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Friday, September 19, 2014

Sean Nicholas Savage – Heartless (from the album Bermuda Waterfall, Arbutus Records)

I haven’t had my eye on Montreal I realised. Sometimes happens, says you. Then I got an e-mail from the lovely Plugd Events people about upcoming shows at Triskel Arts Centre here in Cork.

Among the Amen Dunes and Girl Band listings was the unknown-to-me Sean Nicholas Savage. “Once a staple of Montreal's all-night illegal party scene” ran the tag. Intriguing already, wouldn’t you agree? (And by the way shouldn’t every city worth its salt have an all-night illegal party scene?)

I did a bit of digging and found a beguiling brand of bedroom soul, a concoction of home-made beats, gentle guitar picks and trashy synths, with the coup de grace of Mr Savage’s yearning high register vocal.

I arrived at this year’s album Bermuda Waterfall which has a series of memorable underground (all-night/illegal) pop tunes. But I’m highlighting ‘Heartless’, it really is the most beautiful and poignant thing.

I suppose because it has such potentially cheesy elements – drum pads rescued from the 1980s, backing vocals bordering on the edge of autotune – and yet it comes out as so heartfelt and just plain emotional.

Among the range of backing vocals is a gorgeous soft falsetto on the chorus refrain, a couple of layers of which rise and swamp the even softer, lower lead voice. The latter is uncertain, tentative, reflective even.

And behind, just a recurring acoustic pattern, a pitter-patter bassline, a go-ahead drum machine.

Reading that back makes it sound pretty unpromising, I realise. It is the most heartbreaking paean to beauty, like the Mona Lisa but painted on the wall of some back alley.

Towards the end , this line seems to stick out and fuse with the musical backing to sum up the song -

“I blame your beauty For my obsessive jungle pride”

I notice Sean Nicholas Savage has cited The Bee Gees as an influence, which would make sense – white soul laced with a certain fragility. It also reminded me of Donnie & Joe Emerson in its intimacy.

To repeat, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing in this dirty world.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Silver Servants – Jerusalem (from the s/t album, Second Language Records)

My favourite song from a beautiful album of folk, psych and chamber pop strands, with some baroque and minimalist shapes for good measure, put together by a kind of English underground pop supergroup based around a core of Second Language artists.

This tune is derived from a poem by William Blake and lands gorgeously on the dreamy psych pop end of the scale. Anna Bronsted of Our Broken Garden sings through a haze of clip-clop drum machines, circling Spanish guitar and the most perfect trumpet part in the second half. There’s also whistling involved. The song doesn’t seem to reside fully in either a major or minor key, so there’s a slightly disorientating effect. Plus there’s a strange feeling of something ancient wrapped in something modern. Surrender to the blur anyway, it’s glorious.

The album features the mother of all collaborative efforts, of the like perhaps not seen since Ivo Watts-Russell persuaded the considerable talents of the 4AD roster of the mid 1980s to record as This Mortal Coil. Here’s what the blurb says –

Debut album by Silver Servants, a "supergroup" of artists from the Second Language label roster (plus guests), improvised and recorded in sporadic sessions between 2010 - 2014. Includes contributions from Mark Fry, Oliver Cherer (Dollboy), Anna Brønsted (Our Broken Garden), Robin Saville (ISAN), Sharron Kraus, Áine O'Dwyer, Nick Palmer (Directorsound), Glen Johnson (Piano Magic), Katie English (Isnaj Dui/littlebow), Angèle David-Guillou (Klima/Piano Magic), David Sheppard (Ellis Island Sound), Jerome Tcherneyan (Piano Magic), Zizi Kanaan (The Eyes In The Heat) Roxy Fry, Frances Castle (The Hardy Tree), Keiron Phelan (littlebow) and Nick Franglen (Lemon Jelly).

In 2010, the then-fledgling Second Language label invited its artists to assemble in Soup Studios (then beneath the Duke Of Uke ukelele shop) on Hanbury St in Shoreditch, London with a view to recording an album - the only "rules" being that all the music should be improvised from scratch and once an hour had passed, they should move on to the next song.

