Occasionally, I love a little bit of an offbeat adventure. In line with my growing love for off-the-beaten-track football, when I learnt that the Island Games – a sporting competition for those from small islands, like Guernsey and the Shetlands – would be holding their football competition in Anglesey in mid-June, I couldn’t resist bringing my bike over and taking in as many as I could.
Anglesey is at the far end of the ferry line from Dublin to Wales, which meant early and late ferries as a foot passenger got me to just the right spot, and I found if I watched the games and almost immediately got back on my bike and headed for the next one, I could watch four full games in a day. This was the second time I’ve squeezed four live football matches into a day, and I can’t deny it’s probably one too many, but it’s hard to say no to seeing teams like this.
As this was half cycling adventure, half niche-football, here’s a little map of the route between the four different village grounds, starting at Holyhead Ferry Port and finishing – because I couldn’t resist the ride back, and by the evening I was tired enough it seemed the only sensible option – at the notoriously named Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Station (yes, I copy and pasted that, and yes, it does have four Ls in a row somewhere in the middle there). My route was essentially right through the heart of Anglesey, doubling back a couple of times to make the maximum of four games in the day. It’s 37 miles (60kms) in total, which I found tough enough in the heat with a rucksack full of books on my back (I bought quite a few of my CONIFA books to sell):
GAME ONE: St Helena 1-2 Western Isles (9th/ 10th place play-off – Aberffraw FC)
St Helena were probably the main draw of this entire idea for me. A tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic with a population of less than 5,000, their road to get to Anglesey had been quite an odyssey, involving raising nearly €20 for every person on the island just to afford the tickets and accommodation – they did this by selling shirts, scarfs, pins etc.
NOW LONG-ESTABLISHED as one of the most desirable suites amongst the Irish indie scene’s popular furnishings, Kells band Ham Sandwich have started taking life at a different pace.
With their boisterous live reputation established and a firm fanbase in tow, there’s no particular need for Niamh Farrell and her band to keep on churning out the tracks. Instead, they’re taking time to explore other interests, hopping in and out of their lives as musicians as the mood strikes them. There are songs being structured, gigs being planned and touchpapers being lit. It’s all just a little more casual, a little more confident than before.
“We’ve just taken a step back, taken a chance to enjoy other sides of our lives for a while,” Farrell explains. “We’re still writing stuff in the background, and working towards releasing an album. We’re not putting too much pressure on ourselves, but we’re keeping the Ham Sandwich train going.”
“The people who generally come to our shows, it’s because they love the live experience, the party atmosphere that we try to bring to every gig. It’s a good thing when we go back to gigging, it’s really exciting when we haven’t done one in a while, like now.”
Ham Sandwich will be breaking their time-out with a debut 2019 show at Leopardstown Live in early June, at a venue Farrell has fond memories of. “It’s really good fun, sort of a fun early-afternoon evening thing,” she says. “You get a race named after you. It’s really good craic, and it’s the kind of gig where you might get a few people who haven’t seen us before.”
“Last time I had to stand there while the horses walked around me in a circle and pick out my favourite. I put a €2 bet on and it won, so that was good fun.”
AN ELECTRONIC artist originally from Galway but now based in Dublin, Elaine Mai has risen through the Irish music scene through her own nuanced output, but also through a series of clever, intricate collaborations.
From serving up the vocals on Le Galaxie’s wonderful ‘Love System’ to remixing Loah’s ‘Nothing’ in order to highlight the rising star’s soulful melodies, Mai has an ear for the clever twist, the arty repetition and the dancefloor-filling beat.
Her own output, she says, often revolves around themes, and the direction of her life at the time. “A couple of years ago I went through a really hard time,” she explains, “and that really informed my last EP.” The Colours Of The Night was a cathartic work centred on Mai’s experience of grief, and intensely moving with it.
With its thematic nature, though, Mai’s work is set, inevitably, to move on as she works towards releasing new music. Built on a clever use of looping that she reproduces live, and has learnt to subtly adapt as she plays, Mai’s new songs, only slowly emerging from production, will be centred on the concept of home.
