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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And On The Third Day: “A Story to Be Told”

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with playwright Derek O’Gorman about new work ‘On The Third Day’, premiering at Cork Arts Theatre this August.

A young man falls into the River Lee. His partner and best friend scour the riverbank and wait, riddled with worry for news. A boatman stands by, doing his best to impart hard-won local knowledge and assist the search. These are the underlying tensions in new play ‘On the Third Day’. The idea of a river-rescue search, and the feeling of foreboding for those bearing witness, proved to be fertile ground for writer Derek O’Gorman, giving him the opportunity to study the city’s quays as a community and as a location. “The river is an integral part of the fabric of Cork City life, and that always fascinated me. Working in the city centre, I would cross numerous bridges every day, and at times of tragedy the community spirit shown by volunteers also intrigued me. There was a time when boatmen worked along Union Quay in particular, and the how and why of their life stories interested me. I felt there was a story to be told.”

Over the course of the play, three protagonists form a bond over the search, joined later in the story by a pair of estranged parents, creating an ensemble cast and providing scope to examine the nature of relationships between both people and environments, and how they are tested in times of uncertainty. For O’Gorman, this is a central element of the show. “I wanted the play to explore relationships, relationships with the river, the city but also interpersonal and intergenerational relationships. I wanted to explore these in as natural a way as possible. I think there are elements of all the characters in all of us.” Director Philip Anthony McCarthy has taken charge of casting for this production of the play, imbuing the story with the experience of local veterans and the energy of new faces from the local theatre community. O’Gorman is effusive. “Philip has assembled an unbelievably talented cast, mixing established local actors with, young, exciting talent. Tony Walsh, Cian Hurley, Rebecca McCarthy, Veronica Henley, and David O’Donoghue all really bring a natural feel to the piece, and (help) draw the audience into this world.”

McCarthy himself is an award-winning local director, with an expanding body of work in live theatre and film, and O’Gorman’s admiration for his work led to him being offered the director’s chair. But professional respect is only part of it for O’Gorman. “Philip is an extremely talented director, whose work I have always admired.He has a tremendous creative vision for whatever he puts his mind to, be it theatre or film. He is a very natural director, and has a real feel for Cork in general, and this piece in particular. The creative process has been dynamic. I have worked with directors off-Broadway and the Abbey, and I would put Philip right up there. What I really admire is that Philip has a great humility about him, and in my opinion that sets real talent apart.”

You’re working with the Cork Arts Theatre, colloquially known as the Cat Club, to stage the play’s debut run – what have they been like to deal with, and what effect has the room’s atmosphere had on rehearsals and the subsequent result? “The Cat Club is an amazing venue, but first and foremost is run by a dedicated team, who are committed to providing excellent theatre while also developing writers, directors, actors, and crew. Artistic director Dolores Mannion works brilliantly at finding a balance to put the Cat Club at the forefront of both local and national theatre. I think the space at the Cat Club is really going to complement the play.”

Once the August run is over with, the play’s story almost demands being brought to site-specific productions, a possibility already being mulled over. “I would like to bring the play into the community, and perhaps reach non-traditional theatre audiences in non-traditional settings. I like that idea, so watch this space.”

Townlands Carnival: “A Bit Like Life, Really”

Ahead of the return of Townlands Carnival to the ancestral home of the Irish festival circuit, Macroom, Co. Cork, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with team members Sami Beshoff and Greg Woods about its growth and the future.

In the annals of Irish music history, and more to the point, that of our annual parade of summer festivals, there is only one town in this country that can rightfully claim to be the spiritual home of the phenomenon: Macroom, nestled away in the outer reaches of County Cork. In many ways, the first Mountain Dew festival in 1977 was a reaction to difficult circumstances for a town left behind by economic development, a destination event to counter the town’s rep as a stop on the way out west. Publicity stunts, like inviting Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, helped whip up mainstream curiosity about the festival format, but the arrival of Rory Gallagher onstage, sprinting from an Aston Martin in a straw cowboy hat and out to a baying, sold-out crowd, cemented the festival’s popularity for the following years, and laid the foundations for festival weekenders as a summer institution for generations of music fans.

