New interviews

A couple of recent interviews:

Dublin Blog

and from this month’s Hot Press:

Scares Apparent Who said trad music was for fogeys and whiskery aul’ fellas? SPOOK OF THE THIRTEENTH LOCK draw on old-timey Irish sounds whilst also referencing prog and nu-gaze WORDS: Valerie Flynn

Irish bands can often find themselves damned if they do and damned if they don’t – don’t sound Irish, that is. For every jumped up music fan/critic who will sniff at slick outfits like The Script and Republic of Loose for sounding ‘too American’, there’s someone else who’ll snigger the second a banjo or accordian is produced on stage.

The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock frontman Allen Blighe has given a lot of thought to the problems of teaming a banjo with electric guitar.

“Whenever the term “Celtic Rock” is used, it’s usually a bad sign”, he muses. “The thing about the whole rock-trad fusion is that it’s a very dangerous thing to do. It’s a very thin line - it can descend into cheese or cliché. It’s something very few people have done successfully”.

The Spook’s own efforts deserve to be successful. Their excellent self-titled debut album is rocky and experimental enough not to sound remotely diddly-eye. The opening track, ‘The Hare’ is a good example of what they’re about – a catchy banjo riff and folksy lyrics for about two and a half minutes and then, out of nowhere, crashing distorted guitars and a scream-along chorus. Elsewhere there are generous doses of laptop-generated weirdness. It might not be every music junkie’s cup of chai, but if you like Horslips you’d probably adore it.

The band are: drummer Brian O’Higgins, guitarist Donnchadh Hoey, bassist Enda Bates and Allen himself on banjo, guitar and vocals. They’ve been playing together for four years, but have been in other Dublin bands previously (they’re all in their early 30s). Allen used to be in rock/alt country outfit Holy Ghost Fathers.

“That band ran out of steam about four years ago, so I started trying to do something different”, explains Allen. “At the time, I was listening to a load of Irish folk. It’s something I really felt no-one was listening to in the circles I was in. I’m really into irish history, so a lot of it would be taking the style of the Irish folk ballad and trying to get a twist on it. I’d also be a big fan of Nick Cave. There’s an opportunity to get a darker touch to that tradition”.

The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock are interesting in that they overlap between certain elements of the rock music they like – particularly stuff like My Bloody Valentine – and aspects of trad.

Says Blighe: “If you listen to a lot of trad and folk, it’s chiefly based around the one root note. We’d listen to a lot of alternative guitar music, or whatever you want to call it. Drone rock, drone metal, shoegazing, that type of thing. So we saw an opportunity for a bit of fusion there”.

He adds: “A lot of the contemporary rock bands that I’d listen to would definitely be influenced by American or UK sounds. That’d be their benchmark or Year Zero for music. And it’s a shame because there’s so much great stuff in this country that has a lot of the same elements: the great harmonies, the complicated playing, the hooks. And yet people ignore it. Maybe people need to have that moment where they happen to discover that music [trad] in the right context to hear it in the right way”.

If you’re wondering about the band’s name, it’s the title of a poem by Arthur Griffith (founder of Sinn Féin, executed for his part in the 1916 rising).

“I wouldn’t see anything ultra-nationalist in it”, says Allen. “I suppose you could say that it’s a shame that in a lot of contemporary Irish politics, the idea of looking at Irish identity in any medium can be very uncomfortable. Irish people can be highly critical of themselves. What would be nice would be to depoliticise that kind of music and be able to look, in an interesting way, at Irish history without being self-conscious or embarrassed”.