There was a running joke about Ian O’Callaghan years ago in the city’s heavier music circles - such was his involvement and support for the scene, between the multiple bands he was in, helping run gigs, and generally being a recurring face at other bands’ and promoters’ live excursions, that he was briefly laboured with the nickname ‘Cork Music’.
Laugh as you might, he’s put in the time over the years - off the top of your writer’s head, he’s yowled and/or played instruments in numerous Leeside hardcore and metal outfits: Ephialtes, Iweriu, Slugbait, Fat Actress, fabulously-monikered studio project Dolph Lundgren’s Party Dungeon, much-missed rockers Terriers and his current pre-occupation, ‘death-punk’ four-piece Horse.
It’s genuinely hard to imagine a recession-era Cork scene without the Tower native, to be honest.
So when a series of jams with some friends was derailed by the encroaching Covid-19 crisis, it’s no surprise that O’Callaghan’s DIY ethos spurred him on to keep developing the musical ideas they’d hit on, getting more use out of his Twitter handle, Auld Blue Eyes.
“I had been jamming with Emmet O'Riabhaigh (Shookrah, Plinth, Lamp) and Joe Jolley (Hope is Noise, Famousdad). Just the three of us, and it was all stuff I was writing, which is embarrassing when you consider that they're both much better musicians than me.
“It was just getting harder and harder for the three of us to get together, so I just kind of started chipping away at home just recording all the bits, probably not as well as if the lads had done it.”
The project’s first extended-player, ‘The Early Years’, is quite a bit different from some of O’Callaghan’s output of recent years.
Taking in ambient electronic explorations, moments of heaviness and some very post-rock-leaning bits, it’s all capped off with very hopeful lyrical motifs, under all the shouting. O’Callaghan packs a lot into a three-track EP.
“I actually, I wrote loads more stuff, and some of it's a lot heavier, some of it's a lot lighter, but I kind-of thought if I didn't release something soon, I would just get lazy and it would fall into a folder on the computer, because that was happening for months at a time where I just wouldn't touch it, y'know?
“I just picked three songs that I thought fit into one release, and so I just decided I'd put a date on it and bang 'em out before I lost interest, and they fell away into a hole in my computer again. You need to put a date on it sometimes.”
The project was recorded at home, a self-directed affair with O’Callaghan vocalising, playing string instruments and programming drums and synthesisers, before sending rough mixes to O’Riabhaigh for the finishing touches.
No mean feat in any case - but especially impressive considering his full-time role as a frontline worker amid the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.
“Yeah, it was fairly hectic at the start. Lots of people at our work got sick, and they weren't coming in. Everyone else was expected to do double the hours.
“I kept that up for a while, but, at a certain point, there was kind of no end in sight, and 'I thought, like, I can't keep doing 60- or 70-hour weeks'.”
O’Callaghan was a busy man prior to the pandemic - Horse’s debut album had finished recording, and was about to be mixed and mastered by Cathal MacGabhann and Paddy Cullen of The Altered Hours, themselves about to have a busy post-pandemic return to action.
Following the onslaught of their split 12” single with Leeside multicultural grinders Bisect, it’s still a sonic prospect to be looked forward to.
“We're hoping now that we're going to come out the other side of this s**t. Maybe towards the end of the year, starting next year, it'd be good to have something to go with, because it's hard. Like, if Horse don't jam, we get s**t pretty fast, because it's such a physical band.
“And if there's no reason for us to get everything back together again, like a release, I just know, we're lazy old men, it's going to be hard for us to do.
It’s been over a year, and we’re looking toward the resumption, eventually of cultural activities, including gigs.
Given his own involvement in the city’s music scene over the years, O’Callaghan is keenly attuned to what needs to happen next for music in the city - but is perhaps a bit trepidatious about the immediate picture.
"We've barely spoken to each other (in Horse) for the last year and a half, so I can only imagine that a lot more bands are going to be in the same position. And I know, in fact, that there are lots of bands that have kind of just fallen away. I think they lost the motivation.
“Maybe that will come back for some bands, maybe it won't, but I don't know. I guess if there's less bands, then there's more of an opportunity to play gigs with bands that you wouldn't usually play with, bands from different genres. I dunno, man.”
Between this venture and getting back on the horse (pun intended), it’ll be an eventful time for O’Callaghan as things play out.
When quizzed about the future in general, though, he strikes a more hopeful tone, as he starts musing on the idea of a live Auld Blue Eyes show with his jam-room collaborators.
“It's embarrassing, because they're much, much better musicians to me, so to ask them to play my dumb songs... I don't know. They might just do it for the craic. I'll ask them. Anyway, I'd like to do something, and I have, like, two more full releases recorded, at least in a demo version.
“So I think, if I just kind of polish them up, I'd like to release another one in November, and maybe one at the start of next year, then if there was enough interest, I'd maybe put the three of them out as one physical thing. I think that's that's the long term plan anyway.”
Auld Blue Eyes’ EP, ‘The Early Years’, releases on Bandcamp soon.
Stream, download or add Horse’s music to your Bandcamp collection: