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Landless: a traditional vocal quartet that soar, organically…

Built on sweeping yet carefully-refined harmonies and the most delicate of recording approaches, Bleaching Bones – the debut album from Dublin and Belfast four-piece Landless – is a million miles from the modern-day zeitgeist. Regardless, the rootsy harmonies shine, made special by a sense of place and unique, textured feel.

The concept of an album without instruments is, transparently, not a new one, but it is a sparse rarity in the context of modern-day music. Landless – a harmony-led, all-female vocal quartet – do very little by the book, having beautifully passed from a trad niche to the stage.

“We don’t write anything down, when it comes to working on songs,” Ruth Clinton tells us of the approach to ‘Bleaching Bones’, released on Humble Serpent Records earlier this month. “We all sang mainly in traditional singing circles before this, unaccompanied, and the band and the album came out of that.”

“We recorded partly in St Luke’s Church in Howth, where I’m in my element, as I grew up around there. It has incredible acoustics. We also went down to a tunnel under Belfast, where Maedh lives, that’s not normally open to the public. That was a great experience, as it echoes back so slowly, and affects how you have to sing. We picked the places we recorded for the acoustics, and there’s a lot of natural reverb and atmosphere on the album.”

Those recordings were made by John Murphy (Gorilla Sounds), who was also involved in the production of Lankum’s widely acclaimed, trad-inspired 2017 album ‘Between The Earth and the Sky’. Before the recent drive, Landless were a casual endeavour for much of their life, and have developed naturally, through things like being invited to perform in churches in France, or on a boat in the middle of the sea at Passage West.

“The locations give a really gentle differentiation between the sounds. When it comes to recording. You need that in an album that’s mostly vocals,” Clinton explains. “It’s great when you have that for gigs, as well. We’d always pick a location with great acoustics, if we have the choice.”

Landless’ songs are largely drawn from the trad tradition, subtly adjusted to incorporate harmonies and incredibly subtle, playfully-interacting arrangements. “We do try to feel trad songs from a woman’s perspective,” Clinton tells us. “Trad hasn’t always been kind to women. We’ll look at anything in English. We work out our melody and harmony by just sitting in a room. We then record it all live.”

Take out the calipers: the thick-skinned return of Paddy Hanna

Having put aside his demons and tackled the dramas of recording an album that really didn’t go to plan, Paddy Hanna’s had a rocky road to his sophomore release, but he’s staring proudly over those roadblocks.

Castleknock native Paddy Hanna has been in a fair few bands in his time, but over the last few years, he’s been operating under his own moniker, drawing the crowds through the distinctive vocals of his leftfield indie-pop ditties.

A former core member of popular and borderline-defunct DIY collective Popical Island and frontman for one of their key acts, Grand Pocket Orchestra, Hanna released his debut album ‘Leafy Stiletto’ in 2014. Years later, his return with his latest ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ might be greatly delayed, but has already drawn the attention of the likes of NME and Stereogum through its early singles. His style is one of emotive vocals, gorgeous yet jarring instrumentals and slow-building, dramatic peaks.

It’s been a difficult road for Hanna, though, who’s never been afraid to speak his mind on the problems musicians face. “Things are totally different this time,” he tells us. “I’ve had line up changes and life changes. I’ve tackled some mental health issues; spent some time on finding things that work. I started working on this album when I went onto medication. I was looking at things with a new clarity.”

Things were to go a little haywire, though, with the recording process brutally interrupted, and the album release – originally planned for last year – heavily delayed. “I lost my manager half way through the two weeks in the studio,” Hanna recalls. “It was strange, as he’d introduced me to Daniel [Fox, the producer who was to be heavy influence on the album’s style], and really set this project in motion.”

“The wall of sound affect Daniel introduced is an essential element on the new album. It was our project, in many ways, but my old manager decided half way through that he didn’t want to carry on. It’s a funny one. You’ll hear it on the album. Half the tracks are me excited about being back in the studio, and have that feel to them. The other half are very different. After the manager left there was some drinking and some really wasted vocal takes. I guess the contrast is part of the mystique of it.”

