Today’s List

Inevitably songs are associated with specific sequences or occasions in your life; sometimes songs gain added poignancy through use in films or TV series. Two brilliant examples –  Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars gained an entirely new audience when it was used in the end sequence of Grey’s Anatomy. Likewise, Dire Straits Brothers in Arms in the last moments of the brilliant episode of The West Wing, Two Cathedrals.

People associate specific songs with marriages, breakups, births even deaths. In my own case I will forever associate the Gillian Welch song Only One and Only with the day my son Leo was born in the car on the way to hospital. Sitting in our home that night, having gone through the most surreal experience of my life, the song somehow provided a moment of calm, and that moment is still frozen in time.

But this list isn’t about individual songs. Artist’s albums are an altogether more difficult thing to categorise. Some collections work simply as that, with individual tracks like fish out of water when isolated from what comes before and after.

We have all shared the experience of compilations when the familiar end of one song isn’t accompanied by the familiar start of another – an imposter has taken its place. I once bought the U2 singles CD and it fails miserably for this very reason. So here’s some albums to take your breath away, or rather to take mine away. Hey, it’s my own taste I’m talking about so it can change like the wind. . .  So in no particular order:

Buena Vista Social Club by the Buena Vista Social Club, from the opening notes of Chan Chan this is happy music for happy people. You don’t need to know Spanish to get it. The fact that the musicians were all in their seventies and eighties makes it even more intriguing. If you like this you’ll love the DVD.

Revival by Gillian Welch. Pared down, bleak and raw Americana. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings have been accused of not being authentic. Dunno what that’s supposed to mean. Just listen to Annabelle, By the Mark (what a gospel song), One More Dollar, Only One and Only and the original and best version of Orphan Girl. Resolutely downbeat but I love it from start to finish. . .  when the time is right.

Planxty by Planxty. I remember the sounds of this wafting around our house when I was wee and I rediscovered it years later thanks to my friend Lawrence Ward. Anyone who knows Irish music will be familiar with this. Again, the songs work in sequence so well. Once on my son’s 4th birthday party he made me sing Follow Me Up to Carlow instead of Happy Birthday. Classic.

Book of Invasions by Horslips. Again, another sound wafting from my childhood. Brilliant instrumentation and even after all these years unlike other raw Horslips material, this doesn’t sound dated in the slightest.

The Time Has Come by Christy Moore. My favourite Christy Moore album, indeed it’s so good I am always taken aback by the brilliant tracks. From the humour of The Knock Song and All I Remember, to the politics of FaithFul Departed and Only Our Rivers to the poignancy of the title track, addressed from Peggy O’Hara to her dying hunger striker son Patsy. . . Christy was on fine form. I found this when preparing this piece. . . Christy performing Hurt in a soundcheck.

This is the Sea by The Waterboys. The classic Whole of the Moon, the soundtrack to a hundred student discos in the Snack Bar in the Queen’s Union and the Crescent to the Union in Stirling University, to the brilliant anti establishment Old England. I bought a twelve string geetar and this album taught me what it could sound like. Class stuff. Fisherman’s Blues is good but this is the real thing. Never got to see them live. . . no-one asked me to go!

Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin. I am a big Led Zep fan and I only let on from time to time. My wife hates it and at times I can’t bear them but cranking this up is hard to beat. Forget Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, got no place to stay.

Desire by Bob Dylan. This is one a small number of CDs I’ve worn out from over playing. Hurricane, the relentless brilliance of Isis,; through the awesome One More Cup of Coffee with its gypsy violins and Bob’s amazing vocals, to the Romance in Durango. There is one sequence in Mozambique still makes me laugh. . .  deadly stuff from Bob. Best album for me.

International Velvet by Catatonia. ‘I put horses’ heads/in peoples’ beds/cos I am the mob.’ Any girl singing that gets my votes. First time I heard Cerys Mathews voice I thought, “who the hell is that.” Great attitude, brilliant tracks – still love it after all these years. Pity they never scaled those heights again. Only Welsh person I like other than Ryan Giggs. PS turn it up!

Wrecking Ball by Emmy Lou Harris. The time and the occasion may have to be right but this is a classic. Just listen. Goodbye, Sweet Old World, Blackhawk and the rest. Deadly.

American IV and American V by Johnny Cash. Stunning stuff, couldn’t separate these. Just Johnny Cash, a guitar and that voice. I challenge anyone to listen to some of this and not be moved. Cash, valiantly holding back the years, voice cracking, missing June. I remember playing If You Could Read My Mind on the way home form losing a championship match and the effect it had on four girls. As for Hurt, watch the video.

The Joshua Tree by U2. Encapsulates a time and a place. When I started at university you couldn’t excape these sounds. By the time I left Uni, they were immortalised in the over indulgent Rattle and Hum collection. We all felt like Bono with a cowboy hat and a geetar slung over the shoulder. One Tree Hill does it for me.

I generally dislike compilations but one I love is my  Very Best of Nina Simone. This can play for days and days in the office here untouched.

Definitely Maybe by Oasis. The soundtrack to the early nineties, this was the best of good old ass kicking music. I brought my two neices to see them in concert in the Point (That’s the best Christmas present ever. . . they said as I trumped Santa) and they were awesome. Slide Away. . .

Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young. Loved this for years especially Pocahontas and Powderfinger both. Greatly energetic stuff, Neil at his best I think.

Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. This is one of the best things I’ve ever bought. Again, so good I bought it twice. Best listened to in one go and then again straight away. Killing the Blues is fantastic but the whole experience won’t let you down.

That my friends, is today’s list. Go and blow your ears.

The Pyramid of Success

In the last few months I have spent a lot of time reading John Wooden, the inspirational American basketball coach.

