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Finding his Tribe

Patrick O’Laoghaire, who releases music as I Have a Tribe, told David Hennessy about playing at Wembley, not forcing his music and returning to recording after a hiatus.

Changing of the Guard, the recent album from I Have a Tribe, the moniker of Mayo- based Dublin musician Patrick O’Laoghaire, has been described by Hot Press as “a triumphant return…a gorgeous collection of songs”.

O’Laoghaire has also been described as ‘one of Ireland’s most exceptional musicians’ by The Irish Times.

Patrick has opened for James Yorkston at the Galway Arts Festival and played shows with Villagers, Anna Calvi and Lisa Hannigan.

Conor O’Brien of Villagers contributes trumpet to the single Teddy’s Song.

O’Laoghaire has found himself friendly with some of the biggest among his musical peers.

He boasts an invitation from Bon Iver and The National to play the PEOPLE festival where he collaborated with Beirut, Feist and Damien Rice, he has also had an impressive run playing in the Grammy Award winning brass player CARM’s live band for arena shows supporting indie folk superstar Bon Iver.

You released your debut album to acclaim in 2016, why has it taken so long to follow it up?

“I came and went from it, I suppose.

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“I would have put out an album a good few years ago and then I went and did other things.

“I was working in a youth organisation here in Ireland so I was doing that for four or five years in between.

“Someone asked me to do a little bit of it and I was just drawn to that as well.

“So I thought initially I could do both alongside each other, you know the way you have grand plans to do different jobs at the same time, but it actually it didn’t line up that much.

“I still could do bits and pieces here and there but my time sorta ended up veering into this kind of world.

“I enjoyed it, you see.

“I was taken with working with teenagers really and so did that for probably more years than I intended to.

“But I stayed as long as it felt right.

“And then I just suppose you’re drawn back to music then.”

What was it you were doing with the teenagers?

“I suppose group facilitation would be the term they put on it.

“The main thing that attracted me to it was you weren’t going in teaching them anything.

“You weren’t going in saying, ‘I have this bit of advice’ or ‘this knowledge’, it wasn’t anything like that.

“It was more, ‘So what do you think?’

“When you’re 14, 15, people mightn’t ask you your opinion on a thing as often as they would if you’re 22 or 23 so it was trying to break that.

“You’d just have maybe three, four hours with them and there was no big grand plan or expectation on it.

“And often, if it was a school setting or whatever kind of a setting, they mightn’t know each other. They’d know bits of each other.

“It was nice work because they might get to see a different side of each other or someone who hadn’t spoken up in the group in years might suddenly find their voice.”

What was it like returning after such a hiatus? Was it a worry or were you more relaxed about it?

“It was a bit of both because yeah, there was part of me, ‘Let’s just release it and whatever happens is okay’.

“And then another part of me that’s, ‘What about this, that and the other?’

“So the two of them kind of arguing with one another.

“I was conscious of the big enough gap in between them but I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

“You only get caught up in thinking that it might.”

What made you want to call the project, I Have A Tribe?

“I think I was drawn to the word ‘tribe’ in the sense of welcome maybe.

“I think I’d always have a notion of, say for a live gig, whoever’s in the crowd or whoever’s coming, each one of them has a story or imagination and maybe to just have the feeling of inclusion would be the thinking behind the tribe feel of it.

“To lessen the barrier between ‘this is a person singing songs’ and ‘this is a person listening to songs’, everybody has their contribution in this game.

“That’s where it came from, and I guess it lends itself to different musicians coming and playing or maybe you’re playing in a certain town and you know a musician there, it sort of opens it that they can join it for the evening so just a kind of a welcoming feel of.

“We have Conor from Villagers on his project, there will be different musicians involved. There’ll be different elements to it but kind of an open invite sort of thing, I suppose.”

What made you want to title this second album, Changing of the Guard?

“I think the notion of not getting stuck in a particular way maybe.

“There’s loads of different parts of the phrase, I suppose.

“One part being a thing of encouraging movement and change and adventure.

“One part being the many different sides of a person or selves in one person.

