The Jazz at 40: Past, Present and Future

It’s said that history happens when no-one is looking, and this could certainly be said of the origins of the Cork Jazz Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a look at the Jazz’ development, and what lies in the future for the October Bank Holiday institution.

Suffice to say, festivals in Cork were a far different kettle of fish in 1978 to the current state of play. While the city’s music scene was beginning to shift shape under wider influences, and Macroom’s Mountain Dew shindig had just entered its third year, the festival calendar in Cork wasn’t the hectic onslaught of genre celebrations and all-dayers that the city’s culture vultures are au fait with now. In fact, the city’s most enduring music festival wouldn’t even have happened if the Metropole Hotel on McCurtain Street hadn’t been able to go through with an altogether more pedestrian booking for the State’s first official October Bank Holiday. Jazz Festival co-founder Pearse Harvey explained the Jazz’ roots to the then-Cork Examiner for a special supplement in 1998: “A National Bridge Congress which had been booked in to the Metropole for the last weekend in October was cancelled. Jim Mountjoy, then marketing manager at the hotel, was in a dilemma as to how he might recoup some or all of his lost business, and he contacted me with an invitation to discuss a jazz idea he had for the hotel. Over lunch Jim explained the implication of the bridge cancellation, and asked me what I thought of the idea of staging a mini-jazz festival in the hotel over the weekend, and would I help set it up.”

Harvey’s jazz acumen, and Mountjoy’s prowess as a pitchman, helped seal the deal with the Jazz’ first sponsors, tobacconists John Player, a sponsorship move that would be unimaginable in the current climate. In October of 1978, the first annual John Player Jazz International was announced, booked by a committee of members of the recently-defunct Cork Jazz Society, in a manner that might be deemed ‘DIY’ in modern terminology, cold-calling agents and bookers to determine talent availability and fees. Their efforts bore fruit, as Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen packed out the Opera House, while the Ronnie Scott Quintet with Irish jazz pioneer Louis Stewart, sat alongside George Chisholm, Monty Sunshine, Will Bill Davison and Betty Smith among others in the billing at the Metropole, in addition to a strong lineup of local outfits, including Leeside jazz staples Harry & Friends. Many traces of the multifaceted music event with which we are familiar today emerged can be traced back to this community endeavour: the Metropole of course played home to the Festival Club and indeed a great amount of the programme, while the festival’s current Jazz Camp strand of events got its start in workshops hosted by Louis Stewart on guitar and Shaun Forde on jazz percussion, the latter becoming an impromptu jam with attendees.

Despite some hiccups in the early going, including the second installment’s headliner Oscar Peterson cancelling his appearance owing to illness, and the Dutch Swing College Band ending up in Shannon owing to a flight diversion, the festival swung from strength to strength. Leading lights of the oeuvre came through town on European swings in touring to lend weight to the event in its infancy, including Art Blakey, Memphis Slim, and headlining the third installment in 1980, the immortal voice of jazz herself, Ella Fitzgerald, performing matinee and late shows amid a massive media presence and a warm civic reception. The rundown of eighties lineups indeed read now as a ‘who’s who’ of jazz and blues history: Sonny Rollins, Mel Torme, Buddy Rich, B.B. King, Acker Bilk, and Stephane Grappelli are but a handful of the legends who came Leeside to put their mark on a rapidly-growing civic institution.

1981 saw the John Player company pass on further sponsorship, casting doubt on the festival’s development. Amid rumour and controversy that the white-hot festival would be relocated to Dublin, Guinness took the mantle, becoming main sponsor in an arrangement that continues to this day. Speaking on the matter in 1998, Mountjoy outlined his pitching process to the Dublin brewery and how the risks paid off. “I put my ideas to them on how I saw the Festival going forward – a large Pub Trail, a Jazz Boat from the U.K., a Jazz Train from Dublin, and greater domestic & overseas marketing of the event.. the results were immediate, with all types of accommodation within a 15-mile radius, and up to 35,000 visitors of all age groups attending the festival. Many of my friends (in marketing) consider the Jazz to be a classic in off-peak creative marketing.”

Jennifer Gleeson, sponsorship manager at Guinness, reflects on the company’s current relationship with the festival. “We’ve seen it grow and develop over the years, from what started out as a small gathering of people into what is now one of the most prestigious and hotly anticipated cultural events of the year. It takes a lot of effort year in, year out, and what’s really brilliant is that the passion for the festival just grows year-on-year. It’s definitely one of the finest examples of collaboration between ourselves and the Cork Jazz Festival committee, Cork City Council, Failte Ireland and all the publicans, hoteliers, venue owners and restauranteurs who play such a huge part in ensuring people leave the festival with such amazing memories and a longing for their return next year.”

As the eighties gave way to the nineties, and the Jazz become entrenched in the Leeside gigging calendar, the likes of Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie headlined the festival, solidifying their legacies as attractions in the twilights of their careers. As the new millennium dawned, the Jazz Festival Committee began the inevitable expansion to a wider audience via jazz-influenced artists, as well as taking on crowd-pleasers like Damon Albarn. Jazz Festival Committee member Fiona Collins explains the balance behind the festival’s oft-scrutinised booking decisions. “It’s about looking at the quality of the acts, and seeing what best suits the venues we’re going to, and the type of audiences they will draw. For example, this year, we have the Miles Davis tribute on Saturday at the Everyman, and Soul II Soul at the Opera House at the same time. Both come under the broad jazz umbrella, but both are at completely different ends of the spectrum. So it’s about maintaining and figuring out that balance.”

