Galway has a deserved reputation as a hub of culture and creativity, but for a long time it was theatre rather than live music that held centre stage. In recent years, however, that has finally begun to change, as AOIFE BARRY discovers
A decade ago, if you went in search of live music in Galway you generally had two choices: a covers band or a trad session. But today, search for a gig in the arty, cobblestoned city and you could find a cosy gig in a musician’s home, with fairylights strung across the mantelpiece and cakes to nibble on as you watch a local duo improvise. Or a hardcore band in the darker enclave of Sally Long’s; an internationally renowned indie act rocking the Róisín Dubh; or toss a coin to choose between a local band strumming in Kelly’s pub or the former wine cellar that is now DeBurgo’s. The Galway of 2011 is a different beast to the city it was 10 years ago, with some of Ireland’s most beautiful and rewarding music being made in its bedrooms, abandoned car parks and even fairy forts. The Ticket headed west to find out more about the acts making Galway one of Ireland’s best cities for homegrown music.
On a wing and a shop share
Tucked into the quirky Bell, Book Candle shop is Wingnut Records, Galway’s only independent record store, run by Ray Cuddihy from Doneraile. Inspired by Cork’s Plugd Records, and “crazy” about Irish music, Cuddihy opened the shop after a chat with Bell, Book Candle’s owner, Paul Deacy, about the closure of Road Records.
The aim was simply to give bands a space to sell their records, and after getting advice from a number of people, Wingnut Records got its first consignment of Irish music in September 2010.
“I absolutely love it and Paul Deacy is just incredibly supportive,” says Cuddihy. “I really feel like Wingnut has achieved something by not spending any money but bringing all these DIY elements together and making a small hub for them.”
Spirtual home to a musical scene
Ten years ago, the Róisín Dubh was a home for tribute bands, not local music. But that all changed when four men – Gugai, Kevin Healy, Greg Healy and Simon Heaslip – transformed it into a hugely successful live venue. Promoter and co-owner Gugai started booking gigs as a student 14 years ago, and went on to set up Strange Brew, bringing the likes of Snow Patrol and Redneck Manifesto to the city.
“What drives the local music scene is having somewhere you can go to see the bands that have inspired you,” he points out. “We’re seven years open and I think I’ve pretty much worked with all my childhood heroes, like The Fall and Mark Lanegan.”
How has he seen Galway change? “The difference now is there’s a greater sense of achievement – there’s more you can accomplish than you could in Galway 15 years ago.”
Gugai manages two of the city’s young rising stars, Elaine Mai and Daithí Ó Drónaí, a Clare native who moved to Galway almost two years ago. Ó Drónaí is part of a network of Galway bands including Go Panda Go and The Lost Chord.
“There’s no rivalry involved, everyone helps each other and everybody speaks up for each other,” says the 21-year-old, who is in the middle of writing an album and hopes to sign a major record deal. “A year ago people would always ask you if you’re from Dublin; no one ever presumes you’re from anywhere else. But I think Galway is getting a really good scene on an Irish level.”
Elaine Mai moved to Galway from Mayo seven years ago. After learning to play guitar at 16, she bought a loop pedal and, inspired by Björk and Regina Spektor, started gigging. She is also a member of Go Panda Go.
“There’s so much talent in Galway,” she says. “You always find with the bands that are there, they’re all really supportive. Even sharing gear and stuff, we’re all poor struggling musicians – if someone needs a guitar, amp or kit, everyone is in there straight away.”
Galway’s not just for sensitive folk-rockers – Us vs Them promotions, run by Daniel Hielscher, has been keeping the city’s hardcore and punk fans happy for the past five years.
Hielscher has been putting on gigs for a decade. Us vs Them gives bands from all over the world a chance to perform in Galway – no matter how underground they are. “If the music is decent we’ll give them a go,” he explains. “We always had a thing that we would just put on bands that are on a similar wavelength. But the people we are organising gigs for know they are getting a certain quality band.”
Whereas once some venues baulked at the thought of hosting hardcore gigs, Hielscher says the city has become more open.
“Instead of using the same one or two venues we’ve been accepted into the other venues. I can book any of the bigger venues in town now,” he says. “They’re not the punk venues that only punks can go to.”
He believes gigs by international acts have forced Galway bands to improve. “People are really pushing themselves a lot more now that bands can tour all across the world. It’s not good enough to be a band from Galway or Ireland – you really have to push yourself.”
