A la vora de l’Ebre

Olost Catalonia

On 15 July 2018 it was a great honour and pleasure to be invited by my friend Fani Fortet to play a concert in her home town of Olost in Catalonia. Fani invited the fabulous violinist Simone Lambregts to join us and we had an hour or so to rehearse in the afternoon. As a special challenge for our set of songs, I suggested we adapt the Dick Gaughan song “Both Sides the Tweed” with a Catalan chorus as I felt that the sentiment in the song of friendship across borders was relevant to the Catalan situation.

With most of the “heavy wordsmith lifting” done by Simone, the three of us managed to create a Catalan chorus that worked with the melody and carried the sentiment. As a singer with very little knowledge of Catalan, it was quite daunting to attempt to sing this newborn chorus, but Simone did her best to write it out in a simplified form for me to give it my best shot. I think the result was quite a beautiful achievement.

A la vora de l’Ebre / Both Sides the Tweed

What’s the Spring, breathing jasmine and rose?
What’s the Summer, with all its gay train?
Or the splendour of Autumn to those,
Who’ve bartered their freedom for gain?

Abraceu l’amor de la terra
i també l’amor de la gent.
Que dignitat i amistat s’uneixin
i a la vora de l’Ebre floreixin.

No sweetness the senses can cheer
That corruption and bribery bind
No brightness that gloom can e’er clear
For honour’s the sum of the mind

Abraceu l’amor de la terra
i també l’amor de la gent.
Que dignitat i amistat s’uneixin
i a la vora de l’Ebre floreixin.

Let virtue distinguish the brave
Place riches in lowest degree
Call him poorest, who can be a slave
Him richest, who dares to be free

Abraceu l’amor de la terra
i també l’amor de la gent.
Que dignitat i amistat s’uneixin
i a la vora de l’Ebre floreixin.

Let the love of our land’s sacred rights
To the love of our people succeed.
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed.

Abraceu l’amor de la terra
i també l’amor de la gent.
Que dignitat i amistat s’uneixin
i a la vora de l’Ebre floreixin.

Original lyrics by Dick Gaughan
Catalan chorus by Simone Lambregts, Fani Fortet and Gerry Mulvenna

Talk to the hands in my Joy Division Oven Gloves

Joy Division Oven GlovesIn the wake of the Rage Against the Machine Christmas No. 1 campaign, copy-cat campaigns have been bobbing up and down destined never to achieve the same success.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day for the “Ultravox Vienna for No.1” campaign. When you delve a bit deeper on that one, you discover it’s just a self promoting campaign originating from Ultravox themselves on their comeback tour. I suppose just getting to No. 2 still rankles with them, but it’s not something that fires my imagination, in other words It Means Nothing To Me! As pointed out in Comment #1, I didn’t delve deep enough into the Vienna campaign and got the wrong end of the stick. http://ultravox.org.uk is the band’s official website, but it is run by fans not the band and the fans’ Vienna campaign pre-dated the RATM phenomenon by six months.

However the campaign to catapult Half Man Half Biscuit into the charts for the first time in the band’s long and admirable career gets my support because…

  1. It makes me laugh. In the spirit of band’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the campaign’s target chart position is No. 6.
  2. It’s one of my favourite HMHB songs: Joy Division Oven Gloves
  3. Behind the humour, there is a genuine reason for supporting the campaign, namely to raise awareness about the axe looming over the BBC 6 Music radio station, possibly the only radio station that consistently plays the music I want to hear.

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Sunday Spotlight: We Thought It Would Rain All Day

In my spotlight this week is a song about weather and intimacy. It’s a song where my soul gets bared a wee bit, so if you’re squeamish or lacking the voyeuristic tendency most of us have, you’d best look away now. It’s complex in its simplicity or maybe it’s simple in it’s complexity, but we thought it would rain all day.
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Sunday Spotlight: Everybody has their part to play

On Sundays I like to pick one of my songs and write a little bit of background about it. It feels like a month of Sundays since the last one – the Sunday Spotlight took a break over Christmas and New Year. It returns this week with a song I wrote in 2004: Everybody Has Their Part To Play.

