The Boys and Girls of Knocka: “The Salt-of-the-Earth, Genuine People”

The massively popular ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group has teamed up with local singers, songwriters and musicians to put together a special CD release to raise funds for local projects, focused on the thoughts and recollections of Knocknaheeny’s people and their relationship with the locality. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with some of the people involved.

The northside of Cork has always been the heart of the city: home to historic trading areas and iconic landmarks, thriving and tight-knit residential areas, and distinguishably working-class arts and culture, from cult post-punk heroes Nun Attax and current black-metal darlings God Alone, to arts facilities like the Firkin Crane Theatre, and rapper GMC’s Kabin project. Concurrent to this fertile ground for artistic development has been an interesting phenomenon, that embodies the potential of the wider social media milieu and its ability to bring people together: The ‘Boys and Girls of Knocka’ group on Facebook. Over the past few months, it’s swollen from a few members from the co-founders’ circles, to over seven thousand members, and plays home to a rich array of historical photographs and material pertaining to the Northside. It’s a study in the reach granted by social platforms to communities, while specialising in local interests and content.

It’s on this group, co-founded by entrepreneur James Twomey and musician Glenn O’Callaghan, that the idea for a song memorialising the old sights and sounds of the area, before they’re lost to regeneration, came about. Sourcing musicians and songwriters to put together an extended-player featuring a song that reflected on the area’s history came slightly easier because of the group’s numbers, says Twomey, as he discusses the group’s community origin. “It was originally Glenn Cal, myself and himself set up the page originally, to collect our old friends from Knocknaheeny, because he lives now in Sligo and I’m in Aherla. We grew up in a big circle of about forty lads, different sorts of groups, as kids and teenagers. As you grow older, guys drift away, so we said it would be great to have everyone in… One lad in particular invited his wife onto the page, and that night, we had about sixty people in total, everybody knew everybody, but the next morning, we woke up and we’d nearly two-thousand people (laughs). I couldn’t believe it!”

Twomey and O’Callaghan weren’t long coming up with the idea for a song chronicling the area’s history and culture, in the Irish folk tradition. O’Callaghan, known onstage as ‘Glenn Cal’, had no problem getting the idea off the ground, and building the lead song for an extended-player for the community. Coming from local entertainment royalty, as the son of Ardmore Avenue’s own country singer Dave Cal, O’Callaghan had the firsthand knowledge and feel for the area to pen a homage, but has also struck out on his own as a singer-songwriter, touring with vocal group Westlife among others, and was able to bring that experience to the table early on. “Myself and James were talking about it, and he put me in touch with Myles Gaffney, a fabulous songwriter from the Northside. I’m living in Sligo now, so I collaborated with Myles at the start, with some ideas, but I’m delighted that he ran with it, but there was a great idea, and the song turned out brilliant. It’s great to have it up there. There’s a few videos up there, of songs of my own, and they got a good reaction, and it’s a great platform because there’s a lot of people on there. It really took off.”

Once Glenn had the idea and the concept behind the CD’s lead song set in stone, it was over to singer-songwriter Myles Gaffney to put together the most important piece of the whole thing: drawing on local knowledge and memories of the Knocknaheeny area through the filter of the community, and its experiences. For Gaffney, the song, which came simply to be titled, ‘Knocknaheeny’, was a painstaking labour of love. “I decided to watch and follow the page, and monitor comments from residents past and present. If a topic, place or subject was mentioned by various people a number of times, I would note that down. The first verse had to describe Knocknaheeny, and where it is, to let the listener know what the song is about, and where the community is. The second verse was to describe the people that came to inhabit Knocknaheeny, the basic houses that were built. Single-pane windows, with metal frames with four bare walls, no thrills, no frills. Proper working-class area and housing.”

“The chorus describes Knocknaheeny for what it really is. Friendship, love, neighbourhood, and a working-class community, very content with what they have. The salt-of-the-earth, genuine people. We know Knocknaheeny sometimes gets bad press, and dragged through the muck, but it’s a very small minority who portray this image. Cnoic Na hAoine, which means “the hill of Friday”, is contained in the third verse. On a Friday, before Knocknaheeny was built, monks would travel up the hill to pray in the fields looking down onto the harbour. Seventeen terraces were built in total between two main roads, Kilmore and Harbour View road respectively. Clubs and schemes are also mentioned. Verse four tells of a true working-class area as seen throughout Ireland. A post-office, chipper, chemist, library, school… basic needs for a community to function.”

Once the historic details were down, Gaffney got straight to the nitty-gritty of arrangement, recording and production. And if the weight of the material and its significance to the community was heavy, Gaffney unmade the burden of producing the song by staying in keeping with his own processes, lending it his own voice in the process. “As I’m a traditional Irish songwriter and artist, the production and recording was basically the same as any other songs I’ve written and recorded. Guitar, bass, banjo and squeeze-box were the instruments I chose for this song, to create the sound I was hearing in my mind. I wanted it to be a singalong song, easy to sing, easy to learn.”

Also appearing on the record is guitarist and songwriter Anthony Cotter, now a part of Ballincollig’s phenomenally successful White Horse Guitar Club ensemble, based out of the town’s folk venue of the same name. With his song, ‘Superman’, Cotter brings a more personal look at childhood in Knocknaheeny, reflecting on the emergence of bullying in schools, and stressing the importance of resolving conflict peacefully and maturely. “I based it loosely on this kid from school who was bullied so badly he brought a bread knife to school in his bag. It’s deep enough, but gets the listener to question the bully, and calls out it’s not right, but also that it’s not okay to fight back with violence. I had a superb childhood in Knocknaheeny myself, and with my involvement with St. Vincent’s H&F Club, we give back to the community. Some clubs make good players at adulthood, we make good people.”

