Colm Mac Con Iomaire weathers the musical storms
There’s a difference between having a band and being in a band, says the solo artist and former Frames fiddler
Colm Mac Con Iomaire has been busy doing various musical projects while also recording his new solo album, And Now the Weather (Agus Anois an Aimsir)
The years fly by. It has been seven years since Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s debut solo album, The Hare’s Corner, appeared; 25 since he first took to a stage as a member of The Frames; and even more since the days of Kíla, busking and Coláiste Eoin. Mac Con Iomaire hasn’t changed much through it all, however, and remains a thoughtful, measured presence.
On a blustery spring day, he’s in a basement talking about his new album, And Now the Weather (Agus Anois an Aimsir). Like its predecessor, the new record is stately and graceful, a selection of tunes that bend hither and thither with blushes of folk, trad, classical, jazz and soundtracks.
He noticed something strange happened last time around. “With The Hare’s Corner, I accidentally made a record which bears up to repeated listening, and I was interested in finding out what it was that encouraged people to wear it out without wearing their ears out. It’s a bit like a balanced meal with 10 courses, and you don’t want to repeat anything.
“I think now that it’s about putting a record together which is coherent. I know it’s a cliche, but you want to make a record you’re happy with yourself. You’ve nailed it, you’ve done it, you’re happy. After that, it doesn’t really matter. You hope others will like it too, but my experience over the years is that if you’re not 100 per cent sold on it, neither will anybody else be.
Mac Con Iomaire thought this record was ready a couple of years ago. “I got into collecting tunes again after the last record came out, and by 2012 I thought I had the makings of the album and could knock one out. I did some recording with Karl [Oldham] and Graham [Hopkins] and it became apparent that I’d half an album and I was a couple of characters short of a novel.”
It was instinct as much as anything else, he says. “As you get older, you get to notice your own cycles and hang-ups. Catching music, making music, is like approaching a horse. You don’t approach it directly but sidle up to it. You begin to know when the music is flowing and not flowing and you get good at identifying those moments.”
A plethora of soundtracks and other projects kept Mac Con Iomaire busy between album sessions. He composed the music for poet Theo Dorgan’s Sappho’s Daughter, which was performed by Barry McGovern and Olwen Fouéré. “It was really interesting to work out what instruments they had in ancient Greece and a good excuse to go to town on the bouzoukis.”
He also worked on the music for Marc Mac Lochlainn’s puppet show Bláth, provided the score for Vivienne DeCourcy’s biopic of gardener Mary Reynolds (“A lot of it is based in Ethiopia, so I got to work with the great Mulatu Astatke, who’s a cross between Al Pacino and Paddy Moloney”) and scored crime drama Corp + Anam for TG4.
“With soundtracks you’re colouring the narrative to add to the potency,” he says. “Soundtracks can be interesting in that way because you’re serving the poem or the film and adding colour to the script. With the album, it’s often a similar principle. You have ideas which are good templates which need to be fleshed out. A lot of the soundtrack projects which came along subsequently were great ways of exploring and developing those fragments and doing things laterally.”
One project that hasn’t appeared on the to-do list for some time is the band with which Mac Con Iomaire made his reputation. The Frames may be reforming this summer for a series of 25th anniversary shows, but there hasn’t been a new album in nearly a decade.
“It will be lovely to get together, and I’m looking forward to rehearsing for the upcoming shows,” Mac Con Iomaire says. “For the past few years, though, the comfort was gone out of it for me. There came a point where it was us together against the world. Then the film happened and lightning struck, and from that point on it became less about The Frames and more about Glen [Hansard] and Mar [Irglova].
“Life is messy and that’s the way things happen, but it reached a point by 2011 that I knew it was over and so I was happy to go. The Frames released their last album in 2006 and you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. For me, it became about disentanglement and taking control over my own life and music. Clarity was needed because there was a lack of clarity between where one band started and another finished and it got messy.”
For him, it showed the difference between having a band and being in a band. “At a certain age, I know it’s far easier having a band than being in a band. You have huge amounts of responsibilities when it’s your band, but there are huge investments of energy being in a band, and at times it’s exhausting.”
As things stand, there’s more than enough on the Mac Con Iomaire slate, especially the new album, with its striking title.
“The news for the last few years has been appalling with Syria, Palestine, Gaza or Iraq in the headlines,” he says. “One particular day, I heard a news bulletin and the newscaster at the end of a horrific bulletin goes [sighs], ‘And now, the weather.’
“I was struck by the irony of global warming and the tides coming in and the throwaway line ‘and now the weather’, when the weather is the big news underlining everything.”
And Now the Weather (Agus Anois an Aimsir) is released on April 17th. Colm Mac Con Iomaire plays Whelan’s, Dublin, on April 17th
THE FINNISH LINE: HOW THE SONG WAS WRITTEN
“I was in Helsinki playing with The Swell Season and I was upside-down from all the travelling. We’d toured America and then straight to Australia and back to Europe to hit the ground running. I’d really bad jet-lag and I was homesick, and it was the middle of the night and it was 30 degrees below outside. I was having an existential ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ thing. I had the violin with me and this tune came into my head and I started playing.”