Friday, November 27, 2009

Dirty Projectors - "Stillness is the move", Chic in Dublin & chasing the dragon

It seems like a long time since I enthused about Chic's epic performance at Electric Picnic 09. Well it turns out - they are coming back.

Chic play Tripod, Dublin, Friday 28th May 2010. Tickets available as of this morning through monopolising rip-off service ticketmaster. Despite my concerns that following EP this gig would immediately sell out the second it went on sale at 9am, and harbouring reservations that I might negligently be swapping the righteous funk of Nile Rodgers for bacon and sausage, I still stopped on the way to work for 4 minutes to grab a breakfast roll. Thankfully the trotters of fate intervened, and shortly after 9 I was able to secure the priceless tickets.

Having found out a day or two before (thanks to the Rathcoole hubcap appropriation loyal), I had a day to engage in something of a philosophical dilemma. On one hand - the hand wringing itself with existential angst - when you have only experienced something one time, and the experience has been as near-perfect as the Chic happening of EP09, is the only way to respect and protect that perfect experience to avoid attempting to repeat it?

On the other hand - the hand of realism - if a band is that amazing, and you wouldn't go see them again - what would you ever willingly do twice?

Realism, hope, and the impossible dream won the argument. Come May 2010, I will be chasing the Chic dragon.

Which brings me in a sudden and unlinked way to something musical but very different indeed.

While perusing my favourite ex-colleagues music and technology based column, Riot Gear, I stumbled across a review of a band I'd never heard of, called Dirty Projectors. Intrigued, I did a little digging.

It seems like la projectors are a bit of an oddball art/vocal project from New York city - a guy called Dave Longstreth running the show, Brian Mcomber on drums, Nat Baldwin on bass, and three wonderfully gorgeous girls (Haley Dekle, Amber Coffman, and Angel Deradoorian) singing harmony vocals which are alternately entrancing, enticing, intriguing, and occasionally terrifying.

As all music reviewers know, the best and fairest way to describe acts is as a metaphorical artistic collision of totally unrelated other acts. (That's sarcasm, incase you weren't sure). So, in keeping with the tradition, Dirty Projectors strike me as an oddball collision of Bjork, The Corrs, and the Beta Band. Stick that one in your metaphorical pipe and smoke it.

So here's the official video for "Stillness Is The Move" - a video that added heavily to the Beta Band element in my imagined metaphorical smashup. In the vid they're up a hill, the main man is alternatively leading some sort of yak-type animal around, or standing on a rotating platform playing a vintage/ethnic stringed guitary sort of thing. I'd call it a zither, but I googled zither and confirmed it's not one. It still sounds a bit zithery though.

Anyway, while he's playing the non-zither or leading the possibly-a-yak around, the three girls are singing like good things - either dressed in a white wraparound thingy and bridesmaid type dresses (not necessarily a bad thing), or medical-coloured MC-hammer cut overalls. The possibly-a-yak pops it's head up about 70 seconds in like it's wondering what the hell is going on. I know how it feels. There's a kind of wolf thing that appears - in fact there's more than one, and ultimately the girls end up taking the wolves for a bit of a run in the MC-hammer overalls.

It's great. I have absolutely no idea what any of it means, but the more you listen and watch, the better it gets.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scotland in November

Glencoe is my favourite car journey on earth.

Last week I was able to make the journey for the first time in several years, on a crisp November day that blended blinding winter sunshine with thick blankets of fog.

It was an unusual route for me, not starting from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Instead it was north from Fife, cutting west at Perth on the Loch Earn road. Socked in fog all the way down the valley with nothing but the babbling stream for company, we finally emerged after St Fillans down the side of Loch Earn itself into the blazing sunshine.

Looking south across Loch Earn, with the late morning sun lighting up trailing wisps of fog.

Turning back the way we came, this is east down Loch Earn with St Fillans eclipsed, and a think finger of fog floating west over the loch.

Back in the car, and further on we’re back into the fog, and then north through Crianlarich with the amazing scenery hidden behind an impenetrable veil. A few miles on at Tyndrum, the perishingly cold car park at the obligatory Green Welly Stop is just starting to hint that there are hills around.

The edge of Tyndrum sees the weather break again, and up here it turns out to be freezing fog, with all the trees within eyesight encased in a dense layer of frost.

Plants closer to the ground have really been getting the treatment.

