Sonny Casey – “People’s reactions to my music here made me feel like this was the right place for me to be”.

Sonny Casey is an Irish songwriter residing in Berlin, who releases her new EP, Phoebe, next Friday the 26th of November. Sonny plays her first headline show show tonight at Prachtwerk, Neukölln. Doors from 19:30, show at 20:00 (ticket link at end of interview). Sonny took some time out beforehand to talk about her journey and the new EP.

Sonny, great to chat to you! Tell us, we hear you’re from Galway?

Hi! Great to chat to you too! Yeah, so I’m from Connemara, a beautiful but lonely place along the Ocean, about a forty minute drive from Galway city. 

So did you used to hit up Shop Street in Galway busking?

When I was sixteen I started jumping on the bus to the city and busking on Shop Street. There I discovered this magical world of wandering free spirits, independent artists and travelling musicians. I started busking every moment I could get, going to open mics, playing small gigs. This whole world of freedom and music just opened up to me. Inspired by that and having already travelled around Ireland busking, I quit my college course at nineteen and flew to Edinburgh to begin busking and travelling my way around Europe.

Inspiring! How is the busking scene in Berlin in comparison?

In Galway the busking scene feels like a family. All the buskers know each other and play with each other and if a new busker appears in town, they’re soon welcomed into the community. Most days you can’t walk down the main street without meeting other buskers or musicians. 

There’s definitely a busking scene in Berlin too, it can just take a bit longer to feel like a part of it. Because the city’s so huge, all the spots are spread out so often you can go a whole day of busking without meeting other buskers. Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one doing it, which can feel a bit isolating but can also be beneficial because you’re more likely to be noticed.

I’ve met some lovely buskers here though and most people react really positively to street music. And because it is a lot less common than back home, it feels like people sometimes appreciate it more here because they’re not expecting to hear you.

Your music has taken you throughout Europe – why stop so in Berlin?

That’s actually thanks to Katie O’ Connor, a fellow busker and singer-songwriter from Galway!  She took me under her wing in 2019 and I opened for her shows around Europe. We came to Berlin somewhere along the way and because she used to live and busk here she showed me all the best places to play.

The first time I walked out of Warschauer strasse station, the sun was setting orange and purple, silhouetting two street musicians in front of me. I felt this tingling energy in the air. I remember feeling something that no other place had made me feel before. 

During my travels around Europe, I kept coming back to Berlin. I’d busk all over the city and go to all the open mics. People’s reactions to my music here made me feel like this was the right place for me to be. It felt like a lot was happening, musical opportunities were coming my way and I also just felt this sense of independence, freedom and this buzz of possibility that just drew me in and made me move here. 

What can we expect tonight from your first headline show tonight?

I can’t wait. I’m also terrified. Nothing scares me yet thrills me more than being on stage. I feel like I’m ready to have my own show now though. I’ve grown a lot over the past few years and have slowly started believing in myself. I’ve put so much time and energy into this EP and I’ve been busking and performing these songs for so long I feel like they deserve some sort of a stage and send off into the world! 

I’ve been rehearsing with a band of four musicians, so it’s also going to be my first time playing a show with a band. I’ll be joined by another guest musician and an amazing singer-songwriter called Fedbo will open the night. 

I just want to create a night where everyone feels connected and moved, in a cosy, safe intimate space where we can all feel things and release them.

Your show stealing performance of Danny Boy on ARD won you a lot of fans here in Germany. How did that come about? 

Yeah I’m very grateful for that opportunity! It was someone I’d met at an open mic called Dan Eckhart who put me in touch with his friend who was looking for an Irish singer-songwriter for the show. I actually didn’t realise at the time that it was for such a big tv station! I’m glad I didn’t know though, otherwise I would have been even more nervous…

You avoided the pit traps of cliché and gave that song a real personal feel. This aspect of feeling personal runs through your own music. But how do you tackle a cover like that, to get that insight almost? 

It’s funny because I didn’t want my roommates to hear me practising that song as I really wasn’t sure of it. I went out looking for quiet parks with no people around and ended up rehearsing it in the freezing cold of Winter in Hasenheide park. When it got too cold outside I shut myself inside my wardrobe in my bedroom and tried to practise it there. 


I listened to all the covers I could find online but none of them really struck me, except for Sinead O’Connor’s acapella version but there was no way I could sing it like that. I realised I’d have to just make it my own so I just played it in a way that I knew worked with my voice. 

I’ve always just loved this song and felt connected to it. I remember being a child and watching a sad movie, at some point ‘Danny Boy’ started playing and I started crying without really understanding why. I think when you sing a song that’s not yours you really have to put yourself and your own life into the words and the story and the meaning otherwise it doesn’t feel real and other people will feel that too. Like you have to believe every word as though you’d written it yourself. 

I also feel like songs are a way to say the things that couldn’t be said otherwise, a way of communicating. When I was singing it for ARD, I suddenly started thinking of a family member who passed away before I was born. For some reason it reminded me of the stories I’d heard about him and it felt like this was a way for me to speak to him, so that’s who I found myself singing it to.

A Saving Grace, for example, feels extremely personal. Is it thus a conscious decision to bare all or (in this case) rather to bring light to the toxicity of abusive relationships? 

I don’t think I’m able to write without baring it all! I write songs in my diary so often there’s no line between my lyrics and personal diary entries. 

It definitely wasn’t a conscious decision at all to write about that though. I think if it had been, I wouldn’t have been able to write about it. At the time I actually had no idea what I was going through, I just knew that what I was feeling felt wrong and overwhelming and I had to get it out of me. I just wrote with those feelings, without thinking. 

In hindsight I realised I’d been writing with that inner voice that I’d been silencing for too long. And as time passed and I healed and processed things I realised the song was describing an unhealthy, toxic relationship that the song itself had helped me escape from. 

And congrats on the release of the new EP – Phoebe. Tell us about the title.

For some inexplicable reason ‘Phoebe’ is a synonym for five. There’re five songs on the EP so I thought it was fitting. When I discovered Phoebe also means ‘pure’, ‘bright’ and ‘the moon personified’, it felt like it was meant to be. 

The Moon finds her way into a lot of my lyrics. I like thinking of her as this higher power and energy source that can move us creatively, so calling this EP ‘Phoebe’ felt like I was honouring that. Also it’s taken me over a year to finish this and it’s been a tough, challenging process, so I liked how ‘Phoebe’ personifies it and makes me feel like I’ve given birth to something. 

artwork Sonny Casey ©

How did you come to work with Tom Osander? And what did he bring to the EP?

That’s all thanks to Christian, the owner of Barbobu in Friedrichain. He heard me playing the open mic there and sent Tomo my music. 

He brought magic to it. He’s completely connected to the vibe and feeling and knows exactly how to add to the songs without adding too much. I feel comfortable and safe playing with him which is so important. He’s also just a lovely, hilarious human so rehearsing with him is always great craic! 

I have to ask about the artwork for Phoebe, again such a striking image – how involved are you in the creation of the artwork and videos? 

Haha, that image was actually the lino print I made for my leaving cert art project five years ago! When I was making it for my exam I remember thinking that I’d have to use it as an album cover in the future otherwise it’d feel like wasted time.

I’d completely forgotten about the image until I was trying to come up with something for the cover a few months ago, I kept drawing this woman and I realised I was trying to recreate the image I’d made for my leaving cert so I thought ‘sure why not use that?’

I enjoy being involved with the imagery side of things. I feel like music, especially lyrics, and images go hand in hand, like each one inspires the other. Sometimes when I’m painting, words will pop into my head and often when I’m writing I’ll start drawing around the words. 

With my first music video ‘A Saving Grace’ it felt like I got a glimpse into the endless possibilities there are for joining music and images. I sort of took a step back in the directing process with that though as I was unsure of myself, but after that experience I realised it’s something I definitely want to explore more in the future.

I made the lyric video for my second single ‘A Thousand Setting Suns’ myself, because for me the words are the most important part of that song and also because I had a pretty non-existent budget for it! 

Directed & Produced by Francis Rogers

Finally, what’s next? Any Irish shows planned or back on German telly?

I’ve sort of done things backwards in the way that I’ve been performing these songs for years and now the record is finally out. So apart from the release show, I’m not really planning on gigging nor touring to promote it.

Now I have a whole bunch of new songs written and they feel so much closer to me than the ones from ‘Phoebe’, both emotionally and stylistically. So my goal now is to jump back into the music side of things. I want to continue writing and recording new songs and to take everything I’ve learnt with this EP release and move onwards and upwards from it. I’d love to plan some Irish shows in the future though and German telly can have me back whenever they want!

Tickets for Sonny’s show this evening at Prachtwerk in NeuKölln can be grabbed here and head over to Sonny’s Bandcamp to order yourself a copy of the new EP, Phoebe, released next Friday.

Waiting for the sun – Psychic Healing with Sun Tarot

Whatever your experiences of the last few, surreal months have been, you have probably used at least some of the time for self-reflection. Who are we? How are we to navigate the uncertainties of our current global predicament?

There are myriad solutions: Booze? Not sustainable. Religion? Well, perhaps – Bible sales have been on the up over the last few months, and according to various studies, there has been a spike in religiosity in the US. Yoga and meditation? There’s been a spike in meditation apps such as Headspace, with and more people trying to sharpen their mindfulness at home. 

Then there’s psychic healing. Pandemic panic has also seen a surge in demand for Astrologers, Tarot Readers and Energy Healers as a means of assuaging uncertainty and stress, and Lára Philips, through her Berlin-based enterprise Sun Tarot, offers Tarot reading and channelling sessions to her clients as a way of navigating the vicissitudes of their knotty existences. 

Sun Tarot is in some ways a perfect example of Irish culture in Berlin, with Lára bringing a life-long interest in Irish traditions of folklore and pagan beliefs to a receptive audience in Germany’s famously open-minded capital. As someone coming with no knowledge of Tarot reading, I am fascinated, and over an enjoyable hour on Zoom, I take a writerly inquisitiveness in why Tarot has been enjoying such a surge of interest of late, how it translates to an online format, and how psychic healing can potentially benefit our lives.

© Cleo Wächter

What is Tarot

For the uninitiated, the practice of Tarot reading is still a relatively new form of divination. The cards used in a Tarot pack can be traced back to the late fourteenth century, initially used for parlour games in Italy and France. These beautifully drawn cards, similar to modern playing cards in that they use four suits, only started to become imbued with an occult resonance from the sixteenth and seventeenth century onwards, effectively becoming a channel for various ancient beliefs, taking elements from the Kabbalah, astrology, alchemy and hermetic philosophy. 

What’s the fundamental goal of Tarot in today’s world? “Tarot can be our own private and personal detective, uncovering the inner workings of our own mind. Imagine an experience that enables you to gain insight about your past, present or future,” writes Lára, enticingly. 

All of this is achieved with a Tarot pack consisting of 78 cards divided into two categories: the minor arcana, and the major arcana, featuring trump cards such as The Emperor, The Fool, Death, and of course The Sun, the trump card after which Sun Tarot is named. I wonder why The Sun has so much significance: “The Sun is the luckiest trump card, and the best card you can get,” Lára tells me.  “Ultimately, I always hope the readings leave you with a hopeful, sunny outcome.”

