Tag Archives: Music

Like A Bird

Like A Bird

Wallis Bird discusses condoms, coke and travelling, and reassures Sally Hayden that she’s not ALWAYS happy.

Wallis Bird is hyper. “Too much coke”, she declares. “Coca cola that is!”

This Meath-born Wexford-bred ball of energy has just turned thirty. A modern-day nomad, she is permanently in flight. Her wandering lifestyle is reminiscent of Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air, encased in the paradox that change can be similarity. “I think the constant thing is that you always keep moving, that’s the only thing that has really been solid in my life since I was a child.” Bird is just back from Holland, a “really cool country, very open-minded system and beautiful landscape”, flying in to support Rodrigo y Gabriela in the UK before coming over to Ireland.

Though she mentions a home she seems, somewhat admirably, to lack the standard human feelings of attachment. “It’s kind of part of the game to be on the road really… It’s kind of incredible to be able to get out of a train or get out of a bus in a different country every day, in a different town, different currency, different language, you know it’s incredible. Travelling around, seeing all of this different culture, yeah I mean, what’s not to love?”

But at least she has an entourage. “Ah yeah, I have my person who lifts me up stairs and who drinks my tea and makes sure it’s stirred! No, I think it’s just us the band, and a tour manager. Entourage, like people hang around that make us look cool? No. We always pick up a few people along the way, but it’s not really an entourage. We just kind of hang around, do our own thing, play the gigs, meet people after the show, party and go on to the next one. I suppose it’s a temporary entourage all the time, yes.”

Signing with Island Records six years ago brought her to London, for better and for worse. “The scene is excellent, it’s kind of the epicentre of the music business as such, but that doesn’t mean that it’s anywhere better than anywhere else, I prefer jamming at house parties as opposed to big serious gigs or going around and networking, all of that shite that comes with London.”

Three albums down, she describes her music as “the basic rhythms of a nation”; a genre-neutral nation that is. “I would describe it as a healthy mixture of many, many different styles ranging from rock to jazz to reggae even. It’s, oh fuck, you explain it for me, you’re better, you’re the journalist. It’s very style-blind.”

Musicians overcoming adversity seems to be par on course with the emphasis on today’s X-factor sob-stories, but Bird is an authentic example. At just 16 months old she was in a lawnmower accident, which led to five of her fingers being chopped off. Four were sewn back on, and as a result the originally-left handed songstress plays a right-handed guitar upside-down. “Because I wasn’t allowed to do it after the accident, you know you have to rest your hand. That made me want to do everything double the amount more… It shaped me as a person, definitely. I work harder at a lot of stuff based on the fact that I grew up just wanting to prove people wrong.”

She’s also one of a rare breed of musicians that will unashamedly reference their ego. “Mostly my success is quite simplified down to just wanting to just play music for the rest of my life and live my life by that. That would be the only success that I wish really to have, but you know because of my ego I like to have that massaged every now and again, so I suppose I’m probably like most musicians in that way.”

Bird’s glee radiates from her music and her voice. It is infectious and undeniable. If there’s a secret to eternal happiness, Otwo believes she’s the keeper. “I do of course have a lot of sadness and elements of deep-rooted depression, I think everybody does, to be able to allow myself to get down and low, but I tend to work myself out of it, and I think the positivity is just the allowing to allow myself to feel any way that I want to feel, and I think that’s where I get my energy to be positive.”

Her life advice to students is to let loose, get practical experience and “always have condoms. Yes, always have condoms, that’s handy.”

And with such a pun-friendly moniker, Otwo asks her can she bear the the inevitable associated quips. “Do you know what, out of all the interviews that I’ve had there haven’t been as many as I thought there would be. I think people might have found that a little bit too lazy or something. But no, it’s cute. Like a lot of people call me Birdy Bird. I’m sure for the release of the record there might be quite a few ‘this bird will fly’ or something to that effect.”

“Birds tend to sing to themselves and enjoy their own life, don’t they, and share it with us a little bit. That’s alright.”

