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Marc O'Sullivan meets cork's latest export, Fred
Mark O'Sullivan, 15 Mar 2002
Anyone who has witnessed Fred play live will know their gigs tend to be rowdy, celebratory affairs. Recent performances have seen Eibhilin rise from her usual place at the keyboards to deliver a rousing rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, while Jamie has taken to singing the Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ with his band-mates taking turns to hold his nose, the better to affect that sinus-whiny tone favoured by Trevor Horne on the original.
It is Fred’s own material that has, of course, done most to cement their reputation as Cork’s best-loved ‘quirky’ band, though they wish it to be known there is considerably more to their collective talents than the idiosyncratic nature of their songs. They are, after all, professionals, with a debut album, Can’t Stop, I’m Being Timed, to promote.
It is, Jamie and Emmett recall, seven years since they first began to make music together in their native Tralee. “We wrote our first song when we were asked to perform on Radio Kerry,” says Emmett. “We got it together in an hour or so. It’s called ‘Moonjuice’; we still play it live.”
It was, perhaps, only natural that Jamie should become a musician: his father played professionally with Stagalee in the ’70s. “I’ve seen the posters,” he says. “They played support to Thin Lizzy and bands like that. Ian Dempsey called his greyhound after them, so they must have been really popular.”
“My dad used to go to all their gigs,” adds Emmett proudly.
“One of the other guys in the band wound up playing with Sting, and another is Chris Rea’s bassist. But Dad gave up the music business when he had me, though we let him play flute on a few songs on the album.”
Emmett played bass and Jamie sang and played guitar with various outfits before they formed Fred in September ’98. They enrolled the services of Eibhilin on keyboards, Justin on drums, Liam on percussion, and Joe on rhythm guitar and vocals. “Our first gig was in U.C.C.,” says Emmett. “That led to us competing in an inter-college Battle of the Bands in Limerick, even though there was only one of us in college.”
“It was held outdoors in November,” remembers Jamie. “No-one wanted to leave the bar and actually play.”
“Yeah. We exuded natural warmth.”
Eibhilin nods vigorously. “The audience sensed that,” she says.
“It was only our second gig,” says Jamie.
“When we won the competition, we felt we’d be invincible.”
That seemingly unassailable sense of self-belief was briefly undermined within weeks, however, when Fred were placed second at another Battle of the Bands in Galway. They deny any involvement in the subsequent fisticuffs in which a
friend of theirs was expelled from the bar, the
razing of some two hundred daffodils in the quad outside, or the incident in which another acquaintance caused some considerable discomfort to Michael D. Higgins. “She had a nose-bleed,” they recall. “One moment she was spurting Irish to Michael D., the next she was spurting blood all over him.”
Bloodied themselves, but more or less unbowed, Fred enjoyed a few years of live success before venturing into the studio last year. The EP they recorded on that occasion sold so well at gigs they were encouraged to record their album. Can’t Stop, I’m Being Timed highlights both their gift for zany rhythms and their taste for esoteric lyrics, as suggested by titles like ‘The Parsnip Song’, ‘Colour of Numbers’ and ‘The Wondering Geologist’. The words to their songs are something the trio consider in silence for a moment. “I don’t know,” says Emmett. “Maybe we just haven’t had any normal life experiences worth writing about.”
“Yeah,” says Jamie. “We were always more focused on the music. The lyrics were sort of inconsequential.”
“Poor lyrics,” says Eibhilin quietly, adding, “We did tidy them up in the studio.”
“‘The Wondering Geologist’ is actually about Joe’s girlfriend,” ventures Emmett.
“Yeah,” says Jamie, “but I wrote the lyrics.”
“Did you?” says Emmett in surprise.
“What?” says Eibhilin. “You wrote a song about Joe’s girlfriend? That’s freaky!”
Fred generally favour a collective writing process, with everyone pitching in ideas which are eventually developed into songs. “The most successful bands,” says Jamie, “are the ones who share everything.”
Fred are currently investigating such possibilities as taking on a manager, pursuing a distribution deal, and touring more extensively around the country.
“Having the album gives us something solid to promote,” says Emmett.
“Yeah, we’re more focused now than we’ve ever been,” says Jamie conclusively. “More determined. Ish.”