A city changing: Cork’s music highlights in 2022

We saw the other side of Covid (hopefully); a new generation of artists began to emerge in earnest; and the city’s wider scene has shown its resilience: Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a look at some of the highlights of 2022 in Cork music.
A city changing: Cork’s music highlights in 2022

Some of a new and emerging generation of Leeside bands. Clockwise from top left: Pretty Happy, God Alone, Cardinals, The Drive, The Love Buzz, Mossy.

PRETTY HAPPY PROVIDE ECHOES OF A FUTURE PAST

From a bunch of local youngsters who booked themselves a gig at the Roundy as an excuse to set a deadline to get together and write music, to spending a breakout year sharing stages with alt-rock royalty like Kim Gordon and Pavement, the rise of Mayfield noisemakers Pretty Happy is the kind of story you’re always hoping to see for your city as a music journalist.

The trio really began to hit their stride this year - said high-profile touring spots have helped raise their profile, while second EP ‘Echo Boy’, released via former No Disco presenter Leagues O’Toole’s Foggy Notions Records, spurred them on to radio play on both sides of the Irish Sea, including crucial playlisting on BBC Radio, as well as a consistent gigging schedule, including festivals like the UK’s Raw Power and Ireland’s Other Voices.

Not ones to forget their roots, though, the EP also saw them put their roots deeper into the city’s rich seam of post-punk history, matching a muscular and brooding noise-rock sound with the idiosyncrasies of Cork’s slang, people and places - a connection solidified further by the premiere of their Leeside Creatures documentary, which paid homage to some of their strongest influences in Finbar Donnelly, Mick Lynch and Cathal Coughlan - three visionary musical minds that left us too soon.

GOD ALONE’S BREAKOUT YEAR

This parish has been fond of ‘sad dancey metallers’ since they were young lads hanging around spaces like the dearly departed Camden Palace Hotel and the Groundfloor studio and youth social space, the latter being the site of their first gigs for an under-age audience.

To see them go from strength to strength in the past five years has been a joy, shifting from black metal to shoegaze to electronic-inspired math-rock splendour - but the release of debut album ETC. last month represented another milestone entirely.

With the easing of Covid restrictions came a return in gigging momentum, including finally getting to the UK for Brighton progressive-rock festival ArcTangent, and they rounded the corner on finding a label home for their album, eventually signing with US metal label Prosthetic Records for a run of vinyl and CD, as well as digital distribution.

Critical acclaim followed, and the band are set for their longest UK touring run to date next April, leading to another festival spot at Leeds’ Strangeforms event - but not before capping off their 2022 with a short Christmastime run of support slots with North Shore post-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar, including Cork’s Cyprus Avenue on Tuesday December 27.

A NEW GENERATION OF ARTISTS EMERGES

While the Covid-19 crisis exerted its toll on live music around the country and across the board, you couldn’t envy young artists trying to get off the ground in the Covid circumstances - after all, so many of the foundations of a band’s body of work, from gigs at small venues, to in-person media appearances, to the summer festivals, were all either off the table or severely compromised.

Cork city’s young people have always overcome adversity to find ways to create and express themselves, however, and the pandemic generation has been no different. Your writer has been seriously impressed with artists that made the best of the situation and come out stronger, and ready to make an impact.

Alternative rock is in safe hands with the likes of The Drive., Cardinals and Mossy, two outfits who reflect different aspects of the shoegaze/dream-pop sound but bring a mature and serious approach to songwriting and stagecraft, while I Dreamed I Dream’s wild swerves between genres (sean-nós about the 214 bus!) are all underpinned by a recognisably Corkonian heart and accent. 

RPC have been flying the flag for crossover punk, alt-rockers Skies Behind have been an active gigging and organising presence, and The Love Buzz’ psychy bent on pop-punk has carried them to steady touring and a spot on the FIFA Records roster - while math-rock trio Daz-Gak! specialise in a sunny, retro videogaming-influenced math rock.

