BuskAid – What’s It All About, Alfie?

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me mentioning something called “BuskAid” over the past few weeks. So what is “BuskAid”?

“BuskAid” was the brainchild of Tadhg Williams – musician, activist, and – yes – busker. The problem of homelessness reached crisis point in Ireland in 2016. The most recent figures show that 6,985 people are homeless in Ireland at the moment. Tadhg had just attended a fundraiser for homeless charities in a local Waterford bar and, afterwards, he wondered what more the musicians of Waterford could do.

tadhg

The response was – as they say – overwhelming. Tadhg enlisted my help along with three other poor misfortunates – Anna Jordan, Alan Daly Mulligan, and Meg Walsh – and together we set about organising Ireland’s first citywide busk for charity.

In three weeks!

But we needn’t have worried. The people and businesses of Waterford quickly rowed in behind us. A huge amount of volunteers and buskers signed up, and numerous local businesses offered their support – everything from sponsorship and designing posters, to offering free coffee to everyone involved on the day.

The day itself started out wet and miserable, but nonetheless, the buskers and volunteers got stuck in straight away. And then – around noon – the rain stopped and blue skies appeared. From there on in, more and more buskers and volunteers in yellow sweatshirts popped up in various spots around the city.

The day was hectic, glorious and inspirational. We had set an initial target of €3,000. Even that might have been an optimistic figure, given that this was a makeshift organisation with just three weeks to organise. As it turned out, we exceeded that, raising €4,000. We can’t thank enough our wonderful buskers, volunteers, and the people of Waterford who – once again – showed their generosity.

We’re not kidding ourselves. BuskAid won’t solve the homeless crisis. But, at a time when the Irish Government seems unwilling to do what needs to be done, it is up to the Irish people to take matters into their own hands. A group called “Home Sweet Home” did that in Dublin recently when they occupied a vacant building owned by the State and turned it into a homeless shelter. And #BuskAid did it in Waterford on Friday Dec 23.

And we’ll be doing it again in 2017. Bigger and better. Stay tuned!

Sending the Elevator Back Down

spacey

I teach guitar in a music club.

This isn’t a subject that I’ve written about a lot before, which is odd, considering that it’s been a major part of my life for the last few years. I suppose it’s something I’ve sometimes taken for granted.

But there are times when something happens that you stop and realise – actually this is a wonderful thing. A few nights ago, the club where I teach guitar (Klub Muzik in Tramore, Co. Waterford) won a Waterford Community & Voluntary Award, which is a great honour.

This set me thinking about what a wonderful thing it is for me – and for my fellow tutors – to pass on the gift of something we love to the next generation. Kevin Spacey has this great quote: “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” And while I’m not appearing on “House of Cards”, or onstage at the Old Vic, I think the same applies to anyone who has mastered their craft (to whatever extent).

I had a conversation to that effect on Twitter with YA novelist Dave Rudden recently, and I hope he won’t mind me quoting him here. As Dave put it, you’re “facilitating other people getting to experience something you love. You’re literally re-experiencing your own introduction to an artform you love. It’s amazing.”

And Dave’s not wrong – it really is. I teach guitar to kids ranging in age from 9 or 10 to teenagers. The common denominator with all is a love of playing music. And there is nothing like it.

And yes, as I’ve said, sometimes you take it for granted. Until that is, you teach a song to a young kid and you can see the excitement in their eyes and they say, “I’m gonna go home and play this song all night.” Or you hear a parent say how much their child is loving their guitar class. Or you watch a student of yours get up on stage with their first band and belt it out. And it may not sound perfect but it doesn’t matter because they’re doing something creative, something that they love, and they’ll eventually get there. And, after all (cliché alert!) it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. (And that’s one cliché that’s actually true.)

One of the many things that the club where I teach does is to bring together various students of different instruments to form bands. Recently, I was lucky enough to be responsible for forming one of these bands. They don’t have a name yet (and we still need a bass player) but we have two guitarists, a drummer, and a male and female vocalist. And they sound great. And they are loving it. It’s such a buzz for me to stand in that room and watch them give their all – singing and playing their hearts out. Because I remember when I was their age, listening to Springsteen or U2 in my bedroom, trying to play along on my crappy electric guitar, and dreaming of getting up on stage or recording an album like them.

But the thing is – and here’s the kicker – I never had a music club like ours. I never had a place that could teach me guitar, and then, when I was confident enough, could offer me a practice room to play in with my band where all the amps and drums, etc. were provided. That would have been like Nirvana for us! (The state of mind, not the band. Although, I’m sure the band would have appreciated it too.) And that’s why we need to see more of these kinds of music clubs. Every county, every parish has their GAA club. And that’s a wonderful thing. But not every kid wants to play sports. There needs to be an outlet for the ones who just want to sing, or play their guitar, or bang their drums.

