Sarah Buckley: “I Saw Things Differently”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Míde Houlihan: “I Wanted to Create Something That Was Sadness and Comfort”

Having put her debut album out into the world and put in the hours on gigging, Cork-based singer-songwriter Míde Houlihan is continuing as she means to, with a new E.P. suitably titled ‘Shifting Gears’. Mike McGrath-Bryan has a chat with Houlihan ahead of her launch gigs at Coughlan’s and Golden Discs.

Momentum can affect artists in different ways, and what quickly goes from self-expression or jamming with the lads once a week, to suddenly becoming a set of responsibilities and obligations, can affect one’s creative process and desire to continue pushing themselves. Clonakilty singer-songwriter Míde Houlihan knows this all too well, between years of gigs and the success of 2015 debut album ‘Coloured In’. The latter met great critical acclaim and specialist radio playlisting, with IMRO following up by presenting her with a Christie Hennessy Songwriting Award that year.

The next step for Houlihan was a matter of patience, but manifests itself in ‘Switching Gears’, releasing next month. Timing aside, a focus for Houlihan was on narrative and storytelling, going straight to the very basics of the craft. “I’d been sitting on these songs for some time, trying to decide how I wanted them to meet the world. I think, as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve wanted to created situations that people can relate to, and make people feel like it’s okay to feel the way they do, because other people do too. I wanted to create something that was sadness and comfort, so it needed to be upbeat at the right times.”

Once this delicate balance had been settled on in Houlihan’s own time, inbetween a hectic schedule of gigs, making a coherent studio statement meant finding the right person for the job, and translating her internal language to a common process. “I’d heard great things from people who had worked with Christian Best (of Monique Studios), and loved the production on so many things he’d done, so I contacted him. We hit it off in the studio straight away. He just got it. We used images like ”monkeys on a train” to describe the way we wanted the song to feel, and we’d both laugh, but also know exactly what we were talking about.”

The extended-player is also the very first release for local label Unemployable, spearheaded by local raconteur Michael Grace, following a run of gigs around the place under the marquee. The boom in local labels and collectives has been well-documented in these pages as of late, and the combination of elbow grease and shoe leather is, as ever, the key for artists and their collaborators. “They’ve been incredible, we’re in contact almost every day, and they have news about potential gigs, interviews, etc. They always have their eyes peeled for new opportunities, and they work so hard to get them. You can tell they really believe in what we’re doing.”

Houlihan has been gigging around the place for eight years, with the Brú among her regular haunts. She’s quick to offer her take on the scene in Cork city and county, as well as an eternal conundrum that afflicts new and new-ish artists everywhere. “I think for a cover band or act, it’s not so difficult to get started in the Cork gigging scene. I do remember there being more songwriter sessions a few years back, and I think they’re a great platform for original music. It’s hard to convince a venue that you will bring a crowd if nobody’s heard your material, and it’s hard for people to hear your material if you’re not playing any gigs.”

‘Shifting Gears’ launches with a gig in Coughlan’s on Douglas Street on Friday 15th, as well as a lunchtime instore gig at Golden Discs. On the topic of the former, Houlihan exudes admiration for the place, and relays her experiences eagerly. “I’ve played Coughlan’s as a support act on a number of occasions, and have absolutely loved it every time. People go there for music, they respect and enjoy the music, and that’s a real treat, when you’ve played so many noisy bars. You get that pin-drop moment, and it feels like you and the whole room are sharing something pretty awesome.”

That gig is followed by a homecoming show in DeBarra’s on the 24th, that plays straight into Houlihan’s upbringing and local history. Familiarity, warmth and the end of a national touring cycle will make for a special gig for Houlihan herself.  “I’m really happy to be finishing there, because I grew up in Clonakilty, and everything about that venue feels like home. It’ll be like a huge, comforting group-hug at the end the tour, which I probably will enforce (laughs). I’ve seen and played some of my favourite gigs there. They even make sandwiches for the acts at the end of the night. I don’t think it gets more homely and lovely than that!”

The title ‘Shifting Gears’ is a statement in and of itself, but is no trite affirmation, as Houlihan will attest to: after the success of her debut, the time is now to simply hit the road and put the effort in. “I just want to get out there, and gig as much as possible. Play as many festivals as will have me, do an Irish summer tour, tour outside of Ireland, get singles and music videos out there, and work really hard to push this as far as it can go.”

