Spekulativ Fiktion: “I Sense a Storm Building”

One of Irish hip-hop’s most authoritative voices is back. Corkman Seán Murphy, aka Spekulativ Fiktion, talks about his new EP, the scene in Cork, and even improvises a short tale for Mike McGrath-Bryan.

2017 has been a year of profound change and development for Seán Murphy, a Cork wordsmith, rapper and beatmaker plying his craft under the pseudonym of Spekulativ Fiktion. Having emerged at the start of the decade with a seemingly ready-made knack for intelligent yet defiantly-accented wordplay, and an equal grasp of matters both social and emotional, Spek followed a quiet few years with a full-blown return to live and recorded activity, gigging intensely around the country. His efforts have borne fruit: his next EP ‘Effigies’, a long-mooted collaboration with Clare beatmaker Mankyy, is about to be released this month via Limerick-based outlet The Unscene. “Mankyy is a workhorse, and would send me beats all the time. If a beat clicked, I’d move forward with an idea that I felt suited. Lyrically, every song was approached differently. I definitely invested the most time into ‘Epilogue’. At points I would have completely filled the front and back of an A4 page only to end up using four lines out of the whole thing. Then I’d move onto another page and repeat. There was lots of drafting and scrapping before completion. I intentionally put the outro section of the song to the wayside until the recording stage, where it came together quickly with a large input from Mankyy. There are flows and schemes in there I wouldn’t have experimented with, had it not been for the collaborative effort.”

But the process isn’t always a matter of carefully-laid building blocks coming together. “Other tracks were written completely on the spot during the final recordings. You can put months of preparation and have material ready to go in advance of studio time, but you can’t replicate that spontaneous energy of banging something out in a few focused moments. My favourite material on there came about that way. It’s good to surprise yourself. I think of it almost like freestyling but you’re giving yourself an extra few minutes to cut away the excess and polish everything. Both the vocals and the beat for ‘G’luck’, the EP’s final track, came out of nowhere when we were just sitting around. State of flow they call it, right?” The dalliance with Mankyy has already borne fruit, with a special live performance of the record at IndieCork’s music programme winning the festival’s music laurels and leading to a premiere for EP leadoff ‘Epilogue’ via tastemaker blog Nialler9. It seems as though the pair have happened across something special. “There are certain aesthetics in art that we both delight in. Things that are dark but goofy, sarcastic but stirring, bleak but tireless. And I think we explore this world quite effectively together. We also don’t hate each other.”

The Unscene is the right place at the right time for Spekulativ Fiktion. The Shannonside not-quite-a-label has positively been on the tear throughout 2017, acting as a documentation post for a wide variety of Irish beats ‘n’ pieces. At its forefront: skratchologist Naive Ted, a lucky charm for the outlet whose last five EPs, a series called ‘The Minute Particulars’, were released in the space of a few months. “Talk about work ethic. The guy is a mad scientist. He once showed me a “draft 47” of a tune that would go on to appear on ‘The Minute Particulars’. I want to know how he keeps his skull from exploding! Mankyy’s ‘Character Development’ set the bar on January first of last year. There’s nothing like it. It’s Blade Runner 2049 if Ted’s ‘Send in the Hounds’ was Ridley Scott’s original. And when you get through that there’s another twenty something fresh EPs and albums in the Unscene catalogue, none of which try to hop on the sound of now… or the sound of any time for that matter. If I’m being honest, I reckon all these tunes came from an alternate reality.”

Ted and the Unscene are at the vanguard of a wider hip-hop uprising in Limerick that springs from an investment in music education in the city. Ted, among others, is involved with MusicGeneration Limerick, and in Spek’s estimation, it’s not long until similar effort pays off Leeside. “All you need is a quick glance at MusicGeneration Limerick’s gurus, disciples, and affiliates to understand huge things are happening there: Naive Ted, Rusangano Family, Same D4ence, Jonen Dekay… However, I sense a storm building in our own neck of the woods in the MusicGeneration department. There is a serious calibre of young talent on the rise, under the guidance of Garry McCarthy who is definitely ‘not’ GMC/Kalabanx. I have a feeling 2018 is Cork rap’s renaissance year.”

