Ash Get Personal On Break-Up Record ‘Islands’

DOWNPATRICK pop-rockers Ash have been going for 26 years, and for many, it’s the relatively early hits – Girl From Mars, Oh Yeah, Shining Light – that still stand out. In fact, it’s been 11 years since the three-piece announced their intention to “never make another album,” something that lasted until 2015, and the release of Kablammo!

Still powering through with the same distinctive vocals and hooky chords that helped them find their niche, eighth album ‘Islands’ has been a slow process, and one held back by factors outside of the band’s control.

“There’s been quite a gap,” drummer Rick McMurray told the Gazette. “The actual process went quite quickly, but there were a lot of changes on the business side that held up the progress of the record. It was finished towards the end of 2017, but it could easily have been a lot sooner. We wrote new stuff while the album was being finished, so we have a big backlog of material.”

The idea of abandoning the album completely is one that’s long in the band’s past now, but at the time they felt like it was a progressive move. “It seemed like we were witnessing the re-emergence of the single,” McMurray recalls of the plan to only release individual tracks back in 2007. “The album had only been out a week at the time, and when we came up with the idea, it really felt like getting ahead of the curve. Everything was going that way. We don’t have a problem with the format, but then vinyl came back, and an album kind of became a work of art again. The return of vinyl meant we had to go back to albums.”

Islands will get the customary new album tour, then, but a follow up is already on the horizon. “I doubt it will be another three years,” McMurray says, laughing about the extended gaps between the band’s records “I expect we’ll have another album out in 2019, some time, though it’s far from definite. We’ve hit on a new method of songwriting that is really working for us at the moment. There’s so much material around at the moment. We probably seem quite lazy when it comes to albums. In our defence, we did put out 52 singles in a year,” he adds, referencing the ‘A-Z’ project that saw Ash experiment with one off tracks throughout 2009 and 2010.

The new release is very much about frontman Tim Wheeler’s difficult breakup. The band live apart now, Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton in New York, and McMurray with his family in Edinburgh, jetting in for recording sessions and communicating largely digitally. “It’s pretty easy, really. It kind of suits all three of us. I like working in quick bursts, as that’s just what works as a drummer. Tim’s more slow and thought out. For me, this album was just one big explosion of energy.”

“It’s got very easy to get together and record,” he admits. The way things are is a natural thing. It took Tim six months to make this album, and me two weeks, but that really suits our personalities, at least the recording part.

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: Off To Wembley!

Well, that was far from a classic. Tinged with the added emotion of Jlloyd Samual’s death in a car crash a few hours before kick off, Villa’s second leg against Middlesborough was one of the tensest and most uninspiring games of football I’ve ever seen as an Aston Villa fan. All’s well that ends well…

 

An oddly flat but intense game.

In my experience, Villa have always known how to test your nerves. You’d have to say, trying to look at things from a Middlesborough point of view, on balance they were really poor over the two legs. Without wanting to downplay the occasion, which makes things very different to a normal game, you could almost say Villa won by default. I’m reliably informed they had one shot on target over 180 minutes, none in this second game, which they needed to win, but seemed to forget that until the latter stages. They created incredibly little.

Nevertheless, Villa contrived to make things difficult for ourselves. The first half saw the home side sit back from about 15 minutes on, after a strong start, struggling to hold the ball outside of our own half, and sitting horrendously deep as Middlesborough seemed to keep a lot of the ball. Inability to clear our lines or hold onto the ball in an in any way attacking position is offset, I guess, by the fact that Adama Traore was once again largely shut down. The best Boro really created in the first half was a number of potentially dangerous crosses, which the superb Alan Hutton largely opted to let just fly over his head at the back post. It said more about Middlesborough’s lack of quality, though, than anything Villa were doing.

Things did get better in the second half. With the intensity ramped up, that Adomah/ Grealish partnership came into play, and looked really threatening at times. We seemed to figure out that the best way to defend was to try and get the ball in the other half and hold it, and Grealish and Grabban both had decent efforts on goal. I’m a little unsold on Grabban still: he had very little impact on the game (though you could certainly blame the service), and looked clunky at times. James Bree is also an obvious weakness: he struggled at right back in place of Elmohamady, and I’d be more than a little worried about him coming up against someone better on that wing when Wembley arrives.

The drama came at the end, of course. Downing smashed the crossbar – heart in mouth. Johnstone made a very rare error, in saving a shot by handling outside the area, a move he arguably should have been sent off for, depending on your definition of a clear goalscoring opportunity.  I suspect we would have gone through anyway, given how late in the game the incident was, but the leniency will serve us well in the final: Johnstone is essential to this Villa team, and I suspect he’ll have work to do at Wembley.

