The world’s only song about the fossa?

I spent a couple of years working in Amsterdam for EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, as Communications and Membership Manager. Its Executive Director at the time was Lesley Dickie, a Scotswoman whose many passions included an obsession with the fossa, an obscure (to most people) carnivore from Madagascar. Lesley’s PhD focused on the fossa and she was, as she says herself, always “blathering on” about it to anyone who would listen.

At the end of May, in the context of launching a Facebook page dedicated to connections between art and species conservation, Lesley threw out a challenge, calling on friends to create artworks inspired by species conservation. Her successor at EAZA, Myfanwy Griffith, (a co-organizer of a related session at this year’s IUCN World Conservation Congress), specifically issued the challenge to me via Facebook to come up with a song.

Challenge accepted!

I haven’t been doing much songwriting of late, but for some reason this challenge inspired me. I decided I would try to write a song about the fossa Lesley’s involvement made that the obvious choice and that I’d do it quickly. The end result came tumbling out more or less in one evening, following a couple of days tossing ideas around in my head. The last few songs that I’ve written have been a result of a commission of one sort or another: the geek songMairéad’s wedding song, David’s Twiggathon auction purchase, and the challenge I set myself to write a song for Declan.

I wrote and recorded Fuss About The Fossa at the end of May. As far as I can tell it’s the only song about the fossa, in English at least. It took a little longer to find the time to create a video to accompany it. (Sharing music on the web without any accompanying images is fighting a losing battle these days.) I’ve used a bunch of photos of fossa from Wikimedia and Flickr, all available under Creative Commons licenses*. There some really nice images but they are all of fossa in zoos; I would have liked to use some of the wonderful images of fossa in the wild that are available from Arkive, but I wasn’t sure about the usage rights.

I’m happy to have played my own small part in raising awareness of species conversation and the surprisingly interesting fossa. If you’re wondering what some of the lyrics below refer to specifically, read more on the relevant Wikipedia page.

Lyrics

Fuss About The Fossa

He’s the biggest beast on the island to the east of Africa so they say,
Kinda like a cat, but there’s more to it than that, as you’re gonna find out today,
He only feels good hanging out in the woods and keeping out of the way,
But they’re felling the forest, so maybe tomorrow he’ll have no place to stay.
Who’s gonna make a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.

Climbing through the branches, hoping for a chance to get jiggy with a lady friend,
They’ve got very long tails but the fossa male has another impressive append…age,
Waiting around underneath the bough ’til he hears the lady yell,

If he gets his way he’ll spend half a day making love ’til the painful end.
Who’s gonna make a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.

He keeps the Malagasy beat, on his bear-like feet,
Patrolling his patch and hoping he’ll catch some lemurs to eat,
But if we don’t take care, and keep the forest there,
The loss of our friend the fossa will be the result I swear.

Fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa….
Fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa….

Does anybody give a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.
Who’s gonna give a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.

(Download the song from SoundCloud)

* The image credits are listed on the YouTube page for the video.

 

The Dude Street Top 5 (a Frozen-free zone)

(Does this post verge on me bragging about my kids having excellent taste in music? Yes it does. Is that so wrong? Probably. Do I care? No!)

Here’s a playlist to listen to while you’re reading this.

We have music playing in the house constantly. Sometimes we just let the player (a now slightly dated but still functioning Logitech Squeezebox set-up) choose an album from our library at random or we might pick something to specifically match the mood or occasion. This means the boys now 2 and 4.5 years have been exposed to a wide range of pop, rock, indie, folk and a little classical and jazz already in their short lives.

It’s always interesting to observe what songs or artists seem to particularly grab their attention. If I were to pick a playlist of songs that have stuck in their heads and always elicit a singalong reaction, the Top 5 would be the following – which are all in the playlist embedded above:

  • Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley
  • The Lights by Mull Historical Society
  • Meditation Song #2 by Cloud Control
  • Diane Young by Vampire Weekend
  • Ship to Wreck by Florence and the Machine

All five have catchy, repetitive refrains that are easy for the kids to sing along with and to remember. I’m not a huge fan of the Florence song (the playing of which usually involves the boys and their mother having a disco in the kitchen), but the first four are from artists and albums that I really like. It’s strange and fun to hear your four-year-old son absentmindedly singing a song by a reasonably obscure Scottish indie artist (Mull Historical Society) to himself while he puts his shoes on.