With said balance in mind, the Jazz Festival has undoubtedly grown into the marquee weekend of music in the city. Case in point, the Jazz opens on Friday evening with Paddy Casey and Brian Deady, two well-travelled songwriters, in a free outdoor show, and the Festival Club is headlined by Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, in association with the late jazzman’s eponymous club in London, bringing the festival staple full-circle on its anniversary, also marked by an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photography from late Jazz committee chairman Bill Johnson.

Elsewhere around the city is a feast for music aficionados regardless of taste and age to get lost in, adding to the atmosphere and eclecticism of the Jazz. Says Collins of the festival’s atmosphere: “For me, the festival is Cork. You can’t have one without the other. I love that over the weekend, that you get to experience parts of the city that you don’t normally experience. For others, it’s getting out and exploring the streets of Cork – getting out and hearing the marching bands, getting to feel the buzz. It doesn’t matter what street you’re standing on, you’re going to feel it.”

Hope is Noise: “It’s a Simple Philosophy for Us”

From humble roots as a secondary-school jam band in Ballincollig, Co. Cork to features in UK media and EU/US touring, alt-rock/post-hardcore four-piece Hope is Noise are often slept on when the conversation of veteran Irish acts emerges. Five full-lengths and two decades in, the band maintains somewhat of a godfather status in the city by the Lee, marked by their enduring passion for creating a racket, and their similarly endless support for the local scene. Premiering this Thursday at IndieCork Film Festival, ‘Head in the Clouds: The Hope is Noise Story’ charts their course over the past twenty years, unfolding a story of friendship, patience and loyalty.

According to vocalist/guitarist Dan Breen, the secret to keeping patience with one another for that long is relatively uncomplicated. “Well, it would be a lie to say that we have never got pissed off with each other over the last 20 years but it has never reached the epic levels of hatred you hear about in other bands. In my opinion most bands usually break up because of one, or a combination of three things: money, addiction, egos. We’ve never made enough money or enjoyed worldwide acclaim as a band for any of those to become an issue (laughs). But really it’s a simple philosophy for us, as long as we still love writing and performing the songs we’ve written, Hope is Noise will stay together. The balancing of band and personal lives is also something we’ve been lucky enough to be able to make work too. As long as we can meet up once a week to practice, there will always be Hope is Noise. Y’know, it’s funny that it was being friends that initially brought the band together but it’s been the band that has been so important in keeping us friends.”

‘Head in the Clouds’ sees the band, for the first time, taken through the archives for a look at Hope is Noise to date – ample archive video, photography and posters help illustrate the band’s story alongside new interviews. Breen reflects on having these kinds of milestones to hit in the first place. “It’s hard to believe its been twenty years since we first started jamming in my bedroom. The neighbours were pretty understanding but I think we did put a crack in the ceiling of the kitchen below us with all the noise, and bouncing around going on. To be honest, to have made it this long is really testament to our perseverance. There was plenty of occasions where we should have just thrown in the towel and stopped playing, like after the Sunbeam fire in 2003 (wherein an entire newly-built rehearsal space on the city’s northside burned down). However when Hope is Noise started in 2005, it felt we had finally stumbled onto something good. Since then we’ve been Hope is Noise, for better or worse. Personally, playing music with my best friends for over twenty years has been an amazing privilege so having this documentary is a really cool way to mark this.”

Such a trawl through the years must obviously come with burdens of proof for certain stories, the reopening of old wounds, and so on, with the process and storytelling serving as motivation to gut through it. What was Breen’s favourite aspect, if any, of the production of the documentary? “Firstly, it has to be working with the young lads from Gobstar Film. Over the last two years, they have produced, directed, edited as well as cajole four lazy lads in front of a camera and get us to talk about stuff we had long forgotten. They were big fans of the band and it was this that inspired them to come on-board and make the documentary. It’s amazing what they achieved with no budget and a simple story. We had a great laugh working with them, though they should probably get community service medals for working with OAPs (laughs). Secondly, looking at the old film footage was cool too. Actually, what shocked me the most during the production was how little video footage we had. If I could go back in time, I would have definitely recorded and cataloged way more but you never think about those things as you’re going through it. We were able to locate about 10 hours of old band footage as well as photos, posters etc and combined this many hours of interviews to make a short 35 minute documentary. It’s a credit to Ger and Jim that we got it over the line. To be honest, we were conscious throughout the making of the documentary that we didn’t want it to appear like a vanity project, and we were well aware that we didn’t really have the usual ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ backstory you find in the typical music documentaries, so if the project has just ended up on my computer, serving as nothing more than a nice trip down memory lane then that would have been that. Thankfully, the lads found a story in all our ramblings and meagre digital footprint that they wanted to show to the public. Hopefully, it won’t be our Some Kind of Monster (laughs).”

