The beginning of 2021 was tough. Although I didn't publicly talk about it until now, I lost my last grandparent in the middle of the January Lockdown. Sheila was my Dad's Mam. She used to mind us when both my parents worked in the early 1990s. My Mother worked in Drogheda's "rag trade" in Ushers in Greenhills, making things like Golf Towels and Tea Towels in the trade that Drogheda's most prolific songwriter, John Shiels, had worked in over 130 years ago.
Most of my formative years were with "Granny across the Green", as we called her. It was across the Green because we all lived in Ballsgrove. Anybody who has seen Ballsgrove's Green would know that all 8 acres of it seemed like a considerable distance to young 4-year-old legs! And in a funny spin back to Sheils, my Granny originally came from Mell and she too worked in the Rag Trade in her youth. Sheila could well have been the "nice little neat little factory maid" that Shiels wrote about in his song "The Factory Maid". We miss her dearly.
Despite all the January Lockdown gloom and the loss of a loved one, there was a song that held firm. It's no wonder that "The Hope that Hope will give" came your way. The song was intended to be a charge of Hope looking at better days. Andrea Delaney from Anúna reallly owned the song.
Since the release of the song a few people have asked "what does the hope that hope will give even mean?". Well it's a bit like being at a party. Imagine everyone in the room waited for everyone else to say hello. It would be a weird party wouldn't it? Hope can be taken that way. If we start with a bit and share it with somebody else we can get the ball rolling and then its not too long until it rolls back!
Welcome to Ballsgrove has been a pivot point for many memories. The title single was like all the planets aligning in a way. You all got it, and that was a thrill. In the same session as that title track, we laid down most of the other songs. Not alot has seen the light of day yet. There are loads of reasons for this. Not being able to travel freely was a drag. And so was getting people free on the days when everybody else was free! See, I work weekends. And have committed to minding my twin girls for most of the weekdays. So I am on those funny Soccer Mom hours!
Consequently, simple things didn't happen as they should have, partially because of my work commitments and partially because of travel restrictions. Despite all that, we are getting there!
As for when the Album will be out, the plot has thickened a little bit! There will now be a short documentary to accompany the Album. We have already had three amazing people take part in interviews. More are planned. The first day of filming suddenly made the Album and Documentary a work of great substance. It will mean the Album will have to wait a little while longer. I can't wait to share everything when its finished.
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I remember my first Drogheda United match in the 1990s. I went with a couple of school friends. Then from the stands, the chant ' he's fat, he's round, he bounces off the ground Seán Mathews, Seán Mathews! " rang out. My friends had a good laugh. I looked myself over and thought, "really?".
For a moment, I thought my friends had set it up. You see, there were a few of us Sean Matthews lads. First, my parents' Insurance Broker, Seán P Matthews. Then there was a pal of my Dads at the office, aka the local pub. And then that night, I learned of a third Seán, a Drogheda United stalwart who alongside me was taking a bit of slack that evening in United Park!
It was a funny old world back then without Google or Mobile Phones. You learned these things slowly.
Then there was a Seán Mathews that was related to me. It took us a few months working together to realise this! He was a Clogherhead man and belonged to the same clan of Mathews as my Fathers Grandparents had who lived on the Big Strand in Clogherhead. They all used one T in Mathews as far as I know. So I reclaimed that. Funny Story. So this Seán Mathews had found out I was going out to sea on a 10 day trip for the first time. He said, "don't worry young sham, you'll be grand, make sure you eat plenty, you'll be feeding the seagulls as soon as you turn out the pier! '. In fairness... He was nearly right !
In the musical world, I share my name with a popular DJ. This Seán Mathews has a large following and some high-quality material. He is also verified on Facebook and ranks higher than me in any search online. It seems I am overshadowed. But am I?
I have recently made an effort always to spell my name with an Irish fada. Seán. In the past, I didn't use a síneadh fada. I didn't like how the Irish Language was taught to me in school. So you could say I rebelled a bit, and I dropped it.
