Talos: “There’s Been Zero Change”

With his debut album winning him a major-label deal, and another full-length on the way, Talos’ creative figurehead Eoin French stands on the precipice of mainstream success, ahead of being among the headliners of October Bank Holiday weekend’s Jazz Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with French about the process, the changes, and the hype.

The story of Talos, the nom-de-plume of Cork composer and singer Eoin French, is one that seldom happens anymore. While the post-rock-inflected electronic pop project slowly gathered pace on the local music scene at its outset following the demise of French’s old band, it soon became evident to gig-goers and those in the know that big things were on the way as a revelatory live show began coming together. That hunch soon turned out to be well-founded, and Talos’ debut full-length, ‘Wild Alee’ was picked up for reissue by SonyBMG in an expanded edition that marks the beginning of French’s stint on the label. And while it’s all excitement in camp Talos at present, the mundanities of sealing the deal over a period of months were as much to do with creative as with legal issues. “Signing with them took a while, to put pen to paper, as these things do. It was just one of those stories, where the guy that signed us had an intern that just played the album in the office on a daily basis, and he enjoyed it. He got onto us, and it went from there, it was a lot of back-and-forward. That’s all the boring stuff, I suppose. There were the conversations: were they open to me not being directed in any way, doing what I want, and it turns out they were (chuckles). It was super-straightforward. The reality of it was, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything with anybody that had an input. It was quite easy, they’re quite an open group anyway, so that was handy. That was it, and then we signed it in the States. These things aren’t very interesting (laughs).”

You’d imagine moving from an independent distribution setup to signing with a major would be a sea-change, especially as the traditional industry continues to find a foothold amid constant demographic and technological changes. But for French, revisiting his debut to add new content for its release in the form of an entirely separate EP entitled ‘Then There Was War’, simply bolstered his existing work flow. “There’s been zero change, to be honest. The only thing that’s changed is deadlines, they’ve gotten tighter. The other big thing is, I don’t do anything else now. They were quite supportive of the EP coming out, it was quite a step away, quite weird, quite dark, and I wanted it to be accompanied by these four videos. It was important that they were supportive, and they were. My experience with revisiting the record was placing the EP as a full stop. Setting the thing on fire and seeing what came of it.”

Revisiting ‘Wild Alee’ to put the full stop to it brought out a better understanding in French of the storytelling ability he possesses in spades. With something of a Kierkegaardian take on subject matter, moods and emotional content, French recounts how he became able to draw a line under the record before proceeding. “I don’t really listen back to my work, once I have it mastered. I’d revisit it very, very rarely, but I’m very proud of it. It took a very long time to make. If anything, you’re probably always going to see gaps, which is the only way to make something better. Me revisiting it wasn’t sitting down and listening to it, it was talking about it, d’you know what I mean? You have to do all these interviews about the tracks, and I was looking back at what songs were about, and it was like ‘ah, fuck, that’s what that was actually about.’ In a way, they gained new meanings, which was really interesting.”

One of the great tropes of music in a post-CD age is that the playing field is even, that artists can go ahead and conquer the world on their own with no need for a label (decent PR people notwithstanding). For French, though, it’s been a little of the opposite, assembling as he has a team of collaborators, managers and visual artists working to convey the scope of French’s cinematic pop. In a time when conventional music-biz wisdom is being disregarded, it’s a big move. “It’s just that thing of, ‘many hands’. It was a great benefit, because before the album was released, there was this energy and belief in what I did. That was the best help of all – a support structure propping the whole thing up.” Among those in camp Talos are Feel Good Lost, the audiovisual studio headed up by cinematic wunderkind Brendan Canty, having sharpened his teeth with Scandipop-influenced duo Young Wonder. Canty’s preternatural technical and storytelling ability are a huge part of Talos’ visual identity, and for French, made for something of a sounding board for ideas. “It varies from song to song. I would have had a lot of input on a video, and maybe less so other times. It went that way, y’know? A lot of the time they told very different stories as well, they were kind of detached, and that was important too, they shone a new light on the stuff. They always came in post. The images I wrote from were my own, they didn’t really get transcribed onto the video, but they became something else, kind of tonal, or coloured. We worked together closely on some and maybe not so closely on others.”

One more stop for French, ahead of what lies next, is the release this past month of a live extended-player, recorded at St. Luke’s Cathedral on the city’s northside. Since falling into the capable hands of promoters Joe Kelly and Ed O’Leary (The Good Room), the now-deconsecrated church and its crypt have become a unique destination for culture lovers of all stripes in the city, with gig-goers lining the pews and taking in the stained-glass atmosphere of the building. “I’ve worked with Joe from the very conception of this, prior to that even the band I was in before it (post-rockers Hush War Cry). He’s an unbelievably generous guy, he’s always told me how he felt about the music, whether it was positive or negative. He’s always been really helpful, you’re always going to get an honest and truthful answer out of him. But beyond that, the two lads are amazing promoters, and they have the best stage in Ireland, which helps. The EP in itself is really important to me because that probably is my favourite place on the planet to play. To capture that was a really important thing, to be able to showcase the live show, the six-piece as it is, because that’s a key thread for this project, working with these guys.”