Here’s my good friend Stephen’s take on watching me watch the game. I suspect my nerves were more entertaining than what was on screen…

It’s hard to say anything all that positive, apart from that we did enough, and it really is all that matter at this stage. This was emphatically not a classic, though I do think the better team won.

Onwards.

All of which means it’s a one-off game against Fulham that determines whether Villa go back to the Premier League; a game played on the same day as the Champions League Final, and allegedly substantially more valuable. As I said in my previous blog on this, Fulham are the team it would have been better to avoid. They’re all but unbeaten since New Year, they have Mitrovic and Sessegnon, both of whom are undeniably Premier League class, and they will certainly go in as favourites.

A Quicky With… One Horse Pony

Taking the American deep south and transporting it to Ireland in the form of swampy Lousiana folk rock, One Horse Pony take cajun beats and infuse them with a rootsy Corkonian charm. Aiming to get your feet stomping, the band are building on an acclaimed live show – so far, they’ve hit up Electric Picnic, Kilkenny Roots Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival and Indiependence – and looking to put it all on record. 

Here’s what they had to say ahead of the launch of their new single ‘Muddy Waters’ this month. An EP, ‘Hot One’, produced by Gavin Glass, follows later this year.

Let’s start with a potted history of the band… Tell me your story.

We had a really organic beginning. We started life as a couple of strangers playing blues and folk around a table in the Franciscan Well in Cork, before it was the worldwide bastion of craft beer it is now. Over time, new members joined and more material got written. A two-year residency in Whelan’s, a couple of years spent on the festival circuit in Ireland and a couple of international tours put us and our songs through the mill, made us friends all over the world, gave us amazing adventures, a couple of funny stories, and a lot of laughs.

What are your musical backgrounds?

They’re varied. There’s a lot of old blues in what we do, as the title of the new single suggests, but throughout the upcoming EP Hot One, from which the new single is taken, there are nods to gypsy jazz, Irish trad, lots of gospel and the sort of roots grooves that make your shoulders move.

How did you come to be Louisiana-inspired in Cork?

They are both deep South. There’s lots of Irish inspired roots music going back hundreds of years. Cork is as much a melting pot of musical influences as New Orleans at the moment too. We also supported the Blind Boys of Alabama a few years ago and we loved their attitude to life.

How was working with Gavin Glass on the new single?

Gavin (Unkie Gav to us) is a force to be reckoned with. A serious artist in his own right, he has the musical chops, the ear and the enthusiasm to take a song and turn it into a statement. He has that gift of making a musician twice as good or half as bad.

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: A Flaky, Winning Start

When it comes to this part of the season, I guess when your team plays well for a solid chunk of the match and gets an away win, you just have to take the positives and say ‘that’ll do’. So in short: as far as first legs, go, this will do:

The game

I broke rule number one of living in Dublin for this particular game: thou shalt not go out in Temple Bar. With yours truly and my amazingly well-behaved four-year-old in tow, the Aston Villa Irish Supporters Club hit up Buskers On The Ball, a place they had managed to convince to show a playoff first leg on a large number of their screens, despite it clashing with Leinster’s European Cup Final rugby exploits. There must have been 30-40 Villa fans there, which makes the games more fun to watch, but doesn’t compare to when the club was based up on O’Connell Street, and at times drew in hundreds. That’s second-tier football, I guess.

I rarely know as much about what’s going on with a game before it kicks off as I did with one. As you might have gathered from my first playoff diary, I was pretty keen on working out what to expect from this (I said low scoring and scrappy, so I guess I didn’t do too badly). I learnt that Middlesborough are pretty much what you’d expect from a Tony Pulis team, and that much of their threat comes from corners, or from the flair of Adama Traore.

As you might know, Adama is a former Villa player, one we somehow poached from Barcelona as a youth player towards the end of the Premier League era. On his day, he’s exceptional, but he’s spectacularly inconsistent. Villa all but marked him out of the game, and I suspect it’s something we’ll have to do again second time around.

First half, it was slow and steady but very much Villa in control. Despite conceding a load of those corners (most of which Johnstone dealt with competently), Grealish, Adomah and Snodgrass were by far the better midfield. It was that other lad, the big Aussie Jedinak (who, I’ll admit, I’m not totally sure I’d have had on the pitch) who actually did the damage, nodding in from a corner by Grealish. He was given plenty of space, but what an untouchably good header, in off the base of the post.

Middlesborough created a bit, but nothing all that convincing (Assombalonga had a particularly poor game, though he was quite isolated). Snodgrass saw a curler tipped onto the post by Randolph; a brilliant stop, I’m still not quite sure how he got to it. Johnstone made a cracking save from Bamford at close range, the kind of range at which his only option really was to hope it came within arm’s length and react quickly. Bamford, frankly, should have scored. The second half was almost unwatchably dour, which suits in a way, even if it is essentially the build up to ‘halftime’ in the context of the semifinal. Overall, it was a tense, uninspired game of few chances. But Villa won, and over this game, and the next couple, that really is all that matters, nobody will care if it’s a sneaky 1-0 or a thrashing.

