By David Hennessy
London based Darvra’s Wave certainly have a fresh sound for the local folk scene as it combines the saxophone with the more traditional instruments to great effect. The band have just released their debut album The Witches Recall which has been positively received internationally. In 2012, the band were chosen to represent Ireland and perform on Radio 5 Live as part of the 2012 Olympics Coverage.
The band also saw their track Don’t Kick the Kat reach the semi-finals of the 2012 International Songwriting Competition. Josie Simmons, who plays tin whistle, sax, clarinet and recorder, tells The Irish World: “I noticed they had an instrumental section that I didn’t know about and thought ‘brilliant’. I thought: ‘Well, I’ll just enter a couple of tracks in that and Don’t Kick the Kat got through to the semi-finals out of 20,000 entries. It’s a hard competition because it’s people from all over the world.”
The band takes its name from the Irish fairytale The Children of Lir. Josie is joined in the line-up by Belfast’s Peter Heffron on lead vocals and guitars, Antonia Pagulatos on fiddle, Kevin Glasgow on bass guitar who has family in Cushendall, Antrim and Joshua Law on drums. Individually, Peter has played with the great Bryan Ferry while Antonia has played Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz.
However, these are far from their only brushes with fame as Premiership footballers used to come to their gigs. Peter tells the story: “At one point we had Robbie Keane’s cousin, Stevie Nolan in the band.”
Josie adds: “Robbie came along to our gigs, it was quite funny. He actually got up and sang a song with us. Everyone got their cameras out.”
Peter continues: “Robbie used to come with some of the spurs players and they cleared a space for them. They’re not in the same world that we’re in, they turned up in this big ridiculous car.. Robbie seems great, grounded. But we were getting the gear down and they were all swanning around outside, being footballers. Anyway, one of the barmaids comes up to me and says; ‘That footballer guy there has just stolen one of your microphones’. ‘What?!’ Even if he’s a reserve, he’s on 20 odd grand a week and he nicked a mic that cost me 180 quid. I went out the door: ‘Oi, you! Come here. Give me that!’ ‘I was just-‘ ‘No, you weren’t just!’ And I went into a rant about the per centage of what they earn that I earn. Maybe it shows you a little bit what they think: ‘I’m gonna take your microphone, because I can’. All the barmaids and all the punters were looking out, seeing what was happening. Robbie was embarrassed.”
Formerly known as the London Irish Band, the band’s line-up has changed over the years. Peter remembers recruiting fiddle player, Antonia who is half Greek/half German: “We just hit it off so I said: ‘Dominic says you play in a band’. She goes: ‘Yeah, I’m just rehearsing with Damon Albarn and Gorillaz at the moment, what time’s the pub gig on?’ She was all up for it.
“She doesn’t speak a word of Greek. I speak more Greek. It’s hilarious. Trying to impress, I’m speaking some, she looks at me: What?”
Moving Hearts are a band Darvra’s Wave are inspired by. Peter says: “When you listen to Moving Hearts, I think it was fantastic stuff. They had the foil of Christy Moore who wasn’t like the other members so he could do the vocal tracks. I think Moving Hearts were just probably at the wrong time. Maybe it was too much for people to take in.”
Josie adds: “Moving Hearts are the only other major Irish band that I’ve known that have used the soprano saxophone.”
The subjects of songs on the band’s impressive debut range from losing a friend in The Troubles to songs about cats. Peter explains the times that inspired the beautiful Think Twice: “Basically, I went to d la salle secondary school and we had Silver City opposite us which was a big army barracks and at school breaks, the army would drive by to wind us up so the kids would make paint bombs and we would throw paint bombs at the jeeps. This was all a joke but the army would be clicking their rifles at you. These were interesting times but it escalated, one of pupils in our class brought a gun in and then the brothers heard about it and they wanted to get that gun gone because that would have meant the army would have come in to the school, it would have really escalated. While we were throwing paint bombs, can you imagine if they start shooting back and a load of kids get killed.
“I knew some of our friends had joined the Na Fianna, luckily enough I had music. The provisional IRA and the official IRA were having a feud and it was ruthless and one friend of mine had been working in a wood yard and they had gone in and singled him out: ‘Kneel down, say your prayers’. That’s loosely what it’s about. Think twice, you never know you’ve got it until it’s gone. It got a lot worse that summer. That was ‘77. Those years between ‘77 and ‘79, it was in full pelt. Scary times, hence I left in ‘82.
“We’re going to do an EP and we’re going to do it based on this Disappeared (the murders of people such as Jean McConville which were the subject of a recent Spotlight programme) thing. You have to be quite sensitive how you approach it. The problem is you don’t want to start apportioning blame but I would write it from the humanity point of view: These people were taken away for whatever reason, right or wrong, but the worst thing you did was you buried them in a shallow grave somewhere and their families never got closure which is a horrible thing to do.”
Song for Dave is a track that means a great deal to Josie: “That’s dedicated to my dad because he passed away two years ago. It’s in the same vein as Song for Guy, Song for Tony so that’s what it’s about really. I’m not the same as Pete with lyrics. It’s not quite as deep. Don’t Kick the Kat has no meaning at all.”
The Witches Recall by Darvra’s Wave is out now. For more information, go to: http://www.darvraswave.com/. The band will be playing at The Great Railway Tavern in Hornsey on Friday November 29 with a special celebration of the new album.