Eamonn Dowd steps out of the cold wastes of Sweden and gets on a bus to the airport. He nurtures a battered guitar box through check-in and security, trying to get it on as hand luggage. Next stop: Ireland. Back where the 51-year-old Mayo-born musician started.
“I first played Gothenburg in 1997. It was summer; hot. I moved here in 2008. The wife is Swedish and she thought it a good idea to move back. I’d have preferred Berlin. I had two albums released by a German label, but I got bad directions and ended up in ‘Gotham’.”
Waiting for Dowd in Dublin – like the Miller gang of High Noon – are the Racketeers, loyal musicians activated whenever he hits town. They are deft and stylish partners in his edgy, dark Americana rock n' roll.
In the 1980s, Dowd was the front man of cult band The Swinging Swine. They were a dysfunctional family riven with resentments. But that energy punched out a powerful psychedelic punk folk sound.
As emigration shrunk audiences, their tunes and swagger drew diehards weekly to Dún Laoghaire's Walters. Just as their Them Ghosts Do Come EP came out, they fell apart. But Dowd doesn't waste time on nostalgia.
“Last year in Munich a guy who used to see The Swinging Swine every Sunday turned up. He gave me a bed for the night and bought every CD I had with me. A few weeks ago in Kaiserslautern, in southern Germany, I was playing Kok Roaches. Two girls from Kilkenny turned up. Occasionally I’ll play an Irish bar. They usually pay well but I don’t meet many Irish.”
How does he find Ireland now? “It used to annoy me how everybody constantly talked about the recession and the crooks in the Dáil. But I just tune out. It’s like everybody has collective amnesia about how bad things were in the 1980s. I remember it was a novelty to meet somebody who had a straight job. I used to sign on in Werburgh Street same time as The General . . . ”
Marriage and fatherhood propelled Dowd towards Sweden. Does it work as a musical base? “No, and it’s getting worse. Of course I’ve had some great shows. But Sweden is isolated. Next stop the North Pole. I can score gigs easier in Holland, Belgium or Germany.”
Dowd’s group in Sweden are The Last Souls. “They have no appreciation of country or folk and that’s fine by me,” he laughs. “I get to play fast with Andy and Dick. There’s lots of feedback and improvising. It’s fun.”
Dowd hangs around before the gig, a striking figure with something showbiz, something vaudevillian in his bones.
This is old-school arts and crafts, a terse articulation of the devil’s music, of struggle and calamity, of strangers in dangerous towns. His music matters. “But piracy is a serious problem. And streaming. Streaming is the last nail in the coffin.”
As he takes the stage, the ghosts of Joe Strummer and Johnny Cash appear. All three admire the cut of each other. And aah one . . . two . . . three . . . four, the Racketeers launch into a track from Dowd's new record, Down A Hundred Crooked Roads.
“When I lived in Dublin I was constantly organising tours and adventures to get out of there. Now I’m doing the same thing to get out of Scandinavia. I just don’t like being in the same place too long. I’ve had great adventures on the road. Met great people. Give me a gig, and I’ll go. It inspires me. William Burroughs said, ‘Don’t short-change the muse.’ You have to do it for real.”
Down A Hundred Crooked Roads is on Spellbound records, via Eamonndowd. com. Dowd and the Racketeers play tonight (Saturday) at Eddie Murphys, Thomastown