.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Poems (not even a) Penyeach

Poems (not even a) Penyeach

An easy way to keep the blog ticking over as I struggle to finish any further reviews? Here's more of my verse.

This one is from a year ago and I had forgotten it completely.  I always tend to like pieces I've completely forgotten when I first find them again.

Breakfast
I rise in my cloak
of ache and my mist
of drowsiness
and mumble through
the stumble step time
washing last nights supper dishes
scraping scraps for the dogs
into a plastic box
cloudy like the winter sky
until the warmth of tea
melts my early mood
and I rise again
to a serenade in marmalade
and the sun
like a yolk haloed in albumen
spills like life
through the window
and stirs my blood

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The (Grey) Blades



The (Grey) Blades

On Friday the 13th, last Friday, I attended a gig.  I hadn't seen the band in question play a gig since 1986, indeed no-one had. I hadn't been as excited about a gig for many years. At the time they were 'current' I saw them a few times, once in a small room in O'Sheas hotel in Bray and finally in the fading splendour of The Olympic Ballroom in Dublin, playing their last ever gig. I often wished I had taken more opportunities to see them - some things get taken for granted. No danger of that now. The band were The Blades, and when I wrote THIS earlier in the year I had little idea or hope of ever seeing them play again, let alone with such passion and power and to such an ecstatic reception.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Day of the Ram


Day of the Ram - William Campbell Gault

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover but this one jumped off the shelf. The design seemed somewhere between seventies independent film and classic Penguin, nods I guess to the book's fifties genesis and the reissue date in the seventies.

It seemed likely to give what it says on the can, a slice of pure genre P.I. crime. And it did. This one was short and, if not sweet, muscular and direct, both in terms of the writing and the  main character.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Reivers


The Reivers - William Faulkner

"..Fortune is a fickle jade, who never withholds but gives, either good or bad: more of the former than you ever believe (perhaps with justice) that you deserve; more of the latter than you can handle."

A couple of years back I was thinking about authors that I hadn't read and the two names that were top of my list were Proust and Faulkner. Last year I filled the Proust sized gap and finally I have started on Faulkner.

I was, I guess primed for difficulty and was highly surprised to find myself in a romp with strong echoes of Mark Twain. This was Faulkner's last book, published a mere month before his death and it is told from the point of view of an old man. However, it is not a lament for life passed but a coming of age tale about how his eleven year old self gets caught up in a madcap adventure involving a 'borrowed' car, a stolen racehorse and sardines. And much else besides.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Brother of Sleep


Brother of Sleep - Robert Schneider
(Translated by  Shaun Whiteside)

"Come, O death, O come, sleep's brother,
Lead me where thou dost decree"

This is a brutal, poetic, fable, set in Eschberg, an Austrian mountain village. It is set in the  early nineteenth century and the dust of the dark ages hasn't been fully shaken off.  In the isolated community inbreeding has exacerbated certain tendencies and idiot children, psychopaths and one towering, mysterious case of musical genius dominate the book.

I felt elements of American Southern Gothic in these truncated, inward looking lives filled with violence and strangeness but the most telling reference point would be the fairy tales collected by The Brothers Grimm. The writing style is that of a fireside storyteller, with the fire rising on occasion to consume the village Eschberg in flames that may constitute a judgement from God.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Fund Razor for Loffa FC


Shave it Off!

Tonight I am having my hairy face returned to what constitutes 'normal' in my world.

I have been growing facial hair for the month in order to raise some funds for LOFFA FC, the sporting arm of LOFFA (Laois Offaly Families for Autism).

In LOFFA parents of autistic children get together to provide valuable support through subsidised services, information sharing, mutual support and lobbying (although that's not all they do).

Vertigo


Vertigo - W.G.Sebald

"Yes, said Lukas, there was something strange about remembering. When he lay on the sofa and thought back, it all became blurred as if he was out in a fog."

I have been meaning to reread Sebald for some time now and GermanLitMonth seemed like the perfect time to do so. I read  Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz in the year or so preceding his death, which came so shockingly soon after finding his work. The books all formed what was clearly a cohesive body of work, distinctive and original. In memory, I have found it difficult to separate them. My plan is to reread all four in order, with perhaps a year between each one.

