Under the influence!
Pic: Eric Nopanen - Cork Art Studios - Jacksonville - U.S.A.
It’s funny how words evolve over time. With each generation come new developments, technology, art and son on, and vocabulary is amended or reshaped to fit the needs of modern day parlance. Influence is one such word, particularly when paired with the suffix (er). Rarely was this word heard or used in regular discussion even fifteen years ago but today it’s ubiquitous, as are these so called influencers. Essentially influencers are folk with wide audiences making use of new technology and apps to connect with their fans. Subject matter varies, as do their platforms but advertisers and marketers have exploited their reach to its fullest potential. Influencers words hold a lot of sway and this also applies to brands and products they are seen to use and promote. It’s been used to great effect. There was a time however when the word influence was linked to inspiration, emulation and aspiration. A time when there was less distractions or devices competing for our attention and focus could sometimes turn to near obsession. It could be a sports star, actor or even an influential politician. Or it could be music. When music came together to ease hunger and famine in Ethiopia. When music spoke to the plight of ordinary working people. When music reassured us that we weren’t the only ones feeling isolated or alienated, and that even we could get lucky sometimes. When music was something you held, opened, read, played and immersed yourself in. That was influence back then. And that’s what we’re talking about this Month!
“Cat Steven’s. He’s my first real memory of listening to music. And I was dedicated to him. My eldest brother had the tape player and if I was caught in his room it had consequences, haha. But it was worth it. Cat was worth it. I was absolutely mesmerised. He has a really deep voice and it was really captivating, almost meditative.” What other kinds of stuff were you listening to early on? That same brother, Damien had a lot of 60s greatest hits and stuff like the Now This is Music compilations as well as a UK band Smokie. I love Smokie, great band and I don’t care what anyone says. Later he brought some of Garth Brooks stuff into the house and there’s just some really great writing on some of those albums.” You also have another brother? “I do. Jackie. I shared a room with Jack and the first album I remember him bringing home was appetite for destruction by Guns ‘N’ Roses. It was just awesome. Greatest debut album of all time. I think they were the last really big rock ‘n’ roll band to take the world by storm. You don’t see that kind of frenzy about bands anymore, unfortunately. Later Jackie started listening to bands like The Smith’s and My Bloody Valentine which I couldn’t really gel with as a 10 or 12 year old. I was delighted when he got a pair of head phones, haha. I don’t mind either of those bands now, actually.” And do you remember the first album you bought with your own money? “Yeah. Pearl Jam’s 10. A tape! I liked it a lot but I could never get into it like the 60s stuff or even G ‘N’ R. I didn’t really buy anything after that for a while as I was happy listening to what was already in the house. But I was also living on a housing estate with loads of other kids my own age so music kinda took a back seat for a few years. I was outside playing games, sport, fighting. Just growing up I suppose.”
When did music begin to feature prominently again? “I was 15 when Jackie arrived back home for summer from his 1st year of College in Maynooth. He had a bag full of tapes with him. We had just moved house as it turns out and left behind by the previous occupants was a really old but great sounding record player/tape deck with speakers. The tapes weren’t labelled so I just put them on and started listening. It was The Beatles entire catalogue and that was a great summer! I just remember being struck by how different some of the songs sounded even on the same album. I was totally unaware at that point of the Lennon/McCartney dynamic. I didn’t even know their names or what they looked like.” So you just had the music to go by? “Exactly.” And from there did the door open to a host of other rock bands from around that era? “No. That came later actually. I had begun working in a kitchen the summer after and one of the Chef’s played the Dubliner’s, Paddy Reilly, Dublin City Rambler’s etc., on CD. All these Irish folk bands. Incidentally Luke Kelly’s (who also sang with the Dubliner’s) best of compilation was released around the same time and I listed to that type of music for a few years. I might have taken my first few sips of beer about this time, too. I love Luke Kelly and it was really his songs that inspired me to start singing. You see, I discovered I had a hidden talent. As soon as the beer went in, a song came out, haha.” So you became an impromptu balladeer? “I did. I still love all those ballads. You didn’t sing before that? “Just as a kid copying the rock songs. Funnily enough it seemed only natural to sing those songs with an American accent. I still sing rock with an aul yankee twang.” Why do you think that is? “It just seemed so natural and as a kid you don’t even realise these things. It still fees natural so I still do it, I suppose.” So the ballad’s got you in touch with your Irish side? “Yeah, they knock the pretention on the head, haha”
So when did the swing back to rock music occur? “Early twenties. I always liked it and listened, just not as intently. Then I found a Simon & Garfunkel CD and became engrossed in them for ages. Not really rock but American and I kind of got back into rock after that then.” And who was it that really caught your attention? “Bruce Springsteen. I got a free ticket to go and see him from Kevin O’Donoghue, who was my boss at the time, in Dublin in 2003. Let’s just say the experience had a big impact on me. Probably deserves a blog entry of its own someday.” Wow. Yeah, that would be interesting. “Within a year I was singing in bars myself and his music just seemed to be a catalyst for change. In a positive sense. It really resonated and then I guess I found my home music wise after that. Tom Petty was another that moved me. Just really seemed to connect.” Would you say Petty and Springsteen are your primary influences? I think you’re influenced by the lot, even things on the radio when you were a kid. But yeah, I think they’re fundamental in terms of influence. Particularly the imagery in their songs. When I listen to them I get mini-movies in my head and it just blows me away, even now. The stories are just so relatable too because I think we’ve all felt the emotions they sing about and maybe that helps sort something out inside. After all, art was psychology before psychology.” That’s interesting. I remember a few blog’s back you mentioned that you’d really like your music to connect with people. It seems that what you were talking about there had its genesis in the records of Messrs Springsteen and Petty. “And others, but yes that’s right. Those two in particular. If the connection is there and it helps or inspires someone that’s what it’s all about. It really is.”
Inspiration, emulation and aspiration. Influence. It can be a powerful thing!