The full live line-up has its biggest gig to date on October Bank Holiday weekend, playing the Opera House as one of the Jazz festival’s non-jazz headliners. It’s not French’s first dalliance with the 800-capacity auditorium, but it is a massively important one. “The Opera House for any Cork musician is a hugely important thing. So that alone is an especially big thing for us. The fact that it’s on the Jazz Weekend as well, as musicians we’d always be aware of it, and growing up, with my parents it was always very much a thing in our house. I’m really, really excited about it. We’ve got a lot of new music that we’re going to play that I’ve been working on for the last six months. I’m intrigued to see how that goes down. It’s a big deal, like.” Talk of new music is the perfect segue to posing the typical ‘what next?’ question, but French isn’t one for hanging around while opportunity awaits. “Literally just finishing my second album. I’ve no dates, I’ve no release stuff yet. There will be something relatively soon, and I hope people hear it and enjoy it. That’s what I’ve been at, down in West Cork, holed up for the last month or two, finishing stuff off.”

Talos play the Cork Opera House on Sunday October 28th, as part of the Cork Jazz Festival. Kickoff is 7pm, tickets are €25.

Ó Bhéal: “The Atmosphere Has Been Welcoming from the Beginning”

For the past eleven years, one poetry night has provided a lifeline for the artform in the city, going ahead every Monday night, rain or shine, 50 weeks of the year. For facilitator Paul Casey, overseeing the activities of Ó Bhéal is a matter of duty to the city’s poetry community, and for the social potential of the artform. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.

Since its first edition in 2007, weekly poetry event Ó Bhéal (pronounced oh-vale) has provided the city’s spoken-word and verse community with a sounding board for ideas, a platform for visiting poets to have their work heard, and various challenges for aspiring poets to wrap their heads around, as they develop their technique and storytelling. With over 500 installments under its belt, and a number of annual anthologies stemming from its weekly ‘Five Words’ challenge, Ó Bhéal, alongside other semi-regular nights such as Cara Kursh’s Sling-Slang open mics, is a lifeline to the city’s cultural offering. Founder and facilitator Paul Casey discusses how the idea came to him upon coming home to Cork after years away. “There were a number of factors. One was that I was moving back to Cork, and I wanted to work in an area that I was familiar with. I have a particular skillset, I worked in film and multimedia for many years, and I wanted to see if I could use those together, but poetry at that point was my mainstay. I ran a venue in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which was quite productive in terms of creativity, being a remedial, neutral space for tensions in the area. We had a poetry night there that ran every three weeks, and that took off. I was supposed to be back in Cork for the 2005 Capital of Culture that was my aim. I got delayed with a few legal issues, the Habitual Residence Condition kind-of hit me, when I got back to Dublin, I found there was this new law in place to stop me from getting any sort of help until I got a job. I was stuck up there for a few years, in which time I got a good feel for what was happening on the poetry scene. I literally went to every city in the country, to every event I could get to, to get a sense for what was happening. Cork didn’t have anything regular. There were lunchtime readings that Bradshaw Books and Tigh Filí had, they were occasional, not very secure. There was a gap.”

Since its inception, the night has been a place of first call for new and aspiring poets, with an inclusive and beginner-friendly ethos. An open-mic section for poets gives them immediate access to feedback from the night’s knowledgeable regulars, the night’s regular international guests have also provided advice and assistance. As a result, numerous area poets across the age and social spectrum have found their makings at the night, from veterans like Stanley Notte to still-emerging young voices like Matthew Moynihan and Megan Cronin. That accessibility and drive to develop poetry in the city has informed the night from the outset. “We get a lot of first-timers come into us, at the open-mic, reading something that they’ve been afraid to share previously. An equal amount of people have written their first poem at Ó Bhéal, because of the Five-Word Challenge, which was put in place to break the ice for the guests, but also to make the art, the craft itself available to anyone that walks through the door. We’re seeing people get up and read a poem they’d written 15 minutes previous, be blown away by the results, and be encouraged. I found it very contagious for people who came in, and the atmosphere has been welcoming from the beginning, which has become a personality trait of the night.”

Casey’s background in multimedia stood to him as the night’s remit expanded and developed, with one of Ó Bhéal’s hallmarks being the annual Poetry Film Contest, conducted in conjunction with IndieCork Film Festival. Maintaining it over the years, building and screening the contest’s archive on a weekly basis, has been a major point of development for Ó Bhéal, introducing another layer of storytelling to inform new and seasoned wordsmiths alike. “I was involved in film for many years, and became disillusioned with it, because of producers essentially destroying scripts, leaving creatives at their behest. I responded to that by writing poetry. One of my first published poems was a satire against the commercial film industry. I packed that life away for good and was sticking with poetry, and about five or six years later, a year or two into running Ó Bhéal, I was invited by the Munster Literature Centre to attend the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, 2008. I’d never heard of the two words put together, I had no idea that it was a completely unique collaboration of artforms. I was blown away by it, I must have seen over 300 films in a few days, all a few minutes long. It opened that world up to me, and reawakened my skills in film, specifically editing and directing. I saw an opportunity there, and because this is a generation that is visually oriented, that this could be a way to bring back those people, those visually-oriented human beings, back to the written word.”

