The Shaker Hymn: “There’s No Redoing Things”

New single ‘Dead Trees’ sees Corkonian poppers The Shaker Hymn in hollering, apocalyptic form. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist Caoilian Sherlock about the process behind the band’s upcoming third album.

It’s one of those odd things, independent music: for a wide umbrella of music that prides itself on creative freedom and cultural autonomy in order to help progress the overall artistic discourse, there’s also no shortage of revivalists of various stripes, putting a new lease of life into previously well-worn sonic tropes. It’s been hard in the past to look at Corkonian psych-poppers The Shaker Hymn and not get some degree of the warm-and-fuzzies: emerging from teenage adventures in the folk and alternative genres, second album ‘Do You Think You’re Clever?’, self-released last year veered wildly into tape-hiss, big sounds and the kind of vocal harmonies the like of Supergrass would have been envious of at the outset of Britpop. It was a mix that intrigued a lot of people, and preceded a furious touring schedule in small towns and small venues all over the country, before the band took a breather to try other things and collect their thoughts before readying another salvo of new material.

In that context, then, the band’s new single, ‘Dead Trees’, is something of a surprise: though the hard-won authenticity of fuzz and hiss is granted permanence via recording directly to analogue tape for the first time, it’s something of a beast of its own. Vocalist/guitarist Caoilian Sherlock, a naturally happy-go-lucky fellow, drops the youthful distrust of the band’s post-Millennial fug in favour of fire-and-brimstone doomsaying, warning of an uncertain future, in direct contrast to his fine fettle as we meet at L’Attitude on Cork’s Union Quay for a natter. Sherlock is relaxed about the response the single has met with at the band’s gigs so far this winter, a return to live activity that foreshadows an upcoming third album. “It’s been good. I forgot what it was like to do gigs. We hadn’t performed in about a year, except for one gig in Belgium where we tested out all our new songs. It’s nice. The songs are different. It seems boring to other people, but they’re longer. I guess we’ve given up the idea of trying to impress anyone else, I think. When you’re a bit younger, you try and write something to get in the charts, or something. We’ve been doing that since we were sixteen. We’re twenty-eight, twenty-nine, now. The point of us being in a band to give us that expression that comes from being together, so there’s less rules and a lot more of a democratic process going on between the four of us. The intention is to make the most exciting thing we can.”

The process of creating music for record is obviously far different now than it would have been in the days of the band’s broader influences, and in trying to put down a document of where they are at present, the outfit have opted to keep recording their third album on tape, in order to instill the same sense of urgency, immediacy, and the finality of limited takes into their tunes. “Music nerds will be like, ‘oh, how exciting!’, but for those that don’t really care about the music recording process: we’ll be recording to tape, like they did up until the late Eighties, early Nineties. It means everything has to be done live. That’s exciting for us, ’cause it’s a different process, there’s no sitting at the computer and redoing things. If you sound good or bad on the day, it doesn’t matter: that’s what happened, and that’s really exciting for us. We recorded two albums in three years and before that tonnes of EPs, so the recording process can get a bit flavourless, so for us, this is a bit of spice,” smiles Sherlock.

‘Dead Trees’ itself touches on some fairly hefty business, shifting creative focus from bon-vivant appraisals of the maladies of twenty-somethings in the binds of austerity and ladder-pulling, like in previous single ‘Trophy Child’, to altogether broader subject matter as mentioned at the outset of this piece. The question is: what prompted this turn for the thematically heavy? “’Trophy Child’ was on our last album, and I couldn’t help but write about things that were going on around me. All my friends were going away to the UK, leaving Cork to go to Dublin, go to Australia and New Zealand, coming back, then going to South East Asia… much of that album was about that lost kind of feeling, not that I was lost staying in Cork, but a lot of people around me were having the conversation of not knowing where to go. So a lot of the songs were about that. This time around I wanted to write from a more thematic point of view, as much as I could, but not so personal, more universal. So, I was doing a lot more travelling, as this album began to be written. I got to go to Iceland and LA, and other places I’d never seen, new landscapes, so I wanted to write something about nature, and the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t not write about the world after Trump, and Brexit. There was a heavy feeling at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so there’s a lot of that on this new album. There’s also a lot of joy and excitement, and a feeling of ‘ooh, what’s gonna happen next?’”

The band’s recent downtime allowed Sherlock to spread his wings on a solo basis as Saint Caoilian, releasing his debut one-man effort, ‘The Faraway’, earlier in the year. Away from a shared creative process, Sherlock’s tendencies toward lovelorn pop, bearing the hallmark of power-pop pioneers like Big Star, are writ large all over leadoff single ‘I’ll Be a Fool For You’. It led to a massively busy summer of gigs, both in support of his own record and of fellow Corkonian troubadour Marlene Enright, and with the ball rolling on the endeavour, there’s little stopping him from continuing his path inbetween bursts of band activity. “I’m recording another EP this December! It’s funny, the reason Saint Caoilian came about was because I had about fifty demos at home. They weren’t going anywhere, and they weren’t necessarily Shaker Hymn songs. On top of that, I’ve been in this band since I was sixteen, you can’t expect three other people to travel all the time, can’t expect them to drop everything because you’re anxious about your life. I wanted to travel for the summer, so I recorded an EP that gave me an excuse to do just that. The process of the Shaker Hymn will take another year or so, but with Saint Caoilian, I can do everything in a week or two, book some dates.”

Sherlock’s tour of duty over the winter also extends to festival management of one of Cork’s most important festivals, Quarter Block Party, transpiring this year from February 2-4th along the city’s historic spine. Among the first wave of acts announced so far for the Main Street community extravaganza are comedienne Alison Spittle, fresh off her new work with RTÉ, and Waterford post-punks Percolator, returning to the city after launching recent LP ‘Sestra’ on Cork-based label Penske Recordings. Rolling out more announcements, fundraising & organising for the event itself will occupy Sherlock’s entire remaining free time for the winter, and he’ll not be able to raise his head above the parapet much. “Between here and Quarter Block Party, I can’t see much further than that. Keep the head down over the Christmas, then Quarter Block Party on the first weekend of February. After that, maybe sleep for about a hundred years?”

The Shaker Hymn’s new single ‘Dead Trees’ and Saint Caoilian’s extended-player ‘The Faraway’ are both available now across all digital services. Quarter Block Party tickets are onsale now, more info and lineup updates at quarterblockparty.com.

Soulé: What Do You Know?

After a busy debut year, Dublin singer-songwriter Soulé is ready to take on the world, and it starts with a headline slot at the Jazz. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.

It’s been just over a year since the debut show of singer-songwriter Samantha Kay, under the nom-de-plume of Soulé and, propelled forth by a wide range of soul, hip-hop and R&B influences, already HAS quite a number of achievements and milestones under her belt: national radio play, features in national print & online music media, and a nomination for the Choice Music Prize for debut single ‘Love No More’. On the eve of her debut Cork headline show – as a festival headliner for the Jazz, no less – it’s little wonder that Kay’s head is spinning at the minute. “The last twelve months have been crazy and quite overwhelming, in a good way. I haven’t had much time to sit and take it all in, because a lot has happened. But I’m so grateful for the love and support that I’ve received. It honestly means so much and it’s very motivating.”

‘Love No More’ became somewhat of a sleeper hit last year, appealing to both more discerning musical sensibilities and a wider audience on the way to the aforementioned Choice nomination. Its dichotomy of personal lyrical material and big production turned heads, and Kay explains the end result came on a creative whim. “’Love No More’ started off as a ballad that I wrote on my keyboard. That explains why the lyrics of the song are quite emotional. When it was time to record it, we decided to turn it into something fun and uptempo. I thought that it would be cool to turn a sad ballad into a dance track.”

Follow-up single ‘Troublemaker’ passed a million plays on Spotify this past summer, a rare occurrence even in a supposedly-democratised environment of on-demand audio still under scrutiny for the prevalence of playlisting for casual listeners. Kay outlines the importance of the medium to her as a listener, and defends it as a necessity for new artists. “As a listener, digital streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music & SoundCloud help me discover new artists that aren’t as well-known as the big names. It gives new artists like myself a fair chance to get their music heard.”

‘What Do You Know’, her most recent effort, has also gone down a treat, including single-of-the-week laurels from the Irish Times. It’s also shown that Kay’s wave of initial momentum may add up to more than the usual cycle of hype that surrounds some artists’ very early work when breaking down industry doors. “I’m very humbled by all the positive feedback I’ve received for ‘What Do You Know’. I was so excited for the world to finally get to hear it because I was so proud of it. I wrote that song as a conclusion to the ‘Troublemaker’ story, and it came together so well.”

Even at this early stage, Kay’s success has seen her begin to be feted as being at the forefront of the new wave of soul, electronica, hip-hop and R’n’B in independent Irish music, a wide spread of sub-genres that are collectively entering something of a golden age, along Loah, Jafaris and others. Kay has her thoughts on her place in this moment for Irish music. “The Irish music scene has always been booming in terms of rock and indie music. We are just adding to what is already there. It’s a great time for music in Ireland right now, and it’s great to see so many more new artists come out with quality music. We work so hard to be heard, and it’s finally happening. I’m just so grateful to be a part of it.”

The team behind Soulé’s success has been Dublin production trio Diffusion Lab, an active trio of producers and performers based in Dublin, boasting a fingerprint all over Irish hip-hop/R&B via collaborations with Soulé, Jafaris and many others. A far cry from creatively dictatorial studio producers and big-talking Svengalis, DFL function as a collaborative one-stop shop for artists, offering everything from production and co-writing to consultancy and graphic design. “Diffusion Lab has been my family way before I ever considered releasing music. We’ve been family since 2014, ’15. I’ve learned so much working with them, and we have so much fun together. The main motto we have is to always have a positive mindset and to always put in the work in order to succeed. Working with Diffusion lab has been awesome and I can’t wait to see all the great things they achieve.”

