There are survivors and there are survivors. Travelling along the same time path and flightplan as U2, electro-pop pioneers Depeche Mode have come through the actual ravages of 35 years as a group reasonably intact. A little history might be useful: skipping out of Basildon, Essex, in the late 70s as a quartet of working class, cherub-faced teenagers – their songcraft sculpted by synthesizers rather than guitars, influenced by pop rather than post-punk – their first hits were bright synth-pop tunes, penned by original member Vince Clarke.
Now there’s a question: what would 15-year-old drug dealer, face smasher, cheeky little council estate skanger Ben Drew think of 28-year-old singer, songwriter, screenwriter, actor, director Plan B? Tired eyes squint in my direction. There is little hesitation: “He’d think he was the bomb.” Myself and Benjamin Paul Ballance-Drew are relaxing backstage.
“What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me?” This is a line from Black Sabbath, the signature tune of the immensely successful 1970s Mogadon-driven heavy metal band of the same name. The band’s former lead singer, Ozzy (John) Osbourne – who sang these very lines before continuing with “oh, no, no, please God help me” – is standing before me, a figure in black which is pointing at me.
There are two beginnings to this Britney Spears experience, and they are both salutary. The first arrived from an unexpected place. One of rock music’s most famous photographers, Pennie Smith, a sincere, respectful and grounded person who has captured the images of countless famous musicians and singers over the course of the past 30 years, was asked recently what would she do if she were requested to take photos of Britney Spears.
She’s been known to moan about her lot in the record music industry, but Aimee Mann is, possibly more than most, justified in making her continual barbed statements: fact is, she has been well and truly shafted. Since her days in US pop/rock band ‘Til Tuesday in the late 1980s, Mann has released solo album after solo album that almost defy the meaning of the term ‘quality control’.
“If one hopes to live a long life then one can look back and think that so many years have passed, but I’ve done so much in the past 40 years. I’ve produced work, produced children, I keep working, I keep trying to live in the present, and staying healthy.
Of any Irish band of the past five years you can think of it is only Villagers that have managed to tick all the boxes. Slinky and sinuous? That’d be bass player Danny Snow and the way his body movement oozes Sylverin-like signatures.
She is, let there be no shilly-shallying about it, one of the most adventurous musicians that Ireland has ever produced. We’re not just talking about Julie Feeney the performer and the way she might wear an outlandish hat; or Julie Feeney the singer and the way she might quiver a quaver in your general direction.