The Shaker Hymn: “There’s No Redoing Things”

New single ‘Dead Trees’ sees Corkonian poppers The Shaker Hymn in hollering, apocalyptic form. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist Caoilian Sherlock about the process behind the band’s upcoming third album.

It’s one of those odd things, independent music: for a wide umbrella of music that prides itself on creative freedom and cultural autonomy in order to help progress the overall artistic discourse, there’s also no shortage of revivalists of various stripes, putting a new lease of life into previously well-worn sonic tropes. It’s been hard in the past to look at Corkonian psych-poppers The Shaker Hymn and not get some degree of the warm-and-fuzzies: emerging from teenage adventures in the folk and alternative genres, second album ‘Do You Think You’re Clever?’, self-released last year veered wildly into tape-hiss, big sounds and the kind of vocal harmonies the like of Supergrass would have been envious of at the outset of Britpop. It was a mix that intrigued a lot of people, and preceded a furious touring schedule in small towns and small venues all over the country, before the band took a breather to try other things and collect their thoughts before readying another salvo of new material.

In that context, then, the band’s new single, ‘Dead Trees’, is something of a surprise: though the hard-won authenticity of fuzz and hiss is granted permanence via recording directly to analogue tape for the first time, it’s something of a beast of its own. Vocalist/guitarist Caoilian Sherlock, a naturally happy-go-lucky fellow, drops the youthful distrust of the band’s post-Millennial fug in favour of fire-and-brimstone doomsaying, warning of an uncertain future, in direct contrast to his fine fettle as we meet at L’Attitude on Cork’s Union Quay for a natter. Sherlock is relaxed about the response the single has met with at the band’s gigs so far this winter, a return to live activity that foreshadows an upcoming third album. “It’s been good. I forgot what it was like to do gigs. We hadn’t performed in about a year, except for one gig in Belgium where we tested out all our new songs. It’s nice. The songs are different. It seems boring to other people, but they’re longer. I guess we’ve given up the idea of trying to impress anyone else, I think. When you’re a bit younger, you try and write something to get in the charts, or something. We’ve been doing that since we were sixteen. We’re twenty-eight, twenty-nine, now. The point of us being in a band to give us that expression that comes from being together, so there’s less rules and a lot more of a democratic process going on between the four of us. The intention is to make the most exciting thing we can.”

The process of creating music for record is obviously far different now than it would have been in the days of the band’s broader influences, and in trying to put down a document of where they are at present, the outfit have opted to keep recording their third album on tape, in order to instill the same sense of urgency, immediacy, and the finality of limited takes into their tunes. “Music nerds will be like, ‘oh, how exciting!’, but for those that don’t really care about the music recording process: we’ll be recording to tape, like they did up until the late Eighties, early Nineties. It means everything has to be done live. That’s exciting for us, ’cause it’s a different process, there’s no sitting at the computer and redoing things. If you sound good or bad on the day, it doesn’t matter: that’s what happened, and that’s really exciting for us. We recorded two albums in three years and before that tonnes of EPs, so the recording process can get a bit flavourless, so for us, this is a bit of spice,” smiles Sherlock.

‘Dead Trees’ itself touches on some fairly hefty business, shifting creative focus from bon-vivant appraisals of the maladies of twenty-somethings in the binds of austerity and ladder-pulling, like in previous single ‘Trophy Child’, to altogether broader subject matter as mentioned at the outset of this piece. The question is: what prompted this turn for the thematically heavy? “’Trophy Child’ was on our last album, and I couldn’t help but write about things that were going on around me. All my friends were going away to the UK, leaving Cork to go to Dublin, go to Australia and New Zealand, coming back, then going to South East Asia… much of that album was about that lost kind of feeling, not that I was lost staying in Cork, but a lot of people around me were having the conversation of not knowing where to go. So a lot of the songs were about that. This time around I wanted to write from a more thematic point of view, as much as I could, but not so personal, more universal. So, I was doing a lot more travelling, as this album began to be written. I got to go to Iceland and LA, and other places I’d never seen, new landscapes, so I wanted to write something about nature, and the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t not write about the world after Trump, and Brexit. There was a heavy feeling at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so there’s a lot of that on this new album. There’s also a lot of joy and excitement, and a feeling of ‘ooh, what’s gonna happen next?’”

