Posthumous Celebration for Quiet Star Conor Walsh

CONOR WALSH – a Mayo man who operated with huge niche acclaim on the periphery of a Dublin music scene almost too boisterous to fully grasp his appeal – is to get a posthumous album release of music recovered from his laptop.

Walsh was a country boy besotted with open space and fishing, but was making an unlikely breakthrough into the heart of the Dublin music scene a few years ago. He suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack at the age of 36 whilst at home cooking with his family.

His debut EP, ‘The Front’ had been accompanied by shows at a number of major Irish festivals. friends of Walsh – many of whom have gone on to be influential in Irish music in their own right – had an inkling that he was working on something a bit special in his isolated Mayo farmhouse.

This writer was lucky enough to catch Walsh live several times. His style wasn’t so much that of hooking a room from the first, but one of languid visuals and beautifully slow-building melodies, somehow evoking meaning with little more than a keyboard in the corner of captivated rooms.

Conor’s audiences were in the low hundreds, normally, though he had the ability to quieten a lively Friday night bar in a couple of songs as, one-by-one, his gentle music drew people in. It’s easy to be misty-eyed and nostalgic towards people once they’re gone, but it was clear from the off the Walsh was going to be something big. Critics were already purring.

A couple of years before the release of ‘The Front’, he sent me an early demo of one of the songs from the EP, a gentle, soulful melody that he insisted it was fine to preview for a small blog project. It was, in effect, a soft-launch single. I pointed out to Conor that he could probably launch a new track to far more acclaim, but to him it wasn’t really about that: he liked the project, and that was enough.

The Lee Harveys: Protest Punk.

AS THEIR NAME might suggest, Dublin punks The Lee Harveys – made up of musicians who have been hanging around the Irish punk scene since the early 80s – were originally very much about American political protest songs. An odd niche for a Dublin-based band, perhaps, if one most punks would agree offers fertile ground.

The band are angry, firing off two-minute, politically potent tracks on themes like Israel and Palestine, gun crime and a certain Donald Trump. Their latest EP, due shortly, is entitled ‘Resistance is Not Terrorism’, and – amongst other themes – rounds on Eurovision’s visit to Israel with an ‘alternative Eurovision’ track.

“One of things that I loved about the Dead Kennedy’s was the sense of mischief they had, and that’s what we’re doing here, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons,” guitarist Peter Jones says of the song. “It’s not against the Eurovision, it’s in support of Palestine.”

“We’re not against the Israeli people, we’re against what’s happening over there. I think it’s like holding the Eurovision on the Shankill Road in the middle of the troubles,” Bitzy Fitzgerald explains.

“We have submitted the track to RTE, but we haven’t had a response. I’m not sure we really wanted one. But the whole thing was to make a point about it, really, a bit of subversion and a bit of craic.”

There’s a real punk ethos to the way the Lee Harveys release their music, too, with circumstances seeing the band cram their new ‘EP’ with old classics because they can.

Grace Petrie: “the most authentic art tends to be the most powerful, in my opinion”

Grace Petrie by www.ellylucas.co.uk

You wouldn’t know it by her media coverage, but beneath all of Grace Petrie‘s fiery, political content – which covers anything from frustrations with the left wing’s in-fighting to various civil rights movements – there’s actually plenty of self-deprecation, too.

My personal favourite Petrie track is ‘Nobody Knows I’m A Fraud’. Not because I think she is, you understand, but because it’s a beautifully witty admission that those of us lined up on the side of social progress are often, nonetheless, wallowing in hypocrisy (but at least we’re trying, right)?

I’ve always a had a soft spot for activist music, and presented with wit, genuine intelligence and a fresh perspective (Petrie’s vocal recent noise on behalf of trans people in the feminist community on social media particularly stands out).

The lefty troubadour came to Dublin for the very first time only last year, and she’s back in a few days. I took the chance to catch up with her and see how life’s going, plus how she’s finding all the latest Brexit shenanigans…

This is your second stop in this particular spot in Dublin in less than a year. What did you make of it last time?

It was my first time playing in Dublin and I absolutely loved it. By some miracle I had a fantastic crowd, even though I’d never been over before, and they were brilliant, totally up for it and singing along to everything. So I’m really excited to be coming back.

At the risk of flogging a dead horse, you’re coming over right after Brexit. I think we’re all aware of how hard it could hit the music industry. Do you have any concerns? How do you view it all generally – obviously I know you’re anti-Brexit, but is it getting harder as the time approaches?