It’s been five years now since the release of Spek’s debut full-length, ‘Deathly Words’ – the tone and tenor of which was an uncomprising analysis of Irish society in the depths of deranged, misplaced austerity measures and their social consquences, but also the source of much praise from Irish music press of the time. Beats from Naive Ted and Cork veteran JusMe provided the backdrop for lyrical explorations of both internal and external issues, and Spek outlines where he was mentally when creating a record that would go on to be a portent for the development of Irish hip-hop in the years to follow. “I had a broken heart, was struggling to find direction in life, and saw corruption everywhere. I’m glad I had an outlet to combat the pain, and I worry about those who never find one. That therapeutic thing is one of the biggest reasons I’m still at this. I was completely sincere in everything I put to paper for ‘Deathly Words’, and I’m still proud of it. ‘Effigies’ probably has thematic parallels with it in a lot of ways. Half a decade has passed, and I have accomplished things in my life, but there are always challenges, and the world is just as crazy. I’m just telling my ongoing story and that of the world around me as I see it.”

The following years were spent collaborating with Naive Ted on their ’48’ extended-player, as well as making guest appearances for Sligo troop This Side Up, among others. As if possessed by the spirit of creation in the moment, Murphy treats us to a piece of O’Brienesque narrative, a chronicle-verse of his time in the wilderness. “With Ted, it was plenty of cups of tea, and homemade veggie curries. Not at the same time. But never say never… emerging from the spectral woods I find myself atop a behemoth of hulking rock. The breeze is enlivening. The view is transcendent. How did I get here? I glance to the side. It’s Clerk 5 and Shaool from This Side Up. We played a blinder in Sligo town last night, and are currently struggling through a hip-hop hangover up Benbulben like a pack of sick dogs. What would a glorified mosher such as myself be doing in a place like this, with a scut from Ennis who looks like he robs car radios and a viking/teddy-bear cross sporting a windswept afro? What could we possibly have in common? Oh yeah! We’re all grown men, who rhyme words loudly into other peoples’ faces as a pastime.”

Murphy balances life as a poet, beatmaker and rapper with the grind of a workin’ session musician – functions, corporate gigs, sessioning for theatre, etc. They’re seemingly at odds with the work and message of Spekulativ Fiktion, but Murphy makes it work. “The more I think about this stuff, the less gets done! But from a performance point of view, one is always informing the other. Whether I’m singing that bloody Wham! song again at a Women’s Little Christmas party in a country hotel, or spitting post-apocalyptic raps at tripping art students up in Dolan’s, there’s always a trick I’ll learn in one situation that can be be utilised in the other. The covers and entertainment side of things usually entails giving the people what they want. Environments and circumstances might change a little here and there, but more often than not, I just turn up and do pretty much the same thing I did last time. I like to think I do it well, mind you, and it’s what people like. Job done. Spekulativ Fiktion is a different animal, however. He’s my outlet. It’s more than ‘learn setlist, perform setlist and repeat’. Spek is in a constant state of flux. There is always new material in the works and new plans being made. That can fry my head sometimes. Maybe, what I’m trying to say though, is that these two sides of the coin balance each other out.”

Spek and Mankyy launch ‘Effigies’ on the 26th, with a whole host of phenomenal Irish rappers on the undercard, including Limerick rappers Jonen Dekay and Aswell, and an open-mic contest on the night. Murphy is amped for the line-up and to see other rappers in action. “A while back I heard Jonen Dekay described as the best rapper you’ve never heard of. These days, he’s a lot closer to being the best rapper you have heard of. Aswell is the rap version of that voice in your head that picks apart your confidence and calls you on your flaws, while doing so with such self-assurance and swagger that you’ll be nodding along believing it’s a good thing! SwitchX provides some Cork representation on the night and between you and me, he is sitting on the best rap song to come out of this city. Ever.”

That open-mic is the latest in a series at Cuttin’ Heads Collective (of whom Murphy is an affliate) events, and a proving ground for the next wave of MCs, poets and orators. For him, this is the highlight of the night. “I am excited for the open mic. There are a lot of hidden gems around these parts. At one of the bigger shows of the summer, I threw the mic to the crowd at the end of the night. The rest of the audience were left in shock. Myself included. Who the hell are these people?! Poets, freestylers and spoken wordsmiths are crawling out of the woodwork, along with your more typical rappers and coming to these events. That’s what’s needed for that Cork rap renaissance I mentioned earlier!”

Spekulativ Fiktion and Mankyy launch ‘Effigies’ with a special gig on the 26th of January at the Poor Relation on Parnell Place. Support from Aswell, Jonen Dekay and SwitchX, as well as a solo set from Mankyy and an open-mic contest. Kickoff at 8.30pm, €7 at the door.