Míde Houlihan’s new EP ‘Shifting Gears’ launches on CD and across digital platforms on Friday February 15th, with a daytime gig at Golden Discs on Patrick Street at 1pm (free), and an evening gig at 9pm at Coughlan’s on Douglas Street (€5). The launch continues on Sunday February 24th at DeBarra’s in Clonakilty.

Cork French Film Festival: “A Collective Achievement”

At a time where the link between culture and international relations is more important than ever, the Cork French Film Festival celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with the theme of togetherness in a time of division. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Jean-Christophe Trentinella.

Since 1989, Cork’s French Film Festival has proved to be an important cultural bridge between Ireland and France, bringing the best of the latter’s storied cinematic history to Leeside audiences every spring, with the help of the local Francophone community, the city’s most dedicated cinema enthusiasts (see panel below), and the infrastructural oversight of Alliance Française de Cork.

On its thirtieth anniversary, the festival’s chosen theme, ‘Ensemble’ (‘together’) is more than apt, coming along at a time of international upheaval as Brexit drastically changes the contours of European relations, and as calls are renewed for stronger ties between the countries. The importance of these two points to this year’s festival were outlined by the presence at this year’s launch of Tánaiste Simon Coveney, acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Speaking at the launch event last year, Coveney emphasised the importance of the international collaboration that underpins the festival annually. “France and Ireland have vibrant and historic ties. Culture is an important part of maintaining and strengthening our links, so it is particularly appropriate that the theme of this year’s festival (explores) how we are all interconnected.”

On the importance of these seismic events to the programming and curation of this year’s event, recently-installed director Jean-Christophe Trentinella discusses the uncertainty Brexit has created, and how it has inspired the festival’s theme. “The imminent Brexit is difficult to ignore, as it’s going to impact everyone in ways that are difficult to foresee because of the multiplicity of ties, cultural, economic, social, etc. that connect nations to one another. So the notion of uncertainty was the starting point of the thought process. However, it became increasingly clear that the focus should be on interdependence, the undeniable fact that, for the better or worse, we are in this together.”

Working with guest curator Marie-Pierre Richard, the process of bringing together this year’s selection of films is the first step in reinforcing these cultural ties, as the festival works closely with filmmakers, distributors to bring these pieces of work to Leeside audiences. “Marie-Pierre and I have been working constantly over the phone and through emails, and it is through our conversations that the theme emerged progressively. Marie-Pierre’s sensitivity helped her select and source films that would speak to different audiences, and would speak to this year’s theme. In a way, the work process itself is an extension of the necessity of working together in uncertain times. In regards to dealing with filmmakers, guests and distributors, Marie-Pierre operated her magic behind the scenes.”

The festival’s spirit of collaboration extends to its opening night, where the gala opening happens at St. Peter’s on North Main Street, with turntablist and DJ Jean du Voyage playing a set, and invited guests from the French film community attending. The importance of these partnerships not only to overall cultural life in Cork, but specifically the Francophone community in Cork city and county, can’t be underestimated. “Partnerships are essential for the life of a festival, that’s why we are so grateful to be supported by wonderful partners and sponsors. Beyond that, fostering partnerships and relationships is at the core of the Alliance Française’s DNA. We are always looking at ways to make our countries and people closer. And bringing the best of French culture to Cork and Munster is an essential part of it, the other main aspect is teaching French. An event like the opening night gala of the festival really embodies what we are all about, because it is thanks to partnerships with the City of La Rochelle, and La Fondation Alliance Française, the support of local food producers, sponsors, the French Embassy and St. Peter’s that we can bring Jean to Cork. And we hope that it will bring both the Irish and French communities together.”

Aside from hitting themes of togetherness on social and political levels, the Festival will also be working with the Cork Environmental Forum and local food producers to produce crossover food events. With food being a large growth sector in Cork county in recent years, and a central component of trade between Ireland and France, the importance of these extracurricular activities to the festival extends beyond secondary programming. “We wanted to make this festival relevant to people by offering a program that reflects the current complexity of life, and also by involving different groups and community groups. The environment is certainly one of the most pressing matters as we may simply end up facing extinction by destroying our habitat. These moments of gathering are essential to connect, bond, communicate and create forces that will drive change. And of course, food plays a big part in the French art of gathering in the dynamic of a festival.”

