Saturday, 31 October 2015

simon's place

it's the best sort of institution to me... like school or college, this café has been a constant through my entire adult life, even when home has been far away.

i am 15, i first walk through their door with schoolfriend, dave after skipping school and spending the start of the afternoon in the university with college students, smoking weed in a society room on one of the top floors of the 16th century landmark building - i hadn't noticed this portland stone beauty before that afternoon! we went downstairs with a coffee and a cheese sandwich, where i struggled to find the beginning of the cling-wrap - we were going to sit here for hours, there was no rush!

i sit here again, some 20 years later, pull the ends of the cling-wrap and watch the sandwich spin open, before searching the surface of the sandwich for where to begin unwrapping - simon has mastered the simple cheese sandwich, and i still have trouble opening it! i don't eat so many cheese sandwiches these days, but with a side of nostalgia and a chat with the charming staff, i spread mustard on the bread, add some cheese and onion crisps and bite in...

i am 16, visiting the never-ageing white-haired gent across the arcade, getting my nipple pierced with fake id, as only the nipple or the cock would go unseen!
i am 17, adding rum to my coffee.
i am 18, feeling up a goth girl i met at the central bank.
i am 19, and one of the lucky few that got inside to see the frames play a secret filmed gig.
i am 20, changing microphones at a venue up the road at my first "big" gig.
i am 21, on a break between lectures, after finally going to university to study something "proper" in an attempt to take myself more seriously - it didn't work - i'm still a joke!
i am 22, studying in a corner downstairs between soundcheck and show, as regardless of what "serious" is, music is where my home is!
i am 23, having coffee with my lecturer, as i'm on a year away from college and he's cool!
i am 24, missing living here and thinking of coming home to finish college - music didn't work out!
i am 25, and finding my voice as a singer and meeting musicians.
i am 26, studying my ass off in the corner and writing about bach and palladio.
i am 27, sticking up posters for my very own concerts.
i am 28, taking a break from busking.
i am 29, playing songs with ben and kevin at closing time for esther, annie and simon.
i am 30, 31, 32, ... popping in whenever i'm home to shoot the breeze and talk economically of adventure - these people are some of my favorites - i wish i knew them better!
i sit the afternoon away in the window, writing and reading and watching people walk by, with the odd friendly exchange or smile, happy that as dublin closes down around him, simon stays put, washing the cups.

Monday, 28 September 2015

lunar eclipse: viewed from a rooftop in bruxelles, 28th september 2015

at 2h, armed with camera, guitar, cushion, blanket, some candles and a cup of tea, i climb out on to the roof of my home. the night is calm and fresh. i spot the moon sitting brightly above the church on the horizon, set up the camera pointing at it and wrap myself in the blanket. tonight's full moon will be eclipsed in two hours.

i hear voices drift up from the porte de hal, below - the final few steps of a weekend's partying, by the sound of it! as they shout and bang away into the distance, they are replaced by a burst of police sirens and city noise - why so loud at this time of night? i play quietly, all the same, so as not to further disturb the neighbours. i expected to be greeted by a city of people on the rooftops to witness this mornings full lunar eclipse, but i appear to be alone.... the city calms...

the moon has a pale blue hue and a lovely halo surrounding it - well, more of a misty aura than a halo, but it looks heavenly! the sky is clear, except for this light layer of humidity. i play a couple of songs, then take a photo and continue like this until about 3h30, when my neighbour's bedroom lights up. i hear a shuffle and hope to see someone appear at the window - it would be nice to share this moment with someone, not just the thought of an interworld of people, each going at it alone!

i sip my tea, no one arrives... i play another pair of songs!
i'm learning a bunch of old soul songs at the moment, as i finish mixing my band's album - i run around the repertoire... i hear a whoop and applause at the end of "dark end of the street", so i know i am no longer alone.

the moon remains blue, but the aura has gentle specks of red and yellow appearing in its edges.

i go to make a second cup of tea, and when i return, the dark side of the moon is a glowing dark desert brown - a spectacular colour. a small breeze picks up and the sky begins to flash with people taking photos of nature's dance.

the eclipse was announced for 4h11, it is almost 4h. the sky is clear now; the aura is gone... the sun's light is almost entirely absent from the moon's surface, only the refracted desert red remains. a dog barks... the last time i saw an eclipse this clear, was the solar eclipse of 1999: i travelled to the boglands outside edinburgh. for that event, the world went entirely dark at around 11am and all the animals responded in chorus - this lunar eclipse is almost mute!

a light cloud builds once again around the moon, cradling it as its blue hue returns... the first of the mornings airplanes and the urban sirensong fill the sky. my eyes are heavy now, and the fingernail clipping has grown too bright for my camera to capture so i collect my belongings and make for bed. i meet my house-mate getting up to watch the end of the eclipse and the rise of the dawn as i retire to dream.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


i love taking off in airplanes! watching the landscape reveal itself in more and more dimensions initially, before reducing itself to only two as we gain altitude.