Soulé is playing Cyprus Avenue on Thursday October 26th, the eve of the Jazz Festival’s kickoff proper, having being formally announced as a headliner for the event. Collecting her thoughts heading into the event, she says: “I’m very nervous and excited all at the same time. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I love the energy that a Cork crowd gives. So, I’m excited to sing for them.” She then goes on to play her biggest headliner to date, next month at Dublin’s Button Factory, just over a year after supporting fellow Irish hip-hop breakouts Hare Squead there. Smiling, when asked to sum up how the time inbetween has been, she simply says: “The last year has been: unexpected, fun, crazy and exciting.”

Shrug Life: “There’s a Small Victory in Articulating Absurdity”

Observers of the mundane, be-moaners of the grind and fond custodians of lo-fi pop propulsion, Dublin trio Shrug Life have been doing the rounds for a few years now, and with 2014 E.P. The Grand Stretch long since committed to the review pages, the long-term project of putting down a full-length has finally come to fruition. Recorded in 2015-2016, the semi-eponymously titled album, sees the band address their mission statement in more detail, marrying a slow seethe at the state of play with some genuinely excellent power-pop. Vocalist/guitarist Danny Carroll provides the context for the band’s complaints regarding modernity.

“Shrug Life is the shared hobby of three man-children from Dublin, and collectively, we started stumbling into song in the summer of 2014. At this time, I was permanently lamenting my spirit-sapping career in the cancellation department of a TV & broadband provider. Keith (bass) was jumping from temp job to temp job and secretly hatching a plan to become a meme-worthy emoji translator, and Josh (drums) was committed to going on the session at every music festival in Ireland. He managed about nine that summer. Thankfully, we’ve been able to tolerate each other since then.”

The band is very obviously influenced by the Irish tradition of power-pop gems, including a love for the Undertones, as well as the lo-fi pop scene in Dublin. Lofi staple Fiachra McCarthy (So Cow, Dott, Squarehead), then, must surely have been the best possible hand at the production tiller. “Fiachra is a good man for reference points. His knowledge of music is encyclopaedic and his love for guitars unending. He’s also a big fan of using a mini-megaphone he bought for a tenner in Tiger, and open to the notion of using a 1watt Fender mini-deluxe for recording guitars. What more could we ask for?”

The band’s focus is heavily set on critiquing the current way of things for young(ish) people and the failings of Irish society, gleaned from their own experiences and the common experiences of our generation in (post-) austerity Ireland. How does one settle on a more, for lack of a better term, light-hearted approach to heavy topics? “There’s a Keith Richards quote I like: “rock n’ roll’s great weapon is humour”. In theory at least, it makes the message easier to listen to. There’s a small victory in articulating the absurdity of Irish society. In the bleak gags and self-deprecation, I’m trying to diminish the power these factors have over my life. Maybe in acknowledging its ridiculousness it becomes that little bit more tolerable.”

A highlight of the record is the joyfully riffy ‘Temp Job’, a koan to the shitty side-jobs that serve as distraction from our own callings and an Elastoplast over the shotgun wound of unemployment. It also showcases the band’s real strength – gentle observations of topics that, while not a tonne of bricks in the short-term, are just as crushing and grinding as the more immediate social concerns. Carroll outlines the creative process and considerations behind the commentary. “Every song tends to demands its own approach. Something consciously political and outwardly focused usually takes a bit more research and reading – it’s less instinctual because you’re trying to distil a bigger, social topic into the confines of a lyric. You start to ask questions of over-simplifying things and the perspectives sacrificed to fit this subject into a song. However, I think with any polticial/social commentary it’s about humanising the impact of the issue. How do macrodecisions affect myself or others on a micro level? “Personal ennui” can also take time to express, but it’s certainly a more navel-gazing process. Those songs have more to do with taking ownership of your own shitty situation or nagging conflicts.”

Pro-choice homily ‘Your Body’ seems more relevant than ever off the back of last week’s March4Choice. Carroll has no issue discussing the obstacles facing the Repeal campaign are now that Leo Varadkar has called for a referendum, including the attempts at tone-setting that official Ireland has already tried to get a start on before the formal date is announced. “If the marriage equality referendum is anything to go by, the next few months could be very difficult – anti-choice campaigning will inevitably rely on scaremongering and distortion of fact. Organisations such as ARC are excellent in helping people consider the facts and myths surrounding this issue. There’s an obvious obstacle in the fence-sitting taken of Varadkar and others, but the March For Choice last week chipped away at my pessimism. It’s funny, we were playing in Galway recently and I was accosted by a 50 something man who waited all gig to tell me my belief was wrong and he’d been about to buy our album but would no longer do so, because of our pro-choice stance. I politely informed him that I would rather express my belief than have his money. That night he messaged us on Facebook to re-iterate “any band that promotes the killing of unborn babies should have been aborted themselves”. Seems like a contradiction in terms there, but that’s just one microcosm of the idiocy we’re up against.”