Within the first 8 hour session, the assembled cast of Katie English (Isnaj Dui), Oliver Cherer (Dollboy), Angèle David-Guillou (Klima), David Sheppard (Ellis Island Sound), Glen Johnson and Jerome Tcherneyan (both of Piano Magic) birthed 8 very rough new sketches. Utilising Soup's wide palette of archaic drum-machines, guitars, keyboards, drums and whatever else was lying around, the Silver Servants (as they quickly tagged themselves; a misheard "Civil Servants" if you must) had fashioned a random, yet, somehow cohesive blend of psych-folk, krautrock, minimalist electronica, baroque and post-rock. (Post-psych baroquetronic folk music, should you be a record store worried about where to file it).

Content with their day's hard labour, the Servants adjourned to the nearest pub and for the next year, the recordings gathered dust. A year later, another session was mooted, yet more layers were added to the existing blueprints and yet more songs were whisked up from the ether. New members appeared : Zizi Kanaan of The Eyes In The Heat, Sharron Kraus, Aine O'Dwyer, Nick Palmer aka Directorsound, Mark and Roxy Fry, Robin Saville (ISAN), Frances Castle (The Hardy Tree) and Nick Franglen (Lemon Jelly), all contributing their individual unique talents to this rich (then still only instrumental) tapestry.

Again, the recordings were left to the dust for another year until finally, lyrics were written, vocals were added and at last, something resembling an album appeared. Cut to 2014 when Oliver Cherer and Glen Johnson finally tweaked and snipped and polished off the 12 recordings that would form 'Silver Servants' by Silver Servants (a late addition being an inspired take on William Blake/Sir Hubert Parry's 'Jerusalem,' brought to them by Keiron Phelan of littlebow and featuring Anna Brønsted of Our Broken Garden).

Great back story and there’s a warmth and engaging character to the music to match that’s very appealing. If you’re a fan of any of those artists listed, you’ll find plenty to love and numerous hints throughout the album of their individual sounds. Maybe it’s just me but I find lots of echoes of Lemon Jelly, in the general open-minded magpie sensibility running through the twelve tracks – at one point a vintage synth kraut jam instrumental sounding a bit like a less frantic Silver Apples ('Spalling farrows') is followed by a beautiful spoken word rumination on life in the metropolis, set to a brooding drum machine and sketched guitar backdrop ('Lopsided').

It’s a real trip this album (through time, space, genre, your head, the lot), get into it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Playlist 324 - Sept 16 2014

Something of a sombre/sedate/low-key tone to this week's show, it goes like that sometimes.

Gospel meditation from Peter Broderick from a couple years back, he plays Cork soon. So does Sean Nicholas Savage, making gorgeous bedroom soul.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums exploring the overlap between rhythm and desire, thrillingly.

Sumptuous jazz pop from Bill Wells and (mostly Japanese) friends; spare piano from Soley; Bell Gardens with lovely drifting drones; A Winged Victory For The Sullen, orchestral grandeur; Little Tornados, quixotic dream pop.

Then two Second Language releases to finish. Silver Servants (pictured below the cover of their s/t album), a kind of English underground pop supergroup, with glorious dreamy psych pop. And Mark Fry (who is also part of Silver Servants) channelling Bert Jansch to great effect.

More on these pages as always.

Sept 16 2014 w/ Bill Wells,Bell Gardens,Soley,Little Tornados,SIlver Servants,Wildbirds&Peacedrums++ by The Underground Of Happiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed

Playlist 324
Tues Sept 16 2014
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here

Peter Broderick – Proposed solution to the mystery of the soul (playing Half Moon Theatre, Cork, Oct 19, w/ Loch Lomond)
Sean Nicholas Savage – The rat (playing Whelan’s, Dublin, Oct 10; Black Mariah, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Oct 12)
Wildbirds & Peacedrums – The offbeat (playing Village Underground, London, Nov 14)
Future Islands – Doves (playing Vicar Street, Dublin, Nov 2+3)
Bill Wells – Effective demand
Soley – Kromantik
Bell Gardens – Take us away
A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos II (playing Guildhall, London, Oct 20)
Little Tornados – Unicorn
Lutine – Espera (playing St Laurence’s Church, Falmer, Sept 27, w/ Bela Emerson)
Brother Earth – The sunny side of the street
Marianne Dissard – Mouton bercail
Kryshe – Lullaby
Silver Servants – Jerusalem
Mark Fry - Aeroplanes

*next week’s show features music from Jennifer Castle, Rachael Dadd & Jimi Noir, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sir Henry's Podcasts

