Ah, Galway. I’ve had visions of this little city running through my head for the past few weeks, all because of a series of interviews I did for the Irish Times‘ music supplement The Ticket a few weeks ago. The article came out yesterday – you can read it here – but due to word counts I simply couldn’t include everything I spoke to people about.
Usually that’s not an issue – I’ve worked in this business long enough to know you just have to forget about what you cut to make your word count, like scraps of scribbled-on paper thrown in a bin. It’s just part of the job.
But I enjoyed doing these interviews so much, and felt so welcomed into the fold when I visited Galway, that I’ve decided to put some longer versions of these interviews on the blog. There is so much going on in Galway at the moment; for such a relatively small city there are great little pockets of people working away at their music, putting on gigs in their own homes, setting up nights to bring more Irish music to the city, even buying their own vinyl-pressing machines so they can press their own records.
Yet at the same time, Galway isn’t necessarily the place people flock to for gigs – except for the Roisin Dubh, which has a fantastic reputation in Ireland and abroad, people don’t tend to visit the West for gigs unless for special occasions, like the upcoming Galway Arts Festival. This can be reflected in the audience numbers at the smaller local gigs, where I’d venture they don’t always get full houses.
While not having a jammed-to-the-rafters gig doesn’t indicate that your gig is of a low quality, people can get discouraged when they feel that their work is being taken for granted. It’s great to have your work acknowledged and to feel that you are making a contribution to the local ‘scene’ or scenes, even on a very small scale.
I hope that perhaps in a small way the Ticket article illustrates what’s going on up there, and will serve to encourage people from around the country to grab a train or bus to Galway for a weekend of gigs. You could catch Citóg on a Friday night, then head to Neachtain’s for a pint on Saturday before seeing if there’s a gig in the Roisín or Kelly’s. Then spend Sunday afternoon browsing the crammed shelves at my favourite book shop, Charlie Byrne’s, before some Japanese food at Wa Café . Can you tell I fell back in love with the place after my most recent visit? I may have lived there for a year but it wasn’t the greatest year of my life and I don’t think I truly appreciated what was on offer.
So, in an effort to give people a greater insight into what’s going on in Galway, I bring you the first extended interview from the series of chats I had with Galway music folk a few weeks back.
This is a piece – featuring interviews with Keith Wallace, Brigid Power Ryce, Brian Kelly (So Cow) and Aaron Coyne, about Rusted Rail records. Remember that name, because you’ll be hearing more from bands connected with that label in the future – they have lots planned for 2011.
Yawning Chasm – new album to come on Rusted Rail
One of the most industrious and endearing labels to come out of Galway is Rusted Rail, the labour of love of Keith Wallace. This micro-independent label has created links between bands from Ireland, the UK and Europe, such as Yawning Chasm, Loner Deluxe, Driftwood Manor and Brigid Power Ryce.
It’s a wonderful example of what happens when like-minded people get together and make and release music with no greater aim than to share their passion for this craft. And luckily, the music they make is very special.
Keith was inspired by local American labels that got in touch with him when he managed Flirt FM, the station now managed by Paula Healy.
“It took about another 10 years before it came to fruition, again it was a technology thing: releasing records is far easier these days with email and souncloud and youtube and all these tools that weren’t available before. Before, if you pressed someone’s record, you might as well bring it out to the desert and be shouting to the desert. Because how do you get attention?”
So far, the label has released 24 records, mostly limited edition pressings with handmade covers and photos taken by musicians on the label. “The packaging is really important because these days music is really disposable, there’s a whole generation of kids who’ve never even seen a vinyl record or probably don’t know what a CD is because to them music is something that’s completely disembodied, they just put it on their phone and play it on their phone and that’s nonsense,” says Keith. “The physicality of the release is really important. To be able to look in the liner notes and say who plays guitar on that? Who took that picture? All those things you can look at when listening to the music, and that might somehow reflect the music, that’s great. There’s a certain magic to the whole thing that it’s important not to lose.”
In Galway, “there’s a really nice kind of ‘yes we can’ attitude” says Keith, “so things work independently of each other but there’s definitely some kind of ethos”. That’s partly to do because of the location, and perhaps, he ventures, the fact the city is on the same latitude as Seattle, the birthplace of grunge. “There definitely is something in the water literally, there is something…it’s an inspirational place to live in a way.”
“Nobody is sitting around going ‘I wish I could do that’, people are doing things, are recording albums and making posters and putting on gigs and planning tours and making videos. It seems to be a really fertile time for things.”
Far from its past as a home for cover bands, Keith says that in Galway today “you can approach venues and book a night and put it on. I think the ability and confidence to do that has gathered momentum in the last six or seven years.”
Rusted Rail’s community spirit is embodied by the fact that all of the records are interconnected in some way. “Any one album would have a connection possibly to someone else. Someone who played on an album might have taken the photo for another one. Everybody pitches in – someone might help master the record. Everybody records at home.”
He sums it up: “Instead of DIY, it’s DIO – do it ourselves. That’s what it feels like – I’m constantly amazed with how people will cooperate with each other.”
The next release is by The Driftwood Manor, ‘The Same Figure Leaving’, which is a co-release with Dublin’s Slow Loris label.
There will be the first of a trilogy of videos coming out over six months, made by Tiny Epics – whose motto is “We’re not low budget, we’re no budget!” – while Yawning Chasm and Loner Deluxe are also knee-deep in recording albums.