The CD launched at Hollyhill Library earlier this month, with members of the community gathering at the facility to mark the occasion with the musicians and social-media folk involved. The record has been received warmly, with outlets all over the area stocking the physical CD, and enthusiastic local radio play. Gaffney is now looking toward what can be done to put the song in the inherited memory of young Norries. “The song has got a great reception, and I’m glad to say people like it. The next step I would suggest is to get the song into the schools. The children of Knocknaheeny are the next generation to carry on the song. The children can make this their own unique song, just for them. Father Greg in the church is a good man to give a song, so he might sing it at Mass (laughs).” Twomey echoes Gaffney’s sentiment about the song’s potential legacy, and the importance of pride of place. “It’s been brilliant, to be honest with you, there’s a song about Knocknaheeny now, that was never there before. And it’s the history of Knocknaheeny. I hope it’ll go on for generations, now, like ‘The Boys from Fair Hill’. We gave Myles the jigsaw, and he really put it together with his music as the glue.”

Proceeds from the four-track CD will go to support various community projects for the locality, and are part of an overall drive by people from the area to overcome the aforementioned social stigma that often affect working-class areas around the country. ‘Boys and Girls’ group administrator Don O’Sullivan outlines what the group seeks to accomplish, and hopefully take forward into further projects. “With the funds raised from this CD and other projects, that we will be planning whether through sponsorship or local fund-raising, we want to be in a position to help small groups locally, that are struggling to find funds, and to raise funds with them. In the case the majorettes or a dance group can’t go to their competitions or events, we want to be able to send them on that bus, either by paying for the bus or giving donations to help the children perform in their category, and let the children enjoy the activities that they trained so hard for.”

“We have seen groups who might not be well known and don’t really have the experience, or the know-how to raise funds, and we will be there for them, and to provide. When we were growing up, every child in the parish was involved in something. GAA, dancing, sports of all types, and that has seemed to slow down over the years. We want to give that injection of self-belief, that it can be achieved again as in years gone by, and that is where we will step in, as our children are our future. We are in talks at the minute with professionals in running workshops for the youth, and these are not cheap, but we hope to have the funds in place to give back to the youth. We just want to keep it, from what we saw growing up, to give to this generation with the chance we had.”

Speaking further on projects happening locally, O’Sullivan is evidently proud of what they’ve accomplished with this piece of music, but also spurred on by the possibilities of what can happen next, calling attention to access to the arts, but also a very special cause that will be fundraising soon, in the spirit of community. “We will be working together in the future on other projects. I think where we are now, we can get planning outdoor events locally, give the public free gigs, as we know how expensive it can be for families to go to a gig. From experience with the schools, there are some music clubs there, and it’s just tapping into that pool of energy, and nurturing the youth to have them play, or even extra tuition from experienced musicians, if they want to take up writing or singing or playing an instrument. St. Mary’s on the Hill N.S. are trying to raise money at the moment for a sensory garden for children on the autism spectrum. It is a lot of money for this, they are looking at 25k to get it up and running, so we could hold a concert in the school with the singers, and raise a few quid with that, or even other projects to help them out with the sensory garden. Our slogan for the page is: Putting Unity Back into the Community.”

‘The Boys and Girls of Knocka’ Facebook group is open to join on the platform now. The group’s Christmas concert happens at Hollyhill Library, on Saturday December 15th at 1pm, including musicians featured on the new CD, on sale from the Library, Singleton’s SuperValu, and CarryOut at Top of the Hill.

Myles Gaffney headlines at Cyprus Avenue on Saturday December 29th, tickets onsale now from cyprusavenue.ie, and The Old Oak. Anthony Cotter and the White Horse Guitar Club play Cork Opera House on Thursday January 24th 2019, tickets onsale now from the venue box office and corkoperahouse.ie. Glenn Cal’s new solo EP will be releasing in the new year, with songs available to hear in the ‘Boys and Girls’ group now.

God Alone: “This Time We Had a Clearer Vision in Mind”

Having thrown off the ‘precocious youngfellas’ tag by taking on the best of the UK and Irish metal scenes at Mammothfest and emerging victorious, Northsiders God Alone are ready to take the first step into the biggest year of their personal and professional lives, starting with the release of their debut full-length. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to bassist Cian Mullane.

It’s an easy trope to refer to black-metal/post-rock hybrids God Alone as “the pride” of Cork city’s music scene at present, but such truisms aren’t always without cause. Since their emergence from Cork’s relatively cloistered all-ages scene not even two years ago, the five-piece has aggressively gigged around the country, including seemingly weekly appearances at venues around the city, fine-honing a live show befitting the frightening maturity of their material. Claiming influence from bands like our own Altar of Plagues, they’ve also been a rallying point for the metal scene in Cork, as they’ve fostered a lot of goodwill from gig-goers, promoters and venue bookers alike for their hard work, as much as their musical innovation. While it’s also likely lazy journalism to say this of the band, the fact remains: all of this is still immensely impressive, considering some of the band is still only in sixth year of secondary school.

