Cardinals: Cork rockers singing from a DIY hymn sheet

From influences of shoegaze and folk, to a preoccupation with religious hymns, Cork upstarts Cardinals have set an interesting tone with debut single ‘Amsterdam’. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the band.
Cardinals: Cork rockers singing from a DIY hymn sheet

Cardinals’ debut single ‘Amsterdam’ is available now. Pic: Emilyn Cardona

The old trope of ‘green shoots’ is more than worn out in the post-Covid picture, especially as all corners of the music business are charged with putting themselves back together after the last three years of Covid, Brexit and ongoing world events. But it’s hard not to look at the Cork scene at present and not be encouraged by the resilience of its young people, those who have emerged in the past year, with music to share and songs to sing, in particular.

One such outfit to emerge in the post-pandemic fug are Cardinals, whose debut single ‘Amsterdam’ - backed with ‘The Brow’ a traditional-style B-side in its digital incarnation - is hard not to get into, especially if you’re a sentimental old sod who hears bits of the Bad Seeds and Whipping Boy amid the fug.

Aaron Hurley, bassist, has been caught somewhat offguard by the response to the single - and a super last-minute gig at the Friary to kick things off.

“The response has been overwhelming in a sense, a lot of positive feedback, and it was interesting to see the B-side almost get more attention than the A-side. We find it more of an accessible song, though, between the two, so not too surprising. For the gig, we made a couple of handmade posters and flyers, and handed them around just before.

“It was a nice turnout in the end, and we'd (Cork band) Inchworm play a couple of songs as well. I only rang [Friary proprietor Mike D'Arcy] up the night before. I was like, 'uh, do you have anything on tomorrow?'. And he was like 'no'. 'Any interest in this?'. So that was nice of them, to be as impulsive as us, in hosting.”

The whole truculent business of strangling tunes out of an instrument, and the related herding of cats to do so, differs from outfit to outfit, of course - the band has managed it thus far, as a matter of jamming on initial ideas - and employing some odd, if not unwelcome, songwriting techniques, according to rhythm guitarist and singer Ewan Manning.

“I'll come in with an idea, maybe chords and lyrics or something like that, but everyone is involved heavily in the process of fully forming the song, in terms of the structure and stuff like that. It's interesting, I think the approach to songwriting could be seen as unconventional maybe in terms of our name. We do take a lot of inspiration from hymns - almost like, looking at hymns, and seeing what it is about them and even cutting them up and using different bits and pieces.”

Adds Hurley: “One of our songs, that we're planning on recording soon, is basically a hymn called 'God is our Saviour'. We just sliced and diced the chords. We printed out a chord sheet, cut out the chords, threw them in a hat, and each of the four of us picked out one chord each for the verse, then each of us picked another chord each and that was the chorus. Then we whipped out the thesaurus for the lyrics - it's a remix, in a way.”

The band has been well-received live thus far, including excursions with fellow Leeside upstarts Skies Behind and Little Known, among that aforementioned young generation of musicians and facilitators that’s set its face to getting the local scene back up and running.

Cardinals play Cyprus Avenue on December 12. Pic: Emilyn Cardona
Cardinals play Cyprus Avenue on December 12. Pic: Emilyn Cardona

It must be another challenge completely, then, to get things going for yourself after the world was brought to a standstill, as the venue situation in the city continues to settle after the circumstances, and looking into the face of economic uncertainty.

“I think that Cork, in terms of music scenes looking around Ireland, is doing well for itself,” says Manning. “It has venues for different levels of artists, people that are just starting out, and people who are, y'know, up on a certain echelon, if you will.

“I think there's a culture of bands supporting each other, which is fantastic because it lets you get your start, and if you can get a foot in the door, then you can start to do your own thing. I've definitely found it to be supportive, and a nice scene to be part of.”

"The only issue I have," adds Hurley, "is that there's a big gap between starting off, and higher in the scale, like you have these 80-cap venues like Fredz or Winthrop Avenue, and then there's no stepping stone to Cyprus Avenue, where you have 400, 500 capacity. Cork does lack a 150-200 cap venue that bands sometimes need to go through in their hometown, before going to the bigger stage.”

The band is kicking off as it means to go on, including a number of December gigs in support of peers The Love Buzz and Galway indie outfit So Cow, including a gig on Monday December 12 opening for the former.

It’s an interesting time to hit the road - December always being frontloaded with Irish and international acts getting on stages before the Christmas break, but the band have settled into taking trips around the country to ply their craft.

“Well, I think we're all quite excited because we have quite a close relationship with the Love Buzz,” says Hurley. “I live with Aidan, the bassist, and Kieran is my brother - he's also playing with us now at the moment as a third guitarist.

“There's a nice friendship between the two bands there, so it should be good fun, and [Galway venue] Áras na nGael. Great support in Galway, and excited to play with some nice acts in Dublin, like Sprints and Post-Punk Podge.”

The band has its debut headlining gig set for January 7 at Cyprus Avenue - providing local heads a chance to get out to a gig in the immediate aftermath of Christmas, right before the quiet time of the year sets in for gig-goers. It’s an unassuming start to what’s looking like a busy year for Cardinals.

“Actually, after this interview, we're going to go and record some demos,” says Hurley. “So we're hopefully going to be 'properly' recording late this year, early next year.”

“And we plan on doing another A-and-B-side single for January, February time, and then I think there's hopes of a tour after that next release, so trying a headline tour like Cork, Galway, Dublin, Limerick, maybe might squeeze Derry in.

“But yeah, we're working on that at the moment, we're going to take December first, I'd say, and enjoy the shows, then crack down in the new year.”

Cardinals’ debut single ‘Amsterdam’ is available for streaming and download from https://cardinalsie.bandcamp.com.

The band supports The Love Buzz on their December Irish dates, including Cyprus Avenue on Monday, December 12.

Follow Cardinals on Instagram: @cardinals_cork.

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