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Sunbrellas move out of shade with magic music mix

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Date Published: {J}

Sumbrellas, a Galway based three piece who formed in June last year, have quickly became one of the city’s busiest bands, gigging constantly and playing in both the US and Italy.

The group is made of Chris White (vocals/guitar), Emmet O’Malley, (vocals/guitar/mandolin) and Federico Betti (violin/mandolin). The smallness of Galway, and its tight network of musicians, helped bring the band together.

“I was opening up for [trad/punk band] The Rye at Árus Na nGael,” recalls Kentucky native Chris. “Emmet and Fede had opened for them the week before. I tried to ring Fede to see if he wanted to play but he was in Dublin that weekend. [The Rye’s drummer] Des had told me before about Emmet and he said ‘give him a ring’. So I rang Emmet and he came over. We learned a few songs and we played a gig that same day.”

“I was playing with Emmet for the past couple of years,” adds Fede. “I met Chris through [fellow musician] Ciara. Emmet and I were looking for a singer.”

Although Emmet and Fede had been gigging together, they hadn’t hit upon a formula they were happy with.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing, we were playing some cover gigs,” says Emmet. “I don’t think all the pieces were together until we started playing with Chris, it was a completely new thing. There was a lot of energy and it was great fun.”

Sumbrellas jumped straight into the live arena, with their early shows also serving as rehearsals. That was a gamble, but one they feel has paid off.

“Obviously, we had some terrible gigs,” Emmet admits. “But we had some great gigs too. That spontaneity was great; when it was going well it was such a buzz. If we didn’t take that jump, maybe when we started gigging we would’ve been more reserved on stage.”

Sumbrellas first started out playing songs by artists that inspired them but then set about writing their own. They recently released a three-track EP and will soon start work on their full length debut.

“At the moment in our set we have 15 original songs,” Emmet says. “That’s stuff that’s tight; there’s loads more coming as well. We plan to record and release an album by the end of the summer.”

“The album will have a full sound,” he continues. “The EP has a sense of percussion but there are no drums on it. The one thing we said was that we didn’t want to disappoint people [with the live show.]”

Until they go into the studio, Sumbrellas plan to gather every song they have and make demos – rough recordings that the band will use as reference points. Encouragingly, there is no shortage of material.

“We keep writing and coming up with new ideas,” Chris says. We just throw them out in the open and play around with it. We haven’t done demos before, so this’ll be a new thing for us.”

Is the band’s Italian fiddle player enjoying also enjoying life as a Sumbrella?

“Absolutely,” he says. “The last time I played in a band was maybe five years ago in Italy. Then I came to Ireland and I said ‘no band!’

“When I came here I loved the way you play in a session and it’s so informal. I wasn’t even thinking about playing in band and then I met Emmet and I thought ‘this is fun’. That’s what you want.”

“I had a similar situation to Fedi, I hadn’t been in a band for years,” Emmet adds. “I didn’t want to be in a band because I was sick of how there’s always an element of trying to be really cool, rather than trying to make really good music.”

Chris hadn’t been in a band in a long time either; one of his previous projects in the US was a KISS tribute band. Not a job you see on many performers’ CVs, but it has proved beneficial to Sumbrellas’ American singer.

“I think so, definitely,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind putting on some make-up and throwing on the old suit again – it was easier to play like that because no one knew who you were!”

Although there’s a strong sense of Americana to the Sumbrellas sound, it would be a mistake to pigeonhole them into a specific genre.

“All of us are into everything; a lot of bands limit themselves saying ‘we’re this kind of style’,” Emmet says.

“We are still really young as a group,” Chris explains. “Even the sounds we’re making are growing; there are different elements we keep bringing in. Throwing in a banjo or an electric guitar, mixing the two; maybe even some piano. We just want a variety of music.

Maybe, in a while, there might be a genre that we fit into but right now it’s a mix of rock, pop, bluegrass, traditional. Different elements all blended in together – like a jazz explosion!”

The words ‘recession’ and ‘creation’ may seem to be at odds with each other, but times of economic doom and gloom seem to stir something in musicians. David Gray re-mortgaged his house to fund White Ladder, his biggest success; The Smiths strived against Thatcher’s Britain; The Stunning formed in Galway during the 1980s. When Chris’s work in construction dried up he picked up his acoustic guitar and hasn’t put it down since.

