a fallen star's poignant last flight
One of the best albums I've heard this year is First Flight by Aeromodeller -- a record of beautiful, soaring, guitar-led melodies that are so eloquent there is no need for vocals of any kind.
The album is being launched this Wednesday in Whelan's, Dublin. The tragedy is that the man behind the music, Derrick Dalton, won't be there to play any tunes from it. Two years ago, in September 2008, Derrick, who struggled with depression, ended his own life.
Poignantly, Wednesday's gig falls on the second anniversary of Derrick's death. It features a bunch of local bands united in their affection for someone who was known throughout the Irish music scene as one of the finest and most talented guitar players of his generation.
The gig has been organised by Derrick's widow Laura, who also oversaw the album release.
First Flight carries a dedication to the couple's young daughter, Julie: "I want to be able to show this to Julie when she's older and say 'Your da did this'," said Laura.
Although I didn't know him personally, the moving comments left on various internet message boards after his untimely death by those who did suggest he was incredibly well liked and very popular among his peers.
My own connection to Derrick was simply that I was a fan of various bands that he was in, going back to his days as a guitarist in Hey Paulette in the late 1980s. He could make his beloved Rickenbacker six-string sing like a Byrd.
To my ears, Derrick appeared to take his inspiration from the same bands that I grew up listening to: The Smiths, REM, The Go-Betweens, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions . . .
Hey Paulette were often seen as the Irish answer to the 'C86' scene that the late, great John Peel helped to foster in the mid-80s: to wit, three-minute songs full of clean, jangly guitars with winsome lyrics, usually about unattainable girls and suburban angst, released on small, fiercely independent record labels. (Hey Paulette called theirs Mickey Rourke's Fridge!)
Indeed, John Peel invited the Dublin-based band over to London to record a much-coveted Peel Session for his BBC Radio 1 show, and the band built up a fanbase in, of all places, Japan.
You can check out the video for their single I Really Do Like Penelope on YouTube. Alas, they split up after one album because, as they later joked, they didn't like being interviewed or having their picture taken.
Grateful for the push he'd given them, Hey Paulette reformed to play a tribute gig to John Peel in Dublin after the DJ's death in 2005, which Derrick helped organise.
Also on the bill were Crumb -- the band Derrick formed the year before -- who received much critical praise for their excellent album Evenings And Weekends in 2005.
Here was more timeless, sparking guitar pop -- with Derrick at the heart of it. Once again, they had a following in Japan and played in Tokyo, footage of which can be seen on YouTube.
An unreleased Crumb single on 7-inch vinyl titled Like Goodbye will come free with admission at the gig on Wednesday, as will a copy of the Aeromodeller album.
Crumb also acted as the backing band for former Would-Be's singer Eileen Gogan, who collectively were called Melba.
But then it seems that most musicians in the Irish indie-rock world have collaborated with Derrick at some point over the past 20 years -- the list of groups he played in includes The Bus Pigs, The Deportees, The Twigs, The Skips, Mexican Pets, $1,000 Wedding and a Blondie tribute band.
One of the last projects he worked on was Eoin Young's indie collective Villa R, whose album Songs From The Apex came out in 2007 and on which he contributed bass, guitar and vocals.
He played all the instruments on the Aeromodeller album himself, recording it in his own studio in the shed at the back of his house.
Stephen Ryan -- who was in some of our finest ever bands, namely the Stars of Heaven and The Revenants -- was one of the musicians who Derrick asked to play with him in the live incarnation of Aeromodeller.
Stephen was a big admirer of Derrick's guitar style.
"The moment I really remember was sitting with Derrick and Laura before a rehearsal.
"He had this new red Ibanez semi-acoustic guitar that Laura had bought for him in Japan.
"He was just playing really simple, straight stuff while we were chatting, but you could see the timing and the technique -- I just thought 'yeah, this guy is a real proper guitar player'.
"But he was very modest -- he would say 'Ah, I'm just a bass player but I happen to play the guitar a bit as well'."
The band in which Stephen currently plays guitar, The Dinah Brand (who release their second album I Can Walk Through on October 4), are one of those on the bill for the special tribute gig to Derrick in Whelan's this Wednesday, alongside Thread Pulls, Richer Than Astronauts and Little Beauties.
Tickets are €12 and available from www.whelanslive.com, www.tickets. ie, and the Whelan's box office. All profits on the night go to the charity combating depression, Aware.