After the physical release of the band’s debut extended-player Intivim, God Alone set about outlining a concept for their debut full-length, and on the sixteenth of this month, the lads’ hard work comes to fruition. ‘Poll na mBrón’ is ready, with production by Rónan McCann (Any Joy) and mastering by local sonic polymath Matt Corrigan (Ghostking is Dead). For bassist/vocalist Cian Mullane, it’s a matter of moving forward musically, while holding a candle to local history. “We started writing the bones of the album around the time of the release of Intivim, with a vision of maturing the sounds of the EP, getting sadder and dancier. The album is a sort of concept album, loosely based on Our Lady’s Hospital Cork, which was an asylum in the Northside of Cork, where most of us live. It’s a harrowing place, and the atmosphere of the place and stories from it, had a massive influence on the music. The overall concept of the lyrics deal with themes of mental health and loneliness, and we use Our Lady’s Hospital as a place for those themes to live.”

Reverting to their home ground of Marlboro Street’s Groundfloor youth music facility, where McCann works as a musical supervisor for the YMCA, the band took the theme of musical progression to the production process, beginning to sharpen their studio chops. “This time we had a clearer vision in mind of what we were doing and what we wanted, and we had a much larger role in the production process. We used way more electronic elements on this album to create a more dense atmosphere than the EP.” The album releases this week via all digital services, and the band are one of the first generation of young artists to be releasing and garnering traction for their music in the post-physical environment, with digital streaming spurring their growth along on a wider national level. That being said, physical CDs, as well as T-shirts of the band’s faux-Gucci logo, have been selling out. The question of a physical release for ‘Poll na mBrón’ is an easy one. “We should have a rake of CDs at the launch, and possibly vinyl within the new year. We just slapped the EP out, and were really surprised and delighted that people were listening to it, and we hope people listen to our album too.”

This past summer saw the band come to international attention after winning the Mammothfest metal weekender’s Best Band Battle, defeating all-comers across multiple regional heats in Cork City, heading to Brighton with fellow Corkonians Bailer and Dublin’s Jenova to compete in the finals, and taking home the gold. “Mammothfest was the best craic of all time. Bailer and Jenova are absolute gents, and it was a fantastic experience. It was mental that we were chosen as the winners of the whole competition, we were just happy to be over there. Also, most people couldn’t understand what we were saying over there, and that was quite gas. We were really surprised and happy with the reaction we got over there.” Their prize for the victory involves an extensive UK and Irish tour next year, around which everyone’s calendar is revolving next year, including State exams and college assignments. The question of work-life-music balance is always a prescient one for God Alone, but it bears asking. “‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’ is our philosophy on everything, be grand (laughs).”

The band takes to the stage at the Kino on Washington Street this Sunday, to mark the release of their album, with hardcore/sludge veterans Horse supporting, and an appearance from fellow youngfellas Flatliner. It ought to be a busy affair, both in terms of numbers, and sonically, but sets them in good stead for the year ahead. “We’re really looking forward to playing it. The Kino is an unreal venue and place and the last time we played there it was class. Expect plenty of dancing and shouting and mad visuals. We’re playing with the absolute best biys of Horse and Flatliner which will be class, and to top it all off it’s going to be all ages which is the best craic. This year has been unbelievable, beyond belief and absolute mental. Next year we hope to do even more. We like being constantly busy with gigs, writing, and recording. New year, new us (laughs).”

God Alone release debut album ‘Poll na mBrón’ this Sunday, with a launch gig happening at the Kino the same day. Horse and Flatliner to support, kickoff at 6pm, €5 on the door. You can also catch them opening for Bailer and Worn Out on the 21st at Dali on Carey’s Lane.

Bunker Vinyl: “Everything’s Been Done on a Shoestring”

From social work in inner-city London to providing a space for music lovers in the city, Bunker Vinyl’s John Dwyer brings strong community spirit to his lifelong dream.

It’s one thing to harbour a dream, then tell yourself that maybe it’s a little bit wild for your circumstances, your headspace etc. It’s quite another, though, to drop everything after two decades in one place to finally pursue that ambition. Located on Cork’s Camden Quay, the unassuming surrounds of Bunker Vinyl & Studio are, for co-proprietor John Dwyer, the embodiment of such a decision. “I left London after twenty-one years of being a social worker. I’d always wanted my own record shop, since I was eight, so I started at Mother Jones’ Flea Market, selling out of there for nine months, then opened the shop. Here we are two years later.”

Selling music almost entirely on vinyl, Bunker is one of a clutch of shops that has grown in recent years off the back of the format’s mainstream comeback as an alternative to streaming. Even so, it must have been a challenge taking on something new after being in such a substantative role for twenty-one years. “It was, but I was kind of in and around record shops throughout the nineties in Brighton, I’d be obsessed. Even though I was a social worker, I’d spend my weekend at record shops, clubs, venues, etc. So… I’d the transferrable skills.”

With a strong interest in the UK’s musical underground and sociopolitical ethics fine-honed by his time in the UK’s social-work system, it didn’t take long for those interests to cross over, and for Dwyer to find his niche as a social worker. “Oh yeah, I used to run a music programme for kids with disabilities, and it was basically giving kids the chance to go into studios, learn how to record people, then we had DJ competitions for people. Work with disadvantaged kids, we had a music project in West London, which turned into gigs, and eventually a label, which was funded for a while, until that was taken away by the Tory government. So, it’s interesting to come back and see what’s changed since the boom and bust. Things seem to be improving – seem to be improving.”

After moving back to Ireland to pursue his dream, Dwyer got his start selling records at Mother Jones’ Flea Market, a hub for vintage culture, antiques, and specialist retail. The importance of community made itself apparent from the get-go. “It’s a good place to start. You’re there for three days a week, and you get to meet loads of heads there. There’s a good buzz around the place, you get to figure out who’s who in the city. The overheads are small, so it’s a good opportunity to start a business and see does it have legs, I suppose. Really good place.”