“I miss the pay cheque, that’s about it,” he deadpans. “I don’t even miss that too much; I’m finding ways of making it by. Just like a New York city rat!”

Sumbrellas are a band with a real sense of purpose, even if that’s just having fun and raising hell wherever they play. They’re happy to be based in the West but are also determined to take in new horizons.

“We did say that this is the place to live, in Galway,” Emmet says. “But we all want to travel and play with this as well. We’ve already been to Italy and America since we started. We can either do this right or not do it at all. We just want to play as much as we can, that’s it.”

Sumbrellas play Monroe’s Tavern on Saturday, January 16 and January 30; The Clock Tavern, Westport on January 22 and The Co-Op, Moycullen on Saturday, January 23. For more see www.myspace.com/sumbrellas

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Super Mac steps in again

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

STEPHEN GLENNON

The Supermac’s logo will appear on the Galway senior footballers’ jersey for the first time against Derry this weekend after the Irish fast food giant was announced as the new title sponsor of the county’s GAA teams.

For 22 years, Supermac’s has featured on Galway hurling jerseys but with the County Board determined to have ‘one jersey, one crest, one sponsor’ for its flagship teams, Supermac’s have once again answered the county’s call.

Although Supermac’s have signed up on a two-year deal initially, there is an option for the partnership to continue for up to five years . . . which, should it do so, it is believed, could see Pat and Una McDonagh’s company invest in excess of €1 million in Galway GAA.

Speaking to the Sentinel yesterday afternoon, Supermacs Managing Director Pat McDonagh was unwilling to talk numbers but said it was by far and away Supermac’s “biggest ever sponsorship” deal.

In addition to the Supermac’s logo being carried on hurling and football playing gear – from minor to senior – its subsidiary company Papa John’s Pizza will feature on all underage jerseys.

“That is still within the Supermac’s brand but that is the name that will go on the underage teams,” said Pat McDonagh.

“It is initially a two-year deal with an option to go to five years. We are delighted this process has come to a conclusion at this stage after lengthy negotiations. So, we will be launching the new jersey – the new football and hurling jersey – and this will be worn by both teams this year. Hopefully, that will be ready next Sunday.”

There were fears in some quarters that with a main sponsor sought to support both codes, Supermac’s may have lost out on the deal to a multi-national, and that not only rankled with a number of officials loyal to the McDonagh family but with proud GAA Gaels across the county.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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Macnas set off to explore the world

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Date Published: 31-Jan-2013

Macnas gets 2013 off to an exciting start with performances in China next month in February and Australia in March.

‘Chaosmos’, a newly devised piece, will premiere at the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival in Beijing from February 10-15 while the Boy Explorer heads to the WOMAdelaide festival in Australia from March 7-11.

Initiated in 2002, the Chaoyang International Spring Carnival is a highly anticipated event taking place over the Chinese New Year Holiday period with an attendance of more than 400,000 visitors. This year Ireland has been awarded ‘Country of Honour’ by the Festival; with the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs Macnas have been invited to showcase Irish Street Theatre and celebrate Chinese New Year in an uniquely Macnas way. ‘Choasmos’ is an exciting, ethereal performance with vivid and stunning costumes, bespoke imagery, stilting beasts, masked performers, musicians, suitcases, lotions, potions, a music box and a bag of curiosities.

The well-travelled Boy Explorer continues his Quest for Brilliant Ideas Down Under with an appearance at Peter Gabriel’s International Music and Arts Festival, WOMADelaide, in South Australia. The Boy will rub shoulders with music legend Jimmy Cliff as well as some of the world’s leading music performers and over 15,000 visitors each day. Although he tested his sea legs on a trip to Scoil Ronáin on Inis Mór in December, this is the Boy Explorer’s first time going overseas and casting his net further afield.

It is an extremely exciting time for the company, with so much new work in the offing and as many requests to present at home and abroad. “This will be one of the most exciting years in the long history of the company,” says Sharon O’Grady, General Manager of Macnas. No doubt the rest of the year will hold many more exciting appearances and tours for one of Ireland’s busiest performance companies.

For the most recent news follow Macnas and The Boy Explorer on Twitter, @Macnasparade or @boyexplorer, and on Facebook or check out macnas.com for more information.

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