Paul McDermott – To Here Knows When – Interview
by Killian Laher
We had the chance to put some questions to Paul McDermott about Music and his Podcast ‘To Here Knows When‘. You can see the results below…
Thanks, Paul for agreeing to this. Tell me about yourself, you grew up in Cork is that right? What was the music scene like at that time?
I started going to gigs in Cork in the early 90s just as The Frank & Walters and The Sultans of Ping were getting going. It was a really exciting time in the city. Sir Henry’s was the greatest venue in the country and dance music was exploding in popularity, simultaneously you had a really exciting local band scene playing small venues. The Franks (Frank and Walters) and The Sultans (Sultans of Ping) quickly graduated from supporting touring bands to headlining their own gigs. Other favourite bands in Cork at the time were The Shanks, LMNO Pelican, Manhole and Emperor of Icecream.
What was your introduction to music? What were you listening to growing up?
There were records at home and like most households it was a fairly random selection: Cheap MFP (Music For Pleasure) compilations, Sgt. Pepper’s, Kinda Kinks, Traffic, Rod Stewart and Van Morrison. Albums by Brendan Shine, a Christy Moore RTÉ collection, the soundtrack to The Sound of Music (I think every house in the country had this?) and an album by the Irish tenor Josef Locke. He was a favourite in our house and ‘Blaze Away’ is indelibly etched into my brain: “We’ll make a bonfire of our troubles, We’ll watch them blaze away.”
‘Stand And Deliver!’ (by Adam and the Ants) was the first 7” I bought with my own money. A few years earlier I can remember arguing with my brother over a Boney M poster that came free with Midnight Hustle – a great K-Tel compilation. So, I’ve always been obsessed with records.
The Smiths on Top of the Pops changed everything for me and totally influenced my record collecting from the mid-80s onwards. I had a box (actually an old sideboard drawer) of records and a friend got me a gig DJing on Friday nights in Isaac Bells on Patrick’s Quay. That was it, a few quid and a couple of pints to spin my favourite indie tunes. All the money was spent on records. In the early 90s, when people were getting rid of vinyl and buying CDs, secondhand record shops were filled with really cheap records. A glorious time to be a vinyl junkie!
You mentioned Cork band Treehouse in the Ash episode of the podcast, what was your role with them? Were you in the band?
No, I never played in a band – I was more of a hanger-on! Treehouse were a great three-piece power-pop band in the early 90s in Cork. They made two incredible demos and got some great support slots and gigs outside of Cork but it just never happened for them. In the latter stages of the band I suppose I was their manager but really I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, I booked a few shows, organised buses to gigs, ordered posters and flyers and not much more. Later I worked closely with The Orange Fettishes, another great band, they put out a few singles, played gigs with The Divine Comedy, Tindersticks, Squeeze and others and eventually morphed into Grand, releasing a great self-titled album in 2000.
What came next for you, I’m not aware of anything before Dublin City FM?
DJing in clubs, promoting gigs and writing for local fanzines. I worked with the Cork Music Resource Co-op and as Information Officer I had to go on radio to promote its activities. I caught the radio bug and spent a few years on Cork Campus Radio in UCC. This got me into producing radio documentaries, I returned to college to study media and that’s when I moved to Dublin.
How did you get involved with Dublin City FM and tell me about your show, Wednesdays at 11pm, is that right?
I joined Dublin City FM in the early 00s and have presented Songs To Learn And Sing, a weekly music show, since. The show is a mix of mostly new Irish and international indie/alternative music.
I was over ten years on the board of Dublin City FM and have been a strong advocate for community radio since my days on Campus Radio (now UCC 98.3FM) in Cork. Community radio is a really vibrant sector of the broadcasting landscape and genuinely offers “a voice to the voiceless”. Dublin City FM is just one of over twenty full-time community stations around the country and there are over ten more in various stages of development. It’s a really exciting time for Dublin City FM as we have recently moved from our old home in East Wall to a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Smithfield. Our new studios look out on the Luas line – “the voice of the city” is now in the heart of the city. A healthy broadcasting mix certainly needs public service and commercial radio services, but for me, community radio has always offered a true alternative. Look at the daily schedule of Dublin City FM, or any community radio station in this country, and you won’t get a better characterisation of pluralism. If you’re tired of narrow playlists on commercial radio then tune in, or better still get involved. Community radio stations are always looking for new volunteers, new voices and new opinions.
