Sam Wickens: “My music is always a face to face meeting with some sort of demon I’ve had rummaging around in my head”

Sam Wickens by Nathan Magee

Sam Wickens new EP ‘Watson’ was never meant to be. The Bangor man’s new record was originally something deeply personal, never intended to see the light of day. Now, it’s out in the world, and the way Wickens has poured his heart out is the strength of it. Having won comparisons to the likes of Jeff Buckley and Death Cab For Cutie, Wicken’s heart works best when it’s on his sleeve.

“The EP started as part of a passion project,” Wickens explains. “I began writing and recording a few songs to get some therapeutic release from them. I was in a terrible place and needed to try and work out thoughts and problems I was having at the time.”

“At the start of 2020 I was in such a better place and returned to these songs and had an overwhelming feeling that I had to share these stories and experiences, we finished recording the songs and they just created a body of music that was so tightly knitted together.”

Single ‘Murky Waters’ is a particularly poignant one for Wickens, in that it sees him bare his soul with total transparency. “My music is always a face to face meeting with some sort of demon I’ve had rummaging around in my head. I find that the entire process is incredibly helpful towards coming to terms with what the song was about, especially through the video process as it becomes a lot more in depth to the visual scenes and that can stem a lot of thoughts towards the original mindset of when I was writing the song and it was quite raw.”

““Murky Waters is the realisation that I was raised and put through terrible circumstances. Constantly feeling alone through every obstacle that was placed in front of me. Traumatic events seemed to follow me no matter where I ran, I started to believe that I was some sort of gatekeeper, that my purpose was to absorb the terrible things so others didn’t need too.”

“I love the visual side of things, I have released a music video for ‘Strange.24’ and one for ‘Murky Waters’ and that has been an incredible experience to be a part of. I love tattoos and have many but I only get writing tattooed on me, my girlfriend is a Tattoo Artist so I see a lot of the work that goes into drawing and designing which is incredible to witness! I find Mixed Martial Arts is a creative output as well, You get to be creative in the way of what Fighting style to use, when to mix it up, how to be unpredictable and follow a rhythm then change it.”

Groundhopping: Portmarnock AFC (v Tolka Rovers, Paddy’s Hill)

Date: 8 August 2021

Competition: Leinster Senior League Sunday 1 Division (Irish fourth tier)

Result: Portmarnock AFC 0 – 3 Tolka Rovers

Tickets: free

Attendance: 50

The game: We arrived just in time for kick off at this one, and almost immediately saw Tolka go ahead, with a rapid-fire free kick that cannoned off the crossbar and arguably over the line – it didn’t matter, ultimately, as the rebound was headed in anyway. Portmarnock strugged to cope with Tolka throughout and only really came to life at 3-0, in phases in the second half.

Both teams were lower mid table in the Senior 1 division going into the game, and on this showing Tolka look by far the more accomplished – they were clinical in taking the three goals that had the game won early on, and could have added more after that. A Portmarnock player got a serious injury in the second half – a leg break of some sort, by the looks of it – and there was briefly talk of calling the game off altogether. It petered out a bit after that, perhaps inevitably.

Groundhopping: Bohemians (v PAOK, Aviva Stadium)

Date: 3 August 2021

Competition: Europa Conference League Third Qualifying Round

Result: Bohemians 2 – 1 PAOK Thessaloniki

Tickets: €20 adults, minimum two tickets due to covid restrictions.

Attendance: 8,000 sold out, covid restricted.

The game: Bohemians are getting increasingly impressive in these Europa Conference League games, so much so that it’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since they were in Europe. PAOK are serious opposition, featuring Shinji Kagawa and a number of other fill internationals (though it probably has to be said that Kagawa was the worst player on the pitch today).

Aside from the opening five minutes, whch saw PAOK on top, Bohs dominated much of prceddings, though they did survive a poor PAOK miss when they got clean through on goal early on. In response, a lovely move set up Ali Coote, who then grabbed a second from a deep corner that the PAOK goalkeeper made an absolute mess of.

PAOK got one back late on, as Bohs tired, but any kind of win here is a hgue result for Bohs given the disparity of resources. I particularly love that Bohs are fan owned, and while stuff like this won’t make waves on any major level, it’s nice to occasionally see on in the face of hyper-commercial football. Hopefully they can hang on away in Greece.

Brídín: “I’ve learned very quickly not to take the little things for granted”

SLIGO NATIVE Brídín is the product of generations of music. Born into a trad-loving family, the harpist engaged with more modern sides of music once she got to studying at UCC. Now finds herself in the relatively unusual role of a modern harpist, producing a sound that would be unrecognisable to many trad fans, utilising modern studio and stage techniques to play with her sound.

“When I was studying music at UCC, I learned a lot about all different genres of music,” she says. “That’s where my mind was musically opened. I went on to do a masters in performance at UCC after and that’s when I started writing my contemporary pieces, with my loop pedal and effect pedals. I’m not trying to be ‘contemporary harp’, I just write what I like to hear, and it turns out to be contemporary. I’m so glad people are liking it so far.”

