Young Rebels: The New Faces of Cork Music

As the Leeside scene turns a corner, Mike McGrath-Bryan salutes eight of the city’s hardest-working young music professionals.

While the city’s venue situation slowly comes around of its own accord after a traumatic eighteen-month period of closures and gentrification, the roots of the beginnings of a renewal in Cork music lie embedded in the fertile soil of Cork’s promoters, music writers, DJs and organisers. Names and faces often count for a lot in any small community, and over the last decade or so, a generation of young music heads have been slowly learning and fine-tuning their craft around the city, gutting out the depths of austerity and the recession, finding ways of making it work. Though by no means a definitive list (and there’s enough to fill another four instalments of this length by this writer’s count… hello, editors), here’s a look at eight Rebels who are doing their part in changing the game in the city by the Lee.

AISLING O’RIORDAN (Co-promoter, Southern Hospitality Board/Quarter Block Party; vocals/key/guitar, Morning Veils/HEX; co-presenter, Quiet Angry Women; disc-jockey)

With a singular focus on local cultural life, and a vast array of experience across numerous music and cultural roles, Aisling O’Riordan has undoubtedly become central to Cork music. As one-half of influential promoters Southern Hospitality Board, her stewardessship of Quarter Block Party’s music programme has formed an important part of the February festival’s identity, while her role as one-third of folk doomsayers Morning Veils has helped bring about some cracking tunes and memorable live appearances for the seldom-seen trio. Regular radio show Quiet Angry Women provides her with a platform via online station Dublin Digital Radio, spotlighting female artists and featuring mixes curated by women in Irish music, and as a record-slinger, she’s shared billing with some of Irish music’s best and brightest, including a set in front of a packed Vicar Street in support of Girl Band and Rusangano Family, among others.

CAOILIAN SHERLOCK (Co-promoter, Southern Hospitality Board/Quarter Block Party; guitars/vox, Saint Caoilian/The Shaker Hymn/The Creeps/Worm; presenter, Dublin Digital Radio; label co-head, Small Town Disco; disc-jockey; freelance sound engineer)

A bon vivant, a troubadour, a raconteur: Caoilian Sherlock is an eminently likeable everyman in Leeside music, embodying the best and most worthwhile aspects of the musical existence. His music, whether as Saint Caoilian or as part of The Shaker Hymn, takes his influences & experiences and turns them into smirking, humourous reverie, while his work with Southern Hospitality Board, and before that The Pavilion, with Aisling O’Riordan, has placed him on the frontlines of new and interesting music in the city. His renaissance man status sees him involved on multiple fronts with Quarter Block Party, while his ventures into net-label territory and online radio under the Small Town Disco banner see him flexing those organisational muscles in a new context.

EMMA KELLY (Promoter, Merakindie Presents/The Roundy/PLUGD Records)

Emerging from a background in food and hospitality PR to tap into her passion for music, Emma Kelly established herself in earnest by taking the lead on the Mardyke Complex’s now-defunct UrbanJungle project, hooking up with community music groups like Cuttin’ Heads Collective and Room101 online radio to set the foundations of a potential centre of arts and other endeavours. Since striking out alone under the moniker of Merakindie Presents, Kelly established a near-impossible feat in early 2017, booking an incredible twenty-four dates of an Irish tour for a triple-bill of Wexford singer-songwriters, exploring restaurants and clothing shops up and down the country in addition to small venues and bars. Since then, working relationships with the likes of Fixity, The Bonk and Clang Sayne have kept Kelly busy, while her latest coup, helping reopen PLUGD Records upstairs in The Roundy bar on Castle Street, has placed the venue squarely at the centre of eclectic and eccentric sonics in the city. Recently-announced new-music night ‘Signal’, in collaboration with Cosmonaut Music and Overblown.co.uk, sees a meeting of some of Cork’s sharpest musical minds.

CORMAC DALY (Promoter, Cosmonaut Music/The Listening Room/Undercurrent; music coordinator, IndieCork; freelance sound engineer)

Having moved to Cork only a little over two years ago, the pace of Cormac Daly’s integration to the Leeside music scene has been astonishing. Kicking off with gigs and sessions in the now-defunct Cork Community Print Shop, Daly’s current promotion schedule sees him run events and gigs under numerous marquees, and across a wide spread of genres. Cosmonaut Music is his baby, providing a home for all things heavy, noisy and strange; The Listening Room transforms The Village Hall into a living-room acoustic session; and Undercurrent brings together Irish electronic music’s most vibrant and vital. Add to this a burgeoning rep as a freelance engineer, and the goodwill generated as an important part of the IndieCork festival team and you have one of the pillars of the city’s music community. The addition of the Signal night to his portfolio is another feather in an enviable cap.

SIOBHÁN BROSNAN (Blogger/promoter/DJ, Skirmish; press relations officer, Cuttin’ Heads Collective; promoter/organiser, Townlands Carnival)

One of the behind-the-scenes stars of electronic music in Cork, Siobhán Brosnan, a.k.a Shiv, has ploughed a furrow as a DJ, promoter, and blogger with London-based techno blog Skirmish (affiliates of cultural-commentary mavericks VICE), and as part of Cork hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective. Having worked with counter-culture newspaper Rabble as a resident music expert, and curated live mixes from a revolving door of Irish electronic artists on Cork community station Room101, Shiv also currently works closely with the Townlands Carnival festival out of Macroom, and as part of Skirmish, co-curates mixes for London-based Future Radio and moderates the wonderful Music People Have to Hear group on Facebook.

