December 2019 Update

A brief scribble to say that my EP with the Legends of Tomorrow, Don’t Go to Nashville, is now ‘out’, available on iTunes and elsewhere. The ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ moniker has arisen periodically since 1995 as a quasi-imaginary band name for recordings gathering many musical friends together.

Here’s the iTunes link:

https://music.apple.com/gb/album/dont-go-to-nashville-ep/1486781136

The EP comprises two new songs, two from 2007/08 and one from 2000 – the oldies hitherto digitally unreleased. All were newly mastered at RedBox Studios by Cormac O’Kane, wizard of sound, and they sit remarkably well together, showcasing five of Northern Ireland’s finest vocalists: Mickey Rafferty (The Minnows), Ciaran Gribbin (ex-INXS, maestro of Aussie stadium rock), Paul Casey (supremely mellow Derry Celtic soul songwriter), Janet Henry (sublime Americana solo artist) and Lyndsay Crothers (Wookalily).

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some wonderful players on all of the tracks, but the title track, recorded recently, was a particular melting pot of bonhomie, creativity and genre fusion, hosted by the splendid ‘Late-Night Tony’ Furnell at his studio-with-no-name. Flatts Conigan is an Irish jazz piano sensation, using a cunning pseudonym – he previously played two-chord organ on my Stormont Assembly MLA-pay protest song/video ‘Smash the System’ and quite rightly felt his jazz career may not be enhanced by casual punters Googling his real name and finding ‘Smash the System’ before any of his exquisite pianism! Ali MacKenzie on bass is one of my longest-suffering collaborators/Legends members – an astounding musician who would surely be full-time in any other part of the world than Northern Ireland. Dr Chris Probst, from Portstewart, is a character – one of the great conversationalists, a semi-retired academic with a history of playing in late 70s showbands, 80s New Wave bands, 90s country-rock revivalists, Glastonbury and all the rest of it, and always capable of moments of brilliance. After faffing around for a couple of hours in the studio and talking non-stop, Chris produced a fabulous guitar take at the last minute. We knew he would! On drums, Petesy Burns (Stalag 17/The Outcasts) is a bona fide punk legend and Tai Chi guru – truly, a Renaissance man, adept on guitar, bass and drums. His energy is palpable, in anything he does. He’s a good laugh too.

That was the instrumental session. The vocal session was similarly fantastic. Minnows mainman Mickey Rafferty arrived with a colossal quantity of beer, and happily consumed most of it, while being sharp as a razor about harmony lines and phrasing. I had an idea that the voices of Mullavilly hillbilly gal Rowena Cairns (Americana singer/songwriter) and gospel/soul singer Ellen Weir would work well together, and luckily, I was right. They too provided plenty of ideas and bonhomie at the session (as did Tony) and the end result is a combination of all of our ideas. After the session, Mickey, Ellen and I went to a pub for a celebratory drink – where, almost out of a film script, Mickey was accosted at the door by a fan of the Minnows wanting selfies… and then again two yards inside the door… Once we had sat down, it was Ellen’s turn to be accosted by a fan of her gospel choir… who, amusingly, had never heard of Mickey Rafferty! (If I have any fans, they were all somewhere else that night…)

Here’s a montage video of ‘Don’t Go to Nashville’ with some pics from the sessions and some lyrically inspired pics:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xReiQkAOJo0

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In other news, I had the pleasure recently of editing some silent film of the mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra in Milwaukee Arena, May 1973, to an audio track from a concert later that year. The story is this…

A few months ago, just over six minutes of silent film of the Mahavishnu Orchestra appeared on YouTube. On the day it appeared, I had a pal, Welsh Chris, download it for me and soon got to work with another pal, award-winning graphic designer and amateur camera/editing buff Mark Case (who also designed the cover of the ‘Don’t Go to Nashville’ EP) to set the film to a piece of music from the very same concert – Milwaukee Arena, 11 May 1973.

On the day the YouTube upload had appeared, I’d mentioned it to fellow John McLaughlin biographer Walter Kolosky, who realised he knew the chap who’d filmed it, Rich Zimmermann, a professional photographer. Walter contacted Rich and it seemed there’d been a bit of a misunderstanding – an associate of Rich had shared the film without approval, so it was swiftly taken down. But Rich was relaxed about me setting it to music for his approval.

So… I chose ‘Miles Beyond’ from the surviving four tunes from the show (recorded by MO sound engineer Dinky Dawson) and we simply let the six-odd minutes of film run as it was and then repeated a few bits to loosely match what was prominent in the audio for the remaining couple of minutes. Though not specifically matched to the audio, it had a certain atmosphere about it, and in places (by chance) seemed to fit the audio rather well. Rich and Walter liked it but Rich reckoned he could get a better transfer of the film done. In due course, he did so. And it turned out there was 17 minutes of the stuff. Wow!

To put this in context, there’s only one other known bit of silent cine film of the ‘mark one’ MO (1971-73), of briefer duration, and its owner has been trying to sell it online for a five-figure sum for years.

So, armed with Rich’s new transfer, Mark and I edited the new transfer of the film to roughly match the audio of ‘Dance of Maya’ – performed at Milwaukee but not surviving in audio form, so I used Dinky Dawson’s recording of the piece from a show in December 1973, only a couple of weeks away from the MO Mk1 imploding, though you’d never know it from the dynamic, incendiary performance. Happily, Rich Zimmermann loves the result and is happy for it to be shared. In due course, I hope to create a second montage from the film for ‘One Word’, audio of that one from Milwaukee existing.

Here’s ‘Dance of Maya’:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3OjaPSgaNQ

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Finally, it looks very likely that I’ll be involved in a very exciting Bert Jansch archive project appear next year, and I’m heavily involved. More in due course. Happy Christmas!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8ZYxTPhXA8