Tradiohead - on the way to Electric Picnic
By Kernan Andrews
RADIOHEAD’S MUSICAL journey over the past 20 years has been one of rock’s most fascinating and often, for their audience, a challenging listening experience. The Oxford quintet began life playing the massive sounding, alternative rock, guitar anthems of Pablo Honey and The Bends.
With 1997’s OK Computer they morphed into an uncompromising prog-rock band and since Kid A, they have moved further and further into avant-garde territory with each new release, with not a care as to how many will follow them at each step. It is a commitment to an artistic vision that is both brave and exemplary.
So if you are going to cover a Radiohead song, perhaps the best way to do it is not in the form of a note for note cover, but taking a leaf out of the Oxfordonian’s own book - and approaching it from left-field and doing something with it nobody wold expect - step forward Galway band Tradiohead.
Tradiohead - Jimi McDonnell (vocals), Michael Chang (violin, viola, mandolin), Philip Fogerty (accordion, bodhrán), and Pat Hargan (guitar) - are a Radiohead covers’ band, but with a difference. They do not play it straight. Instead they reinterpret and reimagine the songs in the form of Irish traditional music, creating a fascinating hybrid in the progress. “It’s prog-trad,” Philip tells me as I sit with the band for the interview. “Horslips made this kind of mix work.”
The idea to play Radiohead songs in a trad style came from Jimi McDonnell. He suggested it to Michael Chang who liked the idea. Initially nothing happened with it, but when it came up again at the end of last year, both men knew they had to run with, and they found Philip and Pat ready and willing to get involved.
“I was looking for trouble,” Philip laughs. “Jimi caught me at the right moment and Pat was up for some divilment as well.”
The band clearly enjoy what they do and have fun with the concept, but it would be a mistake to think of them as anything other than serious musicians - this is also something to be creative with and to challenge themselves with.
“The ‘mis-match’ of trad and prog/alternative rock is interesting and it’s a riddle,” says Pat, who comes from South Yorkshire originally. “With trad you have patterns, with Radiohead you have changing time signatures and weird chords. It’s a challenge to make it work.”
Michael Chang describes himself and his colleagues as “massive Radiohead fans and massive trad fans”. Michael is originally from Seattle and first became exposed to Irish trad in a number of the city’s bars.
“I went to traditional Irish pubs in Seattle, and there were many people singing, but I found it hard to get to hear ‘the pure drop’ kind of music,” he says. “I came to Ireland about 13 years ago and immersed myself in the Galway scene and learned about the music. I want to play pure trad but I also want to do interesting things with it, and that is what is really good about Tradiohead.”
So what can audiences expect from a Tradiohead show?
“We play the Radiohead hits, but also B-sides, and album tracks,” says Jimi. “’Paranoid Android’, ‘Just’, and we like to go for some of the more challenging pieces as well, such as ‘The National Anthem’.”
As well as playing Radiohead songs in a trad style, the band also play trad, inspired by the work of Radiohead. One example is a piece called ‘Kid A On The Mountain’. “For that we turned a slip jig we knew into a reel,” says Jimi.
Although the band have only played a handful of gigs, they have already attracted a positive response, drawing an audience from both Radiohead/alternative rock fans and the trad crowd.
“People often don’t know what to expect as something like this has not been tried before,” says Michael, “but after the gigs people come up and say they are happy with it. We started out as a covers band but now we’re pushing the whole thing further and further and making it more interesting.”
“The more songs we do, the more we have to resist making it formulaic,” says Pat. “We also plan to translate some Radiohead lyrics into Gaelic. We are a Radiohead tribute band so we have to work within certain parameters, but the parameters that Radiohead work in are so broad that it allows you to be creative and imaginative as much as you can.”
“We play ‘No Surprises’,” says Jimi, “But we like to think there are surprises in what we do.”
Adds Philip: “It’s also about re-evaluating what we mean by ‘pure drop’ trad and that is a healthy thing to do.”
While the band’s next Galway show is at The Crane, they will also be travelling to Stradbally next month to play Electric Picnic, something the quartet are very excited about.
“We’re delighted to be at the Picnic,” says Jimi. “We will be really up for it and have the craic as well. This is the kind of thing we want to do and the kind of place we want to play.”
“We have always thought the Electric Picnic crowd would be the kind of crowd that would get what we do,” says Michael. “We think they will be really tuned into our take on Radiohead.”
Tradiohead play The Crane Bar, Sea Road on Friday August 24 at 9pm (admission is €5) and the Body and Soul area of the Electric Picnic festival on Sunday September 2. Check out the band on Facebook