Emerging Irish music: Right Here, Right Now, in Cork!

This weekend’s Right Here, Right Now festival, happening at venues across the city, serves to help platform some of the best in new Irish music. MIke McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the artists performing across the weekend of February 21-23.
Emerging Irish music: Right Here, Right Now, in Cork!
Toucan: Catch them Right Here, Right Now.

This weekend’s Right Here, Right Now festival, happening at venues across the city, serves to help platform some of the best in new Irish music. MIke McGrath-Bryan speaks with some of the artists performing across the weekend

A joint effort between the crew at Coughlan’s, Cork Opera House and some of the finest independent programmers/promoters in the city, Right Here, Right Now festival has taken some time to get settled into the city’s gigging calendar, now positioned in the excitement and anticipation of early spring, bridging the gap between Quarter Block Party’s earnestness of endeavour, and the resumption of musical business around the city.

Caoilian Sherlock: Opening the show.
Caoilian Sherlock: Opening the show.

But amid the headlining presences of veterans like Dónal Lunny, Mick Flannery, Valerie June and Donal Dineen are some of the country’s most exciting independent musical prospects, billed across Cyprus Avenue and the Green Room of the Opera House over the course of this weekend.

Conor Clancy leads funk ten-piece Toucan, functioning as songwriter and frontman, a mercurial presence that underpins the band’s stage-filling live excursions.

Having done the rounds of the Irish festival circuit over the years, Toucan heads to Cyprus Avenue on Friday with a considerable head of steam. Tracks from the band’s debut extended-player have clocked over a million streams across different services, and that success has fed into the band’s rise in a big way. 

Clancy outlines the importance of streaming to independent musicians at present, and its real-life impact on the band’s following. “Yeah, it’s hard to know how well we’d be doing right now without streaming services and Spotify. It’s had a massive impact on us for sure. The positives are that the music has been accessible to people all over the world, and as a result we have massive listenership in places like the UK and Australia, Germany and the US. If we were relying solely on radio and word of mouth to get the music around, we wouldn’t have made a dent in these places yet.

“So it definitely can help to give you a head start on growing your base. On the other hand, the payout is notoriously bad, and it creates this disparity between how well you’re seen to be doing, and how well the numbers actually stack up for you. I do think the payout should be better but overall it’s been a hugely positive influence.”

Having gigged steadily over the past number of years, a headlining slot at Cyprus Avenue, now expanded to 550-capacity and forming the anchor for a whole complex of smaller venues, is another step up the ladder.

Clancy collects his thoughts heading into Right Here Right Now, and the band’s contribution to proceedings.

“Absolutely can’t wait. Haven’t played in Cork in quite a while, so we’re all really excited to bring the show to Cyprus Avenue. It’s also really exciting to be part of such a cool festival, lots of great acts that I’m hoping to catch myself over the course of it.”

Fixity, led by Cork percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Dan Walsh, can best be described as avoiding neat classification. Improvised and semi-improvised forms, informed by a range of genres, musical movements and schools of musical thought, form the backbone of the band’s body of work, recently expanded by second studio full-length No Man Can Tell, released last year via Cork-based Penske Recordings. Walsh talks about the compositional process, and his feelings on the album as a ‘finished’ product.

Fixity: Catch them this weekend.
Fixity: Catch them this weekend.

“I write in a way that gives clear responsibility to the musicians I work with. Some of the compositional ideas are simple limitations that become an environment for the interpreter to create, within a compositional framework. Each musician brings a large amount of presence and authority to the performance of a piece of music, and in doing so together, we create a unique collective moment that we experience at once, and never again in the same way. No Man Can Tell was recorded with musicians that are more than equipped to deal with the challenges of real-time music-making (or improvisation for short) and what we made together is something that I’m very proud of. Since releasing the album almost a year ago, we have toured Ireland extensively, and now look forward to bringing new music and new ways of making it happen into more people’s lives throughout the next year, at home and further afield.”

This Friday night sees the band play the Opera House’s Green Room as part of the festival. It’s not their first dalliance with the room, but the addition of a pair of guest DJs simply adds to the community vibe that exemplifies the Green Room’s weekend engagements.

