Bye Bye 09, It’s Been Great

31 12 2009

Yes friends, today is the last day of the year and indeed the whole decade. The “noughties” have been a decade of huge highs and lows. I started out in ’02 with people lining up to tell me it was impossible for a working class bloke from Newry with no contacts to make a living as a freelance journalist. It was a really tough few years with literally no money. I was living in glorified squats while dealing with the fact that at that time there were NO outlets for entertainment journalism in Northern Ireland and needless to say it was pretty stressful. Still, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and helping launch the Belfast Telegraph’s weekend supplement 24/7 and giving a hand in founding Alternative Ulster magazine were definitely highlights from those shitty years.

I’ve been at this for 7 years now and in many ways I’m very grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. In early 2005 I was about to pack it all in as I (somehow) ended up interviewing every one of my heroes (bar Morrissey and Courtney Love…). While it was a huge acheivement for me, I was in a bit of a slump and left in a “what do I do now?” funk. Thankfully I gave myself a metaphorical boot up the hole and got on with things and the last half of the decade has been fantastic.

So what have been my highlights of 2009? Christ, I don’t even know where to start, but I thought it might be good to reprint my favourite piece I’ve written this year. So below is the final draft of my NI scene report for the NME. Enjoy and see you all next year…

United by Noise

A Northern Ireland Scene Report

Three decades ago, Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns first preached from his punk rock pulpit about an ‘Alternative Ulster.’ Since then, music in Northern Ireland has grown and mutated into a visceral and at times venomous beast with bands preferring to give the mainstream a sonic two fingered salute rather than court the industry coke-heads of London Town. You see, for years the Ulster scene has been brushed under the carpet in favour of more geographically friendly areas in both the UK and Ireland. Due to its well documented political Trouble, the media appears to prefer focusing on yet another report from Liverpool, Manchester or wherever rather than sending a scribbler to the formerly war-torn area because it just seems like a safer option. While it pains this writer to admit it, NI will always be haunted by the spectre of semtex and suicide even though it’s been relatively bomb-free for years, but this has ultimately made it’s music utterly life affirming. Every note counts and every song matters. Thanks to sites such as local music bible http://www.fastfude.org, bands like the Beat Poets and Ash-endorsed Oppenheimer can make music and tour under their own steam without relying on hand-outs from ‘the’, ahem, ‘Man’. If you want something done right you have to do it yourself afterall.

Right now there are a gaggle of great acts in NI. Leading the charge are And So I Watch You From Afar. The four-piece craft instrumental music that could easily soundtrack buildings tumbling, world’s colliding and large, green aliens landing from space and eating people’s brains. Plus, any band who can get run over by a car and play a gig later that night has our vote for life

NI’s finest purveyors of indie pop Two Door Cinema Club are also doing great things and peddle tunes that are as catchy as Chlamydia at the Playboy Mansion. Think Deathcab for Cutie embroiled in a knife-fight with Modest Mouse and you’re close.

Not Squares are currently getting local music critics’ collective undercrackers in a bunch and from a quick listen to thrash dance anthem ‘Vita Sackville West’ it’s easy to see why this Julie Ruin worshipping mob are making all the right moves. Their sound is a synth-laden cacophony of boy/girl vocals and shouts and their live show has more kick-ass moments than a night out with Joey Barton.

But it’s not just about hand-claps and keyboards in NI, probably the most historically prevelant scene has featured music from the ‘eavier end of the spectrum. Carrying on the torch from the likes of the Undertones and Therapy?, the Black Bear Saloon are the latest group to give us some new teenage kicks and they sound as venomous as an episode of America’s Next Top Model. The future of rock is in safe hands with this fearsome four-some.

Finally, if there was ever a band that summed up the true rebel-rousing spirit of Belfast then it’s the Tin Pot Operation. They adore putting noses out of joint, have wound up more people than Jeremy Beadle and best of all they’re not afraid to talk about politics and poetry. Their self-released slab of wax ‘Human Resources’ is a beautifully battered sonic manifesto and it sums up their home-town better than any empty-headed politician ever could.

It’s true that NI has had more than its share of ups and downs over the decades but 2009 looks set to be a break-out year for Northern Irish musicians who have been united by noise. Remember where you read about them first.

