They’re Gonna Be Big (Joe Brown 2019)

It’s a long-established loosehandlebars tradition that around this time of the year my good friend Joe Brown, bassist of Bam Bam & the Calling & the Gatefolds, points us in the direction of some fine, fine music made in the past 12 months. Joe has a serious family issue on his mind at the moment & while these are his choices the words are mostly mine. If I going to be in a double act then there’s no finer partner than Mr Brown.

 

 

Image result for fontaines dc dogrelFirst up it’s got to be “Dogrel” by Dublin’s Fontaines DC, an instant classic. I  haven’t been as impressed & delighted by a debut album by an Irish band since my hometown boys the Undertones & That Petrol Emotion’s “Manic Pop Thrill” hit the racks. I know more than a little about thoughtful young Irishmen, there are three of them cluttering up my house this Christmas. To hear a group articulate what it is to be young & Irish so excitingly & eloquently is something to take pride in. It’s not so long ago that the members of Fontaines DC were cool, cool kids on the curbstone scene. United by their love of poetry, conversation & US garage-punk music of the 60’s they’re touring the world & raising a ruckus wherever they play.

Related imageComplemented by propulsive yet still melodic guitars the assertive, repetitive Beat poetry lyrics are delivered in declamatory shout-speak by born frontman Grian Chatten. “He spits out, Brits out, only smokes Carrolls” (an Irish brand of ciggie) from “Boys in the Better Land”, everybody in Ireland knows that guy & an atmosphere of “ready steady violence” (Liberty Belle) is a perfect description of a young man’s night out in any city. It was a memorable evening when I saw them play in Belfast, a night when a stinking majority turned England blue. A set encompassing gentrification, greed, hope & hopelessness was the perfect soundtrack. It will be interesting to see where Fontaines DC go from here. I’m waiting & “Dogrel” will be at the front of the stack for a long, long time.

 

 

Image result for murder capital sandinosIt’s been a fine year for music from Dublin. The return of the influential Girl Band after four years away with the uncompromising, tumultuous “The Talkies” was always going to be noteworthy. It was another five-piece group with another debut that really caught my ear. The Murder Capital’s “When I Have Fears” wears its Post-Punk influences proudly. Joy Division, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds & sometimes Echo & the Bunnymen. Why not?

Whether sombre (“How the Streets Adore Me”) or raging (“Feeling Fades”) the album is always dramatic often epic. The raw, personal lyrics accompanied by strange, surprising sounds. This year the M.C. came to my hometown, Derry, to my bar of choice, Sandinos, to promote the launch of the album. It was the Summer, a lunchtime gig. The contrast between this deep, dark, truthful music & the sunlight streaming through the windows made for a unique, affecting experience.

 

 

 

Image result for sleaford mods eton aliveEarlier in the year there was a new Sleaford Mods LP & that’s been a big deal for a while now. “Eton Alive” is the duo’s fifth studio record & things are changing. Andrew Fearn’s sonic designs remain minimalist while certainly incorporating more diversity into the loops (Talking Heads…anyone?). Jason Williamson still does the best line in social super-realism, angry even nihilistic & accurate about life at the sharp end of Austerity Britain. This time around the rants have slowed a little, as a man approaching 50, in a successful band, his concerns are different to those he had 5 years ago. There are songs about consumerism, emotional as well as economic repression, questioning just where the hedonism of his generation has gotten them. “Two lines on the table at a fucking funeral for somebody who got sick of two lines on the table” (“Top It Up”) Boom!

 

More contemplative even anxious (see “Subtraction”) perhaps but the personal is still political & Jason can still turn a disdainful phrase that is concise, often funny & hits exactly where it’s aimed. “Eton Alive” is a damned fine piece of kit. It’s still a world I recognise & live in, it’s a voice we need to hear. In an interview Jason said, “I’m still of the opinion that it’s going to get really bad before it gets better – if it ever gets better.” I was having that conversation just yesterday.

 

Er…is this on? I think that I can safely say that Joe & myself are hardly experts on the British Grime scene. However when I hear Slowthai’s “Doorman”, spitting lyrics over an insistent backing, I hear the influence of Sleaford Mods. Nominated, like Idles & Fontaines DC, for the meaningless Mercury Prize, he delivered the televised performance of the year. The BBC couldn’t blank the “Fuck Boris” tee shirt, chose to ignore Slowthai swinging a dummy severed head of our soon to be Prime Minister, then the vapid host, Lauren Laverne, immediately distanced her employer from such shenanigans. Too late, he’d made his point.

