Inni-K: “Something New Opened Up In Me”

Eithne Ní Chatháin’s new album under the alias Inni-K resides somewhere between Irish folk’s brittle nature, and quiet indie innovation. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the Kildare woman about writing, recording, and the Gaelgoir revival in Irish music.

Inni-K, the working name of singer and multi-instrumentalist Eithne Ní Chatháin, brings a broad church of sounds under her remit. Parlaying a background in folk and trad music into contemporary composition, elements of wider folk, indie music of various hues and more experiemental fare permeate her work, playing to the strengths of a clear, yet distinct voice. Her penchant for progress has brought her to share stages with a gamut of established names, including Malian kora exponent Toumani Diabate, drummer Jeff Ballard, Frames man Glen Hansard, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Lisa Hannigan and many more.

Second album ‘The Hare and the Line’ has released this past month via Green Willow Recordings, marking the end of a four-year wait and heralding an expansion for Ní Catháin’s sound that makes itself felt right from the opening seconds of its title track, not shy of asking grand questions (‘how do you/I define her?’) of her own place as an artist and as a human being. With the album available now, the question of what comprises a ‘finished’ record emerges, chiming with her feelings on the album as a whole. “I feel very satisfied & proud, to have the new album completed, and to have it out in the world. I really look forward to performing the songs live over the coming months, at gigs and festivals, (and also) to see how people interact and engage with the songs.”

The creative and post-production processes differed this time around, coming together over the past year or so, after the jettisoning of an unreleased long-player. The disappointment of a body of work not coming together can be a difficult one to overcome for many artists, but Ní Catháin took the impasse and new start as a challenge. “I pretty much had the guts of an album of different songs ready to go about a year ago but something in me knew to hold off, they didn’t feel quite right. I think, in hindsight, they were a stepping stone in clearing the way to the new songs on this record, but it is always a little disappointing to let go of something you’ve been working on and face the blank page again. In doing so, however, I think something new opened up in me, and the songs on this album came quite easily once they came. They are, I think more personal in theme and tone, and feel quite different.”

Collaboration and co-writing opened up the process of creating the new record for Ní Catháin, with arrangements and post-production making all the difference not only for getting the record done and dusted, but for doing so in a manner that kept her own engagement up as a creator. “The whole process was a much less lonely experience for me than ever before. It was a lot of fun. Songwriting for me seems to be an alone endeavour, maybe necessarily so; and I do really enjoy that. But from the moment I brought the songs to my friend, drummer & main collaborator Brian Walsh, things started getting interesting. Brian was more involved in the makeup of the songs much earlier in the process than with my last album (‘The King has Two Horse’s Ears’), and I think the songs are richer for that.”

Post-production began after that whole process came to its conclusion, with producer and engineer Alex Borwick leaving his mark on proceedings. The motley crew decamped to a remote location in the depths of winter, with embellishments made at various locations thereafter, and the resulting mix of atmospheres resonates throughout the record. “We totally hit it off as a team, and within a couple of weeks, after pre-production work on the songs in Rathfarnham with Alex, and with Brian up in the lovely Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan, (we) headed to a farmhouse in Co. Wicklow with two jam-packed cars full of our gear for a week before Christmas, and got to work on the bones of the album… we kept working pretty much over Christmas, spending a day recording rhodes, organs and piano up in the stunning Hellfire Studios, in the Dublin mountains, and then in various guest musicians houses around Dublin. I was so happy to have such great musicians & friends join us for the project: Dónal Gunne on guitar, Seán Mac Erlaine on clarinets, Patrick O’Laoghaire (I Have a Tribe) on backing vocals, Caimin Gilmore & Cormac O’Brien on bass. It was a really fantastic collaborative experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

It’s eclectic company to keep, but Ní Catháin is no stranger to breathing rarefied air, having shared the stage with some of the living legends of folk musics from all over the world. Her comfort with operating within folk is displayed most deftly on the new record in the quiet, tape-warm sparseness of ‘Póirste Béil’, and it’s this ability to bridge gaps that has put her to the forefront of the new wave of trad and folk. “I’ve seen it mostly in Dublin, just ‘cause that’s where I spend most of my time, but I’m sure it’s the same around the country. It seems there’s more of interest in songs and tunes, in a stripped back kind of way, that they stand on their own. There’s definitely more pride, and an interest around it now, and so many fantastic singers and musicians.”

