[INSPIRATION] 7 incredible songwriters with lyrics that are pure poetry and melodies that are mindblowing

In my mind, Bob Dylan is without an equal in the modern living songwriter stakes – he is our poet laureate and Shakespeare and oracle all wrapped into one. But there are several other lyrical and melodic masters that I adore that I would love to share with you. For some of you, these names are not new and for others only a handful may be familiar. Either way, all of them will hopefully resonate with you and open a new world or extend existing ones. I urge you to seek out more of their work and listen to it. There is nothing quite like the joy of discovering a fantastic new musician or poet and then realising that they have a huge body of work to dive into. Life is good to us sometimes!


1. John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)

The Mountain Goats are one of those best-kept-secret bands that are whispered about in hushed reverence by those who know about them. I am one such fan, but I want to shout about them. John Darnielle is one of the great living songwriters and each song brims with intelligence and humanity. He began his songwriting career by recording songs onto hissy tapes on a boombox and garnered a deserved cult following. In recent years he has released full studio albums (often incredibly realised concept albums) and enlisted the help of talented bandmates to produce glorious, gorgeous songs about the world we live in. Many of Darnielle’s songs manage to tell a compelling story with great characters, while swinging around a hooky melody and killer chord changes. All in 4 minutes. All delivered in his trademark, arresting singing voice. Yep. John Darnielle rules.

What album should I start with? Tallahassee


2. Jeff Tweedy (Wilco)

When they put together those lists of the best bands and albums of all time, Wilco rarely show up on them. But anyone who knows their music and who has seen their live shows know that they might not be the most popular but they are the best. Jeff Tweedy writes songs with such invention, melody and emotion that you would be hard pushed to find many better living songwriters with such a volume of high quality songs. From the alt-country simplicity and beauty of a song like “Box Full Of Letters” to the brainbending oddity of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart“, Tweedy has the capacity to wrap words around chords in a truly compelling and original way. History will remember him as one of the greats.

What album should I start with? Yankee Hotel Foxtrot


3. Katell Keineg

I remember when I first heard Katell Keineg’s album “O Seasons O Castles” years ago and being struck by how exquisitely crafted it was, both musically and lyrically. And that voice. Oh my goodness. That voice elevated the entire experience to a near spiritual experience. Some time later I saw her in Whelans and that elegant songwriting seemed to extend to her magnetic presence on stage. Every single song was spellbinding and inspirational. Do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in her songs. You will arise refreshed.

What album should I start with? O Seasons O Castles


4. Ed Hamell (Hamell on Trial)

Ed Hamell is a one-man folk punk band with explosive songs that tell wild tales of working in upstate New York, delicate ballads about love, powerful political treatises and hilarious stories of a life well lived. To see him live is to witness a hurricane of profanity and sincerity wrapped up in lyrical complexity and cool chords. As a test of his own songwriting skills, he recently embarked on a project where he wrote a song a day for over 440 days! A great songwriter with songs that kick you hard, just as quickly as they tickle your funny bone and tackle your conscience. A true original

What album should I start with? Ed’s Not Dead: Hamell Comes Alive


5. Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse)

Alas, Mark Linkous is no longer with us but he left a legacy of incredible layered, inventive songs. I first heard Sparklehorse open up for Radiohead on the OK Computer tour, but my brain wasn’t ready to hear the brilliance on offer. Years later I heard a friend play “Piano Fire” on an acoustic guitar and the stripped back simplicity of the song revealed the pure poetry of Mark Linkous’ songwriting. I immediately returned to my Sparklehorse albums and marveled at the potent production as much as the poetic lyrics. I dare you to listen and not find magic within the layers.

What album should I start with? It’s a Wonderful Life


6. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is probably one of the more well-known names on this list thanks to his songs “When The Stars Go Blue” and “New York, New York“, but he has a wealth of incredible, captivating songs that are equally worthy of your ears. (He also does an unbelievable cover version of Wonderwall by Oasis.) Adams is a prolific songwriter and has managed to amass a body of work that stands alongside the very best out there. For me it is his ability to bring both melancholy and sweetness in the twist of a word or bend of a note that mark him out as a really great songwriter. Lyrically strong, melodically masterful, consistently brilliant.

