12 Favourite covers

Crossposted from Facebook where this has been going round as a meme.

My Death – David Bowie (Jacques Brel)
It was a toss up between his cover of Wild is the wind (Johnny Mathis) and this one. Used to hear this on the radio and learnt of ‘Baal’ and ‘Brecht’ through Bowie when the LP was released in 81/82.

Coil – Tainted Love (Soft Cell)

Coil completely decontructs Soft Cell’s dance floor hit, creating an elegy in the decade AIDS started making headlines.

Nature Boy – Jose Feliciano (Nat King Cole, et al)
I first heard this song in summer camp in 78 or so. It was played to me on guitar by a guy called Hans, he was one of the camp leaders. He tried to teach me how to play it, but I only mastered the jazzy chords a few years later. I found the song, which has been covered by many, on a Jose Feliciano album I found in our library. Since it’s the first cover I heard, it remains my favourite – though I haven’t heard it in years.

What Makes a Man a Man – Marc Almond (Charles Aznavour)
Almond brings more tears and a sob to this song than the slightly more understated Aznavour.

Lovelight – Robbie Williams (Lewis Taylor)
I was tempted to pick Robbie’s cover of The Human League’s Louise off of the same album, but went with Lovelight instead, because I didn’t know the song before I heard Robbie sing it. It’s one of those Hi-NRG songs I can’t get enough of lately.

Les Filles du bord de mer – Arno (Adamo)
This will probably be fairly unknown outside of Europe, in fact I didn’t know the song before I heard the Belgian singer Arno (ex-TC Matic) sing it live. It’s a crowd pleaser. Arno’s version slows it down, drags it out, makes it great.

Night and day – U2 (Cole Porter/Frank Sinatra)
Recorded for the Red, Hot and Blue album in support of AIDS charities and accompanied by a stupid video, this is one of my favourite U2 recordings. Obsessive love songs are the best.

Paper Thin Hotel – Fatima Mansions (Leonard Cohen)
Cathal Coughlan turns Paper Thin Hotel’s jealous lover into an axe-murderer. A left over from the sessions for the Cohen tribute album ‘I’m your man’, released on a sampler given away at FNAC.

Brother can you spare a dime – George Michael (Bing Crosby, et al)
Almost went with Somebody to love (Queen), but I’m really not that keen on the song, eventhough George covered it so brilliantly at Wembley. Anyway, I just wanted to include him. Love his voice.

Scorn not his simplicity – Sinead O’Connor (Phil Coulter/Luke Kelly)
Written by Coulter for his disabled son and occasionally sung by The Dubliner’s Luke Kelly. There’s many songs Sinead’s covered that I could have picked, not in the least Prince’s Nothing Compares to You, but this one is pure and lovely.

Better Days Ahead – Hothouse Flowers (Gil Scott-Heron)
A slow burner, a plea for love in times of trouble. Liam O’Maoinlai at his best, I think, forever hovering on the good side of sharp. It has a sax-solo that doesn’t get on my nerves. It was an extra song on the Flowers’ I can see clearly now-single, also a cover. I don’t remember ever hearing the original.

Heartbreak Hotel – John Cale (Elvis Presley)
John Cale has done my favourite cover of Hallelujah, the first version of it that I ever heard, long, long before it became fodder for the idols. But I’m picking his Heartbreak Hotel, because it takes a great song, demolishes it, and then rebuilds it. Really brings out the despair, as well.

By this river – Gavin Friday (Brian Eno)
Can’t have a list like this without our Gav. He picks a song, takes a good look at it from all sides, then twists himself inside of it until he thinks he wrote it. Then he makes you believe the same. He’s done that to Sinatra’s Cycles, Coldplay’s Yellow, Brel’s Amsterdam and Next, to Blue Velvet, Nina Simone’s Four Women, Hot Chocolate’s Put your love in me, his extraordinary cover of Singin in the rain, and many, many Kurt Weill classics. But I’m picking this more recent song, because it’s such an odd one out, and one of his best vocals.