Lára definitely exudes sunny enthusiasm and approachability in our Zoom call. Some might even say she even comes across as strikingly “normal” in the sense that she’s not dressed in crystals and beads like a caricatured mystic. This is very much a deliberate choice: “I wanted to make my readings practical because Tarot is very practical. I wanted to take the magical look out of it and go with something that people know…I try to make the reading as normal possible in order to not freak people out!”

Far more important to Lára than the visual element of Tarot is a sincere belief that it can inspire positive change: “I’ve always tried to relate to the person I’m speaking to – I try to make people really comfortable and convey the messages in a way that they are always with a sense of hope that things can be solved.” Some Tarot readers, Lára tells me, are in the business for the wrong reasons.  If done badly, “you have the power to wreck someone’s life.” 

The goal for Lára is not to hoodwink her clients with doom-laden theatricality, but rather to offer herself as a vessel for Spirit to give guidance. “My hope is that the readings are a catalyst for change. During the sessions I relay information that rests in your subconscious mind, the important topics spirit wants to bring to the light for you. The session should leave you feeling confident to activate this change in your life and believe in yourself.”

The Reading

Tarot readings have longed been featured in cinema, often with theatrical focus on the scarier cards. I recently watched Agnè Varda’s brilliant Cléo from 5 to 7, which opens with its titular heroine having a Tarot reading, only to be shown a number of ominous cards, including Death. Cléo is waiting on news as to whether or not she has a grievous illness, and the psychic does nothing to assuage her fears. I wonder how, in the real world, all these cards – Death, The Devil, The Hanged Man, The Tower tally with the positive message of Sun Tarot.

“The Death card doesn’t mean anyone is going to die – I instantly translate it to what it really means in the readings: transformation. The Tower card means everything has to fall apart – but things are moving. The Devil card equals negative toxic energy and attachments.” 

Despite this reassurance I can’t help feeling a bit of nervousness along with excitement in anticipation of my own reading. I have already found out pieces of information that make some degree of sense: Lára tells me that my aura is “purple”, meaning that I have a strong third eye and am creatively attuned, and that my spirit animal is a white dog – pleasing information for a canine lover such as myself.

Then comes my reading: from the cards drawn for me, which feature the Ten of Swords, the Journeyman, The Ten of Cups and Death, Lára intuits that I am at a crossroads in my life, and have to soon make a decision which, if made correctly, will result in a great deal happiness. Again, this makes some degree of sense to me – like many people, I am in the midst of reconsidering certain career and lifestyle choices which may have huge bearings on the next stage of my lie. I gratefully accept the reading as a bolstering call to rely on my instincts rather than over-thinking matters. 

There was nothing too explicit or implausibly specific in my own reading (“you will win the lottery next year”/ “a friend will stab you in the back tomorrow,”) but rather encouraging words of support that I feel I can take on board as much as I wish. And there was certainly nothing laden with doom, supporting Lára’s focus on the Sun and positivity. To what degree I take the reading to heart is, at the end of the day, my own decision. “Tarot is a malleable thing – kind of like a movie, I’m going to show you a trailer, but you can edit it. You have ultimate freewill about how you edit it,” she says. 

Lára’s devotion to Tarot follows a lifelong interest in spirituality. I wonder how, growing up, she got into the world of magic. “Ireland has a magical background, and ever since I don’t live there anymore, I notice it more when I come back. People travel to Ireland and say that they love the country so much, and I’ve always wondered what that meant – why they love Ireland. There’s a very magical feeling. Fairy folklore, myths and legends – Ireland has all that. I grew up in the Boyne Valley near Newgrange – a big megalithic tomb older than the pyramids of Egypt, a very spiritual place, and also not far from the Hill of Tara.” In such a setting, perhaps it’s not surprising that Lára spent her childhood interested in astrology and magic. 

And what about Tarot specifically, how did this come into her life? “The Tarot deck came to me from New York,” she tells me, detailing how her sister gifted her the legendary Rider Waite deck a few years back. “If someone gives you the deck, it’s a sign of luck.” She tells me that it took a couple of years to trust herself, but once she really started using the pack, she discovered a love and ease with the cards: “Once I started learning it – I guess it’s like some musicians learning an instrument, it came naturally. I had to study the 78 cards and it took me about a year or two to learn each meaning and how they sync together, but then it clicked. I also realised I was given something special in terms of all the other things that come along with the Tarot – the gift for channelling and all the other little things. You can’t learn that.”

While pursuing a career in marketing in Dublin, Lára became more adept using the Tarot cards, doing readings at parties or with friends in bars after a few drinks. But it was after moving to Berlin in 2017 that she realised she could really start something with psychic healing. Is Berlin receptive to her line of work? 

“Definitely – one of the things I think about the most is how much of a sharing community there is here – I’ve been helped so much by so many different people. It was part of the reason I wanted to move away from Dublin – I wanted to live and work somewhere away from the “me and my thing” kind of attitude to more of a creative community feel. I think Berlin really has that – I’ve met so many people who have helped and wanted to see what you’re doing and assist you. As much as I love Ireland, I didn’t get that in Dublin.” Such is her contentment with Berlin that Lára, who lives in Friedrichshain on a street which contains a yoga practice and reiki healer, would like to remain here for three to four years before potentially moving to Hawaii one day, where “spirituality is the norm.”

In the meantime, it’s not only Berlin and spiritually receptive clients who matter to Sun Tarot – lockdown has meant that Lára has gravitated much of her work to Zoom sessions. Thankfully, an increased global interest in astrology and spiritualism has meant that there is no dearth of people seeking psychic healing online. “With the pandemic…people need something else now, with being inside so much and having so much time to think…that’s lead to people needing other practices.”

Lára enjoys the flexibility of her work online, which allows her to work with clients in Berlin, but also across the world, with particular interest coming from the States. How do online sessions differ from physical ones? “In some ways Zoom sessions are better,” she tells me. “It’s been the biggest shock that they work so well! It’s a more controlled setting. Once you go into a subconscious in a live reading, you’re delving into stuff that’s in people’s past, stuff they don’t know, and all of that takes a lot energy. After an hour it’s a huge amount of energy – you can compare it to a workout at the gym.”

© Cleo Wächter

Tarot has a growing number of devotees, but like every practice, it has its fair share of dissenters, sceptics and critics, and Lára has little time for people who come to a session insisting that she “prove” the reality of it: “If people are sceptical but come in with an open mind I can work with that. But the minute I have to prove that something is real, the energy is ruined.”

What about people, like me, who take a polite curiosity in the practice? What approach should an agnostic take to Tarot readings? “I always say to people: keep an open mind and an open heart. If your heart is open, you’ll listen to the messages; if your mind is open, you’ll receive them. It’ll only not work if you’re very closed – closed to the point of not being open to learning.”

Concerning my reading, Lára intuited certain information about my state of mind and character that has given me food for thought concerning where I am and how I should proceed in life. But she’s careful to stress that this is not ultimate life advice on which we should pin all our hopes and dreams, stressing the malleable nature of Tarot, and memorably comparing it to playdough, saying we can form and ply the information as we see fit. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a healthcare professional – it’s for an entertainment interest purpose!” she says with a smile. 

That’s not to say that entertainment can’t be a catalyst for huge and lasting change. Lára tells me the biggest delight Tarot gives her is the positive impact on her clients, many of whom joyfully report back on life-changing decisions made after her readings, whether by applying for and getting dream jobs or starting meaningful relationships. Dazzled by the positive impacts on their lives, many clients return after the first reading to hear more words of affirmation and spiritual guidance. “They tell me how the reading came true and how it impacted them. To me, this is the best result of doing this kind of work. It’s endlessly fulfilling – more fulfilling than any other result of doing a Tarot reading. I believe in my ability but it still shocks me,” she says, with palpable delight.

That clients return to Lára does not surprise me in the least and can surely be explained in no small part by her infectious enthusiasm, sincerity and dedication to her work. We tend to gravitate more towards people who love what they do than those who sulk and groan about their lives. And her assuredness is contagious. As she points out, happiness is reachable when you fully and honestly acknowledge what you feel happy doing: “It usually takes experimenting a bit or taking some risks – it did for me. Find out what you love to do, not where you make money, do it naturally and keep working towards that.”

In times of continued global bleakness, there are some things can be grateful for: We can be grateful for digital communication as a lifeline to keep in touch with those we love. We can be grateful for the wonders of modern technology in giving us digital entertainment to keep us sane during the pandemic and providing us with a means of seeking guidance and therapy online. We can also be grateful for Berlin as a pluralistic, tolerant environment for all manners of practices and beliefs to help us navigate through the crisis. Amidst all these options Sun Tarot offers an overriding message of positivity: We may not be able to decide how the cards land for us in life, but we can always decide how to respond to the obstacles thrown in front of us. Lára’s own story of coming to Berlin, giving up a reliable career in marketing to follow her dreams and making a living from Tarot and psychic therapy is the perfect example of how personal fulfillment is attainable when we tune into our true wishes and needs. The sun waits eternally and patiently behind the clouds, if we choose to acknowledge it.

© Cleo Wächter

Contact Lára over on her Sun Tarot website or through her Instagram or Facebook pages.

Photos: Cleo Wächter,, instagram: @cleo_nora

Landers – Washing with Water review

In an era where it’s easy for any reflecting person to lapse into agonised scrutiny of our fraught and dangerous times, the art that seems to have fared best has been that which has markedly distanced itself from the uncertainties of our lives.  Landers are an accomplished trio of musicians who offer sweet relief from the daily tumult with an alluring span of music, which ranges from clear-eyed folk to experimental jazz. 

Defying the impulse to create and upload content instantly, Landers, consisting of Dubliner Christopher Colm Morrin on vocals and guitar, and the Berlin born rhythm section of bassist Paul Breiting and drummer Max von der Goltz, have been steadily releasing the fruits of a productive pre-Corona recording session at KAOS, a warehouse on the outskirts of Berlin, in the form of four singles. Together, these releases paint a captivating portrait of a band who manage to infuse a folk core with a tantalising potpourri of textures and soundscapes.

From left to right; Max, Chris and Paul.
© Daniela Elorza

Their first two releases, Clear Blue Sky and Just Thinking, already showcased their limber musicianship and aptitude for writing limpid melodies: the former showcasing Morrin’s gorgeous falsetto over an elegant bass riff; the latter demonstrating a Motorik beat redolent of Kraurock legends Can, over which Icelandic guest musician Sölvi Kolbeinsson provides elegiac saxophone.

But the other tracks from each release have been just as intriguing –  Nothing to Say (Pt.3) from Clear Blue Sky displays the music school credentials of the rhythm section, with Breiting’s distorted bass dancing alongside von der Goltz’s crisp, inventive drumming, over which Morrin adds hushed reverb-drenched vocals and guitar textures in something far closer to experimental jazz than folk; and Heart is in the Land – Reprise, from Just Thinking, conjures an ambient wall of reverb and delay over which cymbals fizzle and bass chords hum, recalling post-rock legends Explosions in the Sky.

