Well, This Happened (Best of 2015)

My favourite musical memory of 2015 happened 3 months ago & I intended to include it here before now. It was a gig I didn’t want to miss & it became an epic 4 day adventure (man, I needed a holiday !).  The connections I made with old & new friends were forged in music but this was more than a good night out. Any road up, it was certainly the “Best of” the year so I guess it’s about time…

On September the 10th the Derry musical family assembled at Sandino’s bar for the “Music For Free Movement” concert, part of the positive public response to the distress suffered by refugees fleeing the warring factions of the Middle East. It was not difficult for co-promoters Kevin Magee & Rion McCartney to fill the bill, many musicians in the area wanted to contribute to the evening. The hard part was stage managing the night to give as much time as possible to each act. Two stages featured over 5 hours of continuous music & it was not easy to catch all the great talent from the city showing out for a very good cause. I did my best.

 

It’s been over 25 years since I worked alongside & played out with a fine group of men from Ireland. 3 of them were in a band & I travelled around the country with Bam Bam & the Calling not only to see that they didn’t get lost but because they made great music. This new-fangled e-world put me back in touch with 2 of the guys & wonderfully the group was intact, back in Derry, still making their terrific racket. Bassist Joe Brown plays with a new crew, the Gatefolds. I was able to see their live clips, receive their CDs & help to spread the word by way of this blog. An opportunity to see both the Gatefolds & Bam Bam play on the same night was too good to miss. It was time to plan my first visit to Northern Ireland.

 

From home to Derry took almost 10 hours, a cab, a train, a bus, a plane then a bus ride from Belfast across some rather green & pleasant land. The gang at Cool Discs, an aptly-named record shop, provided a welcome & a place to put myself on solid ground. Kevin Magee took time from a very busy schedule to point me right (a shout to the Cafe del Mondo) in the Walled City. A long day was surely leading to a long night. Sightseeing could wait, it was the music that had brought me here.

 

First up at Sandino’s was Lost Avenue, the youngest band of the night. Derry’s rock tradition has the clang & clash of loud guitars & these guys fit right in. They deserved a bigger crowd & get them for their own gigs as their reputation grows. More great music followed while the venue, a classic Irish ballroom (easy access to alcohol is a clue) with a traditional rock & roll sticky floor, filled up with faces from my Facebook feed. Bernard & I had already bonded over our similar tastes in music & football. Jim Cunningham, the documentarist of Derry music, arrived with his camera. Jeanette & Ruairi are as delightful as I knew they would be. Later their band, Lady J, would absolutely rock this joint. Everybody was so welcoming (not always the case  for me !), I don’t get around as much as I used to but I know that this must be the place when I’m in the middle of good people & good music.

 

 

gatefolds2So here are the Gatefolds, right onstage in front of me. Drummer Sean & guitarist Fergal were, until tonight, e-friends, singer-guitarist Jason & I had never met before & that didn’t matter. There’s my old mucker Joe on bass & I’m watching him doing what he does for the first time in over 25 years. The Gatefolds know that increased volume isn’t the only way to have an effect. Their spiky, still melodic, riffs insinuate themselves rather than batter you. The pop-psych guitar wash builds beautifully, there are times when I could happily listen to them stretch these songs for as long as they are inclined. I had seen the clips, have the few songs the band have recorded, this was better. In the last week the Gatefolds played to their largest audience yet while supporting the Undertones & I have received a new CD single. 2016 looks like being a good year for them.

 

I took a breather, caught an acoustic set by the Wood Burning Savages, a group I’ve known about for some time & a fine one. Sandinos was packed with shiny happy folk, some of them curious about a stranger’s story. Man, I like to talk but I was 18 hours into my day & the headline act, the reason I was out of my bed so early & had travelled so far to see were about to hit the main stage.

