August Wells

Before I write about the latest band I’ve fallen in love with, I haven’t forgotten about the 30th challenge. It hasn’t happened yet due to the weather, but hopefully it will happen some weekend soon. I could have done something simple on my birthday to finish off the list, but I wanted to end on a real high, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get the opportunity.

Last Saturday I went to McGrory’s with one of my best friends to see a band I’ve only known about for the last year and haven’t stopped listening to during the last month. August Wells are made up of Dubliner Ken Griffin on vocals and guitar, and American pianist John Rauchenberger. Griffin’s song lyrics can be both humourous and thought provoking. His baritone voice quickly catches your ear and keeps you listening. Rauchenberger doesn’t only have a great sirname, but he is one of the most creative piano players I’ve seen in a long while. Together they are a great combination, and equally brilliant when you hear them play live.

McGrory’s is a lovely venue near the Donegal coast. Unfortunately I think it could be managed more efficiently at times where the music is concerned, and advertising of this gig could have been much better. As a result, the band were moved from the back bar to the smaller front bar due to low ticket sales. The small number of us who bought tickets got our money back, but it meant that we had to listen to them play along with lots of other people who had come for food and drinks before, and weren’t paying too much attention. The venue was quite noisy, but when we got seats towards the front soon after it started, we enjoyed it much better. The performance was relaxed and straightforward, with a couple of short breaks for encores. When it finished we had a nice chat with Ken and John. I think they were surprised when we came to buy CDs, and that two people in the crowd where very enthusiastic about their music! They said that they felt it was unfair that we couldn’t hear it as well as we might have wanted to because we’d bought tickets, so they put us on the guest list for the following night’s performance in Derry, which we weren’t able to attend. Still, it was a very kind gesture.

I’d definitely recommend both albums, ‘a living in a dying game’, and the new one ‘madness is the mercy’ if anybody is looking for new music that’s clever but easy to listen to. Most of the bands I go to hear play are bands or artists that I’ve already seen before, so this was a nice opportunity to hear somebody new. Hopefully they’ll get a better reception on the rest of their Irish tour and come back again soon.

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30 Song Challenge

A friend suggested on Facebook that as part of my 30 challenges (which have to be completed on 18th February!) I post a song a day for 30 days and write about why I like it. I finished this last week and thought I’d post the list here.
I’m very lazy. I haven’t posted links to each one. I doubt anyone would actually want to listen to them all anyway. It’s not like lots of people read this!! If you want to hear a particular song, you’ll just have to find it yourself sorry. I know my readers are very independent, so I wouldn’t want to spoonfeed you all the time! 😀
If you do go to the trouble of listening, hopefully you’ll find something new that you haven’t heard before. And if you want to recommend any music you think I might like, I’d really appreciate it. There’s a music voucher in my house that needs to be spent, in a real music shop!

1. Mary Black: Sunny
After nursery rhymes, this was the first song I remember really liking. I even learned it on the piano!

2. Phil Coulter: the town I loved so well
This is such a beautifully written song, but I also love it as a solo piano piece.

3. Crash Test Dummies: Afternoons and coffee spoons
They were the first band I really really liked. These lyrics are so ridiculous, but Brad Roberts does have a unique voice!!

4. Bon Jovi: wanted dead or alive
I was famous in primary school for my obsession with Bon Jovi. They were the first band I ever saw play live. I was ten, and it was a dream come true. I couldn’t pick a favourite song, but the guitar in this is great.

5. Shane McGowan and Sinead O’Connor: haunted
These are two voices that couldn’t sound more different, but the song totally works!

6. REM: Electrolyte
I’ve been listening to REM since I was eight years old. It’s impossible to choose a favourite song, so this is as good as any.

7. David Gray: gathering dust
Like half the population of Ireland, I was introduced to David Gray’s music through ‘white ladder’ in 1999. He made me listen to music in a different way. I learned how powerful acoustic guitars and song writing could be.

8. Bob Dylan: forever young
It’s just beautiful.

9. Jeff Buckley: Halleluiah
A friend who knew what kind of music I liked gave me a copy of Jeff Buckley’s ‘grace’ when we were in secondary school, and I was completely blown away by his voice. I had never heard anything like that before. I chose this song because it covers my love of Leonard Cohen as well, although it’s not even in my top 20 favourite songs of his.

10: The frames: people get ready
I’d known of the frames since revelate, but never took much interest in them until around 2000. I listened to Uaneen Fitzsimons at night-time on 2fm whenever I could because she was obsessed with David Gray too. She was an inspiration, and I remember being really upset the day she was killed in a car accident. She often played the frames, and gradually star star and lay me down got stuck in my head. I was slow to like them, but when I did, I couldn’t stop. Seeing them live in 2002 was the start of lots of concerts, bringing everyone and anyone who would come with me, discovering lots of new music, meeting new friends and great musicians, and making lots of happy memories.