DARREN KEANE (Bass, Not Earth/MueseuM/Worm/HAGS/many others; music journalist, State/The Thin Air; member, The Dead Pigeon Club; disc-jockey)

A Clonmel man with a penchant for throwing himself headlong into his creative outlets, Darren Keane’s spells as bassist for HAGS and other outfits, combined with music writing for the UCC Express and experience in managing bars in both his home and adopted towns, provided the perfect frame of reference for an explosively productive few years. Having handily cut his niche, his return to live performance with improv outfit Not Earth has inspired several other of his own projects, including MueseuM (ambient improv, alongside Arthur Pawsey) and Worm (noise/ambient, with Caoilian Sherlock) while his work in music writing for State and The Thin Air presents an insight into the thoughts of a passionate, yet no-nonsense music man. His Prince-only DJ sets have become the stuff of urban myth, also.

KELLY DOHERTY (Composer/producer/DJ, Gadget and the Cloud; presenter, Dublin Digital Radio; promoter, Future; music journalist, The Thin Air)

One of the first generation of Irish music journalists to operate free of print media’s predominance, Kelly Doherty began writing about music at the tender age of 16 for various online outlets, including her own blog, the now-defunct Alternative Tone. Being emboldened in the process to throw herself into every aspect of music, an encounter with Jon Hopkins while reviewing Electric Picnic 2015 set Doherty on the path to composition and production, emerging as ambient/aesthetic sadgirl beatsmith Gadget and the Cloud. Under the same name, Doherty is rapidly becoming a regular presence on local bills as a DJ, while also maintaining a weekly slot on Dublin Digital Radio. Her work for Belfast-based national music blog The Thin Air has also keenly honed her journalistic and editorial voice, while, as a member of female DJ advocacy group GASH Collective, is outspoken about the importance of rebalancing gender in Irish music. Most recently, Doherty has led the foundation of queer/feminist night Future at the Poor Relation, as part of her comprehensive student activism.

OUTSIDER YP (Rapper/beatmaker; promoter/organiser, Outsiders Entertainment; conceptual artist, designer, writer)

Ambition, it can be said, is nothing without earnestness of endeavour, and this can truly be said of Cork-based rapper Outsider YP. With an intrepidness born of the immigrant experience in small-town Ireland, he invests hip-hop with an ear for psychedelia and pop-culture reference points, dipping liberally into his pains, joys and conflicts to present a frankly thrilling vein of conceptual art. Over the past few years, this has been accompanied with a flair for high-art multimedia experiences, including a lush video shot in Hong Kong City for single ‘Saddest Day’. As one of the Outsiders group of rappers, producers and graphic designers, Mavambu has dipped his toes into everything from promotion and booking to fashion and fiction, currently nursing a concept multimedia series among a number of other long-term projects.

Cork’s Venue Crisis: Have Heart

Cork’s arts scene faces major troubles in terms of spaces for practice and performance. And while the issues are important, we’ve been here before on a regular basis, writes Mike McGrath-Bryan.

“Cork Gets Her Heart Back”, read the headline of an article on Totally Cork man Gary Meyler’s blog The G-Man, when independent music institution PLUGD Records reopened at the Triskel Arts Centre in 2011. And indeed, six years later, with the influential record shop and its sister cafe Gulpd vacating the Triskel Arts Centre in search of a new, more racket-friendly setting, it would be very easy to sink into a state of despair for the arts scene in the city. One wouldn’t be blamed for doing so, either, with a seemingly inexorable procession of arts centre and gig venue closures not only being a feature of life in the city in the past year, but seemingly a background setting for Cork music over the last decade or so. The fact is, no matter what buildings we attach ourselves and our memories to, turnover on venues and arts spaces has been a fact of life to which the city’s music scene has adjusted over the years.

In 2011, we thought the city’s music scene would never recover from the closure of the Quad, the oft-romanticised Batcave tucked under the Bowery nightclub on Tuckey Street. With remnants of the venue effectively erased from the Bowery complex’s recent refurbishment, it’s down to those who were there throughout the mid-late aughts to keep bright the memory of a place we all could call home, a place where intriguing leftfield music of all shades were given space and time to be seen and heard. Furthermore, with the ever-able Darragh McGrath at the book, it gave a generation of Cork musicians, DJs and promoters their first gigs, without question of compromise. The place was what it was, and a lot of people are already wary of the nostalgia that surrounds the Quad, but it was an important space in the city that to many summarised their early music experiences and gave them freedom to find voices, playlists and carnival-barking chops.

The following year saw the closure of the Pavilion on Carey’s Lane in its fondest-regarded iteration, run by Cork music veteran Joe Kelly, with the likes of Leeside hip-hop legend Stevie G onboard, and the members of what would become the Southern Hospitality Board learning their craft. Saturday nights were the highlight, with the cream of new Irish talent descending on the venue over the years for the early Saturday slot, as well as in-window gigs downstairs. Everyone down through the years, from Stiff Little Fingers and Killing Joke to Kanye West and Lee “Scratch” Perry trod the stage of the ornate yet cavernous room, itself a former cinema, and to this day this incarnation of the venue is writ large in the annals of Leeside music. We thought it’d be a tough one to claw back from.

2016 saw the closure of Barrack Street outpost Mr. Bradley’s, becoming a venue almost out of necessity in dealing with the extended effect of mid-recession venue closures and specifically identifying a need for new venues for heavier music in Cork under the eye of booker Michelle Rumley. A fantastic array of denser sonics came through the backroom of the wooden-panelled aul’ lad pub just up from the old Nancy Spain’s (which itself fell victim to a failed reboot amid noise complaints from beer-garden gigs and DJ sets), from Northern doom troop Nomadic Rituals to Lars Frederiksen of Rancid fame. Regular nights and once-offs also formed the lifeline of many micro-scenes, including rockabilly meetup Rumble on Barrack Street, and the early voyages of reggae/ska night The Moonstomp, now resident at the Sextant. It reopened this year, after a facelift, and with no further plans for live music, it leaves an immediate vacancy for an intimate space.

