Sunday, 19 September 2021

 

How have you managed during the Covid-19 pandemic?


I have tried to make the best of it. Progressed some writing and recording for the next release whether that’s Theme Tune Boy or something else. But the week before the world shut down I'd had a small cyst removed from an index finger joint and it wasn't entirely successful meaning I'd have to go back for another go when the world re-opened. So lockdown rolls on into late summer and I went for a swim in the Headrace Canal near my home just outside Limerick, near Ardnacrusha Power Station in Co Clare.. Next thing I know I've a gangrenous looking septic infection that's right the way into my bones and I'm in hospital in Cork hooked up to IV antibiotics and they're slicing dead bits off the finger. It was insane!. A year later, I still have the finger but it's still a bit of a zombie with a mind of its own. I got the ability to hold a drumstick back handy enough but guitar and bass are going to prove a longer road. So I did the only thing that seemed logical to me -I wrote a song about it. More an essay really. Somewhere between Alice's Restaurant, Alien and The Walking Dead. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMHKyG0Udn0


When did you start drumming?

I started building my own practice kit at home from plastic tubs when I was 14. The first time I got to use an actual drumkit was the night before a live performance on the back of a truck in Limerick city centre. Soon after, my dad backed me with money. I'm sure he couldn't spare to get me a tiny Striker beginners set. He also gave me his drumsticks and céili block -he and his family were quite musical and involved in Ceoltas. I made shit of his sticks and céili block in no time -pretty much using it as a cowbell. Luckily I did a bit of woodwork in art college and was able to do a tidy restoration on the block at least.

 

How would you describe your drumming style?

Probably for others to say, but I'd guess they might say, historically at least, I'm in the Vera Duckworth range when it comes to subtlety and nuance. Though in more recent years I think I've developed something of a gearbox I can shift through. I did drums and percussion with my friend David Irwins, Tom Waits -the early years Tribute some years back which put it up to me a bit to consider creative alternatives to 'leathering' everything. I also play club gigs with a DJ and they can be long shows so it's better to start with a lighter palette and build up.
But generally I'm probably regarded as an old school heavy hitter and I think there's also a strong enough association with using twin kicks as well which is funny as I can't blast beat AT ALL. I mostly play them as Keith Moon did -knocking out a string of 8s.  It helps that being a songwriter I can build in bits for the couple of modest tricks I can do. There's an urban myth in Limerick (that I did nothing to reign in of course) according to which I was "banned" from playing drums at school masses because I went full-on 'Won't Get Fooled Again' on closing hymn 'Walk In the Light'. Also have a rep for having a "wide" set up with one drummer colleague remarking "your hi-hats are in a different time zone to your china but fair play you get around them". It's one of my favourite compliments along with someone messaging me to say "jaysis Niall, you're handy as a small pot on them drums" 

Who inspired you to take up drums?

I suppose the bands I was listening to in my early teens in the mid 80s. I think Vom Ritchie from Doctor & The Medics was the first person I used listen to that had me distinctly going "I wanna play drums" as opposed to any other instrument. I think I imagined it'd be easier than guitar the same way some people think bass will be easier coz it's only got four strings. But I started tapping along with my hands or improvised sticks to things like The Cult 12"s of Rain and She Sells Sanctuary. Those 12"s were very useful in terms of breaking the whole thing down into manageable chunks. Not just drumming either -guitar, bass, composition itself. 


Who are your favourite musicians?  

As well as the aforementioned Vom I suppose in my earlier days playing in my teens it would've been Keith Moon for the sheer energy as well as Mitch Mitchell and Ian Paice. 

As I got older I'd have gotten into the metallers like Philthy Taylor, then Lars Ulrich, Charlie Benante, Dave Lombardo, Igor Cavalera. A huge one in later teens for me would have been Fyfe Ewing from Therapy?. Fyfe has the power of metal, the nihilism of punk and the groove of dance. He brought it all to the party.

 

What are your favourite songs / albums?

Ooh I've lots of those. Some not all that 'drummy'. Many of my favourite albums are by Half Man Half Biscuit 'Achtung Bono' and 'Urge For Offal' just for starters. Other albums that get spins uninterrupted are Bizarro by The Wedding Present, London 0 Hull 4 by The Housemartins, Mellon Collie by Smashing Pumpkins, Master of Puppets by Metallica, The It Girl by Sleeper, Murder Ballads by Nick Cave and and the absolute timeless belter that is Exile On Coldharbour Lane by Alabama 3.