11. Mic Christopher: Hey Day
Mic’s album Skylarkin is one of my favourite albums of all time. The lyrics are so positive, and it’s interesting to listen back now after everything that happened since he wrote those songs. Who knows what great music he would have went on to make, but this was a great legacy for him to leave.

12. Josh Ritter: Kathleen
The next thing I loved because of the frames was Josh Ritter. And a song with an opening line like this one can’t be faulted.

13. Van Morrison: Madam George
When you start listening to the music of David Gray and Glen Hansard and hearing interviews and them talking about what inspires them, two words keep coming up over and over again. Astral Weeks. I listened to Van Morrison’s ‘astral weeks’ for the first time on earphones in the car as I travelled to Belfast to start my course in Queens University. I was heading to the right city. I listened to it many times during those three years.

14. Pixies: where is my mind?
It doesn’t need a reason. It’s just cool 

15. Planxty: Little Musgrave
I couldn’t choose my favourite Christy Moore song so thought I’d go with this one. I love a song that tells a story, and this does it very well.

16. Queen: killer queen
I think queen are the only band that myself and all my friends actually like! If I could see any band play live, it would have been them. This isn’t my favourite song, but it reminds me of a special day. In June 2007, I went to Cork to meet a black Labrador who ended up changing my life. Before you train with a guide dog, the trainer takes you for a matching walk to see if you and the dog are suitable. It’s the most nerve wrecking and exciting thing. I remember finishing the walk with OJ and the trainer telling us that we were a match. When we got back into the van to drive back to the guide dog centre, this song was playing.

17. Lisa Hannigan: down to the river (cover version)
Lisa Hannigan could sing anything and I’d like it! Paul Noonan singing with her here covers my love of Bell X1 too.

18. JJ Cale: any way the wind blows
I was late discovering the goodness of JJ Cale, but better late than never. His work with Eric Clapton is so good!

19. PJ Harvey: good fortune
Just because she’s cool 

20. Tom Waits: Martha
You probably already know by now that I love a song with a good piano. I thought this was easier to listen to than the piano has been drinking!

21. Simon and Garfunkel: the boxer
It doesn’t need a reason. Love both of them together, but I was always more of a Simon fan if I’m honest. Was lucky enough to hear him play live twice, and his concert in Vicar Street was in my top five gigs of all time.

22. The lost brothers: the goodbye kid
On the subject of beautiful harmonies…

23. Fleet foxes: white winter hymnal
A song that feels Christmassy without being a Christmas song.

24. August Wells: come on in out of that night
I can’t get this song out of my head these days. They might be a new band for some people. I’m looking forward to hearing them play live at the end of February.

25. John Prine: Lake Marie
It’s so hard to pick a John Prine song, but when I saw him live for the one and only time, this song definitely got my attention. It’s got great lyrics, emotion and humour, all the things that make John Prine songs special.

26. Interference: gold
The story of Fergus O’Farrell and Interference is one that’s worth exploring if you haven’t already.

27. Colm Mac Con Iomaire: the Finnishline
I love instrumental music, and I love this tune!

28. The decemberists: rocks in the box
I absolutely love this band! Not my favourite song but its good fun. Check out the tune in the middle!

29. Glen Hansard: winning streak
These days Glen Hansard is known for his solo career as much as lead singer with the Frames. His solo performances are very different but still have that energy and passion for what he does. He gives so much every time he plays. I should know, I’ve seen him enough haha. He writes songs with great lyrics like this one. And he’s very charitable and very sound too. What more could you want?

30. Bruce Springsteen: Thunder Road
It was so difficult to pick a favourite song, but this is definitely one of them. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band play live is as good as it gets really. The band work hard, give 100% every time, and have lots of fun, which is really what music should be about I think. It’s not a bad motto for life itself either!

How Home Sweet Home helped me

On 16th December, I went with my cousin Laura to see Glen Hansard play in the Guildhall in Derry. I decided to call it my staff night out. Recently setting up my own business and becoming self-employed means that staff nights out are a thing of the past. Glen was accompanied by a group of musicians playing strings and piano. It was great to hear a few Leonard Cohen covers among the variety of songs from his two solo albums. The music was relaxed, but I felt that there was something different about Glen’s performance. It was passionate and emotional, but it was like there was something else. I can’t explain.

