It’s 1955. A spy waits around the Great Southern Hotel while on business in the area. Couples in the hotel rooms around him experience the heat of first love, the mundanity of life, and the death of passion, while a tourist-friendly town hides its secrets and seediness from the passing crowds. Such is the small-town paranoia evoked by DIY singer and songwriter Laurie Shaw on recent album ‘Great Southern’.
Born in the Wirral area of the UK, raised in Kenmare where he still comes home to record, and based largely in Cork for the past number of years, the prolific musician has plenty of experience and reference from which to draw - and draw he does, with over seventy records to his name between EPs, LPs and singles, and no less than four LPs planned to see himself and listeners through the first half of 2022.
It’s a complex record to say the least, in terms of concept and narrative - it almost feels like being let in on something to hear him speak of weaving all the disparate threads together.
"I think the nature of Covid is probably why the narratives seem slightly disconnected, and are from different time periods. Because, really, it took a long time to put the record together, simply because I was sort of in Cork for a lot of it.
“With lockdowns and stuff I couldn't actually come home to Kerry to record. But I think the fact it's set in a hotel means that it's almost like the songs are in different rooms in a hotel, y'know what I mean? That's why it works and the idea that it's sort-of a jumble of different bits of history, y'know, I think that's kind of what I was going for. Yeah.”
The use of the hotel - now a tourist attraction run by media personality Francis Brennan and his brother John as the Park Hotel - and references to Kenmare throughout the album further that sense of small-town psychosis while paying homage to the town’s rich and varied history.
It’s hard for anyone coming from a small town not to hold sympathy, be they happy with the close-knit nature of a social arrangement in which they fit neatly, or the bittersweetness with which formative memories meet alienation and a yearning for escape.
“I feel it's kind-of weird. Because I don't think if you'd have asked me 10 years ago what I'd be continuously writing about, I wouldn't have thought I'd continue to write about Kenmare. There's a certain time in my life, which I can't help but keep getting magnetically drawn back to, in a way.
“I suppose Kenmare is a tourist town, and I feel like there's a face that it shows to tourists, and then there's another version of it, which is for people who actually live there. And being a teenager, I suppose that's where you have your first experiences, and it's not the sort of place it pretends to be, it doesn't seem like a place that could be connected to anything other than just being friendly, and, you know, purpose-made for people visiting and, and so picturesque.
“You grow up there, and simply because you're growing up there, it becomes something a bit more, it's almost two sided, and I think that's what really always interests me about the place.”
Holed up in Cork for a good part of the Covid-era lockdowns, Shaw’s process was a good bit slower this time around, demoing various songs at his digs before going home to flesh them out and even start anew in some cases. Shaw talks about how his usual creative flow found its way around the circumstances.
“In Cork, I was able to demo stuff, and I was thinking, 'well, what's the best way to use my time?'. I decided to write a try and write a whole record, and have the demos of all the songs. Then when I got back to Kerry, I could actually record it.
“But what happened is, by the time it came time to actually record, and after carrying these demos around for a couple of months, I found that I was just trying to re-record stuff.
“Unfortunately, when you record demos often, and I don't tend to do it that much, you kind of end up with a take that's so fresh, that it's difficult to replicate, like a really rough recording of a song, with just acoustic guitar, and me singing the stuff for the first time.
“It just sounds more interesting than when you try and make it sound more ‘clean’ and stuff.”
The album is another in a long series of self-releases, under the informal moniker of Alright Records - the album has been released through Bandcamp, but Shaw has also been quite open about his reticence to place his music on Spotify, admitting to doing so out of necessity.
As the backlash to Spotify grows, and startups like Belfast’s Minm seek to offer a more equitable alternative for artists and a better-curated experience for music lovers, Shaw, as a man responsible for more than his fair share of music, offers his thoughts.
“Personally, like, as a consumer, I don't use streaming sites. I really like Bandcamp, because it makes it slightly more difficult to obtain what you want, because you have to pay for it. People say, 'oh, it'd be great if it had a streaming element to it. Right?'. But I think it's just perfect.
“You can hear what you want to buy, it's just so easy, just click, download it, it's great. I like that ownership, like having it on my computer or having the facility to burn it onto a CD and go, 'oh, that's mine, I own that, and I'm gonna put it on a CD, so I can listen to it in the kitchen while I'm doing me eggs or whatever'.
“Like that, like, that is what excites me about music, when you get excited about a song, and you're trying to track it down so that you can attain it, you know, whereas with streaming, I don't... I don't enjoy it. But I know that I'm an outlier in that.”
Laurie Shaw’s ‘Great Southern’ album is available now on https://laurieshaw.bandcamp.com for streaming and download, as well as Spotify.