I was always a Seán because I pronounced the fada, I didn't say "See an". I've realised I was wrong not using the fada all along despite what I thought of my teachers. "Shawn", "Shaun" or "Shon" are all pronounced in the same way, but those spellings support the pronunciation in English. Mine doesn't work without a fada, so it's essential!
The Irish Government has drafted legislation to solidify the fada in legal documents, computer keyboards and IT systems. With this, I believe some distinction will be more visible, at least in Ireland.
So there's hundreds in the Seán Mathews club anyway.... maybe more? Get in touch ! Are you one?
I could have been born a John Smith. Millions of me in the world. Fortunately, I'm not. Luckily there aren't too many Folk Musicians in Ireland called Seán Mathews with albums called Dreaming is Allowed and songs like Welcome to Ballsgrove. I can live with it. Do I think I am the next Declan O'Rourke? Not me, not ever. Commercial acclaim for me is like going into the Newsagents and doing the lotto. You think about winning it, but you think more about getting 4 or 5 numbers because it is much more possible. Grand. Keep calm and tip on.
If you are reading this far, you are a part of a small thing. You will take the time to find me and my next single or album. And if you want to help me out, tell a friend about me. Torture them with my tunes. And oh yeah, use the fada!
If you are another Seán Mathews reading this, I feel your pain but remember there is enough room in the bed for everyone!
Talk again soon,
I can't stop listening to 'Penguin Eggs' by Nic Jones. The whole album flew over my head over the years. About a year ago, in the space of a few weeks, a load of Artists just clicked with me. Townes Van Zandt, Jon Prine, Gordon Bok, Blaze Foley, Chris Wood, Show of Hands and the absolutely incredible Nic Jones have made the past year an enjoyable one as a music lover.
On long walks with the girls (see photo to the left) I get completely immersed in this beautiful music. The delicate cuts of vocal timing, tone and tempo all skimming their way over everything I have ever heard. When you hear "that" album you never know when something great comes again. And then it comes. And all the zest is back. And all this music has already been made! What a time to be alive. All of this material available at a touch.
New music has come too. Yaron Pe’er, Lankum, Kris Drever, Xyloris White, Zohar Fresco, A lazarus soul, David Keenan, Matt McGinn, Daibhidh Stiubhard and even Declan O’Rourkes latest album have all haunted my brain.
And local music has busted through as well. Kern have continued to create hand warming music. Paddy Goodwin had a fantastic single called ‘Harvey’. Jim McHugh is making foot stomping rock music that I really like. The Mary Wallopers are cleverly placing themselves for success with a big soul and a small care for people who ask them if they are still at the music. Jinx Lennon is still deflecting his reflection as the cool Uncle of Urban Folk by creating even better music every time he puts something out.
Everything is fantastic, kids. It’s a great time to be alive!
Culture: Drogheda's strongest currency
"You'll be some pup when your tail grows!" - Old Irish Anecdote.
In a way, I muse about Drogheda as if it was a person. So much promise stunted by policy and politics. Culture is an unstoppable driver, though. So let me share reasons why this old pup's tail is growing!
It finally hit Drogheda in the past three years. There are new places like Epik, The Coffee Box, West Gate Coffee, and Ariosa when you want a coffee in an Independently run business. The emerging quarter around the Mathews Bus Stop at the Fairgreen is promising - a space to watch.
Because most of the more prominent traders in Drogheda moved out to the M1 retail parks, the whole town dynamic has changed. There is now ample parking for friends to meet up for food and coffee. There are too many restaurants to mention now - the rising tide has lifted the boats in this regard. When things open up, go try somewhere new. You will be pleasantly surprised.
In preparation for the Fleadh Cheoil, a lot of money was spent on getting the riverside lit up around St Dominics Park. The result is a bustling park atmosphere to be proud of. It's no longer a handful of dog owners and winos on the benches. All ages and ethnicities are drawn to the park. The Skate Park within the park is possibly the most significant Cultural change the area has ever had. The result is a safety that skaters feel in numbers. So a whole scene happening in front of us there. The playground attracts families. The path to Oldbridge House attracts everyone from competitive runners to people strolling with a coffee from Town!
Sometimes you can be so close to something that you see every minor imperfection. Look at the wood in the slideshow pictures above this blog post. I want to use this as a way to describe how you could create your own culture.
