Blackbird & Crow live at The Grand Social Dublin
BLACKBIRD AND CROW have just announced a show at The Grand Social, Dublin on April 10th 2020 in celebration of their new album 'Ailm'.
Tickets available here > www.mpiartists.com/events-1/blackbird-crow-live-at-the-grand-social-dublin
Seán Laffey puts in a call to Donegal and speaks with a duo that is flying high on their own words and music.
Some interviews look a lot different in print than they were in reality, and this could well be one of those. There was so much fun and laughter as I chatted to Maighread Ni Ghrasta (Vocals) and Stephen Doohan (Guitar/Bouzouki /Stomp Box) who are the Donegal duo Blackbird and Crow. Yet the subject matter, the anchor on which their body of work holds, is as dark as the plumage as the birds the band is named after.
They duo are stalwarts of the Rory Gallagher Festival in Ballyshannon, where they were listed as a blues band. So it came as a big surprise when I got a copy of their second album Ailm. Blues? Well it’s more Milford than Mississippi. With song titles such Mor Rioghain and Princess Of The Ditch, there is an Irish sensitivity in this work. Maighread explains. “For year’s I’d been singing covers in bands around Donegal, It was a great experience, but after a while you begin to think, ‘why am I doing this?’ I’ve things to say in my songs and these covers aren’t telling any of my story.”
Her story, she confesses, is a difficult one. “I’m in therapy, I’ve a lot of things yet to exorcise from my past, writing songs is part of the process of being honest with myself.” That would of course be one of the key pillars on which a huge body of the blues has been written. However, Blackbird and Crow have flown away from the pastiche of blues songs. “Ailm came as bit of a shock to people we know, our first album was in that Blues tradition, on Ailm it is our own sound.” Says Maighread. There’s a nod to the echoes of the Louisiana swamp sound in Stephen’s atmospheric guitar work, but it’s miles away from formulaic twelve-bar derivatives.
Their songs are deeply emotional, but they aren’t mawkishly introspective, Maighread takes ideas from her own experiences and projects them onto the lives of imaginary characters, like the opening Harlot On Holy Hill and the bitter tale of a wife locked in an abandoned marriage in Margaret the Martyr. Does singing them live simply reinforce the misery, rather than being cathartic? Maighread agrees that is probably the case, but she still has issues to work out, not least a very difficult relationship with her father, and these songs allow her the space to navigate her way to her personal accommodation of that situation.
The album opens with two spoken word pieces, another surprise, Maighread says they took both their name and a lot of inspiration from the poet Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons, their band name is from one of her poems. “For a while there was a Monday night poetry session in Derry and we used to attend, it’s a great way to sharpen your writing skills and I’m sure it has influenced the way we write songs.”
They tell me there is a new music scene in the Donegal and Derry area, with venues such as Disturbance in Letterkenny giving a platform to singer-songwriters. “It’s not the kind of thing you get Arts Council funding for or Bord Failte will back, it wouldn’t be the thing that tourists expect. It’s a kind of underground movement, and it’s probably artistically healthier because of its financial limitations.”
So how did the duo manage to secure funding to make Ailm? “We owe our good luck to meeting Moya Brennan and Bernd Ramien of MIG records. Moya runs a music club in Annagry called Club Beo. We were playing our original stuff there and Bernd was in the audience. After the gig he approached us with the ideas of making an album. He gave us full artistic control, we he had so much faith in our new work that we jumped at the chance of recording it. And we are delighted with the resulting album.” With Altan producer Tommy McLaughlin on board to overseeing things in the studio, what has emerged is a beautifully crafted acoustic experience.
Maighread concludes by saying “ This album is for me, it wasn’t written to fit a demographic or a slot in a radio schedule. I’m proud that it’s an original piece of our work.”
Discover more at: www.blackbirdandcrow.ie
“We owe our good luck to an open-mic night at Moya Brennan’s Club Beo.”