The emergence of a spiritual successor to Mountain Dew’s legacy could also be seen as a reaction to the festival circuit in recent years, with a gap in the market opening up for a community-based alternative to a mainstream festival scene largely caught between detached festival “experiences”, nostalgia-show pandering, and late-teens rites-of-passage. Four years ago, a team of festival professionals took it upon themselves to go rogue, creating Townlands Carnival. Organiser Greg Woods talks about the festival’s creation. “The ethos of Townlands is in the name. We consciously chose to call it a Carnival and not a festival. A festival is something you turn up to, a carnival is an event you take part in. More and more festivals are becoming just billboards for advertising. We feel that if you take part in something, you get much more out of it. To this end, we have lots of workshops and participatory events, to give revellers an experience they won’t forget, because they were part of its making. The scene four years ago was also very biased towards the east of the country. Every summer, there is a mass exodus of talent from Munster. We felt it was time to harness all that creative energy, and showcase it on its home turf. The natural beauty of Rusheen Farm is perfect for us, it gives the decor/creative team a diverse environment to play with.”

Year one of the festival was always going to be part of the process of trial and error. Organising a festival, corralling together talent & people, and dealing with marketing all present unique challenges the first time out, and for Woods, this was compounded by geographical issues.

“Over the years many small festivals have tried what we are trying to achieve. There’s a reason why many festivals end up in the same catchment area of a couple of hours away from Dublin: the logistical difficulties that arise. All the infrastructure is more expensive, and harder to get at this end of the country, and the catchment is far bigger up there. The core team all had many years’ experience of working festivals at home and abroad, and a wide range of experience in the field. However, it’s a massive subject area and there are always going to be areas you lack expertise and experience in… and that means you go through a series of very steep learning curves. Luckily, we have managed to gather a group of hard-working volunteers and professionals that are very supportive and giving of their expertise. In many ways, you have to know that if you step back and look at it, taking on an operation of this scale involves a certain level of insanity. Ultimately, you have to just jump in, hope you’re making the right decisions and give it your all. A bit like life, really.”

Building a festival from there across a number of years, the team worked on the essential elements of expanding Townlands’ reach – working on relationships with potential headliners, dealing with the scale on which the festival operates, and setting in stone an aesthetic for the weekend that has kept dedicated revellers returning annually. Woods gets into the nitty-gritty and the growing pains. “For a small independent festival, we started ludicrously big in our first year. We tried to do all the things that we had wanted other festivals we’d worked on to do. We’ve learned the hard way to show a little restraint.  In the first year, we started with nothing except ourselves and some bare field. We had to make make our own workshops, rebuild sheds for storage, and then make a stupidly ambitious Townlands fantasy world from scratch, using materials we scavenged from here, there and everywhere. In your first years, persuading bands to come onboard just for the love of it is quite a struggle, but we still ended up with some serious line-ups. It doesn’t stop at the bands: persuading suppliers to take the risk on an unknown has its challenges too. Thankfully, we’re a bit more time-served now, and it’s more of a case that we a daunting number of bands applying. Year on year, we have managed to change and grow, providing new twists for our participants, whilst still maintaining all the elements that make us stand out.”

While Townlands has always assembled something for all tastes across its weekends, the past year or two has seen it attempt to broaden its reputation for electronic music, booking a wide variety of headliners and local draws that this year includes Sister Sledge, Neil Barnes of Leftfield, Choice nominee Bantum and recent Kerrang! magazine featurees Bailer. Booking specialist Sami Beshoff goes into the balance necessary to put together a well-rounded festival. “In year one, we had eight stages, and funnily enough, we have eight stages again this year. But in year two, we had fourteen. We really bit it off and went for diversity. We want people to feel that there is something for everyone, we want everyone to participate, and find new music that they’ll love, across genres and styles. Building the platform each year. This year, we’ve gone with Sister Sledge and Leftfield, two old-school names that (a broader audience) will recognise and identify with. (It’s especially important) for our locals that we didn’t want to be perceived as just a dance festival. Each year, our locals have come and enjoyed it, warmed to us, and last year, our biggest area of growth in ticket sales was with them.”

