For part four of my Focus on Galway series, (following the article in the Ticket about the Galway music scene), I have an extended interview with Tony Higgins, a musician who has put on gigs in the city under the name Stress!! with his friends Jonny White and Garret Collins.
I also have some input from Jimmy Monaghan, who moved to Galway a few years ago and provides his own perspective on the city.
What I thought was really interesting about chatting with Tony Higgins was his honesty about how tough it can be to put on gigs and get full houses or find bands to play.
He’s someone who is truly passionate about the music he makes, and plays under the name Junior 85 as well as with others in projects such as Hogan Grip alongside Declan Q Kelly. Hogan Grip, actually, is an example of how things go up in Galway: two friends jam together, then one finds a 50-year-old copy of book on golfing grips in a local charity shop – and a musical project is born. Declan, a talented photographer, makes the poster, they book a gig and put the album online for free download. Bada bing, bada boom. We did it ourselves.
One thing that was clear from Tony’s interview was how small the scene in Galway is. He also spoke about the city’s university, NUIG, where Flirt FM, the studio radio station, plays a pivotal role in promoting bands.
“People in the college [university] wouldn’t be all that into going to see new bands. It’s just the way it is here,” was Tony’s perspective on it. “When I finished college in 2004 there were no bands in college at all. I think it’s probably the same now. The folks who are in college aren’t really part of that. There’s no really strong scene there, or venue in college – that’s the way it seems to me still. Whenever we got folks down to the Stress!! gigs when we were doing them there were always people who would say afterwards, ‘I never knew this was here’ – and we were trying really hard to advertise it in college. We were making a really big effort to get the word out and still people would say ‘I never knew this was here, I’ll come back every week’. And whether they did or not it killed us that we couldn’t get the word out enough. I remember I started playing in bands in 2000 and it was in the college and I remember it felt like I was in the only band on campus.”
And when there were live gigs in the city, they weren’t always local original acts: “It was really crazy; it seemed nothing was going on, [there were] rakes and rakes of cover bands. It seems there might not be as many cover bands now.”
But, he added: “At the same time parallel to that, there were some hip hop things happening. There were the lads who were doing the 091 night, lads from the Community Skratch Games, were doing clubnights called 091 and they were really successful. I didn’t know anything about that at the time. [Also], Gugai was doing a night called Suds and Soda in the GPO and that was really successful.”
Stress!! spent their days “scouring the country for Irish bands and asking do you want a gig”, remembered Tony. “A lot of the time folks were delighted to be offered a gig, and then when you’d give them money at the end of the night they’d [say], ah no one pays us!” he laughed. Stress!! brought acts to Galway likeASIWYFA and We Are Knives, and generally the night had three Irish bands playing per event.
Tony has seen the musical landscape evolve in the past decade largely thanks to more promoters coming on board. “Gugai [of the Roisin Dubh] is always saying, ‘do you want a gig’, or, ‘what are you doing’, and the Citóg lads are the same,” said Tony. “There seems to be an awful lot more bands around the place to me, and a lot more people doing stuff and going around playing around the country.”
But for all the bands that are out there, Tony did say that he thinks people might sometimes be reticent to put themselves forward for gigs. “Not in any negative way, but maybe because they don’t know about the stuff, they stick to what they know,” he said. “I think a lot of people stay in their bedrooms. I think there are a lot of people who don’t ask for a gig.”
What Tony seemed to feel about Galway was that some people aren’t making music to get written about, get noticed from outside their home town, or even to get out there and play a gig. They are happy to work away on their music without thinking further afield than their home town – or even their bedroom. And that, I personally think, isn’t a bad thing. Not everyone has the same plan for their music.
“I think a lot of people are happy to make music for themselves a lot of the time, and are not looking to conquer the world, and are doing it for themselves,” was how he put it.
It has to be said that Tony was of fantastic help when it came to preparing for this feature – he had a long list of people making music in Galway that he recommended I speak to, and was a great source of information. He knows what’s going on in Galway and is really supportive of people working there. So perhaps if there is any sense of frustration evident in what he said above, it’s simply because he knows that the standard of music being made is high, and that people deserve to have their music heard by many.
But not all Galway musicians are bedroom musicians – Tony and his peers have their own personal sense of ambition, and though they’re not trying to aggressively kick open doors, they’re steadily working away and attracting attention for their music in subtle and organic ways.
Also there while I was chatting to Tony was Jimmy Monaghan, from Music for Dead Birds and who makes beautiful solo piano music under the name Seamus O Muineachain. He offered an outsider-turned-insider’s view on the city.
“When I first moved to Galway five years ago I was so inspired,” he told me, adding that he was “obsessed” with the Ghostwood Project in particular. Moving from a rural town to Galway was a much-needed boost for him. “With all these creative people around it was really refreshing. I felt like I belonged here.”
Junior 85 Remixes
Focus on Galway