Ten Albums That Get to the Heart of Ireland

Mean green machine: Irish music has had its finger on the pulse of the nation.

Mean green machine: Irish music has had its finger on the pulse of the nation.

Originally published in Rí- Rá, The Irish Post’s entertainment supplement

DOMINATING as we do in the field of literature for works that have reflected the society in which they were conceived- the plays of Brian Friel and Sean O’Casey, the poetry of W.B. Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh, the novels of James Joyce and John McGahern- Ireland has also consistently produced some stunning LPs over the last 45 years that have captured the Irish experience: life in small town Ireland; life in “The Smoke”; issues of identity spurned by emigration. Some records, quite simply, captured the spirit of the age.

1. Same Oul’ Town by The Saw Doctors 

Though more of a ‘Singles’ band than a band that one listens to album- by- album, the title track of The Saw Doctors’ best album to date anchors the mood of the entire record; a paean to small- town Ireland that almost everyone could recognise instantly (“same oul’ hanging around the square / same oul’ spoofers, same oul’ stares”).

Including as it does stompers such as ‘World of Good’ and ‘To Win Just Once’, the then unofficial anthem of the 1996 Irish Olympic Boxing team, perhaps the most striking song, apart from that of the title track, is ‘Everyday’. A Springsteen- esque tune chronicling as it does the journey of a young woman in “trouble” travelling across the Irish Sea for an abortion, the song is utterly chilling in its depiction of the perceived- shame of the subject and the clandestine fashion in which she seeks resolution: “She’s the girl you know from down the road / She’s your one from out the other side / There’s a rumour she’s in trouble / She’s all mixed up inside”.


2. Paradise in the Picturehouse by The Stunning

Steve Wall once claimed, with no short amount of wry humour, that The Stunning were “Ennistymon’s answer to The Saw Doctors”, referencing Keith Richard’s claim that The Rolling Stones were “London’s answer to The Beatles”. The Stunning’s feel good vibes and gang- like mentality had them pegged, accurately, as an Irish Squeeze: a band brimming with power- pop tunes drenched in sexual imagery.

Featuring ‘Brewing Up A Storm’, a favorite of almost every pub covers band of the last twenty years in Ireland and a favorite for ‘Best of Irish Rock’ compilations, the song is about a local lad gone wrong, morphing into a Frankenstein- like figure (“his eyes are wild / and it can’t go on”).

If anything, though, Paradise… is full of the type of rich, sexual imagery that could only be produced by a band of young men moving out from small town Ireland and playing gigs “up in the smoke”. Songs such as ‘Romeo’s On Fire’ and ‘The Girl with The Curl’ detail a generation pulling away from the sexually tame, church- controlled 1980’s and moving towards a more liberal lifestyle. Equally, one of the band’s best known tunes, ‘Half Past Two’ shows a band that can convincingly manage the soulful rhythms of Van Morrison while ‘This Happy Girl’, the spirit of the entire album, is the song that best shows the band’s chemistry at its most magical.


3. Hard Station by Paul Brady

Everybody knows Paul Brady. Without doubt the only Irish songwriter alive with a long, enviable catalogue of original songs spanning four decades, Brady’s first solo record since departing from The Johnsons, Welcome Here Kind Stranger, consisted of covers, the most remarkable being a definitive version of ‘The Lakes of Ponchatrain’, which inspired Bob Dylan to revive the American ballad during the 1980’s.

Hard Station, Brady’s first album of songs completely composed by the Strabane man, features many of the same blues, soul and old- school rock n’ roll references as The Stunning’s Paradise in the Picturehouse. Most of all, however, it is the sound of a singer- songwriter breaking out of the blocks; songs such as opener ‘Crazy Dreams’ and ‘Nothing But the Same Old Story’, one of the greatest songs about Irish identity ever written, have become set staples for the Tyrone man and, undoubtedly, successive generations of Irish songwriters will reference his songs.

4. Heartworm by Whipping Boy

As recently as 2013, Whipping Boy’s masterpiece, Heartworm, topped a poll of the best Irish albums of all time, conducted by Phantom FM, beating out competition from U2, Van Morrison and My Bloody Valentine. Heartworm’s status as Ireland’s Nevermind is still very much in tact.

Arriving as it did it in the mid 90’s, Heartworm, fittingly, has a foot in both grunge and britpop: the tsunami of layered guitars, angst and aggression of the former mixed with the direct, instant and focused pop craft of the latter. Guitarist Paul Page and bassist Myles McDonnell built musical canvases that took the best from The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3 and Echo & The Bunnymen. Vocalist and lyricist Fearghal McKee wrote of an Ireland that seemed uncharted and uncovered, describing in terms befitting of an Irvine Welsh novel the seedy side of life in Dublin, crooning as he does in a Dublin accent.

