Random thoughts

NEW RELEASE

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Slipstring Released

Slipstring front cover Donal DonohoeThe time has come to release another collection of songs into the ether, where they will end or whether anybody will listen to them or like them, no one can know. But the work is done, the CDs are pressed or replicated to use the correct terminology and the album is called ‘Slipstring’.

It is my third release since returning to live in Ireland and follows on from ‘Midnight ’til Noon’ released in 2005 and ‘Ceol ‘s Rann’ released in 2007.  ‘Slipstring’ is out on CD from my website and from CDBaby.com, it is also be available to download on iTunes, Amazon and other online digital stores either as single tracks or as an album.

‘Slipstring’ is a collection of eleven new original songs some of which touch on the personal and political, others are story songs written about people, places and events that through a process of osmosis percolated to the forefront of my imagination. You can listen to one of the songs from ‘Slipstring’ called ‘No Need To Roam’ on the player below.

No Need To Roam by Donal Donohoe

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An t-Oileán

cover photo Ceol 's Rann An t-Oileán is the Irish for ‘the island’ and the song comes from my fascination with islands, which I have always enjoyed visiting both in Denmark and off the west coast of Ireland. Built over a minor riff that changes to major in the chorus, the song was written in Irish and has two verses with an instrumental section at the end. It tells the story of a journey to an island and the anticipation of the reunions that will take place upon arrival there.

An t-Oileán by donaldonohoe

The Voyage Of Bran

From the album Ceol ’s Rann this song is based on an old Irish story describing the journey to the other world. The story has it’s origins in the pre-Christian period and was probably written down originally in the seventh century. The ‘Manannan Mac Lir’ mentioned in the song is the major sea god of the ancient Irish and his name is associated with the Isle of Man, which in Irish is called Inis Manannan, ‘the Isle of Manannan’.

John Renbourn & Jacqui McShee

Having missed him performing in Trinity College Dublin about a year and a half ago as part of a tour he was doing with Robin Williamson (founding member of The Incredible String Band) I was delighted to come across a poster for a gig with John Renbourn and Jacqui McShee at Mick Murphy’s in Ballymore Eustace last week. It’s rare to get a chance to experience two musicians who have had such an influence on the British folk scene over the last four decades both as members of Pentangle and with their own solo careers in such a small and intimate venue. They started with ‘The Trees They Do Grow high’ and the set was a mix of traditional songs, old blues numbers such as Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Can’t Keep From Crying’ and ‘Turn Your Money Green’ by Furry Lewis and some instrumental pieces by John on the guitar. Jacqui McShee is a superb singer who is equally at home singing acapella as she is singing with accompaniment and her voice has lost none of it’s beauty with the passing of the years and sounds just as fresh as it did back in the early Pentangle days.

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© Donal Donohoe

John Renbourn is one of the most outstanding guitarists of his generation who along with Bert Jansch and Davy Graham was one of the pioneers of what became known as the folk/baroque style of acoustic guitar playing. His technique is phenomenal, his approach smooth and relaxed and his style embraces folk, blues, world, classical and medieval music. Since the sixties his playing has influenced countless guitarists and his solo instrumental contributions to the evening included his stunning arrangement of a medieval piece called ‘The English Dance’. His accompaniment to Jacqui’s singing was impeccable and they both not only complimented each other musically but oozed charm in the process. For anyone lucky enough in these culturally barren X Factor days to have made it down to Mick Murphy’s in Ballymore Eustace last Monday night, this gig was nothing less than an absolute gem.

As An Nua

Apple_smallFew victories, many disasters
Living on few potatoes
Winter will come
And soon I’ll begin with my axe

When spring comes
I’ll be on my way
And with the March wind against my cheek
I’ll start anew

This tune features on my album ‘Ceol ‘s Rann’.

Hyperbolic Guitar – An Explanation

It was late one night when my wife Irene Lundgaard suggested to me that I should write a piece of hyperbolic music, my immediate reaction was to say no, I was musically preoccupied working on something else at the time, don’t normally write to a formula and have only ten fingers. Irene was heavily involved organizing and contributing to the Irish Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef exhibition which was due to go on display at the Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin. I went along to the opening of the exhibition and was deeply impressed by the variety, colour and amount of crocheted coral reef on display and by the toxic reef section which was made entirely from recycled material. The Irish Reef is a satellite of the worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project created and curated by Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring, both of whom attended the opening.

