Groundfloor Theatre’s The Collector: “It Goes to Some Very Dark Places”

A study in obsession, boundaries and the depths of human behaviour, John Fowles’ novel ‘The Collector’ makes for an unsettling stage production, courtesy of Groundfloor Theatre. Before the show’s final run at the Everyman Palace from September 26th-28th, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with actor Andrew Holden.

When Frederick Clegg, a socially awkward man with a hobby in collecting butterflies, falls under the spell of Miranda Grey, the woman he admires from afar, the heady rush of longing and nervousness becomes something much, much worse. Unable to overcome his anxiety, he does the unthinkable, and resorts to kidnap to add her to his tally. Adapted from John Fowles’ deeply unsettling novel by Mark Healy, The Collector confronts in uncompromising fashion the depths to which obsession will stoop to be satiated.

For actor and co-producer Andrew Holden, who led crowdfunding for the initial run of the show via Irish platform fund:it, bearing responsibility for staging the show was a labour of love for the tale that unfolds. “For me personally, the attraction in taking on the project in the first place was the power of John Fowles original story. I found it to be dramatic, challenging and completely gripping. Obviously, adapting any novel for the stage is a mammoth task, but Mark Healy’s version has been a joy to work on. It is unmistakably the same story, but he has a brilliant understanding of how to tell a story to a theatre audience, and keep them engaged.”

Conveying a story that is inherently uncomfortable, and perhaps reflecting on an unfortunately all-too common fear for many people in the obsession of another, presented a very challenging environment for the cast and crew, with a very delicate balance to be maintained in storytelling and production. “It has been, without a doubt, a difficult piece to rehearse and perform as it goes to some very dark places at times. I think the main challenge involved for the director and actors has been not to pull our punches. A watered-down version of this story would be pointless, but judging from the reaction of audiences around the country we have managed to avoid that.”

The show has completed national touring, including engagements with major city theatres and festivals. For such an uncomfortable piece, garnering the response and making the decision to go on tour from Waterford was a big decision, but one that ultimately was the making of the production. “The reaction to the show around Ireland has been fantastic. Our first performances were in Central Arts, an intimate sixty-seat theatre in Waterford, and being realistic, if it hadn’t gone down well with the audiences there, we probably would not have had the confidence to tour, but the thing I am personally most proud of with this production is how the story is working for the audiences, and they’re having a brilliant night at the theatre.”

The Everyman is a unique venue, even among many of the older theatres still dotted around the country, and for the show’s crew, performing there was among the production’s end goals. “We have been touring the country with the production for many months now, and the Everyman is the largest venue that we will have visited. Obviously there are adjustments to be made from a technical perspective in adapting to a larger space, but we had been looking to bring the show to Cork for some time now, and the Everyman was always our first choice! We are delighted to finally be getting to bring the production to Cork audiences.”

The late September dates for the production herald its eventual end after the aforementioned run around the country. The weight of storytelling aside, the crew have achieved everything they have set out to accomplish and are winding down at the right time, according to Holden. “As it stands, these three Cork performances will be the final performances for this production of ‘The Collector’. It is now just over two years since we originally performed it. One of the original hopes was always that the production would have a life outside of a short run in one venue, and I think we can safely say we have achieved that.”

With that in mind, what’s left is for Holden to reflect on what crowds in Cork City can expect later next month, when the show pulls into the famed McCurtain Street theatre for its final curtain. “For anyone who has never read the novel, never seen the play or film, I describe ‘The Collector’ to them as a drama with a strong thriller vibe at times. When I first read it, the story just sucked me in, and, without sounding too cocky, feedback from our audiences indicates that the story works exactly the same way for them. I’ve still not met anyone who has been able to predict the ending.”

‘The Collector’, produced by Groundfloor Theatre in association with Central Arts Waterford, stops at the Everyman Palace from September 26th to 28th. Tickets €20, available at the venue’s box office now.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw: “We Took Our Time With This”

Ex-Neutral Milk Hotel man Jeremy Barnes and violinist Heather Trost come to Cork next Tuesday as part of a small run of Irish dates as A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Barnes about their new record.

“I just saw that your last name is McGrath. My grandma was a McGrath. Her grandfather came over to California from Ireland in the nineteenth century.  We still have a few connections to family in Ireland… I’m hoping they will come to the show in Cork.” Such ease in connecting traces of family and history around the world, and connecting them to the present, informs the music of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, the solo-project-turned-duo starring Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes and world-travelled violinist Heather Trost. As we chat about how the record has been received, this forthrightness is a constant, as Barnes addresses the road itch that inspires their music time and again. “We haven’t toured in awhile, and it has been wonderful to be out again playing live.”

