On the road again - Leg 1 (The Ring of Ireland)
In the weeks leading up to our current 3 month long tour, most of my time was spent sifting through melodies, chords, lyrics and fragmented ideas for new material. I originally allocated the week prior to our departure to Ireland (where the first leg of our tour was) for the sole intention of practicing new songs and subsequent new sets however, plans were severely hit when I came down with a killer bug leaving me pretty weak, useless and bed ridden. This meant cramming in a week’s worth of preparation into the final few days.
By the time we got to Liverpool for our overnight ferry to Dublin, we were already very sleep deprived and were looking forward to laying our heads down in a cabin. That was until we realised an overnight cabin would put us £60 out of pocket. Suddenly the thought of constructing a makeshift sleeping area within the bar / lounge area of the boat became far more inviting despite knowing we would struggle yet again to get any more meaningful shut-eye.
The first gig of our Irish run was at The Spirit Store in Dundalk. The Spirit Store is an amazing venue located on a small quay with a large room upstairs for ticketed events, and a small but dedicated music area within the main bar downstairs.
The main hall was hosting comedian Des Bishop. My set kicked off downstairs in sync with when his show finished in order to try and contain a few punters and the trick seemed to work a touch.
Prior to me playing, I was supported by a really talented local singer / songwriter called Tommy McGovern who had a real youthful energy about him, a raw but controlled vocal and a great set of guitar skills reminiscent of a jangly John Martyn.
After not playing a proper gig for over a month, I was feeling the nerves a bit prior to strumming my first notes but fell right back into the swing of things soon after. It helped in that I was playing to an attentive audience and it was great to finally play a good 4 or 5 songs worth of new material live for the first time.
The Spirit Store also really looked after us with pints of Guinness as well as offering us the option of crashing in their upstairs apartment which essentially meant a proper bed and shower. We slept like never before, waking up at around lunch time the next day.
The following morning we headed down to Navan, returning to a venue in Ireland that really captured our hearts during our previous run of gigs in the country.
The Foundry will always be remembered in my mind as the first venue in Ireland to truly welcome and look after us so it was nice being back again to see some familiar faces.
We then journeyed on to a place called Greystones after learning it had a campervan friendly carpark only 15 mins away from our upcoming gig in Bray the day after.
We were blessed to have arrived in glorious sunshine, parking up in a space that overlooked the beach.
Greystones for the next 24 hours seemed to have been experiencing some sort of weird winter heatwave; so much so that I even managed to muster up a swim in the Irish sea although it only lasted about 3 minutes; the point at which my feet started to go numb. None the less, it was therapy for the soul and I was glad to get a wash.
When we did end up getting to Bray we were completely blown away by the venue that night. The Harbour Bar has to be one of the most impressive drinking establishments we have ever set foot in and you could do an entire pub crawl within its many different rooms without actually having to leave the place. There’s also an amazing ‘fish bar’ (that also caters well to us veggie folk) and serves up a far higher standard of food than what you’d come to expect from its understated title and illuminated sign.
And then you have the music venue. A purpose-built stage, proper PA, lighting rig, great atmosphere and more; It really is too good to be true. Despite it being a Sunday night, my set seemed to go down well enough and we managed to shift a few CDs which helped our cause. It was a good though slightly uncomfortable experience being back on a ‘proper’ stage again after all those years with my last band.
We finished the night off in the company of some really kind and friendly people (most of whom actually worked at ‘The Harbour Bar’) topping off a brilliant two days in the area.
Our next stop was in Waterford to play a small and dark pub with loads of atmosphere called ‘An Uisce Beatha.’ As can so often happen, Katie spent most of the night having to cater to an old drunk guy, pretending to understand his slurring let alone his increasingly incomprehensible accent. Sometimes I’m really not sure who has to work harder when it comes to gig time. I get praise when things go well, but she’s the true champion in all of this.
After the pub locked up, we spent the after hours hanging out with some great people including a couple of other musicians who were clearly supremely talented and gifted.
We set off the next morning with little more than a four hour kip and took to the coastal road to refresh ourselves. Ireland is abundant with some of the most stunning scenery on the planet and it makes having a camper van a real blessing.
