Irish Music


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.”

King Kong Company: Meet Ireland’s Wild Festival Heroes

One album, their own beer and performing in a cardboard box: twenty years of King Kong Company

A SELF-PROCLAIMED COLLEGE BAND reformed to a heyday later in life that far exceeds their 90s peak, King Kong Company are fast becoming Ireland’s go-to festival act, and with good reason.

The Waterford based act are a high energy, upbeat dance six-piece with plenty of stage moves. One member performs in a cardboard box with crudely cut eye holes, while recent outings include a trip to iconic UK festival Glastonbury, a tea party at Michael D Higgins house, and even the launch of their own unlikely beer infused with Buckfast, with King Kong Company plastered across the front.

Colin Hoye, the group’s trumpeter, is the one member currently based in Dublin, and met the Gazette to describe what’s been a strange journey and a wildly busy summer to date. Amazingly, their self-titled debut of 2016 is the band’s only formal release to date, despite performing together from 1996 to 2000, and then from 2011 to today.

“The technology wasn’t really there to do what we wanted to do back then,” Hoye recalls. “We had this massive eight track and you couldn’t even get the drums alone onto it. We have so many channels now. We had a manual drum machine that we started and stopped for every track back then. We did the best we can, but trying to actually make an album would have been too hard, or too expensive at the time.”

“Second time around [following the band’s reformation in 2011], I think we were looking for a mid-life crisis and found one. We had no misconceptions about what we were going to get out of it this time. But we’re surprised at how well it’s gone for us.”

“When we decided to get back together, we used the power of social media to help us along the way. We decided to do twelve tracks in twelve months, and our friend John Loftus basically said that he’d do the videos for us. Those videos sparked a lot of the characters we have now, and those characters came into the live shows. It’s almost more of a product at this stage.”

When it came to the album, Hoye recalls the live set up being very much a key factor. “We had to do everything we could to bring the live sound into the album,” he explained. “It would have been very easy to just do it very electronically, but you want to move the music around to have that live effect to it. We are very much a live band, and we wanted to show people what we sound like live with the album. In a way we were kind of dreading the album as we knew it would be so much work. We used to be more like acid jazz, so it’s a bit of a change of direction from what we sounded like in the late 90s. But nobody sound like that anymore.”

Hothouse Flowers talk life in the slow lane

The Dublin act Rolling Stone magazine once called ‘The best unsigned band in Europe”’ reveal how they’ve been spending recent years, and the quiet, steady progress of their first album in a decade.

TO THE UNINITIATED, it seems like Hothouse Flowers have been on the wind-down for quite sometime. Despite regular shows, there hasn’t been an album released formally in well over a decade. The band that emerged from Colaiste Eoin in Booterstown so powerfully that they never had to get real jobs after school might appear to have gone a little quiet. Not for long.

“What’s going on with us is a bit like those people who starting tiling a bathroom in 2002 and still haven’t finished,” Fiachna O’Braonain explains. “There hasn’t been an album in ten years, yet it feels like we haven’t stopped gigging. We all have very different lives outside the band. I have three children under five. It’s hard to get out of the house.”

“I’ve been doing different projects with different people,” Liam O’Maonlai adds. “I think it was about three years ago we got invited to play in Windmill Lane for Culture Night. In payment for that we got eight days studio time. We didn’t actually avail of it until a year ago. Those eight days really facilitated us. Often you can get these gigs where you have to put a lot of money in to set things up, but they wanted us to make a record there. And we did, we made a record. We narrowed it down to eleven pieces of music. Maybe towards the end of the summer, maybe earlier, it’ll be here. There’s just a couple of little things to address.”

“There is already an album called ‘Let’s Do This Thing’. It’s on the website but nowhere else. I had a listen to it and decided it didn’t sound quite as good as the rough mixes, so we’ll be putting it out again. Everyone who already bought it will get it a second time for free, but they’ll be another version, another part of the project.”