Of course, these are just three local closures out of a litany of events that hurt music in Cork, aside from larger economic events and the wider cultural changes of pre-drinking, online gaming and Netflix among other factors: short-lived venues like An Réalt Dearg on Barrack Street and Bourbon Street (on McCurtain Street, confusingly) were never really given a chance to develop a bottom line of music fans on which to build for the long-run during the recession years; the decision by former indie/alt-rock touchstone An Bróg to abandon original live music before a refurbishment that saw them concentrate on a more casual audience; and in a move that is still much underestimated in terms of the void it left at the heart of student life in the city, the closure after nineteen years of Leeside clubbing mainstay Freakscene/Danascene, a broad church that brought together music heads in the dying days of their teenage tribalism, provided a fun yet cool LGBT* space, and whose all-encompassing weekly emailer was many revellers’ introduction to the wider vista of Cork’s live music scene.

The point of all of this is not to wallow in losses, grievances, and the passing of a wasted Millennial youth, far from it. It would be too easy to do so, even in a city that is seemingly rushing to rid itself of its atmosphere & inherent charm amid a shower of doughnut shops and multinational chains.

The parallels are simply there to be drawn with the present situation. The scale and loss of arts centres and gig venues in the past year has been unprecedented for a 12 month period: Camden Palace Hotel, Cork Community Print Shop and PLUGD/Gulpd Café have had to vacate premises for various reasons, while Sample Studios and the Circus Factory have thankfully found new locations after extended searching. These have been events that have dispossessed hundreds of visual and sculpture artists, bands that were using these spaces to practice and take tentative first steps, and the community efforts that went into maintaining and promoting these spaces and their merit to Cork city. But just like the recession-era gig venue closures, and before them the closures of numerous venues readily identified with various golden ages of Cork tunes, from the Arc to Sir Henry’s, Cork’s wider artistic community has been blessed, whether via inheritance or sheer underdog will, with the ability to survive and come out of hard times, bigger, better and braver for its endeavour. No matter how large the closure, no matter the initial impact of its loss, people and collectives have always regrouped.

We’re all still here. The musicians, promoters, gig-goers, sound-artists, bloggers, record-slingers, deejays, press folk, radio nerds, all of us are a small component in a community that functions with that little bit more difficulty for losing one of us, but functions in a slightly new way when new components get added. The music community in Cork has always lived on the passion, creativity and occasional bouts of bloody-mindedness of the people therein. When there was no coverage of what was happening here musically, and very little document either, people made zines & blogs, and created their own canon of Leeside music knowledge; set about constructing record labels, from Reekus to Penske, in order to provide a platform for growth.

Survivors like Cyprus Avenue, planning to expand its upstairs venue and open a café on street level, and Fred Zeppelin’s, entering its eighteenth year in business, have thrown various artists and communities a lifeline on which to build. Spaces like The Roundy and The Friary provide an intimate setting for music of many shades. Cork Community Artlink has provided a home for artists of multiple disciplines, proudly showcasing its importance to the Shandon area via its annual Dragon of Shandon parade. New record shop Bunker Vinyl can proudly boast a studio space for music education and rehearsal as a new and defining feature, while community music efforts like Music Generation Cork City provide new ways into music education for people that may not have received the opportunity to do so before. This magazine and other outlets will endeavour to shine a spotlight on the talent this city harbours, while online radio services like Room101 and Irish Radio International give voice to music aficionados, providing radio training and allowing them to share the music that moves them, away from the restrictions of tightly-controlled FM services.

This is to say nothing of the wider comeback story of small-town music venues nearby, with Connolly’s of Leap seeing a second generation of the McNicholl family of promoter/organisers rally all manner of mad, wonderful events under its famed hammers, DeBarra’s maintaining a strong outpost for music in Clonakilty, and Levis’ of Ballydehob bringing home awards. O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill will hopefully follow suit, while the upcoming Mallow Arts Festival will hopefully be the first step toward renewing arts in the North Cork area.

In 2009, PLUGD Records left its spot on Washington Street, their hands forced by rates and rents unchanging in the face of challenging trade environments. Mourning took place among the shop’s faithful as the very heart of the community, it seemed, was being removed. But we all know that’s not what happened. Jim and Albert slung stock under the table of their old ticket desk, upstairs from their former HQ, to trusted regulars. They hosted pop-ups at the Réalt, often to the delight of regulars sauntering up for a pint. And when the opportunity arose, they went as far as opening up in an abandoned former power station on Caroline Street, a bitterly cold building that nevertheless generated as much energy with PLUGD within as it did in its heyday. And after a long wait, Cork did seem to truly have a crown jewel restored when PLUGD moved to the Triskel.

But with all due reverence to the joys of the G-Man at that time, Cork city’s heart wasn’t restored in one day. It was always kept going, on love, grit and invention. It’s within each of us to weather the current difficulties, because within each of us is where the beating heart of Cork arts lies.

Cork Community Gamelan: Sound the Gongs

Cork Community Gamelan has finally found a permanent home in the city-centre, and Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with UCC’s Kelly Boyle and Music Generation Cork City’s Margaret O’Sullivan ahead of the project establishing itself in earnest.

