Irish Music


Mongoose: “We had a flugelhorn for the first time, that was an exciting day at the studio”

A LITTLE FOLKY, a little twee, and host to an ever-evolving palette of stunning harmonies and surprisingly punchy, ‘kiss with a fist’ lyrics, the evolution of the wonderfully-named Dublin folk-pop act Mongoose has been a sight to behold.

Made up of four friends drawing on very different musical backgrounds, there’s an open, shared approach to songwriting and a ‘capable of anything’ feel to Molly O’Mahony, Ailbhe Dunne, Muireann Ní Cheannabháin and Cara Dunne’s music. That happy variety feels particularly prevalent on their latest release, second album ‘Suck The Wound’.

“It’s very much rooted in folk,” O’Mahony says of the new album. “We had a synth set up, guitars, cello, all of this. We didn’t set out for the album to be anything in particular, really, it’s a big melting pot of our ideas. There’s everything from pretty heavy going rock to jazzier stuff, a South American ballero, and then some more trad influenced stuff. We didn’t know we’d written a ballero until we hired a South American musician to play on it, but apparently it is one. The whole thing is a mix of all our tastes.”

There’s a real confidence to the way ‘Suck The Wound’ comes together; a faith that the disparate influences can untangle and melt into a coherent and memorable whole.

“Everything is a little bit more extreme on it,” Dunne says. “It does feel like it’s an album, as opposed to disparate songs. We had a flugelhorn for the first time, that was an exciting day at the studio! We had more time with it when we were writing, but then we just recorded it, mixed it, and it was done. It was very much about recreating our live sound, with the vocals are still very essentially to it.”

Harmonies – beautiful, soaring ones and darker, mood-setting ones – are right at the heart of what defines Mongoose as a band, and they’re here with abundance.

“Tonally, we’ve got a lot darker. It covers those middle twenty years that are a wee bit turbulent, trying desperately to mature. Or trying not to,” O’Mahony says.

Play Irish: “I think it says a lot about the quality of the scene that we can have a really varied playlist”

IRISH MUSICIANS are arguably as successful today as they’ve ever been. Hozier recently topped the Billboard Top 100 in the US, only the fourth Irish act ever to do so. Duo Picture This, a homegrown pop-rock act, headlined an incredible five consecutive nights at the 3Arena earlier this month, in front of nearly 70,000 punters. A stunning and internationally acclaimed hip-hop scene has emerged, seemingly from nowhere.

From an industry perspective, though, Ireland does still struggle. There’s a lack of joined up thinking. Irish radio plays a disappointingly small amount of homegrown tracks, and even the PR link ups between musicians and journalists are convoluted and could use some simplicity, joined up thinking, and targeting.

Sinead Troy, one of the founders of PlayIrish, knows all about the issues. Troy runs the Irish arm of Yangaroo, a PR concept aimed at delivering new music digitally. She manages singer-songwriter Cathy Davey, and also manages IASCA, an organisation focused on increasing Irish radio play. PlayIrish is her team’s attempt to push the radioplay agenda forward.

“There’s a bottleneck in artists getting out there,” the extremely enthusiastic Troy tells the Gazette over the phone. Her passion for her work immediately jumps out: the names of Irish acts to explore drip from the conversation, from the obvious – Kodaline, and Picture This – to lesser-known acts like Nina Hynes and Conor Walsh.

“We’ll be playing the big acts and the little acts. The playlist is very much dictated by quality,” Troy tells us. “We love seeing anyone doing well. A lot of the big acts bring Irish support acts on tour, and that really helps everyone along. One of the tracks we have on the current playlist is a debut single. I think it says a lot about the quality of the scene that we can have a really varied playlist. I was listening earlier and I Shazamed a couple of tracks as I just had to know who they were. I hope that’s the effect we’ll have, the quality is really high.”

Pillow Queens: “I can’t tell people I plan to quit to go on tour or I’ll never get another job”

WE’RE STILL, in all probability the best part of a year short of the debut album from Dublin four-piece Pillow Queens. It’s a sign of their ambition and their early success, then, that their tour schedule for 2019 will take them across Europe, throughout the UK and to several of Ireland’s biggest festivals.

Pillow Queens rise from debutants to Gay Community News cover stars (clad in Downton Abbey style get up) has been an epic one, and the self-described ‘baby band’ are still coming to terms with the highs, slowly. Those highs have included being nominated for song of the year at the Choice Music Prize, for ‘Gay Girls’, and being played on the iconic radio station BBC 6 Music.

