Vinyl comeback seen on Dublin streets

Dublin’s city centre has found itself inundated with the oddest of entrepreneurial ventures over the past few months. Apparently, Dubliners just can’t get enough craft beer, poké, expensive coffee and €3 doughnuts that are packed with enough sugar to induce Type 2 diabetes. However, while these have quickly flooded our shelves and (somehow) emptied our bank accounts, something which has been on the rise within our city, and globally, has been the purchasing of lovely slabs of analogue music. By that, I mean vinyl records.

Vinyl has made a bold comeback, to such a point that it even nearly put itself out of business. However, that hasn’t stopped the fine people of Dublin from partaking in the age old tradition, an expensive one at that, of vinyl collecting. Although the pros tend to shop online for the best deals, there are still some digging die-hards who still opt to take a trip to their local record store. However, depending on your location that might be difficult.

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Image: Conor Shields

Blackwax Records is a new venture by seasoned Dublin DJ and collector, Willo, in the form of a single unit record store, buried within the heart of Windsor Arcade on Meath Street in Dublin. After being open for only three weeks, Willo has seen a rake of customers come and go, looking to peruse and purchase what he has to offer. Speaking to TheCity.ie, Willo explained how he got started with his store and why Meath Street?

“It was the cheapest place! I was meant to open in Temple Bar but that fell through and this was the cheapest place going. I’ve been collecting records for years and I’ve always wanted to open a record shop. I used to tell people back at sessions that I would and one night, I just decided to go forward with it,” said Willo.

After looking over his wares, it was interesting to see what kind of records he had for sale, considering the current size of his business. When it comes to selling vinyls, you really have to deliver to your customers. You have to know what they want, before they even enter the shop. I was curious to know what Willo’s selection process was.

“I’m only learning but I’m quickly learning what’s selling now. At the minute it’s just hit and miss. I have nothing direct at the moment. I’m still trying to figure out the market. Some of them are my own records but I’ve also been buying other people’s collections. It’s all about finding the right collections,” continued Willo.

He touched on his future plans before I left, commenting that he hopes to rent out a larger space in order to sell more goods than he can at the moment. I then left with my Kelis single in hand.

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Image: Conor Shields

At the moment, there are only a handful of record shops open for business in Dublin, with most following their own process of selection when it comes to picking which records to sell. It’s unlike your traditional business in which you can buy in bulk and hopefully sell enough to make profit. All records are hand-picked in the hope of being sold. It’s a delicate business, but one which I’m sure will be sticking around for future generations to have a nose at.

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Image: Conor Shields

Reporting and images by Conor Shields

Mic Christopher remembered

On the 29th November 2001, Ireland lost one of its most eclectic and talented troubadours. Singer-songwriter Mic Christopher – aged just thirty two – died tragically after an accidental fall on steps in the Netherlands, the same night he opened for his musical heroes, The Waterboys.

Now sixteen years later, Mic is remembered through the release of his debut album Skylarkin’ on vinyl for the first time.

This feat was achieved through Born Optimistic, an Irish record label and concert promoter. Through the help of Born Optimistic’s founder and former friend of Mic’s, Donal Scannell, and by the request of the late singer’s family, the occasion was marked with the vinyl release.

Andrew Gleeson, Assistant Promoter and Producer at Born Optimistic said, “Mic’s family ordered a substantial amount of his album on vinyl as it was approaching the anniversary of his death. Donal, who had been friends with Mic had also been thinking of doing something to mark the anniversary too and got in touch. Mic’s family then asked him to release it through Born Optimistic.

“The family didn’t necessarily want to make a big deal out of the release, just enough to celebrate him so that fans could avail of the iconic album in a way they hadn’t before,” Andrew said.

Michael “Mic” Christopher, born in 1969 in the Bronx, New York to Irish parents, moved to the then relatively new area of Clondalkin when he was a toddler. Mic’s family were self-proclaimed Elvis fanatics with music being programmed into the young Mic’s mind as a child. From the age of fifteen, Mic began making the trek into the city centre to busk on Grafton Street. It was there he met fellow busker Glen Hansard and the pair quickly became best friends. With their natural showmanship and powerful voices, the pair became a formidable duo act playing to the masses on Grafton Street. The two rented a flat on Harcourt Street for quick and easy access to their workplace.

Last year for Mic’s 15 year death anniversary, Glen Hansard and several of Mic’s former busker friends performed a sold out show in Vicar St. titled “Glen Hansard and friends sing the songs of Mic Christopher” where they performed Skylarkin’ in full.

Mic formed the band ‘The Mary Janes’ in 1990 and performed with the band up until their split in 1999. What Mic is known mostly for however is his posthumously released first and only solo album Skylarkin’, and its blissful songs that remain just as influential and significant as they did back on the album’s first release in 2002.