“I’ll be putting out a couple of things this year, and then something bigger next year,” she said. “I went up to Donegal and borrowed a holiday cottage that I turned into a studio for a week to work on my music. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, and it really worked well. The new tracks are all around home, but in the emotional sense, rather than the physical. I’m already playing some of it at my shows. It’s coming together.”
The regular remixes that have become a staple of Mai’s output, though, have become almost as important to the artist’s creative brand, as has a long-standing song-development and touring partnership with another well-known Galway dance act. Daithi, a former virtuoso fiddle prodigy who’s slowly adapted into a prolific dancefloor star, often has input on Mai’s work, and vice versa.
Kerry act Deep Sky Objects are a three-piece rock band who take their inspiration from a host of big-name , ‘atmospheric’ acts like The National and Radiohead.
Based outside the core of Ireland’s music scene, they’re working their way into consciousness with a series of gigs, a recording made in Berlin, and a softly-softly approach to breaking through. I spoke to Kevin ahead of their Whelan’s gig as they tour new single ‘Nothing To Lose’.
First of all, introduce yourselves – who are Deep Sky Objects, and what can we expect from you?
We’re a three-piece rock band from Kerry, based in Cork currently. We’re fans of all different types of alternative indie/rock, from The Smiths, The National and Radiohead. So if we were to define a sound to expect then it maybe somewhere in the middle of those perhaps!
What were your backgrounds, musically, before forming this band?
Before forming the band we were playing our own instruments since our early teens, with the exception of Thomas who took up drums at seven years old. The three of us have studied music in some shape or another. Myself and DD studied Music Technology in UL and ITT while Thomas is currently studying music at CSN. We were all in different bands over the years before forming Deep Sky Objects.
I understand you’ve been recording in Germany recently. How did that go?
It was great! Berlin is a wonderful city and we felt really at home there. We recorded all of our releases in Cork with Ciaran O’Shea (previously of Cyclefly) at Whitewell Studios near Cloyne. Since then he moved to Berlin so it only felt right for us to go with him again on the new single. The studio was situated in this old communist block on the east side that had studios and rehearsal spaces on every floor. The street was called ‘Frank Zappa Strasse’ so it really speaks for itself!
You were at ‘Music Cork’ recently. The industry side of the game, I suspect, can be both useful and tiring. How do you find those kinds of events?
I first attended Music Cork in 2018 and I didn’t know what to expect as it was first time attending a music conference. Since then I can’t recommend enough for artists to attend these events. I met so many people in the industry from managers, promoters, bookers and publishers. It was the sort of event you could go up to anybody and say “Hi, My name is…” and make a new contact. Personally, I really enjoy the industry side of music. I’m a bit chatty so it just feels natural. The band tend to let me take care of those side of things.
The Eskies, it’s easy to conclude, have their tongues stuck firmly in their cheeks. The Tallaght four-piece’s modus operandi is one of playful, hard-wired fun, and it reflects in their music: a frantic, snarling but endlessly witty selection of gratifying, whiskey-loving country-punk.
Having been working their way around the Dublin music scene for the best part of a decade, their first album ‘After The Sherry Goes Round’ has been joined by the Christmas-release country-melodrama of ‘And Don’t Spare The Horses’. The entire process, at least from the outside, has been one surreal, messy party.
“The difference between our first album and our second album is our first album was written for live performance,” Frontman Ian Bermingham explains of the band’s progression in recent years. “I think a lot of bands will tell you that. By the time we got to the second album we had our hour long set. When we came to record the second album, we only had about half the album written. Maybe less. The same pressure wasn’t there to write songs that would work live, so we could be dynamic in what we did.”
The second album ended up being delayed by a couple of months for marketing reasons, leaving the band struggling to keep quiet about what they’d finished. “We were going round to people’s houses for sessions, and the thing is when you have lots of musician friends, you have a couple of pints and you all share what you’ve recorded. Then we’d wake up the next day going, ah, we shouldn’t have done that. I don’t want to be that guy. It’s like 2.0 of that guy who won’t put his guitar down. Playing the unreleased album on your phone.”
