Singer-songwriter Dylan Walshe tells Shelley Marsden about his musical heroes, a near-death experience and being homeless
Dylan Walshe feels lucky to be alive, never mind able to play music. The Dubliner, who lives in London, had a near fatal accident last year while “messing with friends on a roof in Tottenham”, fell off and crashed to the ground below. Paramedics had to resuscitate Walsh, who was later discovered to have had a brain haemorrhage.
“I smashed up a lot of bones. My elbow came out of my skin, like. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to play the guitar again. I was in hospital for weeks, and by the time I came out I couldn’t pay for my rent, so I had to leave the house I was staying in. I lost a lot of things”, says the 32 year old. “I was homeless, basically, I still am. I’m staying at a halfway house in Acton.”
The accident happened not long after Walshe decided to record for the first time (the resulting track, Blinde Is Blind was released recently on limited edition by a Berlin label). It may have put him out on the street and resulted in various injuries (though healed, he has aches and pains to this day), but Walshe believes his brush with death has given him a new lease of life.
“It’s like an epiphany. I’ve always loved travelling and playing music, and right now I feel like I’m really travelling with the music because I don’t have a ‘home’, as such. I’m 100 per cent dedicated because of it. Before, I wouldn’t write enough, play enough or practise numbers before gigs. Lying in the hospital all bandaged up, the only thing that filled my head each day was music and words. “
It dawned on the Dubliner that music meant more than he had realised: “I’ve been playing for years, but I feel like a different person now, like I’ve only been playing for a year. And you know that little voice in your head, that internal dialogue? That’s disappeared. I was always very set in my ways; now I’m a lot more honest.”
Walshe’s career prior to his accident had been a slow burner, as the singer struggled and still does with the idea of self-promotion. That it’s come late is something he maintains is a pattern in his life. Having always wanted to escape Dublin, he managed it at 22, when he was “already feeling too old.”
“I’ve always felt that way, never really young at heart. Lots of people know my music but in terms of recording I’m not really an ‘active’ musician. But a year and a half, two years ago I decided I needed to represent the journey.”
As a young boy, the family home was saturated with music, and it was delving into his parents’ vinyl collection that first got the young Walshe buzzing about different artists – from his dad, classic songwriters like Neil Young and his namesake, Dylan , and from his mum guys like Bowie and Lennon.
What he listens to hasn’t changed since Walshe was a little boy in a Loughlinstown living room with a pair of oversized earphones on. He began as a teenager to trace the roots of the artistslike blues legend Son House, and has continued down the same path since. When he first came to London about a decade ago, Walshe sought out the connection with music at work, getting jobs in various independent record shops which have since bit the dust.
If life in London hasn’t been a walk in the park for Walshe, growing up was no easy ride either. “I found ‘youth’ very difficult “, he reflects. “A lot of people do. I suppose I was quite sensitive, fairly troubled. Loughlinstown is the last suburban town before Wicklow and it’s a weird place, rows and rows of council estates pretty much in the arse-end of nowhere. I basically messed about and got into trouble!”
The turning point was when he started hanging out with his cousin, who played guitar and sang: “He tapped into something in me; I didn’t even know what it was because I was pretty young, but I was so impressed by him”.
As a working musician in London for some years now, Walshe has seen his share of trends, but laughs wryly that, through it all, he’s never really changed. “I’ve been through various waves of trends and fashion. At the moment, trends are moving towards what I do. I may be a bit better at it, but I’ve always done this!”
This stomping, one man band certainly has a groundswell of fans, one being Christy Moore who said of the single Blind Is Blind: “I just love Dylan’s voice and the way he’s using it.” Walshe has gigged across Europe for so long it must be a way of life, hitting the road with his guitar over one shoulder.
However, jostling for space in that head of his are thoughts about finally recording: “Financially I just haven’t been able to do much. But ever since I decided it needed to happen, nice things have happened. A gig I played in Belgium got me invited to Nashville, now I’ve been invited to Germany for gigs next month, and I’ve been offered recording time there too. That’s the contrast – the worst my personal situation has gotten, the better the music’s going.”
Who invited him to Nashville? “I was in Belgium at the Muddy Roots Festival. They have these all over Europe and they normally have one in Nashville, so I got a message quite a while later saying they’d like me to over there and they’d maybe release some of my music… hopefully that’ll happen towards the end of the year. The idea is that they’ll release something that I’ve already recorded in November, and we’ll take it from there.”
Walshe isn’t going to Nashville for the reasons you might expect: “There’s a rich tradition of music there, but as far as I can tell it’s quite a divided place. You’ve got your blow-dried, dyed woolly-haired songwriter circles which I wouldn’t have much to do with! A lot of people go looking for some kind of authenticity, that “I recorded an album in Nashville” thing, but I’d be into something a little more natural, going over to spend times with friends.
“In fact, I’d be wary of recording over there. This has been a long journey for me in every way, and if I go over there and all of a sudden I’ve made an American album… I wouldn’t be happy with that. I don’t want to lose who I am just because of the place I’m in, and that would be too much of a shift for my first album.”
Whatever this guy does, you get the feeling it will be on his terms, and in his own time.