The night’s remit of accessibility and innovation, reaching people where they are, has created opportunities for social outreach in conjunction with the City Council and Library. The annual Book of Unfinished Poetry, compiled by local teenagers with help from mentoring writers, and Creative Cork, a programme of culture and integration for the city’s new Irish, have been equally important to the community as they have been to Casey, in ascertaining the place and potential of poetry in Cork’s community. “The Unfinished Book, which the Library started during the 2005 City of Culture, and is a legacy of that… I only took it over seven years ago, when the City Council asked me if I’d be interested. I’ve given workshops to writers of all ages for many years, so it worked for me, and I had a base of poets in the area, so it made sense. It’s one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve ever been involved in. Teenagers get nine intense sessions with an established writer, and they come out with the requisite skills to develop into a fully-rounded writer. It’s extraordinary, the quality of poems we get back are good enough to go into adult journals. The enthusiasm is phenomenal. It’s a difficult one to co-ordinate, ‘cause it’s five schools, five local libraries, five writers. We’ve just finished this year’s one, and because the city is bidding for City of Sanctuary status, a number of schools have been identified as Sanctuary Schools, and we’re working with them.”

Ó Bhéal’s annual showcase event is the Winter Warmer poetry weekender, happening this November at venues across the city. International guests join nationally-established writers and the night’s regular clutch of poets and attendees for a series of special events that comprises the jewel in the Ó Bhéal crown. “Winter Warmer is the culmination of the year for us. We have over twenty poets, usually over two days, and we try to get as many international poets as we can afford. It’s funded by a lot of local businesses. It’s very piecemeal funding, so it’s more of a shoestring budget. But we have a number of partnerships that help us overcome that, such as Ark Publications, who send us over three or four high-quality international poets every year. We put them up, and pay them a fee. We mix it up with national and local poets, but you need that international flavour. We also fuse the artform with others wherever possible, so you’ll have the poetry films, but this year, we have The Ballad of Reading Jail, a three-hander play of Oscar Wilde’s epic poem. We have hurling poetry on the Sunday, and we’re going to have 25 visitors from different festivals join us for a sequence of hurling and camogie poems, before taking them to a hurling match.”

Ó Bhéal happens every Monday night at the Hayloft Bar, upstairs in the Long Valley on Winthrop St.

Doppelganger ‘Zine Fest: “It Was Just a Matter of ‘Let’s Do This'”

The history of Cork music and culture has been marked by the development of its community media. In recent times, the humble ‘zine has been hauled from its legacy context, as a vehicle for literary and community exploration. On October 20th at St. Peter’s, Doppelganger sees a celebration of ‘zines’ cultural impact past and present, with speakers, workshops and a library of ‘zines for public perusal. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-ordinator and arts facilitator Oriane Duboz.

From a unique place in the received oral history of Cork music, to formal celebrations and exhibitions in the city’s library spaces, the humble fanmade ‘zine has been an unlikely survivor in a scene marked by near-constant change over the years. Symbolic of the DIY spirit of the city’s creative community, ‘zines find themselves in something of a moment again, allowing publishers and writers to reach people directly, as best seen lately with the success of poetry ‘zine A Vent Zine, an exploration of words and visuals co-edited by Cork-based arts facilitator Oriane Duboz. Following on from the success of the ‘zine and various workshops she’s done with community groups, a celebration of the medium is in order. Doppelganger sees Duboz assemble speakers, workshops and even her own personal zine library for a day-long event in St. Peter’s on North Main Street on October 20th, the result of a lifelong fascination with the medium. “I didn’t know there were ‘zines, as I was getting into ‘zines, y’know? I always liked the content, reading little publications and reading what people do on a small scale, seeing original artwork, political opinions, social opinions. I owned them before I knew what they were, so that’s my personal approach.”

Upon her arrival in Cork a little under two years ago, Duboz’ interest in zines saw her looking to find a project in the medium, amid her work with some of the city’s busiest musicians. Finding a place for it in the modern landscape turned out to be its own challenge, but the creation of A Vent Zine saw co-editor Jonathan Crean provide Duboz with an outlet. “It was brought to me. I wasn’t on the first issue, he created the first issue by himself. Because he was on his own, you know how it is, you can’t do everything. When I saw the first issue, I felt it was unfair that it wasn’t more ‘out there’. I just wanted more people to see his incredible work, and he needed help. I just told people about it, and people were enthusiastic, which is really cool.”

Having garnered an understanding of the Irish ‘zine community by her work with the publication and talking with other ‘zine enthusiasts around the country, the idea for an event that allowed people to see for themselves the impact of the medium wasn’t far behind. How exactly one lays out a ‘zine fair, however, is another matter. “That kind-of evolved. The idea came from people asking me what a ‘zine is, and what the purpose of it is. The old-school ‘zine, which was most popular from the seventies to the nineties, and the new wave of ‘zines are so different, but they have the same purpose, which is to talk about what you want to talk about, without any barriers to communication. I was like, ‘ah, I’ll do that in a pub, people can grab a pint and look at some ‘zines’, so that was the original idea. And then St. Peter’s got interested in the project, and it transpires I have way more ‘zines than I thought. Then Tom from the Forgotten ‘Zine Archive in Dublin let me take a loan of a good amount of ‘zines from the ‘80s. He has over three thousand ‘zines, so I took ‘zines from Cork, Waterford, Sligo. Anarchist ‘zines, feminist ‘zines, some amazing stuff there.”

The highlight of the day-long event for many will be a ‘zine-making workshop, which sees Duboz provide a from-scratch tutorial in creating a ‘zine. Everything from editorial and themes, to binding and presentation is covered, and for Duboz, this workshop is an important entry point for her and attendees to the world of physical DIY publication. “The idea and purpose of the workshop came mutually. People looking for a platform of communication. I was like, ‘I have a platform, if you want, we can do that’. At first, the idea was not to make it a business or anything big, it was just a matter of ‘let’s do this’. Fortunately, it’s become a little bigger than that, again. The way I designed the workshop was with my friends, using their questions and the barriers they encountered. The first thing I want to do is break psychological barriers, that peoples’ thoughts aren’t legit to put on paper. That’s nonsense, but we all have that. So, that’s the first and biggest step. And then we just do it.”

Amassing a huge library of ‘zines between her own collection and trading copies with others around the world, her full library of publications will be available to peruse on the day, with a huge amount of ‘zines on music, culture and politics on hand to read. But adding the final touch to the fair’s offering will be the appearance of speakers from the worlds of ‘zines and DIY music, reflecting on the versatility of the medium. “When you first meet people from the ‘zine community, your instinct is to ‘feel’ if it’s a real ‘zine interest, content and aesthetic and all that. ‘Cause there are people who are interested in the economic side of it, and try to get in and sell a ‘zine for €15. ‘Sure. We’re not even speaking the same language.’ The people I invited to talk, I selected them for that interest. They create DIY, they live DIY, just like punk, y’know. So, Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, a very cool, very DIY person. Declan Synnott, who wrote his PhD dissertation on punk as a philosophical process. Knows his shit. I wanted someone who knows, and studied the theory side. There’s William from Cork Community Artlink, who’s lived a punk life, his whole life.”

Doppelganger: Cork ‘Zine Fair happens on October 20th at St. Peter’s on North Main Street. Kickoff at 12pm, free entry.

China Moses: “I’ve Never Had So Much Love!”

Singer, broadcaster and ambassador for the artform – over the years China Moses has played many roles. Fitting then, that on her newest album and run of gigs, she finally gets to cut loose. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to jazz royalty about family, songwriting and the Great American Songbook.

From a young rapper, to a broadcaster and custodian of the arts, to a versatile singer and social commentator, it’s been quite the journey for singer China Moses. Born into jazz royalty, the daughter of the legendary Dee Dee Bridgewater and pioneering African-American theatre director Gilbert Moses was always going to have massive boots to fill, but rather than try and follow where they lead, Moses has simply done what she’s wanted to do, leading her to become a headline jazz singer in her own right, by way of European hip-hop and the Great American Songbook.

This journey has brought her to the release last year of newest album ‘Nightintales’, a mature piece of work that sees Moses fuse soul, jazz and r’n’b into cogent, compact pop, dealing with modern issues like alienation and anxiety. Though it released last year to critical acclaim, Moses has been living with the record for a lot longer. “The album was finished in 2015. It took me two years to find a label that wanted to release it! I met the lovely people at MPS Records in Germany, and they’re a small label, so their release calendar was really backed up, so they asked ‘would you mind waiting a bit?’. That was in 2016, and I asked ‘how long?’, ‘cause I’d been touring this project already, trying to keep my live work going. And they said ‘if you can wait until March of 2017, we’ll be all yours.’ And I’m very, very glad that I waited. ”

In keeping the record to short bursts of accessible, whip-smart pop, Moses has invested ‘Nightintales’ with the kind of brevity that is the soul of wit to modern-day, streaming-centric audiences. That immediacy was at every level of the album’s creation, from writing, all the way into working with collaborators in studio. “I’m very proud of the way the album sounds. It was recorded in the jazz tradition of keeping everything to one take. The musicians are one-take, I re-recorded my vocals as there was a lot going on, and we had way too little time. So, what you  hear, piano, bass, drums, are all one take. Them boys, they can play. I still love it. The reason I can still love it, is the songs are still very short, on purpose, on the album format, so in concert we can stretch them out. It’s an opportunity for the musicians to play, to interpret the song the way they’re feeling it that night. I find that as a vocalist, we often have a tendency to concentrate on the voice, but for me, and this is what my mom taught me, you are nothing without your band.”