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Hundreds-and-thousands of Toxins by Irene Lundgaard – details

The connection between crochet and hyperbolic geometry originates with Dr Daina Taimia who first came up with the idea of crocheting objects to illustrate hyperbolic space. Some weeks after the opening of the exhibition I attended a lecture on hyperbolic geometry by Dr Taimina at the Science Gallery and it was after the lecture while she was signing copies of her interesting book Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes that I got to meet and talk to her husband Professor of Mathematics David Henderson who was kind enough to explain to me briefly what might be involved in trying to compose a piece of hyperbolic music. In the days that followed I worked on this idea using a hyperbolic crochet pattern provided by Irene where I substituted notes for stitches and tried to replicate the exponential increase indicated in the pattern after every eight bars of music. The result for better or worse is a tune called Hyperbolic Guitar, you can listen to it on YouTube here and you can buy it there

Hundreds n thousands of ToxinsHundreds-and-thousands of Toxins by Irene Lundgaard

The Irish Reef exhibition is due to open at the Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely, County Wicklow on Sunday September 12th from 3 – 5 PM and will run until October 29th.

Hyperbolic Guitar

My first single has just been released, it’s called Hyperbolic Guitar and is a solo instrumental piece on the acoustic guitar. Unlike all my previous releases which were full albums either on vinyl or CD and download this track is only available as a download from iTunes, CD Baby, etc.

The piece is an attempt to capture the exponential expanse of hyperbolic space in the rhythm of music. Exploring the relationship between hyperbolic geometry and music, this tune was composed after attending a lecture about hyperbolic geometry by Dr. Daina Taimina at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin.

Bert Jansch – L.A. Turnaround

It was probably because of being constantly at the front of my vinyl collection that my original copy of L.A. Turnaround (purchased after it’s release in the 1970’s) became warped either from direct sunlight or from being left too near to a radiator, resulting in the needle skipping when I tried to play it on my turntable. That was sometime in the 1980’s and by then it was impossible to replace, being no longer available and leaving me bereft of one of my favourite Bert Jansch albums. So when the postman arrived last week with the re-released CD version it was a special treat and all other plans for that afternoon were dropped as I sat down to listen to it again after so many years. I wasn’t disappointed, it sounded just as smooth as it did in the 1970’s having been produced then by Mike Nesmith and remastered for re-release under Bert’s supervision.

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© Donal Donohoe

Some albums sound timeless, impossible to pin down to a particular period and this is one of them. Comprising of ‘Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning’ one of his most beautiful love songs, ‘One For Jo’ one of his most well known and popular songs and ‘Chambertin’ one of his most spellbinding guitar instumentals to name just a few of the tracks, it really is a special album. Tony Stratton Smith on whose Charisma label L.A. Turnaround first appeared described it as probably one of the five best albums Charisma had ever released. I would say that it is probably one of the best five albums that Bert Jansch has ever released.

Sojourn In Belfast

The dry dock where the Titanic was built.

“Titanic was comin’ ’round the curve
When it ran into that great big iceberg
Cryin’ fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well ”
Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly)

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Walking by the river Lagan towards the city centre to have coffee on Rosemary Street.

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Taking a little break on the way.

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Sandycove

A walk by the sea

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and then it’s coffee time.

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Culture In The Digital Age

At a time when the sale of CDs has been falling for many years in a row and where the sale of music downloads has failed to halt the decline in overall music sales it is interesting to note the increase in revenue from the sale of video games. The digital age and the internet has opened up unlimited possibilities for discovering new art, books, music, films etc and unlike in previous times when certain books or vinyl records were difficult to get hold of, now it is almost possible to source anything by searching on the internet. So has the new technology meant that unknown artists are managing to get greater exposure for their art and reap the economic dividends of such exposure? Apparently not, as the figures show the biggest seller this year is a video war game where people can act like big boys with guns and virtually blow the ‘bad guys’ away as they pop up on their screens throughout the game. One might have thought that watching the evening news would fill anyone’s life with enough bloodshed, killing, war and destruction that they would want to devote their leisure time to the pursuit of some more peaceful activities, virtual or otherwise. But it seems that at this point in the time the masses would prefer to play Cowboys and Indians on their little boxes or play air guitar on one of the interactive music games and pretend they are playing music.
Throughout history new inventions and discoveries have been put to both good and bad use, the splitting of the atom led to nuclear bombs being dropped on two cities, whereas other new developments have led to people’s lives being saved, improved or enriched by the manner in which they were applied. Looking back through history certain periods stand out as cultural high points, whether in early Greece, the renaissance in Europe in the middle ages or the 1960’s in the twentieth century when peace and love was going to change the world and make it a better place to live in. Of course the world didn’t change, but for a while people dreamed that they could change it, how many people dream that now? When future generations look back at this period in which we are now living, where karaoke machines have replaced musicians in many small venues and where educated people spend hours and hours playing war games, will they describe it as a time of cultural enlightenment

Intimacy

Having played music almost everyday this year so far putting the final touches to some new songs and playing through some old ones that I had not played for a while, reminded me again why I love music so much. Few things in this world can be as uplifting as listening to or playing the music you like. What a pity then that musicians need to eat, stay warm in winter and pay all the bills that everyone else has to, for if it were not the case then this really would be a perfect world and the whole debate raging presently about whether or not musicians should be paid for their music would be redundant. But alas, musicians do need to eat and this debate will in my opinion continue for some time as none of the many business models put forward so far to provide a solution have stood the test of time or shown that they would be suitable for anything more than a small group of already established acts. That many of these proposals come from people who have never in their life stood on a stage and performed music in front of an audience or tried to write a song or compose a piece of music comes as no surprise, but when I hear people telling musicians that what they better be able to sell is intimacy, then I think something is being misunderstood. The most intimate thing a musician has to offer to an audience or anyone else is their music.

