Nick Mulvey: “The No-Thing Thing”

Off the back recent long-player ‘Wake Up Now’, former Portico Quartet man Nick Mulvey comes to Cork on September 22nd, performing at St. Luke’s. Mike McGrath-Bryan hears about the record’s beginnings, and the wider issues it addresses.

A wide musical frame of reference can be a real blessing for a songwriter, once one’s natural urges are given focus. Since leaving Mercury Award-nominated outfit Portico Quartet in 2011, guitarist Nick Mulvey has been busy investing American folk influences of his own with his background in ethnomusicology, in particular African guitar styles and subgenres. A working relationship with Bat for Lashes producer Dan Carey bore fruit in studio, while support slots for the like of Willy Mason, Lianne La Havas, and Laura Marling allowed him to roadtest and refine further new material. Mulvey’s full-length debut, ‘First Mind’, arrived in 2014, charting in the top ten in the U.K., and garnering him a solo Mercury Prize nomination.

Third LP ‘Wake Up Now’ builds on this extended momentum, casting an eye outwards on matters both personal and professional, in keeping with the rate of change in society, and the trajectory of his own work. “I’m really proud of this record, and happy how my fans have taken it to heart. It’s an album I felt I had to write. The songs celebrate what it means to be alive, and they draw a line between the current crises we are experiencing as a species, and our generally shallow depth of self-knowledge. The songs talk about important things: yes, we are these bodies and yes, we are these roles that we play, but only very fleetingly. Basing an identity, personally, and building societies, collectively, on these temporary things, has been unsound, and we’re watching it fall apart around us now. This album is a praise song celebrating the ‘no-thing thing’ that we actually always are and as such it’s an offering of hope.”

The creative and production processes for the record speak to the extent of changes that Mulvey underwent in its run-up. Fatherhood came calling, right as wider human rights issues began making the news, which had to have been a tonic creatively, if for nothing but urgency. The end product, meanwhile, is a result of its surroundings, with Mulvey and band settling into Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio, in Bath. “I wrote most of the songs during and in parallel with my wife’s pregnancy and the birth of our first kid. Once he was born, it seemed to be rocket fuel for the record, it all came together so quick. It was recorded at Real World at the end of 2016, and we worked live, and we worked fast. I need an atmosphere of playful intensity to get the performances down, and ‘capture’ it as a still-living thing.”

Leadoff single ‘Myela’ touched on the aforementioned human rights crises, with its focus squarely on the ongoing European migrant crisis. Collecting one’s thoughts on such a weighty matter, before putting it together into a song idea, is a deeply personal matter, so Mulvey understandably conducted as much research as possible. In doing so, the voices of the voiceless came to the fore. “I knew I couldn’t write firsthand about this subject, but it felt like something I couldn’t ignore, so I drew the lyrics from refugees’ own words about their experiences. I found an online archive of refugees’ accounts of their journeys, and as I read these stories, the song became easy to put together. I wanted to humanise these people, and so I included as many names and places and details that I could, changing bits, of course, to fictionalise where necessary.”

Travel and an external perspective are nothing new to Mulvey, though. His story began at the age of nineteen, when he moved to Havana to pursue his own personal musical education, living in Cuba right as the once-reclusive country was in hot debate internally about whether or not to open itself up to the world. Upon returning to London, Mulvey parlayed this experience into academia, and studied ethnomusicology, a discipline also taught here in University College Cork. Ethnomusicology informs Mulvey’s approach to creativity and his understanding of the process, beyond the obvious question of musical influence. “I loved looking at music with this broad lens, taking nothing for granted, and I loved situating music in its cultural and historical context. The course introduced me to so much wild music, and taught me that we don’t hear things in a pure, isolated way – that every utterance is loaded with all the previous utterances gone before it.”

Nick Mulvey plays Live at St. Luke’s on September 22nd. Doors at 7.30pm, tickets €24 plus booking fee at uticket.ie.

Mark Geary: “Just See How It Moves You”

On Friday September 14th, songwriter and scorer Mark Geary takes to the back room of Coughlan’s for an intimate show, but for a man on his fifth long-player, intimacy is far from unfamiliar territory. Ahead of the gig, Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down for a chat about gigging with Jeff Buckley, changes in the label model, and the future for artists.

“I remember the morning I left Dublin, my mother wouldn’t speak, too upset, crying so much. It’s crazy how some details stay vivid.” Some people are just inherent storytellers, and with over twenty-five years of experience and five solo albums under his belt, Mark Geary more than has the experience on which to draw, answering in suitable fashion the question of his initial excursion to New York in the early nineties, to pursue his craft. He continues:  “I had a bag I had sold two guitars, both of which were gifts, to make the flight money, which broke my heart. Also, that it was a one way ticket: those desperate moments, where choices are limited. I had no job and no prospects of one. I had a beautiful girlfriend, who protected me from some of the darker moments in my life. I had an address and $100 in my pocket, that got me two days and then I would have to find work. I had been playing guitar for a little band in Leixlip. Great people, I learned so much. I had played most of the venues in and around Dublin. At the Dublin was broke, broke and broken. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t on the dole and being creative. Please don’t think that was some creative utopia, it absolutely wasn’t.”

