That Was The Year That Wasn’t (Frannie Says)

It’s time for a select group of invited correspondents, good friends of the blog, to give their thoughts on the past year. It will be understandable, in these strangest of times, if the tone is a little more downbeat. We are though folk who take strength & delight in the small mercies of life & in music. First up, straight outta the wilds of Donegal Ireland, is Frannie Moran a man with plenty to say & when drink has not been taken to excess (joke) makes a lot of sense.

So, it’s that time of the year again and my mate Mal has asked me to put a few words to screen for his always entertaining and enlightening blog ” Loosehandlebars “.(shucks). What a year eh ? I try to avoid any mention of it now but 2020 has been entirely decimated due to Covid-19, no live football, no live gigs, bugger me I have had 2 bloody pints of Guinness since March, small wonder Diageo shares are falling!!  On a purely personal level, my year took a sharp downward curve when my brother-in-law and very close friend, Hugh passed away in early March. There is a void there, it will take a lot to fill it.

Northern Ireland fans in John Prine tribute after coronavirus death -

On the 7th of April there was more bad news when one of my all-time heroes, singer-songwriter John Prine succumbed to the dreaded virus. The hammer had come down fairly heavily at this stage, John was a funny guy who wrote and sang some very comical songs with a dry wit, he made me laugh a lot but then on the other side of the coin, he made my cry a lot, I was introduced to him by my friend Seanan Brennan, I had moved from Ballybofey to Ballyshannon in 1992, like previous transfers I tried to befriend local musicians and man, there were a fair few in my newly adopted hometown, Jason, Michael, Johnny, Stephen and Seanan whom I invited out to my wee gaff one night along with a few others, Seanan now plays with Kila but that particular night it was all about folk songs, ya know, Neil Young, Gram Parsons. He played John’s “Angel From Montgomery” &, I was instantly smitten with an artist I knew very little about. Nanci Griffiths had covered “Speed Of The Sound of Loneliness” a hit of sorts here in Ireland, a couple of weeks later I bought a cassette tape at a local market, it was the “Prime Prine” collection, 10 songs If I recall rightly (he doesn’t, there were 12) and each one a gem. It was soon followed by THAT debut record from 1971. I had long maintained that Townes Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ Round To Die” is the saddest song ever written but then I’d never heard “Hello In There”. The sense of pathos running through that song never fails to move me, makes me want to visit my mother more often and wishing I had visited my old man more often when he was alive, it is a stone cold classic.


Fair & Square: Music

I was fortunate enough to see John Prine perform on two occasions. The first time in Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey,Donegal (his wife Fiona is from just down the road) while he was touring the “Fair and Square” record (2005), his first new material in a decade. Guitarist Jason Wilbur accompanied then and remained constantly by his side until his passing. Fast forward a good few years to Vicar Street in Dublin, John had undergone surgery for a form of throat cancer, his voice was a bit more ragged but it was another memorable gig, Lake Marie being the highlight.  This gig took on an extra emotional dimension for me, it was the last gig I attended with my close friend Pa Roche, myself, Pa and his wife Pat had a glorious night, I will miss John Prine, he was a genuinely good man!

Khruangbin discuss their musical process, uniting styles and cultures, and  their favorite guitarists from around the world | Guitar World

New stuff, well there is so much stuff out there now with the web and all, it really is hard to keep up but one band has drawn me in completely and utterly. They are called Khruangbin and after a sup or two of pale ale I usually refer to them as “that new 3-piece from Texas”, that’s easier to pronounce! Like a lot of newer material, I was introduced to them by Mr Loosehandlebars. An EP recorded with Texan soul man, Leon Bridges, made an immediate impression & on further investigation I found myself loving this band who I for one cannot categorise. There is funk, dub, psychedelia, rock, eastern vibes, there is a whole lotta stuff going on here. The sinewy guitar binds it all together and as for the rhythm section, man, they are tight and the bass player is also stunning to look at (careful now Frannie). Their early records are almost entirely instrumental, on the latest, Mordechai has more vocals although, I suppose, mantras or chants would be a better description, anyway, their sound, it works for me, this one is taken from the aforementioned Mordechai, be prepared to chill.

Live music ha, you must be having a laugh! One bloody gig in 2020, Supergrass in the Olympia on the 14th of February, I always thought they were the best outfit in that whole Brit-Pop thing, 100 hooks per song, choruses to die for, they did not disappoint, Not ashamed to say that my grin was a yard wide when they launched into “Alright”, I bopped like any 59 year old bopper should but I think I may have torn something, no matter, a perfect gig in many ways, Supergrass do what it says on the tin, they entertain, the company I was in that night only added to the occasion, The McDonnell brothers, Pat and Gerry, once again I thank you and all your entourage, it was a mighty night’s fun!

