Women in Cork Music: We Built This City


Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with M.SEA, Nicole Maguire and record auteuse Eilís Dillon about the importance of women to the Cork music scene.

It’s difficult to ascertain in a short, convenient space the precise historical importance of women to Leeside music. All one need do is look at the scene’s history. Elvera Butler, Downtown Kampus auteur and Reekus Records head, was among the first of Cork’s contemporary scene to oversee a release, the now-sought after Kaught at the Kampus. Cellist Úna Ní Chaninn was undoubtedly the missing piece in post-punk lads Five Go Down to the Sea’s mad sonic puzzle. Angela Dorgan, formerly of the Triskel Arts Centre and the late Cork Music Co-Op, is now the head of First Music Contact in Dublin, overseeing Hard Working Class Heroes fest and providing a lifeline to artists looking to get started in a difficult industry.

The examples lead all the way out to today, where Aisling O’Riordan is one of the city’s busiest promoters and production managers, musician and promoter Edel Curtin helms the award-winning Coughlan’s venue and Leah Hearne of Cork County Council’s Arts Office has been instrumental in affecting change in the county’s cultural scene. To even boil it down to a few examples is difficult, but such is the importance of women to the city’s music community. Women are an important and strong part of the Cork music scene”, says Eilís Dillon, co-proprietress of Records and Relics, one of a new crop of Leeside vinyl outposts, “they’re taking on leading roles in all aspects of the scene not just as musicians but also as promoters, producers, writers and bookers.”

Cork’s music scene by its nature is close-knit, and mutual support abounds for people pursuing their passions in the face of various obstacles, and the same holds true among women in Leeside music and arts. “I see more and more women on the scene all the time. The number has definitely gone up in acoustic music in the near-decade I have lived in Cork. It’s amazing, exciting and I love the feeling of possibilities and collaborations.”, says Mary Claire Woolley, a.k.a. freak-folk singer M.Sea. Country/folk singer Nicole Maguire echoes these sentiments. “There’s more and more women in the industry, currently, some amazing female talent here, and I’m proud to be called a Cork musician.”

Maguire puts this phenomenon down to the city’s relative indepedence from the auspices of traditional music industry forces. “Because there’s a lack of labels and big-company support in the Irish scene, a lot of the Cork just have balls, they get out there and do what a record label and promoter would traditionally have done. It hasn’t stopped people, and that’s what shines through.” Dillon is quick to reflect the general camaraderie among female creatives summarising their strength in the Cork scene. “There are so many amazing Cork musicians out there to choose from, the ones I know and really love, are the ones who are unapologetically themselves, they are the real role models and heroes for younger generations.”

Elaine Howley (Altered Hours/Crevice/Mourning Veils)
Cork psych-rock quintet The Altered Hours’ calling card is that they “exist in a swirl of the hypnotic”, and it is arguably around co-lead singer Elaine Howley that this sound and fury revolves. A beguiling onstage presence, Howley’s voice, both alone and in tandem with guitarist Cathal MacGabhann, is possessed of almost otherworldly strength and inspiration. Most importantly, it’s backed by a complete fearlessness about its uses across various collaborative projects.

Senita Appiakorang (Shookrah, Lakerama)
Absolutely astounding on-stage, Senita Appiakorang is the voice of Leeside neo-soul collective Shookrah, a preternaturally powerful instrument that carries both the weight of both the band’s more introspective moments and the bombast of its celebratory outbursts, as seen best in the band’s single Woman. Also collaborates with Irish producer Graeme S. as Lakerama, and has guested with the likes of Daithí and Le Galaxie in the recent past.

Rachel “Pixie” Koeman (Young Wonder)
From a diminutive frame emerges the voice that has placed Cork Scandi-pop collective Young Wonder at the forefront of independent Irish music. Accentuated by a theatrical flair in evidence throughout the project’s live outings and jaw-dropping promo videos, Koeman’s tones and lyrical prowess are undoubtedly at the centre of the band’s multimedia experience. It’s done well by them so far – while they’ve been quiet as of late, the band was shortlisted last year for a Choice award.

