Still crazy: Three Irish music acts getting back in the groove

Blink, Ann Scott and Tiberius’ Minnows are back to attend to unfinished business

Blink had an album’s worth of material sitting in the vaults since 1997.

Blink had an album’s worth of material sitting in the vaults since 1997.

 

Bands fall apart; solo artists fall through the cracks – it’s all part of the natural rock’n’roll cycle. But real musicians don’t stop – they just press pause for a while, leaving the amp on standby for a possible return to action whenever the time and circumstances allow. Eventually, the planets may align and allow you to reach for the stars one more time.

It was 30 years ago when Dubliner Dermot Lambert formed Blink with his mates Robbie Sexton, Brian McLoughlin and Barry Campbell. Within just months of playing their debut gig, the band were snapped up by EMI and installed in a studio to record their debut album, A Map of the Universe by Blink, with big-name producers Gil Norton and Steve Hillage. The band’s blend of rock and electronica was a winning formula, and soon Irish fans were singing along to such catchy anthems as It’s Not My Fault, Happy Day and Cello.

“At the time, to us, what we were doing seemed cutting-edge,” recalls Lambert. “We were mixing analogue recordings with digital recordings, and we were sampling, when that wasn’t done in rock music. I thought I was a f***ing pioneer.”

The band had an early believer in Dermot’s brother Aidan, who became their manager and had the foresight to set off for Los Angeles with demos of the band, opening a door into America for them.

“Us, the Frames and the Pale pretty much established a beachhead for Irish bands in New York and Boston,” says Lambert. “We signed a record deal over there and sold 100,000 copies of our second album.”

Although they never hit the big time, Lambert reckons they got a pretty good run out of it, and has no regrets about what might have been. “We didn’t get much wrong.” He did, though, have a nagging feeling that there was some unfinished Blink business to attend to, ie an entire album’s worth of material sitting in the vaults since 1997.

“The songs were recorded around the same time as Cello. I was now in a position where I could digitise everything, so what I did was take the recordings, mastered them, edited them. And I was just going, ‘Why the f*** did we never release this?’”

The unreleased songs will be put out under the title A Glitch in the Matrix. The first single from the album – and the band’s first single in 15 years – Every Day Is a Black Day from Today, came out last September. The second single, We Robbed a Bank in Brazil (And Got Away with It) has very personal resonance for Lambert, as it recalls happy childhood days growing up in Rathfarnham with his brother Aidan, who died of cancer five years ago aged 56.

“We would go into school in the city centre but sometimes after school we’d spend our bus fare on sweets and walk back home to Rathfarnham, and arrive home three hours late. And we’d chat as we were walking home, and Aidan would tell me about bands like U2, the Sex Pistols, the Boomtown Rats.

“It’s been very therapeutic to go back over the music because I also feel that I’m finishing the job and honouring the memory of Aidan.

Lambert is busy these days mentoring young bands via the very successful Garageland series of gigs, recordings and radio shows. The gigs have been paused for the past year due to Covid, but earlier this month Garageland was online as part of Cruinniú na nÓg, the national day of free creativity for children and young people.

One of Garageland’s most popular acts was Dublin band Inhaler, but Lambert admits he didn’t realise that the band’s singer, Eli Hewson, had a famous dad when he put them on the bill for Garageland gigs.

“I was going around telling everybody about this brilliant new band, with no clue as to who his dad was. We worked with them for a year and a half before we found out he was Bono’s kid. They can look back on their time with Garageland and know they did it on their own merit.”

As for Blink getting back together to promote the material on Glitch in the Matrix, Lambert is never saying never. Encouraged by his wife, Clara, who is also in the music business, he recently went back onstage as a solo artist after a three-year absence, performing a song Christmas Forever (written for Aidan) at the National Stadium, backed by a full choir and pianist.

“Playing on the stage in the National Stadium with the choir and the piano behind me, and you could hear a pin drop, I just thought, oh my God... It really brought the magic back.”

Wilds of Westmeath

For Dublin singer-songwriter Ann Scott, life didn’t so much get in the way as completely invade the stage. Since the release of her last album, Venus to the Sky, in 2013, Scott has become a mum (her daughter is now seven), and moved from the capital to the wilds of Co Westmeath.

