bloodiest battle ever fought in England. The illustration of Henry VI and the three sons of the Duke of York are sourced from here.

More pictures of York

An inuit panda production

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Cramps "Songs The Lord Taught Us" (1980)

My beloved picked this up in London. And it is amazing in a way that would be unimaginable for any band now. As you probably know, the Cramps were this American band fronted by a couple with the delightful names of Lux Interior and Poison Ivy. Mr Interior sang and Ms Ivy played guitar and their songs were inspired by 1960s punk and rockabilly from whenever rockabilly comes from. Like Creedence Clearwater Revival, they were self-consciously retro, aiming to curate the music of the past, but they have managed to accidentally transcend their influences and become their own thing. So I would far rather listen to a Cramps record than a vintage rockabilly compilation.

The tracks are fast and slow and boast throbbing drum lines and buzzing cuts of guitar over which Mr Interior yelps and moans. They really do not make this kind of stuff any more and if you are one of those people who has never got round to exploring the magic of the Cramps then this would be a great place to start.

LATER: I was giving the record another listen when a bonus track featuring studio argy bargy came on - and I discovered that on one track popular Twitter sensation @mysmugcat seems to have travelled back in time to say his name repeatedly in the background.

Image source

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

D is for Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever are one of those bands I was fascinated by long before I actually heard anything by them. You may recall that I developed an interest in the music of Cambodia from before the rule of the Khmer Rouge, largely through one article I read in a magazine somewhere and then a Sublime Frequencies record called Cambodian Cassette Archives. It was then fascinating to learn that there was this band Dengue Fever out there who were playing this music again and I yearned to see them live and hear their records. And eventually I did.

The story of Dengue Fever is that they were formed originally by two brothers, Ethan and Zac Holtzman, who had become fascinated by Khmer Pop. In LA's Little Phnom Penh they found Chhom Nimol, an amazingly voiced star of the local karaoke scene, and so they recruited her and a load of other talented musicians into the band.

Their first album sees Ms Nimol singing covers of Cambodian classics largely unheard of in the west at the time - tunes originally sung by the likes of Ros Sereysothea or Pan Ron. On one or two tracks Ethan Holtzman lends his voice to a song by Sinn Sisamouth, the male legend of Khmer Pop. The vocals are all in Cambodian (or Khmer, or whatever language they speak out there), though the song titles are translated. The musical accompaniment is a bit more surfed up than the vintage recordings would have been (though not as much as you might think - the 1970s singers would often have been accompanied by local beat groups).

There are a couple of stone-cold classics on this. 'I'm Sixteen' is a floor-filler with a degree of call response between Nimol's lead vocals and Ethan Holtzman's backing. 'Shave Your Beard' has me wondering if the lyrics may be new, as the title would seem to reference Ethan Holtzman's amazing facial hair, but it is a slower and more contemplative tune than the floor fillers seen elsewhere. There are many other great tracks here, but the real winner for me is 'New Year's Eve', which starts slow and then turns into an irresistible explosion of frenetic energy. When I saw them live in London they saved this one till very late in their set, and the place erupted when the switch happens. To hear it is to love it.

There is also, for no obvious reason, a track called 'Ethanopium' that is basically an instrumental cover of 'Yègellé Tezeta' by Mulatu Astatqé. I guess the Holtzman's world music interests must run widely.


My review of the Cambodian Cassette Archives record

album cover image source

An inuit panda production

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Two More Sea Shanty Records

The Keelers Tyne & Tyde (2013)
Johnny Collins, Dave Webber & Pete Watkinson Songs of the Sea: a Collection of Sea Shanties (1998)

Avast there mateys, the bosun has ye well shanghaied for more shanty action.

I have previously mentioned going to see the Keelers supporting the Unthanks playing out in Bray. There my beloved bought a copy of their record Tyne & Tyde. The line-up is the same as that of Farewell to the Master but the instrumentation is a bit different - as in there is any. This time some of the songs feature concertina, whistle and tambourine, but it is mostly still just vocal.

The stand-out tracks on this are probably the same ones I mention in the live concert review. 'Old Billy Blue' (an original composition by the Keelers' Peter Wood) tells the story of Admiral William Cornwallis, who commanded the British fleet blockading Brest during the Napoleon Wars. He was so good at doing this that he acquired two nicknames - OId Billy Blue and Billy Go Tight. The song tells of how he could never be got away from his station and of how other admirals would always link up with them if they had mislaid a French high-seas fleet. It has this great chorus:

He's Old Billy Blue and he's Billy Go Tight.
He's always on station by day and by night.
What do admirals do when bitterly pressed?
They fall back on Cornwallis at Brest.

I find it hard not to join in with this one.

The other corker is a tune by one Mike O'Connor called 'Carrying Nelson Home', in which Nelson is being carried home after Trafalgar (he was killed there by a French sniper; I have always wondered whether the sniper survived the battle). The song imagines Nelson in his bucket of rum still giving orders to the sailors on his last voyage home, and is very poignant, for all that Nelson is not my national hero.