Four weeks later, Laura and I were lucky enough to be two of 180 people in the audience at Seamus Heaney HomePlace for a solo concert that Glen played there. Other than to say it was really special, in the smallest music venue I’ve ever seen him play, I can’t describe it. Hearing Glen read poetry between songs in the hometown of a poet he really admires seemed to be a privilege for him. For me, it was the perfect venue to bring my guide dog Sibyl to her first ever gig, and she behaved well. It was nice to say hi to Glen after, as well as meeting some Frames friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

The second concert, (which was definitely the better of the two) was a more relaxed performance, but there was a good reason for that. The same night that Glen played in Derry in December, he featured on the Late Late show. He sounded nervous and frustrated. He didn’t speak for long, but that was our introduction to Apollo House and the Home Sweet Home campaign. This involved a group of people occupying a vacant office block in Dublin city centre, and providing accommodation for homeless people who would otherwise probably have spent Christmas on the streets. The group left the building on January 12th in compliance with an order from the high court. During their time there, almost 90 people stayed and moved on to six-month supported accommodation where they can live comfortably and feel safe. In my opinion, this was the best thing to happen in Ireland since the marriage equality referendum. It showed how powerful people can be if they work together. Each person’s small part can make a big difference.

So why am I writing about Home Sweet Home now? The answer is that I don’t really know, other than the fact that I’ve been thinking about it very often since before Christmas. It’s very easy to ignore a problem if you can’t identify with it or have no experience of it. It’s easy to say things like, that will never affect me. That’s only a city problem. People who end up in that situation got themselves there or didn’t try hard enough to get out of it. People with addictions can’t be helped. There are enough beds for people who are homeless, why don’t they just be grateful and take them? Of course the real story of homelessness is much different and much more complex than that. The Home Sweet Home campaign told the stories of some of the people living through these experiences. It made them more real. It made us listen and pay more attention. Our government are being put under more pressure to actually do something about the housing crisis, and the people of Ireland aren’t going to stand and do nothing any longer. This campaign won’t be going away any time soon.

Glen Hansard was only one of many activists who supported the Home Sweet Home idea, and he was always very clear about that when he spoke about it. Homelessness is a cause that he’s been involved in for a long time before this campaign even existed. It was never done for publicity, like some people who have done nothing better themselves have been suggesting. Through his music, he was able to promote an idea and a message, and encourage other people to give their support. For someone like me who loves music and was going to the gigs anyway, he really helped capture my attention in a way that other people or the government certainly wouldn’t have. Music can be very powerful! When you’ve been watching someone perform and hearing them talk about music for the last fifteen years, you have an idea of the kind of person they are, and sincerity is a big thing for me when it comes to charity. That’s something so many people in Ireland, even some who are employed in charities lack.

I’ve been frustrated that I couldn’t do much to help with Home Sweet Home during the last month, apart from offering to volunteer if a suitable opportunity came up. However the whole thing has made me realise that there’s much more I could and should be doing to volunteer and help others in general. Even small one off things could help make a difference. Being blind definitely makes it more difficult to go where you want spontaneously, and to help people with things in the same way that sighted people can. When you are blind, you are often the one who needs help, and automatically are linked to specific charities and organisations. That can be frustrating, but it can’t be my excuse. I want to do more to open my mind and benefit others. I have no idea exactly what yet. I just know that this is something I’ve intended doing for a long time, and Home Sweet Home has given me the push that I needed.

When my family and I left Phuket Island in December 2004 to travel to the airport after being caught up in the tsunami, I remember feeling guilty. I knew I was lucky to be safe and to be alive, but I felt bad for escaping and leaving the people behind. Their lives and their town was destroyed. They’d been so good to us, helping us to get out of there, and we were leaving the country and leaving them to sort their lives out. I know there’s nothing we could have done right at that time, but that day changed something in me that I’ve never bothered to properly explore. I’ve always had a gnawing feeling that I should be doing more, because I know I’ve had such a lucky easy life compared to many people. So this is it. This is the year. I have no idea what I will become involved in, but I do know that the Home Sweet Home campaign and the events that took place in Apollo House over Christmas and New Year have made an impact on me in a way that I really wasn’t expecting.

Born to Run Audiobook

Approximately 95% of books that are written are never published in large print, audio or Braille. This means that there is a massive amount of material in the world that blind or visually impaired people don’t have access to, and never have the option to read. This can discourage people from reading because they cannot have the same choice of books as their sighted peers. Those which are converted to audio often take so long that the general hype and excitement surrounding their release is long forgotten about.

In September of this year, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography ‘Born to Run’ was published, along with a companion CD called ‘Chapter and Verse’, and lots of excitement from fans world-wide. I was surprised to learn that I could be excited too, because there were plans to release an audiobook before the end of the year. I only had to wait a few months. I pre-ordered it on Audible, it became available on 6th December, and I was delighted to find that the “unknown” narrator was revealed to be none other than Springsteen himself!

