Dr. John Cooper Clarke: “Get Me While I’m Alive!”

He’s the Bard of Salford, a punk-performance poet par excellence whose influence has trickled down from sharing stages with Joy Division to collaborating with the Arctic Monkeys. Ahead of his show on April 28th, Mike McGrath-Bryan chats about poetry, stagecraft, and the legacy of punk with Dr. John Cooper Clarke.

John Cooper Clarke is in very good form at the other end of the phone, a midweek presser interview happening on a sunny afternoon. Personable and honest, his Mancunian-accented voice resonates warmly down the line, spoken deliberately but with good humour and a wit you’d expect from a performer whose way with words and non-traditional influence led him to a legendary career, culminating in a doctorate from the University of Salford. He mulls over a line of questioning he’s been sent in advance. “We’ll talk about it like gentlemen”, he chuckles. It’s almost disarming, coming from a man of his stature.

Growing from a young boy in Manchester with the gift of a turn of phrase, to the artistic contemporary of bands like The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, and Joy Division, rock ‘n’ roll mythologists might be slightly surprised that his body of work began with a very brief stint in folk clubs in his home city. It’s a dichotomy that didn’t quite sit right with him for a few reasons, and set the tone for how he’d proceed. “I give ‘em a wide berth, to be honest. Maybe once or twice. But if you grew up in 1950s England, you’ll remember that enjoyment of folk music was rigidly enforced, to counter the perceived Americanisation of popular culture, which I was in favour of. I always saw folk as some creepy, state-sanctioned f*ckin’ brainwashing technique. I’m not talking about Christy Moore, Dylan or the Pogues, more Morris dancing and that anti-American rubbish. I wanted to get into show business. I’d determined I would take it up as a profession, and the only way I knew of, really, given that there weren’t any venues, or any chance of anyone from my background getting a publishing deal right away, was to drag it into the world of showbiz!”

Poetry had scarcely been reaching non-traditional audiences up to the point of Clarke’s youth, reaching his family via Pam Ayres’ recurring spot on ITV’s postal-vote talent show Opportunity Knocks. In a world of YouTube poetry videos and shortform content, the idea of poetry topping the billing on such a television show today is nearly astounding, but for Clarke, it was what he needed to win his family over on his calling. “When I became interested in becoming a professional poet, I didn’t get much encouragement. They were only thinking of my welfare, I’m sure, but my parents pointed out that to their knowledge, no-one had ever made money out of it (laughs)… I’d mention famous modern poets like Philip Larkin, and they’d say ‘he’s a librarian’. Things like that. They were trying to be kind and discourage me from an ill-advised avenue of wealth.”

As mentioned, Clarke earned the moniker ‘The Bard of Salford’ by sharing stages with greats of the punk oeuvre across the late seventies and early eighties. While his live run and recorded work placed him firmly in that genre’s performance-art pantheon, to Clarke, it was a means of getting out and expanding his range. “Let’s deal with that moniker. After getting lumbered with that label, my first priority was to move to London. Who wants to be a local eccentric? F*ck that. The world of punk-rock provided a ticket for this, it only lasted two years, I think, but it provided an intense personal connection for the fans. For me, it got me out of Manchester and around the world, several times. It provided an opportunity for this kind of thing. It only lasted two years, and very few people were involved, but its effect on the cultural world, and in the UK, was disproportionate (chuckles). It shows you the power of mythology! It’s developed its own mythology which has intensified over time. And a general “anti-hippieness” that was so intoxicating at the time.”

A long-form poetry film is something that is just not seen anymore, much less given the opportunity to reach any sort of audience. While formulating a question on his memories, or current thoughts, of the creation of his own masterwork, ‘Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt’, he’s quick to issue a correction that’s shown up in this very parish lately via the festival rounds. “I’ll give you one – Cyrano de Bergerac, with Gerard Depardieu. Blinder! It’s got swordplay as well! ‘Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt’, I haven’t seen it in about thirty years. It hasn’t aged very well, I imagine. I watch my films once, and once only. Why suffer more?”

Salford returned the favour to its Bard in 2013 with an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford. Given his feelings on the discrepancy between literary academia and non-traditional forms nowadays, it must have been quite an experience to receive that recognition. “Why not me? At first, I thought, ‘why me?’, but then I read somewhere that Benjamin Zephaniah has sixteen doctorates from as many universities. ‘Thank you’, that was my response. Anything that entitles me to call myself Doctor, ‘thanks very much’. You don’t see him using them, though, he doesn’t call himself Doctor, and he’s entitled sixteen times over, whereas me, I won’t let people forget about it! I’m not wearing those ridiculous clothes in daylight and not call myself Doctor!”

