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.


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.

Music popular culture

David Bowie passes on

It isn’t often that I sit bolt upright in bed at seven in the morning with eyes wide open, shouting What?

Actually, I’ve never done it until today when the news announced that David Bowie had died.

What? Isn’t he supposed to be, you know … ?


That’s it. Isn’t David Bowie supposed to be immortal? As a friend remarked today, I’ve never lived in a world without David Bowie, to which he might have added a little kicker: And I never expected to.

Who expected to be living in a world without David Bowie? Not I.

David BowieSome people seem to transcend mundane existence and David Robert Jones was one of them. As the same friend remarked, at least we still have his knife, though even that is a bit ambiguous. Did he really call himself after a notorious killing weapon, the Bowie knife, or after the man for whom it was named? And if he did, wasn’t it lucky he didn’t choose any of the other knife descriptions?

David Flick.

David Bread.

David Boning.

No. He was right when he went for Bowie, leaving Blunt for lesser artists.

When I was a lad, and that wasn’t today or yesterday, Limerick was a decent enough place to live, but I can’t deny that it was fairly direct. In working-class towns, people tend to be direct. You wouldn’t, for example, have ever suggested to anyone that they might be gay, unless you wanted a punch in the face, or maybe worse. Unless they were gay, of course. In those days, if you were gay and living in a land under the control of the Catholic church, you either jumped in the river or went insane on mind-bending drugs in Amsterdam.

But it was a paradoxical town at the same time. It was a place where you might not expect the stereotypical working classes to produce classical musicians, or socially-engaged doctors, or hippies for that matter. And yet that’s exactly what happened. And that’s why it came as no surprise when the toughest of the tough, guys who wouldn’t back down from the roughest front-row Kilfeacle could throw at them, or the nastiest lowlife spawned by skinheadery, were happy enough to tell the world that they were bisexual.

They probably weren’t, but that’s not the point. Tough guys, tough hippies, were happy enough to come out. Happy enough to embrace Bowie’s androgyny because it didn’t matter one flying shit to them.

David Robert Jones, a young lad from Brixton and later Bromley, with an Irish Catholic mother, reinvented himself as he would many times in years to come and presented an alternative vision of what might be possible with a little imagination. David Jones understood very clearly that all he had to do was tell people who he was now and they would believe him, thus making it possible for everyone else to do the same.

You want to be Ziggy Stardust? You’re Ziggy Stardust. You want to be the Thin White Duke? Fine. Just tell them with enough confidence and they’ll accept it because they, too, long for the exotic, the enigmatic and the thing that resides just a millimetre beyond the veil that divides our reality from the next. You’ll believe a London boy can be a starman because you want it to be so.

The real point is that David Bowie — along with many others — brought to every little backwater an understanding that there exists a great world out there, a world that couldn’t be confined within the narrow boundaries of the past, free of the old failures who still sought to impose the old discredited order on a youth yearning for something more.

And he never stopped offering us that freedom, which is why I found myself sitting up in bed at seven in the morning, wide-eyed and incredulous.


Perhaps more than any other artist of his time, Bowie showed us that everything is possible. You can be a goblin king. You can be a defiant prisoner of war. You can be the voice of everything that yearns to become real.

You can even fall to Earth, but of course, he knew that already.




BBC report

Official Bowie site


Rolling Stone

Big top

Nile Rodgers and Chic back in Limerick

Who remembers this night?

That’s right. Nile Rodgers at the Big Top in 2013, followed by Nile Rodgers jamming with local bands at the after-party.  Nile Rodgers, the man whose guitar launched €2 billion worth of record sales, enjoying the shit out of Limerick, and why wouldn’t he?

He enjoyed Limerick so much, in fact, that he’s back in the Big Top in November.

You heard me right. Nile Rodgers and Chic, in the Big Top on the 10th November.

What’s not to like?

I’ll be there. Will you?

Cobblestone Joe's Nancys Our lives

Fathers’ Day relaxation

There’s something very rejuvenating about Fathers’ Day — an affirmation that we old lads aren’t completely bad after all, not entirely without our decent points.  And truthfully, you wouldn’t have it any other way.  We raise our children and we set them free.  We don’t place obligations on them to observe ritual or custom.  We just hope they get it, and when they do, it makes us that much richer: so much the better if they come back of their own volition and say, right, Dad, let’s go for a couple of pints.

Gold couldn’t buy you that.

And so it came about that, after a long hard day slogging away at the garden, chopping down bushes and power-hosing patios, I found myself in Nancy Blake’s wonderful establishment, enjoying music played by good friends including one I haven’t seen in quite a while since he moved to Dubai.  Thank God for Ramadan, that time of year when Irish people flee the gulf en masse to visit and entertain their friends back home.  I hope we’ll catch up again before he goes back, though I expect to be travelling myself fairly soon, so who knows?

Of course, these days no trip to town would be complete without a visit to Cobblestone Joe’s where they now serve the best pizza this side of New York City, thanks to their snappy new pizza bar and even snappier new chef.

What precisely could be wrong with this? A pint, a delicious thin-base pizza and a live shit-kickin’ band in the company of those you love most in the world?

Well, two things, I suppose.

Firstly, we were thoroughly hockeyed by Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, with the result that the town was full of people in Limerick and Tipp shirts.  Never a good look.  The men of Tipperary proved me right when I said having six fingers is an advantage and the tinfoil industry got a huge boost.

Secondly, being without a camera and taking a truly bad picture on a phone, of people jiving in terrible hurling shirts and worse.

cobblestone joes limerick

For this, I apologise sincerely and promise it won’t happen again.

For all the rest, let us celebrate Fathers’ Day and give thanks to the universe for our good fortune.