Originally published in the University Observer in March 2012

Forever Loose: Republic of Loose Interview x2

Published on the 4th October 2011 by the University Observer

2001 was the year that changed global politics forever; the first cloned monkey was born, George Harrison died, Ireland didn’t win the Eurovision and (luckily for the compilation of this sort of unsystematic list) Wikipedia was launched on the internet. It was also the year that “a huge metaphysical overturning” of Mick Pyro’s value system provided the catalyst for a young troop of fortune hunters to become united with the aim of creating beautiful, funky music.

Ten years later and Republic of Loose are still very much together. Bono has called them “trailblazing sophisticated soul bootboys”, and Gary Lightbody, “the best band in the country.” Sinead O’Connor asked could she abandon her solo career to become a member, and Irvine Welsh said ‘Comeback Girl’ was “one of the greatest songs ever recorded”. With four albums and fifteen singles behind them, their fervour shows no sign of abating. However, it would be easy to see why, perhaps, a decade without properly progressing beyond the Irish market might create some level of despondency amongst the band.

“The hustle never stops”, as Benjamin Loose puts it to Otwo. “I think we’re going to release ‘Comeback Girl’ in the States in November and we’re looking to release another single around February and then to go over around Paddy’s Day and tour the east coast.” In addition to these plans, they’re soon creating a compilation album, to be available worldwide online and physically in France and Germany, along with recording several new songs in Ireland with the aim of releasing another single here in October.

Grand designs aside, the band are also currently promoting their involvement in the First Fortnight Student Tour, which has been organised by First Fortnight, a non-profit charity aiming to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination through the arts. Loose doesn’t claim that the band are in any way experts in the area of mental health, but emphasises that their support for the cause is sincere.

“Well it was an exciting idea to play a bunch of colleges in a short period of time. And it is a good cause, so it’s something to be involved with. It’s not something that we know a whole lot about but it’s a crazy world we live in so anything that wants to give help to people or give solace to people has got to be a good thing.”

Their gig at the Student Bar next week marks a regular return for the lead singer to his alma mater. “Mick and one of our guitar players both went to UCD for years. Mick did a Masters in Renaissance Literature and, I think, English and Spanish”. Loose, however, studied theology in Trinity. “I try not to mention that too much.”

With competing ideas, growing egos and close quarters, many musicians fail to find the perfect working relationship within their bands, leading to tumultuous public break-ups that can put Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to shame. “We hate each other,” Loose laughs. “I’m only kidding, we’re pretty tight. It’s kind of like a family. You get so used to each other that you don’t even need to do the usual things that friends usually do, you know each other that well.”

Loose also admits that the State of Loose isn’t always a democratic republic but then again,  democracy isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. “We know when someone’s got a vision for something, whether it’s a song, or a gig, or an idea for a link in a live set. Sometimes democracies don’t work. Sometimes you need visions and sometimes visions can’t be compromised and can’t accommodate another opinion. I remember reading an interview with your man from Bell X1 saying that their band is very democratic and as a result he feels that an idea can be compromised. Sometimes things need to be unadulterated and seen through to their bloody end whether for good or for bad.”

Internal politics notwithstanding, is there life outside of funk-rock for this musician? “If I wasn’t making music, I’d be in trouble,” Loose declares emphatically. And Otwo has to agree; if you have someone to listen, there are certainly worse ways to spend ten years than playing in a band, whether your location be Belfield, Paris or Miami.

Wherever the next decade takes them (Loose thinks a duet with Cee Lo Green would be cool), Mick, Ben and their confusingly assorted associates will always be counted among our own, but hopefully they’ll have more of a chance to escape their poor meteorological luck once they’re abroad. “Usually when we play outdoors it rains, it’s the ‘Curse of the Loose’. It’s happened to us in every country.” Sounds more like the curse of the Irish to Otwo.

Republic of Loose play the Student Bar on October 10th as part of the First Fortnight Student Tour, which aims to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination. For more information see Firstfortnight.com

You Can Make Sound

Published on 30th March 2010 by the University Observer

Whether you love them, loathe them or remain wholly indifferent to them, you’ve probably seen them play live. otwo spoke to Delorentos guitarist Kieran McGuinness just before the European release of the band’s second album, You Can Make Sound.

The forthcoming promo tour of Europe is a mammoth cry from the band’s position a year ago. “It wasn’t that we almost broke up,” McGuinness explains, “it was more that we felt we couldn’t go on the way we were going. We pushed ourselves very hard and we were getting a bit careless with looking after each other. The first year we got tons of amazing reviews and played tons of amazing gigs and all, but we kind of expected it, we didn’t sit back and enjoy it, but now we’re able to sit back and go, this is what we want, this is great.”