His legacy in music continues to this day, including collaborations with the Arctic Monkeys and Reverend & the Makers, and regular live appearances reciting his own work at music venues around the world. When asked for his thoughts on the influence of his work on younger musicians, poets and performers, however, he’s happy to let that with those he’s influenced. “You’d have to ask somebody else, really, Mike. I’m glad of all the interest that I’d been shown, by Alex (Turner, Arctic Monkeys frontman) and Ben Drew, who used one of my works in the movie ‘Plan B’. I’m very grateful for this mass-media attention, obviously? What’s a poet if nobody knows about it? Without glamour and/or money? A schnorrer, a beggar (laughs). Anything that brings me closer to financial security (laughs louder).”

Clarke is playing Live at St. Luke’s on Sunday April 28th, with Mike Garry and Stephen James Smith, as part of an extended run of Irish dates he’ll have been on, including a big show at Dublin’s Vicar Street. He readily offers a message to the gig-goers, word-speakers and general culture-vultures of the Leeside city. “The last one I did in Ireland was three weeks ago in Vicar Street, which was fabulous. There’s no reason to suspect that St. Luke’s won’t be every bit as good. All I can say to the people of Cork is: ‘no pressure, but get me while I’m alive!’.”

John Cooper Clarke is playing Live at St. Luke’s on Sunday April 28th, with Mike Garry and Stephen James Smith in support. Tickets €30 on sale now via uticket.ie.

Shane J. Horan: “You Gotta Do It”

Over the past few years, photographer Shane J. Horan has been an important part of the Cork music community. Not only has he documented the recent development of the scene for Goldenplec.com, but he’s provided advice and support to local music industry professionals, drawing from his own experience and expertise. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets a chat in about the hard work involved.

From his time running gigs in Limerick cafés, to co-founding community metal promoters Bad Reputation and sharing his knowledge with a new generation of promoters and artists on presenting and framing music, the importance of the work of photographer Shane J. Horan in the Cork music scene cannot be understated. Most recently, he and Good Day News contributor Cailean Coffey have been working together to document gigs and artists in Cork city via Irish music site goldenplec.com. His professionalism and dedication to the ongoing health DIY music and its culture in the city is rooted in his own passion for collaboration. “It’s people creating, and pushing themselves to do more. It means so much for people to get out there, and show what they have made to others. To allow others to take part in the experience. I know people can agree that getting out there and making a human connection is more important, with social media sucking people in these days. However, it’s always been important. It’s inspiring to see individuals in corpse-paint and kilts, or making rhythms and expressing themselves. Take Post-Punk Podge: if expressing yourself means putting an envelope over your head, and banging out dance tunes on a violin, then you gotta do it.”

Not only are collaboration and working together toward a common goal a professional motivator for Horan, but the community spirit engendered by Cork’s music scene has been a big part of his (and others’) personal life, as collaborations become friendships. “I mean, I’m surprised at the amount of people that bond over watching that Post-Punk Podge. It’s the work of others that helps us express ourselves. Sometimes just to dance, sometimes to question your values. It’s the grouping and bonding of people. It might start with a chat at a gig, and then you’re sharing a house with one guy, and working in a job with another. Sometimes it’s years apart between things happening.”

Developing over the years, first as an events professional, then as a photographer and music aesthete, Horan has loaned his skills and expertise to promoters in Limerick and Cork city, most recently mucking in with Cosmonaut Music, a promotions marquee for ‘aggressive but intelligent music’, to paraphrase founder Cormac Daly. As Daly himself transitions into a managerial role for local artists, Horan discusses his experience working together with a driven and focused promoter. “I have worked loads with Cormac of Cosmonaut, in many different venues, and as part of many different teams. He is very responsive to suggestions and collaboration, which makes for a great work environment. I generally keep my mouth closed, though when given the chance though I’ll find myself relighting the stage. After that it’s a case of just being observant.”