McKee’s lyrics, though dark and claustrophobic, have an inclusive strand that made fans feels part of a gang: ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’ became a raison d’etre for the band and fans alike, while ‘When We Were Young’ meant to The Pope’s Children what The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ had meant to the generation before. If Heartworm is the sound of a band in transition, moving into the next dimension, it’s also the sound of a generation in transition between the early- 90’s hangover from the recession- stricken 80’s to the Celtic Tiger years, which really began in 1997, by which time the band had, sadly, imploded and run out of steam.

5. Turf
by Luka Bloom

Having signed to a Reprise / Warner Bros. in the US, New York- based Kildare man Luka Bloom (that’s Barry Moore to the taxman) crafted a collection of songs that, although somewhat over- produced and over- laden with reverb and chorus effects, gave a voice to New York based Irish immigrants in the 80’s and 90’s when they didn’t have a voice. Indeed, it was a time when the 90’s, New York coffee- house singer- songwriter schtick was alive and well, to which Moore brought a uniquely Irish twist.

Like any number of songs about travelling or emigration, sea imagery features strongly in Bloom’s songs: in ‘Diamond Mountain’, “The cruel sea calls the unwilling traveller / Who would look for the road to survival”; penned by Waterboys legend Mike Scott, the excellent ‘Sunny Sailor Boy’ finds the singer gazing “Over the western sea / startled and struck, / frightened to look / when a mermaid called to me”; ‘To Begin To’ finds Bloom at his wanderlust best, starting out in Properous in 1972, taking in Paris, Amsterdam and, finally, California; all, as the great Tom T. Hall might say, in search of a song.

6. Shots by Damien Dempsey

Drenched as it is in Irish history and social commentary observed from Dempsey’s native northside Dublin, all of which Dempsey infuses with his own blend of Irish folk and reggae, the Donaghmede man’s third studio album- and his best to date- finds a songwriter who articulated the conscience of an Ireland very much marooned between the its past and its present.

Recorded and released in 2005, songs such as ‘St. Patrick’s Day’, ‘Colony’ and ‘Choctaw Nation’ feature a reading and understanding of Irish history that leaves many of his Irish contemporaries looking tame and unremarkable. Similarly, Dempsey’s understanding of where Ireland was at his time of writing and recording of Shots, that is, still riding the wave of the Celtic Tiger, Dempsey is equally attuned to the culture of the day: album opener and set staple ‘Sing All Our Cares Away’ is full of piercing portraits of characters who didn’t benefit from the Celtic Tiger and who were blighted by despair, domestic violence and addiction; similarly, ‘Party On’ describes the ugly aspects of Ireland’s drug culture, which intensified during the notoriously decadent Celtic Tiger years.

A statement of intent and his most fully realised collection songs, Dempsey caught the spirit of the age on his own terms, or as he sings in ‘Patience’, “From my room in Donaghmede / I’m ‘bout to kick all your asses / stick your pink champagne / and fuck your backstage passes”.


7. Planxty by Planxty

Referred to as “The Black Album” among Planxty fans, you get a sense of just how important Planxty’s music was to a generation of Irish music fans in Ireland. Featuring the classic Planxty line up that would reunite for a series of gigs in Vicar Street in 2004, the band’s 1973 début, according to biographer Leagues O’Toole, “crystallises the 1972 set” of Planxty’s tour. The band’s remarkable début opens with ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy/Tabhair Dom Do Lámh’; the former a ballad of a rich woman who leaves her life of luxury for a life to live with itinerants, the latter a tune of joy and, in the context of ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, freedom. Both offer, perhaps, the most appropriate introduction to any band: while the rich lady is joining the itinerants on a journey, you, the listener, are joining Planxty.

‘Arthur McBride’, a live favorite at the time of recording and performed heavily by Andy Irvine, Paul Brady and, indeed, Planxty, was a song steeped in the Irish tradition, yet it also chimed well with those singers, songwriters and listeners of folk music, energised by the protest songs of the 1960’s, particularly the songs of Bob Dylan, who would later cover the song for 1992’s Good As I Been to You.

The most tender ballad on the album, Ewan McColl’s ‘Sweet Thames Flow Softly’ feels like a song that Shane McGowan, at the peak of his powers, could have written and performed, written as it is with the tourist’s eye for London.

Perhaps the only song that dates the album in any way is Kerry- based Fermanagh man Mickey McConnell’s ‘Only Our Rivers Run Free’, written as it was to reflect the social and political crisis in the north of Ireland; that song aside, Planxty remains a timeless and unforgettable document of Irish music, refreshing the genre as it did in the 70’s with a prodigious degree of musicianship that is all- too- rare.


