FLECKS will share the stage at The Workman’s Club on Thursday with three other acts, Buffalo Sunn, Dreaming of Jupiter, and Maria Kelly. Last week, we played at The Bello Bar alongside David Rooney and The Straw Gods. Here are some photos and video from the night:
Arminta Wallace interviewed David the other week and her article appeared in this weekend’s edition of The Irish Times — this weekend was the actual anniversary of the 1916 rising.
Here, from David’s forthcoming album, and with me on piano, is ‘The Rising’:
1916 as you’ve never seen it before
Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times — Saturday, 23 April, 2016
By his own account David Rooney was an unlikely person to be asked to illustrate a book about the men and women of 1916. “For me growing up, everything associated with 1916 was coloured by the Troubles,” he says.
“My dad grew up near Enniskillen, and came down here to join the guards, getting away from the poisoned land, as he saw it, of sectarianism in the North. And I wouldn’t be alone in this: many people of my generation would have a real repugnance about the continuation of violence.”
But when Rooney got into the nitty-gritty of his research for the project he was fascinated by what he discovered.
“I’ve been reading the 1916 stories for more than a year, and there are so many instances where everything changed in people’s lives – and the lives of everyone around them. They fragmented, altered, spun off in all sorts of directions. Maybe the anvil of an event like this produces really extraordinary arcs of story – or maybe the stories always happen, and we just don’t register it. But when war happens, when conflict happens, the natural trajectory of things is altered. Like the refugee situation now. And we’re still living in the broken mirror of 1916.”
Rooney’s 42 thoughtful black-and-white drawings give the book 1916 Portraits and Lives, a collection of biographical essays published by the Royal Irish Academy and based on the academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, a visual – and, indeed, emotional – heft that helps it stand out from this year’s 1916 publications.
Originally the plan was to use photographs of the characters concerned, but in some cases the available imagery was of poor quality or simply nonexistent. So the academy’s graphic designer, Fidelma Slattery, had the idea of using original artwork. Its managing editor, Ruth Hegarty, ran with the idea, and Jackie Moore of the Office of Public Works – “the third part of that triumvirate of powerful women”, as Rooney puts it – came on board to support the project by buying the originals for the State.
How did Rooney get so up close and personal with his subjects?
“A friend of mine told me to read James Stephens’s The Insurrection in Dublin. That had a huge impact on the colour of it, because Stephens’s account is really what a journalist would do now. “It’s moment by moment. ‘Here I am on the corner of Abbey Street . . .’ It’s amazing – and an amazingly neglected document.”
The 1916 Portraits and Lives project has taken off to such an extent that it now has a life of its own. The book won a design award and was shortlisted for the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year. The ebook was made available for free download, and such was the uptake – more than 65,000 copies downloaded worldwide – that the offer has been extended until the end of April.
Limited-edition prints of the portraits are available to buy from the Royal Irish Academy’s website, and the originals will be on display at an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol from May 12th.
As for Rooney himself, after 30 years as a visual artist, the illustrator with the highly distinctive visual “voice” is now developing another voice – as a singer-songwriter.
“There have always been guitars around, and I liked the idea of writing songs but didn’t know where to go to find them.”
A chance meeting with Glen Hansard changed all that. “I went over to his house, and I saw him working on the songs that became his Grammy-nominated album [Didn’t He Ramble]. To see them as pencil sketches – well, I recognised something in that. I thought, I know where to find my songs. They’re in the same well as the drawings, but much further down – and much harder to get at.”
Hansard has become a close friend and a constant source of musical inspiration. And with Declan O’Rourke producing and a band that includes the jazz drummer Conor Guilfoyle and the pianist Jay Wilson, who plays with James Vincent McMorrow, Rooney has now recorded 10 songs for an album due to be released this autumn. “It has been an absolutely incredible journey. With the drawings the best ones come if I get out of the way and let it flow. With music I have to be totally present at all stages of it.”
As for recording and performing, that’s a collaborative process that is a shock to a perfectionist who is used to working at home alone. “I’m in total control of the images. With the music I have to let go. Take that de Valera image. If that was music, okay, I get to do de Valera, but I’ve to get you to do the swan, because you’re the person who can do swans. While we’re rehearsing, the swan is exactly like it’s going to be here. And then comes the day of recording, and you’re thinking more of a goose. ‘Why does it have to be a swan,’ you say. ‘Can’t it be a cormorant or . . . a shag, maybe’?” He laughs. “Yeah. And you have just to say, ‘Okay. Let’s try that’.”