Lyrics | Studio recording, 2005

Live recording, 2009

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Sunday Spotlight: Speak My Mind

This week the spotlight is one of the more introspective songs from my Edinburgh student days (like Don’t Fall Again). Back in 1986 I was living at 10 Brougham Place, Tollcross – I was a student of Computer Science & Electronics and shared a flat with two medical students and an arts student. This healthy cross-faculty mix was certainly a factor in the four of us getting on so well over those 2-3 years. But I was definitely the geek of the group and often struggled to keep up with some of the more philosophical discussions that took place.

Download song | Lyrics

That's me in the middle, c.1989
That's me in the middle, c.1989

Speak My Mind was my way of expressing the frustration I felt at not being able to adequately express myself. The theme of the Irish paradox, wounded land and magical paradise, comes from the discussions I had with “closest friend” Linda (the arts student). At the time she was adamant that she wouldn’t visit Ireland because of “the Troubles”. I was relieved when these views mellowed some years later and she was happy to come on holiday through Ulster and Connacht.

Sunday Spotlight: In The City (Nigel Coleman)

This is a slight departure on my usual Sunday Spotlight as, this week, I feature another songwriter’s song. In The City is the work of my good friend Nigel Coleman, a singer-songwriter from Co. Tipperary. From the moment I first heard this song, I loved the atmosphere and images it conjured up in my head. I tagged it on at the end of my recording time during the day I spent at Shay’s Studio in 2005 – a quickie cover to see what it might sound like. You can listen to this interpretation below alongside Nigel’s own recording which appeared on his Highway to the Sky EP in 2004.

My interpretation

Nigel’s original

Nigel Coleman and Gerry Mulvenna at the Performing Arts Centre, UL (March 2009)
Nigel and me at the Performing Arts Centre, UL (March 2009)
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Sunday Spotlight: Weapon of Mass Seduction

WMD are back in the news again, like a synthpop band (War-mongering Manoeuvres in the Dark?) from the Cold War days reforming for a comeback tour and a new album for the twenty-first century. Under the spotlight this week is a song that takes a lot of the language of the current Gulf War and reclaims it in the language of love. Like swords into ploughshares – killing words into loving words.

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Sunday Spotlight: Don’t Fall Again

This week I point my spotlight on a rather private song I wrote in 1987. It was born out of the shock of hearing that my flatmate George had suffered quite a serious fall, smashing his elbow in the process.

Download song | Lyrics

In my second and third years as a student in Edinburgh, I shared a flat with the same 3 friends. Two years is like an eternity when you’re 19 and 20, so we became a really close-knit bunch. We shared our flats in Tollcross and Marchmont with a couple of canine flatmates: Acorn and Ember. So regular dog-walking trips to the Meadows, the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill.

Blackford Hill, Edinburgh
Blackford Hill, Edinburgh, scene of the falling incident 22 years previously
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Sunday Spotlight: The Chicken Song

For my Sunday Spotlight this week, I’m going right back to my songwriting beginnings with a song that was born back in 1985 on a Friday night in Kelly’s Cellars, Belfast. It wouldn’t be accurate to claim it as one of my songs as it was a spontaneous collaboration – a blues number that sort of wrote itself between a bunch of 18-year olds out for a bit of a laugh with a few pints and a sing song. For me, it became a fun song to belt out when the mood was right and it has endured in my repertoire down through the years.

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Sunday Spotlight: Blind Spot of Denial

In the spotlight this week is a song I wrote just over a year ago when I travelled to Edinburgh for a weekend with a group from my East Clare football club, Mixed Bag United. The football was over and I was enjoying the last evening of the weekend, touring a few of my favourite pubs with one of the other Mixed Bag players.

Lyrics | No studio recording for this one, but I’ve got this video shot in November 2008 as part of the “Hats Challenge”, which was just a bit of fun on YouTube involving hats and songs.
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