Mustafa Khetty celebrates Michael Collins with themed new record

Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Dublin, history scholar and musician Mustafa Khetty feels Michael Collins in his very soul. So much so that his new record, ‘Torn In Love, Torn Apart’, is built entirely around Collins’ romantic world.

His love of the independence-era hero dates right back to his school days. “I was taught by an amazing history teacher, Michael Halliday whose description of the personalities who made history were far more interesting than facts and narrative,” Khetty recalls. 

“Michael Collins was an enigma. His daring, mischief, wit and stealth were the stuff of movies. He was Dennis the Menace, James Bond and Houdini combined. I also liked the David and Goliath aspect of Michael Collins and his band of a few hundred merry men and women taking on a mighty empire.”

“About two years ago, Facebook highlighted the Michael Collins Society in Dublin and the Midlands, which rekindled my interest and research. Along the journey, it dawned on me to render the tragic romance of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan in music.” Kiernan, of course, was scheduled to be married to Collins before his death in 1922.

In particular, Khetty’s music is based on around 300 letters written between Kiernan and Collins, extrapolated and manipulated to put the story to music.

Lord Jane: “It was always intentional to step away from heavier music from our other bands to express a more soft and mature style of writing”

It’s not often I feature a band the day after the release of their debut single, but perhaps it should be. Lord Jane, from Belfast, have plenty of musical cred built up already, being something of a supergroup made up of members from a series of heavy bands located all over Ulster. They’ve been together in a development phase since 2022, but with debut single ‘I Did It To Myself’ seem to be laying down a marker when it comes to self-examination, riffs, and dark themes.

I caught up with the band on the day the single came out, to uncover a little of their backstory and what their hopes are for the growth of a side project that lives in the emo-rock world, stepping away from all their usual musical angles…

First of all, can you give me a little background on the band? How did you come to be?

The band first came about in a moment of madness, or perhaps boredom from Dylan and Sam. A duo that have played together for years, from the iconic North Coast. After a few jams it was quickly established as something with great potential and after a couple more weeks Carl joined on bass followed by Aidan with an additional guitar. This was the basis for it of course, and we had fun as an instrumental band but it was always going to need vocals in our heads. Luckily fate would be on our side, and Clodagh joined the band as our lead singer, which really solidified the sound. The band consists of members from all corners of Ulster and it feels like we have all found a place at our HQ in Belfast to make music together, fully express ourselves creatively and really find a passion for music again.

How do your various other outlets fit in with the new project?

The band is somewhat a supergroup of various other projects from around Ireland. Dylan from Wohn, Sam comes from Ferals, Carl from Mob Wife, Aidan from Big Daisy and finally Clodagh has her own solo outlet. All very experienced in their own ways, but a varied style of music across the board also – considering the styles of some of those bands, Lord Jane is a very different beast. It was always intentional to step away from heavier music from our other bands to express a more soft and mature style of writing.

Presumably you have more than one song ready to go. How did you go about picking a debut single?

We toyed with the idea of releasing a more ‘radio friendly’ song but it always had to be ‘I Did it to Myself’. It was probably the 2nd or 3rd song we wrote together, and the first time we played it together as a 5-some it just clicked. That thought of “you know this is actually not bad” really stuck, but more poignantly we knew we had something, the sound clicked in that moment. We have other songs that are more poppy, and even some that tail the other direction of experimentality, but this is the song that everyone needs to hear first in our opinion. A real statement of what the band does best, crying at a disco, dancing at a funeral.

There’s a real element of self examination in the single’s lyrics. Does it relate to a particular experience?

The great thing about being part of such a collaborative band is that we all inspire each other. So when it came to writing the lyrics of this song, it didn’t come from just one particular experience, but a collective 5-person voice. The funny thing is, before Clodagh came on board, the music that was already written was all assigned random names based on vibes. None of those titles have changed during the process, Clodagh just took the vibe and ran with it, producing introspective writing that’s relatable to a lot of different experiences.

The Unthanks: “We have a reputation for being on the melancholic side of things”

The Unthanks are, by their own admission, a little on the dingy side. Known for bringing live audiences to tears with the depth of their beautiful folk pieces, the two Northumbrian sisters – who pair up to deliver winding and enthralling vocals – and their accompanying band explore the vaults of English folk, something they were born into.