Young rappers like JRilla and Goldie Bronson have been on their grind, with the help of Coco the Maestro running the boards at M5 studio on McCurtain Street, while artists with recognisable traces of bedroom pop and soulful sounds are on the ascendant, like Lloyd John and Letterbox Kid. Meanwhile, as your writer has stated in these pages, Actualacid’s Boredoms 400 album takes Memphis hip-hop, crashes it into psychedelia and then puts the whole thing back together the wrong way.

There’s a lot more happening, of course, under the surface of a city that’s been damaged by Covid-19 in a similar way that it’s been damaged by recession and capital flight before - and those who wax nostalgic for ‘simpler’ times and golden ages they’ve romanticised in their own heads would do well to remember how their lots dealt with the circumstances they faced, and show support for a new generation as it faces down the challenges ahead.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COVID CRISIS

As the year began, the clouds of the Covid-19 crisis and resultant public health measures began to lift. Though it’s still on each of us to vigilant and responsible regarding the possible spread of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases - especially so that those are immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable can feel safe in sharing our local music venues and arts spaces - this year saw the venues that immediately survived the crisis more or less resume full slates of programming.

The medium-to-long-term picture, however, still holds uncertainty, if not a frisson of promise: as Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis impact touring costs for artists, and the latter also stands to affect consumers’ disposable income for tickets, alcohol, etc; there’s been reasons to be hopeful for the state of live music on Leeside…

VENUES AND PROMOTERS SURVIVE AND THRIVE

The venue situation in Cork city has, for as long as this post-recessionary scribe has been haunting its various sonic temples, been described as a crisis, which has been true to various extents over the past 15 years. It’s early days in the post-Covid world yet, but the resumed success of the city’s gigging pillars, like Cyprus Avenue and its ancillary Winthrop Avenue & Wavelength venues, Fred Zeppelin’s, An Spailpín Fánach, Coughlan’s, Live at St Luke’s and the Opera House among them, provides the city with a solid baseline of places for the local scene and touring artists alike to ply their craft.

It’s also a vote of confidence that more small rooms have popped (back) up in the past while - Crack Jenny’s, the former Larry Tompkins’ Pub on Lavitt’s Quay, has become a regular home for rock gigs and techno nights, with the latter especially managing to generate significant buzz; while North Main Street’s Liberty Bar has reopened, retooling itself with a Cork scene-themed line of cocktails and alternative DJ sets while their live-music setup gets into order - to say nothing of rumours of more venue openings in the New Year. Meanwhile, anarchist bookshop and community space Rebel Reads has become a home for leftfield music, culture and thought in the Marina Business Park.

Independent gig promoters like Dead Cult, Relapse, Alliance Promotions, female-run collective Sunwell Tapes and newly-founded Elm, Oak and Cedar have also done wonders for the scene with carefully-curated excursions that have succeeded in maintaining core genre audiences’ excitement for music in the city.

GIGS AT PLUGD RECORDS

On the topic of places and spaces for music in the city centre, your writer would be remiss not to mention the importance of erstwhile record-slingers PLUGD Records, one of Leeside music’s great contemporary survivors, helmed by a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for independent music in Kerryman Jimmy Horgan.

Having made a new physical home for themselves at the former Siopa Gan Anam on Coal Quay, the space has set about a triple-threat of a coffee menu that emphasises quality over frills; the record shop’s customary curation of incredible music on vinyl from Ireland and further afield; and an intimate gigging space that’s been instrumental to providing music lovers an opportunity to come together.

Gigs have included an electrifying live turn from Nirvana/Earth cellist Lori Goldston; a piano performance from noisemaker Natalia Beylis that saw gig-goers listen on the shop floor while Beylis improvised on a piano in the shop’s attic; and one of your writer’s gigs of the year, from Altered Hours frontwoman Elaine Howley, whose ‘The Distance Between Heart and Mouth’ album goes from a deeply personal statement on record to an emotional gut-punch performed live - there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the ethereal tape manipulation of single ‘Song for Mary Black’ faded to silence.

There’s talk of the venue going handy on live excursions in the New Year - we can only hope that this is a temporary state of affairs.