That spirit of outreach this year saw the festival feature a Battle of the Bands across the county, putting on events in towns that have been otherwise starved of new and original music in recent years, like Mallow, Skibbereen and Fermoy. The winner, decided right after this issue was going to press, gets a spot on the festival’s new Rising Sons stage. Beshoff discusses the idea and the dividends it’s had so far. “I think this is huge for us. It’s been on the back burner for a few years, and it’s great to have Rising Sons as partners this year to facilitate this. We want to be able to give everybody that chance. There’s a huge amount of bands and a huge amount of talent in Cork, and to harness that talent, and give them a chance to be seen… just looking at the applicants for Mallow, for example, a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen play in six or seven years applied, and I was shocked.”

This year’s Carnival is a few weeks away, and when asked about his thoughts heading into the event, Beshoff is enthused. Things are on the up-and-up, with the emphasis this year being on improving the festival-goer experience. “I can’t wait. Ticket sales are strong, stronger than any other year. We’ve moved sites this year, so it’s quite a different show to put on. We left five stages behind last year for different reasons, and we move forward this year, with four new stages. Lots of change, but change for the good. The layout caters for the customer a lot easier: less walking, closer to your car, closer to the arena, and it’ll be a lot more intimate of an event. It’ll filled up better with sculptures and installations. A whole new Townlands.”

With the first four years of the festival nearly down, and a great deal of positive momentum behind it, Townlands Carnival looks set to be a pillar event in the festival calendar for new and independent music in Ireland. When quizzed about the future, however, Woods opts to leave some things to mystery. “Ahhh. now that would be telling (laughs). The feedback from last year and the buzz for this year is great. There’s a lot of competition, but we have something unique, and we are just going to build on that. Onwards and upwards. We don’t want to go massive. We want to get to our capacity, and just do what we do as well as we can.”

Cork Midsummer: The Collaborative Model

Ahead of ten days of art and culture across dozens of venues around the city, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Cork Midsummer Festival director Lorraine Maye.

Since its inception in 2008, Cork Midsummer Festival has heralded the onset of summer on Cork’s festival calendar, bringing with it ten days of art and performance that span multiple media and disciplines, across dozens of venues around the city. This year’s lineup is arguably the strongest yet, with a mixture of community and international arts groups collaborating with the festival’s producers across music and opera, dance, circus, film, spoken-word and visual art. Festival director Lorraine Maye is currently in the midst of the chaos leading into the event, and after a long day of meetings in advance of launch, discusses the process of organising in the months leading up to June. “The festival has a unique model in that it is very collaborative. So many events are run or developed in partnership with another programme partner or venue, and we work very closely with them to put together the programme every year. There are also lots of brilliant conversations with artists about projects and possibilities, locally, nationally and internationally. We liaise with our core funders, work with our event sponsors and partners, friends and patrons. As well as a dedicated team and Board, we collaborate with a huge amount of people year round to develop the festival.”

This year’s theatre programme is exceptionally strong, led off by the world premiere of the stage adaptation of the Louise O’Neill novel ‘Asking for It’, an acclaimed work that scrutinises attitudes to sexual assault in rural Ireland. The importance of a landmark story like ‘Asking for It’ making the transition across media on the festival’s watch cannot be underestimated, says Maye. “It couldn’t be more timely to have this story at the heart of the Festival. Asking for It is of course a devastating and brilliant book, which Julie Kelleher of The Everyman and Landmark Productions had the vision of bringing to the stage, in association with The Abbey Theatre. We are so proud it will receive its world premiere at the Festival. It is going to be a game-changer, this show. The book means so much to so many people and the staging of it will undoubtedly drive a vital conversation forward. Everyone should see it.”

Spoken-word is very well-represented this year too, among the standouts of which are a live taping of comedian and social commentator Blindboy Boatclub’s beloved podcast at Live at St. Luke’s, but it’s a really well-rounded programme coming at a time when spoken-word is thriving in the city. Maye is quick to give her take on the likes of poetry nights like O Bhéal and Sling Slang locally, as well as the extended spoken-word offering this year. “We have many exceptional writers and storytellers in Cork, and O Bhéal and Sling Slang provide year-round platforms for that work and those artists. Places for artists to test out new work, and for audiences to have access to that. We are working with Joe Kelly and The Good Room who put together the programme for Crosstown Drift and St. Luke’s this year, including the Blindboy Podcast. We’re thrilled to welcome Doireann Ní Ghriofa as our first festival artist in residence. The really brilliant thing about so many writers is that many of them are working in a cross-disciplinary space at the moment, which means such exciting possibilities for us as a multi-disciplinary Festival.”

