Saturday, July 29, 2006


When announcing I was going to spend a few days in Northern Ireland, I received more than a few surprised looks. With the Troubles being so recent, many folk would still not consider Northern Ireland a place they would choose to spend their holiday time. However, things have changed and with all the recent investment, Northern Ireland is fast becoming a choice destination.

Thanks to Fi's brother-in-law, we were able to get a free trip (and bring the car) on the ferry to Belfast. Belfast is a beautiful city, and it is reaping the benefits of all the recent investment. However as we quickly discovered, the city has a strange juxtaposition of the old and new.

While the city is undoubtedly modern and funky while still showing off the Victorian charm, there is still a lot of evidence of the Troubles and the sectarianism which still lies beneath the surface. Just a quick walk from the Cathedral Quarter, an up-and-coming area with modern pubs and galleries, and you'll be in West Belfast, home of the Catholic Falls and the Protestant Shankill areas where the neighbourhoods are still separated by barbed wire rimmed walls. A pleasant walk to the Botanic Gardens near the university interrupted by an Orange Walk (where despite the colourful costumes and music is a thoroughly unpleasant thing to behold). And as we were told during a city bus tour, the reason the city centre is so modern is due to the fact that only a decade ago many of these buildings were bombed out, thereby making the property easy to reclaim and refurbish.

But these contrasts make up much of the experience that is Belfast. Mind you, so does watching England get knocked out of the World Cup at the pub with a Guinness in hand.

Since it was early July, we were close to the 12th of July celebrations (where the Protestants celebrate William of Orange's victory over King James II). Even knowing this, I was still amazed at the number of Union Jack flags flying on seemingly every street in Shankill. The picture to the right is one of many massive bonfire sites being prepared all across the country to be set ablaze on the night of the 11th. The wall in the background reads "Ulster will always remain British. No surrender."

One of the many murals found in West Belfast.

City Hall in the centre of Belfast

Bridge over the River Lagan.

The Crown Liquor Saloon: looks like a novelty Irish pub, but this is the real deal and more or less the same as it was when it opened in 1839.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Video Killed The Radio Star

The music video was dead to me. I haven't had cable for years, and still see no reason to. (BBC and Channel 4 is sufficient for me thanks very much). Without access to the music channels, I'm forced to actually listen to music rather than see the (often lame) visual rendition. Which suits me fine.

Good ol' Internet though. YouTube, among others, has made it convenient for folk like me to watch the humble music video again. And unlike the MuchMusic days, I don't have to sit through hours of crap to get to something good. Hell, I've finally seen a Cocteau Twins Video!

And a Tahiti 80 classic!

And the brilliant new Phoenix video!

And finally, a little something from a band called The Pipettes. I saw them play a few weeks ago, and have since picked up the album which I think is both awful and amazing at the same time. Tongue-in-cheek pop brilliance or gimmicky shite? I still haven't decided - what do you think?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

T in the Park 2006

I've survived another year of T in the Park, and this weekend I'm doing nothing but catching up on my sleep. In summary - an absolutely brilliant event and the best of the four I've been to so far. Here's the breakdown. Warning: rubbish concert photography ahead.


Guillemots: Normally it takes hours to get into the event after queuing for the bus, traffic, and then queuing again to get your ticket checked. Much to our surprise, it all worked out splendidly this year, and despite not catching the bus till 10:30 we still managed to catch the Guillemots at 12:30. A great way to start the day. Best described as a more artsy Keane, and that isn't a bad thing.

The Cribs: Unfortunately had to catch half of their set from the beer ticket line. But hey - you're not going to go to an outdoor festival without drinking overpriced pints now are you? Pretty good, but their sound works better for me on disc.

Maximo Park: The first, and turns out only, full Main Stage set we would catch as the cream of the crop for me was on the smaller stages. Maximo Park though - in my (not so) humble opinion, is one of the best live bands going at the moment. One of those rare bands that you can see again and again and not ever get bored. This was my third time, and going again in August.

The Kooks: Their popularity has grown rapidly since they were first booked to play the Radio One/NME stage, so it was extremely tough to get anywhere near the stage. No matter though, good vibes all around. These guys do the summer melody thing seemingly with ease. A band made for summer festivals.