Over the years, Moses has also worked comprehensively with the accepted Great American Songbook, across numerous stage shows and heritage projects. No great surprise, of course, considering her roots, but an important and distinct influence on her creativity and frame of reference. “I didn’t graduate high school. My deal with my mother was I would get a GED (Leaving Cert-equivalent diploma for school leavers in America) after my first album. I’ve always lived with two ‘burdens’. Having Dee Dee Bridgewater as your mom is definitely not a burden, I can attest to that. She’s a great mom and an amazing artist. But that’s one thing, trying to live up to what she’s done, and on the other side, I had the burden of not knowing who I was musically. So, when I did two (blues-influenced albums), it was like I went back to school, and ‘Nightintales’ was my thesis. It was like, ‘how do I take my heritage, my Black American musical heritage, and tell my story, my testimony, respecting the past while staying in the present?’. I didn’t want it to sound like something that could be mistaken for being recorded earlier in time.”

In 2012, Moses performed for UNESCO’s first annual International Jazz Day in Paris, alongside her mother and numerous other jazz luminaries, among other performances for the organisation over the years. It was a landmark performance for Moses, and it all came together on the day, while also tending to her duties as a broadcaster and interviewer at the event. “UNESCO are awesome! I went to Mexico this year, for UNESCO Mexico, for Culture Week in the region of Guadalajara. On the Jazz Day, at first I was just supposed to co-present the evening, then they came around and asked me to sing a song. I was like ‘whaaaaat?’ (laughs). It was crazy. I remember being scared, completely freaking out for the first song I did, and I think it really sounds like that. When it got to the finale, we did ‘On Broadway’, which was crazy, because I didn’t rehearse. I was co-hosting and interviewing everybody. I didn’t have time to rehearse the finale! I thought I was just singing background vocals, and right before we go on stage, my mom says ‘you have the third verse’. And ‘On Broadway’ keeps going up in key, the last verse is the highest, and I have a lower voice than my mom. I’ll never forget seeing George Benson’s face when I started singing. I had Uncle George’s approval! I was over the moon. It was so much fun, so laid-back, hanging with all these greats.”

As an aside to her music career, Moses has worked comprehensively as a broadcaster in France, including time with Canal Plus’ ‘Le Grand Journal’ music show, radio shows on JazzFM and TSFJazz, and documentaries with arts broadcaster ARTE. Music and broadcast media are odd yet complementary bedfellows for creative types, and Moses is quick to discuss her experiences on the ‘other’ side of that equation. “TV made me a better stage performer. It taught me to speak to a group of people at once. A lot of artists aren’t trained for that. I have no problem hyping up a song like Nancy Wilson or Frank Sinatra, who could set up a song. It’s also kept me extremely humble. There ain’t nothing special about me. I’m just doing what I do, the best that I can, and having a lot of joy doing it, and if it makes someone else happy for the space of a concert, or if I can make ‘em feel different kinds of emotions, take ‘em on a journey, shit, man, I’m happy. My job is done. Radio keeps me connected to music, to my love of what I do. Without music I would be a crazy person. It’s not just my passion, it’s my anchor.”

Moses is coming to Cork for her first Jazz Festival excursion this year, performing on a double-bill with the Pablo Ziegler Trio at the Everyman on Saturday October 27th. The appeal and enthusiasm of Ireland’s jazz community for getting behind major events is what stands out to Moses ahead of the big event. “I was in Dublin for the Cork Jazz Festival’s press event there, and I played for twenty minutes. Last year I was in Bray, for the jazz festival there, that was my first time in Ireland. It was a beautiful day, I wanted to live here, but then I thought of all the rain I hear about (laughs). I had the most amazing time in Dublin. It was a joy, and what was funny was, I didn’t recognise any of the people there, I found out the day after that they were all these social media influencers and tastemakers, and it was neat to see them discover jazz. I’ve never had so much love!’”

China Moses plays the Everyman Palace on Saturday October 27th, in a double-bill with the Pablo Ziegler Trio at 8pm. Tickets on sale now from guinnessjazzfestival.com

Cork Jazz Fringe Festival: Engaging with the Community

The Fringe and Music Trail events have always been important to the Jazz Weekend’s engagement with the city’s community, with hidden musical gems and workshops aplenty. MIKE McGRATH-BRYAN takes a look.

Engagement with the city’s community groups, residents and businesses has been key to the growth and development of the Jazz over the past four decades: it is, after all, with this support that the weekend festival has been able to expand into a bank-holiday staple capable of attracting music fans from all over the world. The Jazz Fringe Festival, a programme of events at venues around the city, is an important part of this process, bringing music, tuition and performances to the citizenry as part of the weekend’s proceedings.

At the heart of the Fringe is the festival’s club, running all day and night throughout the weekend from the festival’s spiritual home at the Gresham Metropole Hotel, where the first Jazz was booked in 1977 to fill a gap left by a cancelled bridge tournament. With numerous resident performers, and appearances from ensembles also playing elsewhere throughout the weekend, it’s the very heart of the festival itself, and any perusal of the festival requires a stop at the Metropole at some stage during the weekend. Other all-weekend festival venues around the city for some free jazzin’ include the outdoor stage at Emmet Place (outside the Opera House, also playing host to the Jazz Bites Food Fair), and the River Lee Hotel’s Riverside Bar.

