Cork musician Caoilian Sherlock is taking debut solo album on tour

With the covid crisis in the rear-view mirror, Cork musician and arts facilitator Caoilian Sherlock is ready to move forward, with a new solo album, a rake of gigs, and the return of the Quarter community arts group. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.
Cork musician Caoilian Sherlock is taking debut solo album on tour

Caoilian Sherlock is touring debut solo album.

Throughout the covid-19 crisis (small-c nowadays, according to our editors, following the lifting of pandemic-era health advice), this parish checked in with artists and facilitators to see how their practice, writing and recording was affected by the circumstances, and how they were coping with the changes that were necessary - as well as adapting to coming off the treadmill of day-jobs, live appearances, etc.

Over a year past the seemingly-permanent lifting of restrictions, however, and a good amount of dust is still settling on what we might call the ‘post-covid’ circumstances - who’s in bands, who’s DJing, what the venues are, who’s promoting independently, how gig-going habits might change in the aftermath, and what might happen.

One thing that’s still happening is the collecting, demoing and refinement of ideas, concepts and creativity that resulted from early lockdowns, where, for many, it was the first time in their adult lives that they had the time to sit with their stories, their decisions, and what the future might look like if things didn’t pan out as planned after the crisis had passed.

One such body of work is singer and songwriter Caoilian Sherlock’s debut album ‘Teenage Jesus’, a product of its circumstances - written and recorded at Sherlock’s specially-assembled home studio, with remote input from his live collaborators, and drawing on the wider uncertainty of the period, as well as the more personal introspection that it brought about.

“I've been writing songs since I was 15, and it's the first time I've ever started a song with the drums, rather than the lyrics or the chords,” says Sherlock of the album’s title track, out now online. “Definitely the beginning lines, 'life’s a performance/death is one last dance', probably is the whole paranoia of those first few weeks of the lockdown, the confusion fed into the lyrics.

“But also, while I was feeling all those things, I was also getting to stop work for the first time, I'm getting to take it easy for the first time in my life. I was watching a lot of TV, and I was really obsessed with the show Friday Night Lights. It was a mixture of emotions, and considering what the world was like at that moment, where you kind of think, 'is it all behind us and there's nothing ahead?'.

“The song is about lost potential or unfulfilled potential, which I guess was a feeling I was considering at the start of writing it. But it got a little bit humorous, I guess. [The lyrics] 'we all like to see the underdog win' was something I wrote down while watching Friday Night Lights, I thought it was a good line.”

Caoilian Sherlock plays around Cork this summer, including shows in the city and county.
Caoilian Sherlock plays around Cork this summer, including shows in the city and county.

Potential - both the power it holds, and also the overwhelm that comes with it in terms of using it constructively, or where it might lead - has figured prominently in a lot of Sherlock’s solo work, as well as The Shaker Hymn, the psych-pop four-piece that’s helped form the spine of his musical work in recent years.

Its relation to the millennial condition, as its wider quandaries and generational shifts play out, is something that occupies Sherlock’s mind.

“I've always found that really interesting, I think. I don't know if this is true, but I think that our generation, the 'Millennials', are the first to really consider themselves so entirely, and all the time. I just felt like that, since I've been younger, I've always felt like that was an interesting viewpoint from which to look at our society. I love looking back at what it was like, what the 60s' music scene was like, or the '70s, what the social kind of situation was like in those times, and because I would watch all those documentaries growing up. It led me to [ask] 'well, what's happening to us right now?'.

“But I've always, in other bands and with my own solo work, I've found that interesting. Without being preachy, I don't really write preachy kind of stuff, but I like to kind-of interrogate some of the ways we are. And I guess this is my first solo album - part of me has always thought that there'd be a time where I'd write a solo record, or I'd start releasing music on my own, so that makes it even more poignant, when you start to consider your own path to music-making.”

For ‘Teenage Jesus’, the process this time around meant writing and tracking at home, before sending ideas around remotely to members of his band, ‘The Big Children’ - but also, without the collaborative creative nature and balancing act of being in a band, learning how to bring an album together on his own, and manage the countless steps that go into having a set of songs to listen to from front-to-back.

“I guess the big difference with this, is that it was much more of a learning... everything that happened, I had to learn it. There was less design by committee, y'know? Which also meant that I had to learn my own... which way I liked to have drums recorded, or which way I like to organise different instrumentation. That's always been a collaborative thing, and actually, it's been very collaborative, but at the end of the day, it all has to be decided by me.

“That was more psychologically something that I had to get used to, how to incorporate all the points of view and all the ideas that my collaborators and producers had, but how to learn how to manage all these ideas together and come up with something that ultimately was going to have my name on it. I'd better be able to stand behind what's on the record.

“Weirdly, I think the lockdown probably helped that situation, because it took a little bit longer to finish this album, just due to the covid restrictions and stuff, which just gives me a lot more time to consider each song.”

Not that Sherlock is a stranger to wearing many hats - aside from solo work and performing in a number of originals and covers bands, as well as recently getting a MA in Music Technology in MTU Cork School of Music, he’s best-known to many as an artistic facilitator, including with promoters The Good Room (Live at St Luke’s, It Takes a Village and Three Rivers Rising festivals), and one of the co-founders of the Quarter community arts initiative, whose legendary Block Party festival was an annual highlight of the city’s cultural calendar throughout the latter part of the last decade.

Caoilian Sherlock has been writing songs since he was 15.
Caoilian Sherlock has been writing songs since he was 15.

As he speaks over the phone, he’s fresh from an event where he’s held court on community arts and facilitation - and with that in mind, he discusses the current state of affairs for arts in Cork City.

“My [own] biggest mission is to be able to balance being a musician, and an artist, with being a facilitator for other people. The reality is that I just can't help myself. Sometimes I really just have an interest in community and I think that the arts and music are among the best ways to bring things together. It's a way to share a different perspective between communities. Luckily for me, I've been given those opportunities to work with festivals, and to work with other artists.

“Quarter is ultimately a collaboration between a few Cork-based artists, where we saw a need for different kinds of output. I guess. When we think of Quarter, the whole purpose of the quarter isn't to run a music festival, necessarily, it's to consider what's missing in the in the arts, or cultural, or the community sector. That's changing. I think that's changing now, when we look at post-Covid.

“So we're kind-of getting to grips with what role Quarter could play in the future of Cork, and if that's the festival, or facilitating in some other way, we just want to be able to be involved in making Cork, a better place to live.”

With the changing of the times comes the ability to plough into a rake of upcoming gigs - and Sherlock is getting into the headspace to perform and bring ‘Teenage Jesus’ to the masses.

“It's actually just been so long since I've managed to play a string of solo shows with my band, so it's going to be great. We have a few festival things planned, I'm really excited to do the normal musician things... travel up the country, get in for soundcheck... so I'm excited for it. I love it.”

Teenage Jesus by Caoilian Sherlock is out now.

‘Teenage Jesus’ is available for pre-order on

Caoilian Sherlock plays around Cork in May and June: Friday, May 26 at Prim’s, Kinsale; Saturday,May 27 at Music Zone, Cork and Levis’, Ballydehob; Sunday, June 25, De Barra’s, Clonakilty; Saturday, July 1, The Green Room, Cork Opera House, Cork.

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