The band’s recent downtime allowed Sherlock to spread his wings on a solo basis as Saint Caoilian, releasing his debut one-man effort, ‘The Faraway’, earlier in the year. Away from a shared creative process, Sherlock’s tendencies toward lovelorn pop, bearing the hallmark of power-pop pioneers like Big Star, are writ large all over leadoff single ‘I’ll Be a Fool For You’. It led to a massively busy summer of gigs, both in support of his own record and of fellow Corkonian troubadour Marlene Enright, and with the ball rolling on the endeavour, there’s little stopping him from continuing his path inbetween bursts of band activity. “I’m recording another EP this December! It’s funny, the reason Saint Caoilian came about was because I had about fifty demos at home. They weren’t going anywhere, and they weren’t necessarily Shaker Hymn songs. On top of that, I’ve been in this band since I was sixteen, you can’t expect three other people to travel all the time, can’t expect them to drop everything because you’re anxious about your life. I wanted to travel for the summer, so I recorded an EP that gave me an excuse to do just that. The process of the Shaker Hymn will take another year or so, but with Saint Caoilian, I can do everything in a week or two, book some dates.”

Sherlock’s tour of duty over the winter also extends to festival management of one of Cork’s most important festivals, Quarter Block Party, transpiring this year from February 2-4th along the city’s historic spine. Among the first wave of acts announced so far for the Main Street community extravaganza are comedienne Alison Spittle, fresh off her new work with RTÉ, and Waterford post-punks Percolator, returning to the city after launching recent LP ‘Sestra’ on Cork-based label Penske Recordings. Rolling out more announcements, fundraising & organising for the event itself will occupy Sherlock’s entire remaining free time for the winter, and he’ll not be able to raise his head above the parapet much. “Between here and Quarter Block Party, I can’t see much further than that. Keep the head down over the Christmas, then Quarter Block Party on the first weekend of February. After that, maybe sleep for about a hundred years?”

The Shaker Hymn’s new single ‘Dead Trees’ and Saint Caoilian’s extended-player ‘The Faraway’ are both available now across all digital services. Quarter Block Party tickets are onsale now, more info and lineup updates at quarterblockparty.com.

Hardy Bucks: Riding Again

Ahead of their return to screens in 2018, Co. Mayo’s finest are hitting the road with a new show, including a session out in Connolly’s of Leap. Mike McGrath-Bryan somehow emerges unscathed from a conversation with Eddie Durkan and Buzz McDonnell.

The air of television and film superstardom is rarefied stuff to be breathing. The whirls of handlers, the fawning of press professionals, the gaping maw of the general public; a lesser man could easily buy into the hype machine’s latest whirrings and emerge having made a loss, a hollow, purposeless parody of himself. But neither Eddie Durkan or Buzz McDonnell, proud Mayo men and certified Hardy Bucks, is a lesser man on this day. Having survived years of endless summers of drinking, smoking and being embroiled in petty misdemeanours, the Castletown, Co. Mayo natives that came to define the documentary genre for recession-era Ireland are due back on our screens soon, with confirmation on this coming directly from McDonnell: “There’ll be a new series coming out in January, please God and all the saints. Four episodes of high-grade pipe talk.”

Before all that, though, the lads are due to grace the country’s gig venues with their presence in a new live show, the ominously-titled ‘The Hardy Bucks Steal Christmas’, over the course of the holiday season. The cameras might be back on the lads after a break, but for Eddie, an early Irish pioneer of what’s now called the gig economy, the grind is constant. “We’ll be doing a bit of workin’ alright. Workin’ on the pints and turkey sandwiches. Maybe watching the back of the eyelids. And they call me Eddie “Never Workin'” Durkan. The absolute cheek of them.” Perhaps in light of the title of the show, Buzz is quick to reassure your writer (upon inquiry) that Christmas, will, in fact, remain resolutely in place, and that the show’s name is an attempt to wrest the seasons away from the interests of capitalism, rather than a confession to the actual theft of Christmas and its iconography. “Christmas can never go bye-bye. It’s inside all of us. And not in a sexual way, but in a very innocent ‘let’s be kind to each other’ way. The only thing we’d steal is the odd pint, or if we found money on the street, and nobody wanted it. Salmon once had planned to rob a post office, but he slept in.”

