Sarah Buckley: “I Saw Things Differently”

Having played a part in the Rising commemorations in 2016 with a ballad of her own creation, singer-songwriter Sarah Buckley is readying herself for a year of new material, and taking on new horizons in the process. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets a word in, inbetween rehearsals.

Patience is a watchword in the music game, especially when operating off your own steam. Things don’t always fall into place quite the way one might like when pushing away at the industry end, while timing and hitting a nerve with the Irish music community can make all the difference to an artist or a band getting started, in creating goodwill and a reputation. Between those two camps falls singer-songwriter Sarah Buckley, who’s been gigging away patiently for the last few years, putting an impressive number of road miles under her belt, including a couple of navigations of the Irish festival scene, including Electric Picnic, Vantastival and other summer-season weekenders, as well as appearances at Cork’s own Jazz Weekend.

Buckley’s debut single ’You Got Me’ rolled out last month, after two years spent getting a tranche of debut material ready for release. Following a strong run of gigging and festival appearances, the tune arrived with a premiere stream on Dublin entertainment mag Hot Press’ recently-renovated web presence. Speaking over the phone as rehearsals continue for upcoming live activity, Buckley seems relieved that her own tireless DIY efforts in getting material out to press and radio has borne fruit. “I suppose it was a relief. I’d the song written, and after working on music for two years, now was the time to get it out there. I was terrified to be producing my first one, but now that it’s out there, the next one will be less daunting, now that I’ve been through the process once.”

Taking no half-measures, Buckley went to work with material that was hard-mined from her own experiences and influences, heading to studio with engineer/producer Karl Odlum (Glen Hansard, David Keenan) and mastering engineer John Flynn (Bjork, among many others) over the course of the single’s recording. “Karl is well-respected in the music industry, and when you work with him, it’s easy to see why. He is really great at what he does, and made the process easy. He has a great balance of being able to give input without taking the song over, and technically, he couldn’t be better. We went through a few iterations of the song, as by the time I got to the end of a mix, I had learned just a little more and so, saw things differently! John is based in London and so I worked with him online, (but he’s) another talented man who made the process straightforward.”

The market for music media in Ireland has changed beyond recognition in the past decade or so, and as listeners’ tastes have fragmented and become more diverse, a great range of online publications and specialist print magazines have emerged over the years to give Ireland’s independent music community its due recognition, on its own terms. With so many options available that are more amenable to newer artists, and with Buckley garnering praise from the like of Dublin’s Goldenplec and Belfast’s The Thin Air magazines, it was quite a ‘get’ for a self-released record like ‘You Got Me’ to get its premiere via Hot Press, whose remit has traditionally been in major-label signings and legacy artists. “I’m working on my own, doing my own PR. There’s a lot you can do nowadays, yourself, until there’s something bigger than yourself to get people involved in, so maybe I didn’t have an enormous strategy (laughs)… I just thought, ‘that’s a great magazine, everyone knows it, it’s well respected, and it’d be great if they got behind it’. People do seek, I don’t know, a level of verification, that Hot Press and RTÉ can offer by coming behind you, people start to pay more attention.

Radio airplay and the aforementioned online exposure swiftly followed, much of it off Buckley’s own back, as stated. Cork’s RedFM, RTÉ’s online-only 2XM outlet and regional stations around the country were quick to pick it up for airplay on specialist shows, but with the aforementioned shifts in both listener habits and overall patterns of media consumption, it’s arguable that the radio business has become ever more risk-averse, with such shows often placed on quieter live slots, or as on-demand online programming. Buckley outlines how she’s tackled the airplay grind, and reaped dividends. “I emailed people that I thought would be interested in the song, and some people (then) contacted me for it online. It was great that a lot of local stations all over the country were happy to play it, and obviously its inclusion on RTE Radio One’s playlisting was a huge boost for the song, due to the audience size. As you say, it can be a difficult sector, with a lot of ignored emails, but in this song’s case, there was enough of a response to not pay an enormous amount of attention to those. There will always be different opinions with music.”

Placements of all kinds have, for better or worse, become a big part of widening an artist’s audience. In some markets, they can dominate the industry conversation, with your writer regularly receiving press releases from touring bands where television and film usage ranks as highly as critical plaudits and road miles. Buckley’s opportunity came with an appearance on RTÉ’s ‘Reflecting on the Rising’ series of gigs in Dublin in 2016, with artists performing newly-written responses to the conflict that changed the course of history. ‘Wedding Bells’, written as one draft in a Dublin city pub, inverts some prominent narratives around the event. “For the 1916 Easter Rising centenary, RTÉ put on a series of gigs around Dublin. It was a great day, and well attended. I was on a side stage in Smithfield, and so the pressure wasn’t huge where I was. Just a great day really, I played a couple of ballads and wrote one for the occasion, (which) was well received on the day. It could probably be considered the flip side of The Wolfe Tones’ song ‘Grace’. It tells the story of Grace Gifford’s short marriage to Joseph Plunkett, on the night before his execution for his role in the rising, from her point of view.”

