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Beans On Toast: “We should be allowed to change our opinion, otherwise, what’s the point?”

It is, arguably, the era of the singer-songwriter. Not in the sense of the Ireland of 15 or 20 years ago, where every other act was a lad with a guitar, of course. More in the sense that those who do produce playful folk with wit and panache have never had a more natural audience: they can perform near enough as normal, while few other musicians are hampered at home by more complex technology.

Beans On Toast, a London-based singer songwriter who delivers sharp-edged folk-pop from the heart, is one such man. The solo act is a popular leftfield festival mainstay, and has spent the last few months performing in his back room most weekends, with only his girlfriend – a regular in his tracks – in attendance. 

‘Beans’ as he’s lovingly referred to by his fans, is political without being a know-it-all, smartly observational, and incredibly consistent: an album a year for a decade, on his birthday in early December (or two, this year, one themed around corona, and one more regular).

“It felt like an ending was in sight when I wrote the album,” he laughs as he talks of his corona record. “I’m not just going to keep doing that. I do write about life, though I really hope it won’t just be the one thing to write about for the rest of my days.”

“I miss touring and festivals, but I feel more for 19 year old kids who’d be going to their first festival. I’ve been to hundreds, so I can’t really complain. I don’t physically miss gigs, I’ve started getting aches and pain. I’ve never had any kind of routine before, so that’s been nice. The change in the mental dynamic of my life has been really big, actually.”

“The biggest worry might be how quickly you can adapt. It only took a year to get into things feeling normal, not being close to people. Later, they’ll be a phase before everyone goes mad, I think, with socially distanced shows and stuff. But I hope humanity comes out of this with a new lust for life. Connection to nature feels like it matters like never before, and that connection with each other. Surely we’ll learn some lessons.”

Groundhopping: Kilbarrack United (v Swords Celtic, Greendale Road)

Date: 14 July 2021

Competition: Leinster Sunday Senior League Division 1A (Irish 5th tier)

Result: Kilbarrack United 5 – 0 Swords Celtic

Tickets: Free entry

Attendance: Around 120

The game: I picked out this game hoping for a goal fest: both teams were heading into the third game of their LSL season, and both have been involved in winning two high-scoring games ahead of this one, and sat near the top of the table. It didn’t disappoint, though Swords Celtic did.

Kilbarrack United scored twice in the opening 90 seconds, and effectively ended the game as a contest. In typical non-league fashion, a hefty proportion of the support – perhaps more than half – turned up late enough to learn the game was basically over when they arrived. Kilbarrack look a serious side, but mostly undid Swords with pace down the wings and a series of crosses across the six-yard box that they typically got to first. Of the five goals, four came down this route, and Swords never seriously looked like replying.

Impressive to watch, though it wasn’t much of a contest, sadly.

Django Django: “It became slightly more political, with a little bit of angst holding things together”

Indie icons Django Django’s latest album ‘Glowing In The Dark’ is loaded with musical undertones, it’s meaning portrayed subtly in the descriptions of its title. Due on February 12, it’s crammed with nuance and clever constructions, typical of the indie act’s broad approach to music and thought-through twists.

Django Django have always rebelled against the musical norm. Their music seems to morph from record to record, with limited discernable themes, and plenty of exploration. They get vocally frustrated with delays between writing and releasing records, and they’re not afraid to express their disappointment with how some of their early work turned out.

In fact, their leftfield approach to music is something that gains and loses fans in a hurry, but keeps them utterly compelling.

“We don’t really take time off, we finish a piece and we’re onto the next one,” Derry frontman Vincent Neff says when I call him in his studio. “We finished the album just before lockdown. It was scheduled to come out before summer, but we pushed it back to ‘when things had calmed down’. So much for that.” 

“We wrote ‘Glowing In The Dark’ in 2019, and Trump was riding high on a litany of destruction, Brexit was a disaster, it had potentially looked like we might be able to remain. Then the hardliner elements got in. It looked quite bleak, I suppose. By the end I just couldn’t listen to it anymore, so I went into my imagination for how things could be, how they could be better.”

“It became slightly more political, with a little bit of angst holding things together, I guess. It’s quite nice to hear tracks like ‘Blackbird’ [by the Beatles], tracks that are quite covert. They have this collision of a mood in the lyrics and a brightness in the music. That kind of grabs us in a lot of music we listen to. That’s always been a kind of underlying sense of the music, and it’s really come to the fore in this one.”

Richey McCourt: “I hope to continue to write and produce music that connects with people”

Graduating from a role as a session and stage guitarist to an acclaimed songwriter, Richey McCourt’s career in music has gone ‘behind the scenes’, but the route the Blanchardstown musician has been able to take, in part from his own home, has opened plenty of impressive doors.