It seems to be the core group of rural Mayo’s finest doing the rounds this time around, but the lads aren’t ruling out returns from the extended citizenry of Castletown and surrounding areas. Says Eddie: “You wouldn’t know who’s coming in and out of the Hardy Bucks these days. It’s like Lillie’s Bordello sometimes, with all the hard men and superstars trying to get a slice of the power pie”. While inquiries as to certain characters are dismissed quickly by besieged and visibly tired public-relations staffers, and the boys visibly shuffle in their seats, the question of whatever happened to Castletown’s resident moonchild, Ladybird, is deemed acceptable. “Ladybird is over in Ibiza on a Manumission tour, so we don’t hear anything from her these days”, says Eddie, after a long draw on a hastily-constructed rollie. “Buzz was meant to meet her a few months back, but he got cold feet and chickened out. She sent Buzz a picture of them shifting last Xmas, which Buzz keeps in the attic for emergencies.”

A major part of the lads’ new live show, according to promoter Cormac Daly, is the topic of getting older: hitting your mid-thirties and making sense of the world, and all of its changes at a very weird time for society in general. Whether we’re going to see a wiser or more savvy Hardy Bucks in action out in Leap, however, is in question, according to Eddie. “Unfortunately, you’ll see physically older Hardy Bucks. I doubt our brains have caught up with the our deteriorating good looks. That’s why hitting the punch bag is essential.” On this important point, Buzz begs to differ. “Well, we’ve all matured over the years, mostly thanks to listening to Joe Rogan. He’s been like a father to us and helped our development so much”.

With the newfound maturity and clarity that age and a position of influence has granted the boys, it’s natural to wonder if they’ve had the inclination to look back on the last few years, the effect that fame and the series has had on their own lives. Eddie looks back on their whirlwind success, from YouTube to RTÉ to storming the silver screen in 2012, as just reward for a lifetime’s hard work. “Being famous in Ireland is like trying to stuff twelve lads into a Volkswagen Passat. It’s first come, first served. We never got any handy numbers from RTÉ like Tubridy and all those other people, sitting around on contract, absorbing tax-payer money for knocking about in a corridor all day. I’d be happy doing that!” Meanwhile, life for the citizenry of Castletown, the small Mayo village where the lads ply various trades for cash in claw, has changed since it was first showcased to the world almost a decade ago, according to Buzz. “We got a few new shops. We had an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant that closed down inside a week ’cause we ate everything around us, there was a massage parlour that did so well she apparently made a million quid in one year and retired. We also got a vape shop called Planet of the Vapes that’s doing really well, it’s being run by a man from the Lebanon who’s mad for pints.”

As mentioned earlier, the lads are heading to Connolly’s of Leap on the 23rd of December, as part of touring for the new show. While one readily assumes that the consumption of copious amounts of tinned beverages presents no issues to any of the crew, the gig will be the lads’ first sojourn under the McNicholl family’s famous hammers. Buzz remains undaunted. “We’ve all done time down in Cork. Love the place. Never been to this venue, but the first time you do anything is always the best. So in saying that, we’re confident that this will be the best gig anyone has ever seen.” Time wears on, and with PR people conspicuously ushering the next in a queue of arts journalists through the door, Eddie is compelled to throw in a quick few words for fans in Cork before we wrap up hurriedly. “We love ye to bits. And thank you for all your continued support over the years. Haven’t been to Leap before. I never heard of the place to be honest. But any time spent in Cork is quality time, and we’re looking forward to raising the roof & reuniting wth you afterwards. ‘Hon the lushers! Echo! Echo!”

Young Rebels: The New Faces of Cork Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loah: Staying True to This Heart

Ahead of taking to the stage in Cyprus Avenue next week, Sallay Matu Garnett, aka Loah, speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about her work and her journey.

