First things first before we get into it – Some of the photographs in this post are of a vastly greater quality than my norm, what manner of sorcery have I come up with? I am delighted to say that for this post I have been able to collaborate with the extremely talented professional photographer, Dave Lyons. Dave has a passion for music photography and is just about to launch his photography website, go check him out at his page by clicking his name above and keep an eye out for that announcement! I will clarify under each photo in the post whether it is my own or Dave’s, though the vast difference in quality will of course also be quite the indication for this upon a glance.
Dan O’ Keeffe
Aaaand we’re back! I had a setback for a while with my computer going a little kaput on me, but now we’re back to full running order, so let’s get to it. On January 26th, James OR was set to headline Coughlan’s Live with a full band show, an opportunity I had anticipated for ages. Supporting on the night was Dan O’ Keeffe. Dan is a talented up and coming singer/songwriter currently based in Cork. He comes from a family with strong musical roots, with the likes of his sister Elly O’ Keeffe already generating large waves of interest in Ireland for her folk-music. I had seen Dan play once before with a solo set on the same stage before Elly O’Keeffe headlined it in December. On this occasion, he was joined by his fellow bandmate, Tim O’Mahony on Cello. Seeing them both set up, it occurred to me that I recognised Tim, taking a moment to place him in my memory. I recalled he had joined The Band Anna as a sit-in Cello player at their Cyprus Avenue headline gig last August. Having already enjoyed Dan’s music the first time I saw him play, I was interested to see how the Cello accompaniment might add further depth to the performance. I was not disappointed, as they paired together seamlessly to compliment Dan’s charismatic vocal delivery. From the slower songs to the more upbeat songs, the duo nailed it, even turning the energy up a notch to close out on one of Dan’s songs that usually requires his full band around him to pull off. Definitely an artist to be keeping a lookout for, hopefully I’ll catch him with his full band at some point
James OR and Band
So, James OR with the headline show – Now that’s something I’ve been waiting for a bit to be able to write about. But there’s time yet to get into that. James has been quite the catalyst behind much of the on-goings in The Merch Perch, from bringing several brilliant musicians to my attention and sprouting the seed of inspiration behind a number of my prior blog posts, to being actively spotted on this blog no less than two times before this point. One, when he played support to the brilliant duo Cry Monster Cry, and Two, when he played support to the ever so charismatic Mark Geary. When he’s not plying his trade on the stage as a talented musician and music-technician for other talented musicians, or gallivanting about on Social Media with quirky posts and intellectual musings in equal measure, James also finds the time to run his own podcast called The NORM. This ketchup illustrated corner of the internet sees James engage in great conversations with some fabulous people from all walks of life, from musicians and gaming youtubers to wedding planners and preventers of violent extremism and much more. Christ, what a fellow, ’tis a wonder if he finds time to sleep among it all.
Back to where we were, Dan and Tim have just strutted their stuff and have since vacated the stage. The crowd are awaiting in anticipation for the next part of the evening to continue. Sure enough, there emerges James OR now, Acoustic at the ready and sporting the freshest haircut. No expense has been spared, he is going to sound good and damned if he doesn’t look good doing it. He begins solo, stood in the middle of a cluttered stage set to host an army of musicians soon, and he opens the show subtly with the track “Don’t Get Used To Me” from his debut EP ‘Cold Open’. He slides into ‘Berlin’ straight after, the stand-alone single he released last year in the wake of Cold Open.
A brief pause follows as his cast joins him. Barry Wilson clambers across the stage to his drum set tucked in at the back corner, attempting not to clash with too many instruments on his way. The effort isn’t entirely successful, but make it he does. Tom Cahalane fills the gap between Barry and James with his guitar. Isaac Higgins settles in to the other side of James and dominates his space with the bass (Aren’t I a rhyming ace). Book-ending the other end of the stage sits Hannah Nic Gearailt on keys. For some songs, Aaron Bowen accompanies them to play Acoustic Guitar. Flitting around the floor Dave Lyons can be spotted working his magic, enjoying the challenge of fitting such glorious chaos into the space of his lens. By the door I notice Adam Kenneally watches on. Why is that particular detail of note? Never mind that, I’ll tell you later. Once settled, the band wastes no time as they crack into “Cartoon”, another tune from the EP. I’ve only seen James play Acoustic sets, at most joined by Hannah on the keys before this point, and he was amazing each time, but it’s incomparable to what unfolds before me here. The added depth and energy from the whole band working together is breathtaking. The musical arrangements are perfect and flesh out James’s full sound like I’ve never experienced before. Their performance is controlled mania, the small space doesn’t prevent them from throwing shapes, remarkably without bashing each other in the process.
The following song “In Your Praises” is one I’ve come to consider a staple of a James OR performance. Every time he’s approached this song, he has preceded it with a powerful explanation behind it’s meaning. On each occasion, it’s been completely genuine and from the heart. As a song tackling anxiety, it’s rather fitting that the words behind his explanations are never the same each time, for there are many different ways to approach the subject in describing it and James does it justice each time. Hearing the song in it’s full band form for the first time was nothing short of amazing, with so much added layers and depth to it. They really succeed in carrying the message of the music across to a level just that bit beyond what the one man on his own with an Acoustic can quite reach, though both renditions are brilliant. You’re damn right I’ll be keeping you in my praises, James. Moving on, they played the title track to the upcoming album “All The Beds We’ve Been In” that James is currently working on, followed by “Safe & Sound” from the EP, which James recently released a music video for ,shot by none other than Dave Lyons, officially closing the book on the 2016 EP in anticipation of what’s yet to come.
