The Beatles at Abbey Road. Tomorrow Never Knows.

On April 6th 1966, after a three month break, the Beatles arrived into Abbey Road to start recording the album that would eventually be known as Revolver.

The first song they recorded was Tomorrow Never Knows.

The recording was completed the following day but what the Beatles achieved over those days and their revolutionary use of studio and recording techniques would completely change the way musicians would use a recording studio from then on. The studio, in effect, became a member of the band.

A number of factors contributed to this. One of these was that  John Lennon had spent most of the previous three months tripping on LSD, ingesting it almost every day, and he started to write songs unlike any he ever wrote before. George Martin was initially puzzled by this two-chord song that didn’t contain a chorus and sounded almost like a monotone drone. When he asked John what he thought the recorded track should sound like, Lennon famously described the sound in his head as ‘The Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan monks chanting on a mountain top’.

Another factor was that the Beatles had a new recording engineer. Norman Smith, who worked with them since the first album, had been promoted and George Martin appointed twenty-year-old Geoff Emerick as their new engineer. Geoff was a most innovative young man and because he had very little previous studio experience he was not bound by the ‘correct way’ to record songs. He was happy to try almost anything, often letting the needles drift into the red zone, something previously regarded as a cardinal sin in Abbey Road.

In recording Tomorrow Never Knows, Martin and Emerick created four innovative studio sounds or techniques that would be used by countless bands, even up to this day.

Ringo’s Drum Sound.  The sound of these drums is the first thing that strikes the listener. This incredible noise was produced by using dampened, slack-tuned toms, compressed and  fed through a massive reverb effect.  Emerick also tried something completely new by placing the bass drum mike inside the drum and stuffing a jumper into it to deaden the sound. Previousl the mike would have been placed on the ground, some distance from the drum kit

Backwards Guitar.  George Harrison discovered it by accident but was so impressed by this effect that he created a unique and complex method to record it. First he played and recorded the solo over the song as he normally would. He then played the recording backwards and notated the backwards solo. Then reading the notation he re-recorded the solo and finally George Martin played this recording backwards and added it to the song. 

John’s Vocal. Lennon hated having to double-track his vocals so Ken Townsend, an Abbey Road engineer, invented ADT (automatic double tracking) to solve this problem by taking the signal from the playback and recording heads and delaying them slightly, thereby creating two sound images from the original signal. This was the first ever recording to use this effect. For the second part of the song Emerick fed John’s vocal through a revolving Leslie speaker, originally used on a Hammond organ. This created the effect now known as Flanging. This gave John’s vocal his desired sound of ‘chanting Tibetan monks’. Again, this was the first time this effect was used in recording.

Tape Loops. Paul had spent a lot of the three months break with Jane Asher and her family and was introduced to modern classical music by them, particularly ‘musique concrete’. This involved recording everyday sounds on a piece of tape, joining the ends of tape to create a loop and playing it back on a tape recorder with the erase head removed so that every time the tape looped another layer was added, creating strange and sometimes wonderful sounds. Impressed by this, he started experimenting with samples himself. On April 6th he suggested that they use tape loops on Tomorrow Never Knows. That evening John, Ringo, George and Barry Miles all created their own loops and brought them to studio the following day where George Martin dubbed all five loops onto the song in a live recording using faders to bring the loops in and out.

Amazingly, all this was accomplished in 2 days. When you compare this song to what had appeared on the previous album it was a quantum leap. It truly was The Beatles’ Robert Johnson at the Crossroads moment.

While recording, Tomorrow Never Knows was known as ‘Mark 1’ but when it came to assembling the album John settled on a favourite phrase of Ringo’s for the official title.

Probably the most innovative and influential song the Beatles would ever record.


Louis Stewart dies

Let me say at the start that I didn’t understand what Louis Stewart did but that’s not his fault. That’s because, when it comes to jazz, I’m an uneducated clod.

On the other hand, if you asked me what I thought of Louis Stewart, I’d have to say that I found his art staggering, even though it didn’t speak to me. You don’t have to be an educated clod to realise that you’re in the presence of greatness as I was many years ago when I found myself in a little room in Cork’s Metropole Hotel during the jazz festival. I somehow managed to be right up at the front as Louis and the band ran through their set, and if I remember correctly, there was another great guitarist on stage that night with an identical moustache.