Some of these songs, or their orginals, can be heard on this playlist I made in Spotify

My year in cities, 2008

Jason published his yearly “My year in cities” post. I used Meg’s Mayfly-project to do something similar, but brief. So here is my full list, as archived by Dopplr, and some recollections.

Leersum (December)
Boxing Day at my parents’. Cooked Indonesian meal.

Paris (December)
It’s hard to pick favourites in a year of many highs, but I did like this one a lot. A bit of family. A lot of G. Everything was small and intimate. Saw ‘Handsomest Drowned Man’ again and it worked so much better than in Brighton.

London (November)
Saw Scott Walker’s Drifting and Tilting twice. Lovely time with Hg, Pixeldiva, B. and R. Traveled by Eurolines coach. Really, surprisingly comfortable. And cheap.

Galway (October)
Didn’t like staying in a hostel (hell very definitely being other people), but other than that it was good to get away and I think I shot my best picture of 2008.

Dublin (October)
The Dublin/Galway trip was my ‘summer holiday’. It was freezing, of course, but sunny anyway when the rest of Europe was awash with rain. Had an amazing time in Killiney filming G. and listening to his new songs.

Antwerp (August)
Unplanned trip to compensate for not getting the Lowlands festival photo gig I’d been promised. Bad karma… nearly got my head kicked in taking pictures in this Belgian city. And that’s no joke.

London (July)
Rogue’s Gallery at the Barbican. Only got photo access to the soundcheck. Light was bad, vibe a little dull, but the gig was good. Really enjoyed staying around Brick Lane. Quiet lunch with G. at morose Italian place.

Dublin (July)
Rogue’s Gallery in the Dublin Docklands. Fa-bu-lous experience. Great access all day, fab to hang with Davey, Gugs and G., lovely vibe in the photo pit, nearly killed myself shooting with the 70-200 for four hours.

Paris (July)
Quick trip to see the deafening My Bloody Valentine. Loved it.

Paris (May)
Became my nephew Louis Gustave’s godmother. Pretended to be Catholic. Everything in French of course. Lovely, but strenous.

Brighton (May)
Brighton was relaxed, just enjoying sea, sand and sun. The gig (‘The Handsomest Man in the World’) was unremarkable.

London (May)
Rather fraught and confused start as I was given the wrong medication hours before my flight and I felt poorly and disoriented. Fire alarm at Gatwick on my return.

Cologne (April)
Birthday trip. Didn’t enjoy this much. Party town, stag nights, large groups. No fun on your own. Crap weather too.

Dublin (Feb/Mar)
Sick as a dog, but I went anyway and coughed and sneezed and dripped through a Marc Almond gig (meeting Gini Ball backstage) and lovely dinner with G. at Eden. Also… Bambi!

Dublin (Jan)
No particular reason. Scouted some photo locations. Saw 30 seconds from Mars on a whim.

I don’t think I will be travelling quite this often in 2009.

The five best gigs of 2007

As the first couple of tickets for shows in 2008 are coming in, it’s time to look back and recognise the best of 2007. Where possible, I’ll quote from my earlier reviews.

1. Marc Almond – Paradiso, Amsterdam, October 27

Even before he’s sung a note, he’s welcomed with a thunderous applause
and the crowd’s enthusiasm doesn’t wane over the full two hour show.
They sing along, the hands go up, the tears run rings and hearts swell.
We’re close to a conga-line here, it’s that kind of atmosphere.”
This show in Amsterdam was nothing less than triumphant, so good in fact, that I’ve got to see it twice. That’s why I’ve booked to see him in Dublin in February.

2. The Church – Paradiso, Amsterdam, April 20
“I go see bands full of expectations and come away disappointed a lot of
the time. So when I went to see The Church I expected them well past
their heyday, coasting on past glory. Instead I watched four guys
soldiering on with more fire in the belly than a lot of the new
‘The’-bands put together. Overcoming ridiculous technical problems,
they played blistering versions of songs from their vast repertoire.”
When I’m willing to travel to Hengelo to see a band a second time, you know I’m on to something good. The Church quite simply blew me away and they’ve since climbed to the #1 spot in my Last.fm chart for 2007 with 527 songs scrobbled.