Considering how irrelevant the idea of the seemingly unending “death” of rock’n’roll is, does even entertaining the argument for it in ‘Japanese Bonus Track’ kind-of validate the kind of tedious rhetoric that the aul’ lads that complain about guitar music being “dead” come out with in lieu of bothering looking for new tunes? Ah, but I love “the aul’ lads”. I’m complicit with and repulsed by the nostalgia surrounding “rock’n’roll”. I make music documentaries for RTE Radio 1, and the first significant one I made was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. I enjoy the notion that rock n’ roll is permanently dying, or now graduated to the stage of niche old man concern like jazz. The song is also a comment on the endless commodification of this once rebellious concept – be it bloated Beatles reissues for granddad or the overpriced summer festival for junior. All that said, you’re quite right, if you think it’s dead, you’re probably disconnected from what’s happening around you locally. Stop moaning, go to a gig!”

The band is working with Little L for the local release, a prodigiously active label for physical releases in Ireland at this stage, and Seattle-based Jigsaw Records is handling the album’s international release. Carroll outlines the plan from here. “Young Callum Browne is the impresario behind Little L Records. A good friend and guitar nerd. I suppose his contribution boils down to caring about what we do – going to gigs and encouraging the endeavour where most others are indifferent. He’s doing a few tape cassettes for anyone who owns a car made before 1995. And for anyone who owns a car made from ’96 onwards, there’s the compact discs of Seattle’s finest, Jigsaw Records. The latter came about at the suggestion of Tuam tunesmith Brian Kelly (So Cow/Half Forward Line). I asked him for advice when the album was complete and he suggested Jigsaw. Yet again, their optimistic assistance surpasses the embarrassed disinterest of the rest of the world. The plan is to muddle through as we always do… then world domination. Maybe beg Aiken or MCD for a support, get ignored by Hard Working Class Heroes, y’know, the usual.”

The Dublin launch of the record happens on the 20th at the Grand Social, with Limerick’s Slow Riot and local boys Handsome Eric supporting. Coming off Galway and Belfast launches, Carroll is happy to finally be playing the home leg of the album’s launch excursion. “It’s actually these scant few gigs that make the thing real and worthwhile to be honest. We’ve gotten to meet so many pleasant people from different parts of Ireland over the last couple of years, and it’s those connections that justify all the other slog. We’ve wanted to play with Slow Riot for a couple of years now. It was actually a mutual friend of ours, Brian Morrissey, who encouraged Josh (drums) and I to play together in the first place. Handsome Eric is the project of the enviably young, talented Steve O’Dowd and features the aforementioned Callum B on drums. His songs remind me of how I felt at age twenty, but had no capacity to articulate. Suffice to say, we’re hyped to have a party with our friends… you’re all invited.”

Ganglions: “We Might as Well Make a Thing of It”

Melding the smarts of math-rock with a warm but smart-aleccy pop streak, Sheffield/Cork trio Ganglions have come into their own in the past year or so, marking the release of debut EP Fetch! with their maiden Irish excursion, including an appearance at this year’s Quarter Block Party in Cork. This week sees the trio return to Ireland for a string of dates to launch follow-up extended-player Thirsty, including dates in Dublin, Galway and Limerick and a return Leeside engagement.

A few days removed from the main swing of gigs after the band’s appearance at last weekend’s Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, singer/bassist Eimear O’Donovan discusses the creative process behind their new offering. “It was quite a similar process to (writing/recording) Fetch! Generally we write the music first, starting with a guitar riff, and then ideas for lyrics come from somewhere and we put the two together. I guess one way it differed was that we had a bit of experience writing together this time around, so it was a bit quicker and a bit more comfortable. My Wife Won’t Stop Flirting With Me was written entirely by Chris (Saywell) on guitar, Brian (Scally) and I put drums and bass to it and then we recorded the instrumental track. We then sat in Brian’s bedroom/makeshift recording studio and brainstormed lyrics and vocals for a few hours, recording them at about 1 AM when we were happy with what we had. It’s a bit of a risk because you could come back to it with fresh eyes and find out that you hate what you’ve done, but luckily that didn’t happen.”

Releasing digitally via Sheffield collective Audacious Art Experiment, Thirsty also features as the A-side of a double-sided cassette, release with Fetch! rounding out their discography to date on the flip. O’Donovan is enthused about the format’s continued renaissance, and to have the first E.P. appended to their new work. “Tapes are great. They sound different to digital, there’s a different sound quality to it compared to vinyl, or anything else. There’s a real resurgence of tapes as a format in the DIY scene as they’re so cheap and accessible and small and dinky. We would have loved to have done vinyl but cost and time constraints meant it wasn’t possible this time around. We self-released Fetch! on digital only last year, and we always really wanted to do a physical version of that E.P. I personally don’t like physical releases that are only a couple of songs, it seems wasteful. So, doing a tape with 8 tracks on it, it feels like there’s enough music there to make it worth peoples’ whiles. Buy our tape.”

With one foot in the Steel City’s DIY scene, and the other still firmly planted in the Rebel County of O’Donovan and Scally’s sonic upbringing, one could be forgiven for getting the band’s elevator pitch muddled up, especially with the band’s voices sitting over a somewhat different sonic palate than the high-velocity Irish math-rock of recent times. “We usually describe ourselves as Sheffield/Leeds math-pop-rock-punk-something etc., as two of us are based in Sheffield and one in Leeds. Sheffield and Leeds are really close together, only an hour’s drive apart, but both cities have a really distinct DIY music scene. We like to keep the Cork connection though, I’m from Cork city and Brian from, Clonakilty so that’s where our musical education and experience and influence came from initially. I think that’s important to nod to that. Also we can’t really hide our literal Cork accents so might as well make a thing of it.”

