Category Archives: Post Tropical

The seatbelt light is on


We’ve been travelling all day and are making our final approach now to Edmonton. It’s been a long day but, because of the time difference, it’s only early evening. Our show, as part of the Edmonton Folk Festival, is apparently going to be at the equivalent of 5.30am. So I’m trying not to think about that — it’s not until the day after tomorrow, anyway.

I’m really looking forward to this festival (and the Squamish Festival, outside Vancouver, that we’re playing at the following day). We’re fresh from a successful week in France, Spain, and Switzerland and have been playing well together. It was especially gratifying in Spain — a territory James hasn’t visited often — to see the beachfront arena fill steadily as we went through our set until there were people as far as the eye could see! It’ll be brilliant to do some full shows there on our European tour in October.

The various changes and tweaks I’ve been making to my setup have been working out well. We switched out the clarinet and the lapsteel and put those parts onto synths, which makes things a lot simpler for festivals. I got my Nord Stage to communicate better with the Mainstage program on my laptop (it runs the soft synths), halving the time it takes me to change patches between songs. Lots of little things which have made a big difference.

We were in Edmonton before, back in March. It was a very memorable gig for many reasons. To recap: Our tour bus broke down outside Seattle on my birthday; with the help of the support band’s van we got to Vancouver and played our show that night; after much solution-searching, James and our tour manager drove across the Rockies in a U-Haul with all our gear while the rest of us flew to Edmonton; we put on the show of our lives (it was also the first time we’d been in a venue that could accommodate the full lighting setup). It was a beautiful venue, the MacDougall Uniting Church, and the crowd were fabulous. As was the hospitality shown to us by the local organisers, especially Steve Derpack of JCL Productions. I also recall a delicious local grapefruit ale that I’ll be seeking out…!

Two inches below the heart

Yesterday we played on the radio — Ray D’Arcy’s show on Today FM. It was a really good experience. We haven’t done a lot of ‘pure’ radio as a band, i.e. without any video/webcast element. Not having a camera there made for a more relaxing atmosphere. Just as we were setting up, Eamonn Dunphy was being interviewed about the previous night’s Twitter-igniting football match between Brazil (1) and Germany (7!) in the World Cup. At one point — I didn’t catch the context — he got up out of his seat and held up a pink dress against himself. Radio allows odd things to happen. When we’d finished, a cool-looking Australian man swallowed a sword and then a lady called in and let us all listen to her enjoying a custard slice. A rich tapestry 🙂

Here’s the Australian man, Aerial Manx, swallowing the sword:

Ray asked him how far down the sword goes into his body — the tip ends up two inches below his heart…

We played James’s latest single from Post Tropical, Glacier. You can hear it here, four minutes in:–live-session

James also played his brilliant cover version of ‘Higher Love’, which you can hear just past the ten minute mark.

Finally, a video of an acoustic version of the last single from Post Tropical, ‘Gold’, that James and I performed back in April at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on the afternoon of our show there. I’m wearing a ‘Post Tropical’-themed t-shirt that I found in Hamburg earlier this year.

North American tour

We’re travelling today — from San Francisco to Seattle.

We met early at Dublin airport on the morning of the 14th and spent a full day travelling against the tide of the sun, arriving late in the evening to our hotel on Sunset Boulevard.
The next day (and the day after that!) we had breakfast at a great place called the Dialog Café. There was some gear to be bought in the afternoon and I went along to the giant Sam Ash music shop that the guys had been talking about. I didn’t have anything to get except a piano bench, so I happily played with the Prophet 12 synthesizer while the guys got the bits and pieces (and, the main item of business: a drum kit for Paul).
After a swim in the hotel pool, we made the pilgrimage up Runyon Canyon (impatiently eschewing the boring old path and making a beeline for the top) to see the Hollywood sign and take some epic band photos. I tagged along with James and Emma, then, to an amazing sushi place they’d been to before and we walked back past the Chinese Theatre, the panoply of stars on the Walk of Fame under our feet.

We finished our day with a sundae at Mel’s Diner 🙂

Sunday was show day and we loaded into The Roxy in the afternoon. I had been feeling a bit nervous about getting back into the swing of things again after our few weeks off, but once we started sound checking it all came back. The few tweaks I’d made to sounds worked well, too. It was amazing to play to such an enthusiastic, sold out crowd in such a historic venue 🙂

We got a few tales about the place from the production manager, most memorably the image of David Lee Roth running out into LA traffic, topless with red sequinned Lycra trousers, calling after his dog which had escaped!
The following morning, St Patrick’s Day, after waking up to an earthquake, we played a ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic’ session at KCRW.

Their studios are on the campus of Santa Monica College and the walls are adorned with portraits, large B&W prints and one entire wall of small Polaroids of everyone from Ian McEwan to Ellen Page to a three-years-ago James.
That night we played another show at The Roxy. James was having trouble beforehand with his voice and pushed through the show, the three of us supporting him with a heartfelt, albeit unmathematical, 110%. Again the crowd were brilliant (as were the supporting act, Aiden Knight and his band, who I’m looking forward to hearing more of along the road) — they responded really positively to the new material and were treated to James singing ‘Higher Love’ at the end, something he doesn’t normally do.
A problem with our bus meant that we were standing around in the parking lot for an hour after our pickup time. My clarinet was sitting on top of my suitcase and all of a sudden one of the venue staff pulled out of their parking space and knocked it over, crushing the case. A quick examination assured me it was okay, although a few keys had been bent and I knew it would have to be repaired properly. Shaken and annoyed, I went to bed as soon as we loaded the gear onto the bus. Next morning I found the name of a woodwind repairer in San Francisco, Daniel Deitch, and called him up when we got to the venue. He responded graciously to my plea for help (I learned later that he has a really big workload at the moment) and I brought the instrument to his workshop as the guys set up the stage. Daniel was brilliant, quickly working over the clarinet and ultimately leaving it in better condition than it’s ever been in. Every cloud has a silver lining and all that! I also joked with him about ‘the luck of the Irish’ as we contemplated the tonne of steel that my Yamaha case had withstood valiantly.

