It’s not every band that make an album by accident, but that is pretty much what BibleCode Sundays have done with their latest offering, as Andy Nolan tells Fiona O’Brien
One of the biggest bands on the London Irish circuit are finally releasing their hotly anticipated follow-up to New Hazardous Design, which features guest appearances from the likes of Elvis Costello and Hollywood star Russell Crowe.
It is their first release in almost five years, yet songwriter and accordionist Andy Nolan says that Walk Like Kings was as much as a surprise to the band as it was to their followers who didn’t believe that another album would ever come to fruition.
“When we recorded our first two albums in consecutive years, Ghosts Of Our Past in 2006 and Boots Or No Boots in 2007, we purposely set out to write about the London Irish experience,” he says. “We wrote about the people and places around us, the wider Irish diaspora and to tell those stories from a London Irish perspective.
“Then in late 2010 we began a much more ambitious project which took us three years to complete, scrapping an entire album and starting again so that we could get it sounding just right.
“We broadened our horizons lyrically and sonically, working with producer Michael Smith in a new studio and working in a much more in-depth way than we had previously.
“We set the bar higher for ourselves and the resulting album New Hazardous Design was us spreading our wings and bringing in more influences to our sound.
“Lead guitarist Kian Chanter had joined the band and the tracks reflected the change in sound that resulted. We had a much more rock-influenced BibleCode Sundays sound and we felt we had matured as a band.”
But that was where their recording career was meant to finish, and another album was never on the cards before a new project left them with material they knew could not be left in the cutting room, as it were.
“The difference between those albums and Walk Like Kings is that we had an approach to those albums, a target to hit. With this one we weren’t even planning on making an album. New Hazardous Design was going to be our last album.
“But three years ago there was a shout out for music to be included in the movie Black Mass which was in pre-production at the time.
“The movie, which stars Johnny Depp, is based on the notorious Irish American gangster Whitey Bulger, a character which my previous song Whitey tackles on our Ghosts Of Our Past album.
“We then decided to go for it and write some made-to-measure songs to be sent to the production company for consideration for the movie soundtrack.
“Unfortunately, the tracks were not used but we were left with four tracks that we were delighted with. Coupling those songs with a number of unfinished tracks left over from the New Hazardous sessions we had accidentally stumbled into the best part of another album. All we had to do was to add a few new songs and there it was, our accidental album!”
As previously mentioned there was no set theme for this album, with the first two looking to capture the London Irish scene and their third their ambitious and fulfilling rocky sound.
As the band is unusual in all members contributing to the songwriting (Ronan MacManus (guitar), Enda Mulloy (bass), Andy, Carlton Hunt (drummer), Kian and Patrick Franklin (fiddle)) and with everyone bringing their own musical tastes and influences means, how would it all mesh together?
“Albums generally have a formula, and bands have a sound, and while we do have our own distinct sound, we certainly do not conform to a formula. There is a huge collaborative effort from the whole band, and the album features two songs (Clouds and Disorganised Crime) with our drummer Carlton writing the lyrics, which is unusual in itself!
“The eclectic nature of this album adds credence to that statement. We took off the shackles and each song found its own path, and all in the band facilitated each song’s natural progression development. Working without any kind of agenda was freeing, we could let the songs lead us and go where it wanted to naturally go.
“We decided to invite artists we had previously worked with and musical friends to contribute to the album, to add something unique to the project.
“Russell Crowe has been in touch with the band ever since our song ‘The Cinderella Man’ became a social media attachment to his movie of the same name. Chance meetings at an Elvis Costello gig where he was a guest singer, and again on the BBC One Show when both he and the band were guests cemented our friendship.
“When we asked him if he would like to perform on the album, he simply said yes. We are delighted to have him on board and his duet with Lorraine O’Reilly truly is one of the highlights of the album. It is a really personal song to Ronan, writing about the death of his parents, but when we heard it with Russell it really did it justice and Ronan was happy to pass it over.”
And in terms of people’s personal contributions to the album, do any of the band get precious about how their work is adapted or maybe shunted for another member’s song?
“I suppose we are all quite protective over our own work, but we’ve worked together for so long now we know how it works. I am precious but Ronan just gets what I am envisioning. I’ll hand over a tune and lyrics and he’ll patch it up almost as if he is in my head.
“What is great is we are all perfectionists, so it’s all for the greater good of the band. That’s why the album has taken so long. It’s been a long process. With being parents, holding down full-time jobs and also being so busy with performing with the band it was hard to find the time to nail this down.
“But we didn’t want to do it half-heartedly and now we are finally pleased with the end project. We are really proud of it.”
As well as the traditional folk and rock sound other influences have come into play. Matt McManamon, from the Dead 60’s and more recently, The Specials is a friend of the band and ‘was more than willing to lay down some killer vocals’ on ‘Disorganised Crime’.
The track also features Tony ‘Rico’ Richardson, a BibleCode Sundays regular guest and former Bad Manners bandmate of our drummer Carlton, lending us his brass genius once again along with reformed bank robbers Noel ‘Razor’ Smith and Vincent Bradish.
There is also US rappers Paulie Nugent and Scotty Edge from 90s Hip Hop band Lordz of Brooklyn, and more recently Da Ded Rabbidz, perform on ‘Stand Up and Fight’.
“It is a collaboration that began back in the first sessions of the New Hazardous sessions will finally see the light of day after seven years! Paulie had also sent us some lyrics which Ronan turned into a beautifully delicate song named ‘Snow Falling On Fire Escapes’ which shows a different side to our boy from Bayridge that may surprise a few people.
“Experimenting with different genres such as Ska, Dance, Punk, Grunge, Pop, even Rap, and with a taste of the London Irish in there, it’s easy to see why the working title of this album was ‘Death By Eclectic Chair’. I hope people enjoy Walk Like Kings, which will be our last album… Well, maybe.”
And a personal highlight for the band is the touching MacManus project. “Following the passing of Ronan’s father, a chance discovery of old lyrics in the family home lead Ronan to put music to the words and complete the lyrics into a song.
“The emotional ballad ‘Willie Redmond’s Volunteers’ became a poignant song for his family, as Ronan asked all of his brothers to appear on the track, including Declan (AKA Elvis Costello). We even found an old recording of Ronan’s Dad narrating a wartime telegram that fitted the subject perfectly, so we even have Ross MacManus himself on the track, meaning that all five brothers and their father appear on the same recording for the first time.”
Other contributions come from friends of the band Elly O’Keefe dueting with Ronan on ‘America’, Keelta Higgins on ‘Laying Me Down’, Pat Cassidy (mandolin) and Brian Kelly (banjo) also guest.
The album is being launched on Friday 29 September at the Claddagh Ring. Special guests include Matt McManamon, the Wayne Brennan Band, James McGrath and James Collins. Entry is £10 and the album will be available to purchase, with entry from 8.30pm, and DJ Phelim until 2am.