Their regular association with the UCD Student Bar also holds related recollections. “The first gig after we decided not to break up was there last year, and we announced on the stage that we weren’t going to, and everyone went a bit crazy. It was great! Whenever we play UCD we go down, get a doughnut and have a cup of coffee before we go on. One of our first brushes with A&R came at UCD too – we ended up getting to record our first release through that, so the student bar always holds good memories for us.”

otwo asks whether McGuinness usually enjoys relative anonymity when he goes out or whether he’s besieged by hoards of screaming girls. “Sometimes I get recognised on the street. There was a time I was in a rough part of town and some guy came up behind me and punched me in the back of the head, completely floored me, then walked away. So I was lying there and another guy walked up and asked if I was OK, and then he was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s the guy from Delorentos!’ He was looking at me like he wanted me to sign something and I was there lying on the ground…”

Exceptionally modest about the band’s success so far, Kieran can’t see anything else he could possibly be spending his time on. “I would always be doing music. I mightn’t be in this band, or I might be playing a different instrument but I’d still be doing music. Music is what I was always supposed to be doing.

“The most important thing to do is write and play songs, and if you’re good at that, get gigs,” he concludes. “I don’t think there’s any rocket science to it. If you play well and love it, you’ll get better at it and then people will like what you do and come to your gigs.”

Delorentos played the Academy last week.

Causing a Fiasco

Published on the 30th March 2010 by the University Observer

Northern Irish three-piece General Fiasco prove that appearances are deceptive. Though you would be forgiven for thinking they were barely out of school, this band have been there and bought the t-shirt on the music scene. Brothers Owen and Enda Strathern and Shane Davey have been supporting themselves through music for the last 18 months, and have no plans of ceasing any time soon.

otwo meets Owen in the Odessa Club off George’s Street. The exclusive members-only establishment is a good indication of how far the band has come, and Owen tells me of the change that has happened.

“Back at the start when we first went on tour, we didn’t have any money so we had to sleep in a van; the clubs we were playing were so small that they had no showers so we’d go to a swimming pool before we played the gigs, have a swim and get a shower and stuff. But it’s all part of the experience – going from sleeping in a van to sneaking five people into a hotel room and gradually getting a few more rooms and a bit more comfort.”

Their debut album Buildings was released last week. “The album’s something we’ve been working on for quite a while now. We recorded it gradually, we were touring for about a year and a half and we sort of recorded whenever we were home between tours, so it’s just something that happened naturally. It’s some songs we wrote a few years ago and some songs we wrote a few months ago. We didn’t just get a record deal and then write a whole new album, some of the songs that people first got excited about are still there so hopefully people will still like them.”

Owen also has a novel take on the alcohol and revelry-laden teen years many inhabit. “Sitting in Belfast losing days and partying and stuff, it was just something to write about. Not being content with what we were doing, you sort of feel like you’re treading water, doing nothing and being aware that you yourself are slipping into the same thing as your friends are,” he supposes. “It was just something we experienced, something that everybody does no doubt about it. Getting a routine, going out and partying you sort of lose sight of the things that are important.”

Though Owen admits he finds being recognised awkward, the impression made when playing is essential to achieve. “People only get to make their first impression once so make sure when you get out and start playing to people that you’re the best band that you possibly can be. You’ve gotta be great before you do anything.”

General Fiasco’s album Buildings is out now

Up the Scruff?

Published on the 19th January 2010 by the University Observer

You’ll be forgiven if you don’t instantly recognise the recording name that is Mr Scruff, though the likelihood is that you’ll recognise some of the tunes behind the handle. Scruff (known to his mother as Andy Carthy) is a British DJ, artist and tremendous tea enthusiast. Speaking to him the day before he performs a series of gigs in Canada, we talk about music, hot drinks and horribly drunk students.

As a DJ, Scruff is renowned for his extremely lengthy sets, which can often last five or six hours. Scruff humbly downplays his stamina. “I get the energy from the same place all the dancers get the energy. I just stand there putting records on. I’m playing my favourite records on a great sound-system to a load of lovely people, I’m not going to be looking at my watch.”