Once the business began outgrowing its capacity at the market thanks to a bottom-line of support and custom, Dwyer was faced with the decision to move, no mean feat two years ago, at the outset of the current property crisis. But doing so has allowed Bunker Vinyl to grow steadily. “Just finding the property in the city was quite difficult, but I luckily found this place, it was the third or fourth shop I looked at. Just a matter of stock, buying in records from all over the place, and doing so on a limited budget. Everything’s been done on a shoestring, only expanding as far as I can afford to, really, and that’s the way the business is growing.”

Alongside the record shop downstairs in Bunker, a studio space has been set up for Dwyer and co-conspirator Aileen Wallace, as a base for lessons, workshops and creativity. “I met Aileen when she was busking one day, she and a few friends were looking for a place to teach music. When I got into this space, I realised we could actually have two spaces within the shop, and Aileen was the first person I thought of that would be good for it. It’s a slow builder, but Aileen’s away doing different things as well, so it’s kind-of become our little musical nirvana.”

The importance of spaces like Bunker Vinyl + Studio to Cork’s music scene cannot be overstated, being as they are, as the song says, the ears of the town. Dwyer will be the first to outline that importance, and pride of place of record shops in the community. “A record shop has always been the place where the person running it is a complete music addict, wants to share music with other people. There is a lot of people that just come in to chat, tell you about their records. You get guys coming in doing posters, telling you about their gigs. You get to know everyone that comes through.”

Bunker Vinyl + Studio is open Tues-Sun at 1 Camden Quay, Cork City, selling music on vinyl and CD, new and secondhand.

Therapy?: “A New Lease on Life, Really”

Off the back of their biggest album and European tour in years, Northern Irish legends Therapy? take on a five-date Irish tour in March, including the brand-new Cyprus Avenue on March 23rd. MIKE MCGRATH-BRYAN talks with frontman and guitarist ANDY CAIRNS about the band’s new album ‘Cleave’, and the tensions that brought it about.

Millions of units shifted, thousands of road miles on the clock and fifteen albums deep into a wide and varied discography, Ballyclare/Larne-originating trio Therapy? have, over the course of nearly thirty years, gone from noisy upstarts, to mainstream superstars, to gatekeepers of the Irish underground, approaching touring and recording with the same grit and gristle as they always have. A few days removed from a month of UK and European touring, though, and it’s a relaxed yet chipper Andy Cairns at the other end of the phone, audibly happy with how things have gone. “We did two-and-half weeks in Europe and two-and-a-half weeks in the UK, both of them were sensational. We’re really buzzing at the minute. A lot of the gigs in Europe, the venues were moved up, and were bigger than we’ve played in years, and in the UK, if we didn’t sell the venue out then attendances and tickets were better than they’ve been in years, so it was all really positive. We’re playing really well as a band, y’know. We’re all really fit, we’re all up for it, and we’re getting a good mix in the crowds. It’s a good night out and it’s given us a new lease on life, really.”

This upturn in fortunes comes off the back of the release of the band’s newest long-player ‘Cleave’, the band’s biggest mainstream success in years. Greeted with critical acclaim and an enthusiastic response from the band’s fanbase, ‘Cleave’ is the band’s highest-charting LP in years on both sides of the Atlantic, and has done well across the continent. “The first thing we’ve noticed is the punters love it, a lot more than any other album recently. I felt they liked ‘Disquiet’ a lot, and I felt they liked ‘A Brief Crack of Light’ a lot, but the punters seem to like this more than any album we’ve done in years. Something about it, I don’t know if it’s the sound, or if it’s the attitude, or whether some of the songwriting adheres to those classic Therapy? tropes, there’s something about the whole package that seems to resonate with people this time around.”

The record is Therapy? in prime alt-rock form, a handful of serrated shards of distortion and volume, bookended by melody and refrains the likes of which will be instantly familiar to lapsed fans revisiting the band after their major-label years. No surprise, then, that they were joined behind the desk by a longtime collaborator in Chris Sheldon, producer for some of the band’s most immediate and impactful records, including 1994 Mercury Prize nominee ‘Troublegum’. “Chris, we’ve known on and off since 1992, and even when we weren’t working with him on a regular basis we would still see him occasionally, socially. And he kind-of knows, because he was there near the start, when we were making records in the ‘Troublegum’ mode, he knows what makes us tick. He’s really, really good as a producer in that he’s bulls**t-free. He doesn’t hide behind anything. He won’t waste five hours using a Chinese gong on a track just to placate the drummer. He will literally say, if the song’s not ready, ‘guys, this isn’t ready, go back and finish it.’ If the song’s too long, he’ll say ‘this needs cutting out’. And we’ll argue the course with him, and we’ll get some middle ground, and it’ll all work for the record, but he’s about making sure the record is really, really good. The other thing, too, is with the amount of time we’ve been around, working with someone you respect and get on with means an awful lot, because it means the whole recording process and creative process goes a lot more smoothly.”