 

 

setlistBam Bam & the Calling have played together for over 30 years now. The same line-up. Tonight a family illness had prevented guitarist John McLuskey from attending but Paul, Joe & Tom, ably assisted by Paul’s brother Rion, were still there. It’s more than longevity that has established their reputation as Derry music legends. Paul Pj Mc Cartney has some great songs & is a charismatic front man. Drummer Tom Docherty is just a machine, I think that I had forgotten just how good he is. What I had not forgotten, what had first attracted me to the band & what was still there was the unit’s commitment to playing with passion & energy because that’s why they did it in the first place. The old songs were a blast, the newer ones just as good. The set whizzed by too quickly, my central nervous system overloaded with endorphins producing the widest smile in the hall. I wanted more but I’m greedy. I had waited long enough to hear this, I could wait for the next time. My long day had been worth every minute.

 

Over £3000 was raised for people unfortunate to have been caught in a war & lucky enough to escape to the Greek island of Lesvos…good work. On my long weekend I reminisced, caught up with & spoke about Life with my 3 old friends. I made new friends too. Joe’s wife Gayle fed me, always a good thing. Fergal was already in every bar I entered. The hospitality shown by Kevin & Alison, who invited a strange man into their home, will never be forgotten (nor will Ali’s carrot cake). Good people, great old & new times. It was the music that brought us & kept us together over all this time. You have got to love that !

 

derry

From the L to the R : the author, Paul Bam Bam, Kevin Magee, Joe Bam Bam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Night Dressed To Kill, At Sandinos Bar And Grill (The Gatefolds)

It’s been a busy Easter weekend for the Gatefolds, our preferred purveyors of rhythm & melody from Derry in Northern Ireland. It was the birthdays of both drummer Sean & guitarist Fergal so our best wishes are sent to both of them as they sit alone in a darkened room wondering how time can pass so quickly. Sorry…that should have read, surrounded by their friends & family celebrating the joyous occasion. The birthday boys were joined by bassist Joe & Jason, guitar/vocals, to take their place on the bill of “The Long Good Friday” at Sandinos bar, the now traditional opener to the long Bank Holiday weekend. Here is how it looked & sounded…

 

 

Short & sweet, “Temporary” is a new song from the ‘Folds. I’ve noted before that the band continue the tradition of fine, noisy guitar bands from Derry. There’s a crackling energy about this, straight ahead & no-nonsense but still a fine mix of head & heart. Anything that reminds anybody of early R.E.M. is a good thing. Let’s hope that the Gatefolds play regularly this summer because there’s more to be found in their songs. “The Decorator”, half of their last double A-side single, which you can have for your very own by visiting Bandcamp, is, as you can hear, coming along very nicely.

 

 

The previous weekend had marked the 50th birthday of Paul Pj McCartney & the great & good gathered to mark this milestone. Paul has been an influential part of the Derry music scene for the majority of that half century. The night would not have been complete without a performance from Bam Bam & the Calling, the band which has played & stayed together for 30 years now. The other 3 members, Joe Brown (bass), John McCloskey (guitar) & Tom Doherty (drums), had rehearsed without Paul for this special, surprise gig but all 4 know how the Bam Bam sound goes, how exhilarating & exciting music should be. The band were joined onstage by Raymond Gorman off of The Everlasting Yeah, an original Bam Bammer, for a set of Greatest Hits & covers of the Velvet Underground, Television, Plastic Bertrand…all the greats.

 

 

This set is 40 minutes long & you are all busy people. Seriously just dig into any part of this clip (Raymond plays at the end) & you will find proper, raucous rock & roll played by men who remember the reasons why they started this way back when. They are all making their contribution to this great noise. It’s good to see Tom out of the house & to be reminded that he is some kind of drummer. I have spent some of my most enjoyable musical days in the company of these guys, their performances endorsing that they absolutely walk it like they talk it. Paul still has the sharpest ears around, excavating treasures from then & now for our consideration. Big congratulations on his landmark birthday. We have been friends for a long time & long may this connection continue.

 

 

Further On Down The Road. Loosehandlebars is Two.

