Sexual Violence Centre Cork: “It’s About Talking About It”

This Valentine’s Day afternoon, dancers and volunteers for the Sexual Violence Centre at Camden Quay will gather at the Opera House for a special flashmob, as part of a worldwide event raising awareness of sexual violence, and the worldwide movement to break the stigma surrounding its victims. Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with SVCC head Mary Crilly and flashmob leader Inma Pavon.

Valentine’s Day in Cork City will mean an extra-busy few days for shops, restaurants, florists, and by the time 1pm rolls around, the beginning of an influx of panic-buying significant others, descending upon Paul Street to get the last few bits in (or all of them in some cases!) ahead of the evening’s proceedings. The perfect time, then, for a flashmob to strike, and disrupt the routine. Thursday week will see the volunteers of Cork Sexual Violence Centre, accompanied by dancers from around the city, co-ordinate and dance to raise awareness not only of their own cause locally in the wake of movements like #MeToo, but of the realities that one billion women, out of three worldwide, will have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

The flashmob, kicking off at 1.15 on the day, is part of the One Billion Rising project, that sees similar displays of solidarity and expression happen around the world on Valentine’s Day. For Sexual Violence Centre Cork co-ordinator Mary Crilly, creation of awareness via the arts and community outreach is as important as fundraising, keeping the word out there after a busy holiday season of fundraising initiatives, like Cyprus Avenue’s ‘Undivided’ Christmas mega-gig. “For the people working in the centre, I think they feel an incredible buzz. Not just listened to, but that we matter. Sometimes when you’re working in a centre, especially when there are counsellors seeing people everyday, you’re not aware of what else is happening out there, so it’s encouraging to see that there are young people, listening, and that they want to raise awareness.”

‘V-Day’, the one-day campaign for One Billion Rising under which the flashmob falls, has been on the peripheries for the Sexual Violence Centre for a few years, in terms of its community outreach goals and collaborations with local artists. But in getting something like a flashmob together, creating a sense of urgency was also important. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and the 14th of February is very soon. If we started rehearsals in September or October, people might forget by February. January seems awfully late to try and do it, but we said we’d give it a go… We’re very aware that the majority of people will not come in for counselling. I think Irish people, in general, are very private. One in ten people (affected by sexual violence) will come in for counselling, and it’s about letting the world know that if this has happened to you, that we’re really sorry that it’s happened, and that you’re not on your own, and for the people supporting them: we’re here to help. It’s about talking about it.”

That process of community outreach has been important to many of the Centre’s drives for fundraising and awareness led them to look into the city’s vibrantly-busy dance community, whereupon they were introduced to locally-based contemporary dancer and tutor Inma Pavon, whose experience and passion for people made her a perfect fit for the project, according to Crilly. “We were really fortunate. One of the women here knew Inma, and she said ‘why don’t you contact her?’. I did, and she got back immediately, within a few hours. She said, ‘I dance, I do dancing, I teach, I know a lot of people, I’ll organise this part’, and she made it so much easier. It’s wonderful when you have someone like Inma, who wanted to help, but never knew how to help, looking after things, it’s wonderful, totally.”

Wanting to help, but not knowing how to help, can be a big obstacle for many ordinary people who might like to volunteer, not only for SVCC, but for charity in general. When asked how people can get involved, Crilly is open about what anyone can bring to the fray for a community group like theirs when they reach out. “People have organised community events in here, and for us, it was a way of getting people into the centre, who wouldn’t previously have been in, who might have wanted to, and felt safe coming in and leaving like that. People, when they want to volunteer, I hate them thinking that they have to have so many skills. It can be big, or small, or whatever they’re willing, or able to do. We do want new energy coming in, new people coming through, whatever they can do for us.”

Making her home in Cork after a lifetime of pursuing contemporary dance around the world from her native Spain, Pavon has, in recent years, harnessed the power of community across different media and artistic disciplines, to create a compelling body of work that goes from freeform dance classes to appearances in music videos for local artists like alternative folk singer Elaine Malone. Working on the flashmob, Pavon gets to bring her expertise in working with new people to the fray, and embark on rehearsals with people of different skill levels (and none). “Working on the flashmob has been absolutely incredible. Just the fact that I am a dancer, and a believer that dance helps to break chains, the flashmob is, in fact, a gift given to me to help me spread this message. I love working with new people, that’s the beauty with dance, that you meet new people all the time… It’s a place to make people feel good through the learning process, which can be at times more difficult. My task, I believe, is to help faciliate that process, and make it easier for everyone to pick up.”

The choreography of the piece has been agreed upon by project participants around the world, focusing on breaking the stigma of silence and shame surrounding sexual assault. For Pavon, who’s used to far more freedom of movement and concepts in her work, the differences are stark, but the validity of expressing a message and empowering others is important “Contemporary dance is a very ‘expanded’ dance technique, where lots of different styles come to be. Also, it depends a lot on the choreographer’s taste, to add something completely unique to their dance works. I like to think we love as many different dances as we love people: all dance is good if feels good for you… I love making my own dances, sometimes to no music, just allowing the movement to emerge from a sensation or visual stimulus. Music comes later sometimes, but it’s all to bring on a journey, along with the dance.”

Pavon’s work with various groups and new dancers in the community from her studio on Monahan Road have informed her approach to community outreach, so when it came time to muck in on the V-Day project on a local basis, she eagerly answered the call to do so. “I want to thank the Sexual Violence Centre for making this happen, and bringing the awareness of this issue to the people of Cork. This is a very important event, and its goal of raising awareness about sexual violence around the world is really necessary, still, in peoples’ lives.”

The Sexual Violence Centre continues to go from strength to strength, with more calls to action and ongoing projects, such as nightlife safety initiative ‘Ask for Angela’, taking place over the course of 2019. Equally as important, however, is the health and wellbeing of the people that keep the SVC running and serving an all-important purpose in the community. Last year saw Mary Crilly diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, a horrible shock that refocused her personal efforts, but also provided a profound perspective on her work, as she rounds the corner to recovery. “I needed lots of surgery, I needed lots of chemotherapy, so it came as a huge shock. I was lucky enough that I got diagnosed and had chemo all through the summer. Last week, I had an operation to reverse the stoma, which was joining my bowel back together. It’s been a rough year, but I’m at the end of it, and I feel amazing. I feel lucky and privileged to have the people that have supported me, and that I’m at the stage, now, where I’m feeling ready to go again!”

The Sexual Violence Centre Cork flashmob, for the V-Day Project, happens at 1.15pm at Cork Opera House. For all the latest information, and to get involved, check ‘Sexual Violence Centre Cork’ across social media.

Shane Casey: “I’m Not the Finished Article”


The Celtic Tiger is now firmly in the rear-view of the national psyche, and is increasingly remembered as a strange time in Irish history. For former painter/decorator Shane Casey, it was a point of frustration, but also a rich seam of material for comedy-drama play ‘Wet Paint’. Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down with the Young Offenders star to find out more.


From the local buzz that has sprung up around the international success of Leeside slapstick series ‘The Young Offenders’, the real-life stories behind its leading actors and actresses are among the most compelling, with a cast of homegrown talent breaking an all-too pervasive glass ceiling in Irish entertainment and further afield. Thanks to the international reach the original film and spinoff TV show has attained via RTÉ/BBC co-production, and distribution deals with streaming titan Netflix, ‘The Young Offenders’ has become a bona-fide success story in Irish media, and alongside Channel 4’s ‘Derry Girls’, a cultural talking point not seen in Irish comedy since the height of Father Ted’s success in the mid-nineties. For those out of loop, one of the show’s profound pop-cultural sensations is one of its’ anti-heroes, Billy Murphy, portrayed by Northsider Shane Casey.