On their seventh full-length, ‘Forest Bathing’, the band have tapped into a natural interest in the music of Eastern Europe, indulged with visits to the area. Indeed, a greater connection with the world is a theme of the project. “Some of the stories were inspired by a melody, while some of the songs were inspired by a particular scene or meditation we had somewhere in Eastern Europe. When we were in Koprivstisa, Bulgaria, we learned about how the merchants of that area travelled all through the Ottoman Empire selling textiles. It led me to thinking about what it must have been like, for a Bulgarian to go down to Istanbul and into the Middle East, to see all the cultural richness of those areas, and then to head back home. That is really what we are interested in – when so-called borders are crossed and people open themselves up to the world outside.”

While the band has traditionally featured more collaborations than have occurred on this record, the process for the duo hasn’t exactly been isolated either, as musicians from around the world have brought their experience to the table. “We wrote all the songs, and most of the music is played by us. We had a few key musicians play here and there, including Cüneyt Sepetçi, who is a wonderful Roma clarinet virtuoso from Istanbul, and Balazs Unger, a cimbalom musician from Hungary. Our old friend Sam Johnson from Chicago played on one track, and closer to home, a great bass player from New Mexico, Noah Martinez played on a few tracks.”

The attention to detail that comes across when Barnes discusses the album extended to the recording and production processes, with the duo working at their own pace. “We took our time with this, which made it much more enjoyable, and we are introducing new instruments, some of which will be with us when we play in Cork. I’ve been playing the Iranian santur and davul drum, both of which we will bring with us.”

The band has been releasing records via its own label, LM Duplication, and has been for a while. The tectonic plates that have shaken the music industry continue to move, and adjusting for the movement has presented challenges. “The transition from physical copies, to downloads, and to streaming has at every step meant less income for the artist, and more income for places like Spotify. The music industry looks nothing like it did when I began playing professionally twenty-two years ago. I don’t feel like an old man, but in this business, I guess I am. Starting our own label has given us a lot of freedom, and it is wonderful to be in full control. But of course there is a lot more work. We are in involved in every aspect of the release of our records, from mixing and mastering, to album sleeve design, down to filling orders at the post office. With the way the industry has been set up today, I’m not sure that I would want to be a musician if I were nineteen again. In 1995-96, I could see a way for a musician to make a living on a small scale, without having to deal with major labels. I’m not sure that I can see that now. Our music is heard by more and more people, but we receive less and less income.”

The duo is playing Cork next week, on the 14th, upstairs in Cyprus Avenue. Heading into their Irish dates, Barnes is excited about getting in front of Irish folk audiences. “We love playing in Ireland! We’ve found that Irish really listen, and they can handle instrumental music. Few places have as much of an understanding of the violin as Ireland does – Hungary, Romania, certainly, but I think of all the countries we’ve visited they are the only ones.”

Cian Finn: “Making It Work Was Always a Hustle”

Having travelled the world and worked with legends in his field, Cian Finn has slowly been brewing his own reverential brand of reggae. This weekend, he returns to Cork after living here for six years, and talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about two very different shows.

A well-rounded veteran of his craft, Galwegian singer, musician and songwriter Cian Finn’s body of work is inseparable from the love of his life: reggae music and culture. Not a big shock in any case regarding musicians, especially where an established and easily-executed set of social and cultural tropes exist, but the degree to which his passions inform his work is readily evident, in everything to how his music is presented, in gig posters and album artwork, to the journey he’s taken around the world in pursuit of it. “I started listening to reggae around twelve years of age. A friend of my folks would have been on holidays in Jamaica, and brought back an Island Records compilation of reggae on CD, then left it at our house after a party. There was a lot of Motown & soul music played in our house at that time, so this new music sounded familiar, like tropical soul. Songs like ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ by Jimmy Cliff & ‘Soul Shakedown Party’ by Bob Marley were anthems to me then. In my later teens, I started going to jungle and drum & bass nights in Galway, hearing for the first time remixes of more modern Jamaican music. At sixteen, I got a summer job in Dara Records in New York for three months & started collecting hip-hop records. KRS-One was my favourite, and a lot of the hip-hop records had a reggae influence to them. The next summer, my cousin got married near Nice, in the south of France, so I stayed on and got a job gardening in the area. There, I went to see Burning Spear live, which was an incredible experience, and the friends I made introduced me to modern Jamaican music, which was more high-energy & had a hip-hop influence to it. So at that stage, I was hooked, and started learning Peter Tosh & Bob Marley songs I’d recorded onto a tape at a house I was staying at, and started busking them in Nice, then onto Amsterdam and Barcelona.”