Latest release Washing with Water adds further nuance and intrigue to their sonic palette and continues a trend of coupling a catchy title track with a compelling counterpoint. When interviewing the band late last year, I was struck by their absolute lack of ego, and the dedication of each member to serving the overall sound rather than saturating the music with individual contributions. Nothing epitomises this approach more than 22, Washing with Water’s opening track, where the band are happy to sit back entirely and allow friend Vincent Audusseau to take centre stage in an ambient sound collage which layers fragments of acoustic piano originally recorded for the title track with squalls of delay and feedback. This Brian Eno-esque piece recalls Moss Garden from Bowie’s Heroes album, with piano chords trilling and splashing like cooling rivulets of water, before being smothered by buzz saw jets of white noise, with nods to Revolution 9 by the Beatles in its disconcerting texturing.

22 serves as an enigmatically cinematic prelude to the beautiful Washing with Water, which opens with a chiming 6/8 acoustic guitar figure, over which Morrin wistfully sings: “Floating in this lake/ Feeling the world go by, go by/ Drop after drop/ Smile after smile, after smile.” Tapping into our need for release, renewal and escape, the song undulates with unhurried grace, before being borne on the wings of Breiting’s sensitive bass playing, and von der Goltz’s understated drumming. Audusseau’s piano is again employed to shimmering effect, with cascading piano chords completing the picture of a lakeside idyll far removed from the uncertainty of our times.

With their latest release, Landers once more prove their remarkable ability to blend a mix of influences into two tracks defined less by individual showmanship than by sonic adventurism and musical selflessness. In doing so, they continue to display their knack for conjuring an array of moods and soundscapes and offer an enticing promise of what’s yet to come.

Washing with Water is available to listen to now on Spotify 

As with their previous EPS, their latest release is also available on hand made limited edition tape cassette here, designed and crafted by Berlin based artwork and graphic designer Daniela Elorza.

Charles Hendy – A Mary Walloper

In the twelve months before lockdown Charles played over a hundred and fifty gigs, relying on an old Transit van to take the band on sorties from and back to its base in Dundalk. When the head gasket blew, the Hendy brothers crowd-funded a second-hand engine—a few free stickers in the post later, they were moving again. And in many ways that’s analogous to the story of their progress: their ethos is one of DIY and their success hasn’t been so much a meteoric rise as a grinding, widening spread of puckish charm. You can’t help feel that adversity, for all its inconvenience, is not wasted on the three. 

Fresh from a TV appearance on The Tommy Tiernan Show, The Wallopers were set to headline in Whelan’s, Dublin. One week alone would see them play two gigs in Germany and another in London, before flying home for a St Patrick’s Day show in the Cork Opera House. But, as the continent accustomed itself to the realities of Covid-19, Charles too saw previously clear horizons start to draw in around him. One by one, hard-earned gigs dropped off the calendar and the van’s hunger for diesel became a less pressing issue.

At the same time, fuck it.” 

The band adjusted to the patronising concept of the new normal by segueing into live-streaming from a pub they put together in the Hendy brothers’ house. Nights at home with The Mary Wallopers have proven popular with their fan base and even beyond, gaining them a following from different parts of the world. “Like, when we’re posting t-shirts, we posted a hundred and fifty t-shirts to America.” 

One of the many self made designs that adorns their band T-Shirts

Though their online shows are curated so as to have as much fan interaction as the internet allows, ultimately the trio play alone—not a scenario they’re used to. “We got our start playing in pubs that were rough pubs. On more than one occasion we were playing ballads while there was [sic] people fighting each other in front of us. Physically thumping each other.” 

Tonight, Charles is over at his girlfriend’s house whilst Andrew is isolating as a close contact of a confirmed covid case. Though pixelated through Zoom, Charles’ face is angular and lively. His speaking voice tallies reassuringly with the one he sings with—sharp and fluid in its enunciation, and full of the cadences and rhythms of Dundalk. “I’ve just been doing nothing. I bought a book of ballads today and I’ve been learning the tin whistle.

Despite initially being known as a hip-hop artist with the ironic-but-abrasive TPM, the word folk is surely relevant when applied to The Mary Wallopers and it’s not one Charles is about to shy away from. The genre leaves plenty of room for expression, all of which the Wallopers are keen to explore. “The songs are as punk or as rock ‘n’ roll as anything because they’re all about drinking and having sex and all that kind of stuff. They’re very raw songs.” He’s keen to emphasise that any preconceptions about the music being overly twee are misplaced: “It’s anti-authority music. It’s music for rebellion. Do you know what I mean? And that’s brilliant.”

We just thought, why doesn’t Dundalk deserve the effort?

Charles on the band’s decision to return home to Dundalk rather than hit for a big city.

Charles is happy to accept terms like low-firaw and DIY in relation to the Wallopers’ aesthetic, and often slips them into his own speech. When he talks of the folk music canon it is with an effortless and penny-droppingly-appropriate blend of respect and irreverence. “We’ve always said that we’re vessels for those old songs. There’s a duty that you have to deliver the song. When I’m singing Building Up and Tearing England Down I’m thinking of my own father, uncles, relations and people that I know that have worked on building sites in England in the sixties and broke their backs, literally, building houses.” 

There is, perhaps, an unspoken expectation that folk singers should somehow earn the right to sing about hardship through endurance of some difficulties in their own lives. So, given that “authentic” is a recurring adjective fans of The Mary Wallopers use to describe their live performances, just what is it about the three that rings true? Charles is cautious not to exaggerate his own travails. Though he has worked on building sites abroad, he acknowledges, “When you move to Holland and you’re Irish you’re considered an ex-pat, not an immigrant anymore. I’ve never had that feeling of going to a different country and people hating you. Lots of Irish people have and it happens here today.” 

In describing his father’s experiences as a labourer and machine driver he does so with matter-of-fact empathy: “He was made redundant in the end as a big ‘Thank You’ but then this pension he was paying into just disappeared. The bubble burst of the Celtic Tiger. We saw him work his arse off until he died. And he had nothing to show for it really—except Sundays, when he worked on things that he liked.” 

Building Up and Tearing England Down performed by The Mary Wallopers for Raidió na Life

In truth, given the band’s high gig tally, the uncertainty that goes with live music, and the fact that until very recently they’ve run everything themselves – booking, travel, recording, promotion – it’s hard to imagine what they do is easy. But, hard work and tragedy aside, the other folk cliché is that of hard living in terms of vices—the romanticised tendency towards self-destruction. “It’s incredibly hard work and people don’t like you saying that. You can’t have a routine and you can’t have a diet that’s anyway good. And every night you go to a gig it’s someone else’s night off. Do you know what I mean? So everyone is like, ‘Stay up, we’ll fucking go mad.’ You end up getting no food and too much drink. But it’s worth it.

Despite all the road miles involved in touring, not moving to Dublin or some other major population centre was a conscious decision, and one Charles feels strongly about. When he and Andrew decided to take music seriously it was over a phone call between Amsterdam and Hong Kong:  “We were considering moving to London or Manchester, but then the realisation came that we should move to Dundalk because—why doesn’t Dundalk deserve the effort? Why don’t small towns deserve the effort and the art? They need it and they deserve it more than places that are culturally rich.” Given the recent covid-revived interest in rural living, their attitude seems prescient: “We’ve always been very interested in the decentralisation of culture. I think it’s so important that, to see a concert in Ireland, you don’t have to go to Dublin to do it. People can become more proud, or content even with where they’re from and it’ll make art better and it’ll make it more accessible and it’ll make it less airy fairy to people.” His thinking is clear: cities provide the audience and infrastructure that bands crave, but maybe that’s too easy. “I firmly believe if you can make it in Dundalk you can make it anywhere. There’s a lot more against you in Dundalk or somewhere like that than there is in New York.” 

Catch The Mary Wallopers as part of the Irish Embassy’s Irish Night In. More info below.

Although rooted firmly in the borderlands of Ireland’s north east, the band has played on the continent before. Their “O’er the Sea on a Pig” tour saw them drive from Belgium to Italy and down through Germany where they played in Bonn and Linden amongst other places: “We did fourteen gigs in two weeks out of the back of a Ford Focus. We would do a bit of busking during the day to get money for food and then we’d send one of the lads away to walk around all of the pubs and see if any of them would give us a place to stay and pay us to play a gig.” 

Abiding recollections of Germany largely centre on the attitude to music there. Charles considers there’s a respect for the musician in Germany that can sometimes be lacking in Ireland where music can be taken for granted. “They were talking to us about particular songs that Irish people sometimes wouldn’t know, you know? They love Irish music.

With a background as an original artist where he pens tunes for TPM, one might imagine transitioning to a more jazz-like tradition of interpreting handed-down songs could feel limiting. Charles feels sure by the time their second album comes around they’ll have some original tracks on it, but does admit a trepidation in adding to their folk repertoire: “It’s a bit daunting writing songs for The Mary Wallopers. With TPM, it’s all cloaked in humour. You know? You get away with a bit more. There’s not as much pressure for creating a song because you can go, ‘It’s a joke.’”

As the three share lead vocal duties, there is a healthy competitive edge when it comes to finding and claiming material to include in their repertoire. As time passes, each is discovering their own niche, and swapping songs to achieve the best outcome is not unheard of. Whereas Charles claims his brother is more animatedly musical, “Words is [sic] always the thing for me. In my singing style as well, you’ll notice I’m very particular about pronouncing stuff and getting every word as clear as I can get it.” Though initially drawn to light-hearted or comic songs, with experience comes the confidence that has seen Charles embrace darker material. Of particular interest to him is breathing new life into medieval songs, finding the contemporary in the ancient. “If there’s something a bit odd in the melody and if you can’t argue with the sentiment, then that’s the main thing.

At present a self-titled EP featuring their break through hit, Cod Liver Oil & The Orange Juice, is on release and can be found on Spotify. After recording a full length album, the band decided to mothball the whole thing: “By the time we were ready to release it we actually thought that we were after getting better at playing the songs than the recording. The EP is kinda [sic] stuff we weren’t going to release so that’s why we put it out—we’re not going to release these so let’s release them.” There is finally an album in the offing though, together with an increasingly eager audience ready to receive it.

The Mary Wallopers’ music stands out in any setting, but it is live that the full texture of delivery is best appreciated. The more raucous the setting, the better—their gem is one that gleams brightest in the dirt. It’s perhaps because of this that the success of their livestreams from an empty room has been so impressive. Over the past eleven months or so we’ve all tuned in to audience-free content that has tanked but these are guys who can generate intrigue apropos of nothing. 

Pressed on something positive up ahead, Charles’ response is clear if not unpredictable: “For 2021, gigs. That’s all we care about is that gigs are on the horizon finally—the fact that we can go back and play songs to a load of people that are going mad drinking and roaring and shouting.” 

On the day after our chat, the van-breaking-down motif seems to proffer itself as some sort of metaphor for the balladeer’s struggle. I message Charles to say I’ll call later for more details on the event but in the end I don’t bother. His response to the request: “Lol. No problem, we can do that. We have many breakdown stories…” 

The Mary Wallopers feature as part of “An Irish Night In”, a free online event hosted by the Irish Embassy at the Ambassador’s residence in Berlin on Saturday, January 23rd @7pm CET. Register here for the event.      

