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The Brownbread Mixtape album – the early years

We record every single Brownbread Mixtape, and we have managed to capture some truly magical moments down the years from that room. Nowadays it is easier to share things digitally (even though we have yet to truly share even a fraction of our enormous library of recordings) but back in the day we decided to go relatively old school and create a limited run of CDs of some of those early performances that we could raffle off at our live shows. We enlisted help from New York filmmaker and graphic designer David Bagnall to create unique and supremely cool cover art, and then we pieced together some of our favourite artists from the first run of shows that gave a good snapshot of the music, spoken word and sketch comedy we were showcasing every month. Manyof these artists have gone on to greater things since, which is so briliant to see, but here they are in the cosy surroundings of the Parlour Bar upstairs in The Stag’s Head pub. The result is a moment in time, replete with all the ramblings and imperfections that come with a live performance, as well as the moments of utter magic that we were witness to. In recent years I decided to upload it to bandcamp so others could get a chance to hear the tracks too. There are even a few of my early poems and comedy sketches with The Brownbread Players on there, which have a certain charm to them too. Have a listen and let me know what you think – tell me about your favourite. Enjoy!

Alternative Irish National Anthem – My Blood is Boiling For Ireland!

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! 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!

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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!