From his work with Light A Big Fire in the 1980s to the three excellent elpees he made with Saville the following decade, Ken O’Duffy has long been a favourite writer and performer of ours. As he prepares to launch another solo album, we’ve asked him to pen a piece about the record, ‘Sing The Songs’. Which we whole-heartedly recommend.
Most of the songs on my new album, ‘Sing the Songs’, were written during the lockdown in 2020. I’d released ‘The Last Night at the Gentleman’s Club’ the previous Autumn and the plan was to spend the next couple of years promoting it in order to shift the beautiful scarlet vinyl copies I’d had made. But Covid put paid to those plans: I still have boxes of vinyl under the bed for sale if anyone’s interested!
During the pandemic we were fortunate that we lived in Rush in North County Dublin as we have two beautiful beaches on either side of the town. Its no coincidence that there are quite a few references to the sea on the new album, as the sea scape with its limitless horizon became the scene on which my songs were imagined. For the first six months of lockdown, my wife had to go to Dublin city centre to work each day. My daughter, now a teenager, had retreated from me, and I was ostracised to the peripheries of her world: a Pluto stripped of the significance of being even a remote star. My lockdown walks, devoid of conversation were filled with ideas for lyrics, bass lines, harmony parts etc. Music was my therapy.
Only one of the songs on the album, ‘The Horla’, references those times. Feverish with the Delta variant of Covid, I dreamt I was at a Gorillaz’ gig, and when I awoke the chorus – “my whole world revolves around you” – was going around my head and became the basis of the song.
I’m an old-school writer and musician so this album was recorded in much the same way as every other album I’ve made over the last twenty-five years. There were no plug-ins and auto-tune used: real instruments were plugged into real amps picked up by real microphones [you can hear the hum of valves at the end of some of the songs]. The main difference from the previous album is the use of real drums. I loved the production on ‘The Last Night at the Gentleman’s Club’ but I felt some of the songs lacked the feel and groove that only a drummer can bring. So I was delighted when my old friend and Saville bandmate, Joe Fitzgerald, agreed to lend his expertise.
The album was recorded by Mark Healy in his Sound Yard studio, which is situated at the bottom of a garden in a housing estate in Clondalkin. The first two days in the studio were spent recording the drums. I sang and played along to guide Joe as we recorded his parts, then I spent ten days adding music and vocals on top of Joe’s grooves. Twelve songs in twelve days and eleven of those made the cut.
When the album was being mastered at the end of the summer of 2022, my thoughts turned to the sleeve design, which allowed me bring my two great passions – music and football – together. The title track of the album, ‘Sing the Songs’, is about the demise of religion in Ireland, but I was reluctant to use a religious image. I’m a member of Bohemian FC and I felt a football terrace would be an appropriate alternative, and so the album cover features the Phibsborough Road terrace at Bohemians’ Dalymount Park. Its the only football ground in the UK & Ireland to retain Archibald Leitch designed crush barriers, and they’re visible in the cover photo. The fact that the home of Irish football is currently under demolition makes the images on the album’s sleeve even more poignant.
This may well be my last album. I hope to sell enough albums to finance another but it’s a struggle to be self-sufficient and there are only so many boxes of unsold albums you can have about the house. If it is to be the last record I make, well then I feel I’ve gone out on a high. Despite its limitations and imperfections, I’m proud of Sing the Songs – it was the best album I could make with the budget I had and you can’t ask for more than that.
Ken will launch Sing the Songs in the acoustic room of Whelans on Saturday the 15th of April. Tickets are available here
You can purchase the album on CD and Digital Download on Bandcamp here
Leave a Reply