They kept winking at each other.

Two Louis Stewarts for the price of one.

(Let me just give credit to Louis in passing for continuing to wear that facial hair unflinchingly through the ups and downs of the moustache. A lesser man would have shaved it off).

I know full well what a wonderful musician Louis Stewart was and it seems deeply unfair that such a gift should die with the man. It’s illogical I realise, but the unthinking part of me asks why this gift, this knowledge, couldn’t somehow have been transferred to another person instead of simply evaporating with the man. I suppose that’s the essential tragedy of existence, though at least it has an upside. When I’m gone, nobody will have to read this kind of nonsense any more.

But let me return to the Metropole for a moment, snuggled up at the front of the gig with Louis, his moustache-wearing doppelganger and an appreciative audience of men in light v-necked pullovers with white polos under them. Aficionados of sympathy and knowledge, the Spanish might call them, if the Spanish spoke English and if jazz happened to be bullfighting, which it wasn’t, last time I checked.

I could tell the audience appreciated what Louis was doing because every time he played something clever they all clapped and looked around to make sure everyone else noticed they were clapping and frowning. Naturally, I clapped and looked around me too because you wouldn’t want to feel left out but the truth is, I didn’t know why they were clapping, being an uneducated clod. So I just frowned and nodded like everyone else.

When you  see a dog walking a tightrope, you are truly astonished, as you should be. Dogs are not meant to walk tightropes and for that matter, neither are men, but we still stand agog when we see them doing it because we are so staggered by the virtuosity of it.

That’s how I felt about Louis Stewart’s performance that night. It was amazing but how long did I have to stay here? Like watching the dog on the tightrope I’ve seen it now so let’s move on.

I was staggered by Louis Stewart’s virtuosity when I saw it close up but, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t eat a whole one, even though I had no other choice in the Metropole since I had a seat right at the front. It would have been bad form to stand up and thread my way among these men with their v-necked pullovers and their polo-necks.

What would I say to them as I eased my way past?

Sorry but I just don’t get it. Thanks. Excuse me. Sorry but I just don’t get it.  Thanks. Excuse me. Sorry but I just don’t get it. Thanks. Excuse me. Sorry …

It was easier to stay up there at the front and admire the endless virtuosity of his playing even though I had not the slightest understanding of what Louis was doing, because I was an uneducated clod.

I’m still an uneducated clod, of course. I’m not a musician. I still don’t understand what Louis Stewart’s art was about but that doesn’t mean I’m not astonished by it. Who could fail to be astonished by that man’s gift? Any fool, even an uneducated clod such as myself, can see that he  was a stellar musician and an irrecoverable  loss to the worldwide brotherhood.

Louis Stewart will not be replaced. I know this, even if I don’t know what it means. (Being an uneducated clod).



Imelda May at King John’s Castle

The minders probably won’t let me run away with Imelda May, but if I can figure out a way to do it, I will.

King John’s Castle is probably the ideal place, since I can dress up as Erroll Flynn and swing from a chandelier to abduct my favourite temptress, while at the same time skewering a couple of henchmen with my trusty rapier. I’ll leap over the ramparts into the waters of the mighty Shannon and laugh at the Sheriff of Nottingham as he grinds his teeth and twiddles his evil moustache.

Go back to Nottingham, I’ll shout at him.

That should quieten him. I bet he’ll have no answer to that.

En garde! he’ll snarl, waving a little sword, but it will be too late as I bear my fair maiden downriver in a waiting boat crewed by fearless comrades.

We’ll repair to my castle where gentle maidens have prepared a bed of damask and silk for my sweet Imelda, but naturally, I’ll be a perfect gentleman. Imelda will learn to care for me in time I’m sure but if not, at least I’ll have saved her from the clutches of evil sheriffs — especially those from Nottingham.

I can’t wait to hear my heroine in the grounds of an 800-year-old castle. Does it get better?

Where every area is a VIP area.

Where the security wear chain mail and carry maces.

A place where no Norman sheriff will ever threaten our beloved Imelda, lest he feel the taste of cold steel.

Let’s hear it for Imelda May, the coolest, sassiest, psychobilliest performer ever.


