As we’re chatting over the phone of an early Saturday morning, Gerald Ahern can be heard dealing with various background distractions on his way from A to B. As well he might, he’s been a busy sort in recent times.
Developing his chops as a singer-songwriter since childhood, he and his collaborators are currently on a massive push off the back of solo material he’s been developing, including last year’s single ‘Ghost’ and ‘Fish in the Sky’, earning him praise from the likes of the Irish Examiner and Joe.ie.
At time of interview, he’s waiting on the trigger to be pulled on the announcement of his support slot for The Academic’s Live at the Marquee gig, and speaking about an encounter with the band on a previous press junket, the young Blackpudlian’s ambitions are evident.
“This time last year, Kodaline were playing the Marquee, and I went down to RedFM to do an interview there as I had my own Cyprus Avenue gig at the time, and we were joking about maybe someday being in the big Marquee, and now it’s actually happening.
“It’s a bit surreal, like.”Much is made of Ahern’s background in music, a childhood spent under stage lights performing country as part of ensemble The Wee Amigos (“the youngest boyband in Ireland at the time”), as well as on various vocal-group excursions, including a stint on Saturday-night UK TV juggernaut The X-Factor. It was for more personal reasons, though, that a move home inspired him to pursue his current direction into composition and creation.
“Once we grew out of childhood and became 13, 14, I realised, ‘I don’t even like listening to country’, d’ya know? It was just something that happened. So I bought a recording set at Pro Musica and worked away at home, recording stuff and throwing covers up on Facebook… we did (the boyband thing), but I needed to go home and do my Leaving Cert, and we’d just found out my mam was quite sick, but there was a huge gap, where there was no music, for, like, six months.
“All I knew was I had to do something. I saw a company were looking for a Westlife cover band. I thought it was funny, but anything to keep the money in, it’s something to do to keep my confidence up.
“I went down to this interview, showed them some of what I’d been doing, and they said, ‘forget the whole Westlife thing, let’s concentrate on your stuff’.”
Currently in the second year of the BA in Popular Music at the Cork School of Music on Union Quay, Ahern’s affinity for the facility began on a trip home as a teenager, with the conservatory environment and abundance of opportunities for play and experimentation making a mark very early on.
“I used to do a load of busking, and my buddy Cian Ducrot, his mom was a lecturer (there), so when he was done, he’d leave his equipment in the school. One day I walked over, when I went in, I went ‘oh, my god, this is heaven for any musician’. They had sixty Steinways, a recording studio… I just knew, I didn’t want anything else for college.
“When the CAO came out, I applied for two courses, and went straight into the School of Music. It goes beyond education, they look out for their student.”
Once it became evident that there was something more for himself to be working on with solo material, Ahern and his collaborators wasted no time in getting to Liverpool, the historic home of guitar-pop, where residential recording facility Parr Street Studios has proven to be a handy base for his UK efforts, and a source of pop-musical wonderment.
“We were looking for a producer for a long time, and there was a lad, Chris Taylor, he was a sound engineer for The Coral, and on the walls inside (is everyone he’s done work for), Paolo Nutini, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Coldplay... You can’t describe a sound you’re looking for, it’s hard sometimes.
“You can know your theory inside out, and you can play music... but I was given a booklet of other musicians in Liverpool that I might like to have on the record, and I was looking for an indie, funk style, and I got it. We were there for a week, but the first day is the only time you have with them, second day is vocals, and the rest of it is mixing.”
Working with some of Liverpool’s busiest session musicians was undoubtedly a massive learning experience for Ahern, and it changed his perception of not only his own material, but the creative process itself.
Once he got home, the process of taking his tunes and whipping them into live shape with his bandmates, including new addition Dave Corkery, was a matter of time and space.
“I came home, and it was like ‘I have these songs, you’re familiar with them, but we’re after taking a step up. We need your full dedication, I’m giving ye a month to go home and study these songs, know them inside out. They came back, they did it, and they’re showing true dedication. Two of the lads aren’t even from Cork, and they’re here. The reason they’re not going home is the music.”
Cork City itself is verdant country for musicians and music facilitators, with an absence of industry focus leading undoubtedly to a creative freedom in which generations of musicians have revelled over the years.
As the city changes in the coming years, and its relationship with live music invariably alters with time and venue turnover, Ahern discloses his thoughts on the city’s scene.
“I think this year has been the most productive it’s been in a long time. The new Cyprus Avenue is the closest we have to an Events Centre. Cork has the Marquee, and these pop-up things, and I quite like how diverse it is now. I was quite blind to the other musicians in Cork until I went to the School of Music, it’s actually frightening, what we have. It’s constantly changing, constantly getting better. I’ve been all around Ireland and the UK, we’re up there and beyond.”
Gerald Ahern supports pop-rockers The Academic tonight at Live at the Marquee on Monahan Road. Tickets €35 available from ticketmaster.ie, physical locations and the venue’s box office. Ahern’s music is available online now, across all streaming services.