 

Got Live If You Want It 2019

Three live performances from the Y-tube, from 2019, that have demanded & rewarded repeated viewing. I don’t get to many gigs nowadays, the good ones are some distance from my small town & I don’t, can’t, won’t drive (carbon footprint & as Miller in  “Repo Man” says “the more you drive, the less intelligent you are”.) so Jah bless the Interwebs for bringing this energy into my living room.

 

 

Image result for fontaines dc boys in the better land"We are a friendly bunch here at loosehandlebars so it was an easy & amicable decision to leave it to bass player of the Gatefolds, original contributor Joe Brown to big up “Dogrel” in his forthcoming pick of the year’s pops. The debut LP from Fontaines DC, a young, talented gang of Dubliners is a cracker, an expression of what it is to be young, talented & Irish in 2019. Isn’t “The Boys in the Better Land” one of everyone’s songs of the year? We’re not stepping on Joe’s turf here because there are other tracks on the album that are candidates for that title.

 

Image result for fontaines dc"Here they are introduced by someone called Jimmy Fallon who I once saw in a film about Baseball & now, for reasons that are not apparent to me, has a talk show on prime time US TV. Fontaines DC come on strong, confident that they have something worth listening to & the ability to make people pay attention. A 21st century garage band (like the Modern Lovers…anyone?), fronted by singer Grian Chatten wearing Ian Curtis’ grey shirt & stare, declaiming like Mark E Smith & finding a style of his own. Bassist Conor Deegan III makes it acceptable to go out of the house in your favourite band tee shirt & a pair of Mayo GAA tracksuit bottoms which I know will please a friend of mine. These guys are “gonna be Big”.

 

 

Image result for mavis staples 1972"It’s been a good year for Mavis Staples. February saw the release of “Live In London”, a distillation of two shows at Islington’s Union Chapel, with no reliance on the golden hits she enjoyed with her family’s group the Staple Singers. There was plenty of material to select from the four albums with Jeff Tweedy & one with M. Ward she has made in her much-appreciated resurgence since 2010. This was followed in May with “We Get By”, 11 new songs of Faith, Hope & clarity written for her by producer Ben Harper. It’s a statement of the obvious that both records are as classy, inspirational & delightful as Mavis herself. The power & integrity of her message & her voice are undimmed by the passing of the years.

 

Image result for mavis staples michelle obama"It was in May that Mavis reached the milestone of her 80th birthday &  celebratory concerts were held in New York, the Apollo, Nashville, the Ryman & Los Angeles. She was joined on stage by David Byrne, Norah Jones, John Prine, Nick Lowe, a long list of others I know & those I probably should know.  Some of these unique moments are captured on Y-tube clips where the visuals are shaky & the fidelity is low. So, moving forward to the end of June in a Somerset field, let’s have Mavis & her small, tight, long-serving band finishing her Glastonbury Festival set with the Staples’ hit “Take A Hand, Make A Friend”. With their luggage lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean everyone is dressed casually in the festival tee shirt & stretching out (a shout to guitarist Rick Holmstrom) for the encore. This woman is beautiful & a legend. Just press play, it’s all there.

 

 

Image result for jason isbell ryman auditorium 2019"Jason Isbell joined Mavis at all three of her birthday shows. There’s been no new music from him this year but he kept busy as part of backing band for his wife Amanda Shires’ new venture The Highwomen, a Country supergroup who have done very well for themselves with their debut LP. In October he & the 400 Unit returned to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for a third annual residency, six sold out shows over nine nights. To change it up audiences were asked to select the songs they would like to hear. I don’t know if they had any say in the tunes the band chose to cover, whoever it was they did their job well.

 

Image result for jason isbell ryman auditorium 2019"A 10 minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”,  with guest Hammond organ player, invokes the spirit & memory of Duane, Gregg, Dickey & all the original Allman Brothers. Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms” is a more surprising choice. Sadler Vaden may be the 400 Unit’s guitar hero, this is Jason’s solo turn. It’s an exhilarating, turbo-charged run through Tom Petty’s “Running Down the Dream” that makes the cut. Isbell has deservedly received accolades for his finely wrought roots-oriented songs but when this band makes some noise it’s the best American Rock currently around. The 400 Unit are the Heartbreakers, the E Street Band & Jason Isbell, he’s the Boss.

 

Image result for mavis staples ben harper"