Warrant issued for arrest of Father Todd Unctious

Father Todd Unctious has been accused of breaking flowerpots but I don’t believe it.

father todd unctious

A Donegal court has issued a bench warrant for the arrest of Gerard McSorley who, as everyone knows, is really a well-known cleric masquerading as an actor. And the charges are so trumped up I’m surprised there isn’t a queue of international human-rights lawyers jostling to take the case in Dungloe District Court.

It’s this simple: Father Todd Unctious simply would not damage flowerpots belonging to the Bank of Ireland, unlike the rest of the Irish people, who’d happily burn any bank to the ground. Reverend Unctious is a harmless soul.

Now, it’s not that I’m any sort of apologist for the clergy, as regular readers will be well aware. I’d believe that any of the following would be capable of breaking a bank’s flower pot.

Fr. Andy Riley would do it, and so would …

Fr. Desmond Coyle,
Fr. George Byrne,
Fr. David Nicholson,
Fr. Declan Lynch,
Fr. Ken Sweeney,
Fr. Neil Hannon,
Fr. Keith Cullen,
Fr. Ciaran Donnelly,
Fr. Mick McEvoy,
Fr. Jack White,
Fr. Henry Bigbigging,
Fr. Hank Tree,
Fr. Hiroshima Twinkie
Fr. Stig Bubblecard,
Fr. Johnny Hellzapoppin’,
Fr. Luke Duke,
Fr. Billy Ferry,
Fr. Chewy Louie,
Fr. John Hoop,
Fr. Hairycake Linehan,
Fr. Rebulah Conundrum,
Fr. Peewee Stairmaster,
Fr. Jemima Racktool,
Fr. Jerry Twig,
Fr. Spodo Komodo,

and Fr. Cannabranna Lammer.

But not, absolutely not, Father Todd Unctious.

It’s a travesty of justice to accuse this man of such a thing. Father Todd Unctious never broke so much as a traffic light or a clerical vow, not to mind a flowerpot.

Another example of the Irish state oppressing the clergy. What a disgrace.



Shit music on the radio

It took about ten minutes to work out something was wrong and another twenty to find the cause, but it was all my own fault.

The vague sense of unease. The feelings of impending doom. Patrick Bateman’s nameless dread all assaulting me without my knowledge, as I drove along, wondering what was wrong. Why this horrible unreachable itch as if cockroaches were playing badminton beneath my blood vessels? Why this awful scratching terror in my amygdala?

Oh, wait. Of course. I forgot to turn over from Today FM when the Matt Cooper Show finished.

radioI like Matt Cooper. He provides a useful counterbalance between the clownish buffoon George Hook and Blessed Mary Wilson of the Cross, or at least of the Mildly Annoyed. So I tend to turn over to Today FM at that time of the evening.

But of course, I also forget to turn back and so I find myself subjected to utter shite until reason kicks in and I switch it off.

Now, when that happened to me this evening, I spent a little while beating myself up for being an old bastard out of touch with popular culture until it dawned on me that radio stations have always pumped out this kind of shit. And I have always hated this kind of garbage. And every discerning music lover would join me in hating such pap.

I began to feel a little better. I began to remember that high-quality radio music shows are rare and that they have always been rare. I began to realise that it was a good thing to feel nameless dread and a scratching of the amygdala.

And so, as I pulled up outside my house, I was calm again, reminding myself that I love good music, that I will always love good music whether it happens to be old or recorded yesterday and that the shit pumped out at us by every radio station is for the most part just that.


As I locked the car and entered my home, I felt gratitude towards Today FM  for reminding me that we must always be enraged by crap music on the radio.

How else could we continue to embrace the good stuff?



Guy Clark

Guy Clark has died and I feel poorer for his loss.

We all have a small band of masters, a tiny bunch who teach us to write, even though few of us will ever do it as well as any of them. Your masters won’t be the same as mine, though we might have some in common, and that’s as it should be since you and I are not the same, but we share enough to be friends. Enough, perhaps to be lovers or brothers  or perhaps to just be drunkards singing the same song. What difference does it make as long as two human spirits come together?

Guy Clark

I feel poorer for the loss of Guy Clark — as do many others — because he was a kind master, a gentle soul who showed us by decent example how to craft words. Not so much a teacher as a good man with a mean country guitar-picking style and a singular voice.