That album is out now, though, and is helping the band secure a wider audience, something that’s critical to their long term ambition. Despite the silly side to their music, the Tallaght band are deadly serious about finding a bigger audience.
As Guernsey prepare the 2019 Island Games, but resolutely opt against following the influx of near neighbours Jersey, Yorkshire and Ellan Vannin into CONIFA, I caught up with Guernsey football CEO Gary Roberts about the state of football on the island of Guernsey.
In the interview, he reflects on the success of Guernsey FC, established in 2011 and now playing in the eighth tier of English football despite the obvious travel difficulties presented by playing teams entirely from outside of the island. The team has provided a route to conventional football for people from the island, population 63,000, whose biggest football export to date is Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier.
We also talk about the Muratti Vase, an annual contest against Jersey, and about their history in the island games. Dig in…
I’ve talked to a lot of relatively small-entity football sides like yours in the course of the last few years, and Guernsey is one of only two I can think of where a single name really jumps out as representing you – Matt Le Tissier (Bruce Grobbelaar and Matabeleland is the other one, in case you were curious!). Does Matt have much of a footballing legacy on the island?
Matt is part of a well-known family, with another three brothers who have all played for Guernsey’s Senior Men’s Representative team. Indeed, the three brothers created history when all were selected to play in the Muratti Vase Final in one year, which was the first and only time in which three siblings played in the same Muratti match. Matt himself was recognised as being a stand out youth player but because he signed with Southampton did not play any senior football or ever play in a Senior Men’s Muratti.
Matt did play on one occasion for Guernsey Football Club (for whom his brother Mark is the Chairman) in the 2012/13 season when the club was faced with playing 23 games in 43 days.
I’m aware you’re running a non-league side in Guernsey at the moment that plays English teams in hte league on a regular basis. That must have been financially and logistically difficult, though I understand you’re getting great turnouts and playing some good stuff. Has it achieved everything you’d hoped for as a project?
The club was established following Guernsey’s success in the FA Inter-League (formerly Systems) Cup and subsequent participation in the UEFA Regions Cup as the English FA representative. This led to the GFA identifying a need to identify another playing opportunity for the island’s most talented players, and the concept of establishing a club to participate in the English football league pyramid was formed.
After eight seasons playing in this pyramid, those involved, and the GFA, would likely be of the same opinion that the project has, and continues, to provide the desired playing opportunities. The existence of Guernsey FC and the pathway it now affords young players in Guernsey serves as a realistic and viable aspiration.
There’s a vibrant intensity to Kíla in person that you quickly get the sense reflects their extreme passion for what they do. It’s best summed up in the closing seconds of our interview.
“One more thing for this, before you go,” frontman Ronan O’Snodaigh says as we finish up our chat in Dublin’s Library Bar on a quiet Thursday afternoon. “If you’re going to write about us, write about what we are now. If we’re not good enough for that, we don’t deserve to be written about at all.”
Let’s touch on that particular message first. Alive Beo – Kíla’s latest release, recorded during the band’s 2016 tour – is breathless, seamlessly diverse, fresh, freewheeling, spontaneous and a great advert for their show. It’s the album of a band at the peak of their powers. They didn’t tell me to say that.
It’s hard to tell if O’Snodaigh is particularly proud of the Dublin world music act’s newest output, or simply sick of features on Kíla that largely harp back to their roots in the early 90s. The band are happy to reference their huge body of work – they’ll be doing so in their 30 year celebratory mini-festival, Féile Kíla, at the end of the year – but also feel they’ve come a long way since the days of hit 90s release Tóg É Go Bog É.
“We’ve had to relearn some of the music for touring that album, actually, because there are some people in the band who weren’t around when we wrote it,” bandmate Brian Hogan explains. “We had a time, back then, when the rehearsal studios were just full of crap. Some of it great crap, and some of it useless crap.”
As you might or might not know, I’m a life-long Aston Villa fan. It’s been a rocky road. In the early days, it was quite good fun: a flamboyant, attacking club that won things – albeit relatively minor things like the then Coca-Cola Cup – and reached finals on a regular enough basis to bring lots of excitement. I had a season ticket as a student, by which time the club was a lower mid/table Premier League struggler, but still boasted the flair of people like Juan Pablo Angel and Thomas Hitzelsberger (don’t laugh, they were both excellent to watch). I still make roughly a game a year, which is less than I’d like, but as much as is really fair in the context of having a young child and living in another country.
