Ships: A journey of 1980s synths and dreamy vocals
Sorca McGrath and Simon Cullen, AKA Ships, are still reeling from their recent Choice Album of the Year win
Ships were the winner of the RTÉ Choice Music Prize – Irish Album of the Year. Photograph: Graham Keogh
“Holy Ships, we are on cloud nine today!” As the winners of the Choice Music Prize Album of the Year for 2017’s Precession, Ships’ Sorca McGrath and Simon Cullen are rightly being celebrated for creating a sonic landscape that mixes in 80s synths with dreamy vocals and brandishing a wonderful thing called “champion chords”, which would perfectly soundtrack any Rocky training montage.
When music taps into your psyche and lifts you up and out of your default setting, it has done its job. Ships’ music does exactly that. You may be slumped on your couch but the world that they create on their debut album Precession transports you elsewhere. When I listen to Ships, my imagination takes me to misty moors, with songs like None of It Real and All Will Be encouraging me to find my way to my metaphorical Heathcliff. In this case, the metaphorical Heathcliff is the darkened dance floor. McGrath and Cullen may be still reeling from their Album of the Year win on March 8th, but with their newly appointed position as our VBF, hopefully this will help them keep the ecstasy from the win ticking over.
There can be an unfounded snobbery towards Irish music within Ireland, with some people feeling that it’s a lesser entity to anything else going on in the world but Precession’s crowdfunding background shows the overwhelming support that people have for Irish music. Using Fund It, the Dublin-based band raised their target of €6,000 which covered the costs of mastering the album and then printing it on to vinyl. Recorded in their shared home, McGrath and Cullen poured everything into Precession, tinkering with it until they finally felt it was ready to be released into the wild. The layered elements to the album means that Ships can rearrange the songs’ components to either tend to your dancing needs at 2am at the woodland stage of a festival, loud and booming, mysterious and entrancing, or they can strip it down to an acoustic guitar and a percussion pad for a hushed and reflective crowd.
Tiny increments of change
When I Interviewed McGrath last year for The Irish Times, she explained the meaning behind the album’s title: “The entire galaxy of stars does a precession every 26,000 years – just a short time span – so it takes a long time for the full precession to happen but there’s these tiny increments of change happening all around us all the time.” These “tiny increments of change” are evident in this very exciting decade of Irish music and the Choice Music Prize acknowledges the hard work and diversity that goes into making these changes happen. Not just for the winners but for all of the nominees. Running since 2005, it has awarded Rusangano Family’s Let the Dead Bury the Dead (2016), The Gloaming’s self titled album (2014) and Jape’s Ocean of Frequency (2011) among others, celebrating pop, rock, trad, hip-hop, folk and electronica and challenging anyone that thinks that Irish music hasn’t – or shouldn’t have – moved on from Damien Rice.
Without using sales or radio plays as an indicator, Choice gives every musician in Ireland, no matter what their background is, a chance and while this may be the first time some people have ever heard of Ships, make sure it’s not the last. Add them to your Spotify playlists, buy their record, buy tickets to their gigs and highlight them on your music festival timetable. Things have changed in Irish music but as the sticker emblazoned across McGrath’s aqua blue electric guitar says, the “Future is Accessible”. Let’s keep it that way.