The City Library has long been a staunch source of support for musicians in the area, and it’s fitting that the library’s music department opens proceedings with a pair of crash-courses in music theory and appreciation. Wednesday 24th sees a special beginners’ seminar in reading sheet music take place at 11am, as musicians and guests attempt to help stave off confusion surrounding the written language behind the sounds. The class is suitable for all levels of musical knowledge and all ages. The following day, same time, same place, a special workshop on listening to Jazz takes attendees through the question of jazz music, and why casual listeners have historically odd about it. This presentation is aimed at introducing jazz to suit all tastes, new pathways into listening and enjoying jazz, and to providing information on a vast and exciting sonic world.

Hallowe’en preparations kick off in earnest on Thursday 25th with a Festival Parade, winding through the city in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos, the Latin-American Day of the Dead. Held in association with Cork Community Artlink and setting off at 7pm, it’s suitably spooky fun for all the family, as a marking of the beauty of life and death takes in major floats, dancers, musicians and performers, weaving their way through Cork city. A New Orleans-type jazz funeral is at the centre of proceedings, with live improvising jazz musicians paying homage to departed jazz greats. Friday the 26th marks a major first for the Jazz, as the Festival has commissioned ‘Unity’, its fully-immersive audiovisual experience, fusing Jazz, contemporary classical and electronica, juxtaposed against the surrounds of St Luke’s Church, now better known as the ‘Live at St. Luke’s’ venue. 4k microscopic projections, a full lighting show, and The David Duffy Quartet unite to accentuate a show that examines what it is that connects, unifies and binds us. Tickets are €15, from uticket.ie.

The CIT Cork School of Music has long been a destination on Jazz Weekend, for a look at the new generation of musicians and performers, as well as family-friendly entertainment. On Saturday 27th at 10.30am, the CITCSM Youth Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Sarah Dewhurst and with special guests from the New York Jazz Standard Project, provide a programme of big band music, suitable for all ages. Wee jazzers will also have the opportunity to meet all the different instrumental families, as they feature in familiar tunes from TV and the silver screen. At noon in the same building, the CITCSM Jazz Big Band gets ready for a High Noon Jazz Gala, as the finest young musicians on the degree programmes of the CSM are directed by award-winning composer, pianist and arranger Cormac McCarthy in a recital of modern and standard classics that’s kept the event a hot ticket among jazz fans for years. Tickets for these events are are online at events.cit.ie.

While the Sunday is packed with the usual favourites, including live jazz at Cork City Gaol at 4pm (tickets €5, email info@corkcitygaol.com), Monday 29th has a pair of highlights for musicians and poets alike amid all the sore heads and smaller shows that typically accompany the festival’s last day. Vocalists can head to Voiceworks on South Terrace at 1pm, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Cork Jazz headliner Sachal Vasandani, alongside veteran Cork vocalist, Gemma Sugrue. These two world-travelled singers promise an intimate vocal workshop, working with all levels of singers to up their vocal development game (€40 for participating students, €20 to attend as a non-participating member). That night, poetry night Ó Bhéal has its annual jazz-poetry session. The night begins as usual at 9.30pm, with the group’s customary five-word poetry challenge, followed by impeccably-monikered guest poet Sex W. Johnston, who will be accompanied by jazz musician Darragh Hennessy, who will also improvise music to the later open-mic poetry session.

Meanwhile, throughout the weekend, there’s a lot on for more discerning palates, as the best of original music from Cork and further afield can be spotted amid the chaos and jazz standards of the music trail. Electric on South Mall plays host all weekend to performances from Cork folk singer-songwriter Marlene Enright, as well as DJ sets from this parish’s own Ronan Leonard. Fred Zeppelin’s keeps metalheads happy on Friday night, with a crushing headliners double-bill of Scots doom lads King Witch and Leeds post-metallers Hundred Year Old Man, while punk rockers can shine their boots for Saturday’s free gig, featuring Dublin oi merchants Jobseekers and seldom-seen Cork punx Stanton’s Grave. Sunday sees Cork’s finest neo-soul six-piece hit the back room of Coughlan’s on Douglas Street, as Irish Times Band of the Year winners Shookrah look likely to pack the venue out for a late show at 11pm.

For more information and tickets, check out GuinnessCorkJazz.com.

Cork Folk Festival: Heralding Change

Gender equality, book launches, and the appearance of a new generation: the 39th Cork Folk Festival has all the makings of a defining year for the annual weekender. Mike McGrath-Bryan looks at highlights of the billing, and talks to some of its voices.

Over nearly forty years, the Cork Folk Festival has been the city’s premiere showcase for folk and traditional Irish music in its multitude of shades. This year, with forty-five gigs and events across fifteen venues, this year’s line-up is among the busiest in the festival’s history. With the festival’s landmark fortieth anniversary approaching next year, a huge cross-section of folk sub-genres, age groups and city communities are catered for, arguably setting the tone for the future of one of Cork city’s landmark cultural offerings.

The festival is underway, and last night saw the launch of legendary poster designer Barry Britton’s first poster book, with An Spailpín Fánach serving as the venue for a celebration of a lifetime forging the identity of folk festivals all over Europe. Showcasing his trademark Celtic motifs, spiritual fantasy themes & penchant for metapictures, the book features over ninety posters for music and surfing events, including the Hawaiian Triple Crown of Surfing, the Rossnowlagh Intercounties, Cork Folk Festival and Ballyshannon Folk Festival, the longest-running event of its kind in the country. As in the book, stories were told about the creation of many of Britton’s celebrated works.