Edwin McFee





An Open Letter To St Nicholas

24 12 2009

I’m winding down for the Crimbo break and about to head back home to Newry, but before that I’ll leave you all with a special message courtesy of the Murder City Devils (and if you’re into the Devils, check out the blog next week where I reveal what I got in my copy of Feather Bed Whiskey Blanket!)

Happy Christmas dudes.





New Iron Man 2 Trailer

17 12 2009

Marvel have released the first official Iron Man 2 trailer and it’s a doozy! War Machine at the end looks the mutt’s nuts. 

Sadly I can’t embed the video on my blog just yet-but click on the link here to watch it-http://marvel.com/news/moviestories.10674.watch_the_iron_man_2_trailer_now~excl~?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Pulse220&utm_content=IM2Teaser&utm_campaign=Pulse220Newsletter12162009

And if you still can’t get enough of ol’ Shellhead-here’s the leaked footage from a comic con during the summer…





Pledge: A Tribute To Kerbdog

17 12 2009

During the summer the guys at Stressed Sumo Records asked me to write a few liner notes for their upcoming Kerbdog tribute album and I’m pleased to say that the record comes out in the New Year. There’s some great bands involved with the project and here’s the details below-

(Taken from kerbdog.com and posted by Phil at Stressed Sumo)

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Right, i can now let you know the details of the album.

It will be out at the end of February

These are the bands on the album (in no particular order)

Cars on Fire
Left Side Brain
Dutch Shultz
Frank Turner
Mike Got Spiked
Days of Worth
Stations
Jamie Lenman (Reuben)
Knievel Genius
Hold Your Horse Is
Ocean Bottom Nightmare
Dry Rise
Dave McPherson (InMe)

There may a couple of other bands on the digital release.

Sleeve notes from Kerbdog, Kerrang, Rock Sound, NME, Alternative Ulster, GGGarth Richardson and Jack Endino.

Release party in Dublin at the end of February. bands tbc.

I hope you like it – it’s taken me a long time to put it together. I’ve taken alot of care over it, so hopefully it does Kerbdog and the bands on the album justice.

-=Update=-

A few more details for you.

Release date: 1 March

Release Party: 27th February @ Academy, Dublin. Stations, Cars on Fire and Dutch Schultz will be playing. The Kerbdog lads will in attendance.

Sleeve notes from Jack Endino, GGGarth Richardson, Cormac – on behalf of Kerbdog, Simon Young (Kerrang), Ken McGrath (Rock Sound), Edwin McFee (NME &Alternative Ulster).

www.pledgeatributetoKerbdog.com will soon have lots more including notes from the bands involved.

I have also included a link to Kerbdog.com in the sleeve notes.

Hope some of you can get to the gig – i am looking forward to coming over to Dublin for the weekend!





Imelda May Gig Review

15 12 2009

Righto-well I survived London (just about) and this week I’ll be getting back into the swing of things workwise and blogwise so to kick things off here’s a reprint of my review of the Imelda May gig that ran in Fate.

Imelda May at the Mandela Hall, Belfast

Walking into the Mandela Hall tonight is a bit like stepping out of Doc Brown’s Delorean from Back to the Future and going straight into the 1950’s. To the left and right of us there are quiffs, polka dots and victory rolls everywhere (and that’s just the men) and the joint (we believe that’s the official rockabilly word for it) is packed with people all eager to see Dublin chanteuse Imelda May strut her stuff. Loved by the likes of Jools Holland, the Glastonbury organisers and, er, the Loose Women, the singer is possibly one of the most naturally gifted singers this writer has ever seen. From the first song (‘Feel Me’) everything looks so effortless for the star and her backing band (comprising of a double bass, trumpet, stripped down drum-kit and a pretty sexy looking Gretsch) are first class.

