Groundhopping: England Women (v Germany, Wembley Stadium)

Date: 31 July 2022

Competition: Women’s European Championship Final 2022

Result: England 2 – 1 Germany (After Extra Time)

Tickets: £15 (adult, top tier, bought a year in advance)

Attendance: 87,192 (record for any European Championship Final, men or women)

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (off the charts)

The Game: The women’s Euros 2022 in England felt like a seminal moment in women’s football to me. The quality of games was outstanding, and England’s progress, as both hosts and my own country, was compelling. I think the 8-0 hammering of Norway in the group stages – which I missed live, but absolutely devoured later – was probably the point it became completely unmissable to me.

As it happened, I had bought a ticket to the final a year in advance on the off chance England progressed, in part because they were so crazily cheap for what they were (£15 for a ticket is less than I pay to see an average League of Ireland game, which is normally €20, though of course the travel was quite a lot more).

What a game this was. Incredibly intense and full of personality: Germany as the gritty, slightly abrasive serial winners that looked like they would wear England down, and England as the slightly fragile flair side always liable to do something incredible to grab the win.

While there were quite a few chances in the first half, and an absolutely raucous atmosphere, it was in the second half that the game truly came to life. Germany were missing Alexandra Popp, their top goalscorer, who might have turned the game. Instead, England found themselves leaning on some outstanding substitutes again, with Ella Toone the first goalscorer after she latched on to a beautiful long pass and chipped the Germany goalkeeper. In the ground, it felt like that finish took forever to his the net, and the place absolutely erupted.

Germany’s equaliser was a clinical finish from a cross, so we went to extra time. Chloe Kelly’s winner, which came in the second half of extra time, was a scrambled tap in, after she had hyped the crowd just a few seconds before, and then England hung on in the corner to send Wembley into absolute raptures. One of the best atmspheres of any game I’ve been to, this was absolutely manic from start to finish, the kind of game that makes you tired watching with the sheer emotional investment of it. Both England’s goals hit the net right in front of me. Once in a lifetime.

Strangers With Guns: “We have a toe dipped in most genres so haven’t been embraced particularly by any”

Sitting somewhere in the realm of punk, metal and grunge, Strangers with Guns have become one of Dublin’s most profilic bands, powering through the covid lockdown with a rapid-fire series of releases that have them all reayd to burst back onto the live scene.

Fronted by Jeff Crosdale, who has historically also done most of the writing, the band are ramping up around the release of new record ‘All Pleasure Is Just Relief’, which they view as their opus, but also accept sits between two stools, making it something of a marketing challenge.

I caught up with Jeff ahead of the launch to talk it over…

I understand there was a long period of trying to get a band together through Gumtree ads before it finally happened. What’s the backstory to that?

I did use to post on Gumtree and Boards.ie maybe 3 times a year looking for musicians for close to 4 yearrs, although our new bassist “Watchy” says he only ever looks on Bassist Ireland for these things so I may have been trying wrong places. I already had a few songs done up and online and I’d try jam them out with people, it never clicked, we never clicked, maybe 3/4 rehearsals in, it would all be done. Lots of the time seemed to be people who had just started looking for a new band to be in and then would jump ship to something more up and running. Till I met Rennick of course

‘Degenerate Art’ launched you, but also came at a time where we didn’t know it, but covid was on the horizon. How difficult was it to build momentum?

We have been terrible at post album tours and follow up, a big part of that is how much is put into promoting and getting the attention on the initial release. We do be flat out for months and burnt out long before we have the album launch show, definitely harder to plan what to do post release then pre. Actually, we found we built more momentum during the pandemic then at any other time because we never sat it out, we never stopped releasing music and videos when others were sitting back.

How do you view that debut album three years later?

Jeff : Still extremely proud of it. Like ‘lies of omission’ is 10yrs old but its sounding better than ever now and we close shows with it a lot. It is our most “Grunge” sort of effort, I actually thought once released we would be off to the races, industry doesn’t work like that. Although we got 5 songs on national radio which is quite a feat for a band like us I think, and working with Mik Pyro is still a personal highlight.

