Chongo

Grand Pocket Or­ches­tra’s sec­ond al­bum is heavy but it’s pop. Lau­ren Mur­phy re­ports

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

HAT IS ‘chongo pop’?” Paddy Hanna fur­rows his brow and sits back in his chair, mulling the ques­tion over. You’d like to think that he’s go­ing to tell you that the phrase, used to de­scribe Grand Pocket Or­ches­tra’s sound, is in­spired by some deep philo­soph­i­cal con­cept. The re­al­ity is a lot less mys­ti­fy­ing. Chongo pop, it would ap­pear, is not a state of mind.

“A mate of mine had a term for the in­stru­men­tal me­tal band he was in called ‘heavy chongo’,” Hanna ex­plains. “So I ba­si­cally bla­tantly stole it and chris­tened our sound chongo pop, be­cause I thought it fit­ted with what we were mak­ing: it’s heavy, but it’s pop.” Heavy, but pop is one way of de­scrib­ing the Dublin four-piece’s mu­sic.

Other de­scrip­tions have in­cluded “Fisher Price pop” and “Pave­ment meets Liza Min­nelli” (their own face­tious anal­y­sis, later amended to “Cold­play meets GG Allin”). In any case, Grand Pocket Or­ches­tra are . . . well, a lit­tle odd. Sit­ting in Dublin’s comfy Li­brary Bar, Hanna and his band­mates Mark Ch­ester and Bobby Ah­erne look non­de­script. Put them on a stage, how­ever, and it’s a dif­fer­ent story.

Since their for­ma­tion in 2007, when front­man and song­writer Hanna met bas­sist Bron­wyn Mur­phy-white on­line and poached Ch­ester from an­other band, Grand Pocket Or­ches­tra have been the cus­tard pie flung glee­fully in the solemn face of the Ir­ish mu­sic scene. Their 2010 de­but, The Ice Cream, was packed with slapdash tunes that rarely broke the two-minute mark. Their live show of­ten in­volves play­ing dress-up, chil­dren’s in­stru­ments and a lot of jump­ing around. This is a band that doesn’t take it­self too se­ri­ously.

“I think if you jump around re­ally fran­ti­cal-

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ly, peo­ple won’t re­alise how weird-look­ing you are,” dead­pans the droll Hanna. “We try not to force it, but yeah – it’s def­i­nitely more en­joy­able to just have a laugh on stage, and not be too se­ri­ous about it.” Ch­ester nods in agree­ment. “At that point, we were play­ing with loads of dif­fer­ent strange in­stru­ments, too, so we were con­stantly hav­ing to run and play a key­board over there, run back to the other side of the stage to play some­thing else . . . it was just a con­stant state of panic, ba­si­cally. We’ve con­sid­ered us­ing sam­plers and stuff, but . . . well, that wouldn’t be as fun.” In­cor­po­rat­ing that mad­cap ex­u­ber­ance into their mu­sic may come nat­u­rally, but the down­side is that it’s easy to be dis­missed as a nov­elty act, rather than one to be taken se­ri­ously.

“It’s def­i­nitely not our in­ten­tion to be ‘wacky’,” says Hanna. “But the truth of the mat­ter is that when we made [the first] al­bum, we were just ab­so­lute drunken messers, and that’s why it sounds like that; it ba­si­cally re­flects who we were at the time. The fact that that al­bum was even re­leased is a mir­a­cle to me. And be­sides, we re­ally wanted it to be as messy as pos­si­ble, be­cause we’re messy peo­ple – why try to sound too struc­tured when you can’t even put your pants on prop­erly?” Things have changed for al­bum num­ber two. Ron­ald and Sylma (named af­ter Ch­ester’s grand­par­ents) con­denses their abun­dant imag­i­na­tion into more or­dered songs, although they haven’t lost their sense of wild aban­don, ei­ther. Camp­ing is a rol­lick­ing lo-fi in­die-pop gem, Five Pairs of Fin­gers up­holds their rat­tle-jan­gle­clank tra­di­tion in the finest man­ner pos­si­ble, and As­so­ci­a­tion Press Din­ner has a dis­tinct whiff of Adam and the Ants about it. Their new­found mo­ti­va­tion is down to swap­ping al­co­hol for cups of tea, demo-ing their ma­te­rial be­fore record­ing it, and find­ing a new place to lay down the tracks, rather than the be­d­room of a hol­i­day home in Cork that was the scene of their slapdash de­but al­bum ses­sions.

