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Soul man

Conor Clancy, who performs as Toucan, told David Hennessy about his new music, upcoming UK dates and sharing the stage with James Blunt and Nile Rodgers.

Tramore soul, pop and funk artist Toucan has returned with his new single Don’t Understand Why.

The track is the first new music Toucan (aka Conor Clancy) has released since 2020.

Toucan has played with big names such as James Blunt and Nile Rodgers and been likened to artists such as Stevie Wonder, George Ezra, and Rag’n’Bone Man.

Toucan has performed at numerous festivals such as Electric Picnic, Love Supreme and Meltdown Festival since releasing his two EPs and over the past few years he’s played sold-out shows across the UK and Ireland, including one at London’s Omeara.

After releasing his debut single, We Fell For Miles, he quickly gained fans from around the world, accumulating over 3 million streams on Spotify.

Tell us about the new song, Don’t Understand Why, what’s it about?

“I was writing about this feeling of plucking up the courage to tell someone that you think you should be together or that there’s something there, and plucking up the courage to really go for it.

“But I wanted to frame it in a way that the lyrics are kind of cheeky.

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“It’s like, ‘You’re gonna have to really like spell it out to me because I don’t get why we’re not together’.

“I just wanted to be really like chilled out and relaxed, but I really wanted that feel good thing because it’s been a while since I’ve released as well so I wanted it to be like a quintessential Toucan sound.

“I think marrying the chilled out vibe plus that like feel good, brassy, Sunday morning energy was just the way I wanted to reintroduce Toucan with a new release.”

Is the track the first taste of a collection to be released soon?

“Absolutely, yeah. A five track EP is on its way.

“Don’t Understand Why is coming out in February and then the following track is going to be in March just before we go out on our UK tour dates.

“Then the EP is going to be out before we do our Irish tour dates.

“So yeah, over the spring, it’s all kind of feel good, summery, sunny music.

“I think it’s a nice time of year to release it.

“I’m really excited to get the tunes out there.”

Is Don’t Understand Why representative of the rest of the EP? “Yeah, they’re a little bit lovey dovey.

“The next single is called You At Last, and it’s a tune I wrote last year that I was kind of envisioning a kind of like slow dance to it, like a first wedding dance kind of thing.

“That was one that I did on the Dadi Freyr tour where I did this big sing along and it just went so well that I was like, ‘Okay, this has to come out immediately’.

“I’m really, really excited for that one.

“There’s another one called If This Isn’t Love, and then one last one called Where You Go. I was kind of trying to channel like Daniel Caesar.

“I don’t know if you know that song Best Part where it’s just like an acoustic guitar and a vocal: Beautiful song.

“There’s those four tracks and then there’s a You at Last acoustic bonus track sort of a thing.

“Yeah, I’m excited to get these songs out.”

That’s right you’re coming over to the UK soon for a string of dates that includes a date at the Garage in London, isn’t that right?

“You’re absolutely right. Yes, The Garage. It’s the biggest venue by a longshot that I’ve done in London or in England full stop.

“So yeah, we’re doing Bristol, we’re doing London, and we’re doing Manchester all in the one weekend.

“I can’t wait.”

Have you spent much time in the UK apart from gigs?

“Do you know what? Not really.

“I was there years ago when I was in college and there’s a picture that we got outside the Royal Albert Hall.

“And then a few years later, we ended up playing there.

“I just had no idea how significant that building was when we took the photo. It’s mad.

“But I haven’t spent too much time there outside of the music.

“But when I get over there to play a gig, I’ll always try and spend a little bit of time there afterwards.

“We were over for the Omeara and Love Supreme this summer.

“And then I stayed on for like two weeks in London which was amazing.

“I think now I finally know London a little bit whereas before every time I was going over, I was just lost. I was just always lost.

“It’s just a manic, great city.

“Manchester I’ve been there a little bit before, I have friends up there. Also an amazing city.

“Bristol I was only in once for a support slot gig but I got a really nice vibe there too.”

You played the Royal Albert Hall…

“Yes. We did that in 2019.

“That was when it just felt like everything was really kicking off and there was a magic around it.

“The Average White Band had a 25th year anniversary concert and we got to play the Royal Albert Hall with them.

“It was probably- No, it wasn’t probably, it WAS the biggest gig that I’d ever done by a mile and it’s still up there.

“Top five.

“It was absolutely terrifying to be honest but it was amazing.

“And hopefully again someday.”

You also got to open for James Blunt including at Kew Gardens. I bet that’s in your top five also..

“Absolutely. We did three with him and they’re probably all in the top five.

“He was extremely kind. He came in and he introduced himself. We had a little chat.

“And then afterwards as well for the Kew Gardens gig, he invited us back for drinks afterwards.

“We were all hanging out with his family and they’re all so sweet.

“They’re just the nicest people ever so it was definitely a little surreal, just hanging out with James Blunt’s family.

“I think you get the vibe that he’s quite nice.

“He’s a really genuinely nice guy to be honest.

“It’s like each time I was going into a bigger support slot gig where the audience is bigger, it’s just like this new growth that happens.