I understand the new album is heavier – is that a general direction for you all?

We are definitely a band, for the record we make decisions together. But I(Jeff) do write the songs, every line, every lick, at least pre Watchy (New Bassist), PW if you will, maybe AW will be different. I just write what comes out for the most part, I jam and listen if I start enjoying something or feeling like it rips I’ll build on it and send it to Rennick, jamming is amazing, just switching off and ripping.

Groundhopping: Shamrock Rovers (v Ludogorets Razgrad, Tallaght Stadium)

Date: 26 July 2022

Competition: UEFA Champion’s League Second Qualifying Round

Result: Shamrock Rovers 2 – 1 Ludogorets (aggregate 2-4)

Tickets: €20 (adult), €7 (kids)

Attendance: 6,322

Game Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The game: I make a point of trying to get to a couple of the games involving Irish teams in Europe every summer, and I’ve seen some absolutely belting games (Dundalk hammering BATE 3-0 in this ground particularly stands out). This was no exception. Shamrock Rovers were slightly unfortunate to be 3-0 down returning from Bulgaria, having been easily the match of Ludogorets for the second half of the match. In this game, at times it looked like Rovers might overrun the Bulgarians, though overturning the 3-0 deficit only briefly looked possible.

There’s a gulf in class between these sides on paper, but from the off Rovers were on top, and threatened on numerous occasions in the first half, with a rebound slammed away by Aaron Greene around midway through giving them the lead.

Ludogorets were aggressive and frustrating, with a lot of professional fouls and time wasting, and deservedly received a red card – perhaps a combination of endless niggly fouls – about 55 minutes in, which seemed to signal an opening for Rovers. Placing much of the team behind the ball, however, Ludogorets were able to hold out until the 88th minute, when Rovers got a second and briefly threatened to take the tie to extra time. With most of the team pressed forward, though, Ludogorets finally came out of their shell and caught them on the counter attack, ending the tie as a contest. Really impressive from Rovers, though, considering the gap in budgets.

The ground: I was slightly disappointed there weren’t more people in the Tallaght Stadium, perhaps because of the heavy first round loss. There were a few hundred empty seats which I have no doubt would have been full had it felt like the tie was wide open.

Still, the south stand as usual made quite a racket, and the new north stand, still a ball-catching area of mud and machinery, is going to nicely round off the stadium when it’s done. I enjoy visiting here, though many other Irish grounds have more of that charmingly rundown feel that brings back 90s football, and I’d probably prefer that on balance. It’s a great spot for kids, though, especially with the McDonald’s over the road!

Extras: Programme, club shop, and they’ve started selling slushies, which my son goes absolutely wild for. It’s a bit full on getting served at half time and I had to go on a comical chase around the Main Stand to grab a programme from a fast-moving seller, but generally speaking the place is set, and very nice to visit.

Assorted asides: If you sit at the very back on the Main (West) stand, not only can you freely stand without annoying anyone, but there is a raised concrete area behind the seats that allows kids to see perfectly.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 4. Home wins: 2. Draws: 0 Away wins: 2

Goals: 13. Home goals: 6. Away goals: 7. Goals per game: 3.25

VIEW ALL GROUNDHOPPING POSTS HERE.

Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum: Dexter star finds new niche

Photo by Paul Storey

In 2014, glammed up to the nines, Dexter actor Michael C Hall took to the road in a musical called Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hall, who plays the guitar and sings in the show, was accompanied by (amongst others) keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen (of Blondie), and drummer Peter Yanowitz (of The Wallflowers). 

The performance wasn’t a gig, as such, but the trio were part of a band, of sorts. In fact, Katz-Bohen and Yanowitz had already been jamming together for some time, and when they invited Hall, better known as an actor, to join them, things started to click. So came the unlikely birth of atmospheric rockers Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum.

The band debuted in 2018, but are yet to tour, having been hit by covid. Ireland, in fact, will offer some very early shows outside of New York City. “I think it’s going to be great, we’re really excited to share the music,” Hall says. “Going from playing in a band but someone else’s music, to creating something on your own, is a whole new thing. There’s a sense of ownership that’s unique to this.”

