Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 192

I was thinking of changing the name of these semi-regular blog entries, but lo and behold, Dublin is in what’s been dubbed ‘stage three lockdown’ again, and we’re stuck in the county and limited in what we can do – no restaurants (except outdoors, no sports, no concerts, no meetings with more than one household at a time, and so on).

It’s been a bit of a full-on couple of weeks. Our little lad got a cough and had to get a test, so I’ve had the actual testing experience (negative, fortunately). Basically it involved masking up, driving over to the Aviva Stadium at a specific time, being lined up by the army, and guided through a set of tents in the car park.

An impressively friendly (under the circumstances) pair of carefully robed medical types swabbed the back of his throat and the back of his nose, and we were back out of the other end of the tent tunnel in no more than ten minutes. The results took a little over a day, though he was out of school in total for a whole week for a minor cough, but that’s just the way of things now.

I was also supposed to return to the office this week, if only for two hours, and honestly I was really looking forward to it – the familiar faces, a bit of a chat and some coffee, and then a stroll home again. But cases in Dublin have risen to a level that caused the whole thing to be called off a day ahead of time.

Deaths, reassuringly, have dropped, but it’s hard to see an end to this particular journey at the moment that doesn’t involve a vaccine. Until then, we’ll be kind of floating, trying not to contract the virus and trying to get through the very worst of things. 100 cases plus every single day in a city of 1.5 million is not that many, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s enough to know that the virus is out there and that the risk of catching it isn’t as tiny as you might hope, and having a bit of a scarea few days back doesn’t help.

Back in July, there was a day with just four new cases in the whole country. The second wave seems to be ramping up across Europe, and it’s going to be a rocky winter. Here we go again.

Sorbet: “it’s a kind of writing that just doesn’t make sense to prescribe to a band”

Best known for his work with genre-bending jazz rockers Robocobra Quartet, Chris Ryan’s solo outlet, SORBET, is an entirely different kind of project.

Described by Chris as a “musical cleansing of the palate” (hence the name), it’s out via Hamburg based Bureau B Records today, and deals with specific feelings and senses, being very much ‘feel’ based.

I spoke to Chris ahead of the release, and he had this to say about ‘Life Variations’…

Congrats on the new EP. Can you talk me through the concepts behind it?

Thanks! Life Variations is a collection of three pieces of music that all share musical/lyrical themes around life, death, birth, rebirth, and all that good stuff. In a way it’s 3 pop songs but in a way it’s 3 parts to one whole composition.

Is there a certain amount of life examination going on for you at the moment, and has it led anywhere in particular musically?

Yeah. I spent some time in Sao Paulo last year as part of the PRSF/ British Council Musician in Residence and it made me think a lot about my life and identity. I’ve also always been interested in having an outlet for the kind of hyper-specific writing I’ve always enjoyed doing— a kind of writing that just doesn’t make sense to prescribe to a band.

If you have that kind of urge I find it’s much more appropriate to use sheet music or ProTools or these kinds of fixed mediums as opposed to the ‘band’ method of getting ideas across orally.

I’m a big fan of vinyl releases – was that an important part of the release for you?

It certainly does make it feel real for some reason, especially with a short format release like an EP. It looks really cool – it’s a one-sided 12 inch so the B-side is unpressed and is just smooth black vinyl.

Long shots: Adding Fulham, Spezia Calcio and Elche to the plan (week two)

This is starting, just a little, to liven up. With the final European seasons on the horizon, I now have four confirmed teams to follows, though as of yet only two have actually kicked a competitive league ball. Here’s who the odds have chosen as my sides for the season (see here), and how Fulham and FC Metz did last weekend…

Premier League: Fulham (evens to go down) 0-3 v Arsenal at home (league game one)

Day one, and Fulham, who the fairly ungenerous bookies had at evens to go down on the opening day of the season, get hammered at home by Arsenal. To be fair, the way the Premier League is at this stage, getting any points at all from the top few clubs when you’re hanging at the bottom is a bonus (hell, Villa got nothing worth mentioning out of the top half until the final few games last year, and still stayed up).

Fulham will clearly be better up-front with the return of Mitrovic, who made a brief late appearance here. He’s a bit of a battering ram but a damn effective one who I expect to finish the season with a good 15 goals. Worryingly, it’s the defence that looks shaky at the moment; the first two goals were scrambly type efforts that Arsenal got the better and suggest this Fulham team might not be quite scrappy enough – Arsenal aren’t exactly known for their fight (the third from Aubangayang was quality). It’s early days, but it could be a long, long season for Fulham, and there’s little to inspire here.

TV People: “The lockdown put me in a really reflective and introspective headspace and I think that brought out the existential side to the lyrics as well”

The latest in a popular string of Dublin post-punk acts taking the rock scene by storm, TV People have the dingy backdrop that’s common to the genre, their music a poetic airing of greicances delivered through abrupt, snarling tones and intense intros.

Very much embedded in the city, like the predecessors Girl Band and Fontaines DC, they’re another glance at the darker side of city life, something that shines in their videos as well as their tone. I caught up with them following the release of new single ‘Nothing More’.

Hi folks, congrats on the new single – can you tell me a little bit of the story behind it?

Paul – We wrote ‘Nothing More’ at the start of the lockdown in March. We usually write together in our rehearsal room so it was a new experience for us. We didn’t see each other in person for nearly two months but were constantly sending voice recordings and ideas over and back to each other on Whatsapp.

It was a bit of a mad way to bring the song together and it was definitely frustrating at times, but it was extremely rewarding to watch everything fall into place as we got used to writing in that way. The lockdown put me in a really reflective and introspective headspace and I think that brought out the existential side to the lyrics as well. We probably would never have written a song like that if we hadn’t been put into lockdown, so it’s nice to have something to show for that period and to look back on it.

I assume the track predates the whole 2020 shitshow, but it does seem oddly appropriate. There’s a real ‘lostness’ to the music – is an outlet for that side of things for you?

Paul: We definitely try to channel our surroundings into our songwriting. Writing this song was the only real focus the four of us had for the first few weeks of lockdown, and I think the tune was an outlet for the frustration, stress and apathy we were feeling at that time.

Those emotions can be felt in the music and the lyrics of the song. For me, lyric writing is a way to break down and express how I’m feeling so that I can manage it. The lyrics and music of this tune are emotionally woven together. I think it’s an expression of how the four of us were feeling when we wrote it.

Have you managed to function as a band since March, with everything that’s going on?

Paul – The last few months have been fairly chaotic. We had studio time and plenty of gigs canceled overnight. It was obviously frustrating but COVID has impacted everyone and some are much worse off than us. We’ve tried to stay positive and focus on writing to keep ourselves busy over the last few months.

In a way, it’s been nice to have a bit more time to dedicate to working on new tunes. We played a recorded gig in Central Arts Waterford for the Artbeat – Summer in the City festival a few weeks ago which was great craic. It was really nice to get back playing live again and hopefully we’ll be able to get a few more gigs in over the next few months.

Peter Zirbs: “Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer”

Austrian artist Peter Zirbs has had a lot of incarnations over the years, and his latest, he feels, is most representative of who he is.

Having lost a feeling that he needed to pigeonhole his music, Zirbs has embraced more classical leanings, embarked on some collaborations including with former Archives man Craig Walker, and embarked on new EP ‘On A Beautiful Day’, which manages to be both quite dark in tone and occasionally euphoric. The perfect release, perhaps, for our times.

Single ‘Locked In’ is a particular stand out, exploring The Velvet Underground’s Nico’s period locked in an apartment, and feels oddly linked to today’s ‘stay at home’ world. I spoke to him about how things have changed, and his movement with the new record…

I think it’s fair to say your work under your own name is a far cry from some of your earlier stuff. Can you talk me through the musical evolution that got you to here?

I actually grew up with the duality of experimental/ synthesizer/ minimal music (Ph. Glass, M. Nyman, S. Reich, T. Riley, but also Yello, Art of Noise, Isao Tomita, Jean Michael Jarre etc) and on the other hand pop and rock music (big New Romantic and New Wave fan here! And also Disco from the 80ies) …

I’m a proper 80ies kid as I’m born 1971. So for me, there never was an “either/or” when it concerns musical styles. It’s not easy, but I try to bring both aspects into my music. I always loved experimental and artsy stuff, but you can find me on the dancefloor at 3am shakin’ it to a straight kick drum and a distorted 303 synth bassline, too. Sitting between the chairs for all my life basically!

How have you found your current incarnation differs from your work under other monikers earlier in your career, in terms of approach and feel?