As mentioned at the outset, Horan is presently working with Goldenplec.com, and aside from his own work and building a mighty portfolio of music photography, he’s been working with Cailean Coffey, utilising his own contacts to enable Coffey’s own work and professional development via the Irish music-media survivor. “Working with GoldenPlec is a pleasure. I couldn’t ask for better than working with Coffey. I helped him with a few introductions, and since then it’s a partnership. It’s great having a sounding board for your ideas, and with someone who has a different experience and needs something else from the same events. We come from two different points of view on many things musically, I don’t think our playlists overlap. Often, Coffey has a history and insight into how things work which I’d never get as a photographer. It’s also beneficial to see what he sees at gigs and in music media. Highlights how you need to draw influence from all different parts of society.”

GoldenPlec itself is something of a survivor, now, with 16 years of serving Irish music under its belt. Rare has been the digital long-runner among Irish outlets, to say nothing of the changing role of print in media consumption, so the question is: how does an outlet like Goldenplec stay relevant and adapt? “I think they’ll adapt well with the ever-changing landscape of media consumption. They keep their ears close to the ground, and aren’t afraid to cut their own cloth either. There’s a high level of communication within GoldenPlec. Ideas get pitched around all the time, and there’s loads of freedom to experiment. I think the pressure of the changing media will be on bands to self-promote. It’s a delicate balance between staying relevant and over-exposure, but it’s an interesting thing when your local act is fighting with the likes of CNN for your attention and time.”

Having spent a number of years in Cork building a body of work to stand by, the photographer now has his sights set on the future, but is holding his cards close to his chest regarding the specifics. “There’s a couple of projects just started, and a few areas of my personal work I want to focus on. I’m currently drafting up a list of who I want to document. It will be a case of a lot of logistics, which is something that isn’t really seen when you just see the finished work (laughs).”

Search “Shane J. Horan Photographer” across all your social media, and check Goldenplec.com regularly for his visual coverage of Cork city’s music scene.

King Zepha: “We Do What We Want”

With a self-produced fusion of ska, rocksteady and jump-up blues, Yorkshireman Sam Thornton is ready to take a working-class English sound to genre fans in Ireland under the moniker of King Zepha this month. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.

Couched in the warm familiarity that reggae recorded directly to tape seems to magically generate, and possessed of a sunny disposition without resorting to genre stereotype, Yorkshire outfit King Zepha have a gentle balance of sonic elements to keep both casual listeners and die-hards happy. Led by producer, songwriter and live bandleader Sam Thornton, the project’s new album ‘Northern Sound’ releases this month, a one-man job written/arranged and produced by yourself and released via boutique London label Happy People. After preparing the record for the better part of a year following a two-month spell of songwriting, Thornton took it upon himself to realise his vision in every aspect of the recording process, performing tracks and overdubs on everything. Not that life didn’t get in the way over the course of proceedings, though. “As the father of a boisterous 6-year old and 18-month-old twins, I’ve had to adopt an as-and-when approach, often involving whole nights holed-up in my attic, hunched over a mixing desk. I couldn’t have managed it without strong coffee and my wonderful, supportive partner, Natalie. The test-pressing of the vinyl LP has just arrived. It was pressed in Ireland, by Dublin Vinyl, and it sounds great. I’ve rehearsed all the new material with the band, and now all that remains is to get out there on the road and play it live, the fun part!”

It’s unusual for a central person to take a ‘producer’ role as a featured musician nowadays, with bands, soloists and collaborative songwriting having long since overtaken the studio system of “star” producers and their in-house bands, etc. Transmuting his own ideas to a live setting, then, is a continuation of time-honoured tradition and method. “I’ve been brought up listening to, and playing in, big bands and jazz bands. In that tradition, there’s usually one or two players in each group who contribute compositions/arrangements and the rest are players who bring the music to life. I’ve never actually played in a band that compose songs collectively, so I don’t know how that works. With the writing and the producing I find it easier to do it myself, at home, and then send rough recordings out to the band to learn. We are all involved in other musical projects and this seems the most productive way for us to work. In the early days of King Zepha, we’d try out my original compositions in our other band, Louis Louis Louis. We’d just sneak them in, between two cover versions, and see what response they’d get from the audience. We’ve got a good system for working out songs and vocal harmonies now. Our pianist always takes the bottom harmony, our bassist the top, and so on.”

