Sunday, 14 January 2018

Remy's Top 10 Irish Albums of All Time

Rory Gallagher Rory Gallagher

Info: Picking all-time favourites can be a tricky business, there are too many variables, however, when it came to me picking my 10 favourite Irish albums, for once I found it quite easy. This is a post I started 2 years ago, never got around to completing, and scrapped altogether, but always stayed in the back of my mind. It loosely encompasses albums that had a major impact on me (obviously), but more from what I could call my formative years as a music fan than in recent times. Anyone who knows me well will roll their eyes at my No.1, but be happy that they are not in the vicinity to hear me babble on about it and the artist yet again. 

(Note: full playlist is at the end of this post with some bonus tracks).

1. Rory Gallagher - Rory Gallagher (1971)

Way back when I was in a jam session with a band I'd been playing with for just over a year, we'd had to replace the lead guitarist at short notice and a 16 year-old chap came in, we were only a few years older. During a break he started playing some jaw-dropping solos and I asked him what it was, he told me it was a Rory Gallagher song, I'd never even heard of him at that time. A while later I was in HMV on Grafton Street and texted him to tell him I was standing in front of a sale of Gallagher albums on CD and what should I pick up, straight away he came back with Tattoo, Rory Gallagher and Deuce, I bought all three. I remember going back to my room at my parents house, closing the curtains and sticking on all three albums with headphones on while I lay on the bed, conversion happened instantly. Over time Gallagher's self-titled debut became the firm favourite, and 'I Fall Apart' is probably my favourite song of all time. I read vociferously about Gallagher around this time and ended up acquiring an almost complete catalogue on vinyl.

2. Whipping Boy - Heartworm (1995)

If ever an album captured my youth, Heartworm is it, it resonated like a bizarre parallel to my late teens, and I think myself and my friends felt like it was written for us at the time, ah such silliness! I still marvel at it today, it's bittersweet though, because they really should have gone on to greater things. I tried to learn as many of the songs from the album as I could on the guitar back then, and I recall being a little awestruck when a girl I was going out with was babysitting for one of the band members and when we arrived at his house I saw one of their Hot Press awards from 1996 when they won Best Irish Rock Single, Best Irish Rock Album and Best Irish Rock Songwriter awards. Even today there's so much uncomfortable and scathing darkness emanating from Heartworm, what a storybook of an album, every inch of lyric tells a tale.

3. U2 - Achtung Baby (1991)

I still laugh to myself when I think about Achtung Baby, because I was only 11 years of age when it was released, and my sister got it for my for my 12th birthday on cassette of course, it was 1992. We would go on holiday to Northern Spain every year and my father insisted on driving the whole way, Jesus Christ it was an ordeal, from Dublin to Rosslare, then a ferry to France and a two-day drive, so if you didn't have a walkman you'd lose your mind as a child. I was obviously listening to awful shite at that age with the odd exception, the first album I ever owned was Chris De Burgh's Flying Colours which my parents bought for me, well-intentioned no doubt, but not a good start in life! Thankfully my older sibling gave me my first ever great album, indebted to her for that. I should point out that she was no music connoisseur herself and had subjected a very impressionable and young Remy to everything Smash Hits and Kylie and Jason could throw at me. 

Anyway, Achtung Baby, talk about opening my head and leaving an indelible imprint on my brain, even at the age of 12. I do love listening to U2's earliest album's, in particular Boy and October, the first two, 'Out of Control' is one of my favourite tracks of theirs. But Achtung Baby, for me, was the zenith, of a new rock sound and incredibly game-changing lyrics. It also seems to mark, from that great height, their slow-burning descent into never recapturing that genius. I am in love with every single track on this album to this day, I still remember when 'The Fly' and 'Mysterious Ways' were released as singles and watching the videos on MTV. My favourite track's on the album though are 'Ultra Violet (Light My Way)' and 'Love Is Blindness', for crazy good lyrics though I have to go with 'Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World' - "6 o'clock in the morning, you're the last to hear the warning...I had a dream that I saw Dalí, with a supermarket trolley, he was trying to throw his arms around the girl, he took an open-top Beetle, through the eye of a needle, he was trying to throw his arms around the world". It is still so potent today in 2018.

