THE HOT PRESS ROUND-TABLE
An even bigger table than usual was needed this year as eight of Irish music’s brightest, plus our man Stuart Clark, gathered for the annual Hot Press Christmas Summit. From Harvey Weinstein and pulling crackers with Grace Jones to private U2 gigs and Rep
Everything from Harvey Weinstein and pulling crackers with Grace Jones, to private U2 gigs and Repealing the Eighth are on the conversational agenda, as a group of Irish music’s best and brightest dissect 2017 with surgical precision.
If the 2018 Guinness Book Of Records hadn’t already gone to print, there’d probably be a new entry under ‘Most Irish musicians gathered in the one place before 11am without visible signs of any of them being hungover.’ Clear heads and forensic minds are required for today’s dissection of a tumultuous year in not just rock ‘n’ roll, but also the wider entertainment industry, which one suspects will be dealing with the implications of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and others like it, for a long time to come.
It’s not all gloom, doom and Donald Trump, though, with the Critics Poll in the Hot Press Annual – still for sale, kids, with a pullout U2 on the souvenir cover – attesting to the quality tuneage that’s helped preserve our collective sanity. It was a damn fine year on the gig,
TV, film and podcast front, too, as we’ll be reflecting.
Before we get down to HP Xmas Summit business, here’s who we have gathered around the table in our new favourite northside watering hole, Bagots Hutton…
EDEN: Making music in his bedroom since he was a kid, the 21-year-old Dubliner, real name Jonathon Ng, has become a global pop phenomenon thanks to millions of YouTube plays. “I love your track, ‘Sex’; it does something very simple and intense to my brain,” cooed Lorde last year on Facebook. Allied to the same heavyweight US management company as Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, his debut album,
Vertigo, comes out on January 12 and will be accompanied by a massive world tour, which includes an Olympia Theatre homecoming on April 24.
STEVE GARRIGAN: Joining us on Skype from their rehearsal room, the Kodaline singer is gearing up for the spring 2018 release of their as-yet-untitled third album, which includes input from Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid and Beyoncé producer Jonny Coffer. Fans will be able to get a sneak preview on New Year’s Eve when they headline the 3Countdown Concert outside the Custom House.
JESS KAVANAGH: The R’n’B belter par excellence – think Ella Fitzergald with a dash of Lauryn Hill - confirmed with summer single,
‘Optimus Prime’, why her and her band BARQ are so highly thought of. In addition to spreading their aggro-punk gospel, Jess is a vociferous Repeal The 8th campaigner with a Hot Press frontcover to prove it.
EOGHAN McDERMOTT: Proof of intelligent life on daytime pop radio, 2fm’s weekday drive man also fronts RTÉ’s Electric Picnic coverage with stationmate Jenny Greene, has advocated on behalf of the Ana Liffey Project and isn’t afraid to say it like it is on Twitter – even if it does on occasion get him in to trouble!
PETE O’HANLON: Fresh back from Japan and looking forward to two months on the road after Christmas with his pal Paul Weller, the Strypes bassist is the only person in the room who’s pulled a Christmas cracker with Grace Jones (more of whom anon).
This has been the Cavan rockers’ best year yet with album number three, Spitting Image, charting on both sides of the Irish Sea and a Fuji Rocks festival appearance confirming their A-List status in Japan where they have their most rabid following.
ELEANOR McEVOY: The reviews were universally rave in July when the former Woman’s Heart lynchpin released her 14th studio album, The Thomas Moore Project. Along with a rigorous bout of touring – she’s off to Australia on Stephen’s Day – Eleanor has also found time to takeover as Chair of the Irish Music Rights Organisation.
JOHN GIBBONS: Doing the radio rounds here for over a decade - you can still catch him every week on Spin and Beat 102-103 - the Carlow DJ went supernova in April with his banging remake of Michael Jackson’s ‘P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)’. Snapped up by Good Soldier Songs who also look after The 1975, Biffy Clyro and Gavin James’ publishing interests, he’s amassed over 75 million Spotify plays and remixed the likes of Olly Murs and ex-Saturdays star Mollie King.
CAOIMHE BARRY: One-third of Wyvern Lingo whose superfunky debut album is in the can and awaiting February release, the Wicklow multi-instrumentalist has also firmly nailed her colours to the Repeal mast and, as you’ll discover later, succumbed fully to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
STUART CLARK: Still mystified as to how he managed to sneak into one of Michael D. Higgins’ garden parties this summer – they really have to beef up Áras an Uachtaráin security – our man has spent the year pontificating not only in Hot Press, but also every Friday on Newstalk with Pat Kenny who’s he managed to convert to the grime cause.