A constant in the band’s discography has been adhering to loose concepts across an album, a creative trait that has allowed them to explore social alienation, political divisions, mental health/illness, and philosophy with consistency while the band’s sound has morphed across line-ups. No time like the present, unfortunately, then, to examine the fears and anxieties of modern life, than the current hellscape of reactionary politics and resultant social issues. “I can pinpoint exactly where the album lyrics came from. Nine times out of ten, when Therapy? writes an album, we’ll write the music first, and I will concurrently write the vocal melody. But lyrics aren’t normally done until we get an idea of what it’ll be all about. We have certain themes running through all our records, but we hadn’t had a theme for this one yet, we had all the vocal melodies, the music was finished, but I was having trouble finding something to hang a theme around the album with. We were having dinner with some friends one night, a classic middle-class English dinner-party. Someone mentioned Brexit, someone brought it up, and I said, ‘y’know, as someone that’s lived in a divided Ireland all my life, as someone that’s seen sectarianism, I really don’t see what benefit we can have from separating ourselves from our European cousins.’ At which point a middle-class Englishman turned around to me and said, without any irony, ‘if you don’t like it, you can always go home’ (laughs). And I said ‘I beg your pardon? Do you want me to go home two doors up the road?’ He said ‘no, you can always go back to Ireland’. So, this is what it’s done to people, and that’s when I started writing about division. And I tried to write from the point of division, I didn’t want to write a specifically ‘Brexit’ record, I used that comment from that pretentious buffoon to jump off and write about division within ourselves, within our countries, and the emotions we give and take from each other. At no stage on our fifteenth album did I want to write a Rage Against the Machine or Stiff Little Fingers agitprop album, because I wouldn’t be very good at it.”

Leadoff single ‘Callow’ is possibly the most immediate example of where the band is at in 2018, addressing the burgeoning issue of prescription medication abuse in a knockabout, almost poppy fashion. While the song was approaching completion, the passing occurred of rapper Lil’ Peep, sadly taken at 21 years of age by an accidental overdose of anti-anxiety medication prescribed for mental-health issues. The reaction of Cairns’ son to Peep’s death spurred on the song’s lyrical content. “Unfortunately it tends to happen, whether it’s Jim Morrison dying, or the suicide of Kurt Cobain, a glorification of the use of Xanax came in the wake of Lil’ Peep’s death, certainly some of my son’s circle of friends were buying Xanax online, and people were nodding off and passing out at parties, seventeen-, eighteen-year-old kids. The whole Soundcloud rap thing, face tattoos, emo crossed with hip-hop, Xanax went hand-in-hand with that. It was all over the press, all over the Internet. But also, whenever you find out that loads of Xanax is being bought online, it’s being prescribed, to kids, which is quite horrifying. One thing I do want to clarify, though, I’m not anti-antidepressants, I think some people see that as the only course that will work for them, and certainly my father had a horrendous breakdown about twenty-five years ago and Prozac was what saved his life. But for certain people it can be like putting a Band-Aid over an enormous scar, and I think talking to people works better.”

Following the band’s touring success on the continent, it’s time for the boys in black to take it home, with a five-date tour in March playing the country’s non-capital cities for a change, including their first all-electric gig in Limerick in nearly two decades. The band’s Leeside stop takes in their customary gig at Cyprus Avenue, playing the newly-constructed ‘new’ room in the venue complex, but also a flying visit around the city. “We’ve been badgering away for a year now to get fully electric shows in Ireland, and it’s never been the right time. And obviously, we’ll have to come back and do Dublin and Belfast at some point, and there’s a few more places we’d like to play, like Kilkenny and Waterford. But, y’know, we’re very, very excited to be coming back. Cork is one of our very favourite cities, and favourite venues, on the entire planet. We always manage, quite rightly, to turn the gig at Cyprus Avenue into a weekender. We normally get over the day before the gig, get out to the gig, go out with friends, and then spend half the next day there getting dinner. So, in March, we’ll have a big star on all our calendars. We’re going back to Derry to play an electric show, Galway, in the Roisín Dubh, which we love, Dolan’s is always a brilliant gig and I love Limerick as a city, and of course we’ve been to Dundalk numerous times but it’ll be good to come back with a full electric show.”

Therapy? play the new Cyprus Avenue on March 23rd, 2019. Tickets are on sale now from cyprusavenue.ie and The Old Oak. The band’s new album ‘Cleave’, is available now on CD and vinyl from Golden Discs on Patrick Street, and across all digital services via Marshall Records.

Keith Barry: “Ultimately, I Have No-One to Answer To”

Plying a craft somewhere between mentalism, hypnosis and magic, Keith Barry has entranced live and television audiences the world over, and worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest names. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats to the Waterford man ahead of his dates at the Everyman in March.

It’s been a long road for Keith Barry, from getting his first book on magic tricks as a fourteen-year-old in his hometown of Waterford, to leading the field across multiple media on hypnotism, magic, and mentalism. In the process, he’s refined his art for audiences around the world, and as he quickly cuts across the South Mall to meet up at the Imperial Hotel for a chat, he’s clearly in the press-day headspace ahead of his next Irish tour in the New Year, effusively chatting about upcoming engagements and projects.

While any craftsman worth his salt would never reveal his secrets, it’s a point of interest to discuss how magic, an art dependent on the presence of a live audience is transmuted to the camera, and its needs. Barry holds up his first television series for RTÉ, Close Encounters, as an example of not only the production nuance, but the graft that goes into magic as a television format. “The medium has changed over the years. When I started my TV projects, it was back in 2003, so you’re talking about fifteen years ago now. And there was really only David Copperfield, David Blaine and Derren Brown. I was doing street magic here. My whole ethos was, as few cuts as possible from the camera, all the magic is shot ‘as live’, no stooges, no camera tricks. I’ve stayed with that my whole career. The medium has changed, it’s now Instagram, Twitter, everyone’s looking for this hit, this instant dopamine thing, and there are a number of magicians that are paying actors to freak out, knock cups over and do tricks that wouldn’t work in the real world at all. So, it’s difficult. You have to have a live audience, the reactions have to be real, and my (upcoming special) for RTÉ, ‘Keith Barry’s Magical New Year’s Eve Party’, it’s a live studio audience, and you can’t pull the wool over their eyes unless you openly deceive them.”