Astonishingly, the studio was to close shortly after Hanna’s recording, too, meaning a number of tweaks to the record had to be done elsewhere, further complicating the process by the requirement for a new studio a fresh set up. Eventually, the seasoned performer – at something of a loose end – hooked up with Galway music legend and Roisin Dubh main man Gugai, who will release ‘Frankly, I Mutate’ on his Strange Brew label.

Theatrical Poetry-Pop in Duke Special’s Latest Adventure

Belfast’s most enigmatic man turns his musical lense on another poignant theme

INVENTIVE BELFAST solo artist Duke Special’s latest album is imaginatively different even by his standards. Peter Wilson – a mainstay of Northern Ireland’s boisterous music scene – has long drawn influence from his surrounds. These include an album based entirely on a Paul Auster novel, and another based on the work of famous photographers featured in the New York’s MMA.

Wilson jokes that his latest release, is influenced by “gardening,” (a genuine love of his) but quickly gets down to the real detail of forthcoming ninth album ‘Hallow’: putting to music the poems of popular Belfast writer Michael Longley.

“Poems don’t tend to have choruses,” Wilson explains of the challenges of the tracks, which carefully mirror Longley’s originals. “I have a huge amount of respect for Michael, and I felt I had to be really careful about how I used his work. Some of his poems have a great refrain or a line at the heart of things that I could use, but to make them work I had to live with things a bit.”

“I wrote one song over a year ago and gave it to him. He was speaking at an event, and he was really delighted and encouraging,” Wilson said of now 78-year-old Longley. “After that I sent him stuff as I went along, including artwork, stuff like that. I really felt like it was a great responsibility. It was both wonderful and scary”

Wilson is being typically modest: under the Duke Special moniker he’s become a stunningly delicate performer, basing his style on intricate and smartly-charming piano tracks, soulful, honeyed vocals, and a turn of phrase Longley himself would no doubt appreciate.

Bringing his influences very much from the music hall days, he’s a theatrical, dreadlocked, vaudeville-style performer, seemingly aiming to connect deeply with his crowds. Wilson has twice been nominated for Ireland’s national music prize, Choice. He tells us he likes to be “a bit of an enigma on stage,” and has referred to his look at “hobo chic.”

Much like his earlier work – check out hit singles ‘Freewheel’ and ‘No Cover Up’ to get a feel – ‘Hallow’ very much draws from the old school of music. It’s written almost entirely around piano and vocals. Sure, Wilson layers in plenty of other instrumentation such as double bass and guitar that he describes as “layered and embedded around” the main tracks, but the heart of his music is very much one man, one great tune, and a piano.

Blood or Whiskey: Celtic Punk on a Wing and a Prayer

The long-running Irish punk act fuse The Dubliners and The Clash in a memorable, brash, political barrage.

Earlier this year, trad-punks Blood or Whiskey spent a month touring the US. Playing 26 shows as a support act for Dropkick Murphys in just 30 days, they added to a growing reputation in American punk circles. Then they came back to Ireland to resume their day jobs.

It’s a strange aspect of the Celtic punk scene – which typically fuses trad tropes, tin whistles, Irish folk and harmonica – that the two biggest acts in the genre have only loose, emigrant links with Ireland. On our shores, it’s seen as very much a musical niche.

Dropkick Murphys are Boston Irish, while Flogging Molly – an act Blood Or Whiskey supported in the Olympia Theatre just two weeks ago – are led by Dave King, born in a pre-gentrification Dublin 4 tenement, but very much based out of L.A. In terms of home-brewed Celtic punk stylings, Blood Or Whiskey are as big as they come, and regularly tour with both the rowdy American acts.

They might be heading on their first punk rock cruise this summer, but getting by hasn’t proved so easy back home, as frontman Dugs Mulhooly explains: “we definitely get more offers from the US and central Europe. People don’t see it as a thing here, because it is us [as a nation], it is what we do.”