“I suppose then it gives a little bit of permission in the songs as a whole or the group as a whole to not remain stuck on one kind of theme.

“So you might have something kind of big and joyous, like the Sweet Day song, or you might have something a lot softer, like the For Bringing Us Home song, but they’re all from the same source and then this freedom to change in between which guard is on Sentry at the moment and if that changes, that’s okay.

“And it can change even within a song or within a verse or a line even.”

You stumbled upon an interesting way of writing music which was behaving as if the song was already written so taking a more easy going approach, not hands off but..

“Hands off is a nice way actually, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Or soft hands.

“I was playing squash the other day with a fella up the road and he’s very good now. I’m not great. But he said to me ‘soft hands’ because I was trying to force a shot and the shot was already taken by the time I would hit it.

“It was gone in my head and he was like, ‘No, no, soft hands, just go with it’.

“So it was that approach, and hands off the song in terms of ‘don’t be trying’, not in a careless way or not in a way of not being focused on it but maybe listening to the song a bit more. What’s it telling you that it wants to do? Or where’s it telling me it wants to go?

“And that trick, that game of pretending it was already written was a good one because you’d be surprised about how much of it already is written.

“It’s more a thing of translating it which seems to suit me, I enjoy that side of it and it’s a very playful kind of thing when you take away the idea that it’s very serious, or it’s very important.

“When a child is playing a game of hide and seek, it’s not serious but it’s a good game.

“And I think I wanted to be willing to let that energy in and see what comes of that.”

Patrick said of the album, “I’m not a man for straight lines. I’d have made a bad architect. If I designed buildings they wouldn’t last long but while they were standing I’d hope there was plenty of space for love in them.”

Yours is a different approach, isn’t it? It’s not about going straight or going from A to B.. 

“I think that came out of the experience of trying to go from A to B and the frustration of that.

“In other things in, in life in general, I suppose we’re kind of surrounded by goals.

“In other jobs I’ve done, you have your six month goal and you have your assessment and your review and I’m not taking away from the value of knowing which way you want to be headed but for some reason, and especially musically, maybe if you’re trying to shape a thing that doesn’t want to be shaped a certain way, it won’t let you and I think, just kind of accepting that- and I wouldn’t claim to have learned that entirely or to have accepted that entirely but- to move towards that, I suppose.

“I think it’s all the same kind of thing, isn’t it? Not taking it too serious or not focusing on this end goal because you don’t know what you’ll miss out on then.”

Conor O’Brien, well known from Villagers, features on the album..

“Yeah, he’s great.

“He’s lovely. I love the way he approaches music.

“He’s very generous with his time and stuff, but he’s generous musically as well and it just came about easy.

“I showed him the song or he heard a few of them and he just kind of came back and said, ‘I can put a bit of trumpet on this one’.

“And I said, ‘Of course, whatever you’d like to do’.

“And yeah, I love what he did actually, I think he changed that song, he sort of brought a different colour that I probably didn’t realise it was missing until he added it.”

You also have Trevor Hagen of Bon Iver playing on a track..

“Trevor plays on Fly like a Bird.

“Yeah, I would have known his playing from a lot of the Bon Iver stuff.

“That just came out kind of accidentally.

“I was recording it and he was walking by and heard it.

“The fella recording it had opened the door to the studio and he was walking by and said, ‘Oh, I might play on that if that’s okay?’

“And that was great. Again, that kind of playful thing of, ‘Will we just play music and not get in the way of ourselves?’

“I suppose that’s where those little chances came out of and I was glad of them.”

Speaking of Bon Iver, you were invited to play London with CARM on the same show as them but you didn’t realise it was at Wembley until very close to the show…

“No, I didn’t.

“We were hanging out.

“They said, ‘Will you come and join us in London?’

“I said, ‘I’d love to’.

“And I think it was a couple of days before I said, ‘Where’s it on?’

“I think he said, ‘You know where Wembley is?’

“And I thought he was meaning it as a landmark to where the gig was actually on, but it was great. I enjoyed it.

“It was definitely a different experience.

“And I had done one with them in the arena in Dublin, so I had maybe a week or two to get my head around the feeling of it.