Up close, we see imperfection. It's confusing and frustrating. Where do you start? A little bit further away, things appear more uniform and smooth. Less imperfect. A little stronger. As the wood is combined together in a fence, it gets substantial, uniform, and far-reaching. Appearing together is the core of every good scene in every area, like those skaters in the park! Maybe then the Bandstand in St Dominics Park will be built with enthusiasm. In Louth, there is an opportunity. I'm open to helping any musician out there in whatever way I can. Because building fences is worthwhile, even if you will never reap the benefits.
There are 3 government-supported hubs in Drogheda. The Droichead Arts Centre, Barlow House, and The Highlanes. Year after year, they stoke the curiosity of the Town's residents. Is the curiosity net wide enough? It will always be - so long as we build enough fences! Drogheda is blessed to have these facilities. Art and Theatre have a strong base in Drogheda with lots of success stories. Keep your eyes peeled for those Programmes, especially Droichead Art Centre's Traditional Music Weekend.
Drogheda United is a reasonable force. They are back in the Irish Premier Division. In Inchicore in Dublin, St. Patricks Athletic has seen an uplift in grassroots supporters. Alongside this, the local brewery, Rascals Brewing Co, has seen an uplift in business on Match Days. What I see is the seeds of a robust and long-standing idea being sown yet again. Support local means, support local. I expect Drogheda United to grow as a club organically if the Culture in Drogheda is nourished. Would a song for the stands from a local fan be welcome? Of course! So why not a Craft beer?
Dundalk Culture (yes, Dundalk Culture!)
Dundalk, ever Drogheda's rival, is the best example of a town that supports local producers. To drink Harp Lager and smoke Carrolls Cigarettes meant you would "smoke the town, drink the town." Harp Lager, Mcardle's Ale, and Carrolls Cigarettes are no longer produced in Dundalk. But the culture of Local support is embedded. And people from the top to the bottom of the social ladder in Dundalk still smoke the Town and drink the Town. The success of Dundalk FC is built on supporting locals, just like they do now in St Pats in Dublin.
Everything is more bespoke today. From cakes and Balloons at a party down to the little ribbons around a present. So when you see Wholey Cow milk in Dromiskin or potatoes from Ballymakenny Farm, you see a price tag that's, as we say in Drogheda, "a bit dearer." So the phrase "a bit dearer" is accurate. But is it just dearer in a precious sort of a way? Because it supports a community, the one you live in. This is why I like buying a roll in Hurley Brothers. It has nothing exclusive or expensive about it. But it's the support you can see.
Of course, more expensive doesn't mean better. But it can mean more trade, more jobs, and more business feeding a more diverse net culture. We can all be sure that thinking this way would create a cultural transformation in Drogheda really quickly!
Culture is currency
So off we go. We read this and think, "it has nothing to do with Sean's music." Well, maybe not right now. Just keep building those fences. Eventually, they will pave the road forward.
All the best,
Taken from Dreaming is Allowed, my debut album, The Commuters Song has been a polarising song for reasons that I understand and acknowledge with respect.
It seems like now is the right time to talk about the song in the context I intended it.
A couple of years ago I remember doing an interview for Irish Music Magazine. Seán Laffey (from the Magazine) called me up and we spoke for almost an hour about a varying degree of things! Then Seán mentioned the Fado Musicians in Lisbon. These Musicians were early European songsters who wrote Urban Folk songs about their world, their city. A sad fact about these musicians and this genre is that the Touristification of Lisbon has gotten so huge that most of the musicians now have to be BUSSED IN to play their gigs to the Tourists in the City. The Fado identity is being changed by poor policy decisions in Lisbon.
Above: Fado Sculptures in Lisbon, where Female Fado singers do most or all of the singing
Back to Dublin. And to Drogheda. When we fly into Dublin Airport we are struck by the green fields of Fingal, the area North of Dublin Airport. How beautiful it is. Has anybody wondered why Ashbourne, Rathoath, Drogheda, Laytown and Bettystown have thousands of homes with no amenities built around them? When there is practically no development in places like The Naul and Balrothery? There are some big additions like Balbriggan / Millfield and Rush / Lusk - all are close to the Railway lines. All are good for the commuter. There are reasons for this. But that’s a whole different can of worms I won’t open here!