Ganglions’ tunes revolve around homelier topics, ranging from the joys of mundanity to pearls of general knowledge, with live favourite Chindogu serving as example. Meanwhile, Thirsty provides commentary on some weighty topics, from the idea of authenticity, to heteronormativity as marketing pitch. O’Donovan gets into the nitty-gritty of subject matter and concept. “We just try not to take ourselves too seriously. We love playing music and playing gigs, and making people nod and dance and smile and laugh. We like to write lyrics collaboratively, where we try to make each other laugh and hit upon the thing that’s warm or silly enough without being too ridiculous. Chindogu, for example, is just a great thing, the Japanese concept of useless inventions.”

Math in Ireland is in an odd place – with exponents like Adebisi Shank and Enemies now in the history books and veterans like And So I Watch You From Afar more active on the world stage, it’s a time of transition for the genre, in which O’Donovan sees much reason to be hopeful. “There seems to still be things happening for math-rock in Ireland – the Fecking Bahamas Ireland compilation was testament to this. You’ve got great bands like The Redneck Manifesto, Yonen, Alarmist, Leo Drezden, so while we can’t really say from a distance whether it’s a cohesive “scene” or whatever, it seems there’s still the interest there at least to some extent. I have huge respect for bookers and promoters who put on and support this kind of music in Ireland, as there’s significant risk attached to promoting something so niche.”

Merch is obviously vital for any independent band’s operation, acting as both promotion and petrol money, but Ganglions’ shirts to date have been adorned with a resting, unsmiling yet seemingly contented visage, peaceful yet pensive. “That illustration is by the very talented and wonderful Jess Thomas. It’s inspired by some of the imagery from Chindogu, the “face splash guard / to keep your shirt neat” lyric. If you look up chindogu on Google image search some very funny images appear of Japanese useless inventions. How could we not write a song about them?”

This week’s whip around the country sees the band accompanied by Dublin instrumental math outfit Chancer for a double-headline tour, kicking off tonight in the Bowery venue. O’Donovan outlines the band’s mindset heading into it. “We are excited and ecstatic to be playing around Ireland! We’ve only played Cork before, and now Clonakilty, so to be playing Dublin, Limerick and Galway for the first time is class. We love Chancer’s music and I’m a big fan of Rachael Boyd’s solo stuff, so we are excited to play many gigs with them.” Their homecoming is merely a pitstop, though, ahead of the next chapter of their onward march, with more releases and touring in the works. “We hope our next release will be on vinyl, and we want to get writing an album quite soon. We’ve played gigs up and down England but want to do a cohesive tour and take in lots of places we’ve not played yet, as well as hopefully making it to Scotland for a few gigs.”

Hermitage Green: “We’re Very Bloody Lucky to Be Doing This”

Hermitage Green vocalist Dan Murphy speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Townlands Carnival, following up their debut album, life on a major label, and more.

The run-up to this year’s Townlands Carnival is another in a long series of winding turns for Limerick-based folk-rock outfit Hermitage Green. Formed in the earlier part of the decade, the five-piece have been on a slow, but steady upward curve that’s taken in festivals, European touring and time with Sony Ireland among other milestones. But to vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dan Murphy, it’ll always be just something that emerged from a jam among buddies. “The way we came together was natural, as friends do. We all had jobs or college at the time, but we all loved music. It was literally as spontaneous as ‘let’s get together tonight and have a jam in the Curragower, which is myself and Justin’s older brother’s bar in Limerick. We used to just sit in the back room and jam. The five of us that turned up – Dermot, our bodhrán player, joined us a little bit later – we just used to do that, for a couple of months, and that developed into going out into the front of the bar, where people could hear us. For us, that was a huge step (laughs).”

In the intervening six years, the band has set about establishing themselves as a draw for fans of contemporary folk around the country and further afield, but despite some recent downtime to record their next extended-player, the band are no more tired for looking back at the road they’ve travelled. “It’s a strange industry to find yourself involved with, to be honest, the music industry. Strange industry. Constantly changing. Sometimes it changes for the better, sometimes it changes for the worse, and it gets harder for bands to make a living. We’re very privileged to be able to do that between five of us from touring, do gigs, and have punters come in and pay money to see us play music. We’re very bloody lucky to be doing this at this stage, but that’s where our heads are at. We have to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves that this came from something as humble as the back of a bar in Limerick.”

