Can’t Speak French #1

April 17, 2009

Hello. Welcome to a new section on Bluebirds Are So Natural, called ‘Can’t Speak French’. In this section, we’ll be using the wonders of modern technology to determine whether or not any of the artists in the current Top 30 can, ‘speak French’ as it were. Basically, what this means is that we’ll pop some lyrics from a song in English (Middle 8 and Chorus) into Babelfish, translate them into French, and then back again, for megalaffs.

This week, it’s the turn of Girls Aloud’s ‘Untouchable’.

‘Whenever you’re gone, gone
They wait at the door
And everything’s hurting like a bore
Without any meaning
We’re just skin and bone
Like beautiful robots dancing alone

And in my dreams it feels like we are forty storeys tall
When you’re around ooooh we’re untouchable
And in my dreams it feels like we aren’t ever gonna fall
We’re safe and sound and we’re untouchable’

Toutes les fois que you’ ; allé re, allé
Ils attendent à la porte
Et everything’ ; s blessant comme un alésage sans toute signification
We’ ; juste peau et os re
Comme de beaux robots seul dansant
Et dans mes rêves il se sent comme nous sommes quarante étages grands
quand you’ ; Re autour de l’ooooh we’ ; untouchable re
Et dans mes rêves il se sent comme nous aren’ ; t allant jamais tomber
We’ ; sûr et sain re et we’ ; untouchable’ re ;

‘All times that you’ ; gone Re, gone They wait the door
And everything’ ; S wounding like a boring without any We’ significance; ;
right skin and bone Re Like beautiful robots only dancing

And in my dreams it feels as we are forty large stages
when you’ ; Re around l’ ooooh we’ ; untouchable Re
And in my dreams it feels like us aren’ ; T never going to fall
We’ ; sure and healthy Re and we’ ; untouchable’ Re;’

VERDICT: That held up pretty well, all things considering. So, yes, Girls Aloud can speak French.



I Wish I Could Be You

April 10, 2009

While clearing up my hard-drive this morning (snore), I found the below article on Tribute Bands I wrote for the September issue of now online-only Analogue Magazine. While it’s in print somewhere, it’s not on the internet. And, obviously, the internet is the only place that counts. Read on, dear readers. (BTW, does anyone remember when Katie and I used to write actual blog posts? Nah. Me neither.)

Tribute Bands
Ailbhe Malone

I’m sitting on a couch in a stranger’s living room. His son comes in and gives me a cup of tea, and a Kit-Kat. I’m flanked on each side by two members of the Folsom Five, a Dublin-based Johnny Cash tribute band. They’re dressed in turned up jeans and their hair is carefully quiffed. They also have cups of tea and Kit-Kats. I was meant to be sitting in on a band practice, only Chico- the main man- hasn’t shown up. I’m severely disappointed. By the sounds of it, Chico is fantastic. Originally Chico was in a Bob Marley tribute band, and then decided to ‘branch out’. Apparently, he’s from ‘the North Side of Dublin, and isn’t as tall as Johnny Cash, but as soon as he’s onstage he puts on the accent and keeps it up afterwards. When we’re onstage, it’s like we’re straight out of Memphis.’ Sans Chico, the other members make up another band- the rockabilly outfit Aces Wild. When the film ‘Walk the Line’ came out, the enterprising Chico suggested forming a Johnny Cash tribute band, and the Folsom Five was born. The ’Five perform songs from all eras of Cash’s career- focusing mainly on the San Quentin and Folsom Prison Sets- with a twenty minute interval, during which they play well known rock and roll songs as Aces Wild. Presumably Chico has a cigarette break at this point. The band has yet to have a negative response to any of their gigs- provided they stick to better-known songs. ‘We spent ages practicing Cash’s version of ‘Hurt’ and then played it at a gig. Dead, it was. You could hear tumbleweed blow across the room. We had to cut ‘Hurt’ in the middle just to keep the tempo going. There’s a band in Scotland and they do anything in the Johnny Cash voice. Union Avenue they’re called. They do ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ or ‘Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me’. Ireland’s not ready for that. Ireland’s very closed-minded.’

Ireland may not yet be ready for such crossover hits as the above, but it’s very accepting of tribute bands, indeed, as are most countries. With ticket prices ever-rising, and tours skipping over cities, countries and continents, a tribute band offers the chance to hear the music of a loved band, in a live setting. Tribute bands first came to prominence in Australia- due to hefty waits between live appearances by the real deal; groups such as the Australian Pink Floyd filled the gap in a prog-rock-hungry market. The first tribute bands are generally acknowledged to be the Rolling Clones (formed in 1979) and the Bootleg Beatles (1980). However, tribute bands are coming to the fore in their own right. This summer, the Tribute to Music Festival was held Verbania Football Stadium, Italy. The festival was a week-long celebration of tribute acts, including appearances from Oasish, Rollin’ Clones and One Night of Queen. Glastonbudget, held on Turnpost Farm, Leicestershire, is the UK equivalent of the Tribute to Music Festival. The combined pun factor inherent in both festivals would support a Christmas cracker joke-writer in mince pies for 100 years. Notable samples include- Fake That, Stereotonics, Razorlike and Pink Fraud. The overt punning can sometimes lead people astray though. Earlier this year, Lez Zeppelin (an all-girl Led Zeppelin tribute band) caused the music press to frantically backpedal. Lez Zep were slated to play at Bonnaroo Festival, only, several music sites-including Associated Newspapers, and in their excitement, failed to read the small print, and presumed it was Plant and Co. What a difference a letter makes…

