A few weeks ago I was invited into the Oh Yeah Centre, the 4 Corners Festival to talk about post-conflict songs with some other songwriters. When Stuart [Bailie] asked me about post-conflict songs, all I could really reply was that most of my songs are post-conflict in the sense that they were written after the ceasefire.
‘Our Truth Could Be Their Lie’ [check with Tony]
All the friends that we make and the stones that we lay.
The foundation, so build your house strong.
But the pleasures that we take may push those friends away.
Communication, can lead [?]
I’d rather hold my hands out than hold them up, but I keep them where you can see them.
But the rains keep falling and the trees they continue to cry.
You don’t believe all that they’re telling, our truth could be their lie.
[?] To those who would forsake, we’ll let others have their say.
And then question, what took you so long?
For as long as we can take, we’ve got to wait for that day.
Here’s an introduction, some [?]
And the storm clouds keep coming, there’s always something in your eye.
Just you keep on running, we are here by your side.
That song is, I guess it’s about, it’s about those three Rs you mentioned, really I guess. It kinda like dawned on me a little bit there when I was playing it, it’s about resistance and resilience and reconciliation. Like one person’s truth could be another person’s lie. Like for example, you’re brought up to believe your entire life, that could be a completely false construct to someone else. But that doesn’t make it not true, because that’s your belief. It kinda starts off like with that ‘the friends that we make are the stones that we lay, the foundation, so build your house strong’ and that sense of, yeh, get together with likeminded people. But it’s urging conversation between the two, ‘I’d rather hold my hands out than hold them up’ y’know. Find that middle ground, y’know. Don’t put your hands up, put your hands out y’know, reach across the divide. and then just like in the second verse, it talks about. ‘to those who forsake, we’ll let others have their say’ and then question ‘what took you so long?’ y’know ‘what took you so long to talk about these things?’ Y’know this could have been done with like, it’s like when everybody, when all the killing’s said and done, when all the bullets have been fired, and all the bombs have went off, you’re gonna have to sit down and do what you always had to do in the first place and talk, y’know that’s always gonna be what it comes down to, no matter what. It’s a song about reaching out, putting yourself on the right side of history. Someone has to be the bigger person to begin with, y’know, that’s what it takes, y’know, ‘cause it’s not easy, y’know it can be lonely to be that person as well. But you gotta persevere, like it’s the only thing that’s gonna solve it in the long run.
Coming from the North Coast or whatever, Portstewart and Coleraine, really, where I grew up, aside from the bomb in Coleraine in 1991, that was really the only marked the open inverted commas “Troubles” close inverted commas, that I had ever really experienced. But I guess the more I thought about it, it did pervade my life like for a long time, just through attitudes and things from people whatever, and we were, I think we were one of the few Catholics in the street where I grew up in. Occasionally from time-to-time these things would still come through or whatever. It may not have been the epicentre, y’know, it may not have been y’know the Falls Road or the Shankill, but there was still, that still permeated, so it still formed who I am. The music that I’ve done has definitely been influenced by the, traumatised by the kind of by the sort of, ways growing up. I’ve made quite a lot of violent music at times, y’know, particularly with my last band, my last two bands I guess, …And So I Watch You From Afar and Zombie Safari Park. With …And So I Watch You From Afar in particular, some of the songs were, y’know abstract in a sense, but they were very destructive, very jagged.
I would never want to be pigeonholed into that clichéd singer-songwriter sense of like y’know singing about the Troubles. It’s something I tried to get away from, because I don’t want it to define me and I don’t want it to define our future. There’s always gonna be one, I’m always gonna have one foot rooted there, because that’s what I was born into. But I’ve never, I’ve never wanted to stay in the mind set of, maybe it’s a self-preservation thing where you kind of like stop thinking about it, because to stay there, it’s like, who wants to live in a constant episode of The Nolan Show, y’know? Like of course it comes out in songs, a little bit, because that’s my life experience, and you write about what you know. But at the same time, like, I don’t really, I don’t, I would deal in songs about struggle, but not, but more of the human spirit than anything else, rather than a political struggle.
I guess it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, you have all those pieces in front of you, like it’s chaotic, but if you start to put them together or whatever, and it makes image then or whatever, or a sound, then you start to make some sense from it, y’know. It starts to make sense y’know the more you pull it together. Yeah, there’s definitely some reconciliation in it, there’s definitely some of that. And the resilience is the fact that you’ve managed to build something out of something terrible. The greatest art is the art that strikes empathy within people, especially if it’s about conflict. There’s a reason so many like folk and protest songs have stood the test of time. I think empathy fits in with live and recorded music and the act of songwriting, it’s a strand that runs the whole way through every single part of it, because it’s what you strive for. It’s a shared experience, like even, being a solo musician is a very lonely existence, so like getting up on stage and singing, and singing songs that people, that are connecting with people, is the closest you can feel to a whole room of people, like in an instant. Song is the purest and shortest art form in so many ways whatever. It can do in three minutes what can take a long-form novel like y’know pages and pages, thousands of words to do, or y’know, a film takes an hour-and-a-half whatever, a painting takes like so long to create whatever. Like a song can do that so instantaneously. And it’s that, that connection. Empathy, I believe, is one of the most important human experiences we can have.
