Features

From Vinyl to Obscurity

Sunday, 16 March 2008

From vinyl to obscurity ( The many classic Irish folk albums that never made it to cd)

I have many wonderful memories of Irish folk music that enriched my collecting and would be the basis to how I got into the music in first place. I play the bodhran and I formely lived in Galway for fifteen years, playing many sessions in the town. I now live in Edinburgh and I am doing a course in journalism at Napier University. To get back to music collecting, one of the reasons I took up the humble goatskin was through hearing the likes of Christy Moore, Planxty, Bothy Band and De Dannan and of course, The Cheiftains. Some of these artists are still easy to find and have made a smooth transference to the CD medium, but some have never seen the light of day since the vinyl records were deleted.

Two cases in point would be De Dannan and the Christy Moore period between the two Planxty phases in the seventies.

1) De Dannan’s first album simply titled De Danann (spelt differently in the mid-70s) from 1975 (Polydor and Boot Records) has hardly ever seen a CD release, if for only the occasional 200 limited edition CDs once in a while, but it has never had a proper re-release on CD. The same for their following album, Selected Jigs,Reels and Songs (1977 Decca), yet both albums are masterful classics and like the famous Velvet Underground and Nico debut album, inspired many people to learn an instrument and form a group, though in De Dannan’s case a trad group. The excuse apparently for the second De Dannan album not making it on to CD was that someone had lost the original master.

2) Christy Moore, now you can still get his debut album Prosperous (1971 Tara) and his 1977 and 1978 albums Live in Dublin (Tara) and The Iron Behind the velvet(Tara), but for a long, long time his two mid 70s albums were unavailable, Whatever Tickles Your Fancy (1975 Polydor) and Christy Moore (1976 Polydor) also known as the black album. In 1982 a compilation of these two albums was released called Nice N’ Easy (Polydor), that was the last that was heard of these records for at least twenty three years, at least until the boxset in 2004, which featured a handful of tracks from both albums. The albums were to only see the light of day again as a double package CD released by the Austrailian record label Raven in 2004. Still, it was only a limited release so there are not many copies floating around, if you do find them on the net, you will pay a few bob more than his normal releases.

What I don’t understand is why they weren’t released before 2004 in like say, the mid 80s, this was a seminal period in Christy Moore’s career, it was his third and fourth solo albums, and his first after leaving Planxty after their first phase. His 1976 album Christy Moore had seminal Irish hits such as Nancy Spain and classics like Little Musgrave and featured the likes of Barney McKenna, Jimmy Faulkner, most of Planxty and a few members of the Bothy Band too. Perhaps now, more little folk gems will be uncovered.

This is my very first blogging piece, so I’m still trying to work out what and what not to include. I’m definitely going to add more to this particular piece, such as other long lost vinyls like Inchiquinn and numerous others that I don’t remember for the moment. Give me feedback and tell me what you think.

Piping in the Battlefield by Niall McQuaid 25.04.2008

The Battlefield Band is one of the great Scottish traditional folk bands who continue to make great music and tour relentlessly around the world unleashing their brand of celtic folk rock.  Along with the Tannahill Weavers, The Whistlebinkies, The Boys of the Lough, Silly Wizard and Dick Gaughan, to name a couple, the Battlefield Band have influenced new folk bands like Deaf Sheperd, Shooglenifty and the bagpipe rock boom. The Battlefield Band started in 1976, influenced by the Irish folk boom with bands such as the Bothy Band, Planxty and De Danann who carved a new sound out of old traditional music with added strings and bodhrans and a faster speed.

The Scottish bands had the added addition of a bagpiper, and Mike Katz, the Battlefield Band’s  Piper does the job very well, he is the group’s fourth piper.  Originally from Los Angeles  in the States, he moved to Edinburgh in 1987 and has lived there since.  The group released a new album Dookin’ in November 2007 and They have been touring the record for the last four months.  I asked Mike how the tour was going and if there was any exciting moments?
“ Normally we go to the States for a couple of months a year, touring in two different segments, so we’ve just come back from that.  We started the tour in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, so we’ve been busy since January.  We tour all the time, we’ve been asked before about anything particularly exciting [whilst touring], but quite a lot of the time it is fairly dull or the bits that you find amusing aren’t really entertaining to somebody else.  There has been a lot of good places, we were in Vancouver for a week doing a festival there and we did a festival in Texas with Altan and David Munnelly.”

Mike Katz of the Battlefield Band

The new album Dookin’ which was released in November last year is a frothy brew of jigs, reels and songs.  Alan Reid is one of the original members who is still playing in the group since 1976, he sings the older traditional ballads and plays keyboards, accordion, whilst the younger Sean O Donnell (guitarist and singer) from Derry sings more current folk songs.  Alasdair White plays the
fiddle, but plays an array of other instruments on the new record such as whistle and Boozouki.  Mike Katz as well as playing the bagpipes also plays small pipes, whistles, boozouki and the electric bass on the new album and follows a line of pipers that included Ian MacDonald and Dougie Pincock among some of the pipers to play with the group.  The album also has special guests playing alongside the group such as guitarist/singer Mitch Greenhill and traditional mouth organ player Mike Whellans.