Ní Catháin’s use of bilingual lyrics is an important talking point regarding her place on the Irish music scene, as the mother tongue has made a steady re-emergence in Irish music. Rappers like MC Muipéid and Belfast trio Kneecap, dancehall crooner Ushmush, blackened metallers Corr Mhóna, and even Corkonian humourist Craic Boi Mental have all made An Gaeilge central to bodies of their work. It’s a point of pride for many people. “It’s great that Gaeilge is being used in different genres, and that people are finding it to be the expressive, poetic and beautiful language that it is. Again, like the resurgence in trad & folk music, it’s inspiring and uplifting to see more people take pride in our own language. I saw Kneecap perform in Inishbofin last summer, they were something else! (laughs)”

Just off the road from gigs in the US and Canada over the course of February, Ní Catháin and collaborators are hitting the road again, this time with a national tour to back the new record. This jaunt around the country includes a pair of Cork gigs, in Coughlan’s of Douglas Street and Levis’ village pub in Ballydehob, two modern-day outposts for forward-thinking folk. It’s the jumping-off point for the kind of interaction she relishes from a gig. “The Cork shows are the first dates of the Irish tour, and two more gorgeous, intimate venues you’d be hard pressed to find. I love both venues, and can’t wait to play them. We hope to raise the roof with the new tunes!”

Inni-K plays at Coughlan’s Live on Douglas Street on Friday April 5th, and at Levis’ of Ballydehob the following night. New album ‘The Hare and the Line’ is available now across all digital services. For more information, check out inni-k.com, and stay tuned to her social media presences.

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.

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.

Eddi Reader: “Whatever Flavour My Instincts Desire”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathy Davey: “A Very Natural Process of Elimination”

Cathy Davey had a busy 2018, including a career-spanning live album recorded in Dublin and contributing to a national fundraising campaign for homelessness charities. Ahead of the next move, she speaks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about the live record, the return of vinyl, and headlining Winter Music Fest.

It’s been fifteen years since the release of Cathy Davey’s debut EP and album in the same year, a fact surely not lost on the singer-songwriter herself as the dust has been settling on her last studio excursion and related live work. A distinguished body of work that’s seen her become a beloved and lasting fixture in Ireland’s folk scene, her discography provides her a rich seam of songs to mine for live moments such as those captured on ‘Live at Dublin Unitarian Church’, let into the world last year after being recorded at the titular venue in March. And a document of a place and time it most certainly is, with Davey choosing songs that came to her and felt right for the project. “It was a very natural process of elimination. Anything I felt an emotional attachment to playing live, based on the energy returned to me from the crowd, was in. That transaction is the important part, and that’s what I hoped to capture on the night.”

The last decade and a half has also seen the pace of industry change accelerate exponentially, as the format CD fell from grace to be replaced with not only the like of Spotify, but the revival of vinyl as a viable entertainment, the demand for which newly-founded Irish pressing-plant Dublin Vinyl ably capitalises on. Davey worked with the one-stop record shop on a short-run 12” edition of the live record, and is discernibly thrilled at the idea of desirable, tangible formats making something of a comeback. “They were perfect, it’s the most wonderful thing to happen Irish music. People are more excited to make music now, knowing there’s a viable, physical outlet, and the corresponding excitement amongst the public to buy vinyl and actually play records again is infectious. Who would have thought it! We like real things, it’s a miracle!”