What album should I start with? Heartbreaker


7. Dan Bern

Dan Bern is a songwriter in the mould of Dylan and Guthrie, but with his own anarchic, witty songwriting twist. His songs tackle topics from the ridiculous to the sublime and always with real heart. Again, he is best experienced in a live setting, but on record he brings his quirky sensibility to the studio and delivers one fine song after another. His trademark, humorous take on the world shines through best in his marvellous “Tiger Woods” song. Once you have heard it, you will never be quite the same. Dan Bern is a truly prolific songwriter with the ability to write children’s albums as easily as powerful socially conscious albums for an older generation. One of the good guys.

What album should I start with? Fifty Eggs


[INSPIRATION] 7 stunning paintings you should see in person

First things first, I am not a painter. I am just a fan of painting and in this post I wanted to offer up seven remarkable paintings that have made a huge impression on me and have inspired huge amounts of my own creative output. Hopefully they will spark similar reactions for you. My father was a painter, so he undoubtedly influenced me a great deal in the choices below (as I was growing up he took me along to so many galleries to see these paintings in person) and I am indebted to him for seeing many of them. Today would have been his birthday, so it seems fitting to share this.

There are a dozen other extraordinary works that could have easily made this list but these were the ones that came to mind first. These reproductions, of course, only offer a glimpse of the brilliance of the original works themselves. If you can, I urge you to find them on your travels and soak up their mystery and genius. On with the art…


1. Gas – Edward Hopper (1939)

I could pick any Edward Hopper painting and marvel at it for hours. I love them in the same way I love Raymond Carver stories. Each one of them a lonely, cinematic, beautiful slice of America. They are so sparse & profound with a wonderful underlying drama in each painting. Perhaps more than any other painter, it is his ability to capture the way light falls that is so compelling. In this painting I love the falling evening light above the treeline compared to the banks of light from the white building that run out across the courtyard. And the man at the pump is one of those classic Hopper figures that I love, who seems to throw up as many questions as he answers. Ultimately, Edward Hopper will probably never be the most popular painter of all time, but to me he is undoubtedly one of the greatest.

Can be seen at : Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA


2.Böhmen liegt am Meer – Anselm Kiefer (1996)

No reproduction can truly do justice to the stark emotional pull of Anselm Kiefer’s painting. It hangs alone on a wall in the mezzanine of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and dares you to look at it. It is a big, stark, imposing painting with the title “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the sea) written plainly across the dirty horizon on the canvas. The writer in me loves that mixing of the two artforms and the simple poetry of it.

No matter how often I see it, I can’t get over how roughly and coarsely it is painted in big dollops of thick oil paint, with sections of the raw canvas peeking through in other parts. And those splashes of poppies across the burnt out landscape are so subtle and brilliant. Pure emotion. It is a painting that I will never see enough times. My dad adored it so much that we sprinkled a few of his ashes in front of it after he passed away.

Can be seen at : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA


3. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump – Joseph Wright of Derby (1768)

I still remember seeing this bizarre candlelit scene for the first time and almost being hypnotised by it. I still wonder what made Wright-of-Derby choose this particular scene to paint above all others? Apart from the way he conjures light so beautifully in such a modern cinematic way, it is the chilling main character staring directly at me (as if he is willing a reaction) who remains the most compelling part of the painting for me. There is also something particularly ominous about that moon being revealed from behind the clouds in the window on the right. A masterpiece of painting.

Can be seen at : National Gallery, London, England


4.Bed – Robert Rauschenberg (1955)

I absolutely love the fact that Robert Rauschenberg brazenly sticks objects to his canvas, paints on household artifacts and simply creates these mish-mash constructions of art and everyday objects. It makes sense to me.

This installation/painting “Bed” is so striking. I still can’t get over how simultaneously colourful and grimy it is, while at the same time coming across as really funny and perhaps not really taking itself too seriously. Maybe none of that is true, but it always resonates with me as a really great piece of work that inspires me every time I see it.