Recording to eight-track tape is a brave move in the current technological climate, for many reasons. The ease of digital recording has changed the game, and while a number of studios still proudly boast of using tape equipment for the as-live process, parts for old gear and tape itself are increasingly becoming a specialist business. Thornton speaks on how the method informs the message. “Over the last ten years, we’ve experimented with everything from using just one ribbon mic for the whole band, straight to a two-track tape machine, right through to full digital recordings. We’ve even tried overdubbing one instrument at a time for complete control over reverb, bleed, etc. before arriving at the sound we like best. We’ve tracked this album using an 8-track, quarter-inch tape machine and, because of the amount of tape hiss, you have to hit the tape quite hard. This produces a bit of distortion, but it’s nice distortion, not the horrible “clicky” sound you get from digital distortion. That slightly distorted sound reminds me of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s rocksteady recordings by Lee “Scratch” Perry, my production hero. It’s definitely not the “textbook” way of recording, but I love it.”

The title of the album and subsequent live incarnation, King Zepha’s Northern Sound, bears immediate and heavy connotations of working-class English subcultures, harkening back to obvious ports of call like Northern Soul. When asked about the implications, however, it’s as much a call to belonging and togetherness in a time of barely-precedented social and cultural fracturing close to home. “I didn’t realise until now that I had such a fixation on geography! To be honest, the “northern” reference is more of a descriptor than a political statement. The band are all from northern towns and cities, mostly in Yorkshire, and this is reflected in our dialect, appearance and sense of humour. Musically, there is a very strong Jamaican influence too. I think that our album titles and artwork reflect this fusion. There is a political message in some of our music, but it is one of unity, not of division.”

An interesting aspect of the record, with that in mind, is when it zeroes in on the views of Brits abroad, taken from conversations on the band’s touring excursions. It’s a contentious question, amid a hail of Little Englander stereotypes and gags about Marbella, but in the context of the facts of the ramifications of Brexit, a positive realism, and confronting Brexiteers’ greatest-generation rhetoric, are important. “Without generalising too much, Brits abroad are an interesting breed. Watching a group of them on holiday, for example, can be like watching a group of toddlers or chimps in a zoo and it can be embarrassing sometimes being tarred with the same brush. I’ve been asked a few times, whilst touring in mainland Europe, why did “we” vote to leave the EU. The fact is that the British public are hugely divided on this. Roughly half the population wish to remain and many people didn’t really understand the ramifications of what they were voting for. There was, and is, a lot of propaganda and fabrication, being circulated by the tabloids and social media, on both sides of the fence. I’m very pro-Europe, as are the other band members. Our current Government have a terrible track record of looking after the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable and our workers’ rights. EU legislation currently keeps them in check on some of these issues and, if the UK were to leave the EU, I dread to think what monstrosities they’d unleash.”

It is this fear, brought on by the seeming sleep of reason that Brexit has wrought on the United Kingdom’s citizens, that informs the record’s sunny nature in other ways: the sustained push from certain political quarters for disunity is ready to be met with a rally to the aforementioned togetherness. “The question of Brexit has driven a wedge between people, from all walks of life, and seems to have encouraged some unsavoury characters, such as Nick Griffin (former leader of the far-right groups National Front and British National Party) to resurface from underneath their rocks. Hate crime, xenophobia and Islamophobia are on the increase and people are genuinely scared. And of course, in Ireland, there is the worrying issue of a potential hard border between NI and the Republic and the impact it could have on the peace process. It’s very telling that the politicians who started the Brexit process have done a runner and left the people with a mess to clear up, whichever way it goes!”

Amid the weight of all this, the band are getting on with it, playing the Crane Lane Theatre in Cork on the 21st as part of a run of Irish dates to get the new album out there. Ska and reggae have always had small but dedicated followings in the city, but with the emergence of genre festivals in the county in recent years, and a new community group having just been agreed upon, the timing is perfect. “This will only be our second time performing in Ireland, and our first appearance in Cork. The theatre looks fantastic, and I’ve heard great things about the city from many of my friends who’ve performed at Cork Jazz Festival. I can’t wait. I’m a huge fan of Guinness, and it really is so much better in Ireland, so that’s another thing I’m looking forward to.”

King Zepha’s Northern Sound play the Crane Lane Theatre on Sunday April 21st. “Northern Sound” is available now on all streaming services and on 12” from Happy People Records.

Asylum Archive: “How Reminiscent of Our Previous Scandals”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cork Sound Fair: “Challenges of a Different Kind”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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