Mary Grammer tells Fiona O’Brien she enticed some of Ireland’s best known modern acts to her Camden festival because ‘Irish music isn’t just all country and Trad’.
When a musician finds that their shyness is a hindrance to pursuing a professional career on stage, how does a young artist maintain working in the industry?
That is the predicament that Kilkenny native Mary Grammer found herself in, but the 23-year-old is proving that there are other, as exciting, ways to keep her finger on the pulse of the music scene. Mary, who is a classically trained pianist and violinist, practicing since the age of four, gets just as much of a buzz out of working behind the scenes now than she used to while performing.
And the Middlesex University undergraduate has managed to attract some of the biggest names in Irish comedy and music for a two-day event in Camden at the beginning of next month, no mean feat for her first ever solo project.
“Although I love to play music, a life on stage was not necessarily the full-time path that I wanted to be on,” she says. “I started studying Music Business and Arts Management at Middlesex University, and once I started to learn more about that side of things I got really interested in it.”
Mary’s first event was with a group of her fellow students, a night run to raise money for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, and was organised in conjunction with the late singer’s parents.
“The sense of achievement I felt after that was just brilliant, and I knew then that this was what I wanted to do.”
Mary has since set up her own business and Grammer Music’s first event, Emerald Sounds, is taking place at the Electric Ballroom on March 3 and 4. It has some really big names in popular Irish indie, folk and rock, as well as comedy for good measure.
The line-up is hugely impressive, with triple-platinum selling artist Paddy Casey playing on the first night, alongside folksinging Dublin twins Heathers and Mullingar favourites The Blizzards. Then on the Saturday comedy hip-hop duo Rubberbandits will take to the stage, as well as platinum record selling artist Ryan Sheridan and rockers The Riptide Movement.
They are all acts that could probably sell-out big venues in the capital on their own right due to their popularity, and Mary hopes that bringing them altogether will help to fly the flag for what is new about Irish arts. And she is also using it to help showcase lesser-known artists, and build relationships with management in Ireland who want to promote their acts over here.
“Emerald Sounds will bring the Irish artists paving their way to the top the Irish charts to the stage to not only promote the variety of musical genres at the forefront of the Irish music scene, but to celebrate the Celtic origins of Ireland’s melodious past.
“A lot of Irish events over here always seem to be geared toward the traditional Irish sound, which is great. But in Ireland there are so many more diverse sounds to be heard and although they may enjoy success over there, it does not necessarily translate when in the UK.
“This way we can kind of promote an alternative celebration of Irish music. And as the names are big enough in their own right, it will hopefully get more people to know about our emerging talents who are sharing the stage with them.”
These acts include 20-year-old singer songwriter Niamh Crowther, who has attracted over a million streams on Spotify, the energetic acoustic driven rock/pop band Scoops, as well as the ever-popular Ham Sandwich.
And with the event only a few short weeks away, Mary is learning to juggle the demands of balancing her final year college work while organising a high-profile event. “The university has been so supportive, and have really backed me with this project. My lecturers are there for advice and have been promoting it on their own social media feeds too.
“And with all the added commitments they have been really good with working out deadlines for my course work and stuff. But obviously doing an event like this is really helpful to my course too as I am getting hands-on practice of the things we are learning about.”
Mary too is praised by her college, who are delighted to see her get maximum use out of her course. “The festival Mary has organised looks fantastic. It’s the culmination of lots of work and study behind the scenes by Mary, supported by her tutors,” says Dr Chris Dromey, Associate Professor in Music, who leads the BA Music Business and Arts Management.
“We’re very proud that BA Music Business and Arts Management inspires festivals such as Emerald Sounds. Mary’s a rising star in music promotion and artist management. I’m sure her festival will be a resounding success and the first of many such events she’ll promote.”
And Mary is already setting her targets high for developing her business. “Since I set up Grammer Music I’ve had a few talks with bands, and we are opening up contracts for me to manage them, which is great. Event planning really gives you that platform, and I’d love to be able to give Irish acts a bit more exposure over here.
“At the moment I’m obviously the only employee as we start out, but at least that way I get to manage all aspects as I grow and it means that anyone I represent know that I’m just at the other end of a phone rather than having to go through different departments. It’s more personal.
“Excitement and reception for Emerald Sounds has been great. Ticket sales are good, and as this is a personal investment I do need it to be attended well for it to be a success.
The venue itself is one that Mary felt was of utmost importance in marketing the event as an Irish one. The blurb of the festival itself reads: “The Irish have had a huge presence in London for centuries as hoards of men and women emigrated from the shores of Ireland to seek employment in the UK, but it was the building of New Oxford Street in the 1800s that attracted many Irish to the edges of Camden Town.
“This increased Irish presence in Camden gave birth to a wave of bars and clubs opening to cater to the Irish community. One of those bars was the Buffalo Bar opened in the mid 1930s by Irishman Ginger Maloney, where numerous Irish show bands and singers performed to Irish audiences living in London in the 50s and 60s. Buffalo Bar is known today as Electric Ballroom, which is now one of Camden’s most iconic music venues where Emerald Sounds will be held. In keeping with Electric Ballroom’s historical beginnings, Emerald Sounds will continue to maintain the Irish presence in Camden and bring Irish music home to the Irish in London.”
“It was really important to me to have it in Camden, first of all because of its appeal as a music hub, but also because of that Irish connection. There’s always been that traditional hub of Irish people in the area, and especially because the Irish Centre is based there itself.”
And what does Mary’s family think of her exploits?
“Well, the festival is actually making a bit of a family reunion. My sister lives in Australia but once she heard about what I was doing she was determined to be a part of it and is actually flying back with her boyfriend to help me out and my family are coming over too.