Playing material culled from her hugely successful album ‘Love Tattoo’ our Imelda can croon with the best of them, treating us to some of the best old school rock ‘n’ roll songs of the decade. ‘Love Tattoo,’ Paranoid’ and ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’ (allegedly written about this reviewer…) all hit the mark and the crowd are loving it. But it’s not just about hand claps, fingers snaps and Eddie Cochran-esque guitar licks-our leopard print clad heroine can belt out a ballad with the best of them. ‘Knock 1,2,3,’ a spooky song about dead lovers, is so quiet you can hear a pin drop (or, in this reviewer’s case, three pissed up girls with Bettie Page fringes ordering Bacardi Breezers in the adjacent bar). Imelda, the consummate frontwoman, coos the lines, drawing us into a story about ghosts with broken hearts and it’s one of the best songs of the night.

The singer is also getting good at the onstage patter too, describing ‘Smotherin’ Me’ as a song about a bloke who was “doing her head in” and by set closer ‘Johnny Got a Boom Boom’ she has everyone won over. At the start of the tune, the multi-talented songwriter picks up a bodhran (just in case you didn’t attend a Christian Brothers or Convent school-that’s a traditional Irish drum) and adds a unique spin on a classic sound. Possibly the best moment of the night was the appearance of the supremely cool Jerry Fish though, who duetted with Imelda on the Johhny Cash/June Carter tune ‘Jackson’ (as well as a well received ‘Ring Of Fire’) but it’s Ms May’s final number, a rockabilly-tinged rendition of ‘Tainted Love,’ which blows us all away. This was one timewarp we’d love to do again, and again, and again.





Off To London

9 12 2009

As of today (Wednesday Dec 9) I’m off to London until the weekend, so if you don’t hear from me you know why. I’m bringing Carrie over to see Marilyn Manson in the cosy surroundings of the Brixton Academy and then I’m going to see WOLFSBANE support the Quireboys on Friday. Now WOLFSBANE split up in 1993 (when I was 13) so I never got to see ’em live so I’m well chuffed they’re doing a few reunion shows. Apparently they playing for a full hour and there are new tshirts to buy so expect to see me walking around Belfast in a Howling Mad Shithead shirt soon.

If you’ve never heard the band before check out ‘Massive Noise Injection’ (probably one of the best live albums of all time) and have a wee look at this video-





Albums of ’09

8 12 2009

As things start to wind down, all the magazines are printing their lists of the year as not much else is happening. Last month you may remember I submitted my albums of the year for NME and Hot Press and as they’re now published I can post up what  I submitted (exciting, eh?). I haven’t seen Hot Press’ list yet, but I have seen NME’s and I think it’s quite similar so I’m on the same page as at least a few folk. Pick up this week’s copy as I’ve written some of the accompanying blurbs.

Anway-enough labbering-here’s my albums of the year (insert drum roll here)

Albums Of The Year (Edwin McFee)

1.      Gallows ‘Grey Britain’ (Warner Bros)

2.      Kasabian ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ (RCA/Columbia)

3.      Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘It’s Blitz!’ (Interscope)

4.      Therapy? ‘Crooked Timber’ (Demolition Records)

5.      The XX ‘XX’ (Young Turks)

6.      The Cribs ‘Ignore The Ignorant’ (Wichita)

7.      Morrissey ‘Years Of Refusal’ (Decca)

8.      Julian Plenti ‘Julian Plenti Is Skyscraper’ (Matador)

9.      Iron Maiden ‘Flight 666 Soundtrack’ (EMI)

10.    Lily Allen ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ (Regal)

11.    Amanda Blank ‘I Love You’ (Downtown Records)

12.    Karen O and the Kids ‘Where The Wild Things Are OST’ (DCG)

13.    Rancid ‘Let The Dominoes Fall’ (Hellcat)

14.    Spinnerette ‘Spinnerette’ (Anthem)

15.    Dananananaykroyd ‘Hey Everyone!’ (Best Before)

16.    Kill It Kid ‘Kill It Kid’ (One Little Indian)

17.    Paramore ‘Brand New Eyes’ (Fuelled By Ramen)

18.    Empire of the Sun ‘Walking On A Dream’ (EMI)

19.    Biffy Clyro ‘Only Revolutions’ (14th Floor)

20.   And So I Watch You From Afar ‘And So I Watch You From Afar’ (Smalltown America)





Blaze Bayley-Watching The Night Sky

7 12 2009

Blaze’s new album ‘Promise and Terror’ is out on Feb 6, 2010 and he did a live appearence on a Greek TV show recently and performed a new track-‘Watching The Night Sky.’ It’s a bit raw because it’s live TV and the track sounds like it’ll be a future classic.





