Cover Me, Cover You

I was thinking a while back about how much I’ve enjoyed those few times I’ve heard other people singing songs that I wrote. That train of thought prompted me to kick off a discussion on the WeAreTheMusicMakers (WATMM) subreddit, where it became clear there would be interest in an initiative where songwriters would agree to cover each other’s songs.

I tried to get something off the ground, creating a new subreddit where songwriters could find others with whom to exchange cover versions. It didn’t take off, with only one other reddit user signing up when I posted about it in WATMM. (I still think it’s a good idea – if I were a developer I might try to create a dedicated platform that could facilitate this kind of exchange…)

The Electronic Night Before

Actually, I say it didn’t take off, but looking at it another way, CoverMeCoverYou has a 100% success rate. You see, that one other person that signed up, a Santa Cruz-based musician called Eric Taxxon, agreed to cover one of my songs, and I in turn covered one of his.

Below you can play Eric’s version of my song The Night Before. I really like it. It’s fair to say that he’s taken the song somewhere I would never have imagined.

 

I chose to cover Small Virtues, from Eric’s album The Anthill. You can hear the original version here. I recorded my version one evening last week using my Zoom H4 recorder (with a pair of stereo tracks used for the main guitar and vocal track, the lead guitar line on a single track, and some harmony vocals and tambourine on another track). It was a quick’n’dirty effort, but I think it works quite well. It’s a quirky little song and I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to pull off an acoustic version of it.

 

Those two tracks will probably be the sum total output of the CoverMeCoverYou project. Even so, I’m really pleased to have done this. There’s something amazing about amateur musicians on opposite sides of the globe covering each other’s songs without having met or spoken to each other.

Me as Bon Iver

While I’m on the subject of cover versions of my songs, I’m going to go ahead and post below a cover of my song Half-Hearted Love Affair. I’m sure my friend Richie will not be pleased with me making this available, as it wasn’t intended for public consumption. It was a project for an audio production course he was doing in Amsterdam, where he deliberately tried to replicate the style of Bon Iver. He wasn’t, as I recall, that pleased with the result. But I like it. And it’s my song!

 

(Sorry Richie. And thanks.)

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.

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.

A service that money can’t buy

Damn you Google and your excellent free products! I really, really wanted to pay somebody to store a back-up of our music collection online and make it available on a web-based player. The convenience and reassurance offered by such a service was/is something worth paying for. But in the end it’s Google Music that has solved the problem for us – and they’re not asking for any cash.

It was perhaps five or six years ago, soon after we gave up on buying CDs altogether, that we first started using MP3tunes.com, paying around $50 a year for a “locker” big enough to take our collection. The platform allowed you to upload your entire collection to the cloud and then access it from any browser. Their original idea had been to save you the hassle of actually uploading the music by just scanning your library and matching it against tracks they already had on the servers. But the record companies didn’t like this concept and forced them into keeping seperate copies of each track. (It took the best part of a week for our whole collection to synch up to their servers.) It was still a good service though, and it allowed Nadine and I to each listen to music at our respective workplaces as well as when away on holiday, at a party, etc.

mp3tunes

The now defunct MP3tunes.com player.

MP3tunes was good while it lasted, but in the end continued legal challenges from the record companies pushed them out of business in 2012. This brought us back to square one: a 50GB library of music looking for a home in the cloud. As we moved into 2013 I did quite a bit of research on the various options and saw that Google had launched what looked like a promising service, although only in the US initially. But I thought Google already had a big enough slice of my online life, so I kept looking.

Enter AudioBox

About six months ago I came upon AudioBox from a company called iCoreTech. It looked promising: “Synchronize, stream, manage and enjoy your content, on every supported device, anytime and anywhere.” For $5 per month we could have a 50GB drive to which we could upload our collection, accessing it via a web-based player. The player itself looked quite good, although I subsequently found it a bit lacking in features – not much flexibility on how you navigate through your collection and choose music (with similar problems on their Android app). But it wasn’t Google and it was worth a try.