Can be seen at : Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA


5. Untitled – Jackson Pollock (1948)

I have to admit I didn’t really get Jackson Pollock until I saw his paintings on a wall in front of me. Part of it is the sheer scale of some of the works which doesn’t translate well in reproductions. It’s such a different experience standing in front of these enormous canvases with thick swirling drips of paint that dance across the canvas so beautifully. The other thing is how surprisingly emotional the paintings are. Pollock went through loads of phases but this “Jack the Dripper” phase, which is his most well-known style, will always be my absolute favourite. This untitled painting from the Met manages to be not overly cluttered like some of his other pieces and I am really fond of the simplicity of the red and black on a big raw open canvas. Overload of Pollocks. Yes please.

Can be seen at : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA


6. The Taking of Christ – Caravaggio (ca.1602)

Caravaggio’s breathtaking painting hangs in the National Gallery in Dublin and it is a painting that never fails to astonish me (It also has a curious history). It is impossible to not be bowled over by the incredible painterly skill and ability on display.  The composition of the scene and its balance of light & darkness, as well as the little details in Jesus Christ’s body language as he accepts his fate with such resignation are more impressive with each viewing. Apparently there are only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings in the world which makes this one an even rarer treat every time I see it. Stunning.

Can be seen at : National Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

7. Pie Counter – Wayne Thiebaud (1963) 

Wayne Thiebaud was one of those painters I had never heard of until a few years ago when myself and my dad went to see a retrospective of his work in the Whitney in New York. I was absolutely knocked out by his paintings. To see a painter’s extended body of work like that was wildly inspiring, as I really got to see the different phases and creative processes that happened along the way. I was drawn instantly to “Pie Counter” because it appealed to my jokey sensibility but at the same time I loved the bigger statement it was making about consumption and mass production in America. Thiebaud later went on to paint remarkable, colourful, brainbending landscape style canvases that would equally belong in a list like this but for now I will enjoy these slices of pie thank you very much.

Can be seen at : Whitney Museum, New York City, USA


[AUDIO] Performance Poetry in Ireland – A Gentle Radio Documentary

Back in 2014, the poet Dave Lordan, was serving as guest editor for Penduline Press – a publication from Oregon in the United States. He commissioned a special audio broadcast from me to showcase some of the very best contemporary performance poets in Ireland. I had never really tried something like it before but I was really excited about trying to piece something that was representative of the many great voices in Ireland at the time, as well as making it an audio piece that was enjoyable to listen to, maybe even informative, and maintain a good energy and rhythm to it, so it actually flowed like a proper album. There was also something nice about taking the time to go back through the archives of the endless hours of audio from all of the many poets at the brownbread mixtape shows, and handpicking some of the standout moments. (I was even cheeky enough to put one of my own poems in there from the Fringe show “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”. More on that show and the unique creative process of writing a show collaboratively that I will share in a future post.) The curation process was really hard and ended up being super subjective of course (but isn’t all curated content?) and I decided to not script my interludes, but instead to speak from the heart about how these poets and their work had connected with me. That conversational tone felt right for the piece and it flowed relatively well. Then once I found the haunting simple piano piece by Irish musician Elder Roche, it all seemed to click into place. The end result was something I am really proud of and I totally stand over today. I actually think it serves as a nice snapshot of the variety of spoken word in the country at that time. And it is a proper document now. Many of the poets have deservedly gone on to greater success as performers and published writers, which is so brilliant to see. They are listed below. Seek them out, they are all legends.