We’re at that odd stage for festivals, where we seem to be every few years in the current climate: new events like Cork Sound Fair are steadily being announced and work begins on bedding them down into the national music calendar, while others, at the end of that initial period of experimentation, are simply reaching the end of their life expectancies. For Buckley, for whom upcoming excursions will be nothing new, it’s a matter of staying out there and reaching new people. “One of my highlights was Electric Picnic. It felt like a great achievement to just be accepted onto such an important stage. They’re enjoyable from a singer-songwriter point of view. I’ve always had positive experiences so far with the festivals. I’ve always played to people I haven’t played to before, and they’re always glad to be there!”

‘Wedding Bells’ finally sees a formal release on April 15th via all streaming platforms, two years on from its creation and the opportunities that have resulted. Taking everything that’s happened since for Buckley into account, she was quick to further an effective working relationship with Odlum and Flynn, parlaying their work together into a more streamlined recording and post-production process, befitting the personal nature of the material. “That story is very poignant, but all of those stories haven’t been told by the women on the other side. Getting married on the night before the execution, she was obviously very supportive in his story, in what he was able to do, and I wanted to have a woman’s perspective on things. The song didn’t really change, it was written in one draft, and when we brought it to the studio, Karl liked it the way it was. He added a few bits in the background, but it’s one of those one that came rolling out in the first draft.”

Sarah Buckley’s new single ‘Wedding Bells’ hits streaming services on April 15th, and current single ‘You Got Me’ is available now. Buckley hits the road in May and June, for more information and announcements, be sure to find her across the major social platforms, or on sarahbuckleymusic.com.

Asylum Archive: “How Reminiscent of Our Previous Scandals”

The Direct Provision scheme has been an issue in Ireland since its creation twenty years ago, effectively ghettoising asylum-seekers and refugees, placing them out of the control of their own destinies for years at a time. Processing his experiences in this purgatory via visual documentation has kept curator and photographer Vukasin Nedeljkovic going in recent years. He speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about the Asylum Archive, currently on display at the Triskel Arts Centre.

The ‘direct provision’ scheme, for asylum seekers and refugees looking to Ireland as a place to escape conflict, famine and other humanitarian issues, was introduced as a “temporary” measure in November 1999. There have been 150 centres located across the country; some of the buildings repurposed for a situation made semi-permanent by government inaction include convents, army barracks, former hotels, and holiday homes. Most of the centres are situated outside of the country’s cities, on the periphery of Irish society, reducing integration with the local population, and often leaving asylum-seekers without a community, says Vukasin Nedeljkovic, curator of the Asylum Archive, himself still reeling from his time in the system. “Asylum seekers live in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, where families with children are often forced to share small rooms. The management controls their food, their movements, the supply of bed linen, and cleaning materials exercising their authority, power and control. According to Ronit Lentin, direct provision centres are “holding camps” and “sites of deportability”; which “construct their inmates as deportable subjects, ready to be deported any time”. According to Flac, these privately owned centres, administered by the Government of Ireland constitute a “direct provision industry”, which makes a profit on the backs of asylum seekers.”

Over the past decade, Nedeljkovic has set about creating photographic excursions of direct-provision centres around the country, contrasting the outward respectability of some of these buildings with the conditions of those therein, and illustrating the historical parallels the situation has with other Irish institutions. “I continue to explore the processes of collaboration between me as an artist and activist, and asylum seekers’ community; to archive and document Direct Provision as a reference for one period in the recent Irish History, in the relation that we have very little visual information about other previous Irish carceral sites, including the Magdelene Laundries, borstal, Mother and Baby Homes, and Lunatic Asylums.”

Individual pieces, indistinct in terms of location but definitive in terms of intent, like an arresting photograph of a memorial simply entitled ’61 Deaths’, are haunting to say the least. Documenting those horrible moments of gravity and realisation of the circumstances for those involved must be a heavy burden to bear, and the duty of framing them as artistic pieces is evident in Nedeljkovic’s approach. “The title of the work that’s displayed in Triskel Arts Centre is titled: ‘At least 70 people have died while in State Care’. In 2019’s Ireland, we don’t know the names of the people who have died, the causes of their deaths, or where they have been buried. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) don’t keep any of these records. How reminiscent of our previous scandals, like the Mother and Baby Homes.”

