- 03 Dec 20
In response to the pandemic, and the clampdown on live music, Irish vocal maestro Jack L began a series of Facebook live streams. He ended up with an album featuring fifteen songs from the world’s greatest songwriters – plus a recording debut for his 81 year-old father, Sean Loughman. In the first in an occasional series, In Their Own Words, the artist himself tells the story behind this very special release... Portrait by kathrin baumbach
"Streamed” Best of the Lockdown Sessions Vol 1 is a wee impromptu album with a long title to mark these strange days we are all experiencing.
I should have put a question mark after Vol 1? – to imply a cliffhanger effect as to what the future might hold – but right now I figure, we don’t need any more excitement.
The album is a culmination of 200 or so songs learnt and performed over the initial apocalyptic paper towel-buying beginnings of the pandemic. It was whittled down to 15 of the best for the final album. Getting there involved taking a very different kind of journey – while remaining more or less in the same place throughout.
AROUND A DIGITAL CAMPFIRE
When everything shut down last March, I had several tours cancelled. I was, like many others, left in a musical bardo. Outside of my own re-scheduled tours, several sweet opening slots with Jools Holland R+B Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall and Sting in Germany, to name-drop only a few, were put on hold.
What to do?
With a large gigging hole in my soul and calendar and with the silence so loud I decided to embrace the online live concert experience every Saturday night at 8pm on Facebook having avoided the medium for years.
It was an odd experience in the beginning, performing without an audience. Still, I began to think of it just like doing a vocal on a studio album when you have to find the centre of the song and give it your all with no response in the room. So a flow was established – and as with all things tuneful, a scaffolding erected in the imagination to build upon. Singing and playing is a pretty spiritual and joyful physical act on its own.
Still, with an audience engaged, it is far more potent medicine – although, finishing the first show and turning off the live stream, I was left in a quiet room alone thinking “That was a peculiar dream.”
I was genuinely shocked and moved when I eventually got to look at the phone and a global audience was tuning in. It was like almost everybody I ever met on the planet, and their nearest and dearest, watching and leaving beautiful messages of support and inspiration. Saying how much it meant to have music to get lost in and basically having something to look forward to each week. It was clear that music still had its powerful magic.
I was pleased to see that the felt presence of immediate experience was even still possible: we just love to experience something happening live in real-time in a shared communal way. This was us, sitting around a digital campfire, telling stories and singing songs and trying to make sense of the world. This was really heartwarming for this old chunk of coal.
RECORDING DEBUT AT 81
Initially, the shows consisted of performing my own original material. Still, after a couple of shows, I decided to delve into different artists every week. Hence I began learning songs I’d loved for years.
First up was the great Canadian songsmith Leonard Cohen. I’ve always wanted to do a Cohen show, and this was the perfect opportunity to learn some of the greatest songs ever crafted by the master. So with the songbook rolling, Bowie was tackled, Johnny Cash was wrestled, Beatle vs Stones was a draw, and Dylan kicked my head in. I even did an 80s night for everyone’s perverted pleasure, giving birth to the current radio single ‘Somewhere in My Heart’ – the old Aztec Camera classic. It’s a song Ian Dempsey would play on the radio in the morning in the 80s, and I’d sing it, cycling to school freezing. Literally, frost in my gruaig!
The album was one of the most fun ones I’ve made; and it was indeed a communal experience, having folks suggest their favourite songs and putting people’s names on the inlay card who pre-ordered. The tracks have a live and intimate feel because they were done in real-time, and the turnover was quick, like an old-school record. I recorded it myself at home, and it was mixed by the Greek audio wizard Vasileios Gourgourinis, putting a slight touch of production on it as only a master craftsman can.
I was delighted to include a couple of tracks featuring me Da, Sean Loughman, singing also. His love of music and singing has always been a great inspiration. He is now recovering from a stroke and coming back stronger every day. So it’s great to have these takes of his fantastic voice, which I re-discovered whilst looking through an old Soundcloud of recordings that we did one day for some fun.
Making your recording debut at 81 is about as hip and cool as it gets. He pretty much steals the album with a one-take wonder version of ‘Young at Heart’.
I’m delighted that an album, and something positive, was wrought from the furnace of the madness of now. And cyberdelic space bore some fruit in all the chaos. I find the best thing to do is keep busy in these times and in life in general. Keep moving. There’s always time to relax.
Stay creative. Grass doesn’t grow on a busy road, and sitting around pondering the universe on the couch can wear on the ceann. I’ve also been trying to brush up on my Irish. It is a masterful language I’ll never master but will seasfaidh siad.
POWER TO TAKE IT BACK
The album is only available from my website on CD and download format. Streaming services are killing the music business. It is a music lover’s heaven, but a music maker’s hell. Nobody wants to hear about it. Bakers get paid for the bread, baristas get paid for making coffee, but musicians are expected to make music for free in a capitalist society. Nobody wants to hear about it.
The genie may be out of the bottle, but nothing’s impossible. With touring not happening. Musicians really should take a stand and remove themselves from the streaming services and become their own cottage industries on their websites. If this became a standardised model, I think it could preserve the art. It would have to be led by the big guns, but I don’t imagine it happening anytime soon. Its apparent musicians have the power but not the organisation or unity of purpose.
Musicians have the power to take it back.
Those of us who lived through the golden age of physical copies, know that a big ceremony has been lost in the fine art of listening to an album and reading sleevenotes. Of course, many don’t care, and with a generation now used to free music I’m probably just the old man shouting in a forest.
Anyway, this current album has many fine trees for you to climb, with some of the most fantastic tunes ever written featuring thereon. I was thrilled to get ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘Wild is the Wind’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’, ‘Masters of War’, ‘Smoke Stack Lightning’ and many more onto a record.
So you know where to find me at 8 o’clock on a Saturday Night. Pop by and say Hi on Facebook and sing along. I can hear you in my head and heart.
Welcome one and all.
• Jack L’s “Streamed” Best of the Lockdown Sessions Vol 1 is out now.