Six Great Festivals You Can Still Hit Up This Summer

Summer isn’t summer without spending at least one weekend in a field supping luke-warm beer and watching music, right? By the time the sun actually peaks in Ireland, however, many of your best festival options are already sold out. Electric Picnic broke new ground this year by selling out without announcing a single act. The more well-known UK events are long gone, too: the more desperate festival goer might even be considering security, or pulling pints, to get through the gate.

Fear not, for there are plenty of places offering great beats and even better buzz on our shores, or just a short flight away. Those at home have drawn in a huge array of international talent. Those a short flight away might well make you your plane ticket back on cheaper tickets, food and beer, so are well worth a glance. Here are our six best bets (you can still snap up tickets for) for 2018 summer shenanigans…

Knockanstockan (Blessington Lake, County Wicklow) This lakeside event a few kilometres from Blessington has a cult following, as one of those festivals it’s impossible to truly understand without going. Think effortless hippie cool, great chances to uncover new bands, an incredible atmosphere and top late-night action. If you’re willing to forget the big-name acts, you’ll probably have a better time here than almost anywhere else (tickets €150).

Featuring: Jinx Lennon, The Eskies, The Bonk, Elaine Mai and The Hot Sprockets.

Colours of Ostrava (Ostrava, Czech Republic) A hidden gem within a short drive of Katowice (Poland), the main draw of this four day July epic is the creaking steelworks it’s set in, the chance to sip wine in a hard hat, really, really cheap beer and a surprisingly stellar line up that runs late into the night. Visually stunning, with a strong dance showing and plenty of cultural appeal (€122).

Featuring: NERD, London Grammar, Josh Stone, George Ezra and Jessie J.

Sea Sessions (Bundoran, County Donegal) A west coast, beach-loving event that combines Bundoran’s ever-growing reputation for surfing with lively evenings of tunes. As well as the music and at least one afternoon of surfing (do it), you’ll be checking out BMX and skate jams, daytime beach sports, and another stunner of a location. Chilled. (from €109).

Featuring: Dizzee Rascal, Walking On Cars, Le Galaxie, Everything Everything and Delorentos.

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: It Starts.

As you might or might not know, I’m a life-long Aston Villa fan. It’s been a rocky road. In the early days, it was quite good fun: a flamboyant, attacking club that won things – albeit relatively minor things like the then Coca-Cola Cup – and reached finals on a regular enough basis to bring lots of excitement. I had a season ticket as a student, by which time the club was a lower mid/table Premier League struggler, but still boasted the flair of people like Juan Pablo Angel and Thomas Hitzelsberger (don’t laugh, they were both excellent to watch). I still make roughly a game a year, which is less than I’d like, but as much as is really fair in the context of having a young child and living in another country.

In the next two weeks, Villa have the chance to regain their status at the top table, so I’ve decided I’ll take the chance to write about it. For two games. Or three. However long it lasts. I won’t be there, in all likelihood, but as far as a small number of games go, there’s nothing bigger than the playoffs. Time to ramble…

The Story So Far (And What I Think It Means)

It’s been a weird few years as a Villa fan, to say the least. I went to the last game in the Premier League and sat amongst the Holte End as Villa fans semi-ironically celebrated a draw against Newcastle, in part because it was likely to send them down (football fans are notorious for celebrating others’ misery, sadly), but also in part because they actually got a result. Specifically, a dour 0-0 draw. That side were awful, and even back then it seemed obvious – with relegation confirmed – that a quick return to the Premier League was not even close to a given. There were vocal protests outside the stadium before kick-off to go with it.

Last year was about clearing out and stabilising, something Sunderland – and the increasing difficulty in quick returns to the Premier League – have demonstrated is very necessary. Villa are largely rid of deadwood these days (I say largely looking at you, Micah Richards and the sadly shadow-of-your-former-self Gabby Agbonlahor), and with the infamous end of the parachute payment situation looming, failure to go up this season will mean squad reductions to meet financial fair play rules, inevitably. And for the casual observer, yes, football has got that much about money, and yes, it does matter to fans, for a very simple reason: financial desolation can mean a huge, huge drop for a club.

2017/2018 has also been an odd season. I wasn’t a fan of Steve Bruce before he arrived, to be honest, but he has definitely put in place a relatively colourful, attacking team. Having finished 13th in 2016/2017, and been lower for much of the season (it’s worth mentioning that Wolves and Cardiff City – who finished in the automatic promotion players this year, finished 15th and 12th respectively last year – the Championship is odd), things got off to a really bad start this year as well.