Last year’s ‘Demons’ album saw the band tackle their personal dramas and thoughts on life in broader terms, including mortality, friendship and politics, and it made for the band’s most relatable record yet. Breen gets into how the record was made, and the driving force behind the next act in the Hope is Noise story. “With everything we’d recorded previously, I always think there’s roughly a million things I would change, but this record only has about one thousand (laughs). This was the first record we produced fully by ourselves, so of course, there are things we would have done differently with hindsight, but overall, we’re very proud of it. The songs on this album fit very well into our live set, and we really enjoy playing them. The album has bittersweet memories for us as it was the last thing we got to record with our long-term engineer, producer and friend, Lawrence White who sadly died about a year ago. I had already discussed the next album with him and plans were afoot about how we could record it better and more efficiently. His death really threw us for six as he was meant to be an important part of the band’s foreseeable future, but his death has also re-affirmed our desire to keep playing music for as long as we can.”

The band will be accompanying the screening of the documentary with a live gig at the Poor Relation in Cork this Thursday. A good time, then, to get Breen’s thoughts on a newly-established centre of off-kilter gigging in town. “This will be our first time playing there, so we’re really excited about that. The Poor Relation has been putting on gigs for a good while now and seem to be willing to put on more alternative and heavier ones which is always a bonus. The place is laid out in a way that reminds me of the Quad when the main bar and stage are in the same room, open-plan style. The stage looks pretty big too compared to other ones we’ve played in the past. We hope the gig goes well and that we will get to play many more there in the future.”

The band is featured prominently on the programme for the IndieCork festival this year, an important outlet for independent culture of all kinds in the city, now heading into its fifth year, co-ordinated by local arts veterans and maintained by a year-round community effort. Breen talks about the importance of Indie to the city. “Over the last six months we were wondering what we would do with the documentary when it was done. Thankfully, IndieCork gave us the chance to launch it and get it out there. I think its important that events like IndieCork continue to be organised and supported because they give a rare opportunity and platform for independent artists to showcase what they do. A similar platform should be done for independent music in the city but you would certainly need the right sponsors and organisers like they have for IndieCork. We are thrilled to be part of the festival this year and looking forward to the night and hopefully future collaborations with the event and other participants.”There is lots of talk at present about the gig/venue situation at present in Cork, which is starting to get a little better with the re-opening of PLUGD as an overall event space and venues like The Poor Relation and the Village Hall, but is still reeling from years of venue closures and retoolings. Breen gets into his feelings on the matter, and the changes that have occurred. “The closure of so many venues in Cork is really just another sign of the times. Over the last decade or so, there has been a slow accumulation of changes in the music industry that had led us to where we are. You just have to look at how, in response to the modern ways of consuming music, record companies, radio stations and promoters now package music and events. They do it to reach the widest audiences, which sadly leaves little room for ‘old-fashioned’ Cork DIY bands like us to play regularly.

”I read a newspaper article a few months back about the demise of guitar bands and the venues that would normally have profited from their popularity. Basically the long-held dominance of guitar-orientated music is in danger of becoming a niche musical genre like Jazz. The closing down of so many once prominent venues in the city is the simply the result of less people going to see local original guitar bands. Most venues and bars gear everything towards the more palpable types of acts like covers band, singer-songwriters, trad, DJs etc. Fewer places want the hassle of putting up with the racket we make. To me, the biggest result of the loss of so many venues is that there is now a distinct lack of international touring bands passing through Cork. Sure, there have been tons of big acts filling the Marquee, and other big venues, but acts that would have played venues like Sir Henry’s, Nancy Spain’s, the Savoy, the Half-Moon and the Pavilion are no longer playing here. Pat and I went to Galway to see Shellac two weeks ago, scratching our heads as to why they hadn’t been brought to Cork. The knock-on effect is that local bands are denied the opportunity to play with these bigger bands, to play to new audiences and improve their stagecraft.

”There is no really infrastructure in place here anymore for touring bands of modest size/success to make coming to Cork worth their time. All the money and effort seems to be going to cater for the bigger more financially secure acts. You can have all the convention centres you want in Cork but the loss of the city’s small and medium sized venues will have a larger impact on the local scene. I know for us it is certainly harder now to get gigs, find support bands and encourage people to attend, so we have to limit the amount of times you play Cork and make every gig counts so people may be more inclined to come back (laughs). What’s happening in Cork is indicative of what’s happening throughout the entire Irish DIY scene in general, connections that were in place over the last 15 years have fallen away as record labels finished, venues closed and promoters/bands gave up. I hope we’re in a period of transition waiting for new blood to re-energise the scene. I would agree that there have been signs of improvement lately. Along with venues like Fredz and the Crane Lane, that still give bands like us an outlet, new venues like the Poor Relation and El Fenix, and the really active metal scene with cool young bands and promoters point to signs of rejuvenation, but sadly I don’t think it will ever get back to the way it was.”

What next for Hope is Noise? “Very simple, keep writing songs and get to the studio in the coming months to record the fifth album and keep playing gigs. We are definitely not going anywhere soon (touch wood)!”

The Everyman Palace: A Theatre for Everyman

As the grand old dame of Cork theatre celebrates 120 years at the heart of Cork cultural life, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with artistic director Julie Kelleher about its legacy and its future.