8. Rum Sodomy & The Lash by The Pogues

If Planxty’s natural musicianship and live shows were keeping the flame alive for Irish folk in the 70’s, The Pogues’s fusion of punk and Irish folk energised the genre in the 1980’s. Through a series of records that have dated remarkably well when compared to records from the same period, The Pogues’ blend of Irish folk myth with punk and Irish trad was the sound of a band proud of their Irish identity at a time and place when public expressions of Irish nationalism could land one in trouble.

Of all The Pogues’ records, though, it’s their 1985, Elvis Costello- produced second record that finds the band stressing the extremities of their songs, veering from the romantic and sentimental (‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, ‘I’m Not A Man You Meet Everyday’) to the explosive and raucous (‘Sally MacLennane’, ‘Billy’s Bones’). The duality of the Pogues sound, which could shift from romantic and elegiac to defiant and up- tempo within two tracks, was, as could only be the case for an Irish band from London, marooned between two different places.

The album starts with ‘The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn’, a song of transition that finds MacGowan at his most lyrically wry, with songs that blend as much imagery from blues lyrics as they do from Irish folk (“At the sick-bed of Cuchulainn we’ll kneel and say a prayer / And the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil’s in the chair”). Without doubt one of MacGowan’s finest moments, ‘The Old Main Drag’ is a picaresque tune of adolescent destitution and addiction that, sadly, wasn’t uncommon (“When I first came to London I was only sixteen / With a fiver in my pocket and my ole dancing bag”).

If The Pogues are the undisputed band of the diaspora, then Rum, Sodomy and The Lash is the sound of a band comfortable with that tag.


9. For The Birds by The Frames

Half recorded with Nirvana/Pixies producer Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studios in Chicago, half recorded in a house that the band had decamped to in Ventry, Co. Kerry, Dublin’s The Frames’ 2001 masterpiece For The Birds, as was the case for The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and The Lash, found the band at a musical crossroads, blending two distinct styles together: the homespun folk of flagship ‘Lay Me Down’ and the post rock bliss of ‘Santa Maria’, named after a shipwreck near where the band were recording. The Frames’ third album found the band moving away from the Pixies- influenced Dance The Devil… and towards what can only be described a post- rock influenced folk.

The entire record finds the singer seeking closure, assurance and progress from, amongst many themes, bereavement (‘What Happens When The Heart Just Stops’) and relationships (‘Giving Me Wings’).

If For The Birds belongs anywhere, however, it is in every small town and village in Ireland. What hangs over the songs are feelings of restraint and release. In ‘Fighting On The Stairs’, Hansard sings “But if I don’t get out of this town now/then something is gonna break/ ‘cause I gotta find my own way now/through this thick malaise”. Similarly, Hansard sings on ‘Disappointed’ “And I’m just ambling on in this town/I can’t get out and it drags me down/And these words don’t fit what I’m feeling now”.

The idea of restraint and release is given further emphasis by the band, influenced heavily by guitarist, multi- instrumentalist and producer Dave Odlum: the release of the brass section in the largely solo ‘What Happens When the Heart Just Stops’; the distortion pedals and the kitchen sink on the excellent ‘Headlong’; the band outro on majestic album closer ‘The Mighty Sword’. Those listeners who couldn’t release themselves from the grip of this stunning album attended a ten-year anniversary gig in Dublin’s Vicar Street in 2011, which celebrated this incredible achievement.


10. The Lion and The Cobra by Sinead O’Connor

Recorded when O’Connor was merely 20 years- old, The Lion and The Cobra takes its title from Psalm 91:3, in which God promises protection from danger: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” That O’Connor repeats the Psalm, as Gaelige, with Enya, on ‘Never Get Old’ reinforces the themes of vulnerability and identity that run through the record (“Young man in a quiet place/Got a hawk on his arm/He loves that bird/Never does no harm”, sings O’Connor on ‘Never Get Old’).

One of the most auspicious debuts from a solo artist in the last 30 years, The Lion and The Cobra is, in parts, O’Connor at her most raw. On opening track ‘Jackie’, vulnerability, identity and loss, again, loom large in a song that tells the story of a widow whose husband died at sea, twenty years before (“I remember the day the young man came/Said Your Jackie’s gone he got lost in the rain”). It’s a haunting folk tale that, lyrically, is in the vein of Planxty, The Pogues, Paul Brady; in fact, any songwriter who has drunk from the wellspring of Irish folk. It’s all the more haunting with a ghostly vocal from O’Connor that escalates from a whisper to a scream.

Like Dempsey, O’Connor’s lyrics are high on rhetoric and social observations. In ‘A Drink Before the War’, restraint and violence and entwined like peace and war, past and present: “You refuse to feel/And you live in a shell/You create your own hell/You live in the past/And talk about war.”, which, as they say, “is more Irish than the Irish themselves.”

Ten Country Singer- Songwriters Everyone Should Know

Ireland’s long love affair with country music goes much, deeper than Garth Brooks gigs at Croke Park. Here are 10 country artists that everyone should hear.

Ernest Tubb's iconic record shop, 417 Broadway, Nashville, TN.

Ernest Tubb’s iconic record shop, 417 Broadway, Nashville, TN.


Originally published in the print edition of The Irish Post, 6th August 2014. Please click here to read the feature on IrishPost.co.uk. 

10. Guy Clark

Although 72 year- old Texan songwriter Guy Clark started his career late (Clark released 1975 debut album, OId No. 1 when he was almost 35 years of age), his influence on Nashville song-writing and what later became known as “progressive country” has been considerable. Old masters and young guns alike, from Johnny Cash to Kenny Chesney, have recorded Clark’s songs, of which ‘L.A. Freeway’ and ‘Desperadoes Waiting for a Train’ are the best known.

Clark’s reputation is that of a master songwriter, though he has also worked as a mentor for many young writers. Steve Earle benefitted greatly from Clark’s mentorship, gaining his first writing job in Nashville through Clark’s recommendation. Similarly, Guy and Susanna Clark’s home in Nashville was an open house to songwriters and performers who came of age, among them Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle and Clark’s best friend, Townes Van Zandt.

9. Gillian Welch

Berklee School of Music graduates Gillian Welch and David Rawlings had a rough start in Nashville. Initially dismissed as “blow- ins” by purists, Gillian Welch- effectively the moniker of duo singer / guitarist Gillian Welch and guitarist / backing vocalist David Rawlings- were two middle- class graduates from New York and Rhode Island, respectively, eschewing the rough and ready delivery of their forebears and projecting an image that was more clean-cut and professional. Early reviews of Gillian Welch records accused the duo of “manufacturing emotion” and “writing folk songs about writing folk songs”.

Gillian Welch’s response? Time (The Revelator), their 2001 album, which is a beautiful collection of songs of hope and longing, ending with the majestic, 14 minute closer ‘I Dream A Highway’. Gillian Welch would capitalise on the strenght of Time (The Revelator) with their contributions to the T- Bone Burnett produced 2002 soundtrack to the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which claimed the 2002 Grammy for Album of the Year, as well as selling 8 million copies in the US, alone. In 2011, the duo released The Harrow & The Harvest, their first studio album of new music in 8 years. It’s their best yet.


8. Emmylou Harris

A veteran no less than peers such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Guy and Susanna Clark, Emmylou Harris has dueted with almost every major name in country and rock music over the decades, often bridging the genres together as Gram Parsons, her one- time partner, did as a solo artist and with The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Harris’ seemingly endless dueting, with everyone from Neil Young to Mark Knopfler, Dolly Parton to Conor Oberst, often overshadows a stellar solo career. Records such as 1975’s Elite Hotel and 1995’s Wrecking Ball boast of repertoire of covers that take in a variety of songs, from Hank Williams to The Beatles; from Gram Parsons to Jimi Hendrix, all performed with Harris’ stunning voice.

Harris’ rebirth as a composer in the 2000’s revealed all the skill and wisdom a singer- songwriter who had spent much of the previous decades covering and studying the work of other songwriters. Released in 2000, Red Dirt Girl features eleven songs either written / co- written by Harris and just one cover.

7. Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard really was at Johnny Cash’s 1958 show at San Quentin Prison. The then 21 year- old Haggard was serving time for the attempted robbery of a roadhouse in Bakersfield, California.

Haggard’s songs are full of sympathy and empathy for the outlaws, the down and outs, the drifters who revert to a life of crime as they see no other alternative. Songs such as ‘I’m A Lonesome Fugitive’, ‘The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde’, ‘Branded Man’ and ‘Mama Tried’, all number one hits, cemented Haggard’s reputation as the one- time con done good.

Haggard’s gifts lay in his ability to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and construct a convincing back-story to the characters who populate his songs . One of the most chilling songs ever recorded, ‘Sing Me Back Home’ is sung from the point of view of a guitar playing prison inmate (Haggard, perhaps?) who is called upon to sing a final song prior to the execution of a condemned prisoner, at the death row inmate’s request on his way to the chamber.

6. Patsy Cline

Willie Nelson once famously said that “Ninety-nine percent of the world’s lovers are not with their first choice. That’s what makes the jukebox play.” Patsy Cline, who died tragically at the age of 30 in a plane crash, was blessed with a contralto voice that sang the songs that cemented Nelson’s claim, not least Nelson’s ‘Crazy’, which remains the song with which Cline is best known.

Others songs drenched in the Nashville Sound of which Cline was a loyal and brilliant exponent include ‘Strange’, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ and Harlan Howard’s ‘I Fall to Pieces’, all of which feature Cline’s unique and booming voice. Both inside and outside the recording studio, Patsy Cline, without question, both raised the bar for female vocalists in country music and kicked down some doors. Such was her popularity, Cline became the first woman in country music to headline billing ahead of her male counterparts on tour. Furthermore, Cline became the first woman in country music to play New York’s Carnegie Hall. Country music, as we know it, wouldn’t be the same without Patsy Cline.

5. Loretta Lynn

In a genre of music brimming with rough and ready men, Loretta Lynn remains one of country music’s most remarkable women, singing songs from a uniquely female perspective. To listeners, Lynn has personified the angry, bored housewife (‘Don’t Come A- Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)’), sung about birth control (‘The Pill’), the stigma often attached to divorced women (‘Rated X’), the jealousy of wives (‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’) and from the perspective of a widow of a Vietnam veteran (‘Dear Uncle Sam’). A friend and contemporary of Patsy Cline, she wrote and recorded I Remember Patsy, a tribute album dedicated to her late friend.

Lynn’s stock rose considerably in 2004 when Jack White, then of The White Stripes produced Lynn’s Van Lear Rose. At 72, the album was one of Lynn’s biggest hits of her 45 year career, coming in at number 2 on Rolling Stone’s list of the best albums of 2004.

4. John Prine

No less an authority than Bob Dylan once claimed that “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs.” Not for the first time, Dylan is bang on the money. In 1971, Illinois native Prine wrote and recorded his brilliant, self- titled debut album, which everyone from Dylan and Springsteen to Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williamseveryone from Dylan and Springsteen to Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams has referenced as one of the finest singer- songwriter records of the last 50 years.

Prine’s ability to zoom in on the lives of seemingly ordinary American’s is every bit as sharp as that of Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn: ‘Sam Stone’ tells the story a returned Vietnam veteran whose life has been ravaged by heroin abuse (“There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes/Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose”), ‘Hello In There’ and ‘Angel From Montgomery’ chart the lives of Americans of an advanced age who feel older than they are, while ‘Far From Me’ is a bitter-sweet love song. Prine is that rarest of things: an American songwriter who reminds you of the greats and, yet, is unique.

3. Lucinda Williams

Routinely referred to by Rolling Stone as “America’s Greatest Songwriter”, Lucinda Williams is what can only be described as maverick. After recording 1979’s Ramblin’  and 1980’s Happy Woman Blues for legendary American roots label Smithsonian Folkways, Williams would spend the next eight years touring the States relentlessly, playing every bar, venue and café that she could to ply her trade.

In 1988, Rough Trade issued Williams’ self- titled major label début, which would spawn hits such as ‘Passionate Kisses’, ‘I Just Wanted to See You So Bad’ and ‘Changed The Locks’.

Remarkably, Williams’ breakthrough record and her stone- cold classic album would not arrive until 1998. Williams’ magnum opus remains Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, a twelve track country album steeped in the influences that first established Williams as an artist of note: the influences of Robert Johnson, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds,  The Band, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn can all be traced on Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.

Songs such as ‘Right in Time’, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’, ‘Drunken Angel’, ‘2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten’ and ‘Greenville’ all chart the loneliness and desperation faced by characters who fight against struggle on a daily basis.

More recent efforts such as 2007’s West, 2008’s Little Honey and 2011’s Blessed haven’t quite hit the heights of Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, though Williams remains a major talent: someone whose work is drenched in the blues and folk that inspired Bob Dylan’s generation and, yet, someone who herself is hugely influenced by Dylan and The Band.

2. Townes Van Zandt

Steve Earle once boldly claimed that “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan‘s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” Dylan, himself, seems to have found clout in the claim and went as far as covering Van Zandt’s ‘Pancho and Lefty’ on tour, which was a hit for many artists including Emmylou Harris, as well as Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded a duet of the song in 1982.

Van Zandt wrote country songs that were directly influenced and focused by the folk and blues that he played as a kid. Two of the strongest influences on Van Zandt’s writing were The Times The Are A- Changin’ era Bob Dylan as well as country blues guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Van Zandt’s songs often reflected his troubled life, which was spent living with addictions to alcohol and heroin as well as having lived with the trauma of surviving electro convulsive shock therapy, which erased memories from his childhood. Songs such as ‘Nothin’’, ‘Waiting Around to Die’ and ‘Pancho and Lefty’ chronicled the lives of drifters who, like the characters in the songs of Merle Haggard, lived worn- out lives.

Though Van Zandt passed on New Year’s Day in 1997, his popularity has increased in recent years with many songwriters such as Norah Jones, Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst, Lucinda Williams and Ray LaMontagne all crediting Van Zandt’s influence. In 2009, Steve Earle, Van Zandt’s one- time protegee, friend and publicist, recorded Townes, a 15- track covers album of Van Zandt’s best known songs, in which he pays tribute to his former mentor. A master.

1. Hank Williams

The country singer dubbed The Hillbilly Shakespeare, Hank Williams remains the single most formidable presence in country music: an artist whose slim body of work is enough to ensure both his greatness as well as no small degree of myth and mystery.

Williams’ songs, ranging from spiritual discovery (‘I Saw The Light’) to vivid depictions of heartbreak (‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You), ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart) struck a chord with those who tuned into WSFA radio and watched Williams’ televised performances on the Grand Ole Opry.

More so, however, Williams remains the single most namechecked influence on American songwriters: there is no songwriter in this list who, either directly or indirectly, hasn’t felt the influence of Hank WIlliams. As recently as 2011, Sony issued The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a project overseen by Bob Dylan, in which Dylan, Lucinda William, Jack White, Gillian Welch, Norah Jones, Merle Haggard and Sheryl Crow all put music to unfinished lyrics that were found in the backseat of the Cadillac when Hank Williams died on New Year’s Day, 1953, while being driven to a show in Ohio.

Williams’ brilliance as a singer- songwriter, threatened at times by alcoholism, severe back pains and marriage problems, was effortless. One day, after having been fired from the Grand Ole Opry for being unreliable and intoxicated while on stage, Williams wrote ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)’, at the Acuff- Rose building in Nashville, while Fred Rose walked out to get a cup of coffee. When Rose returned, Williams played the song to a stunned Rose. Williams, it seems, has had that effect on all of us.

Catching Up With…Swords

Formed in 2010, Dublin three- piece Swords have elicited comparisons to everyone from Portishead to Cat Power. Ahead of their headline gig at The Button Factory on 25 July, with support from Deaf Joe and Elastic Sleep, singer Diane Anglim talks about her first experiences with musical notation, Jeff Buckley’s Grace and reveals a mild obsession with David Byrne’s white suit.

Dublin- based band Swords

Dublin- based band Swords

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland. To read the original, click here.

What’s been the highlight of your year so far?

Supporting Ham Sandwich at The Olympia Theatre. The Olympia is a really special venue for us to play.


When did you first realise you wanted a career in music?

When I was about six years- old. I remember drawing pictures of music notes and writing my name at the bottom like a composer would.


In three words, describe the five minutes before you walk on stage.

Something’s gonna happen…


How do you wind down after a gig?

I like to get outside and get some fresh air. And sometimes cigarettes.


In three words, describe the live scene in Ireland.

Full of madness.


Whose career do you envy and why?

David Byrne, because he can wear white suits and dance.


Vinyl or digital downloads?

I like both vinyl record and digital downloads.


What is your favourite record shop anywhere in the world?

When it was on Dublin’s Wicklow Street, Tower Records was deadly.


Name one rare record that you don’t own, but you want more than anything.

I don’t think it’s rare, but I don’t have Jeff Buckley’s Grace on record, yet, and I would like to own it.


Name one piece of music memorabilia that you wish you owned.

David Byrne’s white suit.


What is the one thing in your life that you couldn’t go without?



Name one record, one book and one film that everyone should hear / read / see.

Record: Metals by Feist.
Book: Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
Film: The Princess Bride.


Name one overrated TV series and one underrated TV series.

Overrated: Two and a Half Men. Underrated: Black Books


Pick the director and lead actor for a biopic about your life.

Director: Spike Jonze. Actor: Uma Thurman.


Describe the perfect night in.

Good T.V., good people, good beer.


Describe the perfect night out.

Good music, good people, good beer.


Where did you grow up and what are the best and worst things about that place.

I grew up in Rathfarnham. The best thing about growing up in Rathfarnham was my friends. The worst thing? Having to walk to Nutgrove shopping centre every day in the summertime.


What is your biggest fear?

Evil children and evil dolls.


Who are the persons in your life without whom your life wouldn’t be the same?

My Mam and Dad.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you, so far?

Calm down and relax.


If you could give one piece of life advice it would be…

Don’t forget to calm down and relax.

Live Review: Jack White, live and in person, at Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith, London, Thursday 3rd July, 2014

One of only a handful of indoor dates on the current stretch of his tour in support of second solo LP proper Lazaretto, Jack White’s seamless blend of folk, blues, country, hip- hop and old- school rock n’ roll reveals an artist who combines a wealth of experience with youthful hunger and enthusiasm, writes Philip Cummins

Jack White attacking his Fender Telecaster. Photo: David Swanson. Source: Jackwhiteiii.com

Jack White attacking his Fender Telecaster. Photo: David Swanson. Source: Jackwhiteiii.com

Originally published by Entertainment Ireland. To read the original, please click here.