As for individual songs - I'll never be able to play along to Slayers 'Angel of Death' properly but I like to try. I'm getting better at Metallicas 'Battery'. I love to play along to dance music -mainly big beat stuff like Fatboy, Prodigy ,Chemical Bros and 90's techno as well. Myself and Eric (The Hitchers guitarist) gig together in the guise of Decks&Drums where he spins the tunes and I leather away. We play the coolest of the cool to cheesiest of the cheese. It's too much fun and people seem to really enjoy it.


What drum gear do you use?

I've had the same kit since I rescued it out of a couple of inches of water in a coal bunker in 1988 though these days it's just the shellpack itself I use. It's a late 60's Japanese made student kit they used to make under the name Morris. I did a bit of research and found the shells are made of Indonesian mahogany ply -so they're pretty heavy. I'd to do a little restoration on some of the shells. When younger I always hoped to trade up eventually and I used be obsessed with Premier Resonators as a teenager. I had my midlife crisis in my 30's where I began obsessing over obtaining Ludwig Vistalites despite the fact I was drumming relatively rarely at that time.
Eventually I realised me and the Morris' are like an old age couple at this stage. I can't imagine playing anything else and it'd be vulgar to the point of treacherous to replace them now.  Its shells which had a damaged but beautiful mother of pearl wrap have long since been crudely covered in the posters and smash hits song lyrics off teenage Nialls bedroom wall in a homage of sorts to Keith Moons Pictures of Lily kit. I used to use two kicks but the second bass drum was always the first thing thrown out of the van when we got stuck for space so my band mates indelicately manoeuvred me to a twin kick pedal back in the mid 90's and I never looked back. My current Double-kick pedal is a Hayman. The rest of the kit is a 22" kick, 12" and/or 13" toms and a 16" floor. I use a 14" x 5" blue-olive badge Ludwig Supraphonic snare and I swear I wouldn't swap it for a Black Beauty.  

 

The hardware has been gradually replaced by Pearl stuff over the years. I know they make fabulous drums that record beautifully yet I've always found Pearl drums just not to my taste. But their hardware I've always found excellent in cost/quality terms. I do actually have an 18" Pearl floor tom which gets used as often as a kick with a jungle jig for dance gigs. But the Morris', which are skinned with a mix of Ambassadors, Diplomats and Emperors plus a pinstripe on the kick with Remo muffles on both ends to tighten the punch, have a superb and somewhat 'lively' sound that is very much of its era -sounds great with a 70s Glam Rock gig I've sat in on. It also puts that fear of god face on soundmen which is absolute gravy to me. I like to spoof them some pseudo-scientific drummer bullshit when they express concern and offer gaffa tape like "Oh no, no, it's imperative they're never tuned -but just left on the stage to 'room up' like a nice beaujolais".

Pretty much all my cymbals are Paiste which I presume your readers know is pronounced Pie-Stee and neither Paste, Pash-tee nor Páistí. I used have an endorsement deal with Paiste back in The Hitchers days but lost touch with 'my guy' there who I think moved on to C&C. I wish I'd taken further advantage of it to obtain some smaller and faster crashes. But I used get 18" heavy crashes -absolute bin lids because a lot of the time I was competing with a wall of Marshall Amps in semi-amplified/smallish PA setups. Among my crashes I've a vintage 18" Giant Beat crash/ride I picked up from an old jazzer. I rarely use it for rock gigs but for mellower stuff you can crash it, ride it, swish it. It's super. 

The only non-Paiste cymbal I own is a a 14" Meinl wafer thin crash a friend quite generously gave me that I use for the club gigs. It cuts through everything, super-fast decay. In-out. 
So my cymbal set up for The Hitchers and any other live rock gigs would be 2002(top)/Rude (bottom) combo 14" hats, 12" Signature Flanger Bell (tiny bin lid that cuts through EVERYTHING! Long decay mind. As Nigel Tufnel said you can go for a bite and that'll still be going) and to avoid a forest of cymbal stands that shares a boom with a 16" 900 dark Crash. Similarly sharing a boom over the other side are an 18" 2002 Crash and an 18" Rude China the latter of which I got 2nd hand for IR£80 in 1993 and it's still hitting me back. I alternate between a 20" Signature or 2002 Heavy Ride though I sometimes use both -more overhanging than stacked so I can play 16ths jiggling a stick up and down between them. 

 

What advice would you give someone wanting to take up drumming?


