‘We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring’

I speak to songwriting duo O’Connell & Love to find out how a stormy winter week in Hastings, afternoon drinking, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings and some serious hangovers all helped to create one of the best albums of the year…

 

Larry Love and Brendan O'Connell

Larry Love and Brendan O’Connell

 

Minesweeping – the new record by O’Connell & Love – is one of the most eclectic and richly rewarding albums of 2015.

A collaboration between Larry Love, the lead singer of South London country-blues-gospel-electronica outlaws Alabama 3 and songwriting partner Brendan O’Connell, it’s a hung-over road trip through the badlands, stopping to pick up some hitchhikers on the way – namely guest vocalists Rumer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, June Miles-Kingston, Tenor Fly and Pete Doherty.

It opens with the moody, Cash-like, acoustic death row ballad, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock, visits Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood territory for the drunken, playful duet Hangover Me (feat. Rumer), travels across Europe for the sublime, blissed-out, Stonesy country-soul of  It Was The Sweetest Thing, hangs out by the riverside for the gorgeous pastoral folk of Shake Off Your Shoes (feat.Rumer) and heads out to the ocean for the Celtic sea shanty-inspired Where Silence Meets The Sea.

An album that wears its influences on the sleeve of its beer-stained shirt, there are nods to late ‘70s Dylan (The Man Inside The Mask), Motown (Love Is Like A Rolling Stone – feat.Tenor Fly ), Leonard Cohen (Come On, Boy – feat. Junes Miles-Kingston) and The Band (If It’s Not Broken).

MID cover

The essence of the album came together when you were holed up in the Sussex seaside town of Hastings, writing songs one stormy week in winter. Can you tell me more about that time? What was the writing and recording process for the record like?

Larry Love: What was interesting with Minesweeping was the use of hangovers in the recording process. Brendan was financing the project and, basically, at the end of the night, we’d chuck some drunken ideas down, but the most important stuff was done in the morning after. I knew that unless I did some songs in the morning, Brendan wouldn’t buy me a pint in the afternoon.

We’re pretty quick at getting ideas down. We’re too long in the tooth to fuck around, in terms of working out structures and the basic platforms of rock and roll.

We’re not meandering around like 17-year-olds, listening to fucking Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Ann Peebles records, trying to work out what the formula is. We have our formula very organised.

If anything, we had too many ideas – the challenge was to get them to coalesce. Hopefully that comes across on the record. It has a certain homogenous quality to it.

It does – it feels like a complete album, from start to finish. 

You’ve said that the album was seven years in the making, due to other commitments… Were all of the songs written during that week you spent in Hastings?

Brendan O’Connell: A couple came after that and some had been hanging around for years.

You might recycle an idea that you tried to write 25 years ago, but that never really came to anything. You leave it and then come back to it years later, use it with someone else’s idea and it suddenly gets finished.

You might have an idea where the verse is really good, but you can’t get the next bit together… Then one day it suddenly comes from somewhere and you know it’s right.

LL: It was a bit like a pit bull that gets impregnated by a breeder. Eight little puppies come out and you think all the litter has been delivered. Then another five arrive two weeks later, in the ectoplasm!

So, Brendan, do you bring your musical ideas to Larry?

BO’C: Yes – some chords and a melody.

LL: A lot of them he might find in a charity shop. Sometimes the clothes don’t fit on that particular day – especially as you get older…

Lyrically, the album has a recurring nautical theme running through it…

BO’C: That must’ve come from Hastings.

The record was produced by Greg Fleming – aka Wizard – who’s worked with the Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal and Chase & Status.Why did you choose to use a dance music producer on a country, blues and folk album?

LL: I really liked Rick Rubin’s recordings with Johnny Cash.

What did Greg Fleming bring to the record?

LL: He brought cynicism, pessimism and downright depressiveness to it because he’s generally used to doing this: (Larry suddenly makes loud, squelching dance music noises with his mouth!)

Any good stories from the recording sessions?

LL: Far too many – they generally involved me having rows with Brendan, who said I was irresponsible for staying up all night drunk. But, over the years, he has accepted that me getting drunk does add to the joie de vivre.

There are quite a few special guests on the album, including Buffy Saint-Marie, Pete Doherty and Rumer. How did you come to work with them?