“I don’t think any of us anticipated how long things would go on,” Katz-Bohen says of the band’s last show and the drawing in of covid. They finished up in New York’s iconic Mercury Lounge right as covid shutdown hit – literally the last band to play. “We were all in New York making the record, and were able to get together, we made this kind of Princess bubble,” they recall.

“We write in all kinds of ways, sometimes we’re all in the studio, and sometimes Mike was singing into his phone – we actually used tracks from singing into the phone on the record. We tried to keep it fresh.”

“I was sort of able to trick myself into this because we were just having fun,” Hall says. “Only after we had written several songs did we realise we might be a band. Thankfully, I was very welcomed, and to collaborate with these two in a way that I might not have felt as entitled to if they hadn’t been such welcoming, cool guys. I think we just collectively had a feeling that something was emerging through the collaboration of the three of us. I’m not sure any of us can explain it”

Windings: “At the time of writing the album, things were gone a bit askew in the world”

Limerick rockers Windings have been on a particularly raucous Irish circuit for some time, but they refuse to stand still. Latest album ‘Focus On The Past 5’ is their latest evolution, a product of the band’s progression, but also of their broader context, and Irish society itself.

“At the time of writing the songs for the album, things were gone a bit askew in the world,” they say. “This was pre-pandemic, as we had this album written by late 2019 and ready to record for Summer 2020. This didn’t work out, of course. But that time was a heady time of turbulence, unrest, and righteousness. There was a feeling in the air that we were almost at some tipping point, I felt. This feeling is reflected in these songs. One of the songs, ‘This Is Fine’ was initially called ‘Rampant Disease’ until the start of 2020, which we then changed for obvious reasons.”

“It’s fair to say that this album represents the most collaborative effort of the band so far. All songwriting was shared, and there are even other members taking lead vocal duties on a couple of songs. This is new for us. We’re not really happy to stay in the same place as musicians. I mean, we’ll still probably be playing guitars, bass, drums and keys, but we don’t allow ourselves to do the same thing twice in terms of releasing new work. That makes us uninterested, and if we’re uninterested then our music will be uninteresting to play, and also to listen to.”

“Collaboration is very important in this band, as making music with other people is what we do,” they continue. “Pa has King Pallas, which has myself and Brian in it, as well as Jean Wallace and Marty (Anna’s Anchor). That’s Pa’s baby, and we just try to make the songs sound the best we can doing what we do. As individuals, we’ve worked in various capacities with Murli, Denise Chaila, Naive Ted, Powpig, Anna’s Anchor and more. Every collaborative project is a new door.  We’re musicians, we should be making music, otherwise what else is there?”

One particular collaborator Windings single out is Daniel Fox, a member of Gilla Band (until recently known as Girl Band), a collaborative star who is fast becoming a Dublin music scene icon. 

The Winter Codes: “we try to keep our music upbeat , catchy and fairly sing-along”

The Winter Codes are a folk duo fronted by Barney Murray, who also fronts Celtic punk band Blood Or Whiskey. Their new record, due out in August, is a tribute to the other member’s brother. David Walshe’s sibling Paul Walshe passed away a decade ago, and ‘Set The Darkness Reeling’ is a tribute to his memory.

Collaborations on the record include Daithi Meila from the Irish/ bluegrass band Jig Jam, folk singer Lisa Loughrey, and engineer Sean Montgomery. I spoke to the pair ahead of its release…

First of all, congrats on the new outlet. How does it differ from Blood Or Whiskey, style wise, from your perspective?

This album is way more folk-y than previous stuff. It is much less Punk and way more Pop influenced. It could be called Trad/ Pop.

I understand the whole record is a tribute to David’s brother. Did that make it emotional to record?

It did make it emotional for us, because I think that in the back of our minds we were thinking “what would Paul think of this?” I think that he would be very happy with the way it came out . We still miss him, he was a great brother and friend as well as being a brilliant musician.