The band signed to Sony in 2015, and released debut album Save Your Soul via the major label. Coming along at a time when hooky, accessible acoustic music was becoming as vogueish as it is presently was a blessing for the band, but also presented challenges in terms of the mould with which artists of this ilk are presented. “To be specific about Sony, they were really good to us, for the most part they were hands-off the creative process, they weren’t too pushy. There’s the stereotype of the evil record company coming in and forcing you into a mould. They gave some direction and said their bit, and then left us to it. That was nice, because you do hear horror stories.” On the difference between independence and major-label engagement, Murphy observes the wider picture, and the future of the music business. “It’s certainly not essential anymore, given the power of the Internet. It has its drawbacks in that people don’t go out and buy CDs anymore, but if you can put something together that will engage people, whether it’s an album or your live stuff, it’s really easy to get your music out to the masses and build on it. All we’ve ever done is work hard and keep traction on our social media, which is really a way to get your art out there.”

With the record out for over a year, and with the follow-up now in the can, Murphy is quick to address his goals for the new record when discussing how he feels about the band’s debut. “We’ve just finished recording what’s going to be our next E.P., we’re releasing five tracks in October. The energy around the E.P. was a response to what we didn’t like about Save Your Soul. There were lots of things we liked about it. But there were some things about it that didn’t represent us the way we would have liked to. It was five years in the making and we were a band that, up to that point, had never had any luck getting on radio, etc., and you hear a band that was frustrated with that. We started writing our songs to be three-and-a-half minutes, we were chasing that, which is a bad way to make art. It’s too contrived, and it’s not very natural. It shows in parts of the album that people didn’t really like, that didn’t really resonate with people. It becomes formulaic, and we definitely learned from that. Don’t try too hard, make music you love, that represents you and your identity as a band.”

Any band is the sum of its parts, and Murphy’s journey has been eclectic, going from being a teenage metaller to travelling to Kolkata, India to study the local traditional music of the area. A radio-friendly folk combo sits awkwardly among all of this, but for Murphy, the band has been a labour of love. “I’m very proud of everything we’ve done. I’m still learning, all the time. Particularly songwriting, I was never a natural songwriter. I was late taking up music, didn’t do it ’til I was fourteen or fifteen. Now, I’m not an amazing musician by any means, but if you give me an instrument, I’ll pick it up relatively easily. But songwriting was always something I found really challenging. Hermitage Green has really forced me to step up to that and hone that craft. We’ve all done that together and become stronger writers. In terms of my journey as a musician, Hermitage Green has been the chapter where I’ve had to kick my own ass with songwriting and go, ‘come on, no excuses, stop procrastinating, sit down and write, express yourself'”.

Hermitage Green play the mainstage of Townlands Carnival in a few weeks, and Murphy has a few picks of his own for the weekend. “We were down there two years ago. It was brilliant, just such a cool little… micro-festival that pops up in rural Cork. It’s grown a lot the last two years, but it really has this bespoke feel, campfires everywhere and wigwams. One of those things where you almost hope people won’t find out about it so it’ll stay the way it is. It’s still at that level where they’re still left-of-centre but they’re progressing nicely. The lineup is awesome. Our own Limerick brethren, the Rubberbandits, are on (Saturday night), I’ve got mates coming from the UK, they’re in a band called Slamboree. As well as domestic acts, there’s a lot of cool international stuff coming in too. We’re watching our calendar and hoping we have the nights around it off, so we can stay and party.”

After the festival grind, Murphy’s got his thoughts firmly set on returning to the grindstone of the record release cycle. “We’re doing a couple of mixing sessions in London (this week), to hopefully get the E.P. boxed off. There’ll be a single coming out in the next six weeks, with a full E.P. coming out in October. I should let Cork people know, we have a big announcement for a gig coming very soon. We’re playing the Olympia in Dublin on the 22nd of September, and we’re going to the U.S.! We’ve got a U.S. tour in August, and some other stuff we can’t talk about at the minute (laughs).”

Hermitage Green play Townlands Carnival on Saturday July 22nd, appearing on the Main Stage at 8pm.

Brushy One-String: “I’m An All-Purpose Person When It Comes to Music”

In the lead-up to his upcoming appearance at Townlands Carnival festival in Macroom, YouTube star Brushy One-String talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about his life, his music, and how a chance encounter brought him his fortune.

The story of Brushy One-String’s ascent to musical notoriety wouldn’t go amiss in the canon of the great musical underdogs: the orphan child of musicians, including famed reggae vocalist Freddie McKay, Andrew Chin’s own journey of musical self-discovery led him down several creative cul-de-sacs, but while dealing with illiteracy and other external issues, developed a keenly-honed balance of reggae fundamentals, soulful vocals and wider musical reference points. The one thing he needed was a hook, something that would mark him out in an island with a surfeit of musical talent. Then it came to him in a dream. “I got a vision one night that I should play a one-string guitar. When I went to tell my family, they were all laughing, but my uncle’s girlfriend said ‘Oh, dreams do come true. Take your guitar out and play with one string’. So I took my guitar out, and I began to practice, and I became the perfect one-string guy. Practice makes perfect.”

Melding the reggae archetypes with bluesy grit, and the aforementioned winks in the direction of soul and American roots music, the persona of Brushy One-String emerged from Chin’s eclectic explorations, espousing a journeyman blues painted large in broad musical strokes. A wider palate of sounds and stories had always spoken to Chin growing up. “I love reggae, I love blues music, R’n’B, love songs. I love the stories they told. If the beat is up to my tastes, I’ll be interested. I’m an all-purpose person when it comes to music.”

