Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Strypes at The Nerve Centre, Derry

Earlier this year I saw The Strypes for the first time at McGrory's in Culdaff. I had heard of the band but wasn't familiar with their music. What I witnessed that night blew me away. I promised myself that the next time they were playing nearby I was going to catch up with them if possible and see just where they are headed in the music world.
Shortly after that night it was announced that they would be a support act for Foo Fighters at Slane this summer. These guys were going up in the music world!
So when I heard that they were going to be playing The Nerve Centre in Derry, I knew that I just had to catch up with them. Sure enough, they were very obliging to my request, and on Wednesday night last, I did just that. I met and chatted with the four Cavan lads that are The Strypes!
On meeting the lads in Café Nervosa at Derry's Nerve Centre, I immediately felt at ease. The guys are similar in age to my three sons so I'm well used to the banter and chirpy cheek of guys this age! These folk were no different!
I told them that I'd seen them in Culdaff a number of months ago and asked how it compared to Slane. Evan was quick to tell me, 'It was good, but not as good as Culdaff!' What a humble young man! Of course he was messing, but it was clear from all four that they did indeed enjoy the gig at McGrory's immensely. However the Slane gig met their expectations.  'Slane was incredible. It was a fantastic day. The set went well. Everything that could have gone right, went right', Josh said.
I then proceeded to tell them that I was intrigued with the age range that go to their gigs. In Culdaff I noticed the majority of the crowd were young but there was also the element of 40+ right up to 60+. And I saw similar on Wednesday night waiting on the gig in Derry. Just what is it about The Strypes that they attract such a vast range of ages? 'Our music is universal. If  you put bums on seats, it's regardless of age. Music is never age specific, it's whatever you're into', says Josh.
The lads are forever messing and when I said that I believe the've come a long way since their last gig in Derry, which was December 2014, they immediately respond with, 'But we're back here'. Of
course they're back here, it's Derry!
'With the experience of being on the road and gigging, we're progressing and maturing more with our music. This is our college years. With the gigs at present, we put on the party and people come. We're loving the experience.'
I asked the lads where their favourite place to play has been to date (they were supposed to say Derry/Donegal), and the overall response was united...Hull being the answer. 'We really enjoy there. Just a nice down trodden atmosphere. The gig just goes mental. It's like anywhere in Ireland. Cavan and Dublin just feel like coming home and it's always great.'
So being on the road so much, do they all get along? 'Yeah', I'm told, 'we've always done it. We've been friends since we were kids and suppose the only difference is now, being professional musicians, we live in each others pockets and have all that added pressure. But we get on great.' They clearly do. They're so in tune with each other and it's clear to see they enjoy and appreciate what each brings to the band.
How's the new album, 'Little Victories' going and what's different about it? In unison they say, 'songs'! I walked into that one! 'Seriously though, it's going great', Pete tells me. 'It's entirely new. Some tracks sound completely different than others. It's two years on from our first album and it's much more of a studio album. We've got new sounds and recorded it in London. That was an experience in itself. Being in that buzz was really inspiring.'
So Wednesday night was kick-starting the new tour of the UK and Ireland. The lads were clearly looking forward to getting on stage. 'After this we then head off on a European tour in October and then Japan in November. Japan is wierd. It's so efficient and the crowd go just mental.'
I decided to leave the lads at this and let them  get ready for the Derry gig.
The Blue Jeans and The Mighty Stef were supporting The Strypes on Wednesday night and were excellent support acts.
Just after 9.45pm The Strypes came on the Derry stage. The full house went completely 'mental', as the lads would say. I stood back for a time and just watched the audience. Young and old (or should I say mature) were in awe of the talent that was on stage. The chemistry between the guys was simply electric. Vocally, Ross excelled and Josh assisted. It was a very fast, enthusiastic and energetic set. New and not so new tracks were played. The crowd loved it all. One guy said to me that he felt they were imitating the Artic Monkeys. I disagree. These guys are finding a sound of their own. They're young, passionate, and engaging with their audience. They're definitely a more grown up sound from I heard them last. The set is very much packed with what The Irish Times said , was ' lip-smacking guitar licks, strong melodies and strident anthemic indie-rock chimes.'
Whether The Strypes are imitating their heroes as many argue, remains to be seen. After seeing them on Wednesday night I believe they really are coming into their own. Their fan base truly love what they do, so time will tell if they succeed. It's a tough business to break, but to date, The Strypes are striving to excel. Will they do so? We have to wait and see. But one thing is for sure, these guys love what they do and from what I saw, they are very much rooted in their love and passion for music, and the world really is their oyster. Now it's up to them to prove the critics wrong! I believe they will!