It’s been a part of life on Leeside now for 120 years, a gaudy yet warm, old-fashioned facade lining out almost politely onto the bustle and character of Cork city’s McCurtain Street, remaining statuesque among its many changes as the years have worn on. Legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy have trod its boards, and it remains synonymous with theatre for generations of Corkonians as the city’s oldest theatre. The Everyman Palace Theatre has entered its 120th anniversary, and speaking with artistic director Julie Kelleher, it’s clear that marking the occasion throughout the year has been a labour of love. “It’s been really lovely so far. Marking the occasion has given us the opportunity to research and reflect upon the rich history the building has, and to consider how that might influence its future. It’s also given rise, informally, to people sharing fond memories of the building – everything from onstage disaster, to opening night triumphs as well as first dates going back to the building’s time as a cinema, and first meetings of now married couples at our much-beloved club nights in the early 2000s.”

A hefty weight for any arts project head to bear, to be sure, is that of the weight of the memories of a city. But casting an eye forward is the way creative endeavours stay alive and thrive, which wasn’t lost on Kelleher when curating the year’s programming. “Really, the approach wasn’t significantly different – we’re always trying to balance the programme with events which appeal to our loyal audiences, along with those that might tempt potentially loyal audiences of the future. Our audiences actually keep the doors of the building open, as 90% of the Everyman’s income comes through box office sales, so we’re constantly seeking programme that will connect deeply with audiences in one way or another. Of course, there’s always the shows that will sell loads more tickets than others, but often there is a compelling artistic case for those others, and we feel those are important to the audience also. We have taken efforts to ensure that there are some extra special shows this year, and we are definitely pushing the boat out with our inhouse programme this year: we produced the world premiere of Kevin Barry’s first stage play, Autumn Royal, and we have two very special productions coming up this summer: Futureproof by Lynda Radley and Brian Friel’s Dancing At Lughnasa.”

Comedy plays a bigger part in the lineout this season for the venue, of both local and national origin. Kelleher explains its ongoing importance, commercially and critically. “We’ve been building the comedy programme slowly, but surely, over the last number of years. Comedy acts are, in the main, a huge commercial draw, so they make great economic sense for the venue. But beyond that, stand-up comedy is a performance art in its own right, and comics have tread the boards here since the building opened its doors in 1897, so I don’t think it would feel like a rich enough programme for the Everyman without having a varied comedy programme year-round.”

A selection of musical tribute acts also features on the line-up for the rest of the season, but with the city’s vibrant and vital music scene continuing to gather momentum, almost in spite of a lack of venues at present, is there a chance the venue could play host to some of the upcoming bands and artists in the city? “Absolutely. We had a sold-out gig here with Jack O’Rourke’s album launch in October 2016. The tricky thing to figure out in the absence of a 400ish capacity venue, is which acts can scale up from 250 capacity to the Everyman’s 650. But we are actively looking at this, with some local acts for the Autumn season in particular.”

The city-centre is at the outset of a period of rapid physical and social change, with large-scale developments replacing older buildings, and the character of the city slowly bring eroded by identikit office blocks and half-empty shopping centres. The Everyman, however, has always stayed, and its charm has been retained. Kelleher is emphatic about the theatre’s staying power.

“In some ways, I think the Everyman’s heritage and charm is almost hidden away – we have a limited street frontage, and so to someone who doesn’t know what’s already inside, it would be difficult to guess, compared with the imposing outdoor presence of Triskel Christchurch or the Opera House for example. That said, we are doing are best to encourage people to attend and create events here, so that we can share its Victorian beauty with as many people as possible. Hopefully the designation of MacCurtain Street as Cork’s Victorian Quarter will really help to draw attention to the building as a great point of historical interest.”

With all of the heritage and history that envelopes the building comes the challenge of its upkeep, a task that mounts in volume and urgency as the years pass. “The day-to-day challenges of maintaining the building are manifold, but I can tell you right now that there is a nasty leak from the ceiling over the balcony door that needs addressing! The age of the building throws up huge challenges in that regard, so as well as our commitment to the artistic programme, we have to make sure that the financial health of the building is strong, so that we can continue to maintain it for generations to come.”

With 120 years under the venue’s belt, the long-term plan now is to build on the venue’s instiution status and expand its reach nationally, via creative collaboration and community outreach. “We have lots of aspirations for the future – we are keen to improve profile as a producer of fantastic theatre and opera nationally and internationally. To those ends, there are plans afoot to partner with excellent artists, as well as high-profile producers and like-minded venues nationally. We’re also keen that these works would showcase and profile the brilliant work of Cork-based actors and creatives. We’re also committed to the presentation of work for younger audiences, so that we continue to make sure that the Everyman is a crucial point of contact to the performing arts for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

The Everyman is near and dear to Corkonians and their cultural lives, and Kelleher sees this link the theatre has to the city’s daily routine in her work and interactions with its audience. “I think it’s to do with the positive memories with family and friends that people have. As well as the first dates or chance encounters with future spouses mentioned above, people frequently tell us that they came to see panto regularly as children, or that they brought their children or grandchildren over the years. Basically, I think it’s the combination of an excellent live experience with a really positive social experience that gives people the warm fuzzy feelings. And that’s exactly what a theatre should be – a place for a community to be together, to laugh, cry, hug, sing along, whatever!”