Vertigo was just as I remembered it, an intimate voice, speculative, knowledgeable and humorous but revealing, beneath the knowledge and cosmopolitan gloss, a deep chasm floating beneath the cultural and personal history of the narrator. It is this chasm which gives rise to the feeling of vertigo which haunts the book.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Solace


Solace - Belinda McKeown

Solace is a beautifully crafted book, reminiscent in its way of the work of John McGahern. Character and place are carefully and convincingly delineated, as if they really mattered.

The story: Mark, who is (fitfully) writing a PHD on Maria Edgeworth in Trinity College meets Joanne, a trainee solicitor who like Mark is from the environs of Edgeworthstown in rural Longford. They get together and quickly and unexpectedly have a child on the way. Mark's father Tom and Joanne's (deceased) father were on both sides of a feud to do with property so the relationship is not popular with Tom.

Tom is a small farmer and wants Mark to spend more time on the farm which causes a different kind of tension between father and son. Communication is usually moderated by Tom's wife/Mark's mother Maura. Joanne has an uneasy relationship with her own mother and siblings and despite having fallen out with her father before he died, she was left a house in Dublin in his will. Any more would start to give away too much.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Top 102 Albums Minus 12 Like Flies on Sherbert


Top 102 Albums Minus 12 
Like Flies on Sherbert - Alex Chilton

While the first two Big Star albums seem to strain for commercial greatness and the third attempts to see how far the mix of strained emotions and beauty can be pushed Chilton's first official solo album mixed a sense of collapse, the decayed body of rock'n'roll and the electric jolts needed to get the corpse to kick again.

Chilton had been hanging around the CBGB's scene, playing in a band with Richard Lloyd and releasing an EP on key New York punk label Ork Records. He was producing The Cramps and founding Tav Falco's Panther Burns. He throws out chords with a couldn't give a fuck shrug but its some shrug.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Embers


Embers - Sándor Márai
(Translated by Carol Brown Janeway)

"A lamb was brought, a white lamb, and our host took his knife and killed it with a movement I shall never forget . . . a movement like that is not something one learns, it is an Oriental movement straight out of the time when the act of killing still had a symbolic and religious significance, when it denoted sacrifice. That was how Abraham lifted the knife over Isaac..."

Embers is set in the first half of the twentieth century. Much is set in the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The two main protagonists are trained as soldiers and move in circles that intersect slightly with the circle of the King / Emperor. (King in Hungary and Emperor outside) The General, Henrik, is from a wealthy aristocratic Hungarian family and Konrad is the son of impoverished Polish Aristocrats who have had to sell much of their property and possessions to put their son through military academy.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

City of Bohane


City of Bohane - Kevin Barry

"This is the Bohane river we're talking about. A backwater surge, malevolent, it roars in off the Big Nothin' wastes and the city was spawned by it and was named for it: city of Bohane."

I came to City of Bohane on the back of some strong recommendations, some great short stories and its success in winning the International Impac Dublin Literary Award. High hopes are often hard to live up to but this book both managed to satisfy and surprise.

The book is like a film noir firework show, words and phrases going off like Catherine Wheels and Roman Candles, Rockets and Spinners, Fountains and Mines. Amoung the blast and whistle of the verbal pyrotechnics are passages that hang, burning themselves quietly into your cortex, like Chinese Lanterns.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Tinkers


Tinkers - Paul Harding

"George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died."
Thus begins Tinkers, a realist frame for a fantastical work. It is as if the constraints of time are wearing away as George approaches death and he visualises the future, and the collapse of the house which he built: "George imagined what he would see, as if the collapse had, in fact, already happened: the living room ceiling, now two stories high, a ragged funnel of splintered floorboards, bent copper pipes, and electrical wires that looked like severed veins bordering the walls and pointing towards him in the centre of all that sudden ruin." He projects forward to the seeming end of time itself: "Next fell the stars, tinkling about him like the ornaments of heaven shaken loose. Finally the black vastation itself came untamed and draped over the entire heap, covering George's confused obliteration."

Monday, 28 October 2013

Top 102 Albums Minus 11 White Light, White Heat


Top 102 Albums Minus 11  
White Light, White Heat - The Velvet Underground

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." Emily Dickinson

The most iconic band in rock history? Perhaps. Today Twitter and Facebook are ticker taped with Lou Reed thoughts, clips and eulogies as the news of Lou Reed's death spreads. It seems as shocking that he was 71 as that he has died. How could someone who seemed so contemporary have been around so long. Rock autobiography after rock autobiography includes that moment when "I first heard The Velvet Underground". It was said that they sold only a few thousand albums but that everyone who bought them went on to form a band.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Dear Mr Capote

Dear Mr Capote - Gordon Lish

"Of course I contradict myself. I am large."

