Dublin Gazette


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.

Built from the land: Daithi’s journey from reality TV musician to unique dance star

Daithí – Photography by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

AT 27 YEARS of age, Clare musician Daithi O’Dronai has already been through more phases of his career than many manage in a lifetime. Developing from a young fiddle player to a reality TV show star, then onwards to a Sony-signed, offbeat-pop performer and finally a unique and soulful dance act, he’s a hard man to pin down.

Recently relocated to Dublin, the man who simply uses the stage name Daithi’s latest incarnation is nevertheless a profound tribute to the rural roots that connect him tightly with the Burren, and Irish landscape.

“When I was writing the pop stuff I was doing my best to write these perfectly little three-minute pop songs,” Daithi explains of his Sony album, and subsequent departure from the label. “I lost my angles. I enjoyed it at the time, but I kind of lost my identity,” he recalls.

The departure from a major outlet like Sony was, no doubt, a tough call, but one Daithi made on the basis that he didn’t feel able to create things with purely commercial aims like radioplay in mind. His next single – a sentimental track called ‘Mary Keane’s Introduction,’ based around a dance remix of an interview with his 90-year-old grandmother – ironically turned out to be his most acclaimed.

“It was a sign,” he said. “The new record leans more heavily into that idea. I was at a point where I wasn’t even sure I was going to keep making music after Sony to be honest. The thing I fell into was the idea that I was working towards a success of some kind. I’ve started releasing what makes me excited after that track. That seems really simple, but it was a revelation to me.”

“Power, belonging and the need to be heard:” an introduction to Irish hip-hop


Photo by Emma Hopkins

From creeping into the mainstream through the likes of Rubberbandits, Super Extra Bonus Party and featuring in Love/Hate, to the Rusangano Family’s debut album taking home the Choice Music Prize earlier this month: the rise of Irish hip-hop has been as dramatic as it has been unlikely.

It helped, of course, that the rise of the scene fell alongside a massive recession instigated in part through regulatory failure, repressively rising urban rents and mass social protests. Angry, pointed voices sat naturally with their new audience. As Dublin-based hip-hop star Temper-Mental MissElayneous tells it: “It’s hunger that’s causing hip-hop’s boom. It’s also identification with the social dynamics of the birthplace and creators of hip-hop, and a willingness to learn and lead. But we value cultural identity and the lyrical Irish roots: saints and scholars. Poverty, loss and grievance.”

While on the poppier end of the spectrum, Temper-Mental embodies much of what’s strong about the budding Irish scene: a distinctly locally-accented sound, quick wit, cultural references and original beats. In ‘Create the Pain to Alleviate It’, she shows her depth, with the imagery of rotting apple cores set against a world of social and gender politics: “questioning, self loathing, dissatisfaction, doubt… We refuse to believe we’re animals yet… Poets once honoured are now in McDonalds, a dozen a dime.”

Temper-Mental identifies many of the topics of Irish political discourse as her themes, singling out misogyny, heterosexism, God, transformation and pain as her core elements.

“It’s a cultural revolutionary movement,” she explains. “It’s on the concrete, on the corner, it’s in classrooms, yards, youth clubs, community art centres, it’s in prison, in the bedroom studio, on the stairwell, down the lane and held privately in a heart’s rhythm waiting to be translated to words.”
A distinctly accented, smart-quipping artist who rose alongside Temper-Mental MissElayneous at the height of the recession in 2011/2012,
Lethal Dialect has a harsher dynamic to his sound and also cites local cultural figures as key influences in his lyrics, nodding in particular Irish folk star Damien Dempsey.

Despite being three albums into his career, the rapper admits “I’m only really finding my own sound now. There’s some old stuff where you could nearly tell what I was listening to at the time.” His north Dublin lilt and conceptual approach to albums, however, have often stood out.

Meet the Soprano-Composer: Siobhra Quinlan on her Live Debut

Photo by Tara Thomas

SIOBHRA QUINLAN’s taken the long road to launching her first single, released earlier this month. She trained as an operatic soprano, studying an MPhil in composition at Trinity College and broadening her musical education in Berlin. That led – eventually – to a conceptual new composition that’s being self-funded by working with and teaching her art.

Along the way, Quinlan was also a part of the highly successful Trinity College Orchestra, where she combined a more classical bent with reproductions of contemporary classics like Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ and covers of Daft Punk and Arcade Fire. Stepping into her solo guise for the first time, Quinlan’s new output can be broadly described as chamber pop.

