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Rebuilding it  

Ronan MacManus and Andy Nolan of The Biblecode Sundays told David Hennessy about what could be the biggest headline show they’ve ever played, paying tribute to Shane MacGowan and how London Irish- the club they have strong links with- are rebuilding after the events of last year. 

The BibleCode Sundays are a band that hold a special place within the Irish community in London.

They burst onto the scene with the album Ghosts of our Past in 2006. This was swiftly followed in 2007 with Boots or No Boots with the latter giving songs like Drinking All Day and Maybe It’s Because I’m an Irish Londoner which became firm favourites.

The band released their third album New Hazardous Design in 2013. 2017’s Walk Like Kings remains their most recent album.

The BibleCodes have played at now defunct but famous Irish venues like The Galtymore, Dicey Reillys and led celebrations at London Irish Rugby Club which is also sadly no more although the band still play for the amateurs as that club continues on.

They have played on a famous night at Celtic Park, played on BBC’s The One Show and played at last year’s Trafalgar Square celebrations, both for St, Patrick’s Day.

When The London Irish Centre paid tribute to both Sinead O’Connor and Shane MacGowan after they passed away last year, of course they were involved.

Russell Crowe and Robbie Keane are among their celebrity fans.

There have also been hard times for the band.

In 2017, the same year as Walk Like Kings was released, drummer Carlton Hunt passed away.

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In January 2019 it was announced that lead singer Ronan MacManus had left the band who continued to gig with guitarist Kian Chanter taking over on vocals.

However, perhaps with COVID being something of a catalyst, Ronan would return after years away.

It was 2022 that The Irish World reported that The BibleCode Sundays were set to play a St Patrick’s Day show at Powerhaus back as the six piece line up the band had before Ronan’s departure.

The BibleCode Sundays are now getting ready for what they say could be their biggest headline show ever.

They play the Scala venue in Kings Cross on Saturday 9 March for Ireland’s Six Nations match with England.

Ronan MacManus told The Irish World: “It’s a proper six piece BibleCodes which is great.

“We don’t always get a chance to do that so it’s a treat for us really as well.

“We did a couple of rugby days last year.

“Both of them were at the Irish Centre in Camden but it wasn’t available this time around so we had to hunt for another venue.

“Thankfully, we had a friend who got us in touch with Scala.

“It’s a huge thing for us so we’re really delighted to be doing it.

“It’s a huge venue, iconic venue.

“A place we’ve always wanted to play.

“It’s probably the biggest venue we’ve done in a long time in terms of a ticketed night, especially as a headline.

“It could even be the biggest one we’ve ever done as a ticketed headline.

“If we sell it out, it’s gonna be something amazing.”

Andy Nolan adds: “The Ireland game will be on two big screens so it promises to be a great day.

“And we’ve got Niall McNamee supporting us.

“He reminded us a few months ago that when he first came over to London, he supported us so it’s nice to have Niall back on the lineup with us.”

The six piece BibleCode Sundays at their Powerhaus show in 2022.

It would be at the Songs for Shane tribute night for Shane MacGowan at London Irish Centre that Niall and the lads shared a stage once again.

Andy continues: “The Songs for Shane night was organised very last minute.

“Shane passed away on the Thursday and we had the Songs for Shane night the next night in Camden, and it sold out in hours.

“Niall came down that night with Imelda May.

“We’ve seen a lot of Niall recently and Imelda through Shane’s sad passing and Sinead’s sad passing.”

Songs for Shane, an impromptu but emotional celebration of Shane MacGowan’s music, featured musicians from The Reels, Neck, The Magic Numbers, The Lagan, Morrissey and Marshall, and more, and of course the BibleCode Sundays.

Ronan says: “It was a really special night and people came down very last minute.

“We did one earlier in the year for Sinead O’Connor and I got a phone call from the Irish Centre to come down and sing at that.

“Annie Mac was doing the compering and running the night.

“There was Laura Whitmore, Lisa Dwan, Aisling Bea and so all these really strong Irish women… and me, feeling very male and very London.

“But it was great.

“Again, that was a really emotional night.

“So once we’d done that one for Sinead, the obvious thing was to do the same thing for Shane but it sort of came down to us to organise that one so it was a really kind of stressful 24 hours but it was worth it. It was really worth it.”

Andy adds: “People really, really wanted to show up for Shane and show that love and impact that he had on so many people, especially here in London.