There’s been a great emphasis in the new wave of Irish trad on cultural crossover, with bands like Slow Moving Clouds fusing Nordic and Irish sounds together with the modern post-punk tendency. This sets the stage for another international crossover tonight at the Triskel, when the age-old sean-nós tradition meets its Portugese counterpart, fadó, as singer Claudia Aurora headlines at the venue, making her Cork debut after her sold-out concert as part of the inaugural Songlines Fadó Series in London, last September. Much like the current rush of new blood washing through trad, Aurora has been heralded as the voice of fadó’s new generation, investing it with a bluesy tinge. Meanwhile Máire Ní Chéileachair and Nell Ní Chróinín open proceedings with their take on sean-nós.

While a lot of the emphasis of the festival is on the future of folk and trad, a powerful nod to the genre’s past occurs tomorrow night at the Triskel, as three of Ireland’s longest-tenured instrumentalists bring their KGB supergroup to the Folk Festival billing. Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band), Frankie Gavin (Dé Danann) and Dermot Byrne (Altan) began touring as a trio in January of this year, and the trio draws on their historic songbook throughout their live performances, with violinist Kevin Burke accompanying.

Also playing tomorrow night at the Roundy on Castle Street, is John Blek, a singer-songwriter better known as the leader of indie outfit John Blek and the Rats. In recent years, he’s solidified his reputation as a prolific creator, and this year marks a milestone for him, with his first Folk Festival appearance, with Laura Ní Carthaigh in support. Speaking ahead of the gig, Blek discusses what the show means to him. “It’s a genuine pleasure to be invited to play the Cork Folk Festival this year. It’s an event with integrity and heritage that is held in high esteem in the folky calendar worldwide. I played a show in Birmingham last month and was informed by a couple in attendance that they have been making the pilgrimage to Cork Folk Fest for the last 15 years. That’s impressive! It’s an honour to be involved and to become part of its long and wonderful history.”

Saturday sees a multitude of afternoon events kick off at venues around the city, but among the highlights will be a speaking appearance from former Solas vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Karan Casey, at St. Peter’s at 12pm, as she continues to plough new furrows for gender balance and equality in folk with the Fairplé organisation. Speaking to your writer earlier in the year, Casey outlined the immediate need for this conversation in Irish music, and the talks that brought it about. “Many of us started asking questions about why there were so few women at many of the gigs. There is a clearly visible imbalance in the line-ups for traditional and folk music festivals and gigs, most are populated and dominated by men, even though the gene pool has many female performers available for work. We also started talking backstage at Celtic Connections 2017, about walking on and off the stage, and how awkward that seemed at times. Ewen Vernal, the bass player I often work with, mused “is it perhaps a gender issue?”. This really opened up the conversation that we were all afraid to have. The main people at the table were myself, Ewen, Pauline Scanlon, Niall Vallely, Seán Óg Graham, and Niamh Dunne. I was really surprised to hear the inside of my head being given a voice that night. It really got me thinking, and it gave me a bit of hope that perhaps something could be done.”

Saturday night at 7pm in An Spailpín Fánach, the conversation continues, as Greenshine’s Mary Shine presents Gals at Play, an all-star line-up of women in Irish folk, including Limerickwoman Emma Langford, a well-travelled singer-songwriter who’s been gigging furiously in recent months to promote her new record. Ahead of her performance, she waxed philosophical about playing Cork Folk Festival for the first time, and memories of her first Leeside excursion. “I still remember my first ever Cork gig. I used to hang out with the emo kids on Paul Street – tacky Penney’s corsets, lacy gloves and purple lipstick were all the rage – and I played music with my pal James. I remember joining him on stage for a couple of tunes at a battle of the bands called in the Half Moon Theatre. It was… I wouldn’t say it was the defining moment of my career, but it was interesting. I certainly don’t think I could ever have imagined myself playing gorgeous festivals like the Cork Folk Festival. I’m really excited to join the Gals at Play lineup, Mary Shine has curated a great show and I think everyone involved has something really special and unique to offer.”

The festival comes to a close this Sunday night with headliner Kate Rusby taking to the hallowed stage of Cork Opera House. As early as 1999, at the age of just 26, Rusby was named as one of the Top Ten Folk Voices of the Century, and has spent her career as a flag-bearer for folk in England subsequently. Defying convention to garner Mercury Prize nominations for her music, Rusby has made a virtue of refining her strain of folk songwriting, staying true to an acoustic-centric approach.

For more information, check out corkfolkfestival.com.

Cork Chilli Company: Too Hot to Handle?

Cork Chilli Company is set to host its first-ever eating competition at its stall at Douglas Farmer’s Market, in aid of St. Vincent de Paul. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with company head Gary Barriscale about what potential contenders are up against, and SVP regional co-ordinator Gerry Garvey about the challenges the charity faces this winter.