Wallis Bird: Home is Where the Heart Is

Enniscorthy singer-songwriter Wallis Bird has undertaken a great journey along the Continent in recent years. Ahead of her next swing of Irish gigs, including headlining Ballincollig Winter Music Festival, Mike McGrath-Bryan hears about the road, the process and the future.

As the noughties wore on, music was shedding its skin, emerging from an almost unrecognisable place compared to today. The tail end of the CD boom spurred the major labels on to fuel a series of almost completely artificial hype trains on both sides of the pond (as most vividly discussed in Vice’s recent expose on NME Magazine’s editorial workings circa 2002) and over here, the singer-songwriter bubble was aided in part by the might of established music media. Amid all this sat Wallis Bird, a folk singer from Co. Wexford with a most unusual playing style, necessitated by a childhood accident that saw the citóg play a right-handed guitar upside-down. Signing with Island in 2006, Bird rode a wave of success with debut album ‘Spoons’ that saw her traverse the continent in support of such disparate artists as Gabrielle and Billy Bragg, before 2008 follow-up ‘New Boots’ brought along a full touring itinerary including Montreux Jazz and Pukkelpop festivals. From there, Bird struck out on her own as an independent artist, encountering great success both at home and in Germany, where she now resides.

The topic of the comforts of home, whether here or in Berlin, has been at the forefront of her work in recent years. 2016 album ‘Home’, released on digital and vinyl formats, has been the focus of Bird’s touring throughout 2017 after its release the previous year, and already, she has carved a very definite place for the LP in her own headspace as a creator and as a person. “I am getting closer to this record as time is passing. The more I play the songs, the more insight they give me. I know that sounds vain, but I intentionally wrote this album to honour the best time of my life, and to return to it when life is less good, and use it as a springboard to feel better and work better.”

Art is often the product of its surroundings, and in the process of creating a work to fortify her own mental health, Bird constructed a working and living environment conducive to creativity, and the process unfolded almost despite itself before her over the following 24 months. “(I woke up) every day with a smile on my face, knowing that all I (had) to do today is write music! I was given 2 years with very little distraction to write and record this record, so I pumped gratitude and positivity into everything because of that chance. I worked with the environment, the season, weather, resources, lust, spontaneity, and (on a constant basis). I decided there should never be anger or boredom in the making, because there’s too much to learn. For example, I’d work a month in light, then in darkness, then intensely on instrument development, switch to lyrics for when that got samey, then focus on recording technique, then focus on something else, constantly move to the other song, take a week off, spend time with friends, go swimming. Keep instruments all around me, all over the house, have the studio ready to record in minimal effort, play play play, press record, maybe take a walk, daydream, take a day off freshen up, keep going. It was all about discipline and freedom of mind. I treated it like a masters’ thesis.” After that experience, and changing the pace of her life and processes, Bird is happy to confirm she is building on that foundation for her next long-player. “Having a great time so far. I’ll be immersed all this year, thankfully.”

Bird’s touring itinerary, once out and about, could be generously described as unforgiving. She’s been touring ‘Home’ fairly hard over the last year, including dates across Europe, Asia and Australia. But when asked to compare the globe-trotting experience to playing Ireland, there isn’t even a comparison to be made. “Nothing like a home gig. It’s the familiar vibe, the family, the friends, everything about being home. It’s wilder than anywhere, and I imagine a lot of that is because of the excitement I have coming home.”

As touched on earlier, Bird is far more in control of her music compared to the height of the singer-songwriter thing here in Ireland. Her management seems absolutely devoted to her, she’s self-releasing records, etc. Bird is keen to divulge how it all gets along. “It’s about mutual respect within your team. I’m not an island, there is no way I would want to do this on my own. Working independently means thinking long-term, and that means life-changing decisions, and a team you have to put your hand into the fire for. You have to love your environment, and nurture that, as you would your wife. And it’s not work, it’s fucking art and soul and culture – it’s important. Show your backbone. What do you represent? Do the people who represent you make you proud, and can you trust them with your life to hide a body for you, and you do the same for them? You have to be real with each other and be able to talk as openly and as respectfully as possible. In our case we don’t fight, we talk. And have fun! Don’t just make it all about the work. In my case we started out as a team, and I now consider them brothers and sisters, and that’s not a cliché. We love who we work with, we aim to be craft- and longevity-driven, and work with people with a genuine love for the bigger picture of true art for art’s sake, so with that as our base, we can’t go wrong. It’s all about the people. Are they nice? Do you work harmoniously? Now look forward and work together.”