A nomadic early adulthood brought Finn back to Ireland, where chance encounters led to the formation of Finn’s first notable musical endeavour. Reggae is a strange one in Ireland: while it’s never quite obtained mainstream status beyond the usual tropes, casual listeners are more than amiable to some of the genre’s more relaxed aspects, while the genre has a solid core of crate-divers, sound-system operators and musicians that’s sustained it all along. Getting something going against that background took time and effort. “I moved to Cork at nineteen, and formed a band, Intinn, with two childhood friends from Galway and a great guitar/bass player we met in Cork. We played covers of rare reggae and dancehall songs we loved to listen to, and then as time moved on, we began writing original music. Making it work was always a hustle. Haggling fees from venues, getting favours from friends with vans to drive us into the unknown, selling extra tickets from festivals to cover costs… madness, but a brilliant experience.”

Intinn’s debut album saw Finn confront the nitty-gritty of creativity, production and post-production for the first time, and the experience was almost marred by a brush with the musical establishment in Jamaica. “Intinn’s debut album was self-produced by the band, with a lot of help from our good friend Seán Salmon in 2011. The process was mental. Recorded in bedrooms and kitchens of rented houses, with blankets duct-taped to the walls for sound reasons. We were inexperienced, but full of passion & ideas. The album was later sent to a highly-regarded Jamaican producer for proper mixing, to raise the quality of the record, but he took the money and ran. We were broke!”

Debut solo album ‘This Applies’ followed three years later, and saw Finn take matters into his own hands, and in the process, cross paths with modern reggae royalty as subsequent touring criss-crossed the European festival circuit. “The band split around 2013, I think, and a year later, I was on tour with a producer I’d started making tunes with in Cork, called Radikal Guru. Prince Fatty was performing after us at Ostroda Festival in Poland, and I was blown away by the sound of the tunes. He’s captured the sound of the seventies reggae that had originally magnetised me to it. So after the show, we talked, and he invited me to visit his studio in Brighton. A few weeks later I headed over, and we started to produce the “This Applies” album.”

Finn’s most recent Irish festival engagement came at Macroom’s Townlands Carnival festival, happening two weeks ago. While reviews have been positive, Finn holds the festival in particular esteem for its work with electronic and bass music over the last five years. “Yes, Townlands is great. I really like the style of the festival, and their taste in music. It reminds me of Boomtown festival in the UK. A piratish, jungle-steppin’ circus of bass music, with a dash of reggae.” The following week, Finn performed at the Poor Relation in the city centre, as part of the Cork Heritage Pubs’ Ska and Reggae Festival season, now in its second year. For Finn, it’s symbolic of the genre’s modern development in the city. “The scene in Cork has meant a lot to me over the years. I lived there for six years & was a regular attendee of Revelation Sound System parties, (Kinsale dub band) Wiggle gigs & West Cork raves. It’s great to see Cork having an annual reggae and ska fest in the city.”

This Saturday, Finn returns to Connolly’s of Leap, taking another trip under the venue’s famous hammers with a full sound-system. The following day, he heads to the city, and showcases a body of work he’s been working on for a while now. “The acoustic gig in the Yoga Loft on Sunday this week is very different from my regular shows, like the one this Saturday at Connolly’s of Leap, which are generally high-energy, bass-heavy, big-speaker affairs. This gig will be unamplified and unplugged, voice and guitar, with explanatory introductions to where the songs came from. I’ve written around thirty acoustic songs over the years, so this gig will be a showcase of those tunes. An acoustic album is also in the pipeline.” That forward-looking perspective informs Finn’s schedule going forward, as he seeks to expand his touring footprint into the New Year. “Next is to finish the new album, inbetween gigs, before the winter months. Gigs in Waterford, Dublin, and a few more festivals, including Electric Picnic and a trip to the UK. Heading on tour in Kenya around New Year’s, and then off to India for early 2019. I also have recently started to release my own productions on Emerald Isle Records, with a new tune available for download now.”

Cian Finn’s new single ‘Refugee-La’ is available for streaming now on Bandcamp.

Palm Reader: “We’re All Carrying Injuries”

Slightly contrary to the implications of the band’s name, UK hardcore/metal outfit Palm Reader’s new album and extensive touring is the result of years of hard work. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with drummer Dan Olds.

Investing UK hardcore with the jarring precision of technical metal and mathy, melodic asides, Palm Reader emerged from Nottingham in 2011, fertile ground for progressive music thanks to the efforts of bands like Alright the Captain and others, with a place in metal history granted to it by the endeavours of former metal behemoth Earache Records. Catching the attention of specialist labels and hitting the road in short order, the band’s journey to current album ‘Braille’ has taken in both road miles and creative jumps, alongside a similarly-minded community of bands around the United Kingdom. For drummer Dan Olds, the acclaim with which the band’s third full-length has been greeted is part of the wave. “The reaction has been amazing! There has also been a resurgence of talent in the UK scene, so people are starting to pay attention and listen to smaller bands again. The UK scene was awash with cut-and-paste bands when our previous albums came out and people had started to lose interest; but thanks to the likes of bands like Black Peaks, Loathe, Employed to Serve and many others the pendulum is swinging the right way again. I believe ‘Braille’ is our strongest work to date, and a lot more people are connecting with it. We recently played our biggest headline tour, and the shows were far-better attended than they’ve been previously. We saw a better reaction than ever, with people singing the words back to us, and a fair few crowdsurfers. It’s almost like starting again, and it feels like a very exciting time to be in this band.”