It’s funny because in the time it took me to reply to you, Brexit has been pushed back a bit and there is more doubt than ever about what’s going to happen next. Personally it’s very hard to actually believe that it’s going to happen because it’s all so illogical and Theresa May doesn’t have the ability to get a deal through anyway. Then we’ve had indicative votes that produced no solution – it’s all a farce. But I am deeply concerned about what logistically it will mean for touring musicians to isolate ourselves off like this.

Olympia: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”

Aussie quirky-pop singer Olivia Bartley – better known by her stage name ‘Olympia‘ – has an unusual approach to songwriting. Inspired by art and abstract concepts, her tracks draw from concepts like a New York Times article about fake asylum seekers, or the futility of materialism and lust for what you can’t have.

It’s pop with depth, and it’s coming to Dublin in the coming weeks, with Olympia due to support Julia Jacklin at Whelan’s on March 30. I caught up with Olivia before one of her first ever European tours got underway…

I understand these are some of your first European shows, so first of all, welcome. Do you have much idea what to expect when you head for Ireland? What are you hoping for?

I am so happy to be playing Ireland – I have heard Irish audiences are wonderful (and I’m truly not making that up). How else should I prepare – would watching the Commitments again help?

Who knows, maybe! Congratulations on the award nominations recently. How seriously do you take the awards and acclaim side of things?

Thank you! Well I am my biggest critic, and I’m still waiting on an award from myself – so plenty of work to do.

Puy Du Fou – Historical Theme Park A French Gem…

We wake up in our castle, eating our breakfast in a banquet hall below racks of herbs, and head out to explore a town that changes eras as your stroll.

At our first stop, hundreds of birds of prey fly a few feet over our heads, as we listen to the story of a pampered local princess. As we leave, we cross the narrow watery channels that wind down the village streets, past bakers, painters, arty metal forgers, and little castle back alleys. We arrive at the Knights of the Round Table, where a mermaid swims in the lake, a table emerges from the water and then a horse from the table. Arthur is crowned King before our eyes.

This isn’t fantasy. It’s a new kind of theme park, centered on historical re-enactments. Here’s what you need to know about Puy Du Fou

What is it?

Puy Du Fou is a theme park in west-central France, about three and a half hours drive from Paris, (or an hour or so from Nantes, and an hour and a half from La Rochelle). It’s not a theme park in the sense of most that you might have visited. Its chief focus is historical reenactments, which span from Roman times to roughly World War I. The centre-pieces are a series of shows, each anything from 5 minutes to 40 minutes or so long. There are about 18 of them, and you won’t be able to see them all in a day. The entire park, though, is built to reflect the theme, and does so incredibly effectively. Think medieval villages with every character in dress, themed restaurants, entire pre-war villages recreated in impressive detail, and lots of colourful little asides, from play parks to mazes full of creepy talking objects.

It is, in my view, the main rival to Disneyland Paris in terms of French theme parks, though far less well-known than the Disney offering anywhere outside of France. Having been to both, I would argue that Puy Du Fou is similarly appealing to children, but has more to offer adults in terms of wow-factor. Given the choice, it is Puy Du Fou I would return to, and Puy Du Fou I would prefer to spend a longer trip in.

Who’s It Suitable For?

I’m struggling to think of anyone who wouldn’t enjoy the park. Our five year old was slightly intimidated by some parts of the reenactments (mostly a talking tree, actually, bizarrely, but also some of the more aggressive sword fighting), and the late night shows are probably a little too late for some youngsters. Any kid from 4-5 up and any adult who appreciates high-quality historical reproductions would enjoy it, however.

The Shows…

The performances are definitely the highlight of Puy Du Fou. While we were only able to see a handful of them in our stay, we didn’t see a bad one. There’s plenty of depth there, and nothing’s half-hearted – the swords really hammer against each other in the sword fights. The dancers really do splash around in inch-deep water for entire performances.

The volume of birds in the ‘Le Bal Des Oiseaux Fantomes‘ is astonishing; they seem to flood the skies from an old-world balloon, swooping just inches over your head.

In the Roman arena (Le Signe De Triumph), endless animals are paraded in front of you, with humans seemingly mixed in closely with lions and hyenas, and chariots racing around in muddy tracks. La Dernier Panache featured lots of dance, including a surreal horse trot and water flying everywhere.

La Mystere De La Perouse was probably the most technically impressive thing we saw, based in a huge rotating auditorium that sees the actors and stages almost spin around you as they tell a tale of revolution, which features a full cutaway ship, a beach scene and lots of clever lighting. 