At nineteen years of age, then, the culture-shock of landing in New York and being immediately situated at the centre of folk music and singer-songwriters at the time must have been terrifying, but if the goal was to improve, being plonked alongside the like of legendary troubadour Jeff Buckley in the Sin-é venue at such a tender age was an excellent way of getting one’s mettle tested. “New York completely made me. Almost like it gave me armour. The speed of the place, the people, the posturing, the grandeur. And the brutality and how violent it could be. The lightning bolt of realization of what I didn’t know, couldn’t know and wasn’t able… and I learned that the list of things I wasn’t able to do had better be addressed, and fast. The Sin-é cafe, my brother Karl’s place along with Shane Doyle, the coffee house scenes of the East Village and the Lower East Side. You could hustle a show in these places for tips. The trick was to get songs together and get my shit together, to be on the stage. It may sound odd but the greatest help I was ever given, was that I was offered no help whatsoever. ‘You wanna play here ? How many people can you bring!?’ ‘Oh I don’t know anyone.’ ‘Well, you better start getting to know people who might wanna come hear you.’ And really, that’s how it began. Just playing and playing.”

Playing regularly at the venue, as well as clubs around the city, rapidly sharpened Geary’s wits and skills, working with the likes of Buckley and an all-star cast of musicians that passed the venue’s doors. “Sin-é was in full swing, I just happened to land at that moment. I would wake up. And go straight to the cafe, sometimes opening up the place. I always remember how there was always something coming up – a band on the way and an event to go to, it felt like it was the center of the universe. All young people believe in such things… it became clear to me that I needed to go and get beat up (laughs)! Musically speaking, what I mean by that is, that I just hadn’t played in front of audiences, and really had a few songs. So I needed to grab as many gigs, and learn and learn, and fucking die a death on stage, and then go out after work and do it again.”

Geary revisited his roots thereafter, with a 2003 live album recorded in New York City – what was it like to see that whole time in the rear view mirror, so to speak? “It finally started to feel like a  ‘home game’. I had to leave Ireland in order to learn how to play, and to have lived a bit, in order to write about what I had seen. So returning to New York, I guess I was attempting to showcase what these ‘lullabies’ had become. A thousand gigs later, I had become just enough comfortable to be able to be present and at ease. And my friends were there to witness it, and to share the moment with me.”

Geary’s debut solo album was the starting point for SonaBLAST! Records out of Kentucky – at square one not only for a relatively busy indie label, but taking that risk right as labels had the change in business model thrust upon them by technological advances. That must have been quite something. “I was actually bartending at the time the label was founded. Gill Holland, the label’s founder and my lifelong friend, basically on a wing and a prayer, and a book called ‘Record Labels for Dummies’, set up the label so I could record my first album. I had four songs recorded just on my own and Gill funded the rest. No plan, no contract, just a handshake at 4am over eggs and bacon. I remember people I knew getting very serious record deals, lots of money advances, etc. Those bands have broken up and even those labels. But I’ve continued to make music, movie soundtracks etc., the odd movie role along the way. That’s crazy, right? So, I think that’s the way forward. Be everything. Be creative in everything, make art, make coffee, make food, make shapes.”

Newest album ‘The Fool’ released last year, Geary’s fifth studio album in all. With the finished product now done and dusted, he muses on the protracted process of the record. “This one took a while – three years in the writing. I’ve been playing in lots of places, new audiences etc. Such a shot in the arm for me. So I was only interested in the new sounds and songs, as they came. You go to the guitar and you see how you’re feeling, see if there’s anything that’s been left by the song fairies (laughs). A little phrase, a chord you hadn’t heard that way before. That’s how you do it. Few weeks with Karl Odlum and Dave Hingerty on drums, making noise and playing with ideas. What starts to happen is I start to join the dots, like there’s a pressure to finish. I work better with a gun to my head. During the recording I wrote three songs in one morning/early afternoon. By evening we had tracked them. Amazing, really. You start to commit to the lyrics and scribble as you go.”

Also renowned for his scoring work, including the like of Sons of Perdition, Geary is unusually brief on the process of scoring, and how it differs from the usual vagaries of songwriting for one’s self. “Totally different animal, which I love. You learn how to serve the movie as opposed to serving the song. It’s wonderful to sit with notes on the film and just see what moves you.”

Geary is playing Coughlan’s next month on Friday 14th, as part of his latest round of homebound touring. He’s drawn to the Leeside city by familiar names and faces. “It’s always been special, it’s always been important, and if you don’t know that – someone in Cork will tell you fast enough (laughs). I’ve been traveling for gigs for years now. The Lobby, the Half Moon, Crane Lane. Coughlan’s has become the go-to place – the people there, the kindness and appreciation shown has always been such a balm to me.”

As if to leave on the storytelling note he came in on, Geary finishes the conversation on a story, as closely told as to an old friend. “The story from the Lobby, when I was just starting to play back in Ireland, we made a deal of it, but it was really quiet. We’d pull the gig, but if more than five people came then we’d go ahead with the show. There were four payers on the night, actually, two couples, which was great. We waited and waited, and still no one, until this guy fell up the stairs and kinda slumped in the corner. Neither at the gig nor out – so he officially made five, and the show went ahead (laughs).”