INDIE RECORD LABELS KEEP ‘ER LIT

Cork is home to a few small-scale indie labels and other means of release, who have been in the main been keeping a steady pace in 2022 - with FIFA Records (Forever in Financial Arrears) reaching their milestone 100th release this year, marking the occasion with a compilation of current label signees, including Emperor of Ice Cream, The Love Buzz and Cat Dowling.

Fort Evil Fruit, a Cork-based cassette label specialising in avant-garde and experimental sounds, has also quietly had a banner 2022, continuing its series of limited-run releases, sometimes numbering about 70 of each tape. Highlights have included releases by Canadian musician Aidan Baker (of shoegazers Nadja), Japanese musique-concrete outfit Dinosawroid-Mane and improvisational jazz duo Eric Mingus and Catherine Sikora.

Likewise, Cork-based experimental label Krim Kram has ventured to release tapes and CDs from various artists, including Leeside musician and sound-artist Declan Synnott’s solo tape ‘Everything Lost in the Image’, which sees the Horse and Bodycam man venture further into solo analogue synth explorations.

MUSICGENERATION CORK CITY TURNS TEN

For the past decade, young and aspiring musicians have been encouraged and empowered to take their first steps into the medium in their locality via the MusicGeneration Cork City programme, which works with local musicians to provide music education and tuition in schools and community spaces around the city.

Initiatives like rapper/producer GMC’s drop-in Kabin studio in Knocknaheeny, the community-focused Cork Academy of Music, and education programme Creative Tradition, all members and contributors of the programme, have created spaces for people of all ages to explore their love of music, via opportunities to learn performance and songwriting in a supportive environment.

November saw teachers and students take to the stage of the Everyman to perform in a special tenth-anniversary concert hosted by RedFM’s Laura O’Mahony, that featured a screening of video of MusicGeneration’s different initiatives in action, and live appearances from school groupings and bands, as well as young ensembles like Rebel Brass and girl group Misneach.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of giving young people confidence, especially in a world and a future that grows more uncertain by the day - by giving them music into the bargain, you give them hope, expression, catharsis and creativity, too. Here’s to the next 100 years of MusicGeneration Cork City, then!

SAFEGIGS SETS THE STANDARD FOR CHANGE IN LIVE MUSIC

Mary Crilly and Dola Twomey of Sexual Violence Centre Cork already do Trojan work on a daily basis in keeping their Camden Quay centre open, in order to provide counselling and assistance to survivors of sexual violence, as well as providing material to schools and communities, and leading conversations on the matter via its social media presence.

But a grá for live music has also led them to work with live music venues on developing and refining their SafeGigs initiative - beginning with an Ask for Angela programme at Cyprus Avenue that trained staff and created awareness around helping gig-goers and other patrons escape unsafe social situations, and expanding into its current project, providing venues and promoters with advice and a charter on creating safe gig-going environments, with zero tolerance on sexual assault - as well as gig-goer-facing advice on issues like drink-spiking.

That scaling-up is going nicely, with a presence at some of the summer’s biggest festivals, and Dublin noise-rockers Gilla Band’s recent National Stadium excursion in Tallaght, with hopes of establishing volunteer rosters in cities around the country - and there’s always more scope to make sure that everyone that goes to a gig gets to do so safely, free for fear, risk or harm.

KAUGHT AT THE KAMPUS REISSUED

2021 saw the city mark the 40th anniversary of Kaught at the Kampus - a four-way split 12” of live recordings taken at the city’s now-defunct Arcadia Ballroom on the Lower Glanmire Road - that caught punk bands like Nun Attax, Micro-Disney (note the dash, as distinct from the band’s later incarnation), Mean Features and Urban Blitz in raw and uncompromising action, and is rightly hailed as a seminal document of Cork counter-culture, its influence directly and indirectly felt across four subsequent decades of alternative and independent sounds.

A special event at Cork City Library, saw Covid-era exhibition of visual ephemera, the unveiling of a mural, and a reunion of some of the surviving band members, gig-goers and promoter/facilitator Elvera Butler, who would also confirm on the night that her Reekus Records label, who released the original 1981 vinyl and a 2011 CD reissue, would oversee a proper vinyl reissue of the record, complete with new liner notes and photography from the era.