We were quite taken with the medieval town and the 1900s French village, too.

We did find the indoor attractions started to fill up quickly when the rain hit, but other than that the park was well spaced out and never too busy to be enjoyable. We spent a day and a half inside, and I could easily have managed double that.

The Hotel

Puy Du Fou is surrounded by a range of different themed hotels operating on the tag line “in which era will you sleep.” These take in Roman Baths, a 15th Century manor house, and even knightly tents. 

We found ourselves in a hyper-realistic castle, which got an added atmosphere out of the surrounding fog. The rooms are quite basic – think a decent bathroom and bed plus a TV tucked away to keep up the re-enactment. Perfect for the little ones.

Our little guy slept on the top of a castle-style bunk bed, and having been put to bed straight from sleeping in the car the night we arrived, woke up incredibly excited. He loved the courtyard view of the castle, the long-drop style toilet (faked, thankfully!) and the little castle features.

Breakfast and dinner were in a big hall complete with a pig roasting over an open fire, herbs and drying meat hanging from the rafters, and servers dressed up in costumes. It was buffet, but in a strange way any kind of full-on service would probably have broken the spell. The bar had local beer and the food was a little more varied than the medieval theme, if not overly spectacular.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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Exploring #puydufou a few days ago…

 

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Any downsides?

I generally found Puy Du Fou to be excellent, but in the interest of balance, there were a couple of things that could have been improved (aside from the weather!). French food is normally outstanding, but I found most of the places we ate in and around the park to be pretty mediocre. Even towards the end of the season, some spots had substantial queues (see below on this), and, as is the case with virtually anywhere like this, the souvenirs – and things like soft drinks – were noticeably overpriced on site.

We also had some minor issues with connectivity on the App, which offers translation from French to English (and other languages) for the shows, but it ran fine 90% of the time, and really added to the experience on balance for us linguistic dunces. All of these are manageable issues, and didn’t detract from our overall enjoyment of the place.

Tips…

We were lucky enough to be provided with a pass that enabled us to queue jump at every attraction, and it significantly improved our experience, as we were able to see substantially more of the events in a short period (The Emotion Pass). Recommended if you don’t have too much time.

The park is far enough from other major French attractions for it to make sense to stay on site if possible, which allows you to talk in and get the full experience of the historical reenactments.

You’ll want to bring waterproofs even if the weather’s good (quite a few rides splash significantly), and plan a long day, as some of the events only work after dark, and so start very late (though you can make a good day without seeing these – see them as add-ons).

It’s worth planning your core shows early on, as you’ll find quite a few clashes to deal with. A couple are ‘walk around’ things, and are good gap-fillers. Book ahead if you plan on going to the restaurants, they get busy.

If you can go off-peak, do. there are price differences available even by going midweek instead of at the weekend.

What’s the damage?

Entry to the park starts at €36 for adults and €26 for children (it is cheaper to book online, though you can just turn up). Hotels vary quite substantially depending on your choice, see the Puy Du Fou website for lots of local options. The Pass Emotion is an extra €15, but probably will increase what you can see by a couple of activities. There are discounts available for large groups.

Full disclosure: our family trip to Puy Du Fou was gifted in part by the regional tourist office, for the purpose of a feature article in an Irish regional newspaper (separately from this blog entry). We did pay some of the costs ourselves, and this trip came with no provisos, other than that a story would be published on the park. The gifting is not a factor in the above comments.

100 Mile February

100 miles in a month isn’t something I used to find overly difficult. I mean, I’m not suggesting I did it all the time, but I did it enough times when I was in my early to mid-20s that it wasn’t that huge of a deal. And then along came the mini man, and any kind of fitness crashed out of my life.

I can’t lie, I shamelessly stole this idea from a local charity (I’m going to be a little too honest here – one someone I’m close to used to work for, and they didn’t treat employees at all well, so I didn’t actually sign up, I just did the distance. I’ll give to someone a little better, I promise).

Anyway, I found this quite motivating. I timed it poorly. I don’t think I’d run more than 6-8kms in one go in over a year going into this, I finished it with four 10km runs in consecutive days, having stumped myself with my brother’s stag. I can’t pretend I found that easy.

Major pros: the point of this is to form a habit. I hope it will continue, but I have found that running on lunch breaks at works is a great way to get some exercise in, and I’ve no idea why I didn’t do it before. Having to run naturally adjusts my diet for the better: there’s no temptation to eat stodge when you know you have to run for 45 minutes not long afterwards, because it hurts.