Roslyn Steer (solo, Mourning Veils, KantCope Records)
To see Roslyn Steer on stage solo is to witness someone transcending herself, becoming lost in the moment and completely immersing herself in her music. Melodic as a songbird, Steer’s voice emerges almost upwards from the noise created by a guitar and barebones effects setup, and creates a haunting dichotomy of sounds in the process, serenely telling some heavy stories. Involvement in all-female trio Mourning Veils aside, Steer is also a prominent figure in Cork independent music’s infrastructure, founding and running cassette label KantCope.

Clare Sands (The Clare Sands Trio)
Raised amid music was Clare Sands, singer, songwriter, and leader of the eponymously-titled Clare Sands Trio. Falling between two pews, Sands specialises in the folkier end of the blues, having been introduced to the genre as a teenager by her mother, although her musical experience goes back to learning traditional Irish fiddle from the age of four. Having done time gigging around New York, she returned to Cork to finish her music degree and begin her solo/bandleader ventures, finally releasing her debut album, Join Me at the Table, this month.

Mary Claire Woolley (M.Sea)
Sometimes, you simply don’t know what’s going to be handed to you. Despite playing guitar from childhood, Mary Claire Woolley hadn’t performed publicly until the last few years owing to various factors. It took a serious hand injury to put her relationship with music and its importance to her in perspective, but she hasn’t looked back since, assuming the mantle M.Sea, and specialising in a bluesy strain of freak-folk. Most recently, she’s launched in E.P., and spoken/performed at TEDx CorkSalon’s #CorkLovesMusic event.

Beginning her musical explorations at the tender age of six thanks to some sisterly encouragement, Co. Cork singer LYRA now finds herself at the start of something new, having played her debut Irish shows under the pseudonym at the week of writing. Now based in London, she’s released her debut E.P. W.I.L.D., and working with local management folks Tileyard, has just begun to make her mark with pop music that’s well-honed in the art of dynamics, alternating from big Florence-esque hooks to varying degrees of layered ambience.

Áine Duffy
Coming in for praise from Tony Clayton-Lea and Tony Fenton alike, Áine Duffy has been a presence in Cork venues for the past few years after touring the world and acquiring an accomplished session CV, finding her stride most recently in a new musical partnership with local musical wunderkind The Hypnotyst. Combining their mutual musical disciplines with a mutual love of all things rave, the duo have happened across an extroverted electronic rock sound that carries a distinct accessibility.

Nicole Maguire
Leading with finely honed country-pop, perfected on excursion to Nashville, Nicole Maguire has worked hard to work with the best, among them producer Mitchell Froom (Pearl Jam, Ron Sexsmith). Her apprenticeship in Music City served her well upon her Leeside return, and she’s since shared stages with the likes of Paul Brady, Donovan, and Damien Dempsey. She returned to studio in 2015, and second full-length Wishing Well released earlier this year.

Sara “Bear” Ryan
Making major inroads in the local singer-songwriter scene in the last year or so is Sara “Bear” Ryan, a young Kildarewoman living in the city. A student of the Vocal Performance degree in the Cork School of Music, she’s notched up support slots for Mick Flannery, John Spillane and others in the Irish acoustic oeuvre, releasing debut single Belle in August of this year, replete with a period-piece video shot in Temple Bar and the Wicklow Mountains.

Vicky Langan (Wölflinge)
Referred to as the “queen bee of Irish noise” Vicky Langan is a prolifically-active figure in the Irish avant-garde, working across sound-art, experimental film and installation. Performing solo as Wölflinge, Langan cuts an intense figure, projecting herself and the vulnerability of creativity via an assortment of live and synthesised sounds. A long-running audiovisual partnership with director Max Le Cain has resulted in a residency in the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, next year.

Siobhán Brosnan (Shiv)
One of the central pillars of electronic music in Cork, Siobhán Brosnan, a.k.a Shiv is a DJ, promoter, and blogger, working primarily with London-based techno blog Skirmish, and as part of Cork hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective. Currently co-promoting techno nights at the AMP Venue, the Skirmish crew have most recently joined counter-culture newspaper Rabble as resident music experts, and curate live mixes from a revolving door of Irish electronic artists on Cork community station Room101.

Ellen King (Elll)
Founder of GASH Collective, a group dedicated to the promotion of women in experimental electronics, Elll has been a constant in Cork’s microcosm of drone, noise and minimal techno, as a producer, DJ and promoter. This winter sees the long-awaited release of debut E.P. Romance on Sligo-based label and distro Art for Blind Records.

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