This foot-stomping, raucous gypsy folk outfit from Donaghmede and Tallaght has become a festival favourite across Europe, writes Mick McDonagh
Dublin quintet the Eskies, from Tallaght and Donaghmede in Dublin, released their second album And Don’t Spare The Horses last month and will tour the UK next month.
They’re no traditional Irish ballad group but a foot stomping raucous gypsy-folk outfit that has won many fans from the concerts and festivals they have played all over the world since they formed six years ago.
For the last few years they have been really busy playing their unique mixture of rock, swing and blues in their eclectic, usually uptempo rousing style. Highlights for them have been main stage slots at Glastonbury (Field Of Avalon) and the Cambridge Folk Festival, as well as performing at the Eurosonic Noordeslaag in the Netherlands and at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections.
Produced by ‘Captain’ Gavin Glass (who also produces Lisa Hannigan, John Grant, Billy Bragg) this new album shows off a new dimension of the band’s talent.
The band actually characterizes it as: “Melodramatic tales of woe, betrayal, conflict, upheaval, rebellion, love, loss, fear and anger, All wrapped in tongue-in-cheek irreverence and self-deprecation, occasionally giving way to a flurry of triumphalism or whisper of introspection.”
We spoke to Steven Kearney, the drummer and one of the singers, to ask about the band and the album and whether it was true they formed in Germany: “The band has been together about six years now, originally we were not into the sounds you hear from us today and it was more straight down the line folk but as time went on we discovered more Eastern European and Gogol Bordello and more gypsy music.
“We have all got different backgrounds with our roots from Irish Traditional songs and blues music, so we have a really diverse palette of music to draw on”.
“We are terribly fond of lying about ourselves to make us sound more interesting so all that Germany stuff is a myth, we are all Dublin lads from Tallaght and Donaghmede.”
Where did the Eskies name come from?
“Do you want the real story or the lie? The lies are always more interesting but the truth is we were in another band with that name but as the others moved on we just carried on with the name with this band”.
Are they, like so many before them, re-inventing old Irish music in their own style?
“Well that is true and actually our video with the highest number of hits is the sea shanty Haul Away Joe that was done first by the Clancy Brothers.
“We are all very influenced by Irish folk music in a big way and love Shane MacGowan and the good stuff.
“In fact we were once called ‘The Dubliners for the internet generation’, which we were very proud of and thought that was pretty cool.
“It is true that at our gigs it all gets a bit wild and out of hand but people come to our gigs to enjoy themselves and have a good stomp and we love that just to get into the music and be free and to have a good time.”
What makes The Eskies unique is that they have brought in all kinds of varied musical influences like a brassy 1920s funeral march sound or the sound of chain gang hollers and American field blues music.
At times they sound like New Orleans Jug Bands or the Skiffle bands we had here with Lonnie Donegan at the beginning of rock and roll in the 1950s.
How did five young guys from Tallaght and Donaghmede come to be influenced by these sounds?
“Oh yes we love finding unusual and obscure stuff and YouTube is a fantastic tool it’s like going down a rabbit hole and coming up with things we love, like the feeling of a particular form of music or genre.
“We can discover so much to bring it in to what we do.
“From an early age we had each other and we heard of Alan Lomax and those early field recordings and heard Leadbelly and liked it and we were blessed that we had the Internet to find it. Like I said you go down a rabbit hole and all of a sudden you find Leadbelly then you are on to something else like Sun House or all those early Chess Recordings and you find Muddy Waters and then you share it amongst us. Like have you heard this?
“It’s amazing and the technology has changed so it is easy to share stuff and to learn more. Like the skiffle it is something we found and we did some early things with stand up double bass with the sound all stripped back to the basic acoustic sound.
“From where we are from there is bound to be a lot of Irish influences in us with a rousing tempo. Like the Irish always have the big dramatic tales that’s what they are good at, the big dramatic tale with a rousing thing going on, drama for the sake of happiness, and drama for the sake of drama.
“There is always some sort of drama with the Irish music and we are definitely continuing some form of legacy there with that in what we do.
“But we do it in our own way. If we took ourselves too seriously we would die of embarrassment.”
So what makes the ‘sea-soaked Gypsy folk’ of the Eskies?
“Well if you throw all those things in a big pot and mix them up and everybody gets very familiar with themselves and then walk out in the early morning light and you might find something that looks like us but a bit more scary than the originals”.
The Eskies have a great sense of humour and their first album was called Sherry Go Round, a curious title until you see that on stage they do, indeed, pass around a sherry decanter.
Isn’t sherry more readily associated with a sedate Edwardian parlour than rousing music and aren’t beverages like porter, poitin or whiskey the ones most people think of Irish Groups?
“We are always had these visions of grandeur about ourselves and maybe sherry seems about as grand a drink as we could think of for us suburban young Dubliners and the idea that you might be the drunken man at an Edwardian dinner party who maybe a bit too frightening for everybody else, as he had been passed the sherry a few too many times.
“So we kind of thought we’d find some inspiration in this and the idea of the sherry but we’d make it a bit more merrier at our gigs. We’ve now broken the odd decanter or too so they don’t survive that long.”
You’re festival veterans these days so which have been the most memorable?
“Last year the biggest highlight was doing the main stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival and the atmosphere was overwhelming I’d never been anywhere like it. It was amazing and it is kind of hallowed ground and it is an incredible crowd that listens and is open to new music so they welcomed us even though we’d moved on from pure folk. It was brilliant and they always welcome the Irish.”
“We are coming back in February and we will playing The Borderline on 15 February and are focusing on the UK quite a lot as we are going down really well. We are really looking forward to tearing the place up and to having some fun.”
The Eskies are Ian Bermingham (guitar, vocals) Tim George (bass, vocals) Steven Kearney (drums, vocals) Robert Murphy (mandolin) Sean O’Reilly (guitar, vocals) and their most recent single I’m Not Sorry is on their album And Don’t Spare The Horses.