Since being installed in University College Cork nearly twenty years ago, the Javanese Gamelan that resides in the college’s Sunday’s Well music campus has been a feature of music education in the city. An ensemble of tuned gongs, metallophones and other percussion renowned for rich, resonant tones, that lend themselves to ambient music and accessible play, a generation of music students now have passed through the college’s music programmes with the ability to play, compose and improvise. But this same accessibility has lent itself to discussion of community outreach, and a wider remit than the halls of academia, says UCC Music Department’s Kelly Boyle. “We’ve had a Gamelan ensemble as part of the curriculum since the mid-nineties, and over that time it’s become a really important part of musicmaking in UCC. As our graduates have gone through the department, some of them have really, really engaged in the performance, and come back to be part of other performances. Over that time, we realised there was interest bigger than the curriculum, and we began to see the instruments and the way of engaging with them had huge potential for community work, for accessibility, for ensemble work and for all the things community work needs, and fosters.”

Such a large collection of instruments and implements surely presents challenges in funding, to say nothing of shipping the various components to Ireland. While UCC’s music heads had previously had experience in heading to Java to see the gongs being forged, it was a new experience for Music Generation, says co-ordinator Margaret O’Sullivan. “I suppose their familiarity made it a bit less challenging for us. It seemed like a very remote, unconnected piece of culture, but when you break it down, it’s just a set of instruments, really. It’s just the scale, and the weight, and once you get them in situ, without too much moving around so they don’t go out of tune, but making sure they are readily available as well. The biggest challenge has been that since they arrived they’ve been in storage but also out to various spaces for community projects. Really, to fulfill our vision, we’ve been looking to get them out, as much as possible, but the challenge was finding a dedicated space.”

At time of writing, the quest to find a permanent home for the Gamelan for use for practice, tuition, etc. was winding to a close, with a residency in Cork Community Artlink on the verge of a formal announcement. The city’s current property and arts space situation was among a number of factors that had to be taken into consideration, says Doyle. “This has been the single biggest issue beyond the decision to get it, fund it and ship it. Finding the home has been the hardest, and we really didn’t anticipate how hard it would be. This is primarily about being in the community, and accessible. That means accessible to all of the demographics that we would want. First and foremost is somewhere close to the city centre, but you also need somewhere secure, as there’s a lot of valuable metal there. So we needed a space that wouldn’t be a thoroughfare for other things, a dedicated space. There are issues even of physical accessibility, as the instruments are wonderful for encouraging people with mobility issues or physical disabilities, so you don’t want it up four flights of stairs. All of those requirements made for a perfect storm of not being to find a home.”

The Cork Community Gamelan has been part of festivals like Quarter Block Party in 2016 and subsequently in Music Generation Cork City’s own May-Hum festivals. It’s been one thing to theorise about how the community would receive this massive installation, and quite another for O’Sullivan to see the reactions from would-be musicians, both in education, outside of the traditional pathways up the ladder. “It’s always really touching, and really moving, to see people experiencing it for the first time. But also going beyond that, getting a deeper experience, even to see groups from primary schools, one particular school came in and they’re studying music, but it’s more along the lines of wind instruments. To see them come in and sit among these unfamiliar instruments, with a little bit of guidance from the musicians of UCC, the way they explain the layering and the story, it’s almost imperceptible. To hear it coming together in a fabric of texture and sound, when you’re listening to a group of ten-year-olds discovering a completely new sound and being in tune with each other, it’s really something special.”

With a residency in place for the foreseeable future, an idea has emerged of what the Community Gamelan group will be better able to accomplish with a permanent home for the Gamelan. With accessibility and participation coming increasingly to the fore in Leeside music, stemming from the improv scene of a few years ago, leading up to more recent workshops like GASH Collective’s DJ/production tutorials for female-identifying/non-binary individuals, the project comes along at the right time. Doyle speaks on what they now can accomplish. “Up to now, all we’ve been able to do is offer once-off taster sessions. You can’t build a programme, give people experience over a long enough period to become familiar with the techniques of playing, the repertoire and to get familiar enough to compose their own pieces. You’re limited in terms of what you can do, and not guaranteed a critical mass of people to turn up (regularly). But we want to give people a more sustained opportunity to engage with this kind of music-making over a period of time, work toward a performance, and get a better sense of the instruments and the tradition they’re from.”

Cork Community Gamelan is of course not the only project of its kind, with UCC’s Mel Mercier overseeing projects like the Irish Gamelan Orchestra. The West Cork Community Gamelan has also launched to success in Skibbereen, to massively positive effect in areas not just of community music, but of mental health. “They’re showing the way in terms of working with mental health services, so that’s another aspect of Gamelan that’s really reaching, offering opportunities to people dealing with challenges, an opportunity to integrate people with this form of musicmaking. The West Cork Gamelan and the West Cork arts in general have been very much paving the way in that area and gaining experience that we can learn from. (We’re hopeful of similar) collaborative opportunities when we’re up and running.”

With the search nearly over for a semi-permanent home for the Cork Community Gamelan project, Boyle’s focus now is on setting down roots, and getting the word out into the community. “The most immediate thing now is to get setup in the space and figure out logistics, which will happen over the summer. Which is nice in some ways, it’s downtime for lots of reasons. Then, coming into the autumn, we’ll have UCC’s community engagement week, the UNESCO Learning Cities Conference, so that gives us a little bit of a focal point for us to arrive and announce ourselves. Other than that, it’s time to get people sitting down to the instruments.”

Cork Community Gamelan is presented by Music Generation Cork City, UCC Music Department, Cork Institute of Technology, the Health Service Executive and Cork Community Artlink.

The Bonk: Back to the Primitive

Eschewing finely-honed songwriting for propulsive rhythm and improvisation, The Bonk are a rising quantity in Cork music. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with bandleader Phil Christie.

Since emerging in the last two years, The Bonk have become a lesser-spotted, highly sought-after musical animal, with the emphasis of creative head and Waterford man Phil Christie, also of O Emperor, focused firmly on new adventures in composition & creation. “So far, the project has been based around my curiosity about writing more rhythmically than I am used to. I got very interested in swung rhythms, repetition and improvisation. A lot of the songs/recordings are based around different iterations of those kinds of ideas.”