The Everyman Palace’s commemorative 120th anniversary programme of events continues throughout the year. For more information, visit:

Radio On: Tuning In to Cork’s Post-Punk Legacy

On August 24th in GULPD Cafe, several veterans of Cork’s post-punk community of the ’70s and ’80s will gather for a discussion on the sights and sounds of the time. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with panellists Jim O’Mahony and Ricky Dineen, as well as DJ John Byrne.

“I think there’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding certain musical events, artists, or even venues in Cork…. there’s too much sometimes, to be honest, but I think this was a very vibrant and musically creative time here, which is often airbrushed over… I think there’s a distinct musical difference in the terms punk and post-punk, and I’ve always thought there was a really good post-punk scene not just in Cork, but in Ireland in the late ’70s, early ’80s.” Jim “Comet” O’Mahony speaks on the aforementioned post-punk landscape of Cork, the subject of Radio On, an event happening at the Triskel Arts Centre on the 24th.

Encompassing a discussion panel inspired by the Paul MacDermott radio documentary “Get That Monster off the Stage”, charting the life and career of Finbarr Donnelly, vocalist of Five Go Down to the Sea?, Nun Attax and Beethoven, the event also includes a DJ set of Leeside tunes of the time from John Byrne. Much is made of Donnelly’s legacy, and Byrne is quick to provide a wider picture. “It’s right that Finbarr Donnelly should be remembered and lauded. His improvising sensibility as a vocalist made him unique. His ability to take this sensibility into punk and post-punk music set him apart from his contemporaries. However there was a large cast of players in all the bands that Finbarr played with, that were also important. Obviously we have Ricky Dineen who was involved in all those bands, and has his own instantly recognisable playing style. A further listing of notable contributors over the years… Philip & Keith ‘Smelly’ O’Connell, Mick Finnegan, Giordaí Ua Laoghaire, Mick Stack, Una Ní Chanainn, Maurice Carter, Daniel Strittmayer. I’ll bet Ricky could roll-call a dozen more!” Dineen, Donnelly’s best friend and collaborator, is far more pensive about the differences between the legend of Donnelly, and the man he knew. “Most of the music-related Donnelly stories have probably been told by now. ‘Larger than life’ is probably an overused term to describe him. His public ‘mad’ persona was in complete contrast to the quiet, deep-thinking Donnelly. The more personal stories are best kept for a ‘warts and all’ biography, if anyone wants to take it on.”

The epicentre of all of this was the oft-romanticised Arcadia Ballroom, a former showband ballroom just across from Kent Station. Ricky muses on the sights and sounds of a now-iconic venue. “The Arc was like a supersized GAA hall. Upstairs, it had a café and seated area at the back where you could take the oul’ dolls. It had no beer licence, so everyone used to get tanked up in the Handlebars pub beforehand. The atmosphere was always good, even though the occasional fight broke out (sometimes involving ourselves). The DJing was varied, from punk rock to disco,Good Times by Chic being a particular favourite. Of course the bands were always good, thanks to Elvera (Butler, former UCC Music Society chair), she seemed to get every half decent band that was on tour. If you could imagine a venue like the Savoy selling out every Friday and Saturday night with relevant bands, that would be the Arc.”

The discussion falls as thirty-five years have passed since the release of Kaught at the Kampus, a split record released by Elvera Butler’s Reekus Records that took in live recordings of Nun Attax, Mean Features, Microdisney and Urban Blitz during a late-1980 gig at the Arc. Says Jim: “It was a huge achievement for four Cork punk bands to put out a record in 1981. Cork was a very grim place at the time, with high unemployment and emigration, with very little prospects for a bright or even dimly-lit future and the so-called Irish music industry didn’t exist outside of Dublin, so this was a very big deal.” An achievement that perhaps seems a bit humble in a day of Bandcamp and streaming, John remembers its importance to the scene of the time. “The concept of rock bands of any stripe working and living in Cork, making records – that went right against the general grain. Before the punk generation, only a couple of blues-rock bands had achieved this. Thankfully more bands took this example in the 1980s. I know that some of the participants consider the record to be in the realm of juvenilia now, but it clearly delineated the wild differential in musical stylisations that had evolved in a couple of short years since the English punk explosion. For these two things at least, the record had its place.”

The importance of archiving this and other Leeside cultural events is outlined by the presence of the Northside Folklore Project at the event. Jim holds forth on why. “It’s very important from a historical point of view that this period of music and culture in Cork be documented and preserved. The fact that it wasn’t a mainstream scene shouldn’t lessen its significance. This is a whole umbrella that not only takes in a big punk and post-punk movement in the city, but also a very vibrant mod and skinhead scene. People who are into music in a serious way always gravitate at some point towards music that’s old and interesting so all this stuff needs to be there for them, and it’s also nice for those of us who were there to look back on. It helps jog our memories.”

Radio On happens on Wednesday August 24th at GULPD Cafe in the Triskel. Kickoff at 8, free-in.

Circa ’91: Turning the Pages of Cork’s Music History

Circa ’91, a series of events celebrating independent music in Cork 25 years ago, happens next week, including an exhibition of fanzines and a tribute to Nirvana on the 25th anniversary of their sole Leeside appearance on the site of Sir Henry’s. Before it kicks off, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the people involved in the festivities.