Two new tunes are included on the record, nestling alongside tracks from up and down Davey’s discography: new single ‘Uninsurable’, and formally unreleased song ‘Never Before’. For Davey, it was yet another aspect to add to the live-album remit of providing a document of a certain moment, refusing to constrain the record to a simple retrospective or album of stripped-down rearrangements. “It was a way for me to put new songs out there, while I was excited about them. I’m impatient, and want people to hear something while it’s fresh, and my body is excited to express it, while I’m still in love with the song and before its flaws come crashing home to me. Otherwise it could be another five years before my next record, by which time I’d probably have binned them.”

The live album follows fourth studio endeavour ‘New Forest’, released in 2016. Having had time to live with the final record, Davey is satisfied with its place in her body of work, and says the idea of a follow-up seems a little distant. “I don’t particularly like to think of it (‘New Forest) as a product, and the pressure of it being finished, as you’ve suggested, is too weighty to properly acknowledge… but the album is a snapshot of where my mind was at the time, and for this reason, I’ve no right to judge it now. I’m proud of the concept, the tone and arrangements. The next collection of songs have yet to emerge, as I’m focused on other projects presently. My dictaphone will still fill up with motifs and doodles, but I’m a long way off knowing what I’m gonna fixate on next.

The tail end of last year also saw Davey get involved with ‘Street Lights’, a collaborative album that topped the Irish charts this past Christmas week, with proceeds going to homelessness charities. A success by all accounts, the album was a massive fundraiser for the Peter McVerry Trust and other causes, at a time when they’re needed more than ever. “It’s a pleasure to be involved in projects like this. There’s a great sense of hope from everyone involved, the team are comprised of old and new friends, it’s offering a remedy to a huge problem as long as everyone else does their bit, and donates towards the cause.”  

This goodwill carries into the New Year, a time when most people’s cheer and tidings are exhausted in a post-holiday fug. Davey is set to appear at the Dublin edition of mental health awareness festival First Fortnight’s ‘The Art of Anxiety’ panel on January 9th, discussing the effect and experience of anxiety with others afflicted by the issue in the Irish music industry. “This will be a fascinating couple of weeks, there is so much to explore with the relationship between the arts and mental health. I’m so proud to play just this little role. I really hope people embrace it, and continue to let go of the stigma still prevalent amongst our society where mental health affects our work, family and general health. It’s everything!”

Davey is playing the Ballincollig Winter Music Festival on Thursday 24th of this month at the White Horse, opposite the venue’s own in-house Guitar Club’s Opera House excursion on the same night. For herself, getting down and playing tunes from her songbook will be only part of the weekend’s proceedings. “I’d really like to stay on and see Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin & Lisa O’Neill the following night. I rarely get out to see anything these days, so I must take advantage of playing a festival like this. I’d like to get to a trad session too, I’d recommend anyone in the position to be part of this celebration to come let their hair down, drink a Guinness (or ginger ale) by the fire, and soak up some of our trad culture. Perfect entertainment for a winter night!”

Elaine Malone: “Like a Little Burial”

With her debut E.P. having launched just this month, and her first Electric Picnic appearance under her belt, Elaine Malone’s time has seemingly just begun. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to the singer-songwriter.

As we get to sitting down at a corner of the bar of the River Lee Hotel, Elaine Malone’s gears are already turning for the next step: after a chat here, she’s out to find the manager, to location-scout some of the hotel’s lengthy corridors for an upcoming video. It’s this kind of seemingly innate ingenue – identifying a means of telling a story in the environment around her, and tying it in to personal imagery, that has made Malone an important part of the Leeside scene in relatively short order.

Her knack for storytelling is best summarised in debut extended-player ‘Land’, self-released over the summer. A collection of brittle, alternative-inflected songs given life by Malone’s clear and increasingly confident voice, the E.P. takes in both external stories and internal monologues. For Malone, it was a long time in the making, but the work is starting to pay dividends. “It was kind of overwhelmed with how well-received it was. People were very generous with their time, their reviews, which is overwhelming, because it’s a nice little bonus, but you can’t rely on that (for motivation in the event of a bad review). I try not to read them too much, but it’s nice to have support from people. I’ve been getting some more opportunities as a result, it’s great.”