“It was important that it was in Camden too, this gig is just down the road in Scala and we’ll be doing some Pogues songs on that night too.”

The band also thought of Shane during their inaugural Christmas busk, inspired by the Dublin event, in aid of good causes.

Ronan says: “Before Shane passed away, we already had the first London busk organised for 16 December.

“It’s like what they do in Dublin.

“So we had already had the date in the diary but Shane passing gave the whole thing extra meaning.

“Imelda May came down to that as well.

“It was fantastic. She sang with us.

“It was a really special day.”

Andy adds: “And to stand on that corner of Camden Town tube station, there’s so much history around there, so much London Irish history and a lot of the lads used to get picked up on that corner for work.

“So when you’re standing there and you’re playing Shane’s songs and soaking up all of that history, it was just really poignant.”

Ronan adds: “Singing McAlpine’s Fusiliers on the corner of that couldn’t have been more perfect.”

Andy says: “You could feel the ghosts almost of these guys but I think they would have been quite proud of that and Shane would have been proud of it, that we showed up for him and not just Shane but the people that worked there and built London.”

Ronan adds: “A good crowd gathered as well and there was collection buckets going around for the London Irish Centre.

“They do so much great work in the local community, so much great charitable work for the community so it’s a great cause.”

Andy adds: “Gary Dunne was saying that the money that we raised that day, they opened up the centre for the first time in a while or maybe the first time ever on Christmas day to feed people, give vulnerable people a Christmas dinner.

“It made it all worthwhile.”

Andy you played with Shane in The Popes and Ronan, your brother Elvis Costello produced the Pogues so there is a strong link to Shane and your band..

Andy: “Yeah, there is a connection. I played with the Popes back in 1999.

“I was also playing with Spider Stacy’s band at the same time- Wisemen which then became The Vendettas.

“I loved the Pogues, we all did in this band.

“We’re massive fans, so I think I was like a fan who got lucky.

“They needed an accordion player at short notice to go out and play in America, so I had to get my passport, the visa and everything sorted and away I went.

“I played with Shane for about a year and a half, two years and I had to stop doing that because the gigs with Spider’s band were clashing a lot.

“I had to make a decision and I was with Spider’s band first.

“And then Ronan’s brother has a strong connection with the Pogues…”

Ronan your brother Declan, who performs as Elvis Costello, produced the album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.

Ronan: “He did.

“It’s actually him playing the acoustic guitar on Dirty Old Town.

“When people say, ‘What was the first gig that you went to?’ Mine’s always easy.

“Mine was always one of my brother’s gigs.

“The first gig of his I went to, the support band was the Pogues so the first band I ever saw live was actually the Pogues.

“I’m not saying it affected me at all but I’m still doing this all these years later.”

Andy says: “There is a connection, quite a strong connection to the Pogues through us.”

Ronan adds: “And in terms of our music, we’re very much trying to take the torch from him and what they started.

“That was something that we always said what we were trying to do was write our own songs and talk about our experiences in London, not singing necessarily about the green fields and the rolling hills but the streets and the pubs around us.

“That was very much taken from what he started.

“I think so many bands have got so much to thank him for.”

Andy: “Shane, I think, looked at bands like The Dubliners, the Clancys and The Wolfe Tones.

“He took that aspect and he wanted to put drums and bass with it.

“I think he’s got to be one of the first Irish artists to have done that, to get that Dubliners sound but then give it a kick up the arse with punk influence, with the drums and the bass.

“That’s what we’ve tried to continue on doing.”

Ronan: “But we also had influences from The Rolling Stones and the Clash and Oasis and all those bands.

“He was mixing the punk and we were doing the same sort of thing with influences that were relevant to us.

“I think it was pretty much trying to take on the spirit of what he’d started.”

Andy played at Shane’s funeral.

“It’s hard to put into words really,” he says of that very special funeral.

“I’ve never been to anything like it, I never will again.

“It was very special.

“There were priests and altar boys running around and Finbar Furey and Glen Hansard and Imelda May, Lisa O’Neill..

“And everyone was just so nice and helpful and humble.

“It was an amazing thing.

“It didn’t feel like a funeral.

“It was definitely a celebration and at times the feeling was palpable, it felt like a gig at times.

“That roar of the crowd was going up when we were playing.

“It’s never happened in a funeral I’ve been at.