So, this annus miserablis is soon to end. It was what it was and it wasn’t great to be honest but hey, Mayo Gaelic football team, having beaten Tipperary in the semi, have earned another shot at an All-Ireland title. My football team, Tottenham, at this moment in time are top of the Premier League. The coach, Jose Mourinho, is not everyone’s glass of Licor Beirão & sometimes his methods ain’t that pretty at all. If, a big IF certainly, he wins our first title for 60 long years then 2021 will be a year to remember for the right reasons. I’d just like to wish anyone who reads this a happy and peaceful Christmas, stay safe and take good care of yourselves and each other !

Splendid Isolation (Amanda & Jason)

Whatever displacement activity occupying my time in this stretch of isolation is put to one side every night at 11 pm UK time to watch & listen to a tea-time concert from the home of Amanda Shires & her husband Jason Isbell where they are quarantined with their daughter Mercy, Amanda’s guitarist Seth Plemmons, his wife Kelly & Zeyke the dog. In the past month I’ve gladly accepted & enjoyed invitations to join favourite musicians like Richard Thompson & Kate Rusby in their living rooms but these daily “I So Lounging” sessions have become a much appreciated constant when you are living by the days. I’m in daily contact with family & friends but the best news we have is “I’m still here”. The opportunity to enjoy some good music, to listen in to good conversation by good people is a blessing. This weekend Jason reached out & got his band back together.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Reunions – The Drift Record ShopJason Isbell & the 400 Unit have a new album, “Reunions”, slated for release on May 15th. There are three track available on the Y-tube & “What Have I Done To Help” is sounding more powerful each time I hear it. There will not be the usual promotional run for “Reunions”, the in-store record shop appearances, the national tour & even the Summer festivals may not happen. When Jason did gather the Unit from their respective isolation they chose to play a track from “Something More Than Free”. “24 Frames” is a staple of the band’s setlist & it rocks. This more living-room friendly acoustic version by musicians who are not going to play together for some time is a beauty. “This is how you make yourself call your mother & this is how you make yourself closer to your brother & remember him back when he was small enough to help you sing”. We’re all taking some time out to do that.

amanda shires john prine — Blog — Lindsey BestThe quality of the “I So Lounging” sessions has been uniformly high but new heights were reached on the day we heard of the sad passing of John Prine. John was a Great American Songwriter as well as a friend & mentor of both Amanda & Jason & on April 8th they performed “Angel From Montgomery”, “Clocks & Spoons”, a favourite of their daughter who loved her Uncle John, & “Illegal Smile” while sharing stories of times shared with him. It was obvious from the sigh at the beginning of this clip that Amanda was having a tough day & she did have to take time to compose herself. I was fine as between songs they shared affectionate memories & humorous  stories about their friend. John Prine’s songs are always honest & bitter-sweet & I must admit that halfway through “Illegal Smile” it was something more than dust in my eye that brought the tears.

Throughout this memorial & tribute I knew that I had come to the right place to think about & pay my own respects to a fine artist. I only know John Prine’s music but these people knew & loved him as a human being. I felt their loss & was grateful that they were taking the time to share their feelings with us. The following day a beautiful piece written by Jason appeared in the New York Times, further confirmation that none of the many obituaries & eulogies about John were more heartfelt than the performance I had witnessed on the previous evening. 

Amanda Shires joined by husband Jason Isbell for two Montana shows ...Alongside their own songs Amanda & Jason are taking the opportunity to cover some of their favourite songs. Jason sang fine versions of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” & “Unknown Legend”, Amanda chose “Chelsea Hotel #2” & “Everybody Knows” from the Leonard Cohen songbook. Others have included Loudon Wainwright, a great reminder of how good a song the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa” is & a very a propos “Keep On Smiling” by Wet Willie. Last night (Sunday) I was introduced to Lennon Stella’s charming “Golf On TV”. We’ll go with Amanda’s take on Radiohead’s “High & Dry” because, after seeing her sing, play & talk to us daily for almost a month now, it showcases what an absolute talent she has & delight she is. All of the “I So Lounging” episodes can be found on the Amanda Shires channel on the Y-tube ( Episode 20 is the Prine tribute). I can only recommend that you check them out, I can only hope that they bring you as much pleasure as they have brought me.

While I’m here I’ll mention that Sadler Vaden, Jason’s trusty guitar partner in the 400 Unit has his own solo album. I had kind of guessed that Sadler had a bit of a thing for Tom Petty & “Anybody Out There” is an assured collection of modern American Rock. The more I hear the more I’m liking it.

OK, I have a couple of hours before tonight’s episode. Time to read a little more or to progress my game of “Civilization V” before settling down to enjoy whatever Amanda & Jason (not forgetting Seth & Kelly) want to bring into my living room for 45 minutes & to celebrate making it through another day. Stay safe & stay healthy everyone.