Julian Casablancas-I Wish It Was Christmas Today

5 12 2009

Sadly there’s no video, but have a listen here. I LOVE it!





Pocket Billiards Interview

4 12 2009

I interviewed the mighty Pocket Billiards for AU magazine a few issues ago, so here’s reprint.

Pocket Billiards

 

Members: Savage (guitar, vocals), Chuck (guitar, vocals), Steve (keys), Anto (bass), Jim (drums), Joe Monk (trumpet), Elaine (alto sax), Slow (tenor sax).

Formation: Belfast 2002

For Fans Of: The Slackers, Voodoo Glow Skulls, the Clash

Check Out: Debut album Pocket Billiards is out now.

Website: www.pocketbilliards.co.uk

Ever since their inception at the start of the decade, it was clear that Belfast based ska punks Pocket Billiards were something special. Even during those early days when their line-up had more changes that the Sugababes you could always guarantee that a Billiards show would be a fun night out and over the last seven years they’ve matured into one of the country’s best acts. This month they capitalize on all that talent by releasing their self-titled debut album and it was a labour of love for the nine-piece. Recorded by Oppenheimer’s Rocky O’Reilly at Start Together Studios, the slab of wax took three weeks to record and for frontman Chris Savage it was a huge relief to finally get a record out there on the shelves.

“It was brilliant finally getting a recording that really gets across the energy and sound of the band,” he says. “We previously had only recorded a demo way back at the start and then produced an EP in a bedroom (that sadly didn’t sound so good) and I think we proved to ourselves that we could make a good record. Rocky was great to work with and was as willing to experiment with different effects as I was and it allowed us to capture the sound that we had always wanted.”

With morale at an all time high, Savage and Co. decided to finally take the plunge after meeting Rocky at this year’s And So I Watch You From Afar Mandela Hall show and after listening to the high octane release, we’re glad they did.

“I just thought the time was right to make this album. We took a bit of a break over the last few years as a number of band members, including myself, became parents and after the Billiard’s baby boom, we felt that we wanted to get back to playing shows and having fun.  We picked up some good support slots, had written a load of songs and finally had a stable line-up, so we felt it was time to get the music recorded.

“The actual recording all seems a bit of a blur to me now,” he continues.  “As we were pressed for time we worked pretty hard for most of it. I remember the rest of the guys laughing at me because at times I was really losing my temper and getting a bit of a huff on.  I’m surprised they could put up with me! While listening to a playback after one of the recording sessions Anto [bass] declared that we needed ‘eagle ears.’ Now I don’t know much about birds, but I’m pretty sure that the eagle is not particularly well known for its immense auditory sensory system (I can only imagine Bill Odie would shake his head in disbelief at that statement).”

One of the best aspects of the record is the fact that they write about where we live. Tracks like ‘SPIDE’ and Belfast Town’ are not only kickass ska songs, we can relate to them too.

“I can’t stand it when artists sing in the generic ‘American’ accents or write lyrics about things they are totally detached from, just because it may be deemed cool,” he offers. “I try to write about things I have experienced or witnessed and feel strongly about, such as my daughter being born two months premature, the nonsense of musical cliques, or watching your mate become a drunken fool on a night out. At the same time I feel it’s important for me not to take myself too seriously and a bit of humour is certainly something that goes hand in hand with Pocket Billiards. I suppose that’s where songs like ‘SPIDE’ come from and the instrumental track ‘Don’t Scratch My Soca’ is a tribute to one of my all time favourite comedy shows Desmond’s. For me lyrics don’t have to be sublime pieces of poetry, if they are honest and sang with feeling then it’s more natural.

“To be totally honest I have no idea what people’s reactions to the album will be,” he concludes.  “The record is loud, energetic and catchy as hell and one thing I know is that this isn’t just for ska lovers. The album is packed full of heavy riffs, powerful brass lines and sing-a-long choruses. I just hope that people give it a shot and enjoy it.” Edwin McFee