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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

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

images/files/images/x3_Courthouse.jpg

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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