Here’s what Dave Lordan said about the documentary at the time:

“[the brownbread mixtape] is a very professionally run cabaret and it has featured many of the most engaging and entertaining live arts practitioners in the country. Kalle is an excellent host and curator, a fact proven by the popularity of the monthly event. Everybody wants a gig at The Brownbread Mixtape. [ … ] Kalle probably has the closest to an overview of performance poetry in Ireland and he was the obvious choice to make a showcase selection for Penduline.” – Dave Lordan, Guest Editor, Penduline

Here is a list of the poets in order of appearance:

1. Stephen James Smith – “The Gardener”
2. John Cummins – “Brink”
3. Abby Oliveira – “the television”
4. Karl Parkinson – “The Positivity Manifesto”
5. Raven – “High John”
6. Erin Fornoff – “Hymn to the Reckless”
7. Brian Conaghan – “Waiting for the penny to drop”
8. Colm Keegan – “Ireland Is”
9. Fergus Costello – “Extract from a letter to the fella that used to be married to my sister”
10. Kalle Ryan – Excerpt from “Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About”

Here is the original link to the publication in Penduline Press:

Penduline Irish Performance Poetry Showcase

[VISUAL ART] Seven photos of New Yorkers at the intersection between Nassau Street and Ann Street

On June 24th 2007 I was waiting for my wife outside a shop at the corner of Ann Street and Nassau Street in downtown Manhattan in New York City. I bent down to tie my shoelaces and suddenly saw the bustling New York street from an unusual perspective. So, I decided to take a few photos of the New Yorkers as they walked by. What resulted was a selection of weird and wonderful portraits of the different personalities that stroll along in that part of the city. The photos below are completely unedited and exactly as I took them on the day. I don’t wish to infringe upon anyone’s privacy, so if you know someone in these photos, or , if indeed you are in the photo yourself, please let me know and I can take the photo down. To me they are  fascinating document of the people and the city of New York and I hope you enjoy them in the same spirit.








[FILM] The Lonely Track – short film

One of my favourite Irish musicians is Pearse McGloughlin. His ear for melody is remarkable, and his ability to wind lyrical tapestries around them is a thing to marvel. A few years ago in advance of his second album “In Movement” being released, he commissioned a series of short 60-90 second films to accompany excerpts of songs from the forthcoming record. I was lucky enough to be asked to make one. Having never made a film, but with a deep love for the artform, I gave it a shot. I chose his song “The Lonely Track”, which was deeply atmospheric and really appealed to the storyteller in me. It is a dark and compelling tale which has, to my mind, more than a hint of Bob Dylan’s Isis from the Desire album. I shot a series of sequences on a visit to New York City and I felt that the sensation of motion & advancement was critical to the feel of the music. It was a journey that had darkness and foreboding within it, but at the end of it was the dreamlike hope that a better day was ahead. And so the film above is what turned out. It’s a bit abstract I suppose, but I really like how it turned out. And it was such a great creative task to lean on some other great art as a scaffolding to build upon, especially when I had no real sense of how to make a film. And if you haven’t listened to Pearse McGloughlin and Nocturnes music, I cannot recommend them more highly.

[INSPIRATION] I found 20 of the greatest vinyl album sleeves of all time in the attic

A few years ago I was clearing out the attic of my family home and I found a treasure trove of fantastic vinyl that my father had accumulated throughout his life. It made me excited to see musical gems from my own past, as well as jewels in the crown from my father’s extensive, eclectic collection of records. Below are a selection of the twenty most unusual, wacky, funny, cool or downright odd record sleeves in the collection. It reminded me how remarkable a vinyl album cover is. To see it in such a large format, announcing itself so boldly. I felt transported to that moment when you would buy a new record and hold that sleeve in your hand, turning it over, studying it in detail, marveling at the thought process and all of the hands & minds that had brought this cover art to the world. And sadly that tradition is largely fading with the shift to digital formats, but as the masterpieces below illustrate, nothing compares to a striking album cover, no matter how odd or unintentionally strange it might be. Enjoy!


I presume the dog’s name is Seamus Gallagher. Big Shay they call him.


The voice of Erin. The jumper from Christmas


Rock ‘n’ rollies


Hearty AND Hellish. The ultimate combo


Go on admit it. You are imagining that Batman theme riff in your head right now


Sequel to George Gershwin at the front door


Five ants are greater than four elephants. Swedish album title FTW.


It’s time to start the music…


As boring as it looks


There’s only one Jacques Dutronc


Airline bands. A sadly neglected genre.


Swedish jazz. O ja, jätte cool bejbi.


