The multi award winning Scottish bluegrass and roots band Southern Tenant Folk Union are playing three concerts in Cork next week, their band leader Pat McGarvery spoke with Ronan Leonard from his home in Edinburgh ahead of their Irish tour.
They are hoping to build on the momentum they have been making in Ireland recently, not only did they play a storming set at Electric Picnic but they have also achieved the holy grail of publicity in Ireland. Pat explained how that all came about, “the producer of The View on RTE had booked us for their show and recommended us to The Late Late Show, we played on it at the start of this year which we know was a pretty big deal. We got a lot of new fans from it, when we were play concerts we ask how many people had seen us on the show and a lot of hands go up, and those kind of things really help the bottom line, which is a constant struggle for musicians.”
The band ‘s line up changes around who is available for certain tours and albums, Pat talked through the current line up and how they perform, “the line up that will play in Cork will consist of double bass, played in a plucking style and also with a bow for more atmospheric sounds; 5 string banjo; mandolin, which we use almost as a snare drum with the ‘chuh-chuh-chuh’ strumming style; two acoustic guitars; and a fiddle, with vocals and harmonies supplied through the group to colour the sound.”
How they present their material is unorthodox, which Pat explained, “we perform using just one microphone which we stand around in a semi-circle. We prefer that style, one reason is it looks better visually for an audience, it might look a bit showy but I don’t mind that, the alternative is the that we’d all stand in a straight line each with out own microphone and DI and not move except for tapping our feet, this way we move around is like a clumsy ballet! And for the band it means we control our sound a lot better, once we’ve sorted out any problems with the frequencies within the room all we need to do to prioritise our individual instruments is to just step closer or further from the microphone so we can shape the sound we want it to be. It means we have a very quick soundcheck too!”
The band name is not, as some joke, influenced by one of Scotland’s most popular lagers but actually the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, who formed during the Great Depression in America. Pat explained about the inspiration for the bands name, “we are named after a group of farmers, who were supposed to be receiving money from the federal government to ease their hardship, to work the land and not just desert it but then their landlords began imposing dubious charges and keeping the money. So all those who were farming the land; black and white; man and woman; all joined together which was groundbreaking. That resonates with me, I’m on the left politically and I’d like to see a union for musicians, especially since we come together as musicians and songwriters to work together anyway. While not all the band would be politically active, we’d all gravitate towards the left on the political socialism level.”
The Southern Tenant Folk Union play The Crane Lane on Monday 11 November; The Allihies Copper Mine Museum on Wednesday 13, Allihies Copper Mine Museum, and De Barras in Clonakilty on Thursday 14. Ticket information can be found at http://www.southerntenantfolkunion.com