I’m still slow – around 26 minutes for 5k and significantly slower per km for a 10k – and I have a lot of work to do if I’m going to get around a Westport 10k I’ve signed up for in July in a decent time (hills!). 

Still, a noticeable chunk of weight lost (about half a stone) and I feel a lot better about myself after all this. Progress.

Say Sue Me: “It was like being naked, to express my thoughts in the language I know best”

Hailing from the bustling but relatively musically quiet South Korean port-town of Busan (where I once ate some of the weirdest seafood I’ve ever come across), Say Sue Me might sing in English, but when they drop in on Dublin in May, they’ll be a long, long way from home.

It’s rare that a South Korean act make it to our shores, and rarer still that one is backed by niche indie label Damnably, and featured on Pitchfork. They might be playing the modest Grand Social venue, then, but Say Sue Me are well worth a night out. I talked to vocalist Choi SuMi ahead of their show… 

Note: there’s a little ‘Konglish’ in the replies to this interview, which I decided to leave in, as it’s all fairly easy to understand, and adds colour to the interview, I think. 

I look forward to seeing you in Ireland – what is it like to come and play shows so far from home? 

We look forward to seeing you, too! Every time we tour overseas, it is always wonderful to know that there are people who listen to our music in such a far away place. It is difficult to go so far, but it always feels better after the performance.

Do you have any special expectations for this tour?

We go to Ireland for the first time. Trying for the first time is always exciting. 

I remember my life in Korea (I lived in Seoul for two years) as being a lot about drinking. You write a lot about drinking. Do you enjoy the feeling of fun this gives your songs? 

There was a time when I drank lots of alcohol. I can not help but the lyrics contain things that have dominated me at the time of creation. It is good to remember myself at that time.

Most of the world sees Korean music as K-Pop. You are certainly not K-Pop. How do you see that kind of music?

There is a reason for the world to pay attention. It is a great ability to grasp the taste of the public in a rapidly changing world.

Obviously most of your shows take place in Korea. What made you decide to sing mostly in English? 

At first I tried to write lyrics in Korean but it was too difficult. It was like being naked to express my thoughts in the language I know best. I chose the easy way to complete the song.

Gilbert O’Sullivan: Still Firmly Rooted, Naturally.

IN THE 1970s, flat-capped crooner Gilbert O’Sullivan had quite a reputation. Seen as something of a thinking man’s Elton John, or a modernised lyric-writer aping Randy Newman, O’Sullivan delivered snappy pieces of melancholy pop with poetic twists, cleverly touching off issues like poverty and heartbreak all at the same time.

19 albums later, and O’Sullivan’s back in the limelight: his new self-titled release has been BBC 2 Album of the Week, won broad critical acclaim, and seen the Waterford-born singer – raised in the English industrial town of Swindon – enjoy something of an Indian summer.

Beneath the pop melodies and affecting love songs, O’Sullivan’s always had a bit of a political bent, as it happens. It’s unchanged in years, and like his songwriting, the best of it is quite indirect, obliquely leaning on politicians, or directing eyes to injustice.

“I’ve always done it,” O’Sullivan says, “but I’m not there to preach, so I prefer to be a little subtle. I have songs about 9/11, songs about terrorism, and poverty in Africa, and on this album, Donald Trump. I’m not there to tell people what to think, though. I’d never get up on a podium at a political event or anything like that. I don’t think it actually helps anyone.”

After nearly 50 years in the business, the 71 year old certainly knows the impact of his songs, however. ‘We Will’ is one of the great takes on personal darkness. He also has the subtle cultural attack and gentle poetry of ‘Nothing Rhymed,’ and the brilliantly gentle ode to loss ‘Alone Again, Naturally’. O’Sullivan has affected much, but, in terms of songwriting, he’s little changed.

“I follow the same process I always did,” he tells us. “I write the melody at my piano. In the past, that was a dirty old stand up and it’s a bit better now, but I still do it the same way, recording the music onto a boombox as I go.”

“I don’t add the lyrics until I come to record a song. For this album, I had all the music, but spent two months writing the lyrics before I went into the studio. I had played through the music for the record company, BMG, just singing whole-hearted gibberish over the top, to check they wanted to be involved.”

“The lyrics come last because they’re always changing according to the time. Once they’re recorded, they stay the same, but before that they keep evolving. I often have two or three different versions of a line going into the studio. Otherwise, lyrics can be out of date.” He now has his own personal studio in Jersey, the only high-end one on the island, where the most recent record was recorded.