Over the summer, I took part in a recording of a round table chat about Sir Henry’s from the early 1980s until early 2000s. This was to coincide with the Sir Henry’s Exhibition which runs at The Boole Library in UCC until September 25th and is well worth a visit. It manages to go beyond a mere nostalgia exercise to provide a document of the period, a social history even, of the sub-cultures that gravitated around the legendary rock and later club venue. By extension, there's a hidden history of Cork music and Cork in general running through the exhibition. Updates on facebook here and associated blog here -

The recording was organised by Jim Morrish who presents the Odds n Sods show on UCC98.3FM, and also featured Paul McDermott of Dublin City FM (also formerly of UCC98.3FM) and Morty McCarthy of The Sultans of Ping. All four of us were qualified only in this way – we're all music fans and had attended loads of gigs in Sir Henry’s over the years.

As far as I can remember, my first time in Sir Henry’s at a gig - Sir Henry’s was also open at weekends in those days as a bar which screened music videos - was in May 1987 (the night before one of my school summer exams in 5th year, if I’m not mistaken). It was a multi-band show, a Battle of the Bands organised by Dublin music magazine Hot Press. Five bands played but most of the crowd were there only to see Cork band The Belsonic Sound, who I would still say were the best ever live band I’ve seen to come out of Cork. Despite playing a storming gig, the Belsonics were done out of the top prize by the little-remembered Azure Days (although their single ‘Blow my clouds away’ was a fine tune). This decision was greeted with profound disappointment by the partisan crowd in Henry’s when announced by Stevie Bolger, the MC and Cork local radio stalwart at the time. Carling were the sponsors of the event and poor Stevie found some of that brew flung all over his shiny suit. As I remember, he rose above the hostility gallantly, saying something like, “unpopular choice obviously”.

Anyway, you can hear more about that in Part 1 below. As you might expect, this chat among friends about good times went on for a number of hours so in the end it was divided up into five sections. It was all recorded and edited together by Kieran Hurley of UCC98.3FM, interspersed with music from the bands in question. Enjoy.

The years 1983-1988 featuring the great Microdisney, Cypress, Mine!, The Pogues & Elvis Costello, The Stunning, The Belsonic Sound, The Damned, The Wedding Present, Stump, 5 Go Down To The Sea, That Petrol Emotion & Big Audio Dynamite.

Sir Henrys Part 1 1983-1988 by Ucc98.3fm on Mixcloud

The years 1989-1991 featuring. A House, The Sisters of Mercy’s secret gig and Andrew Eldritch’s cigarette stub, The Sultans of Ping, The Golden Horde, Cork Rocks 1991, Dancing Bastards from Hell, The Whipping Boy, Echo & the Bunnymen & Toasted Heretic.

Sir Henrys Part 2 1989-1991 by Ucc98.3fm on Mixcloud

The years 1991-1992 featuring music from Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Babes in Toyland, The Shanks, The Would Be’s and Stereolab, and quite a bit of chat about THAT Sonic Youth/Nirvana show in August 1991 at Sir Henry’s.

Sir Henrys part 3 1991 1992 by Ucc98.3fm on Mixcloud

The years 1993-1994 including LMNO Pelican, the opening of The Village and Shane Fitzsimons as promoter, and somewhat legendary shows by Mercury Rev, My Bloody Valentine, Fatima Mansions, Pavement and Sebadoh.

Sir Henrys Part 4 1993- 1994 by Ucc98.3fm on Mixcloud

The years 1994-2000, inc Ash, Manic Street Preachers, The Forum as a venue (the part of the building behind Sir Henry’s...”terrible room, terrible sound, horrible venue”...), Mic Christopher’s The Mary Janes’ ill-fated headline in place of the cancelled Dodgy, Frank Sidebottom, Aidan Walsh & Cow in the Water, The Cork Music Resource Co-op, The Fall and Super Furry Animals/Grandaddy at Freakscene, Ian Brown, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and more.