I’m on a plane from Boston to Washington DC, where we play the first gig of this tour tomorrow. It’s a relatively short run, just two weeks, and in that time we’ll do eight shows: Washington DC, New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
I’m excited — our tour of Europe in October went really well — and also nervous. It’s cool to be going back to cities we played earlier in the year, this time to slightly larger venues. There’s a sense of growth and development that’s satisfying and gratifying. I’m looking forward to visiting Portland for the first time, too.
On the flight to Boston, Adrian and I watched the very funny ’22 Jump Street’ and then I watched some episodes of ‘Girls’, ‘Hello Ladies’, and ‘True Detective’. Cue much accent mimicking on my part in Boston airport…sorry guys!
On this flight, I started reading Amy Poehler’s ‘Yes Please’ (which is already funny and charming and wise) and listened to a wonderful recording of Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto, played by Elisabeth Leonskaja with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (it’s on Spotify — check it out).
There are kids in this airport with ‘Class of 2020’ shirts on! On that note…here’s to a brilliant tour!
Packing for our three-week tour, taking James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Post Tropical’ show for its second jaunt around Europe. I’m excited to get back on the road again, back to our own shows, as opposed to all the festivals we did over the summer. Back to cities we visited earlier this year, and also heading to places we haven’t been to before (Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Fribourg, Utrecht).
I’m just home from a lovely full day of being a professional musician. I had five students in the afternoon / evening, three in one household and two in another. In the second house I was given a hot bowl of leftover chilli, in the first I got all the coffee I could drink and some marvellous chocolate chip cookies. I worked on aspects of musical performance, theory, and aesthetics with keen students.
Pretty good, right?! And that wasn’t even the best part…
This morning I rehearsed for the first time as a member of James Vincent McMorrow’s band. I worked with James on his new, ridiculously good, expansive, melodic, beautiful record, ‘Post Tropical‘. The opportunity arose for me to go touring with him and — having thought about it a *lot* and with the crucial blessing of my amazing wife — I jumped at the chance. (Check out some of the places we’ll be going.)
We got five songs done today, four from the new album including the new single, ‘Cavalier’, that has just been released today. It’s a different sound to the material he’s released before now — it’s bigger, bolder, stronger. I cannot *wait* to play it live — take a listen and you’ll see what I mean 🙂
Things I saw walking from the end of the 31 bus route over to Aston Quay to get the 39a out to my piano students:
Poster and rehearsal photos on the wall of The Abbey Theatre for ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, directed by Neil Bartlett. I love the pics they put up – all around the outside of the building – actors are so dynamic! Hope to get along to see the production. The quote they’ve selected for the poster is “No civilised man regrets a pleasure”…
Next, just at the end of the road the Abbey is on (Marlborough Street), is the most prominent building project in the city at the moment, the New road bridge across the Liffey. It will eventually carry the long-awaited Luas track that will join up the Red and Green lines, but I’m hoping it might also allow an extension of the 31 from Howth over to the Southside…
Next, on O’Connell Bridge, stood a slightly sad looking man with some small, fanned-out business cards in his hand. I didn’t see what they were, nor did I stop.
At the end of the traffic island that runs down the bridge was a group of men with an expensive film camera. One of them had a clapper board that informed me they were shooting ‘The F Word’. I admit I looked around for Daniel Radcliffe, who’s in town filming it (and partying randomly with the victorious Dublin Minors team the other night, apparently). He was not to be seen: I suppose they were just shooting exteriors; establishing-shots and so on…
…and now I’m off to teach piano until I head out to Navan for the second night of Les Misérables in the Solstice Arts Centre.
Emma O’Reilly asked me to play at a songwriter evening she curated the other night in The Mercantile bar. It’s a long while since I played my own stuff, so I jumped at the chance. I took out the guitar earlier that day at home to practice and ended up writing a new song — something I haven’t done in a long, long while!
I’ve been meeting up with a friend of mine, Peter Ryan, to hang out and talk about writing and give each other encouragement with stuff we’re working on. My lack of any new material prompted me to go back over the voice memo recordings of song ideas that I’ve made on my phone. It was two of these that I worked up into the song, which I’ve called ‘Panic’. I *do* have a demo recording of just me and the guitar, but I won’t post it up yet. I didn’t do a brilliant job of playing it the other night at the gig, so I feel like it needs to stay on the drawing board for a bit longer. I’m hoping to maybe work it up into a bigger arrangement, so you can hear it then…!