“A couple of years ago, I dug out a few photographs I had taken at gigs back in the early 1990s, among them were some flyers, posters and fanzines. Looking through these fanzines, we realised that they, more than anything else, were evocative of the time. Reading them was a real throwback, they were so basically made. Literally cut, pasted and photocopied. They reviewed gigs, demo tapes, soccer matches, kept us informed of the local goings-on. These are fascinating records of that time in Cork”, says Siobhan Bardsley, co-curator of Circa ’91. Before the rise of the internet and the proliferation of a never-ending news cycle in music, fanzines were the lifeblood of local music scenes worldwide. Put together by hand, mostly with no budget or resources for production, they were driven forward by passion, motivation and a desire to compile thoughts, ideas, words & music their editors loved. Sunny Days Are Here Again, running from August 17th at the City Library on Grand Parade, is a celebration of zine culture in all of its forms in Cork, and the flagship event of the Circa ’91 programme of commemorative happenings that celebrate the scene of the city twenty-five years ago.

Tom Maher, curator of the Forgotten Zine Archive and co-curator of Sunny Days Are Here Again, explains the historical and cultural significance of the format. “Going right back to the early Revolutionary Era pamphleting of Thomas Paine and friends, the alternative press has stood for something powerful – it’s been a voice to the voiceless, and a platform for those without one. Zines in their modern form are not too far off that, and have acted as a vital focal point for community discourse and fan interaction for most of the twentieth century. They showed early sci-fi fans that they weren’t alone and that their stories were valuable. They provided an outlet for the creative writing of the Beat Generation, and they were the embodiment of a DIY ethos that drove early punk music. Zines opened doors for third wave feminists to talk about their place in the world and are now offering young artists a chance to get their work out there in a novel and accessible way.”

Cork was a hotbed of activity for zines throughout the Eighties and Nineties, from the exhibition’s namesake, Sunny Days, to Warm Sox to Nay, Nay and Thrice Nay, each a portmanteau of news, reviews, interviews and miscellaneous scribblings that, collected in this exhibition, form an overall picture of a scene many speak of in hushed tones in recent years. Zine writer and editor Jim “Comic” Morrish discusses their importance to him personally and professionally. “Like any gobby, opinionated, young person looking for a voice in the world (laughs), it seemed to be the logical route for what we wanted to talk about, or promote, I guess. Remember there were no blogs, e-mail, et cetera back then, so self-publishing, for want of a better phrase, was the way to go.” Siobhan’s memories of the ‘zines are those of cohesion and togetherness. “These fanzines certainly made the Cork music scene a close community, we knew who all the local bands were and exactly what they were up to. Looking through some of them, they interestingly charted the progress of bands, Sultans of Ping and The Frank & Walters as they progressed from first gigs and demo releases, to signing to record labels in the UK, and appearances on Top of the Pops. Fanzines documented everything to 18th & 21st birthdays to who was emigrating to London. They gave us all a sense of belonging.”

Jim Comic is reminiscent of the names and faces that assisted him in his editorial duties. “I think I’ve got Alzheimer’s these days, so bad has my memory gotten when it comes to names, but it was more the people we met via the zines that I remember fondly, the whole experience was great fun… Morty (McCarthy, Sunny Days) obviously, but also Don O’Mahony, Paul McDermott, Niall McGuirk, Whipper, Crosser, Sean Fitzgerald, Gooner, Frank Boland and so many others. Brian Shaughnessy, Clive Gash, Emmet Greene. I’d particularly like to mention the late Martin Barry, who passed away a few years back, and who used to contribute reviews, a great guy and much missed by all who knew him.”

The exhibition has its roots in the same sense of urgency and collaboration as its subject matter. Says Siobhan: “We had heard of the Forgotten ‘Zine Archive from Martin O’Connor, who had curated UCC’s Sir Henry’s Exhibition in the Boole Library, and introduced us to Tom via Twitter, where we came upon the idea of an exhibition. Tom was immediately enthusiastic at the prospect of an exhibition of fanzines. Mary Fitzgerald from Cork City Library was also very supportive when asked about the possibility of having an exhibition in the Central Grand Parade branch, this enthusiasm contributed greatly to the momentum in organising the event.”

Assembling these publications for exhibition and archiving has been no mean feat, resulting from not only from nostalgia, but from a sense of preserving history, according to Anto Dillon, editor of long-running zine Loserdom. “I’ve been interested in the history of Cork’s zines for some years now, so it was a real pleasure to be involved in the exhibition. I wrote a folk history about the Cork zine scene in an older issue of Loserdom, so managed to get in touch with some of the producers for that. When Siobhan got in touch with me to be involved with this exhibition, I was delighted as there is no actual archive of Cork zines in the city, other than whatever various personal collections exist. Hopefully this exhibition will shed a light on the rich history and tradition there is of Cork zines.” “We discovered very quickly how a close-knit community the ‘zine producers are, as evidenced in the ‘zines themselves which frequently promoted other publications. So each contact we made led to another, and everyone who was contacted contributed to the exhibition by loaning their own archive, and providing a contact of another ‘zine producer/collector. So the Cork archive is now extensive!”, exclaims Siobhan. Of course, as with any such endeavour, the condition of the original ‘zines themselves, as well as their rag-tag, DIY nature, present challenges in cataloguing and ordering them. Tom opines: “’Zines are meant to be shared. They’re not meant to be filed away and forgotten about for the benefit of posterity.” “Getting hold of copies of the ‘zines is difficult, as oftentimes the producer might not even have copies left. The best chances are that they are in boxes in parents’ attics other than through people such as myself who are ‘zine enthusiasts.”, adds Anto.