While I certainly am as corny as Kansas in August I am unlikely to be as high as a flag on the 4th of July, those days are over. Today, July 4th 2014, is loosehandlebars’ 2nd birthday. 265 posts, that’s one every 18 hours (oh yes it is !), each one carelessly nurtured then flung out to the furthest reaches of the Interwebs. When I started this thing I had no idea if anyone would find it & didn’t really care. I enjoyed writing about music & memories, enjoyed entertaining myself. That was enough & it still is. That people do come & say kind things about my things is very gratifying. A big shout out to the Glasgow massive, both noted playwright Danny McCahon & R&B legend David Ritchie have been most gracious & help to spread the word.  Similarly, over in Derry, Joe Brown & his posse are as tight as this with the ‘handlebars. It was Raymond Gorman’s idea that I started to write & his support remains more staunch than anyone’s. Raymond has a fantastic CD in his car that no-one else has. The sooner all devotees of great guitar rock are able to buy a copy of “Anima Rising” by his group The Everlasting Yeah the better for all of us.

OK, here are 3 of the best records of 2014 so far. In the words of Shannon’s 1984 floor-filler…”Let The Music Play”.

This little beauty came out of nowhere in February of this year. It is a blast that there are still groups like The Twenty from Belfast who just want to make a straight ahead punk-inspired racket. This sparkling single is fine enough by itself but me & “You Can’t Be Lonely Forever” have history, good history. The song was written by my friend Paul Pj McCartney off of Bam Bam & the Calling, a band of post-punk audio terrorists who were lucky enough to have me roadie for them back in the goodle days. It is not for me to say that B.B. & the C. are a legendary band from Derry but I have heard others say just that & have never disagreed. Kudos to The Twenty for finding, reviving & doing absolutely the right thing by relying on the quality of the song & their own bright sound. The Twenty are ones to watch. If you are reading this Pablo then know this is a great tune. Are then any other stashed under your bed because we would like to hear them ?

The Twenty are the very thing for 2 fellow bloggers at Dave’s Strange World & Pop That Goes Crunch who have sent me nothing but quality music & writing since our paths have crossed. Long may it continue.

Bill Callahan has been around for a while now, as Smog since the 1988 cassettes, as B.C. since 2007. There have always been memorable songs. “Dress Sexy At My Funeral” is as bone-dry funny as the title while 1999’s “Cold Blooded Old Times”, a reflection on a long friendship, made not only the varied soundtrack of “High Fidelity” but my friend Mitchell’s all-time list & he has immaculate taste. On his last 2 LPs, “Apocalypse” (2011) & “Dream River” (2013) Bill really hit his stride, the sparse, spacey songs interspersed with distorted guitar, embellished with fiddle & flute. He is 48 now, his maturity brings to mind Raymond Carver’s exiguous short stories. Leonard Cohen is 80 this year. It’s time for a new generation who are getting older to embrace Bill Callahan.

“Have Fun With God” is to “Dream River” what “Garvey’s Ghost” is to “Marcus Garvey”, a dub re-imagining of a whole LP. It’s not King Tubby & a familiarity with the parent LP probably helps but it’s dreamy & my ears love listening to it.

Lastly but certainly not leastly it’s my favourite new British band the Skints & their killer single “The Cost Of Living Is Killing Me”. Back in January I featured Prince Fatty, a one man British reggae revival who is making some terrific music with old-school rock steady men like Little Roy, Dennis Alcapone & Winston Francis. There’s a touch of nostalgia about these tunes because that’s how the rhythm has always gone. The clean, bright production, the effervescence of great singers, pleased to be making records again is just dandy. Prince makes music with new artists too. His MC Horseman is all over it, the “vs Mungo’s Hi-Fi” dubs it up nicely & the charming Hollie Cook really should be a star. All of these people nice up the place, there’s no awkwardness, they all get it. So do East London’s, y’know, up Leyton/Walthamstow/South Woodford way, the Skints.

“The Cost of Living…” is from an EP (ask your Dad) made independently of the Prince but the unit is reunited for an upcoming 3rd LP. There is an argument to be made (but we won’t have it now) that the last truly great British #1 record was 1981’s “Ghost Town” by the Specials. This mix of ska-punk, rap & conscious lyrics brings that classic to mind. I really do hope that the Skints’ time will come because they have something to say that is worth listening to. Check for their Y-tube channel where their covers of reggae classics are just easy now.

This tune is for my lovely, new, funny American friend Gigi Mac who has written 2 vibrant posts for the blog which I have been so pleased to include. I hope that she will contribute regularly in the future. Loosehandlebars was always intended to be a broad church & there are other people I would like to include. Meantimes I am happy doing what I’m doing & I hope that it shows. It is still a gas to have so many people come visit. Even if they didn’t I would keep on keeping on because this is my little part of the Internet. I’m the King round here, I say what I like & I like what I say. Peace.