Sir Henrys Part 5 1994-2000 by Ucc98.3fm on Mixcloud

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

SlowPlaceLikeHome – Romola (Bluestack Records)

If you take a flick around these pages over the last couple of years, you'll find plenty of mention of SlowPlaceLikeHome (the search function will do it if you're stuck for time). I first heard the name in January 2012, having been tipped the wink by Albert of Plugd Records here in Cork. That was an EP, the enigmatically titled Coastal hubs for chivalry and I was immediately interested. Another two EPs followed over the following 18 months, each one a beguiling mixture of kosmische, folk and jazz tones, shoegaze and an element of the dreamier end of trip-hop. The debut album of SPLH was released a few weeks ago and here's a review of it I wrote for WeAreNoise (a couple of minor edits since original publication). Suffice to say the album is highly recommended.

It’s great to finally see and hear the self-produced debut album by SlowPlaceLikeHome, aka Keith Mannion from Donegal, following a series of each-one-better-than-the-one-before EPs over the last two years.

Those EPs set the bar high for (not just Irish) electronica, combining elements of folk, jazz and shoegaze with a genuine arranger’s ear. Mannion has remarked that the album marks a departure from his earlier work, although you can still spot threads which have been taken on and developed in the longer format.

The first two singles from the album have that beguiling mix, pop fans – irresistible, wireless-bothering hooks aplenty, but bursting with ideas and creative arrangements not often heard from lowest-common-denominator radio.

In the case of ‘She comes in colour stereo’ it’s the thrumming bassline that usually gets me (the “woo” backing vocal and handclaps come a close second). ‘Luna’, on the other hand, twinkles and pitter-patters insidiously, while an octave vocal layer brings an extra touch of class.

Elsewhere, the album takes time to stretch its legs and unfurl a series of gorgeous melodies with percussive, clicking backbeats in support. The semi-instrumental kosmische of ‘Set fire to the stars’ recalls the earlier There go the lights again EP, with a beautiful, pastoral quality in among the bleeps and squiggles.

‘Autumn’s children’ has a weightier low end drone anchoring a set of glistening guitar and synth patterns, like the deep sea drawing down shards of sunlight from above.

One of the (pleasant) surprises of the album is the clarity and upfront treatment of the more than occasional vocals. The singing on ‘Romola (Parts 1 & 2)’ is reminscient of Matt Johnson from The The – the musical backing has a similar pre-trip hop feel, a kind of slowed down, drugged and shimmering soul music.

‘Perfumed (with life’s imperfections)’ comes on like a sweaty jam-room session (perhaps involving Can from around 1975), with a deadpan vocal holding gravitas, while bursts of distortion cut in on angelic synth shapes, and a deliciously warped mid-section wig-out drags you to the dancefloor.

Meanwhile, ‘Dear Diary’ is like a Northern Soul tune deconstructed and gloriously adorned with parping faux-trumpet and Orange Juice guitar jangle. ‘Cesare’s Principle’ closes the album in a blissful instrumental haze.

Throughout, the arrangements are smart, the production warm and the tunes are king.

Organic and soulful, this is a brilliant debut album from an already startlingly accomplished artist.

Astronauts – Hollow ponds (Lo Recordings)

Another album that got lost in the summer recess and backlog but well worth waiting around for.

A return from Dan Carney (ex Dark Captain) and an album which beautifully carries on the thread of spooked folk and krautrock beats from his former band.

Opener ‘Skydive’ immediately sets out the beguliing combination of hushed vocals, sombre drums and plucked acoustic guitars, later joined by some mournful, long-bowed cello. It’s low-key but positively haunting.

‘Everything’s a system, everything’s a sign’ next adds some droning clarinet to create a great reedy undertow.

‘Vampires’ then changes the tone brilliantly with buzzing electric guitar power chords and percussive scrapes against a jerky breakbeat. The nervous energy of the arrangement perfectly captures the vague disquiet of the lyric.

‘Spanish archer’ employs a mid-range tug of E-bow against a chorus of “ba-ba-bas” which just can’t be denied.

And the album keeps these high standards. Wherever you turn, thrumming bass and brushed drums create great sound pictures of mournfulness transformed through defiance (or is it simply perseverance? Maybe they’re the same thing...), while restless guitar arpeggios and stoic woodwind blow past the clouds to find a silver lining.

These are uniformly gorgeous, hushed psych pop songs capable of lifting the spirits from the doldrums. And that’s psych with a small “p”, the unshowy, creep-up-on-you but nonetheless burnished kind.

What a beautiful piece of work this album is.

Astronauts - Skydive (Official Music Video) from Lo Recordings on Vimeo.

