Interview with Patrick M Barrett (The Hedge Schools) – Part One

Interview with Patrick M Barrett (The Hedge Schools) – by Killian Laher

No More Workhorse visited Pat Barrett in his adopted hometown of Kilkenny and had a wide ranging interview covering an in depth look at the new Hedge Schools album, what it means to be an artist, and some great stories about music.

The new album by Hedge Schools – ‘Magnificent Birds’ is released on May 5th 2018 and is available here.

I’d like to take you back to when Ten Speed Racer split up, what was going on with you at that time?  

The band had totally run its course, we were tired of looking at each other and tired of doing it.  John (Barrett) got married to an Australian girl and was going to Australia, Dermot (Barrett) was living in Waterford with his wife and was quite happy… and we just decided we had had enough and knocked it on the head. Creatively as a unit, the five of us were always writing, Joe (Chester) was pretty much finished his first solo album Murder of Crows when we split. He recorded it in Wexford when we were living there.

Was the plan to go off and do something different or did it just fall into place with Hedge Schools?

Well I had always been writing, the five of us had always been writing within the unit of the band.  So we moved back to Dublin and I found myself nestled in with all that International crew that used to meet up at Dave Murphy’s, Glen (Hansard) would be there, Paddy (Casey), Mark Dignam, (Damien) Dempsey, Mundy and all that crew… it was very much a case of me going in there, sharpening up my song writing teeth.  What I do, the way I’ve ended up writing is a hell of a lot simpler.

What do you mean, how simple?

I like simple imagery, simple chord progressions, even when it comes to arrangements.  Both Joe and I, with this record, we knew the last record (At the End of the Winding Day) was quiet, with this one (the forthcoming Magnificent Birds) it’s almost ended up quieter.  There’s even more space in this record. A lot of it’s kind of ‘hanging in mid-air’, both of us were listening to mixes and thinking this is really working.

Was it a different process this time from the last 2 records?

Only the surroundings really.  Joe has moved to Nice. It’s brilliant, very refreshing.  I paid for a flight, went over for 3 days so I had to work for 3 days.  The two of us have always had a strong work ethic when we’re in the room together.  It’s never a case that a minute is wasted, maybe we might boil the kettle, but apart from that we’re working.  And we were even more focused since I had flown over. Joe works really quickly, he’s always doing something.

He had that solo album last year (The Easter Vigil).

Yeah, and the live album (Live at the Unitarian Church) he put out as well.  I think the album he put out last year is the best album the man has put out.  It was really nice to see the accolades, it was a record of really well-crafted songs, very differently crafted from what a lot of people are doing these days.  Joe’s all about the art and the craft of the songs, a lot of time goes into it. When we sit in a room together? We tend to work quite rapidly, we did two four-day sessions, where we started at 10 o’clock in the morning and finished at six in the evening, there is that burn-out point every day creatively where you have to turn off the laptop, or desktop.  But we try to work for a good eight hours when we’re there.

Was it mainly yourself and Joe or was anybody else involved on the new album?

Vivienne Long, who played with Damien Rice, she came in at the end, but it’s effectively me and him (Joe), it was me and him in the two sessions in Nice.  We went to a little village called Vence which is just outside Nice to record pianos, we recorded pianos in three or four different locations for this record which I love the idea of.  We can hear it. To the untrained ear you may not hear it but I know we recorded pianos in three or four different places, which is effectively three or four different mechanics, or stories when it comes to the instruments.  Viv came in at the end. We came over to Viv’s house in Wicklow in the heart, in the wilds of Wicklow on a really stormy, windy day, rain belting off the windows, but it was great. We did it in an afternoon. She’s such a player, you give her a key or give an idea of where to take a track…  it actually caught me by surprise because Joe has a little set up with just two microphones and I was just listening to the cellos so when Joe sent me the final mixes I was just kind of going ‘wow’, she had played some incredible lines that really took the wind from me. And they really work on the record.  Effectively it’s him (Joe), herself and myself. I do voice and guitar, Joe pretty much plays everything else that goes on around the record, harmonium, piano, extra guitars. Viv just came in at the end and put down the cellos. That’s all that’s on the record.

Is Donagh Molloy involved this time round?

He played trumpet on the last record, it was a very personal part of that record.  He came in for a day at the last minute.  The piano piece (the title track of At the End of a Winding Day), that was a piece that I wrote while Joe was down in the kitchen making tea.  He came in and I was playing that and I said “do me a favour and record that” and he did.  The take that’s on the record is a live take, you can hear the bells of the church on Blessington Street at the end of it if you listen with good headphones.  Donagh came in and just played one or two phrases.  Absolute hero.  All the time when we were doing this record he was at the back of my mind, but when we sat and listened to it at the end, I had to make a phone call and go “look dude, there isn’t the space”.  And he said “I’m not gonna lie, I’m pissed off but I understand what you and Joe do, if you don’t feel there’s a place for it we’ll leave it at that.” He’ll certainly be getting the phone call when we’re playing live this year. There’s only one trumpet player in The Hedge Schools, and it’s him.

He understood.  Donagh has his own thing going on, the Dublin Vinyl thing that’s kicking off, himself and Hugh Scully, they’re engrossed in that.  It will be an amazing thing to happen, that somebody in Dublin will be manufacturing vinyl for the first time in, it must be forty years.  They’ve all sorts of plans for it apparently, to have a pressing plant and to have a venue to the side of it. It’s very much like a Jack White thing, an actual industry within itself, quite apart from the fact that they are manufacturing vinyl.  Donagh was running the Harbour Bar out in Bray so he’s a great head and lovely human. But there just wasn’t the space on this record.

The space on the last record is one of the reasons why it really works.

On this one there’s even more.  We’ve kept it really quiet, there’s a lot more piano noises, foot pedals going on in the background.  You can hear a lot of that at the end of tracks, Joe stepping off a piano pedals, and you hear a lot of that at the start of tracks as well.  They’re all the little quirks that make proper art work. You can clean them out in the mix but why would you do that? As I said there are 4 or 5 pianos on this record and they are all living, breathing things, they’re all different instruments.  They all have their own little story to tell, they’ve all had their own tunes played on them over the years. So every crack and crevice of a piano, when you step on the foot pedal… it’s going to make a different noise to another. Joe tends to take the front and the back off a piano so the ironworks of a piano are exposed.  He mics all that up. So you’re getting the inside and outside of the instrument.

I’m looking forward to sitting back and seeing what people think of this record.




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