Monday, June 25, 2007

Arthur McBride and The Sergeant by Paul Brady

I've spent most of my free time recently learning and perfecting the Irish traditional song Arthur McBride and The Sergeant. The song probably has as many versions as there are singers of the song (even Bob Dylan recorded it, but I think most people would agree that Paul Brady's version is definitive. Especially his gorgeous guitar arrangement. Brady is a phenomenal guitarist and song writer (even if the production of his records went a bit L.A. glossy in the 80's and 90's). In the 60's and 70's in Ireland, there was a thriving and unique music scene. Young musicians not only tuned into imported rock music, but they were also digging deep into the Irish tradition, and rescuing old songs from obscurity. Paul Brady was among those at the forefront, and was famous for his work with The Johnstons, Andy Irvine, and Planxty, before he left traditional music and had a successful career as a solo rock artist and song writer. His rock and pop songs have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. While working in the Irish traditional idiom, he revolutionised the use of the guitar in Irish music (something frowned upon by traditionalists at the time), by his innovative use of alternative tunings, and by mixing rich harmonic progressions with intricate embellished picking, reminiscent of a pipe or fiddle player.

I have known the general outline of Arthur McBride and The Sergeant for a long time, but I have always wanted to learn Brady's guitar part. Ages back I bought a DVD where he plays several of his songs and explains the techniques and tunings used. I finally got around to watching the DVD, and I've almost perfected the song. Maybe I'll stick up a video of myself once I have it down.

I love the song - in many ways it's a perfect song. It is an anti-recruitment song that has a great cinematic storyline, with good guys and bad guys, a great melody, and a lyric that fits perfectly with the rhythm. Wikipedia has a decent history of the song here.

Arthur McBride and the Sergeant (Trad arranged and adapted Paul Brady)

Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walking down by the seaside
Now, mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning...
Out for recreation, we went on a tramp
And we met Sergeant Napper and Corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer, intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming.

"Good morning ! Good morning!" the sergeant did cry
"And the same to you gentlemen! " we did reply
Intending no harm but meant to pass by
For it being on Christmas morning.
But says he, "My fine fellows if you will enlist,
It's ten guineas in gold I will slip in your fist
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust
And drink the King's health in the morning."

For a soldier he leads a very fine life
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife
And always lives pleasant and charming...
And a soldier he always is decent and clean
In the finest of clothing he's constantly seen
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean
And sup on thin gruel in the morning. "

"But, " says Arthur, "I wouldn't be proud of your clothes
For you've only the lend of them as I suppose
And you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do you'll be flogged in the morning.
And although that we are single and free
we take great delight in our own company
And we have no desire strange faces to see
Although that your offers are charming
And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you would have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we would get shot without warning"

"Oh now! " says the sergeant, "I'll have no such chat
And I neither will take it from spalpeen or brat
For if you insult me with one other word
I'll cut off your heads in the morning"
And then Arthur and I we soon drew our hods
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades
When a trusty shillelagh came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning

And their old rusty rapiers that hung by their side
We flung them as far as we could in the tide
"Now take them out, Divils!" cried Arthur McBride
"And temper their edge in the morning"
And the little wee drummer we flattened his pow
And we made a football of his rowdeydowdow
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to row
And bade it a tedious returning

And we having no money, paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs
For we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning.
And so to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning.

Oh me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a walkin' down by the seaside,
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I scream, you scream, we all scream for...

Ice Cream_20070615_0005

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Friday, June 22, 2007

22nd St. Market

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Thursday, June 14, 2007



This is Shane and Maya with my bro-in-law, Rahul. I love this photo. The kids have developed a sense of humor all their own, hence Shane's crossed eyes. He was cracking himself up, and despite my exhortations to desist, the second I would click, he would cross them again. This does, however, make a break from their standard scatological humor which consists of them saying "poop" "butt" or "fart" to each other over and over, and then laughing uproariously. They can do this for hours. The same night that I took this photo, I let Shane use my little digital camera. I heard some giggling from out in the hallway, and when I went to see what was going on, I found Maya with her pants around her ankles, telling Shane, "Take a picture of my butt!"

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Here Comes The Sun

Sunlight through trees_20070609_0006_edit

The sun has finally shown itself in San Francisco. In my 14 years here, this has been the coldest, windiest summer I have experienced. On Friday night, I went out for a few drinks with some friends, and it was so cold that I had to bundle up like it was the middle of December. However yesterday things changed, and although not quite hot, it was warm enough for the entire family to spend all afternoon in the back garden.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

King For A Day

I haven't put up any music for a while, so here's something old. At least old in my world. I played in a band called Stride in the late 90's. All original material, all penned by yours truly. We were a bit Spinal Tapish, where they lost drummers to horrific gardening accidents and the like, we lost bass players. Except our group loss was due to more mundane life events. One bass player decided he wanted to concentrate on his career, another bass player was ritually killed when we discovered he liked Dave Matthews and Phish. A third just kinda drifted away, (we can't even remember his name), the last bass player and the one with whom we played the most shows, and in whose basement we recorded this song, became a Dad and moved across the bay to Oakland. We even had a beautiful female keyboard player at the outset. She had once toured as a session musician with Tom Tom Club, and got to hang out with Prince. She left us and joined an ashram, and ultimately became an astrologer. Now that's pretty rock n roll.