Though the success of Young Offenders has placed Casey in a national spotlight, he’s been fervently working away on stories of his own for over a decade. Informed by his time as a painter-decorator at the very crest of the construction-boom wave, ‘Wet Paint’ was written entirely by Casey, who also stars in its upcoming Patrick Talbot production at the Opera House next month. Sitting down upstairs in the venue’s Blue Angel bar, Casey is open about the process of bringing the story of an image-conscious boss and his workers to life. “To be honest with you, I didn’t know that that was what I was going to write about. I started writing a monologues, and ‘I was on the Late Late Show once’ was the opening line. This monologue spilled out of me one afternoon up in Sunday’s Well, I was living (there). I found it was a funny anecdotal story about the man who meets the future James Bond on the Late Late Show, and told his wife that he knows him, when in fact he doesn’t know him. He’s caught out with a lie on national television. I found that humourous, and off the back of that, then, I had the character Tony, who I thought was like a neighbour of mine, and that evolved into the painting and decorating ‘boss’, that was under pressure, buying the new car every year, the new kitchen unit, and so on, all of this nonsense that was going on during the Celtic Tiger, and that evolved into, to be honest, a semi-autobiographical piece on being an apprentice painter-decorator as the world was going mad, in 2005.”

‘Wet Paint’ is a curio, in that it deals directly with the Celtic Tiger’s largesse and ‘notions’ by openly lampooning them, doing so not only as a personal nostalgia piece, but addressing the national episode, a time when the country, by and large, was arguably getting carried away with itself. Irresponsible investments, an over-emphasis on entrepreneurship, and a steady flow of cheap credit championed by banks and politicians alike created an atmosphere where anything seemed possible. For young people, however, soon to be the first victims of the precipitous bust of 2008 and the reviled austerity measures that followed, that fantasy was rarely the case, and Casey’s bile was aimed directly at the obstacles the boom-years mentality placed directly in his path. “It was just a frustration for me, at that point. I’d left the painting and decorating (a few years prior) and then when the 2005 (City of Culture) scenario rolled around I’d just finished college, I thought, ‘oh, this is going to be good for me, lots of plays and lots of theatre, vibrant things happening in my city’, and I just felt completely excluded from it. It was opera-singing up at the barracks, foreign plays coming in, which is all well and good, I love theatre, but I felt it was elitist, and that was the frustration that was coming through me in the play. I wanted to write a play that my Mam and Dad, and that my friends, who are builders, painters and decorators, and the theatre-going public could sit down and watch, and go ‘oh, he’s trying to say something, here’, y’know? I know that sounds kind of heightened, or convoluted, but it’s frustration, really, with… jambons, and silly, stupid carry-on.”

This time around, Casey and crew are working with former Everyman Palace director Patrick Talbot to get the Opera House production of ‘Wet Paint’ over the line, but Casey is quick to sing the praises of former directors that have worked with him on the play’s prior productions at the Granary Theatre, and the Everyman itself, drawing from the rich seam of theatrical talent that the city possesses in spades. “The play was directed by a woman called Evelyn Quinlan, who was one of the first Theatre students from UCC, she would have been involved with Julie Kelleher and people like that. She became a friend over the years, and I wanted a female input on the play originally, and she would have been a guiding light for the original production, and a director when we put it on in the Granary, and transferred it to the Everyman, then, a year later. Pat happened to be the guy that was running the theatre at that stage, and then when Pat came to me last year and said ‘would you take it out again?’, I was thinking it would be more relevant again, that there’s distance between now and 2005. I had another look, and thought, yeah, ‘maybe this does have something to say’, because now there is a nostalgia buzz, and I even talk about ‘Reeling in the Years’ in the play, Turners’ Cross and Cork City, all the stuff that was going on at the time. Pat has always been very encouraging to me in theatre, and encouraging me to write more, always.”

With the property bubble having long since burst, the fallout of the bailout and bank guarantee having taken a heavy toll on the Irish public over the course of the last decade-plus, and the prospect of a so-called economic recovery being touted by the Irish establishment, the temptation to ask Casey if any of the well to-do crowd have taken umbrage with the play and its mirroring of notions in certain parts of Irish society is frankly overwhelming for your writer. “I live close to inner-city Dublin, and I do workshops in schools. I know that kids are suffering because of the austerity cuts, like. We’re all suffering. The nurses are on strike. There’s kids who are homeless in Cork city. There is a bit of a recovery, but for who? That’s why I’m doing my workshops, ‘cause I know what it’s like to feel like sh*t about myself as a teenager, The Young Offenders has opened the door for me to do this, and put this play on again, and I’m proud and really excited to be working on it.”

In pursuing the opportunity given to him to revisit ‘Wet Paint’, Casey reached into his recent acting past to cast his two collaborators for the new production. Having moved to Dublin right before ‘The Young Offenders’ to pursue his craft in a busier atmosphere, the right people were literally falling in around him as he was revisiting the script. “The first time I met Tommy (Harris) was across the road (from the Opera House), when we were filming the prison scenes. I was beating this guy for an afternoon, and he turned out to be a friend, and now he’s in a play that I wrote, it’s amazing… I was in Dublin, went into a coffee shop that I had never been in before, and I took out the script. I hate taking out scripts in coffee shops, because I feel like a bit of a w*nker. The next thing, Tommy walks in the door, and I think ‘brilliant!’. Michael Sands is also a friend of mine, and he’s probably played more than anyone else at this stage. He’s been in dozens of pantos here, and in the Everyman, and I’m really excited to be doing it with him.”

Taking the play, a three-man piece with limited props, from the ‘round’ of the Granary and the smaller stage of the Everyman, to the generous proportions of the Opera House’s boards, would present anyone else with the question of how best to fill that space, and make the most of the historic venue’s facilities. For Casey, however, that negative space around his show’s characters presents an opportunity to maximise its visual impact and complement his story, allowing audiences to fill the spaces themselves. “That’s probably saying more for their isolation as characters, to be honest with you. We’re still on the outside, looking in on them. It was probably more ‘under the microscope’ as an actor, in the Granary and the Everyman because they were up our noses. There’s a moment in the show where, without giving too much away, where ‘the wall’ is very much broken. People didn’t realise we were acting within the scene, they thought the play was falling apart. We can make it maybe a little bit bigger. I’m glad that we did it in a small venue, and now we have it here, and we’re looking at taking it on tour later in the year, see how it does in other houses. We’re doing Skibbereen as well, I’m excited about that!”

When he isn’t working on his stagecraft, Casey has used his influence and the wide reach his acting has garnered him to advocate for awareness of mental health and stress among teenagers, following on from parental testimonies on ‘The Young Offenders’’ inherent inter-generational appeal. In his mind, opening up the conversation about the world around our young people, and the pressures that have always gone hand-in-hand with adolescence, is the first step. Casey draws from his own experiences prior to entering the performing arts, and has come away from his school workshops on the matter with some profound experiences and perspectives. “We’re opening up the floor to them, to have a conversation, suggesting things that they could do. It’s an experience-based workshop, based on the mistakes I’ve made in my life and the life I’ve led so far, what I need to do to be productive and happy within myself. That’s the most important thing. It’s very easy for kids to feel like sh*t about themselves, I know what it’s like to go home and sit on my phone for four hours, thinking everyone else’s life is perfect. I’m going in and being honest them, ‘cause I’m not the finished article at all. They think that when you’re an adult, everything’s over and you have everything made, they don’t realise you have problems and troubles. We need to sit down and talk about their problems and troubles as well. We had a lovely moment the other day, I asked a group, ‘how many people have somebody they can turn to if they really need help?’, and nobody put their hands up, and that was worrying. But we turned the tables on them and asked, ‘if somebody needs help, would yoy help them?’, and they all put their hands up. We’ve a lovely saying at the workshops, ‘don’t go the butcher for a haircut’. A lot of them get confused at the very start, but it’s about going to the right person for help at the right time.”

It must be an odd reverse-engineering of those experiences with mental health, then, to pour everything into portraying Billy Murphy, the Young Offenders’ eternal menace, rival and eventual anti-hero. Initially portrayed as protagonists Conor and Jock’s near-psychotic local bully, pursuing the pair over comeuppance received at the end of the original film, Murphy slowly becomes a sympathetic figure as the subsequent TV show progresses. He’s shown to be profoundly out of his depth when holding bus-goers hostage in the series’ infamous finale, and is ultimately shown as the product of parental neglect, mental ill-health and the wider social issues affecting inner-city areas and their infrastructure. With the responsibility that comes with such a large platform, Casey’s approach, similar to his other work, is to create a blank canvas for others to project their experiences onto. “Everything was there on the page from Peter (Foott, Young Offenders director). It’s well-documented at this stage that he lets us do a bit of improvisation, but Peter knows me for years, and what I can contribute as an actor. The character was there, and we knew there was more to him than the stereotypical guy that punches somebody. I very much wanted to have a struggle within the guy that if he does punch someone, that he goes ‘oh, tell your mam I was asking for her’, afterwards. I thought that was an interesting angle. Any time I ever saw a lad get into trouble, especially in relation to violence, he was kind-of beating himself up, more than anybody else, afterwards. I don’t think anyone goes out, punches someone and feels great about it. I think there is a sinister side to him as well, where he does take a little bit of enjoyment out of it, but there’s a pinch of salt to it.”