In the story of ‘Born to Run’, Bruce recounts growing up in the small town of Freehold New Jersey, surrounded by a loving but often difficult family life. He writes about his friends, his influences, and his dreams. Seeing Elvis on television for the first time and knowing right then that he wanted to be a roc star, and that nothing was going to stop him. And nothing did.

Bruce Springsteen’s music was something I always heard growing up, but I didn’t really begin to listen to him properly until I was in my mid-teens. The more you listen, the more you want to hear, and when you go to one of his live shows and hear him play with the E Street band, the more you want to go back. It was fascinating to learn about how those friendships, the songs and the music were created. On stage nowadays, over forty years later, Springsteen still plays for over three hours each night. It’s impossible to find a more energetic charismatic performer, and a more tightly-knit band of singers and musicians. Off stage, he regularly deals with anxiety and depression which he writes honestly about in his book. His writing is simple and poetic, just like the lyrics in many of his songs. His story is one of hard work, determination and fun.

I listened to the ‘Born to Run’ audiobook any chance I had during the last five days. Breakfast and dinner were accompanied by Bruce’s raspy tones, the closest I’m ever going to get to having a meal with one of my favourite performers! I’m not sure I would have gotten through it as quickly if I had to read the Braille version, and it definitely wouldn’t have been as enjoyable. He narrates the book in his own relaxed style, like he’s sitting right there telling you a story. I would recommend it to any fan, even if you are able to read the printed copy.

‘Born to Run’ is a real treat for any Springsteen fan who is curious to understand where his passion and longevity comes from. It is Bruce telling his own story in his own words, exactly how it should be told. I’m just so glad that he took the eighteen plus hours out of his time to tell the audio version as well. Nobody else could do it justice by narrating it, and why should they? He is the boss after all!

Going to concerts when you can’t see

I haven’t been inspired to blog much lately for some reason, but I’m hoping a few things happening in September will change that.
I mentioned in my last post that I went to a Beyoncé concert with my friends, and at times it was a very visual experience because of the type of artist she is and the type of show she puts on.
Beth
asked if I would consider writing more about my experience of going to concerts as a person who is blind. It’s not something I’ve really thought about in great detail to be honest. Sometimes it takes somebody to ask you a question to make you really think about it. Although I haven’t been listening to as much music as usual recently, and am not finding opportunities to hear live music, I’ve given Beth’s idea some thought.

I have been obsessed with music for as long as I can remember. I was always really interested in different instruments and different sounds, and how things sounded when they were recorded. I got a tape recorder when I was almost three years old, and I took it everywhere. It was hardly surprising then that when I went to my first live concert to see Bon Jovi at the age of ten, I loved every minute of the whole experience. From the anticipation of going when I got the tickets, to traveling to the venue and walking in with the crowds of people. Finding seats or a good spot to stand, depending on the venue, and recognising most of the songs by the first few notes.
There’s nothing better than discovering a band, listening to a particular album over and over again, and finally hearing them play music you enjoy live. I can see bands perform many times if I really like them, and each time will be different.

It might seem strange because I can’t see, but my seats or where I stand at a gig can really impact on how much I enjoy it. If I go to a rock concert in a venue, I prefer to be standing among the crowd, no matter how busy it is. The closer to the front I can get the better! I’ve stood at four out of five Springsteen gigs, and my least favourite was when I had seats in Croke Park a few months ago. Visually, the seats couldn’t have been better, which was great for my sighted friend who could describe everything to me, but I felt so far away from the stage and the rock N roll atmosphere.

If I attend a musical performance in a theatre, I love sitting near the front because I don’t have to hear people talking all around me. This is particularly good when a few of the musicians I like often play a song unplugged during a gig, or when some of their funny banter can be said off-mic, but I can still hear it. Sometimes the fact that I need the disabled area when I bring the guide dog means that I can’t sit in these prefered areas. People who can see might not really understand why I can be so fussy about where I sit, but others just find it entertaining. Once while I was making my way to my seat in the front row of a theatre gig, a friend who always loved to make blind related jokes loudly called out, “Jen it doesn’t matter how close you get to that stage. You still won’t see a thing!!”

Going to a gig and getting there early to watch the special guest or support act who plays before can be a great way of finding new music. Mostly for me, it’s all about the sound, but sometimes, and more recently for some reason, I find myself becoming more curious about how performances look, or how a stage is set up. I don’t perform on stage myself, so have no real concept of how things look or how instruments might be set up. Sometimes I’ll ask friends questions about that, but usually I just wonder myself and concentrate more on what I’m hearing. Beyoncé’s concert was very different though, and I was very glad to have friends beside me who almost automatically provide audio description. I’m not a fan of pop music that usually involves manufactured bands and lots of singers and dancers on stage who really do nothing. I prefer everybody on stage to sing and play to be heard, not to make the performance look good. If I’m listening to instrumental performers or a trad session for example, I’ll just concentrate on the music. But sometimes if a singer is singing a particular way, I’ll find myself wondering what they look like. It’s no secret that I’ve seen Glen Hansard perform so many times, and although I know what to expect, I’m sometimes curious. He’s one of the most emotional and passionate performers I’ve ever heard. He could be singing quietly and then erupt, and I can’t help thinking how crazy his facial impressions must look!