“We’ve had no time to stop in the last few months,” Sarah Corcoran said of the ride so far. “We have just over an hour of music now with new songs. We had friends in the UK we could play with right back at the start, so we did a tour. We had no business being over there, really, but we went and did it, and it was the best thing to do. It looked good to people.”

The truth, though, is Pillow Queens have looked like a ready-made success story from the start. Made up of four gay girls, they played their very first show to a sold out audience, raising money for a dog charity in the process.

“We called in a lot of favours for that fundraising gig and got a great line up,” Corcoran says. “That there’s four gay girls in the band isn’t something thought out. It was just the people we were hanging around with. We don’t shy away from it, though. I’d like to have seen people like us on stage when I was young. If we can do that for one person, that’d make me very happy.”

The speed of progress comes in part from a sense of inbuilt ambition. There have been jobs quit to go on tour. “We don’t talk about that at job interviews,” Corcoran laughs. “I can’t tell people I plan to quit to go on tour or I’ll never get another job.”

Lost Lane: “opening a new venue will always give a sense of nervousness”

THESE DAYS, the development of a new live music venue in Dublin seems to be an increasingly rare thing. With the likes of Tivoli Theatre, Hangar, Twisted Pepper, the Wright Venue and Sweeney’s all departing the city’s musical map in recent years, those spots still standing at the heart of the Irish music scene feel too little, and are often full to bursting.

The announcement of the opening of Lost Lane, on the sight of the old Lillie’s Bordello on Adam’s Court, just off Grafton Street is a great boost, then, and one going very much against the grain.

Lost Lane will be part of the Porterhouse pub chain, but a step away from their traditional lively but very much beer-focused offering of their small-chain pubs. “A lot of venues have been closing recently but I think they would tend to fit more in the term of night club,” Elliot Hughes, Porterhouse partner told the Gazette.

“What we are doing with Lost Lane is embracing a growing culture of live music. This scene in Ireland has been booming over recent years with more and more talented artists looking for places to play around the capital, while I don’t think the infrastructure has followed suit. Of course though, everything is at risk. Opening a new venue will always give a sense of nervousness. It is impossible to guarantee success however we have a wonderful location, a top class sound system and a fantastic look to the venue.”

“We’ve moved the main bar as well as a couple of other major changes, while the main difference will be the aesthetic,” Hughes explains. “The stage area in particular is quite minimalist as we want the focus to be on what is important, the artist and the sound.”

With that in mind, Lost Lane will be welcoming a lot of emerging Irish artists, though the booking policy remains a relatively straightforward one. “The act must be quality,” Hughes says. “We’re passionate about supporting and showcasing local talent, but regardless if the act is local or international, the common denominator will be the quality of performers people can expect to experience at Lost Lane.”

Sing Along Social: “In a sense, we just push play and see what happens”

‘A ZERO COMMITMENT CHOIR’ is the tagline that’s fuelled the rise of a quirk of the Irish music scene, the wonderfully boisterous ‘Sing Along Social’. The concept is simple: several lively ‘craic mechanics’ put on a few of your favourite cheesy records, and you crowd together, a mass of euphoria with the most innocent of aims: to belt them out at the top of your lungs.

Aoife McElwain, who started this glorious, carefree cheese-fest, stumbled across the idea almost by accident. “A few years ago, a friend and I discovered we were both obsessed with Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’,” she recalls. “We thought it would be a hilarious idea to get together and just sing it from start to finish. Then we thought about who else might like that, so we could invite them along.”

“It turns out we know too many people who liked the idea, so we booked a room on a local pub and then thought why not put it on Facebook, in case anyone else wants to join us. The next thing we knew, over 1000 people wanted to come.”

Things have barely let up since. Sing Along Social have two monthly events, at MVP in Dublin 8, and The Sugar Club, just off St Stephen’s Green, There’s an ever-diversifying list of themed days, corporate events and hen parties, and McElwain – also an Irish Times food writer and the author of a book on time management, ‘Slow At Work’ – has made this boisterous party her full time job, one that’s now close to fully booked for the remainder of 2019.

“I’ve always been a bit of a dork,” she laughs. “I think my job at Sing Along Social is to be the first person to make a fool of myself. When I do that, and nothing bad happens, it helps get things going. I put on this pink boiler suit and I’m just not afraid of anything. I think Sing Along suits introverts and extroverts. It’s not like karaoke as everyone sings together. In a sense, we just push play and see what happens.”

DJ Kormac: “I went to this massive jumble sale in France, and that’s where I found my best sound”

DJ Kormac has fingers in a whole lot of pies. He’s a man who takes his work extremely seriously: a perfectionist, playing off the roles of dozens of different contributors, and drawing aspects of music from all over his life, including the sounds he hears around him.

