Moments in music
2009 was Blur, Britney, booing and big bands not living up to their billing, but it’ll be remembered as the year when the underground went mainstream. Tony Clayton-Lea, Jim Carroll, Lauren Murphy, Brian Boyd and Kevin Courtney choose their moments
ALL YEAR LONG THE STARS WERE UNDERGROUND
It was the year the underground came overground. A bunch of bands released records which saw them enjoy an increased mainstream profile, better-than-usual album sales and a bumper take at the box office. Bands such as Animal Collective (January), Grizzly Bear (May) and Dirty Projectors (June) reaped the rewards, while Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver saw their 2008 albums continue to sell well. You can mention terms like “the tipping point” to explain it all, but more folks are digging what was once termed alternative music.
The Irish music scene has spawned some potentially world-conquering acts over the past few years, yet only one or two have secured the admiration of critics and fans alike. The talented Conor O’Brien – musician and artist extraordinaire – unleashed his new project
Villagers this year, with a debut EP ( Hollow Kind) of songs so striking and swoonsome that Domino Records snapped them up, making them the first Irish act to sign to the label. Their forthcoming debut is the most anticipated Irish album of 2010. LAUREN MURPHY
A flinging-pop-filth-at-our-kids moment almost on a par with the Sex Pistols being interviewed by Bill Grundy in the late 1970s. Late
Late Show host Pat Kenny decided to grill the Libertines/ Babyshambles singer about his drug past with former squeeze Kate Moss. Like a dog with a bone, Kenny caught Doherty in a grip that refused to loosen until the latter decided that enough was enough as he shielded his face under his hat and asked Kenny whether he could name one of his songs (he couldn’t). The generation gap parted like the Red Sea, Doherty seemed like the archetypal misunderstood rock star, and Kenny came across as a befuddled dad whose tastes started and stopped with The Nolan Sisters. TONY CLAYTON-LEA
MARCH JAPE IS THE CHOSEN ONE
It’s no secret that this year’s Choice Music Prize was a close-run contest – a secret ballot decided the outcome. It must have made victory sweeter for Richie Egan, whose album Ritual triumphed over some truly fantastic records. It established the Crumlin man as one of the country’s most creative musicians and finally provided him with the confidence to go forth and conquer. LAUREN MURPHY
Lady GaGa may be 2009’s pop princess, but Liberties girl Imelda May reigns supreme as Ireland’s queen of rockabilly, blues and rhythm’n’blues, and such belting songs as Big Bad Handsome Man and Johnny’s Got A Boom-Boom have put grit back into Irish pop.
Armed with a kiss-curl, a bodhrán, bundles of attitood, and a mature voice, May has got her boom-boom on at Glastonbury, Electric Picnic and Other Voices, and was crowned Best Irish Female at the Meteor Music Awards in March. KEVIN COURTNEY
MARCH NO TUNES ON THE HORIZON
It was a year of ups and downs for U2 Inc. Despite the hype (including the band setting up shop in the BBC for a week), new album No
Line On The Horizon proved a damp squib. Bono appeared to blame the public for poor sales (“We’ve made a work that is a bit challenging for people who have grown up on a diet of pop stars”) but the lack of love for the new songs at gigs told the real tale. Still, the bulk of those shows were sold out. Time for the Greatest Hits tour? JIM CARROLL
SUBO SOCKS IT TO SIMON
She dreamed a dream, and it was modest enough – to make a living as a professional singer. Eight months after socking it to Simon
Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan on Britain’s Got Talent, the 47-year-old from Blackburn, Scotland is top of the charts in 15 countries, including Ireland, the UK and the US. Her album, I Dreamed A Dream, had the biggest pre-order sales in Amazon.com’s history. Fame has been hard on her, and the dream could yet turn sour, but that moment when SuBo turned into a butterfly right before our eyes will linger. KEVIN COURTNEY
APRIL-SEPTEMBER NOW YOU SPOTIFY IT, NOW YOU DON’T
In late spring, Irish music fans discovered Spotify.com. Thanks to astute use of a technical loophole, we filled our boots with the eight million tracks on the free-to-use streaming service and had a blast rediscovering old favourites. This, we reckoned, was the future. Sadly, in September, Spotify got wise and closed the loophole. JIM CARROLL When is a pop star not a pop star? When they’re around in body but not in soul? When Britney brought her Circus show to Dublin, she mimed the flashy, trashy set. This pinpointed her complete failure as a pop star to engage honestly with her fanbase, and it was the first time that this writer has seen something that approximated a hologram in place of a human.
JUNE MICHAEL JACKSON RIP
BRITNEY DROPS IN
I had to turn around about five million words on the night Jackson died and the next day. So it wasn’t until I was walking up Baggot St later that sunny evening that I could even begin to think about what had happened. From a dry cleaners I heard the strains of Sammy Davis Jr’s Mr Bojangles. I stood listening outside transfixed by how the lyrics were so uncannily appropriate. BRIAN BOYD
JUNE WAS IT ALL A BLUR?
