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Glimmermen: “Sometimes it’s hard to get your head around why we do it”

A diverse band who claim to dabble in ‘primitive rock and roll’, Glimmermen have been dabbling around the Dublin music scene for some time now, earning a reputation for a sparkling live show and an ability to flit in and out of genres, yet produce an amazingly coherent whole.

Their latest album ‘Here I Stand’ is a vinyl-only release that serves as an exploration of love and exploration of the world’s flaws. I spoke to guitar and vocalist Gav Cowley about the story behind it…

Congrats on the new album. Can you tell me a little of the story behind the release, and a couple of the key tracks?

Thank you very much. The album was recorded at the beginning of this year, 11 of songs at once in love and aghast at the state of the world. For key tracks, the current video/single ‘It’s Nice’ is out at the moment is a good starting point and of course the title track. What you get with Glimmermen is a lot of different styles – the thread that runs through our output is melody, decent hooks, quirky lyrics, and I think with this album in particular a lot of heart.

How does a typical Glimmermen song come together?

Sometimes we will have ideas in the room all together , sometimes I’ll come in with an idea for a song and we go at it, bend it around, take it somewhere else, we have the benefit of all our individual musical influences and different reference points. We are all big music fans.

The video for ‘It’s Nice’ is quite a concept – would it be fair to say you’re not too bothered by things like the charts?

I think all we want to do is do what we do. We would love the opportunity to play more gigs. We love playing music together and whatever else happens is a bonus.

What does constitute success for the band these days? You’ve been around a while, have you noticed much change in the Irish music scene in that time?

Success? hmm..As an independent band, we are happy with a gig that went well, we are very happy if someone likes what we do and tells someone else. We like when people buy what we put out and also it’s nice to get the feedback on the output which leaves you enthused to continue, to do better.

Three albums in, how do you feel you’ve developed as a band? You do seem a little less bluesy than the old three-piece these days?

I think the heart of what we do is still there, but there’d be something wrong with a band if they didn’t develop, refine things, build on things. We certainly always wanted to expand what we do into the area of brass arrangements and I think with the addition of Trumpet and Saxaphone to what we had has taken things into a new place.

You have a reputation as a really strong live band. Is that something you prioritise – are songs written with the live show in mind, for example?

Sometimes..sometimes songs will grow to fill the space your in. I know with the first album ‘I’m Dead’ we were rehearsing in a very small room. There is a lot going on in the first album but there is a claustrophobic, frenetic quality to the songs…thats just one example but obviously you are hoping to play the songs to an audience even an audience of one so we do both..we play our hearts out a gig, or in the studio when we record.

JAWS: “We have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice”

Birmingham dream-pop act JAWS were the source of a lot of local hype a few years ago when they burst onto the scene with a series of extremely enticing demos. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the band since, taking in the realities of moving out of home and getting jobs, as well as touring extensively and learning to be self-sufficient.

I talked to singer Connor Schofield about the journey so far…

You talked a bit around the release of the last record about how your situations had changed – growing up, essentially, and having to move out, get jobs, that kind of thing. That’s got to be a bit of a reality check in a sense. Do you think you can hear it in your music?

Kind of, the main thing that’s changed is time, we have less of it, but it also means we can be more patient and take our time with writing and making sure the songs work.

The Ceiling has been out a few months now. Are you happy with how it’s done?

Very very proud of it.

I’d imagine it can get quite complicated reproducing some of the texture of the record live. How do you deal with that?

It’s not as tricky as you’d think, we have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice.

Do you feel like the process of recording and reproducing records in a live setting helps you develop as musicians? How do you compare to the band who started out?

100%, with The Ceiling we learnt to play them together after recording which we’d never done before, we all learnt a lot from that, probably not to do it that way again, but still was an interesting way to do it.

TOUCAN: “I think it’s becoming a ‘thing’ to have a load of people on stage”

TOUCAN are one of the rising stars of the Irish music scene, a kind of Motown-loving, glorious throwback of a band, big enough to seem like they were formed with a healthy disregard for the practicalities of touring, and lively enough to instantly engage. Their second EP, ‘So Easy To Love You’, is released on November 22, and showcases the ever-expanding talents of frontman Conor Clancy.