We chatted while he worked and listened to a brilliant Thelonius Monk album, ‘Live At Town Hall’.
When I arrived back a couple of hours later, the decision had just been made to cancel the Great American Music Hall show that night. James had an infection and a specialist had just prescribed penicillin and total rest. Hopefully the show can be rescheduled. On we go…


Reading Room


I’m writing this surrounded by cherubs and scholars in the reading room of the National Library. I have always meant to get a Reader’s Ticket and today finally got around to it. I was in town, at the sumptuous 37 Dawson Street, filming with James and the band for the RTÉ arts show ‘The Works’, which airs this Friday (7 March) at 8.30pm.

We finished our European tour with a really brilliant show in Paris (at La Gaité Lyrique) just over a week ago, having blazed a post tropical trail through Germany, Holland and Belgium. We played in quite a range of venues, from a small 200-seater (Brotfabrik in Frankfurt — dear knows what the venue guys thought as we ferried our entire lighting rig up the narrow, metal fire escape stairs that lead up from the courtyard below), to the unexpectedly brilliant venue in the old botanic gardens in Brussels, to the classy, professional venues that seemed to be everywhere in Holland, to what was for me a real highlight: the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

It won’t be long now before we’re back on the road again for five weeks in the US and Canada. I’m really looking forward to it: it’ll be my first time visiting most of the places we’re going to. My sister and I took a trip to Philadelphia / Virginia (& Washington DC) / Long Island (& New York) / Toronto (& London, ON) in the summer of 2000. We crammed all that into one month, staying with family and friends along the way (and enjoying the hospitality of the Salvation Army in Toronto!).

This time out it’ll be a tour bus bunk all the way. That was probably the hardest thing to get used to, and there was much discussion as to the merits of top, middle, or bottom bunks. I only tried the top bunk last time, so I must experiment with the other options on this run.

I got through two books: ‘Stoner’ by John Williams and ‘A Visit From The Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan. Both were brilliant and weren’t a million miles apart in terms of subject matter and tone (although Jennifer Egan pulls off some beautiful chapters in voices ‘other’ than that of her primary style). I was also introduced to the delight that is ‘East Bound and Down’. It had been my intention to try and get through the last few seasons of ‘Breaking Bad’, but that would’ve meant isolating myself from the group and well, gosh darnit, if they weren’t just too good to be around! I really must try and get to it on our jaunt around America, though. The others have all seen it (and there’s more than one of them has some item of clothing related to the show), so I’d say they’re champing at the bit to talk about it sometimes!

London // Bristol // Manchester

I’m on a tour bus heading for Glasgow. Last night we played at the Barbican in London, a beautiful hall and the biggest venue we’ve done so far. I was really happy with the show and delighted that my aunt and uncle were there. I stayed with them in London for a week when I was seven. I flew over by myself, an experience that I still vividly remember bits of (not least because they “encouraged” me to keep a scrapbook every night. Something I probably resented at the time but am very glad of now!) — getting to see the cockpit, and being frightened by the ‘woman in the library’ in my Ghostbusters photo story book. Anyway, I was so glad they were there along with their elder daughter, Alice, and another of my cousins, Lauren, who’s studying music in London. Lauren was really chuffed to meet James afterwards 🙂

I was also really pleased that my friend Alan was there (enjoying a rare night out with the father of his toddler daughter’s bestie). Alan and I began our tinnitus together in one of the outhouses at my family home, playing Clapton, Hendrix, U2 — him on guitar and me on drums. Good times 🙂

The Barbican was amazing. Great backstage facilities (including a Steinway grand piano *sigh*) and a concert hall thoroughly deserving of the high regard it’s held in. Definitely a highlight for me so far. James talked a little bit about the first time he played there — solo, the long walk to the stage, hearing his footsteps echoing in the pin-drop auditorium, looking up in the darkness and seeing the exit signs glowing way up on the upper balcony… That was the only real clue as to the size of the room until the lights went up at the end and we saw everyone as we left the stage. Such a feeling! I high-fived the overhang at the stage door as I walked off 🙂

The night before we played at St George’s in the beautiful city of Bristol. I went for a little walk around in the morning when we arrived. I love the Georgian architecture and sense of public space. It also makes me a bit sad in that way that beautiful things can.

The church of St George was begun in 1821 to a design by Robert Smirke and is in the style of some of the churches I’m familiar with in Dublin, St Ann’s and St Stephen’s (‘the pepper canister’). It is now a really lovely concert venue, like The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. One of the bar staff, Dorian Childs-Prophet, was improvising on the Steinway grand piano (*sigh*) at the end of the night when everything was packed up. I stood listening to him for a while and then, buoyed with confidence after playing our show, sang a minor-bluesy version of Gershwin’s ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’ with him. I was so elated I left my umbrella at the venue (slightly gutted about that — it was a really good umbrella). There’s a quote by the composer Leoš Janáček in the grounds of the church, inscribed in Caithness stone by poet-sculptor Ian Hamilton-Finlay:

On the paths I’d plant oaks that would endure for centuries, and into their trunks I’d carve the words I shouted in the air.


It’s taken from Janáček’s ‘Letters to Kamila’. I conveniently found a copy at the bookshop at the end of the street for £2 — a nice souvenir of the visit.

We started the tour the night before that in the stunning setting of Manchester cathedral. Its beautiful stained glass and awe-inspiring architecture (and splendid brand-new floor!) made for a remarkable first gig of this European tour. Looking forward to the rest!