The festival itself enjoys support from numerous international partners, and as has been stated, is seen as an important link between Irish and French cultures. The diplomatic importance of events like the French Film Festival is seen in the attendance of dignitaries like An Tánaiste and the French Ambassador to Ireland at launch events, and is a valuable opportunity for cross-promotion in the fields of tourism. “There is, of course, a diplomatic dimension to cultural networks such as the Alliance Française, the British Council, Goethe Institute, Confucius Institute etc. in the sense that their purpose is to foster understanding and positive relationships between countries, and good relationships facilitate tourism and business. An event like CFFF offers, incidentally, a window to promote France, its beautiful countryside and invite viewers to come and visit. This is, therefore, no coincidence that some of our partners and sponsors include Cork Airport, or Brittany Ferries.”

As the time draws closer for the festival’s launch, Trentinella’s work is well cut out for him, but with a rich and varied programme of cinema ahead (see panel), getting out to see everything might not be such a clear-cut task. “A festival is a collective achievement, and I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our team, our volunteers, and for the support of our Board, our partners and sponsors. I hope that the choice of films will inspire viewers to come and see them, and that they will leave the theatre with a heightened feeling of connection with the rest of humanity. I personally would like to see as many films as possible, but I know that I will probably only manage to see one or two, as our team and I will work behind the scenes to ensure that the festival runs smoothly.”

Three decades in, the Cork French Film Festival continues against not only a backdrop of international change, but a shifting urban landscape, as the city reacts to expansion and the turnover in venues and spaces available to festivals and cultural facilitators. “Most of the problems we are facing collectively come from a false sense of disconnection. This is symptomatic of the dominant economic model, which relentlessly seeks growth whereas our resources are limited, and our world finite. That’s why we are not seeking growth, but growth within reason, and simply to continue to be a player in Cork’s cultural landscape, and continue to bring the best of French cinema to Cork. As Cork continues to evolve, we will evolve with it. We have been doing it for thirty years already!”

Cork French Film Festival runs from March 3rd to 10th at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street and other venues around the city. For more, check out corkfrenchfilmfestival.com.

Cork Multiple Births Club: “Unique Support from Others on the Same Journey”

In the absence of formal support structures, Cork Multiples Club has provided parents of multiple-child births with advice, assistance, and a little bit of breathing space for ten years. Mike McGrath-Bryan spoke with organiser Alexie Ui Laoghaire on the eve of the anniversary edition of the group’s monthly coffee morning in Wilton.

Beginning or expanding a family is undoubtedly a seismic event in anyone’s life: the amount of planning and preparation that goes into welcoming someone new into the world is a drastic and transformative process, that alters every aspect of how one looks at the world, their work and their responsibilities. And if that either frightens you, or resonates with your own experiences, you can probably imagine what goes through the minds of new parents when told that their upcoming arrival is, in fact, twins, triplets and more. But despite what one might imagine, supports specific to the situation of multiple new additions to your team are scarce on the ground, bar some benefits and home help. It’s an issue that led to the foundation of the Irish Multiple Birth Association, a volunteer-led charity that provides new ‘multiple’ parents with information and advice, directly from multiple parents themselves.

But taking that first step to get involved and help oversee that support for your own area is another big step again, one that was taken in February 2009 by multiple parents Noreen O’Keeffe and Valerie Maout Uí Aodha, IMBA members and co-founders of the Cork Multiples Club. Seeking out a space in which to host families from across the city centrally, the pair began running coffee mornings in Wilton’s Brú Columbanus. For Alexie Ui Laoghaire, the club’s current co-ordinator, these mornings provided space, support and a sense of community. “I originally attended the monthly coffee morning, before my twins were born. I had received an IMBA booklet from CUMH, and had seen a poster in the twin clinic about the group so decided to check it out. I missed the following month’s meet as I had just had my babies, but I have attended pretty much every month since for the last four years. I took over running the group about two years ago, and love meeting all the multiple families. I think it is a really important space to enable multiple parents to get together, and share their experiences, their challenges and to be supported through these by their peers.”