Written initially as solo guitar pieces, some of the songs on the record were years in the writing and refinement, before being played and having live arrangements worked out over a number of months at open mics, etc. To finally be sharing them with the world, with expanded arrangements with live band members Sam Clague and the brothers Sampson, represents a turning point. “It was such a long process making that E.P., two years from start to finish, and one of those was written when I was seventeen. I’m 24 now. It’s been a long time. And I suppose, in a way, it was like a little burial of them. I just wanted them to be made, and go into the world their own way, just to find a place there so I could free up space in my mind to write more… Because I started quite young, I think there’s a lot of teenage angst, which I’ve come to realise is kind of funny. It’s a timescape, almost, this little capturing of the last ten years of my life, in four songs. I don’t let go of things, until I make a deadline that’s irrevocable.”

Leadoff single ‘No Blood’, recounting the story of the death of Ann Lovett and its societal fallout in a country that had just begun life under the Eighth Amendment, had been a regular part of her live sets, before being released during the Repeal campaign. Having appeared at several fundraisers in Cork for the Together for Yes civil campaign, Malone is beginning to see the song, and what brought it about, in the rear-view mirror. “I feel immense pride, I think, for the Repeal campaign. Everyone that was involved. It was the biggest example of courage I’ve seen on a wide scale. So many women, and so many men, that were affected by (the Eighth) and had shared their stories. And that was such a pivotal thing: is this going to be a new Ireland, or are we going to stay the way we were? Be oppressed and hold on to Catholic guilt. We’re still not at a point where anything has changed, no legislation has been written. I was glad to be asked to play so many fundraisers. I saw how it affected people. There was no triviality to any of it.”

Accompanying the release of the extended player was a pair of visual pieces, in the ‘You’ and ‘Mindless’ promo videos. In different ways, each draws from the city’s landscape and people, with different circumstances bringing out the best in the pieces’ directors and focal points. “The video for ‘You’ was a last-minute thing. Celeste Burdon was fab, she’s a great photographer. Super-talented, and my friend Izabelle Balikoeva, we both had an afternoon free, it was like, ‘let’s get it done, let’s make it impromptu’, and I love improvising in general. Went home to get changed, pick a cool outfit for the video and shit. And then, I’m outside my house in last night’s mascara, looking really manky. Couldn’t get into the house. Door locked. A broken lightbulb in my bag for some reason. Jesus. I just legged it up to Celeste’s house to try and get something together. I don’t think I’ve ever been so uncomfortable (laughs). A couple of months ago, then, myself, Oriane Duboz, Mary Kelleher and Inma Pavon made this video for ‘Mindless’. It’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever been a part of. I suppose I co-directed it in a way. I had this image in my brain of a woman wrapped in plastic, and we were very lucky with where we shot it, it was a lovely space.”

The Cork music community is a tight-knit one, and among dedicated gig-goers and musicians, Malone has been an important part of it: this year alone has seen her open Quarter Block Party, be the first live performer to tread onstage at Dali, and perform at fundraisers for the Sexual Violence Centre. “The city’s so different now from when I arrived. Even the places we used to go to. It goes in waves. A genre grows in popularity and dies off. We’re fortunate to have a group of people that are constant, and are keeping the levels really high. People have space to develop and experiment. There’s some great youngfellas and girls coming out of the city. Jimmy Horgan’s got PLUGD, and the Roundy’s developed a lot more. I’m excited to see more alternative spaces, to be loud and make weird noises.”

With a landmark year nearly sewn up, it’s not too long to go before the next set of milestones presents itself. Malone is looking at 2019 on a step-by-step basis. “To keep tippin’ away. Writing as much as possible. Keep playing. I’m in the frame of mind now where I want to learn more now, about my craft, just being a better musician. That’s where I’m at right now. Maybe a new single after New Year. Just more cool shit like that.”

Elaine Malone’s new extended player ‘Land’ is available now on all streaming services.