The festival’s circus programme is a developing but distinct offering, including Union Black, a football-based dance piece from Far from the Norm. Circus has been another medium that has developed in the city over the years thanks to a grassroots effort, and Maye explains how to build, over a number of years, a unique programme offering that complements the festival, but also allows a medium its own unique voice. “Ultimately, we want extraordinary artists of all artforms, and at all stages in their careers, to recognise the Festival as a place to do a particular thing, as somewhere to do something they couldn’t do at any other time of the year, and to see us as a support year-round in the development of those ideas. We’re also really interested in how we link local and national artists and organisations to others internationally. This involves a lot of conversations with artists, and arts organisations. It also involves thinking a lot about our audiences and our potential audiences. What do they want to see, when and where? What can they only see in the Festival? Union Black is a partnership between organisations in four different countries with participating artists from each. It’s the culmination of years of work and it’s going to be one of the most exciting things you will see in Cork this year.”

The family programme is wonderful this year, combining community celebration with engagement with the city’s landmarks, assisted by established practitioners like legendary DJ Donal Dineen, working to create points of access to art for kids. Capturing young imaginations is at the heart of the festival’s remit. “We have been developing our family programme for a number of years now. This year we are particularly excited to be working with Dublin Fringe Festival and Baboro International Arts Festival for Children to co-commission Tiny Dancer: A DJ Set for Kids with Donal Dineen. The tickets are flying. We’re expecting 15,000 people, mostly family groups, to attend the Picnic in the Park which this year, has many specially themed events to reflect the fact that this year is the 250th anniversary of modern circus. Graffiti Theatre Company are staging the premiere of Ireland’s first opera for babies and small people. Those young audience members and artists are tomorrow’s adult audiences and artists. Ask anyone passionate about the arts, and they will all be able to cite an artistic experience from their childhood that was transformative. It’s also about general well-being and providing opportunities for families to come into the city together and have a great experience at the Festival.”

This year’s festival is nearly upon us now, and Maye’s enthusiasm for the end-result of the year-long process is evident. “This is such an exciting year for the Festival. We’re taking a big leap forward, driven by the momentum of so many great artists, arts organisations and curious audiences. We’re so proud of everything in the Festival this year and I can’t wait to experience the incredible work of so many inspiring creative teams. Is it June yet?”

Worn Out: “Start a Band. Now.”

Typical of the bold nature of Cork’s metal and hardcore community, four-piece Worn Out have started as they mean to go on. After the release of second single ‘Circle the Drain’, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the band about making noise, and their master plan.

An indicator of the cultural wellbeing of any city’s cultural community is the relative health of its musical and aesthetic subcultures. Although the teenage tribalism of music culture of yore has given way to wider palates enabled by near-limitless access to music of all stripes of various platforms, it is inarguable that support for ‘difficult’ music across the board has rallied in the past twelve months after an extended quiet period, boosted by adapting to new venues and being shaped by enthusiastic promoters. Metal and hardcore are among the musical microcosms in the city to have pulled out of hard times with bombast and exuberance – bands like hardcore outfit BAILER have begun taking to the continent, while promoters like Cosmonaut and Subtle Beast provide a sturdy, community-rooted infrastructure at home. And with the pall of inactivity lifting from the scene in Cork, so too are people getting into the jam rooms and garages available to them and throwing down.

It is in this climate that hardcore four-piece Worn Out has come together, formed from the wreckage of other bands from Cork’s wider alternative scene. Drummer Evan Prendergast says that necessity, and frustration, were the mothers of invention. “The idea for the band came from my frustration with another project at the time. I wasn’t getting what I needed from it, and began to grow increasingly agitated. I wanted to play something completely different to what I had been playing at the time. Initially, myself and Isaac (Riordan, guitars) talked about starting something that would hold influence from Alice in Chains. We jammed with no real intentions or ideas at first, and it was the most fun I’d had writing and playing in some time up to that point. It was obvious from the very start that what we originally had thought we would sound like was going to be much heavier. It progressively grew from there, with Xander (Coughlan) jumping in on vocals and Brian (Bowell, bass) joining the band later. It was a pretty organic process, fortunately.”