I asked Mike about some of the tracks on the album, especially the opening tunes, Dookin’ for Beetroot, The Head Roaster.  The Head Roaster being dedicated to a coffee the group came across while touring the States, Katz elaborated about it.
“The story was about this guy who turned up in North Carolina and he gave us some coffee, he decided that his name should be the head roaster, it was a kind of weird name if you see it written down, but the coffee was very good and it was nice to have it, worth a tune I suppose (laughs)”.

The Battlefield Band

Has Lost Been Found

This next feature is probably a little dated now as it deals with the fourth season of Lost.

With ABC’s Lost now into its fourth season one wonders if the production crew can keep the same interest level in the programme as subsequent seasons. Season one charted the story about plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island in the Pacific Ocean, whilst season two and three dealt with, the discovery of underground hatches, their fight for survival and their attempts to escape the island’s sinister inhabitants. Each season is measured as one month on the island bringing the survivors story up to a hundred days on the island for season four. This makes the longevity of the series a very plausible theory and not as far fetched as some of the programme’s critics would to lead us to believe.

When the third season of Lost finished last May, the storyline had been developed to the point that one of the survivors, Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox), had finally managed to make contact for the first time with the outside world on a satellite phone. The fourth season has been very successful so far, the Sky One viewing figures show on average of 1,370,000 viewers per episode, whilst in the US ratings can be as high as 15 to 20 million viewers per episode.

Lost creator’s Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse talked about the introduction of new characters to the show and some of the problems they encountered while making the fourth season. Lindelof gave no clues about the new characters being a permanent feature on the show.

“ None of these guys are doing just one episode. Some of the arcs are staggered over the course of the season, some are intensive at the start of the season and may or may not continue, some of them have potential regular status in future seasons, we don’t want to divulge which is which, because frankly, the actors themselves don’t know.”

Although Lost has been very successful the programme has had some recent setbacks, such as the 2007 – 2008 Writers Guild of America strike, which involved 12,000 writers from 5 November till 12 February 2008 and created major problems for US television programming in general. The Lost team had only managed to complete eight episodes of the new series before the strike came into effect.  Cuse gave his reasons in November for joining the strike.

“This is a legacy strike. Its more about the Guild for future writers. Any kind of prolonged strike now will cost writers more now than they will gain in the specific contract. It feels like one of those seminal turning points where the issue at stake is the future of the residual system.”

Since its inception the seasons of Lost have become progressively shorter. Season one featured twenty four episodes, season two twenty three episodes and season three featured twenty two episodes, the last episode being a two part double length episode called Through the Looking Glass. With season four the producers have cut the seasons down to sixteen episodes, but only eight episodes for this year had been completed before the strike took effect.

Lindelof commented on the future of season four during the final stages of the strike.

“ As for Lost, a game plan should begin to manifest by the end of the week. All I can say is that Carlton (Cuse)and I and the rest of the writers have every intention of making sure you guys get more episodes this season beyond the eight already completed. How many and how they will be aired is a conversation we’ll be having with our bosses, but as soon as we’ve got a plan, we’ll tell the fans first.”

Because of the strike the other half of season four will be shortened into five episodes, making the whole season only thirteen episodes long. Cuse elaborates on the plan for for the rest of the season

“ We’re going to have to hit the ground running, go from zero to 100 mph in a matter of days to make as many episodes as possible. As for turning a 16 episode season into a 13 episode season, we will have to condense some stories.”

The new characters joining Lost will add a new dimension to the storyline and will connect Jacks phone call from the last season, the characters being, supposedly, the rescuers from the freighter anchored forty miles from the island. .

Three of the characters were introduced on the second episode of the season Confirmed Dead, where they parachuted on to the island. Daniel Faraday played by Jeremy Davies is the fourth new character introduced in the last moments of episode one The beginning of the End. Faraday is the geeky character who is a physics genius and seems to notice something odd about the island and its anomalies. The other characters are Miles Straum played by Ken Leung, a ghost buster (one can imagine he could be quite invaluable to Locke for possibly communicating with Jacob). Anthropologist Charlotte Lewis played by Rebecca Mader and helicopter pilot Frank Lapidus played by Jeff Fahey.

Lindelof commented on the decision to cast Ken Leung as Miles.

“ Literally the morning after his episode of The Sopranos aired, I said to Carlton, “Have you seen that episode? There’s an actor on this show – I’m not going to tell who he is… The next morning Carlton came in he had seen the episode and said, “Ken Leung” And I said, “Bingo.”

He also gave his view on what many fans consider the new Lost favourite, Jeremy Davies who plays Faraday.

“He’s one of those incredible opportunities. He’s a guy who only does movies, and for him to do part in our series, it was exciting. He’s one of our favourite character actors – a complete chameleon.”

The rest of the new faces which will be appearing throughout the new season is Jeff Fahey who gets the role of the helicopter pilot Frank, Fahey shot to fame in the early 90s in the film The Lawnmower Man and Rebecca Mader who plays English anthropologist Charlotte. Some more new characters are expected to be added to the series by the sixth and seventh episodes of the season.

