A minstrel in the digital age

Ciaran-Lavery-by-Kathrin-Baumbach_Illustration-by-Glen-Kennedy_GIF

Throughout history, cultures across the globe have claimed to have located the centre of the world.

The High Priests of Israel championed Jerusalem, the Incas pointed towards Cusco; while, since medieval times, it has widely been considered that all roads lead to Rome.

In 2003, advanced technology put the Earth’s geographical centre at somewhere roughly 112 miles northeast of the Turkish capital, Ankara.

But for musician Ciaran Lavery, there is only one place his life revolves around – the tiny village of Aghagallon, Co. Antrim.

You’d be forgiven for having never heard of it; and you’d be brave to try and pronounce it.

For Ciaran, however, it’s been the focal point of his musical journey – where it all began and, where it has seemingly ended up.

“I must have been about 14 or 15 when I first picked up a guitar but, at that time, I was listening to a lot of hip hop and punk rock,” he said.

“As a result, my first ‘axe’ was an electric guitar and, after chatting with two of my mates, we set up an instrumental punk rock band.”

Ciaran might sing freely now – he has been praised for the honesty of his voice – but this wasn’t always the case.

He explained: “None of us ever wanted to sing – we just played a lot of Green Day covers and stared at each other.

“We had a makeshift microphone in the middle of the room in case anyone went mad and fancied singing, but it was hardly ever used.”

Ever chasing the dream, Ciaran and his bandmates sent off a cassette of their music to record companies in England.

image001To their surprise, they got a handwritten reply from one producer, but the joy of receiving anything at all was dampened by the message itself.

“This one lad came back to us and said we could be just like The Shadows.

“After a bit of research we discovered that they were Cliff Richard’s backing band and it was then that we realised it was probably time to stop,” he recalled.

A change in musical taste led the Ulsterman to discover artists like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young.

Begrudgingly, he switched to the acoustic guitar and joined a seven piece band called Captain Kennedy.

Although the indie-folk outfit fizzled out after six years or so, Ciaran appreciates that it was an important time for him in terms of his musical development.

“It never truly got going but I learned a lot,” he said.

“It was a great place to cut my teeth and it made making mistakes a lot easier.

“There will always be knock-backs but because we were doing things together, it made everything that little bit better and any criticism that little less personal.

“It also showed me that this was something I wanted to carry on doing – I wanted to play music and I wasn’t going to give up.”

Ciaran admits that he owes a chunk of his success to the birth and boom of online music streaming programmes such as Spotify.

This contributed to his image abroad, particularly in Germany, where he has toured on several occasions.

“One of the things you can see on Spotify is the demographics of who’s been interacting with your music,” he said.

“We noticed that there was a good response from Germany and when I’ve gone there, it’s clear that people have come down specifically to see me.

“They start singing along, even though it’s not their first language, and it’s unbelievable to see. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that feeling.”

He noted that he wants his music to be a development, a process that continues to progress in one way or another, rather than one that stagnates.

He described his new album, Let Bad In, as a mixture of sounds but with him as a songwriter at its core.

ciaran lavery“I’m a big fan of off-kilter music and not necessarily playing something that is ‘normal’ – there are a variety of sounds on this album,” he said.

“There are songs where it’s just me and a guitar or a piano and these tracks are very much about me as a solo artist.

“But, at the same time, there’s a lot of full-band stuff which is equally important because it’s another part of my music.

“I never realised it, it’s hard to be subjective when you’re so invested in it, but a couple of people who have listened to it told me that it’s actually quite dark.”

As Ciaran continues to grow as an artist, he understands that he must look towards new horizons.

Once the album is released and his latest European tour reaches its conclusion, he’ll be back in the studio and planning future ventures to places like the US.

This is something that doesn’t faze him, he actively sought a busy schedule when he decided to take up music full-time, but the self-confessed homebird admitted initial anxiety when he began touring.

On dealing with this apprehension, he said: “The main thing is to keep busy. If you’re constantly doing something, moving from one place to the next, then the next thing you know, you’re home again.”

This home for Ciaran is indisputable.

“I grew up in Aghagallon, I feel comfortable here, most of my friends are here and I suit the pace of life here,” he explained.

“I’ve never been one for the hustle and bustle of the city; I’m much more in tune with country life.

“People have said to me that to succeed in music you have to live in a big city, but I don’t really think that’s the case anymore.

“The internet has changed all that – you can exist anywhere if you’ve got wifi.”

Musically, he’s come a long way since the days of playing lyricless punk rock with his mates in the garage.

In terms of everything else, he’s barely crossed the road.

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