For more photos of The Strypes at Nerve Centre, Derry, see North West Culture Gal FB page.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

My meeting with Eric Bell

Last Saturday evening I was eagerly awaiting my prearranged meeting with Eric Bell at The Nerve Centre, Derry. Eric was in town to give a masterclass that very evening. As I had just finished my coffee in Café Nervosa, I was invited up to wait on Eric as he finished his sound-check. For just over half an hour I sat at the back of the intimate studio watching and listening to the legendary Eric Bell. I hadn't planned on seeing him perform, so I sat there pinching myself that I really was in the vicinity of this legendary guitar player and actually listening and watching him play.
From the moment I walked into that room, this mans passion for his vocation was evident. I didn't expect to witness such passion from this now 68 year old musician. Mind you he may be 68 in years, but he's very much half that in his performance and his very presence.
When Eric finished his sound-check, he invited me to come along to the 'green room' for our chat. I was aware that his masterclass was starting in just one hours time and didn't want to keep him, but that wasn't a problem. Eric had all the time in the world and I felt like I was sitting catching up with an old friend.
I immediately asked Eric how he continues to have such passion for what he does after all these years. He told me, 'I love it. It's basically all I can do. I still get a buzz'. You can tell just how much he loves it in the way he talks about his playing.
So just who was the early influence on this East Belfast man, growing up? 'The Shadows, Lonnie Donegan, The Beatles, The Stones. The first person that really influenced me was Lonnie Donegan. He's one of the greatest singers I've ever heard in my life. He influenced everybody, Van Morrisson, John Lennon... When The Beatles came along, they brought with them so many chords that young guitar players didn't know about. The Shadows brought new melodies so you had to listen to their records to hear this new playing. The Beatles were incredible songwriters, and again brought along more chords. So you had to learn more and more chords. Then The Stones came along and started bending strings on the guitar. I thought, jees, how'd you do that? So I went to a club one night in Belfast and I asked the guitar player how he did this. He explained that I had to buy a banjo string and replace the first string on the guitar with this, and then moved this to the second string and the second to the third and so on. So I learned to bend the strings in a different way.' Eric is still in awe about his learning these new tricks with the guitar. As he says 'we're teasing with the strings!'
Eric told me then about how he moved to Scotland with a showband and played for a while there. On his return to Belfast he then played for another showband and moved to England. On his return to Belfast he then moved to Dublin where he heard Gary Moore play in a bar. It was there also that he heard a young Philip Lynott play.
Bell says that it's thanks to the Rolling Stones that aging guitarists/musicans can still go on stage and play. 'It's because of them that one can now go on stage at 70 and 75 and play without the audience shouting 'sod off grandad. They've made it acceptable for me and others to continue playing.'
At 16 I was living at home and working a nine to five job. By night I would have this voice in my head telling me to practice my guitar. So I'd go up to my bedroom and play'.
Eric describes the modern day as a 'sad era' in relation to music. He talks fondly of the talent in movies like 'Singing in the Rain'. 'That's talent', he says, 'it's not aroung these days'.
Of course I had to ask Eric how important 'Whiskey in the Jar' is to him in  the modern day. He laughs saying, 'its incredible as it's helped to pay my rent for the past 40 years. It's stood the test of time. For me, Philip and Brian, it was a love hate relationship with that song. This was recorded as a B side. Philip had the idea for the tempo and it took me forever. It was the hardest piece of music I've ever created, the intro to Whiskey in the Jar. I had no idea how to approach this song. It took me six weeks to put it together. I'd be humming ideas for this on buses, taxis etc. One day I was in a taxi, and it just hit me. I had to keep humming it, got out of the taxi, ran upstairs and still singing, I got my guitar and put it together. That was it.'
I asked Eric if he has achieved everything he set out to achieve. 'No, I want to be a better guitar player, a better singer. I just love creating music. It's a very iffy thing. As long as my health is ok, I'll keep going'.
Eric confided in me one of his most helpful hints. He explains that many musicians develop arthritis. He recalls one night seeing Rory Gallagher warming his hands up prior to going on stage. He now does that on a regualar basis and firmly believes that it has helped mantain his ability to play for so long. 'It makes perfect sense', says Eric.
I couldn't possibly leave this man without asking just how he and Phil Lynott came to meet. He happily tells me about the night he went to a club in Dublin. 'I knew the owner so he let me in for free. I was saving money. This band called Orphanage came out on stage. Philip was the singer. Brian Downey was the drummer. Brian just blew me away with his drumming. I got an opportunity to talk to Philip and Brian. I asked them where the best place would be for me to meet group musicians. The Zodiac they said...which is where Philips' statue now stands! Philip asked Brian if he'd like to take me on board. That night Thin Lizzy was formed.'
Eric Bell left home at just 16 and a half years of age. I for one, am grateful that he has now returned to his homeland and is set to continue playing for many years to come. 'I've no idea what people get from my music. I just hope they enjoy it.' Eric Bell is humble to the end.
Eric and his family now reside in Co. Down and it looks like he is finally putting down some roots. As he says 'it's in the sticks, but I love it'.
This is one meeting I won't forget in a hurry. Eric Bell you rocked :)