You need to take a deep breath after reading this novel. It is in the form of a letter from a serial killer/fantasist to Truman Capote, hoping to make a deal for his life story with Capote in the hope of securing a fortune for his son. It consists of an almighty barrage of cliches, flowing in torrents from the all too believable madness of the unnamed letter writer, who refers to himself as "Yours Truly".

Having had some small experience of being approached by aspiring writers it seems to me that this may have started life as an attempt to create a archetypical bad writer, full of utter confidence in their own genius and possessing, as this type does, the ability to completely ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus Ten. Atomizer


Top 102 Albums. Minus Ten. 
Atomizer - Big Black

This is an intense howl of disgust. It sounds like Giorgio Moroder producing Black Sabbath, the bastard progeny of Wire, Suicide, Gang of Four, Dead Kennedys and The Pop Group. It is a frighteningly cold, distant record, peeling the pie crust from the violent, idiot stew that bubbles under the thin glaze we call "civilisation".

Big Black's singer, Steve Albini has said that he first and foremost saw this as instrumental music and it is certainly the sound that hits first. It sounds like the guitar wires are about to get shredded and apparently  blood on the strings was an integral part of the Big Black live experience. Even the drum machine sounds like it's been shipping some serious steroid abuse.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Angle of Repose


Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner

"tonight I can sit here with the tape recorder whirring no more noisily than electrified time, and say into the microphone the place and date of a sort of beginning and a sort of return: Zodiac Cottage, Grass Valley, California, April 12, 1970."

I was reading this in conjunction with Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos who has already posted his review here. Given the fact that Tombstone and the West are key elements of the book I guess you could say that he beat me to the draw. And he shot Wallace up pretty bad too. Maybe even worse shape that the narrator of this book, the wheelchair bound Lyman Ward. My thoughts here have evolved into a long ramble which use a lot of words to say very little but they may yet be of some interest to some.

Ward is a professor of history, but a medical condition which has led to the amputation of one of his legs and given him a head like a gorgon's, always staring straight ahead. He has withdrawn to his grandparent's cottage where he is attempting to write a book on his grandmother, using her letters, his memories and his imagination to tell the story of her life and that of his grandfather, and indeed his father's too. It is made more personal as his mother died when he was two and he was brought up by his grandmother. So it is an exploration of what he inherited from Susan Ward.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus Nine. Passionoia


Top 102 Albums. Minus Nine. 
Passionoia Black Box Recorder

"From passionate to paranoid"

There's acieeeed! There's Britpop. Then there's Luke Haines, a faraway look of glee in his eyes as he washes the Union Jack in a far more corrosive form of acid.

What can you expect from a man who called one of his bands Baader Meinhof and released a (essential) compilation called Luke Haines is Dead?

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Vote for Me!


Vote for Me!

This is just a quick note to say that my eulogy for Seamus Heaney has been shortlisted to be published in the next Goodreads Newsletter. The winner is selected by public vote so if any of you are Goodreaders you can click this link and vote for me (or someone else if you will). You will have to join the POETRY! group to vote.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A Visit from the Goon Squad


A Visit From the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

I lost this book mid-stream and so there was a large gap between starting and finishing it as I waited to find another copy. The book contains a lot of characters over a long period of time and the loss of my initial impetus affected my reading of the book. I was really enjoying it when I lost my copy and I don't think I quite reached the same level of enjoyment during my second bite, although I did enjoy it.

I have also lost some impetus in my blogging. I usually like to write within a few days of finishing, while my emotions while reading and the detail of the book are still fresh and alive. However, my blogging feels a little uphill at the moment and it is a few weeks since I finished this, and given the complexity of the books structure, that has involved a quick trawl through the book to refresh my failing memory. I never do this, and as I have typed out a load of  information such as the lengths of the chapters, the characters in each etc, I am going to use it in this post, just to impress myself. This may lead to SPOILERS so tread carefully.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus 8. Curtis

Top 102 Albums. Minus 8. 
Curtis - Curtis Mayfield

With The Impressions Curtis Mayfield had delivered some timeless records, none more so than People Get Ready, who's gentle sound belies the strength of its emotions, a strength which made it an anthem for the civil rights movement in the sixties, and beyond. It' s roots lay in gospel and it's aspirations in some kind of paradise.