“We’ve seen Japanese bands play music with an Irish crossover, though, but in general, Irish music is saturated here. People know these songs. We remember when Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys weren’t filling big venues here. They’d be playing 4,000, 5,000 when we went out with them elsewhere, but grinding it out here. That has changed now, but it hasn’t always been like that.”

For Blood Or Whiskey, though, the punk DIY ethos – building it yourself – is important. “To record an even half decent album costs eight or nine thousand quid,” drummer Chris O’Meara, the other remaining original member of a band that formed in 1994, explains.

“it’s a costly adventure. If you have a record label backing you that’s one thing, but we do it ourselves all the time. We don’t believe in Fundit, in going to the fans. You shouldn’t be begging people to make you a rock star. We all go to work, and do jobs with our hands as well. The thought of asking someone to give me money to release an album… I don’t believe in fleecing your punters to bring out albums. You do it yourself.”

Tickets should be for fans, says Rock

Fine Gael TD’s campaign to stop ticket touting aims to change exploitative  Irish ticketing market

FINE GAEL TD Noel Rock is pushing forward with his bill to outlaw the above face value sale of tickets, with the long-term campaign proving a popular bid to stamp out the current legal and thriving secondary ticketing market in Ireland.

Rock, who’s at pains to clarify that his bill is targeting only “above face value” resales – and takes no issue with legitimate onwards sale due to personal circumstances – told the Gazette this week that the bill is currently being held up by a consultation process taking place in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, before progress to the next stage.

The problem, he explains, continues to grow. “There’s a consistent pattern of popular, high-profile events selling out in minutes,and reappearing at high value on ticketing websites almost immediately,” Rock explains, citing LCD Soundsystem at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre and Danish singer MØ in The Academy as recent examples. “It’s legal currently, and real fans are being squeezed out.”

“The difficulty is, I don’t really trust the industry to make it difficult. There are a lot of vested interests in the market, and there’s very little motivation to make the market customer friendly. There are also some quite dubious practises.”

“There are certainly cases where companies offer a ‘guarantee’ of a ticket that a customer has paid for, that essentially says they will either be provided with a ticket, or with their money back. That’s not much of a guarantee in itself, but it’s also common to substitute tickets in other parts of a stadium, for example. What kind of customer service is that, really? It’s mis-selling.”

Driving on up: the rapid rise of Dingle’s Walking On Cars

A stroll down memory lane with Kerry’s new chart stars…

DINGLE FIVE-PIECE Walking On cars are hot property right now. So much so, in fact, that when we finally manage to catch up with the Kerry five-piece, it’s back stage at a festival in the Czech Republic. They’ve just performed to a crowd of tens of thousands on the main stage at Colours of Ostrava – the only Irish act on the bill – and clearly won over a heap of new fans. But it hasn’t always been quite so glamorous.

The Dingle act got off to a somewhat iffy start, in fact, as they went topsy turvy in their home town. “We booked a gig, and then we wrote the songs to play that gig,” singer Pa Sheehy tells the Gazette. “One of the songs we still play now, ‘Don’t Mind Me’, dates back to then. ‘Speeding Cars’ didn’t come too long after that.”

“We just stood in a kitchen for two or three nights a week until we wrote them. But the first couple of gigs were shocking. I feel sorry for people who were there,” Sheehy recalls.

“We’ve been quite lucky playing so many international shows,” Sorcha Durham says of the current Europe-wide tours. “‘Speeding Cars’ got a lot of radio play, and we gained fans from there.” The European Border Breakers Award, which the band collected for ‘success outside their own country’ earlier this year is indicative of how an act still based in rural Dingle has flooded onto the international market.

“You start from the bottom and work your way up, from small venues to middle sized venues, that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple of years,” they modestly explain. Those ‘medium sized venues’ now include fields.

“It’s really different going on to stages like this, but it’s not like we swapped a pub in Dingle for festival stages,” Sheehy recalls. “You can never fully get used to it, but it’s been a gradual change, and in some ways it’s more nerve wracking playing a pub. A pub is just so intimate.”

“There’s been some amazing moments, like the first time we got a tour bus. It’s all bunks, with a lounge and kitchens and stuff like that. That blew our minds. It still does to be honest.”