While I’ll always be curious at times about how things look, for me, a performance is 99% about the music. I consider myself lucky, because when I’m listening, I’m not distracted by what is going on around me. I’m not watching other people. I’m not looking at the stage through the screen on my phone while videoing it. If I’m really interested in something, I’ll hardly speak to the person I’m with until it’s over. It’s one of the only times I can really understand what the phrase living in the moment is like, because I try to do that as much as I can. If the performer is engaging and passionate enough about what they are doing, they’ll make me do that.

So although having eyes that work would come in useful to get around, or when I miss out on a good gig because I have nobody to go with, or nobody likes the same music as me (which often happens), it’s all about the ears when it comes to live music. At the end of the day, I think that’s what the performers would want to hear. Good ears and good music are a perfect combination.

Good Things Always Happen in Cork

I’ve been to Cork five times in the last year. It’s one of my favourite counties, I love the accent, and every time I go, I always really enjoy it. I went there last weekend, and it was no exception.

Sibyl did her first journey on the Dublin bus on Friday morning. It’s one she’ll be doing many times, so luckily she seemed to enjoy it. We arrived in Dublin earlier than expected, and met Nicky at the train station, where we took the train to Cork. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in Ballincollig, as all the hotels nearby were booked up. It was quite basic, but the owner was friendly and they were happy to have the dog there. One of our friends was staying there too, so it was lovely to catch up with her.

Irish Guide Dogs had their AGM in the centre the next morning, which was the original reason we had decided to go to Cork. Sibyl didn’t seem too excited to be back at the centre, where we trained only nine weeks ago. Maybe she was afraid I was going to leave her back there. She behaved brilliantly, and wasn’t bothered by all the dogs and people at all. The dogs were excellent. The meeting probably lasted over three hours, and there wasn’t a sound from any of them. It was interesting to hear the questions and concerns that people had, and how the guide dogs organisation intends to deal with these. They do incredible work, but they are willing to listen to their service users and work to the best of their ability.

By this stage, you might be impressed by the fact that I traveled an eight hour journey by public transport, just to attend an annual general meeting. But there was another factor which made me very determined to be in Cork on July 11th. Some very kind person decided that the AGM should be on the same day that The Frames were playing in the Marquee, a venue I’ve always wanted to go to. I told Nicky I’d definitely go to the guide dog centre if I could get Frames tickets, even though it was sold out. It was the last gig of their three 25th anniversary concerts, I had missed the other two which took place in Dublin, so I had to be there! The hunt was on for tickets. Without the help of Laura and Claire, it would not have happened, and I’m so grateful to them, because it was a lot more than just a brilliant gig.

When you finish reading this long post, take some time to read
assistance dog Cassie’s
facebook page. It gives an incredible insight into the difference that an assistance dog from Irish Guide Dogs can make to the life of a child with autism and their family. The “Colm” you’ll see on that page is the violin player with The Frames. Sibyl’s trainer is also a huge fan of the band (she’s liked them even longer than I have), so it was really nice of her to tell me that they’d organised a photoshoot with the band. I don’t have pictures yet, but no doubt they’ll be put online by somebody soon.

Nicky and I arrived at the Marquee with Sibyl at 5 P.M, after the taxi driver frustratingly drove us around Cork city even though he didn’t really have to. We were met by one of the Aiken Promotions staff (who know us well at this stage), and from then on, we were treated like VIPS. That’s Very Important People by the way, not Visually Impaired People, as we are sometimes referred to!

When we got inside, the band had just finished their soundcheck. I hugged Glen and Colm, and was starting to chat to them, when Sibyl spotted her trainer, who she still loves. She stood up on her back legs and wagged her tail, much to everybody’s amusement! This was the only time she went a bit hyper all weekend, so I had to forgive her and just laugh too. There were three guide dog trainers, who had brought some dogs who are still in training. Assistance dog Cassie was there, and she reminded me a lot of O.J. It was great to meet Sheila and the boys too. We chatted and photographs were taken. The band seemed genuinely interested in the dogs, and happy to take the time to meet us.
The trainee dogs were left back to kennels while Nicky and I waited for my cousin to come and collect Sibyl. He watched her while we were at the gig because it would have been too loud. It was great to have somebody that I know who could watch her, while still be able to have her in the photographs.

