Cork Midsummer Festival starts today, so we thought we’d launch our coverage by catching up with the two people behind one of its most tantalising events, Bowerbird at Triskel Christchurch…Conor put the questions to Adrian Crowley and Gary Sheehan…
How did the idea for Bowerbird first come about?
AC – Gary approached me with the idea first and asked me what I thought of helping to put together a weekend of music with him. Cork Midsummer Festival were curious about folk music in the loosest sense and both Gary and I were interested right away. I had a list of people floating in my mind that I just imagined would be amazing to have under the same roof, taking turns to take the stage. Likewise with Gary. And Triskel Chirstchurch is a very special place and from a sound point of view it is pretty amazing. I was at Homefires Festival in Conway Hall, near Holborn in London in 2005 (and played at it the following year) and it really struck me how something can resonate with people if certain elements are in place, elements like the right space, the right sound, the right like-minded artists all devoid of ego-driven motives…it all creates an overall experience that stays with you.
GS – I also think we were trying to bring artists with similar interests but from different backgrounds and histories. So Andy Irvine and Sam Amidon being there together will be pretty special and so on…
Why the name Bowerbird?
AC – Why that name? I was trying to think of a name (possibly from nature) that would sit with some aspect of the nature of writing songs and music and the whole idea of a solitary character driven to make something bigger than itself, something almost devotional … then one evening my wife showed me this photograph her friend in France had sent her. It was this bird who makes a ‘bower’ out of things from its surroundings and pieces of brightly coloured things it steals from other places with the end edification a kind of shelter, altar and bed all rolled into one. I thought the image was beautiful and poignant…so I nabbed it!
It’s a pretty special collection of artists. How would you assess the “folk tradition in 2012”, as the event byline goes?
GS – Well, the event started as a perspective on folk music today in the broadest sense. So the byline just flags that. I suppose we were interested in having some legendary folk artists like Andy Irvine and Martin Carthy and younger artists coming from that tradition like Sam Amidon. But we were also interested in artists that, while they might not seem folk artists in the traditional sense, like Aidan Moffat, are certainly working out of a vernacular of their own place. So this is not attempting to be a survey or anything more than an interesting couple of evenings of similarity and contrast too. Obviously there’s lots of good music going on in the folk area taken in the widest sense so hopefully that makes these two shows attractive and relevant.
Most of the artists on the bill will be reasonably well known to people, Sam Amidon, Andy Irvine, Martin Carthy, and so on. Serafina Steer may be a newer name to people (including myself), can you tell me a little about her?
AC – I’ve been good friends with Serafina for a good few years now. We met in London around 2005. She is an incredible musician, singer and songwriter. I’m very fond of her as a person and as an artist. She performs with a concert harp and sings her unique songs. She can be very funny and very moving at the same time. Music just flows out of her. We’ve done a good few gigs together over the years, in Dublin, Edinburgh and London. She’s signed to Static Caravan in the UK and is very prolific. I think people in Cork are going to love her. She’s just finished a new album. I believe Jarvis Cocker was involved. I’m looking forward to her telling me about it. I haven’t seen her in a while.
Can we expect any onstage collaborations over the two nights? Or even legendary after-party activity…
AC – Who knows? Stranger things have happened.
I’m thinking that this could be one of the best suited events for Christchurch yet. Discuss…
AC – I think so, anyway Gary what do you reckon?
GS – Yeah, there is a certain reverence about music in a church that can work really well for this sort of music. It reminds me of many great shows I have seen at Union Chapel in London. But the sound is also great at Triskel Christchurch so it also works really well for louder, more dynamic music. This gives great scope for a wide range of music. Which is something we have attempted to do. There have been shows at Triskel where really special music in that environment can be pretty magical. Hopefully Bowerbird can be like that.
Adrian, how do you feel about becoming a curator/promoter?! Does a second career beckon…? Also, will you be laying out some new material yourself on stage?
AC – I wouldn’t dream of calling myself a promoter, even ‘curator’ is pushing it, I just like the natural and human idea of following through with a vision to share something with people. So, no I don’t see it as a sideline career. I love the magic of seeing something come together that started out just as an idea in one’s mind…you know, kind of like if you go for a long walk by the sea and something pops into your head, a seed of an idea to make something…and then that thing becomes a reality. I loved the magic that was Homelights, in Dublin late in 2009.
As regards new material by myself, yes I dare say I’ll be playing some. I’ve just finished a new album and I’m enjoying having these new songs in my life. I’m just going to approach it all in a slow and relaxed manner and enjoy the moments.
Gary, can I ask you about programming for Triskel Christchurch, just over a year on from its launch in April 2011. How easy or difficult has it been to programme for the space?
GS – Well, Triskel Christchurch is a pretty special venue. That was apparent when I visited it before it opened. That coupled with the Arts Centre’s commitment to doing quality music. The venue has got off to a good start. The first year went well and plans for the Autumn there are very strong in terms of artists due to play there. Of course doing shows is really tough at the moment for everyone. Our recipe is pretty simple, bring good artists, keep ticket prices reasonable and hopefully the shows will find an audience. As a programmer, my belief is that once music is great the idiom doesn’t matter and I think that broad view has worked well. The venue has hosted everyone from Chris Thile to Brad Mehldau and Laurie Anderson to Lisa Hannigan and that has worked well so far. The mission statement, to continue to bring great music and find an audience for it.
Bowerbird: Modern Folk and Beyond – Curated by Adrian Crowley & Gary Sheehan
Triskel Christchurch, Cork, June 29 + 30
Full event details at http://www.corkmidsummer.com/programme/event/bowerbird