“I’m really looking forward to the show at the Green Room. We played there a few years ago, and I’m glad to see it open and being used for Right Here, Right Now. The band for this show is composed of myself on drums and sax, Kevin Terry on guitar, Philip Christie on synth, Declan O’Shea on bass, and Sean Maynard Smith on bass. I love playing music with these people, so it will be an absolute pleasure. We will be playing tunes from various Fixity releases, as well as brand-new compositions that will be recorded later in the year. The additional bonus of having Cathal MacGabhann and Elaine Howley (of The Altered Hours) playing records will complete the evening in a very appropriate fashion. Can’t wait.”

Co-headlining the Saturday proceedings at the Green Room is Anna-Mieke, a singer and multi-instrumentalist who found peace in reverting to her true musical passions after completing post-graduate studies in pharmacology. The product of broad childhood horizons and adulthood travel focused on song-collecting, her debut album Idle Mind released last April, and kickstarted a busy 2019 for the songwriter. With a bit of time to take stock, Anna-Mieke talks about the reaction and response to the record, and subsequent shows.

“Idle Mind, when it was released, got a really great response - it feels so good to sell out all your album launch shows! People in Ireland are brilliant for supporting artists, and it’s encouraging that people still buy tickets to my shows, buy albums and share my songs around.

“A good sign. Of course, I will always enjoy creating and performing music, and it’s an added bonus if others also enjoy what I do, and feel like they want to support it in some way. Since releasing the album, I’ve been more motivated to book shows and organise tours for myself, so I’ve got a good few events to look forward to this year, in Ireland and elsewhere. It’s quite a strange, and quite intense, thing to present your songs in recorded form for others to listen to - it solidifies the songs in a way that performing them never does, which is quite a different experience.”

Having spent time on the Cork music scene on her travels, this weekend’s festival presents a mixture of the familiar and the new for Anna-Mieke, who’s enthused for the Green Room experience.

“I’m really looking forward to my show at Right Here, Right Now - I lived in Cork for two years and played in numerous venues in and around the city but the Green Room in the Opera House is a new one for me. I’ll be joined by the very brilliant Matthew Jacobson on percussion and Ryan Hargadon on sax, clarinet and synth. Ryan’s a relatively new addition, and it’s been so refreshing and exciting having a whole new palette of sound to experiment with. We’ve been playing around with a few new songs recently so it’ll be good to play them to an audience in Cork.

Anna Mieke: Co-heading in Green Room.
Anna Mieke: Co-heading in Green Room.

“Even better, the brilliant Caoilian Sherlock, will be opening the show. Caoilian was one of the first people I knew when I moved to Cork in 2017. I actually think he, along with Aisling O’Riordan, hosted my very first show in the county of Cork, down in Connolly’s of Leap in 2016. The whole festival looks to have a great line-up, and I’m planning to head to a few other shows when I’m down there.”

Sherlock himself is one of those talismanic figures in the Cork music scene - a singer-songwriter, a gig promoter and show-runner, a tireless advocate for DIY culture, and a festival co-founder just off the back of his sixth Quarter Block Party, taking a breath before heading into a 2020 of new music and touring.

“Quarter Block Party was a great start to the year but I am thrilled it’s over for another year, because I can focus on my main project which is finishing off my debut solo album. I am recording with Brendan Fennessy, formerly of O Emperor, and I am just happy to be working on songs that I have built up over the last few years. The songwriting style is my own, so it won’t be very different to what I have done in the past with (psych-rockers) The Shaker Hymn - the choices we make in the studio are very different though, so I am playing around with more synths and digital sounds, and mixing styles together that I love but rarely get the chance to touch. I feel great about that.”

As mentioned, Sherlock co-headlines Saturday’s live festivities at the Green Room with Anna-Mieke, and with everything in train for his own 2020, the festival sets the tone for what hes set out to accomplish.

“Personally, it’s a great way to begin this year. Cork Opera House and the folks behind Right Here Right Now are doing a really lovely job by bringing all these fantastic artists together for a weekend, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Also, I am so happy to be included on a prestigious line up with Mick Flannery, Donal Lunny and most pleased to be playing with Anna Mieke in The Green Room. Her album, Idle Mind, released last year is one of the best recordings of the past few years and I love hearing her play live. She is a truly special performer so I can’t wait to see her playing again.”

Right Here, Right Now festival happens on the weekend of February 21-23 at venues across Cork city. For more information, check The Echo or head to @RHRNFest on Twitter, and search for the festival across your social media.

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