The process of Christie and collaborators’ jams is much the same live as it is in studio, leading with feel and instinct rather than any fine-honed sense of melody or songwriting largesse. “Most of the tracks that we have recorded so far have been approached as live performances. We’ve tried to develop a fairly strict non-thinking atmosphere while doing it, which has meant that the whole process has been quite enjoyable so far. Usually the instrumental tracks are laid down together as a group, and vocals are added later.”

This heads-down, no-nonsense nature is a contrast to Christie’s other parish, as he finds himself very much at the centre of activity regards composition and performance, calling the shots and leading the project in a profoundly more improvisational direction. “The main difference would probably be in the nature of the composition process. With O Emperor, ideas would usually take shape through collaborative jamming and part-writing. There would be more emphasis on specific arrangements. The Bonk tends to use more limited structures and to explore improvisation in developing these basic ideas.”

This approach to creation and performance has seen the band slowly begin gigging more around town lately – Sudden Club Weekender at the Kino last year being a notable occasion. How was that and how do you reckon the Cork scene will be without Cork promo outfit Southern Hospitality Board for the foreseeable? “We really enjoyed playing that night. That was the first time we had played through our whole set and we were opening up for Altered Hours, which was great fun. Southern Hospitality Board have been really great for music around the city since they started up. They’ve set a very strong precedent for approaching live music in a really interesting way in Cork. We were very chuffed to take part in Quarter Block Party last year and were very well looked after by Aisling and Caoilian. I would hope that more people will be inclined to follow their example now but I do look forward to their next venture.”

The band has begun releasing singles in a slow but steady fashion, with second single Monologue seeing the light of day in March. Christie explains the plan of action is down to growing on the live reputation they’ve accrued. “So far, we’ve been pretty low-key in what we’re doing, so I guess it’s mostly the people who have seen us live that will have checked out the track. The release was a quiet affair but we’re quite relieved to finally start getting more of the recordings off of our chests.”

Having reassembled after various delays, the band played Coughlan’s this past month, with support from the solo outlet of band member Patrick Freeman, a long-tenured journeyman of Irish music. “We’d been without our guitarist, Jim Christie for quite a while, so (this gig was) a reunion of sorts for the group. As well as releasing a new track, we tried some new material along with some alternative arrangements of old things, and it was fun. We share a few members with Patrick Freeman’s group who I believe are also set to release some new material very soon. I’ve been playing with Paddy for a long time and it’s always a treat for me to hear his songs in a live context.”

After a slow build, it seems more patience is the answer for The Bonk for the time being. “We’ll be releasing an album later this year and playing more gigs. Still doing the music.”


The Bonk’s latest single, Monologue, is available for download now from the band’s Bandcamp.

The Everyman Palace: A Theatre for Everyman

As the grand old dame of Cork theatre celebrates 120 years at the heart of Cork cultural life, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with artistic director Julie Kelleher about its legacy and its future.

It’s been a part of life on Leeside now for 120 years, a gaudy yet warm, old-fashioned facade lining out almost politely onto the bustle and character of Cork city’s McCurtain Street, remaining statuesque among its many changes as the years have worn on. Legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy have trod its boards, and it remains synonymous with theatre for generations of Corkonians as the city’s oldest theatre. The Everyman Palace Theatre has entered its 120th anniversary, and speaking with artistic director Julie Kelleher, it’s clear that marking the occasion throughout the year has been a labour of love. “It’s been really lovely so far. Marking the occasion has given us the opportunity to research and reflect upon the rich history the building has, and to consider how that might influence its future. It’s also given rise, informally, to people sharing fond memories of the building – everything from onstage disaster, to opening night triumphs as well as first dates going back to the building’s time as a cinema, and first meetings of now married couples at our much-beloved club nights in the early 2000s.”

A hefty weight for any arts project head to bear, to be sure, is that of the weight of the memories of a city. But casting an eye forward is the way creative endeavours stay alive and thrive, which wasn’t lost on Kelleher when curating the year’s programming. “Really, the approach wasn’t significantly different – we’re always trying to balance the programme with events which appeal to our loyal audiences, along with those that might tempt potentially loyal audiences of the future. Our audiences actually keep the doors of the building open, as 90% of the Everyman’s income comes through box office sales, so we’re constantly seeking programme that will connect deeply with audiences in one way or another. Of course, there’s always the shows that will sell loads more tickets than others, but often there is a compelling artistic case for those others, and we feel those are important to the audience also. We have taken efforts to ensure that there are some extra special shows this year, and we are definitely pushing the boat out with our inhouse programme this year: we produced the world premiere of Kevin Barry’s first stage play, Autumn Royal, and we have two very special productions coming up this summer: Futureproof by Lynda Radley and Brian Friel’s Dancing At Lughnasa.”

Comedy plays a bigger part in the lineout this season for the venue, of both local and national origin. Kelleher explains its ongoing importance, commercially and critically. “We’ve been building the comedy programme slowly, but surely, over the last number of years. Comedy acts are, in the main, a huge commercial draw, so they make great economic sense for the venue. But beyond that, stand-up comedy is a performance art in its own right, and comics have tread the boards here since the building opened its doors in 1897, so I don’t think it would feel like a rich enough programme for the Everyman without having a varied comedy programme year-round.”

A selection of musical tribute acts also features on the line-up for the rest of the season, but with the city’s vibrant and vital music scene continuing to gather momentum, almost in spite of a lack of venues at present, is there a chance the venue could play host to some of the upcoming bands and artists in the city? “Absolutely. We had a sold-out gig here with Jack O’Rourke’s album launch in October 2016. The tricky thing to figure out in the absence of a 400ish capacity venue, is which acts can scale up from 250 capacity to the Everyman’s 650. But we are actively looking at this, with some local acts for the Autumn season in particular.”