A former shelf-stacker, Scruff clearly takes great pride in what he does, and expects others to do the same. “The only bad experience I had playing to students was playing a fresher’s ball once in Coventry – a club full of eighteen-year-olds who had probably never drunk before and were licking each other’s faces and getting drunk on alcopops.”

Scruff ensures there is a tea-stall set up at every performance he plays, and I ask him whether this is an anti-booze revolution, but he believes in both in equal measures. “It’s just about giving people an option. Normally if you go into a bar after 7pm they’ll tell you they can’t make you a hot drink, but then they’ll spend ten minutes making you a cocktail. That’s only for mainland Britain though; for overseas gigs I either bring my records or my teabags and I don’t think people would pay to come and watch me drink tea all day.”

Scruff also hails the arrival of the laptop and how accessible it makes music creation for all. “There’s an enormous amount of music being released because it’s so easy to do now. It’s lead to an inordinate amount of bad music but also an incredible amount of good music, there’s just more to wade through.”

Mr Scruff’s music videos and onstage performances are accompanied and characterised by his unique illustrations, usually involving a potato. “I’ve drawn in that exact style for twenty years now. On one level I’m really kind of geeky and trainspottery and nerdy about music so the little potato characters show the other side which is the kind of daft eccentric silly side as well. It’s good to present something which can potentially be very beardstroky.”

These images also help him combat the issue of being commonly recognised. “I think you’re famous when people who have no idea what you do start shouting at you across the street and that definitely doesn’t happen to me, because most people think that I’m a potato, and I’m quite happy with it that way.”

Loose about the Hoose: Interview with Mick Pyro

Published on the 24th November 2009 by the University Observer

Rapper. UCD alumnus. Libertarian philosopher. Alcoholic. Mik Pyro of Republic of Loose is a complex arrangement of all of these things and more. The Loose are three albums and hundreds of gigs down, and yet haven’t expanded beyond the home scene. Pyro is gloomily cynical about their chances in the US and beyond.

Loose“I don’t know if anything’s going to happen to be honest because [of] the way I look… If I had had my teeth fixed a few years ago I might have been alright, but I’m too old. To really try and do that properly you’re going to need half a million quid, and we’ve had some good interest, but we don’t know if anyone’s going to put up that kind of cash.”

With hopes of international stardom apparently buried, I ask about Pyro’s college days. UCD Pyro-style, I would have thought, was electrifying to say the least. However, spending six years traipsing the concrete jungle and earning a MA, the outspoken singer says he missed out socially. “I didn’t really join any societies or anything. I joined the Rock Soc but that was a load of me arse, so I stopped. I went to the Literary Society [sic] a few times but that was full of idiots. But I loved it there, I loved being in college, I loved having access to the library, we go back there and play gigs loads and have a great time.”

Continuing his trend of severe humility, Pyro declares The Irish Times’ branding of him as a cross between James Joyce and James Brown something that involved a “hint of irony”: “I wanted to be a writer but then I realised you had to be intelligent to do that so. I been obsessed with music since I was seven – I mean I tried to do other things; I tried to do the Higher Diploma and I lasted four days, I’m not built for that type of thing. Doing music is really the only thing that makes me happy.”

Pyro is tragically candid about his fight with alcoholism, a drug that has powered his performances and sucked his intellect. “I haven’t drank since October 11th of last year and I don’t intend to ever drink again. Alcohol has ruined my life, it caused me a lot of problems, so I had to stop. Quitting was tough but it’s easier than being drunk.”

otwo asks what advice Pyro might offer music-makers thinking about popularity. “X Factor? That show’s about humiliation. The problem with Irish bands is everyone’s so worried about what will fly in a foreign country. In a place like Jamaica they don’t give a bollocks really, they just make music for themselves.”

Pyro, in conversation, is the exact alter-ego of his on-stage persona. Whether he’s too old and too unintelligent for worldwide success remains to be seen, but one suspects this man has a lot more to give.

Interview with Jerm from Hockey

 

Published on the 29th September 2009 by the University Observer

 

With infectious music and a unique charisma, Hockey undoubtedly bring something new to the music scene. Sporting a name that they relish because it is so “un-google-able”, and drawing from influences that extend to the Wu-tang Clan, Phil Collins and Allen Ginsberg, this four/ five piece are, as regularly punned in the US, “really pucking good”.