‘Braille’ is every inch the modern metal record, marrying uncompromising songs and structures with polished, almost slick production that represents most effectively the aforementioned leap forward for the band. Before the production process, however, the record was assembled in time-tested fashion, according to Olds. “The process for writing an album always starts with Andy (guitar) and I, bouncing ideas off each other and coming up with the bones of a riff, or in some cases a whole song. We then put these ideas to the rest of the guys to put their thoughts, ideas and riffs on it. Sometimes it comes naturally, and sometimes it takes a long old time with much discussion. We have both the former and latter on ‘Braille’. The basic structure for ‘Swarm’ came together within an afternoon with all five of us locked in a room together, jamming. The final version of ‘Like A Wave’ took just over two years to finish. We’ve been to The Ranch in Southampton to record all three albums, and each has been recorded by the musical mastermind Lewis Johns. He knows how we operate, and it’s got to a point where he’s almost the sixth member of the band. It’s always good to have an outside ear on your music, because you live in a bubble when you’re creating a record; it’s refreshing to have someone you trust to feel the same way you do about a song, or be able to critique it properly.”

The band’s previous long-player was released by UK hardcore/punk stable In at the Deep End, infamous for breaking major-label signees and former music media darlings Gallows to the world, while ‘Braille’ has come out via London label Silent Cult. What brought the change about and how has it been to deal with a new label? “In At The Deep End, they were so supportive, put everything they had into the album, and we can’t speak highly enough of the team. We wanted to change it up for album three, with a new team of people behind us. When the offer came in from Silent Cult we were all on board. From the off, Silent Cult has been incredible to work with. They are genuinely passionate about our music and their other bands. We always see them at shows and championing us wherever they can. They have been hands down the best team to work within our three-album deep career.”

This attention to the band’s progress has allowed them to plough further into an already-hectic touring schedule, combining strategic support slots with the build into headlining status at venues across the UK and the continent. In highlighting their live journey, Olds again highlights the collective effort that’s seen it happen, and the experience of hitting the road. “Yeah, we recently finished our tour with The Contortionist in the UK and Europe. We can’t thank them enough for the opportunity they gave us, taking us out on that tour. Although we’ve toured Europe before, we played to more people than we’ve previously had a chance to, and their fans were very accepting of the very different styles between us. We were able to play in places we’d never played before, and revisit cities that we’ve had people ask us to come back to. We love being out in mainland Europe, the scenery and drives are so much more interesting than they are at home. Whereas it takes about three hours from Birmingham to Manchester, and all you see is motorway and grey, on the mainland we took a scenic route through the incredible Austrian mountains to get to Budapest. Plenty of moments where we were glued to the windows, as it was glorious. We’re really looking forward to seeing the Irish scenery and towns we’re playing!”

Palm Reader shows are about as intense as the music is, which begs the further question of the wear-and-tear that a tour already places on bodies and minds throughout extended legs of gigs? The lads have certainly sacrificed for their art, and while adrenaline can take away aches and pains in the moment, it’s certainly a consideration for the band in the van and back home. “We’re all carrying different injuries either sustained from touring or day to day life. For example, Josh, Andy and I all have different stages of sciatica, so sometimes it’s quite a hindrance in day to day life but we don’t let us affect us too much when we play. We always stretch and warm up our limbs and vocal chords before we play as it’s not healthy or wise to go from sitting in a van or venue all day to throwing your body about on stage. There has to be a warm-up period beforehand, or the next morning you will definitely feel it. We’ve been doing this a long enough time to know what our bodies can handle when we go on stage, but one I’m quite interested in is that I’ve recently started to lose my hearing in one ear, so I guess we’ll wait with that one. The joys of being a drummer.”

The bands is heading to Ireland for a run of dates as part of summer touring in August, including Cork’s Poor Relation venue, where they’re supported by some of the cream of Cork’s metal/hardcore crossover, including rising stars Bailer as well as relatively new arrivals Worn Out and Selkies. Olds collects his thoughts heading into the fray. “Honestly cannot wait, it’s been a long time coming. We played in Dublin and Belfast a few years ago, when we supported (Canadian prog-metallers) Protest The Hero, but it somehow felt a bit rushed when we were there, so we didn’t get to experience the country as we usually would when on tour. So we’re excited to explore and take it all in, as well as play some shows with the excellent Bailer as support. We’ve never been to Cork, or know if anyone has heard of our band there, but we’re really looking forward to it.”

