A series of reflections on previous work. Written during the 2020 lockdown.
Here’s one new/not so new pal of mine Sean Mathews. Producing Dreaming is Allowed was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had as a musician. It wasn’t without its challenges but I really learned a lot about the craft of songwriting and how to shape and mold a song to its final point on a record. Sean is one of the most sincere, honest songwriters I know with the ability to talk about complex subjects in direct and relatable ways. And ever the hospitable host, during the making of the album he introduced me to his laboratory of the finest craft beers and ciders. Thankfully the production was not marred by the alcoholic consumption, but possibly further enhanced by it!!
So if you’re at a loose end you could do worse than listen to this unique collection of songs. Grab a beer, or a fruit juice and enjoy!!
Getting to produce a number of albums in 2019 was a highlight but probably the most rewarding thing for me was getting more arranging experience. Playing and arranging on Roisin Ward Morrow‘s debut album, By the Light of the Moon was one of the best examples of this. From the initial demo recordings, Roisin gave me free reign to arrange with several guitars, keyboards, pedalboard (affectionately known as the ‘Space Station’) and electronics.
It was the quality and beauty of the melodies, however, that made the arranging so intuitive and the composition of them so immediate. Looking back now, I feel the strength of this work really shows in the two original melodies on the album, ‘An Teach in Aice Liom’ and ‘Slán Abhaile’. The fact they stand up so well in the company of some of the most iconic traditional Irish airs is a testament to Roisin’s talent as a composer. I am glad to have played a part in this album, even if it led to both of us collapsing from exhaustion on the final day of recording!!
Terry McHugh’s Prodigal Notes was the second of two albums recorded in the acoustic splendour of Millmount, Drogheda in 2019. The martello tower with its round, cornerless space was a unique setting for the rich but delicate tones of a classical guitar. Setting up microphones all over the tower, surrounding Terry, allowed his guitar and the tower’s acoustics to blend in a unique dialogue between instrument and space. I personally loved the result and besides the wonderful playing I think the feature of the tower (including in the beautiful photography and design) contributes to the album’s success.
One other fact that should be noted is that Terry recorded the whole album except one track in a single evening! This would be crazy in most circumstances but such was Terry’s commitment and perseverance on the night I was not going to deter him. A beautiful, personal album proving he is more than just Drogheda’s favourite plumber!
Over the last number of years I have been involved with the Abbott Dance Theatre run by the brilliant Kristin Kelly Abbott, based in Newcastle, UK. Since 2015 I have been composing music and creating sound designs for their productions. Our first work together was Launch Day. Launch Day is a contemporary dance production in collaboration with visual artist Alexander Millar. Abbott Dance Theatre explores the industrial history of the UK shipyard communities, bringing to life Millar’s paintings of working men and the iconic characters known as “Gadgies”.
The soundtrack features original music and arrangements as well as songs by Lindisfarne and Mark Knopfler.
After a successful first tour in 2016 Launch Day went on a countrywide tour of the UK in 2018. I joined the merry band of dancers and technical crew for a number of dates. The tour took me from the Lake District in the northwest to Dorset at the foot of the country. Seeing the beauty of the English countryside was a wonderful experience, and almost as memorable as discovering cider houses! Our show in Bridport, a former rope-making town, was probably my favourite moment from the tour. We played in a tiny theatre with a limited audience, enduring some challenging and sometimes hilarious technical issues. Despite all this the audience was so warm, friendly and totally engaged in the show. Needless to say I hope we all get to do this again soon.
Another venture into the archives found me stumbling on this little gem from 2016. My first collaboration with a poet, San Francisco Dreaming brought together the work of Roger Hudson and my own electric guitar improvisations. All recorded in the majestic surrounds of the Highlanes Gallery.
I first performed improvisations to Roger’s poetry at the launch of his collection, ‘Plaything of the Great God Kafka’, in the Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda. It was an exciting and revelatory introduction to the collaboration on two counts. Foremost, it gave me the opportunity to share my music with another artist. Prior to working with Roger, I had begun working on a new style of composition involving electric guitar and various electronic effects pedals, allowing for the creation of large textural and atmospheric soundscapes. This approach formed much of the musical material when responding to Roger’s poetry. The second reason for the collaboration being such an engaging experience was that it brought me into contact with the beautiful and ethereal acoustics of the Highlanes Gallery.
