Paddy Mulcahy was born in Limerick City but his heart clearly belongs to Clare. At least, that is where he keeps it at the moment after living for five years in North Clare, writes John Rainsford
SINGER/songwriter Paddy Mulcahy has won several awards for community work in North Clare including Volunteer of the Year (2008) courtesy of Clare Youth Service and Best Artist Management (Ennistymon Family Festival) from the Association of Irish Festival Events (AOIFE).
Now, following on from the release of two albums, which combined Irish with Kurdish music and extensive tours of both Ireland and Europe, he has released a new CD.
Trouble Instigator, which is completely his own work, holds contributions from some of Ireland’s brightest musical talents.
“I have always been a writer. I wrote stories as a child and started writing songs around 18 years of age. I would say that I have two main styles, namely magical real world music and complicated lyrical songs,” he said.
“On the new CD, the first song I recorded was a cover version of Pete Seeger’s Beautiful City, which is a sort of gospel song. However, I wrote new verses to make it more applicable to Limerick. It is intended to be a comparison with Jerusalem,” he added.
Paddy’s world view was shaped by an education that began in Lahinch National School and later moved to Ennistymon Vocational School. He then read for a primary degree in Spanish and Anthropology, at NUI Maynooth, before taking a Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology at the Irish World Music Academy, University of Limerick (UL).
Here, Paddy Mulcahy worked in the disability office as a personal assistant to a blind student while doing his dissertation with a Kurdish asylum seeker and classical violinist named Aland Assiri.
“The main thing about the current album is that it is a very personal one for me,” he said. “I sing all the songs and wrote eight of them. The other two are covers but very much in my own style. Some of the songs were written last year and the others up to a decade ago so the listener knows where I am collectively in 2011 and I am very happy with the result.
“When I was younger, my songs revolved around my own demons and personal pain. Music was an outlet. I think nowadays I write for many different reasons. As long as you are passionate about it, your emotions do not always have to be negative. My style can still be a little dark if I am singing about the messed up elements of the world but other songs are friendlier and more generally themed.”
Mulcahy’s first EP was called Opening Up (2004) and was recorded with a band called The Pornographic Left. He describes this work as formative, dealing with sex, death and obsession.
His next CD was recorded with the group NoLand Folk and was called Never Going Home (2008). This was written and recorded shortly after he graduated from UL and involves his collaboration with the Kurdish musician, Aland Assiri, who will return to Iran (Kurdistan) in October.
The title referred to the fact that Aland could not, as the American author and journalist Tom Wolfe once said, ever really ‘go home’ as he had been changed by his experiences here. Limerick piano player, Sean O’Brien, also performs on the CD, as well as Suzanne Walsh (singer, bodhrán) and Edel Barry (accordion, bodhrán). It is probably the most traditionally sounding album he has done.
Amazingly, in this age of high-cost studio sessions, it was recorded free of charge in North Clare following the opening of a new studio funded by the EU. It was done in live takes over a weekend and is still one of his best recordings. Only 200 copies were ever printed and sold like the proverbial hot cakes.
Today Paddy describes his work as “rocked- up acoustic music”.
“There are traditional elements in the roots of the guitar and the singing but the arrangements are more classical. For me, it has never been difficult to write and I think I am lucky in that regard. I probably struggle more with real life. Practice is the key and the more you do, the better you get.
“People should be encouraged to do whatever they need to do to express themselves and genuinely connect with the world but that could be through woodwork or gardening. I do not think singing is for everyone. Often people write, get frustrated and are left with more problems than they had to begin with. I feel that song writing is a medium which can be both positive and negative,” he said.
The track Beautiful City, on his latest album, shows how Limerick and Jerusalem, for various reasons, are often misrepresented by the media.
“A fake war in an Irish city versus a hidden war in the Middle East; I thought it was a fun thing to play with. Of course, that is not to say, that bad things do not happen in Limerick or good things do not happen in Jerusalem, it is much more subtle than that. Nothing is ever black and white and I hope my songs represent that,” Paddy explained.
Another song covered on his latest CD is a South American nursery rhyme called Duerme Negrito or “lay there little baby”. Paddy translated it in an Irish-Americana style. The song was covered by Victor Jara among others and has lots of political significance.
His musical ability is clearly a combination of both nature and nurture. His father was a ballad singer and still plays Irish sessions in Doolin. Paddy started playing gigs with him when he was only 15 years old and gained valuable insights into the musical scene as a result.
He has written songs obsessively since and works at his craft for hours at a time. He describes himself as a perfectionist and compares the process of song writing to composing poetry (every word has to be where it is meant to be). Indeed, his aunt, Anne, was also a dedicated poet.
“I kind of came to writing on my own, I liked Nick Cave, Paul Simon and a few others but I suppose Victor Jara, a Chilean songwriter and political activist, is my biggest influence. He came to my attention when I was doing Spanish in college; I became very interested in his story.
“He was murdered during the political coup in Chile in the 1970s, after helping to establish a democratically elected socialist government. The new album title and song from it, Trouble Instigator is mainly about him and what he tried to do. I hope at some stage to do an entire album just translating and recording his songs into English.”
Paddy first volunteered as a youth worker in North Clare five years ago using music as a motivator. “When I ran the youth project in Ennistymon, it was a musical youth club so I encouraged people to write or play instruments. All the teenagers who came really wanted to be there.
“However, music is not for everyone so I am careful to encourage people toward things that they actually want to do, enjoy and get something out of. I would say that I have made mistakes in the past; dragging people down roads they did not fully want to go. These days I am more easy going and try to let folks decide for themselves what they want to do.”
At present, his retinue of fans is truly global. He lived in Paris for a few years and now goes there to gig every few months. Musicians on the current album include violinist, Fiona Lucia McGarry; backing singers, Julie and Branwen Kavanagh; electric guitarist, David Knox and the rhythm section of Liam O’Boyle and Conor Tuohy.
“Lahinch is twinned with a town on the coast of Brittany called Arzon and I go there pretty often to visit and play,” Paddy outlined. “In Arzon, they are really supportive of what I do and help me a lot.
“Having a whole town promoting and encouraging you is a great feeling and a great help. I try and reciprocate by learning their culture. I speak French and now sing French songs as well so I do my best to make a big effort. I am very busy but I figure now is the time to push myself if I am ever going to do it.”
Paddy Mulcahy will play The Power of Local Arts Festival, in Ennistymon from August 4-8. The curator/co-ordinator is Trudi van der Elsen, who can be contacted at 065 7071630. On Friday, August 12, he plays Arzon Town Hall as a prelude to a wider French tour that month. He will be doing a farewell week-long tour with Aland Assiri in mid-September and is then planning a tour of California in November. For more information see his website, www.paddymulcahy.com.