There’s a distinct difference between performing music and writing it for someone else, and McCourt’s journey has been very much about collaboration, working with record labels and high-profile acts to develop songs, style and direction.

“I started as many do, in guitar bands, and not always in a songwriter role,” he tells us. “During this time I was studying sound engineering, which is where my love of production started. After a few failed bands, and a realisation that it wasn’t the career path for me, I worked in Ireland as a session player with artists when they came in for promo – artists like Olly Murs, Shane Filan, Rebecca Ferguson and more. Throughout this time, I really focused on honing my craft as a songwriter. And that really started to come to fruition about five or six years ago.”

There have been plenty of steps on that journey, but some stand out, not least collaborating with some of the UK’s biggest acts.

“Landing a song on a UK Number 1 album, Will Young’s ‘85% Proof’ [Richey was involved in writing the track ‘I Don’t Need A Lover’], helped open a lot of doors. Working with major labels such as SYCO, RCA, Island Records – you’re dealing with really talented A&R teams, and it’s often a collaborative experience,” he says. 

“I always approach working with these teams and artists in the most professional manner possible. I am a songwriter and a producer and my role is to bring their creative vision to life. The majority of artists I’ve worked with are so immensely talented, and each have their own ideas and vision, so there needs to be flexibility and an openness to all of it. I think good communication and trust is key.”

Lauryn Gaffney Aims for Broadway… and K-Pop.

Award winning musical theatre composer Lauryn Gaffney, from right here in Dublin, made her off-Broadway debut last year with ‘Big Shot’, a show voted the Best Musical by Irish Broadway World.

Suffering an obvious dearth of opportunity amid the recent virus outbreaks, this year Gaffney turned her hand to making a short audio-only musical story, a 15-minute piece about two strangers trapped in an elevator and sharing their emotive stories. It’s an impressively colourful and engaging piece of music and storytelling for one that was effectively a time-filler, but Gaffney’s aims, it quickly become clear, are vast. In particular, she’d like to work for Disney, or write for stars of the South Korean K-pop scene. But that’s for the future.

“My dream was to have my first musical Off-Broadway and sometimes I still can’t believe that it happened,” Gaffney says, looking back at ‘Big Shot’. “There were many, many people, a lot of hours and a splash of luck that helped get the show to where it has been.”

“The show was performed initially in DCU in 2015. Then I funded the next production in the O’Reilly Theatre. We then took part in the San Diego Fringe Festival (winning the ‘Spirit of Fringe’ award and also performing in Tijuana, Mexico), and the Camden Fringe Festival, with some Irish performances in between, and then finally Off-Broadway. This was over the span of a few years. My incredible collaborators and I have spent many all-nighters calling the U.S., laughing at rewrites and crying over tech issues, but it was all worth it to be smiling, arm-in-arm at the bows.”

Corona, of course, required a change, and Gaffney adapted quickly. “I think now is the time for Musical Theatre to pivot until live shows come back. I’ve always wanted to write an audio-only musical where you don’t need to see the story to understand it,” she says.

“I want listeners to visualise the characters themselves. This musical links to isolation as there are two women trapped in an elevator with no choice but to hear one another’s story. I wanted it to be funny but have some serious elements too. It’s been described as ‘an emotional rollercoaster in under 15 minutes’ by Broadway World.”

Rory and the Island: “We’re just hanging in there, writing music.”

IF THERE’S one man whose 2020 might just sum up the wider feel of this year, it might be Donegal singer-songwriter Rory Gallagher (no, not that one). Known by his stage name ‘Rory and the Island’, Gallagher has fashioned a career as an alternative, self-propelled artist whose music touches on folk, occasional balearic beats, pop, cover songs, and even popular off-the-wall Donegal GAA anthem ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’.

Rory and the Island are named for the singer’s big adventure: he upped sticks and established himself running a bar, ‘The Island’ on Lanzarote, where he performed nightly for years, established a following spread across Europe, made up of his bar’s holiday guests. There were five albums in amongst it all. Before that fronted popular Dublin indie-punks The Revs.

In 2018, though, he packed that up as unsustainable with a young child. This year, he looked to set up a music bar in Edinburgh, his partner’s hometown. All set to move in, the coronavirus hit. The rent became unsustainable, and Gallagher ended up back in Donegal, a little lost.

“Lanzarote had run its course,” Gallagher recalled. “It gets a bit groundhog day after a while on the Canary Islands, and it starts to grate on you. You accidentally drink quite a bit of alcohol. We were done, so we moved back to Donegal in 2018.”

“I had a bit of a cult following, so I did gigs to 100-150 people in places like Manchester, Limerick, and so on. It was a lot of travelling, so we decided to do something more stable, and that was where Edinburgh came in, with a place called The Wildcat.”