Ultimately it was our Government who decided how to develop Dublin during our last great housing boom from 2003-07. People like O’Donnell, the character in The Commuter Song, ended up having the unique opportunity to buy back his rented house from Dublin Corporation for a really good price. People like O’Donnell then sold their houses on the private market for up to 100% more than what they paid for the house originally - because they wanted a bigger home with all the mod cons. But the bigger home came with a catch. It was miles away. Just like the Fado musicians, they traded off the local knowhow, the friendly faces and the childhood haunts for a new Town and a bigger house.
How many families in Glasnevin or the now gentrified Stoneybatter hold all their identity and their childhood memories there? How many reluctantly traded it off for a move to another Town? That's what the song is about. It’s about the Irony of convenience. I felt it was the downside of Dreaming being Allowed as a statement. There always seems to be a price on things.
Drogheda's property inflation has affected my life. And it has affected all my friends who I grew up with and friends who I played GAA with. If I moved to Dundalk for example, I would pay about 60,000 euro less for a modest three bedroom home.
So when I ask O’Donnell, “are the hours on the road worth your big Semi - D?", I am saying to people who move to Drogheda - move and be a part of the community. Move and take an interest in Regional Town life. Move and tell your children they were born in and are from Drogheda like Jim Gavin's Co Clare parents did when he went on to play for and manage Dublins Football team to unrivalled success in the GAA. Move to and spend your money in Drogheda. Move here and increase the value of life here. Create your own Culture around you. The price isn't so high when you do those things. Christ, why do you think I call what I do Urban Folk? I'm writing about things that are actually happening in my town, Welcoming you to Ballsgrove on my next album as well! Move if you want all those things. Thousands of you did. Thousands of you didn't. O'Donnell is one who didn't... but there is a sequel to The Commuter Song... and it's coming soon to you!
PS - on the subject, look up the Instagram page “Crazy house Prices”. This profile is run by a Dublin couple with an amazing attitude. They want to remain in Dublin. And they want to highlight the lunacy of the Dublin Market. David McWilliams (Irelands most renown Economist) had them on his podcast a few weeks ago and they really won me over. Go Follow them!
All the best,
The Guardians article on the Fado musicians
The Commuter Song!
Over the past three months nearly a dozen people have asked me about my live streaming setup. So I am going to talk to you about my journey and hope it helps yours.
Live streaming is a minefield. It’s all we have at the moment. And it’s dependent on technology. To help with live streaming I did this little online course in it. The course was useful but it was clever too because it kind of sold an unachievable dream. Ireland hasn’t got a culture of tipping musicians. Nor has the UK. Monetizing a live stream is really difficult without making it an exclusive ticketed link. So don't worry about this unless you are Jim in Lanzorote playing "Grace" for Margaret in Youghal or something to that effect! My experience is from doing live streams to find more people who are interested in my Original music. and some Cover songs
So what could i do? Well firstly I asked around for help. The first person to help me was Uilleann piper Darragh O Heiligh. Darragh gave me a loan of a Zoom H6 portable recorder and interface. There are a few things this allows. It can be used as an external mike on a smartphone. It also has a built in compressor or limiter depending on what you need. All of my best live streams with Breifne were with an SM57, Rode NT1 and the stereo mikes on the Zoom H6, ALL of these location streams were on 4G (I use Wifi at home).
Tips for streaming with 4G or 5G:
I’ve seen government funded venues and arts centres, a few savvy graduate bands and well backed label acts pre-recording live streams professionally and then interacting with fans as they play them live. Some have even managed to do it with a 2 minute delay which is amazing and I would love to take part in something like that. The kind of equipment you need for this are:
How’s your week going? Have you got enough Lockdown time to catch up on things? This week’s post is about the interviews I had with Blarney Pilgrims Podcast host Darren O’Mahony last year.
The Blarney Pilgrims Podcast is worth taking in. The Episodes contain some of the best Irish Traditional Musicians from all over the world.