Next up was “Ins & Outs”, which is another song I’ve come to know as a James OR staple, hell even since before James OR was James OR, this is a song I’ve heard him perform going many years back to his old band days in Suede Halo, though I’ll digress further on that a bit later. Always a great tune. A couple more songs go by, and James casually throws a bit of Talking Heads into the mix, covering their song ‘Life During Wartime’. I’ve not heard that song as much as I’ve heard the material on their Stop Making Sense album, but irregardless of that fact, their style seeps through every note and mannerism that goes into covering one of their songs and is instantly recognizable, and the band did a stellar job with it much to my delight.
Moving into the closing segment of the show, I was pleasantly surprised to be hit with back to back waves of nostalgia. From the second James started to name the next track, I was rolling back the years to Suede Halo once more as he revived their song “What Happens In Vegas Stays On File And Is Dealt With Accordingly”. Also acceptably referred to as “Vegas”. It was great to hear it in the present day and note how it’s aged and progressed as a tune. Further Suede Halo nostalgia was provided in the next track ‘Last Night a DJ’ which also recovered more of their classic material in all it’s glory. They closed the set with the song “Miserable”, which is nowhere near as sad as it sounds, and is a likely candidate to be a key Single from the album when it’s finished.
While we’re on the nostalgia wave, let’s embrace it altogether while we’re here, why not. When I spoke at the start about James’s support and contributions to The Merch Perch, such as putting musicians onto my radar (whether he was aware of his doing so or not), truth be told that doesn’t even scratch the surface of it. James makes up one quarter of the single biggest inspiration behind me ever becoming interested in Indie music, the Irish music scene, and non pop chart-garbage music in general. How’s that? I present to you, Suede Halo: A Brief History (Through my eyes and recollection at least). Take it back 10 years or more, and four lads are tearing it up in the Cork music scene looking to make their mark. Pre-music moniker, James is just Jimmy at this point. He’s joined by my step-brother Isaac Higgins on bass (An iconic duo to this day), Adam Kenneally is the super talented lad behind the drums (See, the cryptic references above are starting to make sense now right?), and Dave Lyons is shredding it on the guitar (And that was the first truly nostalgic moment of the James OR headline gig for me, realizing the whole original band was in the room). I’ve been growing up at the time listening to Isaac dedicate himself to learning the Bass from the room beside mine, watching as he progressed with a hungry passion for the music, influenced by the likes of Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers among others. The computer printer used to see all the action it could ever wish for with the endless procession of chords to different songs that it would churn out.
Naturally, I quickly idolized this band, always wanting to see them, though having to make do with waiting for the opportunity to see them at All-Ages gigs. Among the places I saw them at the time was an open air gig in Cobh, plenty of gigs at An Cruiscin Lán, and even Cyprus Avenue, one of my trusty go-to venues to this day. Going to gigs at Cyprus Avenue today, I can still recall it through smaller eyes, as I ran around making people buy the lads EP ‘This Definitely Needs More Milk’. At their biggest point that I got to witness, I attended Indiependence Festival in 2011, where Suede Halo played on the main stage where The Coronas also played. That was a brilliant festival and one I must live again at some point, I have many fond memories from that experience.
Like most good things of course, Suede Halo unfortunately came to an abrupt end, which I understood little about at the time other than the fact I was devastated. They had been hitting the studio and recording for their debut album at the time, which was going to be amazing, but it never saw the light of day which is tragic. All that left me with as a remnant of those days was my treasured copy of their EP, which to this day remains a much played CD and the very first item of collected Merch I have acquired. In a way, the anticipation for James’s upcoming album for myself is not just about how great the music will be, but also a form of closure over half a decade later being in the same position.
These days, Dave has hung up the Guitar, but does professional photography and like myself can be seen at the front of loads of cool music events doing his bit and enjoying himself. Adam plays in a wedding band called The Old Moderns. Isaac plays in The Old Moderns, for James OR, for another wedding band called The Jabronis, for a funky original band called Goosefat, for a once in a yearly occasion band called Baked Potatoes, and probably twenty other bands I’m unaware of because he’s cool like that. And you know what Jimmy does, of course. Fun little side note: Jimmy has a cover band called The Ramblings, which originally started in the Suede Halo days and was the same line-up, though nowadays it has different members with Jimmy still at the front. That said, the day after the headline gig, The Ramblings played The Oliver Plunkett in Cork with the line-up of Jimmy, Isaac and Adam playing together once more, which I was very happy to attend and enjoy in the spirit of old times. They couldn’t be convinced to try crack out a Suede Halo tune though, although Isaac gave a fair attempt at knocking out a quick bassline from memory for a few seconds between songs. And that is just about it for this post, crikey we’ve reached the end already. Until next time folks! And remember, keep on Merchin’!