STUART: Morning all, you’re the most punctual bunch
"Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google combined don’t employ as many people
here as the Irish music industry does."
of Summiteers we’ve ever had. Let’s see now if you’re the brightest! An easy one to start with – your tracks and albums of the year?
JOHN: I’m absolutely loving Noel Gallagher’s new one, Who Built The Moon? It’s so different with David Holmes producing; in places it crosses over into dance music. It’s what might have happened if the Gallaghers had done something with the Chemical Brothers back in the day.
CAOIMHE: A lot of my year has been soundtracked by SZA’s album, Ctrl. I also really like Princess Nokia. She’s a bit of a dickhead, though.
STUART: Can you explain the nature of this dickhead-ry? CAOIMHE: The self-love is great, but too often crosses over into vanity… She’s always interesting, though, so we’ll let her off!
EOGHAN: My band of the year hands down is All Tvvins. I can’t understand why they’re not bigger than they are. Them at Longitude is the best live show I’ve seen in a long time. I always revert back to Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous, but he’s what I listen to in my car. New album wise, Macklemore’s Gemini was a real curve ball. Along with the dance anthems, he’s got a song called ‘Kevin’, which is about his brother who died from a drug overdose. He’s railing against the American pharmaceutical industry in an almost Louis Theroux-style way.
STUART: Talking of Michael Jackson; John, your ‘P.Y.T.
(Pretty Young Thing)’ remix was a massive club hit this year. How did you get your hands on Jacko?
JOHN: Ah, him and me go way back… No, I’d always wanted to do something with Michael Jackson and stumbled upon this dirty, grainy a cappella online, which I think is one of his strongest ever vocals. I did it as a bootleg to play in my own sets but the record company said, “This deserves a wider audience” and then spent two years getting the necessary permissions! I was thrilled that Michael diehards, who are extremely protective of him, all seem to like it.
JESS: I’m going to sound like an absolute hipster wanker but I just got into vinyl and they’re all about fifty years old! Newer stuff I’m into would be Harmony Of Difference by Kamasi Washington who works with people like Thundercat and Kendrick Lamar, and Man Made Object by GoGo Penguin who are from Manchester and influenced by house, dance and Aphex Twin. It’s dark but very beautiful.
EDEN: Like Caoimhe, I love SZA’s album. Process by Sampha is amazing too. I’m really excited to hear the N.E.R.D. record, which is out this month. The song they’ve dropped with Rihanna, ‘Lemon’, is just bonkers.
PETE: It came out at the tail end of 2016, but the album I’ve played most this year is Public Access TV’s Never Enough. The standout track’s a punky one called ‘In Love, Alone’. They’re coming to Dublin in February and their bass-player’s going on a pilgrimage to Phil Lynott’s house in Sutton. He’s just going to knock on the door, and hope Philomena invites him in for a cup of tea. Another brilliant album is Lemon Twigs’ Do Hollywood, which takes its cue from ‘70s glam.
ELEANOR: I really like what Soulé and Jafaris are doing at the moment. The cross-pollinating of styles and backgrounds is one of the best things about Irish music this year. A great old school album is Mick Hanly’s Homeland. He’s the ultimate songwriter’s songwriter.
JESS: The scene now is so unbelievably diverse. Growing up, there weren’t many other people of colour, which made me and my Mam, who’s half-Nigerian, think we were the only ones into funk, soul and R’n’B. We weren’t, of course, but I don’t remember having too many conversations about Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye at school! Now, you’ve people from every conceivable background, which is impacting on the music being made here big time.
STEVE: Rag’n’Bone’s Human is incredible. We worked with
one of his guys, Jonny Coffer, recently in LA. Jonny’s also written and produced stuff for Naughty Boy and Beyoncé, so he’s coming from a place that’s totally different, but very, very exciting.
STUART: So, we have ourselves a “Kodaline go hip hop!” exclusive.
STEVE: (Laughs) No, but Jonny took us out of our comfort zone, which has tended to be slow, emotional songs. He was like, “Why limit yourself?” The most recent sessions were in London with Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol who’s converted an old church into a studio, which doesn’t feel like a studio because it’s so homely and chilled. We were supposed to be finishing the album last week, but ended up writing loads of new songs.