Darren and I spent our youth in the South Side of Drogheda. We know the same people and went to the same schools. Darren is a few years older than me. And you can say our trails of youth were very simliar! Even our sense of humour has a lot of shared context from growing up in the same place. So it was easy to get going during the interviews.
Before the interview I wasn’t familiar with the Blarney Pilgrims Podcast. Darren had asked me mid-album launch during a 5 gig long crazy Fleadh weekend in 2019. I agreed because I was good friends with some of his friends! This made for an interesting chat between us! The link to our chats are HERE.
Listening to Blarney Pilgrims Podcast has given me an unwaivering sense of ease when it comes to fitting into the sphere of Folk Music. In a way, We are all Charlatans. This whole subject of fitting in is so inherent in us as humans I believe. And during the writing for my upcoming album Welcome to Ballsgrove I wrote a song about this that didn’t make the final track list. It is called “We are all Charlatans”.
We are all Charlatans (Unreleased Original Song)
If your daddy was post man, would ye folly in his footsteps?
If your mother was a housewife, should ye folly in her footsteps?
This is your life here's the book, should you pick it up or drop it?
Commit or escape, For the art or the profit?
This path was not walked by lonely man,
Ideas they are shared with your fellow man,
You belong here… We are all Charlatans…
If the trades in your family, would you folly in their footsteps?
Or if they never built anything, should you folly in their footsteps?
Keep er lit man keep er lit, Every spirit is worth mixing,
If you were never born anything, Should you feel like something’s missing?...
If they put two hands in the fire, would ye folly in their footsteps?
If the truth proved them a liar, should ye folly in their footsteps?
Would ye just do it do it do it do it… Follow the blind logic?..
Should we resist the change, Embrace the condition,
Keep er lit man keep er lit….
Every spirit is worth mixing… Every Spirit is worth mixing.
Most days when I'm not working on or preparing for night shifts I wake at 7.30am or earlier. I would like to say I practice my transcendental meditation and do my Prahma Yoga stretches after a swim in the cold Irish Sea. But I don’t! I’ve learned slowly to be disciplined in a simple way.
I wake early, change nappies, prepare breakfast for twin baby girls and then I check in with social media and emails.
I’m simple. And my world is simple. The only difference between me and the next lad who is mad at the world is my mindset. And goals to drive my purpose. You can look at things and say “I can’t even go to the gym / pub / social club”. And I could look at things and say “I’m changing nappies and working and being a Dad and I don’t have time for anything else”. But I find the time. I drive myself into figuring out how the fuck I will promote my music in during a gig famine.
Where am I going with this? What about you? You can’t get out and do what you normally do at the moment, can you?
I remember talking to a Logotherapist who explained how mindset is important in crisis situations. With simple anecdotes he was able to explain this to me. Here are two anecdotes I really like.
Sports and Military philosophies are bubbling to the top during feckin COVID. In Sport, like GAA for example, you operate under restricted boundaries. Things happen beyond your control. Sometimes things happen in the GAA that are completely unjust. Controlling the reaction of any group to anything revolves around mindset. The Military is the same - imagine war for example. Is there time to dwell? The Military has made mindset an integral part of their training - the US Navy Seals for example.
So you. Are you feeling like this COVID shite won’t end? Like you aren’t connected to your friends anymore? Like you just can’t make something happen?
You have goals that you have always wanted to achieve. Or a bucket list! Don’t let money control it. Control the controllable! You can still draw up that list. You can still imagine what it’s like in that new place. You can still learn that beautiful language. Those 4 or 5 things will come clear to you in amongst the 1 thing that is wrong.
If in a few months I’m playing a gig somewhere and someone says “i looked up Logotherapy man”, I would end up talking to them all night. I like to talk about meaningful shite.
Set your goals and write a bit of a journal and carry on. Be simple. Simple is how we are meant to be lads and lassies.
GO. GO. And find those 4 or 5 things you can get right in amongst all these shitty virus driven wrongs. And get in touch if you are in a cul de sac. There's always a way brothers and sisters.
Therein is the hope that hope will give.