After spending the afternoon catching up with some work, we used the evening to chill out and watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see for ages - ‘Birdman.’ Both our minds were blown.
5 gigs in 5 days followed starting at a bar in a hostel in Cork. The gig was set up by a really talented singer/songwriter called Míde Houlihan whose album of delicately crafted songs brought a welcome change to the usual stuff in our van. The gig was a fairly quiet one, however, the night will be remembered more for the awful sleep we had, which says a lot considering it already had some tough competition to begin with. Opting to sleep in a dorm at the hostel (showers are gold dust) we struggled to shut the window to keep out the ongoing wailing noises of Storm Doris outside. Once the winds finally died down, the noise was replaced by the sound of someone throwing out glass bottles into the street outside for about an hour. Then as Cork started to wake up - heavy traffic. But the most disruptive part of the night was when one of the guests in the room got out of his bunk and took well over another gruelling hour getting ready for his day, grunting and snorting his way through the process.
Killarney followed and though the gig was a bit of a struggle at times, it was here we sold the most CDs on the tour. I also got given my first gift since we started touring. A pair of new socks is a proper treat for anyone on the road.
Sligo took us a good 5 hours to get to from Killarney and we arrived to find out I’d been sandwiched in as a support act for an American band called ‘August Wells’ at a venue called ‘Tricky’s McGarrigles’. ‘August Wells’ set was made up of really understated yet hard hitting songs and I learnt a lot watching them in this intimate but professional venue.
‘Tricky’, the man himself, was an absolute gent and offered us a couch at his place for a quieter and warmer night’s sleep than what we would have had, had we stayed in the van parked on a main street. Not only did Tricky run an awesome pub / music venue, he also has one of the most impressive travelling CVs and is the owner of two of the biggest dogs we’ve ever seen. An all round dude.
Derry was next on the gig list and we took a little spontaneous detour to get there stopping off at Glencar Waterfall for lunch and marvelling yet again at the great Irish outdoors.
The gig that night was at The Grand Central Bar and was a place we were really looking forward to returning to after making friends with so many great people on our previous visit back in November. Anyone with just an acoustic guitar in their hand will know that it can be pretty tough to grab everyone’s attention in a busy Irish pub on a Saturday night but I reckon I got there towards the end. We were just so grateful to be back in such good company.
Much like our last tour of Ireland, we finished up in Portadown at ‘Tin House Coffee’ and again it was nice to see some returning faces. The gig itself was pretty relaxed and was a nice way to wind down the first few weeks of our latest adventure.
We finished the night in a church carpark with a few drinks reminiscing on the gigs, slices of pizza and lack of sleep we’d consumed over the last 12 days during our perfectly plotted 'ring of Ireland' tour.
Not every gig I played will be remembered for the rest of my life but at this early stage of the game I am just super grateful to be given the opportunities to improve myself by playing live regularly whilst just about scratching a living together. That coupled with constantly meeting or hanging out with so many great people leaves us with few complaints.
I return back to the Emerald Isle in October supporting Europe’s best Pearl Jam tribute band - ‘Pearl Jem.’ Nigel Connell, a superb solo singer and musician in his own right, kindly offered me the opportunity to play two support slots at the Dublin Academy and the Belfast Empire after we had a jam last year in Navan. I’m a MASSIVE Pearl Jam fan anyway so I’m already super excited to return and hope these gigs will help me form yet another tour on an island I seem to have developed a giant crush on.
Next up, we play a bunch of gigs around England before we head back out to mainland Europe again to continue building on the profile of the project further afield.
Hope to see you at a gig sometime,
P.S. - Here are some of the great musicians I’ve met / come across in Ireland and well worth checking out (names are hyperlinked to their sites):
Nigel Connell: Well known for his versatile and captivating vocal, Nigel fronts a successful Pearl Jam tribute band (which is no easy feat) and was a recent finalist on 'The Voice.' Plays live regularly in County Meath!
Mide Houlihan: Based in Cork, has a really well produced album for those that are into their understated melodies, personal lyrics and endearing vocals.
August Wells: Supported these guys in Sligo. From New York, August Wells are a duet consisting of guitar/vocs and piano who play carefully crafted, intelligent songs that explore some of the darker corners of the mind.