Friday, 4 September 2015

North West Culture People - Colleen Raney

Today's North West Culture People person is Colleen Raney. Colleen visited Muff, Donegal earlier this year with fellow musician Hanz Araki. Fingers crossed they will return one day and we'll get a tune (or 10).
Name:  Colleen Raney

Occupation:  Singer, freelance Graphic Designer

Describe yourself?  9th of 10 children in a family from Seattle, Washington.That's probably the first thing I’d tell someone.  Which makes me think, actually.  Maybe I should start defining
myself differently. Or rather not at all. I am a skeptic and an optimist at the same time.  I love to cook, I love poetry (and lyrics), I love to walk, I love to sing with other voices, I love to read, I love my little starter garden. I am a professional auntie and godmother.  I’m terrible at small talk.  Like really awkward.  I think people assign me a lot more than I actually am.  Maybe we all do that to everyone.

What is your best childhood memory?  You know this one is hard because I don’t remember my childhood.  My sister Brigid remembers my childhood for me.  I remember joy when my brother’s (Irish) band was playing and we got to ditch school and go dance for them and hear him play.  But it could just as easily be sitting under the dining room table with a my worn copy of Little Women.  

What was your first job?  Childcare.  I nannied for a young man who now plays in the NBA!  And then I moved on to analytical chemistry in my dad’s laboratory.

What is your favourite film? I don’t know the answer to this, honestly.  The only movies we watched growing up would have been American Musicals so I love love love watching West Side Story, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, The Sound of Music, and musicals like that.  I am drawn to quietly told stories like Amelie, Coco, and Love, Actually, but spending so much time with Hanz Araki for the last several years has made me a fan of the 007 movies, and the Marvel Movies as well!

What is your top three favourite books? Oh wow. I can tell you what my three favorite plays are, but probably not books.  Polaroid Stories by Naomi Izuka, Shakespeare’s Othello, and The Weir by Conor McPherson.  I’m a huge fan of Janice P. Nimura’s book Daughters of the Samurai. 
What is your favourite method of relaxation?  Being near water - a river, lake, harbor.  Doesn’t matter what I’m doing there.  I relax so much more near water.  And reading.
What is your favourite possession? My guitar.

What is your favourite holiday destination? So far? Maui.  But I’m still holding out for somewhere on the Mediterranean.

What makes you happy? Travel.  And really good food.

What makes you sad?  Lies.

What annoys you?  Hypocrisy.  Even my own.

Who inspires you?   People who are willing to be wrong. People who take emotional risks.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? I’ve lived a pretty charmed life, so I think my risks are mostly internal. Quitting jobs that are stable and have nice benefits to pursue music, which is unpredictable at best in the current economy. Moving to New York and working as an actor in a city full of strangers.  Falling in love.  Learning to be very honest with myself.  My risks are luxuries to others. 

Who would you most like to invite to a dinner party? My grandparents and great-grandparents, actually.  They all passed away when I was quite young so I never really had any real chance to know them.  I’d like to sit with them for a while.