I am desolate at the loss of Guy Clark in a way that I didn’t feel for any more famous figure in this year of the great culling. I feel his loss in a personal, visceral way not only because I met the man, but also because his music formed the backdrop to the happy phases of my life and I’m grateful to his vast talent for his existence. We too often resort to the commonplace and the platitude, so I’m not going to tell you he wrote the soundtrack to my life, because he didn’t. Everyone from the Clash through Tom Waits and all the way to Paganini wrote the soundtrack of my life, but Guy Clark provided the wonderful, erudite, witty commentary that kept my soul alive.

Guy Clark was like a sort of gentle musical father I could turn to when times got tough.

I learned many things from him. I didn’t learn enough but I learned something. I learned to embrace tragic lovers, I learned that we are the old-timers and I learned that forgiveness heals everything.  I could have learned more, but that isn’t Guy’s fault. That’s mine.

Guy Clark.

I once shook his hand.



Dolans Music

Imelda May for the Castle

What’s not to like about Imelda May?

Seriously, what human being could fail to be transported by Imelda’s sassy sorcery?

Imelda May at King John's Castle, Limerick

Of course, we’ve all seen Imelda May in Limerick before, first in Dolans and latterly in the Big Top at the Milk Market but now comes news that the Queen of Rockabilly is getting her own castle, as befitting rockabilly royalty. And yes, before you start, I know Imelda doesn’t describe herself as a rockabilly artist. I know Imelda covers all genres. Chill. The fact is that I get to breathe the same air as Imelda May on the 13th August and that’s enough for me.

WImelda May at King John's Castlehat’s more, I get to share the same space as Imelda May in a castle.

A big stone Norman castle defending a bridge. Think Walder Frey, but without the violence and now with added sexiness and fun.

I can be the new Walder Frey paying homage to Lady Imelda without a Red Wedding that was ever heard of. There will be no minstrel bow-men in the galleries at this gig, but a solid line-up of rocking bad-ass psycho-musos backing the baddest woman in music.

I’ll be there in my millions.

Be there.

Who wouldn’t go to the castle when the Queen is in residence?







Imelda at the Milk Market


Prince dies, reducing the world’s sexy motherfucker count by one

Prince-When-Doves-CrySmall but perfectly formed, Prince, the quintessential sexy motherfucker has gone from us, taken away by the flu, of all things.

The fucking flu.

Just like in France where a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name, Prince has been borne away by an illness that we dismiss as a passing inconvenience. The disease that killed more people in 1918 than all the casualties of the Great War in the previous four years.

Prince! Can you believe it? That overwhelmingly eccentric, super-sexy genius monarch bestriding music like a diminutive colossus has just died, and by “just died”, I mean exactly that.

He just died of a mundane illness with little or no drama.

It’s not right. He should have crashed a plane. He should have gone down in a shoot-out with evil guitar-wielding funk-mobsters. He should have been electrocuted on stage.

We don’t ask much of our heroes but we ask this: please don’t die of the fucking flu. We love you too much for such drab demises.

Some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies.

Let the doves cry.


The Hateful Eight

hateful eight

They’re pretty vile, I’ll give you that.

Tarantino’s Hateful Eight are a horrible bunch of misfits, ne’er-do-wells and sociopaths dressed up in a folksy Western cloak. They’re vile, they’re murderous and they are without any discernible moral compass.

They are, in other words, the standard cast of any Tarantino movie and perhaps that’s why I found it hard to buy into The Hateful Eight. Do I really want to be watching endless Tarantino reworkings of Tim Roth or Samuel L Jackson, no matter how entertaining I might find them? Do I not need to be challenged? Should I really sink into my Tarantino bubble and relax into my dose of gratuitous graphic violence, secure in knowing that it has been delivered by the Greatest Living Cinephile?

Would it not be a wonderful thing to enjoy The Hateful Eight in the certainty that Quentin Tarantino has probably peppered it it with hundreds of knowing insider jokes? Many, many filmic homages?  Countless intimidating arty allusions?

No. It wouldn’t. I just want to be at the pictures.

I’m a bit of a philistine. I’m one of those people who like to just see a  movie and enjoy it. In other words, I’m one of just about everybody.  I just like to enjoy a movie without people trying to turn it into Art.

It’s a picture. Enjoy it or don’t enjoy it. That’s up to you. Never mind the Big Art.

So what about The Hateful Eight?