“We’ve always been surrounded by songs and stories,” Rachel Unthank tells us. “They come back into your imagination, and a time comes where it’s the right time to sing it. For example, ‘Sorrows Away’, once we felt like it was the right time to sing this song, it made sense of our new album, as a song that gave us comfort and reminded us of singing with people. There are a few songs on the album that came from that idea.”

“The songs sometimes remind us of our past, like singing on a Northumbrian beach with 40 people on our singing weekends. We do find some tracks in the archives, too, that don’t have those kinds of memories. There’s a really strong musical and cultural identity in the North East of England, and there’s a very healthy selection of songs, tunes and dance traditions that were a big part of our upbringing.”

In fact, that distinctly local feel is part of what has delivered The Unthanks to an international audience: with their feet firmly on the ground they grew up on, they don’t feel in the least bit contrived.

“People do tap into the vernacular, in the North East, into hearing their own accents and their own stories being told,” Rach says. “We were brought up in the folk tradition and taught not to Americanise our accents. It makes sense to us to sound like we do.”

The new album, ‘Sorrows Way’, is a return to The Unthanks as an ensemble, a glance at their broadest and most considered style. “We consider this the first studio album in a while,” Rachel says. “We’ve done a lot of ‘diversion’ type albums, project albums, in between. Like the poems of Molly Drake, and Emily Bronte to music, unaccompanied tours, that kind of thing.”

“This is us as a band, and it’s not as directed, it doesn’t have a specific outcome. That means us finding songs and bringing them together, focusing on stuff we want to play [as opposed to a theme]. We were really drawn to songs that gave us comfort and joy, and sometimes that is a miserable song. For an Unthanks album, we do have a reputation for being on the melancholic side of things, and we feel like this is a little bit more hopeful, with opportunities to sing along. In the context of our band, of course.”

Thought Brownie: “I plan to write at least four lines every day, for the rest of my days, dropping words like it’s hot”

Thought Brownie, a.k.a Hari Shenoy, is a naturalised Irishman from India, a man in his early 40s releasing what he himself describes as an unlikely rap album. It’s the consequence of some life changes: tackling autoimmune disease that came up during Covid, and finding the power of artistic persistance as he began writing four lines every day to create a larger whole, the product of which is the record ‘Man Of Subtance’.

Referencing everything from the history of his native India to the war in Ukraine to Studio Ghibli as influences, Thought Brownie’s diverse cultural explorations ooze out in his music, making for one of the more unusual, mesmerising and thought-provoking records I’ve heard covering music in Ireland, a startling display of imagination in the face of self doubt.

In what I believe is the first written interview with Thought Brownie about his album, he filled me on just what it’s all about, and how it came to be, asking the broader question: what do you want to do with the time you have left?

You have a background on my side of the music industry. What shifted you over to producing and releasing your own music?

I was a music journalist covering independent music, mainly rock and metal in India. I did that for five years from 2007 to 2012. It was a brilliant experience that gave me access to new artists and to learn why they did what they did. I enjoy writing in general and writing about music in particular.

In my 30s, I went all in on a corporate job. My life was all about running on the hedonic treadmill. I wanted early retirement, after which I said to myself that I will finally relax, resting on the laurels of jobs well done. That perpetual state of being in sprints caused stress, anxiety and burnout, because everything that gave me fulfilment was outside of me. I was chasing the approval of others to feel good about myself, prioritising elusive milestones over abundant moments and neglecting to stay in the present moment.

The pandemic didn’t help either. In January 2021, I got diagnosed with an autoimmune health condition that shifted my perspective. It made me aware of how nothing is promised. I know I can leave my life right now, and I must make sure I can live my life right now.

I felt like the best way I could come to terms with the physical, mental and emotional challenges I faced was to write my way out. What I wrote turned into verse and that gave me the idea to create something. It felt like the right answer to the question I keep asking myself each day – “Yo Hari, what will you do with the time you have left?”

Can you tell me a little of the story behind ‘Man Of Substance’?

The original name I wanted to assign for the album was “Cheaper than therapy”. Then I figured that having a nom de plume that sounds like “Pot Brownie” should give me licence to call it “Man of Substances”. I finally decided that “Man of Substance” sounded right to me in my head.

I began writing the album when Russia invaded Ukraine. I have been to Kyiv and loved the time I spent there. My Ukrainian friends made me feel welcome the way people from India make their international friends feel welcome. It hurt to see them hurting. War made me wonder why we, as a species, are so blatantly invested in acts of self-sabotage. Carl Sagan’s speech about the “Pale Blue Dot” felt more relevant than ever and I decided to adapt it into rap.

All other tracks began falling into place as I explored topics related to time, mental health, ambition, inner peace and growing up.

Before this, I was writing a musical on the history of India. I am so grateful and so inspired by what Lin Manuel Miranda did with Hamilton, that I decided to create an Indian version. What’s the worst that could have happened?

I was making progress there but I’ve since set that project aside for now. I need to understand my own story before I could do justice to telling the story of nearly 2 billion people.

Gemma Hayes: “I went back into my head to start writing music again”

Gemma Hayes has been flying under the radar for a little while. The delicate guitarist’s soulful approach to music has taken her on a journey, one that explores the deeply personal, but also one, you get the sense, that she’s not quite building her life around.

In fact, some time away from music, and living abroad, was put a halt to by covid and saw her come back to writing. She’s now at the stage where a new album is almost ready to go.

“Covid brought me back to music, I was forced into a situation where my world was very small, so I went back into my head, and started writing music again,” she says. “I had no distractions or excuses. My kids are getting older, too, so I could leave a room and know they wouldn’t… well, die,” she laughs.

“Being able to pick up a guitar and play, having the mental, physical and emotional time to do it again was big. The next album is around the corner, but being an independent artist, there is no deadline as such. The first song will be out in November, though, and I’m playing the songs live already. You can tell how songs resonate once you play them to a room full of people, you hear it differently, which is an extraordinary thing.”

“Sometimes I change a song as soon as I play it live,” she continues. “With one song, we were playing it as a little two-piece, and we started to dig harder, to really pick it up at the end. It was very mellow on the album, but in a live setting it just grew bigger, so we went back and picked it up in the studio. It became something far more exciting because of playing it live.”

The Psychs: “You try screaming about Drinking on a bus at 9:00am on a Monday…”

The Psychs, on the face of it, are your typically gritty rock n’ roll band. With a series of pulsating singles having already taken them to iconic scene-fest Other Voices in Dingle, the four piece have evolved from an earlier, mellower sound into singles like their latest ‘The Bullet Song’, a quick-fire effort lent depth by their use of church organs.

I caught up with vocalist Billy Kid Jones ahead of the band’s show at the Workman’s Cellar on February 3rd.

Congratulations on the impending headline show. What can we expect from you as a live act?

…The unexpected.

Can you tell me a little of the backstory of how you came to this place?

Myself and Ben (guitar) were travelling around doing a bit of a Gimon & Sarfunkel thing and then one day we decided we wanted more and had this fire in us that demanded a bigger and more hard-hitting sound. Ben put out the call, straight off the bat we met Clampo (Bass). We had a drummer but parted ways mutually, went 9 months without a drummer! which I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a band that has drums in their songs but no drummer but it’s difficult. Then rather miraculously we met Aaron (drums) the rest is history.

What’s the inspiration behind your particular style of music?

We all come from different musical backgrounds, Country, Funk, Jazz, Blues but we all meet at the communal water fountain of classic Rock n’ Roll.

You formed in peak covid era. Did that have any impact on your development as a band?

Yeah but sure if that was a bingo number the whole hall would cheer, it definitely was a major obstacle but I mean we’re still here so…if anything it proves we don’t give up easily.

You’ve already had quite a few cool experiences as a band. Have any stood out?

Opening in the 3Olympia, Other voices and of course most recently being on Fanning at Whelans which was so different to what we’ve done. Normally playing live you’re like some Vampire that can just sleep til noon then crawl out of whatever lair you’re in and roll onto the stage, on Fanning we had to play those songs first thing in the morning! You try screaming about Drinking on a bus at 9:00am on a Monday…

What’s been your favourite experience as a band so far?

