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Siobhra Quinlan: “It’s fascinating to me that mythology and folklore continue to be echoed throughout popular culture”

Performing under the name sfiiinx, Siobhra Quinlan is a real rarity in Irish music. While she finds her roots in plenty of mythology, using her music to tell spectacular tales, she takes her grounding in classical techniques, straddling the gap between contemporary chamber pop and classical performative arts.

As she works towards her LP ‘The Magma Chamber’, Quinlan joined us to reflect on her style of music and its place in modern Irish culture, and talk about new single ‘Changeling’.

“It’s fascinating to me that mythology and folklore continue to be echoed throughout popular culture, rendering time or eras irrelevant, as we find traces of ourselves or our stories in archetypes or myths,” Quinlan said. “I also find it fascinating that mythology serves as a framework for us to project the complexity, ugliness and beauty of existence onto, which appeals to me as a medium through which one can exorcise their demons.”

“‘Changeling’ is threaded together by a few different fragments. One of those is the myth of Philomela, which to me, is the most brutal and disturbing of myths. Philomela, has been raped by her sister’s husband Tereus. He then cuts out her tongue to silence her. Unable to speak, Philomela weaves the truth of what happened into a tapestry, which is how her sister learns of what has become of Philomela.” 

“The myth continues to darkly tangle itself. The sisters are then liberated from their human existence, and transformed into birds – Philomela, a melodious nightingale, finally, singing freely. Woven with this thread, among other things, is also another myth of sorts in that I found out nearly a decade ago that the meaning of Síobhra is not just a “fae” but a “changeling.” Which I was initially not so cool with, but I have since embraced.”

“I’m not certain that there is a great market for this stuff in Ireland,” Quinlan says. “And I’m not entirely sure where my music will end up finding a home, but it’s not something that enters my mind when I’m creating my work. Whilst it’s certainly not the most industry-savvy approach. I’m comforted by knowing that I’m never playing to the gallery, or bending my musical language to piggyback on to a certain genre, style or audience.”

Ailbhe Reddy: “I choose to put myself out there”

Every so often, an album comes along that’s dripping with beautiful personal stories and perspectives, and captures hearts. Ailbhe Reddy was a regular on the Dublin music scene, but not a star member, when she released her debut album ‘Personal History’ last year.

A slow-builder of a record, it evokes emotional takes on her own life to tell stories, and captures something of what it is to be young and slightly vulnerable and facing into the world. Nominated for the Choice Music Prize last week, Reddy missed out on the win, but will have gathered plenty more love for her delicate performance for the event, highlighting some of the album’s finest moments. There’s no question she’ll be emerging from the current crisis, ultimately, performing shows to much larger audiences than when it all started.

“It was my first album obviously, so I suppose I don’t have a frame of reference,” Reddy says looking back at her debut record. “Releasing during a pandemic was tricky. I had the album finished in September 2019, so the world I released it into was very different to the one I envisioned.” 

“We spent the first few months of lockdown having deals taken off the table and tours cancelled, so by the time I released Personal History I was just excited to get it out into the world. It was just before another major lockdown so I was lucky enough to be able to go for dinner and celebrate a bit!”

“I really loved all the messages of support I received from people and hearing about how people connected to the music in different ways. I’ve always said that you can put out the most personal song in the world, but once other people hear it they project their experiences onto it and it becomes a bit less yours everytime you play it.” 

“I have definitely tweaked a few lyrics to hold things back,” she says of the more personal side of her music. “Not for myself, I don’t really mind because I choose to put myself out there.  But I would definitely take out anything that identifies someone else too clearly, as other people don’t choose to be part of someone else’s songs, so that always seems a bit unfair!”

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.”

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.”

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!

Neomadic: “It’s for the nocturnal”

Neomadic‘s mellow, tripped-out style of hip-hop is, in their own words, an ode to the summer, and it does ooze the feel of the after club, a kind of sunny-climes spaciness laden with easy charm.

I found myself swept away by the style of ‘After Dark’, its distinctive and original and absolutely shine with colour, and those animated videos are something a bit special, too. I caught up with them around the time of the single ‘Waves’ to talk over their progress…

Hi guys, congrats on the new single. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Thanks so much, it was inspired the ocean, late nights cruising, relationships, and generally good times. It’s centred on taking that leap of faith and really going for something, we hope people listening can relate to that feeling and be inspired by it.

Talk to me about that animated video – that’s class!

We’ve always been really into animation and everything to do with it. We feel our fans really enjoy it, the type of music goes hand in hand with anything animated really.

You seem to be big into the arts side of things. Do you see that as a big part of what you do?

Yea of course! But I’m sure any musician or artist would. It’s hard not to be when you’re creating something. Especially these days where artists have a much bigger say in their work compared to a few decades ago.

How much difference did your Other Voices make – was it a real launch for you?

It was an honour to be able to play! I wouldn’t really say it was a massive launch or anything like that but it was a key step at the time and it felt great to be noticed by Other Voices.