When I arrived Jerm had just finished sound checking and was eating noodles before their much-hyped gig in the Academy. As a segment of a band who have played heaving shows at Glastonbury, T in the Park and Oxegen this year, all without having released an album, I ask him how’s he finding the ride so far.

“I don’t think we’re really there yet. People say we are though, and I think that’s how it begins. Most of the time I feel pretty anonymous. People know one song or they might be sort of into it. I don’t think I’ve ever been recognised.

“Our music is sort of electronic dance pop with dirty sounds and crazy lyrics. It has some very straightforward, classic type song-writing arrangements and then it has some really cool extra things. Pretty chaotic. I think the next record will be even weirder and stranger. The next one will be just so completely weird and then after we’ll come out with one that is somewhat acceptable.”

Hockey’s song Too Fake was featured in a JC Penney add, and yet the band appear to be gloriously detached from modern-day technology, not watching TV but appearing on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, one member without an email address yet acquiring over a million hits on Myspace. I ask them are they eco-warriors.

“We used to drive a vegetable powered van, and it worked for a while, but then the van broke down, that’s just in the ton of things that we got to do when we’re anonymous and it doesn’t matter if it breaks down and we don’t make it to shows. If one became more reliable then we’d do it again.”

In typical money-scrimping student style, Hockey recorded their whole album in their basement, with singer Ben doubling as producer. As a man who majored in music, philosophy, meditation and tai-chi for his degree, Jerm reflects; “Ben and I started playing music together in college. University is the most magical time in the world because you’re not really an adult but you’re not really a child either. It’s amazing because it’s like the world gives you that option, to just BE. People say oh what do you do and you say, oh I’m a student at university. That is your ticket to life, but not really having to deal with the responsibilities of being in the world. It’s great, really great, so start a band, go barefoot, whatever.

 

Hockey’s album Mind Chaos is in stores 28th September.

Ashes to Ashes: Interview with Rick McMurray

Published on 10th November 2009 by the University Observer

“Fame? I just drink my way through it.”

Ash have been together seventeen years, selling eight million albums, playing a part in the Good Friday Agreement, and being named as one of Q-Magazine’s “50 Bands to See Before You Die”. Now they’re back, with a new take on the music scene: declaring albums defunct and singles contemporary, they’ve set themselves a challenge of twenty-six singles in one year, releasing one every two weeks.

Drummer Rick McMurray explains the reasoning behind this concept, called the A-Z Series. “We just decided to ditch the album concept a couple of years back, we kind of got bored of having a three year cycle of the album and then spending a year and a half on the road and then back in writing again, and we kind of wanted to mix things up a bit and mix up the writing with the touring as well. I think it’s the way people buy music as well these days; people are just cherry-picking tracks off albums rather than buying a full album, they’re just buying songs that they hear on the radio or on MySpace or whatever. We decided we just wanted to do things a little bit differently so we came up with the concept of just bringing out a single every two weeks and we’ll do that for a year… twenty-six songs, which is coincidently the number of letters in the alphabet, and that’s where the name comes from.”

Ash1Taking the decision to release every song as a single means each song’s melodies must be strong; for one thing, the band sacrifice the ability to pad out an album with filler material simply to take up space. “We have been recording a lot in the studio over the last year and we’ve come up with forty-four songs. Because every one is a single, we really want to keep the quality up – we’re going to go into studio I think early next year too – so we’ll have plenty of tracks… hopefully we’ll have, like, fifty to choose from.”

Ash formed and released their first album while still in school, and can ably be thought of as one of Northern Ireland’s most successful bands and exports, having had considerable success not only in Europe but in America. otwo asks Rick how they have managed to stay together so long.

“We all grew up together, we get on really well and we still have a lot as a band to achieve; ambitions, things that we haven’t done yet… we’ve never had a number one single so we’d like to get that, and we’d love to headline one of the big festivals as well, so we’re still really excited. We think, because we’re not doing albums any more, it’s like a new lease of life for the band… it almost feels like we’re started again; when a band starts out, not really thinking about albums, you know, trying to write as many songs as possible and write the greatest songs you can.”