One necessary evil of being an independent musician today are streaming services. Spotify and the like have attracted plenty of derision for anaemic royalty rates and changing the attention span of younger and more casual listeners, but for Bird, the knowledge from who’s listening and where via the platforms is indispensable. “My music and my biography is available at all times all over the world, a dream I didn’t even have in 2000! The stats are important, and certainly help in many decisions like choosing what to play at a TV appearance, who to reach out to on social media to tell them that we’re coming to their town, all of this works hand in hand. Using your knowledge in a positive manner is all in your interest.”

Bird’s January swing back through Ireland takes in a headlining slot on the first night of Winter Music Festival on January 25th, to kick off the festival’s ninth annual event. Supporting will be Canadian folk wunderkind Kaia Kater. She’s done her reccy on the gig and is enthusiastic. “I’m just looking forward to being immersed in what seems like a one of a kind, inspiring, natural and fun vibe. We’re delighted to be invited!” With a new album on the slow boil, and touring winding down in the early part of the year to facilitate same, it seems like business is picking up. “I think this will be a pretty serious year for me. I think there will be big decisions this year. Think it’s gonna be an important year for me, I feel it.”

Wallis Bird plays the White Horse in Ballincollig for the venue’s Winter Music Festival on January 25th. Support from Kaia Kater, kickoff at 8.30pm, tickets €25 from box office and whitehorse.ie.

Rubyhorse: Ready to Shine

Having blazed a trail around the world for Cork’s indie scene in the late nineties and early noughties, Rubyhorse are lined up for a return this January at Ballincollig’s Winter Music Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Joe Philpott.

One of the great hopes of the city’s music scene as the nineties wound their way into the millennium, childhood friends turned alt-rock powerhouses Rubyhorse found success upon taking flight to Boston in search of a wider audience. Having established themselves and dallianced with major labels, the band are set to return after playing a run of shows in 2016, with a new body of work finished and planned for release later this year. Guitarist Joe Philpott delves into the band’s creative process this time around. “It’s been unusual for us. In the past, we used to take Decky’s songs, and shape them on the road, in the rehearsal room and the studio. With these tracks, Decky had them lying, and felt they might suit Rubyhorse so we got together just to see what would happen. They were put together in Deck’s studio, very much in a nuts and bolts fashion, and we figured out how to play them live afterwards. In essence, the opposite of what we used to do!”

With the songs and stories therein under wraps for so long, the conversation inevitably turns to the finality of completing a piece of art. It must be difficult, drawing a line under these songs after a long gestation, and so much work, before letting them go, in a sense. “It’s always hard, because nothing ever feels finished. We actually did about three versions of each track. The challenge is not to forget it’s about the song, and the emotional delivery of that. You can spend an eternity adding ear-candy and production tricks, but there’s a line you need to draw before you start getting self-indulgent, and start thinking that adding more stuff is going to make a difference. It won’t, and that’s just artist insecurity.”

Another sojourn Stateside is also planned for the new material, a market with which the band has long had an affinity, and tangible critical & commercial success. Though the band intends to return to where a core following exists in order to share new music, they’re planning on playing it by ear somewhat. “We have a fanbase in the States, if the new material strikes a chord, and it feels right to play out there we will. We’ve had offers to play, so that is exciting. We’re not going to overthink it. Even though technically we’re still signed out there, we’re probably going to put this out ourselves. Again, it goes back to doing this for ourselves, as opposed to having a big master plan.”

Any self-respecting music hack would be remiss if they didn’t ask about that aforementioned tangible success, in this case, a hit that at one time was frankly inescapable. ‘Sparkle’, acknowledged as the band’s big single and one that follows the band around thanks to years of airplay and ad placement, has generated endless goodwill and set the foundation for the band as a going concern among the wider indie/alternative listenership in Ireland. “I love it. It’s a great song, is still playing on radio today, and it still sounds great. That period for the band was incredible. We were lads from Cork in our twenties, literally living out our dreams, seeing the world, and playing music.”

The sessions for the album from which ‘Sparkle’ came, ‘Rise’, included a guest appearance from now-departed Beatle George Harrison, on slide guitar for album cut ‘Punchdrunk’, also due for a special anniversary release this year. How did that come about? “It goes back to the surreal nature of our lives back then. We were in South Beach, Miami, mixing the record, and we were having an argument on a beach in December as to whether we should ask a Beatle to play on our album! We did, and he said yes.”