The lead single of the album, “Heyday”, featured famously in a 2003 Guinness ad and would become an Irish anthem in the following years, with tracks such as “Listen Girl” and “Daydreamin’” fully encapsulating the singer’s writing talents and seemingly limitless future potential. The album achieved platinum status in 2004, selling 15,000 copies, and though sadly this was a feat that Mic did not live to see, the songs still resonate in Irish culture.

The vinyl release of Skylarkin’ on what would have been the singer-songwriter’s 48th birthday is not just a remembrance of a true Irish talent, but a celebration of art and creativity living on long after death.

Skylarkin’ is available for order here: https://bornoptimistic.com/products/mic-christopher-skylarkin-vinyl

By Killian Dowling

 

Dude-Fest – Where have all the women gone?

We, as Irish people, love a good festival. Every year we wait patiently for the likes of Electric Picnic or Body & Soul to throw out their ever-expanding lists of who’ll be rocking the fields that summer, before spending the equivalent of a month’s rent on tickets, tents and tins of Carlsberg … a typical cycle which we are well accustomed to. However, have we ever stopped to take a critical look at who exactly is playing our festivals? Well of course not, we’re too busy trying to decide which low-cut vests to buy or whether or not Penneys is the best choice for high-quality wellies.

It’s a sensitive issue and one that has lead to vicious debates on certain online forums, but the notion of a gender gap within music festival line-ups is one that we shouldn’t actively ignore. Are less women being booked to make room for successful male artists? Are festival organisers conscious of this? In order to gauge this accurately, let’s take a look at the line-ups for the past five years of Forbidden Fruit, a popular Dublin music and arts festival which takes place each summer.

Festival

After a thorough examination of each year’s line-up, it was concluded that more than 260 male acts were booked for the festival, with only 34 female acts being booked within the same time. Bands and groups comprised of mostly male musicians totalled 19 while two groups which were comprised of mostly female members were booked during the same time period. Groups with a perfect balance of male and female artists came to 14. This shows, as displayed in the graph above, that over 79 percent of acts booked for the festival for the past five years have been solely male while only 10 percent have been female. The question lingers, is this acceptable?

“As someone who has had experience in working at festivals in Ireland, everything from smaller niche festivals to Electric Picnic, I am not shocked by the current stats on the lack of female performers at festivals,” explained Ellen Clarke, a BA Creative Cultural Industries graduate who has bountiful experience in festival production after working on the likes of Electric Picnic.

“In my opinion, even the smaller organisations that label themselves as conscious of these recurring issues are still falling into the trap of inviting more well-known male artists to be part of their events because they feel that it will give them the publicity they need. This is creating a vicious cycle which needs to be broken. I am not someone who believes that there should be a 50/50 split in male/female involvement but the representation of the female side is clearly extremely lacking and this, in my view, is not because the right people aren’t available. It’s more about organisers and management overlooking these people,” said Clarke.

Breaking a cycle such as this one can be a difficult task. Festivals like Forbidden Fruit have been going on for a number of years now, typically run by the same promoters, booking agents, stage managers, etc. What they believe to be the right way of doing things, from booking acts to deciding which style of barriers they’re going to use, will undoubtedly be hard to change. However, we are beginning to see conversation take place surrounding the issue. This can only be positive of course.

Last March, the popular Irish music blogger Nialler9 publicly voiced his concern surrounding the lack of female artists booked for Higher Visions, a electronic music festival which took place on St. Patrick’s Day in Bellurgan Park, Co. Louth. He openly tweeted his annoyance towards the festival promoters which in turn led to an open online debate with popular Dublin DJs such as DJ Deece and Kaily getting involved. Some praised the blogger for raising the issue, while others were quick to defend the new festival claiming that it wasn’t a conscious decision.

Recently a local house DJ, Conor Foley, experienced a similar situation when he reiterated Nialler9’s point in the Four/Four music group, an open forum which focuses on Dublin’s nightclub scene, on Facebook. His post wasn’t warmly welcomed and was received with mixed opinions from commenters.

“From my experience, most promoters are aware of the idea of a gender gap. Some choose to not believe it’s due to anything untoward or in their control such as structural sexism and whether that is due to convenience or not we’ll never know,” explained Foley.

“Promoters do have a tough job booking the right lineup at the right price as is and often the equality of the lineup is understandably left til the last thought. A booker for the Red Bull stage at Life festival told me recently that one year he had the lineup locked in for the full weekend and only realised then that he hadn’t included a single female, which he regretted deeply,” he continued.

A similar study was done in the US by Alanna Vagianos of HuffPost where she looked at the gender gap within American music festivals. To quote her, she believes…

“The root of the disconnect between the number of women on stage and the number of women in the crowd may lie partially in the male-dominated subcultures these festivals were founded out of.”