“I’m a fourth generation Irish traditional musician, so the mainstream of music I was surrounded by was Irish traditional music, choral and pop,” she explains.

“I was surrounded by music growing up luckily, because of my amazingly musical mother, Aileen. Mam would take us around playing music in different places and we’d teach ourselves tunes at home. I still love and play lots of traditional Irish music.”

On the ‘Ocean Of Stars’ EP, Brídín does dip lightly into trad elements, but quickly reveals far more substantive modern leanings. A track entitled ‘The Salmon’s Tale’ is closest to her childhood roots.

“I think my music has its own life, with little flavours of different genres.”

Groundhopping: Bohemians (v F91 Dudelange, Aviva Stadium)

Date: 30 July 2021

Competition: Europa Conference League Second Qualifying Round

Result: Bohemians 3 – 0 F91 Dudelange

Tickets: €20 adults, minimum two tickets due to covid restrictions.

Attendance: 8,000 sold out, covid restricted.

The game: Bohemians are starting to look like they belong in the national stadium, and looked in total control against F91 Dudelange, a side that should have been quite a challenge on paper. In fact, the game was so one-sided that there was no extended period, apart from arguably 10 minutes after half time, where you could say Dudelange were in charge.

Liam Burt and the goal machine Georgie Kelly stood out for Bohs, and despite the spacing, their fans slowly gravitated towards each other behind the goal and went increasingly wild as Bohs walked away with the tie, 3-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate. Really, really comfortable, and Bohs play PAOK from Greece in the next round.

Illicit Texts: North Korea’s View on History Explored through Smuggled Books

History is written by the winners, or so they say. It’s an often-forgotten side of East Asian history, though, that North Korea wasn’t always seen as a ‘loser’.

The centrally planned North Korean economy, in fact, matched its southern counterpart right into the 70s, fuelled by support from the communist block. The culture of the post-war country has been a repressive one since the drawing of the 39th parallel, but the ideology has stuck fast, with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s increasing isolation enabling it to create and maintain its own very distinct view on the past 70 years. The North Korean take on history is an unavoidable party line in Pyongyang. It’s given little credence elsewhere, but this hasn’t stopped them producing English language books for tourists, proclaiming their version of history. Before we take a look at these glimpses into the North Korean perspective however, it’s worth looking at the literature more typically available.

There are plenty of books that explore North Korea from a western perspective, and others from the perspective of those who have run from the Kim regime. Some of them are fantastically insightful. Kang Chol Hwan’s The Aquariums of Pyongyang gives a rare account of a North Korean escaping from the notorious gulags. Jang Jin Sung’s Dear Leader comes from another angle, charting the life of a high-ranking, high-society Pyongyang resident and his fall from grace in the ministry of information, and eventual escape.

In Park Yeon Mi’s In Order To Live, the complexities of escape are explored in an intensely personal and harrowing tale, while The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves And Why It Matters (B.R. Myers) gives a brief but startling insight into the North’s ‘Juche’ (self-reliance) worldview.

Most takes on this hermit kingdom focus more on presenting personal perspectives than on reproducing the broader North Korean view, however, and that’s where Pyongyang’s Foreign Languages Publishing House come in. Their English language texts, on sale to tourists who visit the isolationist corner of Asia, set out how North Korea views the world.

The books are heavy-hitting propaganda, extolling the virtues of the Kim dynasty and firing less-than-subtle pot shots elsewhere, largely targeting the USA and South Korea. They’re printed on crumbling, wafer-thin pages marked with official stamps and dated in the North’s Juche dating system as well as our own.

In 2007 and 2008, I visited North Korea twice. At the time I was living in Seoul, South Korea, and I used trips operated by the travel branch of Hyundai (since closed after a tourist was shot by a border guard) to cross the 39th parallel and drop in on the traditional town of Kaesong, and the mountainous east coast at Kumgangsan.

Groundhopping: Dundalk (v Levadia Tallinn, Tallaght Stadium)

Date: 21 July 2021

Competition: Europa Conference League Second Qualifying Round

Result: Dundalk 2 – 2 Levadia Tallinn

Tickets: €20 adults, €10 kids (no extra fees, well done Dundalk).

Attendance: Around 800, under covid spacing restrictions

The game: Dundalk have faded quite a bit since the highs of beating BATE here to qualify for the Europe League group stages – and getting results in the group, too – a few years back. This side look a shadow of their former selves, and while they play some semi-decent football, it’s easy to see why they’re no longer threatening the upper echelons of the League of Ireland.

They look particularly susceptible to the break, based on this game, in which Levadia only seriously threatened to score maybe three or four times, and put away two. The first was the opening attack of the game, which fashioned a cross they put away.

Dundalk worked the ball nicely to equalise almost immediately, before Levadia got another on the break to lead 2-1 after only about 20 minutes. Dundalk equalised before half time and dominated the game from then on, and really should have won. They now need to score in Tallinn to go through, which isn’t ideal, but Levadia don’t look all that great, so I guess we’ll see what happens. UEFA coeffiecient points are something the League of Ireland really needs to help with European competition, so winning against sides like this is important for the league.

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.”