Made in Maiden City
By Stacy Fitzpatrick
Derry-Londonderry has a long running history of musical success. The likes of Phil Coulter, The Undertones,Gay McIntyre, Eurovision winner Dana; Derry born and bred, they have contributed to putting the city on the musical map.
“The Undertones demonstrated in Derry that you can go straight to the top.”says BBC Radio Foyle/Ulster presenter Stephen McCauley. “I think what you can actually trace the musical heritage of Derry back to is the Feis and the influence of traditional music in Donegal. Everybody did the Feis. I did it, The Undertones did it. You could do poetry, Irish dancing, singing…everybody seemed to do it.”
“Bronagh Gallagher made an interesting point to me one time about Derry and music. During the Troubles it wasn’t as easy for people to go out. What a lot of people ended up doing was have parties at home. Everyone had to a party piece, have a song. There was a big tradition of singing, that whole session tradition in Ireland too. I think a lot of that has coalesced in and around the experience in Derry.”
From Derry himself, Stephen has a knack of uncovering real talent, giving first airplay to many local artists who have gone on to achieve immense accolades. Paving the way for independent musicians to be noticed by the likes of BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio 1, Stephen has done this most recently with Soak and Ryan Vail. “Ryan Vail has had an amazing year releasing his album [For Every Silence]. I think it’s a great testament to how we approach music. He’s played a very long game. He’s got it exactly the way he wanted it and when he released it, he knocked everyone sideways.”
For over 10 years Stephen has been an incredibly influential supporter of homegrown music, purely demonstrated on the quality produced here. Who is currently on his radar? “There’s a few actually. A few that are up and away already, we know about Soak, Ryan Vail.
I’m really excited about the young wave of bands we are seeing coming through. Bands like Lost Avenue, and Making Monsters have put out a great E.P which I think is a game changer for them. A couple of really interesting producers floating about too.
Stephen’s thoughts on Ones To Watch include:
THE WOOD BURNING SAVAGES: “A band who never fail to amaze me on record and live. The best live band I’ve seen in years! Firebrand punk rock heroes with something to say – bands like that are few and far between these days.”
PORTS: “Really excited about PORTS’ debut album. It took me by surprise. I thought I knew all the PORTS tunes until I heard the album and there were about four or five that I’d never heard which were absolutely astonishing.”
STRENGTH: “Strength are fantastic. An absolutely incredible band, genuinely original. I feel as if they are out there, cutting through fresh snow. I feel when I listen to their music that I haven’t heard it before; it’s not taking me anywhere else. It’s not taking me to another touchstone. The way that they perform live is just unbelievable. It feels for me that they perform as one unit, really and truly one person nearly. Hopefully we’ll see an album in not too distant future.”
WAKE AMERICA: “Wake America arrived fully formed with an intoxicating sound that seems to sit somewhere between the German tech-house of Moderat and indie guitar swagger. Yet more effortlessly infectious sound from Eoin O’Callaghan!”
TOUTS: “Touts I’m very excited about. Their lead singer has something you can’t learn.You either have it or you don’t; He has it,that rock and roll spark. If you don’t have it, you will never be able to find it, but he has it. High hopes for Touts and also high hopes for some of the bands around them like The Docs – really exciting doing great punk music.”
“I could rhyme off names til I’m blue in the face but I would end up leaving somebody out!”
Acknowledging the local community recognition and motivation for emerging music in the City he affirms: I’m genuinely very excited about Derry now. I’ve seen a couple of lulls while doing Electric Mainline, then a couple of big rushes and I think we’re heading back up to that. And the reason for that is because so many young people are pushing through with incredible music.”
“There’s quite a lot to support them. The Sync Project in the Nerve Centre, great work happening in NorthWest Regional College for bands as well. There’s a lot of mentors around the town;bands are getting to watch Soak doing well and Ryan Vail, and think ‘Well I can do that’.”
Stephen has seen musicians from all styles come and go. He has an instinct on what makes good music. His advice for any up and coming musicians:
Success: Fame vs Expression
“Work out what your definition of success is; if you want to achieve fame and money, that’s a straightforward path. Writing the pop hits, writing things that are jingly that would sit well with ads, that’s fine if that’s what people want to do. If you want to get into music and want it to be about art and expression then what you’ve gotta do is try find your voice.”
Listen and Love
“First and foremost enjoy it. Always retain a love of music. Dont just be a player of music, be a listener of music. The best bands are music fans simple as that. The Undertones are enormous music fans-there’s an example. So continue to listen to music. Listen to music you think you hate.That’s very important. I learnt that as I went along, I thought hated certain forms of music, listened to it and fell in love. It shapes how you perceive music.”
Explore Other Arts
“Go outside of music-go into film, books, visual art-all of that has a seismic importance when you’re finding your voice. It’s not just music it has to be the rest of the world.”
“Stay true to yourself. Anybody can copy but there’s only one you. Nobody can effectively be you. Get your own voice out there. If you’re not hearing the music you want to hear, make it! Because be assured that other people will want to hear it too.”
Passion and vocation is very key-you have to be your own engine. If you’re not motivated, nobody else is going to do it for you. When it seems to be going bad, you keep going. Because you are never ever tested when it’s going good, your metal is tested when it’s going really bad. That’s when it decides whether you’re going to work or not.”
Stephen presents Electric Mainline on BBC Radio Foyle every Thursday from 7pm and Soundscapes with Stephen McCauley on BBC Radio Ulster/Foyle every Wednesday from 10pm. Listen in to hear some of the best music from across Northern Ireland and across the globe. Who knows, you may even hear your own music!
All shows are available to listen again to via iPlayer