Dublin 8-piece band Kila is in London for the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, writes Adam Shaw
“It’s a bit hit and miss – we beat the crap out of a tune and see what comes out. Imagine a big pot of soup; you throw everything together and hope it tastes good.”
It’s a novel approach to making music – a trial and error system based on sounds from around the world – but it’s one that seems to be working. Kila, the eight-piece outfit founded in Dublin, have been cooking up their soups for more than 30 years. They combine elements from the traditions practised in Ireland, the Balkans, Africa and beyond, and try to create one great big show.
As bass player Brian Hogan explains, their music is an event. It’s about entertaining and allowing the audience to have a bloody good time.
“You can’t ignore the crowd and it’s about establishing a connection with them through the music,” he says. “We want people to be able to simply close their eyes and enjoy it and to get people dancing.
“The trick is to get the beautiful women dancing because the men will then follow, believe me.”
The band are currently working on a live album – their 19th record in total – and Brian believes this is where their strengths lie. They emerged out of the busking scene and embrace the fact that, with live music, you can hit the listener almost immediately.
But they are far from one-trick ponies. In fact, their USP is their adaptability, the ease at which they can switch from one sound to another, from one place to the next.
“We’re lucky in that we’re adaptable. We appreciate that everyone has different ears and you have to tailor it to make it work. You can go from a rock club to a culture event, but, at the end of the day, it’s all the same, it’s all music.”
This extends to performing in Irish, since half of the band are native speakers. It gives them another angle and Brian is proud of its impact, but he is aware that it shouldn’t limit them.
“It’s not a flag we have to stand by, but it is part of what we are and it’s wonderful to showcase that. A lot of people will remember being pounded with Irish when they were at school but with us, it’s more like lightly basting a chicken – we let it seep in gradually.”
Their versatility is apparent in their upcoming London shows for St Patrick’s Day. Asked to do a set for children, they simply adapted their material and accentuated their more light-hearted stuff.
As Brian explains, “it’s not heavy metal” and it is a case of “fewer profanities, more dancing and introducing the guy who is great a turkey impressions”.
The fact that they can go from performing for a handful of children to packing out an arena filled with trad enthusiasts is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. He has twice played in Japan – which was “like going to the moon” – and as part of the Opening Ceremony at the Special Olympics in Dublin. Then there were a hectic few days between Spain and Ireland which perfectly encapsulated what life in the band is like.
“We performed in Ortigueira in Galicia, where there’s a heavy Celtic scene, and it was like a Metallica moment.
“There were thousands of people there up until six in the morning going for mad for us and then we had to hop back to Roscommon for a concert on the back of a milk truck in front of 150 people.”
Things like this are what motivate Brian and his colleagues to continue. The secret to their longevity, he says, is to find that desire.
“If you’re not enjoying it, it becomes too hard and too much of a gamble. It can turn you into a cynical muppet and no-one wants that.
“We’ve all got kids, we all know we need support, that’s the freelance business. But you find reasons to keep going and a key one is enjoying what you do.”
Kila have always enjoyed playing in Britain but they believe it is an area which they could utilise to much greater effect. This is because there is such a strong demand for their style over here and, in practical terms, it is just down the road. Brian notes how there is such a broad spectrum of folk music in England, Scotland and Wales and that people go to festivals specifically to listen.
“You’ve got all these different angles – there are hippies, expats, those who want to dance, everyone’s there for a good time.
“We actually got to do a set with Imelda May. She used to sneak into our gigs when she was younger, which is depressing. But you look at the impact she’s had over [in Britain] and you can see that there’s a market for it.
“There is a bit of different atmosphere. It’s not better or worse, just different. I think it’s a cultural thing. “In Spain people are up going mental from the first note whereas in England it can take people a while to react – they sometimes need to be two pints down.
“But the approach is the same. Most people who come to listen to us just want to enjoy themselves.”
People have been enjoying Kila for over three decades. This could be due to their ability to link in Irish language, or their “world sound” which incorporates the best of a number of cultures. Brian light-heartedly described working as “a prison sentence” despite actually being one of the newer members. But if you can bring joy and have thousands of people from a variety of cultures and across a range of ages up on their feet, it’s not a bad prison to be in.
Kila are performing at the London Irish Centre on 17 March and at Camden Market on 18 March.
• For more information, visit www.kila.ie or www.london.gov.uk/events