In the next two weeks, Villa have the chance to regain their status at the top table, so I’ve decided I’ll take the chance to write about it. For two games. Or three. However long it lasts. I won’t be there, in all likelihood, but as far as a small number of games go, there’s nothing bigger than the playoffs. Time to ramble…
And so to year two: the play offs (and so, the play off diaries) strike again.
It’s funny that it can feel like your football team has gone through a complete cycle of transition, and yet come the end of the year, you find yourself facing into the same old battle to re-join the elite. 2019 Villa are a different team to the one that faced Middlesbrough and then Fulham in 2018. They’re a better attacking outfit. Probably a better defensive outfit, too, though they’re certainly liable to concede more chances and far less likely to shut up shop if they go ahead. They’re also far less likely to find themselves up against a team they can’t unlock.
It has to be said, firstly, that this has been one of the most interesting season to be a Villa fan in living memory. I’m almost at the point, as I said last year, where there’s a tiny bit of me that would prefer to stay in the Championship simply for more of this. The Championship is an equal and fiercely competitive league compared to the Premier League, and has far more in common with what I remember the Premier League being like when I was growing up. There’s a lot to like, and that’s before you get to Villa’s particular drama. So I have mixed feelings.
This season has had some distinctive highlights. We’ve had the cabbage incident back in the Steve Bruce era. The longest run of consecutive wins in the club’s history. The absolute doldrums of the first few months of the season, and the blast through from peripheral playoff contenders to comfortably getting in.
There was Jack Grealish getting attacked on the pitch and then scoring the winner against them from up the road, and that wonder-goal from Hutton against… Sure, well you know, them from up the road again. There have been two absolutely brilliant loan signings, in Tammy Abraham and Tyrone Mings, and the football – whisper it – has been really exciting since February or so (who could forget that 5-5 draw with Forest). Having a new manager in Dean Smith who’s clearly a mad fan of the club has certainly helped, too.
The issue with more championship action for Villa next season, though, is obvious. The Championship is very much a breeding ground league, and while Villa have been a selling club for a generation, if we’re honest, the loss of those two loan signings and (almost certainly) Grealish would, in my opinion, be the loss of three of the four biggest stars of this season (the other is John McGinn, for me, in case you’re wondering). It seems likely a lot of what’s been great about this year would be gone with it.
So it comes down to three games, again…
And so, once again, we come to this: the cliched ‘lottery’. I don’t know how to call it. Villa are on form – especially if you’re willing to set aside the loss to Norwich on the last day of the season, which saw half the team rested. The record against West Brom isn’t great this season, though you do have to offset that somewhat with the draw at the Hawthorns being largely down to an injury time handball goal by Jay Rodriguez which quite definitely shouldn’t have stood. This team are so much better than anyone would have credited only a few months ago, but – given I’m giving little credit to any favourites tag – there’s still a three in four chance it hasn’t ultimately meant anything at all.
So what about Albion? The full-on local rivalry isn’t there for me, despite the clubs being so nearby. I quite like Albion. For years they had that kind of ‘upstarts’ thing going on, a team with little bits of quality dotted through them that was willing to attack even when it didn’t seem that well-advised. Those yo-yo years looked entertaining, and I’d imagine they were a lot of fun to watch. I want to beat them, of course, and I don’t think it’ll be easy.
They have a squad full of premier league-quality players (not that it’s always a positive – see Villa last year), and are capable of being extremely strong. They should probably have been closer to the automatic places, but have looked like they’re in a little bit of a tumultuous mess at various times this season. Hopefully, the indifferent lot turn up for at least one leg of the semi-final, as if they do, I suspect Villa would have enough to put them away.
But we shall see. Only an idiot would go into the play offs with any level of confidence. Besides, not long after the plays off last season, it looked very much the club might disappear completely, which kind of puts the whole thing into context, right?
Que sera sera? Try telling me that at half 12 on Saturday…