Of course we also have some music that’s specifically for kids. A friend (I forget who right now) gave us a great album called the Wheels On The Bus Go Round The World, that features versions of popular kids songs arranged in various world music styles. The Indian raga version of Incy Wincy Spider is great, and the variety of different styles means that it doesn’t start to grate too soon. (Another well-meaning friend gave us a collection of Beatles songs arranged for kids, but they were just terrible – syrupy synthesizers galore. And if I want to play the music of The Beatles for my kids I’ll just play…. The Beatles!)

That kids’ album lives in the car and is played from time to time – but not every time they ask. Sometimes it’s a case of “No, today we’re listening to Daddy’s music”; or “We’ll play the Wheels On The Bus on the way home”. And they seem to accept that. Music is so important to me that I think I’d go mad if I couldn’t listen to things that I like most of the time. (And you can’t imagine how happy I am that Let It Go from Frozen doesn’t seem to have had any impact on Robert…. or not yet at least.)

The artists listed above are by no means my favourites and not those that are on most often in the house, but those are the songs that have struck a chord with the boys. I’m looking forward to the day when they start coming home with the names of artists we haven’t heard of and introducing us to new music. Hopefully by exposing them to a reasonably wide range of music now they’ll keep an open mind in the future – and help us to keep an open mind too.

(In case you’re wondering why I’ve referred to “Dude Street” in the title, we live on Rue de la Dude!)

 

The Libertines – Salle des fêtes de Thônex – 23.03.2016

This Libertines performance was raucous (but not as raucous as I expected), messy (but not as messy as I expected)  and a bit of a shambles at times (but not as shambolic as I expected).  That said, every now and then – and just often enough to hold my interest – their magical melodies shone through and the whole became greater than the sum of its parts. It was worth wading through the swamp to get to those golden moments.

I’m only really familiar with their eponymous album from 2004, and so my highlights were definitely Can’t Stand Me Now, What Katie Did, The Man Who Would Be King and, part of the encore, Music When The Lights Go Out. As I listened to other tracks that I hadn’t heard before, whether newer or older material, I couldn’t help thinking of The Kinks. There’s a very English quality to their music, with lyrics that evoke, for me, life in London and the surrounding towns, and of course those jaunty hook-laden melodies (when the songs eventually come together). And then there’s the famously turbulent relationship between Carl Barât and Pete Doherty which also echoes that of the Davies brothers.

Neither of the lead vocalists looked in great shape, which didn’t surprise me given the stories of drugs and excess. Carl looked marginally more with it than Pete and seemed to be the one holding things together, along with a very steady (and presumably long-suffering) rhythm section. They were unsurprisingly at least 20 minutes late starting and were off stage for at least 10, maybe 15 minutes before the encore. Doesn’t show a whole lot of respect for their audience.

The venue in Thônex is really nice, if a little old-fashioned. There are great sight-lines to the stage and it’s a good size for an indie-rock gig like this, big enough to have a good party atmosphere, but small enough to feel intimate. (Superb organization by the local commune too, with problem-free parking right next to the venue. Very Swiss!)

The support act was Reverend and the Makers. I’d heard of them before, but didn’t know their music. They were definitely a cut above the average opening act, but that was to be expected given that they’ve been touring at a high level for many years, including with the likes of Oasis. They’re from Sheffield and at times you could imagine that the Arctic Monkeys as youngsters must have heard their music. Everything was upbeat and catchy, even if it didn’t quite convince me to buy an album. The lead singer reminded me of a cross between Guy Garvey (of Elbow) and the comedian Peter Kaye…or just every larger-than-life northern bloke you’ve ever met at a party. An excellent start to the evening, and definitely a much tighter performance than the main act.

Here’s the Libertines at last year’s Glastonbury Festival.