Unfortunately AudioBox couldn’t deliver on its promise. We paid the montly subscription for six months but never actually managed to get our library uploaded. It couldn’t get beyond about 1,000 of our 13,000 or so tracks and, although they did try to get to the root of the problem, the tech support guys couldn’t find a solution. In frustration one evening in January I looked again to see what alternatives were out there, saw Google Music popping up again, signed in with my existing Google account and, hey presto, problem solved. By the next morning our entire library was available online, with a swish-looking interface and lots of different ways of choosing what to listen to (plus a superb Android app to match).

PlayMusicApp

Google’s lovely music app for Android.

Inevitably Google

It seems Google were able to get permission to do what MP3tunes could not: to scan and match your collection. This meant we only had to actually upload a small handful of tracks that they didn’t already have on their servers. The service will allow us to download the entire collection any time we need to, so it serves as a good back-up. And as long as we’re uploading only MP3s without digital rights management (such as those we buy from 7digital.com), it remains entirely our music with no restrictions from Google on what we can do with it.

One small drawback is that you can only actually play music off one device at a time. This means that Nadine and I can’t listen simultaneously at work. This should be a reasonable use, as we legally own the music together as part of the same household. Their T&Cs don’t allow for this, but hopefully in time sense will prevail on that front.

I feel a bit sorry for the likes of AudioBox. They can’t really compete with the Google juggernaut. But it’s hard to argue when it just works, without any hassle. Where will it all end?

(There’s another discusssion to be had about whether it makes sense to have one’s own music collection at all any more, in the days of unlimited streaming from vast libraries like Spotify and Google Music’s (paid-for) All Access option… but that’s for another day.)

Music to get married to

One of the four songs I recorded earlier this month – called If I Take You – has quite a nice back story to it. About 18 months ago my good friend (and self-appointed Number One Fan) Mairéad Maguire asked whether I’d be willing to write a song for her wedding, which was then over a year away. She had told fiancé Phil that she would take care of finding a song to which she could walk up the aisle.

I was keen to take on the challenge, but couldn’t guarantee that I’d succeed or, indeed, that Mairéad would like what I would come up with. She reassured me that she had a fallback option, so there was no pressure. As it happened, I did in the end come up with a song I was happy with – and, more importantly, that she was happy with.

I sang it on the big day in Dublin, as she was accompanied down the aisle by her dad. I think it went down well; Mairéad and Phil were certainly happy and I got some nice feedback from others too. I also sang/played the other songs they had chosen together for the ceremony. It was an eclectic selection that took in the Cowboy Junkies, the Saw Doctors and a Eurovision Song Contest winner!

If I Take You was one of four songs I recorded earlier this month. I decided to package them together as an EP called Highs and Lows, inspired by the line in the chorus of If I Take You. It also includes the songs Aynsley (I never meant to make you cry), Have No Regrets, and Half-Hearted Love Affair.

Eoghan at Mairéad and Phil's wedding

Rehearsing before the wedding.

Phil & Mairéad

The (very) happy couple.

A new EP and a blue evening

I’ve just made new recordings available as an EP called Highs and Lows. The four tracks, all featuring just acoustic guitar and vocals, were recorded earlier this month at DBR Studios in Lausanne. I also took this opportunity “repackage” the songs I recorded in 2008 as a mini-album called Distance To Go. You can listen to and download both of these collections either on the Songs & Music page of this site or on my SoundCloud page.

All of this activity was timed partly to coincide with last Friday’s performance at the Usine Kugler in Geneva, where I was the support act for George Leitenberger’s GRAND HOTEL DESORIENTE at the musical evening known as SOIR BLEU. George and his wife Nadine organise these evenings occasionally, usually bringing in a featured act with George himself playing as the warm-up. This time, with George’s new band being the featured act, I was invited to play in the opening slot.

Eoghan O'Sullivan at the SOIR BLEU

It was a really lovely experience. Such a pleasure to sing my songs for an attentive audience that had gathered specifically to listen to music. I sang seven songs in all and felt that I did a pretty good job. The response was really encouraging and I hope that I’ll have a chance to play at the SOIR BLEU again sometime in future.

George Leitenberger has gathered a formidable bunch of musicians around him in his new band. Together they made a rich sound, building up atmospheric grooves that allowed the audience to float away to various parts of Europe and beyond. George leads his band with a laid-back confidence that allows each musician to find his own space to shine in the overall arrangements. And I had the pleasure of joining them for a couple of tracks as the evening came to an end.

