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False Heads: Political Noise Rock On The Rise

From supporting The Libertines to being hyped as “young, talented and going places” by Iggy Pop and mentored by former Ramones manager Danny Fields, few up and coming bands can claim the level of hype surrounding Londoners False Heads. Formed in 2016, the trio of school friends produce brutally energetic punk for the masses, and are gathering momentum off the back of a single EP, ‘Gutter Press’, released in 2017, alongside a couple of singles.

Unashamedly political and unafraid to speak their minds, they are nevertheless openly appreciative of the strength of their journey so far. They’re working on putting together the album to back it all up.

I put together a feature version of this interview for the Dublin Gazette, which you can read below, but it was also a rare case of an extremely well-answered Q+A, which I think deserves publishing in full. So here’s everything the Londoners had to say…

The Ramones former manager has been a big part of your early career. How has that helped?

Danny Fields has molded so much of our popular culture, it’s unbelievable. He was involved with Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, The Doors, The Ramones and he was ahead of the curve that he was fired multiple times for not getting a ‘hit’ out some of those artists, artists that went on to shape our popular culture. So, to have that man say the things he does about us, is just humbling and it’s such an honour to have become his friend. He introduced us to Iggy and the support from Iggy has been incredible and he has put us under the nose of everyone he can, we’re eternally grateful and it’s helped incredibly.

How have your earlier bands played into False Heads?

Well, it’s just experience. Barney and Jake being in a band at school is obviously going to strengthen
their relationship as a rhythm section and make it easier to slide into being into a new band
together. Also, I just think more than anything, the experience of being in a band at school makes
you realise how brutal and frustrating the music industry and being in a band can be, and that’s
something that is vitally important.

Joshua Radin: From TV to Your Radio

Joshua Radin is one of those singers that a lot of people know without realising they do. A sentimental, storytelling singer-songwriter known for his living-room-like stage setup and soulful themes, Radin’s found a niche in TV music: the background to heartfelt scenes in medical dramas ranging from House to Grey’s Anatomy, and summer teen outings like One Tree Hill.

The Cleveland, Ohio Native’s biggest album came in 2008. Smash hit second LP ‘Simple Times’, sold close to half a million copies, and he’s been living on the same simple premise ever since.

“All my songs are pretty much journal entries set to music,” Radin tells us. “I think that’s why people respond to them. Because if you’re making yourself vulnerable as a writer, you connect to more human beings”

“I pretty much listen to my dad’s old vinyl collection. A lot of Beatles, Paul Simon, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison. My style hasn’t really changed so much over the years. I am who I am. I don’t have plans to change.”

The TV show appearances have drawn in much of Radin’s audience, and come almost out of the blue, perhaps attracted by the emotional and self-examining content of his music. This pours out in tracks like ‘I’d Rather Be With You’, the video for which was directed by Scrubs star Zach Braff, or the Sunday-morning happy buzz of album tracks like ‘Friend Like You’.

“The TV stuff comes about when I release an album and then get contacted by someone who wants to use a song in something,” Radin explains. “It’s great exposure for someone like me who is completely independent, because I don’t have the label machine pushing my songs on to the radio.”

The Ten Best Acts I Saw at Boomtown Fair 2018

Wow, what a festival! I’m hoping to get to a full review of the madness that was Boomtown 2018 later (because a review would only be at most half about music, which is a great sign for a festival in my view), but for now I’m going with what’s become the traditional ‘best bands’ post, which, to be honest, I write as much for the benefit of my ailing memory as anything else.

As you’ll probably gather from the below, I’m not someone who was drawn to Boomtown by its massive beat-driven lineup, though I did enjoy a few non-descript DJs later in the evenings. I found the glory in it to lie largely elsewhere, from obscure tents where 40 people watched gorgeous jazz sets, to comedy guitar northerners playing to mud-splattered courtyards. In fact, I approached this in a different way to almost any other festival I’ve ever been to.