The band’s onward march continues apace once the Irish run is done, too, as the band hit the festival circuit before steeling themselves to do it all again. “After Ireland, we’re playing a few one-off shows back on home soil, like Macmillanfest in our adopted hometown of Nottingham, and CASTLEFEST in Luton in September, as well as a UK and European tour with the legends in Will Haven in late October, early November. We’re planning a couple more things that we can’t say about yet, but keep an eye on our socials in the coming weeks. We’ll also be starting a whole new writing process very soon for a new album, so it’s a very busy time in Camp Palm Reader.”

Tour de Munster: “It’s Not Just About the Bottom Line”

As fundraising season is on for Tour de Munster, businesses and community groups around the county are doing their part. Ahead of this year’s cycle, Noel Doherty, Sean O’Riordan and Rose Murphy of Fitzgerald’s Solicitors get ahead of the peloton to tell Mike McGrath-Bryan about the route, the sights and the work it does for Down Syndrome Ireland.

It’s a trek that involves months of preparation, with twice-weekly training sessions placing participants in the right frame of mind for a physically demanding four days of cycling around the roads and byways of the province. And yet, the Tour de Munster, one of the pillars of the local fundraising calendar for businesses and community groups, is embraced by the people that partake and help make it happen, with proceeds going to Down Syndrome Ireland to assist their activities around the province, including Cork’s centres and facilities. It’s happening this year from August 9th to 12th, and among the businesses most intricately involved is Fitzgerald’s Solicitors, based out of Lapp’s Quay in the city centre, where three senior solicitors are among those that swap the suits and ties of legal life for compression shorts and indoor training. Gathered around the phone at their office, it’s clear that the excitement is building, as they discuss their internal fundraising efforts, as well as those happening around the county.

“We do a fun-run in September or October, in Mahon, usually and raise funds from that, everyone gets an hour on the bike, and we’re there for the day”, says Rose Murphy.  “I run the Facebook page for Tour de Munster, and get to share the events that people put on: there’s a lot of coffee mornings, and concerts, especially in rural or provincial areas, as we get a lot of cyclists from all over the six counties.” Noel Doherty, a veteran of the tour, interjects with stories of the firm’s own fundraising. “We’ve had a cake sale, we’ve made cakes and sold them to other businesses around our building. It takes a great collective effort for (groups around the city and county).”

The tour route, well-honed over the last number of years, is absolutely no picnic, and makes for the polar opposite of an office fun-run. Running 640km in total, the route takes cyclists around the counties of Munster, with more than a few hills along the way. Much to your author’s surprise, it’s an involved process to get in shape and focus, says Doherty. “It’s great because we would be regular attendees of Tour de Munster training in Cork, so all of the Tour de Munster cyclists in the area get together every Monday and Wednesday at 5.45 up at Harlequins, we go with Paul Sheridan, the organiser, and we cycle somewhere between fifty and seventy-five kilometres each. Paul organises a different route every single night. Lots of hills, great fun. You could leave the office with your head bent from dealing with cases and issues, and after half an hour of training, it’s fantastic, the wind has blown all the worries out of your head.”

Although the run of the ride is spread across four days, there’s no two ways around the fact that it’s a hard slog. Having taken on the Tour for the last eight years now, Noel Doherty is more than qualified to discuss the challenges that lie ahead, and advise potential riders on what to avoid. “Saturday is the most difficult and most enjoyable day. You move out from Tralee, out the Blennerville Road and take on the Connor Pass. If you have any wind against you, or rain, I tell you, that’s a really tough ride. But it’s fantastic, because the easy riders and the inexperienced would go up first, about thirty or forty-five minutes ahead, and then, the faster riders chase behind, and everyone congregates at the top. And then in the afternoon, the process is reversed: the fastest head away first from Torc Waterfall, and wait for the others at Moll’s Gap, for the last riders to come up. So it’s a real community.” Adds solicitor and cyclist Sean O’Riordan: “That day, we stop for tea in Killarney at Deenagh Lodge, a project run by Down Syndrome Kerry, an employment for adult and older people with Down Syndrome. It’s really fantastic.”