Well we [… And So I Watch You From Afar] had a song called ‘Holylands 4am’, like the Holylands Belfast. It’s not a pleasant place to walk through y’know at night time, just with alotta really really drunk people, y’know just having a time of it. That’s what it was kinda about and the music was like, there was explosive kind of sounds and so on, but it was meant to be a kinda party in that sense. But I remember then talking to other people that just, of course, there’s a much more famous Holylands than the Holylands in Belfast, y’know? So lots of people thought that it was about that y’know, and that took us to be kinda, people were like immediately ‘wow, here’s this song from these guys, these kids in Northern Ireland that have written this instrumental piece about Israel/Palestine, Iran, Syria’ or whatever like. And we never corrected anyone, y’know, we kinda just let that happen, because I guess we knew that it would work in our favour, and we played with that y’know. And that kinda then informed some of the song titles going forward. At the time, it was like around 2005, 2006, there’d been a bit of a wobble in the Peace Process, and so it was like ‘ah, it hasn’t been like this in a while’ and it was a bit of a wobble and it was bit scary, y’know. But again, like I named that song ‘These Riots Are Just the Beginning’ but I didn’t name it after that. At the time I was reading about the Burmese riots, that’s where it came from like, for me, it was just, I always had one eye on the global, I had both eyes on the global situation, I always really ignored here. It was just like ‘no, it’s not happening’, because I, I didn’t feel any kinship with it in any sort of way, y’know, with the us’uns, them’uns, whatever, it just like, to me it was just, it was just me, ‘cause I never paid any attention to it, I never understood what it was about. So I was looking at y’know, I was looking at the Burmese riots, and I was looking at like the FARC insurgents in South America and things like that. Those were where I was taking my like political cues from when it came to the band, rather than my own domestic situation. And then like that kind of violence in the song titles kinda continued a little bit, like ‘Tonight the City Burns’ and stuff like that whatever. But we did start to mean it from a good place. But initially when we just saw that it gave us a bit of attention, we were like ‘oh, we should, we should use this’.
I should explain that actually, sorry, ‘cause like obviously there’s two kinda protagonists in the song, that’s the ‘No One As Lonely As Us’ y’know but they’ve never met y’know, they’re two separate people, it’s two totally different worlds. But then this part in the middle is just like they suddenly have this realisation, y’know, just about life. An epiphany, an awakening.
[Excerpt from ‘No One As Lonely As Us’] ‘They took a minute and thought about it, this is all in our heads.’
I think people when they listen to my songs they think ‘aw that’s quite melancholy and quite sad at times’ or whatever, but genuinely I actually think they’re quite funny. Like I kinda write them like, not tongue in cheek, but with a sense of kinda like, I think ‘there’s no one as lonely as us’ is a funny line. Y’know, or whatever like, ‘cause it’s, there’s empathy, ‘cause you’re both lonely, so how can you be lonely when there’s empathy there y’know? There’s a togetherness in two people being lonely. We’re a lonely little state. England doesn’t want us. The Republic of Ireland doesn’t want us. We’re too much of a headache for both of them y’know? We’re all we’ve got! And I think that’s funny in a weird way. It’s that coping mechanism of it, y’know?
‘No One As Lonely As Us’ [check with Tony]
There’s a man outside conflicted by time.
No matter his home, no matter alone.
He values his world like others value their pearls.
Holding hands with the sky, all he needs to get by.
And he sings, ‘there’s no one as lonely as us’.
There’s a girl by her door, always dreaming of more,
Than the rat race of [?] and all the things that they sold her.
The outer town limits, she could be who she sees fit.
She’s free to belong, she’s an unwritten song.
And she sings, ‘there’s no one as lonely as us’.
They took a minute and thought about, this is all in our heads.
Just one life and it is what we make it, ain’t no use being dead.
I put it to you my sister, my brother, every girl, every boy,
Live your life full of awe and wonder, the only come back is joy.
As the years draw in and minds keeps changing.
And the starts above, people fall in love.
Whole worlds can collide, what it is to be alive.
Words like feelings, we can change the meanings.
And we sing, ‘there’s no one as lonely as us’.