He was many things, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, record company owner etc etc... There was change in the air in 1969 / /1970 and Curtis was a leader rather than a follower and took the social consciousness that had been a growing constant in his music and allied it to a funkier, looser more dramatic soundscape, like Gershwin meets James Brown. Songs stretched to eight and nine minutes, although they never feel long.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Seeking Mr Hare


Seeking Mr Hare - Maurice Leitch

This is the third Leitch novel that I've reviewed on this blog and I aim to make it through his life's work, which currently stands at ten novels. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a review copy of this just released novel on the shelves of a charity shop in Dublin. The three I've read suggests that the novels add up to a portrait of Belfast and the surrounding countryside through different strata of time. The first one I read The Eggman's Apprentice is set pre-troubles and the second Silver's City is set at a time when the 'Troubles' were in full flow.

This digs down a few more years to the 1820's but already there are many pointers to the situation that pertained in more recent times, and still does.

Propaganda identifying the Irish as a sub-race was already there. Defining the enemy as different and in some way sub-human was of first importance. It still is. However, phrenology has had its day other than providing colour to mantelpieces. "What you see before you is a typical example of the Celtic sub-race. Ireland, indeed, has the largest head size of any equal land area in Europe, the cranial vault low and domed, nose long, large and high bridged, the lips thin to medium and  a little everted, skin colour pale white, sometimes ruddy, often freckled, hair dark brown, or medium brown, red, rarely black."

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Words for Seamus Heaney


For Séamus Heaney 
13 April 1939 – 30 August 2013

To call this a poem would not serve the memory of a master craftsman but here are some words that emerged on a day when poetry and one very special poet was constantly on my mind. Séamus Heaney was as close as this island had to a spiritual leader, as he carefully negotiated the gulfs between modernity and tradition, republican and unionist, and showed us that these and other gulfs were merely cracks. He led us halfway to healing.

I somehow feel that I knew him, both through his poetry and his sons, who were in college when I was and were warm, intelligent and generous men.

My thoughts are with them and all his family.

Stone
(for Séamus Heaney)

"Ah, no; the years, the years
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs" (Thomas Hardy)

You made rubbings
of the marks of death.
easing them carefully
onto the page

worn words rising
sharp
from crumbling stone.

The strong hands of death
ease you
into the earth
but your careful marks
will outlive
stone

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Top 102 Albums. Minus 7. The Clash


Top 102 Albums. Minus 7. 
The Clash - The Clash

"Everybody's doing
Just what they're told to
Nobody wants
To go to jail!"

Things have been a little quiet here among the smoke and darkness at Vapour Trails so I felt it was time to set the speakers shaking again and what better than a bit of 100% proof punk rock 'n' roll to shift the cobwebs.

I did think for a while that Sandinista would be #myclashchoice but every time I listen to this it inspires a wave of optimism - a rare enough event around here to warrant making a splash about it. But Sandinista is a cruelly undervalued album which sounds like it was tuned in to the future and there are always surprises in the wayward generosity of it's thirty-six tracks.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Young Adolf


Young Adolf - Beryl Bainbridge

"Never in all my life, thought Adolf, under torture or interrogation, will I mention that I have been to this accursed city, visited this lunatic island."

Rarely has a book I've read drawn so many covert glances on public transport. The front cover of the young bellhop Adolf Hitler saluting while dressed in his uniform seemed to encourage multiple double takes.

Bainbridge deploys a virtual blitzkrieg of ironic frisson in this tale of the visit of the young Adolf Hitler to pre-WW1 Liverpool. As the hapless anti-hero bumbles his way through some down at heel adventures during his stay with his half brother Alois' family, his future is farcically foreshadowed.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Loitering With Intent


Loitering With Intent - Muriel Spark

Like champagne bubbles being burst with a scalpel, Spark's novels are outrageous fun with a bitingly sharp edge. Loitering with Intent tells the story of Fleur Talbot who, while writing her first novel, takes on a job with Sir Quentin Oliver's Autobiographical Association. They prove to be a strange group and to bear an odd resemblance to characters and events in Talbot's first novel.