Found objects are perhaps the most haunting part of the project – allowing the people viewing these photographic studies to imagine the daily uses the objects received, and contrast their mundanity against the sheer gravity of the situation. These questions are posed, and weigh heavily. “I have been working on collecting and archiving found objects from the children that once lived in Direct Provision, and who were either transferred or deported from the Irish State. The questions remain: ‘What had happened with the child that owned a yellow truck, to give you an example? Is the child safe? Has the child been deported? Has the child been separated from their parents?”

Following his own time in direct provision, Nedeljkovic has maintained this project as a record of the abuses and injustices of the Direct Provision system. Curating and maintaining it has been a coping mechanism for the artist, and he offers to help those exiting Direct Provision and trying to relate those experiences to others in their new communities with the outlet he has created. “Asylum Archive has its contributory aspect, a collaborative and collective space, where individuals from other social and political subcultures can contribute or take part in creating an online repository of Direct Provision. The contributory aspect of Asylum Archive is deliberately designed for asylum seekers to upload their visual or written experience from Direct Provision centres. Asylum Archive is not a singular art project that stands ‘outside of society’, engaged in an internal conversation; it is a platform open for dialogue and discussion inclusive to individuals that have experienced a sense of sociological and/or geographical displacement, memory loss, trauma and violence. Asylum Archive has an essential visual, informative and educational perspective and is accessible, through its online presence, to any future researchers and scholars who may wish to undertake a study about the conditions of asylum seekers in Ireland.”

The exhibition is currently at the Triskel, where it will be for the next two weeks from press time – the public response to the current exhibition from the people of Cork has been significant. “It is absolutely brilliant to have an exhibition in Triskel Arts Centre. We had a great opening with a packed house, and Joe Moore and Nomaxabiso Maye from Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI) officially launched the exhibition.” This response and support has provided a bottom line for the project to grow and develop over the coming years, with the exhibition continuing to travel, and Nedeljkovic’s work to catalogue the issue deepening. “I continue to document Direct Provision Centres dispersed across the country. After the Triskel, the exhibition will travel to Source Arts Centre in Thurles, and I will also get into the second edition of the Asylum Archive book.”

Asylum Archive is on exhibition at the Triskel Arts Centre until March 29th. It can be viewed online at asylumarchive.com.

Cork Sound Fair: “Challenges of a Different Kind”

Following a successful debut last year, Cork’s non-profit electronic music festival returns with a vastly expanded lineup at venues across the city, and new working relationships across its music community. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with curator and facilitator Conor Ruane about Cork Sound Fair 2019.

Last year saw the debut of a few different festivals and one-day events around an ever-shifting calendar for Cork music, with an increased focus on targeting specific genres and audiences. While metal one-dayers like Monolith, and broad alternative weekender It Takes a Village were among the group of maiden voyages, it was Cork Sound Fair that garnered attention and specialist headlines around the country for its ambitious mission and status as a non-profit. Citing the likes of Dimensions Festival as an influence in terms of presentation and programming, the festival itself was crowd-funded, with all ticket money, donations and merch sales going back into the festival or into artists’ pockets. Combining live performances with intricate sound-system installations and a fair amount of free workshops between its two outposts at Cork City Gaol and St. Peter’s, the festival was a critical success, and its immediate future was set in stone.

This year sees Sound Fair expand into new venues around the city for its sophomore installment. While the Gaol and St. Peter’s are part of proceedings, new spaces like the Crypt at St. Luke’s, and Washington Street venue The Kino form an important part of the proceeding, each considered specifically for their suitability for a certain artist, according to festival director Conor Ruane. “Each venue was chosen with the performing artist in mind. Friday’s show will have a visual aspect to the performances, and the Kino being a former cinema was the obvious choice to host audiovisual acts like Underling. Saturday sees us move into the familiar surrounds of St. Peter’s Church, which will host the UCC Javanese Gamelan Ensemble, a large room with ample floor space was required to host such a performance. CSF and UCC have teamed up to bring UCC’s Sound Sound Day to the Nano Nagle Place, where a series of talks will be held in the conference hall, whilst the live performances will switch to the 150-year-old, and stunning, Goldie Chapel.”

While the festival has been able to sell tickets directly this year, weaning itself off of crowdfunding and other first-year revenue raisers, the learning curve continues, as the expansion of venues and the facilitation of new artists is a never-ending task for any festival that keeps looking forward. The community basis of Cork Sound Fair, however, has acted as a powerful hook for early adapters. “The second year brings challenges of a different kind, new venues pose new production issues, and bringing people back a second year is always difficult, but the response has been great. Many of those who made last year’s fair possible are back again, and we are really appreciative of this.”