For some, music is entertainment, a safety blanket amid the mundane or the chaotic. For others, it is catharsis, a means of coming to terms with life experiences and the self. For Sallay Matu Garnett, pseudonymously known as Loah, it’s also been the summary of a lifelong journey along lines of culture, identity and the artistic process. This summer saw the crossing of a major milestone along that path, with the release of debut extended-player ‘This Heart’ via Ensemble Music, after a string of streaming songs and extensive gigging. Garnett discusses the creation of a long-awaited piece of work. “Recording the band was very simple – we all went up to Hellfire Studios, with gorgeous views of the Dublin mountains for a week and the band nailed it. The vocals took a lot longer, they were done over a few months. And there were extra sessions for grand pianos, saxophones, strings, that kind of thing. The creative process was much more complicated, I changed my mind many times about how to do it. It took me a long time to be confident enough to even record, frankly. But once I decided, we got it done fairly simply as I’m lucky to have some great musicians around me.”

With the process of studio creation demystified and a tangible body of work given to her music, time to live with the music has been taken, and Garnett is keen to progress. “I think the songs are really something, and I’m very proud. The performances by the band are stellar. I don’t think there’s much that I would change for how we treated those songs,. However, I’m also very ready to move on from that sound, phase and chapter of writing and open up to a new exploration.”

Genres and pigeonholes are something that artists more often than not simply play around with, or disinterested in overall. For Garnett, however, the idea of the mission statement is not only central, but verging on autobiographical. ‘ArtSoul’ is her self-coined, singular vision for her music, born equally of her roots and the classical training she received, as well as current influences and collaborators. It’s the sum of her journey so far, and an idea of the ambitions she holds. “I suppose it’s being mixed race, Irish/Sierra Leonean, and growing up in both places but predominantly Ireland that has given me a unique sense of self. There are parts of both heritage and both cultures that are so incredible, sometimes in flow together, sometimes in opposition, that give rise to an interesting standpoint from which to create art. Also because of moving around I’ve been exposed to so much amazing music that has seeped into my bone marrow that I struggle to settle on what sound feels most like ‘home’ to me. That’s the ongoing journey – but at its core, I make soul music.”

Hype and anticipation are all part of the cycle surrounding artists, especially in the social-media, breaking-news age. And while Garnett’s momentum emerged and spread like wildfire from blogs, uploads and videos on YouTube, ‘This Heart’ was a long time coming, as the title track infers in a daring opening gambit. Surely, there must have been impatience on her part to kinda capitalise on all the hubbub. “I wasn’t expecting the ‘hype’ at all, and I actually found that at times it flared up my insecurities if I’m totally honest. I felt a sense of impostor syndrome as most people experience starting out in something – so even though it was all very supportive and uber positive, unfortunately I didn’t initially feel a sense of confidence and experience in myself as a writer and performer to match some of the wonderful things being said. It’s sad in a way – I couldn’t always fully embrace it because it left a feeling of pressure to expand and grow really quickly rather than space to figure myself out, which I needed. I took the space and time anyway because I simply didn’t want to record until I was ready, but I felt like by doing so I was somehow disappointing people at times – ‘they’ expected more music, and faster. I also expected more from myself, in an unhealthy way. It’s a funny one.”

A standout from the record is the studio version of ‘Cortege’, finally formally released after its first airing online in 2014, featuring the little bits and flourishes a studio production allows for that a live version can’t. A beautiful, mournful piece of music, the piece is sung in two Sierra Leonean languages: Sherbro and Mende. While the title refers to solemnity and a procession, Garnett explains the emotional impetus behind a moving piece of music. “The song is about death as the title suggest, but the lyrics use the metaphor of the sun rising and setting, and how we all rise and set in kind. I wrote it for a friend whose mother passed very unexpectedly and quickly of cancer. It was my way of sending condolence to someone I care about, and trying to make sense of the great mystery of death with dignity, acceptance and love. And in doing so, infused it with an appreciation for feminine energy, also a very mysterious and subtle force we all benefit from but do not necessarily always appreciate.”

Off the hype train for a wee bit, Garnett recently mucked in with Cork-born producer Bantum’s single ‘Take It’, released last year ahead of his second full-length, ‘Move’. Garnett breaks down the process of collaboration. “Working with Ruairí was effortless. He sent me the track he thought I would vibe with, I did, and I wrote it in three sittings. He’s a very lovely, very laid back and caring person who’s become a real mate – in fact I enjoyed the process so much that we’re back in cahoots on more music! ‘Move’ is a really great album in so many ways – not least because it’s true to him but also his very organic collaborations with so many amazing artists on it is an incredible snapshot of music in Ireland right now, that I think will be looked back on as an important album of its time.”