“More electronic, chilled and mature” – The Coronas return with ‘Trust The Wire’

One of Ireland’s most popular indie-pop acts return from London, hit up Dingle and dive back into the Irish scene…

LONG SEEN as Ireland’s ultimate student band, The Coronas evolution has been an odd one. Rarely given the media credit that their sizeable sell-out shows might suggest they warrant, the lively four-piece are firmly established on our shores, having played the country’s largest indoor gig venue (the 3Arena) and headlined numerous festivals.

For much of the last few years, however, their Irish successes have been conducted from abroad, with The Coronas living together on London as they tried to break into a larger market, with mixed success. Having now returned home – a move that, bizarrely, precedes their largest ever London show latest this year, in the Kentish Town Forum – life is moving on fast.

New album ‘Trust The Wire’ – a reference to taking chances – represents probably the band’s most substantive change in style since they started out 14 years ago, taking in a broad range of genres and instrumentation. It’ll be released on a newly-established band-run label, too.

“We didn’t sit down and decide to do things differently,” frontman Danny O’Reilly told the Gazette. “It just evolved. We wrote the album in Dingle, instead of London like the last album, and I think there was a subconscious impact of that in the sound. It’s very electronic, chilled and mature, written from a place of calm. I think you can sense the change lyrically, too.”

“It’ll be our first record on the new label, and we’re excited about that,” he adds. “It makes sense for us financially now that we’re in a place where we can promote ourselves, and really take control of what we’re doing. We’ve actually done more promotion on this album than other ones, even though we didn’t have that major label backing, so it seems to be going well.”

“If I wasn’t writing music, I’d lose my mind” – the reincarnation of Come On Live Long

Dublin act Come On Live Long’s comeback brings with it evolution, and a stunning new album

Come On Live Long

FOUR YEARS after the release of their acclaimed debut album ‘Everything Fall’, and with an ocean of water under the bridge, Dubliners Come On Live Long formalise their return next week with the official launch of a follow up, ‘In The Still’.

The four-piece are an eclectic lot, seemingly grabbing their inspiration from old-school fuzzy jazz tracks, delicate, fashionable beats and gentle pop sensibilities all at the same time. Their style’s become ever more creative, and in ‘In The Still’, they’ve taken directly from their surrounds, drawing on a series of imaginative samples and playful field recordings.

Since the last album, vocalist Rob Ardiff spent six weeks in Paris producing a solo EP, and became a father. Bassist Ken McCabe relocated to Malta for a while and worked as a producer on a number of records, not least Loah’s highly-acclaimed new album, and also left the country for two years to complete a teaching qualification. Keyboard player Louise Gaffney created music videos for sadly-deceased pianist Conor Walsh. A real contributor to the new record, then, is the bringing together of their varied recent lives.

“We got together for a weekend jamming, and we had an absolute tonne of material,” McCabe told the Gazette of the process. “We almost had an album from that one weekend,” Ardiff continues. “There were a couple of tracks written later in the studio, but  a lot of it was there straight away. A lot of the songs were quite individual projects, written away from the band. They were less jammed out than the first album; we just jammed together to finish it off.”

“It’s really hard ducking in and out of music,” Ardiff said of the time away. “That’s why we all had our own things going on, though. Music’s really good for mental health, definitely in my case. If I wasn’t writing music I’d be losing my mind.”

Taking it slow: Ham Sandwich’s unstoppable plod to the top

Ham Sandwich (photo by Dara Munnis)

Almost two years on from their number one album ‘Stories From The Surface’, the Kells indie act are riding slow and enjoying the view…

HAM SANDWICH have never been a band to rush things. After their Irish number one album ‘Stories From The Surface’ – their third full-length – saw them reach their highest ebb so far back in Spring 2015, the Kells act stepped up to larger venues as opportunities rushed before them.

They’ve never been the type of band to ‘cash in’, however. It’s taken well over a decade to get to three albums, a journey that’s taken the five-piece to a host of the UK’s biggest festivals. Their laidback outlook still finds them, the night before our interview, performing secret shows at short notice in the heart of Dublin, essentially for the sake of performing.