Snow And Sorrow

The light fades as the sun sinks behind the hills and the temperature drops, I look out across the land as far as I can see but my thoughts travel further to where she lies in the frozen ground. It has been frozen since she passed away so suddenly and so peacefully, she had been out for a walk with her friend, had joked with me on the phone but by the end of that day she was gone forever. I turn to face the empty space left by her passing but it is too soon to face the memories or to look to the future, there is just the present and the snow and cold. Somehow being snowed in here on the hill for days at a time over the Christmas holiday and the New Year seemed to suit my mood, leaving me isolated from the rest of the world to come to terms with the loss on my own.

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Some days there was so much ice on the road up the hill that it was impossible to drive up or down it and today there was so much snow that trying to make it to the nearest town for supplies was out of the question. The weather forcast is for the cold spell to continue so making it to town tomorrow might not be possible either and if this episode is to be repeated regularly every winter whether as a result of climate change or not then I may need to store up extra supplies of food and fuel every autumn from now on to be prepared for such eventualities. But a thaw will come and after that so will the first signs of spring, perhaps then it will be time for all of those memories, so many of them happy ones to return.

Liam Clancy

Recently we saw the passing of Liam Clancy, the last of the Clancy Brothers and of course Tommy Makem. ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, ‘Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘bhaile’, ‘The Parting Glass’, I heard all of these songs and many others for the first time sung by Liam Clancy. He was a great singer, his voice was powerful but yet had great warmth and resonance, it will be his legacy.

Karaoke Days

Probably nothing else has taken up so much space in the entertainment section of both the printed and electronic media in recent times as the hype surrounding the music talent shows on TV both in Europe and in the US. The person behind the biggest of these shows is also behind much of what gets into the charts, especially coming up to Christmas. Most of the songs sung on these shows up to and including the finals are old hits that have been covered many times before, so nothing new there. The show would seem to be as much about the so called celebrity judges who sit on the panel assessing the performers as it is about the performers, how many of these judges are qualified to judge music is debatable and they are more likely there to further their own careers as much as they are supposedly trying to help and develop new upcoming musical talent. This was very obvious recently when for two weeks in a row a certain act, where singing and dancing abilities were virtually non-existent, were kept in the contest by the judges ahead of acts that were for all to see far more musical simply because their antics brought more viewers to the show.

It has been stated by many and this was confirmed by the person who is top judge on both of these shows that if Bob Dylan were to participate in the contest he would be voted off immiediatly by these judges, presumably for his lack of star quality. So we are led to believe by these people who control much of the music we hear on mainstream radio and TV that what the world needs to hear is not an artist who writes original and often thought provoking songs but manufactured pop stars, whose image and musical output they control, singing cover numbers that are rarely anything near as good as the originals. But then I would say all that wouldn’t I, being as I am naturally suspicious of musical talent shows where a musical insturment is never to be seen.

Famous Blue Raincoat & Other Songs

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Leonard Cohen, O2 Dublin, July 2009 © Irene Lundgaard

He danced on to the stage sang, played and entertained for almost three hours, then danced off in to the night. Yes they were all there, Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Bird On The Wire, Who By Fire, Dance Me To The End Of Love, Hallelujah, I’m Your Man, the list goes on and it is impressive that one man could write so many great songs. Having spent so many years on the periphery of the music business and having been written off as irrelevant, unable to sing, Leonard Cohen is the finest lyricist that I have ever heard and it is surely some form of poetic justice that he is at last receiving some recognition for his work while he is still in this world. The concert at the O2 in Dublin was not the first time I had heard Leonard Cohen perform live and I hope that it will not be the last.

Belfast

IMG_5721smallI have always enjoyed the drive north from Dublin to Belfast, the image of the distant Mourne mountains catching the summer sunshine as I played on one of the many beaches that dot the shoreline north of Dublin is one that stands out clearly from my childhood. The winding road that used to pass through almost every town on the way has now been replaced by a motorway that stretches from Dublin to just south of Belfast, cutting the travel time to about half of what it used to be.