today, as we take off in zurich, i watch the forest descend and reveal turquoise melt-water rivers rushing and meandering through glaciated valleys; lakes so clean that you can jump in them naked and drink her colour up; snow-capped peaks - shining and melting, feeding the rivers in this july heat.

i travel today with the scent of an edelweiss plant, gifted me by the wonderful people at kulturfestival, where we played a concert last night, in the courtyard of an ethnology museum in st. gallen. i'm not sure how well this alpine rock plant will survive in the bruxelles climate - i'll figure it out... maybe i should water it with ice!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

where are the audience?

each summer, especially in ireland, i notice less and less people attend the summer festivals. this summer, one festival that i was meant to play at got cancelled due, in no small part, to low ticket sales.

where have all the people gone?

i think the simple answer is that they are hiding behind ticket prices. furthermore, i imagine that those who do put their hand in their pocket and go along, are shocked out of future festivals by the 7-euro sandwich, the 6-euro beer and similar.

so i guess the question should be: why are festivals, and the amenities provided at them, getting so expensive? especially in a climate where festival-goers have less and less money themselves.

i began to piece together an answer this summer as i read about the amounts of money that certain bands demand and the shrinking amounts of funding and sponsoring available to organisers.

what can we do to try and reverse this?

firstly, why should any band's festival performance cost upwards of 500,000-euros before expenses (and i feel i am being extremely generous with this amount - a tenth of this should be largely adequate)?

a knock-on effect of these astronomical costs is that the pool-of-fees remaining for all other acts is reduced significantly. this means that the acts who agree to play, either take quite a blow to their fee or, if some of the medium acts don't take that blow, the smaller acts will most likely not be paid anything at all. also, it can lead to line-ups that are mostly pants!

with my own independent projects in which i am singer and bandleader, floatinghome ( and lord altmont ( i constantly find myself in situations where i can't pay the musicians adequately (myself included, of course).

i would love to see a situation where festivals stop geographically blocking bands and instead work together with local programmers to ensure diversity in the festivals. i would love, also, to see a situation where bands charge honest fees for the case presented (i understand that it can happen that a band need be flown in). i feel that this would in turn reduce ticket-prices, allowing festival-goers to go to more festivals, so no-one looses out - bands play more shows (and we love to play) - festival-organisers can realise their dream festival - bookers and programmers see better crowds at the shows - festival-goers have a more diverse selection of events to attend, and can afford to attend several and not just a single festival each year.


secondly, why should vendors need to sell their wares at such insane prices?

i presume that the cost of permission to sell at these events must also be increasing, but if heineken sponsored the event, does it really cost them so much to justify selling their beer at such exploded prices? and for other non-sponsor vendors, i presume the price of their license has been driven up by many of the other points raised in this article.

i know we can find more honest companies with better work-ethic and better selection to offer festival-goers! in this magical new age of the return of the small-scale crafts-people there are so many quality options that are not more expensive than the current big distributors rates. if we start working together with them, everything will grow cheaper as we grow together... if a small business can predict demand for their product, they can increase efficiency, reduce cost and adjust the scale of production accordingly. this helps remove spikes in demand, thus increasing the consistency and quality of the product, creating more regular employment, and hence making new festival-goers - everyone wins!


thirdly, what can we do to get by in a time when sponsorships are reduced?

i have recently been talking to friends who work in the domain, and i learned that some of the smaller festivals find themselves with a page full of sponsors just to pay the acts, before any other costs are considered. i guess, also, that if ticket sales are down, certain less-important things get overlooked and the festival experience becomes less comfortable.

there are so many festivals popping up around the country and some of them appear to be working in competition with each other. i feel this to be counter-productive. there could be the same number of festivals with reduced costs and they could all be really nice, if they were to work together... there is no point in suing a festival because their name and vibe is similar to yours, give them a shout and see can you work together to reduce costs. rent the gear together to get a better price or hire caterers and security for several events at the same time (again, they will be better able to predict demand for their service and will be therefore more efficient); maybe one of the festivals have gear that they own that they could share with the other, and vice-versa, so both could avoid the astronomical rental price on a backstage tent, or the second stage monitor desk...

festivals could work together to increase ticket sales: for example, persuade the audience of one to attend the other (i am aware that one inevitably happens before the other, but i am talking about a longer-term plan than a single festival summer); a reduced ticket price if tickets to both are bought at the same time; a shuttle from the site of one to the other, so transport need not be such a problem (i am assuming here, of course, that the dates of the festivals are not the same). maybe, a mention on the timetable of the other, even a discount coupon.

lets try to keep festival-goers going to festivals!