Shite Guinness Berlin – “As John B. Keane said,” I love to see the cream on a pint” and I don’t see any cream on a Pilsner”

Did the blog come about simply from a decent Guinness being hard to come by in the city? 

Initially, the idea of the page was to shame the pints of Guinness on offer in Berlin. I had a number of bad experiences in a few places and I thought I could have a laugh posting about them, hence the name of the page! But after visiting Home Bar and a few others, I quickly realised that there are in fact some decent pints on offer, so the page evolved into a blog. A place where the Guinness thirsty Berlin public can see where the good pints can be found, a place to bring awareness of bars like The Lir in general, while also having a laugh!

Is Guinness your go to pint too back in Ireland? Or is there an element of nostalgia at play? 

Guinness has always been my go to. In Berlin we are blessed with an exceptional selection of beers – whether they are German regulars, European options or local craft beers, we are spoiled for choice in quality. But back home, although Irish craft beer is becoming more mainstream, there is still a lack of choice for beer in the majority of traditional bars. It’s a funny one, once I see Guinness available in Berlin I order it, but I’m still happy if not, while back home I’m almost exclusively ordering Guinness.

Tell us about your own first Guinness experience.

Hard to remember my very first experience, but I remember I started drinking Guinness around the age of 19/20. A friend and I both have fathers who are drinkers of the Black Stuff, so it was only natural we’d follow in their footsteps. I remember being at a family wedding around that time and standing at the bar with my father, who said he’d get the first round. He turned to me and asked what I wanted, and to his surprise I replied “Guinness”. He couldn’t get over that I’d started drinking it, assuming that, in his words “all the young lads wouldn’t like it” and that I would be drinking Heineken or Budweiser. I, of course, explained that I started drinking the stuff and had a taste for it. To be fair, it was the last time he needed to ask me what I wanted to drink at a family occasion!

What’s more horrifying to you – hearing that Guinness is shipped out to bars here in syrup form or seeing bartenders pull the pint in one full go?

I can almost forgive a bar for importing the syrup, but I can’t forgive them for pouring a pint incorrectly. The pint of Guinness is an art form, from the pour to the presentation. But unfortunately, unlike conventional art, there is a right and wrong way to do it! 

0,2l glasses and pitchers? How can this be stopped?

The stuff of nightmares! Those glasses do make for a laughable experience but something needs to be done. I believe that there should be a Guinness rep who comes to Berlin (and other European cities) at least once a year, to visit the bars who have Guinness on their menu. Firstly, a taste and experience test could be done anonymously, with the rep revealing himself with the test results and most importantly, recommendations for improvement – how to pour correctly, new glasses to be provided (by the rep himself) and other best practices. This is not a requirement in Ireland for example, because the bars know a reputation for a good pint of Guinness is priceless, and they all have a strong supply chain for glasses, beer mats, posters etc. I think it should fall on Guinness to maintain their own reputation on European soil.

What it is so that makes a good pint here as opposed to home?

Firstly, letting the tap run for a couple of seconds before filling the glass is so important. It’s something that some bars in Berlin don’t realise they need to do – this probably goes for all beers – the pipes usually have some residue from the last pour, which could have been hours/days ago and you simply don’t want customers drinking that. Also, I’ve had some super cold pints in Berlin poured incorrectly, but still are very drinkable, then pints which are luke warm – these are the ones with no head and have a dreadful aftertaste. So I would say, temperature is a basic need – that is before we get to the pour (another story!).

Favourite synonym for Guinness? 

I use “Guin or Guinny” for standard pints, but hold “Creamer” for the deserved ones.

Top three bars in Berlin so for a good Guinness?

The top three so far are; The Lír, ShamRock’s and Home Bar. I have a real soft spot for Home Bar, I love going there – a fantastic overall experience.

Finnegan’s in Steglitz is definitely going to break into that. I went there to watch an All-Ireland Final a while back and it was like a pint you’d get back in Ireland. Of course, a notable mention for Badfish. So all going well in 2021, I’ll be reviewing these spots, along with others I have on my long list!

For those of us stuck here in lockdown – what’s the best Guinness we can get in the Berlin supermarket? Bottles, or cans? Isn’t there a special imported one in some places too?

To my knowledge, all that is available in stores in Berlin is the Extra Stout edition and the 440ml Draught Cans. I recently reviewed the Extra Stout. All I can say is that it didn’t go down well, check that out if you haven’t already seen it! My recommendation is to head to Penny, Hoffi (Hoffman) or Real for the Guinness Draught Cans, for the best lockdown Guinness experience. They didn’t exactly score high, but as I said in my review of them, they do the job.

Badfish import the barrels – have you noticed a difference in taste there? 

Before I started the page, I went to both Badfish bars this year and thoroughly enjoyed both experiences – particularly the one in Friedrichshain. Definitely, I did notice the pint being colder and creamier than the average pint in the city. The Guinness tap stands out and glows on the dark bar, and the barman knows what he’s doing when it comes to the pour. But, I have yet to review it outright. I got the chance to review the one in Prenzlauerberg as part of the Lockdownlite Series. Their takeaway pint was as good as it could get.

And are you affiliated with Guinness in any shape or form?

Nope, unfortunately not! @Guinness any jobs going let me know! 

There’s been great debate this year as to your identity – it’s been the cause of great discussion and second guessing. Why remain anonymous? 

I find the anonymity allows me to fully express myself. But to be fair, my significant other, some family members and close friends know of my true identity. In general, I would rather not have my face associated with my SGB profile. Particularly, when it comes to visiting bars, I want to receive the same treatment as every other person, to maintain the integrity of the blog. 

Will we get a big reveal at some stage? Or a prize for guessing correctly? 

No reveal at all, unfortunately. But, I do have plans for a couple of competitions for Berlin Guinness drinkers to win some prizes during Lockdown, to help with the pint drinking experience at home.

Any exciting plans for the New Year for the blog?

First off, I hope to get my hands on some of the alternative Guinness craft beer/bottles and write a review on those. I’m a keen cook, and so have a plan to do a Guinness based recipe series. I’ve started an “On Tour Series” while I’m visiting home, but I am happy to extend this to other destinations I hopefully get to travel to in the upcoming year. Most importantly, once Covid and Lockdowns are over with, I can get back to discovering the shite (and decent) Guinness pints in Berlin. 

What do you say to those who may advise you to give up the search and switch to just drinking local beers such as the many quality Pilsner that you can find in abundance? 

I’m sorry, but no – my love is for Guinness. As John B. Keane said,” I love to see the cream on a pint”. I don’t see cream on any Pilsner, do you? 

What’s your advice so to bar owners across Berlin with regards to the perfect pint o’ plain? 

Patience. Take your time. First, let the tap run for a second. 

Enjoy the pour at 45°, let it rest and watch the surge. Top it up and serve with a smirk, knowing you’ve played a blinder – you’ve just poured an absolute beauty. 

As long as you’ve done this into a Guinness pint glass, you’re good. Then, sit back, relax and watch your Guinness reputation grow and your staff’s tip jars overflow.

Keep up to date with where to get a decent Guinness over on ShiteGuinnessBerlin’s Instagram.

Mark Loughrey – “We will look back fondly in decades to come on this Golden Age for Irish songwriting”

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Tell us a bit about yourself, and when did you start playing and getting into your own music?

Sure, my name is Mark Loughrey and I’m an Experimental Folk Singer-Songwriter from the North of Ireland, currently based in Berlin.  Originally I’m from a small village called Sion Mills, which is basically part of Strabane, a border town right on the line between Tyrone and Donegal.  Coincidentally the home of Paul Brady and Flann O’Brien.

I first starting playing guitar around 11 or so, had the classic ‘angsty teenager garage band’ experience, wrote loads of terrible songs before deciding to pursue music seriously and move to Belfast, where I still continued writing terrible songs actually, haha. It was there though that I really felt like I cut my teeth with music and found the passion for songwriting. Meeting and befriending like-minded, supportive souls who were writing amazing songs of their own was a really inspirational, life-affirming time and gave me the spine to take writing seriously as a craft.

Mark playing at Bookfinders in Belfast

Were the reasons musical that brought you over to Berlin?

Yeah, I first came here in 2015 at the end of a trip around Europe and fell in love with the atmosphere of the place. I had this really nice moment near the Lustgarten fountain in Mitte listening to some buskers play Smile by Charlie Chaplin where I was touched by how vibrant Berlin felt, and I thought about how I could actually move here someday.

With a lot of my songwriting heroes like Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell too, they travelled and documented their lives through song when and as they changed.  I also had these fantasies of living somewhere new and writing about the characters I would meet along the way, from the lens with which I saw the world as it too changed.

First album Treppenwitz was released when you were living in Belfast, so you had some knowledge of German given its title? Had Berlin then as such always been calling you?

Yeah, weirdly enough my high school did German classes and even now I can still hear my old German teacher screaming in my mind’s ear when I get a bit confused about the order that I should place multiple verbs in. Which is certainly helpful but definitely a bit of a double-edged sword.

The word ‘Treppenwitz’ itself evokes the feelings of fantasising about what should have been said long after you’ve missed the moment. It felt quite appropriate at the time as I knew whilst recording the album in mid-2017 that I would be leaving for Berlin once it was done , even though I found a really nice musical home in Belfast and wonderful friends.

Pining for something after leaving the moment itself felt kind of fitting. I remember releasing the album on a Friday and moving the next Monday, which was incredibly intense.  It took a while to be able to listen to that record again but I’m super glad I have the timestamp of this momentous time.

Loughrey released his debut album, Treppenwitz, back in 2017. In German, Treppenwitz translates as ‘stair joke’ and refers to that moment when you’re coming down the stairs and the perfect and oh so clever retort comes to you – for a moment long since lost.

Opening track Aufmerksamkeit on the new EP, On Through The Veil, brings back the German – it’s somewhat of a light-hearted way to start a record that deals with a lot of darker themes. Has this been the influence of 2020 or were these stories you were compelled to tell? 

It’s quite interesting that you saw that, as this wasn’t intentional at all but makes a kind of sense as this year did begin with a lot of promise before it morphed into the weird, sticky space-time jelly it became.

I’ve always lived in Neukolln and never too far from the regular Maybachufer Markt. Living alongside all of these new cultures is still quite exciting and I love to stroll through the market, especially in the brighter parts of the year.  I always thought that the street vendors had a real musicality to the way they scream out to passers-by, ‘Zwei für ein Euro!’ and wanted to record it, which I did.  All the noises underneath the surface is the world of the market.

A German friend recently taught me too the word for attention which is ‘Aufmerksamkeit’, although it was described as an awareness or coming into a state of perception where you notice more things around you. Which just seemed too fitting not to use and a perfect place to start.  Walking around this market year round at the edges of the seasons always felt like waking up to change in a way, taking note of the shifting world around me and preparing for what was to come.

I wanted to capture this feeling too musically by introducing a lot of the instrumentation and colours that the listener could expect as the EP progressed.  I felt like it was a nice, light way to introduce the sound world to come but the songs just ended up just getting darker anyway because I am the buzzkill that I am, haha.