And although I am not overly familiar with Spark's life, my sketchy knowledge is enough to inform me that there are resemblances between Fleur Talbot and Ms Spark. The Autobiographical Association in which Fleur finds a job bears some resemblance to the Poetry Society, where the young Spark worked. The graveyard in which the book opens was one in which Spark spent much time writing poetry. Dexedrine plays a part in both Spark's life and the book.  At the same time the book is not so much realism as a series of games.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Detective Story


Detective Story - Imre Kertész

This was my first brush with the Nobel Prize winning Hungarian author Imre Kertész and it won't be my last. It is a spare short novel that explores the mechanics of totalitarianism. Names that came into my head while reading were Beckett and Kafka. The book is light on specific details of time and place and remind you that those details often create a distance from the guilty secrets that lie mouldering in humanity's closet. The book looks at the working of the law in an unnamed South American country recently taken over by a shadowy 'colonel'.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Holiday Booty


Holiday Booty

One of the things I most enjoy while on holidays (sad obsessive that I am) is the opportunity to visit second hand bookshops / charity shops that are new to me. What purpose this serves given the fact that I have already got at least a decades worth of unread books I don't know but I guess it's a sort of addiction. Perhaps one of these days I'm going to suddenly find the time and energy to start reading at a hugely accelerated pace...

I spent a week and a half in South Kerry, staying in Caherdaniel and Ballinskelligs. The weather was fabulous and the ocean temperature was over twenty degrees, which was frankly a little perturbing when you are used to the sudden intake of breath usually caused by the rather lower temperature of the seawater. However it is a perturbation I am more than willing to suffer on a regular, ongoing basis.

Anyway my time spent in Kerry was not a disappointment and I would have bought more books had there been more time to spend in the bookshops and more space in the car for books. As it was the absence of both of these kept my wildest impulses under control. Breaking new ground for this blog, here is some  travel writing centred on the hunt for second hand books.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus Six. In Cassidy's Care


Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus Six. 
In Cassidy's Care - Miracle Mile

"Hope will be the death of me"

Regular readers will know Trevor Jones from his many comments on posts here and quite possibly from his own excellent blog at http://hissyf.blogspot.co.uk. Some may even know his music but not as many of you as should. His band, Miracle Mile, have released seven studio albums and a compilation since 1997. In Cassidy's Care is their eight studio album, and was released officially on July 22nd. I've had a copy for a month or so (bought here) and have been listening to it more and more.
My experience of this album began with a series of posts on Trevor's Hissyfit which grew into the short story In Cassidy's Care from which the songs on this album grow. The story tells of a teacher, Cassidy, who has moved to London from Connecticut, met his then future wife on a park bench to which he now takes his two sons when they are "in Cassidy's care", as he is now separated from his wife. His wife is called Amelia, calling to his mind the Joni Mitchell song. Indeed, detritus from the song are strewn through the story, from geometry to a cactus. Slanted and pointed.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus Five - Plastic Ono Band


Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus Five
Plastic Ono Band - John Lennon

I remember where I first came across the idea of Primal Scream therapy as proposed by Arthur Janov. It was in an explanation of where the name Tears for Fears came from, in Smash Hits magazine, I think. I must have been intrigued by the idea as this has stuck in my head for many years. However the bands songs never seemed to live up to the idea although I liked their first single Pale Shelter. My guess is that Tears for Fears had come across the idea through John Lennon, who was Janov's most famous client. Lennon was a client of Janov's for some months in 1970 and although he broke off therapy the album which followed clearly accessed deep wells of feeling and remains one of the most powerfully emotional records in the 'canon'.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Troubles


Troubles - J.G. Farrell
(Winner of the "Lost Booker' awarded in 2010 to novels from 1970 that had been denied a shot at the award because of changes in the dates for eligibility.)

This is the second book from J.G. Farrell's "Empire Trilogy' that I have read after The Siege of Krishnapur. It is just as impressive and I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the third book in this trilogy, The Singapore Grip (or anything else by Farrell). Rather than follow each other in any plot driven way the books cohere thematically around the crumbling of English colonialism.

In Troubles we follow the journey of Major Brendan Archer from London to a massive old hotel on the coast of County Wexford, in Ireland. He is badly shaken by his experiences in the trenches during World War One and goes to Wexford to see Angela Spencer whom he met during a break from the war and believes that they became engaged. He is familiar with elements of the hotel and the life within from the stream of letters he received from Angela but is surprised to find that some things have been left out of the letters and that Angela is very serious and withdrawn. This is not what he expected. In fact so withdrawn is she that his decision to break off the engagement can't be carried out as he never sees her after the first couple of days. Her father Edward is a man being consumed from within by rage. He sees English rule as being responsible for whatever civilisation there is in Ireland and the rebellion as a damned impertinence.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 4 The Memphis Album

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 4 
The Memphis Album - Elvis Presley

"My home town won't accept me
I just don't feel welcome here no more"

Elvis is such a colossus that he can lie hidden in his own shadow. We all know 'Elvis', but sometimes it feels like the music is consumed by the jumpsuits, the musicals, the resurrections (I read somewhere that the resurrected Elvis has been seen more times than that other resurrected messiah), the manager, the hips, the sneer, the burgers, the movies, the city in the sand, the sweaty towels, the grubby flood of money and on and on.....

