THE IRISH rock, indie, and singer-songwriter scene has never been healthier or more vibrant yet there is still a feeling that many of our best bands are still ‘local heroes’.
In fact they are doing better than that, and 2FM DJ Jenny Huston is determined to make people aware of that through her new book In Bloom - Irish Bands Now (Currach Press ), in which she interviews 15 artists, such as Jape, Bell X1, Fight Like Apes, Mick Flannery, and Lisa Hannigan, to assess the current state of the Irish music scene.
Jenny grew up in Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. “It’s gorgeous!” she tells me during our Monday morning interview. “It’s a quiet, medium sized city, about 3-400,000 people. The joke is that it’s for ‘newly weds and nearly deads’ given all the young couples and retired people there!”
Victoria was a good place to grow up but in terms of music there was no real scene and nothing too exciting happening for music fanatics like Jenny.
“All the major bands went to Vancouver but because we’re on an island none really came across to Victoria,” she says. “We are close to Seattle and the thing is that the Cascade Range mountains meant we couldn’t hear Vancouver Radio but we could hear Seattle radio, and that’s where we first heard grunge and Nirvana so they were on our radar!”
In 1996 Jenny’s mother, as part of her work, was posted to Ireland, and her daughter, fresh out of college, decided to follow. She fell in love with the country, started working in local radio, and decided to stay. Today she presents RTE 2FM’s The Annex on Sundays from 7pm to 9.30pm and a show on Fridays from 10pm to 12 midnight. Jenny expanded her CV to that of writer when In Bloom was published in late November.
“People often ask me questions about bands and they would say ‘Have Bell X1 broken up?’ even though the band had spent a year touring North America and Europe, playing large venues,” she says. “Bell X1 are playing thousand plus seater venues and getting bigger in the US.
“Fred are growing in Canada and had 40,000 downloads of one of their singles on Canadian iTunes. Fight Like Apes have just signed a major distribution deal for Japan and Australia. I was horrified to think Ireland thought they were failing. There were gaps in people’s knowledge of what was going on so when Currach Press approached me to write the book I thought I’d do it.”
The traditional rock strongholds have been (and always will be ) Britain and the USA, but Ireland has always punched well above its weight in rock music with Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, and Thin Lizzy in the 1970s and U2 since the 1980s. In the 1990s there were numerous great bands (Something Happens, Engine Alley, etc, ) who unfortunately did not make a huge impact abroad. Then in the early part of this decade there was a distinctly barren period.
In the last four to five years that has all changed and there is something of a mini-revolution in Irish rock happening. Fight Like Apes and Bell X1 are rising stars abroad while Jape and Lisa Hannigan have the potential to follow. The scene at the moment has never been healthier and the creativity and quality of Irish acts right now is very impressive. It is good to be able to say there are too many brilliant acts and to name only a few is unfair.
So in interviewing acts like Delorentos, Cathy Davey, Messiah J, and The Blizzards, etc, for In Bloom, was there a main theme or issue that kept coming up?
“The work ethic and money,” says Jenny. “It’s underestimated how hard these bands work. Bell X1 do their own website, design their merchandise. Things can also go slowly if you have to work full time and have to make time to rehearse and play gigs. If you don’t have a label you have to keep up the promotional campaign on the internet, press, and radio, and find a way of funding it. It’s frustrating for bands at that medium stage as they can be doing well but still not making much money.”
Of all the interviewees, who surprised Jenny the most in terms of what they had to say about themselves?
“Cathy Davey,” Jenny replies. “She is so talented and such an individual artist that it’s surprising how shy she was and lacking in confidence when she started off. My dream is to be able to sing, and to see someone like Cathy Davey have had that crisis of confidence at having to sing in front of an audience is hard for me to get my head around.
“However I found a lot of those I talked to were the same, were tortured by shyness. Mick Flannery is really shy and still feels overwhelmed by the numbers of people coming up to him after gigs talking to him.”
In Bloom also contains Jenny’s ‘Hot List’ of bands to watch including Dark Room Notes, whose members include Galwegians Ronan Gaughan and Ruairi Ferrie.
“They are amazing,” enthuses Jenny. “Exciting things are happening for them. They have just been signed to BBE world wide and they are touring the US and doing the college radio circuit. I think it’s onwards and upwards for them.”
Galway’s own music scene is at an exciting place right now as evidenced by Disconnect 4, The Kanyu Tree, So Cow, Blasterbra, Lost Chord, The Ralphs, and Feed The Bears.
“The Blizzards have described The Kanyu Tree as one of their favourite bands,” says Jenny. “Disconnect 4 and The Kanyu Tree have worked really hard to get their name out there and they are becoming known and there are expectations for them. So Cow is a name I hear a lot. He’s a musicians’ musician and I’m looking forward to checking him out.”
In Bloom - Irish Bands Now is available in all good bookshops. See also www.inbloom.ie