Not that it matters, of course, that Lez Zeppelin are all female. The important thing in the world of tribute bands, it turns out, is the sound. Kevin Doogan, of Metallica tribute band Frantica, explains- ‘I saw a really good Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band a few years ago, and they looked nothing like them. If you closed your eyes it was like you were at the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s the person’s preference.’ The toss up continually arises between looking like the band, and sounding like the band. It seems though, that it’s an easy choice. Though most groups consider their appearance to a certain degree, a tribute band’s ultimate goal is to recreate faithfully the live experience of the band in question. This often involves more work that one’d think. For example, there are little differences between the studio album and the live album. A studio version of song X fades out in the end, but when playing live, fading out isn’t an option. Therefore, one has to find out what happens when it is played live. It’d be easy to dismiss members of tribute bands as fanboy/girls, and brush off their obsession with capturing exactly every precious note, but to do so would belittle the amount of professionalism and perfectionism that they show. With Frantica, ‘we want to get it note for note right, for our own enjoyment, and for the show. People notice the difference live. I don’t want to have a laugh; I want to get it perfect. We spend ages trying to learn all the small bits, the little harmonies, the bits that you could leave out, but you should leave in because the song wouldn’t be the same without it.’

Bearing this in mind, perhaps the most difficult aspect of playing in a tribute band is trying to re-create, live, the stage presence of the band emulated. Especially when it’s a band as big as U2. Rattle and Hum was the first U2 tribute band in Ireland. Half of them taught in my secondary school. Rattle and Hum that is. Not U2. My entire secondary-school experience is rooted in watching the Business teacher and the English teacher pretend to be Bono and Larry Mullins, respectively, in various venues around Dublin. Except they weren’t pretending, they were being. It’s hard to explain. When they were onstage, we were no longer watching our teachers play music at the weekend, we were watching U2. There’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief inherent in watching a tribute band play, but, really, atmosphere is key. It doesn’t matter how much they look, or sound like the genuine article. If it doesn’t feel the same, it’s always going to be ersatz. How then, do Rattle and Hum recreate the experience of a live U2 show? Michael ‘Bono’ Malone answers: ‘The stage presence is always a challenge because your average pub/club/venue is never going to offer the magic that is an arena like Wembley/Croke Park etc. What we try to put across is a scaled down U2 gig a bit like those MTV unplugged sessions (that were not unplugged) that were all the rage about 15 years ago.’ Uisneagh ‘Larry’ Treacy adjoins- ‘Obviously we don’t have a big stage like they have. We’re limited like that. You try to bring across an energy that the audience can react with. The best gigs are where the audience engages with the band. You try to emulate them [U2]. Your audience dictates what your set list is going to be. We never do exactly the same set. We get a feel for the kind of gig and the audience. You tailor your set to whatever the audience is going to be like. You try and get a mixture of everything. Even if we don’t like it we have to play it. You’d be expected to play them. It’s not necessarily an artistic thing, in order for you to survive as a tribute band you have to sell yourself.’

Aye, there lies the rub. The audience always wins. Like every other band, tribute bands get fed up with their material too. This is- as much as anything else- one of the reasons that tribute bands are so keen to pick up on new material as soon as possible. Frantica have ‘already got the bones of a few songs from the new album (‘Death Magnetic’). Because we’re restricted to stuff that’s already been written, when new stuff comes out it gives us a challenge. I enjoy learning new songs. I reckon people will definitely expect it. If you do play it, it’s going to be a bonus.’ Equally, Rattle and Hum are ‘looking forward to U2’s next album in the spring.’ Though in the case of the Folsom Five there’s no case of any new material surfacing, they content themselves by playing original material in the Aces Wild set in their shows. Are all members of tribute bands failed musicians then, yearning to play their own music, but with the time or the talent? While every band-member that I’ve interviewed had, at some stage, been in an originals band, to make such a claim would be false and unkind. Without sounding cloying or disingenuous, what shines through, above all else, is a genuine love of music. It’s more than a hobby, it’s a lifeline. Despite long hours, ungracious audiences and poor pay, none of them see their bands packing up any time soon. Music is a constant thread in their lives. Be it that of U2-‘we’re all very proud of what we’ve achieved in the band- we never set out to last that long. Rattle and Hum has been a constant thing in all our lives. Every day we just think about the next gig.’ Or Johnny Cash- ‘If we got bored doing it we’d knock it on the head. Even if we weren’t in the band we’d jam anyway. We’re always thinking about it. We’d ring each other about three times a week, before and after the practice, with new ideas or things to change’. Or Metallica- ‘I’ll always be playing music, definitely. I stopped for a while and I had to go back playing. I stopped, but my guitar was always there. I will always play.’