“The rents in Dublin are just ridiculous,” says Scott. “It’s a big change – I previously lived by the sea, and felt at least half in nature, but here I’m fully in nature – we get amazing skies and beautiful sunsets, so it’s a trade-off.”

She’s been a strong prescence on the Dublin music scene since 2001, not just as a superb performer in her own right, but also as a key musician with many of her contemporaries. The multi-instrumentalist has shared the stage with Gemma Hayes, Mark Geary, Katell Keineg and Adrian Crowley, and her name appears on the credits of albums by Glen Hansard, David Kitt, Kila and Jape.

“Playing for other artists is great,” she says. “The spotlight is off you, there’s no pressure to carry the gig, and there’s something really cathartic about banging a floor tom on stage.”

The past few years, however, have been marked by solitude and reflection, as she adjusts to a new, less frenetic lifestyle, not to mention the demands of motherhood. And, for the time being, the Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to any thoughts of going back on stage, either as a solo artist or with any of her musical mates.

But the downtime has spurred her on to finish writing and recording her fifth album, Lily, which she’s releasing with help from funding by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.

“I’ve got so much material built up over the years, I just had to get it out. I’ve been writing endlessly during lockdown, and it got to a point where I just had to say, time to put out a new record.

“Songwriters hate finishing songs – they have to keep tinkering away at them, and if you give yourself enough time, you’ll be whittling away forever at a song. It’s better to set limitations, just so you can get things completed. My hands were tied – which was a good thing.”

Lily is a sparse, uncluttered record, with Scott playing most of the instruments, Dave Hingerty on drums, and Karl Odlum producing, and it retains Scott’s quirky, offbeat style of singing and performing that traces a stylistic timeline from Kristin Hersh and Beth Orton to Courtney Barnett and Aldous Harding.

Looking back at her early years, Scott is grateful for the experience of endless touring and performing.

“I had so many adventures, and was able to get out of Ireland and travel to loads of places. It was a great apprenticeship, and that experience never leaves you. It’s always there when you need it.”

Big fish

For a brief while in the early 1990s, Belfast band Tiberius’ Minnows were entertaining dreams of swimming with the big fish in the music industry. They were signed to Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record label, their single Time Flies was all over the radio, and the band were “having an absolute ball”, recalls the band’s singer and main songwriter Michael Rafferty.

“Back in those days everything was geared to get towards getting the big record deal. Everything you’d release, you’d be thinking, ‘Is it radio friendly?’ I always found that frustrating.”

Tiberius’ Minnows have released their third album, Californian Poppy, 13 years after its predecessor.
Tiberius’ Minnows have released their third album, Californian Poppy, 13 years after its predecessor.

The band – Rafferty, guitarist Paul Maynes, bassist Kevin Carson and drummer Stephen O’Sullivan – never got out of the shallows but, rather than floundering, they reconvened in the mid-noughties under the snappier moniker the Minnows, and with a different motivation for making music.

“Life goes on, we all get jobs, we all start to have families, and while we always loved the music, those grand delusions started to dissipate. But what you’re left with is four best mates, which is what we are, closer than brothers. We still enjoy making the music, but we don’t have the same pressure – we’re just doing it for the love of it. It gives us a tremendous amount of creative freedom.”

The band self-released their second album, Leonard Cohen’s Happy Compared to Me, in 2008, and now, 13 years later, comes their third album, Californian Poppy, trailed by the single Where Have All the Good Times Gone, a fine six-minute slice of melancholy pop. Rafferty, who runs a successful PR company, Duffy Rafferty Communications, admits the album might still be unfinished if the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t “given us the kick up the backside we really needed”.

“We probably would’ve sat on it for years because there’s things pulling you in every direction. We just said if we don’t get it out soon one of us is going to kick the bucket.”

Rafferty did find time during lockdown to entertain his Facebook followers with cover versions of tunes by some of his favourite artists, from Lloyd Cole to Led Zep, and from Bruce Springsteen to Belle & Sebastian. He’s recently posted his 400th song, and such has been the response, he could easily keep posting these fun cover versions long after Covid restrictions have been lifted – if he finds the time.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.