HWCH Q&A: Bitch Falcon
Bitch Falcon’s Nigel Kenny, Naomi Macleod and Lizzie Fitzpatrick answer the OTR questionnaire
Ahead of this week’s Hard Working Class Heroes festival and convention, we spoke to a number of acts about some of the ins and outs of being in a band in 2016. Here’s what Bitch Falcon had to say to us. Catch them at The Hib on Saturday night at 9.30pm
If you were to point an Irish Times reader to the best example of your work, what would it be and why?
Nigel Kenny: “I think it’s probably “Wolfstooth”. It’s the first bit of music we’ve ever released and it sums us up pretty well. Straight in with some heft/aggresion on the verse with a melodic chorus and a groovy middle section.
Naomi Macleod: “”Wolfstooth” is sort of a “go-to” tune of ours, it takes a little from every corner of our writing style I guess. There’s newer heavier tunes that I would consider good examples of our work, but Wolfstooth is a good recorded example.”
Why did you get involved with making music in the first place? Has it lived up to expectations?
Nigel Kenny: “I started my first band when I was seven, I think. Me and a few mates with cardboard boxes and pans as drums, toy guitars and amps etc. We practised a few times and had grand plans for ‘taking the bus to Galway to play a gig’, despite only ever making noise that could not be described as music. I’ve no idea why I got in to it, but my brother played guitar and I idolised him so I wanted to play the guitar too and it just went from there.
“I suppose at a very young age, your expectation was to tour the world, play to loads of people and perhaps naively think you could make a load of money off it. As time went by, it became therapy and an escape. A chance for the mind to relax. After that it became about making new friends and having unique experiences that only musicians have the privilege of experiencing.
“After 18 years of playing music and most of them in bands, it hasn’t changed much. It keeps me sane, it makes me happy, i meet amazing people everyday and get to watch them flourish in front of me on a stage and it has provided me with my best friends. It will probably never buy me a house but it doesn’t matter. If you’re in it to make some cash, then you should probably think about doing something else.”
Lizzie Fitzpatrick: “I have built up great skill as a tennis racket solo-er. As a child, I always dreamed of playing on stage. Every time I listened to music I imagined playing it live to crowds. So cheesy, I know. My Dad played guitar and so I must’ve caught the bug from him. Playing live always lives up to expectations; it doesnt matter if we’re playing a DIY punk gig, or belting it out on a massive stage at Body&Soul, the energy you get from a crowd is like none other.”
Naomi Macleod: “I’ve always been hugely moved by music, since I was a toddler, and my mood still gets massively affected listening to certain pieces. In terms of getting involved in bands and playing live music, it’s all small steps but it’s a huge creative reward when you play your band’s compositions on stage and see positive reactions from the audience right there in that moment. That’s a pretty special thing.”
What was your experience of music at school and in the education system?
Nigel Kenny: “In national school, I had a primary teacher called Mrs Connor (or O’Connor, I’m not sure) who played the guitar and tried to get everyone playing instruments. This was the first bit of structured tuition in music I got and I loved it. This probably started me on the path a bit more to playing and I think it is really important and a reason why we have so many musicians in this country. It isn’t like that everywhere and I recently talked to a bunch of musicians from India who all said they were the only musicians in their very large family. It’s because there is no real emphasis on music in education there, it’s very much academic.
“Despite it being a part of the curriculum in school here, it isn’t perfect. It got messy when I went to secondary school and had a teacher who rarely showed up and when he did he wasn’t on time or barely sober for that matter, so music became a free class. It was only after a few years when we got someone with the aptitude for teaching music that it got serious but it was too little, too late at that stage. If music was taken as seriously as maths in school here, what an industry we could have.
“It’s only now with places like BIMM and Newpark where we’re seeing what we can do musically when people dedicate their education and lives to music. Bands like Too Fools are an example of that. What an incredible bunch of musicians who i have no doubt will be making a living in music for the rest of their lives, one way or another.”
Lizzie Fitzpatrick: “My school, Colaiste Bride in Enniscorthy, was brilliant for music. I was in the choir class so that gave me many opportunities to skip Irish, Maths and others to play awful classical guitar. I was really terrible in school, but my music teacher always let me play along dreadfully to the choir. I had no concept of timing or tuning, but he still let me play. It drove me to practice and I eventually got a grip. We had little practice rooms that we would call the ‘cells’. He would let us escape to there where we would pretend to practice choir songs and just bash out our own songs instead. Certainly school had a huge impact on me as a guitarist, and as a singer.”
Naomi Macleod: “I first got into playing in primary school when we were given tin whistles in second class. I loved learning to read music and getting used to the concepts of melody, so I graduated to trad flute in third class, then eventually on to guitar and bass. In secondary school, we were blessed with a wonderful music teacher who always pulled together groups from each class to play in bands for each end-of-term concert, which got me interested and confident in playing bass in a band scenario.
“For Leaving Cert, I took up classical guitar, something I tried to study at third-level but ultimately left aside again in order to focus on bass. At the time, BIMM hadn’t started and there wasn’t many options in Ireland to study bass at third-level. If I could go back in time I definitely would have gone to BIMM – it seems to be an amazing hub for incredible, highly-trained musicians.”