STUART: I hear I’m not the only one who’s been hob knobbing this year with the ruling elite…
STEVE: We played for 20,000 people in Jakarta who were going berserk and screaming. Two of the guys in the band got married this year, so we’d taken a bit of time off and weren’t expecting to have this massive crowd singing songs back to us. I’ve no idea what he was doing at a Kodaline show because he’s a big heavy metal fan, but the President of Indonesia was there! STUART: Any other standout gigs?
STEVE: Glastonbury, which was made even more nerve-wracking by Rag’n’Bone Man being on while I was doing my vocal warm-up. I thought, “Fucking hell, how am I going to follow that?”
STUART: How did The Strypes get on opening for Liam Gallagher recently?
PETE: The gigs were amazing – Touts, who are great and for once younger than us, were also playing - but we were too star-struck to approach him. I got an, “Alright, mate?” from Liam in Belfast which reduced me to a quivering mess!
STUART: I can only imagine what you’re going to be like in January when you go on tour with Paul Weller!
PETE: That’ll be okay because Josh and me were part of his band for a Record Store Day thing he did a few years ago. He walked in to rehearsals when we were tearing through ‘In The City’ at 1,000mph and said, “Lads, you’ll have to do it three times fucking slower than that!” Anyway, we got to play ‘In The City’ and ‘Away From The Numbers’ with him, which was all our Christmases and birthdays come at once. We’ll still be calling him “Mr. Weller”, though, when we do those shows with him.
STUART: You were also, like Jonathon, at
PETE: We ran into Bob Gruen, the legendary rock photographer, there, which was a bit incongruous because he’s the most New York man ever! We headlined the main Marquee Stage – when I say ‘stage’, it was a cow shed, really – and had a full house/shed of 12,000 people, which is one of the biggest things we’ve done. It was mad doing promo there because we had a translator whispering into our ear the whole time.
CAOIMHE: You’re not fluent in Japanese?! JOHN: You could have made an effort!
PETE: I know, poor!
STUART: Jonathon, you’re far too modest to say it, but things have majorly taken off for you in the States.
EDEN: Yeah, the biggest market for me at the moment is America. The two shows we’re doing at Irving Plaza in New York sold-out in a few minutes, and we had to move others up to bigger venues, all of which is mind-blowing! I’ve a really phenomenal manager, Michael George, who works with Scooter Braun. They look after everyone from Bieber and Kanye West to Dan & Chase and random country artists, so it’s pretty wild…
STUART: With your debut album, Vertigo, coming out in January, next year’s work schedule must be pretty scary.
EDEN: It’s crazy for me to think, “Oh god,
I’m not going to be at home in 2018 at all!” My agents are almost more ambitious than I am. The Vertigo World Tour starts in March and they’re already thinking two tours ahead of that. Not that I’m complaining! Having spent the past three years translating the ideas in my head into an album, I want to be heard by as many people as possible.
EOGHAN: Good luck booking him for next year’s Round Table!
STUART: People looking in from the outside might think, “He’s been poxed lucky”, but you’d already built up a huge global following when Scooter Braun and your Stateside label, Astralwerks, came a calling.
EDEN: I started releasing music when I was 15 or 16 and had songs with millions of plays online before I had an email from a record label or anything. The only reason I had to go into a studio recently in New York was that I couldn’t ship my bedroom over with me! I’d done everything up till then at home.
STUART: John, you’ve some heavyweight connections of your own having signed to the same publishers as The 1975 and Biffy Clyro.
JOHN: I don’t know what it was initially that
“I’ve no idea what he was doing at a Kodaline show because he’s a big heavy metal fan,but the President of Indonesia was there!”
attracted them to me. What attracted me to them was the founder, Christian Tattersfield, being the former CEO of Warner Music in the UK. I had a hundred songs I wanted to play him whereas he just wanted to hear one! He still hasn’t heard the vast majority of the stuff that’s there waiting. On the one hand it’s exciting because there are so many sides to my music that people still don’t know, and on the other really frustrating because at this rate it’ll take me ten years to get everything out there. Despite all those Spotify plays, I feel like I’m nowhere near the point of critical mass yet.
STUART: Snapping hard at Vertigo’s heels in February will be the first and as-yet-untitled Wyvern Lingo album. I’m not suggesting that you’re in any way slothful but it did take quite a while to assemble.
CAOIMHE: Ah, no, suggest away! We stared recording this February, so from start to finish it’ll have taken a year. We did it in three parts, all of which were great experiences. The first sessions were in Hellfire Studios, which is a cool, vibey spot in the Dublin mountains. Then we went over to London and did some stuff with Neil Comber who’s worked with M.I.A. That was really good too. My favourite bit, though, was recording some of our vocals in my Auntie’s house. We played cards and drank wine and Guinness most evenings like a bunch of old dearies.