By the same token, the Tour offers a look at the province’s formidable countryside, and the many views and natural wonders along the way. But for those partaking over a number of years, these are far from the only highlights of taking to the road, according to Murphy. “Just the effort that people from different branches of Down Syndrome Ireland put in to be on the road and cheer us on. They’re out there, they organise every stop and break, and they’re there to meet us. We may not see them again ‘til the following year’s Tour, but it’s a special effort they make to support us.” Doherty chimes in on the effect this support has on riders. “They have different signs on the road, blowing their horns, welcoming us, and the support that you get, really picks you up. You could be very wet and tired, sore, but you’re meeting local families, and they’re there thanking you for the effort.” O’Riordan proposes that the finish is the highlight, but perhaps not for exhaustion reasons. “Patrick’s Hill is an iconic location, you’ve done another tour, been through all the hardship, and for the big crowd and the Barrack Street Band to be there, it’s an unreal experience.”

For Rose Murphy, the benefits of the Tour de Munster and its fundraising drives are more keenly felt: her nephew Finn avails of the local services of Down Syndrome Ireland, and the impact that its local activities have had for her and others’ families and friends is profound. The collaboration of businesses and community organisations to support Down Syndrome Ireland, meanwhile, has meant the expansion of its services in many areas. “The Down Syndrome centre in Cork is very involved in bringing their members along, and one example that I can work from is Finn. He’s just turned nine, and he’s still in mainstream school. His speech wasn’t great, but because of the services of the Down Syndrome centre… they offer half-price speech and language classes in Centre 21, and my sister and brother in law avail of that every two weeks. I’ve gone to the service with Finn and the words are just flowing out of him. They have to take credit for that and right away I can see where my fundraising is going. It’s very hard to keep going back, asking for money, but when they meet Finn and see how he’s progressed, and that’s one-hundred percent Centre 21.”

While it’s important to muck in with Down Syndrome Ireland by supporting your local Tour de Munster fundraisers, those that need its assistance all year ‘round will tell you that there are plenty of ways to get involved with their centres, projects and facilities. “People can contribute in terms of sponsoring and cycling in Tour de Munster, and spreading the word. Other than that, there are projects like the Field of Dreams, next to the greyhound track, designed to provide activities, training and gainful employment for adults with Down Syndrome. It’s a huge horticultural project with a lot of effort put into it by Down Syndrome Cork, whereby we have a two-acre site, with training facilities, catering facilities and offices”, says Doherty. Polytunnels and raised beds, with a lot of people involved in the horticultural project there. People can volunteer there, whether it’s planting or weeding, and that’s a huge support as well.”

As the city centre’s commercial landscape continues to shift amid change and regeneration, the importance of charity to keeping local, Cork-owned businesses involved in the community cannot be underestimated. Social responsibility will be the key to maintaining ties to the city as change continues to make its way outwards over the coming years and decades, says Doherty. “I think it’s vital. Programmes like these vital because they raise the morale, they bring people together, and allows employees to identify with their industry. Like on the Field of Dreams, companies will sponsor their employees to go out and volunteer, doing a particular project, and at the end of the day they can see that they’ve worked hard and the produce they have at the end of the day. The company makes a contribution, the employees go back and talk to other employees. People like to see that there’s a social benefit and that it’s not just about the bottom line.”

Franciscan Well Fem-Ale Festival: “The First Measure for More Involvement”

With craft beer now firmly at the heart of pubs and venues around the country, women are staking their claim in a rapidly-changing business. Enter the Franciscan Well’s Kate Clancy, who’s spearheading the first all-women craft beer festival on August 10th and 11th. She tells Mike McGrath-Bryan about the idea and how it happened.

The rise of craft beer over the past five years or more has been inexorable: local and regional breweries have become part of the national retail landscape, while home-brewed options have made appearances on taps around the county alongside the brewery giants. Since its takeover by Molson Coors, the Cork-based Franciscan Well has been at the vanguard of this insurgency, leveraging the increased distribution at its disposal with a unique offering of specialty beers and ales, countering the craft-branded alternate offerings marketed to casual drinkers by its parent company’s rivals. It’s against this background of innovation and growth that the latest initiative undertaken by the brewery’s pub emerges: Fem-Ale festival, happening on August 10th and 11th at the quayside superpub.

Talks, musical performances, panels and even Saturday morning pilates sessions make the event’s first annual excursion, which aims to open up the conversation around gender equality in craft brewing, according to the venue’s marketing head, Kate Clancy. “I’ve been working in the Franciscan Well now for three years as their marketing manager. Over the past three years, I have been attending and running beer festivals in Cork. Most events I attend, I normally would end up being the only female attending. This was very noticeable at our last festival, the Spring Beer Festival, which is Ireland’s longest running beer festival. I felt that there has to be women in Cork that are interested in Craft beer but may not feel comfortable in attending these events. I wanted to share with people just how welcoming the beer industry is to everyone, and showcase the women that have been part of the success of the industry in Ireland. Also a female-led beer festival hasn’t yet been held in Ireland, and considering we are celebrating our twentieth year brewing, and that it is The Year of the Woman, I thought, ‘why not do something different?’.”