The gig itself was fantastic as usual. The band played a great selection of songs from their 25 year career, and were joined by all the former Frames members. Unfortunately we were surrounded by a lot of talkers, which dampened the atmosphere a bit. Sitting during a Frames gig isn’t something I’m used to, and at times I just wanted to jump around, but you really can’t complain when you get guest list tickets.
The people involved with guide dogs were given wristbands, so we went back stage for a while after the gig. People just sat around chatting, children played quietly together, and the atmosphere was nice and relaxed. It was a really nice end to a really nice day.

I was really grateful to be in Cork on Saturday. Anyone who knows me well enough, even through this blog knows how much having a guide dog has changed and improved my life. They probably also know how much I like The Frames, and that I think they are a bit more than just a good band. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I wrote
this guest post
for 2UIBestow in 2010, which might give you a better idea. Because of The Frames, I have been introduced to great music, met new friends and brilliant people, and had lots of fun during the last thirteen years. I’m not just inspired by their musicianship, but by their love for what they do, their incredible work ethic, and their constant ability to deliver more than the fans expect from them at every gig. Having my favourite band and my favourite organisation doing something together was really special, and a great way to celebrate 25 years of brilliant music.

Didn’t I tell you we’d be busy?

All this talk of retirement hasn’t meant that O.J is winding down at all. We’ve been busy recently, and he’s worked and behaved like a star through everything. This is a long post, but the point is, I love this dog!!

On Thursday 5th I went to see
Duke Special
in McGrory’s in Culdaff. It’s my new favourite venue. It’s intimate and cosy, the people who come really love their music, and you can order coffee and nobody laughs or thinks you are strange!
The gig began with some songs from a band called the Pox Men. I can’t even describe them. There were some good musicians in the group, but it wasn’t really my thing. I wasn’t expecting any full bands to be there and they were quite loud, but O.J never moved.
Derry singer/songwriter Soak played next. She’s only eighteen, and has been getting a lot of attention during the past year. There’s something about her voice that makes you stop and listen, and the audience were silent while she played and kept us entertained with her great sense of humour.
Duke special himself played next, a solo gig just on piano. He’s more than capable of doing a great job on his own, and although it was random, enjoyable and entertaining, it wasn’t the best I’ve seen him play. It was nice to talk to him before the gig, and O.J got to say hi too.
We got one of the best seats in the room, because we had a comfortable sofa and lots of space in front for O.J to stretch out and relax, without being in anybody’s way. I think this was why he was so chilled out during the whole gig, and people were surprised that there was even a dog in the room.

On Wednesday morning we worked in a local school, and took the bus to Dublin afterwords. One of the only bands I love but still hadn’t had a chance to see live was the Decemberists, so I was delighted when they announced a gig in my favourite Dublin venue, on a day when I had to be in Dublin for work anyway. Nicky and I met up, fed the dogs in our hotel and met my cousin for dinner before the gig. She walked with us to Vicar Street, and we were all very impressed when O.J enthusiastically turned left into the entrance of the venue without even being asked. He knew that this was a place where he would be spoiled and petted and well looked after, and as usual, the staff couldn’t have done enough to help us.
The dogs chilled out on a mat in the store room while we watched Irish band Windings, and then the Decemberists. The audience were lively and really knew the band so well. Colin’s voice is amazing live, and he’s very funny. They played for just over two hours, and they were brilliant. The wait to finally see them was worth it.
We left the gig happy, with two happy dogs, who would have stayed for another few hours if they had to.

O.J worked really well around the hotel and nearby area, especially since there was no grass like we thought there was. It’s only taken him seven years, but he finally leash relieved on concrete twice! This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in the awkward life of O.J, it really was!!
He behaved great during the training day on Thursday. It was my first time going there on my own, but everybody is so friendly and helpful that it wasn’t a problem. Meeting up with them is very reassuring, and it makes me want to continue the work I’m doing in schools a lot more than I sometimes do when I’m in the office. Irish Aid’s
World Wise Global Schools
team are so supportive and easy to work with. One of them even took the time to wait with me until I got the bus home. We went for coffee and had a good talk, and the four and a half hour journey home felt a lot easier.
Next morning we were up early to travel to another school. The students have been brilliant recently, and they’ve done some great presentations as part of our workshops. Work is feeling a lot more promising than it did before Christmas.

O.J had a well deserved run on the beach and a swim yesterday after all his hard work. My sister washed him after the beach, so he’s lovely and clean. He really seems to be taking advantage of his Sunday rest today, but he totally deserves it.