STUART: Can anyone outdo Caoimhe in the rock ‘n’ roll dreams come true department?
STEVE: At the end of last year, U2 invited us to watch them rehearse in LA and played a whole show for us. Bono put his arm around Vinnie, our drummer, during ‘Vertigo’ and jokingly sang, “All of this could be yours!” It was such a ridiculous, surreal experience that we barely noticed Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane coming in halfway through and sitting down next to us on the couch! Another surreal one was being heckled at a show in LA by Sacha Baron Cohen who was there with his wife, Isla Fisher. Afterwards we hung out and had beers.
PETE: Rocket Music, which is Elton John's management company, has people from the roster over in mid-December for a party. The first year we went it was us, Elton John, yer’ man James Blunt and Grace Jones at the same table. There was an awful fight for the last piece of pudding!
STUART: What on earth is she like at a Christmas knees-up?!
PETE: It was a lunchtime thing, so relatively calm. There was only one cracker left, so we all pulled it together. I think she ended up with the toy in the middle!
EOGHAN: Evvvvvvvvvrybody’s been on the piss with Grace Jones!
STUART: There wasn’t mistletoe involved, was there?
PETE: What happens at the Rocket Music Christmas Party stays at the etc. etc.
JOHN: My celebrity encounters have a tendency to end in humiliation! About ten years ago I was in Miami for the Winter
Music Conference, which is a week of major dance industry networking. I was small fry and had absolutely no one to network with, but managed to sneak my way into this party where two absolute DJ heroes of mine, Roger Sanchez and Rob Rivera, were chatting to each other next to a completely empty swimmingpool. There wasn’t a sinner in it. Anyway, I elbowed my way through the crowd with my shitty CDs and said, “Howaya, lads!” They totally ignored me, so I got a bit closer and said, “Howaya!” again. Same non-result. I make a third attempt, sticking out a hand to Roger Sanchez… and fell into the fucking pool! As I surfaced there were CDs floating around my head. I was mortified.
STUART: Eleanor, along with your own career, you now have the wellbeing of IMRO’s 15,000-plus members to worry about. I’m sure there’s a Top 50, but what’s number one on your list of concerns?
ELEANOR: The biggest threat we’re facing is the copyright legislation that’s going forth to the EU in January. I’m listening to all of you thinking, “If this were 15 or 20 years ago, you’d be making serious money with the amount of streams you’ve had on Spotify.” PETE: That’s a shame…
ELEANOR: It’s just so much more difficult now. One of the reasons so few musicians are making a proper living from their work is that the tech companies are taking the money. They’re using your content to draw people in and mining all these people for their data so they can target them later on for advertising. They’re getting the most fantastic buildings and 24-hour chefs while you guys are suffering. The wealth has been transferred from one group of people to the other. YouTube and Google are great as promotional tools, but you should be paid properly for it too. People look at Apple and say, “Jesus, they employ loads of people!” The government bends over backwards for them because, great, jobs! Apple, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google combined don’t employ as many people here as the Irish music industry does. We bring €700 million into the economy, but the government doesn’t consider us to be a proper industry. Who’s the Minister with responsibility for it? There isn’t one. We’re calling for a cross-industry group that can talk to the government as one. Musicians are not great at fighting for themselves; we’re very fragmented. I look at the film industry and
I’m so impressed how they’ve lobbied the government. Where’s the Musicians’ Union? Creatively I’m blown away by everything I’m hearing round the table today, but I’m also fucking angry that you’re not getting the financial rewards you deserve.
STUART: Lisa Hannigan and Hozier both lent their support to September’s massive Repeal The 8th march in Dublin. Have you guys worked out to what extent you’re willing to get involved with the Repeal The 8th referendum?
CAOIMHE: We’ve a song that Karen wrote, ‘Out Of My Hands’, which is about the dangers of political apathy. She’s involved with a lot of refugee groups and is much better at speaking about matters than I am, but we’re constantly talking among ourselves and deciding if and how we’re going to engage with issues. Repeal The 8th is a very delicate subject – no one’s a fan of abortion – but, ultimately, the country needs to trust women to have the power to make their own decisions. As a band, we’ve already played Repeal awareness gigs and I’m going to be doing one upstairs at the Roisin Dubh in Galway on December 16 to which all
Hot Press readers are invited.