“We’d signed a five year lease, and moved over at the start of this year. It was all set up, with PA, lights, and so on, and then covid hit before the official opening. After a couple of months we had to let it go. We’d have been in a hole by 60 or 70 grand. It was a communal disaster, I felt, lots of people handed their keys back. It was a weird year, and we’ll have to deal with it all later. At least we didn’t buy the place.”

The Riptide Movement talk their track’s starring role in the Christmas Guinness ad

‘Keep The Lights On’ is the heading under which Guinness have released this year’s latest in a stream of acclaimed Christmas ads. The 2020 version focuses, naturally, on what an odd year it’s been for Irish pub culture, shining a light, in particular, on small community pubs that are struggling to keep their doors open.

The musical background to the ad is provided by Dublin rockers The Riptide Movement, with their track ‘Turn On The Lights’, which Guinness asked for during production, a real honour for any Irish band given the brand’s cultural associations here in Dublin.

“For us it was a good campaign with a strong community message, that idea of us all been in this together, and we felt that our song was the right song to promote that message. It’s a song full of hope and is truly of these times,” the band says.

“The song took quite a journey, from the iphone of Mercury prize nominated artist Kath Williams, through Sonic Ranch studios in Texas, to Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin with the SUSO Gospel choir, and then it was released to little fanfare in November 2016 and almost forgotten about until it was unearthed and re-energised in this Guinness campaign.”

“The song was recorded in Texas back in January 2016 and produced by Ted Hutt. It was a song called ‘Same Time Every Year’ that a friend of mine, Kath Williams, had written with Josh Kumra and Joel Sarakula. Kath showed me an iphone voice recording of the song on a writers retreat a few months prior to the recording of our album ‘Ghosts’. I loved it and so did the band and we decided to record and put it on our ‘Ghosts’ album. When we got back to Dublin we had a 70 piece Gospel Choir called the SUSO gospel choir sing on it with us in Windmill Lane studios in Dublin under the directorship of Eimear Crehan.”

Despite the song far predating our current circumstances, the band feel it is a perfect fit in its messaging, which revolves around hope and looking forward positively.

Cousin Tablet: “We hope and believe the album will have a big impact”

Part of a scene centred around a popular bar in County Galway, Cousin Tablet aim to emulated a big-band style, drawing in a variety of musicians for newly launched debut single ‘Whatever Happened To Betty’.

The track is a real glance at the band’s ethos: an exploration of their past and a story from where they grew up, but also a broader commentary, if slightly unintentinally, of the Mother and Baby Home’s Scandal that touches on the life of frontman Donal Gibbons.

As well as getting their own music out there, Gibbons os keen to fly the flag for rural Ireland, a harder place from which to launch a band. I spoke to him around the launch of that debut…

Can you talk me through a little of the history of the band and how you came to be?

Jamie ,Steve,Wil and myself have been close friends for over 20 years. In that time we have played in a variety of different acts together and separately. We are a part of a much wider,dynamic and diverse music scene based around legendary Co. Galway venue Campbell’s Tavern, which spawned acts such as This Nachez, The Whileaways, The Rolling
Tav Revue, The Tav Jam Band and many more. When I had the first couple of songs written the three lads were my first calls to put some flesh on the bones of the ideas I had. Having played together so much over the years it was an easy fit and the contribution of the lads was critical in turning the ideas I had in to the songs they became.

How has lockdown treated you – any positive sides creatively?

For me creatively the lockdown has been amazing! Prior to its onset I was working full time as an electrician Monday to Friday and playing gigs Friday,Saturday and Sunday nights. Myself and my partner Juliana (who plays strings on Betty) had a beautiful 2 year old girl with another on the way so time to be creative was at a premium. I have to say we absolutely loved the time and space afforded to us during the first few months of lockdown. We had time to be creative and were both at home full time after our second daughter was born in June 2020. In a world without the lockdown I would have been back to work within a couple of weeks of the birth. That time at home is a luxury not afforded during normal times.

It has also shown me what can be achieved when you can afford to spend time being creative and not have to work over 40 hours a week as well to keep a roof over your family’s head. I also found time to help with the startup of a local Community Radio Station and present a weekly show, where I talk to other musicians about the music that influenced them,that has proved hugely popular.

We also set up a home studio during this time and learnt a lot about the recording process and its been great for us to be able do some recording from home while studios were shut during the lockdown. Also, being unable to afford to hire a PR company to help out with promotion,websites etc I took on all this myself and have found that I quite like the whole process of it so I have now also started doing websites and PR for some other acts. It’s a time consuming process but one I quite enjoy.

I wasn’t the only one who had spare time on my hands once the lockdown kicked in. Jamie, Wil and Stephen would also have been crazy busy during normal times so its hard to know if we would have found the time to put these songs together without the time afforded to us by lockdown. All that being said, we are well fed up of it now and itching to get back playing live and seeing other people!