Free of the fog and making the turn for Glencoe, there’s time for one last look back at Tyndrum, sitting encased in the cold.

Here, nearly three hours in, the proper journey begins. Dragging up the endless hill from Tyndrum, you immediately feel tiny skirting the immense wall that is Beinn Dorain. Then it’s on to a crest, cruising past Loch Tulla, and the train line departs on a massive detour (it can’t make the grades to come) – clanking across the little bridge, a sweeping bend, and now we’re really clambering hard up the side of a slope, until we reach the viewpoint short of the top.

Jumping out here (seriously windy, but not as cold as it was), the view is epic back towards Beinn Dorain and the loch.

This view always reminds me that I had the motorbike through Glencoe once – I remember driving back towards Tyndrum, waiting forever to get past a long line of cars and carvans, and finally making it past the last of them on the hill further down from this viewpoint – sweeping around the bend at the bottom, and then charging out ahead of everyone, thudding across the bridge (lower left in the picture above), and whistling away across the moor alone. Still the three best minutes of my motorcycling life.

Back in the car and beyond the viewpoint, the top of the hill takes you on to Rannoch Moor. No matter how many times I come over that rise, it is always like landing on the moon – one of the most desolate, bleak and awe-inspiring places I know.

A few miles across the moor and Buachaille Etive Mòr rears up - a heaving cone of rock marking the start of Glencoe proper.

The road skates around Buachaille Etive Mòr, and into the glen.

Glencoe itself is the most monstrous sweeping glen with the road taking cars like toys through it, hemmed in by mountains that become closer and more claustrophobic the further you head west. It’s a daunting and imposing place.

As you come to the most narrow section (the actual pass of Glencoe), you tread carefully down the hairpins and then you are out, easing down across the valley floor to the Atlantic and on to the shore of Loch Leven. Here’s Loch Leven as the sun comes up on a beautiful November morning, the mountains of Glencoe simmering in the clouds.

Often, we stop here – but this time it's pastures further west on our mind, so on we went. A few miles further on, the Corran Ferry plies endlessly forwards and backwards, bridging Loch Linnhe for those that want to head to Ardnamurchan.

If you ever get the chance, you do want to head to the empty and mighty spaces of Ardnamurchan. Here’s the Corran lighthouse at sunset, with the mountains of Ardnamurchan behind.

Past Fort William and the brooding hulk of Ben Nevis, the Road to the Isles begins properly, darting west to Glenfinnan at the ridiculously scenic head of Loch Sheil.

Further on, you move up and over hills again, passing Loch Eilt – which was so still on our mid-day return trip, it was like polished glass.

A few miles further on, we’re finally descending out of the hills for the last time to the sea again, where rough and wild rocky countryside meet several miles of the most amazing tiny silver sandy beaches, and the small islands of Eigg and Rùm peeking out of the rain offshore offset the brooding cloud-shrouded presence in the distance of the Cuillin on Skye.

And here, finally, is where my new favourite hotel is.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Certain adverts from your youth stick with you - and none stuck with me more than this one.

Notwithstanding the fact that Tennents is drinkable but pretty ropey lager, years later, this ad still sums up pretty much how I feel every time I'm in London - and as the guy walks out on Princes Street under the castle, it sums up pretty much how I feel every time I get back to Scotland.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Aslan - "Jealous Guy"

Aslan have been around for ages in Dublin - something of an Irish institution. Apparently they were on the brink of breaking America with one of their best albums, and pretty much on the eve of the tour the entire band self-destructed, including lead singer Christy Dignam zipping off into something of a heroin habit.

Now, I went to see them a year or two back in Dublin at the mighty Vicar Street (one of my favourite venues in the world as it happens) - and what an experience it was - they're an absolutely brilliant live band. As I've opined before on here, I think in live music the difference between great and not-great is often the believability of the folks up on stage doing it. You can be technically brilliant, note perfect, but still look like you're up there either giving a music masterclass, or just going through the motions. But it's different when you have people who are absolutely, utterly believable, who really appear to be living the music. Dignam has as they say been around the block ("we never sold out" as he pointed out to the crowd - I can't imagine who he's referring to!), and whether that adds to the authenticity factor is an argument all of it's own.

What I can say is that you can feel the difference when someone who is that convicted by their music steps on stage. They aren't singing the track - they are singing to you.

Here's one from this year - a cover of Jealous Guy by John Lennon.