In the crunching darkness of that shadow are his many achievements. Even those known to all like The Sun Sessions or Heartbreak Hotel are often discounted somehow as if they existed like some natural occurrence. It's as if Elvis was inevitable, his importance more the intersection of socio-cultural events than an artistic creation. He is buried under the mountains of tat like my Elvis clock, the pendulum of which is a cutout of those forbidden legs.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

I've been finding it difficult to gather the time and attention to read for the past few weeks and I thought I'd try something a bit lighter to try and get those pages turning for me again. It has been anything up to thirty years since I read any Agatha Christie but I did read a large number of her books in my early adolescence. I may or may not have read this one, at times it seemed familiar but familiarity is one of the reasons to read Christie.

Indeed I found myself reminded of other books from my childhood that I've recently been reading for my ten year old and that I probably read at around the time I was reading books by Christie - Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys etc. Christie is far more sophisticated than these but there are many structural similarities. It moves swiftly from set up to denouement with the minimum of excess writing. At its heart is an England of leafy lanes and villages, upstairs and downstairs, gardeners and parlour-maids, with the addition of intrigue and murder most foul.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 3 Sketches of Spain


Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 3 
Sketches of Spain - Miles Davis

Life seems just a little more dramatic and exotic when this album is on in the background. It brings   colours to the dullest day. It is an album that gets played regularly even if there was never a time when it was on constant rotation, seeming to have slowly insinuated itself into my consciousness.

I could have picked a number of other Davis albums. He was both consistent and ever changing and is one of the few artists that remained essential over decades. I could have picked Kind of Blue or Bitches Brew, Porgy and Bess or The Birth of the Cool. It could even be that this album will be replaced in the future by one of the albums I haven't listened to.

FRENZIED YOUTH RUN AMOK



FRENZIED
YOUTH
RUN
AMOK

INTO A WORLD BEYOND
HUMAN COMPREHENSION!

A WORLD WHERE TIME HAS NO MEANING!

Here's something from the days of dubbing from vinyl to cassette and then decorating the cassette case with the aid of a photocopier and some Pritt stick.

I found this one amoung a pile of old cassettes in the attic. A favourite 'uptempo' mix in which I avoided the darker corners of my record collection. Each song is burnt into my auditory retinae from its time as a long term resident of my walkman. Memories.

I think I made this for going abroad in summer 1988. So this is the twenty fifth anniversary digital remaster!




Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Top 102 Albums Minus 2. The Queen is Hollow


Top 102 Albums Minus 2. 
The Queen is Dead / Hatful of Hollow - The Smiths

May 18th, 1984. Walking up the North Circular Road. All the gardens have been stripped of their blossoms. Flowers haven't been so in vogue since 1967.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Bend Sinister


Bend Sinister - Vladimir Nabokov

Well, Nabokov has thrown this whole blog enterprise into question. All I am, apparently, is increasing the tedium of the world
"There exist few things more tedious than a discussion of general ideas inflicted by author or reader upon a work of fiction. The purpose of this foreword is not to show that Bend Sinister belongs or does not belong to 'serious literature' (which is a euphemism for the hollow profundity and the ever-welcome commonplace). I have never been interested in what is called the literature of social comment (in journalistic and commercial parlance: 'great books'). I am not 'sincere', I am not 'provocative', I am not 'satirical'. I am neither a didacticist nor an allegorizer. Politics and economics, atomic bombs, primitive and abstract art forms, the entire Orient, symptoms of 'thaw' in Soviet Russia, the Future of Mankind, and so on, leave me supremely indifferent. As is the case of my Invitation to a Beheading - with which this book has obvious affinities - automatic comparisons between Bend Sinister and Kafka's creations or Orwell's cliches would merely go to prove that the automaton could not have read either the great German writer or the mediocre English one."

He's not afraid of opinions, whatever about 'general ideas".