She might just have a point – craft alcohol has something of a boys’ club around it, but the task of finding other brewpubs and home breweries led by women wasn’t the challenge Clancy quite had in mind, either. “It’s been amazing. It’s snowballed! Once I got in touch with one woman, they were very quick to mention another woman working in some aspect or other of the beer industry, and everyone has helped me to put the list of attendees together (specifically) to ensure no-one was left out! It’s been a pleasure of a festival to organise.”

In terms of the layout of the event, how does it break down between tastings and panels/discussions, and regarding the latter, how were themes agreed upon and reached? “Like all our beer festivals, we will have a bar with over twenty taps set up in the beerhall. Of course all beers that will be pouring will be beers that have been brewed by women. At this stage, I have over thirteen Irish brewers, which is a lot more than what I thought I’d get! As the festival is focused on showcasing women in the industry, the talks will play a major role over the weekend. They’ll start on Friday evening with Melissa Cole, followed by a panel discussion with brewers like Kinnegar Brewing’s Rachel & Libby, and West Kerry’s Adrienne. The talks will resume on Saturday at 2pm, and will be a combination of panel discussions of brewers, journalists, graphic designers, marketers, Christina Wade, the founder of the Ladies’ Craft Beer Society of Ireland, and Edana Hinchy, director of the Craft Brew Labs. There is no specific theme for the speeches, as all the women are coming from different backgrounds. The idea is for them to share their experiences in the industry, and also shed some light on how to get involved.”

The guest of honour is journalist, sommelier and food expert Melissa Cole – a pioneering professional who has blazed a trail for women in specialist service industries. Her importance as a gala headliner, for lack of a better term, cannot be underestimated, especially as part of the festival’s first year. “First off, we couldn’t run a Female festival without asking Melissa, she has done amazing work and is an inspiration to any woman in the craft beer industry. Melissa has been fighting against sexism in the beer industry for twenty years now, and it is an honour to have her speak, and share her experiences at the festival. Everyone is looking forward to meeting her, especially me!” Part of the event’s remit is reaching out to women who would like to be involved with the craft beer industry. Outreach measures are being taken at the event, and followed up on after by the brewery, in addition to the given networking opportunities such an event possesses. “I would hope that the event itself is the first measure to get more women involved, especially in Cork, and again the talks might inspire! I am hoping to run a series of follow-up events after the festival, e.g. tasting nights and tap takeovers. Christina has set up the Ladies’ Craft Beer Society of Ireland, which is based in Dublin, so I’m hoping to set up a Cork based one after the event. I will also be collecting emails over the weekend (and getting in touch).”

That spirit makes its way down to the entertainment on offer across the weekend, as the stage is set for some of Cork’s busiest musicians to showcase themselves and their work. “On Friday night, we’ll have Christiana Underwood and friends taking to the stage, with soul & reggae music. Saturday from 3pm, we’ll have member of local band She Said, and Saturday at 8pm, all-woman vocal trio Koa, off their residency at the Bridge pub on Bridge Street. All females, and all Cork-based!” As the Fran Well looks set to continue a national expansion that has seen its cans land on supermarket shelves and at festivals & events all over the country, the pub where it all started on North Mall continues apace, and preparations are in place for a special anniversary later this year. “We can’t say much about it just yet, but our biggest event to date will be in November, as we’ll celebrate our twentieth birthday. Watch this space.”

Coughlan’s Live Music Festival: “A Way of Saying Thank You”

Coughlan’s Live Music Festival marks the Douglas Street venue’s seventh anniversary, and a special programme of gigs. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-founder Brian Hassett about the line-up and the future.

Ambiently-lit and covered in posters from gigs over the past seven years, Coughlan’s Live, at the back of the renovated but otherwise unassuming Coughlan’s pub at the Capwell end of Douglas Street stands as one of the unlikely pillars of Cork music. Since opening under the direction of In Bloom agency man Brian Hassett and former Lobby Bar booker Edel Curtin seven years ago, it’s been an important place for intimate gigs of all genres in the city, with a particular eye on the folk and Americana gigs that have cemented its place. Every year, Coughlan’s Live Music Festival marks the venue’s foundation with a special weekend of music, celebrating what the promoters call ‘the little room with the massive heart’.