This coming summer will see the show’s second series enter filming around the city. While the details of the show’s next steps are of course under tight wraps, it’s evident that between the upcoming shoots and ‘Wet Paint’s continued run around Cork county, Casey has enough happening to keep him busy in the coming year. “It’s going to go again, that’s all I know. The kids and teenagers I meet are crying out for another series. The more we can get done, the better. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll get the one-percent of people coming up to me (saying so), but it’s like, ‘ye’re not the demographic’, like. Peter has assembled a brilliant team of people on cast and crew. Somebody put the headline that there’s a ‘love-in’ between all of us, and I’ll stand by that, I’m very fond of everyone I work with on that show.”

On a parting note, Casey makes time before he heads to a production meeting for an anecdote on the real strength of ‘The Young Offenders’ wide-ranging appeal. “A prominent person in this city, a television person, told me that they would sit down every Thursday night with their son and watch the show, and it would become a real bonding moment for them. It was really nice, as a family to do that. I thought that was really nice. The therapeutic quality the show has. Sitting down to watch one episode and being able to switch off, from their phones and the pressure they’re put under at school. I’m very happy to be involved in a show like that, and at the very least – kids are having a laugh.”

‘Wet Paint’ runs at Cork Opera House, at 8pm nightly from Wednesday March 20th to Saturday 23rd, with a special matinee show at 3pm on the Saturday. Tickets €21-27 are available from the venue’s box office, and corkoperahouse.com.

Imaginary Neighbours: “It’s Possible to Find More Meaningful Connections”

As Quarter Block Party sets out to re-imagine what the city’s historic quarter can be this weekend, one group of artists sets out to fill in the blanks left by vacant spaces left on North Main Street, creating a group of ‘Imaginary Neighbours’. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with installation co-creator, Gergő Lukác, and Quarter Block Party co-organiser Eszter Némethi.

It stands as proud as ever it has, for better or worse. North Main Street, at the centre of the city’s ‘old’ quarter is an important lifeline in traversing the city, linking Shandon Street and the Northside to Barrack Street and the Lough beyond it. A historically proud area for businesses and trade, the street has seen the ups and downs of arrivals, departures, and the seemingly endless cycle of boom and bust over the years, forging a strong and resilient community of traders and the loyal custom that keeps the area alive. For the past five years, Quarter Block Party arts festival has sought to breathe new life into the area’s vacant spaces, nooks and crannies, with music, performance and public engagement, doing so right as winter gives way to spring.

This year, a group of visiting artists from Budapest in Hungary have given specific consideration to the issue of vacant retail units and lots in and around North Main Street, devising a number of interactions and provocations through street art, installations and performances, among which is an intriguing proposition: ‘Imaginary Neighbours’. Asking workshop attendees to imagine the people and stories that could fill the empty spaces and open new possibilities for the area, the project sees the ideas rendered as images, drawn onto kites, to be flown during a special parade later in the day. At a time when vacant properties risk creating vacant neighbourhoods, co-creator Gergő Lukác explores the process of getting a conversation going beforehand. “Approximately 300 people live on North Main Street now. In theory, it shouldn’t be so difficult to reach and convince people to participate, but in practice, it definitely is. This is the reason we created a three-step strategy. First, posters will appear in the streets with our faces, to not be complete strangers when we show up. The second, to send letters to the residents, with more information about why we arrive. And lastly, to get to know them in person, on those four days when we arrive in Cork.”

Further to the process of finding out who will have “arrived” at the workshop, the stated theme of who is “yet to arrive” in real life hangs poignantly over proceedings: our city is to become a City of Sanctuary for refugees, and the artistic community works hard to create place for them wherever possible. Such concerns, though relevant, will be explored indirectly, via the simple process of imagination, as well as the chats with locals, says Quarter Block co-organiser Eszter Némethi. “The workshop, and the parade propose a curiosity and gives space for thinking together, about what it might mean to live together. What it might mean to move in to a very specific place, with a very specific history and situation. Like Gergő said, there are 300-odd people living on the street, that’s six busloads, a very small community. I think to be in the same room with your neighbours in itself is quite exciting, even if it is temporary.”

Reclamation of real and imagined spaces are a theme for the parade: vacant living and retail spaces have always been a feature of the city centre, like cavities, in its forward-facing nature, and in recent years, have coincided with the death of community arts spaces like Camden Palace Hotel, commonly falling victim to property hoarding and an inaction on infrastructural issues and changes in customer habits. For Nemethí, public art like this is an attempt to find a common way to suture up the disconnections with the city centre that have followed. “With Quarter Block Party, my personal question is: ‘what is the place of art on a street?’. And I like to propose this question to artists, traders, residents. To think together, because I think the answer is not simple, the dynamics change. The values and priorities shift. I learnt a lot about how much space there is on North Main Street for art, often more than I thought. Often in places I didn’t anticipate! But I also think ‘sensing’ this place requires a continuous dialogue, and it’s a slow process, a negotiation of differing value systems. It’s not the point to fill temporarily vacant buildings, meant for trade or living with art. It can help to lift spirits, but I think it’s possible to find more meaningful connections.”

The workshop was developed as part of the Common Ground programme of cultural exchanges between Cork and Budapest, that runs over the course of Quarter Block Party weekend, with the help of the EU’s Erasmus+ programme. For Lukác, the challenge was working from Hungary alongside Cork-based Némethi and the Quarter team, with all of the challenges that occur. “In Common Ground, we work and research on how we can reach and engage local communities through the tools of art. We work in small groups, along different approaches of the topic, everyone according to their main interest. We were interested in how to involve the people who actually live on this street, and what’s the topic we could catch their attention with. ‘Imaginary Neighbours’ was then designed especially for North Main Street residents.”

Quarter Block Party has, for half a decade, explored and shone a light on spaces and interactions for local people along the city’s old quarter. The initiative and effort that organisers like Némethi have put in to bring life to spaces that could otherwise be construed as ‘left behind’ by development and gentrification cannot be underestimated. “I think in the margins, the places where people do not look, wild and magical things can happen. There is a possibility for things to emerge and develop. And it might be hard to establish or eradicate things, but I also think this is the strength of these places, that they change, but also persevere. I think North Main Street is one of these wild spaces, just that it also happens to be in the very middle of Cork.”

The ‘Imaginary Neighbours’ workshop takes place between 1pm and 6pm on Saturday February 9th, at the Middle Parish Community Centre on Grattan Street. Families are welcome. The Parade of Imaginary Neighbours then sets off from Skiddy’s Castle Plaza at 6pm. To book a place, email eszter@quarterblockparty.com.

God is an Astronaut: “Everything Felt as Natural as It Could”

With ninth album ‘Epitaph’, Glen of the Downs post-rockers God is an Astronaut have prepared their most sonically and thematically heavy record yet. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to co-founder Niels Kinsella ahead of their gig at Cyprus Avenue on February 8th.

Traversing the world, and creating a vast palate of sounds in and around the post-rock genre’s outer limits, Co. Wicklow five-piece God is an Astronaut have seen and done possibly everything there is for them to see and do, enduring nearly everything a band could have thrown at them at a turbulent time for independent music. And yet, for all of their accomplishments and a rich body of work, when it came time to face down a profound personal tragedy, the band took shelter, pride and comfort in creating a transformative, wildly cathartic and heartbroken piece of music. In doing so, they’ve arguably emerged with an album that’s redefined them as a creative entity, and bears the hallmark of the kind of soul-searching only that grief can inspire in someone.

New album ‘Epitaph’ released in April of last year via Napalm Records, a new label for the band after years of alternating between UK indies and self-releases. Niels Kinsella, one half of the brother duo at the heart of the band, is careful to discuss the inspiration behind a crushing yet vital musical proposition.We are very happy with the album, even though it was a very difficult for us to write. It was written in memory of our seven-year-old cousin, whose life was tragically taken just over two years ago. Working with Napalm Records has been positive, they’ve been very supportive and respectful of our identity.”

