The 1990’s Roots of Pouric Songs
Long before I composed orchestral music or Irish trad tunes I wrote and sang indie pop songs. I cut my teeth at Dave Murphy’s legendary International Bar songwriter nights in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Regulars at those nights included Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey, Ann Scott, Declan O’Rourke, Gemma Hayes, Mundy, Roesy and Paddy Casey.
Such was the status of Dave Murphy’s Night, you’d never know who might turn up. I’ll never forget the nights Christy Moore and Paul Brady turned up out of the blue to join the songwriters queue and try out some new songs, sans mic, in front of the intimate hushed crowd.
There was a great democracy about the night. It didn’t matter if you were famous, if you produced a great performance of a good song you’d get as good an ovation as anyone. It was a brilliant way of testing new songs and learning stage-craft. Those were halcyon days for Irish songwriting.
Enter the lyricist
Dave Murphy’s International Bar nights are where I debuted many new songs, including some I wrote with Pádraic O’Beirn. I met Pádraic at a songwriters week organised by IMRO in 2000. That week was an incredible coming together of songwriters. In the daytime we’d collaborate with other songwriters. Each night there’d be open mic followed by house parties where the guitar was passed around. About half-way through the week I found myself sitting opposite Pádraic at lunch. We immediately hit it off and Pádraic asked me if I’d look at some of his lyrics. I’d never set another person’s lyrics to music before but I thought I’d give his a quick look over to see if they inspired me.
Within a couple of minutes of scanning through his lyric collection I stumbled across a beautiful, poetic lyric called Lullaby. The rhythm of the song matched perfectly with an instrumental in 5/8 time I’d recently composed. Within a short space of time Lullaby was finished, soon after that I’d set another lyric, Woodlands,. We debuted the songs that night and we knew we’d stumbled onto something special. With Pádraic’s lyrics collection I’d found a goldmine of inspiration and eventually I’d set 11 of his existent lyrics to music. Within a couple of years I’d set 11 of his lyrics. Pádraic’s lyrics lent themselves to eclectic music, from folky-dream pop (Beauty Becomes You, Stone Walls), jazz-pop (Woodlands, Harvest Do) and energetic Afro-pop (Mad for You, Phantom Moves). With Pádraic’s lyrics collection I’d found a goldmine of inspiration. I just needed to find the perfect band to play it.
The Magnificent Seven
The path to forming D.F.F. was a bit like Yul Brynner’s search for the Magnificent Seven. It gradually unfolded over time as I met various musicians with different skill sets.
In 2000 I put together a band with musicians who played with some of the great 90’s Dublin songwriters. It included future D.F.F. members Ciarán Swift, Cion O’Callaghan, Aidan Dunphy and bassist Brian O’Toole. They were big session players in Dublin’s 90’s music scene who’d collectively played with Mundy, Paddy Casey, Fionn Regan, Declan O’Rourke, Roesy and others. A bit like a 90’s Dublin version of the famous ‘Wrecking Crew’, the house band for Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. We recorded demos and did a few gigs but nothing really came of it as my college commitments took over. A decade later I reformed the band, with a couple of star reinforcements.
From Sweden to the Congo
There were other songwriter nights in Dublin in the late 90’s including Ken Burke’s open mic in Molloy’s of Christchurch. One day Ken offered me a slot in support to called Damien Rice, who was starting out as a solo artist after leaving Juniper. It was there I met his then cellist, Vyvienne Long. After my set she came up to me and told me she liked my songs and if I ever needed a cellist to give her a call. Soon after Damien became a huge success and Vyvienne was touring the world.
A decade later I met Vyvienne again at the Secret Festival in Sweden. The festival brought musicians from across Europe together to collaborate in a kind of ‘Eurovision meets Big Brother’ experiment! We were cooped up in a house together for a week before playing three gigs at secret locations on the island of Öland. We all played on one of each other’s songs. I chose Stone Walls. It was there I realised Vyvienne’s voice and cello would work brilliantly on all of Pádraic’s songs. Soon after that I reminded her of the offer she made a decade ago. Now free from touring commitments with Damien Rice, she happily joined my band.
Around 2009 I met the amazing guitarist Niwel Tsumbu, who had come to live in Ireland from the Congo. Several of the songs I’d written with Pádraic were influenced by Congolese guitar playing, so I asked Niwel would he like to jam on them with me. I visited his home, we jammed, we clicked, it was magic. Niwel is the greatest guitarist I know, he can play anything! Soon afterwards Niwel joined Cion, Maírtin Tourish and I to perform some of Pádraic’s songs at Africa Day in Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens. That sowed another seed for the album to come.
