The Shaker Hymn - taking flight after bumps on the runway!

In 2018, The Shaker Hymn’s packed gigging schedule was waylaid by illness in the band - and by the time they were getting ready to resume in January 2020, Covid loomed large over the horizon. MIKE McGRATH-BRYAN speaks with the band’s Caoilian Sherlock about the long road back - and launching new album ‘The Last Concorde’ on Friday July 1 at Coughlan’s.
The Shaker Hymn - taking flight after bumps on the runway!

The Shaker Hymn, after a health emergency and the pandemic, have returned with a new album, ‘The Last Concorde’.

Caoilian Sherlock is a tired man on the phone of a Tuesday afternoon. The singer-songwriter is just back home from Primavera festival in Barcelona - a feat of survival that deserves recognition in its own right. Any exhaustion or fatigue that he’s endured in the last while, however, is a mere fraction of the stress that the band of which he’s a part - Cork psych-poppers The Shaker Hymn - have undergone in the past three or four years.

Having readied much of their third album by 2017, fate would have it in for the erstwhile outfit - beginning in earnest with a close call for drummer Shane Murphy - who ended up going on an extended hiatus, says Sherlock.

“We were rehearsing in December 2017, and Shane had a pain in his side, and a few weeks later ended up going to the hospital. It seemed like something that would be very fixable, and he just went on antibiotics, but a few months later went for surgery, and that surgery ended up going badly, unexpectedly.

“It was a big shock for all of us, and he was out for over a year, just from life, like, he just had to recover. Just as he was about to re-enter the physicality of playing drums, Covid came along, within a month.

“We wanted to just make sure he was okay, and friendship came first, obviously. There was just a series of insanely unfortunate events, following each other for over three years. We're just delighted that he's fine, because there was one or two bad moments in that situation, and he's crushing it at the drums again.”

The Shaker Hymn. Picture: Nicole Flanagan
The Shaker Hymn. Picture: Nicole Flanagan

Sherlock discusses how the band made the best of the situation at its outset.

“But we knew then that we'd still need possibly a year to get up to the standard that we were at, playing together, because it'd been almost two years since we had even rehearsed at this stage, or maybe 18 months. So we knew that we had quite a long road back anyway, so there was some excitement.

“And we're kind of older now, we were like, 'this is something we love doing, and we're doing it because we love playing music together'.”

Getting an album across the line seems like a doddle by comparison to near-death situations and the complete cessation of live events - and the spare time created for the band’s members by the circumstances allowed them to do just that, refocusing, revisiting ideas and bringing songs that had been ready for a number of years into the present day.

“The very first of the unfortunate circumstances was actually that we started recording this album in 2017, onto analogue tape. That was really exciting for us because we wanted to be a top band that can record everything live, and put that to tape, and not do any digital fixes afterwards. It was also exciting for us because we were at the stage where you're like, 'I think we can really nail playing together as a band and putting that out to the world as one take', y'know. Both times that we did that, some of the master tape got destroyed while we were recording. One of the tape machines just kind-of combusted, and another one just reeled back on itself, and destroyed the tape we were using. So that was 2017, before Shane got sick.

“The album that I was writing at that point is probably a little bit different to the album that we ended up finishing, but not quite. But I wanted to focus on things that were happening in the world, and it's so funny, because that was Brexit, Trump, these things seemed slightly out of date now, in 2022, but they were important to me, and I think the biggest one was climate, just the conversation around climate. Trying to add an artistic viewpoint was something I wanted to do, and got really obsessed with ideas of the apocalypse, and we wrote a song that we released at that stage called 'Dead Trees', which focused on this. So a lot of the album actually focused on that kind of apocalyptic imagery, and so that was where I was heading with the writing of the album.

“Of course that's changed, because we took a hiatus and I got interested in different ideas. There's also this element to the album that's just about the bigness of life, and one of the tracks is called We Are the Cosmos. After everything that's happened, I've been focusing on the large concepts and trying to write songs about just the bigness of humanity and society.”

The band wouldn’t be to blame for either wanting to give up, or just taking the path of least resistance, but they continued to work with what they had, and negotiate their situation while teasing these aspects of the album out.

The recording and post-production processes were fragmented by time, circumstance and technology, but the band’s resolve helped get the job done.

“Funnily enough, it's been really, really easy in the last little period, the tail end of making this album. We decided once things were safe, to go back to seeing people. We actually recorded the rest of the album, maybe four or five tracks, in a week or two, and had them mixed and mastered really quickly. Once we decided to finish this album, we just put the head down and got it done really fast. That was quite nice. It's just enjoyable for us just to get back, and very easy.

“We fell back into it so fast, and we recorded some drums in one day for five songs, which, considering how sick Shane had been, that's quite a feat for him. And when me and Robbie Barron, who write songs together, just had conversations a little bit about what the album was about, and what the imagery of the album would be... that was another fun part, creating the scene for the recordings and for the meanings of the songs. So it's been quite easy for us.”

With all the dust having settled, and the smoke cleared on a long few years and a tumultuous time for The Shaker Hymn, the band are ready for the road, third album ‘The Last Concorde’ in hand, and all current members in good health.

Sherlock is looking forward to the album’s launch, happening at Coughlan’s on Friday July 1.

We've been playing together for so long, and we just love it

“It's just the best. We've been doing this since we were 16, as the band that we are, we've been doing this since then, though we've had a few different name changes along the way. We've been playing together for so long, and we just love it, so to get back into that room, finally, when Covid really, really felt over, relearning your own songs, and we've written a few new ones that I've been sitting on for years now that we would have hoped to get done in 2018.

“We'll be playing those songs, and new songs again, that we've written, which will go on the next album. It's all very decisive, if that makes sense. At some point, there was a real chance of just deciding to go our separate ways, but once you make this really strong decision to just continue with everything, gets a bit easier and more enjoyable.”

And after all of said tumult, and with things very much being on the up for all concerned, it’s time to look toward the coming months, as gigs and the festival season stretch ahead - as well as more new music.

“Recording more music, but much faster, and more shows, like, I just miss playing shows with the lads. I'm really excited to. I'm really excited for Coughlan's, I think it's going to be a bit of a party for us, because it's been so long, and we used to play just all over the country, consistently and frequently, and that was a very integral part of my life, then that went away for quite a while. So it's going to be a really big night for us, to get back on stage, together.”

The Shaker Hymn’s new single, ‘The Last Concorde’, is on streaming services and Bandcamp on Friday June 23. The band launch their new album of the same name on Friday July 1, with a gig that evening in Coughlan’s on Douglas Street - pre-orders available at https://theshakerhymn.bandcamp.com/target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">, tickets on sale at https://www.coughlans.ie.

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