SPEAKING to BBC Radio One’s Zane Lowe during a live session prior to tonight’s sold out show in Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo, Nashville based Detroit native Jack White vented his frustration of playing his sets at festivals and outdoor venues, particularly in light of his recent performance at Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, which received mixed reactions from critics and fans alike: “I guess I’m trying to put on a club show for 100 people in front of 100,000 people”,  conceded 39 year- old White.

Previously, White has described festivals as “a necessary evil”. In an interview with BBC news during September 2012, White claimed “I don’t get excited about festivals – they’re not my favourite place to play…everyone’s drinking and lazing in the sun and walking around and that’s a fun thing for them but it’s not interesting for me.”

Tonight’s show, then, finds White in his natural habitat; an indoor venue packed with a capacity crowd of 8,500 dedicated fans who snapped up tickets within minutes of the show going on general sale, the show selling out almost immediately.

Jack White jamming with his band of seasoned players. Image: Dan Swanson. Source:

Jack White jamming with his band of seasoned players. Image: Dan Swanson. Source: jackwhiteiii.com

Tearing into ‘Sixteen Saltines’ from 2012’s excellent Blunderbuss, White’s band of seasoned players perform comfortably at their own rhythm, mixing up the tempo of the song and improvising naturally and with little labour. White Stripes fan favorites ‘Astro’, ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’ and ‘Hotel Yorba’ follow, the latter of which is given a “Nashville” treatment with added fiddle and pedal steel, gaining more character and depth with additional musical arrangements.

Similarly, tonight’s version of ‘Top Yourself’, a White tune from The Raconteurs’ Consolers of the Lonely, gains more intensity and more complexity. It’s the effortless blend of bluegrass arrangements with White’s ferocious guitar tones that make a fine example of White’s negotiation of the Americana roots music of Nashville and the garage rock of his native Detroit. The same is true of ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As Your Told)’ from 2007 White Stripes record Icky Thump, the title track of which also blends beautifully with the title track of recent second solo album proper Lazaretto.

Throughout tonight’s set, it becomes more and more apparent that styles win out: the rap- rock of ‘Lazaretto’; the frenetic blues of ‘Ball and the Biscuit’ (recorded at London’s Toe Rag studios during sessions for 2002 classic Elephant); the Nirvana- inspired ‘Steady, As She Goes’; the Let it Bleed– era Rolling Stones- inspired ‘Just One Drink’; the funk- blues of Lazaretto opener ‘Three Women’, based on Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Three Women Blues’.

Jack White holding his beloved 1950′s Kay Hollowbody Archtop guitar during a break in set closer 'Seven Nation Army'

Jack White holding his beloved 1950′s Kay Hollowbody Archtop guitar during a break in set closer ‘Seven Nation Army’. Image: Dan Swanson. Source: jackwhiteiii.com

While ‘Seven Nation Army’, arguably White’s best known track, is becoming old hat as a set – closer, it’s the sheer breadth of White’s musical references and, most importantly, his interpretation of those references that marks him out as a true original.

Tonight, as with last night’s secret, medical- themed show in a basement just off London’s Strand,  after which White theatrically collapsed on stage and later wheeled off stage on a stretcher, it’s clear that White is occupying the same ground as Tom Waits did in the 1980s; an uncompromising artist and performer, gloriously and blissfully out of step with modern tastes and trends and a showman  who makes his peers look like wallflowers. We’re lucky to have him.

Jack White and his band bid the audience good night after a triumphant show at London's Hammersmith Apollo.

Jack White and his band bid the audience good night after a triumphant show at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.  Image: Dan Swanson. Source: jackwhiteiii.com

Set List

  1. Sixteen Saltines
  2. Astro (The White Stripes song)
  3. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
  4. High Ball Stepper
  5. Lazaretto
  6. Hotel Yorba
  7. Temporary Ground
  8. Ramblin’ Man / Cannon / Ramblin’ Man / Cannon
  9. Icky Thump
  10. Missing Pieces
  11. Three Women
  12. Love Interruption
  13. Blunderbuss
  14. Top Yourself
  15. I’m Slowly Turning Into You
  16. Holiday in Cambodia (Dead Kennedys cover) (snippet)
  17. Ball and Biscuit


  1. Just One Drink
  2. Alone in My Home
  3. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)
  4. Hello Operator
  5. Would You Fight for My Love?
  6. Broken Boy Soldier
  7. Blue Blood Blues
  8. Steady, As She Goes
  9. Seven Nation Army

What Twitter Thought

Catching Up With…David Bryan from Near FM’s Pure Phase

Spinning a broad variety of genres every Tuesday night on Dublin’s Near FM (90.3 FM) from 10:30pm –  11:30pm, David Bryan’s Pure Phase is a blissful hour for avid listeners of everything from Psychedelic rock and Shoegaze to Garage rock and Krautrock; from Ry Cooder and Love to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Timber Timbre. I spoke to the Dublin based DJ about discovering music in his early teens, his favourite albums of 2014 and why everyone should hear The Cure’s Disintegration.

