LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

For many Ir­ish acts, rock’n’roll is here to stay. But du­pli­cat­ing do­mes­tic suc­cess in the com­pet­i­tively cut­throat UK and US is an­other story. Many go for it, but few re­turn tri­umphant, writes Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

FOR Ir­ish rock acts, the high times may be back. More and more Ir­ish bands have en­joyed a lengthy spell in the album charts this year. As a re­sult, the latest con­tenders have some com­mer­cial suc­cess sto­ries to tell. The abil­ity of bands who were not in the pub­lic eye a year ago to sell large quan­ti­ties of CDs and down­loads is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing. Di­rec­tor and The Bliz­zards, for ex­am­ple, are two acts signed to ma­jor la­bel sub­si­daries who emerged with a bang in ’06. With of­fi­cial sales of 8,000 and 4,000, re­spec­tively, at the end of Novem­ber, in ad­di­tion to play­ing and fill­ing big­ger venues, both have rea­sons to be cheer­ful about what lies ahead. But both still have some way to go un­til they can match the real heavy-hit­ters in the Ir­ish pan­theon. Snow Pa­trol lead the class of 2006, with 90,000 Ir­ish sales and count­ing for Eyes Open. They’re fol­lowed by Bell X1 (52,00-plus for 2005’s Flock, which is still sell­ing), Damien Rice (more than 17,000 peo­ple have al­ready bought 9) and The Frames (12,000 copies of The Cost have gone to Ir­ish homes).

This is just the tip of the ice­berg; you can also add com­mer­cially well-re­ceived re­leases from a host of other acts, in­clud­ing Repub­lic of Loose, David Kitt and The Im­me­di­ate, to that list.

Of course, some al­bums failed to per­form. The most high-profile un­der-achiev­ers were Humanzi. De­spite a lengthy and ex­pen­sive pro­mo­tional and mar­ket­ing cam­paign by their la­bel, the Dublin band sold just over 500 copies of their de­but album dur­ing a three-week ten­ure in the Ir­ish Top 100.

Yet, for most Ir­ish acts, the real work is only be­gin­ning. While en­cour­ag­ing do­mes­tic sales can sus­tain a band for a while, it’s not enough for a long-term ca­reer. Bands have to even­tu­ally leave home and sell their wares abroad.

Snow Pa­trol may have the big­gest sell­ing album in the UK in 2006 (1.2 mil­lion sales for Eyes Open), but few of their peers can sell more abroad than they do at home. With ex­cep­tions such as Snow Pa­trol and Damien Rice (whose 9 has al­ready sold more than 44,000 copies in the US and went into the UK charts at No 4 with 58,000 sales), sell­ing al­bums abroad is tra­di­tion­ally where new Ir­ish acts come a crop­per.

Mu­si­cal is­sues aside, there are many busi­ness rea­sons for a band’s fail­ure to make an im­pact abroad. Af­ter all, many acts signed to ma­jor la­bels of­ten find them­selves with­out sig­nif­i­cant and pow­er­ful cham­pi­ons inside the com­pany will­ing to help their cause. Many acts find that an Ir­ish suc­cess story is of­ten not enough to guar­an­tee a re­lease, a pro­mo­tional push or even a move up a rung on the pri­or­ity lad­der. There is of­ten a small win­dow of op­por­tu­nity which the band maymiss be­cause they have com­mit­ments else­where and are un­able to cap­i­talise on a me­dia break or op­por­tu­nity. With­out a ma­jor la­bel’s in­vest­ment, many acts just don’t have the fi­nan­cial mus­cle to sus­tain an ex­ten­sive for­eign cam­paign.

Then there’s the band’s own morale. Af­ter an act be­comes ac­cus­tomed to a cer­tain amount of home­town ac­claim, the lack of in­ter­est from over­seas au­di­ences night af­ter night can sap the spirit and kill any en­thu­si­asm for the job in hand. Its at this stage that many acts de­cide to go home and play an­other sell-out tour rather than em­bark on an­other soul-de­stroy­ing and ex­pen­sive run around the UK, play­ing to three stu­dents and a dog ev­ery night.

Di­rec­tor are tak­ing a “slow-burn approach” in the UK, ac­cord­ing to man­ager Richard McDonogh, with the first sin­gle due out there on At­lantic Records in March. “The band have re­ally just started in the UK,” he says. “They’ve done a lot of tour­ing and have played al­ready with Hard-Fi, the Goo Goo Dolls, The Au­to­matic and Mod­est Mouse. There’s a very long game­plan with Di­rec­tor.

