Castlebar musicians hitting right note with Fontaines DC
TWO Mayo musicians, members of the punk-rock band Fontaines DC, are taking the international music scene by storm, writes Tom Gillespie.
Drummer Tom Coll, from Crimlin, outside Castlebar, and Conor Deegan (bass guitar), from Castlebar, are part of the five-member group whose debut album, Dogrel, released last April on Partisan Records, has been voted one of the best albums of 2019.
The other members of the group are Grian Chatten (lead singer), who is half-British - his mother is English and his father is Irish - and was born in Barrow-in-Furness, England, but grew up in Skerries, Conor Curley (guitar), who is from Emyvale in Co. Monaghan, and Carlos O’Connell (guitar), who grew up in Madrid.
The band got their name from a character in the movie The Godfather called Johnny Fontane, a singer and movie star portrayed by Al Martino. Fontane was godson of Vito Corleone.
They added the initials DC when a band in Los Angeles had the same name. The initials DC stand for Dublin City.
The five met in Dublin while attending music college at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM). They bonded over a common love of poetry and collectively released two collections of poetry, one called Vroom, inspired by the Beat poets (Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg), and another called Winding, inspired by Irish poets (Patrick Kavanagh, James Joyce and W.B. Yeats).
None of the published poems were translated into songs, but the track ‘Television Screens’, off their debut Dogrel, started out as a poem and was turned into a song.
Fontaines DC started out self-releasing singles. In May 2017 they released the single ‘Liberty Belle’ followed by the split ‘Hurricane Laughter/Winter In the Sun’. ‘Liberty Belle’ is in homage to the Liberties, a neighbourhood in Dublin where many band members lived.
The New Musical Express said that ‘Dogrel proves that early-days pining as punk’s next great hope was perhaps premature – there’s far more to Fontaines DC than your typical thrashed-out, pissed-off young rebellion’.
The Guardian gave the album a five-star review, hailing it as a ‘perfect debut’, and commending Chatten for embracing the Dublin accent.
The group played two sold-out gigs at Vicar Street in Dublin before Christmas.
In January they go on tour with four UK dates, one in New Zealand, seven in Australia and a further two in the UK to round off the month.
In September they embarked on their first North American tour with dates in states such as California, New York and Washington as well as Toronto in Canada.
Tom is son of Shelia and the late John Coll, a director of services with Mayo County Council, while Conor is son of Mark and Elizabeth Deegan.
Drummer Tom (25) - Thomas to his mother Sheila - said: “I grew up in a really musical household surrounded by a lot of trad music and my dad, John, was involved in the world of pipe bands so I was immersed in rudiments and sheet music from a young age.
“I got a drum kit when I was 12 and spent my teenage years in my room trying my best to play along to Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin tunes. I guess the inspiration to take up drumming was just born out of a love for music and drumming was the only medium that I felt I could express myself through.
“I have to mention my teacher Anthony McNamee, who really made me feel I could actually do this professionally and prepared me for studying drums at third-level.”
Tom continued: “Studying drums at BIMM exposed me to so many legendary drummers so it’s really hard to pick which one influenced me most. Levon Helm is probably the one that sticks out the most. His sense of just sitting in a groove and playing for the song is class.
“I was lucky enough to spend a week learning under Mark Guilliana at the 21 Drums camp last year at Grouse Lodge and he really influenced my approach to improvisation and creativity at the kit. The lad is a genius.
“Then there’s people like Topper Headon of The Clash, James Gadson, Rob Turner from Gogo Penguin, Adam Faulkner of Girl Band and Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys who I’ve definitely been influenced by a lot.”
Sheila took up the story: “When we came to Mayo we thought we would only be here for six months and that was 24 ears ago. Thomas was a year-and-a-day when he came here from Donegal.
“His dad was involved in pipe bands and we both set up the samba band, Batafada, in Crimlin school and that developed in to a pipe band. That was where Thomas,
then 12, originally started drumming and he was our main drummer in Batafada. It was while studying in BIMM that he met the other lads.
“They have a very busy year of touring coming up and they are rated as one of the up-and-coming groups from Ireland. BBC Radio 6 and Hot Press have rated them as one of the big successes of 2019.
“Thomas and Conor did not know each other well before they went to Dublin. They would have been both at St. Gerald’s (College) but they would have been in different years.
“They write all their own stuff as a group. The album came out in April and they were in America where they appeared on the Jimmy Fallon Show.
“They have worked very hard. They worked maybe two or three years to get the material for the album. It is all very exciting and we are all very proud of him.”
Shelia concluded: “Hopefully the next album will be as well received as the first one which is due out during 2020.”
Elizabeth Deegan, mother of bassist Conor (26), told me: “Conor always had an interest in music from a very young age. He started taking up the guitar about 12. He was always into music like Metallica. Bob Dylan was one of his biggest idols. He was very much into songwriting and English. He was always very good at English at school and I aways thought he would turn out to be involved in something like literature.
“He ended up going to Trinity College for a year and did general science when he left St. Gerald’s. He decided after a year that it just wasn’t for him. He left there and went into BIMM to do music and he just excelled from there.
“He loved it and met the lads there. He loves writing and poetry and English. His room is full of books. Conor was mad into guitars. Every penny he ever got he spent on amplifiers and all the gear.”
But fans of the Fontaines can’t get any of their material in Castlebar. Elizabeth explained: “There is no dedicated shop to buy material by the Fontaines in Castlebar since Downtown Records closed. There is an opening, big time, for a music store in Castlebar because there is nowhere to buy up-to-date music.”