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January 07, 2005

Just Can't Wait

In 2005, I plan to use this blog to write about music. Have no fear, I promise to also faunch after small cute expensive Apple products, and tell you little tales of how cute my kids are. But I want to write about music. Why? Because I'm feeling the loss of The War Against Silence, I'm listening to more music all the time, I want to turn more people onto the sort of music I like, I want to encourage people to tell me about music I should listen to. All these things.

But mostly I'm railing against the people who think that the iPod is some sort of lifestyle gadget. It's not; it's a device for carrying music around; for desensitising your brain to the London Underground and instead tuning into your record collection. (You remember records, right?). I am in complete opposition to glenn mcdonald; I live my life on Shuffle. You discover things you've always loved, things you forgot you owned, things you don't recognise, things you think are terrific and discover, on checking, they're by someone you never rated. New bands, old bands, from pared down folk to shimmery electronica. And even some folk electronica; possibly not enough.

The only problem with writing about music is that I'm not sure I can. Whenever I try I find myself writing about other things, like who we stood with at the gig, or how cute the iPod is, or the history of the band, or what the music reminds me of, or where I was when I first heard it, or, well, anything else except the actual music. I may have had a spell cast on me by the Wicked Witch of Music Journalism. Whenever I start to describe the noise the band makes, I digress. So one of the intentions is to try to get better at that, or, if I can't improve, at least digress in interesting ways.

What sort of music do I like? Buggered if I know. I like a lot of the stuff they play on 6 Music, to be sure. And I just discovered the marvellous WXPN, after learning on Richard Thompson's website that WXPN's listeners had voted 1952 Vincent Black Lightning as the 26th best song of all time. And we'd probably listen to the WXPN breakfast show, were it not for the fact that it goes out in mid-afternoon and keeps us uptodate on Philadelphia rush hour traffic.

When I was about 17, I noticed that most of the bands I liked had something in common; an electric violin. Now, I don't think there's anything special about the electric violin as an instrument (though for sure I like the sound); it's that the presence of an electric violin is a bit of code for a certain type of music that's otherwise ill-defined; it's rooted in folk, or classical, or at any rate, traditional music of some kind, but it rocks. Nowadays my tastes are broader, and include plenty of stuff with no violin anywhere, but it's still a good check. New band comes on stage; is there a fiddle? Yup. Does it plug in? Yup. There's a good chance I'll like it, then.

Meanwhile, Egg phoned me to check up on my spending habits. 'There's a transaction here for 15.99 from Irish Music International. Do you recognise it?' Well, no, but it's probably a CD, and we do buy that sort of music, like some Irish bands... checks website... no, don't recognise it but it was probably my husband. I said I'd email Steven and get back if there was a problem.

Steven rang back sheepishly and explained that it was something that would have been part of my Christmas pressie except that he'd erroneously thought I'd bought it for him. So what is it?

Only a brand new Horslips album, Roll Back. Not quite new music; acoustic reworkings of 15 of their best-known songs, recorded in the studio a mere 24 years after the band split up.

Horslips are pretty unique in my collection; a band I didn't discover until long after they were toast, at which point I bought their entire output on CD, all at once, some 13 albums. It's rare for me not to have a Horslips album on my iPod. The music is normally described as a fusion of glam rock and Irish ceilidh, but you know, they were around for a long time and they did quite a lot of different stuff. They're probably best known for a pair of high concept albums rooted in Irish folklore, The Táin and The Book of Invasions, and two more concept albums about Irish immigrants in America, Aliens and The Man Who Built America. These relied much less on traditional sources, and have a much more mid-Atlantic feel. Intermingled with those are more ordinary studio albums, and a pair of live albums. They were massively successful in Ireland but didn't manage to develop a global following like The Pogues or U2.

So, what's the appeal? The Horslips brought together a great pile of musical ideas and a range of backgrounds and influences. Some of the instrumental tracks are a bit ordinary, some of the rock tracks are a bit dull, but mostly it's as exciting as it ever was. In places the Celtic Rock becomes a bit grandiose, but, you know, I kind of like that. The two high concept albums withstand the treatment particularly well. Perhaps it's a little old-fashioned. Perhaps I'm a little old-fashioned. No matter.

My excitement at the prospect of a new Horslips album is only exceeded by my sheer delight at rumours that they'll be touring in 2005, even, according to one site, planning to dust down the drums and play some standing venues. I should know better, really; after all, I saw the Strawbs last summer looking exactly like a very old Strawbs tribute band. They were fine of course; but what I really want is time travel to the mid-70s, you know, just for the evening.

Posted by Alison Scott at January 7, 2005 12:50 PM

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