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 1. Unknown Pleasures


Top 102 Albums⁺ Minus 1. 
Unknown Pleasures - Joy Division

"I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand,
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?
These sensations barely interest me for another day,
I've got the spirit, lose the feeling, take the shock away."

Irony. A definition. One of the very first vinyl albums I bought was Unknown Pleasures. The copy I bought was never listened to. Before I even got to take it out of its sleeve it was broken. Someone sat on it. (It may have been me.) It was a few weeks before I managed to replace it and I considered framing the broken disc as it seemed like such a perfect accident.



Monday, 3 June 2013

Let the Great World Spin


Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann

It is hard to avoid cliches when talking about this. It invites the automatic blurb generator to cough and splutter into action:
"a dizzying achievement"
"a high wire act"
"poise and balance"
"vertiginous"

The book circles Philippe Petit's astonishing high wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974, a feat that induces vertigo even thinking about it. It was also the subject of the hugely successful documentary Man on Wire, which I have yet to see.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Known World


The Known World - Edward P. Jones

Time to return to book reviewing here at Vapour Trails after a hiatus caused by my focus on my Top 102 Albums⁺. Although I intend to continue blogging on my favourite albums I will not be doing so quite as regularly and hope to achieve a mix of book and music posts. I also hope to write on film a bit more, although I do often find that by the time I can settle down to watch a film I am too tired to do so.

I knew nothing about this book when I started reading and was therefore surprised when one of the central conceits was revealed after a few pages, in this description of the slave Moses and his master, Henry Townsend.  "He was thirty-five years old and for every moment of those years he had been someone's slave, a white man's slave and then another white man's slave and now, for nearly ten years, the overseer slave for a black master." In fact  I was a little afraid that the 'black master' might be a 'gimmick' that was the reason for the book's popularity but as I read on this fear proved unfounded.

The book pushes you to try to understand what it was to only have value as livestock and to be bought and sold at a whim, moved away from friends and family as a child or an adult, even put down if you were too troublesome. Even free blacks were required to carry their papers with them at all times and were repeatedly forced to show them by the law, which mainly existed to ensure that no slaves escaped.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ MY GROUND ZERO Sister Lovers / Third


Top 102 Albums⁺ 
MY GROUND ZERO 
Sister Lovers / Third - Big Star
"Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold"

This album has probably been played more than any twenty other albums in my possession. There were a number of years when the day that I didn't play it was rare and the days where I played it on repeat for hours were common. Late nights were its preferred habitat but anytime was ok.

It's an album with a strange history and one that is probably more famous now than ever. It languished unreleased for four years after it was recorded and was released intermittently after that, usually on small labels, and with different tracks added or subtracted and in different order. They had different covers. The copy I got my hands on was the Castle Communications version released in 1987. This is the one pictured at the top of this post.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Bonus Top Tens - John Healy


Bonus Top Tens - John Healy

John was the drummer in the first incarnation of The Knocking Shop. He is a Dubliner who grew up in Sydney, his family having moved there when he was young. He came back for a number of years but is now based in Sydney again where he is still making music, including the wonderful Broken City People album which he released in 2011 and which includes the heartbreaking, wonderful Longreach.


John's passion for music and the way, as with all of us, music and memory intertwine is captured in a great Top Ten.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 1. Highway 61 Revisited

As a result of my liking for having my cake and eating it, I am continuing this list to 0 and then beyond, into the shadows of the negative numbers. There was not enough space in 102 albums. So I have a No 1 and a No -1 and also 0, the ground zero of my musical world, due next. 

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 1. 
Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan

"Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. "

I have no problem selecting my favourite Dylan album. He has released at least ten albums that could comfortably sit in my top five if I selected them as my favourite Dylan album but I can't remember a time when this wasn't my favourite Dylan album.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Bonus Top Ten - Pete Holidai



Bonus Top Ten - Pete Holidai

"I'm going to smash my Telecaster through the Television Screen."

Todays Bonus Top Ten is a bit special, coming as it does from the legendary Pete Holidai, guitarist with perhaps Dublin's greatest contribution to rock 'n' roll, The Radiators from Space. His trebly Telecaster adorned their fabulous Television Screen and he made sure that the Ghostown rocked. Ghostown, you may have noticed, is at No 2 in my favourite albums list. Anyway it is a sign of the class of the man that he took the time to make up and send me his personal Top Ten.