I know myself and the boys would all agree that opening in the 3Olympia Theatre has been the highlight so far. It was insane, it was a real “who let the dogs out?” moment. We didn’t know quite what to expect but the crowd was so amazing! I remember myself and the lads looked at eachother and we all thought the same thing “we could get use to this”

King Kong Company: “we’re not a typical mainstream radio kinda band”

Photo by Colin Shanahan

King Kong Company are, by their own admission, focused on simply being the ultimate live band. The Waterford natives’ lively stage show features a member with a cardboard box over their head and the kind of riotous energy that draws back ever growing crowds. In fact, their return to Electric Picnic this summer was the stuff of legends.

It’s that secretive band member, known as simply ‘Boxhead’, who King Kong Company put forward to chat to the Gazette ahead of their forthcoming shows, and it’s a wild ride.

“Over the years we have worked hard to carve out a name for ourselves as a live act, best seen in our natural habitat on the festival circuit,” he tells us. “We’re not the typical mainstream radio play kinda band so we put our energy into what we love – a kick ass show, getting down and dirty with the headaballs.”

“The oddest place to play, hands down, was at the Aras. Asking Michael D Higgins if he was getting anythin’ off that will forever be a special memory. Sabina was loving it.”

“The people you see onstage really are only half the team responsible for a production,” he continues. “The whole King Kong Company family includes members in charge of PR, lights, sound, monitors, visuals, drivers, and lasers. Even down to the efforts of bubble boy Kev, our balloon thrower extraordinaire, everyone has their role and we share the common goal of putting on the best show we can.” 

“We may not always agree on artistic visions but any of this can be settled with a friendly headlock. We are united in the fantasy for years now about getting someone onstage in a gimp suit. It hasn’t happened yet. Sad face. But we did get our lampy onstage doing the chicken dance. Pretty close.”

This kind of shenanigans is, it has to be said, typical for King Kong Company, who’s primary aim seems to hover somewhere between making music and having the most outrageous fun possible. One time, for example, they made a beer that was infused with Tonic Wine, together with a local brewery, because why not.

Art Crimes Band: “lost love, wild nights, harsh days, romance and pain.”

Cork act Art Crimes Band are, it’s fair to say, atypical of the Irish music scene. A slow-building set up who’ve been on the live music scene for years, they draw influences from jazz and R&B, creating a complex six-piece fronted by the charmed vocals of Grace McMahon. The result is versatile, difficult to pin down, nodding to anything from Hall & Oates to John Legend alongside their jazzier influences. 2022 marks a comeback.

“It’s been amazing,” McMahon says of the return. “I didn’t realise how much I had missed performing live. The first gig back, I was full of nerves and worried if it would all go ok. I got on stage and the energy from the crowd was electric, and right at that moment all worries disappeared. It’s a feeling I will never forget.”

The band took a notable step forward after the lockdown by involving Abbey Road studios in their latest single, ‘Neon Skyline’, with one member of the band tracing some roots to the iconic London spot.

“After using different mastering engineers over the years we usually were not fully happy with the results,” Niall Dennehy says. “We loved the smooth warm sound from masters coming out of Abbey Road. My Uncle, who passed away about 20 years ago, worked as an engineer in Abbey Road in the 1950s when it was called EMI Studios. He taught me all the fundamentals of studio engineering growing up. So I think it’s fitting things come full circle and our tracks get an airing around the walls of Abbey Road.”

“‘Neon Skyline’ is the first track I wrote during Covid lockdowns, about three months in or so,” Stephen Kirby explains. “It is rough nights and long days, inspired by a trip to Vegas a few years ago. The chorus is about craving contact, positive or negative, just human interaction.” 

“The lyrics are put through the filter (for lack of a less modern term) of the story ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ by Jay Mcinerney. Neon Skyline is lyrically about lost love, wild nights, harsh days, romance and pain. Musically, it’s about blending solid and static patterns with fluidity and movement to create a complimentary sonic landscape for the story.”