Should Ireland follow this example of ignoring the problem and pretend that everything’s all good? For the future of our incredible music scene, let’s hope not.

By Conor Shields

Access to music education on the rise

In 2016, then Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged to have music education accessible to every young person in Ireland within the next five years. That might have seemed over ambitious to some; or to others, simply another case of the government making more false promises.

However, this claim may be proven to have a strong foundation based on recent data.

Since 2010, the goal to achieve national access to music education for young people has been taken on by Music Generation, Ireland’s national music education programme. In 2010, Music Generation began a six year long project to give as many young people as possible across the country access to free performance music education.

The programme, which is co-funded by the Ireland Funds, U2, the Department of Education and local music partnerships has the ultimate goal of ensuring that every child and young person in Ireland has local access to high-quality music education in the form of learning an instrument. The last three years of this plan have proved particularly successful.

2014 saw 26,000 young people participating in Music Generation programmes, a 25% increase from 2013’s 19,500, with 2015’s 38,000 participants representing a near 32% increase on 2014’s figures.

The successes of 2015 saw 38,000 children and young people participating in 99 different tuition programmes in over 640 different centres across the country.

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Source: musicgeneration.ie

Perhaps what’s most impressive about Music Generation’s figures to date is that the initial projected target of spreading across twelve counties in the country within six years from 2010 was achieved in mid-2014, eighteen months ahead of schedule, representing a 25% improvement on the projected time that this would take.

Below is the initial projected expansion for the organisation over six years which aimed for a steady albeit slow consecutive growth and its actual geographical growth from 2011 to 2014 when the target was achieved, showing a much quicker expansion than what was initially forecast.

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Source: musicgeneration.ie

Commenting on the early achievement of these targets, Aoife Lucey, Communications Manager at Music Generation said: “Successful early-stage implementation of the programme at each phase enabled us to reach those targets ahead of schedule. Throughout the implementation stage each Local Music Education Partnership would have worked closely with partners and stakeholders at all levels, and with the Music Generation National Development Office, to ensure successful implementation.”

As well as providing young people with music education on a national scale, Music Generation has also been responsible for the creation of 350 jobs and employment opportunities for professional musicians and staff alike since its formation.

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Evolution of counties reached, source: musicgeneration.ie

Increased expansion into more areas of the country means increased demand for musicians to teach the local young people in performance music education, be it vocals or instrument tuition.

“Job opportunities are allocated based on local need and context, but the bottom line is that setting up centres in hundreds of areas across the country means that thousands of young people who otherwise would not have access to music tuition can now receive it from the professional musicians hired to give them excellent quality teaching,” said Aoife.

Music Generation has since released their strategic plan for 2017 – 2021, propelled by their success so far. The plan is centered around ensuring the programme’s growth, sustainability and quality and aims to expand into more areas of the country through working with new Music Education partnerships and investing in strengthening the existing infrastructure so that continued performance music tuition can be achieved.

By Killian Dowling

 

“We hope you have enjoyed the show”: Sgt. Pepper at 50

As The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band celebrates its 50th anniversary, Sarah Harford looks at the album’s influence and legacy.

Spoiled for Choice

Sarah Harford takes a listen to the nominees for this year’s Choice Music Prize, and discovers that there’s much more to Ireland’s music scene than what we’re hearing on the radio.

Like our very own version of the prestigious Mercury award, the Choice Music Prize has been recognising the best in Irish talent since it was established in 2005. Previous winners have included Jape, Two Door Cinema Club, and Villagers.

 

Choice Music Prize – Album of the Year 2016
  • All Tvvins – IIVV
  • Bantum – Move
  • Wallis Bird – Home
  • The Divine Comedy – Foreverland
  • Lisa Hannigan – At Swim
  • Katie Kim – Salt
  • James Vincent McMorrow – We Move
  • Overhead The Albatross – Learning to Growl
  • Rusangano Family – Let The Dead Bury The Dead
  • We Cut Corners – The Cadences Of Others

 

This year sees a fantastic, diverse selection of artists nominated which truly represent the wide range of music emerging from the country right now. From the instrumental atmospheric rock of Overhead The Albatross, to Limerick hip-hop group Rusangano Family, and everything in between – this list definitely has the zeitgeist covered.

While some familiar names appear here, such as The Divine Comedy and Lisa Hannigan, many of these artists are perhaps less well known but have been gaining momentum on the Irish live music scene in the last few years.

 

 

All of these acts, with the exception of James Vincent McMorrow who is on tour in Australia, will be performing at the award ceremony on Thursday 9 March at Vicar Street. Choice co-founder David Reid describes the night not just as an award show, but a live music event, highlighting the best new developments in Ireland.