George Leitenberger's GRAND HOTEL DESORIENTE

One other recent musical adventure involved playing with Helmut’s Hermits, a band formed especially to mark the 20th anniversary of the DVB Project, an organisation I used to work for. My colleague and friend David Wood wrote an amusing blues parody and invited me to join him and a number of others to perform it at the party in Amsterdam. As you can see below, we looked like we knew what we were doing at least… as for how we sounded, well that’s perhaps best left to the imagination.

Helmut's Hermits

(L-R) Helmut Stein, Bram Tullemans, David Wood, George Jarrett & Eoghan O’Sullivan

Helmut's Hermits

2012: good reads and listens

With Robert’s arrival late last year I’ve had less time for reading, but we’ve still been listening to lots of music. So, in no particular order, these were the five books and albums that I enjoyed most during 2012 (all bought during the year, but not necessarily published/released this year):

Books

  1. Little Gods by Anna Richards – freakishly tall girl tries to find her niche in the post-WWII world.
  2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell – fastidious trader tries to stay on the straight and narrow when posted to a Dutch trading post in 19th century Japan.
  3. The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa – the story of an Angolan who sells personal histories, as narrated by a gecko.
  4. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – Wexford lass finds out it’s not all that easy to escape small town Ireland in the 1950s.
  5. Deaf Sentence by David Lodge – onset of deafness makes tricky situations even trickier for a middle-aged college professor.

Music

  1. There’s No Leaving Now by The Tallest Man on Earth –  if Bob Dylan were a Swedish hipster
  2. Passenger by Lisa Hannigan – equally catchy follow-up to Sea Sew
  3. Wounded Rhymes by Lykke Li – Florence and the Machine with a bit more character
  4. My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters And Men – very silly lyrics, very hummable tunes… Mumford & Sons meets Arcade Fire.
  5. What we saw from the cheap seats by Regina Spektor – a quirky lady sings quirky songs.

Didn’t see a whole lot of live music this year, but really enjoyed all that I did get along to: Lisa Hannigan, Of Monsters and Men, Suzanne Vega, Luka Bloom and Moya Brennan.

And, finally, when I told Nadine I was writing this post she said I should also mention that her favourite album was Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom.

18 minutes of musical bliss

A bunch of very talented musicians play the B-side of Abbey Road live in the studio itself. As far as I know the Beatles never did this themselves as they had long given up playing live by then (bar the odd session on the roof). If you’re a Beatles fan this really is a joy to watch and listen to.

I must make some time to listen to the original album again soon.

The Fab Faux – Abbey Road Side 2 (mostly) from The Fab Faux on Vimeo.

Tegan and Sara – Paradiso – 17.06.2010

I went to this gig not really knowing the music in advance. The impression I got from putting a few of their albums on Spotify in the background beforehand was that the songs were kind of repetitive, with choruses repeated over and over again. I think this works well sometimes – I did/do like Walking with a Ghost, a good example of the repetitive thing. But for the first half of this gig, which I gather was mostly filled with new material, I really couldn’t get into any of the songs. For me there was no real warmth to the music, or anything I could really engage with. Mind you, the packed in crowd on the ground floor were really enjoying it all.

The older material they did later in the gig seemed more fully formed. Better hooks in the choruses and more substantial verses. Musically the older songs were more varied and interesting too. My favourite part was the encore where the three fellas in the band left the stage, leaving Tegan and Sara with their acoustic guitars. That stripped back sound was more what I associated with them in my head. I believe that’s how they started out more than ten years ago, so maybe that’s the vague impression I formed of them somewhere in the past.

Other things:

  • More security than I’ve seen at any other gig in Amsterdam. Barriers setting the crowd back from the stage, with a guard on each side, and a security guard on stage throughout the whole gig. Very strange. (Was there some incident at a gig sometime that spooked them?)
  • Sara’s voice does start to grate after a while. She described it herself as an “angelic chipmunk”.
  • In between songs they took turns to tell long rambling stories that didn’t really go anywhere. I suppose it’s endearing if you’re a big fan, but I got a bit bored to be honest.

Not really my cup of tea then, but they are good at what they do.