If you can dance you can drum, and I mean if you can dance at all as in sway in time to a piece of music -then you can drum. Drumming is articulated dancing is all. 
Also -protect your hearing from day one. There's nothing rock'n'roll about tinnitus. 


What advice would you give someone starting out in music?

 I used give a standard smart-arsed answer to this along the lines of "don't take any advice from beaten dockets like Niall Quinn".  But then I heard a story about the second world war that gave me pause for thought. Its a story of incomplete datatsets really. The allies were concerned about the number of planes they were losing on raids over Europe. Unsustainable losses. So trying to enhance survival chances they looked at the damage sustained by the planes that made it back and made a chart or diagram that mapped out the most common areas of damage to the planes. They were about to embark of a program of adding heavy armor plating to those locations when someone cried 'STOP'.-having realised that's where the planes that survived were hit. That means it must be possible to survive being hit in those locations and inversely it must be impossible (or at least unlikely) to survive being hit in the places those planes HAD NOT taken damage. They added armor to the locations showing little damage in their charts. Survival rates shot up. So the planes and crews that never made it back still provided data that saved others. So I guess that makes me one of the planes that never made it home and therefore I may actually have useful data to contribute. In that spirit and with the caveat that I'm in my late 40's, can't work Instagram and the landscape of the music business has changed beyond recognition to when I started out here goes...


- Be more generous and open than I was with the ideas, suggestions and creative inputs of your bandmates. They are your greatest asset and are as invested in your success as you are.

-Turn up on time.

 

-In any and every contract you're offered don't presume the independent legal advice you will of course be getting will spot everything. Have each band member who will be signing the contract go through it counting and highlighting every instance of the word ALL. Now each of you write out what you understand the sentences containing the word ALL to mean. Where differences of interpretation occur seek clarification until you have consensus. With consensus reached -you now have your battleground. You'll want as many of those "ALL"s as possible changed to something like "certain specified" or "certain defined". 


-Work as hard as you can, play as hard as you like and set reasonable boundaries between the two. It took a long time, far too long, for the penny to drop with me that "heh ...the barman isn't pissed, the girl on the door isn't pissed, neither are security. So -why am I pissed?" Now when your work is done -drink paint for all I care. There's no Just Say No lectures from me beyond suggesting you make informed choices on what you put in your body. But respect the fact you've chosen to work in an industry that floats on alcohol. 
And beyond that I'm afraid I really haven't a clue. Noel Redding once said "Eat well, sleep well and try not to get your dick caught in your zip". I think that advice has held up well. 

 

 


What is the music scene like in Limerick at the moment?


As ever It's very, very good. I'm not one of these people who imagines golden ages for bands or music or whatever. Limerick has always had loads of creative people doing exciting stuff in any and every genre. What can ebb like the tide a bit is opportunities for those creatives to show what they can do and develop -be that access to venues putting on gigs or recording facilities or even rehearsal spaces -the latter of which ironically there are often more of in economic downturns. But a lot of those boxes seem to be ticked at the moment and hopefully more so as the world opens up a bit. Limerick has always had it covered with the indie-guitar based thing and singer/songwriters but there's a thriving hip-hop scene now too that's given rise to the Make a Move festival and sure the whole world has heard of Denise Chaila by now. And metal has always been chugging away in the background thriving just fine in the dark -and Siege of Limerick which happens twice a year when the clocks change has become a cultural jewel in the crown. 

 

What’s next on the horizon?


Well I'm still writing and recording and getting over damage to the left hand. 2022 will see the 25th anniversary Vinyl re-issue of The Hitchers first album It's All Fun and Games Til Someone Loses An Eye so I'm looking forward to doing some gigs around that.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

 

How did ‘The Clockworks’ get started?

Well myself, James McGregor and Sean Connelly, (singer and guitarist in the band), we all went to the same Secondary School. Sean and I were in the same year. I knew him first and we were friends since 1st year. James had been writing music for, I don’t even know how long, but he had started off writing poems and then worked on turning them into songs so eventually he and Sean started playing music together. Sean had been in a metal band around that time but he was playing drums so he decided to take up guitar for the band. Then they started writing songs and they needed a drummer. Sean asked me purely because I had shown a bit of interest in playing drums so when I started going on 16/17 they began asking me to go and practice with them. Tom who’s our bass player joined later whilst in Galway, studying in N.U.I.G.

Is it true that The Clockworks are signed to Alan McGee’s label, Creation23?