Not only are Ash songsters, they’re actors too. Musicians turned to acting can be calamitous at the best of times, and you’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Ash’s big-screen endeavour. Slashed, the unreleased horror film they created starring Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, themselves and featuring Moby, James Nesbitt and Dave Grohl, still hasn’t come to a cinema screen near you. “I don’t know if we’re going to release it, it never actually got finished at the time, there’s a few scenes that didn’t be shot and it’s just, like, ‘I think we’d look a little bit older’. It’s seven years ago so it’ll never be finished, but I think Mark’s talking about just editing some little clips of it together for YouTube or something like that.”

Rick also quells the rumours that Dave Grohl was against the release, for fears of being seen running around in bloodstained boxers. “Dave actually comes across quite well, he’s a pretty good actor. I’d say he’s probably one of the best actors in it, he’s kind of like a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes.”

But back to business. In their new vision of a single-based music market, Ash have acknowledged that the industry they’re in is constantly evolving, and also recognise the challenges this poses for up-and-coming artists. “I think things have changed for bands starting off,” opines McMurray. “It’s changed so much since we’ve started – I mean, that was before the internet even existed and you didn’t have to set up your own MySpace or your Facebook or be constantly Twittering all the time. I guess there’s so many different tools out there for bands – but, again, the music business just isn’t the same; there’s just such a quick turnover of bands, I think it’s going to be really tough for them out there. Especially with illegal downloading, it’s really hard to establish yourself but I guess people have got more money for going out and seeing gigs rather than buying records, so I guess you’re just going to have to get out on the road and keep plugging away.”

otwo also asks what the music scene in the North was like in the early ‘90s. “It was kind of weird because in our hometown, Downpatrick, there were so many bands – it’s a really small place with a population of about fifteen thousand, but there were at least about fifteen bands that were kicking around at that time. Nirvana was a huge influence – it just made everyone want to go out and join a band. That was cool, and then I think things sort of died off for a little bit after that; we were one of the lucky ones we got signed and got successful.”

Despite being part of a band that drinks their way through fame and allegedly smoked spliffs with S Club (“S Club. Did we? We were definitely there the night they got busted anyway for doing something… they seemed to be quite big fans of the band strangely enough”), the then-foursome didn’t forget their roots, with Rick citing their role in the Northern peace process as a highlight of his career. “We played a concert at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in the week coming up to the Good Friday Agreement. The No campaign was grabbing all the headlines. I think it was John Hume and Bono’s idea to put on a gig with a big band from the North and really promote the Yes campaign, and it did seem to really have an effect around the country. It was suddenly the Yes campaign that was grabbing all the headlines so it was much more positive and we were just really proud to play whatever part we could in it.”

McMurray, Wheeler and Hamilton parted ways with guitarist Charlotte Hatherley in 2006 after nine years as a foursome, returning to the three original members of the band. “I think we’re really happy as a three-piece. I think when we got rid of Charlotte we were nervous, wondering whether we could pull things off because we were a four-piece for so long. But pretty much within the first week of gigs we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re definitely staying like this’.”

Not that the devolution back to a three-piece changed the style of Ash’s output: the band have been changing their sound since the outset. “If you listen to the first of the singles which we put out last Monday, which is called ‘True Love 19AD’, and compare that to our early stuff, it sounds like two different bands. We’ve always been big fans of bands who change their sound and change their identity a lot. There’s no point in repeating yourself, once you’ve done something it’s time to move on to something else that’s new.”

And how about the fact that they think their staggered releasing of singles could stop potential illegal music sharing? McMurray believes that this form of distribution minimises the free copies of a record to people in the media, among others, and therefore it’s less likely to end up on Limewire et al. “It’s not like doing an album – we’re doing a single every two weeks, people aren’t going to hear it until it’s been released, you hear it as it unfolds, and we’ve got a subscription from a website which is £13 in the UK for all 26, so it’s really well-priced. I think music still has to have a value – if people get things for free they don’t really care about it as much as they do if they’ve paid for it, so I think it’s important that the music has a value so people care about it.”