His advice, gleaned from a solid upbringing is simple but not simplistic. Anyone who has read any of John Wooden will recognise his philosophy in the utterances of the likes of Mickey Harte ‘Be the best you can be’; Roy Keane: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. And so on.

You should never live your life with regrets, but I do wish I had come across some of these insights earlier in my working career and certainly in my time working with sports teams. Wooden tells us that ‘Emotion is your enemy.’ How true.

John Wooden based his work on his own personal values, his pyramid of success for leadership in any team:

  • industriousness; friendship; loyalty; cooperation; enthusiasm.
  • Self control; alertness; initiative; intentness.
  • Condition, skill, team spirit.
  • Poise; confidence.
  • And competitive greatness.

The latter means the love of the hard battle. Or substitute a love of life. Wooden teaches that we should make each day our masterpiece – to try and achieve something every day.

It is a difficult path to follow but a good one. In life, like sport, there are many challenges to overcome, some we can never overcome but the way in which we try says a lot about us.

The journey is the reward, as the Chinese saying goes.

Marking out the Days with Coffee Spoons. Or World Cups.

Today the World Cup starts. Like J Alfred Prufrock marking out the days with coffee spoons, I can mark out the years with World Cups. Too young in 1970 to remember anything of the  beauty and brilliance of Pelé and Co as they set the standard for World Cup winners that has never been matched. In 1974 our family holiday was in Spiddal in Galway. My brothers were into their football and I have hazy but technicolour memories of the World Cup and Holland in particular. One name stood out above the rest – Johan Cruyff.

In 1978 it was Argentina. That was a seminal year in my life. My brother Peter, himself a fanatical and rabid Manchester United fan since boyhood, described as 1978 poignantly as his own personal Munich in his recent inaugural Professorial lecture. He was referring to the sudden death of our father in January 1978.

That I was enhancted by the albiceleste, the magnificent blue and white of Argentina. The ticker tape streaming from the terraces of El Monumental in Buenos Aires as Kempes, Ardiles, Passarella, Luque and Bertoni held the world in the palm of their hand with their mixture of skill, cynicism and overwhelming force. I remember the long range shooting of Holland, Archie Gemmill’s goal and Iran because we had at the time Iranian friends –  the Hesars whom I fear met their death in the Iran Iraq war. It was a funny time – my brothers would be home from Uni for part of the World Cup. I dunno if my dad would have taken much interest in it, but I will never know because he wasn’t there.

In 1982 I watched the famous France and West Germany Final from a bar in Donegal with my uncle Sean and cousins. Sean is currently an old man battling liver cancer. These were among the days of my lives and I recall vividly a classic match, Shumacher’s brutal full frontal charge on Patrick Battiston a bit of a f***ing outrage to be honest. I still feel a tear in my eye when I see Tardelli’s celebration of his goal in the final. He was like a caged animal set free. Brazil the team all the neutrals wanted to win. Unfortunately no-one told them that defenders need to defend as well as attack and Rossie taught a cruel lesson.

In 1986 my love affair with Argentina resumed, Maradona and the Hand of God, God Bless Him. I never particularly liked the wee man, he was a bit too arrogant for my liking for all his skill and pace, but by God the two goals that day set my heart racing. I would have argued gladly with any Englishman that dared that he hadn’t handled the ball. At that time I was doing my A Levels and had a girlfriend that dumped me unceremoniously during the summer. I remember more about the World Cup than I do about her. Unceremonious dumping was a feature for a while.

In 1990 I had finished my studies in Stirling and the World Cup at home offered the opportunity to celebrate Ireland’s unlikely progress. I recall listening to the Romania penalty shoot out in Belfast City airport having done the decent thing and driven my sister and her then husband back to the airport. What I should have done is told the bastard to make his own way and tell my sister to stay where she was. He was one of a number of people that I should have told what I thought of them, and still might.

In 1994 we spent part of the World Cup on a lads tour of Munster, playing music in bars for free beer. We got a lock-in in one etablishment  in Cahirciveen until seven in the morning before tumbling upstairs to bed in what doubled as a B&B. One match I remember was the US against Brazil, when the brilliant Leonardo busted a Yanks face and his own world cup dreams with an ill advised elbow. We all remember Baggio miss his penalty. I had a tenner on Italy to win, by god the gave me great value. I also had a fiver on Ireland to beat them in the opening game!

During the 1998 World Cup my stag party was on in Clare Island off the coast of Mayo. Happy times with my closest and dearest friends. It had it all, nude waterskiing, music, a hell of a wee rock band in the village marquee, my best man Brogy doing a striptease on stage, a role he reprised at my wedding to the wide eyed surprise of Sister Bernardine. We watched Beckham prove Hoddle wrong from the bar in Clare Island. A week later a national newspaper report reads Island Says No to Men Behaving Badly. Surely it couldn’t have been us. . .

2002 World Cup, our Leo was a baby and I remember less of it than the others. After Keano and Saipan I cared less. Especially when an Ireland team that could have gone further damp squibbed out to Spain.

2006 was interesting, Leo started to take an interest and out Peter, two at the time joined in the back garden playing football. For some reason he always took his clothes off before the game. Maybe he had watched too many goal celebrations. Argentine dismantled Serbia. Zidane headbutted Matterazzi. I sympathised, should have done it to that brother in law and others.

And this year, I am looking forward to it yet again. As usual my heart will be with the albiceleste, Messi, Heinze, Tevez, Veron and Co. My money will go on Spain or Italy and I will enjoy England falling at the later hurdles (fingers crossed). Anything else would be intolerable. Maybe not as intolerable as other things I have put up with recently but intolerable none the same.