Situated where the river Lagan enters Belfast Lough the city sits snugly between Cave Hill and Black Mountain to the north and the Mourne foothills to the south, making it feel more compact than Dublin. The two giant Harland & Wolff cranes which can be seen from most places in the city bear witness to it’s ship-building past and the dry dock where the Titanic was built is now a museum. The city centre lies in the area surrounding Belfast City Hall, where many of the streets are pedestrian and most tourist attractions are within easy walking distance of each other. The Belfast accent is strong, flat and very infectious, the people are friendly and helpful as I found out when at one stage I was looking at my map not far from the Europa Hotel trying to locate the Linenhall Library and out of the blue a man stopped and asked if he could help me, something that would rarely if ever happen in a city like Paris or New York.

It was nice to spend a few days in Belfast, wandering around at a leisurely pace checking out whatever caught one’s fancy or sitting in the sunshine on Arthur Street drinking coffee at the oldest cafe in the city. All too soon it was time to head back south again, but no doubt I’ll be back to Belfast.

Indian Summer

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For the second year in a row it has rained for almost the entire month of August, the downpours were monsoon-like in their intensity, causing mud-slides and severe flooding in many areas. But for the past week there have been clear blue skies and sunshine with temperatures in the low twenties, which is not bad for September. The farmers who had been facing the possibility of losing most of their crops due to the inclement weather, are out in force with their combine harvesters, tractors and trailers making use of every hour of sunshine, sometimes working late into the night. On such days the countryside is a hive of activity, with the harvesting of each field adding to the ever changing tapestry of the landscape. Perhaps these wet summers are the first signs of the effect climate change is having on this part of the world, or else it could just be a part of the long-term cycle of weather patterns that have been going on down through the ages. But if next year brings another monsoon season with record amounts of rain falling instead of a summer, then I will have my doubts.

John Martyn

The first time I heard John Martyn I was eighteen years old, I had been playing the guitar from the age of ten and had been greatly influenced by Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. One day a friend of mine told me he had a record that I had to hear, he said it was kind of like Bert Jansch but a bit different. He then proceeded to play ‘Solid Air’ on the turntable and as I listened I was blown away, I already knew Danny Thompson but the guitar playing and singing sounded fresh, funky and like nothing I had ever heard before, still to this day ‘Solid Air’ is one of my favourite albums of all time. About a year later I got to hear John Martyn playing live in Liberty Hall in Dublin and was again deeply moved and uplifted by his music.

 

Over the years I have heard him play live on many occasions both solo and with his band and have collected his albums from the early releases ‘Bless The Weather’, ‘Sunday’s Child’ through his middle period ‘One World’, ‘Grace And Danger’ to name but a few, right up to the last release before he passed away ‘On The Cobbles’, in many ways his music has been like a soundtrack to my life. I got to meet the man himself once after a concert in Copenhagen, a friend of mine the guitarist Sam Mitchell who knew him from the old days in London and who has sadly since passed on was playing at a blues club nearby and John Martyn came by after his own show. They say that you should never meet your heroes but I’m not so sure, Sammy introduced him saying “I’d like you to meet Donal Donohoe”, John Martyn repeated my name in his rich Scottish accent, then threw his arms around me and gave me a big hug, after which we all withdrew to a back room set aside for the musicians for some refreshments. I got to talk to him and told him how much I had enjoyed his show he said he thought it had “started out well, had slackened just a little in the middle but at the end there was some real stuff happening”. After talking for a while John borrowed Sammy’s Fender Stratocaster and Echoplex tape machine then went out and played a great version of the Skip James song ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’, much to the surprise and great delight of all those present. I later found out that people who were living nearby had called the police complaining that they had never heard music being played so loud at that club before.

 

Time went by, I had returned to live in Ireland and though I had managed to catch a gig he did in Dublin, I lost touch for a period, mostly due to circumstances in my own life at the time. When I heard the news that he had to have part of his right leg amputated I was saddened and resolved to make it to his next gig. As it turned out that was a small midsummer festival in the grounds of Kinnity Castle in the very centre of Ireland. Although it was not last time I heard John play live, it is the one that stands out most in those final years, for as I saw him being helped on to the stage, being handed a guitar as he sat there alone, he had no band with him, memories of seeing him play that first time in Liberty Hall all those years ago came flooding back. He launched straight into ‘Jelly Roll Maker’, his acoustic guitar playing was masterful, rhythmical and powerful, having lost none of the energy or magic of those early years. The songs came one after the other ‘Don’t Want To Know’, ‘My Creator’, ‘May You Never’, ‘Sweet Little Mystery’ and on more than one occasion I noticed, but was not surprised that the hairs on my arms were standing to attention. I stood there among the crowd in the dark on that midsummer’s night listening to his music, it sounded so beautiful, so unlike anything or anyone else and knew once again that as musicians go John Martyn was one of a kind.