 

 

Original Artyfacts From Post Punk Derry ( The Bam Bam and the Calling Archive)

It’s been too long since I have had either the cause or the opportunity to write about my old & good friends Bam Bam & the Calling. Someone has been getting busy tidying up their attic & has stumbled upon a dusty box labelled “BB&tC: Odds & Sods”. Back in the day this consanguine cassette collection would have entertained the finder & a small circle of friends. In our Age of E-Wonders, a whiff of techknowledge, a pinch of electrickery & these freshly  relocated artefacts are available on the WWW as a free download in the form of one of those neat Soundcloud graph things. Here’s one now. Just click on the arrow because “Kitchen Dogs” really is a cracker & not to be missed.

Bam Bam & the Calling are part of a triumvirate of bands from Derry in Northern Ireland who not only shared personnel but also a belief that energy & loud guitars were requisites for good rock music. The Undertones made records that we all know (& hopefully love). If you do not know the work of That Petrol Emotion then do yourself a proper favour. You could start with an entertaining, honest interview ( music included) with Raymond Gorman, guitarist with The Everlasting Yeah & a former member of TPE. Raymond served his musical apprenticeship in Bam Bam & the Calling . He had this to say about those good times…”Bam Bam are still active, they play in Derry periodically and are still great too. I was in the second incarnation which was like Adam And The Ants meets The Clash/Bunnymen, I think we actually didn’t realise or weren’t fully aware of how great we were at the time. I felt more like a rock star playing in Bam Bam than I ever did in the Petrols. It’s a crying shame and the biggest regret of my life is that we never recorded with that line-up. We made it onto N.I. TV for 30 seconds once but no-one seems to have the video anymore. Great days. Very fond memories”.

Wow ! Adam & the Ants, the Clash & the Bunnymen all at the same time, that’s a busy & crowded stage. “Kitchen Dogs” is from 1986, just before the Bam Bams left Derry intending to show London what’s what. The band needed little encouragement to accelerate the song’s original tempo. Those teenage licks have got to make you catch your breath.  Paul, Joe, John & Tom were still on the Bunnymen, still are, always will be. It’s too late to stop now.

Photo: 1987, LondonHere’s another one from 1986. Dave Fanning is a stalwart of Irish music radio, enough respect to be compared with John Peel. For every young Irish band it was a big deal to record a session for Dave. The whole country listened, even I did for a while because British radio, apart from Peelie, was pretty hateful stuff. Apart from 24/7 exposure to Television’s “Marquee Moon”, there was a big appreciation of R.E.M’s “Chronic Town” & those first 2 LPs. “Only Sing” has a lovely Byrdsian clatter . There’s a unity & an enjoyment in the sound…another winner.

I met Bam Bam & the Calling at this time. The music was not making them enough money to cover an outrageous hair product habit. Gravity defying coiffures do not come cheap so a bit of hard construction collar was required. These 2 tracks rejuvenate very good memories of rock & roll adventures & of some great musical nights. It was always a genuine thrill to see my 4 individual friends get on a stage to do that thing they do together so well.

Bam Bam recorded just 2 excellent singles. By the time the “Absurd Song” demo was recorded in 1994 their London expedition was over & the band were back home. For songwriter Paul Pj McCartney there was time for musical experimentation but it’s still rock & roll to me, still a Bam Bam joint & that is a good thing.

Photo: 2012, Derry..that was then, this is now!A man in the know tells me that there are plenty of these tracks to come spanning the 30 year history of the group. I’m looking forward to hearing  & collecting them. All I know is that the music will be the sort that we like…the stuff with a heart full of soul. These nuggets are available at that part of Soundcloud ruled by optimumhold or you can get over to  the Facebook page, press  “like” & your social media will be sounding better already. The price is right…these beauties are being given away…proper music by proper people…you know it makes sense…you’re welcome.