Was the record conceived in lockdown? Or had it been growing in you over a longer period?

This whole EP was born from the fact that I had grown quite overwhelmed by the process of the ‘recording that difficult second album’ cliché. The recording process was quite torn between here and home and was quite draining and frustrating as I had no idea what I was doing. I had these grand notions of a concept album but my ambition was definitely grander than my actual skillset at the time.

(Lead single) Nothing on a Truth was maybe 75% percent done by the time I decided to crack into the EP, and was intended for the album but I just didn’t think it fit as it was more of a story song.  So I actually decided to procrastinate and make an EP for it to fit within.

With EPs there’s really a beauty in the fact that they don’t even have to be in the same sound world, they can be perfect as four or five disparate ideas.  Of course, I’m a natural over thinker and it ended up becoming conceptual anyway in how all the tracks address change and its many faces.

Over the course of the lockdown, I recorded pretty much everything apart from drums in a small little nook room in my apartment.  Of course some friends from home lent their talents remotely as well. It was my first real go at trying to produce stuff mostly myself, as I always rely on my long term collaborator and dear friend, producer Carl Small, who ended up mixing and co-producing the record and who did a wonderful job.

In a way the process of being a hermit at home, getting into a state of flow and forgetting to eat and sleep was surprisingly super healthy, as it gave me a purpose to get through the overabundance of time we all faced. 

Not so different, 

You and I. 

Seems all it took was a lie, 

One that shook your whole life 

And left you there.

Broken lovelorn, 

On the rocks, 

While the Siren was with the Fox 

How can blood remain thicker than water? 

When your daughter’s not your daughter. 

Excerpt of lyrics from Nothing on a Truth. Image © Brinkley Capriola

Nothing on a Truth is heart-rending and evocative. A truly great catchy folk number – can you talk us through the inspiration for the rather sombre subject matter?

Thank you! Well, it’s a bit of a long mad story but I’ll try to keep it concise. This song is actually the oldest on the EP and I think I wrote it in 2017, a short while after I had this really cathartic road trip up and down the USA’s West Coast. It came from the memory of the last night of incredibly strange, yet wonderful, lone wanderings around San Francisco’s Castro District. It was there that I came across the central character of the song, Gendry, an incredibly kind and resilient soul who had his whole life uprooted by a lie from someone he trusted the most. 

I’ve only had this experience once before where I met a complete stranger and the two of us exchanged our entire life stories, including stuff never told to anybody else, and with Gendry this was the case also.  He was a wonderful fella and had a beautiful voice, which I found out while we exchanged songs.  

The mad parts of the story come in with the cast of characters that would swirl around us as we had this three hour conversation.  It was around Halloween I remember and there were a lot of free-spirits nearby who were residing in the area taking lots of mushrooms. They would come up at random intervals, say loads of far-out things then disappear for a bit. Also, people were walking around the streets bar-hopping dressed in costumes as well and there was one creep in particular dressed as a Dracula Elvis, armed with an orange-cape, who insisted on playing an Elvis song (full impression and everything) that really, really freaked me out haha.  He was the unfortunate mix of forward and persistent too so it took a little bit to shake him off before we could actually relax and enjoy the conversation again.

Anyway, towards the end of the encounter, we wished each other well and gave each other some words of encouragement before parting ways.  I have no idea what he’s up to or where he is now, but it was one of those amazing occasions where you just find a wealth of humanity in a conversation with a stranger.

It was such a crazy experience and I never forgot meeting him and find myself often wondering about what he’s up to from time to time, so I wanted to document our meeting.  All of the ingredients to the story took ages to simplify, and it seemed impossible to condense into a three and a half minute song but I got there eventually. Essentially, the point of the song is that it is a curious and terrible thing that our lives can forever change over the course of one bad day & perhaps not even by our own hand. The song itself deals with this change in the form an open letter posted to Gendry ‘from half a world away’. It’s filled with questions that may in fact never be answered by him but nonetheless offer a glimmer of hope and love to him, wherever he is.

How was that for concise?

© Brinkley Capriola

You’ve previously mentioned you have drawn influences from Irish folk traditions – talk us through some of those on the new EP.

Over the past couple of years in general I’ve always had at least one eye and ear cast back home to what’s been developing over there.  I think right now we’re in a new Golden age of songwriting coming from Ireland and it’ll be looked back fondly on in decades to come, it makes me immensely proud to be from there and eager to contribute in whatever way I can to the tapestry.

With this EP I was aiming for songs that would disguise heavier subjects under some cheerful, lilting melodies, a common cloaking device for a lot of older country songs but also a huge part of the Irish folk ballad tradition too.  Musically, I was attracted in particular to some elements of Irish folk instrumentations during the writing of this EP, especially ethereal, droning, dreamy textures as championed by the likes of Lankum and Lemoncello, alongside this powerful, brooding thing we’ve got going on in the Northern folk scene at the moment.

Thematically, folklore had a bit more of an influence this time. For example, birds being messengers between people crops up at the end, as I was quite homesick.  Particularly, the folklore image of the veil was something that struck me quite powerfully too, and helped tie all of these thoughts that were swimming around my head together. Commonly thought of in folklore as a barrier between this world and next, the idea of ‘slipping on through the veil anew’ was a beautiful thought that brought a comfort in a writing process that was otherwise quite difficult.

Your lyrics could stand alone as poetry – do you write these first? 

Sometimes, though it really depends song to song.  I used to do this a lot when I was starting out, I’d have a weird little story in my head and I’d try to map it out in a weird folk song but more often than not I was finding it a little bit restrictive and the songs were piling up in the graveyard – where the unfinished ones all end up.

A year or so ago, I started using more of a collage method to write which I’ve found not only frees up the possibilities and combinations of the language you can use, but also allows you to give the listener just enough breadcrumbs to fill in the gaps themselves between the stories and the more abstract or seemingly off-kilter lyrics.  Usually this involves combing through notebooks and rearranging them in a new way.

Though I still antagonize a lot about the words and they often take much longer than the music ever does. With ‘Pink Elephants’ for instance, the only lyric I had for ages was ‘and so it seems, we’re at the end my friend / when pink elephants are on the march again’, which I found in a really old notebook.  Like what the hell does that even mean?  It took a while to paint a world that not only made this lyric make a kind of sense but also one in which it could sum up the EP’s themes.

Focusing on how the words will look if they’re presented naked on the page without music and if still they hold up is important. Then and only then can I breathe a little and give the music a proper chance.

Mark playing at Herr Lindemann, Neukölln © Brinkley Capriola

In a time where live shows are sadly not happening have you anything else on the horizon to mark the launch? 

Alas, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the live thing might not be normal again until late next year. However, I really recently recorded a couple of live performances of some EP tracks with the beautiful group of friends that I’ve started playing with here, lovingly referred to by ourselves over Whatsapp as The Padre Pio Players, haha. They’ll feature the incredible musicians Conor Cunningham and Eamon Travers from the band Hatchlings (also from the motherland) and the wonderful violinist Denise Dombrowski, all amazing session musicians from the Berlin songwriter scene and dear compadres.  

During this lockdown also, I’m having a go too at making some videos will be hopefully put out over the next month or so too.  They’ll be a bit DIY but who cares?  I’m going home for the holidays as well to decompress where I’m planning to keep working on a lyric book/zine type thing for the EP, filled with drawings and poems, which I’m hoping also to put out in the New Year as well.  So yeah, there’s a lot still in the pipeline despite no gigs!

We loved getting our hands recently on the EP in cassette form. Brought us way back!

Yes actually, I’ve made a limited run of cassettes for the EP featuring the actual EP itself on one side, and four B-Sides on the other.  I decided to go with cassettes partly due to a few lessons learnt from my time busking in Berlin.  Most people who bought CDs didn’t have a CD player but still wanted to give a symbol of appreciation and patronage.

If no-one has CD players and no-one has cassette players, then what’s really the difference?  They’re kind of just mementos and, dare I say, tokens, given to someone who likes your music anyway. Plus, with cassettes I really enjoy the DIY approach to making them and their quirky artworks.  Several other Irish artists in Berlin also seem to be championing tapes too.

They’re available on my Bandcamp if anyone fancies one and I like to feed into my fantasies of being a postman so I’ve even cycled a few across the city already. Hit me up if you want one!

Finally, Boyzone or Westlife?

Haha, I’m not too sure what to say here, John! I’d maybe go with Boyzone purely because of the size of their cajones in doing their Late Late debut in front of such a dead audience haha. Just kidding, someone sent me that video again the other day and I still laugh at it from time to time. Thanks for taking the time!  All the best!

For anyone unfamiliar, you’ll not regret it.

For more on Mark, check him out @markloughreymusic and support him over on Bandcamp.

Cover Picture by
© Madeline Manning

Neil Hoare – Elevating Everything

Berlin is an open invite for photographers, a beckoning finger inviting everyone from
selfie takers at Brandenburg Gate, fashion shooters in Kreuzberg, and polaroid-
snapping hipsters in Neukölln. The vibrant city, pockmarked and mottled by its
variegated history, is a technicolour dream for everyone armed with a camera, where
we can choose from the trashy aesthetic of S036 Kreuzberg and the “socialist
classicism” of Karl-Marx-Strasse, from the bounty of lakes dotted around the city and
the cobbled pavements of Prenzlauer Berg.
But more than anything, it’s the population that makes up the fibre of Germany’s capital -this mix of people of different worlds, carving out their own niches and writing their own
histories in this wildly diverse city. The pulse of Berlin has always been dictated by its
colourful surge of people. But In such a tumultuous year, our streets have been devoid
of their customary action, with Berliners being encouraged to stay at home, and tourists
being restricted in their numbers, posing potential obstacles to street photographers.
But through a mix of determination and enthusiasm for his craft, Neil Hoare is a
photographer having something of a breakthrough year, with one of his photos being
featured on the front cover of Der Spiegel, and a surge of appreciation in the Berlin arts
scene. Over a coffee on Oranienburgerstrasse and a walk in Tempelhofer Feld, Neil
tells me about what brought him to Berlin, his approach to photography, and how we all
have it in ourselves to change the course of our lives and do what we love.

Teufelsberg by Neil Hoare

Neil’s photos are compelling – merging visual verve, eye-catching colours, and a sense
of fluidity. The Spiegel photo encapsulates this style – a Hasenheide rave in the
summer defined by its purplish, alien glow, and the otherworldly, dynamic nature of the
revelry being depicted. But equally engaging are his portraits, and Neil has recently
been working on Irish Creatives in Berlin, an Instagram series in which he photos and
profiles a talented range of Berlin-based Irish artists. Like many, Neil speaks with
affection for Berlin as his adopted home: an appreciative platform for an aspiring artist,
so different from Dublin, which he speaks of as relatively stifling in its attitude to creative
talent. But only as far back as one year ago, the notion of finding success with his
camera seemed very far from his thoughts. “I came to Berlin in 2017 and gave up the
photography thing” he says, to my surprise, instead taking on a series of “soul-crushing”
jobs in commercial photography and working nights in a bar. Such work was not on
Neil’s agenda when studying film production and photography at Coláiste Dhúlaigh,
Trinity College and Wolverhampton. After completing his Masters, buoyed on by his
love for cinema and ambition to make movies, he went to Winnipeg, Canada in 2008 to
teach film to at-risk youth, where he realised that he had something of a gift for teaching
and “letting people talk”. But his aspirations were depressed on coming back home to
Dublin, in which he speaks of doing years of unsatisfying work in the midst of the
economic recession, and he tells me of an unfinished film project in 2012, in which he
was meant to document his friend covering the gruellingly hard Tour de France cycling route. There was surely one upshot to the unfinished film, though – it was during production that he took a tour of mainland Europe and got to know Berlin properly for the first time.