“I started out with pure, straight music and nearly dropped out about three times in first year,” she recalls of her early days studying music at Trinity. “You go from being ‘oh it’s music, it’ll be fine’, to doing this really theoretical stuff. I’d actually made a plan to go to jazz college at the end of the first year, and I’d done the audition and got in. Then I decided I wanted to stay, as it clicked that I could pass the exams and there was something I can really take from it all.”

“I started doing a lot of the opera training, and working with a teacher called Veronica Dunne. She’s a complete opera legend, and I was fascinated by what she could do. She trains the voice as an instrument, and can do amazing things with it. Opera’s very technical, but it teaches you so many ways to use the voice.”

Quinlan later branched into jazz and wrote a dissertation on how opera can be incorporated into different styles, before using a period of more casual training in Berlin to work on her style and explore the city’s expansive performance offerings.

Texas Calling: Dublin acts head to SxSW

TEXAS IS CALLING for breakthrough Irish musicians, as industry focused festival SxSW (South by Southwest) – hosted in Austin, Texas this week – prepares to hone in on 2017’s most likely new stars.

The American festival has come under fire in recent weeks, as several artists pulled out in protest at prohibitive contracts for acts that require US visas. They do nonetheless remain both the best location in the world to see major acts play tiny venues, and the top spotting ground for newcomers to throw themselves in front of the abundant waiting music media.

Ireland has traditionally had a strong association with the festival,  with Arts Council funding provided to assist the travelling musicians in ample expenses in getting themselves on front of their audience, provided through arts agency First Music Contact.

Past years have seen ‘Music From Ireland’ – First Music Contact’s showcase at the event – feature the likes of Hozier, Damien Rice, The Strypes, Girl Band, and Walking On Cars. This year’s Irish contingent might be unfamiliar to those outside of music circles, but look just as likely to succeed.

Amongst those taking flight are up-and-coming pop-rock band Picture This, young rockers The Academic and lo-fi atmospheric soloist Jealous of The Birds. Globally-influenced soul singer Loah and spaced-out alt act Cloud Castle Lake will represent the capital.

Loah – the stage name of Sallay Matu Garnett  – will be releasing her debut EP in April, and is already heavily tipped to make waves locally off the back of her jazz/ soul mix and inventive vocals. She’s dubbed her style ‘Art Soul,’ and has already worked alongside the likes of Hozier and Kila.

Speaking of the event, Loah told the Gazette “I first heard about SxSW when I was staying in New York and a bunch of friends came back having had the most incredible experiences there. I remember thinking I really want to play that one day. So it’s always been on my radar as being a parallel galaxy in its vast scope of music and people and technology.”

“I’d love to meet industry people working at a wider level, European and American and further afield even and get exposed to loads of other musicians. I’m particularly excited as Erykah Badu (my queen!) is playing, as is Goldlink, who I love. I have a really bright and surrendered outlook on it – whatever happens will be great and I’m gonna make the most of the experience.”

Overpriced: How Ticket Touting is Pushing Out Irish Punters

A Face in the CrowdISSUES SURROUNDING TICKET RESALES are growing again in Dublin, as the highly-profitable secondary ticket market ramps up for the summer peak.

Ticket touting remains legal in Ireland, though Fine Gael TD Noel Rock recently put forward a motion looking to criminalise the resale of tickets at above their official price. Since his tabling of the bill earlier this year, Rock has received protesting submissions from the likes of the IDA, Ireland’s Foreign Direct Investment body. The IDA highlight the value of the companies leading the market – some of whom have Irish headquarters – to our economy.

For punters, though, this is a growing problem. Companies such as Viagogo and Seatwave (the latter a Ticketmaster-owned company whose resale options appear on the Ticketmaster website, highlighted once the original offering is sold out) are highly profitable agencies. Intentionally or otherwise, the companies seem to incentivise the buying of popular tickets for the explicit purpose of resale.

This is particularly prevalent with big-name gigs. A ticket for U2 in Croke Park this summer, for example, starts at €240 on Seatwave at the time of writing (face value €44), and goes up as high as €1,000 (face value €200). Ed Sheeran – who has personally spoken out against above face-value reselling this month on his Twitter account – has seen tickets for his 3Arena date listed at over €600 each (face value €77), while a ticket to Ireland’s potential Six Nations decider against England will set you back almost €1,200 after booking fees (face value €60).

