We’ve done our apprenticeship as a band... we've played in every venue in Cork!

Ronan Leonard catches up with Christy Dignan, lead singer with Aslan, who are a marquee name in the city, having played most of Leeside’s venues
We’ve done our apprenticeship as a band... we've played in every venue in Cork!
Aslan kick off the Live at the Marquee series this Saturday night, June 8

CHRISTY DIGNAM, the lead singer and lyricist of Aslan, insists the band never forgets their roots, “we’ve done our apprenticeship as a band, sometimes these days it looks like bands have spent more time in the gym than the rehearsal room… but we don’t need the gym, it’s just come naturally to us!

“Since we played Lark By The Lee in 1986 we’ve played in every venue in Cork; The Everyman, The Old Oak, Sir Henrys, Reardens, The Brewery Tap and that’s just the first few ones I think of. We’ve built it up and kept coming, the fact we’ve done all these places gives us a true appreciation of it all when we come on stage at Live At The Marquee.”

Indeed truth and appreciation is a recurring theme in the conversation, for instance when he speaks of the difference between his band’s songwriting and those acts whose songs are written by committee, “there’s a big difference between having five songwriters who are actually in the band, and five, 10 or even 15 songwriters who are not working for a shared purpose. Aslan are all going in the same musical direction with the same purpose, both in terms of music but also socially, we all come from the same place, there’s a truth within that. When you bring in outside writers they start intellectualising the music. They know the fashionable beats and vocals sounds, they write for the industry and commerce, but not for the band. I’ve seen it happen so many times, “if we use this drum beat it’ll be a hit” but a hit that’ll only last five minutes, with no heart or soul to it there’s no truth to it.”

According to Christy, Aslan’s demands on their songwriting is the driving force of the band, “when we started writing, and we still have it as a general rule, we decided if the song doesn’t work with just a voice and an acoustic guitar it doesn’t really work for us. We all still write together in a room, Joe might come into the rehearsal room with a chord sequence or riff and that will usually evoke something in me. I try to write lyrics to the feeling that’s been evoked, if you can match the words to the music, that’s when it really hits you and where great songs live. Everyone has an input, people might say a part of the lyric is a bit dodgy, or to change the tempo of something a bit. We all work together.”

Working together is something that has defined the band, the band have never lost the hunger in their belly to keep going. This year commemorates the 25th anniversary of Aslan’s second album ‘Goodbye Charlie Moonhead’ which featured ‘Crazy World, a song that stayed in the Irish Singles Charts for over three months and was also awarded the ‘Single Of The Year’ at 1993’s Hot Press Awards. As they revisit the old material Christy had the chance to reflect on the band they were when they recorded it, “we’ll be playing pretty much the whole ‘Goodbye Charlie Moonhead album’, there’s one or two tracks that haven’t stood the test of time to be honest, but we are doing a good 90% of the album on this tour, so there are a few songs we haven’t done for a while, as we relearned some of those songs we kind of remembered how much spirit we had back then.”

Revisiting the mindset the band had as they wrote that album has in many ways angered Christy and the band, “it annoys us greatly that the songs are still so topical, like ‘Where Is The Sun?’ — that was written about homelessness. When I was a kid there was this woman from across the road from us, she went to America and at that time nobody just ‘went to America’ — if somebody from where I grew up went to America it was to stay — but she went to visit her relations and when she came back she was talking with me ma and some of the other women on the street around the front door, about the things she’d seen over there, all these things about America. We were just kids all listening, and I’ll never forget it, our jaws open, hearing about America. She was talking about New York and she said “we were walking up this street and there were people lying on the street, and they were called ‘homeless’. People wouldn’t go over to them, they’d just ignore them as if they weren’t even there”. This was 40 years ago, and she was appalled by it then, and now it’s common to see in this country and that’s a f***ing tragedy. We wrote that song - and plenty other songs on the album like ’Crazy World’ - about how the world we lived in was at the time, and we were thinking ‘sure at least in 25 or 30 years time everything will be hunky dory, the people in charge won’t be as thick.’ A country the size of ours, with the resources we have, there’s no need or reason for this to be happening in Ireland.”

On the night Aslan have invited a friend of theirs to be special guest. “I love, we love, Damien Dempsey’s music, it’s the pure Irishness of it. We tried to do something together for a while — we recorded a song together about 12 years ago called ‘Bullets And Diamonds’ - but us playing a gig together will be the first time in Cork. He’s our special guest and he’s not taking it lightly, he’ll have his six piece band with him, he wants to blow us off the stage!”

Aslan and Damien Dempsey play Live At The Marquee on Saturday, June 8. Tickets available at www.ticketmaster.ie.

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