JOHN: I used to use my music to express my views, but I’ve quite a young audience and, as an older person, don’t feel I should be telling them what to think. It’s a discussion they should be having among themselves.
ELEANOR: I keep meaning to not go on political rants, but I just can’t help myself!
EDEN: Until now, I’ve not really been asked political stuff, but I’ve thought about it a lot. If you believe something’s wrong and needs to be fixed, do you not have a sort of moral obligation to use your platform to help refugees or help the environmental crisis or help women with Repeal The 8th? In a business sense, you don’t want to alienate people and music is supposed to transcend politics. A lot of the time I don’t feel like I know enough about a specific topic to be in a position to lecture others about it. It’s something I obviously need to digest and think about more before I start doing loads of press.
PETE: When I was 15 or 16 I thought I’d be the new Joe Strummer – “Ask me what I think and I’ll sort the world out!” – but like Jonathon, I’m not sure we’re well enough informed to be laying down the law on volatile subjects. You really need to know what you’re talking about before saying something inflammatory because you’ll be hauled over the coals for it for years to come.
JESS: I’m female, I’m mixed race, I come from a working-class background… it doesn’t make sense for me not to be involved in these issues because they’re inherently about me.
STUART: Eoghan, as an RTÉ employee, you have to tread a fine line when expressing your opinions.
EOGHAN: Some people might remember that I came close to losing my job with RTÉ when I told them to “go fuck themselves!” on Twitter when they said I couldn’t voice an opinion on the Marriage Referendum. I was supposed to host an event in Vicar St. with Panti, Brendan Courtney, Anna Nolan and some other people about life as a gay person in modern Ireland. RTÉ said I couldn’t do it and after the referendum closed, I got wildly drunk
“I came close to losing my job with RTÉ when I told them to ‘go fuck themselves!’ on Twitter.”
and told them what I thought.
PETE: We’ve all been there!
STUART: I need a breathalyser on my phone. EOGHAN: I know it sounds ridiculous, but you don’t get a booklet on the difference between state and commercial broadcasting.
I’d come from XFM in London, which had all these people like Alex Zane, Jimmy Carr and Russell Brand who’d made their careers on having opinions and articulating them loudly. The RTÉ Director General at the time, Noel Curran, could have just fired me on the spot, but very graciously took me into his office and said, “I understand your frustrations, but as an RTÉ contractor you’re paid now from the public purse and have to respect those people who have different opinions to you. That’s the reason you have to remain neutral.” I now totally appreciate that point of view.
STUART: Steve, having spent time in LA and presumably heard some of the local entertainment industry gossip, were the Harvey Weinstein revelations a complete surprise to you?
STEVE: Yeah, you can kind of sense that there are abuses of power going on. Hollywood, in particular, can be a dark place. It’s sickening, to be honest, and a breath of fresh air that these people are being found out.
I’m a true believer in karma; do that stuff and eventually it’ll come back to haunt you.
STUART: Eoghan, you declined to interview Chris Brown because he wasn’t prepared to talk about physically abusing Rihanna, and took Twitter issue with Ryan Tubridy for treating Mel Gibson with kid gloves recently on the Late Late.
EOGHAN: I don’t know if he signed some sort of waiver in advance, but Ryan should have asked Mel about that. Even if he’d wanted to do it softly softly, it was too big a topic not to broach. I know it wasn’t a one on one – he was over promoting Daddy’s Home 2 with Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell and John Lithgow – but I think there should have been more than just a very general question about recent events, which only John Lithgow appeared sincere in answering. Everyone else fumbled it. It was a weak response to the most obvious train coming.
ELEANOR: I don’t normally talk about it because you’re seen as the whingey one, but even in small ways, you’re constantly having to deal with shit. You ask for a set of strings in a music shop and they say, “Are you looking to make jewelry?” All the time in interviews I get, “Who helps you write the songs?” I’m in my ‘50s, this is the fifteenth album of my career;
I’ve a fucking music degree! There’s just no way they’d ask a male musician that. You’ll go in and they’ll assume you’re the backing singer or somebody’s girlfriend. Challenge that and you’re considered ‘awkward’.
JESS: I’ve been on tour and had people assume I’m a groupie. Stuff like that happens all the time.
STUART: Let’s end on an upbeat note. The films, TV shows and podcasts that have kept you entertained during the year. I’ll start with Logan Lucky, Sky Atlantic’s Babylon Berlin and the Blindboy Podcast.
JESS: I’m a podcast addict. The Guilty