This approach was informed by the breadth and depth of music with which Chin was surrounded growing up: his family’s prominence in music locally aside, instruments, records and other points of reference were all around him as he grew up. “I started when was a teenager, I loved the drums. My grandma, she had a church, and I had to play the drums, like every Sunday. After that, I played drums professionally, standard drums, conga drums, tambourine. Now I play all my percussion with my one-string guitar (laughs).”

The big break Brushy received came from a chance encounter with documentary film-maker Luciano Blotta. Blotta had come to Jamaica to film Rise Up, a piece following the fortunes of three young artists over the course of five years, in rural recording studios across the island. As the documentary process was winding down, Blotta happened across Brushy outside a studio, and was compelled to film a performance of his song Chicken in the Corn. Initially tacked on to the end of the documentary, the clip itself became a YouTube hit, documenting his oddball, percussive play. Said success led Blotta to track Brushy down again and seek to represent him to a wider audience. “That was really magic. I was in Mandeville at the time, I’d just spent five years in England. I was in studio and I’d seen this white guy with a big camera, y’know, was videoing everybody. And I was so broke, I really did want the money. I walked over and I was like, ‘’Ey! White guy! I’ll sing you a song. I took out my guitar and I played him Chicken in the Corn. That was the first time I met him. I forgot all about it, then I heard he’d come back to Jamaica for this documentary he was making. I’d see him in the street, but I didn’t recognise him. He was looking for me, because he wanted me to play something else again. I didn’t recognise him, so I approached him with the same approach as the first time. ‘‘Ey white guy, what’s up, I want to make some money.’ He was like ‘you don’t remember me? I recorded Chicken in the Corn. I’m going to put it up on YouTube, I need you to sign these papers, etc, etc.’ I couldn’t read properly, so I just signed the contract, and thought nothing of it. He called me up three weeks later, and said ‘you’ve got 30,000 views, we should do something about this’. I was like, ‘WHAT?’. We did the first album from there.”

A life-changing experience like this was bound to impact on his career, and so it went that Brushy put down that first album with Blotta’s help, bolstered by a wide reach to a larger audience courtesy of YouTube. The question must surely have hung over Brushy’s head of how this change would affect his career, but found his message was perfectly suited to bring writ large. “It was a difficult change for me, because I was gone for five years. When I got back, I didn’t know what to do for an audience to know that I’m here. I tried (a few things) and went on Jamaican TV, than Luciano called (and the video went viral). Everyone was like ‘this guy is different! A one-string guitar!’ It got wild. The song itself, Chicken in the Corn, isn’t a generation thing, it’s for old and for young, talking about good people and bad people, ups and downs, in a fun way, y’know? It’s reality, you try and do the things you love and people will try and take you down, try to stop you. It’s easy to explain to anyone, and everyone can relate.”

Brushy takes on another EU tour this summer for the festival grind, including a stop at Townlands Carnival, happening next month in Macroom. With a couple of years of worldwide touring under his belt, he’s enjoying the road and looking forward to the event, some pre-gig jitters aside. “I’m nervous every so often, but I always try and that creativity to get the confidence to go out, start and finish.” It’s the last hurdle ahead of the next chapter in his ongoing story, with new material on the way and the challenge of maintaining longevity ahead. “Right now I’m working on a song as we are speaking. I’m working on the next album. I want the next album to have a full sound, and to be able to take that and put it on the road.”

Brushy One-String plays Townlands Carnival, from July 21st-23rd in Rusheen Farm, Macroom. For more info and tickets, check townlandscarnival.com.

Gavin James: No Bitter Pill

On the eve of his return to Cork after the biggest year of his career so far, Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Marquee-bound singer-songwriter Gavin James.

Gavin James cuts an excitable figure as your writer greets him at his room in the Clayton Hotel on the quays, ahead of his date at the Marquee. Part nervous energy, part enthusiasm, James’ manner and talkative nature comes across as a man keeping things in the moment and downplaying the hype around him. He might as well: this time last year, the Marquee was the biggest crowd he’d ever played, this year, it’s just one stop on a tour of major venues around the country before pressing more flesh around Europe. Stopping to take stuff in is only a perk of the job. “Yeah, definitely the first one. I was bricking it, obviously, as it was the biggest, and five thousand was the biggest I’d ever done as a headliner, but I went onstage, and I was thinking about it two minutes before I was playing. I was looking at the crowd, they were like “yeah!” and screaming. You’ve all those little moments, the 3Arena was the same. You can’t really say anything to the crowd, you’re just looking at them. It’s mad. Sometimes you have stand up there and go “ah, this is pretty cool””.