57 varieties of coolness


Really good vibes


She might be lonely but she has her own modern jazz soundtrack. You don’t have that.


Bad-ass Biggles Bebop


I want whatever that golden key around his neck unlocks


Pitchforks at the ready


This guy is living in the past


Probably better than most London Underground buskers. Certainly better dressed.


One saxophone, good. Three saxophones, better.

[MUSIC] The Subterranean Homesick Fresh Prince of Bel Air by Bob Dylan

For the past decade or so I curated and hosted a variety night of music, spoken word poetry and sketch comedy called The Brownbread Mixtape. It was always themed and we asked along some of the finest local or touring musicians and poets to perform on the theme of the night, and I would usually write some old school radio comedy sketches that myself and the resident sketch troupe would perform. We gathered a really great following of thoughtful, warm fans over the years and it took us on great adventures to several festivals around Ireland. There are also many amazing artistic moments that stemmed from those shows that I will share in future posts. But maybe to start I’ll share this fun snapshot of the rowdy and freewheeling sort of fun we would have. Back in 2013 at one of our monthly shows, we chose the theme of “Chillin’ like Bob Dylan”. As always we made an effort to write sketches and come up with fun interactive magic moments for the audience and, so, our very own Enda Roche appeared as a very passable young Bob Dylan and he delivered this unique Subterranean Homesick Blues style interpretation of the Will Smith classic. I was literally given the cue cards as he stepped to the mic, so it made the moment as spontaneous and electrifying for me as the audience. The video is a great snapshot of the energy of the night by the brilliant Dyehouse Films, and there is an air of mischief and magic about this moment that will forever stick with me.

Dig this man!

[INSPIRATION] ART doesn’t need you!


Charcoal/Pastel drawing by my father Tony Ryan (c. 1989)

A new year, lots of new art to share and explore


On New Year’s Day for the past few years I have toyed with the idea of starting a blog or website dedicated to creativity in some way. So, this is the year I am finally doing it!

An early variation of this site I had in mind was to offer creative prompts daily and see what others came up with — essentially give away loads of great ideas that i simply don’t have time to get to, or perhaps even use the blog posts as a catalyst to finally tackle those ideas myself. I was particularly enamoured with the idea of interacting with other artists and creative souls and see where we might end up.

The idea then evolved, and I thought that might be too time intensive, or even worse, nobody would respond or interact, and the blog would become some static repository for unused ideas. So then, I thought about a blog dedicated to exploring my own creative work. Either looking at a current idea and how I am approaching it, or take a past creation (a story, photo, video etc) and break down the thinking behind it and how I arrived at a final outcome (a dive into the creative mind of sorts)

Then I arrived at the idea of sharing art that inspires me or has fired my own artistic impulses. A list of influences and inspirational sparks in my creative journey if you will.

And then I realised all of those things are of interest to me, and hopefully to a wider group of likeminded souls too. So, this website & blog will be a mixture of all of those things. While I would love to commit to a daily post, I think that may be a little tricky, but I hope to consistently post different strands of all of the above.

I crave structure so often, and it is a vital part of the creative process to my mind, so I will try to categorise the different posts clearly, so that each one is clearly marked. Hopefully that helps those of you who are only interested in the creative process for example, but less interested in cool music clips that have inspired me.

My loose thinking on this is to group them as follows:

#ARTCHIVE A personal piece of creative work from the past, coupled with some insights into the creative process that went into it

#CREATIONSTATION A new idea or artwork that I am currently working on, and an attempt to share some thinking on it, as well as get thoughts and responses to it

#LOVEBOMB Sharing work by other artists in an effort to spark imagination and conversation, and simply just to share cool stuff that speaks to my creative mind.

#SPARKINTHEDARK A creative blog would be nothing without an open-ended creative category! So, in this one I would like to keep it open-ended and playful with what I share – This is the wildcard category that gives me license to post !

Anyway, that’s about it for now. I hope you find some joy, inspiration and ideas in this site. Let me know what you think and please join in the conversation and I’d love it if you shared your own work, or things you’d like to hear more about

Here’s to a creative 2018!