Clancy is one of those vibrant showmen who consciously evokes with his every word, a kind of curator at the head of a talented ‘army’ of an act that hang out funky licks and flowing, pop-tinged grooves. Known for a spicy, frantic live show, their rise looks set to continue in the coming months. I spoke to Clancy about the journey so far…

Congratulations on your rapid rise, how have the past months felt for TOUCAN?

Thank you! It’s been an absolute dream. Once the Summer started, it was like someone just turned on a tap and we were getting the craziest gigs. We opened for Nile Rodgers & CHIC in Dublin, played the Southbank Centre and the Royal Albert Hall, a cracker of a gig at Electric Picnic and we’re just back from New York. It’s just been so much fun!

Let’s pretend I’ve never heard your music for a moment. What do TOUCAN sound like, and how do you hope audiences will take your music in?

Well, I’d hope that most people enjoy it in the same way most Motown music tends to go down – most people would say Motown is hard not to love. It’s just feel-good, the hooks have you singing and the grooves have you moving. For me, while the music is so important, I’ve always been huge about lyrics and making sure the imagery is right. I think it’s an element that can sometimes be overlooked, but the imagery used in a song can be a hook too.

Can you tell me a bit about your forthcoming EP, and the story behind it? Does it feel like much of an evolution from the debut for you?

For sure! It definitely is a step forward for us in terms of how the whole things sounds and sits together. I think between the writing and recording of the last EP and this one, I’ve grown hugely as a musical director and as a producer. It was actually really cool being able to communicate exactly what I was looking for, and having the language that I once didn’t have to be able to tell someone what I was trying to achieve, both in the broader sense of how the tracks were supposed to sound and what the ‘voice’ of the EP was supposed to be, and in the more specific sense in each take how I wanted things to be delivered. There were still a bunch of times where I wasn’t sure how to say something, and in those moments you just have to chase it, but we got there in the end. Probably all down to the patience of the performers!

Is there an album on the horizon?

Definitely, but the horizon is probably quite some time away. As an independently funded band, even recording small EPs like this is a huge undertaking financially, so I’m not sure how the numbers would work for an album. If we were able to land a deal, I think it would unlock quite a few doors that would lead to an LP.

I understand you played the Sofar Sounds Liberties show recently (I live down the road but couldn’t wrangle a ticket!). That kind of event is a fantastic way of catching live music. How did it feel to play?

Ah, it was great. I always find those sets are way more nervewracking than the bigger shows. I’d much rather play to 2000 people than to 20 because I’m less nervous! It’s just that microscopic sense that it’s your every move being watched. But, having said that, the crowd were so lovely. I did a singalong for the first tune and they were all so up for it, it was actually really nice.

What about the New York showcase – how does it feel to ‘rep Ireland’ at that kind of show?

It’s always cool when you’re representing where you’re from. It gives the gig a whole different feeling and you have like a bigger responsibility to perform when you’re there. It was great craic, the crowd were all mad into it and the place was hopping at the end. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had envisioned playing to like 15 people – but the room was packed and the atmosphere was deadly.

Stomptown Brass: “bit of an audacious task looking back, but we wanted to host a funeral for the truth”

Stomptown Brass are an eight-piece, sometimes-conceptual brass band famed for their live performances. The Dubliners, in short, are a bit nuts, a lot of fun, and probably far enough from the conventions of popular music that theirs will be a slow but intensely rewarding journey around the fringes. They always look like they’re having an absolute blast.

If I were to start a band, they’d be a bit like this. I caught up with them to see how it’s all going; here’s what Brian Ryan of Stomptown Brass said of their journey so far…

Hi lads, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. How is life in Stomptown Brass right now?

We’re getting a couple of laughs together for our new tour that’s kicking of this month. Having spent the summer practicing new music and getting some recording sessions down we’re looking forward to sharing with your eardrums.

Can you tell me how all this started out for you, and what you thought might come of the idea back when you started?

During the end of our college days, our pal James O’Leary (aka Mr. Music Man) brought a few of us together for Murphy’s ice-cream on Wicklow Street to tell us he wanted to first learn how to play the trombone and second, start a brass band to play his compositions. One of our first tunes was called Rutland Blues in honour of our first practice studio that suffered a collapsed roof causing us to move out fairly lively.