Loah plays Cyprus Avenue on November 30th as part of the run of dates to promote ‘This Heart’. It’s not her first rodeo with Corkonians, and Garnett looks set to deliver something special. “It’s a pretty slick venue and Cork people, based on all my experiences are a very cultured crew with refined taste so I’m both excited and a bit nervous! I like these nerves though they give me an extra shot of adrenaline that always gives the shows an extra something.” Of course, in keeping with looking to progress, Garnett’s schedule is full for the winter after touring for the extended-player is over with. “Loads and loads and loads of writing! I have some really interesting collaborations on the way, not least the Bantum one. In fact one of those collaborations, a very unexpected one I would imagine, will hit your ears before Christmas. I’m super excited about them all, and I’m actually really looking forward to 2018 unfolding.”

Movember Cork: “It’s An Awful Shock to the System”

For many men, the discovery and treatment of cancer and other illnesses can be a very close shave. The Movember campaign, now in its ninth year, aims to grow awareness of the importance of men’s health and issues. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Movember campaigner Ashley Hobbs on his Movember experiences.

For the past nine years, the annual Movember campaign has done unprecedented work on the national and regional levels for creating awareness and raising funds for men’s physical health issues. The idea, if it has somehow escaped your notice in recent years, is for participants to shave their beards on the first of November (see what they did there?), and over the following thirty days, cultivate a handsome soup-strainer & document its progress. Throughout the month, as with the rest of the year, the onus is on participants to discuss the importance of getting checked for illnesses like prostate cancer, and just as importantly, raise funds in their communities for the cause via sponsorship, events or other means.

Rowing in behind the cause in Cork City this year are John “Coach” Kavanagh, mixed martial artist and coach for UFC champion Conor McGregor, and his brother, Snapchat-famous media personality James Kavanagh. Speaking at the event’s launch recently, John Kavanagh spoke on his motivations for mucking in, new campaigns, and Growing a Mo’. “I am getting behind the Movember 2017 campaign because I know men are not talking about their health enough, both physical and mental, and we need to get a big conversation going, so men know what they can do to safeguard their future health. I am really impressed with the Movember MOVE initiative, as I think it is important for physical and mental health that men get moving. MOVE is great because it’s not about being the fittest or the fastest, it’s about having fun, doing good, while raising funds along the way.” A social media superstar in his own right, James Kavanagh added: “Movember is not just about growing a moustache for November! People should log on to Movember.com to register and get involved, and raise funds by hosting your own event or donating online.”

Corkman Ashley Hobbs is partaking in Movember again this year after growing a mo’ in previous years as part of the campaign, having been directly impacted by cancer in his lifetime, and helping others emerge on the other side. “Everyone is affected by cancer in some shape or form, be it a relative or a friend or family member. My own father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Thankfully, he came through it, mainly down to early detection and hard work by medical professionals. My grandfather died of prostate cancer, I know numerous friends and family that have had cancer down through the years, and that’s the main reason why I got behind Movember.” Since launching in Ireland in 2008, Movember has been the primary funder of prostate cancer initiatives around the country through a working relationship with the Irish Cancer Society. The crux of the campaign is the fact that most cancers are treatable and preventable, through a combination of early detection and small, manageable lifestyle changes. For Hobbs, this knowledge is something he wishes he knew while heading into his father’s cancer journey. “When you first hear the words ‘it’s cancer’, it’s an awful shock to the system. Years ago you daredn’t even mention the ‘c-word’. It’s something you didn’t even talk about, like if someone had cancer, ‘oh god, that’s it, he’s finished’. When I first heard those two words with my own father, it was shock, it was disbelief. It’s a case of ‘was there a mistake, are we sure about the results?’ You automatically assume it’s a death sentence. What I wish I’d know going in is that many cancers are treatable, and recovery is possible. That’s the biggest thing.”