Yes, it indeed does differ. I never had the courage to play my piano/ minimal/ instrumental stuff to other people, and it’s been my friends who encouraged me to do so. Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer. The fantastic label Fabrique Records took it to a next level by almost physically forcing me to record my odd stuff (this was about three years ago), et voilà, a new Peter Zirbs was born … kind of.

Long Shots: Unlucky FC Metz lose to Monaco (week one)

I’d like to pretend I spent months planning this ‘long shots’ project (explained here, if you’re catching up), but I didn’t. In fact, it occurred to me a few days before I wrote the intro post outlining the plan, and that means I’m learning on the fly. That will apply particularly to the French league, which is not something I spend any time on normally, to be honest.

It worked out well, then, that Metz got underway over the weekend against Monaco with none of my other four (as yet unchosen) sides having started their season.

I was surprised to see France is allowing reasonable (though much reduced) attendances, and the below highlights feature Metz fans socially distancing on terraces and seating as they watch their team.

FC Metz finished 15th last season, and actually won only three fewer games than Monaco before the league was called to a halt with about ten games to go. Monaco are, it’s fair to say, not the force they once were. The current Metz team has a heavy African influence, and of the 15 players who appeared on Sunday (yes, they’re still allowing five substitutes), 11 were of African origin, including 8 of the starters.

Long Shots: A Season with the struggling clubs of Europe’s big-five football leagues

I have a thing for sports teams that outshine expectations, teams that put it up to the big guns and battle the fiscal realities of modern sport to make an impact. I feel there’s less glory in winning when you had all the advantages, and it’s what everyone expected. I guess I’m a sporting romantic.

I’d argue it’s never been harder, in football, for the up-and-comers, the relatively unestablished clubs. Of course, there’s always an exception, like Leicester City’s magnificent Premier League win a few seasons ago, but the reality is that most sides in Europe’s big football leagues these years, winning something is a pipe dream, and being stripped of your best assets for a large chunk of money – which in turn you can use to bring through a another team – is arguably the most likely of positive outcomes.

Has this always been the case? Well not always, but in modern-day football, arguably so. There have certainly always been periods of dominance in football, but the dominance on display at the moment, is, perhaps, as substantial as its ever been. As an illustration, here’s where we currently stand in Europe’s top six leagues (in my view) over the last ten years:

England: Manchester City (4), Manchester United (2), Chelsea (2), Liverpool (1), Leicester City (1)

Spain: Barcelona (6), Real Madrid (3), Athletico Madrid (1)

Italy: Juventus (9), AC Milan (1)

Germany: Bayern Munich (8), Borussia Dortmund (2)

France: PSG (7), Monaco (1), Montpellier (1), Lille (1)

Netherlands: Ajax (5), PSV (3), Feyernoord (1), void (1)

The above is not what excites me. In all of the above leagues, you’d probably get 50/1 on anyone outside of the top five or six clubs (and in some cases two or three clubs) winning the title, and those clubs change very ltitle season on season. The bottom, frankly, is more interesting.

So I’ve decided to spend a season learning about some of the teams at the other extreme. I’ve picked the five European leagues most likely to produce a Champions League of Europa League winner, in my view (with apologies to Ajax and the Dutch – victims themselves of the asset-stripping I talked about above). But instead of following Liverpool, Bayern, PSG, Real Madrid or Juventus, I’ll be keeping a close eye on whichever team the bookmakers say are the favourites for relegation on the first day of the season, and I’ll be following those five teams all season long.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 162

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and for a short time, it felt like, at least from Ireland’s perspective, there was a slim chance that there simply wouldn’t be any more need to comment. If only.

Ireland has taken a major step backwards, with two days of nearly 200 cases announced in the last week as problems in meat factories, Direct Provision Centres and with reduced restrictions start to take their toll. It’s distressing, in large part because we had come so far – down to single figure cases daily, on average, for a few weeks – and things are starting to look like they’ve come undone.

We’re currently on a summer holiday in Donegal, which has been excellent but very weird: no restaurants, no indoor entertainment outside of our AirBnB, and very limited contact with locals. We picked the spot partly with that in mind. Malin Head’s beaches and hills are worth time on their own, and dropping into the odd quiet coffee shop for a take out cappuccino and shopping quickly, and masked, in supermarkets has done the job. It’s not exactly a glamourous summer break, especially with the regular drizzle, but it suits the situation quite well.