For over a decade I hosted and curated a live monthly variety show called The Brown Bread Mixtape, and it took place upstairs in the legendary Stag’s Head pub here in Dublin. Those eclectic, electric nights in that old Victorian room were some of the most fun and creatively exciting times I’ve had.
The night always had a theme, and then I invited independent musicians and spoken word artists & poets to perform, with their sets loosely based around that theme. And I would always write a handful of radio-style comedy sketches that I performed with my dear friends (and infinitely better actors) Gus, Eva and Sean (aka The Brownbread Players). The atmosphere was always buzzing in that packed room, and the audience was a huge part of that consistently magical experience.
Recently I stumbled across a digital treasure trove of recordings from the shows and put the word out to see if there was any interest in hearing them. I was delighted to see that the answer was a resounding “Hell yeah”, so I have put together the first of a handful of mixtapes from the shows that captures some of the finest musical performances on the rarest nights.
At our monthly Brownbread Mixtape show, I would regularly write radio style sketches for our resident sketch troupe. This was a very early one that i am still very proud of, where I reimagined and documented an actual series of comments from a real YouTube video as an actual interactive conversation. Enjoy knobhats!
One of the more bizarre things I can list amongst my artistic achievements is award winning songwriter. Here’s the short version of how that came to pass. Back in 2010, our leading newspaper The Irish Times put out a call to write an alternative Irish anthem. It was to be judged by members of the band The Duckworth Lewis Method, as well as Irish rugby international Frankie Sheahan, and then Arts editor Shane Hegarty (who has since gone on to write the superb Darkmouth novel series). I had written half of the song (the simple repeated verse) some years previously during a rowdy, boozy party in my apartment in Queens, New York. When this competition cropped up, I called upon my friend Enda Roche to help me record it. But let me work backwards through the song to capture some of the creative process.
Once in the studio we had the fun idea of adding a primitive Irish language call and response element. So I drew on the simplest phrases from my primary school days:
Conas atá tú? / Tá me go maith [How are you? / I’m well]
An bhfuil tú anseo / Tá me anseo [Are you here? / I am here]
You’ll notice in the second rendition of the chorus, I actually get the call and response wrong and ask in Irish “Cá bhfuil tú?” [Where are you?] and Enda’s brother Kevin, who was assisting on backing vocals, improvised a perplexed sounding response of “Níl fhios agam!” [I don’t know!]. When we listened back to it, it made us really chuckle, and somehow had echoes of a real Irish primary school classroom, so we left it in.
Given that the song could only be 90 seconds long I knew that brevity and sing-along-ability was the key, hence I kept it to an extremely simple structure especially the bombastic foulmouthed verses:
Oh my blood is boiling for Ireland
My blood is boiling for Ireland.
Ireland fucking Ireland!
My blood is boiling for Ireland!
The swearing seemed fitting with the Irish vernacular, but knowing that the winning song would air on the national radio station Today FM (on the Ray D’Arcy show) we sensed it might be a good idea to bleep it in some way, so I cooked up the most Irish way to do that – the sound of a sheep baa-ing. It seems mad that we even considered this fact, expecting full well to not win the thing.
The opening Irish language countdown –“A haon, dó, trí, ceathar dhéag . . .” — was a reference to U2’s song Elevation which was out at the time (where Bono counts it in bizarrely as “Unos, dos, tres, catorce” [one two, three, fourteen]. So we thought we would give a nod to that, and have it almost as an Easter egg for U2 fans (of which I am a huge one).
When the Irish Times announced we were the winners I couldn’t quite believe it. I particularly loved Shane Hegarty’s description of it in the Irish Times as “somehow angry, fun and patriotic all at the same time” which described it far better than I ever could have and pretty much made my day. I recall them playing several of the runners up on Ray D’Arcy’s show and I seem to remember D’Arcy being kinda snotty and dismissive of my song, but it didnt matter really, his blood clearly wasn’t boiling for Ireland. I do remember Thomas Lewis from The Duckworth Lewis Method saying he liked it because it sounded like something you’d sing at 3 in the morning.
It has since gone on to be our signature tune at The Brownbread Mixtape and we close every show with it. We ask everyone to rise for the alternative Irish national anthem and it never fails to get a huge reaction. I still love performing it, partly due to the energy it brings to a room, and equally for how utterly ridiculous it is that it won an award.
One of the prizes for winning the competition was time in a Dublin recording studio, where I gathered many of my favourite performers from past Brownbread Mixtape shows to record a sort of gospel reworking of My Blood is Boiling for Ireland that has never seen the light of day. I will dig it out and post it at a later date (along with the other song we recorded that day which was a soul number I had written for the occasion). But for now, crank it up to catorce and shout it with me — COME ON IRELAND!
At my monthly Brownbread Mixtape show I would regularly write radio style comedy sketches to be performed by myself and our resident sketch troupe The Brownbread Players (Gus McDonagh, Eva Bartley and Sean McDonagh). I have been a huge Werner Herzog fan for many moons and something tickled me about trying to do one of his earnest and odd documentary style pieces about inner city Dublin. Gus also did a great Dublin accent and so I wrote it specifically with him in mind for the part. It started to flow pretty quickly as I wrote it, but then something wasn’t fully clicking. Suddenly the Joycean elements popped in my head and it came together really sharpy then. The closing monologue lifted from The Dead by James Joyce really elevated the piece from pure silly parody to something slightly more profound, just like a proper Herzog piece. It was one of the most odd and surprisingly popular sketches we ever did. The original live version can be seen here.
Enda Roche who ran the monthly Brownbread Mixtape show with me was studying audio engineering at the time at Windmill Lane, and decided to do a studio version of it as a project one semester, and so the studio version above was born. The sparse twangy guitar lends a lovely feel to it (and echoes the Herzog film soundtrack to Grizzly Man very nicely), and the sound effects of the chipper give it a nice documentary feel.
The sketch subsequently got incorporated into my award nominated Fringe show The Definitive View with Sneachta Ni Mhurchu, and a slight rewrite made it slightly softer and more empathetic to the skanger character. It had never fully sat right with me that he was an object of pure ridicule of the piece, and in the new version I made him more a victim of the harsh Irish government and society. In that show we had an ethereal piano piece to accompany it, and I felt it lifted the piece even further into a poignant piece about the forgotten faces on our streets.
It is still a piece of writing I am very proud of and it really proved to me that even the most obscure reference points can prove to be hugely popular if framed in a comedic setting, as the audience doesn’t need to know who Herzog is in this case, but if they do, it adds an additional layer. Plus I love doing Werner Herzog impersonations. I think it’s my true artistic calling in life.
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 in this 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:
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.