Though maybe not a revolutionary idea, Ash seem ready to tackle any hindrance, and see the changing industry as a challenge rather than an impediment. So what’s next for them? “This whole campaign’s going to run for a year so I guess we should be touring all around the world, going to Japan I think next year and maybe America as well… the whole single thing doesn’t finish until the end of next September, but after that we’re going to have to come up with a new concept.”

What Ash might come up with next is anyone’s guess, but without doubt it’ll be worth watching.

Rising Time

 

Published by the University Observer on the 27th October 2009

 

“Divine Inspiration”: this is how Sean Ferris, the creative producer of the forthcoming 1916: The Musical, describes the moment when the genesis of an Easter Rising musical came to him – at a time when he didn’t even know what the Easter Rising actually was. If you’ve ever wanted to see Tom Clarke and Padraig Pearse singing and dancing in unison on the steps of the GPO, you’re in luck: the team behind this monumental conception plan on making the Rising a “360 degree experience”, including a concert tour, a documentary, a reality TV talent search and the “all-singing all-dancing extravaganza” that will crown it all when it hits stages in 2011.

It wasn’t by coincidence that otwo met Sean and his co-executive producer, Amadin Ryan, in the Shelbourne Hotel – it’s a landmark of the historical event, from which British soldiers machine-gunned rebels who were occupying Stephen’s Green. Though based in London, Ryan and Ferris are over here on an information-gathering mission, to discover the views of the Irish people. Both British, though Ferris’ mother was from Derry, otwo can’t decide whether they are incredibly clever, or incredibly naïve – or possibly both – to have taken on a subject as historically weighty as 1916 as an artistic project.

As an occasion that culminated in many casualties and deaths, that still impacts on modern politics (with anti-Lisbon posters last month declaring 1916 as the year that Irish democracy began, and with the recent renewed Programme for Government even mentioning it), otwo asks whether the producers, as Englishmen, fear animosity for their decision to turn this into a musical.

Ryan answers: “I would say it’s an international story; the Irish are all over the world. There are many subjects that have been brought up over the years. I mean, if you think about slavery, so many things have been done from the arts point of view, and yet this is still a contentious issue. I think if you’re telling a story it’s never too soon, there’s still going to be pain attached but that story should still be told.”

Ferris adds to this, “The Rising’s just in your face in Ireland, in Dublin especially. I mean, when I came for the first time I suddenly realised how important and how significant it was and how very sacred and controversial it was, but theatre is about freedom of expression. I’m not into doing safe musicals, I’m not into producing safe theatre; I’m into doing something that’s going to cause debate and a bit of a stir.”

The plot revolves around a British soldier and a feisty Irish girl who encounter love and betrayal to the backdrop of the Rising, but will also feature Clarke, Pearse and a touch of James Connolly. Not only this, but the casting of the two lead roles is to be done through a TV talent search, working title Stars in the Rising. Auditions will be held in five venues in Ireland and Britain, hitting TV screens in autumn 2010.

And then there’s the music, described by the producers in a way that sounds suspiciously rehearsed: “It’s definitely not Riverdance. Orchestral cinematic sound, a very full-on epic philharmonic symphonic sound, and I’m mixing that with raw contemporary Irish sounds, and bringing it out with a West End vocal, without any warbling but raw Irish natural voices, and mixing that all together to create an inspiring, totally unique sound.”

It is true that sometimes it takes a foreigner to approach a sacred cow. Though otwo feels slightly concerned when Ferris mentions that they want to stage some sort of centenary celebration in “your big GAA stadium” (Croke Park, where 14 Irish citizens died after being gunned down by Black and Tans in 1920), the commercial brains – considering the looming centenary – have to be noted, as well as the fact that nothing disperses tensions quite like a musical.

“We want it to be inspirational and give people an opportunity to be able to express themselves using this as the subject. You can look at the negatives, but you can also look at how far we’ve moved on. Maybe looking at it from this perspective will give new generations a better understanding of where they might like to go, and what they might like to do with that information.”

With a rumoured funding of €11 million so far and a 15 year roll-out plan, Ferris and Ryan are thinking mammoth: Broadway and West End. However, only time will tell whether this will be a commercially successful venture.

“You can’t stage something like the rising on a stage without it being epic, it just doesn’t work. 1916, although some people laugh and joke about it, was actually the catalyst for greater things to come.”

Register your interest at www.1916themusical.com to get involved.