The final piece of the search for the Magnificent D.F.F. 7 came into place when Vyvienne asked me to support her on an Irish tour. Cion joined me on those gigs. Vyvienne’s bassist at the time was Dan Bodwell, who I’d played with before in an Irish Composer’s Collective concert. There was something about how Dan’s double bass and Vyvienne’s cello and voice blended that convinced me Dan was the man to be D.F.F.’s bassist. Finally, after 11 years of searching for the perfect band D.F.F. was assembled in 2011.
Recording in an un-Real World
In 2012 we got together to begin rehearsing the songs in Dublin. It wasn’t long before the band really clicked and we were producing some great music together. Then we travelled to Peter Gabriel’s astonishing Real World Studios to lay down most of what become Pouric Songs.
Recording in Real World was a sublime experience. I’ve never been in a studio like it before or since. The engineer Patrick Philips helped get a great vibe going and he loved the music. Real World is a hub of creativity. At times we shared the dinner room with Kaiser Chiefs and Simple Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill who were preparing new material in Real World’s songwriting studios. It was an elusively tempting peek into the wonderful world of successful rock stars.
After five glorious days in Real World we had most of the album tracks down. We followed the Real World sessions in 2013 with a few days recording in Grouse Lodge and Sun Studios, I was honoured that Dave Murphy agreed to do some backing vocals in Sun Studios. (You can hear Dave’s low bass voice in the ‘Freaky Funk’ section at the end of Beautiful Freaks Like Us. He’s also on The Mad Magician, Phantom Moves and Quartz). I returned to Real Word to mix the album with Patrick. Then it was mastered by Fergal Davis, cover/booklet designed by my sister Fran, the CD was manufactured and distributed around Ireland and digital stores. It took 15 years from the first song being composed to the album release, it was well worth the wait though!
The President Calls
When it was released in 2014 we got some great reviews across Irish publications (including Hot Press, The Sunday Times, The Irish Times), we featured on RTE’s TV Show The Works and even made it into the tabloids with an interview for The Irish Mirror. An Irish tour and festival appearances followed. We seemed to be on the up and up when we got invited to play for President Michael D. Higgins at his summer garden party. At first I thought the invite email from the President’s office was a hoax, but a quick phone call confirmed it was a genuine invite.
D.F.F. all looked set to be a great success, but somehow in the end, it wasn’t. Despite all the acclaim and publicity mainstream radio wouldn’t play Pouric Songs. Producer after producer said no to what we thought was a radio-friendly single Mad for You or the funky follow-up Beautiful Freaks Like Us. Without that radio support Pouric Songs faded away into obscurity. It didn’t hit the zeitgeist. It was a critical success but commercial failure. Disheartened by it all I left D.F.F. aside.
The Return of the Magnificent Seven
Earlier this year I orchestrated two of Pádraic’s songs for The Irish Memory Orchestra. This caused me to listen back to Pouric Songs a few times. It made me think it deserved another chance to be heard. I thought maybe the reason it didn’t catch on was the track order and the length of some of the songs. So I experimented a bit to find a better track order and edit some songs
So that’s how we’ve got to this new 2018 re-issue. The original release still stands but maybe this new version is a more accessible starting point, maybe it’s better as a shorter album. Time will tell.
I hope radio producers, broadcasters, press, bloggers and listeners will give it another chance. You don’t need to take my word for how good the record is, these press quotes speak for themselves
‘A true melting pot of music, DFF is a new supergroup marking the point where everything from chamber pop and Irish trad to the influence of Congolese “guitar sorcerer” Franco converge in glorious sound’ – Hot Press
‘The band’s purposeful debut album zings with vibrance and originality’ – The Sunday Times
‘Sophisticated yet instantly accessible, the enchanting Pouric Songs is surely one of the finest pop debuts to come out of Ireland in many a moon. In times when the world often seems to have gone truly mad, D.F.F.’s rainbow music is a joyous balm’ – All About Jazz
Pouric Songs (2018 version) is out now on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and all the other main digital platforms. The original Pouric Songs is still available on CD and download through Bandcamp. Take your pick!
p.s. A while ago I removed all my albums from digital services as I didn’t like the deal I was getting through my old distributor. The deal with Symphonic is better than what I’d had. Most people just aren’t buying CD’s anymore so, despite my misgivings about streaming I’ve figured it’s better for people to hear the albums than not. So over the next while my albums will re-appear online. Pouric Songs is the first of the re-issues. Thanks for reading.