“And each time it’s so difficult, or at least I found at those times, it’s very difficult to enjoy the gig that much because you just want to go on and do the job.

“But looking back I’m so, so happy that it happened in the way that it happened.

“It was just scary.

“That Kew Gardens gig, there was 8,000 people there looking up at us and I just could not believe it.

“So yeah, that’s definitely up there.

“Funnily enough though, it was actually much smaller crowds when we did a European tour with Dadi Freyr that were also great.

“It (that tour) was crazy. It was manic. It was like planes, trains and automobiles because there was a tour bus for the Dadi Freyr crew but we were kind of doing our own thing.

“So we’d have to be up at six to get to an airport and then sit in the airport for a couple of hours, catch a flight to the next country, land in the next country, get the bus to the accommodation, straight to soundcheck, do the gig, home to bed, up at six…

“So there was a lot of that. It was hard but it was absolutely amazing and some of the best gigs I’ve ever done.

“There’s one that really sticks out for some reason.

“I don’t know what happened in Warsaw but there was like a magic in the air.

“It’s one of my favourite gigs that I’ve ever played.

“It was really, really special.”

You also played with and for Nile Rodgers, isn’t that right?

“There were two gigs with Nile Rodgers.

“I did the support slot for him when he played in Dublin with Chic, and that was the same summer as the Royal Albert Hall.

“That summer was completely surreal.

“The Chic gig was mad.

“So we played the support. We were on before Kaiser Chiefs but they do this cool thing.

“I think it’s for Everybody Dance and there’s this big bass solo and then a massive chorus, they kind of round up everybody backstage.

“You’re kind of told to just launch as a stampede onto the stage for the big chorus, the big finale.

“I think there was 15,000 people in St. Anne’s Park, just a vast sea of people.

“All of us were up on the stage grooving away. It was mad.

“It was great.

“So then later that summer, he was doing a festival in London called Meltdown that he was curating that year.

“They have like a guest artist each year to curate it and so the kind of genre of the festival changes each year.

“It’s kind of cool.

“He had Durand Jones and the Indications and they were playing in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

“We were on the support for that as well and it was just another surreal gig: Beautiful room, incredible band as well.

“We always stay for the main slot, Durand Jones and the Indications were just outrageous.

“So it was a couple of gigs with Nile Rodgers.

“He’s also lovely.

“I think he made a couple of mistakes during the soundcheck.

“He came down to us and he was like, ‘Man, who wrote those songs? The chords are so hard’.

“He’s a nice guy.”

Toucan used to be a ten- piece band so what’s changed? “So it started off as my project and I kind of wrote the songs- And in some ways I still do- for a larger ensemble.

“So I’d write in these brass parts and I’d write in these hooks that needed to be backing vocal hooks, and so I roped in all of these brilliant friends of mine that are amazing at all those things.

“And when we started out, I only wanted it to be that.

“It was always this 10 piece band.

“It’s almost what we tried to make the selling point.

“But then, reality kind of kicks in. Ten people don’t fit in a car all that well, let alone fit into a band fee.

“And I got lots of offers for these big support slots and things like that where it kind of had to be me: There wasn’t huge money in it, you wouldn’t even be allowed to have a ten piece band support.

“So, over the years, it kind of became more focused on me and the band kind of fits around me and it changes gig to gig.

“Most of the time I gig it as a six piece band or just myself, but at its fullest, it’s best when everybody’s there.”

Did lockdown give you that chance to re-evaluate the big band thing then and how to move forward? “Yeah, I probably would have been happy to keep going the way we were going although I think the refocusing probably was inevitable in some ways just because of the logistics of it.

“We had a really, really great momentum leading up into 2020 and then when COVID hit, it really stopped. It just kind of hit hard.

“I suppose I just wasn’t able to get the band together to record and we weren’t able to gig so I suppose it just sort of aged in some way.

“But I think in that time, because I was probably doing so much more solo writing and recording and demoing myself, I suppose it all became more something that’s me.”

How would you describe your sound? “I always say it’s pop meets soul. It’s somewhere in there.

“I love motown and soul and modern pop stuff, so it’s trying to marry those things together.

“The Emotions, Curtis Mayfield, those kinds of influences.

“That’s what it’s been trying to do.”

You must have been delighted to have been compare to Stevie Wonder..

“Absolutely. I’ve been using that press quote for years just because Stevie Wonder’s in there.”

What made you call yourself Toucan? “It’s a funny one. It’s a question that I get asked in all my interviews but I’ve never had an answer for it.

“People tell me that I should make up a story that it came to me in a dream or that it has something to do with the Guinness bird.

“That’s what everyone assumes which to be honest, I’m fine with that.

“I didn’t want to call it Conor Clancy. That was always something I didn’t want it to be.

“I don’t know why.

“I just wanted something kind of punchy.

“And I liked the way written down the word Toucan looked.

“I liked the way in all capitals it just looked strong or something and it also kind of has a tropical bird energy.

“Something about it stuck and I thought it was better than Conor Clancy.”

Don’t Understand Why is out now.

Toucan plays The Louisiana in Bristol on 15 March, The Garage in London on 16 March and The Deaf Institute in Manchester on 17 March.

For more information, click here.

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