Niamh Farrell, an iconic frontwoman on the Irish indie scene, tells us where things stand in 2017:

“We’ve started working on new music, but we’re not the kind of band to put anything out until we’re really ready,” Farrell explains. “But we’ve been down to Dingle recently for a weekend to work on a few songs and spend some time as a band, to really gel. We don’t know when the next album will be, but we never really did. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

“What we have so far is a lot groovier, a lot funkier,” she says of the progress already made. “We just do our own thing. We even had a time apart before, but it was just to do our own thing. People misconstrued it as a break up. It wasn’t, it was more refreshing ourselves over that Christmas. We were really buzzing after some time apart, it really helped us move forward.”

Part of Ham Sandwich’s appeal has always been their willingness to do things slightly differently, from some of their earliest album performances involving guerilla gigs in the streets of Dublin, to Farrell’s famous Hot Press cover, nude aside from a coating of copies of the magazine.

The Return of Something Happens

Tom Dunne’s pop-rockers are making their regular nostalgic return next week, but haven’t ruled out writing again, either…

TOM DUNNE is best known today as a jovial presenter on Newstalk radio, but in the late 80s and early 90s his band Something Happens were at the forefront of a burgeoning Irish indie music scene.

Still active today – though infrequently, their shows an ecstatic celebration of what was – Dunne recalls the heydey fondly. “Getting started at all was our greatest achievement,” he jokes. “It was an incredible dream, getting to do things you only think people like Paul McCartney get to do.”

“It was taken for granted back then, for example, that being in a rock band meant doing certain things. We played in the National Stadium, and went to LA to record an album. Those kind of things don’t happen except for really huge bands anymore. Back then you just popped by a different country. It was almost expected.”

Something Happens picked up a huge record deal back then, with the pop-rockers signing up for Virgin to release debut album ‘Been There, See That, Done That’, and making a splash in the UK and the US.

The band even had their own self-penned magazine, writing stories of their times on tour, and once featuring Daniel O’Donnell on the cover. “We had a lot of time on tour, and it was something to do,” Dunne recalls, “getting down all the funny things that happened to us. The Daniel O’Donnell one was definitely a highlight. We used to sell them at shows.”

After several years of touring, the Virgin deal was eventually to turn sour: dropped from the label, Something Happens never reached quite the same heights as they had with their debut release, but continued released new music – much of it highly acclaimed – right up until 1997.

“We’d just heard that we were getting dropped, and I walked into the newsagent and picked up NME, and we were ‘single of the week’, which was a big deal back then” Dunne tells us. “We didn’t know about it. That was an odd week, and we felt a bit lost, I think. We ended up having a very long tail as a band.”

“Love and Joy”: Loah bares her soul in launching debut EP

Loah, photo by Caolan Barron

SALLAY MATU GARNETT – better known by her stage name ‘Loah’ – has been around the Dublin music scene for quite some time. In her current, solo guise, Loah debuted in 2014, but she already had experience working with Hozier and Kila under her belt. Now, having done gigs as far afield as New York and Texan industry festival SxSW, she’s finally putting her work down on record.

“I planned to record the ‘This Heart’ EP a couple of years ago,” Loah told the Gazette. “I had most of the tracks back in 2015, but when I went to record it I just had a bad feeling. I decided to wait. In June 2016 I went up to Hellfire Studios and spent a week there. I had planned on doing it all in one go, but I decided to take longer on the vocals, and worked with Ken McCabe [of Dublin act Come On Live Long] on sorting out the arrangements.”

Matu Garnett, from Maynooth, has long flitted between an astonishingly broad assortment of projects, which probably explains much of the time taken getting her sound down on record. Self-described as ‘Art Soul’, her music explores a wide mix of genres including funk, soul, jazz, blues and afrobeat. The entire process has squeezed between work as a pharmacist, and a period in which she was working largely as a screen actor, and making music around it.

“I was acting full time at the same time as recording in 2016,” she recalls. “I struggled to keep up my steam, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. This EP is quite out there. When I was a student I used to write really happy music, but a lot of what’s on the EP explores my internal fears. It’s a lot about insecurity. When I grew up, I told my parents I wanted to be a poet, but I’ve never felt entitled to be an artist, and in some ways I’m my own worst enemy. At times it’s direct, it’s spiritual, political and painful. Not everyone will get it, and that’s fine.”