Bam Bam and the Calling (Slight Return)

Last Friday night in Derry my brothers-in-melodic post punk-pop Bam Bam & the Calling stepped onto a stage for the first time in a twelvemonth. The catalyst for this occasion (& it is an occasion) was to celebrate the life of their friend Sean Semple who unfortunately died in July of this year at the terribly premature age of 56. I did not know Sean but it is obvious from the tributes paid & the memories shared about him that a room full of family, friends & music was absolutely the best way of acknowledging a good man & a life lived well. Here from “A Night For Sean” is Bam Bam & the Calling playing “New Surroundings”. These men have been my friends for a long time, they would know if I was shooting them a line. This two chord wonder from back in the day still kicks ass !

Just as there is much respect for Sean in Derry it is the same for the band. The younger musicians of the city know how long these guys have been together & how good they are. My man Fergal Corscadden of the Gatefolds knows it was a great gig while Paul Connolly of the Wood Burning Savages, a band which makes a lovely & interesting noise deserving a wider audience, raved “Bam Bam & The Calling were incredible tonight. Masters of their craft. Watching them is a treat that cannot be measured”. And that’s the truth Ruth !

For a band who plays just once a year there has been other recent activity for Bam Bam. First the Irish music blog, the Fanning Sessions Archive, excavated a session from January 1987. Dave Fanning is a great radio DJ, the Irish equivalent of John Peel. I’m sure that it was a deal for the young band to record the session. “Secret Meeting” is short, sweet & as jangly as the guys ever sounded. Good memories brought back by a tune I have not heard for a long time but has been the song of my weekend

In a dusty attic there is a dusty chest which contains my krusty kassette  which holds a recording taken from the sound desk when Bam Bam & the Calling headlined a gig at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, London. The Fiddler was the only reason to go to Harlesden in the late 1980s. It was a bigger than a pub, a proper rock club, a vanishing breed as gentrification & dance club culture took hold. An old friend of the band went up into his dusty attic this week & his visit produced cuttings from the Melody Maker which reviewed a Bam Bam gig at the Fiddler in August 1986. “…THE surprise package of this entire week, starting off as if we all had only 15 minutes left to live & it was going to be spent reeling under a superbly effective barrage of truly manic pop thrills”. Y’know it really was like that.

Thanks to Jim Cunningham there are more clips of Friday night to appear on the Y-tube. I am tempted to slap them all onto the blog of course but,if you want to see & hear four men who are happy doing what they’re doing, happy doing it right then you are just a couple of clicks away. You are all intelligent people you know what to do. It is a pity that it was such an unhappy event which caused the gig to be arranged. I know that singer/guitarist Paul was affected deeply by the loss of his friend. I hope that by coming together with those who knew & love him to mark his passing & to honour his life that the memories of Sean will be good ones. I also know that Sean loved music & loved Van Morrison so maybe this belongs here for him. Peace.

Punk’s Not Dead (It Just Smells Funny)

Adrian Edmondson can make as many lame-ass tea-time TV programmes about nothing much at all (I don’t hang around long enough to ever find out if they are about anything) as he likes. His work as a Dangerous Brother, in “The Young Ones”,  “Bottom” & “The Comic Strip” gives him more than enough of a goodwill stash. Being married to Jennifer Saunders so that we don’t have to be…more brownie points there. So, wandering around talking to old people about cheese or whatever he does. We like the guy & we let him off. Ade doesn’t do the comedy any more. There are plenty of his generation who think that they still do…but don’t. Surely there is a great sit-com yet to come when he & Rik Mayall get properly old. So, for fun he has a band. The Bad Shepherds’ thing is to folk about with the Punk/New Wave Greatest Hits. Vyvyan, Ade’s character from the Young Ones. would probably not be amused by such liberties while we are diverted for about a song and a half. Last week I caught Ade on the radio talking about his great life to people who have nothing better to do than listen to the radio in the late afternoon. It was this evocative cover of The Members’ “Sound Of The Suburbs” that got played to promote an upcoming tour & very good it sounded too. It’s a grand song sympathetically treated. Mind, you know what comes after, a finger-in-the-ear for “London Calling”, a rum-ti-tum “Anarchy”. If Mumford & his awful mates even think about folking about with the punk classics they will get my bony elbow straight to their gap year…I promise. Great new to Y-tube stuff from my great old friends Bam Bam & The Calling during their whirlwind tour of Summer 2012. I love to post things by people I know on this thing & what else could I do when it is as good as this. “Ca Plane Pour Moi” was a 1978 hit for plastic punk Plastic Bertrand. Mr Bertrand was a Milli Vanilli deal. He stretched this 3 minutes of novelty nothingness into 4 LPs, on none of which he sang or played anything ! Punk or what ? It is though funny & fun like “Jilted John” & “2 Pints of Lager & a Packet of Crisps” were. Lighten up yeah, fun was good in 1978 & it’s still not so bad. The Bam Bam boys give the song precisely the respect it deserves, not a lot, & wring its bloody neck for a totally terrific closing to their set. Props to Paul PJ McCartney for making up the Belgian lyrics as he goes along, to John McCloskey for giving it some big-style guitar & to Joe Brown for the Ramones tribute intro & the same old Hank T-shirt. Oh, & to Tom Doherty for being a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter.