Movember goes into its ninth year in Ireland in 2017, and has become a cultural phenomenon, coinciding as its emergence did with such happenings as the return of the moustache as part of mainstream fashion, even inspiring legions of knockoff, mustachioed clothing in high-street shops (none of which benefited the charity despite selling off the back of its popularity). At time of interview, Hobbs was on day eight of his 2017 moustache, feeling good about the year’s campaign. “The fuzz has taken hold (laughs). I’d to put a little note on the shaving mirrors at home, not to shave the moustache ’cause it’s a habit. Friends, family and colleagues have been very generous. Everyone has been affected in some shape or form by cancer, and when they hear about a worthy cause, they can be very, very generous. Last year was my most successful year, and this year we’ll push on as well. As I call it, Movember month. At the start of the month I went on Facebook and apologised in advance before I start sharing away. But people are very generous not only with money, but with their time and initiative. They just sometimes need a nudge, but people are good souls, they rise to the challenge.”

Amid all the fun and the broader social goals are some hard numbers to contend with. Neil Rooney, national lead on the Movember project, recently said in a statement: “Movember has set a 2030 target to reduce the number of men dying prematurely by 25%. Men are dying an average of 6 years younger than women, and we want to highlight ways to tackle this.” Hobbs, having been through the wringer on more than one occasion, is more than able to testify to the difference the awareness that Movember generates makes. “It’s been mainly through Facebook and Twitter, as well as work. This year, we’re offering that the highest donation gets to shave it off! (laughs) Mainly through social media, getting out there, discussing it and talking about it. I’ve had numerous conversations with people that you wouldn’t realise had been affected by cancer, or suicide, or mental health, all off the back of a couple of silly pictures of me with the moustache, and updating it through the month.”

An often-underestimated point of the cancer recovery journey is that of mental health, both for patients and their loved ones, with the shock and displacement of the initial diagnosis giving way to uncertainty, stress and worry. However, the Movember campaign has coincided with the rise in awareness over the austerity years of the importance of maintaining one’s mental health. Opening up, sharing experiences and continuing to talk is key, as Hobbs and his father can attest to. “It’s much more open. People will have a conversation with you, be it about their own experiences, those of a family member, friend, or whatever. You do see it an awful lot more, people are a lot more aware of the issues. It’s through talking, early detection and counselling, that whether it’s cancer or mental health issues, if people just reach out, that alone can make an awful difference… the normal channels can be very much (health-focused). Saying that, my father had to travel to Galway for his own treatment. There’s no way he could have travelled up and down, gone to hospital for treatments, etc., so the likes of CancerCare West, who put him up in their hostels overnight, and while he was there… for an example, he did yoga one night (laughs). My father’s very old-school, and just even being where other people had it, and was able to talk to others, I think that helped an awful lot. It’s not something the older generation want to talk about, but people have to realise it’s not a death sentence in all cases”

The issue of men’s healthcare is especially important and urgent in the greater Munster area, where the issue of prostate cancer in particular is need of addressing, according to Rooney. “According to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, there has been an average of almost 900 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in Munster since 2005. We want men suffering from prostate cancer to maintain control of their lives as they undergo treatment, improve their mobility, mental wellbeing and, ultimately, their quality of life. With these statistics in mind, Hobbs is keen for people to keep in mind the endgoal of Movember, and dispenses advice to prospective Mo’ Bros. “Keep growing the Mo’s. Cancer will be beaten. It’s something we need to talk about. Keep talking about it, raise the profile. Men are stubborn. They don’t talk, they don’t go to the doctor. ‘Sure, it’ll be grand’. But if they leave it too long, it might not be.”

Ye Vagabonds: Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The brothers MacGloinn and their cohorts have finally unveiled their debut long-player. Ahead of Ye Vagabonds’ Live at St. Luke’s excursion this month, Mike McGrath-Bryan talk to Diarmuid MacGloinn about recording, releasing and touring.

Carlow outfit Ye Vagabonds have been something of a hot commodity in recent years, bringing a hint of Americana, specifically Appalachian singing and sixties reverie, to the contemporary Irish folk picture. Having gigged extensively and done the festival circuit around the country, the band went a step further and built a visual body of work for its music in association with This Ain’t No Disco videographer Myles O’Reilly, which has gone the extra mile in building the band’s momentum. With their eponymously-titled debut album finally released digitally and via mail order last month, Diarmuid MacGloinn, one-half of the brothers behind the band, talks about his feelings heading into its launch gigs. “There was a three-month gap right before the album was released when we could do nothing more with the album other than release it, and that was the most nerve-wracking time of the whole process. Now though, we’re feeling good about it and letting it slowly make its own way into the world. It’s pretty much impossible to have an objective listener’s ear with it though, we’ve been living with this album for about a year now and have thought about everything that’s gone into it an awful lot.”