That reissue finally happens this month (check reekus.com for more info), with a new vinyl pressing bearing bonus tracks taken from Nun Attax and Micro-Disney excursions to RTÉ for Fanning Sessions, as well as two cuts taken from a Micro-Disney session at Dublin’s Windmill Lane studios.

It does a fine record justice, and more importantly, it’s a chance for young Leeside punks and weirdos in the city to get a sense of what’s been in the water all these years, and that their efforts haven’t been happening in a bubble. Not before time, mind - this writer ended up finding a mint original copy on discogs.org a few years back, paying handsomely for the privilege!

IN THE ARTISTS' OWN WORDS...

The late Cathal Coughlan on what gave rise to the Telefís project: “It just so happens that because of the evil actions of an influential minority of those who ran the country in those days, like terrible things happened, but you don’t want to tar everybody with that kind of brush. So that’s the prevailing mood, you know, that gave rise to the album.”

Cathal Coughlan: Sadly passed away this year.
Cathal Coughlan: Sadly passed away this year.

CMAT on her grá for Cork City: “Let me tell you something about Cork City. I do, as a Dubliner, truly believe the real capital of Ireland. Dublin doesn’t have the sauce. I’ve spent loads of time in Cork City. I was always a Cork city girl… because of my historical relationship with Cork city, as the legend that I am, I’ve only ever spent legendary times in Cork city, on my absolute best behaviour. And by best, I mean worst.”

Charles Hendy of the Mary Wallopers on politics: “It affects us, obviously, our generation has been screwed by the government… I think everyone has a duty to do something political, and get involved in some way. There’s no point in us joining a political party, like, but we can influence people, we can open a conversation, we can make it cool to want a united Ireland, and (hold bankers to account). Music won’t stir us up unless it’s saying something.”

Aslan’s Christy Dignam on getting back to gigs in front of an audience: “I feed off... say there’s a thousand people at a gig in the Opera House. And 999 are going. Right? And you’re in the corner with your arms folded. The whole gig is for you. The whole f**kin’ gig is, I’ll get that c**t by the end of the gig. But what that does is it keeps you on your f**kin’ toes. D’you know what I mean? It keeps your standard up.”

Afrobeats bandleader Seun Kuti on single ‘Love and Revolution’: “In the world today, if it’s not ‘your’ wife, ‘your’ kids, ‘your, your, your’, ‘mine, mine, mine’, then we’re not taught to value it. There is no value to it, if it is not yours. So, with that mindset, [bad actors] can go around the world for just the sake of profits, destroying what is communally human, like our rivers, and deplete them only for the sake of profit… There’s also the side of love that has to do with pain and growth, complete acceptance of someone for their flaws, without the caveat of ownership.”

Therapy?’s Michael McKeegan on the Northern band’s 30th anniversary and longevity: “I worked it out, and once you take away all the stuff, and you’re sitting at home, listening to music, playing music, that’s really what it’s all about. You know, I mean, you play music for yourself, and your two bandmates, creating something.”

God Alone’s Cian Mullane on recording debut album ETC.: “We really enjoyed it, but [producer] Chris Hockey didn’t [laughs]. We did so many sessions with him that we didn’t need to, we were just doing it ’cause it was funny. We kept watching movies behind him while he was trying to mix the album, as well, and then he got really bad about it loads, and it was very funny. But yeah, he’s very sound, he’s a fantastic engineer.”

Pretty Happy: Inspired by the Echo Boy.	Picture: Dan Linehan
Pretty Happy: Inspired by the Echo Boy. Picture: Dan Linehan

Pretty Happy’s Abbey Blake, forever endearing herself to the Echo’s editors: “I think that’s what the ‘Echo Boy’ is, like — that’s the sound of the city. You’re floating around anywhere, and you hear ‘Echo!’, and that’s so ingrained in our culture that you don’t even realise how much you hear it — the sound of the city was important to us, and it’s nice to have that as the name of our EP.”

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