I’ve been lucky enough to get up on a few stages, and record a few albums, and I want to send the elevator back down. But the elevator’s not going down without me on board. Because I want to see their faces when they figure out how to play that song they love, and they think “Yes. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

And Then They Came For The Buskers …

239. Busking

No matter where you live in the world, you will probably at sometime – whether in your own country or whilst travelling – have encountered buskers. If you’ve ever been in any major city in Ireland, you will certainly have seen some. If you’ve visited Dublin, you can’t have avoided them. They are very much a part of Dublin’s heritage and culture.

And now, it seems, there are some people who would like to ban them. Or, at least, ban them from using amplifiers. Now, while there might be an argument for this in a residential area, this is not the case here. This ban is being suggested for Temple Bar and Grafton Street, two of the most built-up shopping streets in Dublin, filled with pubs and shops blasting out music that equals anything the buskers produce.

In Ireland we have an unfortunate and very particular type of amnesia. We like to – rightly – celebrate and promote the talents of our various singers, writers, artists and so on. However, we often forget where they came from. Glen Hansard has built a global career as a singer-songwriter, as well as starring in (and scoring) a movie about buskers in Dublin called “Once”. “Once” went on to win an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”, an amazing achievement for a small Irish film. Irish people were immensely proud. However, a lot of them perhaps didn’t know or had forgotten that Glen – as so many Irish bands and singers have done – cut his teeth on the streets of Grafton Street as a young busker.

237. Once

Another band who is doing this is Keywest. Without the help of a record label or a PR machine, Keywest have carved out a career for themselves largely though busking on Grafton Street and selling their CDs. They now have a huge following on Facebook and Twitter, and videos of their performances on Grafton St. have been viewed over a two million times on YouTube.

238. Key West

“The busking pays for everything really,” Andy (lead singer) admits. “It’s crazy. We have funded all our records, marketing , publicity, this way. It is a godsend. It’s an amazing thing to have stumbled upon because it is the dilemma for every artist and band, how do we put a hundred per cent of ourselves into our music, whilst keeping the band together? … Something like busking, (which we still love and do to this day) is a great way to make money while you can play your songs, test new material and hopefully see your fan base increase with everyone that is kind enough to pick up a CD … It is the fans that make it for Keywest … It is all very much built from the ground up, with the busking feeding into the club gigs and the radio.”

Keywest are at the forefront of a new campaign to save busking in Dublin called ‪#‎saveirishbusking‬You can watch a video and find out more about it on their Facebook page.

At a time when music (and especially live music) is becoming more homogenised and bland, artists who can stand in the street and belt out songs without the aid of auto tune and huge production values should be hailed not hindered. Hands off our buskers!

The Friday Replay: My Version of Elvis Costello’s “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”

This is my version of Elvis Costello’s “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”:

If you can’t play the song or are on an iPhone or Android phone, click here.

Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

One day you’re gonna have to face
A deep dark truthful mirror
And it’s gonna tell you things that I still
Love you too much to say
The sky was just a purple bruise
The ground was iron
And you fell all around the town
Until you looked the same

[Chorus]

The same eyes, the same lips
The same lie from your tongue trips
Deep dark, deep dark truthful mirror
Deep dark, deep dark truthful mirror

Now the flagstone streets where the newspaper shouts
Ring to the boots of roustabouts
And you’re never in any doubt
There’s something happening somewhere
You chase down the road till your fingers bleed
On a fiberglass tumbleweed
You can blow around the town
But it all shuts down the same

[Chorus]

So you bay for the boy in the tigerskin trunks
They set him up, set him up on a stool
He falls down, he falls down like a drunk
And you drink till you drool
And it’s his story you’ll flatter
You’ll stretch him out like a saint
But the canvas that he splattered
Will be the picture that you never paint

A stripping puppet on a liquid stick
Gets into it pretty thick
A butterfly drinks a turtle’s tears
But how do you know he really needs it
Cos a butterfly feeds on a dead monkey’s hand
Jesus wept, he felt abandoned
You’re spellbound, baby, there’s no doubting that
Did you ever see her stare like a Persian cat

[Chorus]

Words & music by Elvis Costello

(Image: Click on pic for credits)

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Birthday Song: My Version of Elvis Costello’s “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”

Today is the birthday of the great Elvis Costello. To celebrate (not that we need a reason to cover an Elvis song here at “The Rant”) this is my version of “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”:

If you can’t play the song or are on an iPhone or Android phone, click here.

Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

One day you’re gonna have to face
A deep dark truthful mirror
And it’s gonna tell you things that I still
Love you too much to say
The sky was just a purple bruise
The ground was iron
And you fell all around the town
Until you looked the same

[Chorus]

The same eyes, the same lips
The same lie from your tongue trips
Deep dark, deep dark truthful mirror
Deep dark, deep dark truthful mirror

Now the flagstone streets where the newspaper shouts
Ring to the boots of roustabouts
And you’re never in any doubt
There’s something happening somewhere
You chase down the road till your fingers bleed
On a fiberglass tumbleweed
You can blow around the town
But it all shuts down the same

[Chorus]

So you bay for the boy in the tigerskin trunks
They set him up, set him up on a stool
He falls down, he falls down like a drunk
And you drink till you drool
And it’s his story you’ll flatter
You’ll stretch him out like a saint
But the canvas that he splattered
Will be the picture that you never paint

A stripping puppet on a liquid stick
Gets into it pretty thick
A butterfly drinks a turtle’s tears
But how do you know he really needs it
Cos a butterfly feeds on a dead monkey’s hand
Jesus wept, he felt abandoned
You’re spellbound, baby, there’s no doubting that
Did you ever see her stare like a Persian cat

[Chorus]

Words & music by Elvis Costello

(Image: Click on pic for credits)

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Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock n’ Roll)

In anticipation of my CD release (released April 2nd!), I thought I’d post this piece about my very first band audition. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent.

First bands are never easy. The members are usually very young, don’t know each other and are musically and socially ill-equipped. As was the case with my band.

I was a young, sullen teenager and revolution was in the air.

Or, at least, it was in my bedroom.

I had a borrowed Japanese knock-off electric guitar, which I had to play unplugged. This didn’t matter. I knew three chords – which meant I could play along to at least two songs from the latest U2 album on my sister’s record player. As Bono himself so eloquently put it: ‘All I need is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.’ My guitar was a tannish- brown, but I had the three chords and I was about to embark on the mystic journey for the truth.

I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a rock star. I had always written stories and imagined that one day I might be a writer. Then, one night a local DJ played ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen and that was that. I didn’t, however, have any desire to play the guitar at that stage. I just wanted to stand in the spotlight, stage front, and recite grand speeches, like the one that prefixed ‘The River’, which I soon learned word for word. The guitar playing came later. Born of necessity.

At this time I happened to meet a drummer by the name of Mark. Mark had played drums since he was born, apparently, and was phenomenal. He told me he was in a band that was looking for a singer. I knew Mark’s musical preferences were similar to mine, so I figured I’d try out. I should, however, have asked what the other band member’s musical preferences were.

The band, it turned out, consisted of Mark, a bass player named Robbie and a guitarist named Paul. Robbie had a worrisome love of heavy metal and all its clichés. I liked The Smiths and U2. Robbie liked Norwegian death metal bands whose names I couldn’t even spell. His bass strap was a leather belt with metal studs, a la Iron Maiden, and he had a habit of bending over while playing and wiggling his tongue out in finest Gene Simmons tradition.

The guitarist Paul was a short, clean-cut little guy who, despite his appearance, also had a fondness for loud wailing guitars and pyrotechnics. Or so he said. To be honest, Paul wore the permanent look of someone not quite sure where he was, and he might just as easily have had a stack of Rick Astley LPs under his bed.

As musicians, Robbie and Paul couldn’t have been further apart. Robbie’s bass playing was the aural equivalent of a herd of irate buffalo stampeding across the plains. This style pervaded whether he was playing an obnoxiously loud song or a tender ballad. Paul, on the other hand, was a master of minimalism.

Paul only ever played two strings on his guitar.

Ever.

Unfortunately, as opposed to being some form of innovative guitar style, this mode of playing seemed to be born out of the fact that his fingers couldn’t shape a full chord. Paul would eventually be the reason I learned how to play guitar.

And so it was, one warm summer’s evening, I met with Mark, Robbie and Paul for our first rehearsal. After we had dispensed with all the pleasantries, Robbie turned to me and asked: “Do you know ‘Rock You like a Hurricane’ by The Scorpions?”

My spider-sense was tingling. I had to admit that, no – despite my love of German rock – I wasn’t familiar with that chestnut.

“How about ‘Since You Been Gone’ by Rainbow?”

This continued for some time until we reached ‘Summer of 69’ by Bryan Adams, which must have been quite a comedown for Robbie. His next suggestion probably would have been Perry Como. ‘Summer of 69’ I knew, despite having long since crossed the line between Bryan Adams being cool and Bryan Adams sucking. That had happened somewhere between the ages of twelve and thirteen.

It’s a funny thing about ‘Summer of 69’. For a very long time in discos all over Ireland, young men and women – who weren’t born in 1969, never went to a drive-in or played a six-string – were punching the air and mouthing all the lyrics. Even now, somewhere in the world, an Irish person is asking a cover band to sing ‘Summer of 69’.

And hopefully that cover band is doing a better version of it than we did back at my first band rehearsal.

 

(Image: Click the pic for credits)

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New Music Monday – New Original Song “Are You My Life?”

Hell yeah…it’s the first New Music Monday of 2012! And as such, this week I’ve decided to post a new original song,  just recently recorded. This is “Are You My Life?”:

If you can’t play the song or are on an iPhone or Android phone, click here.

(*This is a sample track. The full version is available on the album “Do You Dream At All?” which can be purchased here:)

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