You have no idea how weird people really are until you hold auditions for bass players. Trust me on that one.

The song is called "King For a Day", and I am still not sure what I was writing about. I wrote the first verse while traveling in India, and the second came a year later when I was getting songs ready for the band. The recording was rough and ready, we set up the drums in a concrete basement, not a ideal environment. Nor were we particularly versed in the art of recording. We then stuck some borrowed mics up and hit record. The song is a first take, with some extra guitars and vocals overdubbed later in my home studio. For a long time all I could hear was what was wrong with the recording. However 7 years on, I really like this. I think it has a certain garage band charm. I really like my guitar solo, which was improvised on a single take.

Click here to listen, right click and "save as" to download:

King For A Day

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007


I'm really not sure what to make of this.

Shane has an Irish teacher at his pre-school. She asked the kids what their favorite place, outside of home and school was. Shane answered that his favorite place was Ireland. When asked why, he replied with a straight face, "because I like going to the pub and drinking pints of Guinness with Daddy"

Lucky it was an Irish teacher!

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Arcade Fire

I went to see Arcade Fire at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Saturday night. I expected a great show, I love both of their albums, particularly their debut, "Funeral," and their gigs get doting reviews. Also, my younger brother raved about their Dublin show a few months back. I had high expectations.

The Greek, as it is known locally, is in a magnificent location. A small outdoor amphitheater, perched on the hills above the beautiful U.C. Berkeley campus, it is big enough to lend a sense of occasion, and small enough to have some intimacy. Given the power of the show, the fact that this was the last night of their North American tour, and the wave of success that Arcade Fire are riding, it is probably true that this was the last chance to see them in a small(ish) venue.

It is true that I can sometimes be accused of hyperbole (shock and horror!), especially when it comes to music I like. However, all of the folks that went with me to the concert (including one who had never listened to the band before), agreed that this might have been the best live rock band that they had ever seen. Honestly, I've seen some fantastic gigs, I saw Bruce Springsteen in the Oakland Arena once, and he was spectacular. Although not a huge U2 fan, they are also excellent live. I saw them in Portland a few years back, and I have great respect for Bono's showmanship. However both these artists have pretty choreographed shows. Arcade Fire manage to make you believe that anything can happen during the show. They pull beautiful music out of a cauldron of chaos. There were ten people on stage at all times, changing and swapping instruments between and during songs. It seems everyone in the band sings simultaneously and is a multi-instrumentalist. The effect is graceful and delirious all at once. Anthemic rock music, not created by volume and power chords, but by layering violins, multiple keyboards, and a minimum of three guitars. More than all that, there was the utter commitment of everyone in the band. They played like their lives depended on it. Only Springsteen puts this much into a show, and there were ten of them.

They finished the show with "Wake Up" a song from the "Funeral Album." It starts as a strident rock song, and mutates delightfully into a Motownesque rave-up at the end. The song has a catchy 14 note coda, and as the band left the stage, you could still hear it. At first I thought it was a loop playing through the speakers, then I realised that the entire audience was gently singing the melody. As we walked back through the Berkeley campus, every so often you would hear someone among the happy crowd softly humming it to themselves.

I also discovered that cell phones are the new lighters. We were pretty high up in the theater and every time I looked down, I could see a sea of blue glowing cell phones held aloft.

* They are doing a European tour this summer and will be playing in Ireland, at the Oxegen festival, along with Queens Of The Stone Age (another fave of mine and a great live act).

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Tinariwen - Amidiwan

It has been a fantastic weekend for music. I saw possibly the best concert I have ever seen last night. When I get a chance I will put up a post about that. In the meantime check this out. This group (not the one from last night), is from Mali, and was formed in the Libyan training camps for Tuareg rebels (fighting for independence from Mali), in the 80's. It would be pretty hard for any of the whiny emo bands currently in vogue to top a back story like that. These guys have real reason the be pissed off, and my understanding is that the music is largely about their fight for freedom, and the hardships their people have suffered. This might give the impression that this is serious stuff, but the music is joyous and incredibly hypnotic. If you give it a chance, it gets under your skin. I found out about Tinariwen from a Slate article last week, so I went on iTunes and bought their latest album Aman Iman. It's well worth checking out. For those of you in Ireland, they are supporting the Rolling Stones at Slane this summer.