While conquering the small screen is no mean feat, it’s much different again to take your craft to the silver screen and maintain the authenticity of the live experience. Barry worked as a consultant for the ‘Now You See Me’ series of films, both of which to date were huge box-office successes. The challenges of showing complete novices your craft, and doing so in the timeframe of a major Hollywood production, is a feat of magic in itself. “There’s two things to this: they’re big Hollywood stars, so you have to treat them with a certain level of respect, but also, you have to be mindful of their time. But for me, when I’m involved in a magic movie, there’s no secrets. You have to teach them as much as you can in as short a space of time is possible, and ultimately trust them. These are professionals, they’re not going to be out revealing your secrets. They learn their roles, and learn them well. Dave Franco, I taught him sleight of hand, with Woody Harrelson, I taught him how to be a hypnotist and mentalist. They can do all this stuff in real life now. I had a great time, and now I’m good friends with some of them.”

Barry has also overseen the return of hypnosis as a primetime television format around the world with ‘You’re Back in the Room’, a UK version of which aired on ITV a number of years ago, and has subsequently travelled well to other markets. What are the pros and cons of a show that has to function for a live audience, as well as fit into a gameshow? “It was massively difficult. It was a new format. These people do want to pop out of hypnosis and just grab the cash, so it was difficult for me to make work, while also having an entertaining gameshow. The most important aspect for me was to be able to stand behind the hypnosis, to say to you that they were really hypnotised. The end product was a hit, we did some in Australia, and we’ve filmed another ten episodes in the U.S., for Fox, so it’s travelled very well.”

More so than media, writing or any kind of consultancy, Barry’s bread and butter is the support of his home audience, and he has an Irish tour kicking off in the new year, that includes three nights in March at MacCurtain Street’s Everyman Palace. It’s a favourite room of the magician’s, and he’s looking toward weaving his deceptions on a Leeside audience. “My favourite part of what I do is being on stage. I believe that’s where I’m strongest, and that’s where I’m at my most content. Ultimately, I have no-one to answer to. I write the show, I direct the show, and I’m onstage, being the real me. I’ve had a great following for the last fifteen, twenty years, on the road. People understand that I change the show up every year, and this year, it’s called ‘Deception’. It’s about how the world is more deceptive than we’ve ever been in, not just with ‘fake news’, but with our own minds these days. I’ve been coming here for years, the Everyman is an amazing theatre. I always go across the road to Isaac’s for my dinner, brilliant restaurant, and the crowds here have always been fantastic. I love coming down here.”

Keith Barry presents ‘Deception’, playing at the Everyman Palace Theatre from March 14th to 16th. Tickets €30, on sale at the Everyman and through ticketmaster.ie.

Stephanie Rainey: “It’s a Very Strange Thing to Get Used To”

Stephanie Rainey’s last throw of the musical dice saw her lay her emotions and experiences bare, before unexpectedly going viral. Three years later, she’s readying herself for her third national headlining tour. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with the Glanmire singer-songwriter ahead of her next Cyprus Avenue date on December 1st.

There’s a lot to be said for patience, and well Stephanie Rainey might know it, as she takes a phone call for a chat after “being stuck in N50 hell”. Trading in an emotive strain of pop songwriting that’s resonated massively with a younger audience over the past few years, the Corkonian singer’s recent successes have been the fruit of endless trial-and-error, struggling with the afflictions of making and sustaining music in what is still a very transitional time for the music industry at large.

The breakthrough came with the upload and viral trajectory of the video for single ‘Please Don’t Go’, dedicated to her late nephew and written in his honour. Over the following months, the video was widely-shared on social media across the world, and the single itself hit the Billboard charts in the US via streams and downloads. It’s by-now a well-documented time in Rainey’s life, and three years on, she’s had some time to look at the experience in the rear-view mirror. “It was a weird experience, having a video go viral, and what ensued was getting involved with labels and management, the whole lot. It’s been a great couple of years, I’ve been very lucky to work with some really cool people on the music that people are hearing on the radio right now. I got to write those songs with some really cool people, and made some really good connections. It’s been a mad couple of years. Musically, I’ve moved away from the slower tunes, and it’s been a great time of building the live shows, and it’s just getting bigger every time.”

Since the whole thing came to pass, a number of other singles have done well across radio, socials and streaming services, all of which have created a bottom line of support around the country. It’s a far cry from the months and weeks before striking gold online, when Rainey was considering packing it in. Just as importantly, though, working with a dedicated team to get a grasp of the intricacies of streaming services has allowed her to cast her eye on the future. “Getting that platform was insane, because it opened a lot of doors, but the grafting is sort of the same, in some respects. Things have changed in the sense that the internet changed everything. Even if you take ‘Please Don’t Go’ as an isolated thing, it was able to spread from Ireland to the US charts. That was all from me posting something in my bedroom back in Glanmire, d’ya know? And then, with Spotify and things like that, you can see where people are listening. Most of my listeners are in America, if you look at the demographics, and that’s a mad way of looking at things. I’ve been lucky to get a lot of radio support, so when you put all these things together, I’m in a good position.”

Though international success might not be far off, you can never take your eye off the ball at home, and Rainey has been pounding the pavement with headline tours, support slots and spot shows around the country. Her current run of dates around the country is her third as a headlining act, and over the course of it, she’s seen the changes in how she’s been received. “It’s very strange, how things start to build. We did our first tour as a support act, then doing our own this Spring as a headline act in smaller venues, and we’re at the point now where we’re doing bigger venues and more of them. I suppose the thing that changes is, people want to meet you after the show, and I think things have progressed in that sense. People know who I am a bit more, and they know the songs. That’s the crazy thing. They’re at the gigs and singing the songs back. That’s one of the best feelings ever.”