Playlist 323 - Sept 9 2014

Another extended show this week, great to have time to pull out a few old treasures, along with the huge backlog of excellent recent releases, plus music from acts on tour in the autumn.

The former category, 'Bonnie & Clyde' by Serge & Brigitte, that inspired and ageless slice of psych pop with the best ever "woo-hoo" in pop music (the giddy playfulness between them is a lovely subtext); Donnie & Joe Emerson, two Oregon farming brothers making bedroom pop sound fucking essential in 1979; and Cluster making pastoral, sky-gazing kosmische.

The latter category, Amen Dunes, bringing their beautiful 1000 yard drones to Ireland this month; likewise Sean Nicholas Savage (pic), gorgeous bedroom soul from Montreal; SlowPlaceLikeHome, fuzzy and warm electronica from Donegal; Tennis, heart-melting white soul.

And Pye Corner Audio, bringing the autobahn compellingly to English underground pop.

Sept 9 2014 Hr 1 w/ Serge & Brigitte,Amen Dunes,Sean Nicholas Savage,SPLH,Rozi Plain,Wussy++ by Theundergroundofhappiness on Mixcloud

The second hour of this week's show had some of my favourite bands/artists - The Chills, bringing jangle pop to bear unforgettably on the male id; Big Star, making growing up in middle America sound painful but wondrous; The Kinks, kicking gloriously against the Swinging Sixties; Lee Hazlewood, legend, with partner in crime at the time Suzi Jane Hokom; and Bob Lind, laying down a template for psych pop in 1965 with some help from Jack Nietzsche producing.

Then new music from Buke & Gase, playing the Brassland weekender at NCH in Dublin in December; Martin Carr, ex Boo Radleys; Alien Ensemble, beautiful jazz tones; Schultz & Forever, intriguing plastic funk; Brother Earth, lovely low-key psych folk; and Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa, making delirious wonky pop.

Find more on these pages.

Sept 9 2014 Hr 2 w/ Buke & Gase,Alien Ensemble,Lee Hazlewood,Big Star,Purling Hiss,The Chills++ by Theundergroundofhappiness on Mixcloud

The Underground of Happiness
uplifting pop music of every creed

Playlist 323
Tues Sept 9 2014
(repeated on Tuesdays 8.30pm)
UCC 98.3FM
listen live on the web at
*listen back to this show here
Hour 1 -
Hour 2 -

*Hour 1

Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot – Bonnie & Clyde
Amen Dunes – Lonely Richard (playing Workman’s Club, Dublin, Sept 23; Dolan’s, Limerick, Sept 24; Black Mariah, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Sept 25)
Wussy – Teenage wasteland
Rozi Plain – Jogalong (playing The Glad Café, Glasgow, Sept 20, w/ Rachael Dadd)
Theatre Royal – Here it comes
Tennis – Never work for free
Sean Nicholas Savage – You changed me (playing Whelan’s, Dublin, Oct 10; Black Mariah, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Oct 12)
Donnie & Joe Emerson – Baby
Sean Nicholas Savage – Heartless
Cluster – Heisse lippen
SlowPlaceLikeHome – Set fire to the stars (playing Whelan’s, Dublin, Sept 12, w/ Carriages)
Pye Corner Audio – Black mist

*Hour 2
Buke & Gase – Seam esteem (playing Brassland Weekender, NCH, Dublin, Dec 13+14)
Martin Carr – The Santa Fé Skyway
Bob Lind – Elusive butterfly
Purling Hiss – Learning slowly
Death in the Sickroom – Brick to the face
The Kinks – Where have all the good times gone
The Casanova Wave feat. Conor Deasy – New sensation (Hopes and aspirations)
Alien Ensemble – Modest farewell
Schultz & Forever - Silvia
Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa – Dimension Dive part 3: Deep sea dance
Ergo Phizmiz – The flying house
Lee Hazlewood & Suzi Jane Hokom – Califia
The Cobras – Restless
Big Star – The Ballad of El Goodo
Brother Earth – Out like a lion
The Chills – Male monster from the id (Martin Phillips playing The Lexington, London, Sept 12)

*next week’s show features music from Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Peter Broderick & Little Tornados, among others

e-mail the show on
or text +353 (0)86-7839800
please mark messages “uoh”

Conor O'Toole,
c/o UCC 98.3FM,
Áras na Mac Léinn,
Student Centre,
University College Cork,