Having become the self-appointed blogger of the Derry music scene I have a totally romantic view of it as one big creative love-in. One thing these bands do is to keep it nice on the social media. Having hung out with a lot of musicians I am pretty sure that that guitarist can’t stand that singer & that everyone hates that drummer but…not even an odd sock of dirty laundry is waved around. Bam Bam & the Calling are filmed here playing at Boylestock, an annual shindig held in what seems to be someone’s large garden. From the clips & pics I have seen it’s a band of brothers & sisters getting together for beer, barbecue, banter & the brilliant live music like the Bam Bam’s. Even the most cynical of visitors to these parts must agree that this is the best & most correct thinking around. Every town & city everywhere should be lucky enough to have folks around who want to have such a grand day out. One Love !

Friday Night At Sandinos (The Gatefolds)

On Friday the 1st of March the Gatefolds played their first ever live gig at Sandino’s in Derry, Northern Ireland. As I have become more familiar with their music it has become more obvious that they are a class act. I listened to a fine hour of radio from Derry & “Out of Line” was a genuine stand-out, not just because I know some of the band. You can hear & buy the 4 tracks they have recorded by clicking here. From a lively night in Derry here is “Out of Line”.

From what I hear there are quite a few lively nights over there. It really is a blast to get news of a vibrant music scene where mutual support & encouragement seems to be part of the package as does a love of music. Fergal Corscadden of the Gatefolds has been sending me new tracks by psych bands I’ve never heard of. I will ask him to select 3 of the best & will put them together on to here because they are sounding pretty good to me. Meanwhile in Derry there is a 16 year old girl who is getting a lot of attention & deservedly so because she is frighteningly talented & very memorable. This is SOAK & “Sea Creatures”.

Of course I go back to the old days when the Undertones, That Petrol Emotion & Bam Bam & the Calling  carried the swing. The Everlasting Yeah are keeping the Petrol’s flame burning & I hope that the fine songs from their live shows are recorded in some form this year. It’s great that Joe Brown from Bam Bam is making new music too. Here from a simpler time when life revolved around Echo & the Bunnymen, Tom Verlaine & a lorry load of hair product is that fine band’s “Talking Aloud” from when they were on the telly.

Joe Brown Picks The Hits (Three From 2012)

For the first time loosehandlebars welcomes a new Selector to punch up the tunes. Joe Brown is the bass player with Bam Bam & the Calling, legends of the Derry music scene.

 He is partner of the lovely Gayle, father of 3 three teenage boys and the owner of, I think, several Hank Williams tee-shirts. That or he has just the one and he wears it all the time. I know that we are in safe hands because throughout 2012 Joe has been sending me new and old music of a spectacular quality. OK some of it has been German blokes from the 1970s who have fallen asleep at their keyboards but the rest of it has been brilliant. This is Joe Brown’s pick of the best new music he has heard this year.

“The Bravest Man In The Universe” is the title track from the Only Survivor/The Poet, Bobby Womack’s first LP for 12 years (and that was a Xmas record). Bobby wrote the first #1 for the Rolling Stones, hits for Wilson Pickett and was with Sly Stone for the creation of “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. In the 1970s & 1980s there were times when his music touched new heights. He is a true Soul Great. He has been Across 110th Street a few too many times & has been suffering from cancer.

