Isn't it amazing how we can't see the change of all the seasons in one day? All these gradual things are generally more obvious when you return to them after being away. Thats why the old saying is true, "a break is as good as a rest ".
The last two blog posts I put up have been pretty much where I have shifted my focus to. I'm trying to cleanse myself of any tardiness or laziness I might have had in order to become much more productive. Some of our favourite Artists on our playlists have this needy restlessness that drives them to your ears from thousands of miles away. I'm looking for a slice of that work ethic by keeping busy with the right things whilst keeping the old John Wooden phrase in mind "never mistake activity for achievement". And its not all about music either its about being a bit more useful person, yano?
You might have seen I'm a featured Artist at this years Irish Folk Expo in Dundalk. I was there last year and it was a real learning curve to see so many people at the same stage as I am - doing the same things. Maybe thats where I'll start gigging again and looking around for decent opportunities. At the very least I will enjoy the company of other Artists for a few days and take in alot of performances.
"Showing Roots" will be in Dundalk, Ireland from 15th to 21st January 2024.
Most of us have this little window. It's a time in our lives when we can literally do anything. As we get older the window can change. All these little things get bigger.
You get a good job?
Window gets a little smaller if you never wanna leave. Golden handcuffs?
A beautiful window opens whilst another one shrinks as you accept responsibility.
Lots of money?
Maybe you can "au pair" your responsibilities away and both windows stay open for both partners. Or perhaps you can give up the day job!
Forgiving partner who shares your dreams?
Maybe you can Love someone even more as they take the heavier load in family life for you.
You got time?
Maybe your parents are elderly or you have a disabled family member. Time, above all, is the most precious thing we have. Everybodies window gets smaller with time.
I talk about all this stuff because I'm not sure what windows are open where at the moment for a myriad of reasons. Every time I think about the next thing to do I'm really muddled in my thoughts, theres a fog over me. The only thing I know I can do is just play the songs, do the gigs and meet the people. The social media thing has become a bit too much effort for me to really put the foot down at. I think its because I can feel a change coming in how we use all these mediums and building a following that can't be found anywhere else outside of an APP feels so futile.
Anyway, if your window is open just go for it. Don't care about the No's and the Maybe's... just go for it!!
There is a quality you can see in every successful person. And the quality is relentless drive. In music, at times, I just don't know how people keep the drive going. After two years of promoting Welcome to Ballsgrove I am not ashamed to say that I'm now spent and I just want to go out gigging and remember why I do it!
A case in point was a wonderful gig in Belfast last Friday in Sunflower Folk Club. Myself and SJ Mcardle travelled up the motorway with a bit of trepidation but there was no need as we were treated to a wonderful audience in a wonderful venue. I digress.
Back to this relentless drive thing. So I contacted several Booking Agents in Ireland all of whom say they have no room in their rosters. Charming. Somehow though it feels like I'm a handful of advocates away from the phone ringing. Nothing to do with music, only friends and vouching. Same for any decent PR with a proven track record in the genre... No space in the roster. Thats not to say I think its all about contacts because I know it isn't. It's about always looking as if you have something happening and its very difficult without that relentless drive you see in top indie musicians.
So apart from music, I occasionally want to share the ugly side of self promotion. Like hundreds of other musicians, I'm in a crowded place where a bit of luck and a hint of hustle or a young and hungry representative can change things forever. Its not a case of "if I can just get this" or "if i could find out how to do this" its more important to simply be busy. And at the moment I am out of steam from a long Album campaign.
If you are reading and wondering why I decide to moan about this then I should say I like to write things down in order to map my mind on a matter. It helps. If you all don't hear from me for a while you will know why.
There were times I thought Welcome to Ballsgrove (WTB) would never be finished. The success of the project on the radio airwaves, at the launch night and the support of the people who took part in it has shut up many people. WTB is in many respects an artistic manifesto. These tired arms at last landed the punch.
I find it amazing how a boxer or an inter county GAA player gets a pass for hours a week when completely committed to a goal. Yet when its art of any kind we are somehow seen as a lifesize Peter Pan. That struggle is something every artist goes through. Believe me when I tell you, its fucking painful. We get ridiculed by people who dont understand or support us. And the same people come up and shake our hands when it goes well for us. Its just nuts.
There was no hurry to release WTB apart from the deep feeling that the songs and the documentary captured the pandemic, a time of great change and pain in my life - this chapter had to be closed for a new one to begin.