What’s the best piece of advice you got when you were starting out on this path?
Nigel Kenny: “I never really got any advice starting out, i felt my way around and made lots of mistakes and learned from them. When I was around 15, I was hanging out a lot with older musicians from Tuam in and just playing with them or going to gigs with them was an opportunity to observe what was happening, what they were doing, how they released music and got people to go to gigs etc. It’s more now than ever that we’re getting advice as we get these incredible opportunities to play with people that we’ve looked up to for a long time who’ve been in the game longer than we have.”
Naomi Macleod: “The advice seems to be coming more so the further we travel along the path! I picked up a lot of pointers assisting on recording sessions in my college days. The best general advice was: always be sound, always ask questions and always be open to learning new things.”
What advice would you give to other bands or those who want to be in a band or make music?
Nigel Kenny: “Always be on time, make an effort to meet and speak with everyone working on your gig, be polite and courteous yet assertive in your dealings with promoters and above all, put the work in! Don’t expect everything to land in your lap, graft hard and go to every gig you can and meet new people you can either play with in a band, play a gig with or play a gig for. Value yourself and your work; there are times when it makes sense to play for free and other times, you need to at least make something to pay for your hours spent rehearsing, writing, travelling and paying for your practice space.”
Naomi Macleod: “What Nigel said about being on time! I’m terrible for timekeeping, I really need to work on that. Ha! As for the rest, the main thing I’d say is love what you do. Love your band, feel passion for every slice of music you make because the long drives, sleeping on floors, late nights practicing and writing are all worth it if you’re happy with the result. If other people love your music beyond that, then you’re doing pretty good!”
Your favourite Irish venue to play and why?
Nigel Kenny: “Vicar Street really is a very special place and every member of staff that works there is an absolute legend. It could be joint top with the Roisin Dubh in Galway”
Naomi Macleod: “Though we haven’t played there in a little while, I’m a big fan of Whelan’s main room. The vibes are great when it’s packed, it’s a lovely size, and the PA and stage sound always pack a punch.”
Do you still have to do other stuff to make a living? If so, what stuff? Does this frustrate you?
Nigel Kenny: “I work for Musicmaker full time and have done for four years. I’m so lucky they’re understanding and flexible when it comes to needing time off for gigs. I’m one of the lucky ones though as I get to work in the industry to a degree and it’s very much related to the band. I would however love to work on Bitch Falcon full time and that’s the goal ultimately. To be able to go into the studio 9-5 every day and either work on personal development or songs would do wonders for us.”
Lizzie Fitzpatrick: “I work as a nurse, and I appreciate the frustration it gives me. I hope to be in the position in the future to quit nursing and focus on music, but at the moment I appreciate every second I’m free to play music and it drives me to use my time effectively.”
Naomi Macleod: “I’ve recently returned to Musicmaker, but I’ve been in one form or another of full-time job the whole time I’ve been in the band. Musicmaker is great as I get to meet new people day in day out, talk about awesome gear, and have deadly workmates. My goal ultimately would be to be gigging and playing full-time but until I reach that point, I’m happy out in my day job.”
Who was the last Irish act you saw and where/when?
Nigel Kenny: “It was a new band called Vulpynes when we played with them in Kilkenny for Culture Night.”
If you’d one piece of advice for Heather Humphries, the minister for arts, about support for Irish music and musicians, what would it be?
Nigel Kenny: “First of all, let’s go back to having a dedicated arts minister so there can at least be the illusion that this government takes the arts seriously. That would be a fine start. Secondly, increase funding and support to contemporary music which is badly needed. Music From Ireland, FMC and HWCH are all positive and proactive institutions but we need more investment and resources. There also needs to be programmes to allow financial support for musicians who want to pursue music full time as a career. It is outrageous that so many of the great songwriters in this country at the moment have to work in a bar or retail full time, to pay their bills which include studio rent. The stress and mental health issues associated with working eight hours in a day job and then another four or five in the evening afterwards on music is a burden on Ireland’s musicians.
“There are not enough affordable facilities for musicians to use in Ireland and it is next to impossible to get a full time rehearsal space for your band without sharing with other bands at a hefty cost. These issues needs to be addressed and the findings of the Deloitte report (commissioned by IMRO) need to be implemented immediately. There is 13 billion quid our government is trying their hardest to give back and a tiny percentage of that could be used to create the best music export industry in the world.”
Naomi Macleod: “I think Irish musicians are grossly underfunded at present. There is so little support for the needs of up and coming musicians, of which there are so many in our little country. I’d ask her to provide rehearsal spaces at low cost to bands and musicians, so that the groundwork involved in getting a band off the ground wouldn’t come at the price of a second rent on top of one’s living accomodation every month. I’d ask her to provide schemes whereby it is possible to gain financial support as you grow your musical project from hobby to career, and funding to take your music abroad, to showcase the wonderful talent our country holds. This sort of support is possible in cities like Berlin, so why not around Ireland too?”
Aside from your upcoming show at HWCH, what else are you working on at present?
Nigel Kenny: “We have our first physical release coming out before the end of the year with a tour to support that in Ireland which will be announced in the not too distant future”