And here’s a song that was a top ten hit for Reverend and the Makers some years ago.

A new website for GLAS

For more than a decade now GLAS – the Geneva Literary Aid Society – has been bringing theatre, music, poetry and prose to Geneva. I was at the first event in January 2005, when David Norris, a well-known Irish politician and gay rights activist, came to perform his one-man tribute to James Joyce.

Over the years since, GLAS has hosted more than 35 shows in Geneva, raising in excess of 80,000 CHF for a number of charities. Among my favourites were concerts by John Spillane, Luka Bloom, Moya Brennan and Maria Doyle Kennedy, a talk by journalist Robert Fisk, Conor McPherson’s play The Good Thief, and Ardal O’Hanlon’s stand-up comedy. (Glas is the Gaelic word for green; the organization was founded by an Irishman and most of its visiting acts have some connection with Ireland.)

I noticed recently that the GLAS website, which had at one stage been quite active, had been stripped back to nothing more than a feed from the Facebook page. I thought this was a pity, as it had built up such an impressive track record and deserved a better shop window. I helped the founder of GLAS, Denis McClean, to set up his mailing list in the early days; now that the kids are beyond the evening-consuming, sleepless night-inducing stage, I have the time and energy to get involved again. And so, late last year, I offered to create a new site and keep it updated as new shows are announced.

A shop window

The idea was to create a site that would give first time visitors an immediate impression of how active GLAS has been in the past, both in terms of the events staged and the charities supported. This will help to promote future shows and also, hopefully, can support efforts to identify much-needed sponsors.

Using WordPress is a no-brainer for projects like this. I picked the free version of a theme called Carton, as I was looking for one that used the Masonry layout. This automatically arranges blog posts into an attractive wall depending on the screen space available, which works really well where there is a featured image attached to each post. For GLAS it means the visitor gets a rich overview of what the organization does, while prioritizing the most recent post, which is where upcoming shows will be featured. It’s also fully responsive, so works well on smaller screens.

glaswebsite


Screenshot of the new GLAS site, available at http://theglas.org.

Populating the site with information about past events didn’t take too long, as I could pull text from Facebook posts, the mailing list archives and, particularly useful for the earliest shows, the Wayback Machine on archive.org, a super-useful tool that has snapshots of websites on random dates in the web’s history. (It’s very easy to disappear down a rabbit hole of looking up what favourite sites looked like in their early days.)

For the more recent shows there are photos and even reviews available, but unfortunately for some of the earliest events information is scarce. Hopefully in time we’ll dig up photos of some of the earliest events to add to the site.

I hope and expect that GLAS will be around for many years to come. For an Irishman in Switzerland it’s been a welcome cultural link with home, and one that I’m happy to support in any way that I can. The fact that it helps people in great need, most recently supporting the Edith Wilkins Foundation in their work with street children in India, is the icing on the cake.

If you’re in the Geneva area, I strongly recommend that you join the GLAS mailing list. You can, naturally, do so via the website: theglas.org/contact

 

Shearwater – Nouveau Monde – 28.02.2016

Fribourg’s Nouveau Monde is a very cool venue. The building is the town’s old railway station, with the bar in the main hall and the music venue in one of the wings. The room is a nice size, fitting only a few hundred people. There was a decent crowd for Shearwater, but it was far from full.

I drove up to Fribourg with my visiting brother-in-law for this Sunday night gig – it’s about an hour from home. It wasn’t ideal timing, but I’d been looking for an opportunity to catch them live for the past few years. Their 2012 album Animal Joy is one of my favourites of the last few years, and in particular the songs Animal Life and You As You Were.

Sadly they only played one song from that album in Fribourg. It was brilliant to hear it live and that alone made the journey worthwhile, but I was disappointed not to hear a few more songs from that or the only other album of theirs that I (currently) own: I think they played one, possibly two, from The Golden Archipelago.

They played a lot of stuff from their newest album, and it was generally very good. The band were tight – the drummer in particular was giving it everything. He had the look of a man powering his way to the top of a mountain, determined to get there first. But the lead singer’s voice is the centrepiece of their music. It annoys some people (e.g. my lovely wife), but I think even she would have enjoyed this show.