“I think Shane’s the only person that could really pull that off and bring that together at his funeral

“I can’t really think of anyone else that would have wanted it to have been a celebration.

“And it really, really was.”

Shane’s widow Victoria Mary Clarke said on the day that she thought Shane would have enjoyed it all, would you agree? “Absolutely, he would have,” Andy says.

“He would have loved it and I’m sure he was there in the middle of it all and soaking it all up.

“He would have been very proud of everyone that attended it and supported it and performed and everyone done their bit.

“It was an amazing day.”

Of course your upcoming gig has a rugby focus.

You have always been linked with London Irish rugby club with your song Maybe It’s Because I’m an Irish Londoner has became an unofficial club anthem.

How sad were you to see the demise of the club last year?

Ronan: “As soon as the news came through I think a lot of people’s thoughts went to, ‘Well, we’re now gonna go down to Sunbury to the amateurs and start again’.

“This is my 41st year involved with London Irish.

“I was there when I was six years old playing rugby and I played until I was about 17 and then I’ve played music there ever since.

“It’s kind of a feeling of coming home a little bit: Going to the amateurs again.

“It’s got a bit of poignancy to it.

“It’s sort of felt like we hadn’t had much of a chance to feel sad about the demise of the pros because straightaway it was, ‘Right, let’s go again’.

“And that’s been really positive and that’s testament to everyone down at the amateurs and all the supporters that were used to watching London Irish in the stadium to now watching them on the sideline of a pitch: Just as much enthusiasm.

“That’s London Irish now.

“It’s not in a stadium.

“We’re not playing the likes of Leicester and Harlequins but the relevance of the club to the community is still the same and it will always be the same no matter what level we’re playing at, it’s the relevance to the community and the sense of community and it being a cultural day out for Irish people.”

Andy: “I think it’s that Irish thing of, ‘We rebuild it’.

“We quite literally built this city and it’s the same sort of mantra, ‘If it falls, we just rebuild it again’.”

There has been talk of another BibleCode Sundays album since you got back together a few years ago, what is the update on that? 

Ronan: “I think that we’d love to make some new music at some point.”

Members of the band have been also busy with other projects.

In his time away from the  BibleCodes, Ronan was playing as a solo artist and formed Brand New Zeros.

Bassist Enda Mulloy released his debut album Notions in Midlife Crisis last year.

Accordion player Andy Nolan has written and produced short films Tax City and Jack Mulligan, and been writing the crime book, Green Bloods which is now finished.

Ronan says: “I’m doing an album called Storyteller which is gonna incorporate a lot of the Biblecodes music.

“I’m doing a bit of a thing where I want to show people what I’ve done over the years as Brand New Zeros, BibleCode Sundays and my own stuff.

“We’ve been invited to do Trafalgar square on Paddy’s Day as well.

“It was amazing (to play it last year).”

You say this could be your biggest ever headline show. Of all the gigs you have played what has been your highlight to date?

Ronan says: “Looking back, I think probably all of us will think of the night that we sang on the pitch at Celtic Park, the night that Celtic beat Barcelona in the Champions League.

“We were playing and Messi was warming up behind us.

“We’ve been lucky enough to do loads of things like that over the years.

“Playing at London Irish St. Patrick’s days out at Reading, sometimes those were like playing Glastonbury.

“We actually did play Glastonbury as well back in the day.

“We’ve played Twickenham Stadium.

“We’ve been very lucky to do lots of occasions like that.”

Andy says Songs for Shane is his highlight but adds: “We supported John Lydon and PIL as well at the Indigo O2.”

Ronan: “We supported The Saw Doctors back in 2012.

“Thin Lizzie which was Carlton our late drummer’s favourite band.

“I had to drive back from my holiday in Devon because Carlton was like, ‘You have to do this gig with me’.

“I was like, ‘Okay, we’ll do it’.

“We’ve been very lucky over the years to do lots of really great things.

“We’ve had such a great life, music has given us so many great experiences: Going to America, going to Italy, going to Germany.

“It’s just been amazing really. I mean, the fact that we’re still doing it is a feat in itself really.”

Andy: “Our bodies hate us.

“Our neck and our hips and our back and fingers and everything hurts but we can’t stop now.”

The BibleCode Sundays play Scala on Saturday 9 March for Ireland v England in the Six Nations. Doors 3.30pm, band onstage at 6.45pmish. Support from Niall McNamee.

For more information, click here.

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