Our latest guest post is from Kilian McCann. Kilian is a sociology and history undergrad from Cork city. This year, he finished a research project analysing the Cork music scene. One of the major aspects of the study was the disconnect that young people have with past artists in the scene.
The post below is adapted from his chapter on Sir Henrys contained within this research.
I recently did a study on Cork’s music identity. I wanted to find how linked the current Cork music scene was to the huge history of music in the city, and how much of an influence that the bands from the past are on the scene. The results varied a lot, but what was obvious was that the younger generation don’t care near as much about Sir Henry’s as the older generation. In the sixteen years since Henry’s closed and was demolished, young people seem to have forgotten about it and its legendary status.
Dr. Eileen Hogan, a researcher at UCC who has studied the Cork music scene, found that there is a sort of disdain amongst the younger generations regarding the harking towards Cork’s music past. Younger generations want those who look back in nostalgia to appreciate what is happening currently in Cork city. Stevie G wondered if when Sir Henry’s closed, it was actually getting less fun, or if it was just that his generation was getting older. As Aidan Lynch of The Slut Club stated, “what’s so great about Sir Henry’s is that there’s no Sir Henry’s, ironically”.
Hogan noted that younger musicians feel detached from the history. There’s a lack of cross-generational musical awareness in Cork. That said, local music journalist Mike McGrath-Bryan agreed that this break occurred, but that there is still some kind of continuity in sensibility, “I think the past is a ghost that constantly haunts Cork music…obviously, there was a break in the 1990s…there was a discontinuity alright, but also, more so than that, there’s a thematic continuity in Cork music in that since 1981-1982 with the Kaught at the Kampus Record.”
Caoilian Sherlock of Quarter Block Party describes growing up in a period between two cycles: “I think I witnessed the death of a cycle and the birth of a new one over the last 6 years. I mean, there’s a moment where both the waves crash in on each other, and that’s what the last couple of years have been, where artists see the route to their success being record labels, management based in London or Dublin, that whole thing kind of ended over the last couple of years.”
After the closure of Sir Henry’s, many people involved in it, most notably Stevie G, went on to guide emerging members of the Cork scene through opening the Pavilion. Eileen Hogan and Martin O’Connor, a librarian at UCC, state this to be the case: “There is, I would say, a big cohort of leaders in the Cork music scene who came through the Pav, like Caoilian Sherlock for example, who set up the Quarter Block Party. People like that were shaped by or influenced by people who themselves came through the Sir Henry’s scene…A lot of them are very active now in the music scene, the media scene, it’s not even if it’s not necessarily a case where they have the guitars and the drums except they might be working in the media and they promote the younger now”
Sound engineer Cormac Daly thinks this as well: “One thing I will say about Cork, and it’s probably not unique, but there is a strong sense of heritage and history there, even aside from the music itself, but just culturally, the way people talk about Sir Henry’s, massive nostalgia for the place. So there’s definitely a sense of connection with the past, from the people who have been in the scene longer than myself, they’re very open, they’re very approachable, they have like, speaking of Sir Henry’s, Stevie G, is very much about shedding light on the new talent, that’s what he does, so it goes both ways.” Though Sir Henry’s was lost, the legacy lived on and shed light on the new generation.
Abbey Blake, lead guitarist in Pretty Happy, does feel inspiration from Cork’s music past, especially the high standards: “Cos I remember listening to, my Dad has an LP that his band were on, and it was all Cork, Irish bands, and it’s cool to listen to and these bands disappeared now. There’s some fuckin class songs. Especially since there’s no social media presence for any of them, they’re just fuckin gone like. It’s so cool. I think that definitely influenced me like…I think, the only way I feel a connection is through hearing the stories, like, class, I want to gig like that, you know what I mean? I want to hold myself to that accord that they did. Like, they were constantly polished, constantly practising, hated having a shit gig, and I like that kind of standard.”
The Slut Club also had a similar experience, with bassist Aidan Lynch telling of how he heard stories of Sir Henry’s “My mother dated Niall from the Sultans of Ping, so I would have heard plenty of the stories from Henry’s. …There’s a precedent set like, there’s a lot of great music that’s come from Cork, and there’s an attitude, and you’ve got to uphold that kind of thing”
Alex O’Regan of Gilbert, or the Unfathomable Loneliness of the Deep Space Prospector also stated an awareness of Cork music, especially of Stump, and of Rory Gallagher: “My Dad was mad into them [Stump] as well, got a bunch of his stuff, laid around the house. I could probably recognise a bunch of their songs without even knowing the names of them to be fair. It’s that kind thing, it’s in the background. And then, at the same time, we’re all a little bit obsessed with Rory Gallagher”.
Drew Linehan of Hausu believes that there is a lack of awareness of Cork’s music history in the city overall: “I was kind of interested to know and find out, and that’s how I found out about Microdisney, and Nun Attax, and all those kind of weird ones…I think it could be more important, but I don’t know, you don’t hear about those bands a lot. People don’t talk about them, you know”. Donagh Sugrue of Teletext Records thinks that music should be celebrated more in Cork, much in the same way as it is done in Glasgow. This would respect the position music should have in Cork city.
The tangible link between the present and the past in Cork city is largely severed, broken, but many bands and collectives are still aware of the history. That is mainly because of their parents being involved before, transmitting their stories onwards. But for those not from Cork, it’s harder to come across the stories. They’re only told in certain circles who don’t communicate with the younger generation.
The reason for the break in the link is interesting to explore, since every interviewee has a different opinion on why it happened. Mike McGrath-Bryan believes the economic boom caused the break, but John Dwyer of Bunker Vinyl on Camden Quay believes that emigration was a major factor: “I think years ago it was really cheap to have rehearsal spaces, and everyone was on dole in the 80s and 90s, there was no work in Ireland, everyone emigrated and stuff. So…in the 80s, everyone seemed to move to London and stuff, with people moving and emigration, probably a lot of talent left the city as well, and the kind of city, people just needed work and to get out of Ireland. So, we lost a lot of good musicians and we lost a lot of people who were involved in the scene in those days.”
Jack Corrigan of Hausu cites the lack of Sir Henry’s being a reason for the break: If you were to go to Sir Henry’s you could look at the wall and see a poster of this band played here and x and y, you see all the names and stuff. Like, when I was in Galway, I was in Róisín Dubh, and I was looking at the posters and it was like Brian Wilson played here, fuckin like, you can see the history. It’s there in front of you.”
Many of the interviewees believed that the internet and accessibility to music played a role. Caoilian Sherlock of Quarter Block Party illustrated living how the change occurred during his coming-of-age, between the old and new periods, in which Hot Press died, and Napster and LimeWire were emerging. The Internet hadn’t begun to be important yet, and there was still the influence of the older generation. But as the internet got more important, the voices of the older generation began to get lost on Cork’s youth.
What is clear, though, is that the cultural touchpoint Henry’s was and the commonness it gave to the generations beforehand was lost with its closure. Every musical generation before the 2000s had it as a frame of reference in their minds and knew the legendary status it held within the country. Even the physical presence of the building can create that sense of heritage, rather than the empty plot of land that holds the ghost of where Henry’s once stood. Though the EPs lived on and were transmitted to the some of younger generation through their parents, they’re an endangered species. But time moves on. This generation’s Henry’s needs to be somewhere else.
As if I didn’t feel old enough, I now know that the mother of a member of a young Cork band dated the singer from The Sultans. And I’m thrilled to know that, in its own way, a baton is being handed on :- if I wanted any further convincing that today’s kids are alright, I’m looking no further than the father in Cork playing Stump songs for his son.
And this is my own view, just for the sake of reference and balance. Colm.