The Ultimate Electric Picnic ‘Checklist’

Electric Picnic crowd shot by Ruth Medjber (2016)

Ireland’s biggest festival is just around the corner… here’s our quick tick list of the weekend’s essentials, from a few musical tips, to the little extras that make it special

Let’s start by saying It’s not all about the lineup. The big announcements are just the backdrop to what really makes up Electric Picnic: an atmospheric weekend that’s always guaranteed to be one of the best parties on offer any given year. 2017 will be no different: here, we explore a few of those things you just have to do in a stroll around Stradbally’s temporary heart in early September…

  • Grab a hot tub The perfect Body and Soul Sunday morning hangover cure. Yeah, we hope they have good water filters, too.
  • Dance at the Salty Dog at 3 am Because (a) they let you bring cans and (b) it’s a pirate ship in a forest, and that can’t be wrong.
  • Get yourself some political hip-hop Bernie bros Run The Jewels are just wonderful. And then there’s A Tribe Called Quest to get your teeth into.
  • Hit the Body and Soul fire late at night Flames flicker, the bars are closing and you’re listening to four stages at once, but it’s still the best banter on site.
  • Join the Duran Duran sing-along Her name is Rio, and she’s probably settled down and had a few kids by now…
  • Have an S Club Party 5ive are playing, too. Cos there ain’t no party like a 90s nostalgia party.
  • Go mad for Madness Because mid-afternoon bouncing ska pop could hardly be more fun.
  • Explore the Other Voices stage Sure to have a couple of top-class special guests over the course of the weekend, Other Voices’ trip out of Dingle is invariably excellent.
  • Ride the bumper cars at 2 am We vocally condemn drink driving. We very much condone drunk bumper-car driving.
  • Check in on Olaf’s interviews Hot Press’ rogue interviewer is sure to drag someone from the main stage and interrogate them on something they’d planned to keep quiet.
  • Get a five-minute massage They’ll only cost you a charity donation, and after a day standing in front of a stage…
  • Check out eco credentials at Global Green Or just learn to carve something out of driftwood, or weave a plant basket. Perfect for the inevitable lineup lull.

First Three, No Flash: The Specialist World of Music Photography

Kieran Frost in the photo pit as The Script play Croke Park

I talk to specialist snapper Kieran Frost about the niche world of music photography

At almost every sizeable gig you’re ever likely to attend, they’ll be a small exodus of camera-clutchers from the very front just three songs after things get going. Popular musicians, you see, typically believe they look their best at the start of a show, and they want to show their good side. Photographers are there, by design, for the sweat free, visually perfect early moments.

Some artists are so tight on their imagery, in fact, they specify the side of the stage photos are to be taken from, or manipulate the lighting early in a show to ensure photographers get a specific type of image.

And then, usually three songs in, photographers are often escorted from the front barrier and out of the premises. They hold a camera full of photos, but are forbidden from watching the remains of the show to prevent sneaky [less perfect] shots from being grabbed by the professional from the back. Quite the irony, in today’s camera-phone heavy concerts.

Kieran Frost, a freelance music photographer who works with photo agencies like Getty, and features regularly in the likes of the Irish Times, Q Magazine and on musicians billboards, gave us an insight into the world he occupies night after night.

“Normally there would be e-mails between me, my editor and the publicist a few days before a show to arrange access,” he begins, explaining the set up. “The day of the show, I’d listen to some of the act’s music, and possibly research what other photographers have gotten from previous dates on the tour, to give some idea of what lighting profile the band are using, and what kind of restrictions photographers may face.”

“In the evening, I turn up, get my access pass, and head into the venue. If it’s a larger venue, I say hello to security and I sort out my gear. If it’s a smaller venue, I have to hope the front row are going to let me squeeze past them for a song.”

“The usual rule is we get the first three songs, then we have to pack our gear, and get out of the way. I’d usually stick around for a bit of the gig, if I’m allowed, then head home, edit 20 to 30 images, and caption and file them that night.”