Brigid Power Ryce has released one record on Rusted Rail. London-born, she moved to Galway at the age of 12 and after a jaunt in the United States returned back to Galway two years ago. Her first instrument was the accordion, aged 8 or 9, but by 22 she had migrated to the guitar, crafting haunting songs that showcase her impressively dexterous voice.
“I’d say it’s mostly vocal as an instrument,” she says when asked to describe her music. “I guess I’d be folk-inspired but I don’t really think it’s folk, it would come under that genre but I’d be more inspired by big singers like Aretha Franklin, Howlin Wolf and Tim Buckley.”
She met Keith after being introduced by Galwegian Cork-based musician Vicky Langan. “He was very welcoming. I could imagine though there are definitely pockets of scenes. It was welcoming compared to London – I couldn’t believe how friendly people were.”
What Brigid loves about the Galway scene is its genuineness. “There’s no ulterior motive. I was amazed that Declan Q Kelly just recorded me in this car park and took photos and didn’t expect anything from it. He just did it and people definitely help each other out like that. Here it’s definitely more generous.”
This summer, Brigid will play festivals such as London’s Feis, and has her eyes on a wider audience than Galway. “For me there’s only so much I can do here. I want to think about travelling more. I love intimate gigs but after a while I want to play to new people
One of the best-known names to come out of Galway is So Cow, a band originally started as a solo project by Tuam native Brian Kelly. His ramshackle, homemade pop had ears perking up across the US and he and his band spent half of 2010 touring across North America, including a support tour with the Wedding Present.
The band is currently working on a new album. Brian started dabbling in recording music while teaching English in Korea, and during his two two-month spells back in Galway, he’d play live gigs. His music attracted the attention of Keith, who released his Best Vacation Ever EP on Rusted Rail.
“Each time I came back I’d be slightly better because I’d know what I was doing more, and then by the time I came finally back I was like I know what I’m doing with this. I know how this goes,” he says of that time.
Brian describes Galway as “not a massive town. There’s definitely kind of nu-folk scene and you know there’s hardcore, there’s little pockets of people but they’re all fairly welcoming. It’s not particularly exclusionary or at least never been exclusionary to me for any reason, but then I haven’t been turning up at hardcore shows going ‘come on, let me play my twee pop songs’. If you’re starting off there are definitely people you can talk to who can bring you in and make it easier.”
Galway currently has new showcases like Citóg that put on weekly gigs, and Brian sees events like that as an inspiring thing. “Over the next 10 years there will be nights in Galway that will come and go, but they may at least develop some level of momentum to inspire someone else to do it.”
“Everyone seems to appreciate the fact that people are doing it, people are doing something and that seems to be appreciated on all sides in Galway. There seems to be a healthy mutual respect as regards musicians, as opposed to a mutual lovefest.”
He also believes that there’s a certain sense of humour that Galway musicians have. “I don’t mean we’re all making comedy records or jumping around doing Borat skits,” he clarifies. “It’s more there’s some of the stuff like Rural Savage – they are hilarious, it’s kind of really furious full-on garage pop but it’s mixed with this weird Donegal humour – it’s hilarious. It’s funny. And that’s just obvious, there’s humour but the music is also awesome. It seems from one trait of everybody that everybody seems to be enjoying what they do, actively enjoying what they do.”
So Cow is one of the few Galway bands to gain a significant following abroad, and even had one of its releases reviewed on Pitchfork. “It developed really naturally – I wasn’t bothering the editor of Pitchfork going ‘review my album!’” laughs Brian.
“So Cow did very well abroad in a very specific way, with specific websites and blogs. Cubs and Yawning Chasm and Phantom Dog Beneath the Moon they all get good reviews in magazines,” he notes.
If there was one thing Brian thinks would benefit Galway, it would be another permanent venue, or perhaps something like Dylan Haskins’ Hideaway House, where there could be full-band house shows.
Galway-born musician Aaron Coyne is the man who creates delicate and affecting guitar-based songs under the name Yawning Chasm, and intense improvised sounds with Declan Q Kelly as The Elephant Vanishes. Also a member of Mirakil Whip, he has been playing since the age of 14.
“Scene is a term people use”, he says of Galway. “But I guess friends and friends who interlock and play music, that’s kind of how I think of it.”
For Aaron, it’s more of a question of “various pockets” of scenes. “I turn up at some punk shows myself. I don’t sit around in my room listening to punk much but I like going to the shows, they have a healthy thing going on. It does interlock with it; Galway’s tiny so it kind of has to.”
What Rusted Rail artists have in common is their love for home recording. “It’s just cheaper and easier, faster, to do it like that,” says Aaron. “You tend to get nicer results as well. Things can get very cold in a studio. I guess a few of us have experienced that and we’d prefer to be in our living room with a cup of tea or a glass of wine.”
He has many things he appreciates about Rusted Rail. “The aesthetic is lovely and the home recording aspect makes it more possible, because Keith is great for people collaborating with each other who you may not even have met. He’ll have something on his computer and he’ll come around to your house and he’ll add something to it. That happens and that’s lovely.”
He describes Galway as having “a certain amount of claustrophobia” that feeds into his music, particularly his earlier work. “That sounds awful negative but it’s just kind of a double thing, there are wide open seas and it’s a lovely area but the town is small, the mix of people is small. It does get claustrophobic sometimes”.
Aaron also plays with Keith’s Loner Deluxe band, showing that the degree of separation between Rusted Rail acts is very small. “For me, I feel very lucky that I know so many people that are very good at what they do and are open to playing and all that. I think that’s the mood around, there are lots of people that are talented around the place.”
“I don’t think I saw it growing like that, the way it did,” he says of Rusted Rail. “It has blossomed into something really nice.”