The other tunes are not entirely nautical, including ones about building railways (the trad. arr. tune 'New Railroad'), emigration and nostalgia ('Black and White') and that universal theme, lusting after the daughters of pub landlords ('The Landlord's Daughter', not the tune from The Wicker Man). George Unthanks' 'Tar Barrel in Dale' also makes its way onto record, so if you want to be extra ready for joining-in at an Unthanks concert then buy this album.

I should also menton the production on Tyne & Tide. Shanty records generally sound like they had no production at all on them and they are not obviously the worse for it. This one, though, was produced by Adrian McNally (Rachel Unthank's husband and the Unthanks' keyboardist). The production is great - it was recorded in a church and makes great use of the place's acoustics to give us a most atmospheric sound. And at no point does Mr McNally go down the bad producer's road of deciding to add in a bit of piano or Hammond organ to songs that are best left as unadorned as possible. But it still sounds produced, and produced well, thanks to the adroit sound engineering and sue of the sound qualities of the recording venue.

Songs of the Sea (by Johnny Collins, Dave Webber and Pete Watkinson) is a record I have had for ages, but my sudden burst of shanty interest caused me to dig it out and add it to iTunes. It is a somewhat un-curated collection, barely naming the artists involved and providing little or no supporting information. I had rather assumed that it was a collection of tunes sung by fairly anonymous singers. But not so. While using Google to spell-check the name of Jim Mageean from the Keelers, I found a YouTube recording of a young Mageean singing with Johnny Collins of this record in a context suggesting that Collins is someone known for knowing his shanties (and if Mageean is deferring to him then this really must be the case).

The record features more hot shanty action, mostly or entirely without instrumentation. 'Blood Red Roses' makes its obligatory appearance, but what is most striking to me now is the closer - the 'Farewell Shanty', a tune about sailors getting ready to sail away, and a tune that I remember from the last session at the Unthanks singing weekend.

Some links:

The Keelers and the Unthanks live in Bray

Tyne and Tide image source

Wikipedia page for the late Johnny Collins

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Two Sea Shanty Records

The Keelers Farewell to the Master (1993)
v/a Sailors' Songs and Sea Shanties (2004)

Ahoy there shipmates! Cast off and join me aboard the good ship Shanty. Little Jim the cabin boy is ready to make you right welcome. So splice the mainbrace, cut loose the port sheet, and up the lanyard for the masted doubloon.

I have always had some interest in sea shanties and songs of the sea, but going to the Unthanks singing weekend in January pushed into overdrive. As you will recall, Jim Mageean of the Keelers introduced us to a load of nautical tunes, both work songs and songs that seemed more like the kind of thing sailors would sing for entertainment. There were CDs being sold as we were leaving the weekend, so I picked up a copy of Farewell to the Master, an album of shanties presented as a tribute to one Stan Hugill, an old sailor who collected shanties during his many years at sea and was the last living shanty man of the Royal Navy. It begins with a tune composed by Alan Fitzsimons of the Keelers specifically to honour Mr Hugill, before launching into a succession of shanties sun acapella. They are here grouped by type, with halyard shanties followed by cotton trade shanties, maindeck capstan shanties, pump shanties, and so on.

One recording decision listeners might or might not take issue with is the grouping together in single tracks of several different tunes - so the halyard shanties track goes on for over 8 minutes and features all three of 'Shin-O', 'Tiddy High-O' and 'Blood Red Roses', the last a song that by law must appear on all shanty records. This grouping business does not bother me while listening to the record but it might annoy me in the future if I wanted to include anything from here on an end of year compilation.

Some of the songs feature lyrics that are a bit ribald. I get the feeling that some of the sailors in the songs have intentions towards ladyfolk that are not entirely honourable.

In Edinburgh we went record shopping and found in Fopp a couple of old sea shanty records. Rationing myself, I went just for a collection called Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties: A Classic Collection of Sea Songs and Shanties. This features songs sung by A.L. Lloyd, Stan Kelly, Ewan MacColl and some others. There are sleevenotes describing the history of the songs and explaining nautical terms and the like, but there is nothing saying when they were recorded, which is a bit annoying.

Unlike the Keelers record, this does feature instrumental accompaniment, generally of the squeezebox type. It ends up being a bit reminiscent of the music in Bagpuss, which is not surprising given the folkie chops of that programme's musicians.

Two songs stand out on this for me. First of all there is 'Away Haul Away', sung by Stan Kelly, which sounds like a tune the musical family of one of my mother's friends used to sing. Another is 'Do Me Anna', sung by A.L. Lloyd. On one level this is another saucy sailor song in which a sailor impersonates a rich townie in order to shag his lady friend (something that in our politically correct era would get you sent to jail and put on the sex offenders register for life), but what makes it appeal to me is the mournful and almost otherworldly tone of the piece - it keeps sounding like it is about to turn into a ghost story or some such, even though it never does. Perhaps it needs new lyrics.


Sailors' Songs & Sea Shanties (an interesting website on this record)

Stan Hugill

Farewell to the Master cover image source (with opportunity to buy this record)

Keep coming back to Inuit Panda for more shanty action soon!