Mutual support among parents is important to the development and growth of individuals, families and communities, all over the country, and the intensified need for support around multiple-birth families is met with aplomb by the Club. The coffee mornings are an important part of the group’s activities, but not the only means of addressing the questions of support, time management and keeping things afloat in a busy household. “The coffee morning is a space for multiple parents, expectant parents, or carers minding multiples, to chat and share peer support over a cup of coffee while little ones nap, play, feed, or squabble (laughs). It is an informal meet but it provides an opportunity for unique support from others who are on the same journey. As well as our monthly meet, we host a quarterly information evening, also in Bru Columbanus.  This is an opportunity for expectant parents to chat to multiple parents further along on their parenting journey, about what to expect when babies are brought home, what to get organised, possible sleeping arrangements, feeding, breastfeeding, routines, equipment etc. Our evenings are well attended and hopefully reassuring to expectant parents that while it is challenging it is also survivable!”

The club’s home in Brú Columbanus is a natural extension of the facility’s accommodation of multiple parents’ needs at CUMH. An independent charity, it provides “home from home” accommodation for relatives of seriously ill patients in the hospital, as well the headquarters for the club’s coffee mornings. “Initially, the coffee morning started in a meeting room within the building, but for the last number of years we’ve held it in the family playroom there. The room is bright, and cheerful with plenty of space for the double buggies, lots of toys and comfortable couches. It was recently redecorated by Dulux. Anne-Maria, Pat and their team are so accommodating, and we are delighted to be able to rent the space each month and for our quarterly information evenings. We would like to thank them for enabling us to keep our meet going for the last ten years.”

Over the course of a decade, you’d imagine a group like Cork Multiples Club spanning not only the development of young families, but the growth of multiple-birth kids not only as groups, but as individuals. As time has worn on, the Club has been present for families as schedules and life allows, and the common experience of bringing pairs or groups of people into the world has brought people together outside of it. “While some families attend the monthly meets for a number of months, or years, other parents return to work, or babies become pre-schoolers and then start national school, and may occasionally come along if the meet falls on a school holiday. Sometimes it’s hard to believe our pre-schoolers were once the tiny babies other parents are now arriving with! Some regular parents have struck up friendships that continue outside the Club, and we hope these families have fond memories of their time at the meets.”

February 22nd just past marked the Club’s tenth anniversary, and while it was business as usual regarding the meetup, it’s also cause to look toward the future for Alexie, still-active contributor Noreen, and for the group’s development, as it looks at expanding to new towns and areas in the county, and raise further awareness wherever multiple-parents may be. “We’re thrilled that the group is still going strong ten years later, now Noreen’s twins are twenty, and my own are turning four! It was great to see both new and old faces, and we look forward to welcoming more families to IMBA and Cork Multiples Club, in 2019 and beyond. We plan to continue running our monthly meet, our quarterly information evenings, and hope to get more volunteers involved.  We would like to get some posters up in local GP and Public Health Nurse offices, to spread the word further offline.”

For more info on Cork Multiples Club, search for their page on Facebook. For more info on supports for multiple-birth families, check the Irish Multiple Births Association’s website (imba.ie) and Facebook discussion group, or call 01-8749056.

The group’s quarterly information evening is held the first Wednesday of each quarter, from 7.30-9pm. The next installment is 8 March 2019, at Brú Columbanus in Wilton.  

Quangodelic: “It’s Like a Runaway Train!”

After years of laying down the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk around Cork City, the multiple-headed beast that is Quangodelic is finally ready to give up their debut album and turn it loose on an unsuspecting population. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with bassist and bandleader Pat Allott.

Your writer can hear the eyeballs rolling in the backs of people’s heads as he types, but there’s always been something a little of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band surrounding Corkonian funkers Quangodelic. If not musically, then certainly in terms of structure, a rotating door of some of Cork’s finest musicians coming in and out as they please, resulting some nights in tight, funky performances, and others in controlled, collaborative chaos. It’s all part of the charm for a band that’s been slugging away for years in Cork city on a fairly solitary path, alternating between tutting, smirking social commentaries and livewire takes on funk and soul classics with a Blaxploitation vibe.