“There are a lot of bands com­ing out on the back of hype and press be­fore the mu­sic is right. Once the mu­sic is right, you’ll sell records. So many Ir­ish bands are thrown out there, get one shot at it and end up mean­ing noth­ing be­cause they don’t sell any records.”

Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic Ire­land boss Dave Pen­nefa­ther, whose charges The Bliz­zards have made such a big splash at home this year, also ad­vo­cates the go-slow approach to break­ing an act over­seas.

“How many Ir­ish bands have been signed in the last 20 years?” he asks. “How many have bro­ken through in the UK or other ter­ri­to­ries? You can’t fast-track progress, so you have to take a more pa­tient approach. Too many bands have been signed to UK la­bels and have never been heard of again. You have to cre­ate the aware­ness here, help the band de­velop an au­di­ence in their home base and then look to­wards the UK or US.”

Pen­nefa­ther says Bell X1 are one Uni­ver­sal sign­ing who have ben­e­fited from this busi­ness model. He sees it as the way to go for The Bliz­zards. “The whole trick is to get a story over here and make it at-

trac­tive for our la­bels and sub­sidiaries in other mar­kets. With The Bliz­zards, there’s a whole bunch of la­bels in the Uni­ver­sal fam­ily, so we’ll see what hands go up.

“There was no point go­ing to the other la­bels be­fore there was any­thing to talk about. We can now point to a Top 5 album and the grow­ing size of the venues The Bliz­zards are play­ing and fill­ing.”

The de­ci­sion to re­lease Di­rec­tor’s album in Ire­land first was taken af­ter the suc­cess of their Re­con­nect sin­gle here. “The re­ac­tion sur­prised ev­ery­one,” says McDonogh. So Warner Mu­sic Ire­land man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Pat Creed “felt it was time to go with the album re­lease over here at that stage, and I think now it was a very wise move. It has re­ally upped the ante in Eng­land and they’re very en­cour­aged by what has hap­pened.”

One Ir­ish band who have re­jected the ma­jor la­bel’s ap­proaches and have no qualms about it are The Im­me­di­ate. Their In Tow­ers & Clouds de­but album, re­leased as part of a one-album deal with Lon­don-based in­de­pen­dent Fan­tas­tic Plas­tic, has sold nearly 2,000 copies in Ire­land to date and has re­ceived over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­views.

“It’s out in the UK but it didn’t get the re­sponse it got here,” ad­mits man­ager Philip Cartin. “A lot of that is down to the fact that we’ve only played two shows over there since the album came out. If we had been sen­si­ble, we should have held off the re­lease of the album in the UK un­til 2007 be­cause we con­cen­trated on Ire­land so much.”

Now that li­cens­ing deals have been done, In Tow- ers & Clouds will be re­leased in 2007 in France and Aus­tralia. “It’s re­leased in Ger­many al­ready and get­ting very good re­views there. Our plan is to have 3,000 or 4,000 sold by next year in Ire­land, to be able to play gigs abroad in the coun­tries where the album has been re­leased, and to have the next record ready.”

Next year will also see many other Ir­ish acts mak­ing a mark on re­lease sched­ules. The Mar­shals, who are signed to Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic’s Mer­cury sub­sidiary, have an album due out in Fe­bru­ary, while an­other long over­due album should be forth­com­ing from Derry’s Red Or­gan Ser­pent Sound. Ex­cel­lent Car­rick­macross band The Flaws are also set to re­lease their de­but album in Ire­land in 2007. And then there are the bands who are qui­etly beaver­ing away on their mu­sic and­who could turn out to pro­vide the real sto­ries of next year.

All of th­ese bands will, how­ever, prob­a­bly make their big­gest in­roads at home. In the long-term, bands re­ally need to make an im­pact abroad. Af­ter all, as hun­dreds of Ir­ish acts have dis­cov­ered down through the years, very few ma­jor la­bels will con­tinue to sup­port a band who are just mak­ing the head­lines at home.

That said, an Ir­ish suc­cess story should not be sniffed at.

“Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate Ire­land,” says McDonogh. “Sell­ing a record is sell­ing a record. If we can sell 30,000 or 40,000 here, that goes a long way to re­coup­ing the money we owe the la­bel and pay­ing some bills.”

DAMIEN RICE

THE IM­ME­DI­ATE

SNOW PA­TROL

THE FRAMES

DI­REC­TOR

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