This process of setting down roots in the city’s DIY community, and staying true to those ethics, has been a difficult one after a certain point in time for many successful events in Cork, and around the country, as demand drives supply, and the thrill of supporting a small festival dissipates after a certain point in expansion, at which point more casual music consumers become the focus of attention. On its second year, Sound Fair’s trajectory seems to be pointing upwards, but it’s the community aspect that is at the weekender’s heart. “We operate on a non-profit basis. We feel this is intrinsic in ensuring attendees feel they are contributing to the artistic fibre of the community. We all love to experience genuine things in life, however many experiences these days, while very well put together, leave us feeling a little empty. Cork Sound Fair hopes to provide a multiple-beneficial experience, one where artists are given the support and exposure they rightly deserve, and those who enjoy the experience feel that they have help to establish something that is lasting.”

The line-up is hugely diverse, and in addition to the artists mentioned above, headlining acts include Limerick skratch alchemist Naive Ted and crossover metal duo Bliss Signal. The undercard is also, for the most part, drawn from local and Irish talent. Ruane divulges the booking philosophy behind Sound Fair, and the process of confirming a line up. “Last year, we received a number of really great submissions following our programme announcement. For this year, we wanted to give people ample opportunity to apply to play, and that is why we launched our Open Call in October of 2018. The quality of submissions made for tough decisions, a lot of which have gone into the CSF 2019 programme. Open-call artists, along with non-open call artists, were chosen on their proximity to CSF merits and values, which is original live sound and art, with experimental and electronic undertones.”

The festival also hosts numerous workshops and ancillary events again this year, including UCC’s Sound Sound Day, a showcase for the university’s Experimental Sound Practice MA, furthering a rich tradition of improvisation and experimentation with the lines between sound, music and performance art that reaches all the way back to the outset of the Corkonian avant-garde. “UCC Sound Sound Day, and their director Dr. John Godfrey have been doing something similar to what CSF has tried to establish, and as a result, a pooling of resources was a logical move. John has put together a programme of artists and experts, working in experimental sound, and I for one am very interested to see the multimedia ensemble that is CAVE, in the Goldie Chapel on the Saturday of the Fair.”

As the clock ticks down on the event’s big weekend, and anticipation builds in Leeside music circles, Ruane collects his thoughts heading into it, what’s left to get done, and the festival’s future. “I’m really happy for this year’s programme. I’m not going to lie, it’s great fun to put some of your favourite artists on the one bill. But I am also apprehensive, as we still have a large body of work to get through, so I’m not wishing the days away just yet. There are interesting projects in the pipeline, though, like potential input into Cork’s hosting of the annual ISSTA (Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association) conference, which will be launching their own open call soon.”

Cork Sound Fair runs at venues around Cork City between Thursday March 28th and Sunday March 31st. Tickets for all events are on sale now at eventgen.ie/cork-sound-fair

Kaiju Gaming Lounge: “A More Positive Aspect to Gaming”

Placing itself directly in the spiritual Leeside home of modern social gaming, Kaiju Gaming Lounge has put a lot of stock in the city’s core gaming community, as well as the idea of videogaming as a casual social activity. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with end-of-level boss Paulo DeBrito.

Videogaming’s potential as a social phenomenon has been overlooked since the dawn of the medium. From the earliest days of its development, when multiplayer became a defining feature of pioneer computer game Space War and arcades became staples of urban centres around the world, to the massively multiplayer online environments of triple-A titles across multitudes of gaming platforms, collaboration and competition has been an important part of the medium’s enduring appeal. Cork, of course, is not without history in this respect: while arcades have been present to some extent in the city centre since the seventies, McCurtain Street’s Coliseum centre, now the Leisureplex, is the sole survivor of coin-op gaming’s heyday, while Barcadia on the Mardyke Road competes for the casual consumer buck with a strong lineup of refurbished arcade cabs and Neo Geo MVS machines.

A lesser-spotted part of gaming in Cork, however, has been the ever-shifting migratory pattern of the PC gaming community, serviced ably before the economic crash by outposts like Area 51 and the Webworkhouse. With its popularity growing on a cult basis in recent years, the time has been right for a while to revisit the idea of a physical centre in Cork city. For Paulo de Brito, it was just about mad enough to work. “Kaiju Gaming Lounge was initially discussed playfully between friends, while I was on holidays three years ago. I then realized that it was worth a shot to try to open a gaming lounge, and decided to take a start-your-own-business course in Cork, to understand how to plan a business. There were many challenges initially, such as budgeting for the machines, choosing each component for the computers, and the overall decoration and business identity such as the name and logo of the place.”

Offering a selection of custom-made gaming machines and augmented console experiences, Kaiju occupies a space in the city that’s been waiting to be filled. While the aforementioned venues hit specific beats in terms of gaming fandom, there are still groups of gamers in the city that have been going between available venues for a while, including the Cork Fighting Game Community, veterans of world-class competitive fighting games. A place like Kaiju is well-positioned to meet a variety of gaming niches, and challenge stubborn mainstream perceptions of gaming as an anorak pursuit. “Straight up, we wanted to offer a variety of choice between console and PC gaming, as there was no other place in Cork city offering this range of services, and I had visited other gaming lounges outside of Ireland that were successful by catering to PC and console gamers. The overall idea of the social events was definitely to bring a more positive aspect to gaming, that is still seen as a loner activity by some people. We wanted to create a place where you could meet up with friends or make new ones, without the need for alcohol, for people of several ages, ranging from children with their parents, to adults that remember fondly their videogame times.”