We skipped out on Gorillaz after two tracks, as we couldn’t get close enough to the main stage to hear them at a decent volume (perhaps the festival’s only major flaw aside from uncontrollable weather was the main stage sound). I only saw three acts that appear on the top five lines of the line-up poster (see right). But this was all kind of epic. Here are my highlights, from the obvious to the less so…

Sleaford Mods

Sure, I’m probably telling you nothing with this one – the secret’s long since out – but what a band, despite one of the two of them basically spending the whole set pressing play on  Macbook. Charisma by the bucketload, controlled anger and viciously brilliant lyrics that forcefully takedown culture’s ills. I could watch Sleaford Mods running commentary on British culture unfold for an age, an hour wasn’t enough…

Capdown

I used to watch Capdown play tiny pub back room stages in Salisbury as a teenager and bounce like an idiot, so I headed along to their set on Saturday night largely for the nostalgia trip. Little did I know they’d grown wings, converted the always excellent buzz track Ska Wars (below) into a real belter, and were now able to fill a really quite chunky stage with manic fans. It went off. Class.

The Five Best Bands I Saw At Europavox 2018 (Clermont-Ferrand)

Clermont-Ferrand is a small town – a touch bigger than Galway – in central France. It’s famous for its dormant volcanoes, which dominate the skyline, and for its rugby team, ASM Clermont Auvergne, who currently compete in the Pro-14, and lost the European Cup Final in 2013, 2015 and 2017. There’s also a stunning cathedral hewn from the lava rocks of the nearby volcanoes sat in the town’s heart.

Every summer, the town hosts Europavox Festival, a four-day event that’s part media meeting, part music festival, and part cultural promotion. It draws bands from all over Europe, picked out by local experts to be promoted beyond their immediate local fanbase. I was lucky enough to be asked to come and check them out (I’ll also be contributing to their website on Irish music in the very near future).

As I only connected with Europavox in the last two months or so before the festival, I only made the Saturday and Sunday, so a small disclaimer before I start: this list is based on only two evenings at the event, and not the whole four. That means I missed some of the bigger names at the festival, including Norwegian breakout star Sigrid and awesome (and ridiculously named) Brit-rockers Cabbage. The only Irish act booked had to pull out, too, so there was no Rejjie Snow to enjoy.

There’s something fantastic about short, ‘show us what you can do’ slots from bands all over Europe, though, so I saw quite a few great bands in short form. Here are the ones that really caught my eye:

Σtella (Greece)

Athens electro-pop sung in English by a tight, vibrant band with the capacity to surprise. Σtella would be a little bit samey if they stuck to the same old electro-pop schtick all the way through. Instead, they delve into some extended prog-rock interludes, lay off the synths every so often, and really engage with those in the front row. Frontwoman Stella Chronopoulou is intensely charismatic, which obviously helps, too: technical problems early in their short set couldn’t do a thing to stop these guys.

Secret Garden: An Instrumental Career Built On 90s Eurovision Stardom

Unquestionably Ireland’s most famous ever Eurovision took place in 1994. As well as an Irish win, through Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan’s ‘Rock N’ Rolls Kids’, a far more lasting legacy was established through the first-ever performance of Riverdance at The Point.

Because of the win, the contest returned to Dublin in 1995, a Eurovision long thought to have been deliberately lost by the home team, due to the cost of hosting the event the following year. In an odd twist, though the winner that year, Secret Garden, has substantial Irish links. Irish-Norwegian instrumental band Secret Garden (representing Norway) had met at the contest in 1994, and through their unusual (for Eurovision) haunting track ‘Nocturne’, brought a little Irish glory through violinist and Naas native Fionnula Sherry. The band have always lived apart, working together across two countries, with songwriter Rolf Løvland based back in Oslo.

Amazingly, 23 years after forming, and following Sherry’s spectacular recovery from two broken arms back in 2015, the pair are still going strong, and have just released the first ever version of their other big hit ‘You Raise Me Up’ to feature the vocals of Johnny Logan. Logan made the original recordings, only to be bumped in favour of Brian Kennedy on the single that was ultimately released, a point of some dispute with Logan that has finally been cleared up all these years later.