A bit mad for a collective that revolves around adopted Corkman Pat Allott, who reclines in a seat upstairs in the Sin É on Coburg Street, right before the evening rush, and regales your writer with the story of how the band’s aesthetic and original material came together from a regular residency at the Roundy, on Castle Street. “It was always live, but I was a big fan of the Munster Soul nights, there were some really good DJ nights in Cork, so when we started doing it, I was thinking, ‘y’know, we might attract more people if they think it’s a DJ thing’. So, we’d do a Black icon on the posters to make it look like a Munster Soul night, try to sneak people in. It was a stupid thing to do, because we called it Quangodelica, and everyone got confused between the band and the night. It was foolish behaviour, but you learn from the mistakes.”

The band’s self-titled debut intends to act as an introduction for new listeners, and has slowly been on the boil for a number of years, reflective of the band’s approach to creativity, recording and the grand balance between anywhere up to fifteen performers across the record’s duration. The theme for the album came to Allott amid all of that chaos, during their studio time in the sadly-defunct Camden Palace Hotel, and that’s a fair assessment of the experience. “It’s always tricky when you’ve got that many people. The advantages to something that big, is a different energy, live. I’ve played lots of different types of music over the years, and this is so much fun. When you’ve got a big horn section, guitars… you can’t out-’ear-damage’ three trumpeters, they’re so powerful, and it becomes this thing. Sometimes it’s really difficult to stop. Quangodelic on a good night, it’s like a runaway train, you don’t know where it’s going to go, what’s gonna happen or who’s going to show up. The advantage of having so many people, is that you can keep the show on the road if you’re missing a few. It’s a matter of who’s available when, ‘cause people have lives!”

That same recording process, and the resultant herding of cats across several studios and rehearsal spaces, has contributed to the feel of the record, a faithful document to the band’s live experience. Getting that feel has been all-important to Allott specifically, and he’s happy with the end result in that regard. The process itself, though, was a reflection of some of the band’s own circumstances and events. “I think the trick was to not use the click track, get it live as possible. It is that simple. If you overthink it… some of it worked really well, some tunes didn’t come out so good so they didn’t make the album. One of the sessions we did, the drummer had got horribly drunk the night before and broke one of his favourite drum machines, which made him really cross and intense, so the songs that needed to sound relaxed sounded awful, but that songs that needed to sound cross, he was absolutely on it.”

The record was mixed by Charleville man Stephen Rea and mastered by Rockstar Studio in the UK. The real stars of this release, however, are Dublin record-pressers Dublin Vinyl, the first new plant in Ireland in over three decades, and specialists in affordable short runs for indie artists. “I have only got good stuff to say about Dublin Vinyl. I handed over the masters to them, and got back a good, thick, 180-gram vinyl. It sounds amazing so far. We kept the length of sides to the right length. Keep it less than 22 minutes a side, and they can do a good thick groove that sounds right.”

Pat’s own excursions into crate-digging over the past few decades have created a rich and varied archive of releases for him to dig into for DJ sets and other adventures, including a lifetime of engagement with community radio stations. This continues today with his weekly slot with Coburg St.-based online station Room101, ‘The Funk, The Whole Funk and Nothing But the Funk’, a pre-recorded set directly from his decks, and the depths of his collection. “I’ve done a lot of DJing (at radio and in clubs) for a long time, and what happened when I came to Ireland was, I was doing a lot of indie stuff, goth stuff like the Sisters of Mercy to keep the punters happy. Then I moved to Dublin, and I was free to reinvent myself, play funk, hip-hop… Alex at Room101 is dead-on. The big thing is sitting down, playing records, getting them onto MP3. The show is (taken from) my collection, and that takes time, but it’s also really nice. When you have shedloads of stuff lying around at home, it’s kind-of sad, so it’s nice to be able to listen.”

The band, in various configurations, is taking on a small run of dates around the county to launch the record, including a February 22nd trip to the Kino, on Washington Street, for a free gig. The venue has played host to the band in the past, and a stage of that size is well-able to play host to the whole ensemble on the big night. But capacity aside, the venue has a special significance for Allott himself. “We were doing a regular one there for a while, it was lovely. Because it’s an old cinema, it’s a ‘dry room’, and treated in such a way that if you hit a snare, it doesn’t reverberate forever. I love the Kino, I took my daughter to see Studio Ghibli films there when she was young enough, when it was still a cinema. I’m delighted it’s still in action at some level, with lots of good stuff on, it’s a great venue.”

Quangodelic play The Kino on Washington Street on Friday, February 22nd. Kickoff is at 9pm, and admission is free. The band’s self-titled long-player will be available physically on the night.