“I did enjoy it.”

But it almost didn’t happen..

“I didn’t have the proper accreditation.

“I presume they all had a specific pass for the tour at large and I only had the pass for the night and I was just joining them for a couple of songs.

“I remember hanging out at the back of the stage and as I went to walk on, the security guard at the back of the stage said ‘Where are you going?’

“And I said, ‘I’m just going to sing it sing a song or two’.

“And he said, ‘Where’s your pass?’

“And I said, ‘I don’t have that one’.

“But at this stage Trevor was saying, ‘Patrick is gonna join us’.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a pass but that’s me’.

“He says, ‘You’re going nowhere without a pass’, so I ran upstairs to the office and I grabbed a pass so I arrived onto the stage at 100 miles an hour, I looked quite eager.

“It was probably good because I didn’t have too much time then to to be thinking about it.”

Did that issue and having to rush take away from your enjoyment of a great occasion though?

“It was great. I think the feeling of joining a set for a couple of tunes is very different because you’re aware from the start, you find yourself looking at the setlist going, ‘Okay, well around about this time I’ll be coming on’, so you’re kind of half in half out and maybe it’s a little bit more nervy because with another gig you have more time I think so it definitely was lovely and it was a lovely invitation and great fun and definitely different.

“Would I still think about it?

“No, I wouldn’t dwell on it. I was glad of it and I was very grateful of it and then I suppose to try to keep moving and not try to recreate it, I suppose.”

You have since been back to play at the London Irish Centre in Camden. Do you always enjoy coming over to London? Would you have spent much time over here apart from the odd gig?

“Apart from the odd gig, not much.

“I flew from Knock Airport which is a great, tiny airport in the West here and the difference- an hour’s flight and the difference between where I live and Camden High Street was very funny.

“I got a coffee when I arrived and I sort of accidentally said to the fella working, ‘Jeez. It’s busy, isn’t it?’

“And he said, ‘No, this is London’.

“You know the little signs in airports that tell you go to gate or get moving?

“In the airport here it just said, ‘Sit down and relax. Get a cup of tea’.

“That’s the difference between that and Heathrow which was full on

“I haven’t lived in London.

“I’ve only ever come over to visit or to play and I’ve not spent much time there so it’s always a culture shock.

“It’s fun though.”

You’ve been described as the musician’s musician. How do you take some of the praise that comes your way?

“I print them out and put them on the wall,” Patrick laughs.

 I can’t imagine that but do you really?

“I don’t, no. It’s a funny one.

“It would be easy to sit and chat with you and say it doesn’t affect me either way but of course it does and I have noticed that it’s not the most natural thing.

“It’s probably the only place that I have in my life where you’re overly conscious of what a person might think of a thing you do.

“I’m not convinced that’s a healthy thing but it’s probably a natural thing.

“At a live show, there’s a very immediate response so somebody might react a certain way, or respond a certain way to a moment and you kind of try to accept it, you don’t need anything more than that, you don’t need words even.

“Somebody might say something to you that they got something from somewhere, which is lovely but I think it would be better for me to just accept and enjoy these moments because both of you are in it.

“You definitely get caught, what does the review say?

“And it’s less a thing of because I want the praise and more because I’d love to keep doing this and you’re a little bit dependent on that.

“You’re dependent on if somebody champions it or not as to whether you’ll go again, it shouldn’t be that way and I’m still figuring my way with that but it’s definitely something I’m trying to work on to not be too caught up in it.

“I’m definitely quite affected by stuff.

“As much as you try not to be, course you are.”

You’ve launched the album in Dublin and over here, will there be more dates planned? And will we see you back over here in the UK?

“Yeah, I will. I’d love to.

“Yeah, I’ll be traipsing around mostly in the new year so I’m looking forward to that.”

And there won’t be such a long wait for your next album, will there?

“I’m just trying to keep moving.

“For sure (there won’t). That’d be the intention to now that I kind of started playing again to keep with that and keep releasing bits as soon as I can.”

Changing of the Guard is out now.

For more information, click here.

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