“It’s like a full circle being back,” Sherry says ahead of the pair’s Late Late Show performance just ahead of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. “I’ve actually played in a lot of Eurovision’s with the orchestra, as we were having that nice run of wins at the time.”

“We connected in ’94, and thought maybe we could do something together,” Løvland recalls. “I had a lot of instrumental tunes I was working on. I started to send some songs over to Fionnuala, and that was the beginning of Secret Garden.”

“I don’t think there’s been another song like our since,” Sherry admits. “We juxtaposed the idea of instrumental and lyrics, the vocal part was the introduction to the song [Nocturne], and the outro. It was planned for the album, the development of Secret Garden. It was halfway produced, and then it was suggested we do something very different for Eurovision.”

Heroes In Hiding: A Debut A Decade In The Making

Dublin indie band Heroes In Hiding forged their reputation in the live arena. Having existed in various forms for over a decade, they’ve changed genres entirely, become confident in front of a crowd, and learnt some smart live tricks. Those include their extraordinary 360-degree concert, played at Newmarket’s Green Door Market last year. That saw the band place their entire audience inside a boxed-off screen, while they played on its exterior to beautifully orchestrated imagery. Now, after a decade of playing about with their style and identity, they’re finally ready to launch debut album ‘Actor’.

It has to be a lot of pressure finally stepping up to the grandeur of the LP after such a long time, but after exploring near-death experiences in earlier EP ‘Curtains’ (specifically, in title track ‘Hospital’), and going big on Spotify with a quarter of a million plays, it makes sense to finally make the transition.

“We changed the name from The Dynamics and changed the sound a few years ago,” Rathfarnham native Cian Donohoe recalls. “The band set up was different, we’d reduced from six people to four, losing the brass. I think this album was a little different, in that we worked in the studio and put things together, and then figured out how to put it into a stage show. In the past, we figured it out live and then worked out where they went from there.”

“We were pretty much playing stuff live in the studio on the last EP,” he continues. “There weren’t drastic changes. Back when we were sixteen we were interested in ska music, mainly, and it’s gone from there. Ska came out of ability as well, as ska music’s pretty easy to play. Obviously there was an indie influence, then we started listening to folk music, and that became the sound of the band. Eight years later, it’s matured a lot as a sound.”

“The disparate influences collide in the middle,” Liam McCabe explains. “We’ve tried to fight against it at times, but I think that’s the nice bit. The nice thing about this record is it’s all the influences mashed together in this pile. We either push them aside, or just allow it to happen.”

“We’ve always written a lot of music. There’s a lot of discarded stuff out there. I think our plan has always been to write a load of tracks and pick the best few. With this one, we did a lot of experiments. Even if they aren’t full songs, there must be thirty or forty songs out there. There were a couple of real nonsense songs where we tried things, then tried to see things through. We had some Indian riff on one, and a vocoder. That was one of the slow days in the studio. We were writing tracks that wanted to be really long, with spacey intros, no verse, no chorus. In the end, we wrote an album of three-minute tracks. That wasn’t really the intention.”

“We self-produced for Curtains, but the engineer we had mixing it, Martin Quinn in Jam Studios, is brilliant. Really creative. We felt easy about trying new things this time around, and he helped us put them together,” Donohoe explains. “He guided us when we were going wrong. There’s definitely a nice sense of achievement you can take from saying ‘this is us, we did all this.”

Ash Get Personal On Break-Up Record ‘Islands’

DOWNPATRICK pop-rockers Ash have been going for 26 years, and for many, it’s the relatively early hits – Girl From Mars, Oh Yeah, Shining Light – that still stand out. In fact, it’s been 11 years since the three-piece announced their intention to “never make another album,” something that lasted until 2015, and the release of Kablammo!