Below are the track notes and a full thank you list which I couldn't have printed on the album due to the turnaround on a larger booklet being 6 weeks longer and we were out of time for the launch!
01: Welcome to Ballsgrove The Bonfire event in Ballsgrove at Halloween was one of the things that has never stopped in Ballsgrove for 50 + years. A lad jumped in front of me while I was driving home from work one day. He had a trolley with tires in it. I almost hit him! The memories of looking for tyres 20 years before that came back to me. Instead of being annoyed I started laughing and I took the turn into Ballsgrove on the way home. That evening I went home and wrote the song.
02: Turns and Tolls - featuring Róisín Ward Morrow (to be released 28th October 2022) This song gives away my Rock DNA and shows off Breifne’s arranging style with the talents of the wonderful Róisín Ward Morrow on fiddle.
03: Spencer the Rover ( trad .arr ) The thoughts of a man realising the most important thing in the world fused me to the song and lends itself to the importance of family and home in Ballsgrove.
04: Our Jack - featuring Aaron Fahy "We'll pretend that we don't want more" - Our Jack is written from the perspective of a parent in Ballsgrove looking forward to their only son leaving to find his own home. There’s a whole generation of working class people who can't afford to live where they grew up. It's wrong. This song is from the parent’s perspective and how they stay positive even when they are in this difficult situation. Special thanks to Aaron Fahy for his drumming and home studio facilities to cut this track and to Andrea Delaney who appears on backing vocals here.
05: The Hope that Hope will give - featuring Andrea Delaney "Keep the faith and don't stop" - And when I think about neighbours my mind goes back to Ballsgrove. The saying "keep the faith '' is a funny one to me. Some people think of Bon Jovi or Religion! I think of someone with a crumpled up bookie's docket in their hand after their horse has lost. Or people who's Sunday league team lost in the cup on penalties. It’s genuine. Andrea Delaney made this song special by having so much input on the choice of harmonies and vocal arrangement. Thanks Andrea.
06: Cradle of Love "and on the river bank, forgotten the rivers name" - Seamus Heaney - St Kevin and the Blackbird. The joy of children is transient. And precious. This song, inspired by the poem, celebrates the sacrifices we all make when we become parents.
07: We are all Charlatans A song about acceptance that I have worked on for a long time. I want to dedicate it to a dear friend who passed away during the oppressive years of COVID-19.
08: The Commuter’s Song (Part Two) It always felt like The Commuter’s Song from my first album Dreaming is Allowed was unresolved in both its story and in its context. Most of my friends don’t work in Drogheda. Growing up in Ballsgrove, I can’t remember anyone who commuted daily to Dublin City. That has all changed in this day and age.
Seán Mathews - 12 string guitar, M4 dulcimer, octave mandolin
Breifne Holohan - fretted instruments, keyboards, percussion and programming
Andrea Delaney - backing vocals
Róisín Ward Morrow - fiddle
Aaron Fahy - drums
All music and lyrics by Seán Mathews*
Arrangements by Breifne Holohan & Seán Mathews
Produced & Recorded by Breifne Holohan
Mastered by Ben Rawlins
Recorded on location at Gerrard’s Church, Drogheda, Co Louth between 2020 and 2021.
*except Track 6 Cradle of Love with Breifne Holohan and Track 3 Spencer the Rover (trad arr)
I want to thank my daughters Ava and Erin for continuing to inspire and amaze me at every opportunity. Breifne Holohan, you were the core of everything in this project. We spent long evenings during lockdown writing, preparing, talking - and drinking! I’ve been spoiled with your positivity and zest for creating. That’s the way you do it. Thank you, brother. There were many dark hours in the past couple of years and the people involved at Droichead Arts Centre; Colette Farrell, SJ McCardle, Ciara Corrigan and Rita McQuillan - nurtured this project through those hours providing a Bursary and a creative space. Create Louth also funded this project acknowledging my commitment to it with crucial funding in the final stages. Magnificient support. I’ll never forget it. Thank you.
Special thanks must go to Michael O’Reilly from Gerrard’s Church. Michael allowed us into the church to record this album over many many days and he placed his trust in us. We are forever grateful for your support of the Arts in Drogheda, Michael. To Andrea Delaney and Róisín Ward Morrow, thanks for your talents on this album and for your great humour and advice.To Gerry Simpson, thank you for your time and words of wisdom to us whipper snappers. Aaron Fahy & Shane O’Brien, thanks for the great chats, your interest, your enthusiasm, and most of all sick grooves! To Seán Conway, for a short time in 2019, Seán mentored my performance. Seán had jaw dropping musical talent, well worded honesty and eclectic creative methods that I was drawn to. He had a massive impact on my approach to this album. RIP Seán.