We are yeah which is absolutely mental! When we were living in Galway, we used to watch Oasis documentaries and he would be popping up and we read his book and everything. He was just this figure in music and he was always respected and admired but we never thought we would be signed to him. Sean had seen an interview with Alan in the NME and the interviewer asked him “what’s the best way to get in touch with you?” and he said “just send me a message on Instagram”. At this stage we had probably sent him about 50 messages on different social media channels but Sean sent him an Instagram message and he heard our song and he liked it. I get a message saying he was going to come and see us in the rehearsal room so get over here now. So he came to the rehearsal room and we didn’t have a gig lined up since we were just there and we thought he would stay for a song or two but he stayed for a whole set and for another hour or two after that. Before he left he said there was no waiting around and he wanted us.

Who are the drummers that have influenced and inspired you the most?

Sean was probably my first influence because as I said he played in a metal band and I’d remember he would bring his drums anytime they did music practice. He would play them all through lunchtime. I remember I used to be more than happy spending my lunchtimes watching him play. That’s what initially got me interested in playing the drums. It just seemed so cool and fun. After I started playing in the band I got into other bands. I started getting into Matt Helders, from the Arctic Monkeys. I just remember listening to every album especially the first two from a drumming perspective. I just thought there was something so gritty but you could still dance to them.  I always liked Matt Tong, drummer with Bloc Party. He was their original drummer and again just the same thing, they always picked the right beat. It’s always just right, does exactly what feels right and I think that’s the most important thing. An Irish drummer that influenced me was Micheál Quinn, Meltybrains? and Dermot Kennedy. I never got to see Meltybrains? live but I just remember watching whatever videos they had online because I just thought he was a fantastic drummer.

What are you currently listening to?

It’s a weird time because just out of boredom I’m listening to anything and everything. One of the most recent that I’ve really liked is Michael Kiwanuka. Probably one of my favourite albums ever is A Grand Don’t Come for Free by The Streets. I just really love, not necessarily the concept but I just thought the way he did that album was so different. Each song has its own story but yet all songs together are the full story and  you don’t need to listen to it all to understand it or appreciate it but if you do it makes it that bit better. I’ve always loved that one. I think that the way we operate and what they did on that album is that the music should tell the story along with the lyrics. It should add to it. We are writing music for the score of a film. What story we are trying to tell for a particular song is how we approach it.


What’s next on the horizon?

Hopefully get back gigging towards the end of summer but that depends on Covid-19. What we are definitely going to do is to keep recording and releasing music. We have a song already recorded that we are hoping to release in February 2021. We are just going to keep releasing singles for the time being and then as soon as gigs start back up we will be ready to go. We are not going to waste a second!  We have been in London coming up on 2 years now and that’s where we spend most of our days,

What advice would you give someone starting out in music?

That’s a good one. I would say try getting around with other people and when you can try just gig as much as possible. I was thrown in at the deep end a bit in terms of learning how to play drums. While I was playing gigs and when you are on stage and you make a mistake, you make sure you don’t make it twice because you don’t want to be up there in a room full of people not being able to play a song and that’s how I kind of learned. I think you learn quicker if you throw yourself in at the deep end and I think it’s important to play with other musicians because again if you play by yourself in a room you’re just playing a chord or 2 but if you bring other musicians along to play in a room with you, you’d be surprised at how different it is because you have to kind of feel it with 3 or 4 other people. I think it’s important to play music with other people.

Your recent singles “Can I speak to a Manager?” and “Enough is Never Enough” got huge coverage. You must have been delighted with that response!

Both of them got a great response and a lot of radio plays here in Ireland which we love. Just because we moved to London doesn’t mean we want to stop making moves here in Ireland. We still want to make an impression here. Dan Hegarty (Radio Presenter) has been great to us and also Annie Mac (BBC Radio).  We’re delighted with it because when you choose a song to release, you obviously choose the one that you think is the best at the time. You never know how it’s going to be received. We’re very lucky and grateful for how people received it.

Covid-19 has had such a huge impact on everyone. How have you managed to cope?

We definitely took things for granted but to be honest we have been lucky as we all live in the same house so we have still been able to practice and record in the studio just because we haven’t been putting anyone at risk by doing those things. That’s been very lucky for us. I think the biggest thing is how much we miss doing gigs which isn’t that surprising I guess but I’ve really missed being able to go to a venue and just even the small things. I’ve been
missing every part of it.