Obviously you’re very much focused on producing a really strong live show. What are the key elements of that, in your views?

We don’t set out to produce or engineer a strong live show. We just aim to incorporate new elements to our shows that we’re interested in and we put a good bit of welly in to try to get it the best we can. Requiem for the Truth show was our first attempt at this, incorporating theatre or something entirely new for a brass band performance. A Show Curious Eyes & Ears was an attempt to make our music more accessible to children (and parents!), and with this new upcoming tour we’re trying something entirely new for us. So hopefully at least two people out there will like it; then bingo, hello international stardom.

Twisted Wheel: “I had issues in the past, but I got the help that I needed and I have changed my lifestyle for the better”

Twisted Wheel are a Manchester institution. Beloved of Liam Gallagher and having gone through a series of ups and downs, playing huge venues and falling apart due to drug problems before recovering to their current touring status, the four-piece have a devoted following away from the radio play world of 21st-century indie.

I spoke to frontman Jonny Brown about the band’s redemption, and the journey so far.

First of all, you took a bit of a break a while back. Have things been any different since you returned?

Massively. The dynamics to the music industry is totally different to how it was ten years ago, and I believe social media has a lot to do with that. We are living in a new age generation where sounding and looking great isn’t the only factor to success as a band, your social media has to look the part too; which in some cases I don’t mind, as I can be more intimate with fans at a click of a button.

You seem pretty confident about the contents of the next album – what constitutes success for you guys at this point?

As an unsigned band, I’m pretty proud of the achievements we have made all on our own and any success big or small we achieve at this point whilst we are unsigned, let’s us know we are heading in the right direction. To name a few big successes: one is getting a number one in the physical charts for our last EP, ‘Jonny Guitar’ and being personally asked to support Liam Gallagher at both Manchester and Finsbury Park, based solely on the fact he enjoys our music. I was also pretty chuffed to hear my all-time hero Shaun Ryder said we were one of his favourite bands to come out of Manchester.

It’s been quite a long time since you last put out a record. Obviously lives change, perspectives change. Did you take a different approach this time around?

Definitely. I’ve grown up a lot. Learnt a hell of a  lot through my mistakes. Developed a better way of living and adapted my creativity to the music industry we have today.

Slowthai: “There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it”

‘There’s Nothing Great about Britain’ reads the title of Slowthai’s debut album, the cover of which features the man himself in a rustic wooden stockade, restrained naked before a large block of council houses as the occupants look on. 

If you know a little about the history of the Northampton rapper – a rising star of the increasingly pervasive and hard-hitting British hip-hop scene – it’s easy to see why such sentiments would appeal. Slowthai – Tyron Frampton to his friends – was brought up in a tough estate in the East Midlands, and struggled through early life. He’s determined to pay back those less fortunate.

“The 99p tour, it’s because that’s the price of an ice cream,” he laughs about his incredibly cheap recent UK tour. “I don’t want people to miss me because they can’t afford it, you know?”

There will be plenty of people fighting for tickets for the hard-hitting lyricist, a man who’s abrasive style has seen him come on stage in body bags, make videos featuring him wrapped naked around his girlfriend, and produce cutting lyrics dealing with how at one point in his life, drug dealing seemed like the only realistic career choice.

“I did some dumb stuff and I was going nowhere,” Frampton laughs. “I was doing some labouring and working in Next. I got in trouble for giving my friends the employee discount. It was a difficult life. There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it.”

Frampton found a way out, though, his almost skittishly varied music drawing the attention of the notorious tastemaker poll, BBC Sounds, where he was ranked fourth most likely in British music in 2018. “That was weird,” Slowthai says. “They just called me and told me I was on it. I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve got a lot more attention since, I guess, but these things don’t really matter. I want to be a musician, I don’t really care about that stuff.”

London African Gospel Choir: “Graceland just seemed perfect for the sounds and message of the choir”

Graceland is, for me, quite simply one of the best albums ever made. I’ve never had the time nor the talent to study the music of Paul Simon’s classic back to front, however, so I’m somewhat in awe of a group of musicians who would use their collective talents to adapt it into a beautiful interpretation of the original. Enter the London African Gospel Choir, who have worked with everyone from Tom Jones to Idris Alba in their storied journey so far.

