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Edinburgh group give bluegrass a modern twist



Date Published: 06-Feb-2013

Southern Tenant Folk Union, an outfit who put a winning twist on bluegrass, will play The Crane on Thursday next, February 14.


The Edinburgh based seven-piece band released their fifth album Hello Cold Goodbye Sun last month. They recently got a valuable promotional boost here in Ireland when they played on The Late Late Show.

“It went really well, I think,” says Pat McGarvey, who sings and plays five-string banjo. “They’ve got a very good camera crew; they do it week in, week out. They made us look very good! Also, they let us do our regular show, which is around one mic. I hope it helps, frankly, in the commercial sense. I want more people to see us and I want us to pay off our debts.”

Despite their traditional sounding name, Southern Tenant Folk Union like to put a modern spin on rootsy music. Listening to soundtracks of old Italian movies inspired Pat to make his banjo sound like a synthesiser on the song Crash.

“I felt it was something that hadn’t been done,” he says. “There are so many bands who do really great, straight-ahead bluegrass. That market place is crowded. It’s important to see what you can do with the instruments; they’re not just limited to songs about trains.

“Having said that, I love a straight bluegrass band. In our live show, we do a hell of a lot of straight bluegrass. That stuff’s exciting to see live. I think 90 minutes of slow, doomy music wouldn’t work.”

To replicate the synthesiser sound, Pat muffled his banjo with a tea-towel. What brought this unusual technique about?

“Because I’ve got two small kids,” he laughs. “We’ve just moved flat, but the place we were in before was a one-bedroom flat. To keep the banjo quiet when I was practising I was using a tea towel. I discovered it made a much more percussive sound; it actually does sound a bit like a synthesiser.”

The song Chest Freezer is set in a post-apocalyptic world, a theme that sci-fi and horror fans Southern Tenant Folk Union have explored on previous albums.

“The band’s been plying our post-apocalyptic lyrical themes for a few years now!” Pat says. “There was a tune our old fiddle player Roddie Nielsen wrote. I thought it was too good to be a fiddle tune, so I wrote lyrics to it.

“I thought in some post-apocalyptic, agrarian future where there’s less electricity around, perhaps the future will be acoustic music. So I ended up writing this song The New Farming Scene, talking about what it would be like in a future where there are small miniature farm states that control food and resources.”

Pat is a fan of Frank Herbert, who wrote the acclaimed Dune series of sci-fi books. Crash takes its name from a novel by English writer JG Ballard.

“He describes car crashes in great detail, and I thought that would be a good mix on how the economy crashed. JG Ballard also wrote a book called The Drowned World, about water levels rising and people trying to survive in a much hotter climate.

“On the new album, I suggested keeping the theme on modern horror,” Pats adds. “Things that people find frightening in their daily lives, like losing their jobs or big business destroying the economy. A fear of the future not going the way we would like it to.”

Southern Tenant Folk Union have an intriguing take on the folk and rootsy tradition. It must take some work – where do they practise?

“We usually rehearse at either Jed’s [Milroy, clarinet/guitar/banjo] or Chris’s [Purcell, vocals/guitar] house,” says Pat.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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