The album is a self-release, via your the band’s newly-formed Inglenook Records imprint. With a label formally given to the record-distribution side of the Ye Vagabonds operation, MacGloinn talks about the process of getting set up for digital distribution, handling physical copies in a disparate indie record-shop environment, and plans for other artists on the label. “We’ve wanted to set up a label for a long time to release our own albums as well as our friends’ music, so when the mastering engineer asked us what the label was we came up with Inglenook there and then. Digital distribution is relatively simple these days, it just goes through an online distributor like Record Union or CD Baby, and at the moment we’re posting physical copies worldwide to anyone who orders them through Bandcamp and directly distributing to independent record shops in Ireland. We do actually have plans to release a few more artists on the label too. The first is Alain McFadden, one of our band. Alain and Brían recorded an EP in the summer together with Nick Rayner, the engineer we worked with on the album, and we’re really excited to show it to people. We’d also like to release Anna-Mieke’s music, and maybe a few others.”

The last month or so has brought a raft of critical praise for the band, in addition to well-received launch gigs for the album. MacGloinn is grateful, but chooses to keep external factors out of mind for the sake of the band’s creative and operational headspace. “It’s been great to get a lot of positive feedback on it so far. In general, we don’t read critics’ reviews unless our friends and manager read them and send them to us, but the ones we have read have been really good. It can be really difficult to read critical reviews of our music though, especially when the record has been released already. Even if a review is good, there could be one line or comparison that touches on an insecurity or doubt we might have had before, so we prefer to just not read them. The response from fans has been great, and really encouraging, so we’re delighted with that.”

Friday the 13th last month saw the record launch happen live over two nights in Dublin, and the following night in a special hometown gig in Carlow, where the band first garnered their chops and began assembling their own compositions before heading to Dublin to throw themselves into the business of their craft. For MacGloinn, these live engagements represented different milestones. “The album launches in the Cobblestone (pub) were really special nights for us, with two packed rooms in our community pub around the corner from where we’ve lived for five years or so in Dublin. There were a lot of people there who are very important to us, and those two nights were two of our favourite gigs we’ve played. The Carlow gig was a bit emotional for us. There were a bunch of people there who have watched us take our first steps as musicians, and been there the whole way through our teens until we left Carlow. There was also a very important gap there that night, since a good friend of ours isn’t there anymore, and it was tough to be reminded of that again.”

Folk of many strains is having a field day as of present, with a level of press exposure and live activity not seen since the boom-years explosion in easily-accessible singer-songwriters. MacGloinn, as a fan first and foremost, names some of his favourite contemporaries, and why Irish folk is stronger than ever. “There are so many amazing Irish folk artists around these days. Lankum have been cutting an incredible path for themselves for the past few years which has drawn a lot of attention to the folk scene here. Their music identifies a feeling that a lot of people can relate to in Ireland, but might not have expressed that way before. Lisa O’Neill is a big inspiration to us too. She does something very unique with songs, a shape that I wouldn’t have imagined before, and an honesty I hadn’t heard before either. Branwen Kavanagh of Twin Headed Wolf and Oiseau Oiseau has been writing and performing incredible music and art for a few years now too, and I’d love to see her music released at some stage soon. Then there are people like Anna-Mieke, Rue, Alain Mc Fadden and Sean Fitzgerald who are all making really interesting and transportive music.”

The band hits Live at St. Luke’s on November 24th, a favourite venue of theirs. Indeed, the ex-cathedral’s cavernous interior seems perfectly suited to their ambitions while providing a certain initimacy that behooves any good folk session. “St. Luke’s has the best acoustics of any venue in Ireland that we’ve played in, so for harmony-rich music and this album it’s probably the most suited place to hear us in the country. Our music is more or less made for that room. Out of all the gigs we have lined up for the rest of this year, that’s the one we’re most excited about. It’s also the biggest venue we’ve ever played a headline show in. We’ll be joined by a very talented song writer and singer from Dundalk called David Keenan, who’s been making big waves on his own this past year, and we’re delighted to have him opening for us on the night. We don’t know when we’ll be back in Cork again, so we’re going to give it everything we can on the 24th.”