February is looking hella awesome right now. This weekend, there’s a FBB on and I have a wonderful visitor to show around Dublin and hold hands with. Then on Monday, it’s my BIRTHDAY. That’s not the best bit though, on the 21st of February, Katie-Lilga and I are going on a micro-holiday. We’re going to spend 24 whole hours in Cork, doing the following things.

1. Staying in a hotel that not only has 47 guestrooms, 2 ground floor meeting rooms and 11 serviced holiday suites, it also has a heated courtyard garden with a floodlit waterfall. So excited. Here’s a photo of the waterfall:

2. During our whirlwind trip, we plan to visit every single charity shop in Cork that we can. The easiest way to accomplish this is to click here and type in the city that you want. Ovo for us that would be Cork.

3. In the evening, we’re going to go to the Blog Awards. So far, we’ve been nominated for Best Group Blog, Best Fashion Blog and Best Arts and Culture Blog. It’d be swell if we won something, but since we don’t even know how to vote, this seems unlikely.

4. We’d also like to eat well, and this is where y’all come in. Is there anywhere delicious and cheap and lovely to eat breakfast/dinner/cake in Cork city? We’re very fond of eating and cake. Hook us up yo.


Oh oh oh, it’s bulletin point holiday notes time!

1. Ronan Keating was on my flight to Geneva. He walked around a lot on the plane.

2. Geneva’s economy seems to thrive on coffee, and watches, and, apparently George Clooney’s career seems to depend on promoting both those products. George Clooney may well be the King of Geneva.

3. It may come as a surprise to all, but I’m not an adept skiier. I’m not even an ept skiier. Inept doesn’t begin to cover it. The only possible way that I can describe the way that I move when placed upon skiis is to compare it to when one tries to force a domestic animal to have a bath. Legs and arms are in rictus right angle mode, while beady eyes are set on the escape route, at any cost. I was about as graceful as a pig on ice.

4. As I’ve a degree in French, I was designated speaker for the trip (despite everyone else in my family having a moderate to quite good level of French). While I can lovingly lyricize about de Guérin and Flaubert, alas, I do not know the word for ‘snow tyres’. Which lead to beautiful sentences like:
Bonjour, je cherche les, um, trucs, pour notre voiture qui nous laisseraient de, um, bouger, avec vitesse sans danger dans la neige.

5. I read some pretty dreadful novels. Not least one which featured VAMPIRE KILLERS THAT KILL. But only girls that dress like this:
…the killers left her earrings, and a small sapphire in her belly button. We found the clothes: UFO parachute pants, Nikes, Chili Peppers t-shirt

6. I watched some pretty dreadful movies. Including Tomb Raider which which which features blondie doctor from Green Wing. He looks ugly in it though. Very very ginger, and his nose has seen better angles.

7. Geneva airport, ovo under George Clooney’s rule, is the least practical place known to man. The only bottled water available is San Pellegrino, the Duty Free only sells silly types of Bailey’s- and the shops? Hermés, Guess and Cartier. Even the magazines were too much for the likes of me- though I did gaze longingly at the latest Lula.

‘S good to be home though, yeah?

i spent most of my holidays in santa barbara marvelling at how american everything was. such a high level of fascination can only result in one thing…five hundred photos. i shall put them to good use. here begins my photographic tour of isla vista and beyond.

(for harder better faster stronger versions of any images go here.)

in america they have wooden houses. they also have wooden houses in other countries. the wooden house above is in iv, or isla vista, a place where students go to live, drink, party, surf, party, vomit, eat, party, and get arrested by the iv foot patrol for possession of alcohol on the streets. in fields like the one above, they may also get harassed by skunks and/or raccoons, or merely hang their washing out to dry.

stearn’s wharf is one of the most popular tourist attractions in santa barbara. at the very end you will find overpriced and average tasting ice cream, clam chowder, and a candy store. not a sweet shop. a candy store. at the beginning of the wharf, if you direct your squinting eyes (the sun is out) to the right, you will see an example of one homeless santa barbaran’s innovative nature (or alternatively you could just look at photo two in this post). throw a quarter in the dish and make a wish. your wish will almost definitely not come true but you will have provided one homeless person with enough money to get the shuttle back up state street to visit another entertaining tourist attraction, the ratcatdogman.

the ratcatdogman (image 3, above) can be found on state street and, i’m sure, beyond. mtv’s super sweet sixteeners, take note, this man has a party trick that will blow your excited little minds and see you scrambling for your parents’ cheque book, or pockets full of loose change. his three companions, yes you’ve guessed right, the rat, the cat, and the dog, perform a daring balancing trick in which the rat remains on the cats back while the cat lies or stands on the dog. shopowners provide the dog with water while panda express, as seen in this photo, provides the orange chicken. panda express, which can be found in the Paseo Nuevo mall, is scrumptious and filling and often enjoyed by the employees of Captain Jack’s Tours and Stuff kiosk, also located in the mall, on hangover days. visit the kiosk to stock up on all your essential pirate accessories, hand dyed shirts and dresses and to get information on a range of reasonably priced tours.

more to come friends and foes.