From Socialist Voice, February 2010

Band on an Island

On a cold and blustery night I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Ciarán and Andrew from Band on an Island for a chat over a few pints in the warm and friendly surroundings of their local pub. Fresh from playing to more than eight hundred people supporting a sell-out Christy Moore concert last month and the announcement that they will support his brother, Luka Bloom, in Dublin later this year, it’s clear they must be doing something right.
     Immediately surprising was the fact that their influences included not only Damien Dempsey but punk bands such as Dead Kennedys and hip-hop acts like NWA and the Wu-Tang Clan—not your usual run of the mill for an Irish folk rock band, but Ciarán explained they gave him “a buzz for lyrics and meanings in songs and demonstrated how you can introduce humour into them too.”
     This fusion of influences perhaps explains how the band can go from dark and angry tracks about frustration, which often has very anti-establishment undertones, to beautiful songs about the places and people they love from the town they grew up in.
     The Kildare folk rockers have recently released their long-anticipated debut album, The Sound Sweep, which is entirely self-funded by themselves on the First Born is Dead record label, run by their friend and collaborator, the Mighty Stef. So with no backers or industry hacks hyping them up in the media or telling them what will “sell,” the reception has been great, as Andrew explained. “We were blown away by the launch, and people seem to really like the album, which is amazing. We put a lot of effort in, but it’s been worth it in the end. All we want is for people to listen to the record. It’s nothing to do with shifting units or making money.”
     In an industry that constantly presents individuals being obsessed with fame, self-importance and money and low on talent, to find musicians so down to earth and full of love for music is a refreshing change.
     The album is at times very dark, and it’s obvious that this band has put their heart and soul into this record, often with careless disregard for what some “important” people may think, as Ciarán is quite proud of. “The Last (Free) Man Standing” is very dark, although it wasn’t intended to be. “It’s just my angry take on music. It deals with the music industry parasites, which I don’t like: self-opinionated bloggers and journalists who decide to slate something because they’re afraid to be different. They have serious power and too often they aren’t held up to account; many of them think they’re bigger than the music or bands.”
     This anti-corporate, anti-commercial view runs deep and permeates their views on what is perceived to be the Irish music “scene,” with Andrew pointing out fervently: “There are great Irish bands out there now, as much as ever, but people have no way of finding them out. I’m in a band because I want to be, and I’m not motivated by popularity or money.
     “People are in bands for the wrong reasons, and they can become blinded by bullshit. PR and record companies create scenes, and bands get sucked into chasing the money. As long as you have a pair of shoes on your feet, a roof over your head, and a pint in front of you, you should be happy. As a band we’re mates trying to be musicians, not the other way around.”
     For musical or artistic purposes it may be better to go it alone, but there are some very stark realities, as Ciarán reminded me. “Many small bands are finding it tough at the moment because punters don’t want to go to small venues and pay to go into what they think is a glorified pub. It’s not the recession either, because the big venues are jammed, and sure most people’s heads aren’t even in the recession. Most won’t face up to the serious bullshit we’re in right now.”
     It was great to find such honesty from the band that are in this for the love of music. These guys aren’t the usual mediocre musicians that the media bombard us with, who have little or nothing of value to say apart from endorsing some product or show. They are not on their own, with a vast undercurrent of Irish culture and society constantly overlooked by parasitic mainstream media that do all they can to ignore or ridicule anything that is different, that they don’t understand or are simply uncomfortable with. But when we are presented with Ryan Tubridy as the nice and acceptable face of the “young,” what else can we expect?
[BH]

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