Back to the present day: the band has a couple of Cork dates ready to go before heading out further afield with their new stuff, including Ballincollig Winter Music Festival at the White Horse, on the 27th, and Cyprus Avenue the following week on the 3rd. Following the pressure-cooker of the studio, Philpott collects his thoughts on heading back out in front of hometown audiences. “It’s a great feeling to be playing Rubyhorse gigs again. We’ve always enjoyed the live aspect of the band, and home has always topped our expectations.”

Cork’s scene is healthier and more eclectic than it has been in a very long time, as has been well-documented. When asked for his take on recent events, Philpott offers a glowing appraisal of the city’s soundscape. “I think Cork has always been a vibrant city for music. From Rory Gallagher to Fatima Mansions, if you threw a stone where we grew up, it would land on a band room. It’s the diversity of the artists, and the audience that makes it unique. In the past the scene may have relied on a movement, be it blues, folk, punk, trad, new wave, dance, electronic or pop, and then everyone got the same haircut and bought the same shirt. Now you have great stuff happening across the board, and a more open-minded gig-going crowd, which makes for a creative, vibrant scene all round.”

Humans of the Sesh: On Coming Home

From stories of the horrors of student house parties, to closing the show at Electric Picnic, the lads behind social media sensation Humans of the Sesh have come a long way, and on their terms. Co-conspirators Grand Feen and Brown Sauce talk with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Facebook, lad culture, and finally having a homecoming gig this weekend.

It’s become a cultural phenomenon, one of the first major Irish cultural reference points of the social-media generation, and one that speaks to the great leveller that is the debauchery of a terrible house party somewhere in suburban Ireland. And yet, for its distinctly Irish voice and sense of humour online, Humans of the Sesh has proven to have a phenomenal international appeal, beginning as a Cork-based Facebook page recounting a range of amusing and misfortunate stories from house-parties before gaining massive traction across a number of platforms, including approaching 600,000 followers on Facebook. Fuelled by a love of cheap cans and Amber Leaf rollie kits, the duo behind the page, Brown Sauce and Grand Feen, have expanded its reach massively into other media, but for Grand Feen, their ascent initially came as something of a surprise. “Seeing the huge numbers of people who were liking and viewing our content felt really strange at the start. An average of about four million people see our stuff each week, and it’s hard to grasp the thought of that.”

It’s difficult not to broach the topic of social media reach with the pair without talking about how they did it in the first place and what advice they’d have: after all, past all the humour, theirs is a presence most marketeers and PR people would hand their firstborns over for. “It seems to be getting harder and harder to get a good amount of reach. Recently Facebook is pushing people more and more towards paid advertising. They’ve cut the organic reach that pages can get without paying money. For anyone starting out, I’d suggest just making content that’s unique. People are more likely to engage and share posts that aren’t the typical drivel you see on Facebook day in day out”, says Grand Feen. Brown Sauce seems to have an amount of ennui for social media and the direction in which it’s headed, and speaks frankly on the matter. “I’m sick of Facebook to be honest. It’s a load of sh*t. It’s mostly advertisements these days, even then, if it’s not an advertisement, it’s a “tag a mate who” post or something else along those lines. But if you really want to get reach, and I suppose this theory translates to all aspects of doing anything slightly creative, get a concept, something you know, and just run with it. That might sound oversimplified, but because so much stuff is so contrived these days, I’ve been noticing a lot of stuff lacks a strong basic concept.”

More so than its reach and cultural import at home among the “millennial” crowd, now almost fluent in the page’s injokes and idiosyncrasies, the page and the aforementioned Irish sense of humour has fared incredibly well further afield, with examples of homegrown slang being popularised among non-Irish audiences easily found on social media. The lads are still very curious about their crossover appeal. “Yeah, it’s really interesting seeing where the people who like our page are from”, says Grand Feen. “For example, we have about 60,000 from Australia and 20,000 from America. I post our merchandise myself, and I always seem to be sending them to mad places like Luxembourg, or something. I’m not sure to be honest. I think people abroad have a liking for Irish people in general so that helps us a lot.” Media interest was always going to follow, as has usually been the case when a social media presence begins making serious noises in the newsfeeds of its contributors: such organs of record in the world of electronic music as Noisey and Mixmag, among others, have profiled Humans of the Sesh in recent times. Grand Feen has no idea what to make of the increased scrutiny and experiences behind these features. “Yeah, it’s really strange! Like, VICE (Noisey’s parent mag) once flew us out to London to meet them, and that was mad. We’re just two lads who talk bollocks and make memes on the internet, so it’s felt weird to have people like them take such an interest in us.”