How did the podcast To Here Knows When come about, what gave you the idea?
I’m a huge fan of podcasts – This American Life, Radiolab and 99% Invisible remain some of my favourites. Two newer podcasts that really grabbed my attention and influenced To Here Knows When are Life of this Record (a documentary podcast about how iconic albums are made) and Fifty Years of Fun (an audio fanzine about the first fifty releases on Creation Records). These podcasts are very different to each other (and to mine) but are extremely well researched. Over lockdown I bounced my idea off a few people whose opinion I respect and they reckoned I was onto something. I’ve been talking to my students for years about podcasting – so I thought why the hell not, I’d give it a go.
You are focusing on Irish acts/albums from the late 80s and the 90s, is that the plan? Why this era?
The oldest album I’ve covered is Ghostown by The Radiators from 1979 and the most recent has been Staros by Nina Hynes from 2002. I’m not stuck to this particular era though. There have been some incredible Irish albums released in the last 20 years but I wanted to focus on some of my own personal favourites, to begin with. The concept of “canon” is interesting to me though. I love a good list as much as the next person and like many I procrastinate when a “best Irish albums” list omits my own favourites. What can you do? I know, make my own list!
How easy was it to get the bands involved?
Very easy, I’ve interviewed hundreds of bands over the years on the radio and I take pride in my level of research and attention to detail. Once I got the first episode under my belt it was very straightforward to reach out to people. I had a list drawn up and I’m basically checking bands off my list. The positive feedback so far has been humbling.
Have you got plans for a second series?
I’ve four episodes confirmed already for Season 2. It takes time to put together. I didn’t want this podcast to be just another presenter and guest interview. There’s a lot of research behind each episode. I think that if an artist is giving me their time then the very least I can do is come to the table prepared. It can get a bit nerdy – old quotes and reviews, facts and figures, studios and producers, labels and releases – but then as a record collector and music fan that’s the nerdy stuff I personally love – that’s the type of podcast I want to listen to.
Live music has finally come back in the last few months, how do you feel about gigs? Have you been to any?
I saw Sean O’Hagan guest with Eileen Gogan on a Sunday afternoon in the Wild Duck back in March. Another Golden Day, Eileen’s most recent release is arranged and produced by Sean and it was great to hear her perform those gorgeous songs with his accompaniment. I hope they collaborate on more songs.
The Weather Station were incredible, Ignorance was a favourite of mine over the past year or so and live they didn’t disappoint. There’s something really exciting when you witness a band in a venue such as the Workman’s and you know that if they return it will definitely be to a bigger room. Future Islands and Low were other recent highlights. There aren’t many bands who’ve been on the go for nearly 30 years who are reaching new artistic heights. To hear Low perform songs from their last two albums was intense and emotional.
Do you think current music is in a healthy state? Would you be a purchaser of ‘physical’ music?
I only have an hour on the radio each week. I can’t play all the brilliant music that’s being produced in Ireland right now. Recent favourites have included songs by: We Are Aerials, M(h)aol, Skinner, Melts, Gammy Origami, Ger Eaton, Junk Drawer, Sinead O’Brien, Cormac O Caoimh, Junior Brother, Big Boy Foolish, One Morning in August and many, many more.
I caught the vinyl bug early with Adam Ant, I haven’t stopped since but the secondhand bargains of the early 90s are long gone and Brexit has ensured extra customs charges when buying from UK Discogs sellers. Bandcamp is great but there’s nothing like buying an album after a gig at a merch stand direct from the artist. Take a minute, tell them their gig was great and if you can afford it then buy something – a badge or a tote. It’s money directly into the artist’s pocket. Touring is so expensive – the cost of accommodation alone is exorbitant – so a purchase at a gig is greatly appreciated.
What do you do outside of music?
I’ve been teaching radio production, journalism studies and media analysis in Rathmines College for over twenty years and in my spare time, I produce radio documentaries about music! My most recent documentary – Fail We May, Sail We Must – tells how a chance meeting in 2008 between Andrew Weatherall and a Co. Cork fisherman inspired Weatherall to use the phrase “Fail We May, Sail We Must” as a personal mantra, and get it tattooed on his arms, and how in turn the phrase has become an inspiration for thousands of others.
Paul’s projects are listed below:
To Here Knows When – Great Irish Albums Revisited:
Episode Notes & Further Details:
Fail We May, Sail We Must and other music documentaries: https://www.paulmcdermott.ie/documentaries
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