The gallery was formerly a Franciscan Church, known locally in Drogheda as the ‘High Lane Church’. It has since been converted into a large exhibition space for the visual arts but still retains its stoney marble environment from which a truly unique acoustic emerges. When discussing the project with Roger, I often referred to the gallery’s acoustic as the mysterious third instrument in our collaboration. I hope this recording has managed to capture some of that atmosphere we experienced while working together on what was a productive and memorable journey.
Looking at this image while trawling through the archives today made me wonder whether we’ll be passed the worst of this lockdown by midsummer and will we be able to solstice together in anticipation of better days ahead. Ironically in Ireland the sun has been our best friend of late so here’s hoping it hangs around until June 20th at least!
Eastern Passages is my debut album from 2015 but to be perfectly honest if it wasn’t for sheer procrastination and laziness it would have been out much earlier. A four-track album it features works written between 2006-2008.
The title track, Eastern Passages was the inspiration for making the album. First recorded as ambient music for a series of hypnotherapy cds by Alison Kelly, I developed it into a scored composition. Using a single electric guitar and effects pedal, the piece uses a layering/looping technique to build a series of unfolding textures that overlap each other throughout. The second piece, Escape deals with my avoidance of study and school. ‘Nuff said. While the first two tracks were recorded in the comfort of my own home, the final two were written in DKIT during my student days there. While at college I was exposed to electroacoustic composition and the use of field recordings to create music. Study for Sirens and Les Cloches Artificielles use sounds from sirens and airplane cabin chimes to oriental gongs to generate their own soundworlds.
Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another ten years to make the next album! In the meantime take a stroll down this passage tomb and see what you find…
And now for something completely different…
One of the most eclectic, spontaneous and wild productions I was involved in was the recording of Bonne Nuit by My Fellow Sponges. They were as much a muse to me as I was to them as together we flexed our fledgling recording and production muscles over the course of two years to make this unique collection of songs.
In 2011 we initially began by recording solo material by band co-writers, Anna Mullarkey and Donal McConnon at the Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda, Co. Louth and when the Sponges had enough music and gigs under their belt we undertook the challenge of creating the album. Over the next two years regular pilgrimages via bus/car were made sending us hurtling across the great plains between Drogheda and Galway as the pieces of the album began to come together. Equipped with a BOSS 16-track recorder we delved into unknown technical and creative territory, excited by what we could make together. Aside from recording probably the most memorable moments were when distraction hit and spontaneous jams without any particular direction broke out, proving to be formative for me as a rookie banjo player. And then there were biscuits…
‘Bonne Nuit’ was officially launched on the 8th July, 2013 at Róisín Dubh in Galway.
moving still represented a change in compositional style for me. During my college years I almost completely neglected the electric guitar in favour of DADGAD tuning and an acoustic guitar. At that time I was really focused on folk fingerstyle arrangements and traditional accompaniment in my own Joni Mitchell inspired way.
It wasn’t until I spent an evening in jazz flautist, Brian Dunning’s house in the late 2000s did I feel the electric guitar bug once more. While in his studio he took out a BOSS DD-20 delay pedal. He hooked it up to a microphone, set a crazy long delay time and began to play a series of long notes. As the pedal began to feedback the notes from his flute transformed into soaring waves of drones and harmonic textures. It was a simple but stunning experience for me, the fact that a single instrument and an effects pedal could produce such a sound.
Of course at that point I could not resist blowing my money on the same pedal and try reproduce the sounds Brian conjured that evening. Instead however, I got distracted as per usual and over the next two years all the pedal did was gather dust. It wasn’t until 2012 when I plugged it in again and after much experimenting the piece that eventually emerged came from an unusual combination of inspirations. One was seeing Rothko’s No. 14 in MOMA when I was in San Francisco that summer. The other was watching Ang Lee’s Life of Pi on the big screen. My inner impressionist stirred in me and moving still is what came out. This led me to working more with visuals and visual artists in the following years. With one piece, one electric guitar and (only!!) one pedal who knew my gear acquisition syndrome would get so out of control within a few years!!
Well that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘STORIES FROM THE ARCHIVES’. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and write another Covid poem…