C Duncan: Heralding the Midnight Sun

Classical composition and contemporary musical reference points collide in the work of C Duncan. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the composer/performer ahead of his Cyprus Avenue show next week.

Independent music is full of stories of self-made musicians pursuing their muses in their own time and space, but very few of these trajectories wind up bisecting the worlds of classical and contemporary composition in the way that Glaswegian musician/composer C Duncan has. Debut album ‘Architect’ showcased Duncan’s way with compositional strokes and earned the songwriter a prestigious Mercury Prize nomination, no mean feat for someone so young at a time when the award’s role in star creation is up for debate. And it all stems from childhood fascination, though having a pair of classical musicians for parents certainly helped. “I have been interested in music since I was very young. At age six, I decided that I wanted to play the piano so my parents got me lessons. Shortly after that I wanted to sing so I wanted to sing so they got me lessons. Shortly after that I wanted to play the viola so my mum taught me… they were very accommodating! It was always me who wanted to learn music and they were never pushy at all, but would help out along the way. I was around classical music a lot as a child but my parents also listened to pop music, so from a young age I was very into both.”

What was the adjustment like from piano/viola to settling into the routine of playing with bands and their regular instrumentation, then? “Having only really performed alone, to myself, it was a fun experience to share it with others. I joined my first band when I was about thirteen as the guitarist and I have loved it since.”

Sophomore long-player ‘The Midnight Sun’ released in October of last year, bringing Duncan copious critical acclaim. Heading back out on the road for another leg of touring has prompted him to evaluate his relationship with his now-finished synth opera. “It’s a strange one. I was so wrapped up in it when I was recording it that I kind of lost touch with what it was about, especially when editing it, having listened to each track about a hundred times. I can honestly say now that I’m happy with it. It is a step up from my debut, and it works better as a whole, as well as being a much more personal album. With every song I write I keep (hopefully) progressing artistically, but ‘The Midnight Sun’ really sums up a time in my life.”

With artistic progress has come progress with the process of creation, and ‘The Midnight Sun’ was written with this experience freshly minted after his debut record. “I wrote a lot of the melodies and lyrics in the back of a van whilst touring the first album. I wanted to release it around a year after my debut so there were some time constraints, but this really focused me. After returning from tour I locked myself away in my studio for about 3 months to record it. I wanted this album to have a more distinct and overall sound than the first so I also limited myself to what instruments I would use, already knowing that I wanted to make a more electronic album. Having spent a year learning and recording the first record, I was a little more clued up this time around when it came to producing and mixing which really sped up the process.”

FatCat in Brighton have been releasing Duncan’s work, a vitally important label for independent music in the UK. Duncan has been on the roster for a few years, and is effusive about their work for him and his output. “They have been really wonderful. I have formed a real friendship with the owner and have been encouraged every step of the way to make the music that I want to make. As such an eclectic label there are very little boundaries as to what I can do musically which is really exciting for me as an artist. I’m sure they’d hate me for saying this but what makes them so cool is is that they are so uncool – they are excited about music that is interesting and genuine, not music that’s going to make them big bucks or one hit wonders.”

Duncan is playing Cork and Dublin next week, at Cyprus Avenue and Whelan’s respectively. The dates open his new UK tour, a thought which Duncan relishes at the outset. “I have only ever been to Dublin in Ireland, which I love, so I’m very excited to see more of the country, given that it’s so close to Scotland. It’s always exciting starting a new tour, and what a great place to begin! We are playing some songs from the new record which we haven’t performed to an audience yet so that’s also rather exciting.”

After the next few weeks, the vista is quite clear – the festival grind, and back to the studio to continue building momentum. “We are playing at a few festivals in Europe over summer. And I have started recording the third album so I’ll be spending the next few months locked away in my studio again! I’m also keen to get into screen printing this year, not that that has any relevance.”

As a parting shot, your writer can’t stifle his inherent, pop-conditioned curiosity regards the world of classical music and the conservatory education, and the question emerges: what’s it like to hear your work performed by a ensemble for the first time? “Absolutely amazing!! My first work that was properly performed was in my first year studying composition at conservatiore. Having spent months writing the notes and putting my all into it, it was exhilarating hearing it come to life. A feeling I’ll never forget.”
C Duncan plays Cyprus Avenue next Thursday at 8pm. Tickets from cyprusavenue.ie and the Old Oak.

Honeyblood: Honeyed Tones from Scots Duo

Honeyblood vocalist/guitarist Stina Tweeddale chats with Mike McGrath-Bryan about their new album, tour footage, and what lies ahead.

It’s a time of expansion for Scottish punk/pop duo Honeyblood. Sophomore effort Babes Never Die has landed on shelves, with the record’s eponymous leadoff single now doing the rounds. What follows in the coming months will be the band’s biggest tour yet, taking in another circumnavigation of the UK, debut Ireland dates, and gigs in Asia and Australia. Vocalist Stina Tweeddale speaks on her relief in getting the music out there and seeing the response it’s received. “It’s very daunting putting out the second record, so, I’m very glad that Babes Never Die has connected in the way it seems to have done. People get the ideas behind the record and that’s more than I could ever ask for.”

The curse of the difficult second album seems to be no issue here – equally spirited and noisy, it amply shows off the pair’s knack for melody. Tweeddale’s writing process was a lot more defined, and the project benefits from a newfound collaborative songwriting process. “Definitely there was a change… I started demoing more, the tracks were coming together with sounds and basslines which didn’t happen with the first record. And of course, Cat is now here to collaborate with me (on drums) which makes all the difference. I guess with this one I had a bit more of a clue of how to go about making an album.”

Taking in the sights and sounds of the band’s touring activity over the past year or so, the video for the Babes Never Die single was constructed entirely from found footage and photography. “This video could not have been made without the help of our fans who filmed and were part of it. It was made over three months of touring the US and UK and also includes a lot of footage that Cat and I filmed ourselves. It’s really just the reality of what our tours are like.”

Touring as a two-piece – how might it differ from heading out with four, five people, in terms of keeping each other’s company almost exclusively in the car/van/bus, etc? Is there a risk of cabin fever, for lack of a better term? “It’s great. We tour in a little van and scoot around! Nowadays we actually do take a few other people on tour, so it isn’t ever just us, but we fortunately don’t get too sick of each other’s company. I think we would have stopped long ago if we did!”

The album has released via Brighton-based indie Fat Cat Records. For a band so attitudinal, what does a label infrastructure offer that the do-it-yourself approach perhaps mightn’t? “We had the opportunity to work with FatCat from a very early stage with Honeyblood. I guess we have really formed a business with their help as a label. I do entirely believe in bands self-releasing though – I think it’s a hard task, but a very worthwhile one.”

April 7th sees the pair head to Cyprus Avenue for the Leeside stop of their tour, part of the run-up to a massive London show at the Koko, the biggest in the band’s run so far. When asked their thoughts heading into their Irish stretch, however, none of this is in mind – the date is a night of celebration. “It’s Cat’s birthday the day of the Cork show! So, I’m hoping we are going to have a very fun night indeed!”

In a time of exponential growth for the band, the summer festival grind comes calling, before the next step of the journey. “We will be hitting a fair amount of festivals this summer and then back to do some writing at the end of the year, maybe for the next album.”

Honeyblood play Cyprus Avenue on April 7. Tickets available now via the Old Oak and cyprusavenue.ie.