LL: Whatever technology has taken away from us as musicians in terms of revenue, it’s also opened up many doors for collaborations – it’s not like you have to have a long, drawn-out scenario where you have to have everyone together in the same studio.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album – Power In The Blood – was named after a song I wrote. I went to see her when Morrissey was curating Meltdown at the South Bank [in 2004] and I got invited backstage. I asked her if she fancied doing a song.

I’ve known Pete Doherty for years – he used to come and see Alabama 3 gigs back in the day. I got hold of his manager and said, ‘He fucking owes us one, so Pete, get down here.’

B’OC: We knew Rumer from Brixton, but she disappeared off to America and became a big star. My brother bumped into her in the street – she was a fan of the album we did before this one [Ghost Flight – released in 2006, under the name Robert Love] and she was keen to come and sing on a few songs.

 

Let’s talk about some of the songs from the new record. The opener, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds like Johnny Cash…

LL: I thought you said Clash! Yeah – what Rick Rubin did at the end of Johnny Cash’s career was very inspiring. It’s the same as when Bob Dylan worked with Daniel Lanois. Grizzled voices and ‘hip-hop’ production.

BO’C: To me, Like A Wave Breaks On A Rock sounds Spanish, rather than country, but Larry’s voice sounds like Cash.

LL: It has a ‘you’re on death row’ kind of vibe – I used to know someone who was on death row and I got quite involved with the campaign to release Albert Woodfox, who was from the Angola Three. He was one of the longest incarcerated members of The Black Panthers. It was around that time that I wrote the song. He was waiting on death row for years, but he’s now been reprieved.

 

 

One of my favourite songs on the album is Hangover Me, featuring Rumer. It has a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood feel to it…

LL: Yeah – it ended up that way. We wrote it with Seggs Jennings (The Ruts DC), with hangovers. It nails our colours to the mast. We love hangovers – they’re very inspiring.

It was originally called The Ballad of Martin Lambert and was written about a friend of ours who died from a morphine overdose on Christmas Day at his mother’s. It was a tragic way to go. I sang at his funeral. We surround ourselves with people who are on the edge – they’re not living comfortable lives and selling houses to fucking yuppies.

 

 

The track It Was The Sweetest Thing has a great Stonesy country-soul swagger… It’s a good story song – a tale of lovers embarking on a European adventure…

LL: Lyrically, it’s about the inevitable nostalgia that comes from when you’ve lost something that you realise you should’ve held on to. I like to think that I’ve lost a lot of things I should never have lost and found things I should never have found…

BO’C: Or that you never deserved to have in the first place.

LL: Exactly. I had an Italian girlfriend, but things didn’t work out. I’d never been to Europe before – I flew to Bologna with a pocketful of Ecstasy! I didn’t know you couldn’t take it on the plane. It was inspired by that – as lovers, you can traverse continents.

In this day and age, with the refugee crisis, love does transcend boundaries. The nature of the song implies that we went everywhere, looking for love, but, ultimately, we found it nowhere.

The Man Inside The Mask, which started out as a very long poem, reminds me of late ‘70s Dylan…

BO’C: When I first played it on my own and sang some of the words from the poem, I thought it was going to end up sounding like Leonard Cohen, but it turned out quite Dylanish…

Let’s go back to your roots. How did you meet and start writing songs together?

LL: About 20 years ago, I was a recovering heroin addict. I haven’t done it since – touch wood. Brendan was in a band called Past Caring – I thought they were very innovative. If you’re familiar with narcotic withdrawal, it’s quite highly sensitised. I was in an Irish bar called Brady’s and I was really impressed by the strength and the quality of Brendan and the band’s performance. I used to sing Uncertain Harbour [the penultimate song on Minesweeping] as a guest vocalist. We were both habitués of South Londonwe knew the same pubs and the same problems.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

LL: We’re letting the album gestate in people’s minds. I’m busy – I’ve got an Alabama 3 tour in October/November. We’re looking at doing an O’Connell & Love tour in January/February – up and down the country, with some skirmishes in-between. We’re definitely taking the band out on the road.

BO’C: And we’re writing some more songs.

LL: We’re going to do the next album in seven days – like the Lord. Doing Minesweeping has given us more confidence for the next phase. I don’t think it will have a nautical theme – it will be rain and Northern towns.

So, finally, what’s the secret of writing a great country song?

LL: Get a bad woman and a good hangover.