In the case of J.Cole, whose 3Arena date sold out shortly after going on sale in late February, tickets were on Seatwave ahead of the show’s swift sell out. With such a quick turnaround allowed, and highly inflated prices, it’s hard to believe these tickets were not bought with profit in mind. In some cases, the reselling company stands to make more in resale fees than the total original ticket price.

Overhead, The Albatross. Savage.

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Abner Browns: The Little Barbershop that Can

A Face in the Crowd

AN UNLIKELY and in many ways unintended success story in the heart of Rathmines, Abner Browns Barbershop – opened just five years ago – has become a fairytale at the heart Dublin music.

Today, the venue is hosting regular bring-your-own-beer events and expanding into festivals, documentaries and more sizeable venues, but the musically-themed barbers started out as owner Dave Judge’s post-crash last resort.

“I’d been a businessman for 20 years, and I lost everything in the crash,” he said. “Everything except the shop. I didn’t have a penny, and I picked up some records on sale in a local shop in Rathmines, hung a guitar above an old couch, and opened up the barbers.”

“The first gig happened really quickly. It was a Canadian singer called Blair Packham, who came in for a hair cut, talked about his music and we decided he’d play sat on the couch the next Saturday. Another guy saw him, and came in the next week. Within four weeks, I had people in every weekend playing music. It started so fast, and to this day I’ve never asked anyone to play. They always come to me.”

Judge himself used to play in bands, but describes himself as “a general businessman” who left music behind years ago. “I’m organised and good with people,” he explains. “A lot of musicians aren’t, their brains work in different ways, so we fit well together. People say I’m one of those people who gets stuff done.”

The process has been entirely organic – “it’s great marketing,” Judge admits, “but that’s not why I do it. I love it. Almost every gig someone will come up to me with an idea about monetising the shows, but it’s a community thing. I don’t want to turn it into something else.”

In the few years that it’s been going, Abner’s – currently temporarily shifted a few doors down from its normal location on Rathgar Road for the duration of a roof replacement on what Judge jokingly calls “the mouldy green room” – has had some serious highs. Michael Stipe of REM dropped in a couple of years ago having heard about the place, while Northern Irish pop-rockers Ash are amongst the acts to have played for free on a floor cleared of its hairdressing equipment.

A film about the barbers entitled ‘More Than A Barbershop’ – actually the third to be released, alongside regular footage of in-house gigs – is currently doing the rounds at film festivals ahead of public release next year, and Judge’s influence is quickly growing beyond his own walls.

Ash. In a barber shop. Unreal.

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Dublin Gazette Sports Stories: May/ June 2015

CE-BeWDWoAAhlZZFor the past two months, I’ve been freelancing in sports journalism at the Gazette Group, which publishes seven papers  a week (a separate paper for each of Dublin City, Swords, Lucan, Clondalkin, Blanchardstown, Dundrum and Dun Laoghaire). I even ran the sports section for a week while the normal editor was away, which was an intense and memorable experience – far more full-on than the likes of GoldenPlec Magazine purely because of the time constraints, but extremely rewarding and something I really hope to be able to do again (you definitely need another holiday, right, Stephen?!).

The Gazette offers a uniquely complex sports role, in some senses. There are no specialists – a small team of sports journalists have to be able to deal with every sport that could possibly come up, and to cover it well. It’s also highly local: the Gazette only cover sports that are typically at a level below what the national papers are interested in: Leinster Senior League soccer, age group soccer, senior and intermediate championship GAA, age-group sports across all disciplines, and local athletes going for big things. The remit involves knowing – or finding out – what’s going on across small areas of Dublin, and what’s of interest to the people living there. That might be straightforward, except there are seven different local areas to deal with, so it’s not knowing about one place and its stories, it’s knowing about seven. It goes without saying, the editor has perhaps the most impressive local sports knowledge of anyone I’ve ever come across.

I’ve flicked back through all my pre-edit drafts, and in the past eight weeks I’ve had over 80 stories run in the paper (they don’t all come with a byline, presumably because it would just look ridiculous on some of the smaller ones).

So this is a bumper post, but nothing like as bumper as it could have been, because.. well, I have to make some effort to preserve the sanity of those who happen to visit this site. I thought I’d narrow things down to my five of my favourite pieces….

Feature: an inspirational interview with Dundrum lady Carol Brill, on dealing with the sight and hearing debilitation that comes with Usher’s disease, and how she’s found solace in the unlikely world of blind golf…