Still powering through with the same distinctive vocals and hooky chords that helped them find their niche, eighth album ‘Islands’ has been a slow process, and one held back by factors outside of the band’s control.

“There’s been quite a gap,” drummer Rick McMurray told the Gazette. “The actual process went quite quickly, but there were a lot of changes on the business side that held up the progress of the record. It was finished towards the end of 2017, but it could easily have been a lot sooner. We wrote new stuff while the album was being finished, so we have a big backlog of material.”

The idea of abandoning the album completely is one that’s long in the band’s past now, but at the time they felt like it was a progressive move. “It seemed like we were witnessing the re-emergence of the single,” McMurray recalls of the plan to only release individual tracks back in 2007. “The album had only been out a week at the time, and when we came up with the idea, it really felt like getting ahead of the curve. Everything was going that way. We don’t have a problem with the format, but then vinyl came back, and an album kind of became a work of art again. The return of vinyl meant we had to go back to albums.”

Islands will get the customary new album tour, then, but a follow up is already on the horizon. “I doubt it will be another three years,” McMurray says, laughing about the extended gaps between the band’s records “I expect we’ll have another album out in 2019, some time, though it’s far from definite. We’ve hit on a new method of songwriting that is really working for us at the moment. There’s so much material around at the moment. We probably seem quite lazy when it comes to albums. In our defence, we did put out 52 singles in a year,” he adds, referencing the ‘A-Z’ project that saw Ash experiment with one off tracks throughout 2009 and 2010.

The new release is very much about frontman Tim Wheeler’s difficult breakup. The band live apart now, Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton in New York, and McMurray with his family in Edinburgh, jetting in for recording sessions and communicating largely digitally. “It’s pretty easy, really. It kind of suits all three of us. I like working in quick bursts, as that’s just what works as a drummer. Tim’s more slow and thought out. For me, this album was just one big explosion of energy.”

“It’s got very easy to get together and record,” he admits. The way things are is a natural thing. It took Tim six months to make this album, and me two weeks, but that really suits our personalities, at least the recording part.

A Quicky With… One Horse Pony

Taking the American deep south and transporting it to Ireland in the form of swampy Lousiana folk rock, One Horse Pony take cajun beats and infuse them with a rootsy Corkonian charm. Aiming to get your feet stomping, the band are building on an acclaimed live show – so far, they’ve hit up Electric Picnic, Kilkenny Roots Festival, the Cork Jazz Festival and Indiependence – and looking to put it all on record. 

Here’s what they had to say ahead of the launch of their new single ‘Muddy Waters’ this month. An EP, ‘Hot One’, produced by Gavin Glass, follows later this year.

Let’s start with a potted history of the band… Tell me your story.

We had a really organic beginning. We started life as a couple of strangers playing blues and folk around a table in the Franciscan Well in Cork, before it was the worldwide bastion of craft beer it is now. Over time, new members joined and more material got written. A two-year residency in Whelan’s, a couple of years spent on the festival circuit in Ireland and a couple of international tours put us and our songs through the mill, made us friends all over the world, gave us amazing adventures, a couple of funny stories, and a lot of laughs.

What are your musical backgrounds?

They’re varied. There’s a lot of old blues in what we do, as the title of the new single suggests, but throughout the upcoming EP Hot One, from which the new single is taken, there are nods to gypsy jazz, Irish trad, lots of gospel and the sort of roots grooves that make your shoulders move.

How did you come to be Louisiana-inspired in Cork?

They are both deep South. There’s lots of Irish inspired roots music going back hundreds of years. Cork is as much a melting pot of musical influences as New Orleans at the moment too. We also supported the Blind Boys of Alabama a few years ago and we loved their attitude to life.

How was working with Gavin Glass on the new single?

Gavin (Unkie Gav to us) is a force to be reckoned with. A serious artist in his own right, he has the musical chops, the ear and the enthusiasm to take a song and turn it into a statement. He has that gift of making a musician twice as good or half as bad.