When my Granny and Grandad moved into Ballsgrove in 1964, the world was a different place. When my Mam and Dad moved into their own house in Ballsgrove in 1984 the world was even more different. I’m very proud to have grown up in Ballsgrove. The work ethic of our neighbours passed through us. Parents suffered - Kids thrived - but they all moved and prospered together!
When I started playing music none of my friends in Ballsgrove played music. I took myself off to other houses all over Drogheda to begin making friends and writing music. Often I wondered if I ever belonged anywhere. Welcome to Ballsgrove made me realise that I have always belonged. For the next generation, for every young child who grows up in Ballsgrove, always be proud of who you are wherever you go. At the end of the day everybody makes it up as they go along. You can be who you want to be. We are all Charlatans. Dreamers. Chancers. Some are just better at hiding it than others!
To Seán Collins, your interest in people is inspiring a chara, there is a belly aching book of your funny stories waiting to be written. Thanks for being a source of Historical reference on the project. Conor McGuinness, a special thanks to you for all your video work and editing. You made it easy, amigo. Liadan Holohan, thanks for your well thought advice on the Documentary editing. Thanks to Craig Reay, the bravest drone driver in Ireland! Jolene Matthews, your graphic design has been the backbone of everything I have ever published, thank you so much. To Kelan Molloy, thanks for helping me make it up as I go along and going along with it! Your photography has been magnificent. Thanks to Paddy McQuillan, who not only took part in the documentary but who’s networking helped provide so many great still images from Ballsgrove for the documentary. Special thanks to Tony Brady who provided the image that the great Rodney Thornton painted for the cover.
Thanks Dom WIlton for having us in bits laughing when you took part in the Documentary. Same for Petrina Finn, thanks for allowing us into your home and feeding us and then giving us great stories for the documentary. Declan Nipper Garry, your wit coloured in everything for this Documentary. Thank you. Anthony Buck Martin, my godfather, thank you for being the personal link to the documentary. Thank you for sharing so many great memories with me and for being a part of my childhood.
Finally I want to thank my family and friends. You gave and gave. You kept me together. Welcome to Ballsgrove has been a personal project. The concept was to capture how life was in a small estate in Ireland’s largest town. The border sensibilities, the history, the identity. Drogheda is not just a commuter town. Drogheda was the envy of every aspiring blue collar town in Ireland in the 1970s. Somehow, someone, somewhere decided to transform Drogheda into a Service town. And this brought the headlines, depravity, confusion, lack of community led policy. The work ethic of the people in Ballsgrove completely contradicts the notion that public housing has created a generation of people who don’t want to work. The net contribution of Ballsgrove as a rent to buy scheme - in tax paying citizens - is astonishing. And it could be again - if only TD’s were brave enough to heavily tax owning a second home.
When my Granny and Grandad moved into Ballsgrove in 1964, the world was a different place. When my Mam and Dad moved into their own house in Ballsgrove in 1984 the world was even more different. I’m very proud to have grown up in Ballsgrove. The work ethic of my neighbours passed through us. Parents suffered. Kids thrived, moved and prospered.
When I started playing music none of my friends in Ballsgrove played music. I took myself off to other houses all over Drogheda to begin making friends and writing music. Often I wondered if I ever belonged anywhere. Welcome to Ballsgrove has transformed me to accept that I always belonged. For the next generation, for every young child who grows up in Ballsgrove, always be proud of who you are wherever you go. At the end of the day everybody makes it up as they go along. You can be who you want to be. We are all Charlatans. We are all dreamers. We are all chancers. Some are just better at hiding it than others!
Enjoy the album and Documentary,
With the Fleadh now opened in Mullingar this week, I must say - never underestimate your environment! When I say that I mean, what do we really like? Isn't it more likely that we get into something because we are surrounded by it and grow a liking to it? In my case, rekindle a love for it. This is what happened for me when the Fleadh Cheoil came to Drogheda. Something about going to the Singers Club there made me realise that you can perform a song in any way you desire. And therein is a joy of not feeling like a parrot when a song makes its way into your repertoire. Once I had decided to join the Drogheda Singers, the bug was back. The Fleadh Cheoil can safely put me under the wing of its legacy in Drogheda.