Ambition is a word that suits the band and their approach to music. It’s no surprise, then, that the band are already on their next steps, creatively. But before any of the high faluting, they’ve got a journey to undergo in pursuit of authenticity for their new music. “It might sound like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but we’re recording another album. We have a bunch of traditional songs that we want to record in Irish and English, mostly songs of the Ulster song tradition from Arranmore Island in particular, where our mother’s side of the family come from. We’re going to spend a bunch of time in Arranmore preparing the finer details of the songs, and we’ll be recording them all live over a few days just after the St Luke’s gig. It’s likely that we’ll try out a bunch of these songs in St Luke’s on the 24th too. That should be ready to release in the late spring time next year.”

Séamus Fogarty: “A Bit More Logical”

Having long transcended his Co. Mayo beginnings to become a somewhat-fancied folk proposition, Séamus Fogarty has seemingly quietly arrived in 2017, touring comprehensively and overcoming the obstacles of life as an independent musician in the current climate. Sophomore full-length ‘The Curious Hand’ is done, dusted and went out the gap last month. On the eve of a clutch of Irish tour dates, Fogarty explains the writing process, and the differences this time around. “My first album came together faster – I was living in Limerick in a wooden shack and didn’t have much else to do but work on music on my own, so it was very much a solo affair, lots of late nights etc. For this album, I had a bunch of tunes that I’d been wrestling with on my own for a long time but I just couldn’t nail them – so I got Leo (Abrahams, producer) involved, we got a studio and tackled some of those older songs with renewed vigour. Actually writing, I was a bit more logical about how I went about finishing lyrics, etc. And I still relied heavily on my little store of funny noises and speech recordings, etc. in the production phase.”

UK indie institution Domino are behind the album’s release, whose muscle and established status as kingmakers has helped Fogarty immensely almost by association, while he’s effusive about their willingness to work together. “I think releasing my first album on Fence Records probably helped, there’s always been a connection between the two labels. I uploaded a few tracks on to a top-secret soundcloud page and they eventually made their way to the guys at Domino, and they were into it. They’ve been incredible to deal with.” As mentioned earlier, producer Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno, Wild Beasts) was brought in to help bring matters together. He proved to be a far looser hand than anticipated, knowing when to hold back and how to push forward. “Great, the man knows how to make an album. He was great in the studio and then we worked together on the mix, very much a team effort – I’d do a rough mix, adding bits and pieces, and then Leo would take it from there.”

The album was launched with a gig in London’s Old Queen’s Head recently, ahead of the upcoming run of dates. Despite the usual trepidations about big events, Fogarty and the band are happy with how the night was received. “The Old Queen’s Head show was amazing… I was really nervous, and then my drummer Aram mentioned how great it was to be celebrating all the hard work, and that made me feel much better, it really felt like a celebration. So many people I hadn’t seen for so long, and lots of people I didn’t know too, which is always good”, he smiles. The video for single ‘Van Gogh’s Ear’ is a rumination on commuting and ear infections, made with the vision of director James Hankins. What was the process of coming up with and realising the concept? “The process involved us asking James what was going to happen in the video, him telling me that I’d be walking around in a naked suit with a fake set of balls visiting the dentist, me saying that I wasn’t sure about that etc. But I love James and I’m so happy with what he did for the song.”

Working with a label like Domino does mean a lot of press and all of the attendant attention – Fogarty is admirably rather pragmatic about the release and how it’s been received. “The first album got some press too, although not as much, so that part of things wasn’t so new, but I put so much work into this album, I’m really delighted that people seem to be in to it.” With a clutch of Irish dates in early November as part of a UK/IE swing in support of the album, Fogarty is buoyant, but measured, in his pre-tour thoughts. “I can’t wait… the live show is such a joy to be part of. It’s not me and a banjo, as I’ve read in some quarters, but it’s a full band with electronics etc., and some incredible dancing. Everyone should come.”

Séamus Fogarty is on tour this week and next, see dates and ticket links below. ‘The Curious Hand’ is available now physically and via digital platforms on Domino Records.