I may just be getting old (39!) but I found it all a bit too loud for the size of the room. For the first time at a gig I actually made us of the free earplugs. It felt weird and I didn’t feel like I was hearing the music properly thereafter, but I definitely don’t want to take any risks with my hearing.

For the first of two encores they played a couple of David Bowie songs from his album Lodger. I wasn’t familiar with either, but they worked well. The clear influence of Bowie on Shearwater hadn’t occurred to me before. (As usual I was annoyed by the whole rigmarole around encores. Why not just stay on the stage and play all the songs they were planning to play and then let us all go home. It’s all very silly. I still remember Laura Marling’s very sensible approach to this issue when we saw her in Amsterdam in 2010. I do hope she’s sticking to her guns on the no encores thing.)

The support act was another band from Austin, Texas. I suspect they might have preferred a less polite crowd: the people who were in the room for their set remained pin-drop quiet in between songs, aside from a gentle smattering of applause once they realized the song was over. It was very disconcerting. Their music wasn’t my cup of tea.

I’ve tried – and failed – to find a video of a live version of You As You Were that does justice to what it was like in the room last night. There is this one from the Amsterdam date on the current tour, but it’s not quite as good as I remember last night’s version. (It was the final night on their European tour, so perhaps they were giving it a little more oompf on the night.) So instead here’s the studio version. Enjoy!

Lynched – Eglise Catholique de Bernex – 12.02.2016

Three gigs in just over a week: I’m a lucky man! Having seen The Tallest Man on Earth in the city centre the night before, last night’s Lynched concert involved a trek out to the commune of Bernex where the local Catholic church was the venue. (Antigel makes a virtue of using unusual venues throughout the canton of Geneva – it’s a really great idea.)

This was another sell-out gig, making it clear that the interest in traditional Irish music is as strong as ever. I did recognise a few fellow Irish ex-pats (ex-Paddys?!) in the audience, but I had the feeling it was mostly Francophone.

I hadn’t heard of Lynched before my friend Chantal pointed them out in the festival programme. They’ve seemingly been making waves in trad circles in the last few years and I can see why. They turned in two really entertaining sets of ballads, folks songs and tunes, with a really nice flow to the evening overall. From rousing singalongs (Salonika, Daffodil Mulligan, Billy O’Shea) to more mellow ballads, and a smattering of jigs and reels, there was enough variety to hold everyone’s interest until the end.

When all four of them sang in harmony it really raised the roof; but probably the highlight for me was when Radie Peat (the only female member of the foursome) sang her spine-tingling unaccompanied version of Dig My Grave (if that’s the title of the song), about a father who finds his daughter hanging from a rope in her bedroom. A bit grim, but a haunting song. She has a great voice that repeatedly helped their songs to soar when she came in on a harmony.

Lynched in Bernex, February 2016

The church was a pretty good venue. A little chilly, and apparently the sound wasn’t as good as it could have been for those sitting further back. But it was certainly atmospheric. Some of the song lyrics might have raised the eyebrows of the parishioners had they fully understood them, but the band were mostly on their best behaviour in the house of the God.

(I should also mention the clapping. There were a number of people in the crowd who were determined to attempt to clap along with every song that was even moderately upbeat, and even some of the slower ones. I don’t know whether they thought this what one does with Irish folk music or were just very excited, but, whatever the reason, it was excruciating. They were out of time with the music most of the time, sometimes dramatically so. It must have been really annoying for the musicians, but they didn’t say anything about it. Perhaps they should have.)

Here’s what you missed

The Tallest Man on Earth – Alhambra – 11.02.2016

I had seen Kristian Matsson live twice before, both times in Amsterdam and both times solo. This full band gig was part of the wonderful and eclectic Antigel festival and took place in Geneva’s recently refurbished Alhambra. The venue is lovely: great acoustics and comfortable seats, although the lines of sight aren’t great from the sides of the first balcony.