Marsicans: “We’re Always Going Down the Rabbit Hole”

From DIY stragglers to BBC radio playlisting, indie four-piece Marsicans have had a fairytale eighteen months. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with members James Newbigging and Rob Brander ahead of their gig at Cyprus Avenue next month.

Sometimes a good story is made interesting because a certain trope is subverted, or at the least, flipped convicingly. In a time when artists going it alone and wearing the multiple caps of a DIY musician, it’s increasingly interesting to see a band sign to an independent label and obtain success by any measure. In the case of Marsicans, the process of gigging, recording and generally slugging it out has accelerated exponentially since signing with indie label LAB in 2017. What began as just a means of getting the band’s new music out has landed the band at festivals, in high-profile touring, and in a most unlikely occurrence, providing the theme song to Channel 4 reality confection ‘Made in Chelsea’. For frontman James Newbigging, it’s been a lot to take in. “It’s been full-on, but in the best kind of way. Working with LAB has helped us keep doing what we were doing, but on a bigger scale, and more frequently. Each release has been gaining more momentum, and we have been lucky enough to have BBC Radio 1 and Spotify supporting us along the way.”

The band’s arguable breakout single, ‘Wake Up Freya’ released earlier this year, and aside from online success, is the anchor track for an EP of LAB Records singles of the same name. Newbigging discusses how he feels about how they’ve fared creatively in the past while, in terms of writing and production. “I’m very happy with what we’ve released so far, but there’s always ways to improve. I’m mostly happy that each song has its own kind of ‘place’, if that makes sense. When writing, we try not to stick to one exact formula. I think some bands find something that works and stick to it. That’s not to say they won’t do well, but we’re always calling each other out if we’re trying to get away with the same tricks song after song. Production-wise, we’re always going down the rabbit hole in the studio. That might not always end well, but we make sure we give everything a go.”

The band has hit a million streaming listens, also – while vinyl and merch is important to any indie band, Spotify has had an increasing impact on bottom line at management level. As mentioned earlier, Newbigging credits the emergence of the service and its accessibility for much of their newfound success. “I think it definitely makes your band more accessible to a wider audience. For example, we were sat in a restaurant in Ipswich the other week and our song ‘Too Good’ came on. They had put on a Spotify playlist that we’re featured on, and I don’t think those chance plays would happen without Spotify. There’s definitely a change overall with streaming, but you’ve got to roll with it, because ultimately you want your music to be in as many people’s cars/ radios/ ears as possible. Spotify and streaming make that a lot easier.”

Not to discount radio and the like – singles of theirs have made the aforementioned BBC daytime playlisting, placement on Channel 4, etc. with backup from the numbers that the band has reached via streaming. For bassist/vocalist Rob Branding, these are all signifiers of progress. “Those kind of things are, first and foremost, a great validation that you’re doing things right. It’s such an open-ended industry that it can sometimes be difficult to know whether you’re making the right decisions. So when Radio and TV start supporting then it feels really good. The two platforms are great for helping to get your music further afield, but I’d say the biggest thing that having media backing does is to tell your existing fans that things are happening. The people who have been with us from the beginning get just as excited as we do about that kind of thing, so it’s good to make them feel their support has been worthwhile.”

After endless grinding in support slots and spot-shows, the band is just off its first headline tour of the UK, off the back of some high-profile tour supports in the indie and pop worlds, and all this media excitement. Branding is keen to emphasise that this is what the lads are after. “It’s the best feeling in the world walking on to stage in a room full of people who are all there to see you play your songs. The other stuff is nice to have, but ultimately it’s the energy you feel from those people that you chase.”

The band is renowned for the constant roadmiles it’s putting in, and as with any other band that leaves their effort and energy around the touring circuit of DIY venues in the UK, the question emerges of how they have managed to balance all this with a personal life, health, and wellbeing. There’s a certain amount of sacrifice, but Branding maintains its value. “In terms of having ‘normal’ personal lives outside of the band, we kind of just forgot that idea a long time ago. It sounds like a sad thing, but when you spend all your time in a van with your best friends seeing new places and meeting cool people, it’s not worth crying over. Being in a band is all-encompassing, so it’s not just the touring that has an effect on our personal lives, it’s the everyday stuff too. We have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat and having structure and routine is almost impossible. That can sometimes have a negative effect, but at those times we try and look at the bigger picture and think about what the alternative might be. We soon start to feel better about ourselves!”

Marsicans are touring Ireland next month, including a date in Cyprus Avenue on the 7th. It’s looking like a voyage of discovery for the four-piece, lying just before another stint in studio and the pressure to maintain their considerable momentum. “For most of us, it’s our first time in Ireland full stop, let alone as a band, so we’re really excited to come over and see that part of the world. The travelling element is one of the most fulfilling parts of band life and it’s always fun to be somewhere new. It’s also a nervous time because you don’t know whether there will be 1 person or 1,000 people there to greet you. Let’s hope it’s the latter (laughs).”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palm Reader: “We’re All Carrying Injuries”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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