Throughout the whole time I was inactive from 2014 - 2018, I was always writing songs, working the muscle! For the 2019 Fleadh I had decided to stop playing GAA to concentrate on making an Album to launch there. The first group of songs were a group of songs about the Boyne. Songs like "The coming of Connla", "The Guard at Mornington Tower", "Hell than Drogheda" and "Beautiful Boann" were on the list in December 2018. Then another group of songs came along when I began to use DADGAD tuning. In February 2019, I bought a 12 string guitar. With the exception of Beautiful Boann, this is when Dreaming is Allowed came to be written.
Convincing Breifne Holohan to take on a project for the Fleadh wasn't straightforward. First, I had measured up recording with people I had recorded with before. But none of those people had recorded a Folk Album or had a liking for the Genre. Then a chance meeting with Breifne happened at a mutual friends Birthday and I convinced Breifne to listen to the material I had written. Soon after we were hand picking the songs. Then we chose to record in Millmount because I lived practically next door to it and the acoustics were astounding in it.
The Old Drogheda Society run the whole Millmount complex in Drogheda. They are a Historical Society who are much in favour of the arts. They were delighted to allow us to record in Millmount. We began recording in April 2019. Dreaming is Allowed was recorded in three sessions in Millmount and most of the Guitar / Vocals were done live in a few takes. The Album comes out that way and for the purpose of grabbing a natural snapshot of that time, I am still thrilled with it.
In the months that followed the launch of Dreaming is Allowed there was a wider acceptance of it that couldn't have been any more humbling. Creatively, it sparked off a flurry of energy that has not faded up to now. Sometimes getting something out and the fear that comes with it is a demon you need to dance with. Yes, Dreaming is Allowed isn't slick. Yes, Dreaming is Allowed fires a quick jab with the Commuter Song. Yes, Dreaming is Allowed isn't a polished gem. Only, I am living with it because it was much better than Carte Blanche, a bit better than a series of youtube videos and a lot better than sitting on songs for years without ever believing in myself. Go an listen to it for yourself. Listen for the reverberation of the Tower, the rawness in the phrasing and lyrics, the jangle of the 12 string! For it will soon be followed up with something lightyears more calculated in "Welcome to Ballsgrove" (out on 27th August ! ) .
Friends, there is a risk of appearing unprofessional in speaking about this. But I really must. My youtube channel has been Hijacked! An English DJ who shares my name, who is too small to have his socials managed, has decided to ignore my messages and the fact that his published music is being tagged on my youtube channel. Youtube have an Artist separation request from me for a long time. No joy yet!
Reasons I am not a D J !
- I don't own a set of decks
- I dont know the difference between trance and dance
Several things explain how this happened. The first is that in the sub genres of Trance music there are a lot of Labels who handle the publishing side of things for Artists. These Labels can have hundreds of Artists on their rosters and they have a very robust system of maximising reach on multiple platforms. So it is difficult for even the Artist to get things like this sorted - which is understandeable. But hey, the Artists still get plenty of plays!!
So firstly along the lines of my last blog post, if you have the opportunity to let people know I'm not a DJ and the whole "Label" thing please do!
And secondly, please keep your eyes peeled the next few days - something nice coming!
For some artists it is easy to be involved in the art of self promotion. For others there is always a level of discomfort when it comes to it. For myself I tend to like the idea of everything happening organically - but the thing is - it doesn't!
If I had a euro for every band who has a member starting sentences with "she's well in there with", "he has a contact in", "if we could all pay for X". What I have learned is that although there is alot of turn key knowledge, ease of access and privilege for some Music Artists in Ireland, if they don't put the work in they stay at the level they were dropped at.
The shameless self promotion cap is a strange cap to wear. I'm about to release my second album"Welcome to Ballsgrove", a concept Album made from the point of view as if I never left my childhood neighbourhood. Something I worry about is how people will view that lens. Only, at this point, I have to focus a little bit less energy on that because I'm not fuppin Mystic Meg, you know?! It is what it is now!
However I can say with absolute certainty that if I don't work hard making sure everybody in my network can find the Album and listen to it then it WILL be a bumbling failure. And with that in mind every little thing you do - from reading this to sharing the next few weeks with me - is going to count.