The most remarkable aspect of the page’s content in recent times is how egalitarian it all is: in character, the page has advocated for social issues such as sensible drug policy, reproductive healthcare, intersectional feminism, and transgender right. At a time when influence and speech are being ever-democratised, at least on the outside of it, there have of course been contrarians to the page’s message of inclusivity whilst on the lash. “So many people have messaged us to say that they’re un-liking the page because we’ve spoken about trans rights or the Eighth Amendment”, according to Grand Feen. “It’s mostly your typical ‘LADS’ who give us hate for that sort of thing. They just want their memes delivered to them without any, as they put it, ‘social justice warrior feminist crap’. I really don’t mind getting hate for speaking up, because I believe it’s important for us to use our page’s reach to spread a good message every now and then. We often get messages from people thanking us for speaking out about trans rights, repeal, etc. and it makes it feel worthwhile.” Adds Brown Sauce: “Yeah, the internet is full of pricks. The worst kind of pricks, like, even worse than coked-up feens in a nightclub who haven’t gotten the shift. A lot of our humour is satire, so, like, on one hand we have the people who are in on the joke, and then we have the people who are reading the joke at face value, so there’s a load of eejits. But it’s the internet. What’s new there?”

At the heart of the page’s humour and reach is a love of electronic music, including a running gag of taking aim at both elitists and casual music heads attempting to take the reins of the tunes at parties and wrecking each other’s heads. It seemed destined to transition into music, and Messrs. Sauce & Feen, alongside other co-conspirators, have embarked upon live, in-character DJ sets, a live theatrical show, and most recently, a weekly podcast curated by friends of the page, SESH FM. The results have been phenomenal, including sellout shows in London, closing the show at Electric Picnic’s After Dark stage, and reaching thousands of listeners independently of the Humans range of pages. “It’s just like, ‘f*ck it’, we were willing to sell the page to advertisers and click bait etc., etc., so I was like, ‘why don’t we make SESH FM?’ We were all into music already, so it seemed like a natural step. It hasn’t been too hard maintaining the original idea because SESH FM has always been a bit separate. It’s like, ‘what’s the craic, just like us? Just like music? Then check out SESH FM.” “It’s been a bit hard, but as Brown Sauce said, I see it as the natural progression of the page. We love music, we’re friends with a lot of producers/DJs, and we just wanted to use the page’s success to get involved in music. We haven’t seen it affect the original idea of the page too much, from what I’ve seen, the people who have no interest in our live stuff or SESH FM just ignore those posts, so there was never too much hassle really.”

The lads are playing the Amp venue on Hanover Street tomorrow for pre-holiday bash, with support from Humans affiliate, producer/DJ and SESH FM regular Numbertheory. It’s finally an official homecoming for the group after accomplishing international success in between fits of activity at college and on their day jobs, and Grand Feen keeps us appraised of how they’ll mark the occasion. “They’re just a bitta craic, really. We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we’ll spend the whole night playing deep, Berghain residents-only techno. For example, I started my Electric Picnic set with Skepta, the mid-point song was by trap artists TNGHT, and I finished on L’amour Toujours. Loads of bangers.” “Myself and Grand Feen are from Cork”, says Brown Sauce with a pointed Leeside accent, “and we still haven’t played a gig there, which is sad considering we’ve sold out shows in London. It’s partly to do with the fact that Cork has a real lack of dedicated venues that support the kinda stuff that we do, but the lovely lads at Generic People sorted this one out for us in Amp, so we’ll be going all out for our hometown crew.”

Grand Feen is optimistic about what lies ahead of the holiday glut of activity, with the page’s steady progression being complemented by an expanded content offering and more shenanigans on stage and via SoundCloud. “It’s looking good. We want to continue making content, hopefully returning to the UK for another few shows, and we’re looking to get more designs onto our online store. Video content is something we want to start working on for 2018 so look forward to that.” They seem to be edging closer to the dream of becoming full-time pintmen, and Brown Sauce’s priority now is making life on the sesh a sustainable endeavour. “We will hopefully have more time than ever to dedicate to it, hopefully, can put more time into podcast things, doing gigs and just making cool sh*t and having a laugh.”

Hardy Bucks: Riding Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loah: Staying True to This Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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