Arriving in the site of the former Area 51 on North Main Street was surely no accident. In the pre-recession times, the internet café was the centre of a then-nascent gaming culture, centred around multiplayer games at the outset of their popularity, like Counter-Strike, as well as demented sandboxes like Garry’s Mod, a user-led contortion of the Half-Life engine. Puerile in-jokes, like a stock of the inappropriately-monikered Bawls energy drink, abounded, while the overnight gaming deal made for great impromptu accomodation for gig-goers in the event of a missed last bus. Huge shoes to fill, then. “Area 51 definitely left a mark in Cork, and people have mentioned it as they come in, sometimes as a joke they even call it ‘Area 51 2.0’. Overall, the reaction has been great with some people saying that Cork was overdue for a place like this. We are fortunate to have been able to find this premises, as it not only brings back memories of friends playing videogames together late at night, but also have had some parents that want to bring in their kids on the way to or from shopping in town.”

The physically solitary nature of online multiplayer gaming, rife with broad and offensively inaccurate stereotypes of foul-mouthed youngfellas, is something the space seeks to combat in its own way, rather than simply play on nostalgia. There is an element of pre-internet social gaming to the space’s M.O. and configuration, though. “Online videogames can still be quite isolating, but I believe that to be caused more due to the convenience of being able to login, play and chat with friends from around the world, without leaving the house. It is, however, important to remember the origins of videogames, as before online gaming was introduced, players would have to gather around the living room and play together. What we aim to bring back is precisely that, a friendly place where you’ll want to meet your friends and make new ones.”

Virtual-reality gaming and console rental are also part of the space, mirroring the experiential marketing of the arcade sector and providing access to the cutting-edge of this gaming generation’s technology for a fraction of the retail price devices like PlayStation VR command. It also provides a little bit of people-watching joy for DeBrito and staff. “An unexpected side of VR gaming that we’ve seen at Kaiju has been how much friends enjoy gathering together to see the one that using the VR equipment, and either help out getting through a tough part of the game or have a laugh at how silly things can get. We haven’t had a dull moment with it.”

It’s an interesting one to consider, how a space like Kaiju develops: without precedent for change in recent years, and with the explosion of competitive gaming as a spectator attraction, potential is definite for something like it to expand and maintain its own niche in the city’s social life. “Once it becomes possible, we’ll start investing in promoting eSports which is an area that goes deeper into competition and specialization into a specific game. This should definitely change how gaming is perceived by anyone that hasn’t had the chance to be introduced to this kind of entertainment, from simply playing a game to a challenge for the mind, in terms of coordination and team cooperation.”

Kaiju Gaming Lounge is open now on North Main Street. Find it on social media, or email info@kaiju.ie for more information on social gaming packages and party rates.

Lee Side Story: “The Opera House Can Be Daunting”

The culture of the city is explored, and the divisions that drive a wedge between starcrossed lovers are also the ties that bind, in Leeside Story, a new musical directed by John McCaffrey, featuring the voice and songs of Corkonian troubadour John Spillane. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets a chat in ahead of the show’s debut at Cork Opera House.

On either side of the river that wends its way through our beloved home city, two tribes eye each other suspiciously. Age-old rivalries have come to the fore, and seemingly insurmountable differences drive Corkonians North and South ever-closer to complete isolation. But as the light fades on a seemingly unending feud, in a Shakespearean take on Cork city, a Northside boy and a Southside girl emerge from the shadows. It’s the classic boy-meets-girl tale, plunged deep into the well of local humour, and placed amid the best light-entertainment stage traditions. ‘Leeside Story’, presented by the Leeside Drama group and debuting at the Opera House next week, draws on theatrical tropes and Cork’s cultural heritage to deliver a new work, embellished with local song and cutting Leeside humour.

Originally designed for smaller spaces in Cork city, the play’s story and vision quickly grew, catching the eye of programmers at the Opera House, and for director John McCaffrey, scaling up not only the production of the show, but its cast, was a challenge to be relished. “The stage in the Opera House can be daunting for many actors, but as I have found in the past, if you get used to working the stage, it’s no more daunting than a country hall. An audience of twenty people is the same as five hundred plus. Logistics have to be worked out, weeks in advance. Lighting plans, sound, projection needs, set design: never leave any of these items a week before a show.”