3. Amy Winehouse – Paradiso, Amsterdam, February 8
After The Church, Amy Winehouse was my most played artist this year (342 songs) eventhough I didn’t listen to her much in the second half of the year. Amy played a late night show at the Paradiso. I suppose we were ‘lucky’ for her to show up at all, let alone play a fantastic set. She isn’t much of a performer, but with pipes like that, she doesn’t need to be. I’m glad I got to see her at her best. And I hope someone, family or friends, will look after her and help her deal with whatever it is needs dealing with.

4. R.E.M. – Vicar Street, Dublin, July 3 and 4
‘This is not a show,’ we were told plenty of times. R.E.M. used five nights in front of a real audience in Dublin’s beautiful Olympia theatre, to ‘rehearse’ songs for their upcoming album, which, by the sound of the songs played at these shows, will sound a little more like the R.E.M. we knew before they – briefly – went mega. Well, I enjoyed these ‘rehearsals’ very much. Stipe really doesn’t have to do much to entertain, doesn’t have to work for it, he is just naturally charismatic. I can never figure out whether he’s a nice bloke or not, but I’m told he is. Good for him.

5. Cathal Coughlan – Sugar Club, Dublin, March 25.
There are a couple of artists on my list that don’t tour that much or at all, which means I have to travel to go see them. Cathal Coughlan is one of them. I’ll happily jump on a flight to see him in London or Dublin. It’s an easy choice to make when you know someone’s going to deliver. And deliver he did at the intimate Sugar Club, playing a short solo set before a full run through his grand opus, Flannery’s Mounted Head, also known as Foburg. I really wish he’d play more often.

Also seen:

Jarvis Cocker – not quite as good as hoped for, but he’s adorable.
Brett Anderson – better than expected
Camera Obscura – really not my thing
Moke – derivative and calculated
Interpol – not great
Justin Timberlake – shite seats, crap sound
The Bravery – good energy
INXS – J.D. was better on TV.
The Police – I shouldn’t have gone.
Luka Bloom – I have seen him do better
Arcade Fire – fantastic show falls flat in large venue.
Sinead O’Connor – can do no wrong
The National – impressive show marred by abrupt end.

And then of course there were the eight Nothing Like The Sun shows, in Stratford, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Nottingham and Gent. So totally different from everything else mentioned here I decided to leave them out.

All the photos are copyright © 2007, cvodb.

Marc Almond live, alive


Dubbed ‘The English Piaf’ by the British press, he does resemble a little sparrow a bit. The motorcycle accident he had three years go has left its marks. Marc Almond’s tough tattoos don’t obscure the fact he seems a little frail now. In his stylish suit he reminds me most of that other French chansonier, Charles Aznavour, whose work Almond has covered. I think he’s aging well.

On stage he admits he’s got trouble remembering his lyrics now and when, during a fabulous performance of Jacques Brel’s Jacky, he’s climbed on top of the grand piano, his tour manager has to help him climb off. Ouch. ‘I’ve done my back in,’ he says and grins and bears it.

Almond’s voice is strong. As always he edges a little close to sharp at times – a catty Dutch journalist used to call him ‘that off key queen out of Soft Cell’ back in the day – but he is always full of unbridled passion. Seasoned performers are the biz. And they need your support as much as newcomers, don’t be mistaking.

The venue’s filled up with ex-goths, you can tell. They don’t wear make up anymore – unlike Almond – but they’re still clad in black threads, two or three sizes up. They probably have well paid jobs, they are ‘creatives’ and they adore their MacBooks. Sorry, I’ve been working with tv demographics data a little too much lately.

It would be fun to drag a couple of emo-kids from their Evanescence concerts and show them what lies in store for them, Scrooge-like. I jest. I’d rather have this devoted but clearly geriatric crowd than cackling, texting, fickle  20-somethings. This lot know of Almond’s misfortune, that much is clear. Even before he’s sung a note, he’s welcomed with a thunderous applause and the crowd’s enthusiasm doesn’t wane over the full two hour show. They sing along, the hands go up, the tears run rings and hearts swell. We’re close to a conga-line here, it’s that kind of atmosphere.