Of course, James has done his time around the world, toured the US with pop superstar Sam Smith, and is now about to head out to Europe on his first extensive headline excursion. James is in good spirits about the slog that awaits. “We’re starting in Berlin. I haven’t done much in Germany before, so it’ll be a learning curve, ‘cause I’ve only ever done one tour of Germany before, and my German’s pretty s**t (laughs). The likes of Holland I can’t wait for, ‘cause we’ve done so many gigs there, just did (major Dutch festival) Pinkpop, and same with Belgium, and it’s really nice to go back to those places.” Pinkpop is a firm favourite of James’. “‘Maaaaazing. Mental. I remember watching on TV years ago, like Counting Crows and everybody playing it. I was going on at, like, 2.50 in the afternoon on the main stage. I was like “who’s gonna come?” But I walked out, and it was one of those things where you play the first song and everyone runs down. I looked down for a few seconds, and I looked up, and the whole field was full, like 80,000ish people, I was freaking out.”

While away in the U.S., James also did the chat show circuit, included The Late Late Show with James Corden. Explaining the process and how it differs from a standard live appearance, James starts off with aspects like performing to camera. “I tried that. I’m shite at that (laughs). The stage plan is always kinda nice. James Corden was lovely ‘cause he was so chill. Sometimes they only give you a certain amount of time, sometimes they’ll give you two and a half minutes to finish a song. You have a four-minute song, so you have to cut it and learn it again. It’s strange. Sometimes in Europe, I just say I’ll do it and go out and play. Most of the time they run the credits over your face. Which I’m fine with! But it’s strange in that you’re not giving your full 100%.”

Gavin James is currently signed with Capitol in the United States, and Sony Music in Europe, having previously operated independently. What are the differences between self-releasing material and being signed to a big label, and what are the challenges, creatively, of working within their framework/business model? “It’s different. The likes of Capitol will put everything into it. Even the video and such, it’s a really full-on approach, if they really believe in something, they’ll throw everything at it, to every radio station, and they’ll go at it. There’s a difference there, with grinding away. I’m used to grinding away, from pub gigs, to doing Whelan’s and selling 20 tickets, to doing Whelan’s again and doing 200 tickets, and eventually selling out, and then the same thing in Cork, with Cyprus Avenue. Whereas with Capitol it was a different scene for me, they were interested in getting me on a Sam Smith tour (chuckles), and it was really quick, you’re doing all of this really quick.”

As a relative new arrival in a major-label stable in 2017, James is in that weird spot also, where he is on a major label, but pushed with the new business model, somewhere between kids streaming on mobile, vinyl-revival hype and CD-buying mammies. James holds court on the matter. “Spotify is the main thing now, isn’t it? Spotify is huge. It’s the one thing that’s brought me to so many different audiences. I was worried, I was thinking would be like YouTube, y’know, where you’d have millions of hits and nobody comes to your gigs. Stuff like that has happened to so many people. Spotify, surprising, really brought people to gigs, with the likes of remixes and stuff, all the playlists, with like a hundred million plays or something, that brought people to the album, brought people to the shows. It brought a bit of spark to it in America, where it really wasn’t there. CD? It’s funny, in America, there was a girl (at one of the gigs), sixteen, maybe seventeen, and she asked ‘have you not got any of those vinyls, you only have the old CDs?’ (laughs)”

Cork has played a big part in James’ rise as an artist, with a local following reflective of his story elsewhere: small crowds over time turned into sellouts at Cyprus Avenue, as he developed a rapport with the venue and a loyal following before taking a giant leap for Live at the Marquee. James picks out a few of his highlights from trips to Leeside: “The Crane Lane Theatre. I’ve been there a lot. Tried swing dancing at the classes there, I was terrible at it. The band there was amazing, though. Jack O’Rourke is savage. I’ve seen him on telly, doing that song, Silence. He’s very Tom Waits.”

Friday July 7th sees James return to the Marquee after last year’s sellout show. In the time intervening, of course, much has happened, and James recounts memories of the day, and what’s changed this time around heading into it. “Anything back home here is always a bit nerve-wracking. That show I was brickin’ it, ‘cause it looks a lot bigger inside than it does outside. You go in and it’s like, “f**k it, that’s big”, the biggest one I had done was the Olympia. To go from that to the Marquee… the bleachers make it look massive. People are gonna be sitting up there at the top, and you hope you’re gonna be able to play for them a little bit. All I remember is doing the soundcheck, feeling great, feeling great, feeling great, then two hours before: f**k. Just got really bad nerves, usually I get bad nerves twenty minutes before, get tired, I need to wake myself up a little bit before the adrenaline kicks in. I learned loads. A learning curve to talk to that many people. You can talk to people in the Olympia, but you can only get away with so much there, same with festivals. I tried bantering and got laughter from maybe the first three rows, so the shorter the better, the easier to understand.”

With a hectic year behind him since, and another big tour on the way, James has more to look forward to once the summer festivals cool down, with a follow-up record to debut album Bitter Pill to finish. “Back to the States. I’m writing the album, finishing the album now, the second album. I’ll take the month off in September, just feck off somewhere, and start recording. It’s gonna be very stripped back. I wanted to strip it back so you can hear everything, and do it live. ‘Cause you listen to a Van Morrison record, you can hear everything. All the notes you’re f**king up in, they’re nice, ‘cause it’s human to f**k up. It’s cool to have that on records. I want to make it how it’s not… too many things.”

Gavin James plays Live at the Marquee on Friday July 7th. Doors are at 8pm, tickets available via usual outlets.