 “Bad as I been, I can sing my ass off, better than I could before”. Womack has always had an ear on how music is changing,Richard Russell and Damon Albarn have produced a merger of  the classic and the present. To hear Bobby in such good form on this atmospheric and beautiful song is just a treat. He is clear of his illness now so let’s hope that there is more good stuff to come. “The bravest man in the universe is the one who has forgiven first”…Hell Yeah !

“Aw just like Sister Ray said”…in space…turn it up… let the psyche-boogie free your mind (& your ass will follow). Moon Duo is a side project of San Franciscan psychedelicists Wooden Ships. Guitarist Ripley Johnson and accomplice  keyboardist Sanae Yamada recorded the LP “Circles” in the USA and mixed it in Berlin. Appropriate enough as they take their cues from the Velvet Underground and Suicide and add more than a pinch of the louder old German groups like Guru Guru. (Take my word for it, if you are too young to know these bands they are pretty damn good starting points).

Let “I Been Gone”‘s rumbling soundscape fill the room and it will pummel any resistance. Moon Duo are doing this thing better than anyone else this year. The only criticism is that the tune is not 10 minutes longer !

I have to interject here and state that my friend Joe Brown in no way recommends the use of recreational hallucinogenic stimulants as an enhancement to your musical pleasure. (Maybe he does, but not on my blog Sunny Joe). He does though, love a bit of flanging and distortion. He would only agree to that one way ticket to a desert island if he could take along “Nuggets”, the collection of acid/garage/psych classics. So, obviously, Tame Impala tweaks his nipples…mine too.

Any psychedelic record, and “Lonerism” is certainly a modern one , is inevitably compared with the past. “Elephant” sounds like John Lennon riffing on the “Doctor Who” theme. It is these echoes of the Beatles, and a modern pop sensibility, that makes the track such a killer single. The rest of the LP is a little dreamier (McCartney ?) and just as good. Kevin Parker, Tame Impala , is the best thing to come out of Perth Australia since…no he’s that best thing. He took a long time to make this record and has been rewarded with a place on most “Best of 2012” lists.

OK, I hope I have done Joe’s choices the justice they deserve. Two of the three would have made my own Top 10 and the third is proving to be a “grower”. The exchange of opinions about music and life with Joe & his crew has been just the ticket this year. There are times I say nothing because these guys have already said what I think. This, I tell you, makes a fine change from keeping it zipped because it just ain’t worth it. Onto 2013 brothers !

On The Road (with Bam Bam and the Calling)

In the mid-80s I quit the 9 to 5, 50 weeks a year treadmill so that I could work when I wanted, travel when I wanted, stay up for 2 nights, stay in bed for 2 days. It was a good decision. I went on the construction sites, there was plenty of work in London. I could work for a few months, a job would finish & I could take some time before I started another. I lived in one of the great cities of the world. It was greater when you had the time to look up at the sky and you were holding the folding. Man, if they could, there are people in that city who would charge you to breathe . You needed money in your pocket to enjoy London properly. It was good to have that taken care of.

I took a summer break. There was a new woman in my life. Her family home was a 300 year old stone cottage in one of the most beautiful areas of England. The summer of 1987…it was bucolic, no less. When it was time to return to the daily grind I went back to a firm I had worked for before. It was just the thing. I knew the set-up, the guys knew me. They were not just workmates they were people I played out with, people who I had invited to to my house, who had invited me to theirs. I stepped back into it like I had never been away. There had been some change. The predominantly Irish crew I first met had a majority from Cork, in the south. Some of these lovely men (collectively, the Cork-suckers) had moved on or had moved back. The only guy from Derry in the North was the craziest of a crazy bunch. He had smuggled some of his fellow Derrymen on to the site. They were to become new friends.