MID o connell and love band

 

Minesweeping is out now on Mountmellick Music.

http://www.oconnellandlove.com

For Your Ears Only

Photo credit: Krystnya Fitzgerald-Morris

Mark O’Connell. Photo by Krystyna FitzGerald-Morris

With Sam Smith announced as the performer of the new Bond song Writing’s On The Wall, for the latest 007 film, Spectre, I ask Mark O’Connell, author of Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan – to choose his favourite Bond songs and soundtracks and I find out why he thinks Quantum of Solace is Daniel Craig’s best Bond film…

Sitting in the bar of the British Film Institute on London’s South Bank, it’s the perfect day to be chatting to writer Mark O’Connell, author of the book Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan.

Tickets for the latest Bond blockbuster, Spectre, have just gone on sale and Sam Smith has announced that he’s singing the song for the new film.

It’s as if all the elements of my fiendish plot have come together. Yes, Mr O’Connell – I expect you to talk…

What do you think of Sam Smith as the choice for performing the new Bond song and what sort of track are you hoping for?

Mark O’Connell: After Adele’s award-scooping turn performing Skyfall, it makes utter sense that Sam Smith follows it up with his take on a Bond song. He is an industry and audience favourite who – like Adele – is at the peak of his game when singing a Bond theme tune.

The tradition tends to be stars and names that aren’t in their first flourish of career success. But Sam Smith, and Adele before him, prove that rule is very much worth breaking. I imagine the song will be quite pared-down and not too showy, but anthemic where it counts.

Sam Smith is the first British male solo artist for 50 years to sing a Bond tune, the first out gay singer and one of the youngest performers to get the gig. He is still only 23 years old. So he was three when Goldeneye came out – ouch!

I would also put money on Sam Smith winning the Best Song Oscar at next year’s Academy Awards.

Which other artists would you most like to see record a Bond song?

MO’C: London Grammar, Goldfrapp, Kylie Minogue – I’d like to hear a new disco Bond track – but, above all, Depeche Mode. There was a rumour that they were going to do the song for The World Is Not Enough. Dave Gahan [from Depeche Mode] did a solo track called Kingdom and I thought to myself, ‘why is this not a Bond song?’

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What are your favourite Bond songs?

MO’C: I’ve always liked Diamonds Are Forever – I think it’s really sexy – a one o’clock in the morning, sultry song – it’s dirty.

I’m also a big fan of the k.d. lang song Surrender, which was used in the end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies. I just think it’s a really good song. I’m not always a big fan of David Arnold’s songs, but I think that one really worked, having the cache of [lyricist] Don Black.

All Time High [from Octopussy] is a beautiful piece of music – it’s autumnal and has lovely lyrics. I like the Bond songs that don’t sound like Bond songs. I think all the best Bond songs don’t initially sound like Bond songs.

You Only Live Twice is a beautiful, rolling song – it works so well in the film. In recent years, the tunes haven’t been incorporated in the films as much. For me, the best Bond song is A View To A Kill by Duran Duran – for all the obvious reasons.

I was nine years old when A View To A Kill came out [in 1985] – for me, it was the first time a Bond song felt contemporary and current. I really love that song, but half of it makes no sense and the lyrics don’t scan that well….

A View To A Kill is my favourite Bond film, but it’s not the best one. I think the best Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and it has the best soundtrack – it’s melodic and melancholic at the same time. It’s quite sinister and foreboding as well –there’s a sci-fi B movie vibe going on with the Moog synthesizers. I love the track Journey to Blofeld’s Hideaway – I had it played at my wedding, when everyone was taking their seats. Only a few people knew what it was.

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The soundtrack from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not an obvious choice to be played at a wedding – it does have macabre connotations, as Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is killed in the film…

MO’C: I did think that we couldn’t use that music, as it meant that one of us had to die. But no one got shot at the wedding – there were just a few dodgy cab rides home.

I also love the track Wine With Stacey [from A View To A Kill] – I had it played on a violin at my wedding. It’s a great piece of music.

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And what about your least favourite Bond songs…

MO’C: My least favourite is Sheryl Crow’s Tomorrow Never Dies. It is a whiny lament about cars breaking down or something. Well, it certainly sounds like someone who cannot get a lift home in the middle of nowhere. It is too on the nose. No Bond song should ever mention “Martini, girls and guns”.

I suppose A-ha’s The Living Daylights hasn’t aged that well in hindsight, but it was fine at the time.

I find it hard to hate any of the Bond songs. I don’t even mind Alicia Keys and Jack White’s spin of the title song wheel. It works with the titles [of Quantum of Solace], which, for me, is where a Bond song has to work first and foremost.