“I went to this massive jumble sale, I guess you’d call it, in France, and that’s where I found my best sound,” said the Dubliner on his developing love of ‘field recordings’. “I go around with my Zoom recorder and take in lots of different things that I’ve started drawing into my music. In France I found one of those really old telephones that makes a noise when you hang it up. That was a really useful one.”

“I think I always sound like me, even if it is quite eclectic,” the varied DJ explains of his mixed efforings. In recent years, he’s branched out expansively, working with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, as well as a host of contemporary Irish singers, as a more conventional DJ, and even with novelist Irvine Welsh.

“It all has this uptempo element, especially for the melodies,” he says. “I grew up on stuff like Sonic Youth, and the more I listen to things, the more it sounds to me like there are influences in there from things like guitar progressions. I don’t know if anyone else can hear it, but it’s had a lasting effect for me.”

“In some ways this is a quiet time of year, as things go crazy in the summer with the tours, but in others it’s been really intense with work. I’ve been heading for the studio at half six in the morning and working through the day. It’ll all play into what I do over the summer.”

“My new show is a mix of a solo AV show and playing a second part with some guests, including Loah, Jack O’Rourke, Claire Young and a few of my big band, as well as couple of secret guests” Kormac told us. “I’ve been working with AV for a long time. I’m developing a multiscreen idea that’s quite exciting, it will allow me to do different things; to do stuff musically that might not work without the screens.”

Bouts: “There were times when we played the same chorus for an hour, just for Barry to get a melody”

WHEN HALF your moderately successful, edgy rock band relocate to another country, that would, more often than not, mean the end of things. But not for Bouts.

The Dublin grunge-pop act have made distance a virtue, meeting sporadically for fierce bursts of musical activity, and building new song concepts via a busy WhatsApp group and a sheer drive to continue. Five years after finding themselves split across borders, the four-piece return with their best work yet, second album ‘Flow’.

“Barry [Bracken, vocalist] had moved to London in 2014, and then Niall followed over there not long after. That kind of meant we weren’t in a position to do any gigs,” drummer Daniel Flynn remembers. “We recorded some songs before they left.”

“It’s been about five years since we last toured. We released an EP [titled ‘Unlearn’] on cassette in 2016, but didn’t play any shows. Barry lives in Amsterdam now. Niall is still in London, but was in Laos for a while. There was a pretty major break on at that stage.”

“We officially decided to do another record a couple of years ago” guitarist Colin Boylan explains. “There were four really quite intense sessions to make ‘Flow’. The first was in London. Then we got a cottage for a few days in Connemara, and wrote about 15 demos, some electronic, some not. Then the last two sessions were done in Dublin over quick weekends.”

“We had the stuff from the London sessions that myself and Barry and Niall had done, rough sketches of ideas,” Flynn says. “We sent them around, and they floated around in our brain for a while. Barry had worked out a few other songs in Amsterdam, and he sent them up. When we all got back together, we had the starting points.”

Spies: “The new album is about coping with change. It’s about the inevitability of it in life”

Sometimes you love a band, and then they simply disappear. When you’re inclined to an affection towards a local act who even founded their own little scene through a label (Trout Records), and stoked it with their own boisterous, guitar-mashing live shows, these kind of ‘fade aways’ seems to happen all too often. Sometimes, likes with Spies in 2018, they band later returns in a blaze of glory.

The return of this particular fiery band whose early EPs set tongues wagging could hardly be more well-timed. Dublin’s rock scene is on quite a high, recently prompting a feature in NME which waxed lyrical about the strength of the city’s output, hyping the likes of Girl Band, Fontaines D.C., The Murder Capital and Silverbacks.

With the return of Spies accompanied by a long overdue debut album in ‘Constancy’ (the band formed way back in 2011), there’s a marked change in style and substance. There are still plenty of those guitars, but gone are their overpowering domination, with elements of synth work and even a mellow album-closing ballad adding depth to Spies’ palette.

“We wanted to work on an album properly, so we took a step back from gigging. When the album was complete, we couldn’t see the wood for the trees,” vocalist Michael Broderick explains. “We weren’t really sure how good it was, so we decided to let it rest.” When the band finally returned to the stage with a new single in April of this year, it had been nearly two years since their last show.

“We started thinking about the keyboards and stuff when we finished producing our last EP, at The Meadow,” Broderick says of the stylistic change prevalent on the release, which follows three earlier short-form records. “We saw what we could do with all the equipment they had down there.”

“The new album is about coping with change. It’s about the inevitability of it in life, about how you can’t control your environment, so you have a really limited amount of control about how things change around you.”