Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Glen Hansard, The Frames, Once, Marketa Irglova and The Swell Season

It seems odd that Ireland's Glen Hansard has only popped up once on the blog. For someone who has ploughed his own honest furrow since about 1991, with the spectacularly underrated The Frames, and more recently with the Once soundtrack and The Swell Season, I'm not sure he gets the praise that 20 years of decent/excellent/outstanding music should merit. From the streets of Dublin, busking, to supporting Dylan, here is Glen Hansard, who I think seems like a very genuine bloke who you might have a pint with, interviewed in 2007.

Outspan Foster is a name that probably haunts Hansard as it is the name of the character he played in the 1991 Commitments film. He has said many times that he regrets taking the part, although with an oscar in his pocket from his song Falling Slowly in 2008 his regrets may have eased somewhat.

The Frames first album Another Love Song came out in '91 and, I must admit, it passed me by. I honestly think the songs are swamped on it, although Masquerade, one of the two singles taken from it, is probably my favourite.

It took the band till '95 to put out another album, the excellent Fitzcarraldo, named after the Werner Herzog film of the same name (there were singles and an EP inbetween). The album, in my view, contains two songs that are so good, that if Hansard had never done anything else ever again then he could have dined out on the quality of Revelate and Red Chord for the rest of his days. The best version of Red Chord I've ever heard is an acoustic version from a radio show, which I used to have on cassette, which somehow got lost in the multiple moves back and forward between England and Chile over the last few years. To my complete joy, someone put it on YouTube, and I was the 457th person to watch it.

On the same above mentioned radio show there was a great version of the Candi Staton discotastic classic Young Hearts Run Free, and as it happens, The Swell Season have recorded it and it's available as a free download from Levi's (don't ask me why Levi's). Click here for more information.
Revelate has been featured on the blog already (click here for the post Albums of the Noughties)

On we go to Dance the Devil from 1999 and this time I'm going with Pavement Tune, the live version of which I once saw sounds completely different.

Again, on this album, there is a song worthy of any other, Star Star.

On to 2001 and the album voted Best Irish Album Released between 1999 and 2009 by the CLUAS website (lending an ear to the Irish music scene) - For the Birds. Things seemed to fall into place for this album. It's an album of maturity, confidence and quality songs. As the CLUAS reviewer puts it "a record whose bones were honest". Steve Albini produced part of it. Pitchfork called the album "a unique and enjoyable album". The stand out songs for me are Lay Me Down and What Happens When the Heart Just Stops, which the Swell Season (Hansard's latest incarnation with Marketa Irglova) revisited later.

A year later, 2002, saw The Frames follow up For the Birds with their first live album, Breadcrumb Trail, notable for the inclusion of a certain Marketa Irglova. The album was recorded in the Czech Republic and came out on the bands own label. Allmusic gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
Another live album, Set List follwed in 2002, a much stronger set, recorded over four nights in Dublin in front of an adoring crowd. Hansard has some good chat between the songs and, in true Frames fashion, one song may well include bits of other songs you might recognise. Listen out for a bit of Bob Marley or Johnny Cash during this album.
Here are two knocked into one from Set List.

Burn the Maps came out on the excellent anti label (Mavis Staples, Neko Case, Tom Waits) in 2004 and gave the band their first number one album in Ireland. Yet again, although not to my surprise, they conjured up a good album that included a top drawer song in the shape of the bitter, twisted, angry Fake.

Read an interview with Glen Hansard from 2005 by clicking here.

It's from this point on that it all gets a bit confusing, a bit Hollywood, and pretty damn successful. In 2006 Hansard appeared in the indie film Once, written and directed by John Carney, one time bass player with The Frames during the early 90's. The film, shot for about $160.000 tells the story of a thirty-something Dublin busker, played by Glen Hansard. Most of the music was written by Hansard and Irglova, with some of it having already featured in different versions on The Frames The Cost album as well as the debut cd by Hansard and Irglova as The Swell Season.

In an interview with Pitchfork in 2008 Hansard said this
"We put this record out first as the Swell Season because honestly we didn't think John's film would get released. Honestly. We weren't depending on any company to back us. We made the thing for nothing. It didn't look great or sound great, and the film hasn't changed. It still doesn't look great or sound great! [laughs] Obviously, what we've learned and are beginning to accept is that it has something. A lot of people have gone to see it, and talked about it, which is wonderful. But when John originally suggested we put it out as the Once soundtrack, I was like, dude, the film's not even going to come out! I'm just putting these songs out because I don't want them lying around. We put out The Swell Season, and The Swell Season sold 300 copies. I couldn't believe it. In Ireland, even the Frames records sell ten, 15,000 copies. Which is a respectable number of records for a band doing it themselves. We were very happy with that. But I couldn't believe that this record I put out with Mar, that I was really proud of, only sold 300. Then six months or a year later it gets re-released as the Once record. Four days ago I just heard that it went gold over here. That's half a million fucking records! That's insane! That is fucking insane. And all we did was change the cover [laughs].

By 2007 the film had been accepted into the Sundance film festival (after initially being rejected), and the original plan of just showing it around Ireland, with a few songs after the movie, had to be re-thought. The song Falling Slowly began to get attention and was nominated for an Academy Award (that's an Oscar, dummy) for Best Original Song. Here they are performing it on David Letterman.

So, off they went to the Oscars in 2008 and only went and won it. Here's a bit on the film.

Irglova was famously drowned out by the orchestra just as she leant forward to say her thank yous after being presented with an Oscar. Following the break she was asked by John Stewart to come back out on stage for her moment of glory. Click here to see what happened.

Much was made of the chemistry between the two in the movie. Given the fact that Hansard said this "I had been falling in love with her for a long time, but I kept telling myself she's just a kid" it wasn't a surprise it came through on film.

Following the release of the Once soundtrack The Swell Season have gone from strength to strength, touring to great reviews, backed up by Frames musicians in the band.

Post Hollywood and with 20 years of The Frames under his belt here's a nice vid to finish with, Hansard and Irglova interviewed while on their US tour, 2009.

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