Tapping into the groundswell of emotion and experience that bereavement evokes, the band took a turn for the sonically and thematically heavy, wrenching out of themselves a heavy, at times guttural take on the band’s traditional play with sounds. Oddly enough, then, the record is rooted in the most bare-bones idea preparation one imagines a band like God is an Astronaut engaging in. The songs themselves were written all in the immediate aftermath and were essential for us to try and come to terms with this extremely traumatic event, words could not express our feelings but the music could. All of the songs are about the different aspects of the tragedy so naturally this is by far the darkest and most personal record we have ever written. The songs were mainly written on a Piano, it offers a larger combination of notes than a guitar and helped capture the exact emotions.”

For the first time in the band’s long and storied run, they were joined in studio by a creative ‘third-person’ in a non-production role, with Rob Murphy and Conor Drinane of Dublin electronic duo Xenon Field taking part in songwriting and improvisation, to provide another perspective. “They helped us a lot in post-production, and really understood what we were making. They wanted the style to further reflect the subject matter by making the sounds more broken/imperfect. For example, they put the sounds through various tape devices with bad tracking, the notes warbling in and out tune helped it feel more haunted. Using lots of tape saturation made it feel more stressed. We used lots of experimental plugins like Unfiltered Audio SpecOps, and lots of analogue outboard like the Niio Iotine Core, Mutronics Mutator and Snazzy FX Tracer City.”

Working as a unit between four of them, and including the contributions of former members and guest musicians, Xenon Field ensured the Brothers Kinsella’s trademark sonic interplay would be evident. The group set out to ensure that everything felt as natural as it could throughout production. “We also introduced a doom-laden guitar sound in sections, tuned to drop A, but with a twist. I put an Earthquaker Rainbow pedal on my guitar which warbles the tuning in and out of tune, that combination really captured the dread and ugliness that some of music was conveying. We also used live amps on this record, as amp simulation equipment didn’t quite fit the style. It had to have a raw flavour. Jimmy Scanlon, who owns Jimi’s Music Store, helped me out by supplying lots of vintage amps, and also played on our record. We used ribbon mics to keep the sound warm. The drums were mic’d with a pair of Ribbon Coles 4038, which is something we never used before. It gives the drums a dark sound that the music craved for. It was also the first time we did analog mastering, we wanted something more vintage and authentic.”

There are a wide variety of topics & themes at play in the record, coming under the main theme of grief and catharsis; including imagery of mythology and natural beauty. Arrangement and ideas aside – how was it to focus on dealing with such an overwhelming, universally relatable sadness into a body of work?In one way it was therapeutic for us, but in another it was overwhelming having to relive those feelings over and over again as we worked on the record throughout, at times it even became oppressive. It was important to have some positivity and hope on the album to balance it out.”

The band has recently pressed its entire back catalogue back onto vinyl, on sale now at various tour stops. Kinsella outlines the process of getting the band’s catalogue together after an extended mastering process, and how it was to view an extended body of work in the rear-view mirror, at least in terms of a set of physical pieces.We had remastered our entire discography back in 2012, with Tim Young at Metropolis Mastering Studios in London, so it made it quite manageable to revisit the masters, as they were all on file, and cut them to vinyl. It was very gratifying, and even nostalgic, looking at our entire body of work at the same time. When we laid out all the vinyl on the table so many memories came back to us.”

The vinyl revival is an ideal opportunity to supplement live and merchandise income, but has yet to make up ground for loss of artist revenues as streaming overtakes both CD and now download as the prime digital format. While catalogue reissues and streaming revenues have gone a way to addressing the shortfall from the possible death of ‘owned’ formats, as is the case for many artists, the solution hasn’t quite arrived yet for the band, who also find themselves facing the challenge of changing habits that streaming has caused among casual consumers. “Ultimately streaming hasn’t really helped, if anything it’s lessened our revenue. Fans who have bought our records in the past are now content to just sign up to a streaming service, and the artist revenue from that is significantly less. You can also see trends of listeners just listening to specific playlists, for example ‘ambient music’, where the artist identity isn’t even that important, the listeners are only interested in one specific style to suit their mood, and do not want be subjected to a mixed variety. So that, in my opinion, kills the concept of an album where there is a journey. For us, it’s fifty percent live shows and merchandising, and the other fifty percent is releasing new music, which is a big change in the last ten years, where the revenue was seventy percent releasing new music and thirty percent live shows and merchandising.”

Before heading to Bucharest in May to support the Cure, and ahead of touring the US later in the year, the band returns to Cyprus Avenue on Friday February 8th as part of its coming run of Irish dates, for the first time since the venue completed its expansion late last year. Kinsella collects his thoughts on the old venue, a regular stop of theirs, and anticipates changes.I haven’t seen the changes in person yet, but I am pleased that Cyprus Avenue has finally been expanded. It was difficult in the past to fit on stage, and we had to leave some production out. I think from an audience perspective, it was hard to see a band clearly.”

God is an Astronaut play at The New Cyprus Avenue on Caroline Street, on Friday February 8th. Tickets onsale now from cyprusavenue.ie.

Hilary Woods: “I Do Vibe Off Being Thrown In at the Deep End”

Songwriter and artist Hilary Woods has established a fiercely DIY identity, nestled somewhere between shoegaze and electronica. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the former JJ72 bassist about the process behind her debut solo album, and performing it live at the Triskel Christchurch.

Since returning to artistic practice full-time across songwriting, scoring and theatre, Dubliner Hilary Woods has taken a long and sometimes inward-looking path to establishing and asserting her identity as a solo artist. Across a pair of stunning extended-players, the latter of which, ‘Heartbox’, was crowdfunded to completion, Woods’ own influences and ruminations on the human condition are far removed from her contributions on bass to the sunny, accessible alt-rock of 2000s Irish indie cruiserweights JJ72. Taking control of her artistic destiny, Woods’ solo output has long since outweighed her former project’s, thematically and musically, with an emphasis on tone and texture comparable to contemporaries like Grouper and Marissa Nadler.

Debut full-length ‘Colt’, released last summer via New York indie institution Sacred Bones, saw Woods tie together numerous strands of thought regarding internal monologues, and their effects on perception and mental health. Touring continues for the record this year, but Woods is now living with it as a piece on its own merits, reflective of the circumstances surrounding its creation, but now left open to listener interpretation. “I think my feelings on it change as I gain distance from it. I made the record at a vulnerable time; it’s a personal, intimate record with a DIY heart. I’m not sure an LP is ever ‘finished’, but it’s living its own life now that it’s out.”

The record is indeed weighty throughout, with themes of catharsis in artistic process and making sense of everyday malaise being most prevalent. No surprise, then, to hear that the record is as much a confessional, informed by emotion and experience, as it is a concept piece. “For me, the making of this record arose out of a necessity to address inner currents, and confide them to tape. I never arrived at a concept as such, it was more of a case of the songs imbibing variations of a similar feeling. It has an emotional weight to it, for sure. The record grew and took shape from a long period of time writing and recording at home.”

Woods worked with Corkman James Kelly to produce the album, one of Irish music’s more distinct creative entities, via black-metal outfit Altar of Plagues and solo electronic project WIFE. The process of finishing the album, and working with Kelly on realising what Woods had in mind for the record, was imbued with a mutual understanding of artistic endgoals and frames of reference. “I followed my instinct, and asked James would he like to come on board largely from listening to his Stoic EP, which is a gem of a record. He was very supportive of my aesthetic vision, and we both valued keeping the innate character of my initial recorded takes. I love heavy music, where he was coming from, he has exquisite taste and he understood the core of my record from the get-go and what it needed, which was important to me. Trust played a huge role, it was a gift to work with him.”

As mentioned, ‘Colt’ released physically and digitally via Sacred Bones Records, an independent label out of Brooklyn, New York. A seemingly far-flung journey for Woods’ music to go on, it makes all the sense in the world with a brief perusal of the label’s roster, a who’s who of influential independent artists from around the world in the last two decades. Ahead of putting together her sophomore solo long-player for the label this year, the working relationship has been a harmonious one. “In many ways, I was careful with ‘Colt’, I only wanted to release it out into the world if it was in a way that honoured the enormity of the work that was poured into it. With Sacred Bones I feel at home; we were on the same page artistically from the outset, and they give me the leeway to work in whichever way feels natural. Their faith in me, and my project, means a great deal.”