4. The Frames - Dance The Devil...

I can safely say that if it weren't for The Frames I probably would never have begun to review music. When I attended their post-Fitzcarraldo / pre-Dance The Devil... shows I felt a horrendous frustration. I am so grateful that I got to see them live on numerous occasions during that period, their live shows in Whelan's were other-worldly, the first hit of a drug that made me want to see great live music for as long as I was alive. The frustration was how such a band was not getting what I perceived, probably rightly but also a bit naively without understanding the greater mechanisms of the music industry, the recognition they deserved internationally, it was an outrage to 19-year-old me. I used to look at the charts and go, "This is bullshit!" but you learn. 

The Frames Concert Ticket 1999 Whelan's

This was a hard toss-up between those two albums, but I go for Dance The Devil..., just about, because I feel that it was when Hansard and Co. came out swinging, Fitzcarraldo is a faultless album, but Dance The Devil... happened when we couldn't love them anymore. I definitely appreciated what I saw live of both albums at the time, but I don't think I fully grasped the significance, I will always remember the invites to the crowd to join in, and it felt like everyone in the venue knew every line of every song, it was a magic time, and I'm a big sop for that time!

5. Thin Lizzy - Live & Dangerous (1978)

So many great albums, Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox, Black Rose, Renegade, Thunder & Lightning, yet there was always a sense that Thin Lizzy couldn't recapture the majesty of their live performances in the studio. Two albums sought to redress this, 1983's Life Live and 1978's Live & Dangerous, and the later in particular hit the nail on the head. Aside from the music, which is kind of integral, you also get a taste of Phil Lynott's humour, rock-star bravado and personality. It's an essential collection of tracks, and you could probably get away with not owning any of the Lizzy catalogue and this double-LP would provide you with everything you needed to know. Standout highlights being 'Emerald', 'Dancing In The Moonlight', 'Still In Love With You' (just close your eyes, listen, and get right to the end), and 'Don't Believe A Word'.

6. The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues (1988)

Another very difficult toss up between Fisherman's Blues and 1985's This Is The Sea, the title-track of which is one of the greatest Irish tracks. I went with this album though because I think it gives the listener more. It also melds far more traditional Irish sounds, not that that is overly important to me, but for some reason, listening to Fisherman's Blues drags me back to my earliest childhood memories. My parents were avid canoeists and I remember weekends spent along the Royal and Grand canal's out past Dublin's suburbs with their friends, and the day finishing in a pub with crisps and that quintessential malt smell, Harp and Benson & Hedges ashtrays. Those memories somehow tie me to the sound and theme of The Waterboy's albums from the period, no doubt the name helps, but I think I must have heard this music back then and it echoed subconsciously years later. 

Also, Mike Scott is an icon, I've often seen him on Grafton Street attentively listening to buskers, long coat and trademark hat in tow, and had the pleasure of briefly meeting him in Tower Records when it was on Wicklow Street. I went in after work to buy their new album An Appointment With Mr. Yeats, I duly told Mike I was a massive fan of The Waterboys and asked him to sign the album, which he duly obliged. He then said, "So, did you enjoy the performance?" I didn't realise they'd just done an in-store show, I lied and said it was great, lest he think I was a phoney after just announcing my fandom, for shame. 

7. The Mary Janes - Sham (1998)

Like The Frames back in their heyday (sorry), I was very lucky to catch The Mary Janes on the main stage in Whelan's around the time they released their glorious album Sham, again this is an album I still get the urge to revisit, and my favourite tracks are constantly changing. Final track 'Centurian' has been the latest go to over the past few years, it's heart-breaking and beautiful in equal measure. I have noticed that this album is always missing from retrospective collections of 'the best Irish albums' type books, which is an awful shame, although it does seem that the music press didn't take to well to their debut album from 2 years before, Bored Of Their Laughing

8. Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece (1974)

I was real late bloomer when it came to Van Morrison, and I can put it all down to one song, 'Brown-Eyed Girl', I began to find it so unbearable when I was in my twenties, if I heard it one more time at a wedding or being covered in a pub I was going to gouge my eyes out. It was own fault for not exploring further, but that all changed one summer evening in my girlfriend's house (now wife), the back doors of the living-room were open, and it was a perfect summer's evening by Irish standards. Her family were hardcore audiophiles, the record collection had all of the masters from the 60's and 70's, Dylan, Hendrix, Dire Straits, Baez, and of course, Van. She stuck on Astral Weeks, it was my first time ever hearing it, and I was consumed and converted within it's 46 minutes. 