Villa opened with seven points from seven games. That was followed by a total turn around: a run of 11 wins in 14 games, lasting from mid-September to late November. After a poor December, they won six in a row through January, and converted that to nine out of 12 up to the end of a big home win against Wolves that made automatic promotion look like a real possibility, as they briefly pushed into second. Then came the (as a long time fan, seemingly inevitable) collapse, with losses to struggling Bolton, QPR and Norwich and a draw with Hull seeing Cardiff and later Fulham march past, and the playoff place solidify. I know a lot of Villa fans look at the poor run post-Wolves as the moment automatic promotion slipped away, but the seven points from seven at the start of the season is at least as culpable.

All that means Middlesborough over two legs for a place in the £100 million game. The playoffs are traditionally a lottery, though, contrary to popular opinion, they do traditionally slightly favour the team who finishes third. In the history of English second-tier playoffs, the team in third has won the most times (10). Fourth has gone up 6 times, fifth 8 times and sixth 5 times, so it does broadly reflect finishing places in terms of your chances. Based on recent form, and the quality of Alexander Mitrovic, I’d definitely be looking at Fulham as the team to beat. Obviously, from a Villa perspective, we have to look at Middlesborough first.

Full Circle: How The Legal Life Suits Trance Legend Judge Jules

One of the king’s of Ibiza’s early trance scene, Judge Jules still flits between home and ‘the island’ dropping records and exploring newcomers to a scene he helped create. These days, though, DJing’s for the weekend: he’s a specialist lawyer, too.

Judge Jules was always a tongue in cheek name; a nod to the trance-scene mainstay’s decision to set aside his law degree and head for the hedonism of the 90’s most notorious dance scene. These days, though, his life’s gone full circle.

Listening to Jules describe his manic schedule is enough to make your average person wilt: long weeks as “probably the only person in my field with real-life experience at the top end of the music industry;” weekends on the decks.

Jules spent fifteen years as one of the main DJs at Radio One, and his passion for what he does still shines, not least through his syndicated radio show Global Warm Up, now more than 700 episodes old.

“It’s a background thing, but it’s syndicated to lots of radio stations, so I think of it a bit like the radio,” he says, recalling his time on BBC Radio One. “I’ve nothing negative to say about Radio One, it was an amazing experience and everything runs its course. This is a great way to showcase stuff I like.”

“DJing for radio and DJing live are similar in name only really. Of course, you’re playing records, but there’s no immediacy from radio. You might be aware that you’re playing to lots of people, but there’s not that live immediacy to react to. That always influences you.”

Live, Jules does different types of sets these days: those in the style of his 90s heyday, a loving throwback to the highs of 25 years ago, which he calls an “exhibitions,” and those with more of a modern tinge. With the latter, he’s come to view the world in a distinctly modern light. The exhibitions “focus on 30 years of music, and they’re always mad. It’s important to push onto new stuff, though, not just to stand still.”

Growing Up In Soulful Pop: The Brave Rebirth of Delorentos

Dublin’s deeply-personal indie-popsters Delorentos are growing up, fast. In ditching and totally rewriting their fifth album, they hope the result – ‘True Surrender’ – shows them for who they truly are.

As an embedded mainstay of the Irish music scene since their debut album ‘In Love With Detail’ propelled them to regular radio play and local acclaim, Delorentos – some of whom have been friends since childhood – have been fairly quiet since 2014 release ‘Night Becomes Light’.

In part, that period of quietness has come about because they’ve produced two different albums. The Dubs entirely abandoned the first of the two, written in a Spanish vineyard, in favour of a sound that more reflects the changes in their lives.

“As an independent band, that was a really hard call to make,” vocalist and guitar player Kieran McGuinness says of the decision to simply ditch their first effort. “Everything we do directly affects us as a result of being independent. I guess it doesn’t feel like that long to us since ‘Night Become Light’, as we released it in Ireland in 2014, Spain in 2015, Mexico in late 2015 and a few other countries in 2016.”

“With the Vineyard album, we’d taken several days off a tour to record, and the owner of Sonorama [a Spanish music festival] gave us access to a recording studio and a vineyard. We had sixteen songs at demo stage, and we were happy when we finished. It wasn’t like we suddenly put a cross through them all. I think it was a good Delorentos album, it was just the same as our last album, quite poppy, and quite what we felt people wanted to hear.”

“It gradually became clear that it wasn’t ‘us’ anymore. A lot has changed for us in the last few years. Three of us have married and one has got engaged. Three have moved house, three have had babies. There’s been a crazy amount of things going on. That wasn’t reflected in the album we’d made.”

Slowly, Delorentos came to the realisation that they’d have to abandon the planned album and start again. The new version, entitled ‘True Surrender’, is quite a departure from their traditional style.