“The Choice Music Prize is an attempt to put a spotlight on Irish music for two and half months,” Reid told The Irish Times. “There is one winner but it is about ten Irish acts.”

It seems clear that the Choice prize aims to do more than just put on a good show. It creates a dialogue about contemporary Irish music, and a real buzz around the acts involved. Many of these musicians and groups have been appearing more in newspapers, magazines, and on the airwaves since the shortlist was announced back in January.

 

 

The winner takes it all

While the awards may be beneficial to the industry and to those nominated, there can only be one winner who will take home the €10,000 prize money.

The Choice Music Prize differs from other ceremonies in that it has a history of choosing unexpected winners. The competition is generally judged on music alone rather than airplay figures or record sales. This means that there have been many surprises over the years, with chart-topping figures such as Bell X1, The Script, and Hozier losing to less-established acts.

The judging panel is typically composed of some of the most authoritative names in music criticism in Ireland, from print, radio, and online media. This year’s judges include RTÉ 2fm’s Dan Hegarty, Colm O’Regan from Hot Press, and Paddy McKenna of Joe.ie.

So who will they choose? It’s impossible to predict, but the short list is packed full of great contenders.

Lisa Hannigan and James Vincent McMorrow have both had a great year, creatively and commercially. At Swim and We Move are both fantastically cohesive sonic departures for these artists, and are the only two albums nominated that reached number one in the Irish charts in 2016. Both musicians have been nominated for the prize before, but neither have been successful.

 

 

But the others cannot be discounted or underestimated. Bantum, Overhead The Albatross, and Rusangano Family are all nominated for interesting and diverse self-released albums, brimming with fresh ideas and musical fusion.

Innovative singer-songwriters Wallis Bird and Katie Kim are also potential contenders, along with alt-rock groups All Tvvins and We Cut Corners.

 

 

The only act on the list who has won previously is The Divine Comedy who scooped up the prize back in 2006. Now the band from Northern Ireland are nominated for their eleventh album.

 

 

Overall there’s a rich selection of textures and ideas across these ten albums. The high calibre of talent is shown by the fact that many big names did not make it onto the short list, such as Bell X1, Lisa O’Neill, and previous winners The Gloaming.

 

 

Popular demand

While the main Choice Music Prize may be an unpredictable affair, the Song of the Year category is based on a public vote. The 2016 shortlist has many familiar names, but still provides a great mix of both new and established acts.

 

Song of the Year 2016
  • The Coronas – ‘What a Love’
  • Hare Squead – ‘If I Ask’
  • Heroes in Hiding – ‘Hospital’
  • Niall Horan – ‘This Town’
  • James Vincent McMorrow – ‘Rising Water’
  • Picture This – ‘Take My Hand’
  • Raglans – ‘Who Knows’
  • Saint Sister – ‘Tin Man’
  • Soulé – ‘Love No More’
  • Walking on Cars – ‘Ship Goes Down’

 

The Song of the Year list leans more to the mainstream in comparison to the principal Choice award, with tracks from Walking on Cars, The Coronas, and the mediocre effort from a post-One Direction Niall Horan. There are still some inspired picks thrown into the mix, however, such as the rising folk-duo Saint Sister, and the electronic soul beats of Soulé.

With one award chosen by the critics, and another by the public, will there be a stark difference between the two winners? Is there a dichotomy between what is good and what is popular?

Personally, I feel that this is an engaging aspect of the competition, which highlights what is both important and relevant in contemporary music in this country.

 

On the radio

This year the Choice Music Prize is being sponsored by RTÉ 2fm. On 1 February the station had an ‘All Irish Music All Day’ event to celebrate the announcement of the award nominations. Since then, there has also been increased airplay for these Irish acts that generally don’t get a look in among the big UK and US artists that dominate the popular airwaves.

However, is this enough? Data from Radiomonitor, published in The Irish Times, reveals that less than 20 percent of the music played on our radio stations in 2016 was Irish.

Interestingly, last year’s Choice Music award winner, Soak, was played only nine times on 2fm in the nine months after she scooped up the trophy.

Other countries such as France and Canada have national quotas in place to ensure that indigenous music is being played and heard. Last December, Labour TD Willie Penrose proposed a similar bill to introduce a 40 percent quota for radio stations in Ireland.

Such concerns are regularly raised to the Dáil, but it doesn’t seem likely that legislation will be passed on this matter any time soon. For a change to occur there needs to be more of an interest and a demand from the general public.

Listening to the nominees for Choice Music Prize 2016, it seems clear that we should be paying more attention to the wealth of music coming from this small island. Don’t believe me? Tune in this Thursday night.

 

Listen to the nominees here

 

 

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Featured image: James Vincent McMorrow by arianta via Flickr