The early honeymoon period for groups of musicians can often give way to frustration, as getting a grasp on one another’s strengths and weaknesses gives way to dealing with differences in playing and creative differences. According to Riordan, that process was meticulous, and setting specific matters, such as guitar tones, in stone was a collective effort. “Assembling the set took all the way up to the couple of days previous to our first gig. Absolute squeaky-bum time (laughs). We had a lot of loose ends to tighten up, but luckily it all came together in perfect time. I’m a bit of a technophobe when it comes to musical equipment. I honestly haven’t got a clue. I generally just plug in my guitar, and bash out some riffs… I knew what pedals I needed, and then there was a lot of messing around between different tones from different amps. Brian has a good head on him for the technical side of things, so I always put my trust in him. We’re still tweaking with our sound almost every practice.”

The band’s first single ‘With False Hope’ dropped almost by surprise toward the end of last year, alongside public word of the band’s existence. Accompanied by the single’s slickly-produced promo video, it was picked up by local blogs and specialist press further afield. Coughlan discusses the nerves he and the band underwent right before it released. “Before we first released it, I wasn’t sure of how people would react to it. From writing the tune with the lads, and recording it, and playing it over and over, I felt like I was sick of the tune. But the reaction was great, loads of different blogs putting it on their sites as well bands sharing our video on their social media. People are sound.”

Among the highlights of the band’s live run so far is opening for Swedish mathcore lunatics (and disciples of now-departed genre trailblazers The Dillinger Escape Plan) God Mother at UCC’s New Bar, being among the first bands to break new ground at a campus space rapidly becoming a centre of music for the city’s academic community. If that seems slightly unusual to the casual reader, one might only imagine what went through Prendergast’s head while climbing behind the kit. “It was great. The guys in Pyre Promotions know what they’re doing, with bands and venues. We’re playing in a skatepark (right before this goes to the streets) because of them. I’ve wanted to do that since I was about ten years old. Having a band like God Mother play in UCC is always going to make me laugh. During the soundcheck, there was an exam in the hall next to where we were playing, and we were pressured to keep it down. That is the most rewarding and funny thing to me ever. Someone had to sit and do an exam while we all soundchecked one of the hardest hitting bands around. Madness. I hope they all passed.”

Follow-up single ‘Circle the Drain’ released this past month, and maintains the band’s sonic momentum after an enthusiastically-received start. Bowell talks about the relief inherent to getting a piece of work over the line and to people’s ears. “I often say that I just try to write songs that I’m into, or enjoy playing. If I knew how to write a guaranteed hit I’d be rich by now (laughs). It’s impossible to know if people will like what we’re doing, so it’s still a mild relief when it’s finally out in the public domain and I’m not having to hang my head in shame. Everything after that is a bonus.” After the rocket-boost that the band have received for their confidence starting out, the band have a big 2018 in the pipeline. It’s encouraging, but when pressed for further info, Prendergast keeps his cards held firmly at his chest. “We had a plan from the start. We have so much coming for this year. We have some gigs we have to announce, as well as some new music that we’re biting our tongues over. Trust me. This is only… the middle of the start (laughs).”

As touched on at the start of the article, this buoyant mood of the band’s is reflective of the current celebratory mood of hefty music in the city. Cork’s metal and hardcore scene is stronger than ever, and Prendergast’s parting words sum up the state of the scene succinctly. “All I’m going to say is, if you have an idea about starting a band, if you have the tiniest little feeling about doing it, then do it. Get up and message people. Inquire and ask questions. Find like-minded people, and gig. Go to shows. Write songs and be supportive to others. That is how it’s going to continue and not just be surge and die out. Start a band. Now.”

Worn Out’s new single ‘Circle the Drain’ is available now across all good online streaming and download services. Check them out on social media for more info on upcoming gigs.

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, 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.