Greetings to Inis Mór! I have been twice on the biggest of the Aran Islands off the Irish west coast, even named my own folk music outfit Dun Aengus after the renowned iron age stone fort. I sometimes tell people it had been a prehistoric concert venue with the rocky platform on the edge of the cliff being the stage... Anyway, I let my mind wander, I actually wanted to question resident singer-songwriter Padraig Jack about his music and debut album, Making Sand.
Talking Inis Mór is probably talking Irish traditional music. You're not a traditional musician, but how does it inform your music?
I’d say it has an effect on my music by osmosis if not in a more direct way. In my limited understanding I see folk music as having evolved in two aspects, one being the storytelling and the linguistic and the other being the rhythmic and melodic (the music), Im not sure which would be older, I think it blends with traditional music to some degree because of this.
We had traditional music all around us in Aran, my Dadó (granddad) played the concertina and sang and my uncle Mairtín and his family play accordion and banjo so they keep the traditional music going in our family, whereas my dad and other uncle Seamus were more inspired by contemporary music like Elton John, Sting, Eagles, AC/DC and Vince Gill. But great Irish songs by the likes of Paul Brady, Jimmy McCarthy, Eleanor McEvoy, Phil Coulter and the Irish trad groups like The Dubliners were ubiquitous in Aran as well as the great traditional Irish tunes so I was hearing it all the time, even if not taking part in it.
Please tell me a little bit about your non-musical background!
I grew up in part of the Gaeltacht (Gaelic speaking region of Ireland) of Inis Mór, my parents had a small business which catered to tourists throughout the tourist season from March to October. My dad’s side are from the island whereas my mother is from non-Gaelic speaking south-west Connemara thus I spoke a little more English than Gaelic at home but we are all bilingual. I completed secondary school on the island before studying computer science in Galway. I then received funding from the Gaelic language body Udarás na Gaeltachta to undertake a Masters degree in computer network engineering and ended up continuing this to a complete Ph.D. This particular funding was available only to fluent Gaelic speakers with a degree in C.S. so I feel that writing songs in Gaelic now is somewhat a continuation of that, or at least in respect to it.
How did you end up playing music?
I started learning guitar along the way and began writing songs soon after. As I said we are a very musical family, my brother, uncle and cousin were in bands and my dad had had a good degree of success in music, he is an exceptional composer and songwriter, so I had an abundance of resources around me to draw on. With regards to developing my own taste I didn't have a punk or metal phase or anything, I think a mix of listening to great singers and songwriters and playing covers in Joe Wattys (my parents pub) while also trying out my own songs (including the really bad ones) at open mics is what helped me develop my music. I feel playing in pubs is a great apprenticeship where you learn stagecraft and technical skills that will (hopefully) help you sustain a music career.
How would you generally describe your music?
My parents listened to a broad range of music from Elton John, Queen, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris and I would have also listened to a lot of Van Morrison, Celine Dion, James Taylor, Tom Waits, Paul Brady, REM, Carole King, Sting, Donny Hathaway, Sinead O Connor and more. I have had my music described as ‘Celtic, West of Ireland, Adult Contemporary’ while I sometimes say it's like ‘Sinead O’Connor mixed with REM’. I know ’Folk’ is such a broad term but maybe it falls within some sub genre of that. For personal inspirations, I rarely set out to write a song about a particular subject, I maybe just try to set the conditions to be creative and see what comes out. I often find after the fact that I have written about some observations or something I had been reading about.
You're singing and writing songs in both Gaelic and English? What's the difference for you?
I was never interested in singing other Gaelic songs apart from my own or maybe some of my dads songs. I sang some Sean-Nós (old style Gaelic songs) when I was young but I only ever wanted to write my own songs to sing in Gaelic. The way I see it, if a song is equally good in English and Gaelic I tend to prefer the Gaelic one as the language has an inherent mystical quality that English doesnt have..or maybe it's just more difficult to find in English. I do really enjoy the process of poetic composition in both languages but I'm not sure which one I prefer, I would say Gaelic but my Gaelic is not great technically and I was better at English in school so I'm not sure.
Last year you've released your debut album, Making Sand. Tell me a little bit about the recording process!
I was recording it over about eighteen months in London with a producer named John Reynolds. I sought him out as I knew he had worked with some artists I admired like Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor and I knew he would deliver top quality production. I didn't really have a creative vision for the album as a whole in the beginning, it was a collection of songs where I kind of just started with one song and kept adding more until I had an album. I was very happy with how it turned out, I feel the first half has a contemporary feel whereas the second half is more of a stripped back, folk collection. I was very happy with the reaction to the album, it was named Album of the Week by the biggest national radio station RTE Radio One and it got some very good reviews. I also received compliments from Damien Dempsey and Mike Scott of The Waterboys and Miles Hunt from The Wonder Stuff became a fan too which was amazing!
I wonder what does the title track, Making Sand, mean?
I’m not 100% sure, I wrote this song in about 15 minutes, this rarely happens for me. In one way I think it's about the natural environment and the way the waves perpetually eat away at the cliffs at the back of the island as they have been doing for ages and will be doing for ages while life simultaneously just ‘happens’ on the island. At the same time it's an attempt to capture a sense of the life and culture of the island and we take ownership of the natural environment and thus we are just ‘making sand’ out here.
The Corona pandemic doesn't allow much live music at the time being. Have you made it around anyway, especially introducing your album?
I toured the UK twice in 2019 supporting Sharon Shannon and again in Ireland in early 2020. I had to cancel a lot of shows due to the pandemic, including tours in Germany, the south of France and Ireland. I also had to cancel album launches in Dublin and London and a few festivals in the UK including an appearance at WOMAD. I did play a show in the Westport theatre in September 2020 so that was nice. I played in the UK a bit and I have played in Berlin a few times, I met my girlfriend in Berlin too so I always look forward to going back there.
After all, Inis Mór is a popular tourist destination (save for the pandemic). Is it ok for you?
It can be a little crowded in high season but I love that tourists come here, if they didn’t I’m not sure how many people would still be living here. My family have been in the tourist industry for all my life and I have met so many great people, it's better than living in a place that no one wants to come to. You could look at it like being the inverse of traveling,... the world comes to you. I would recommend walking the island, perhaps swimming on one of the many beaches and then enjoying some live music and a pint in Joe Wattys where I could be serving you the pint or singing in the corner ;)
I'm looking forward to. Thanks a million for taking your time, Padraig!
I hope to get touring again after the pandemic so keep an eye out for my shows in Germany in 2022, Im recording some music at home now too so I might release some of this if I keep improving my production skills, other than that just stay safe!
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Dun Aengus (by Walkin' Tom); (3ff) Padraig Jack (unknown/website).