On December 17th last year Brian Faloon, the original drummer from Stiff Little Fingers, the drummer on the classic album Inflammable Material, strapped on, in this case, his Djembe for the last time in Northern Ireland, leaving a few days later for a new life in America.
There was a good crowd it has to be said at Lavery’s open mic, unquestionably the best open mic in Belfast, and lots of people who had worked with Brian over the last few years were there to see him off.
There were political activists (he stood in the 2011 Assembly Elections against public sector cuts and the austerity budget), anti racism activists (he set up Love Music Hate Racism Northern Ireland in 2004) the Platform Fashion Show organisers, (he supported the Platform venture from the beginning) a few fans from the local music scene and the odd local musician; but there were no write ups in the local press or local music magazines, and websites or blogs which discuss what is happening locally certainly wouldn’t have given a second thought to Brian’s departure. This despite the fact that Stiff Little Fingers are generally revered and revered particularly because of the album that Brian was associated with.
Brian would not have been the least bit concerned about this but the question that might have been asked, and would have been worthy of discussion, is what has Brian taken with him that might be missed? There are many traits worth elaborating on and anyone who has read the excellent Stiff Little Fingers Biography “Kicking up a Racket,” will know that the writer suggests that Brian’s attributes were vital in the initial development of the group, but a few things of note are worth examination.
The first is Brian’s attitude to music in all avenues, writing, performing and listening.
If you listened to Brian’s radio show on Feile FM you would have been regaled, subjected to a vast array of music, from one note excursions replete with atonal chanting from the Sudan, (I once texted the radio show to beg that this be taken off the airwaves my nerves strained to breaking point after what I thought was the first song playing still after 40 minutes – I was informed that I needed to learn to be patient), African polyrhythm’s, Iraqi chanting (in my opinion almost as brutal as the Sudanese material), reggae, dancehall, pop, punk, jazz, country, there were few styles or even obscure musical forms that were not given a guernsey on Brian’s show. He was constantly on the lookout for interesting sounds and music people might not otherwise hear.
Attending festivals was an experience in and of itself, wandering from Explosions in the Sky, to Madness, to Baraka Som Systema, to Brian Wilson, to Damien Dempsey, to an African drum circle at the World Music area, to the Jazz area and finally to the Body and Soul section was standard fare.
You might say that is what everyone does, but Brian would have been arguing the toss about the relevance of each group as you moved on to the next one. He listened to music, immersed himself in it. And he always wanted to discuss it, what was happening, how were things being achieved, how did things fit together, how did issues, writing, playing, promoting, record companies, television, social media all fit together, how did it compare to the past. What was different, what was the same, what was worth saving, what was worth kicking to the kerb? That immersion, that attitude, carried through to performance.
Ring him up an hour before an open mic, which was bound to be dominated by people performing a relentless array of badly delivered cover versions, let alone that when new music was on offer it was projected through a subpar sound system and he would be up for it. Brian always wanted to play,
A visit to a heavy metal bar in Edmonton, where apparently it might not be safe for non locals ended in a jam session with a group of metal heads playing reggae infused with phsychadelia, Brian on the double kick drum, 17 tom ensemble. A rare treat indeed.
And he always wanted to play hard, to take the crowd on and win them, not cajole them, not pander to them, but to go out and win people to the music, or “spoken word, Rough-house, tribal fusion” which Scream Blue Murmur, the group Brian has played with for the last 2 years, are purveyors of.
In Scream, Brian was a drummer, percussionist, harmony vocalist, songwriter (a little known and nowhere near thoroughly enough explored avenue in his “creative arsenal”) and calming influence. He was part of three tours to the United States, touring from Minneapolis all the way to Edmonton in Canada and back again, in 2010, playing New Orleans in the same year and Minneapolis again in 2011.
The most important legacy though is an attitude, music might be fun, might be enjoyable, might be hardy, it might be frivolous, dominating, loud, sensual, or light-hearted, any of those things but it must have purpose.
In a recent conversation, Brian was asking someone about their tastes in music, and after a frustrating discussion, cut to the chase, “Who is it that you recommend to people?”
As each group pr performer was put forward you could hear Brian waxing on as to why that group mattered, why a person might pick one group over another, because music with a purpose matters, that it was more than just chords, or notes or words memorised and sang over backing tracks because songs need lyrics.
Did the words, does the music have purpose? On what level does it connect? That isn’t to say in Brian’s view there has to be agitprop or nothing but rather that he thought you played to move the crowd to you, away from you, around you and then back to you again. That it isn’t easy listening, bland, lifeless, divorced from essential elements of life around you.
So, Coltrane and Eno get a guernsey, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Arcade Fire, Nick Cave, Burial, Tinariwen, Sigur Ros, Marley, Culture, Peter Tosh, Lee Perry, Augustus Pablo, Ry Cooder, Woodie Guthrie and locally, Balkan Alien Sound, the Bonnevilles, Here Come the Landed Gentry, Axis Of, Driving by Night, Tracer AMC, Sons of Robert Mitchum, Team Fresh, Driving by Night and Rassie Ai. Just before he left he was demanding of everyone he knew that the must watch documentary was the one detailing the career of Public Enemy; if memory serves me correctly the text went out just after 2.30am.
Brian connected us to the past but he didn’t live in it and he certainly wasn’t interested in repeating it. All the attributes which were documented in the Stiff Little Fingers biography are still evident now, but just like his drumming his ideas have developed, and presumably when he is playing in groups in the US with that sprawling, untrained style, sometimes reminiscent of the Velvets, sometimes Sunsplash, sometimes Jazz riffs, sometimes metronomic electronica, sometimes brutalising a hand drum, people will benefit from the linkages of what went before and that questioning commitment to the contemporary and beyond, and if we have to be frank there isn’t enough of that around anywhere.
Gordon Hewitt, Scream Blue Murmur