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Sittin' on the dock of the Bray
Back from exile in Brighton, Fionn Regan is making major waves with his filmic observations on life in a seaside town. Peter Murphy joins him for a promenade down memory lane, and suggests that he might just be the Wicklow Dylan.
Peter Murphy, 03 Nov 2006
Location, location. All the best records inhabit a psychic as well as geographical space. Exile On Main Street will forever occupy the sweltering basement of a chateau in the south of France, Music From Big Pink a clubhouse in the Catskills, Bitches Brew a gypsy-cab infested neon New York City.
Bray Head on a Sunday mightn’t be as glamourous or exotic as any of those locations, but it is nevertheless the place where the songs on Fionn Regan’s The End Of History took shape, hence our bumbling around the strand in search of the perfect portrait shot.
It’s a mild afternoon in the early off-season, and Bray’s promenade of penny arcades and cafes is still thronged with strolling couples and sprawling, squalling families. A diminutive, messy-haired Dylan-circa-66 urchin in black velvet jacket, drainpipes, Chelsea boots and shades, Fionn Regan grew up here, and that maritime atmosphere permeates his debut album, a collection of nuanced and impressionistic nu-folk (or anti-folk, or non-folk, or whatever you’re having yourself) tunes that eschew narrative ballad formality and windy rhetoric for a fragmented stream of consciousness that’s closer to the true skewed nature of Clarence Ashley or Mississippi John Hurt – or more latterly, the gnomic pronouncements of Will Oldham and Nick Drake, albeit with a twist in his sobriety.
So, The End Of History evokes the same shambledown melancholic airs that permeated Bruce Robinson’s wonderful The Peculiar Memories Of Thomas Penman, a book whose musical equivalent might be a weave of wound-down calliope, weeping musical saw and groaning harmonium. This is the sound of a seaside childhood recollected in, if not tranquillity, then solitude. A key line on the album: “I have become an aerial view/Of a coastal town that you once knew.”
“I see that like a flash over the top of a small town, almost dream-like,” Fionn says, after the photographs have been taken and we’ve adjourned to the dining room of a local hotel. “I think there’s a sort of a slideshow feel in songs like ‘Put A Penny In The Slot’ – reflection in a very fragmented kind of way. It all becomes interwoven into some sort of fabric that represents a certain time. It’s part of you, but also it feels like it’s somebody completely different. Even coming to Bray today feels like walking onto a set for a film that you made a long time ago, there’s a bit of The Truman Show about it or something.”