IS TUAM the west of Ireland’s most consistently creative town musically? It’s hard to argue otherwise and the latest talent to emerge from there, The Ralphs, launch their debut EP 21st Century Window, tonight.
The Ralphs - Jamie Ralph (lead vocals/guitar ), Leigh Ralph (drums ), Conor Ralph (guitar ), and Brian Ruane (bass ) - are something of a family band. Jamie and Leigh are brothers, Conor is their cousin, and Brian has been a good friend to the three lads for many years.
Bands with brothers can either have a harmonious relationship (The Bee Gees ); have their tensions (the Davies brothers in The Kinks ); or be at each others throats all the time (Oasis ). Which category do The Ralphs fall into?
“Brothers always argue,” laughs Jamie as we sit for the interview on Tuesday morning, “but because we are family and have known each other all our lives we are able to say to one another ‘You’re not doing that right’ and feel able to be more honest with each other and clear the air than if it was with someone we only knew for a few months.”
The Ralphs also come from a distinguished musical pedigree in Tuam. Jamie and Leigh’s father Paul Ralph was the drummer in the legendary Tuam punk band Blaze X, while their uncle (Conor’s dad ) is Kenny Ralph, owner of Sun Street Studios in Tuam, who has worked with everyone from The Saw Doctors to Thin Lizzy’s’ Eric Bell.
Given that background it was inevitable the two men’s sons would go on to become musicians.
“My dad and uncle have been massive influences on us,” says Jamie. “Leigh learned to play on the drums my dad used in Blaze X. Growing up, knowing Kenny had a studio was almost like an invitation to form a band and record.”
Ireland produced a number of notable punk/new wave acts, including The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Rufrex, The Outcasts, The Radiators From Space, and The Boomtown Rats, but outside Derry, Belfast, and Dublin, there was next to nothing - except in Tuam.
Blaze X, which featured future Saw Doctor Davy Carton and the late singer-songwriter Paul Cunniffe, were a genuinely trailblazing act in Ireland in the late 1970s and still an inspiration to Tuam acts today.
“In Tuam they have legendary status,” says Jamie. “They were quite risqué at the time. Their song ‘Rippy’, about a serial killer was banned by RTÉ. Anyone who plays music in Tuam plays a Blaze X song. The Coonics play ‘Movement’. The Saw Doctors play ‘Some Hope’, and we play ‘The Police’.”
‘The Police’ is a staple part of any Ralphs’ live set and has always gone down well with audiences, especially those who remember Blaze X.
“A lot of people ask if it’s our own song,” says Jamie, “and people who knew Blaze X back in the day say it’s brilliant! My dad was telling me that we’ve now played more gigs that Blaze X ever did, which was a weird thing to hear!”
Tuam is a small town of about 10,000 people and yet, out of all proportion to its size it has produced a wealth of diverse musical talent from Blaze X to Too Much For The White Man to The Saw Doctors to The Ralphs, So Cow, and The Coonics today. What accounts for this?
“Seamus Ruttledge said ‘Children in Brazil are born with footballs at their feet, children in Tuam are born with guitars in their hands’,” says Jamie. “There was a huge showband scene and Padraig Stevens started off there, before managing Blaze X and then writing his own songs. Davy Carton was in Blaze X before going on to The Saw Doctors, so there has been a continuous thing with music in the town all the years.
“The Saw Doctors are another inspiration to us. Their success encourages you to try as well. The Saw Doctors said to us that they like us and The Coonics and that we’re creating new ideas, and there are even younger bands coming up as well from Tuam.”
Apart from Tuam’s rich musical culture, The Ralphs also draw on a diverse range of influences including indie, post-rock, Irish folk, and roots rock, and Jamie cites The Libertines as a particular inspiration.
“We don’t want to copy bands, we want to do something original,” he says. “What I like about The Libertines is the buzz you get from the live performances you can see on Youtube.
“There is a rawness and chaos, it’s like a jam session, like they’re improvising. That’s what I take from them. When I write a song I try to write something that’s energetic and that will make people feel it.”
The Ralphs debut EP 21st Century Window, features five tracks - ‘21st Century Window’, ‘Merchant’s Road’, ‘WIP’, ‘Electricity’, and ‘Somniphobia’ - and was recorded in Sun Street Studios.
“‘21st Century Window’ is about social networking,” says Jamie. “I was on Facebook one day and thought that it’s like a CCTV of all your friends’ lives. I know so much about people that are just general acquaintances, that I actually shouldn’t know, and that’s all because of social networking.”
Some of the band’s best songs are often slices of life mini-dramas and new song ‘Merchant’s Road’, along with live favourite ‘Electricity’, certainly fit that bill.
“‘Merchant’s Road’ is about a party we were at there,” explains Jamie. “A certain person feel asleep and we thought he was actually dead, so the song is about us trying to wake him up.
“‘Electricity’ is about the time we lived in a house in Woodquay and the electricity was cut off for two weeks, because the guys who had the house before us didn’t pay the bills. It wasn’t funny living without electricity for a fortnight.”
The Ralphs will launch 21st Century Window at Strange Brew in the Róisín Dubh tonight at 9pm. Admission to tonight’s gig is free. Support is from Reverend Deadeye and Gugai will be DJing afterwards.