Further to her headlining engagements, accompanying fellow pop superstars Kodaline on their major summer dates last year made for a new experience in some ways, as playing in front of thousands of people in major venues will do. That being said, the support slot, including a slot at the Marquee, also reinforced the nuts and bolts of Rainey’s craft in other ways. “It’s mad. It’s only when you start doing it that you realise the bigger stages are just that, they’re just bigger spaces. They’re kind-of the same as any other venue, just on a massive scale. I’m lucky enough to have a chance to have done a couple of things like that, so I’m less freaked out by it now, in the sense that I’m able to just go and do and it, and treat it like any other gig. Obviously, the Marquee was special, as we were the first Cork act to open the first night of the Marquee, this year, and people made a really big deal out of that, and made a real moment of it. It’s a very strange thing to get used to, d’ya know what I mean?”

Of course, the year isn’t done yet for Rainey, who’s preparing for the singles release of a live fan favourite in ‘13’, a song that’s been received well by her now-regular live crowd. In addition, she finds her voice being used in a different context by pop producer G-Kaye, a collaborator of hers, underpinning the release of his solo debut single, ‘Shadows’. “‘13’ is a real favourite live, people are always asking me when I’m going to bring it out, but we’re working on a video for it at the minute, so I’m holding back so we can put that out at the same time. Same with the G-Kaye single, I’m very excited about that, so I want to give it its own space, let that breathe and build. It’s getting a huge reaction, and it’s a very different track for me, it’s a nice way to dip my toe into that water and see how that gets received. He’s an excellent, upcoming producer, he’s produced a few tracks with me, he’s done stuff with the likes of Hermitage Green. I felt really happy to do his first track with him for his own project. Plenty of music to come next year.”

Stephanie Rainey plays Cyprus Avenue on Sunday December 1st. Tickets are €15, and available from eventbrite.ie and The Old Oak.

Cork Music Collectives Pt. 2: “Consider It An Open Call”



For metal, indie and experimental strains of music in Cork city, community and collaboration is imperative. With the help of independent venues and a dedicated bottom line of support, collectives in these genres have turned things around in recent years, and preparing for the future. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the promoters and musicians involved, in part two of an extended look at the city’s community music groups.

While the economic downturn and the changing situation regarding venues in the post-crash property landscape are routinely pointed at as factors for the changes in Cork’s live music landscape after the mid-2000s, there are other aspects to it that can’t be disconnected from the discussion, either: a decline in the numbers of ‘niche’ gig promoters, increased competition at regular doortimes for a younger audience from the re-emergent phenomenon of ‘pre-drinks’, and the availability of Netflix and online gaming services, have all been bemoaned by various musical parties at one time or another, as well as the usual demographic phenomena that beset live gig attendances in a ‘student’ town. All of these factors combined to hit ‘heavy’ music particularly hard during the lean years, as metal, punk, math-rock and post-rock were kept going throughout by a dedicated community of gig-goers and a handful of intrepid DIY raconteurs.

The arrival in Cork of promoter Cormac Daly a few years back proved to be a seismic shift, bringing a new perspective to the business of running gigs in Cork city, starting with his time at the Cork Community Print Shop and running Sofar Sounds’ Cork operation, before announcing the formation of Cosmonaut Music Cork, working diligently to bring aggressive and intelligent music to the city in a way that hadn’t been done before, managing every aspect from aesthetics and branding to live sound and lighting. Along the way, he’s worked with Townlands Carnival and IndieCork among others, and Cosmonaut has become an important port of call, but it was only ever the beginning of bigger things. Last week, Daly and collaborators began to make their vision clear, with the announcement of Real Fear Records, a collectively-run one-stop label and production house, involving himself and the members of Cork alt-pop trio Happyalone. “We originally met when I did sound for Happyalone at a gig”, says Daly. “(From there), I became heavily involved in the design of their live set, and then after that began mixing releases for them, as well as managing the band, and handling their live bookings. Similarly, we began working with some amazing videographers to create music videos and other content. Myself and Baxter (the Robot, pseudonymous Happyalone vocalist) were talking about collaborating with other musicians – who we would like to work with, and what we could offer them, and it just made sense to turn this loose collaboration into something official we could invite other artists to be a part of.”

Comprised of musicians and designers from Cork, Kerry and Limerick, the group behind start-up label Teletext Records span a wide variety of sonic influences, but their recent callout for local bands to work with has thrown up an intriguing roster of releases for 2019, including shoegaze duo Deadbog, sound artist Rokaia, and prog trio Chameleon Fields. Recognising the need to engage an emerging young crowd for gigs in Cork city in ways beyond traditional live music culture, the collective’s live events focus on providing multimedia experiences, placing their artists’ music in new contexts, such as an ‘audiovisual’ showcase earlier this month at the Kino, which took advantage of the venue’s cinema screen. “We were all in a bunch of different musical acts that were hitting a lot of walls in development that eventually broke the camel’s back in our minds, and led to us packing those musical acts in”, says co-founder Donagh Sugrue. “Our aims were essentially to increase legitimacy in everything we were pursuing, but we also had some pretty decent ideas on how we felt organisations like this could/should be structured. Largely, and I imagine this will be the case for most every collective, it’ll start from an antipathy towards a part of the music industry at large. We were getting fed up with two things; emailing promoters & journalists and appearing unprofessional because of the structure of the industry, and bored with playing shows when we felt that the attendees deserved more for their few quid than just two hours in a sweaty room.”