The city-centre is at the outset of a period of rapid physical and social change, with large-scale developments replacing older buildings, and the character of the city slowly bring eroded by identikit office blocks and half-empty shopping centres. The Everyman, however, has always stayed, and its charm has been retained. Kelleher is emphatic about the theatre’s staying power.

“In some ways, I think the Everyman’s heritage and charm is almost hidden away – we have a limited street frontage, and so to someone who doesn’t know what’s already inside, it would be difficult to guess, compared with the imposing outdoor presence of Triskel Christchurch or the Opera House for example. That said, we are doing are best to encourage people to attend and create events here, so that we can share its Victorian beauty with as many people as possible. Hopefully the designation of MacCurtain Street as Cork’s Victorian Quarter will really help to draw attention to the building as a great point of historical interest.”

With all of the heritage and history that envelopes the building comes the challenge of its upkeep, a task that mounts in volume and urgency as the years pass. “The day-to-day challenges of maintaining the building are manifold, but I can tell you right now that there is a nasty leak from the ceiling over the balcony door that needs addressing! The age of the building throws up huge challenges in that regard, so as well as our commitment to the artistic programme, we have to make sure that the financial health of the building is strong, so that we can continue to maintain it for generations to come.”

With 120 years under the venue’s belt, the long-term plan now is to build on the venue’s instiution status and expand its reach nationally, via creative collaboration and community outreach. “We have lots of aspirations for the future – we are keen to improve profile as a producer of fantastic theatre and opera nationally and internationally. To those ends, there are plans afoot to partner with excellent artists, as well as high-profile producers and like-minded venues nationally. We’re also keen that these works would showcase and profile the brilliant work of Cork-based actors and creatives. We’re also committed to the presentation of work for younger audiences, so that we continue to make sure that the Everyman is a crucial point of contact to the performing arts for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

The Everyman is near and dear to Corkonians and their cultural lives, and Kelleher sees this link the theatre has to the city’s daily routine in her work and interactions with its audience. “I think it’s to do with the positive memories with family and friends that people have. As well as the first dates or chance encounters with future spouses mentioned above, people frequently tell us that they came to see panto regularly as children, or that they brought their children or grandchildren over the years. Basically, I think it’s the combination of an excellent live experience with a really positive social experience that gives people the warm fuzzy feelings. And that’s exactly what a theatre should be – a place for a community to be together, to laugh, cry, hug, sing along, whatever!”

The Everyman Palace’s commemorative 120th anniversary programme of events continues throughout the year. For more information, visit: everymancork.com.

Fidget Feet: Taking to the Skies

Fidget Feet dance company heads to Cork on the 23rd, bringing with them a double-header of aerial dance shows. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with dancer and creative director Chantal McCormack Daly.

Pursuing a labour of love is a tough business, as any creative or media individual will tell you. It is quite something else, then, to effectively blaze the trail for it in your home country. For Cork musician Jym Daly and Donegal dancer Chantal McCormick-Daly, it’s been a consuming passion to establish their company Fidget Feet, and bring the thrill of aerial dance to essentially a new audience, one largely built up from scratch in their own case. It’s a process Chantal is evidently proud of. “Fidget Feet received its first commission in 2004 from Customs House in Newcastle, in the UK, to create a solo show called I Can’t Handle Me. Previous to this, we toured Ireland with support from local arts offices, to village halls, churches, anywhere that would take us, with our first shows in 1998. I trained in dance in the UK, and the reason we set up Fidget Feet is we wanted to move home to Ireland, be the first aerial dance company here, and bring what we’ve learnt in the UK to Ireland. We had to wait till Circus became a recognised artform by the Arts Council, before we could move home in 2007. Since then we’re now the leading aerial dance company in Ireland, funded by Arts Council, Culture Ireland, Donegal County Council & Limerick City & County Council. We’re the resident company at Irish World Academy of Music & Dance at the University of Limerick, & our permanent home is at the Irish Aerial Creation Centre.”

The process of establishing a regular touring schedule, effectively building something new for themselves in terms of booking, scheduling and venue liaison, was the foundation of their activities, one laid carefully over the course of years. Chantal is grateful to their Leeside home, the Firkin Crane Theatre in Shandon, in particular. “We’ve been touring successfully since as early as 1998, so the relationships we built since then, we still work on, we build trust with venues, working together to build audiences. Firkin Crane was one of the first venues that supported Fidget Feet, offering us residencies to create work since 2001. Without their support we wouldn’t be where we are now, and we’re excited to be coming back.”

In June, the company will be hosting the annual Irish Aerial Dance Festival in Letterkenny. How did the concept come about and how has it been to see grow the last few years? “I went to the original Aerial Dance Festival in Colorado in USA in 2005, funded by a travel grant from Arts Council. There I trained for two weeks, working with amazing teachers, and I wanted to bring something like this back to Ireland. We started with funding from Dance Ireland, and in Dublin Dance House, we ran weeklong Aerial Forums once a year for three years. Then we partnered with Donegal County Council & An Grianain theatre, moved up to my home county and started running the Irish Aerial Dance Festival there with funding & support from these partners . In year one, we had forty participants for one week, with six teachers. Now we have over twenty teachers, and over 170 participants. Shows, workshops, symposiums and lots of fun. It’s in its eighth year this year, and we have plans to expand, if we get the funding, to make it into a programming festival, so it becomes a platform for national and international circus companies to show their work. We aim for this by 2019, the festival’s 10th anniversary. It’s a dream come true to see it grow and for it to be at home. When I was growing up in Donegal, I knew I wanted to be a dancer but there was not much for me to do – so now we are offering this to any young person that would like to have a career in the arts & circus.”