Well, we can say that it’s definitely Tarantino. It’s brutal. It’s cartoonish. It’s gratuitously violent, which is not normally a thing I’d object to, except that it really is gratuitously violent.  Really. It is. Do not go to see this movie if gratuitous violence upsets you.

If you enjoy vast biblical expanses of bleak, beautifully-executed 70mm cinematography and magnificent orations by Samuel L Jackson, go to this movie. If you enjoy absurd, unnecessarily graphic violence, go to this movie. If you like knowingly-staged tableaux, or even tableaus, go to see this picture because when it all comes down to dust, this is a stage production. Once you disregard the introductory hour, this is a mannered, carefully considered play with all the action taking place in  single room. This is Agatha Christie in Wyoming.

Who else wrote about Wyoming in the modern era? Of course it was Annie Proulx who produced the defining collection of Wyoming stories, Close Range, and all the essential elements are here, apart from the blood bay: the man-eating horse.  What a shame Tarantino didn’t think of putting a man-eating horse into a story that contains every other single absurdity, including the magnificent Bruce Dern as an ancient, embittered Confederate general.

Bruce Dern!

Nobody in this film is likeable. You want them all to die and they do their best to satisfy your wishes. They genuinely are a horrible, bunch. You find yourself wishing that movies could become truly interactive so that cinemas could hand out virtual guns along with 3D glasses and you could simply murder your most detested characters there and then. But in the case of The Hateful Eight, things could turn a little ugly. Not only would you want to murder the entire cast of the film with your virtual gun, but you’d probably want to track down the director and give him a couple of virtual slugs in the virtual skull while you’re at it.

What did I make of The Hateful Eight?

I don’t know. Violence porn, perhaps. Tarantino self-gratification. Geek cinema. This film probably contains more cinema references than a hatful of PhD theses, but all I want is a cinematic experience.

Did I get it? Yes. I got a cinematic experience.

Was it rewarding? Well, that depends how you frame the question. I saw a film that contained many arresting images and events. I did not see a film that made much sense to me.

To that extent, I suppose, The Hateful Eight has to go in the bin, for me at least.

Naturally, you’re free to enjoy it and to tell me what a fool I am for thinking otherwise.



Terry Wogan passes on

It’s been a cruel month for entertainers.

Terry WoganDavid Bowie, Lemmy, Glenn Frey and now Terry Wogan, all cut down mercilessly, with no regard to justice or the feelings of their admirers.

Wogan, you’ll probably agree, was the most subversive and perhaps the most influential, confronting sacred cows wherever he met them, shooing them off the road in his genial, engaging, self-deprecatory way and perhaps even winning a smile from them as he did so.

With his unfeasible 1970s goalkeeper haircut, his incomparable fluency and his invincible contempt for all things self-important, Wogan seduced all who listened to him or saw him on TV, and that’s where he surpassed everyone else because, after all, he was the Irish guy on the radio at a time when being Irish in Britain was like having leprosy.

But he did it, just as Dave Allen did, paving the way for people like Dylan Moran and Dara Ó Briain. Subverting the damaging Irish stereotypes.

But of course, that wasn’t all Terry Wogan subverted. He reserved his special brand of sardonic ridicule for the Eurovision Song Contest which he happily commentated on for thirty years or thereabouts, often to the dismay of the organisers. Who could forget Terry’s description of the Danish presenting pair in 2001? Doctor Death and the Tooth Fairy.

A profoundly decent man, Terry Wogan seems to have made no enemies but many admirers. I don’t know if it’s true that Queen Elizabeth specifically asked to meet him during an official visit to Broadcasting House, but they say she proudly informed him that she was a member of Terry’s Old Geezers, the people he identified as his core followers.

When asked how many listeners he had, Wogan replied, Only one, a response that sums up precisely what made him such a great broadcaster. He wasn’t speaking to thousands. In his mind, he was speaking to you and he was always conscious that it was important to set you at your ease.

Why do I compare him favourably to Lemmy and to Bowie?

Simple. He went to a place that should have been hard.  He took people’s hearts and he brought them on a gentle, insane, absurd journey. He showed them a different way of looking at the world, a mad, absurd vision dressed up in a cardigan and with a dodgy 1970s goalkeeper haircut, but underlain by a keen, probing intellect.

Terry Wogan was one mad bastard and the world will miss him.