The Opera House’s generous stage portions must surely pose a challenge, though: while the play itself features a total cast of thirteen, the usual struggle with prop placement, and keeping the onstage action tight while emphasising the space available to them is a perennial challenge for playwrights, dramaturges and casts. The venue’s high-tech setup has done a little bit of the heavy lifting in that respect. “The main challenge for this show has been the inclusion of background screens and video. One has to be careful not to distract the audience too much with fancy backgrounds. Thankfully the Opera House has a lighting system second to none, so we envisage no problems there.”

As stated at the outset, the premise of the show plays on the oldest story of all: conflict, love and resolution, investing the cultural heritage of Cork with a readily accessible pop-culture narrative, as hinted at in the show’s title. Veteran writer Derry Cotter has taken the local vernacular and history, and brought it to a new life, according to McCaffrey. “Derry Cotter must have studied in in the same bizarre college of wit as John Spillane, I reckon. During a cold spell earlier in the month, John reminded me that the record for the coldest place in Ireland goes to Birr! Derry’s puns are legendary within UCC. One comes to mind from a previous play I worked with him on: ‘there are people dying now, that never died before!’ As a perfectionist, Derry often suggests changes to the script. Sometimes I say ‘okay’, other times I tell him to hop off. There is a cutoff after all, when you have to let your baby go. We see this show as a flagship production for Leeside Drama Group, and would hope to run it again in the near future.”

Music is a vital part of the show, including the involvement of Leeside legend John Spillane, armed with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Cork’s culture and song. Working with himself and musical director Jimmy Brockie, McCaffrey comments on what the collaboration has brought to the overall feel of the show, as well as the process involved. “Both Jimmy and John are a pleasure to work with. Jimmy has been working closely with anyone with a singing role to hone their skills. He is also adding wonderful musical colour to the show. As regards John, that man will walk on stage with guitar, and just do his magic.”

Spillane’s career has been well-documented, notable for the breadth and depth of his local knowledge and how it’s been implemented across a deep discography from which he’s drawn, not only for solo shows and regular residencies, but projects like this, which keep him going creatively. “I’m very happy that Derry and John decided on the songs, the context in which the songs are used. It’s an honour, and an honour to be involved in a play that sets out to be pure Cork, that I was the guy they went to for the songs. Dr. Con Murphy had a night to honour him at City Hall there lately, I’m getting a lot of that kind of stuff now.”

The experience of using four of his songs in a new context, while maintaining a certain familiarity in line with Cork light-entertainment tradition, was the end result of a process of working closely with writer Cotter. Contributing to the show’s creation, and influencing its use of Leeside humour, it’s only fitting that Spillane makes a few walk-ons over its course. “It’s very interesting. It’s a lovely crowd of people, and it’s nice to work with people that are different. We call it ‘amateur’ drama, but amateur drama is huge in Ireland. There’s a lot of people that are really good, and really passionate about it. It’s lovely to hang out with that (kind of) crowd.”

Just about a week from stage night, and with myriad concerns as a director to get addressed before doors are open, McCaffrey is chipper about his thoughts heading into the big show itself. Keeping things ticking over seems to be the name of the game. “So far, going tickety-boo! With a core cast of thirteen, and numerous stage and production staff to deal with, scheduling rehearsals has to be managed accordingly. Thankfully, the crew I have are dedicated, one hundred percent, to the production.” After this is done, it’s a wide spread of duties for the production team involved, including a dalliance with Hollywood stars in an unlikely location, and an immediate return to the grindstone with more new plays and productions. “No rest for myself. I’m stage-manager for ‘The Blarney Stone’ in April with Patrick Bergin in Macroom. I also know that Derry has further plays in the pipeline with Leeside Drama group, including another run at this show.”

Leeside Story debuts at the Opera House on Thursday March 14th, at 8pm. Tickets on sale now from €25 at corkoperahouse.ie and the venue’s box office.

Alex Petcu and Peter Power: “We Let the Building Win”

The Cork Orchestral Society has brought together two leading local lights in new music for a  show in the Curtis Auditorium, playing with new compositions and touching on the development of contemporary classical. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with percussionist Alex Petcu and sound designer Peter Power.

In addition to maintaining a home for classical music, and a platform for generations of emergent genre musicians from Cork’s conservatories for eighty-one seasons, the Cork Orchestral Society has long been a place for classical music and its practice to develop. In this spirit of innovation, the Society’s latest collaborative concert sees composer and sound designer Peter Power and seasoned percussionist Alex Petcu come together for ‘On Sequences’, a show that brings together elements from each of their respective backgrounds. Hitting on standards from the percussion repertoire, new compositions of Power’s, and previously-performed collaborative work, the show also allows for improvisations, using a wide array of instruments that help blend percussion pieces together.