Why do artists flock to Berlin? Neil tells me of his appreciation for the openness of the
city, the liberal attitude, the receptivity to new faces. And Berlin would ultimately be the
place where he “fell back in love” with the camera, and where his creative ambitions
were rekindled. Deciding to refocus on photography rather than film as an artistic outlet,
the camera afforded a form of therapy in the fraught start to 2020. “I started bringing my
camera everywhere, without the case and lens cloth. I’ve taken thousands of photos in
the last few months, typically a hundred photos each time”. Where could he take
photos? Bars and restaurants may have been depleted, if not completely closed, but the
parks were always there, and he found himself roving Tempelhofer Feld and
Hasenheide on many an occasion.

Tempelhofer Feld by Neil Hoare

Indeed, it was in Hasenheide where he took the snap that featured in Spiegel. A typical
evening walk with his friend, armed with his camera, surrounded by huddles of
hedonists on a balmy evening in August, loud music blaring from all corners. Some
groups were rigidly adhering to social-distancing regulations. Others were clearly
overstepping the line, converging into huge groups, and the police were hovering on the side, waiting to maintain order: “at 2:30 in the morning all the lights came on, it was like an alien abduction.” Neil managed to capture the otherworldly surrealism of this night-
time revelry, and something compelled him to Instagram, and then “hashtag” the shots,
“just in case someone was looking”. Lo and behold, two people contacted him the next
day, one of whom was from Der Spiegel, looking for a picture to accompany a piece on
lockdown easing and illegal parties. So happy were they with the shot and the
distinctive way it had been processed, that they featured it on the front page of its 1 st
August edition in all its alien glory, giving Neil’s art an exhilarating nationwide platform.

Der Spiegel. 1.8.2020. Cover Photo by Neil Hoare

Getting featured on the cover of Der Spiegel was no fluke. Seneca’s quote: ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’ comes to mind when thinking about the elements that gave Neil this break. A look at his work unveils an artistic flair, resting both on a
vibrant visual style, merged with a non-judgemental approach to the subject matter. “I
want to elevate the normalcy of a situation into something more ecstatic” he says, with a
nod to one of his film heroes, Werner Herzog. He sees himself as an “editor” as much
as photographer, and uses a Canon 5Dmk4 in his work, with which he takes hundreds
of shots before finding ones he’s satisfied with, which he then touches up with Adobe
Lightroom. He talks of the improvised aspect of photography, where so much resides on a confluence of light, mood and chance encounters. “You can’t play jazz with analogue” he says, with customary wit, in explaining his preference for digital.

Neil’s wit, gregariousness and self-effacement make him a charming interviewee, and
qualify as valuable qualities for a photographer wishing to “get to know” their subjects.
Indeed, his gift for words and conversation come in useful in his latest project, Irish
Creatives in Berlin, in which he pairs buoyant photographs of Berlin-based Irish artists
with highly readable biographies. What lead him to start this? “There are so many
talented Irish people out there. Membership of Irish in Berlin is 3200 people, I need to
tap into this”. This seems like a perfect, mutually beneficial scheme whereby Neil can
showcase his photographic talents, while turning the spotlight on the city’s artists who
haven’t been able to perform this year due to Covid-19. The portraits, depicting
filmmakers, producers, comedians and musicians are linked by the ease of their
subjects, the care that has been taken to capture them in their environment, and the
witty, journalistic accounts Neil captions the photos with. Besides the merit of the
photos, the series is a heart-warming and positive affirmation of the virtue of
collaboration in a world in which there is far too much fear, friction and competition.
Indeed, as Neil points out, the people he photographs “don’t want to be in a super
competitive environment. They want the chance to relax and collaborate”.

Rob Moriaty from the Irish Creatives in Berlin series. Photo by Neil Hoare.

Two hours talking to Neil indeed turns out to be relaxing. As for collaboration, I get to
experience his methods first-hand, as he takes photos of me as we amble around
Tempelhofer Feld, chatting about everything from the Zum Goldenen Hahn Bar in Berlin to the films of Stanley Kubrick. Once we have achieved some degree of normalcy in society, he would like to put on an exhibition of his Irish portraits and do a separate
show of his more abstract photos.
“I’m doing something right. I’m taking photos for myself and no one else” he says, with
galvanising self-assurance. Coupled with his desire to “elevate everything”, the mantra
that underpins his approach to photography, I finish the interview enthused,
enlightened, and with a sense of optimism that transcends the miasma of uncertainty
and worry that shrouds this year.

Neil with his husky in Templehofer Feld. Photo by Tom Miodrag.

You can follow Neil Hoare on Instagram @hoaremonal

Landers – “it’s beautiful to play with musicians who take time to work with silence and space”.

Let’s kick it off at the beginning. Who are Landers? How did you come together?

Christopher: Without getting too bogged down into it I came to Berlin in 2011 and I’d done a lot of music back in Ireland, had been doing shows on and off before I moved here. And then I was in a couple of different music projects. I even did a movie as well. Spent two years making a movie here called Black Hole Berlin which was at the Shebeen Film festival. I was enjoying music more in the background but I was writing a lot of poetry for about three or four years.

I didn’t lose hope with music but I certainly wasn’t in the mood to create (anything). So I was quite lost with music to be honest with you. I slowly got myself into electronic and ambient music at the time and I was trying to find something that would make me in the right mood to write again. So I was kinda finding sounds for around a year on guitar and, yeah, that kinda evolved into me realising that I had something to feel again with music.

So I had a selection of sounds and maybe a couple of songs here and there and I asked Dani (Colombian artist Daniela Elorza), who actually does our artwork, who just said “hey listen, just do music again, come on – you can do it!” And I was like, “oh hey, yeah I’ll do it”. It’s actually the truth. She pushed me to reach out a little bit. Someone told me about Max, who plays drums and we had a coffee at Modular one day and I told him these exact words “I’m totally lost and I’ve no idea what’s gonna happen and I don’t really expect anything to happen – do you wanna play and jam?” and he was like “yeah, let’s do it”. Then I asked him if he knew a bass player per chance and he said he did – Paul.

Max. Yeah, Paul and me go way back. We are both from Berlin. We went to the same school and we started to play music at the same time and then we soon started playing together in bands. So that was our connection. If ever I needed a bass player or he ever needed a drummer we are each others’s go-to guy!

From left to right: Paul Breiting, Christopher Colm Morrin and Max von der Goltz.
© Daniela Elorza

When did the three of you first meet all together then?

Christopher: Pretty much the day before New Year’s Eve at the end of 2018. We had a jam basically. It really was an incredible moment ‘cos first off we weren’t hating each other! We liked the vibes. But at the same time I realised I was dealing with two people who came from the Jazz Institute who were quite experimental, very open minded too sound-wise and I was really, really into that. Coming from a poetry point of view it wasn’t contained or it wasn’t contrived and just trying to write “songs”. Even though I tried to bring in “songs” at the beginning but by March 2019 we were coming to terms with that that it may be different. First, in my mind, I was just gonna ask these guys to come play my songs but I quickly realised “no, this is much bigger” and I was able to let go of the fact of being just a songwriter on my own doing my own thing. We opened it up completely and wanted to share it all the way which was great for me, personally. I was able to let go of control really ‘cos when you do music for a long time you’re kind of hesitant to go into things as easily anymore but I felt a lot of freedom with the two guys.

Paul: I can only speak for myself but I think also for you it was the case that it felt really free, like these first days playing together. I can’t even point out what it was, or what it is, but it is super rare. I have rarely experienced it playing music with other people. Like it’s really quite something that you meet people that really it’s a given space that you feel like you can contribute what you can and it’s good and inspires the others. It really was a unique experience, even those first few times we met. Especially us (Max and Paul) coming from a school which wouldn’t have these elements at all.

Christopher: And I’m coming from a place where I can barely play my instruments! I’m really more into words and images and stuff like that so it’s paradoxically really working well.

Max: I think like, for me, we really quickly built up the trust within the group that none of us felt judged. That opened up so many things that we could try. We still do. We sometimes go places that we never went before, like “wow, what did we just play there?”. And that (feeling) is unique as Paul said. To just try things together and that sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

Paul: I kinda have the feeling that you brought that into the band. But it’s maybe something that evolved from the three of us playing together. Like I really learnt a lot about minimalism. About limiting yourself and being really selective about choices. Being aware of the choices you make musically. What is too much, what is enough. How little can it be. These are all things that evolved so much between the three of us. You can also hear that, I think. We have these really simple songs that are just two chords but I think they really transport such a strong feeling regardless.

Aidan Floatinghome recording the band at KAOS
© Christopher Colm Morrin

And these songs were recorded earlier last year already?

Christopher: What happened was an old friend of mine from back home, Aidan Floatinghome, we asked him if he would record what we were doing. It wasn’t planned as a release. We just wanted to put ourselves in a room for three days and see what happens. This was back in April 2019. We had practically nothing then, just the bare bones of songs to be honest. We spent three days at KAOS and those three days were really incredible moment for us. We had planned several things but they didn’t happen the way we thought they would. So there were a lot of these moments, all recorded live, with a very limited amount of microphones. We ended up changing a lot. Clear Blue Sky was totally rearranged for example as we were running out of time and wondering what are we gonna do and we tried six versions with loud drums and thought no, just bring the drum machine in and just put the poem over the sound and we just split it up in different parts and that was it then – in the moment. Bear in mind we had only known each other four months at that stage.

Paul: We had wanted to record something, we had wanted to capture that moment. And we did. (laughs)

Clear Blue Sky is very ambient, then Nothing to Say (Part 3) feels like a quick decision then to pare down that tone?

Max: Yes, but it was also realising that we had too much going on. When we got in that room, it was intense. In a creative way. It had a natural flow and we had this opportunity to give everything a shape and we were on a similar level that gave us the opportunity to make decisions which wasn’t possible before that’s session. The fact that we were in that room for four days gave us that strength to make these decisions.

Paul: And also to throw in earlier what you said about minimalism, I also think we did that more so in the session with Clear Blue Sky like with “let’s not actually have drums there”. It was fun with drums but it doesn’t need drums. Let’s reduce this to almost nothing happening in the song.

That indicates that members’ egos aren’t an issue in the band?