What are you most passionate about?  Stupidity.  :)

How would you like to be remembered?  I think I’d mostly like to be remembered by the people who actually know me, rather than some idea of me.  As a good friend, as a person willing to question her own thoughts and opinions, and as a person who loves deeply.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

NAME UPON NAME, Sheena Wilkinson - Book Review

NAME UPON NAME is the latest publication from Sheena Wilkinson, published by Little Island. The story focuses on a young girl (Helen) caught between the Easter Rising, the outbreak of World War I and a divided Ireland.
Belfast in 1916. Fourteen-year-old Helen is shaped by her mixed background - rural, Catholic Irish values from her mother; urban, Protestant Ulster values from her father. Helen's older cousins are her idols: Sandy, who joined the army straight from school and has already seen action in France, and Michael, who runs away from home to enlist. But before he leaves for France, Michael is deployed to Dublin to help quell the Rising, where he's expected to open fire on his fellow Irishmen, and Sandy writes home about terrible things on the front. What exactly are they fighting for?
Such is just a brief synopsis of the novel NAME UPON NAME. When I first opened this novel, I was hesitant as to what I was about to embark upon. I had hoped it wasn't going to be just another retelling of the Easter Rising 1916, only this time from a teenage girl's perspective. But no, on entering the first pages of NAME UPON NAME, I already knew this was teenage fiction, historical analysis, and a real glimpse into Ireland's past. I use the word 'past' loosely as our history is very much a part of our present. It is what has shaped us into who we are.
From the beginning we know that Helen is living in a divided country, caught between religion and politics which are intertwined and most importantly and notably, she is living in a divided family. One line is this novel stands out for me; Helen says to her cousin Nora, 'Surely all that - about patriots and Ireland - isn't as important as family?' This statement is at the core of the novel.
Wilkinson showcases the devastation of the War in Europe, the  Rising in Dublin, and the war among families in Northern Ireland, brilliantly. Helen is torn with everything she does. At just fourteen years of age, this young character is being shaped by those around her. And those around her are allowing her to be torn in so many pieces. She is unable to establish an identity.
As the story progresses we get to see Helen mature in a way no fourteen year old should have to. She takes it upon herself to resolve her familial differences to each other and makes them see just how important family is. She eventually hears Uncle Sean say, 'Your principles are important, but not as important as your family'. I can see the smile on Helen's face as she hears these words even though it's not written on the page.
Having grown up living in Donegal near the Derry border and now currently living just on the Derry border, I can relate to Helen's experiences. I had no personal division in my circle but I knew and know many who had and perhaps still do.
Just recently I realised that this novel is indeed very much autobiographical. Wilkinson grew up in very similar circumstances to Helen and it is only now that she feels confident enough to voice her true feelings about that upbringing and how it shaped her.
This book is set in 1916, ninety-nine years ago, although it has a very contemporary feel to it. Such is the storytelling masterpiece of Wilkinson. 
I spoke with Jennifer Johnston just over a year ago about the troubles in modern fiction and she told me, 'The troubles never go away. They will always be there in the backgroud'. How very true those words are. Although Wilkinson has placed the Rising 1916 at the heart of this novel, we know as a country that it will never go away. It's very much a part of who were are today. It has helped shaped much of our identity and certainly our cultural identity. We can never get away from it and nor should we wish to.
NAME UPON NAME gives us a real insight into this time in Irish history from the perspective of a teenage girl. It's one novel which our youth can now read and help them to understand just what this time was like. It's a novel which could very likely be on the Leaving Cert English curriculum in the future. It's one which my son plans on using this year as part of his Leaving Cert history project. It's one which is not only apt for the forthcoming centenary but one which keeps our history very much alive in the present day. And without history and language, how else would we be shaped as a nation. As Brian Friel wrote in Translations, 'It's not the literal past,the 'facts' of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language'.
NAME UPON NAME is available to purchase now from Little Island publishers.


Another School Year

And so the first week in September is underway as is the new school year. It's the time for fussing over the uniforms and stocking up on lunch supplies. It's the time many mothers look forward to and the time many mothers dread. But either way it's the time for the kids to get back into learning and developing those wee brains.
For many it's the time to send little treasures off on their first day of school. This can be traumatic for many parents and is a day so many dread. But chin up and look on it as a new oppurtunity for you as well as the child. Maybe this enables you, the mother or the father to take more time to onself. Enjoy a little 'me' time until it's time to rush off and collect.
School days really are the best days of our children's lives. None of us realised this until it was too late. I think it's of vital importance that we all encourage our children to enjoy their school days and use them wisely.
Having our health is of course the most important attribute we can have, but education is so very easily carried. Teach them to carry it well.