To co-incide with season four is the release of the Lost Video Game which was launched in the 26th February in the US and the 29th in the UK by Ubisoft on PC, Xbox and PS3 formats. The game incorporates three seasons of Lost and should keep fans busy when season four ends ( check the review of Lost the video game in the Gadgets and Games section).

A Feast of Rare Floyd footage

When Pink Floyd reformed for Live 8 in July 2005, it was a defining moment in rock history, in just over twenty two minutes the group had revisited their three landmark albums and retired gracefully from the stage to a rapturous applause. Sadly one of the co-founders of the group, Syd Barrett passed away just over a year later, guitarist David Gilmour and keyboard player Richard Wright paid a tribute to Barrett on the Jools Holland show by performing the group’s very first single Arnold Layne to a very surprised audience, Wright also being a member of the David Gilmour touring band. Oddly enough bassist Roger Waters was also touring at the same time with Nick Mason sitting in on the drums for the Dark Side of the Moon suite, effectively Pink Floyd was touring in two halves around different parts of the world.

In the last few years Waters has been touring and performing a project called Ca Ira, work that he started twenty years ago in 1988 based on the history of the French Revolution.  He was originally approached by the Roda-Gils in 1987 and commissioned to write the music for the French bicentennial of the revolution. The French opera directors vetoed the idea because Waters was English, so plans was shelved until 1995 when he resumed work on the project again.

When Waters was asked in a recent interview if the original Pink Floyd would get back together again, he was doubtful for it happening.

“ The answer is… not up to me. The answer is: I’d be very happy to do it but its sort of up to Dave, I guess. But I don’t think he wants to do it, so I don’t think it will happen. And thats absolutely fair enough. Its not going to change my life. But I did love Live 8. I thought that it was really, really special.”

Much video footage of the Floyd has become available more recently on the internet and put up by collectors of the group, there is thousands of clips available on youtube of the band and there are many collector sites where you can download torrents of Floyd videos. Many dvds have been released of the group too, not so much of original content, but of rambling documentaries featuring very little of the group. The culprits here being Classic Rock Productions and their ‘critical review‘ dvds, they have released about twelve Pink Floyd dvds so far. Their dvds purport to have extremely rare Pink Floyd footage, but after viewing some, I found the clips to be so frustratingly short and a rip off. Most of the critics featured are unknown and a vast chunk of the music is played by a Pink Floyd cover band. Saying that, there have been some great releases such as, Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii which was remastered a few years ago with added visuals, the BBC have done some great documentaries like Classic Albums and a Syd Barrett retrospective, not to mention, the various live concerts of David Gilmour’s Floyd in the late 80s and early 90s.

When an original Wall concert from the 1980/81 tour surfaced in 2000 on cd, Is There Anybody Out There, many fans thought that a dvd of the tour was also going to be released too. Especially when it was revealed in various magazines and books that Alan Parker had filmed seven of the Wall shows during the 1980 tour, as part of the original plan for inclusion in the Wall film. Of course, we all know that he started from scratch and made a feature film starring Bob Geldof instead. Parker and the group shelved plans to release the footage as, they didn’t consider it to be very good quality. When looking back at the rushes of film of the shows, Parker remarked, “ It was like looking through soup.”

Channel Four made a documentary that coincided with the live cd in 2000, Behind The Wall

featuring interviews with all the original members of group and featured some of Parker’s salvaged footage of the band in concert in 1980, proving there was decent footage in existence.

In a radio interview in 2004 Waters was asked about original Wall footage from 1980 and if there were any plans to remaster and release the footage on dvd.

“Yeah, that could happen. I’ve actually… strange that you should ask that question. I’ve been looking at some of the material over the last couple of weeks it finally appeared out of the midsts of time from a mixing and editing suite in Los Angeles and it doesn’t look too bad. I think its an interesting historical document, so yeah, I think it will definitely become available and at some point quite soon.”

It is now four years later and still no sign of the dvd, considering that a five hour Led Zeppelin dvd was released in 2005 using the latest digital technology, that can restore old grainy seventies footage to crystal clear quality, so one wonders, why the wait?

Having seen the footage some years ago, the unofficial bootleg version, I found the quality to be quite reasonable. The faraway shots of the concert from the back is very murky and there is a bit of snow in the picture quality, but the video is still incredibly watchable. The close up shots is fairly clear, there is a good camera angle involved when filming the crashing of the 20 foot warplane from the balcony to the stage at the start of the show. There are many great moments in the video like, the teacher puppet, the floating pig, tracks like Comfortably Numb, Run Like Hell and, of course, the forty foot wall itself. Most of part one is fairly clear footage, it is only when the wall goes up during the show that the contrast gets darker for part two of the show, but its still fairly watchable.

One fan said on a forum he would buy the dvd if only the soundtrack was remastered. I would go along with this, there is a hiss in the video soundtrack, which I think was shoddily done, but it could still be improved if collectors found the correct audio master to sync to the film.

Comparing the 1980 footage to that of the reformed late 80s Floyd and their videos A Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse, I found the earlier stuff to be heavier and punkier. The modern Floyd sounded like Foreigner or Toto compared to the original beast.

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