Although percussionist Alex Petcu was born into a musical family, and benefited from an upbringing within the School of Music’s walls via both his parents being teachers there, it was another passion of his that has informed his body of work, both as a more traditional percussionist, and as a researcher in sound and the properties & potential of everyday objects that create it. “I’ve got a science background. I did physics in college, actually. One thing that drew me to percussion, really, was that, I like all these crazy instruments, it feels almost like a lab, y’know? You come up with all these crazy sounds, and anything becomes an instrument, really. Sometimes things don’t sound like how they should: certain things will sound nasty because that’s what you’ve heard them be, but actually, they can sound completely different, depending on what you do with them, how you hang these things.”

Over the years, Petcu has followed in the family footsteps, partaking in various shows and currently participating as the college’s artist in residence, taking opportunities to develop his craft, and fine-tune concepts like the upcoming Curtis Auditorium show. His formative years being spent in the School of Music have been key to this development. “It helped me a lot. When I didn’t have many instruments of my own, I come in, get practice, get lessons. If I wanted to do a certain piece, most of the instruments, I’d find them there, set them up and rehearse there. It was a safe place to practice, rehearse and get better. With the new building, having the concert hall… when I was there, doing my Master’s, I could use the Curtis Auditorium, and put on my own shows, there. I also organised a couple of group projects there, and it’s nice to get access to a venue like that.”

For Peter Power, the pursuit of sound and its design has been all-encompassing to his development as a practitioner and as a professional. Working with collaborator David Duffy in audiovisual outfit Eat My Noise, Power has run shows in venues all over the city, including installations in St. Finbarre’s Cathedral, and on his own, has worked on commercial projects like Prodijg, at Cork Opera House. Shifting between composition and sound design, this line between the two disciplines is where Power’s contributions to proceedings lie. “I don’t mean to be blunt, but sound design is design, more so than composition. A lot of your role is to become part of the concept, and creative generation of a piece. You’re brought in, there may be a script, or a show idea, built around dancers or singers, and your job is to come in and conceive of the ‘sound world’ that that piece of work occupies. It’s a mixture of technical roles, like knowing how to setup different sound systems; how the software works, presentation, etc., with the creative side of things. It’s quite a funny thing: if you’ve done your job correctly, people don’t realise that it’s happening… or if the sound design is very brash or very loud, people can obsess on it.”

Taking his own musical background into consideration, somewhere between scoring and contemporary composition, the experience of working with Petcu on this collaboration is new territory for the pair, interacting with pre-existing work new and old, but their upcoming Curtis Auditorium excursion is far from their first rodeo. “We’ve collaborated before, more so in these big-scale things, like shows. In this instance, he came to me, said, ‘I’ve approached by the Cork Orchestral Society to do a concert, and I’d like to do something a bit more unusual’. I’d love to work with him, as you rarely get to work with someone like Alex in your musical career. We wanted to do some work that wasn’t just mine, so half of the show is the work of other composers. I said I’d like to write some new pieces, and perform one or two older pieces that are presented in a new way. And how the collaboration grew from there was, Alex and I went to what we called ‘workshop’, where Alex brought in every instrument he had, and we just played, and took notes.”

Speaking on their collaboration, Petcu points out that Power’s experience with big installations, as well as the rapport between them from previous collaborations, has been a difference-maker for his own process in this case. “I’ve done a couple of projects with him already, as part of Eat My Noise, one of them was called ‘Moiety’, which featured percussion, and included myself and a lad called Tomas Gaal. We built on that, but it’s the two of us now, for this gig. It’s not going to just be our stuff, it’s going to (feature) some pieces that I might bring to the table, one piece by Steve Reich, one piece by Michael Gordon…it’ll be (a good mix).”

With a world of big-hall experience between them, the third participant in this experiment becomes ever more important, as the acoustician-designed Curtis Auditorium is custom-built to deliver world-class sonic experiences from live performance. With a DIY approach this time around, the sonic aspect of it is taken advantage of in this case, says Power. “A large part of this was, it’s not a massively-funded production, so there are immediately limitations. It’s what would be called ‘extended concert’ form. It’s going to be presented as a concert, but in a slightly unusual way. It’ll be massively stripped back, there won’t be much in the way of complicated lighting, or any of that. A big concern of this concert for us was how to integrate electronic music, composition and spatial audio into an acoustic percussion ensemble. The thing we’ve been experimenting with the most is a way for the sound to blend, so that it sounds like a new instrument. We allowed the building to ‘win’. It’s huge, it’s got a four-second reverb, it’s unwieldy, and it doesn’t have a huge technical crew, so now what we’re doing is presenting ourselves before the audience, and take some risks, musically.”

‘On-Sequences’ happens at Cork School of Music’s Curtis Auditorium on Thursday March 14th, at 7.30pm. Tickets €20 on sale at the door or corkorchestralsociety.ie.