Jake Clemons

Last Tuesday, myself and a work colleague went to see Jake Clemons play in
McGrory’s

in Culdaff. It’s Ireland’s most northernly music venue, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Jake and his band were playing there as part of an Irish tour in support of his ’embracing light’ EP. I’ve seen him on stage as part of the E-Street band a couple of times, playing saxophone in one of the biggest bands in the world, so I didn’t know what to expect on a small stage in a bar in Donegal. Whatever happened, I knew it was going to be special, and it didn’t disappoint.

The gig began with songs from a Cork singer/songwriter called
Nicole Maguire

who I really enjoyed. She’s a great guitarist and has a great voice. Fortunately for her, but not for us, all her albums were sold out, so I definitely must get one online. She had supported Jake on a previous Irish tour, and he seemed to genuinely have respect for her as an artist. She seemed equally delighted to be there on stage as part of his tour.

The majority of the audience on the night were Bruce Springsteen fans, and maybe like me, they weren’t too familiar with Jake’s solo work. I only knew three songs! This is very unusual for me, because usually I really know a band well before I go to hear them play live. A girl in the front row did come prepared in her Jake Clemons t-shirt though.

Jake and his band came on stage at 9 PM, and the next 2 hours and 40 mins were not what I had expected. The band were lively and loud and full of enthusiasm. They sounded young and energetic, like they were excited to be performing their new material, yet they were very professional and tight. Jake moved between guitar to saxophone and piano like a pro, making me jealous that I couldn’t even learn one instrument properly. He walked around the audience, danced on a table and got a few people to dance with the band while he watched them and relaxed. The crowd took a short while to really get into the performance, but when they did, they enjoyed it and didn’t want it to finish.

The gig had a few highlights. The forth or fifth song was a version of ‘it takes two’ by Ryan Adams, a song I absolutely love. Mid way through this song, Jake played the saxophone for the very first time, to huge cheers from the audience. As the band played on, he then spoke about the loss of his uncle Clarance and the devistating impact it had on him. He didn’t feel like playing the saxophone again, until a friend talked to him and told him how Clarance would have wanted his music to be shared, and that it wasn’t an option for Jake not to do that. It was a fitting tribute in the middle of a great song. The band’s version of ‘a little help from my friends’ was amazing too. Jake invited Nicole back to sing a few songs with the band, after which he told the audience that he was very privileged to play on one of her own songs. She sang the vocals while the band accompanied her with Jake playing sax. The gig ended with an acoustic unplugged version of ‘carry me through’, with each band member taking a verse and singing the chorus together.

You can hear influences of Bruce in Jake’s music at times when he speaks to the audience, but he is a musician in his own right, producing his own original material with a brilliant band. Anyone who was expecting him to sound like Springsteen or act like Clarance was very wrong. He’s unique, but he’s also really really good!

And I discovered that he’s really sound too! After the gig he came back into the bar and talked to people. The owner pointed him in the direction of myself and Deborah first, which was nice since we had to get up for two long days of work in the morning. He gave me a hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed humble and gentle, and quieter than the rocker on stage a while earlier! Deborah talked much more than me, telling him that we worked together, that we were related and that I flew a plane! Not sure how that got in there, but he seemed impressed and amused by how embarrassed I was. More embarrassing was what she said next! It was lovely to go to a gig which was someone elses idea for a change. It was also lovely to have someone describe the stage, where things were and what people were doing. If Deborah sees something interesting, she thinks I need to know about it too, which is a nice thought most of the time. except when she asked Jake if I could touch his hair, because she’d been describing it to be earlier in the night. He was so cool about it all and just said “yeah sure!” and told me that it felt like wool. I’d never touched an afro before and was curious to know what it looked like, but I didn’t want to touch somebody’s that I don’t even know, and definitely not somebody that I hugely admire as a musician. My face must have looked priceless! We got a photograph with him, bought CDs to be signed, and I made Deborah leave as quickly as possible!

So overall, the gig was brilliant, McGrory’s is a fantastic venue that I’ll hopefully be spending more time in, and I got the closest to meeting Bruce Springsteen that I’m probably ever going to get! Even if it was a little bit too close for my liking! I hoped Jake Clemons enjoyed his first visit to Donegal as much as we enjoyed having him there.

My Kind of Music

That’s the title of Nicky’s brand new album, which he launched in the 7 Oaks hotel in Carlow last Thursday evening. The lineup featured friends of Nicky’s who are all well-known in the country music scene, most of who I’ve come to know through our annual trips to Portugal. The Ryan Turner band who also play there provided all the music on the night. The boys are fantastic musicians, and always make a gig very enjoyable. There was a great crowd, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. The only criticism I heard people say was that Nicky should have played longer!
Donegal was well represented on the night, with twelve people traveling down for the gig. My parents and some of my aunt’s and uncle came, as well as two couples who aren’t related in any way, but have heard of Nicky and decided to come themselves. It was great to meet up with friends we’d stayed with in Kerry over the summer, and Darragh and Emma, who are always very supportive when it comes to Nicky’s music. Emma was snap happy with her camera, and you can see some of her work on Nicky’s facebook page.
I think Darragh is busy updating the website and making the album available on Itunes soon. Maybe he’ll have a list of shops that stock the CD copy too, because I know you can’t get it everywhere.