“We did try to fo­cus ev­ery­thing prop­erly, but the old kind of messi­ness would creep up, oc­ca­sion­ally,” ad­mits Hanna. “We tried a few dif­fer­ent ideas. I found a few old mi­cro­phones at a car boot sale in Ger­many, which is why there’s a weird buzz on some of the songs.” Lyri­cally, he claims to have taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, too – not that his band­mates have no­ticed.

“Is there a con­cept? I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe it’s about peo­ple. It’s a bit more re­flec­tive, maybe. I try to tell sto­ries, but I’m kind of creepy that way – the sto­ries are mum­bled and a bit hard to un­der­stand, maybe.”

“Even I can only pick out the dis­gust­ing Since its foun­da­tion in 2010, self-de­scribed “bock­ety pop col­lec­tive”

has be­come one of the Ir­ish mu­sic scene’s creative bedrocks. Their plans for 2012 in­clude a third (and final) edi­tion in their pop­u­lar com­pi­la­tion se­ries; al­bum re­leases by Mum­blin’ Deaf Ro (called Dic­tionary Crimes), Pan­tone247, Gin­nels and Lie Ins; and con­tin­u­ing their monthly Popi­calia club night right through the year. Square­head un­der­take a short North Amer­i­can tour next month, while Tier­an­niesaur play UK dates next month, in­clud­ing a St Pa­trick’s Day gig in London with Grand Pocket Or­ches­tra and Land Lovers. bits – the odd ref­er­ence to ‘sodomy’,” adds Ch­ester with a laugh. Or ‘skullf*ck’, I think, was an­other one. I think we might have the lyrics in the sleeve of this al­bum to give peo­ple a chance to fig­ure out what the hell he’s say­ing.”

Be­sides honing their song­writ­ing, there’s also the small mat­ter of con­cen­trat­ing their at­ten­tion. Each mem­ber plays in at least one other band, in­clud­ing Gin­nels (Ch­ester), We Are Losers (Mur­phy-white) and No Mon­ster Club (Ah­erne and Hanna). Although the only mem­ber of the band with a full-time job is Ah­erne (a “pro­fes­sional sto­ry­teller” who works in the Na­tional Lep­rechaun Mu­seum, as Hanna glee­fully re­veals), fo­cus­ing their creativ­ity solely on Grand Pocket Or­ches­tra must prove tax­ing at times. Not so, ac­cord­ing to the singer, who says that re­leas­ing the al­bum on the buzzing Popi­cal Is­land la­bel is also help­ing on the or­gan­i­sa­tional front.

“First time round, we did ev­ery­thing our­selves, which was night­mar­ish, sweaty work,” gri­maces Hanna. “If it’s left up to me, it takes a month of con­fused emails to book a gig. But the Popi­cals are help­ing us with this and it’s made a mas­sive dif­fer­ence. They def­i­nitely held our hair while we puked.”

As for the fu­ture, and per­haps mov­ing fur­ther afield, break­ing other mar­kets? It’s a pos­si­bil­ity, but un­til then, the GPO car­ni­val con­tin­ues apace. “We’re fig­ur­ing things out a bit bet­ter this time,” says Ch­ester with a smile and a re­laxed shrug. “Ba­si­cally, when it comes to mak­ing mu­sic it’s about just des­per­ately try­ing not to do the most ob­vi­ous thing.”

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