Christopher: For me, I remind myself through this thing to always remember when your ego is just talking way too much – just breath, relax, remember what you should feel. For me, I keep forgetting what’s important to feel and the music that we do reminds me very much of what to feel. One of the main things to do is to take myself away from it – my ego – and allow softness to come in. It’s the delicateness of things, ‘cos we are three sensitive guys. It’s all very emotional, if I’m being honest. Whether it’s rehearsing or a show it’s always extremely emotional. Which is soppy in a way but no, it’s important. To stick to what feels really good. I don’t know if we could ever be some cheesy rock band or something. What it comes down to really is pulling the right chords into the heart.

The KAOS retreat in Schöneweide
© Christopher Colm Morrin

Any common influences musically that you bonded over?

Christopher: We have have our difference influences but I’m a big Mark Hollis fan from Talk Talk and it was really beautiful to work with two musicians (here) who really take time to work with silence and work with space. It’s just a philosophy for me right now in my life – more space!

Paul: I think we all have our favourite things and I think the others share that and appreciate it but we all have very separate big things for us. But we don’t have that one band we all love – I think!

You mention this longing of space and between Clear Blue Sky and Heart is in the Land half of your tracks released thus far reference nature in their titles.

Christopher: Say with Clear Blue Sky, it’s more me just dealing looking out my window for a year as I was going through depression at the time. Isolation was going on a lot in my life and looking out the window was something that I felt had a nice calming effect. Heart is in the Land then was this kind of reach or effort to always to reconnect to something more grounded. Feeling so lost that subconsciously these themes – land, sky and nature – all help us feel a little bit better in our lives. They’re really just words about feeling lost. Lyrically, I have to admit that the lyrics I write are quite sad.

So do these lyrics then start first as poetry or during the recording process as a reaction to how the music is developing?

Christopher: Yeah, they are poems. Both those songs started as poems.

Did you have a vocal melody in mind for these so before recording?

Christopher: No, not with Clear Blue Sky. I don’t think I had a melody, no. It came with the influence probably of Paul’s bass. I may have. I can’t quite remember and it doesn’t really matter in the end ‘cos it’s again about getting over the fact of who owns what. It’s about getting to the point of feeling collectively good. That’s really it. That’s the beauty of playing in a band where you’re sharing all the way. Nobody owns anything anymore – it’s just all for the greater good.

© Camila Berrio

Both EPs were recorded at the same KAOS session then?

Max: What happened was we had these few ideas with we went into the warehouse with and we ended up with a lot more songs than we expected and then we weren’t sure really how we would end up releasing them. Or if we even would. We let a little time pass and realised that we actually really liked these recordings, they were so raw. They are from the early stages of our development yet there’s something special in them.

Talk us through the mixing process so long after the fact, as it were.

Paul: We spent quite some time figuring out the mixing as a lot of time had passed since the recording that of course our ideas and visions of what we’d wanted had changed . So, we worked on them, doing overdubs, improving the things that weren’t perfect. So, what was funny was that whatever we did we always ended up going back to the original takes. We might’ve felt excited about the new mixes for a couple of days but then we’d realise they didn’t transport that original feeling that we had felt. We really always wanted to commit to that first take in that recording session and how important that moment was for us as a band. Even with all the imperfections in there, we still really liked it.

Christopher: There are two more EPs to come yet from it. We split them up like that.

Paul: In the end we had so much material we thought to release it all but not at once but take our time.

So can we expect to hear then Nothing to Say parts 4 before then getting parts one and two, Star Wars style?

Max: There will be a part 4 coming actually!

Paul: But one thing about the releases was to show the two worlds that we have within the band. (On the first EP) Nothing to Say is more out there somehow and Clear Blue Sky is more of a “song” in that it has more of a format in a conventional sense.

Max: We really wanted to combine these two extremes that we’ve worked on. Bring them together.

© Christopher Colm Morrin

Heart is in the Land from the new EP brings the listener almost immediately into a space of contemplation and without lyrics.

Christopher: That’s the thing. I love songwriting so much. That’s my background but what the project has shown me is that instrumentals and landscapes are a huge part of it. Just as important as the “song”. Sometimes lyrics though get in the way, weirdly enough. We found it difficult in the beginning with the two worlds.

Paul: We didn’t wanna just go with one aspect of our sound.

Do you split the rehearsal process as such so, between the conventional format and then letting loose?

Christopher: Depends on the mood. We are rehearsing for a show at the moment. Whereas the first rehearsals we did were like three hours of just forty-five minute pieces each of just jamming. These long passages of time and we were exhausted by them. It’s heavy but after listening back you realise it’s actually interesting stuff. I hate to reference things but Dirty Three were a big band of mine that I loved. Those kinds of movements that I enjoy instrumental-wise. Less songy like.

Max: These explorations really help with inspiration. And to shape a band’s sound. Because we really have this situation where everything is possible and sometimes great ideas can happen. Even if it’s just a moment that passes and we never play it again even spending time doing that helps the band find its sound. It’s really essential.

Christopher: Sometimes I have this desire to just do experimental shows, not knowing what we’re gonna do at all. An hour set completely improvised. A big part of this thing is being in the moment and not knowing what you’re gonna do at all is a great thing. I’m tempted to just let it be completely free in the future.

And you have an online show coming up this Saturday?

Christopher: We were due to play a couple shows at Petersberg Art Space but due to the latest restrictions we will be streaming now from our rehearsal studio instead. It’s just the way the times are.

Live at Bar Bobu in Friedrichshain before lockdown
© Camila Berrio

How do you respond to the positive feedback that listeners and critics have given to your first EP?

Christopher: We are probably too involved with ourselves to mind what is said (positive or not). I mean, a quote from somewhere isn’t gonna change really what we’re thinking. We are deep in search, in the middle right now of a tunnel and digging deep in terms of what we’re doing next and that’s all that matters really. Even though to be honest with you we don’t have a clue what we’re going to be doing next! The uncomfortableness of choice is with us and maybe that’s somewhat unnerving too! If we were some indie rock band in Dublin trying to get PR we might be worried but because we don’t think that way, the openness is part of it. We are looking for more experimentation, more ideas, more angles and that’s it. It’s not about writing a hit pop song. It’s about playing together and seeing what feels good.

Max: It’s about keeping that feeling we had from the beginning, that freedom.

Paul: I remember we did a weekend session (recently) where we jammed and went very experimental and that direction felt great. And that can only happen when we don’t know what to do. It takes energy but we enjoy that.

Back to basics again then, is the band name influenced by the aforementioned calling to nature?

Christopher: I had the poem, Heart is in the Land, and I asked Dani what do we call this thing? We listened to the song and she asked me “what does it feel like to play with the two guys?”. And I said, “it feels like I’m coming down a little bit and just landing, coming down onto the ground feeling safe and good with these people”. Which is one of the most enjoyable feelings in the world. That groundedness. And she was like “what about Landers?” and it stuck. You could say she’s our spiritual manager!

And Daniela is responsible for the artwork too.

Christopher: That came about after she went to Peru and took photos of landscapes and she had done a lot of photos there and she discovered that at the end of the reels of films there were these mad colours coming through. That’s where the idea of the EPs’ imagery stems from – the death of the roll of the film.

Max: We are so lucky to have her on board. She’s so committed. She’s made all the cassettes handmade for the two EPs now too.

They look great, they even feel great. Anyways, thanks guys for taking the time and best of luck for the upcoming show and releases.

Band: Thank you!

The Just Thinking EP cassettes – designed by Daniela Elorza
© Daniela Elorza

Landers’ second EP Just Thinking is now available for streaming on Spotify and for a limited run the EP can be found on cassette over on Bandcamp.

Landers play this upcoming Saturday evening at 10pm Berlin time and info on where to stream that show can be found here.

Cover image by Daniela Elorza.

Ireland in Frame – Retrospective

We find ourselves in an era of postponement – the postponed holiday, the
postponed gig, the postponed return to the hedonistic abandon of our favourite clubs
and festivals. Yet some global trends continue at an unabated pace – the shift to a
digitally-based world, the obsoletion of traditional jobs and ways of life, and the
changed appearance to our city centres. Where does art fit into all this? Usually it
serves either to provide escape from the worrying aspects of our lives, or to provide
cultural edification and sustenance in times of turmoil. We need it more than ever to
provide clarity, substance and guidance to navigate the knotty, changing realities of
our everyday existences. But where can we find art in these days of social-distancing
and uncertainty?

Ireland in Frame is a street photography exhibition trail that has cleverly
circumvented the strictures of lockdown to give us cultural nourishment in our
troubled times. A striking photographic survey of modern life in Ireland curated by
Berlin-based musician Candice Gordon, who stepped into the role of cultural officer
at the Irish Embassy in Berlin earlier this year, the exhibition has a clear objective in
mind: to depict an Ireland devoid of clichés for curious Berliners, and online for a
global audience of art lovers. Candice manages this by assembling the works of six
photographers, whose collective work gives a startling, cross-demographic glimpse
into the lives of Irish people against a multitude of shifting rural and urban backdrops.
And rather than confining the work to one location, the exhibition scatters the photos
between screens in six Irish-run establishments peppered around Prenzlauer Berg,
Neukölln and Friedrichshain. This pulls off the feat of allowing us to enjoy a spectrum
of photography in six appealing cafes, bars and shops, meaning that what sets out to
be a window into real Irish life doubles as a Covid-friendly, miniature tour of some of
Berlin’s most celebrated districts.

Wheel of Life by Laura Jean Zito

Thrilled by the prospect of getting to visit some of my favourite parts of Berlin in one
day, I embark on the exhibition trail with fellow Irish Culture Berlin writer John one
windswept evening in September. We start off at Curious Fox, a cosy bookshop
situated between the dozy languor of Tempelhofer Feld and the multicultural splurge
of Karl-Marx-Strasse which turns out to be a fitting setting for the photography of
Laura Jean Zito, whose dynamic photos of fishermen in the mists of the Arans and
shepherds in Connemara are juxtaposed with schoolchildren on Achill island. The
photos effortlessly evoke the passing of time, detailing our former reliance on fishing
boats and horses and their supplanting by bicycles and cars. One picture in
particular encapsulates this generational shift: a boy cycling past an elderly man with
a wheelbarrow laden with wood on a country lane, showing a literal overtaking of old
traditions by modernity.

Croagh Patrick By Kenneth O’Halloran

In some ways, “motion” and “change” comes across as prevailing themes in the
photos we see on the trail, and pervade the works of Kenneth O’Halloran, whose
pictures are screened above a shelf of spicy wares at Crazy Bastard Sauce, our next
port of call. A young, hip clientele dine and chat away while the photos flicker from
the television above, depicting pilgrims to Croagh Patrick and chic young attendees
to the Trinity College Ball in Dublin. Echoing the vibrant splurge of cultures and
identities in Neukölln, O’Halloran’s photos are cinematic in scope, distinguished by
their bold colours and presentation of an array of people from different walks of life.

By Eamonn Doyle

As the sun sets, John and I set off for Friedrichshain, where we take a drink in the
spartan, low-lit bowels of the third venue on our trail, Badfish bar on Krossener
Strasse. Badfish dispenses with decorative frills, concentrating rather on craft beers,
cocktails and whiskey. And the accompanying photos here, courtesy of Eamonn
Doyle, are all in gritty, high-contrast monochrome, showing a multi-ethnic community
of Dubliners, usually in profile, against a series of soot-black buildings and
monuments, nicely echoing the equal importance of Friedrichshain’s aspirational and
multicultural population to the district’s identity as its rapidly gentrifying architecture.