All the Luck in the World: “We Wanted to Take a More DIY Approach”

Germany-based folk-pop trio All the Luck in the World have travelled all over the continent and racked up hundreds of thousands plays online, and this month sees them finally ready to come home. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with frontman Neil Foot.

Perhaps the inevitable result of a set of circumstances that saw Ireland declare its young people expendable in the face of economic difficulty, a young diaspora of Irish emigrés scattered across the world over the course of the bad years, taking with them their art and ingenue. Stories are filtering back of the musicians and visual artists that settled elsewhere and took authorship of their roots, as well as their body of work, subverting the ‘wild geese’ narrative that romanticises such displacement routinely. Though formed in County Wicklow, where the band’s self-titled debut was recorded, folk trio All the Luck in the World in the end turned to Berlin for a headquarters from which they could realistically plan tours, and be at a continental centre of creativity.

This relocation has led the band to cut its teeth on touring European venues and festivals rather than building a bottom line at home, but also informed the band’s approach to creativity, keeping busy enough in the interim with live activity to approach second album ‘A Blind Arcade’ the way they wanted, says band founder Neil Foot. “Yeah, we’re really pleased with how the record turned out. The writing and recording of our first album was quite rushed and we were determined to take our time with this one, so there was no real chance of us being unsatisfied with it. In the end we probably spent a little bit too much time sitting with it, but we’re just happy to have it out in the world now.

Recorded between the band’s own ‘Haven’ studio in Wicklow and the Golden Retriever facility in Berlin, the band’s more relaxed approach this time around has resulted in a fine example of accessible folk, with textures alternating from brittle string-plucking and baskmasked chords to sweeps of strings. That cavalier mentality of self-direction prevailed, says Foot. “The creative process usually involved the three of us sitting around, showing each other musical and lyrical concepts, and then developing them together. There was no overarching theme to the record, we just wanted to create a collection of short stories that felt like they belonged together.  A good portion of the record was produced at home, we wanted to take a more DIY approach from the outset. When we were happy that we’d taken the songs to certain level, we brought our recordings to the studio in Berlin, where we worked with our producer Paul Pilot, and then back home to add some finishing touches.”

Since the album’s release in February of this year, some three years after work began on it, the band is happy with how things have been proceeding, with positive reviews and growing crowds at their shows. Sharing in that goodwill has been a big part of how the band has managed the slow trickle of success that’s been coming their way. “We’ve been fairly pleased with the reception online and at the shows so far. We’re always hoping to reach a larger audience of course, and that’s not always easy. But it’s great to go on tour and really feel the reaction to the music, and to meet the people who have been listening.”

Being based in Berlin, as touched upon earlier, creates a different angle on the perception and question of creating within the Irish space, at once being able to say they took a go at wider success, while perhaps not benefiting from the tight-knit structure of community that supports Ireland’s DIY music scene. What’s that like as a cultural, diaspora and business experience? “Of course we are Irish artists, but we don’t have a very strong support network here in Ireland, and we’re still relatively unknown, I think. We’re based in Germany, as is our management, distribution, and previous labels we’ve worked with. Most of our touring so far has been in central Europe, this is our first ever Irish tour actually. But yeah, looking forward we’re hoping to make more of an impact (at home)!”

Said excursion happens over the course of next week as part of a wider swing of UK/Irish dates, including a stop Friday week at the Roundy on Castle Street for a show promoted by The Good Room. Foot collects his thoughts on the upcoming dates, and coming to the Leeside city. “Yeah, we’re really looking forward to all of the Irish shows we have coming up, and it’ll be our first time playing in Cork city. There’s a pretty unique energy to Irish crowds, and that’s always exciting. We played Indiependence a few years back, and the crowd were fantastic, so we know there’s a great buzz for music in the county.”

With their second album in the can and another major notch on their touring belt complete after this run of dates, the question of what’s next is quite straightforward for All the Luck in the World. “After these gigs, we’ll take a few weeks off over Christmas. Then we’ll hopefully get straight into writing lots of new material at the start of the new year. We want to share a lot more new music with people in 2019.”