The best parts of this mixed bag of a concert were definitely when he was left alone on stage to perform (mostly) acoustic versions of songs from his earlier albums. He’s a really talented guitarist with a powerful voice that is sounding much less nasal and whiny these days.

Sadly, however, for much of the time when he played with the band it just felt a bit flat. The older songs, which were previously played solo, didn’t translate well to the full band arrangements. (King of Spain was a notable example here.) The material from his two most recent albums, which feature full band arrangements, mostly didn’t stand up as well live as it does on record.

There didn’t seem to be any chemistry at all between the musicians, as if these were just a random bunch of (admittedly talented) session musicians that he hired to accompany him on the road. There was no spark, no feeling of spontaneity, no interplay between the main man and his backing group. In fact the only time there was any feeling of synergy between musicians was when his support act (and apparently best friend) The Tarantula Waltz joined him on stage for one of the closing tracks.

After seeing him in 2011 I wrote:

We also got some insight into what must I guess must be a difficult process of working out where he should go next. He’s not quite a one-trick pony, but after two albums there’s probably not much more he can squeeze out of the Dylanesque folky thing without sounding repetitive. So it was that he was joined by a drummer and bassist for three songs.

It turns out I was at least partly right. His subsequent album There’s No Leaving Now, which I like a lot, features more instruments and more variety. But with this particular band, at least in Geneva last Thursday, the songs just didn’t fly. One exception was 1904, which is one of the best songs on that album and came across well in the Alhambra.

(The flat atmosphere “you’re all very polite” he said might have been partly due to it being a fully seated gig. I think they can remove the seats from the ground floor of the Alhambra, which would have helped greatly and also allowed more people into what was a fully sold-out gig.)

Here’s the version of King of Spain that I would like to have heard:

He did play this one, I won’t be found, solo on Thursday and it was great!

Tété – La Datcha – 05.02.2016

This was a special gig. Tété is a French musician, of Senegalese extraction, who has had a few hits in French-speaking countries with his clever and catchy acoustic pop songs. He has four or five albums under his belt and is currently working on a new one. As a means of trying out some ideas and recapturing the spirit of his early days busking in bars, he’s doing a tour “solo sans sono“.

He turned up at La Datcha, an unpretentious cross between a warehouse and a café on the edge of the Flon district in Lausanne, with three acoustic guitars and not a lot else. He unpacked his guitars and proceeded to play a set of about 90 minutes entirely unamplified. I guess there were around 150 or so people (just 15 CHF for a ticket – bargain!) in a room the size of a big-ish pub, but he easily held our attention with his stories and songs, his warm personality and humour, his dexterous playing and his big voice, full of character.

Tété at La Datcha, Lausanne, 05.02.2016

He made it clear that people could take as many photos as they wanted, but no videos were allowed. The cake – his forthcoming album – has not yet been baked, he said, but we shouldn’t worry as the cake mixture often tastes better than the cake itself. Certainly the first handful of songs he played were really good. They felt very much like classic French chanson to me, with flowing melodies and the usual intricate lyrics. (My friend Marc, who introduced me to Tété some years ago, says his lyrics are difficult for natives speakers to pick up, so I shouldn’t feel so bad if I only decipher bits and pieces here and there.)

He also played a bunch of more familiar songs, with plenty of opportunities for vocal participation from the audience, and finished the evening playing the Rhianna and Kanye West song FourFiveSeconds standing on the bar. The covers he did were probably the weakest parts of the set, but it was a great end to a really wonderful evening of music.

Here’s a nice example of him playing solo acoustic:

And this is probably my favourite of his songs, the opening one from the album Le Sacré des Lemmings.

Playing to the crowd

Three weeks, three very different gigs, three very different audiences.

Eoghan O'Sullivan singing at the Little Green House crèche

One Tuesday morning in late November I finally delivered on a promise to bring my guitar down to the crèche that Robert and Declan attend, the Little Green House in Gland, to join in song-time. I had an enthusiastic audience, none more so than Robert, who took his place right next to me.