Buoyed by the experience of playing Emma’s gig, I got in touch with Lisa McLaughlin and got a slot on a forthcoming ‘Saucy Sundays’ gig (the regular showcase that she hosts in The Grand Social). Sunday 13 May — I’ll be on first 🙂
Another date of note (for my diary, anyway) is Friday the 18th of May. I just got word yesterday that that’s when my Grade 8 piano exam is scheduled for. Eek! The pieces are coming along nicely and I’m chipping away at the scales day by day — there are so many! I just read Charles Rosen’s book ‘Piano Notes’, which had some really interesting thoughts about playing Bach. One of the pieces I’m playing for the exam is Bach’s Fugue in B flat from the first book of ‘The Well-Tempered Keyboard’. He wrote a Prelude and a Fugue in each of the twelve major keys…and also each of the twelve minor keys…and then he did that all again. The interesting thing that Rosen points out is that these were never meant to be performed in public (and certainly not on a modern piano, more likely on a harpsichord or a clavichord). Bach would’ve used them as teaching material and so the modern practice of accentuating each appearance of the main theme of the fugue (the ‘subject’) is not how he would’ve expected the pieces to be played. For a start, the keyboard instruments of his day couldn’t do gradations of dynamics in the subtle way a piano can (a piano-forte, to give it its full name, is so called because of its ability to do both soft and loud). Secondly, since it wasn’t for an audience, the people hearing the fugue would’ve been the player or a pupil following the score — both of whom would have no need to have the appearances of the subject spelled out to them, since it was in front of them. Thirdly, the subject is the least interesting bit of the piece if you’re Bach. It’s just the bones to which the artistic flesh of the composer’s counterpoint is attached. All that having been said, if the pieces *are* to be performed for an audience who neither know the score nor have the aesthetic sensibilities of an eighteenth century harpsichord pupil, the pianist would do well to bring alive the music (to ‘publish’ it, as Rosen puts it), and some underlining of the structure of these remarkable pieces is the way to go.
All great food for thought. I’d recommend the book to anyone who plays piano or has an interest in classical piano music — it’s an easy read, with loads of anecdotes and insight into the repertoire and life of a pianist.
Today is St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music. It’s also the day Benjamin Britten was born. One of his compositions, the ‘Ode To Saint Cecilia’ (from whence comes the title of this blog post), is a setting for unaccompanied choir of a poem that his friend WH Auden dedicated to him. We sang it in New Dublin Voices a couple of years ago and it is included on our CD, ‘Something Beginning With B’.
Tonight I’m going to attend the rehearsal of the Goethe-Institut Choir. Hopefully they’ll let me sing with them in their forthcoming concert on 5 December in The National Concert Hall. They’ll be singing Bach’s setting of the Magnificat, which I fell in love with as a student in university. In the first term we (the fifty or so students in the first and second years of the BMus course) did the piece in a scratch performance just for ourselves. Our tutors told us about the various little compositional signals that Bach uses in his setting of the words of Mary’s song, and I’ll blog more about it another time. Right now I have to go and get ready. Have to make a good impression if I’m to convince them I’m up to the task!
Oh yes, and I found this charming video by the Anderson & Roe piano duo (whom I’ve written about before on this blog). Vivaldi was a near contemporary of Bach and would have probably *loved* to play a grand piano, had it been invented. Anderson & Roe achieve a delicate sound, more akin to the Baroque keyboard instrument sound, by dampening the strings of Ms Roe’s piano. Mr Anderson’s uneffected (but wonderfully affected) playing allows the piano to sing the melody as only a grand piano can. A beautiful effect from a continually interesting musical partnership.
It’s my friend Jonny Boyle’s birthday today. He is a brilliant guitar player—melodic, jazzy, and musical beyond belief. He is doing a couple of workshops in his home town of Carrickfergus on 25 June, one called ‘Jazz Up The Blues’ and the other on ‘The Modes’. If I know Jonny, it’ll be a great, inspiring session (astonishing value—3 hours for £20, only 5 in the class) and you’ll come away with lots of tasty licks to use in your playing.
Here’s Jonny playing a selection of solo guitar tunes suitable for weddings:
These links are unconnected. But everything’s connected, right? Well, what connects them is that I found them all yesterday and I think they’re all worth sharing.
There is a connection between Sam West’s passionate speech at last week’s ‘March for the Alternative’ (he’s the son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales) and Austin Kleon’s empowering artistic manifesto, ‘How To Steal Like An Artist’. Kleon’s piece will rock your world if you want to create something—read and share.
Finally, if you’re looking for something to do with your eight precious hours of leisure time, why not go along to ‘An Introduction to DADGAD Guitar‘, taught by Sarah McQuaid, in Walton’s New School of Music on Thursday 7 April? DADGAD is the onomatopoeic word used to denote a system of guitar tuning that is much used by traditional musicians. It is a beautiful sound—jangly and resonant—and it’s easy to pick out pleasing passages, even if you’re a beginner. (It actually helps to be a beginner, as you aren’t ‘stuck’ in thinking of the fretboard in a certain way.) Sarah McQuaid literally wrote the book on this, so she’s the one to give you a great start.