Basement sessions & gaff gigs
Galway’s DIY approach to music is perfectly encapsulated by the intimate house shows put on by musician Declan Q Kelly (below). Inspired by friend Takashi Kumagai’s fairy fort gigs, his events have become treasured nights for listeners and performers.
“At a house gig you’re completely disarmed. I prefer them to playing gigs when you’re on stage where there’s that definite partition,“ says Kelly. “Playing a house gig has very little pressure attached. I think people are really happy to experience gigs in places other than bars or traditional venues.”
He first picked up a guitar in fifth year, and today works with Aaron Coyne, both in Yawning Chasm and The Elephant Vanishes. Kelly found inspiration in seeing Laura Sheeran. “It just changed the way I thought about music,” he says, adding that another Galway musician, Vicky Langan, “showed me the freedom in music, in sound; there doesn’t have to be any structure.”
The scale of Galway’s collaborative spirit dawned on him recently. “Anyone I know who makes music, you could just ask them could you help out with this, be it a gig or a song, and I just know instinctively that they would say yes,” says Kelly, who will support Patrick Kelleher on his Irish tour.
Another space for live music is Citóg, a weekly showcase run by Jay Burke and David Boland, which has just moved to the Cellar Bar.
“I think some of the most exciting music in this country right now comes from unsigned bands or small independent labels,” says Boland. “A few years ago I don’t think there was the same diversity or the same amount of people making a go of things in Galway.”
There are plans afoot for Citóg mixtapes, video and photo collaborations and the possibility of an Irish mini-tour.
Electronic musician Tony Higgins has collaborated with Kelly as Hogan’s Grip and solo as Junior 85. He ran the Stress!! nights with Jonny White and Garret Collins, which brought bands such as ASIWYFA and We Are Knives to Galway.
“I remember playing in bands in 2000 in college and it felt like I was in the only band on campus,” he says. “There seems to be an awful lot more bands around the place and a lot more people doing stuff and playing around the country.”
He believes that some bands are happy to keep things local:
“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
The Yes We Can label
Rusted Rail is one of the most industrious labels in Galway. Run by Keith Wallace since 2006, this micro-independent label has put out 24 limited releases that have an endearingly handmade aesthetic.
“The physicality of the release is really important,” says Keith. “To be able to look in the liner notes and say, who plays guitar on that? Who took that picture? There’s a certain magic to the whole thing that it’s important not to lose.”
In Galway, there’s a “yes we can” attitude, according to Wallace. That’s partly to do with the location, and perhaps, he ventures, the fact the city is on the same latitude as Seattle, the birthplace of grunge. “Nobody is sitting around going, ‘I wish I could do that’,” he says. “People are doing things: recording albums, making posters, putting on gigs, planning tours, making videos.”
There’s a community feel to Rusted Rail, with bands pitching in on everything from album cover photos to record mastering. “Instead of DIY, it’s DIO – do it ourselves.”
The next release is The Driftwood Manor's The Same Figure Leaving, while Yawning Chasm and Loner Deluxe are "knee-deep" in recording albums.
London-born Brigid Power-Ryce has released one record on Rusted Rail. She moved to Galway at the age of 12 and by 22 had begun crafting haunting songs that showcase her impressive voice, inspired by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Tim Buckley. She describes Galway as “really welcoming”.
“I couldn’t believe how friendly people were,” she says, adding that musicians help each other out with “no ulterior motive”.
One of the best-known names to come out of Galway is So Cow, the brainchild of Brian Kelly. His ramshackle pop perked up ears worldwide and he spent half of 2010 touring across North America.
The band is currently working on a new album. Kelly started dabbling in music while teaching in Korea, and during his spells back in Galway he'd play live gigs. This led to the release of his Best Vacation EverEP on Rusted Rail. He sees a healthy mutual respect between musicians in Galway "as opposed to a mutual love-fest".
“Everybody seems to be enjoying what they do, actively enjoying what they do,” he says.
Labelmate Aaron Coyne creates delicate guitar-based songs as Yawning Chasm and intense improvised sounds with Declan Q Kelly as The Elephant Vanishes. Also a member of Mirakil Whip alongside Annemarie Deacy, he has been playing since the age of 14.
“Scene is a term people use,” he says of Galway. “But I guess it’s friends who interlock and play music, that’s how I think of it.”
What Rusted Rail artists have in common is their love for home recording. “It’s just cheaper and easier, faster,” says Coyne. “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 describes himself as lucky to be part of such a community. “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.”
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