Bobby Aherne’s place in the Dublin music scene seems to be one at the heart of every bit of wonderful, quirky offbeat pop music. His any guises over the years have seen Aherne, presumably, spending most of his life songwriting and releasing wonderful, offbeat little oddities to local acclaim, often deserving more love than he actually got.
His latest incarnation is ‘Sir Bobby Jukebox‘, a kind fo tongue-in-cheek branding of what has long been a solo project under the name ‘No Monster Club‘, in practice, at least. His new LP, in typical Aherne fashion, is available on an obscure label on cassette tape only, and (fortunately) online, and explores nostalgia and poetry, as you do.
I caught up with him on his latest buzz…
So first of all, the rebrand – what’s the story behind Sir Bobby Jukebox?
I’ve done a bunch of solo shows as ‘No Monster Club’ and it’s always felt kind of weird… after all, a club of one isn’t much of a club. So I wanted a different name for when it’s just me. That said, NMC was originally a solo thing, so I’m not sure what I was thinking there.
I’ve always found honorifics absurd, and none more so than ‘Sir’ – like being forced to call male teachers at school ‘Sir’? Also the caretaker in the building I used to live in would address me as ‘Sir’ about five times per sentence, which made me feel so awkward. And then I guess “Jukebox”, just because there’s nothing worse than when somebody finds out that you’re a musician and they ask you to give them a song – as if you’re a walking jukebox and they can put a 20p coin in your mouth and expect an Elvis impression or something.
So yeah, ‘Sir Bobby Jukebox’ was pretty much the most preposterous name I could come up with. A fitting mask for this charade.
“A fool has a great need of a title. It teaches men to call him count and duke and to forget his proper name of fool.” – John Crowne
Does this mean the end of No Monster Club, or are you going to be doing both, one solo and one band?
Over the past decade, No Monster Club released literally hundreds of songs and had precisely ZERO platinum-selling hits – making it the most unsuccessful band in Irish music history. Sheesh! I had to get away from those suckers. Now it’s time for me to have my Mikey Graham moment.
The ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ song is potent in the current environment. Is COVID offering a strange kind of inspiration at the moment?
It may sound timely, but it was written a good while ago and riffs off an extremely old Robert Browning poem. It’s about an artist who is locked away by his patron and forced to paint – but after a few weeks, it’s Carnival time so he puts together a bedclothes-ladder and makes a break for it. In the song, I subbed out Carnival for the summertime in general – which has worked out to be quite a well-timed coincidence.
Does the album in general have a little bit of a ‘Bobby under lockdown’ feel to it?
I think most of my solo stuff probably has a self-isolated, losing-my-mind, ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ vibe to it anyway – but this album was mixed (by Fiachra McCarthy) and mastered (by Mikey Smith) throughout 2019, so it’s mercifully free of any actual viral content. Even if the lyrics of something like ‘World Peace’ might also suggest a purposeful attempt at writing some sort of cheesy lockdown anthem.
An LP via tape… a niche market these days. Do you like the idea that it’s something a bit different?
I think it’s the third or fourth album that I’ve done with the Already Dead Records crew, who primarily release stuff on tape. As well as the nostalgic element, music definitely sounds… warmer… on cassette than it does on CD or Spotify, which is why I’m into it. Like any music-maker, I would like for people to listen to my album as one continuous piece – and the cassette format also encourages this.
The dabbling with Eurovision – how serious were you, and how did you feel it went?
Well, it couldn’t have gone much worse, hahaha. The year that I sent in a song, RTE got hundreds of entries but went with some lad from Fair City whose uncle had also been in the Eurovision before. I have no fancy connections, and RTE probably wouldn’t touch me with a bargepole even if Marty Whelan was my son. But all in all, I’d say I’m around 37% serious about it.
You’ve been off doing all sorts of stuff for the last little while – let’s get a plug in. Tell me about the history book and the stage show…
I wrote a book called ‘D’You Remember Yer Man?’ which is about some lesser-known heroes of Dublin history – free spirits who ignored convention and who I found incredibly interesting and inspiring. Then in 2018, Giles Brody and I wrote the comedy-musical ‘Trial of the Centurys’, about intergalactic popstar twins Trevor and Elliot Century. We were blessed with a majestic cast (Tony Cantwell, Kevin McGahern, Aoife Spratt, Simon Mulholland, Matt Carpenter and Peter McGann) and filled the Project Arts Centre for a week. A real hoot.
Do either of those areas play into your music, like some kind of great cross-contaminating creative orgy?
Hmm… well, my Eurovision song actually ended up in the musical as a Trelliot song, and now it’s ended up on ‘Friendship Gift’ – so I guess so! I’d say there’s a thin line between all of that stuff, and I’d like to make that line even thinner.
I understand you’ve relocated, too – do you miss the Dublin scene?
I’ve since RE-relocated and am now back in Dublin… for the time being. But I guess I can still say I miss the Dublin scene, because I probably feel more removed from it right now than I did when I lived 18,000 kilometres away.
How have you found starting again somewhere new?
Brisbane is an extremely idyllic place and I look forward to resuming life there – and restoring my farmer’s tan – at some point in the future. I can’t say that I’ve broken Australia… but of course, my goal has never been to break anything. They have their own amazing under-rated underground scene too, which has been refreshing to explore – bands like The Goon Sax, The Garbage and the Flowers, Blank Realm, Bad Sext, Olivia’s World, Dumb Things and Thigh Master. It’s a splendid place and I like it a lot.
What are your hopes for the future?
To break Australia, win the Eurovision, have a platinum-selling solo single, then reform the most unsuccessful band in Irish music history for a few hundred more flops.