I surrender, let myself go with the flow, but the camera’s lens creates a bit of distance. Just enough to realise there is not a lot of difference between a night out with Almond and evening with Engelbert Humperdinck, that’s entertainment. Marc is so very, very British. In Bizarro World he would probably make a fine Redcoat. In this reality, however, he’s just subversive enough to make it art.

I’d always liked Marc Almond’s work before, but as a live artist he was just a little too camp and over the top to really move me. He moves me now. The drama’s real and we all feel it. Back from death’s door, a miraculous recovery, just turned 50, from Sex Dwarf to Stardom Road… his opening song, Aznavour’s J’ai Vécu, says it all, really: I’ll explain my life and show you all I am and all I’ve been, and I’ll say for my defence that I have lived.

Seen: Paradiso Amsterdam, October 27, 2007
This piece is a loose translation of the review posted to my Dutch 3VOOR12 weblog.

Marc Almond, because he can


Marc Almond, as pictured by me, at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on October 27, 2007. Gushing review now available.


I have lived
These My Dreams Are Yours
Tears Run Rings
Your Aura
The Idol
Dream Lover
Child Star
Mr Sad

If You Go Away

Redeem me
Pearly Spencer
The Boy Who Came Back
Hand Over My Heart
Ruby Red
I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten

Backstage I’m Lonely
Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart
Tainted Love

Say Hello Wave Goodbye

R.E.M.’s Summertime


{ click to enlarge }

Sometimes when you hit that shutter button, you know – you FEEL it’s the one. When I took the picture above, I knew I’d captured the moment. This is Michael Stipe looking out over 50,000 people at the Pinkpop festival in 1989. He’d grabbed a chair, set it as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was singing ‘Summertime’.

We’d been standing in the sun all day. Some of our group were slamdancing to The Pixies. Some of us were laughing at Tanita Tikaram who couldn’t hold a tune to save her life (even her fans turned away in disgust). Some of us felt sorry for Marc Almond, pelted with food by an intolerant audience> We had all dropped our jaws in surprise when Elvis Costello came up and defied all logic by being solid, stunning and simply… sexy.

Costello, belting out ‘I want you’, had broken a string mid-song. He’d stood there, solo, still crying the words, his arms stretched out wide. A roadie rushed in, literally sliding in on his knees. He freed the singer of his guitar, slipped him on a new one, and plugged it in just in time for Costello to seamlessly continue his song. We had never been more in awe of musicianship.

We had made our way to the front row. Pressed up against the barrier, a little left of center. R.E.M. were last on the bill. It had been 2 years since they played our country. Two years since I had reluctantly gone to see them and had come back a fan. We didn’t know it then, but R.E.M.’s Pinkpop appearance was to be their last in Holland. Ever. Believe it or not, the next two occasions the band booked Dutch venues both were cancelled for health reasons.

This one almost didn’t happen either. The accident prone band nearly had to cancel at the last moment because Bill Berry’d been bitten by a tick, back in his beloved Georgia garden. The man nearly died of Rocky Mountain Fever in a German hospital. But they patched him up.

I still think the band were at their best in ’89. Stipe in his white floppy suit, sporting what he now calls an ‘unfortunate’ haircut, seemed on the verge of insanity. Buck hadn’t put on the pounds yet, and it was before ueber-nerd Mills got into dye jobs and glittery suits. And… damn it, they still had their drummer.

They launched straight into mayhem: Exhuming McCarthy, Turn you Inside Out, Stand, Orange Crush… the set heavily dominated by Document and Green favourites. Stipe swirled around the microphone stand, brandishing his megaphone. Feeling Gravity’s Pull felt like the apocalypse.

Then they let us all come down gently. King of Birds, Summertime, Swan Swan H and finally, with Mills playing bass sitting down on the edge of the stage, ending with You are the Everything.

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