Work on the record aside, Woods also spent 2017 working in the realms of theatre and film scoring. The former involved building a theatrical piece from the ground up around sound design for the Dublin Fringe Festival as its ‘Wild Card’ artist that year, and in the latter case, creating the new scores to a season of Weimar German films for the Irish Film Institute. “It was the summertime when I delved into those side projects, which presented themselves randomly out of the blue. So I said yes to both, as I felt they were opportunities for me grow as an artist, and to exhale and catch my breath from the intensity of making my record at home. Both undertakings were light in comparison to making ‘Colt’. Making a piece of theatre from sound design was a lot of fun. It was eye-opening to take a peek into another art form, the division of labour in theatre is still something I’m reflecting on, and hearing actors inject my written words and ideas with life, and riff and move and improvise to a sonic palette, was just so new to me, and exciting. Composing and performing solo a live film score was absolutely nerve-racking, but I do vibe off being thrown in at the deep end.”

Woods kicks off her year, ahead of US touring for the record, by playing an intimate show at the Triskel’s Christchurch on Saturday February 9th for Quarter Block Party. The historic surroundings of that part of the building ought to complement live performances of Woods’ perfectly, a challenge she seems to anticipate. “I felt very flattered to be asked to play Quarter Block Party. It’ll be my first time playing in Cork with ‘Colt’. It is a special and rare thing to play an artful, thoughtfully curated festival, that is experimental, and values cross-genre creativity in a wider sense. My pal Juno Cheetal, playing as Flowers At Night, is also opening the show, and the venue too is atmospheric and sits on a Medieval burial site. Perfect.”

Hilary Woods plays Triskel Christchurch on Saturday February 9th. Doors open at 11pm, with individual tickets going for €15 from uTicket.ie. The show is also part of the festival’s ticket bundle deals, with a headliner event and two other gigs going for €25, or two headliners and four other gigs going for €50.

Eddi Reader: “Whatever Flavour My Instincts Desire”

In a career that’s gone from pop stardom, to new-wave and post-punk, to folk and song-collecting, Eddi Reader has long been following her own instincts. As she prepares to embark on her eleventh consecutive annual Irish tour, including the Everyman Palace, she talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about her new album, and being in the moment.

After a few initial attempts to reach Eddi Reader over the phone go unanswered, a warm, Glaswegian-accented voice comes hurriedly down the line, running a tad late from other interviews and quickly settling into one place again. “Ah, you’re from Cork! I know that accent!”, she chuckles when told who she’s being interviewed for, and from there, the floodgates are wide open. Coming from someone with the body of work that Reader has had – UK number one singles with eighties hitmakers Fairground Attraction, several BRITs, an MBE and time on the road alongside contemporaries like the Eurythmics and the Gang of Four – this kind of candour comes as a huge surprise.

New album ‘Cavalier’, co-produced by Reader and her husband/bandmate John Douglas, released this past September, and has been greeted warmly by press and blogs in the UK. Reader is content with how the record has turned out, both as a songwriter and in her capacity as a collector and interpreter of folk songs. “I feel proud of it, and surprised at how unattached I am too. I feel like a postwoman delivering a lovely thing. It usually takes me a while to drop my insecurities surrounding music I’ve committed to forever on a record, but ‘Cavalier’ has given me the confidence of a mother regarding the beauty of her newborn.”

A DIY effort from start to finish, the creation and co-production of the record is reflective of the entirely self-directed nature of Reader’s operation: sessions for ‘Cavalier’ were quick, with Reader allowing her collaborators freedom over their contributions, both in arrangement and performance. “It’s different, because it’s a different time, and I have tried a different production approach. When you have all the final say, there’s nothing to question your artistic decision, and often times there’s a ‘settling’ into old predictable habits in your choices, but a collaboration brings compromise and those two things, collaboration and compromise, although tough for a selfish musician, bring a richer, more expanded experience.”

Challenges typically present themselves in the handling of traditional material on any record, but for Reader, a sensitive and informed approach, as rooted in her politics and compassion for others as much as any adherence to precedent, was the way to go about it. “I didn’t find any of the trad songs challenging except trying to get Mike McGoldrick on ‘Maiden’s Lament’, I sent it to him and waited, and waited, then, just as I was giving up hope, Mike played me what he’d designed for a solo, thinking I had moved on and didn’t need him anymore,  but he had been working on it and it was magical, so we rushed him into the studio and grabbed it… I hear trad songs as brand new songs. Their history interests me, but it doesn’t define the limits of their worth as songs. I don’t hear songs as “now” or “then”. A song sung at 12:30 in the afternoon can manipulate our emotions in a different way as the same song sung at three in the morning. Some adult people have never heard The Beatles, all that will be brand new to them. Also, these trad songs sparked my creativity and newly written songs flowed out to support them. I think the trad and the contemporary songs sound like new songs to me. I called the album ‘Cavalier’ because the word also means ‘freedom’. Freedom to sing in whatever flavour my instincts desire.”

With a career-spanning compilation putting a full stop on her first thirty years in 2016, the question arises of the secret to staying creative and fresh, in the face of an industry that seems bent on freezing veteran artists, women specifically, in a certain place in time. Reader has blissfully distanced herself from both the trappings of ‘legacy artist’ status and a dependence on ‘the hits’ to anchor a live excursion in the eyes of casual music fans. “Don’t get involved in ‘industry’ too deeply.  Do your own thing, and focus on the musical moment as it is happening, and nothing else. Live your life, but when you want to be a musician you can’t survive if you think that only the music industry is gonna allow you to be a good one. Some of the best musicians I know have never had what’s known as ‘a deal’. They set their own gigs up, and finance their own recordings. Having a hit was and still is a great help. But sustainability comes from not trapping yourself. I’ve done plenty of shows that didn’t include one Fairground Attraction song, but not because I didn’t want to sing some of that collection, only because of lack of time, or the set not needing my history. My sets are dominated by free-flowing communication. I instinctively pluck my way through an evening’s performance, and I get surprised and excited at what songs want to be included.”

Reader is heading to Ireland as part of her eleventh consecutive annual Irish tour, taking on a deep itinerary of dates that take in venues around the country, in smaller, ‘secondary’ live-music markets as well as the usual cities. This tour is prologue to a busy 2019 for Reader, as follow-up touring for ‘Cavalier’ takes her to see old friends around the world, and fittingly, partake in new experiences as a performer.  “I head to Japan for a week, then a U.K. tour, which will take me into summer. And I fancy celebrating all my years by busking in the South of France as I did forty years ago. Then Jools Holland wants me on the road with him for October through to November, then it’s Phil Cunningham’s Christmas Songbook… In the middle of it all I’ll be doing what everyone else gets up to: expanding my joy.”

Eddi Reader plays the Everyman Palace Theatre on Valentine’s Day, Thursday February 14th. Kickoff is at 7.30, tickets €30 are available from everymancork.com.

Cafe Move: “We Wanted to Offer an Alternative”

 

For one Wilton-based exercise centre and class space, Saturday mornings mean one thing: members getting together for a cup of coffee before working together on movement and flexibility. The endgame? Building up to the task of executing a handstand. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Café Move co-owner Robbie O’Driscoll about a pressure-free alternative for New Years’ fitness kicks.

It’s 9am on a fresh Saturday morning at Doughcloyne Industrial Estate, just up Sarsfield Road, and nestled among the warehouses, retail units and even a children’s amusement complex, lies an exercise and fitness centre unlike any other. Café Move is being opened as we come in the door, and at first glance, as wooden pallets create a small corridor to a fully-stocked coffee bar that’s being readied for the day, slinging tea and speciality coffees as well as protein supplements, the idea sets in. Opened three years ago by owner-operators Robbie O’Driscoll and Karen Lunnon, Café Move styles itself not necessarily as a gym, but as a ‘movement centre’, prioritising exercise and wellbeing in comparatively unorthodox ways, especially for the current climate. Weight equipment is noticeable by its absence, and brass rings for gymnastics and acrobatic use hang from the rafters on both floors. The whole air of the place seems to be the polar opposite of the iron temples that seem to be springing up all over the city as of late.