Nationally distributed freesheets exist today, including the physical incarnation of Belfast’s The Thin Air, and the Totally series of titles. Jim Comic compares and contrasts today’s publications with their forebears, and gives some insight into the collaborations that made the original zines work. “It’s catch-22, they have much more professional layouts and graphics, as everyone has a computer now. Things were a lot more rudimentary back in the late eighties, early nineties, but the cut’n’paste style has a charm all of its own that I love to see. People like Sean Fitzgerald and Boz also had some great drawings & cartoons too. I couldn’t draw the dole, so that was never a possibility for me to do but we had Crosser and Whipper who did some fantastic cartoons for No More Plastic Pitches. My policy is always to squeeze as much reading as possible into a page, hence my ones having a hell of a lot of text, in about 7pt typematter. (Local DJ) Mister Fork made the point to me at one stage about getting more graphics in, and he was right, but when one didn’t have a scanner, and no one had e-mail to send us scanned band pics or whatever, it was a big deal to make bromides etc. to print from, though I still hate any publication that’s largely pictures or huge tracts of blank space, makes my blood boil.”

In the DIY spirit, Circa ’91 will be overseeing the release of a commemorative publication, designed by Fiona O’Mahony and edited by Anto, to coincide with the events, with a familiar slant to it. “We have produced Circa ’91: The Zine, a one-off, limited edition zine to mark the occasion. The zine serves as a guide to the exhibition, featuring some contributions from stalwarts of Cork’s independent music scene from that time, along with having some rare images and pieces written about Nirvana’s gig in Sir Henry’s by Ed Sirrs, photographer and Keith Cameron, journalist sent by the NME to cover the event. The zine will be a very limited edition, and like all the best things in life it’ll be free!”, Siobhan enthuses.

The exhibition and events come to a head with the 25th anniversary show of Nirvana’s appearance at the site of the former Sir Henry’s, Deep South on Grand Parade on August 20th. Paradox, Cork veterans in their own right and dogged flag-flyers for the grunge and alternative sound that came to define the era, will play where their heroes once stood. Vocalist Pete Mac takes stock. “I was nine years old, and had not yet even heard of Nirvana or Sonic Youth at that time. I would discover Nirvana for the first time sometime later that year probably December, after seeing the Smells Like Teen Spirit video at the end of Dempsey’s Den. Needless to say my life would never be the same again. That Nirvana show has definitely become mythical over the years. I have talked to people who were genuinely at the gig, and many have a different story to tell. I do think it’s something we in Cork can be proud of, that a legendary band like Nirvana opened their European tour right here in Sir Henry’s, and that Kurt felt such a connection to the place and indeed had roots here. It was the first show of their European tour, and in many ways the calm before the storm for sure. First European show with Dave Grohl on drums, first time they played songs like Lounge Act, and the Sir Henry’s show took place only three days after the Teen Spirit video shoot.”

The gig has left an indelible mark on the city’s scene, and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic has gone on record as saying the band never had another gig like it, occurring as it did right as Nirvana were on the cusp of upending the music establishment permanently. Siobhán herself showed the band around town that night, treating the tour-seasoned trio to the sights, sounds, and tastes of Cork City. “I can hardly wait to experience that vibe again. It was an unforgettable gig, we all knew and loved Sonic Youth. Only a few knew Nirvana. It was the kind of music we all listened to; punk, post-punk, hardcore etc. I took some photographs of them when we went on a stroll around Cork’s secondhand record shops etc., and later at the gig. The snaps I took pale compared to the amazing images Ed Sirrs took the same night. Ed was contacted to see if he was interested in getting involved in the Circa’91 events, and he too was very enthusiastic. Not only has he submitted some amazing, and exclusive, images for our zine, but also has a surprise for Nirvana fans on Grand Parade that weekend.”

Overall, Circa ’91 promises to be a look at a hectic, but verdant time for independent music in Cork, through a few different filters, with each co-ordinator and contributor looking forward to something different. Jim Comic is looking forward to a reunion. “Just seeing some I’d maybe forgotten about, the artwork styles, and possibly bumping into folk I haven’t seen in years at the library.” For Anto, the interest for himself as a librarian is as much academic as personal: “I’m looking forward to walking into the Library, and browsing Irish zines, appreciating them in that setting which is something I’ve never experienced in a public library before, though I’ve been frequenting libraries for most of my life. Public libraries are after all accessible to everyone in society and don’t hold the same lofty notions that art galleries do”. Meanwhile, Tom is excited for new names and faces: “I’m really looking forward to hearing all the stories and tidbits I’m sure people will have to share when they visit the exhibition. Zines mean so many different things to so many different people, hearing folks talk about that is endlessly fascinating to me!”