Is any particular track on the record the most personal to you, and why?

The most personal track on the album for me is Friend In Tullamore. It is very autobiographical for me. I moved from Leixlip to Tullamore years ago and I feel that it was the town that gave me a second chance and maybe the song is my way of saying thanks for that.

What can we expect from the full length album when it comes out?

I think you can expect an album which is mostly original stuff from us with a few traditional songs thrown in. We try to keep our music upbeat, catchy and fairly sing-along because that is the type of music that we like to listen to ourselves. We put huge effort into getting the sound right and I think it shows when we listen to it now. The new single to be released along with the album is ‘Troublesome Girl’.

The Swedish Railway Orchestra: “It’s the SRO record I had the most fun making”

Rob Smith’s eclectic dance offering The Swedish Railway Orchestra face the challenging task of being a distinctly club focused act in a country where clubbing struggles.

Not that it’s held Smith back: with his latest album Dance to the Drum Machine on the horizon, he told us about some of the experiences music has already brought to him, including performing in Buenos Aires and Berlin, although this particular outfit simply doesn’t step into the live arena. His 2020 single ‘The Freaks Come Out At Night’ combines immediacy and vibrant beats, and was his greatest hit to date.

I caught up with Rob ahead of his latest release…

Dance To The Drum Machine is out in about a month. What can we expect?

It’s the Swedish Railway Orchestra record I had the most fun making. I felt on the previous album, the self-titled 3rd one, I put myself under pressure that I had to make a great album. This time around I felt more loose about it and the result feels like more of an album ideal to play at parties.

What’s your production process, and how do you experiment with your sound?

It really depends. I can be messing around with a synth and get a good sound and let that be the basis for a song. Or even just playing bass guitar and if I come up with a good little riff. Same goes if I’m messing with some vintage drum machines, I think to myself “oh, that sounds good. I wonder if I could build something around that?”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn’t. 

What about converting that sound into a live setting – how does that work for you?

The Swedish Railway Orchestra was always a project and not a live band. I set that out from the very start. I wanted it to be a project of music that was fun to make and fun to listen to. I didn’t want the pressures of travelling and playing, I had done that for years previously. This does make it a harder sell. It’s very hard to shift vinyl and CD’s if people can’t see this thing live. I’ve received some incredible offers to do it live over the years. Promoters looking to stick it on at some prestigious festivals, for example. So far I’ve managed to resist all temptation, but I’ve also said “never say never”.

Dark Tropics: “it’s mostly acoustic and vintage sounding without heavy beats or synths”

For a sharp, colourful and very-natural feeling collaboration in what they brand as the ‘pop noir’ world, Belfast duo Dark Tropics’ are growing fast. Their original formation, which saw them evolve into an act receiving a surprising level of early-career international radioplay almost overnight, was somewhat more mundane, but an immediate fit.

“About two years ago I saw an ad online on ‘join my band’ from a singer based in Belfast looking to perform live in a jazz band,” multi-instrumentalist Gerard Sands explains. “Although I didn’t really want to play jazz, I thought it was intriguing so I messaged Rio [McGuinness] and she emailed me back from Morocco where she was volunteering for the summer after her A Levels.” 

“She sent me this really jazzy voice note of her singing ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley acapella. It sounded beautifully strange, so we organised a meeting on her return. At our first meeting, we discovered a mutual appreciation of Radiohead and The Rolling Stones song ‘Sympathy for the devil’ and decided to try recording something the following week. We wrote and recorded two demos very quickly, sent them off to a few industry folk, and a few months later we were in Attica studio in the Donegal countryside recording our debut album ‘Ink’.” 

“We did have a lot of gigs scheduled when we released our first single so obviously it was a disappointment when covid stopped all that. It did give us an opportunity to write new songs though. We couldn’t meet up during lockdown so we’d send each other song ideas via WhatsApp and develop them that way.”

“Now that shows have started again we’re keen to get out and play. We’ve only done a handful of shows, actually just three, so we need to play in front of an audience and get that feedback.”