Meath Street Salon by Lorcan Finnegan

With this in mind, we cycle on to Prenzlauer Berg for the final three venues on the
trail, where the warm, lamp-lit cobbled streets seem even more jarringly contrastive
to the run-down charm of Friedrichshain than usual. Shorn of the the rough-and-
ready punk aesthetic of Friedrichshain, it’s nonetheless easy to forget that
Prenzlauer Berg was originally a predominately working-class district, and its
reputation as a swanky, ‘bourgeois’ neighbourhood is still relatively recent. This
conflicted identity in some ways makes it the perfect setting for Lorcan Finnegan’s
collection, which beams from a television outside the original, flagship Badfish bar on
Stargarder Straße – a series of expressive and candid faces of predominately elderly
Dubliners in a city on the cusp of change. There is a sense of a colossal number of
stories waiting to be told in each face, just as a stripping back of each layer of paint
on a refurbished building may reveals something new and unexpected.

Italian Restaurant by Jeanette Lowe

The sense that a building has a huge story to tell and varies according to the eyes of
the beholder is central to the photos of Jeanette Lowe, whose photos are shown
outside Salt’n Bone, a gastro bar serving hearty Irish food on Schliemannstraße.
Lowe’s photos magically echo the sentiment of cosiness, showing cafes, bars,
restaurants and housing estates in Dublin’s centre with names omitted, and bathed
in pastel colours which bring the paintings of Edward Hopper to mind, exuding a
sense of timelessness and spirituality. The establishments come across as little
harbours of warmth and translucence in inky midnight blackness: small communities
of inner-city residents left to keep the depleted, pandemic-stricken centre alive, while
its usual office workers and shoppers are made to stay home in the suburbs.

Above image and featured cover picture both by Birte Kaufmann’ The Travellers series.

In some ways the final venue on the trail provides a perfect summary of the themes
explored in Ireland in Frame. In the warm and welcoming Misirlou bar on
Dunckerstrasse, in the midst of Prenzlauer Berg, which has long been celebrated for
its inclusiveness and internationalism,
Köln-based Birte Kaufmann’s striking photos of Irish Travellers shine a light on an
oft neglected and maligned aspect of Irish culture. The photos, shot in stark,
unblemished tones, show a world of caravans, horses and a shivering lack of
amenities. Yet it’s also a familiar world of dolls, dressing up and laughter. One
striking image shows two young children in school uniform, with a boy sitting on the
back of a caravan munching a biscuit, and a girl hanging up washing on a clothesline
lost in roadside brambles. It’s an evocation of a familiar childhood scene in an
unfamiliar setting. Where the photos here express societal isolation, they also show
instantly recognisable emotions that bind us all: boredom, uncertainties about the
future, kinship, and loyalty.

Put together, the photos offer a rich mosaic of sensations, traditions and
experiences. Just as it is impossible to reduce the sensation of living in Berlin to a
few words and images, the wealth of diversity shown in Ireland in Frame is an echo
of all our unpredictable, complicated, nuanced and ephemeral lives, and show that
there is far more to link us in our glorious multifariousness than separate us. By
showcasing such a wealth of talent while also drawing our attention to a handful of
standout Irish-run establishments in Berlin, Candice Gordon has achieved something
quite remarkable, demonstrating that cultural enrichment during this difficult year is
still possible when we dare to think outside the box.

Ireland in Frame ran in Berlin 18th September – 2nd October 2020
All photos from the exhibition can be viewed here:

Orian – “I discovered acoustic soft music to ease the pain and help the soul”

Hi Joey, how are you keeping?

Not too bad and yourself?

Good, good, thanks. Let’s start at the beginning with a cliched question in how did you get into music?

I’ve always been into music since I was young. I started learning the guitar when I was seven. My Mum and Dad were always really into music. They play a little too but not in any proper capacity. Like, Dad tips away on the oul fiddle and Mam used to play piano a bit but there was always music in the house and they were always listening to Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Nina Simone or Johnny Cash. So I got a really good upbringing on what I consider still to be really good music. We always just had certain traditions like when we in the car going somewhere we would have music on or during the Sunday roast there’d be a couple of albums thrown on on the record player. So I’ve just always been surrounded by music and I guess I just took to it. Then when I went into secondary school I became obsessed with heavy metal which still is kind of true to this day. I formed a metal band and took it quite seriously, probably too seriously really, and then I had my first girlfriend and then she broke my heart six weeks later – as it goes – and then I discovered acoustic soft music to ease the pain and help the soul.

Berlin was a place with more possibilities for me than back home.”

Then I went on to UCC and did music there, did a masters then in musicology. When I was in Cork I had always gone in to college to get better, to expand my learning but like, I also just wanted to become a singer songwriter down in Cork. I was really influenced there by the likes of Mick Flannery. Him doing folk rock and just doing really well for himself. So I kind of went down that route for a while and that’s how it all started.

Image by Paul Tobin

How did you end up making the move to Berlin in 2016?

When I was in Cork I got in touch with a booking agent over here in Germany, Triona Cummins, and she offered to book a few gigs for me over here. And I’d always heard that Irish artists have done well out in Germany and so I wanted to give it a try. Triona would book me out here for a week or two every six months for a couple of years and then one of the times I came over the tour was cancelled ‘cos all the buses and trains in Germany went on strike and there was no way for me to get around. So I was in Berlin and I had a week to do nothing and Triona kindly gave me her apartment for the week and an old friend of mine, Paul, had just moved here and he showed me around and I felt like, that Berlin was a place with more possibilities for me than back home. I had finished college by then, was teaching music and playing bars which was great but like, I didn’t wanna be doing that for the rest of my life and needed a change.

I grew up in a place where you gotta play it safe – I don’t wanna live like that.

Lyric from 2019 single “Tryin'”

And how is it getting into the scene for you in Berlin now as an independent artist?

So yeah, I’m independent but have a great support system in my manager and distributor. I’ve been working on my own since 2014 but Berlin is a really good place to be an independent artist because there’s a lot of really nice venues you can play. But I also think it’s very difficult here too ‘cos it’s hard to make money here as a lot of venues just won’t pay artists. This is a recurring theme here among musicians that because there are so many musicians who wanna play that the venues either won’t pay them on purpose or only offer these “pass the hat” deals. And a lot of musicians don’t agree with that. But of course there are some really nice venues too that do pay and there are some just really cool venues that we regularly play too. There is a good scene, a lot of cool venues with open mic nights too to get you to meet people and it’s a good spring board for other places in Europe.

Orian’s new single Ask You Twice – Artwork by Anny Wong

The remix for Tryin did rather well on Spotify, almost 170 thousands plays thus far. Does that add pressure to these upcoming singles or help?

I don’t know! I mean, the remix for Tryin is not really the kind of music I like nor the kind of thing I listen to. I did it with a really cool producer here but we kind of pushed it in a really poppy direction and it just happened to do really well. I don’t even really consider it part of my catalogue as it were. It was done with a label in Sweden and the reason it came out so poppy is the label in Sweden wanted it that way and then as a result (of that) it’s had so many streams. But what does that mean exactly? As it didn’t exactly make me any money, think I got about twenty euro for it. It looks good but what does it mean?

Tell us about your name Orian.

Yeah, it’s the Irish name for (my surname) Ryan with the Irish pronunciation but just without the proper spelling!

That wasn’t a conscious decision then to change the style of music when you changed from performing under Joey Ryan to the moniker Orian?

I think with Tryin’ there is the remix and then the proper version and that was my first single as Orian and what happened basically was I was doing the Joey Ryan thing for six years, had done two albums, had an iTunes number one single in Ireland back when iTunes was a thing and that was all going fine but I just wasn’t listening to that kind of music anymore and I really wanted to try something that a bit different. I was talking to some people who were working with Universal Music here in Germany and they were advising to go a bit more poppy and I think what happened was I probably listened to them too much and I don’t regret it as it was an exciting thing to do but that’s kind of why I changed the name ‘cos if I decide that that’s something I don’t want to do any more then I can go back to being Joey Ryan without tarnishing that!

“the new stuff has a more indie and 80s vibe

I also feel more comfortable when it’s not my name on the record cover. Or when people ask me am I in a band and I say it’s Joey Ryan, “oh that’s me” and that just makes me super uncomfortable. I don’t know why but it just does. Whereas if I say Orian most people don’t know that’s just my second name as Gaeilge. I have a disconnect which allows me to experiment a bit more or care as much about what people think. ‘Cos you always want people to like your music. It’s been a bit of a journey though. I have had to rethink things after the singles last year (Tryin and Holding On) as they were maybe too poppy. I think the new stuff is still poppy but has a more indie vibe, we have more synths and an 80s vibe to the songs coming.

The lyrics are still heavy, dark even. Even if some songs are “pop” in nature.

Dark is appropriate. I think that’s cos I’m a huge fan of metal. And dark indie stuff like Cigarettes after Sex, Future Islands, Bon Iver, The National. This stuff is all super dark. Oh and Phoebe Bridgers. She’s dark as hell but I love her. I like to keep my lyrics nice and serious. I don’t like to write about love I guess.

Image by Paul Tobin

It feels like pop can be a dirty word but on the other hand pop hits aren’t easy write either. And deserves it own resect too.

That’s the thing. It’s very hard to write a real pop song that’s like gonna make hundreds of thousands. If it were so easy everyone would do them!

Any gigs on the off that restrictions are easing in Berlin?

I was supposed to have a few gigs in November but they got cancelled. So right now, unfortunately no. I think for me, I was content in so far as I did a big German tour in February before COVID went down and I did fifteen shows so I was able to mentally say “you know what, I did my tour for this year”. Normally I wouldn’t do two tours that size anyways. Next year will be difficult though but we are gonna try cos I wanna play and I miss it so much.

Orian performing an acoustic version of Tryin at The Famous Gold Watch, Berlin.

Finally “Ask You Twice” is the first fo five upcoming singles. So does mean there’s an album?

I took a year off to figure out what it was I wanted to go for. I stopped working with some of the label people to go for a direction of music that I myself would like to listen to and then when I met my new manager he was really supportive of that. He said “just go away and write some songs, and don’t care about what genre they are” and I worked with my friend Roman who’s a producer and we have a very similar music taste. We are both huge metal fans! Out of those sessions came this specific sound. And Ask You Twice wasn’t just produced by Roman but also Joschka Bendner who co-produce dit and Roman finished it with the vocals and Joschka had just a really nice approach to the production that was very different to what I’d done before and when we were in the studio he really added all these cool layers that made it sound so interesting and had such a cool atmosphere. He really brought the vocals out.

So yeah, it’s gonna be an EP with these five songs and the sound is gonna become more apparent as the singles get released as an indie guitar led sound but with big emphasis on the vocals and the atmosphere of the songs. We started writing more songs so hoping towards an album maybe but who knows, may be just the EP. Let’s see how it works out.

We wish ÓRIAN all the best with Ask You Twice and his upcoming singles and will let folk know here once they’re out!

Cover Artwork by
© Anny Wong