The set list was improvised on the spot, but included such classics as Old MacDonald Had A Farm, The Wheels On The Bus and Incy Wincy Spider (in both English and French). I tried to push things a bit with The Rattlin’ Bog, but it was probably a bit beyond them. Nothing a bit of Baa Baa Black Sheep couldn’t rescue.

Eoghan O'Sullivan singing at Le Box (photo: George Leitenberger)

On Friday 27 November I was thrilled to have a chance to perform some of my own songs in Le Box, a really nice venue in Carouge, just outside central Geneva. I was part of an acoustic showcase evening with a duo called Zepless at the top of the bill. I was one of two support acts.

It was such a pleasure to play to an audience that was there to listen to the music. There were 40-50 people in the room, candles on small tables and a small stage. The atmosphere was intimate and warm.

I did a 45 minute set, which was recorded by the sound engineer, Alan Fosman-Starkman. I think I sang pretty well on the night, even if my voice wasn’t in great shape. The guitar playing isn’t too bad, although I’m not anywhere near as fluid as I have been in the past when I was playing more often. I’ve made seven of the ten songs available on SoundCloud. I particularly like My Silver Son, with the audience singing along…that feels really amazing when it’s with a song you wrote yourself!

(Thanks to George Leitenberger for taking a few photos on the night, by the way, including those used above.)

 

View from the stage in Mulligans Geneva

And finally, it was back to the familiar surroundings of Mulligan’s of Geneva on Saturday 5 December, where David Graham joined me for our now (almost) traditional pre-Christmas Mulled gig. There was a great crowd in – even busier than in the above photo at times – and a really fun atmosphere all night.

We “only” played A Perfect Christmas three times on the night, with a smattering of other Christmas songs, along with a variety of acoustic covers: from Toto and the Bangles to Weezer and Wham, with lots more along the way.

The true star of the night was probably David’s new Christmas jumper. Having left his Rudolph jumper behind in Ireland I had to go out and get him a “flashy” new one. He’s never had so many people eager to feel – and hit – his body.

David Graham and Eoghan O'Sulilivan in Mulligan's of Geneva

In search of the Perfect Christmas video

A quick recap:

In the last post I wrote about the whole experience back in February, I suggested that I was finished with this particular project:

That, I think, brings the curtain down on this little project of ours. From this point on A Perfect Christmas will have to fend for itself in the musical wilderness. I retain the slim hope that some intern tasked with finding the perfect track for a movie soundtrack or Christmas advert will stumble upon it some day, rescuing it from obscurity and making David and I rich beyond our wildest dreams. Or at least recoup the money we’ve spent on recording, releasing and promoting it.

But….with Christmas approaching again I haven’t been able to resist trying a few more things to increase the chances of the aforementioned intern stumbling upon our song at some stage. We’re not spending any more money on it, but I’m still on the lookout for places to post a link and spread the word. You never know…

Video #3

The original video has chalked up thousands of YouTube views, albeit many of them via some advertising dollars that came our way. The fact that the original video wasn’t quite finished off fully bothered us a bit, particularly when we decided to spend some money on promoting the song in 2014, which is what led us to having a second video made, very cheaply via fiverr.com, with just the song lyrics featuring.

This past weekend a musical friend posted his own Christmas song to Facebook. It’s a lovely song – worth a listen – but the video also caught my eye. He used a very early film by Georges Méliès called The Christmas Angel, now in the public domain and so free to use in this way. It’s very effective.

 

It just so happens that I had been thinking last week about putting together a new video for our song and was planning to revisit one of our early ideas to use some stock footage of Christmas scenes, maybe cheesy jumpers from the 1970s or suchlike. Seeing Gus’s video prompted me to search for older footage and in the end it was a search for that same director, Georges Méliès, that threw up another Christmas-themed work of his, Rêve de Noël (The Christmas Dream).

To cut a long story short, we now have a third video for A Perfect Christmas.

With a bit more time and patience on my part to get the timing just right it could be even better, but I think it works well as it is. (In case you’re interested, I edited the video using WeVideo.com.) I can’t help smiling each time the chorus starts and the guy with the violin comes goose-stepping across the stage. They must have had lots of fun making that film way back in 1900.