Needless to say this led to further investigations, 'Brown-Eyed Girl' was now banished, a long-lost memory (I should note it's not a bad song, it was just reaching far beyond saturation point!). My next port of call was Moondance, and again, wow. So on one night a year or two later in 2011 I went on a rampage online and got first presses on vinyl of, Tupelo Honey, Saint Domnic's Preview and Veedon Fleece (having already acquired Astral Weeks, Moondance and It's Too Late To Stop Now in local record shops in Dublin).

At one point, at the beginning, Astral Weeks was my favourite, which is normal I suppose, and then Moondance, but as time went by, I settled on Veedon Fleece, it is such a visual and poetic collection of tracks, Van Morrison's lyrics a source of wonder. In Griel Marcus' book, Listening To Van Morrison, he recalls a conversation with Rolling Stone journalist Jonathan Cott as they listened to a second cut of the album, and when 'Linden Arden Stole The Highlights' played he turned to Marcus and said; "You hear that? That's a prayer." That kind of sums up much of this album for me, it's other-worldly, the tales that Van Morrison tells feel like they're based on events from centuries ago, mystical. My favourite track is 'Streets of Arklow' (below), gets me every time, like most of the album, the piano is hypnotising.

9. God Is An Astronaut - "All Is Violent, All Is Bright" (2005)

My introduction to Wicklow's God Is An Astronaut came via their 2006 EP, A Moment of Stillness, at the time I was big into post-rock and ambient ethereal music, reaching peak Sigur Rós and Mogwai fandom, so when I heard GIAA I was in, well, heaven. It was a while before I actually found out they were an Irish band, and this made it even more intriguing and an eye-opener for me, insofar as I realised we weren't just a nation of balladeers and indie bands, something more magical and expansive was out there, you just had to seek it out. From that EP I worked my way backwards to "All Is Violent, All Is Bright", talk about a soul-stirring and escapist album, opener 'Fragile' still holds the key for me, it works its sorcery with ease with every listen.

10. Mic Christopher - Skylarkin (2002)

It seems crude to say it, but it was fortunate purely in a musical sense that The Mary Janes frontman had almost completed Skylarkin before his tragic death at the age of 32 in Holland whilst on tour with The Waterboys. Friends and family took up the mantle to get the album over the line and we all benefited from ne of the best Irish singer-songwriter albums ever made. There isn't a single piece of filler on the album, and it grows and grows and grows, the sincerity, playful sadness and contemplation of Christoper's lyrics are a great source of hope, joy and at times, reflective melancholy. 

Bonus: Republic of Loose - Aaagh!

Literally, aaagh! because this one totally slipped my mind and would be a criminal omission! Although 2004's This Is The Tomb of The Juice would be the more critically enamouring, Aaagh! seems to have more of my favourite tracks by Republic of Loose in one place, and, nostalgia. Whilst they were stylistically at polar opposites on the spectrum, Republic of Loose re-lit the torch that Whipping Boy dropped too soon after Heartworm, they captured a more optimistic period in Ireland with their first two albums, articulated what we were experiencing in a fun and relatable way. Maybe we were all partying too hard, and not looking beyond the end of our noses, but by Jaysis we had a good time and The Loose captured that in their music. 

Honourable mentions also go to the following albums which I also adore and mean(t) a lot to me over the years;

Mundy - Jelly Legs (1996)
Therapy? - Nurse (1992)
The Divine Comedy - Casanova (1996)
Ash - 1977 (1996)
Future Kings of Spain - Future Kings of Spain (2003)
Damien Dempsey - Seize The Day (2004)

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