The Paranoid Beast is a two-headed creature: metal gig promoters Con Doyle and Mark Morrissey have been putting together gigs and online spaces for local metal in recent years, and while numbers have been slowly creeping back up, the work that goes into helping rebuild an infrastructure for heavy music for a city is still considerable. But that knowledge of what a city’s crowd for a certain genre needs is what brought them together, and has enabled them to platform heavy music at home, while keeping an eye on broader developments. “Since coming together we have worked hard on social media, through our promotions pages and our community group on Facebook, at building our brand at home and abroad. Over the past twelve months we have put on numerous events in Cork, and have organised two day-long festivals, Monolith in the summer, and Ritual of the Evil Eye in the winter. This would never have been possible if we remained as separate promoters. We work well together and have a mutual respect for each other’s input and ideas. We have an abundance of talent here and they deserve to be heard and The Paranoid Beast will continue to facilitate that going forward. But we are also looking to put Cork back on the touring circuit for international metal acts, (and) starting an Irish metal label to put out some of the Irish acts on vinyl. This would be an overload of work for one person, but as a collective, it has made it much more manageable.”

The Electronic Folk are a collective of musicians working in and around folk, indie and related sounds, including Kevin J. Power, formerly of Cork outfit Versives, singer/songwriter Simon MacHale, and producer Brodie Gee, performing under the name HYPNOTYST. Together, they’ve run a monthly residency at the Roundy venue, worked together on Power’s studio productions and collaborated on each other’s compositions. But creative involvement aside, the practicalities of working collectively have been a major boon for all involved, as the trio have pooled resources and contacts ahead of a busy year of releases. “The major advantage to the collective way of working would be that it follows the ‘many hands make light work’ principle”, says MacHale. “Having put on gigs independently, I realised how difficult it was to manage the whole lot – venue booking/hire, booking bands, equipment, posters, social media promotion, finding a sound engineer, lighting etc. is a tremendous amount to try and do alone. With the collective we could delegate different jobs leading up to a concert, according to our strengths. For example, I would design posters, Kevin would take care of visuals or hiring a videographer, and Brodie would sound-engineer on the night.”

In dealing with the ‘venue situation’ that seems to be an evergreen theme in Cork music, the practicalities of finding spaces at short notice, giving certain venues a rest after heavy runs of gigs, or relocating to try new things is also made easier by a wider web of contacts. It’s served Paranoid Beast well, says Morrissey. “As is the norm in promoting events, some gigs go well, and some not so well. So it’s often the case that you have to move venues. Since we joined together as a collective, it’s made it a lot easier to move around venues as required, because all of us have been involved in the Cork music scene in some capacity for many years, and due to this we have contacts in various venues, which helps because we aren’t tied down to the decisions of a few people.”

While the collective model has already shown tangible benefits for Cork music in recent years, the effects of mutual support those involved cannot be understated in terms of morale and dealing with the pressures of being an artist in the current climate. Across his multiple projects, Daly has found friends and collaborators that have become partners in crime across Cosmonaut and Real Fear, and while there’s ups and downs, staying together and thinking singularly is vitally important. “Keeping this team going has not been easy. We’ve had plenty of setbacks and disappointments, and we have come to rely on each other, as well as friends and family, to keep it going. Anything that slows us down has always been quickly overcome. We are in this for the long haul, and anything that appears to go wrong is just an opportunity to try another approach.”

The ability to take mistakes and problems in stride is all-important when dealing with music, especially on an independent basis. Luckily, independence is the backbone of the Leeside community, and the new lease on life that the collective model has provided for individuals has emboldened people further, resulted in multimedia collaborations that have enriched the artistic life of the city. Looking toward the future, MacHale is hopeful. “Cork is already quite ahead of the game in terms of people who have combined forces in order to collaborate and make things happen. Many are doing the same kind of work we are, even though they might not officially call themselves a collective. I think that Cork has a tremendous amount of talent across all artistic fields – from designers, to dancers, producers, to performing songwriters. I would love to see even more people reach out to each other, and take the step of initiating collaborations with others, even if the end goal isn’t set in stone initially. Attending events and concerts is the best way to meet other people who might share your interests, and even just chatting to people can turn a ‘me alone’ attitude into an ‘us together’ one.”

When asked his opinion on where the growth of collectives and collaboration leads for Cork, Sugrue echoes the sentiment, casting his eye on wider infrastructural issues in the city and how it might look as the city begins its expansion and a period of development that risks alienating the existing city-centre community. “I have no idea, which is what has me so invested in being a part of what might be. I’d love to see more DIY stuff in Cork, and when I say DIY, I don’t mean home recording and self-promoting. I mean occupying spaces, and converting them into venues or into something artistically meritable in its own right. I can feel it in the air, Cork feels like it’s on the cusp of something significant at the moment. I often feel a lot of disdain that music can sometimes take a front seat when people have really exciting ideas about other cultural endeavours too. Is there a DIY animation collective in Cork? I hope there is. I dunno, I always think very hard about how to engage people that aren’t already engaged. If I could plea for anything in the future of music & culture in Cork, it would be to work together; send unsolicited emails, fire a Facebook message, go to events and ask people if you can get involved. You stand to lose nothing, and it’s a good time. Consider it an open call.”

You can find the collectives mentioned across social media platforms, and in your search engine of choice. Keep an eye on Downtown’s weekly gig guide for more gigs as they’re announced.