I get shot down for this, but I’m no fan either of Eric Serra’s The Experience of Love [from Goldeneye] or Scott Walker’s – mostly unused – song from The World Is Not Enough, Only Myself To Blame. Sometimes a song is not used for good reason.

Goldfinger is my favourite Bond song – it set the blueprint for what a Bond song should sound like… I also like From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, You Only Live Twice and Thunderball.

MO’C: I didn’t used to like Goldfinger as a song – I thought it was too obvious. But it’s actually a really good piece of music.

Did you like Thomas Newman’s soundtrack for Skyfall?

MO’C: I did. I love the track New Digs and the music when Bond and M are driving through the Highlands – it’s melancholy. Thomas Newman does Americana very well and I was curious to see if he could adapt to that British Bond template – I think he did all right. A lot of Bond music fans, who tend to be very John Barry minded, came down on Newman big time. They said they couldn’t play his soundtrack in the car… It worked in the film, so that’s all it needs to do. It was fine and I’m curious to see what he does with the next one [Spectre]. Whereas Skyfall was quite classical – a mahogany Bond film with libraries and the [British] Empire – now [with Spectre], we’ve got Morocco and Mexico….

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I loved Skyfall – it’s a good film before it’s a good Bond film and that’s rare. It’s got a few plot holes, but you show me any film – or Bond film – that hasn’t. I like its whole Britishness – it caught the zeitgeist, with the Olympics, the Jubilee, the Union Jack and London 2012. I always wanted to see a Bond film that was predominantly set in London and the UK.

Are you looking forward to Spectre? 

MO’C: I love that Sam Mendes is directing again and there’s obviously some faith in the script. Will it be as successful as Skyfall? Who knows? The wind got under the wings of Skyfall... With Skyfall, it felt like an event. I remember hearing builders whistling the tune.

I’m a big fan of Quantum of Solace – Daniel Craig’s second outing as Bond, which met with a lot of criticism when it came out. Where do you stand on that?

MO’C: I like it – it’s Daniel Craig’s best Bond film! I like the way that it’s a sequel to Casino Royale and it’s a stepping stone in-between Casino Royale and Skyfall. If Casino Royale was a slap in the face, then Quantum of Solace is the bruise you get afterwards. There’s a sadness and a melancholy to it – it makes no sense at some points – but I think Spectre may be kind to Quantum of Solace… 

When I first saw Quantum of Solace, I came out of the cinema feeling elated – it was like a ’70s thriller, like The Parallax View. There was a real pace to it. I need to go back to it – I will try and watch the Craig films again before Spectre comes out.

Spectre

There’s a suggestion that Spectre may be Daniel Craig’s last Bond film. Who would you like to see play Bond next? Will the producers have to reboot the franchise once more?

MO’C: I think every Bond film is a reboot – there’s been three reboots with Daniel Craig…. I think the next Bond will be an unknown – a proper actor that Barbara Broccoli’s had her eye on for a while. She scours the theatre world. Daniel Craig came from an indie film – Layer Cake.

I would not dismiss Henry Cavill – although I  may have changed my mind after seeing The Man From U.N.C.L.E – and I’d love to see Michael Fassbender do it, but I think he’s too old and has too much of a Richard Burton / Richard Harris screen presence, which is not quite Bond.

I also wouldn’t dismiss Nicholas Hoult and Dan Stevens and I’d love to see Tom Hardy do it, but he’s had a few personal demons, which maybe wouldn’t sit too well with the whole press thing – Bond has to be an ambassador for the British film industry. It’s a hard one. I wouldn’t want to have to recast it – I think Craig might end up doing another one.

What’s your view on the whole ‘black Bond’ debate? Anthony Horowitz, author of the new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, recently caused controversy when he said that black actor Idris Elba was ‘too street’ to play Bond. He was forced to issue an apology…

MO’C: I don’t think he needed to apologise – there was a PR machine seizing the moment for the launch of the book. I actually find it really racist when people say  ‘can we have a black Bond? Should it be Idris Elba?’ There were other black actors in the ’60s other than Sidney Poitier…

I have no problem with whatever race or background Bond is, but I do think he needs to be British.

Catching Bullets

Catching Bullets – Memoirs of a Bond Fan by Mark O’Connell is out now, published by Splendid Books.

For more information, please visit: http://markoconnell.co.uk