The list includes early punk, some of punks glam precursors, and a taste for exotic sounds from the fifties, especially if space themed.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 2. Ghostown


Top 102 Albums⁺ No 2.
Ghostown. The Radiators.

"I guess we had to get older
And the memories are scratched"
This is one of the great Irish albums, an album which seems to capture the essence of the Dublin of the time. Philip Chevron's accent, the pool halls, the cellar bars, the remains of rock 'n' roll, the tension between paralysis and defiance. Cabaret tinted theatricality, poetry and punk meet Brylcreem and bingo on the dark side streets of a city where the anger simmers in the juices of despair.
"The town clock tells her last week’s time"

Posting this is bittersweet given the very recent news that Philip Chevron, who has battled cancer, has seen that cancer return in an inoperable form and as he put it "this time the cancer is lethal." As well as being a Radiator, Philip released an excellent solo Brecht/Weill mini album Songs from Bill's Dance Hall and a single, Dominic Behan's The Captains and the Kings. He produced Agnes Bernelle's first two albums and most famously, was a member of The Pogues. He also composed music for theatre and much else besides. Hopefully this new stage in his life will be long and fruitful. His hope, is to make some 'notable musical contributions" to add to the many already made. None, I think, more notable than Ghostown.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 3. Speak Slowly


Top 102 Albums⁺ No 3. 
Speak Slowly - The Stars of Heaven
"This is not a holiday, there are no Honky Tonks
The unknown jukebox with a few country songs
We drink wine as cheap as Hollywood and talk about the day
You pointed at the signpost that read 'our separate ways'"
Other than the couple of bands I was involved with there is no band I have seen more than The Stars of Heaven and yet I still regret all the gigs I could have gone to but didn't. In mid eighties Dublin they struck me with the force of a revelation. Seeing a band this good in small venues dotted around Dublin (The Underground, Sides, McGonagles, The New Inn, Hawkins House) was, and seemed like, a privilege. That the promoter (Smiley Bolger) had to get on the stage and ask the small crowd to buy drinks for the band after a Christmas 'fundraiser' gig tells that that privilege wasn't always appreciated. Won't somebody out there please upload a live recording?

Friday, 17 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 4 Grotesque (After the Gramme)


Top 102 Albums⁺ No 4. 
 Grotesque (After the Gramme) - The Fall

"The dead cannot contradict
Sometimes the living cannot"

This is the hardest choice for me to make. The Fall have an varied yet consistent body of work and there are probably ten or more albums jostling for this position. As I write I am considering Grotesque; This Nations Saving Grace and Shiftwork. Earlier I had it down to Live at the Witch Trials, Perverted by Language and Extricate. I've considered 'cheating' and using The Complete Peel Sessions. Hex Enduction Hour jostles with The Wonderful and Frightening World of. Then Slates and The Infotainment Scan raise their hands. So there is more than the usual element of pin the tail on the donkey about today's choice.

After much procrastination I have chosen Grotesque.  It is the sort of album that would insult me in a way that I would not entirely comprehend, but would fully understand. "All the English groups, act like peasants with free milk"

Bonus Top Ten - Kevin Byrne


Bonus Top Ten - Kevin B

Here's another top ten that was directed my way through Brendan's auspices. The thing I really like about this list is that if you took any nine albums from it you'd be totally stumped as to what the tenth would be. A thoroughly individual list.

Over to you, Kevin:

I was directed to your listings my  fellow muso Brendan, who recently contributed an engaging Top Ten selection
I am very much enjoying browsing your Top 102, and was delighted to see Babble by TPE and O’Riada sa Gaiety in there among others.
My selection is below, it’s in no particular order except for the No.1. No great plan in making the selections, other than they are 10 albums I would still play right through,  more often than not as opposed to a track here and there. 
Regards
Kevin B

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 5 Searching for the Young Soul Rebels/Don't Stand me Down


Top 102 Albums⁺ No 5 
Searching for the Young Soul Rebels/Don't Stand Me Down - Dexy's Midnight Runners

I struggled for a while to choose between Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and Don't Stand Me Down. Why struggle, I thought. There's room on this horse for two.

The way that Dexy's moved between styles, musical and sartorial, on their first three albums means that they almost seem like different bands anyway. Were these changes driven by a passion for renewal or were they simply lurches? No band has displayed the tension between an intensely passionate focus and a kind of wild vulnerability more than Dexy's, or more to the point singer and (lightning) conductor Kevin Rowland.