Paul & Tommy were in a band. I met them as dust covered rag-arses but they had come to London to make their mark in music. I knew a lot of musicians who talked the talk but only played the odd pub gig or at friend’s parties. I did not realise that these young men, Bam Bam & the Calling, were this good…

I bonded with Paul, the singer, over a love of good music, particularly the work of early R.E.M. (when Stipe had hair). With the taciturn drummer ,Tommy, it was more over industrial sized vats of emulsion paint. Bam Bam & the Calling got some proper gigs from proper promoters. I first saw them play at the Mean Fiddler, a North London rock n roll club with a good rep. They were great. The set was well paced, the songs were strong. You could hear the influence of Echo & the Bunnymen, of Television, but there was a consistent sound throughout, the Bam Bam sound, I liked that. Paul dedicated a tune to me, a lovely touch, I was taking a leak and missed my name-check. That was OK, I would catch it the next time because damn straight there would be a next time.

http://www.myspace.com/bambamandthecalling/music/songs/scraping-off-the-shine-59566968#

This link puts you a couple of clicks away from Bam Bam and the Calling’s first single. It’s on Myspace so you may have to brush the dust away before you hear it. The record was produced by John O’Neill of the Undertones, a fellow Derryman, the writer of many fine punky pop songs & a successful big brother to the younger band. After three days of recording I saw the band play a gig at a London pub, the George Robey. They absolutely tore the place up that night. It was not just “Scraping Off The Shine” which benefited from this first experience of making some vinyl. There was a unity and a power in the whole performance. That night I met most of the Derry community in London and had a great night out. It was onwards and upwards for the band with their next single.

“Neck Tattoo”, ahead of it’s time or what ? Such body adornments were rare in 1988. In the 21st century, as they became more visible, it always was a fine trigger to good musical memories of my friends. I took the opportunity to see the band whenever I could. They had gigs around the country so we would gather at lunchtime, get in the van and set off on a rock and roll adventure. I was kind of useful because none of the boys had any idea where anywhere was if it was not on the London Tube map. I could, at least, point them in the right direction. We were joined on our expeditions by a man who could drive. Steven Clarke, from Cork, was a man of fine humour and disposition. We lived near each other in South London and we had some wild and memorable times together before he returned to his birthplace with his lovely wife-to-be Elaine.

I got to meet and know the other two members of Bam Bam too. Joe, the bassist, and John, guitar. For them it was a day when they got to play. For myself it was a fun way to spend the day. You never knew what was going to happen (I like it like that) . I enjoyed hanging with this band of brothers who were so together, supporting each other  after leaving their families and their hometown for their rock and roll dream. We bonded over a love of good music, my geographical knowledge, their talents and a shared interest in having a good time.

We did have adventures too. An impromptu stop at Stonehenge which we unexpectedly stumbled upon on a long cross-country trek. We set off for a college in Kent which I knew did not actually exist ! We found the university for the gig and the band had to straighten out some ignorance and stereotyping about the North of Ireland by some students. I knew a woman at that particular university. I found her and got her to bring some friends along. The guys were impressed. At a big Xmas gig in Wolverhampton there was a surprising amount of free alcohol. I barely remember encouraging some bad behaviour towards the foremost Beatles tribute act in the UK.

Good times with good people is good enough. At all the gigs the band never gave it less than their best. I never saw them met by the indifference some support bands can suffer. The music and their attitude always demanded and gained the attention of a crowd, whatever the size.

We lost touch over the years, Life gets in the way. Paul “P.J.” McCartney (really) made some music that I knew about because I was looking out for him. Now, in this electronic age, it’s all there. I found the boys on the F-book and got in touch because I had nothing but good memories of them. I was delighted when they replied with enthusiasm and I was so pleased to discover that the same four guys still make music together.

Older…yes…wiser ? Well you had better ask them. I just love that these people have played together for over 25 years now. I’m no musician but I do know that performing in front of an audience is the real deal for players. To be able to, to still want to do this with people you know so well, who you trust as musicians and as men must be a fine feeling. Hanging with that neo-pop punk guitar guerilla gang was a great time. It was the real side of rock and roll. I have met people who have sold a gazillion records and it ain’t that pretty at all. Today I communicate with Paul and Joe almost daily. We have a shared past, we still love the music, appreciate the finer things in life and still hate the fucking Tories. My life is enriched by having them around. Some face-to-face time would be as cool as anything. If there is a Bam Bam and the Calling gig included in any visit then that would be just the best thing.

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