It’s a novel idea, albeit one that resonates with both pop-culture kitsch and the county’s growing reputation for homegrown food production. A chilli-eating contest: competitors square up to the specialist produce of the Cork Chilli Company, a Douglas-based start-up, and test their mettle, as the heat intensifies with each round. It’s not for the faint of heart, or the weak of constitution, but oddly enough, Cork’s first chilli showdown, happening on October 6th at Douglas Farmer’s Market, is the product of popular demand. The company’s stall has been kept busy by the adventurous palates of the city’s foodie community, who called for the competition to take place.

Gary Barriscale is part of the team behind Cork Chilli Company, and while the idea is an opportunity for potential competitors to sample a wide range of palate-testing peppers, all proceeds from donations raised by entrants go to St. Vincent de Paul in Cork, a cause close to his heart, as his father was deeply involved in the charity’s activities in the city and county. “It was the obvious choice for our business. We grow more than forty different varieties of chillies here in Cork, so we have the means and raw material to be able to run the competition. Several of our customers had asked about doing one, and running it as a fundraiser seemed like a much better reason to put it on, rather than doing it just for fun alone.”

St. Vincent de Paul has been a source of support and help for people in need throughout the country for generations, assisting families and individuals through difficult times in their lives with the help of public donations. This winter poses the greatest challenge in a generation for the charity, as living costs skyrocket amid an unprecedented housing crisis, and weather events continue . Gerry Garvey, South West Regional Co-ordinator for St. Vincent de Paul, speaks on the importance of fundraisers like this. “We can’t help out people in need unless we get donations and fundraising coming in. It’s particularly important at this time of year, because we’re just into back-to-school costs, and with cold weather now, we’re going to have huge costs for heating, as well as our everyday costs. Now until March is an important time. People are struggling to pay mortgages and meet rental costs, especially people on welfare, which hasn’t risen in line with living costs. People are under immense pressure.”

Barriscale’s family connection to SVP informs his decision to run a fundraiser for the charity, but the other part of this story is also born from homegrown efforts, with the Cork Chilli Company quite literally growing from a window box. “The interest originally came in 2013, from a fascination with growing a few chilli plants on the windowsill at home. In 2014, I filled my window sills with chilli plants, and started a night-course in horticulture to learn proper growing skills. Around that time, I also became very interested in hydroponics. I found it fascinating, as it eliminates the traditional soil-borne challenges with growing, but it also adds many other challenges. In 2015, we built our first polytunnel in the back garden, and in 2016, with the help of some friends we built our first commercial-sized polytunnel. The number of plants has increased every year since then, and all are grown hydroponically. (The same year), we started developing our range of chilli sauces. We had just two to begin with. We also did our first farmers market on 1st of October 2016, selling sauces, fresh chillies and chilli plants. We moved to Douglas Farmers Market in December 2016, where we have been ever since. We continue to develop our range of products, and as of this week we have 8 different sauces, ranging from very mild to blisteringly hot, with several in between to cater for all tastes and heat preferences. We’re happy to keep things small for now, concentrating on growing quality chillies, and making high-quality, small batches of delicious sauces.”

There’s been plenty of interest in entering the contest, but as of yet, very few have been brave enough to line out. For those that fancy themselves brave enough to tuck into some speciality chilli – what exactly will be served up, and how will a winner be determined? “The contest will be run across a series of rounds, with participants able to withdraw at any stage. The chillies will begin at a mild heat, and will increase in heat, based upon the Scoville Scale of chilli-pepper heat as the rounds progress. Each contestant will receive a single chilli in each round, and will be required to eat the entire chilli but excluding the stalk. Chillies likely to feature in the contest will be Jalapeno, Ring of Fire, Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Ghost Chilli, Moruga Scorpion to name a few, and culminate with the world-record holding hottest chilli, The Carolina Reaper, if anyone makes it that far. The winner will be determined by being the last remaining contestant willing to continue in the contest. In the event of a tie, remaining contestants will be given an additional minute to consume as many chillies as possible, with the winner being the individual that consumed the most whole chillies in the time.”

So, with the gauntlet thrown down and the terms outlined, what’s the interest been like, and more to the point, in the spirit of good fun that events like this are about… what’s at stake? “Loads of people are interested in coming to watch, but what we really need is people to put their mouths where their money is, and enter the contest. The prize for the winner is incredible: a lifetime’s supply of bragging rights… and possibly a small trophy. All going well, we would like to make it an annual event, where the champion can defend that title again next year.”

Initiatives like this are a lifeline for St. Vincent de Paul, providing fun and unique experiences for people to partake in, that come from others’ passions and bring help local communities together for the cause. But with the challenges that lie ahead, fundraising is of utmost importance. Gerry Garvey explains how people can parlay their life’s loves into helping the effort. “Lots of people do fundraising efforts. Schools often do food and clothing appeals, we often have independent companies come to us and ask how to get involved. Our biggest fundraiser are our Flag Days, starting from October, through to the end of December. If people want to organise individual fundraisers, they can reach out to us and speak with our regional fund-raiser Anna McKernan, and lend a hand with our ongoing campaigns.”