The lights coming .... :)
Something special happened in Drogheda on St Patricks Day this year. Drogheda Festivals Committee organised a St Patricks Day parade that resurrected the experience people had when they went to the Parade years ago. During the Drogheda Fleadh in 2018 I got to talk to a well known Sean-nós singer from Wexford who said "My God didn't Drogheda hide West Street well. It is by far the finest promenade I have ever seen and I have been at every Fleadh since 1956". Did they hide it again? No they didn't! West Street shone again thanks to the Drogheda Festivals committee.
With every committee in every area in the world there is always a time for turnover, renewal and for new ideas. And for every committee there is always a time when things are really ticking over nicely, like how St Nicholas GAA club took on innovative fund raising during the pandemic. St Patricks Day was a signal from a group of people showing they are ready to dedicate themselves to enriching their hometown. I've said it in many blog posts before, no matter where you are - Culture is your greatest currency.
I was honoured that "Days of our Prime" from my debut Album, "Dreaming is Allowed" featured on the highlights video for the parade. You can see the video from the link below:
You don't send a plumber to wire a house. You don't send a GP to perform Surgery. You don't call a Nobel Laureate an idiot for burning their toast.
This is where part 3 of "I have no talent" takes us. For a long time I have seen people who are miserable because they didn't achieve their potential. These people shouldn't be miserable. They made the best with the chances they got in life. I remember a business owner once spoke to me about how limited his capacity for writing and reading was. And how he left school young. I said it didn't matter. Because he had a PhD in people.
So what is talent that was never used? Hustle. Graft. Finding a way. Goal setting. Discipline. Some people cling to what went against them. But the ones who thrive are those who realised a long time ago that everybody has something they can do better than the next person. And I don't mean things like building a house. I mean the capacity to understand things. Like some people are mechanical, some are strategic lateral risk based thinkers, some are ergonomic, some can construct dialogue well like good salesmen for example.
Maybe my "talent" is to drill into things. And all that really is is a sum of my experiences. I can flesh things out laterally. It’s a habit I have used to marry my scientific and musical backgrounds. To some that makes me pedantic and contrarian. Also, because every possibility is considered in this context - it can make me a bit paranoid too. I am less compliant in doing things with an A, B, C format. For an operations manager in a large company I would fit the bill as a problem solver. As someone who finds solutions hiding in plain sight. Like how a song can form out of fresh air after hearing just two notes that go well together. Lateral thinking has its place in the world.
The fixation on measuring someone on the 1 out of 100 things they get wrong is born out of the bitterness many feel who have never reached their potential. There is no thought for the 99 other things. This is why Ireland was obsessed with Education for a generation. Why we always had to travel abroad to realise our dreams. In the words of Aslan, “everybody hits you, everybody knocks you down”.
I hope I live to see the day our children don’t enter a race for a middle class pensionable civil service job or a degree. Where we pay no attention to the haves and the have nots. And where we stop being obsessed with property.
One day Talent will not be seen as a god given thing but a product of our environment to be nourished like anything else in the world. And as society attempts to pigeon hole the next generation, remember Talent is only a small piece of the capacity to achieve your goals.
PS - I managed to avoid that silly Einstein meme about a fish climbing a tree because he never said it ! (or the definition of Insanity thing!)
I remember a History teacher once saying 20% of our class were more intelligent than him. I remember thinking had he lost his mind? Is he being sarcastic? Who can be more intelligent than the teacher? I remember handing in a decent honours mock exam (GCSC A Level or SAT) to that teacher and saying “I want to do a lower level. Because I'm afraid the wrong questions will come up”. The teacher said “you are limiting yourself, you are well able for it, but ok…”.
The Teacher was 100% in what he said. See, the school system taught us to believe that the teacher was always right, always more intelligent and always got full attention and respect.
Now for another situation. Picture a girl growing up in a poor suburb of Toronto. Her promise to achieve what she is capable of depends on many things. Will her parents provide her with a steady moral foundation? Will her parents sustain her with good food and good habits? Will her neighbours cause peace or unrest? When her confidence is tested when she is asked to smoke a joint out on the street will she have the confidence to say NO THANKS? All of this feeds into whether or not her talent will be realised. School is a piece in the puzzle. But ultimately it comes down to everything else around her.
I have no talent. I had White Privileges. I got handed a good moral compass by my parents. I had the chance to become educated. I took that before I pursued music part time after setting my career on the right path.
I believe there are different types of intelligence. I believe that the arrogance the world once had is beginning to fade. Talent is a tiny part of somebodies ability. Talent doesn't matter as much as you think. It is hardly needed. Its a bit of good fortune.
More on this in part three…..