Pure Phase DJ David Bryan.

Pure Phase DJ David Bryan.

What’s been the highlight of your year so far?

Tough to say, musically. There have been a few very good albums released so far: The Afghan WhigsDo To The BeastDoug Tuttle‘s eponymously titled début; PixiesIndie CindyThe HorrorsLuminousDamon Albarn‘s Everyday Robots; Dirtmusic‘s Lion City. Album of the year, so far? It ‘s a toss-up between Gallon Drunk’s re- emergence with The Soul Of The Hour and a brilliant record from a brilliant band: Lay Llamas’ Ostro.


When did you first realise you wanted a career in music / media / radio?

I have always loved music. It struck me more so during my early teens. I had originally been listening to mainstream stuff: George Harrison, Dire Straits and the like in the 80’s. A guy I knew introduced me to The Cure and my cousin introduced me to Pixies and Sonic Youth and, from that point onwards, I was hooked.


Describe the five minutes before a gig / broadcast.

Pretty chilled, quite honestly. Once I have the first few tracks lined up and Twitter set to fire, I like to sit back and enjoy the music.


How do you wind down after a gig / broadcast?

Not a lot…


In three words, describe the live scene in Ireland.

Generally very good.

There are a good few good Irish acts currently making a dent and a good few international acts make a point of playing here.


Whose career do you envy and why?

Envy is maybe a little strong; I know it’s a cliché, but everyone is their own person. “Whispering” Bob Harris, however, had- and still has- a great career in music. I would be envious of the artists that he has met down through the years.


Vinyl or digital downloads?

I know it’s not one of your options, but I do like CD’s for their lossless quality.  So…CD’s for a proper listen, downloads for being handiest on the move.


What is your favourite record shop anywhere in the world?

I do like Tower Records in Dublin; they have a good selection of records and, particularly, a great psych collection. Rough Trade and Sister Ray in London are great. I recently found two great record stores in Rome; Transmission and Soul Food: definitely worth checking out.


Name one rare record you don’t own, but you want more than anything.

An original pressing from 1963 of ‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen.


Name one piece of music memorabilia that you wish you owned.

Albert Bouchard’s cowbell on Blue Öyster Cult‘s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’.


What is the one thing in your life that you couldn’t go without?

Good music.


Name one record, one book and one film that everyone should hear / read / see.

Another tough one: there are so many!

Album: O.k., if push came to shove, I’d have to say The Cure’s Disintegration. It really is the pinnacle of The Cure’s career. Robert Smith had the “classic” lineup of the group on board and, together with co-producer David Allen, they got it so spot on. It’s bleak, it’s happy, it’s deep; very deep.

Book: I have always been amazed that, whilst a lot of adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s made it to the big screen, The Maze of Death has never been adapted for the screen. It’s Dick at his very best: part sci-fi, part existentialist (as he did so well). It is also one of his darkest works.

Movie: Well, just for fun, The MonkeesHead always brings a smile to my face. A complete Monkees farce with a heavy dose of surrealism (I’ll blame Frank Zappa for that…).


Name one overrated TV series and one underrated TV series.

I never could hack Lost. I’m not sure if one could class it as underrated but Ronnie Barker’s Porridge is so good. The interplay between characters is brilliant and the writing is so good.


Pick the director and lead actor for a biopic about your life.

Michael Bay and Roger Moore.


Describe the perfect night in.

Good tunes on the stereo, couple of beers, couple of mates to enjoy it with. I’m easy going that way.


Describe the perfect night out.

Good gig, couple of beers, couple of mates to enjoy it with. I’m easy going that way.


Where did you grow up and what are the best and worst things about that place.

I grew up in Dublin.

The best thing about Dublin: The vibrancy.

The worst thing about Dublin: The crime, particularly that of the last 20 – 25 years.


What is your biggest fear?

Missing a penalty in the World Cup Finals.


Who is the person in your life without whom your life wouldn’t be the same?

It’s impossible to answer that question. I am lucky to have had great parents and friends, not to mention the better half.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you, so far?

Enjoy it while you can.


If you could give one piece of life advice it would be…

Keep the eyes and ears open to new experiences: it’s worth trying everything at least once…


Pure Phase is broadcast every Tuesday night from 10:30pm to 11:30pm on Dublin’s Near FM (90.3 FM). Click here to listen back to previous shows.