The Zutons: Another perfect festival band where each of their songs sounds like a summer anthem. When they played latest single 'Valerie', it was one of those magical moments that gives you the shiver up the spine. Special bonus points due to the fact that the band contains the hottest sax player in the history of rock.

Franz Ferdinand: Not sure where this went wrong. Granted it was starting to rain. It also may be that I've seen them twice in the last year, and quite frankly the show was identical to what I've seen before. Disappointing.

Forward, Russia!: Probably more what I wanted at this point - intense wee crowd in a tent. Vocals that sounded like At the Drive-In and lots of energy. A rare setup with a female drummer in an all male band as well. Fun stuff.

Bedouin Soundclash: Only a few Canadian bands represented at the festival this year, and since I would miss Mobile the next day, the only one that I would catch. But this wasn't about just representing the Maple Leaf, this was about finally seeing a band that put out one of the best albums of 2005. The live set was phenomenal, making me better appreciate some of the album tracks and absolutely nailing the stand-outs. And when the crowd brought out the Canadian flags, yes I did tingle with pride. Hey, I was caught up in the moment!

Sigur Ros: The perfect denouement to the first day. This is not a likely band to pack thousands into a tent given they do 10 minute opuses and sing in Icelandic, but it all makes sense when seen live. The music was both anthemic and ethereal, and created a wonderful and wholly atypical atmosphere from what you'd expect at an event like this.


Captain: What I would call my finest personal discovery of the festival. Shimmering pop songs with 80's keyboards and male/female harmony vocals. Some of these songs have stuck firmly in my head, and cannot wait until the album is released so I can hear them again. I couldn't have been the only one. Near the end of the set the rain poured down in buckets, but rather than the expected flee to the shelter of the tents, everyone just stayed and danced more.

Regina Spektor: A bit of a wildcard this one. Just she and her piano (and a guitar for a few tracks). Clever lyrics, and a performance that brought to mind Kate Bush or Tori Amos. Maybe a bit too "female singer/songwriter" for me though.

Delays: The band with the sweetest vocals ever to come from a bloke. Never ceases to amaze how he hits those notes. The sun had returned at this point, and the beer was going down a treat and the classic pop anthems these boys put out was the perfect compliment.

We Are Scientists: The classic three-piece guitar/bass/drum rock band. I still haven't figured out what makes them standout, but something about their music is very appealing. It must talk to my inner 90's self.

Futureheads: Probably the set I was most looking forward to beforehand. Out of all the bands I have been listening to for the past few years, this is the one I could somehow never manage to catch in concert. My fear that they could not possibly live up to my expectations was quickly quashed as they put on a brilliant performance. Big guitars, four part vocal harmonies, and the masters of the "oh oh oh" chorus.

Phoenix: Unfortunately for them, they were booked to go on at the same time as the Arctic Monkeys so their set was criminally under-attended. Also criminal was the fact they only received a thirty minute set time. Regardless, this was thirty minutes of pure summer magic. My love affair with this band and their new album continues.

The Automatic: This was our toughest decision of the night. The choice was Editors, Go! Team, Death Cab For Cutie, or these guys. Instinct said go with The Automatic as their newly released debut was excellent. The Futures tent was absolutely packed to the rafters. But we weren't prepared for this set. Simply put, the combination of the "up for it" crowd and the energy from the band made for one of the best sets I've ever seen in my life. By the time the summer anthem "Monster" came on, I was pogoing with strangers and for the first time ever actually welcoming the beer that was showering upon me(the chuck the plastic pint glass of beer phenomenon bizarrely still big in Scotland). I'm still buzzing from this one. Highlight of the festival, no contest.

The Fratellis: Also in the Futures tent, and also packed as the buzz around these guys is almost as big as the Automatic, plus they're from Glasgow. Simply put, this too was excellent, but through no fault of their own couldn't surpass the previous set. Still, good fun (the crowd dutifully performed the wah-wah-wah-wah part in the bridge of "Henrietta") and another band who is going to be huge.

We did have time to catch The Who if we wanted, but at this point we were pretty burned out and decided to call it a festival. Bring on T in the Park 2007!