Craic Boi Mental: Ireland’s Greatest

AUTHOR’S NOTES: The following article is that rarity of all things – a feature-length piece on Irish music news site nialler9.com. Having ceded interest in reviews and the larger breaking-news cycle in favour of a balance of new Irish music and international pop/electronic news stories, it took the subject of this article disrespecting the site on numerous occasions to allow a response.

Having taken the verbal savaging in good humour, editor Niall Byrne gave the all-clear to the below piece after the rapper’s slowly-building cult online presence garnered a head of steam after numerous Twitter mentions by Rubberbandit/podcaster Blindboy Boatclub. It ended up being one of the most-read stories on the site all year, so far.

It was going to happen eventually. It had to. Everyone’s been talking about this. Shots have been fired in all directions since beef kicked off a few weeks back between this parish (bar its Southern Correspondent, hopefully) and one Craic Boi Mental, a rapper, producer and online agent provocateur from Cork City, with a knack for lo-fi production, and an innate ear for an inescapable hook.

This morning early, those in the know were eagerly standing by for the release of latest mixtape Cork City Anthems, by far his most polished work to date. Online feuds with this organ and District Magazine (since squashed) aside, Craic Boi Mental’s relentless work ethic and deeply idiosyncratic style have won him many admirers from Irish hip-hop’s inner circle, drawn equally in recent times for his DIY production prowess, as for the heroic feats of online tomfoolery that brought him to wider notice.

This camaraderie has resulted in appearances on the new mixtape from drone-tone wordsmith Invader Slim, Dublin rapper Fynch, and producer Fomorian Vein, among others; while recent online accolades have come from none other than Blindboy Boatclub, an early influence, grime figurehead Mango along with a Kojaque diss track. Meanwhile, a video for leadoff single ‘Ná Caitheamh Tobac’ is nearing completion, directed by Humans of the Sesh/Somewhere in Ireland man Brown Sauce.

As unrelentingly odd as he is, though, he’s not been without love all along: hip-hop veteran Rob Kelly (a one-time collaborator) and trailblazing skratchologist Naive Ted have publicly been accounted for among his fanbase.

The first question that comes to mind for those just introduced to the manifold wonders of Craic Boy Mental and his many aliases, is usually ‘is this lad for real?’. And it’s within this uncertainty that he’s put down roots in Cork hip-hop, not so much debuting, as simply manifesting himself online, in the middle of 2015. Under the moniker of Dudewithswag, he inexplicably dropped an EP with vocals recorded entirely in a reedy, accented falsetto, and shooting Movie-Maker-calibre videos from his family home.

Infusing the emergent ‘lo-fi hip-hop’ phenomenon so prevalent in online circles at the time with a recognisably Corkonian sense of scut-acting that has closer mirrors in the likes of Nun Attax and Sultans of Ping than anything in current Irish hip-hop, TAFKA Dudewithswag proceeded to relentlessly troll online listeners with increasingly belligerent, hyper-real takes on hip-hop tropes across countless online releases and arbitrary (and almost always unprovoked) acapella diss videos.

From there, a multitude of seemingly-baffling personae have emerged from the young lad’s frame, populating a comic-book-esque universe, referred to interchangeably as #PreciousPosse, #RoyalBoyzGang, #8HourBoyz, etc.: bragadocious King Flora, barely-verbal rapper Sulk Boi, lofi popstar Oscar Benso (below), and truculent banterLAD Yung Gowl are among but a few of his creations.

The differences musically are subtle, but a gift for zero-resource performance art has emerged and made itself apparent over the years, honed by a consistent and very real work ethic that’s seen Irish rappers and memelords alike take him to heart. This has perhaps best been seen in recent times with the cult Leeside success of ‘Polos is Life’, a heartfelt tribute to his favourite impulse consumable.

It’s mad to look at all of this happening in a four-year span, though it’s oddly fitting, with a production style that takes the accelerationist aspect of vaporwave and other online microgenres. into heavy consideration when taking a mirror to certain elements of Irish hip-hop.

And his journey has brought him together with his wife, known Leeside as singer and choreographer Kalikah, who together comprise lo-fi pop duo WhipMental. The duo have even documented their honeymoon around the cities of Europe, for a series of music videos to go with their debut collaborative tape.

Theirs is an odd but engaging story: one that flourishes in the lines between performance/conceptual art, on-the-button Irish humour, and a very real love of hip-hop and its cultural tapestry.

Craic Boi Mental’s “debut” mixtape ‘Cork City Anthems’ is streaming at the top of this article, and available for download exclusively from Datpiff.

An interview in District today is required reading, and Dublanders can catch him in all his glory at Yamamori Tengu, for Good Name, on March 28th.

Already know what it is, lads.