At the forefront of the centre’s drive for accessibility is a simple yet starkly ‘different’ idea: a class simply entitled “Coffee and Handstands”. Doing largely what it says on the tin, the class allows for participants to file in early for a cuppa and some chats with the facility’s staff and fellow exercisers for about an hour, before getting down to the brass tacks of stretches, collaborative warmups and exercises combining gymnastics with resistance training. For O’Driscoll, it’s about bringing a lifetime of movement and fitness experience to a welcoming, inclusive space. “The whole concept comes from the point that exercise and socialising ought to be brought together, for the full package of developing a person. There has to be a bit of craic, in regards to exercise. It needs to be a constant, week in, week out, and if you’re doing it by yourself all the time, it’s going to suck. But if you’re in the company of good people, and the theme of the class is that it’s playful on the weekend, I think it ticks all the boxes regarding staying social, staying healthy, staying strong. And it’s a draw to have that chance to bring people together, to have the chats, a bit of interaction and discourse before we get things moving.”

It’s one of those questions that seems so simple for an interviewer that it becomes difficult by overthinking: how does one teach somebody a handstand? Even the mention of the word ‘handstand’ likely conjures up one’s own childhood images of small gymnastic feats among friends while out playing, gangly legs kicking up awkwardly into wobbly displays of athleticism that ranked alongside cartwheels and forward rolls as serious achievements for the day. The process of reverting to that mindset, and tapping into exercisers’ inner children, is what sets the class apart from any other offering in Cork gyms at present. And it’s making a difference, says O’Driscoll. “In this environment, there’ll be a general warmup, so everyone can benefit from strengthening and mobilising the fingers, wrists, hands, shoulders, core. So, nothing is outside the capacity of anybody. Anybody can join the class, we have an age bracket here from early twenties up to sixty. And as the class progresses, we split into groups, who is able for what, and then there’s individual practice. And it’s taught in a way that involves a partner or a group, so that everyone achieves their handstand, achieves their goal. You have that sense of camaraderie, it has that playfulness to it… There’s one person that sticks to mind to me, Martha, she showed up here a year-and-a-half ago with a shoulder injury, she was an avid Taekwondo player. She turned sixty recently and is now kicking up into a handstand, coming from a place of no gymnastics training, arriving with an injury and developing that practice is something.”

The centre’s regular custom has been slowly increasing in number over the past three years, as its reputation has spread among people looking for something different from a fitness experience. But even for such an eclectic group of people, this morning ranging from athletes to former quantum physicists, the idea of building from absolute zero to a handstand might be strange for different reasons. The idea, however, has been received well, according to O’Driscoll, acting for some as a goal, and for others, a gateway to more movement. “Let’s say somebody hasn’t been referred to us, they see a post (online). ‘Coffee and handstands, what’s that about?’. So, they’re quite apprehensive, they’re expecting something a bit hipster-y. They expect, ‘hey, man, peace, high five, wanna mocha-chocha-latte’, and I can see how we’d fall into that mix, with pallets around the place and coffee. But we meet them on a one-to-one level. People who have been recommended to us are all quite enthusiastic about arriving on, they’ve heard great things about us. People outside the centre, in (the fitness space in the city) look upon us as being quite airy-fairy, that’s one term we hear a lot. Maybe they’re the regular gym-goer and they see us with coffee and hanging upside-down, and it seems like an airy-fairy approach, not understanding that when we get into it, there’s some serious training, there’s a lot of sports-science, exercise-science, and I’ve travelled the world collecting these exercises to bring them to a public domain.”

It’s all in contrast to the current gym and fitness scene in the city, to say the least. There’s no disputing the rise in gym culture over the past few years, as people take to the benches and attend circuit training to get fit, boost their self-confidence, and get an all-important endorphin rush, the latter being an increasing point of discussion within the overall mental-health discourse. But with a number of new gyms opening up around the city, O’Driscoll is emphatic about creating an inclusive space, where the kind of gatekeeping that can sometimes happen in regular gyms, and the intimidation inherent for some people to working with fitness equipment, becomes a non-issue. “When we first opened, one of the first installments was a café, put right in the centre, creating a social atmosphere for a physical lifestyle and culture, was the idea. Not to say you’re a gym-goer, but that it’s more a lifestyle, you meet people you already know, like the ‘Cheers’ of the gym world. There’s no obligation to exercise in one format here, no dogmatic view. I teach the content I teach, I keep it as broad as I can, without restrictions on the members to not explore their own approach. We shake hands and meet each other, and that was the idea. In this setting, also, it’s more attractive to those who aren’t drawn into the gym scene. I wanted to offer an alternative.”

It’s January, and the natural course of events dictates that people venture trepidatiously into gyms at hotels and other locations around the city, prompted into action by the dawning of a new calendar year, and the traditional cocktails of well-meaning New Years’ resolutions and a seeming carnival of advertising that negatively reinforces peoples’ perceptions of themselves. Playing on insecurities by leading advertising campaigns with unreasonably attractive models and vaguely aspirational sloganeering, the intimidation factor is both a draw for facilities and an eventual turn-off. For O’Driscoll, the inclusive atmosphere at Café Move is aimed at helping trainees avoid that cycle, and play to their own strengths. “We don’t offer fat loss, and we accept anybody in whatever way they show up. We’re more interested in physical ability and whatever that is to the individual. Wherever they’re coming from, wherever they’d like to go, we’d like to be part of the assistance, and offer an environment where they’re not under pressure to adhere to a particular aesthetic, because that’s absurd to me. I believe weight loss, etc. is a by-product of tweaking of one’s lifestyle to improve their physical ability and their quality of life. Nor is it driven by what they ‘ought to’, or ‘should’. Because those negative motivations burn out quite quickly, I’d prefer it to be something that gives them an improved experience of life. ‘Now I can go hillwalking, now I can play with my kids, now I can have fun with my own body.’ Whatever that is to them, I’d like to be part of. And that perpetuates itself, being around others, without the sense of judgement.”

As the interview progresses, our seat at the space’s coffee bar allows us the opportunity to meet the attendees as they come in the front door, and get settled in for a chat before the proceedings. Martha Lynch, of whom O’Driscoll was speaking in reference to transformation stories to emerge from the facility, is softly-spoken, but effusive in her praise for the facility and what it’s done for her wellbeing. After demonstrating a handstand technique hard-won by training and exercise, she’s quick to reiterate. “It’s improved my fitness, my core, my balance, strength… everything. My energy… it’s great fun. We end up laughing halfway through the class most of the time, and it’s just great fun, and the coffee’s brilliant (laughs). It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, Robbie adjusts everything so you can participate in class and do your bit. I’m trying now to learn to do a pull-up, haven’t gotten near it but there’s variations all the way up, and it’s just getting your bit and working your way up. No machines, and you’re talking to people all the time.”

It’s hard not to look at the current slew of gym openings around the city and county as something of a bubble, if one is being entirely cynical. Time will tell how new facilities might fare in the long-term, and if the ongoing surge of casual interest in personal fitness becomes a permanent fixture in punters’ routines. O’Driscoll and Lunnon have put three years and a lot of very personal touches into Café Move, right down to portraits of their parents alongside various heroes of theirs in the changing facilities. There’s a vision at play here, and O’Driscoll’s mission statement speaks to this. “I’ve often thought of the movement centre, ‘Café Move’, a ‘movement café’, as being a social requirement, in city centres and all major suburbs, as maybe the new age community centre. We’re quite aware that sedentary living, fast food and high technology has us not moving a whole lot, and quite highly stressed. It’s nothing new to say that movement is a requirement, socialising is a requirement. So how I see it in the future is almost like a household name, in a sense: ‘I’m off to Café Move’, or however you want to refer to it, the movement centre, because it is a requirement. They may not be ‘sports’ people, but they do need to move, do need to be around other people, and I see the place like you would, in a day, go to the pub, you go to Café Move. I’d like for it to be a household name for taking care of yourself.”

‘Coffee and Handstands’ happens every Saturday morning from 9am to midday at Café Move, Unit 3, Doughcloyne Industrial Estate, Sarsfield Road, Wilton. For more information, check their social media pages.

Cork Youth Orchestra: “We’re Standard-Driven”

Having celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last year, Cork Youth Orchestra is getting ready to take to one of the biggest stages this country has to offer, as ensembles of young musicians nationwide converge on Dublin’s National Concert Hall next month. Ahead of their big performance, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Tomás McCarthy.

