Bam Bam and the Calling and The Gweedore

 

Way, way back in September 2015  an impressive response to a benefit gig for Syrian refugees provide a one-night-only chance to see the best of Derry’s musical community play live. So I made my first journey to Northern Ireland & what a night it was. The clincher was a rare appearance by Bam Bam & the Calling, the same 4 guys I had worked & played out with 30 years ago. They were good people to know & their band rocked, always had & still did. This week they reassembled to celebrate the Gweedore Bar, a touchstone for the city’s musicians, fans & drinkers who came of age in the 1980’s. It was Xmas, I had places to go, people to see, all of them a long way from Derry. These clips, from the set at the well-appointed Nerve Centre, show that I sure missed something.

 

Derry, indeed all of Northern Ireland in the 1980’s, was a different deal to mainland Britain. Those Troubles, troops & bombs & the shame-faced manoeuvres of political leaders who lacked the will to find a solution, were part of an everyday experience that needed somewhere to go to do good things like play & listen to music. I asked Joe Brown, bass player of Bam Bam & the Calling, for his memories of the Gweedore & an appreciation of its importance to the musically minded youth of his generation

 

 

 

For many of us The Gweedore Bar in the 1980’s was a safe zone. Back then Derry’s city centre  was a different place, other establishments  were  bombed out, burned out, under surveillance (from various factions involved in the conflict) or worse, transforming into a dodgy wine bar attracting people in pastel colours, home perms, no socks and linen jackets rolled up to the elbows…and that was just the blokes!!

 

The Gweedore itself back then was a dingy, dull hole, the faded decor untouched since the “glory days” of the early 70’s. The place was held together with beauty board, flock wallpaper,and the strong aroma of a new smell of something burning other than war. For all its dull outward appearance it was the most colourful, vibrant, comical, open minded, free thinking joint in the town, indicative of its patrons and staff and at the helm was its Captain.

 

Willie Barrett…everything flowed through Willie…he championed everything, from awaydays to see Derry City’s games, quizzes, darts tournaments and his influential starring role as “entertainments manager”. He took it on and became a mentor to every musician who played a note in that bar. The upstairs “lounge” became our very own CBGB’s/100 Club… Any list of the bands that played there would be a very long one & there would still be hundreds of faces & noises that we have forgotten.

 

 

 

 

Image result for the gweedore bar derryNational music magazines, record companies, A&R people, braved the “Troubles” to get a piece of what was becoming the most talked about live venue in the north..and still, the flock wall paper played a starring role…to this day people remember careers being launched/ended and launched again there… Bands came and went, emigrated, recorded, wrote songs, released records, helped one another out and became part of a scene that proved to be both innovative and inspiring.

 

In the new decade the music continued with new faces, longer hair, and t-shirts over baseball tops. There were new owners, redevelopment & wall paper strippers which cleaned up the joint & it was time to find somewhere else that would have us. The impact of those years still reverberates around Derry & further afield. It was a creative explosion of a different kind. In a city where life could be difficult the dirty Gweedore was a place where things could be said, arguments could be had & new music was created & appreciated. The Gweedore and its ethos will live forever…. SEE THE LOSERS IN THE BEST BARS, MEET THE WINNERS IN THE DIVES….(Neil Young “Sail Away”)



 

 

 

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people playing musical instruments, night and concert

photo © Lorcan Doherty Photography

OK Joe, “where the people are the real stars” yeah. Thanks Joe for remembering that & thanks too to Jim Cunningham for remembering to take his camera to the Nerve Centre. Jim’s clips capture a band of brothers with an undimmed passion to play the music they like & like they mean it. It’s great to see the award-winning animator John McCloskey onstage. John unfortunately missed the gig I attended, he knows how these songs go, his guitar adds muscle to the dynamic tension of the band. Bam Bam & the Calling keep the flame of big guitar music, Derry music, burning. This great photo of singer Paul Pj McCartney, a man of individual preference in shirts & immaculate taste in music, turning it up & leaving it on, makes me wish I’d been there for the reunion. Next time for sure.

 

 

 

 

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.