Crystal Kassi, the choir’s founder, told me all about their exploration…

Could you tell me a little about how this project came to be?

Towards the end of 2016, the Columbo Group, who run the Jazz Café, approached us and asked us to cover the album. They had asked us to do cover other artists such as Kanye West, which wouldn’t have been a good fit, but Graceland just seemed perfect for the sounds and message of the choir. It was only supposed to be one show, but it sold out within a day, so we ended up doing 6 shows over 2 weeks in the Jazz Café, Camden and XOYO.

Does it link in with previous projects the choir have done?

Not really, we’ve covered a few songs here and there when they were requested, for corporate events. For example, when singing alongside the Soweto Gospel Choir at the O2 Arena. Graceland was actually quite a challenging project for us, but we’ve used it to push ourselves, and it’s shown us how much we are capable of.

Do you have a personal affinity with ‘Graceland’?

I always loved the album, especially the richness and colour of South African music.

Is there a specific person assigned to play Paul Simon in the performance, or is it a shared role? What about the guest vocalists on the album?

No, we have 8 incredible singers who share the lead vocals throughout the show. Some songs, like Crazy Love are sung as duets. We include Miriam Makeba’s Retreat Song, which was performed in Paul Simon’s 1987 African Graceland Concert.

Obviously, there are some quite substantial South African links on Graceland, which turned out to come at a great time for him. Musically, do the influences stand out to those more familiar with the South African music scene?

Yes, especially amongst the musicians, who are really invested in their art, so would look into the styles of Paul Simon’s band. However, they are all also heavily influenced by the music from their own specific countries, so the audience will get the South African foundation laid by the original composition, with hints of Congolese music, high-life, and East African
tones too.

Dan Sheehan: “I have been becoming increasingly aware of how greed is allowed to cause the air we breathe and the water we drink to become polluted and toxic”

Dan Sheehan, an American rocker with distinctly Irish roots, is currently on a mission to draw awareness to growing global issues through his deep-diving political album ‘Tales From Earth Incorporated’.

In it, Sheehan steps away from his pure rock background and instead dips into a more international sound, taking aim at the corporations that he sees damaging the world around him, and taking advantage of national assets. Green themes, from climate change in general to rising sea levels and an attempt to build a Wallmart next to a Mexican heritage sight fill his lyrics.

With his own musical heritage including a host of musicians who’ve toured alongside Morrissey, Pearl Jam and Yes, Sheehan doesn’t think he can change the world, but is happy lending his voice to an ever-expanding choir of discontent.

Let’s talk about the eco side to your music as, obviously, it’s a big thing for you. The world seems to be coming around to the idea that being green is really important, slowly. How did you come to write a whole album about the idea?

The album is more loosely about the effects of greed on the world, which inevitably brings up what’s happening to the environment. Over the last several years, I have been becoming increasingly aware of how greed is allowed to cause the air we breathe and the water we drink to become polluted and toxic, and I find it insane that we should allow this to continue, so I wanted to raise awareness about just how devastating climate change is, and we also touch on matters such as indigenous rights, which is an important issue in the Americas, and the American refugee crisis which of course also relates to the European refugee crisis.

Can you tell me about some of the people and places you speak about in the album?

There are two songs about Mexico, one called “Teotihuacan” which is an Aztec name for a town with famous Aztec pyramids, next to which Walmart (one of the big American chain stores) wanted to build a large store which was done despite historical zoning and environmental concerns via a massive bribing scheme . One is “Cross the Border” which is both about guns crossing the border from the U.S. to Mexico, and then people crossing over to the U.S. as they flee those very guns. The Pacific Island of Kiribati as while as the Maldive Islands and Bangladesh come up in the song “Wishing Well” which is about how these three nations deal with the rising sea levels from climate change. Two songs are about Africa – “Black Gold” is about Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa and others who were scapegoated and hanged after protesting oil drilling off the coast of Nigeria in the ’90s, whereas “Kimberley” is about Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe forcing men, women and children to mine for diamonds to fund a counter-rebellion. There is also a song about the displacement of indigenous Brazilians currently occurring called “Dam That River.”