Lennon and McCartney, Morrissey and Marr, Albarn and Coxon. As far as severed alliances go, the rift between Blur’s singer and guitarist wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but when the band announced they were reforming for concerts in Hyde Park, Glastonbury and Oxegen, the stampede for tickets made the ground shake. It was nearly 10 years since they had last shared a stage, and 20 years since they had formed, but Blur proved they were still at peak power. Glad they didn’t wait 20 years to bury the hatchet. KEVIN COURTNEY
JULY 360• IN THE SHADE
The delayed plane landed at about 8.40pm. U2 were on stage in Barcelona’s Camp Nou at 9.30pm,
for the first gig of their European tour. I asked the taxi driver how long it would take from airport to stadium. He said one hour and 10 minutes. I told him not to spare the horses and if he got me there for 9.20pm there’d be a free ticket in it for him. We got there at 9.15pm.
I was so traumatised I had to stay at the after-show free bar until 7am the next morning. BRIAN BOYD
JULY GEOFFREY GURRUMUL YUNUPINGU, LONDON
I swooned slightly when I first heard Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s debut album. I knew he was a blind Aboriginal who sang in the Yolngu language, that he played the guitar upside down (he’s left-handed) and that he believed himself to be descended from rainbow pythons. I expected some worthy world music affair but what I found was a glorious gospel singer (after a fashion) with a crisp tenor voice which he wraps around songs of beauty and brio. This gig was one of those “hushed” affairs where the plangent strums of the guitar and the sweet clarity of the vocal brought you on a mini-walkabout. BRIAN BOYD
It seemed like Oasis were going to be one of those bands that hung around releasing sub-par drudge well into their twilight years. Then again, it seemed like a matter of when, not if, the brothers Gallagher would kill each other. Having failed to brand any of their albums since 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory with real quality, Oasis called a halt to their 18-year career after a backstage bust-up in Paris.
Hold that sigh of relief though: solo projects have already been announced. LAUREN MURPHY
DE BURGH STRIKES BACK
Chris De Burgh played three sold-out concerts at the Gaiety; and this paper dispatched Peter Crawley to review one of them. The review, which referred to de Burgh as a “small man” with a “warbly tenor” voice performing “MOR mulch”, prompted the singer to fire off an angry missive to The Irish
Times, which the newspaper subsequently printed in full. In it, de Burgh accused Crawley of being “churlish” and “curmudgeonly”, and of having had a prejudicial view of the gig before it began.
The letter kickstarted many a debate about the rights and wrongs of music reviewing, and formed part of a recent Bill Bailey comedy show in Dublin. KEVIN COURTNEY
CHIC, ELECTRIC PICNIC
We’d been tipped off that Chic, a band that seemed like an almost token inclusion in the Electric Picnic timetable, would provide the gig of the weekend – but nothing prepared us for the party atmosphere. Several thousand crammed into a tent on the Saturday night to dance, sing and hear Nile Rodgers and band blast out their hits ( Le Freak, Good
Times) and stone-cold classics (Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Diana Ross’s
Upside Down). It was probably the best festival set we’ve seen. Rodgers described it on Twitter as “life-changing”. LAUREN MURPHY
SEPTEMBER QUEEN FLORENCE, ELECTRIC PICNIC
It was Sunday evening at Electric Picnic and crowds were packed into the big tent to see Florence and The Machine. A year ago, Welch and her band had played the smallest stage at Stradbally. Indeed, a few weeks earlier, some genius had stuck them in the smallest tent at Oxegen. But there were no mistakes here as Welch started with the title track from her album and the crowd swooned.
In a year of many female stars, Florence Welch shone brightest, her rise aided by a fantastic album of off-kilter and kooky pop.
Twenty-five years ago, Paddy McAloon was up there with the best of 1980s songwriters and then it seemed as if he gave up. What happened was that his body failed him, due to a succession of eyesight and hearing problems, McAloon and Prefab Sprout faded from view.
This year, he/they came back with one of the year’s most charming and intelligent records, Let’s Change the World with Music.
Their first album since 2001’s The
Gunman and Other Stories, the new record more than consolidated McAloon’s reputation for supremely crafted, intuitively smart pop music.
YUSUF GETS CAT CALLS
It should have been a triumph for the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. What went wrong? Poor strategic planning proved Yusuf’s undoing; he thought premiering his Moonshadow musical in the middle of his show would have been received with enthusiasm.
He hadn’t banked on a hostile section of the audience reacting to a professional piece of musical theatre with all the grace of a rotweiller pulling apart a teddy bear.
Result? The worst, most unjustifiably badly received gig this writer has witnessed in over 30 years. TONY CLAYTON-LEA
SIBLING SPLIT: Oasis go their own ways
Clockwise from below: Florence and the Machine, Blur, Jape and Villagers