For Siobhán, the programme of events allows her to cast an eye back to the scene of the time, while noting the survival of the places that marked the passing of a historic night before anyone knew what was next for the ramshackle punk trio from Seattle. “Each of the events are evocative of that time in 1991, in that area on the Grand Parade, where the now-boarded up Grand Parade Hotel was a social hub for all in the city, as it ran a number of night clubs of different styles including Sir Henry’s, and even one of Cork’s first karaoke clubs. The Fountain is still there, but the Vespas are gone. Hillbilly’s remains though, so you can have a snackbox, the same as Kurt did. You can complete the Camino of Cork to Café Mexicana, and have nachos & wine as the lads did before their gig. Or pop up to the Guitar Store (then Leeside Music) on McCurtain Street, where Thurston Moore and Dave Grohl were photographed while browsing through secondhand cassettes and LPs. Then, make your way back to Deep South… and strike a teetering Kurt pose at the door before you go in.”

Circa ‘91 runs between the 17th and 26th at the Library at Grand Parade. Paradox play Deep South on August 20th to mark the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s Cork show. All events free in. Find Circa ‘91 on Facebook and on Twitter, @Cork1991.

The Damned: Damned, Damned, Damned

It’s been forty years since the shock and awe of punk filled living rooms, and young minds, on either side of the Atlantic, and one of the genre’s innovators in The Damned is hitting Cyprus Avenue on August 24th. Guitarist Captain Sensible speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan on the band’s past, present and future.

This year sees punk, be it in one’s own eyes simply a genre of music, an overarching aesthetic, or mere sensationalist slapstick, hit forty years old. The word “punk” alone inspires Homerian bouts of semantics and sabre-rattling among those that are so given, but like any other movement, be it social or musical, no-one knew precisely what would happen or what impact it would have, least of all Captain Sensible. “No, I wasn’t attempting to change the world, just improve mine, as I’d identified the fact that on the ladder of life the bottom rung was gonna be my position. So in ’76 I was rather happy to be able to twang a guitar for a living. I still feel the same… a lucky bastard, and I don’t take it for granted like some other musos I could mention. The glory days you were actually quite rough ‘n’ ready, as we were often sleeping on each other’s floors. It was fun, but hardly glamourous. And we were the first, which always got up the Pistols’ noses. Nice, eh?”

Debut single New Rose holds an irreplaceable distinction in the genre, the first punk single to hit the UK charts in late 1976. How was that juxtaposition of being in a band as part of a broad movement so positioned against the mainstream, and being embraced on such a large scale?I was shocked when New Rose entered the charts… as an avid viewer of TOTP’s, I made the most of our trips to the BBC. They had a wonderful bar on the top floor too, where all the TV celebs would mingle with the bands… that was a good laugh. Punk put the UK at the forefront of the music scene for a couple of years – not everyone liked it of course but the Damned, Subs, Mopeds etc were a much necessary alternative to Saturday Night Fever and disco fever in general with the gigs at the time full of pogoing spiky-haired types having a bloody good time.”

Looking at the term “punk” now, and the term’s status as a broad stroke, as well as in relation to the band’s stylistic move away from it in the 1980s, the question arises of what they make of it now, and if they see their influence or legacy. “The Damned straddle several genres – punk, goth, psych – it’s a good mix. Without getting uppity – the Damned can really play. It’s a proper band like Deep Purple and the Sabs before us. I just wanted to be in a group as good as them. But as we entered the ’80s, I realised Dave Vanian’s songs were getting increasingly stylised… what would become called goth, a few years later. Writing our setlist is sometimes difficult as we have to please two entirely separate audiences in the punks, who want it fast and loud, and the goths who prefer it dark and lyrical. That dichotomy makes it interesting for us though… our setlists can vary dramatically depending on the audience.”

The last four decades have brought the Damned to Ireland on numerous occasions. The Captain is enthusiastic in recounting previous exploits. “I do recall a wonderful show many years ago in Cork. A couple of doors down from the venue, Dave and myself were trying out the local stout. A very friendly landlord was jollying things along with whisky chasers on the house… consequently we lost all track of time, and when they eventually found out where we were, the band were an hour late onstage. The gig went with a swing too, I believe”, he chortles.

Fast-forwarding to today, where do the band see themselves creatively now? Is there any new material on the way, on that note? “Each album we’ve made has been a different vibe from the preceding one… it’s been a musical adventure, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Mr. Vanian will bring to the table next time. There’s been talk of a new album, maybe for next year. The only thing you can guarantee is that there’ll be material involved that will surprise people… as there was on the last one So, Who’s Paranoid which included a 14 minute psychedelic freak out.”

With forty years under their belt, one mightn’t blame the Damned for resting on their laurels as their contemporaries. Thankfully, none of the lads seem to be so disposed, not least the Captain, even on an anniversary tour. “We like to think of the Damned as being a rudderless pirate ship sailing through a sea of musical mediocrity, back to save the world from plastic entertainment garbage like the X-Factor, and all that horrible new-fangled pop music with autotuned vocals. The band members all do other things most of the time, so when we get back together and start jamming through the varied catalogue of songs we have to choose from, it’s always fresh and exciting. Bearing in mind some of our ages, we won’t be doing this forever… but the fortieth anniversary gives us the opportunity to play a career-spanning set, covering all periods of Damned history, including adrenaline-fuelled punk, anthemic goth and some psyched out improvising to keep us on our toes musically.”

The Damned play Cyprus Avenue on August 24th. Tickets on sale now from Eventbrite and the Old Oak.