This year, luminaries like Lisa Hannigan, Mick Flannery, The Lost Brothers and Luka Bloom share stages with the likes of psych-rockers O Emperor, groove experimentalists The Bonk, and psych-pop cadets The Shaker Hymn among others, while the likes of Emma Langford and The Ocelots build on their live momentum. Hassett, known for years to friends and collaborators simply as ‘Hassey’, talks about the fest’s modus operandi. “The first Coughlan’s Live Festival was an opportunity for us to open the doors to the venue, and to be able to celebrate what was then a new space in the city, for musicians and audiences. Since that first weekend, we have been hosting lots of shows every week, taking in local, national and international singer-songwriters, bands, DJs, rap groups, comedians, etc., so it has been a pleasure for us to work with so many people that we admire, and also over time been able to watch so many of them grow much bigger audiences.”

Assembling a festival lineup is the dream for many music fans, so it’s no surprise that for the crew of Coughlan’s, it’s an exciting time to look at availabilities, projects and local happenings, and take them all into consideration. “It always begins with a wishlist, groups or artists that we are fans of. We try to have artists who would be well established, and then have them in a more intimate space where it is a very different experience for both the artists and the audiences. As an example, this year Lisa Hannigan or Mick Flannery, who would both regularly sell out rooms the size of Cork Opera House, will be performing shows to just sixty people in a very up close and personal setting. Having established groups on the lineup also gives us the opportunity to invite some newer bands. This year we’ll be welcoming the likes of Orchid Collective, The Ocelots and Paddy Dennehy for the first time to Coughlan’s, so we are very excited about that.”

In addition to a fine lineup of folk artists, as is the venue’s speciality, bands like O Emperor, The Shaker Hymn and The Bonk are also on the billing, as mentioned. What’s the importance of that kind of variety to assembling an overall lineup? “Variety in the line-up is very important, the different types of shows over the festival also means that we can change the way the shows are presented in the venue, swapping between full-band shows with a standing audience, and more intimate seated gigs, so that people get to have different experiences also within the venue. We’re really excited to be welcoming O Emperor back, having last played here back in 2013, so it’s a long-awaited return.”

Over the course of five days, several gigs and events take place in a very small space. The intimacy of the venue, as well as the demand for space in the back room on the weekend, means production and show-running can often be challenging. “It starts on the Wednesday, September 26th, and runs to Sunday September 30th, and takes in eleven different shows and seventeen artists, over thirty-five musicians and performers. At this stage, we’re able to run it pretty well, having figured out over the years where any potential surprise might be, and we have a great crew in-house. We are lucky also to have really good relationships with so many of these bands and artists, many of whom have previously also played Coughlan’s, as well as with so many of our audiences that come to shows, so as well as making sure that everything runs smoothly we are also able to have the chance to catch up with some great friends.”

The venue has been a home for comedy over the past few years, also, and this has been reflected in the line-up. For Hassey, it’s about nurturing something new as it’s been growing in his backyard. “Comedy has grown massively in Ireland over the last few years. Both on a local and national level, there are some really great new Irish comics coming through. Every week, we host free comedy shows presented by ‘Comedy Cavern’. It can be a mix of local, national or international comedians, there’s also an open-mic night which is a great opportunity for both new comedians or established comedians trying new material. There’s also a series wherein comedians perform their Edinburgh show, which is more longform or story-based comedy. Once every month, ‘The Bold Ensemble’ perform a set of improvised sketches and skits based on audience suggestions, which is brilliantly unpredictable and always hilarious.”

The venue is also home to some of the gigs that are part of the locally-curated Quiet Lights festival in September, just announced this past week and featuring some of the leading lights of a new generation of folk and traditional Irish music. “Jon from Islander Music approached us to be part of this new festival, and we are really looking forward to working with him to establish this as part of the Cork live music calendar. We will be hosting three shows over the weekend with Lisa O’Neill, Ye Vagabonds and Cormac Begley. We have worked shows before with both Lisa O’ Neill and Ye Vagabonds, so are delighted to be welcoming them back and really looking forward to Cormac’s first Coughlan’s show.”

For the short-to-medium term, CLMF will remain in place as the centrepiece of the main venue’s calendar, alongside the crew’s Right Here Right Now festival, happening annually at the Opera House. It’s about maintaining that sense of community, says Hassey. “The festival is a celebration for us every year so we specifically programme a lot of free shows so everyone can have the opportunity to come in and catch some great live music, and also as a way of saying thank you to the all the audiences that have come to gigs and supported both us and the artists throughout the year.”

The real challenges lie ahead, though: amid all the urban renewal and gentrification that’s been happening and looks set to continue apace over the next ten years, the small venue as an urban cultural pillar is under threat, and support for venues like Coughlan’s will become all the more important. “With all the changes that have happened within the music industry over the last ten years or so, and also the changes within the city with urban renewal and gentrification, it can be difficult for a small-capacity venue to keep its doors open, but for us it is very special and rewarding to be able to share in so many great live experiences and we are really grateful for the support from both audiences and bands over the years and we really look forward to creating many more great memories in the coming years.”