There were five dogs at the gig, and as you’d expect, they were all well behaved and quiet. My parents were staying in the hotel, so I left O.J there during the performance, and took Orrin up to keep him company during the interval. He was in really good form, but quite restless during the day. He kept getting up if people came near and he thought he might get stood on. Maybe its just a sign of him getting older and a bit more stressed out more easily. The fireworks didn’t bother him on Halloween evening at all, and we walked to a restaurant to meet everybody for dinner with no problems. It didn’t seem like Halloween there though!

It was lovely to travel to Carlow and back with my parents in their jeep, rather than spending time on the bus. We could stop when we wanted, and the weather was bad on the way home so we took our time. We stopped in Monaghan to visit a friend who owns O.J’s brother Ozzy. We hadn’t seen each other in at least four years, and Ozzy is retiring in a couple of weeks. I wanted to get a photo of the dogs together, and wanted them to meet up probably for the last time. They were excited to see each other, but quickly lay down and relaxed. I hope O.J can work for another year, but it makes it all more real when I see the first of his siblings to retire.

I had a busy but fun couple of days, so it’s nice to stay inside and relax today. I think I’m on my fourth cup of tea at this stage! I have another busy week ahead, with working in a school that’s far enough away, going to Dublin for a training day, going to a wedding, and going to a gig on Tuesday that I’m very excited about!

A little bit of ‘banter’ at Other Voices

This is the second year that
Other Voices
has come to Derry. Basically if you like the kind of music that I do, it’s the perfect weekend. Since 2002, St. James’ church in Dingle is the venue where bands perform over three nights, which are filmed and made into a Television series called ‘other voices’. These gigs are streamed in pubs around the area, and lots of live music takes place in the town during the weekend. Around 80 people are lucky enough to make it into the venue, and tickets are given away through competitions.
Other Voices came to Derry for the city of culture last year, and returned again this weekend. Despite entering at least five competitions each year, I’ve never been lucky enough to get tickets. Last year I watched it online and didn’t go near the city, but this year I was determined to attend at least one thing. Most of my friends don’t like the same kind of music as me, and if they do, they aren’t always the most adventurous type when it comes to discovering new music. It’s not practical or sensible to go to a busy venue with O J on my own, so nighttime gigs weren’t really possible. I would have just loved to have spent the whole weekend in Derry, wandering around finding new music, but being blind makes that impossible. This isn’t meant to be a poor me post! So I’ll talk about the one thing I did have the chance to attend.

Music journalist Jim Carroll hosts an interesting event called
Banter
where he interviews a wide range of people in front of an audience. It has become part of Other Voices, and I went to The Cottage in Derry’s Craft Village yesterday to have a listen to a few of the speakers. The afternoon began with a couple of tunes and a chat from
Colm Mac Con Iomaire,
violinist, composer, and member of The Frames, who had played in the concert the previous night. He’s working on some really interesting things at the minute, and the music he’s making is beautiful. My aunt stayed to hear him and was really impressed. She left then to go shopping, and I listened to Conor Masterson talk about the making of his film
in the deep shade
which is an art documentary about the frames. I have the DVD, so it was interesting to hear the ideas and thoughts behind the film. It’s a fantastic film about how such a creative group of musicians can work together and make music. Definitely worth checking out if you like that kind of thing at all. I’m not just recommending it because they are my favourite band!
Next was a discussion with David Caffrey, one of the co-creaters of ‘love hate’. I hadn’t planned on staying for this bit, and although I didn’t watch the series, it was really interesting to hear how films and TV programmes are made. I left at four to go for food with my aunt, but there was still a couple of talks to go, which I’m sure were interesting too.

I think ‘banter’ is a great idea. It’s very relaxed and informal, and Jim Carroll really does his research and knows his guests before interviewing them. It was nice to meet him, and for anyone who is familiar with him, yes, he does talk that fast!! I had O J with me, and of course he got lots of attention. He got petted by David Caffrey and Colm Mac Con Iomaire, who came over for a chat before he played. I hadn’t spoken to him in so long, so it was nice to have the chance.

Although I only attended a small part of Other Voices, I’m glad I did, even if O J was the only one who came with me. Sometimes the thought of going somewhere on your own with a group of strangers is worse than actually doing it. I need to remind myself of that next time I’m debating whether to do something or not.