A double-header of DIY Irish music as Percolator and Junk Drawer set to play Cork 

On Friday, May 6, two of Irish independent music’s leading lights come together at Cyprus Avenue in a double-header to launch new Cork live promotion house TNT Presents, and play new material after the Covid crisis. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with John “Spud” Murphy of Waterford psych-rockers Percolator, and Jake & Stevie Lennox of Belfast indie heads Junk Drawer.
A double-header of DIY Irish music as Percolator and Junk Drawer set to play Cork 

Junk Drawer: Playing Cyprus Avenue gig on May 6, where Percolator also feature..

Part of the impact of the Covid crisis on Cork’s music scene was inevitably going to be a turnover in the people working on promoting and facilitating gigs. In recent times, new gig promotion houses like metal specialists Dead Cult and upcoming indie/shoegaze club Vexed are among the groups of people that have committed to running gigs in venues and spaces around the city, while we collectively continue to garner our bearings in the cultural climate after the height of the crisis.

Add to the list TNT Presents, a new endeavour focusing on DIY, independent music from around the country, run by gig promotion veterans Albert Twomey (ex-PLUGD Records, Penske Recordings) and Michelle Rumley (ex-Bradley’s).

With a confirmed pedigree in gigs, and deep ties to Ireland’s underground, the pair are uniquely positioned to platform emergent and intriguing sounds in the city’s venues, and are starting as they mean to go on, with a double-header on May 6 featuring Waterford kosmiche trio Percolator, and Belfast indie outfit Junk Drawer.

Last time we heard from Percolator, 2019 single ‘Freshin’’ was set to be a leadoff for their second album, following the 2016 release of debut LP ‘Sestra’, followed by intermittent gigs, including supporting noise-rockers Gilla Band at Whelan’s last month. Over the phone, John “Spud” Murphy talks about a pause in the action necessitated by the circumstances.

We had been in the middle of recording our next album, and Covid put the brakes on us

“The last gig we did before the Covid break was with No Spill Blood in the Kino. And then after that, we had been in the middle of recording our next album, Covid put the brakes on us. Over recent months, we have started to get back into it, but I suppose it just froze the band for about two years, really.

“Because of where myself and Ian (Chesnutt, bandmate) work, working with studios, having to pay rent on a studio (Guerrilla), we were just in crisis mode, trying to get rent money in for the last 24 months, which led on to other things and like, we ended up doing a lot of recording, basically, we had to change the form of how the studio made money.”

The band have all been busy with other things, also — proprietor of Dublin-based Guerilla Studios, Murphy has been producing for UK post-punk wunderkinder Black MIDI, on their breakout second album ‘Cavalcade’, among many others, while drummer Eleanor Myler shared an amazing streamed show with Lankum’s Radie Peat and Katie Kim. Murphy talks about how these endeavours have come together.

“We’ve got like two years of hindsight, or thinking about the tracks that we were working on for the album. So we came back with new ideas, and have reshaped a good few of the songs, thinking about extra instruments and extra textural layers we can add to the album in the future.

“Ellie had a good experience rehearsing in a different environment with Radie and Katie, even though I suppose I did end up playing bass with it at the end, so that was kind-of a Percolator rhythm section, but it’s definitely in a very different context. Ian has started a business building replica tone-benders, which is starting to take off, as well, called Spectra Electronics.

“Having worked with so many bands over the last two years, all different genres and different headspaces, you get a lot broader view of music, you’re seeing different ideas from different genres, etc. So, yeah, just as your brain grows, you hopefully become better at what you’re doing.”

That third album has been on the way since news of its existence accompanied ‘Freshin’’s release, and while the band is back to getting business taken care of in studio, Murphy divulges what else we might hear that accompanies that single’s minimalist structure and thick, textured sound.

“It’ll be a lot more stripped back in certain areas, and have a lot more dynamics. Like, all the sounds have been refined quite a bit. There’ll be extra vocal textures, I think, on this one. We started doing that with ‘Freshin’’, in the outro there’s quite a big drone, but then there’s also a choir kind-of vocal as well, that goes on top of it, so expanding on that, and the (overall sound).”

Percolator: You can see them play in Cork on May 6 in a gig that also features Junk Drawer.
Percolator: You can see them play in Cork on May 6 in a gig that also features Junk Drawer.

Following the 2020 release of debut LP Ready for the House, Belfast indie outfit Junk Drawer have won loving gazes from music press on both sides of the Atlantic, and with follow-up EP, ‘The Dust Has Come To Stay’, released via formerly Cork-based label Art for Blind, have come in for another wave of positive reviews and busy, post-Covid gigs. Speaking over Zoom from Belfast, brothers Jake and Stevie Lennox are enjoying the moment.

“It’s the most positive response we’ve had,” says Stevie Lennox, “after that awkward thing of putting out an album just as the pandemic had hit, and it was all scheduled for a month into the crisis, but it feels like the groundwork that was laid down is starting to pay off now.

“We’ve been picked up by some of the US outlets, like Stereogum, and people generally just have been really nice about it, as well. I think, just in the last year, our tunes are a bit more... because we went back and just listened to a lot of pop music in the last year, to find comfort amid the absolute bollocks that was the last couple of years, the songs have just been trimmed down, we really took on board a lot of criticisms of the first album, just like ‘long songs’ or whatever else.”

A Covid-era reflection, ‘The Dust Has Come to Stay’ was very much a result of that collective decision to revert to a more accessible direction, while hitting the lyrical and thematic beats of our times, albeit in reliably wry fashion. Using the time spent off the road, the band decided not to be restrained by the idea of reflecting their live show in the studio, and worked on expanding the band’s sound, says Jake Lennox.

“We’re all really, really close friends, and, like, we get into a lot of the same stuff at the same time, and I think we started going through a period of loving psych-pop a lot. So there’s a lot of things in there. All of those kinds of sounds, that we wanted to use synths more for, which we’d had ideas for on the first album. But that we were like, “okay, well, let’s let’s do that more”.”

“Especially not gigging, we were able to do the Beatles-y thing where you’re, like, writing in songs, as an expansive, practice-type thing, rather than writing down the line, when you’re actually able to try and gig them. You can think about the consequences of that, whether or not things are going to work. But yeah, musically, I think that’s what we were probably thinking, more in terms of “what are these tunes going to sound like on record”, or whatever.”

The band will get to reckon with the business of translating their recorded vision to the stage on May 6 with Percolator at Cyprus Avenue, further cementing their connection to a city that’s meant a good bit to them over their seven years of playing and recording together, according to Stevie.

Cork was the very first place we ever played where it felt like we were being taken seriously as a band

“(Percolator) are so sound, like, they’ve been really good to us. I’m actually currently getting an amplifier built by Ian, the guitarist, and we’ve chatted loads about records and stuff, over the years. Cork was the very first place we ever played where it felt like we were being taken seriously as a band. It wasn’t just a bunch of friends coming in to see their mates’ obligatory thing, it was someone who reached out, wanted to try and have us down.

“Cork probably means more to us than any of the other cities. I’m not just saying that, there’s always the weirdness that they’re not afraid to reach down into, of any of the bands we know from Cork. I think that’s there’s not as much of that in Belfast, you know, there’s a few of us, and I think just that willingness to not compromise is what maybe we have in common with them.”

Percolator and Junk Drawer play Cyprus Avenue on Friday, May 6. Doors at 7pm, tickets €13.87 from cyprusavenue.ie

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