In 2015, Fidget Feet opened the Irish Aerial Creation Centre in Co. Limerick after garnering funding via Arthur Guinness Projects in 2013. Chantal takes us through the process of planning and creating such a centre, and tying it into the group’s community engagement goals. “It was down to a trip to Montreal in 2008, to the Cinars festival, & we had a tour of Cirque De Soleil’s headquarters, and I thought, ‘Ireland deserves something like this. Much smaller, but a space!’ (laughs) So I had a bee in my bonnet to find a space. We got LEADER funding in 2012, to write a feasibility study on converting a barn into a creation centre in Westmeath, where we were based. In 2014, we were offered the Guinness award of €45,000 seed money to find a space. We were resident company at the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance in the University of Limerick, so I talked to Michael O’Sullivan, the director, if we could move the Creation Centre idea to Limerick, could we be partners, and could we teach aerial dance to the Academy students. He said yes, so we found a warehouse space near the University, and moved in 2015, with support from Limerick City & County Council for three years. With the addition of the Arts Council’s supports for professional development and training at the centre, we had our partners. Then with a Small Capital Grant and McManus funds, we were able to kit out the space. We are so thrilled to have been granted €350,000 plus, in March, funding from Limerick City & County Council to move into a new building in the city of Limerick by 2019. So it’s all go, go. go!”

The group is touring Ireland this month, and after all that’s been accomplished and what they’ve set up for aerial in the country, how is it for Chantal to still get into the spaces and rooms around the country, and further afield, and just perform? “I’m a mum, and I thought maybe with these three businesses, and being a mum, that maybe I don’t need to perform too. But my heart is all about creating and performing, that’s why I do everything I do, without that chance to perform my heart amd soul would be lost. So I have to choose when I can perform, so not all the shows & not all year. I have a great team of performers & a small team in the office (three of us) so together we try to make it work. Lots of late night admin work for me!”

The group performs two shows at the Firkin Crane on the 23rd of this month, for two distinct audiences. The early show, Strange Feathers, is for a younger, formative-years audience. “I went to India, and did a course called Next Generation, where I met my Icelandic partner, Tinna Gretars, from Bird and Bat Dance Company. We hit it off, and together we choreographed the show in Ireland and Iceland. Riverbank in Ireland supported the show and we premiered it last year there. In Iceland we did a small tour with Culture Ireland & Icelandic support, so we’re thrilled to be taking it to so many Irish venues. I have always wanted to make an aerial dance piece with music for the early years. For kids between eighteen months and seven years old, it’s a beautiful, magical piece. If anyone like The Elves & The Shoemaker, they’re going to love this too. Lovely music and the story of two little birds learning to fly, the audience sitting on cushions right in the action, if they arrive at the venue early they can make a mask to watch the birds… It’s all about magic & imagination, and for parents & children to enjoy together.”

Likewise, evening show Hang On is more of a sweeping drama, telling of the ongoing struggle between genders and the precarity of love. “Hang On is one of the shows we have toured internationally since we made the half-hour version in 2010. We have now extended it to fifty minutes, and added some projection. It’s about male & female meeting, and how we compete, struggle, draw lines apart, and then find a way to work together. But even then, if you find your true companion for life, the fear of losing them can be overpowering… it’s a simple story, that everyone can identify with.”

It’ll be a chance to touch base with local arts centre and long-running partners ahead of an expanded schedule this year. “We have a few Irish and international shows planned. Hang On goes to Costa Rica in May, Strange Feathers tours Ireland again in October and November, then Norway & Denmark. We’re researching two new shows, Bingo Wings & Hip Opera, that we hope to create in 2018/19, and we hope to tour a new show, Second Coming in 2018. Hope to see you all in Cork!”

Fidget Feet presents Strange Feathers and Hang On at the Firkin Crane Theatre on Thursday March 23rd. For more information on show times and tickets, go to firkincrane.ie.

Celtic Championship Wrestling: Running the Ropes

 

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Four years old and growing exponentially, Celtic Championship Wrestling has overcome the odds to find a regular hometown audience among Cork city’s fight fans. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with promoter/performer Lee Cahalane about the ring, the business, and the fans.

“The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theaters. And in fact wrestling is an open-air spectacle, for what makes the circus or the arena what they are is not the sky (a romantic value suited rather to fashionable occasions), it is the drenching and vertical quality of the flood of light. Even hidden in the most squalid Parisian halls, wrestling partakes of the nature of the great solar spectacles, Greek drama and bullfights: in both, a light without shadow generates an emotion without reserve.” – Roland Barthes

Professional wrestling, both as pop-culture pillar and sporting performance art, is approached with a double-standard that may not necessarily be applied by casual viewers to other venues of theatre, popular culture or athletic exhibition. Like any other performance art or athletic endeavour, pro wrestling is an acquired skill, one requiring hundreds of hours of practice to perform safely in the ring, and whose idiosyncratic narratives and logic are inherited from generations of adjustment and change out of it. Perhaps in reaction to the grand debate regarding “worked” (pre-determined, as opposed to “fake”) combat, or simply identifying with some aspect of the presentation or the athletes/personalities of the time, pro wrestling has lasted the test of time, drawing a fanbase from across the socioeconomic spectrum as generations have passed. From the strongmen of the genre’s 1920s birth, to the “skill boys” of British rings in the sixties and seventies, to American-style “sports-entertainment” from the 1980s on, served up by the Technicolor travelling show that is World Wrestling Entertainment, to today’s multicultural and layered worldwide panorama, it’s a genre that teeters on the precipice of mainstream acceptance and cult following. It’s in this space that Skibbereen man Lee Cahalane discovered a passion that drove him to start an independent wrestling promotion in Cork. “I’ve been a wrestling fan for as long as I can remember. Started really getting into it during the Attitude Era of WWE, and have loved it ever since.”

The rough-and-ready shock TV of the 1990s informed WWE’s on-screen product, as it jostled for television time and licensing fees with such titans as South Park, Jerry Springer, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anti-heroes like beer-chugging, management-harassing “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the man that would become The Rock propelled the profession to the top of American cable television as the last millennium drew to a close. As the new millennium began, the seeds of Irish pro wrestling were sown in companies like Irish Whip Wrestling and NWA Ireland, in tandem with the return of the genre from obscurity in the UK. It’s from these pioneers that Cahalane learned his craft, as we find when he provides a little insight into his experience in the wrestling business prior to establishing his company, Celtic Championship Wrestling. “I didn’t have a major amount of experience pre-CCW. I promoted two wrestling events before CCW for another independent promotion in Ireland, but that was it. I had to learn the business from scratch, and surrounded myself with experienced members of the Irish wrestling scene in order to do so”, muses Cahalane, referring to athletes & that came through the doors in various capacities, such as Ross Browne, Blake Norton and Bingo Ballance.

Cahalane began organising and promoting pro wrestling cards in Cork city in 2012, seeing a gap in the market as a fan himself, and seeing both an opportunity on which to capitalise & the entry point to the industry he loved that had eluded him and others over the years. “I always wanted to be a pro wrestler, as opposed to a promoter. I realised one day that we hadn’t seen wrestling in Cork in years. So I took a gamble. I invested money into a show to test the market, so to speak, and fortunately it got a great response. We have now ran almost forty events in four years, have a fully operational training facility for people to learn pro wrestling in Cork city, and I am now also doing what I’m passionate about, which is being an in-ring competitor”, enthuses Cahalane, portraying a corrupt promoter under his own name, and heading up a faction known as The Establishment, cosseting himself with villainous talent, loyal to his own ends.

Shortly after the promotion started rolling, CCW started taping their shows for YouTube, at present for free viewing. With no access to regular television slots with which to set up and advance storylines, promote upcoming shows or feature merchandise, UK and Irish independent companies have taken to the world of on-demand streaming to counter both apathy from broadcasters, and the inexorable retail DVD slump. Indeed, the industry’s major players, such as WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling have already begun future-proofing themselves, using subscription services to counteract piracy and declining ad revenues from legacy media. CCW hopes to follow suit. “We have taped almost all of our shows over the last four years and the plan is to indeed have them available to view on a on-demand service as well as DVDs. YouTube is a great resource to show the fans what we’re all about, and to give them the opportunity to follow our stories as they unfold.”

With the foundations laid, Cahalane set about founding a training facility, the CCW Academy, with the help of various Irish and international wrestlers as coaches and visiting tutors. The rigours of the ring are different from any martial art or pugilistic exercise, as trainees require not only ring savvy and spatial awareness to perform safely, but theatric psychology, such as remembering where cameras are placed, and communicating facial expressions & body language to a live audience. Falling between two pews as it does, the school has seen a high turnover. “Pro wrestling isn’t for everyone. We see a lot of guys come and go at the Academy but we are also developing some amazing talents, a lot of whom have been there since day one. The training is hard, but that’s to be expected with any physical sport. For those that are truly passionate and motivated, to be a pro wrestler it can be the best experience of your life.”

In recent times, CCW has also established a second brand, CCW Riot, which has presented an Attitude-adjusted alternative to the usual family-friendly matinee wrestling shows, pitting their own homegrown talent against independent stars of the UK and European circuits in a more raucous atmosphere ramped up by home venue The Kino’s BYOB status. How has Cahalane seen the difference in crowds at the Kino and, say, the more family-friendly audiences? How does story-telling in and out of the ring differ? “As far as storytelling is concerned, we remain consistent with the stories that are showcased on our family shows, but we allow the product to be grittier, and explore more adult-themed areas. The crowds are great in both the family and over-18s events, and they really get into the action. The opportunity to work with international talents is fantastic not just for our own home grown talents to mix it up and learn from, but also for the fans who always look for the most competitive and entertaining matches possible.”

The company has a Hallowe’en show on October 22nd, another CCW Riot affair, to be entitled Nightmare on Washington Street. Cahalane, in time-honoured wrestling fashion, keeps his cards close to his chest, with the event’s matches yet to be announced at the time of interview, but insists that the brand itself, and the atmosphere it engenders, is an attraction in and of itself. “Expect to see all the top CCW stars from here in Ireland and Europe. Expect us to go the extra mile to entertain our loyal fans. Expect an alternative great night of entertainment!”

And so, we get to the elephant in the room when discussing the nuances of pro wrestling for a wider magazine audience: the derision the artform receives from various quarters. Written off as “fake” in the same breaths that carry excitement for TV boxsets, or “reality” shows, or dismissed as redundant Americana by those not cognisant of the global reach of the artform, pro wrestling deals with stigma that negatively affect its progression and development, from stereotypes of its fanbase, to broadcasters unsure of advertising revenues from same. Cahalane dismisses critics of the genre. “I’ve said this many times, you’re either one-hundred percent a wrestling fan, or you’re one-hundred percent not. I don’t worry about the people that don’t appreciate pro wrestling, my only concern is the passionate wrestling fans of Ireland. To us, wrestling is the coolest thing on the planet!”

Celtic Championship Wrestling presents Nightmare on Washington Street at the Kino on October 22nd. For more info, check them out on Facebook and Twitter @ccwrestling1.