Published on April 21st, 2010 | by Lisa McInerney2
It takes guts, determination, and a full tank of petrol to even get there … so why is Sherkin Island such a musical hotspot?
We were lured to Sherkin by the promise of witnessing the Irish debut of Slow Club an indie-folk duo as sharp as they are sunny. But then that feckin’ volcano went off, and everyone’s weekend plans ended up festering in foreign airports – which goes to show that volcanoes are awesome and all, so long as they’re safely erupting on the Discovery Channel and not putting the skids on the runaway fun bus.
“There’s still a gig happening,” says Conor, Sherkin resident, music promoter, and full-time Energizer bunny. He’d spent the previous couple of days pacing every floor he could get his designer runners on, phoning airports, tracking ash clouds, even debating with Slow Club’s Charles the possibility of driving them to Ireland. With the realisation that there would be no UK influx, he’d turned instead to booking a replacement. Coaxing another band to an offshore setting at short notice? I wasn’t sure it was as easily done as all that, but the sun was shining, the pints were singing, and everyone I’d mentioned Sherkin to in the last week had turned wild-eyed and deliciously animated before I’d gotten the last syllable out. Sherkin has a reputation for hosting great parties. The general consensus was, if I was disappointed, I was most likely legally dead.
So it was with a skip in our step and no timetable to speak of we end up on the island on Saturday afternoon, having been ferried over with a couple of old dears, a hell of a lot of boisterous twentysomethings, and what looked like an amalgamation of accountants.
“An audit?” I ask Conor, who baulks.
“A choral society,” he says. “They’re singing in the Church tonight.” And off he goes to schmooze some young wans who were getting into the spirit of things at a more agreeable rate.
Sherkin Island is one of the most profoundly rural settings in this rural nation. It has a hotel, a B&B, a school with eight kids, no shops, no McDonalds, and crucially, no guards. It does, however, have two pubs. With approximately ninety people living there at present (not counting dogs, though the prevailing attitude is that dogs are people too), you’d wonder why it needs two pubs. To fit a legendary social scene in, is why; this is a community with its priorities straight. Traditionally an arty bunch, Sherkiners aren’t actually that similar to the conventional rural type; they don’t tie their trousers with baling twine, and many of them aren’t even Irish. A lot of the people we spoke to claimed that they grew up in Sherkin, left, then returned – there’s a to-ing and fro-ing evident, a sense that Sherkin is a home to retreat to after a hard, long holiday in the real world. Cars are decrepit and held together by the hedges each side of the road. Its people share an interest in … alternative horticulture. One fellow we spoke to (a musician, obviously) started into an engaging anecdote about how, at a fuddy-duddy sort of gig, he’d swapped all the words of Cliff Richards’ Living Doll with perverse but metrically exact alternatives. I don’t recall how his story ended, because about halfway through it occurred to me that his flat cap was glittering in the sun. I don’t know where he found it, but it was almost certainly from the Ladies’ Department in Penneys.
Somehow, this is simultaneously all you need to know about Sherkin, and nothing of any consequence at all. That’s the gentle duplicity of the island, lads. It’s rural and earthy and windy and you have to walk everywhere and resulting blisters couldn’t but keep you grounded, but at the same time nothing has anything to do with real life as it is on the mainland. After about twenty minutes I decided I could live there and never grow old.
It’s this earthiness, elevated by an informality that teeters, after a few pints, into the fantastical, that must attract all these famous musicians to gig it up so far from civilisation. I remark that it’s fascinating that there’s such an exciting scene a whole 60 miles away from the nearest city; the island has recently played host to the likes of Mick Flannery and Choice Music Prize winner Adrian Crowley. “It’s nothing new,” says Conor. “Sure, Tommy Ramone’s band is playing in Clonakilty in May.”
“Tommy Ramone of The Ramones?”
“In West Cork?”
We take a saunter around the island in the early evening as Conor sets up at The Jolly Roger for the gig, and by the time we get back to the pub, the place is filling up with all those boisterous twentysomethings from the ferry. There’s a barbeque on the go, smoke and chatter and salt in the air. Everyone seems to know each other; for many, even those from the mainland, this is their local, as cheerfully familiar a setting as Central Perk is to the glossy-toothed Friends or McCoys is to the whingebags in Fair City. The crowd is impressively varied, from relaxed, retired-hippy sorts, to dreadlocked guys in slouched jeans, to pretty dolly girls, to indie kids in tight white shirts and skinny ties. Someone’s even brought along their dog, who looks just like Heen from Miyazaki’s Howls’ Moving Castle. By the time the gig begins, we’ve made a happy glut of new friends.
First on the bill is Dublin singer-songwriter Corinne Brown, who, despite claiming that she’s terrified, is so engaging, chatty and endearingly self-deprecating that she has everyone singing along to a Shakira mash-up before the drink has taken nearly enough hold to excuse such early crowd participation. Where her sweet yet bluesy voice really shines, though, is in her original songs; the crowd hangs on every word of Great Big Heart, a song she wrote about her larger-than-life dad. One to watch and I really, really hope things go well for her.
She’s followed by Laura Devlin, who hails from Baltimore and has borrowed the lads from Good Dead Me to accompany her mournful, powerful voice. “Jaysus,” says I. “I’d pay to hear that girl sing in the shower,” a statement I’m so impressed by, I share it with everyone I could find, including Laura herself, who takes it with good humour instead of hitting me with a broom, which I’m sure was her first instinct. She also gives us a ridiculously charming cover of of You Can Call Me Al, which has all the twentysomethings singing along like the four-year-olds they were when Paul Simon wrote the bloody thing. It’s rollicking fun.
Slow Club’s spot is taken up most gallantly by Cork indie foursome Agbonlahor (which I still can’t pronounce). They cite their influences as Middle Eastern cuisine and stealing solicitors’ umbrellas, though I have to admit I don’t hear anything too reminiscent of either in their deftly angular guitar pop, or in Muireann and Patrick’s awesome vocal interplay. Heen-the-dog-from-Howl’s-Moving-Castle is a fan, too; he bops around the stomping feet on the dancefloor, a four-legged party animal on an island full of bipedal lunatics.
The great thing is, the gig doesn’t end with the gig ending, as it would in an urban venue. Bands and all move into the bar, where shots are had (not the sore kind that stop you getting Teh Floo), nonsense is nattered, and friendships solidified over shared adoration of Amanda Palmer. A sing-song is stoked, and continues interrupted by neither Law nor Common Sense, and I am delighted when I beat Agbonlahor’s Patrick in a race to the real lyrics of Where’s Me Jumper (although tragically, he doesn’t notice). There’s even a rendition of Spancil Hill. What possible harm could this do, you might wonder, if such lazy lengthening of the night was possible everywhere?
“One of the guards came over from the mainland once,” one of the locals confides, “to check on whether the island’s cars are taxed and insured. He stood in the middle of the road with one hand up, but every driver that passed him just returned the gesture, thinking he was waving at them.” Exactly the kind of story we all love to tell clueless tourists. And, more importantly, exactly the kind of story we in Ireland need, on occasion, to hear about ourselves.
Links to the musicians’ MySpace pages are above, where you can listen to their stuff. If you like what you hear, support, buy, Tweet, give feedback … you know how we (should) do!