Cork Jazz Festival: James Vincent McMorrow to jazz it up

Singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow talks jazz and squeezing enjoyment from these Covid times. Don O'Mahony reports
Cork Jazz Festival: James Vincent McMorrow to jazz it up

James Vincent McMorrow: Will perform at Cork jazz Festival. Picture: Evan Doherty

“Oh, my God. I’m in this hotel in Shoreditch and there’s these horrifying giant photos of random strangers over the bed. It’s f**king horrible. I didn’t realise ye could see a little bit in the corner. They’re proper terrifying.”

Meeting James Vincent McMorrow on zoom, and a figure peeping in from the edge of the frame catches the attention.

“They’re like looming over me while I sleep,” he continues briskly. “I came in really late last night and I was like, ‘what the fuck!’ I thought there was people in my room.”

Despite that, McMorrow’s in good spirits. He’s in London working on a couple of albums for other people. And he has an already sold out Jazz Festival appearance in the Everyman Theatre to look forward to.

Since playing Ireland’s first “post-covid” gig at the Phoenix Park in June, McMorrow has played festivals in the UK and capacity solo shows. Has the novelty began to wear off a little as the live music treadmill clicks back into gear?

“I’m used to it now, and it feels great,” he assures me. “It feels like old times. It didn’t feel different at all. I think everyone was chill. A little more respectful of each other, which is a lovely thing. But I felt like I slipped straight back in.

“And I think these shows coming up in Kilkenny and Cork, I hope it’s quite celebratory and stuff like that. I get a sense that everyone is pretty desperate to get back to shows, and not these sort of fake versions of shows that the government have been subsidising. With the best will in the world it’s nothing close to the real thing.”

Having constantly evolved throughout his career, can Cork audiences expect a jazz element to his show here?

The singer splutters with laughter.

I will try to give the show a bit of a fresh energy and give it something a bit more bespoke, is the word I would use. But maybe bespoke in and of itself is jazz

“I had thought about it. I’m not sure if I’m, a, capable of jazz, or b, if the audience would be grateful for it. Because that’s the thing. It is called the jazz Festival. And they were like, ‘do you want to do something different?’ And I was like, ‘Nah. I mean, not really.’ I play folk festivals. I play jazz festivals. They always have these names. Hopefully it’s not required that I go and bust out a lot of minor 7ths and added 9ths, and stuff.

“But listen, I can if I need to. I’m certainly going to try to take the show in a little bit of a different direction. Like re-imaginations of the songs a little bit. Without being Bob Dylan and completely destroying songs that people love,

I will try to give it a bit of a fresh energy and give it something a bit more bespoke, is the word I would use. But maybe bespoke in and of itself is jazz.”

McMorrow is something of a dream interviewee, happy to talk with enthusiasm on any subject. But now that he is on a major label, there are PR people sending me messages to wind it up. It’s time to go left of field.

On ‘Gone’, one of the singles from his latest album, Grapefruit Season, the enigmatic narrator sings, “I do less drugs than I used to. Still do a lot”

It’s feels like a riff on the late cult comic Mitch Hedberg’s: “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to too.”

James Vincent McMorrow: Will take Cork show in a different direction.
James Vincent McMorrow: Will take Cork show in a different direction.

“It’s not a reference to Mitch Hedberg,” McMorrow chortles. “But that’s a great one because when I was a kid we went on holidays to Spain and we had channels in this apartment we were staying in that we couldn’t get at home. And one of them was an American channel, so you got late night Letterman shit, and Mitch Hedberg was on. I must have been like 10 or 11. And I became obsessed with this one joke he told about watering the plants. [

‘My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.’] And I didn’t know who it was, and it was like, mid-90s, so it was pre Google. I was obsessed with him, obsessed with those albums. No. There was no intention there, but that’s actually a really good reference point, so respect.”

One of the must-have items of McMorrow merchandise is the limited edition Northside Falconry Club t-shirt, which is lovingly illustrated by Don Conroy.

“Well I mean Don’s iconic,” McMorrow enthuses. “It’s every Irish person’s childhood, pretty much. Like 90s, 2000’s, he’s the guy. We had the bird that came down and shot the album cover with it, and my manager said, ‘we could get Don Conroy to do it.’ And then Johnny Costello, who’s my creative director, was like, ‘can we do that?’ ‘Ah, f**k it, let’s try.’

“He was super lovely and he was really professional and just chill. And he just banged it out.

“I’m just trying to do stuff that makes me happy and makes me smile. I think I’m at that pointy where I’m like I’m 10 years into releasing music. If I don’t do stuff that makes me happy, then what the f**k am I doing here? You know what I mean? I have to do stuff that’s fun and interesting and engaging. And we just thought it was a cool thing to do. And it came off. It’s a cool t-shirt. It was just fun. It was just like, it’s been a year-and-a-half of shit, to not do stuff that’s fun would be such a f**king waste of this time.”

So on a related note, speaking of fun things in these miserable times, will he be signing the petition to reinstate The Den?

“Wait! Is there a petition to have Zig & Zag back on TV?” he exclaims.

“I mean I’ll sign that shit. Yeah. Anything that get’s Zig, Zag and Dustin, Socky back in my life I’m on board with. That’s so funny.”

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