For over sixty years, young musicians from schools all over the county have come together for their first experiences with large-ensemble performance with Cork Youth Orchestra (CYO), rehearsing currently at the CBS school in Deerpark. Debuting in 1958 at UCC’s Aula Maxima for an audience including the then-Lord Mayor and Mayoress, CYO has subsequently fine-honed its reputation for developing members’ talents and its legacy among the city’s artistic institutions. Down through the generations, the ensemble has performed at every major venue in the city, taken excursions around Europe, and performed at the openings of major national cultural events, cementing its place in the fabric of the city’s educational and artistic life. CYO’s musical director and conductor Tomás McCarthy summarises a busy year. “We have an ongoing programme, all leading toward a concert tour of Italy in 2020. We’ve just come out of our sixtieth anniversary, with concerts in City Hall, Killarney and Kenmare. Over six concerts, we played to nearly five thousand people. We had five sold-out concerts in City Hall. In April, we had four orchestras performing, and one of them had 120 members, who had been in the orchestra at any time between 1958 and now, including two people that had played sixty years ago. In preparing for the concert, we had two of the principle performers from Phantom of the Opera, and they were phenomenal to work with.”

Under McCarthy’s tuition, the ensemble continues to go from strength to strength, and a two-year path to a major performance series in 2020 begins with next month’s gathering of youth orchestras at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, under the auspices of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras (IAYO), itself based in Cork city centre. As another year begins, McCarthy’s twenty-first as musical director and conductor, he brings us into the nitty-gritty of preparing for a performance on such a large scale. “The National Concert Hall comes part of our journey toward Italy in July 2020. We’ve been working all year ‘round on the concerts we’ve performed, and in amongst all of those are the rehearsals. We also have to rehearse for this concert in four weeks’ time, which is a much different programme. We would be the largest orchestra taking part, and at that, we’re the largest youth orchestra in Ireland at present, with 131 members on-stage. There’s a huge logistical support team involved, it takes fourteen people to run this, and it can’t be done without their involvement or input. A managerial team, libraries, roadies, transport… the National Concert Hall is a great opportunity for our members, who have never and may never again have the chance, that’s the primary reason for doing this. To play there is a good experience for all players, and we’re delighted to be able.”

The background of the ensemble’s membership is varied, taking in a wide range of young ages, and attracting applications for positions from around the county, such is the standard of musicianship that the ensemble has displayed in recent years, and its subsequent reputation for polishing and enhancing musical talent. Maintaining this state of affairs is a priority for McCarthy. “Of the 131 members, we would be approaching most communities in Cork county and city. The majority of our members and performers would come from the county. We have people in from East, West and North Cork… Kinsale, Midleton, Carrigaline, they come from everywhere, really. So, without specifying schools, most of the city schools would be represented. We’re Cork, the greater Cork area. We’ve taken sixty years to establish our identity, and we’re quite proud of that. We’ve established a reputation as the primary orchestra in the South of the country, we would be highly-regarded, and people are aware of our audition process every Spring. We’re standard-driven. It can be quite difficult to get in at this point, because the standard of tuition has risen dramatically in the past few years. It’s a wonderful thing to see, and we’re one of the beneficiaries of this.”

While the CYO requires time, effort and a good amount of dedication over one’s time in the group, it offers young people something a little bit more than average by way of an introduction to professional musical experience and a set of events to attend. Generations of families in Cork have come through the Orchestra’s ranks and picked up social and teamwork skills that complement their innate musical abilities, and members find those skills easily transferable in other environments. “I had three of my own children go through the orchestra. My youngest has just left, she’s eighteen now. It involves getting ready to go from around six o’clock, and getting home at ten o’clock on a Saturday. You have this teenage outlet, from September through to May. For any young person to have somewhere to go to meet such a large group of friends, and they become friends for life, it’s a great attraction. For some the music might even be secondary, but it all mixes to become a powerful energy. People always comment on that, this togetherness. They don’t have to work hard to make this happen: they’re talented, and they’re team players. It’s a magic you won’t get with an adult group.”

Over the course of twenty-one years, McCarthy has seen a great amount of young people become alumni and continue their musical training through third-level education, further orchestral experience and their own solo adventures in other genres and formats. Narrowing noteworthy examples of same down to a few favourites, then, is understandably difficult. “The list is so long. Speaking from my own family, my brother Declan has gone on to play with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra. Another brother, Mícheál, has gone on to be highly-regarded on the Australian music scene. Not to name names, one of our former members, Muirgen O’Mahony, has qualified in London as a singer, and on New Year’s Eve, performed live with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, so that’s an accolade for her. We did a survey a few years back, and 27% of our members continue into the profession.”

This year’s IAYO excursion, entitled Young Musicians Centrestage, will feature, alongside the Cork contingent, orchestras from Galway, Meath, Dublin, Louth and Limerick. It’s a unique annual opportunity for audiences to see more than four-hundred young musicians from around Ireland, performing classical works and new arrangements. McCarthy has put together a special programme of performance for the occasion, and discusses what goes into selecting pieces for the ensemble and the stage on which they’re performing. “We’re going to be performing a piece called ‘Danzen #2’, by Arturo Marquez, and we’ll perform a Festive Overture by Shostakovich, as a sample of what we’re doing: good, strong, classical work.” As the year’s preparations for the 2020 performance in Italy continue, and the ensemble enters its seventh decade, there’s a lot for McCarthy to consider as he collects his thoughts heading into the NCH performance. “I’ve always loved performing there, and I’m delighted to be able to accomodate the members, give them the opportunity. I’ve played there as a teenager, and to come back there as a conductor several times over the years, it’s a fine experience. It’s about the young people, their experience, and their families, seeing their children onstage, the pride they get from that.”

The Cork Youth Orchestra perform at the National Concert Hall in Dublin as part of Youth Orchestras Centrestage on Saturday February 9th, with performances beginning at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets priced from €7.50 to €15.00 are on sale from the National Concert Hall box office or online from http://www.nch.ie. See http://www.iayo.ie for more details.

Cork Humanists: “We Are Very Open to Everybody”

Since its first convening in 2011, the Cork Humanists group has provided a community space for non-religious Corkonians of all shades and self-designations. As the Humanist Association of Ireland convenes a national meeting next month at the Imperial Hotel under the group’s auspices, Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with group heads and humanist celebrants Geraldine O’Neill and Ted Jones.

The changes that have overcome Irish society in the past two decades have been unprecedented, with the pace of same accelerated by the fall from broad social authority of the Catholic Church, the fragmentation of the post-crash political landscape, and a new generation dead set on bucking the precedents observed and furthered by their forebears, partially in response to the social legacy of austerity, as well as subsequent employment and housing issues. These circumstances have created the perfect conditions for the formation of a community space for skeptics and non-believers in Cork city to converge upon, to discuss ethics and compassion from a humanist standpoint, and how best to proceed about volunteerism, outreach and accomplishing shared goals.

Enter Cork Humanists. Formed in 2011, the group’s manifesto sets it out as a “secular community, based on a progressive philosophical life-stance”. Focusing on human rights and freedoms, the group aims to create an inclusive space for non-believers of all shades and self-determinations, across a wide and sometimes complicated spectrum of skepticism: atheists, agnostics, non-theists, rationalists, and other non-believers all have home at the group. Co-ordinator and humanist celebrant Geraldine O’Neill outlines the group’s origin. “The group came together under the auspices of two students from UCC, who were the first two conveners of the meetings, Aaron Keoghane and Annie Hoey. Both of them at the same time finished their study and ended up going away. Ted (Jones) and myself had been members, and came back, found out it needed revitalising, and we put our names forward and called a meeting. We started to gather people together, and that’s how it’s been since 2013. The group are meeting regularly since then.”

As the aforementioned changes wended their way through society and gathered pace in the last few years specifically, the group has continued organising and gone from strength to strength, currently meeting monthly upstairs at Meade’s wine bar on Oliver Plunkett Street. O’Neill comments on the development and further establishment of the group in that time, as well as the group’s outreach to non-believers around the county and beyond. “When we started back, we had people coming from Kerry and West Cork, coming from Tipperary. All of those areas have now developed their own groups, so there are regular meetings (in those places). We’ve seen people that felt very strongly about wanting to be connected to humanism set up their own groups in their own areas. We have a nucleus of fifteen members, ranging from twenty years of age to seventy.”

As much as things change, however, there is an innate tendency in human beings, much less the Irish, to gather at times of importance in others’ lives, one that has pre-dated organised religion in this country and around which the arrival and foundation of Christianity based itself. Demand in recent years has escalated in humanist celebrants to help mark these occasions – legal celebrants for weddings, officiators for secular days of celebrations like naming ceremonies or age-of-reason days, and overseers for funerals. O’Neill is a registered celebrant or ‘solemniser’ with the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI), the only body legally recognised in Ireland for secular celebrations. “I’ve always been of the opinion that we as human beings need to gather to celebrate events. You can look at every seven- or eight-year-old in the world, when they begin to see themselves as autonomous bodies, with a certain moral code developing. Communion is seen by families as a way of celebrating the presence of this newly-emerging child in their lives, and we look at that and say ‘there is this need, can we meet it in a non-religious way?’ For weddings, we have thirty-two accredited solemnisers. There are spiritualists and others that can marry legally, but they have a religious doctrine behind them. Ours is secular. It is not our place to talk about anything but the couple, the union, and the ceremony being undertaken.”

The group is currently getting ready for a major national event among humanist and non-belief groups in the country, as the Humanist Association of Ireland brings its Sunday Gathering series of talks and debates to Cork for the first time. Cork Humanists are organising and hosting the event at the Imperial Hotel on South Mall, with speakers discussing the act of thought in the current era, but also marking the contributions of one of Ireland’s oldest charities to the city. Ted Jones, another co-ordinator of the group and its convener, outlines the process of putting the event together. “This year, to celebrate twenty-five years of being in existence, (the HAI) are more or less doing a roadshow about three or four times this year. What happens is we make an application to host it, they approve and we agree a date, and set about organising. We have two speakers for our meeting. We have a doctor, Coleen Jones, a psychiatrist, talking on the theme of ‘Thinking in a Modern World’. Your readers may be familiar with Catríona Twomey, of Cork Penny Dinners, and the ever-greater need for the services they offer. They are the chosen charity of our group, and we do collections for them. Their doors are open to everyone without question, and as humanists, we are very open to everybody. It’s part of the ethos.”

As the event approaches, and the group enters its ninth year, Jones collects his thoughts on the speakers and the occasion, and the bearings it has on the group’s 2019 and beyond. The group seeks to add to its numbers via community outreach, and furthermore to this goal, replenish its membership from among a younger demographic. “We’re delighted to be able to host it, show Cork in a good light, and it was taking a longer time for it to permeate in a meaningful sense throughout the rest of the country. But we certainly have a small but active group, but it is growing, happily. We’re delighted to have the opportunity to host the humanist family in Ireland. It’s being held in the ballroom of the Imperial with round tables, and after each speaker, each roundtable will have a chance to discuss among themselves and ask questions of each, allowing everyone to get involved and let the juices work.”

Cork Humanists meets monthly on the first Wednesday at Meade’s Wine Bar on Oliver Plunkett Street. HAI’s next Sunday Gathering happens on Sunday February 3rd at the Imperial Hotel on South Mall, with registration at 2pm. For more information on the group and upcoming events, check out corkhumanists.weebly.com.

Bouts: “Nothing Worse Than Seeing a Band Phone It In”

A new album and a UK/Irish tour have been a long time coming for indie-pop four-piece Bouts, who return to the road this month after a five-year absence, including a stop at The Roundy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken and bassist/vocalist Niall Jackson.

Half a decade can be an eternity in the realms of Irish independent music. For Dublin indie-pop outfit Bouts, scattered across the world by circumstance and work, it’s been made an even longer wait by the exponential pace of change in music consumption in recent years. With the exception of intermittent singles and remixes, the band’s last studio excursion was 2013 long-player ‘Nothing Good Gets Away’, a collection of noise-inflected pop that endeared them quickly to a cross-section of music aficionados. When sitting down to talk about the process of writing its follow-up, ‘Flow’, guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken conveys the extent of effort that’s gone into keep the band’s home-fires burning ahead of its release next month via their own Wonky Karousel label. “It’s always immensely enjoyable to record an album. Our process was relatively straightforward, just a little drawn out. First sessions were in late 2016. We grabbed time together when we could over different weekends between then and now, in Ireland and the UK, further rehearsing and refining ideas. Not taking too long to let them become over-thought. That’s the single biggest difference between this album and the last. With minimal band contact, maximum focus was required. The songs were written in a kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere. and it definitely added to their immediacy. They’re as finished as they could be, and a decent representation of where we’re at. Although you usually end up outgrowing them quicker than an audience, due to the turn-around to get tracks from ideas to an actual record.”

The post-production and mixing process for ‘Flow’ featured the re-appearance of a few familiar heads from Bouts’ prior sessions – veteran Irish producer Fiachra McCarthy helped with the album’s direction, and the team of Jesse Gander on mixing duties and former Fugazi collaborator TJ Lipple on mastering, returned from the band’s last record. Bassist Niall Jackson recounts the ‘Flow’ sessions and the process of working together to get the record over the line. “Fiachra is basically one of us, same tastes, values and geekiness when it comes to guitar tones and giving things a lash. We could not recommend him more. I’m sure he won’t thank us for mentioning it, but most days our eight-hour sessions turned in to twelve-hour ones, and it was usually him going ‘G’wan, give this weird Fender Jag-Stang a go’ at the end of a day (laughs). It was our first time working with him, whereas with Jesse and TJ, we’ve never worked with anyone else for mixing and mastering since our debut album in 2013. They do a perfect job every single time, and are very reasonable to work with when it comes to revisions or advice.”

Wonky Karousel is a DIY record label via which the band has worked over the years on the band’s physical self-releases and various side-projects. This time, there’ll be a very small 12” vinyl run of ‘Flow’, as the record goes mostly to streaming services, the biggest change in music distribution over the last five years. Jackson discusses the band’s approach to the short-run release. “Basically, we still have a hundred copies of the first record underneath our beds, so this time we thought ‘well, let’s make it difficult, the other way around’. It means we’re paying more per unit, but at least it puts the impetus on the listener. Do you want to listen to a s**t stream, and have no physical relationship with the music produced, or do you want a great-sounding record and become lifelong friends with us in the process (laughs)? Ah no, we really don’t care how people consume it, the vinyl is there for the people that really want it, or want to help us make more music, the stream/digital version is gonna be more than enough for most these days. The most rewarding thing is people wanting to listen at all.”

Going back on UK and Irish tour to support the record, the question naturally emerges of trepidation or nerves about going back out there ‘as’ Bouts. After everything that the band has been through to get to this point, Jackson insists that it’s simply a matter of getting back on the horse. “We’re doing this as best mates, playing songs we love and wrote ourselves, whether five people turn up, or we pack the places out, and we’re going to give the exact same amount of energy. Nothing worse than seeing a band phone it in.” Likewise, getting back into the swing of doing press and getting radio play, after doing well with specialist shows at the BBC and RTÉ in the past might present challenges, but it’s being taken as par for the course. “Yeah, ‘same s**t, different day’, really. You would like to think people invested in music from Ireland are aware of who we are, and if not, that they might listen and think ‘well, this is good enough to play’. But again, it is pointless worrying about that stuff.”

Friday February 1st sees the band play the Roundy on Castle Street, alongside indie/psych outfit Any Joy and a solo show from the effortlessly prolific Laurie Shaw, in a fantastic piece of booking considering the DIY aesthetic shared by all involved. Jackson collects his thoughts heading into the gig, and expounds on sharing a billing with Shaw in particular. “Ah well, people like Laurie are the reason to get back out there. He really puts a cat, or seventy-five cats, among the pigeons, what with his furious album production rate. As for Any Joy, we’ve yet to have the joy of seeing them, so it’s a win-win situation. We’ve also being dying to see and play The Roundy. At the end of the day we’re all live music fans, and your opening acts should be bands you would pay, or go to see, even if you weren’t on the billing at all, never mind headlining it. Cork has traditionally been very good to us, too, people tend to show up.”

Bouts play upstairs at the Roundy on Friday February 1st, with support from Any Joy and Laurie Shaw. €7 at the door, kickoff at 9pm.