All the best,
When it comes to songwriting I started off writing Rock Songs. As a band called ‘Mediator’ we were best known for our song “Away from Here” which reached the finals of the 2FM Song Contest where we played to a sold out crowd in Vicar St. We didn’t win though. My voice cracked during the high part of the song during the last rehearsal which was recorded for the judges to decide the winner before the crowd got there. I was devastated. It was the greatest lesson of all to start singing songs closer to a key that suits me and - most of all - to prepare my voice properly before I sing high. If you want a laugh look at the videos below this blog post.
There’s a point you get to in life where you realise you aren’t going to change too fast. Usually at that point you start to know your weaknesses. We know ourselves enough to avoid our weaknesses. Musically speaking, a weakness I avoid is dwelling heavily on a piece of writing or a recording. There is this middle ground where the song lives. Where the essence of the song exists. And then there’s all the fluffy bits. Fluffy bits can be important. But not as important as the essence. So here’s what I tend to do:
Write the song -> Record a little demo -> Leave the song alone for a week
Go back to the song and gauge the mood of it -> Tweak it a little bit
Leave the song alone for another few days -> Decide where the song fits in.
Plenty of times this has gone out the window. I have gotten carried away in the moment by what was influencing and driving the song. Then the song ends up being shared on social media when it shouldn't have ended up there. And that has been a weakness I have tried to avoid. It’s at points like this where it is crucial to get some mentoring. Admittedly, I have lacked any guidance in my songwriting life. So I have ended up learning the hard way when a song's message is mixed up or if a song did not reach its potential.
This brings me to ‘Holy Hole’, the song I shared with you all this week. I considered many things before sharing the song. But the overriding thing was that the essence of the song felt appropriately timed. Lots of music artists hold back at this point and say “I have to get to the studio and wait til I get such and such to play strings on this and then we’ll do that”…Usually by then the fluffy bits take over. Videos. Press Releases. Promotion. Production. Mastering.
Sometimes the importance of an issue and raising awareness takes a front seat over impressing your peers with Fluffy bits. With “Holy Hole” this was the way I was thinking. I didn’t want to moan and share some quotes on Social Media. I wanted to share my bloody song because it says what I want to through music.
The Church and the State have so much to answer for. The victims are getting older and older. And they need to know what exactly went on over their heads. This HAS to come out.
For posterity alone, let’s say I momentarily give in to my weakness of over analysing ‘Holy Hole’, what does the song say?
“While the Taoiseach and TD’s they kneeled down for Mass, Our babies slept under the grass”
A green area with a small grotto was the only remains of the County Home in Tuam. Under the green area is a mass grave that still hasn’t been fully excavated. What I called a Holy Hole. Learning about this grave appeared to be the beginning of Catherine Corliss’ realisation that there was wrongdoing in Tuam. And from records in the 40s and 50s there appears to be enough evidence to show that the State was aware of the conditions in the County Home.
“While the Emperors Bath sits in the Vatican state”
Nero’s bath in the Vatican is an artifact that is not of ecclesiastical significance. It is estimated to be worth over 2 billion euro. It is an example of the type of Wealth the Church had acquired from the Roman Empire yet they ran these Homes in Ireland more or less at the expense of the State. They supplied cheap labour on all fronts from the people in the Laundries to the Nuns in Charge. The Church never purges it’s wealth but expects worshippers to do this. Is this so they can buy their way to Heaven?
“Children are wanted by American friends, Ordered by mail and the money was sent”
100’s of children in the mother and Baby homes were adopted by Middle Class American families. How many? We don’t know. How much money was received by the Church after the plane fare? We don’t know. We know most of the families meant well. But does that mean the truth shouldnt be out there? No. They shouldn't be allowed to bury this.
Everything I said was with careful consideration and respect. And through sheer human nature I can’t but be pleased when the song hits a note with somebody. This leaves me open to criticism and I accept that. I’m brave enough to put up with a few arseholes. No problem.
Have a nice weekend,
NOTE: I want to apologize at this point because I say “Orphans” in the song where I should have said “Children”. Because it was well known that the Orphans were treated slightly better than the kids of fallen Mothers.