For over a decade I hosted and curated a live monthly variety show called The Brown Bread Mixtape, and it took place upstairs in the legendary Stag’s Head pub here in Dublin. Those eclectic, electric nights in that old Victorian room were some of the most fun and creatively exciting times I’ve had.
The night always had a theme, and then I invited independent musicians and spoken word artists & poets to perform, with their sets loosely based around that theme. And I would always write a handful of radio-style comedy sketches that I performed with my dear friends (and infinitely better actors) Gus, Eva and Sean (aka The Brownbread Players). The atmosphere was always buzzing in that packed room, and the audience was a huge part of that consistently magical experience.
Recently I stumbled across a digital treasure trove of recordings from the shows and put the word out to see if there was any interest in hearing them. I was delighted to see that the answer was a resounding “Hell yeah”, so I have put together the first of a handful of mixtapes from the shows that captures some of the finest musical performances on the rarest nights.
A few weeks ago, my friend Gary Dunne, who curates an incredible artistic slate for the London Irish Centre asked me to contribute a poem to their online season. Gary and the staff of the LIC do incredible work for the Irish community in London and they have been very good to me down the years – they hosted the London premiere of Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About, and I have also showcased sketches with The Brownbread Players there too. It’s always a warm, giving audience that finds a connection through a shared tribe in a generous welcoming environment. So I was honoured to be asked, and frankly, I was happy to have a creative project to focus on in the rare moments I had to myself during this uncertain time.
The theme was HOPE which really spoke to me, and the image of a paper cup delicately dancing on a wave is one that has been with me for decades, but never found a proper home in a piece of writing. As soon as I sat down to write the poem I knew that this was where it had been drifting towards all along. It came together relatively quickly (thank goodness because time is a rare commodity these days) and it allowed me to marry it to a piece of music I wrote many moons ago that had also never found a creative home (unsurprisingly, the music was also written around the same time the image of the cup first washed into my brain). I also knew that the focus should be on the words but have a strong simple visual to guide it, so I went down to the sea by my home to film the waves but they just weren’t right. I resigned myself to using what I had and then serendipitously my friend Jim posted a short video that day on Facebook of the Irish Sea, that connects this island of Ireland to the UK, and I simply knew that it was the perfect accompaniment. Jim graciously allowed me to use it, and I lent my rudimentary video editing skills to piece it together. The end result feels ever so slightly imperfect but absolutely right, and I am immensely proud of it.
I hope it resonates with all of you, and I would be grateful if you shared it onwards with anyone in need of a message of hope right now.
If any of you Ireland-based folks are heading to the All Together Now festival this weekend, I will be hosting an incredible Brownbread Mixtape show on the Sunday with some of the finest spoken word artists in the world (Jasmine Gardosi and Erin Fornoff), as well as performing some classic radio-style comedy skecthes with our resident troupe The Brownbread Players. There will be plenty of singalongs, silly stories and a rousing rendition of My Blood is Boiling for Ireland too. It would be great to see some warm, friendly faces at the show. Pop by and say hello, and stick around for some of the other LEGENDS onstage at the event throughout the weekend!
I adore the podcast format and I’m an avid fan of all audio longform storytelling. I’ll do a post at another time about some of my favourite podcasts, but this post is about the brief spell where I produced a podcast of my own. It was motivated by two creative impulses. Firstly I wanted to test the waters of hosting and interviewing in this type of creative format – I have facilitated and MCd plenty of live shows in my time, but its such a very different skill and discipline to interview artfully in this longer audio format, so a really great thing to sharpen the skills on. And secondly I wanted to showcase some of the world class musicians and writers that had treaded the stage at the brownbread mixtape.
The format for the first chunk of episodes was always the same. Invite a great musician or poet along to talk about their creative process, a bit of their life story, and then have them select some favourite clips from the brownbread mixtape down the years, as well as perform an in-studio session featuring an original and a cover. And what a series of gems we managed to record. They are all embedded in the YouTube player above and I urge you to give them all a listen, with episodes featuring Pearse McGloughlin, EleventyFour, Colm Keegan, Justin Grounds, Fergus Costello and Lindsey Ryan
Now that time has passed I can see a few things I would do differently. I would certainly be more judicious in editing down the episodes so that they zip along a little bit. Perhaps I was too enamoured with keeping everything in, rather than making it a snappier show each time that might appeal to a wider audience. It would have been something that a slightly objective producer would have been able to spot right away. I’d also nudge myself to be quiet more often and just let the interviewee speak. Far too often in the earliest episodes I felt the need to say “yeah” or “mmm hmm”, when silence would have served the whole experience better. But I did learn from that and the later episodes were better. There is loads to love about them. I really dig the intro music / title sequence that Enda Roche cut together. And we managed to capture some absolutely stunning in-studio songs, especially some of the cover versions (Pearse McGloughlin and Lindsey Ryan are real standouts)
The latter chunk of podcasts veered away from that original format primarily because I simply didnt have time to record and produce the show any more. And then an artist I was acquainted with, Eamonn McLoughlin, had produced a documentary radio series for a local station in Ireland, and he had nowhere to house or archive the episodes. Given that many of the episodes covered artists and writers who had performed at the brownbread mixtape, it felt fitting to put them out under our banner. Some of the interviews are really interesting with top drawer Irish writers, and I even make an appearance on one of them chatting about the brownbread mixtape.
I would love to return to the podcast format and have a few ideas bubbling away, so watch this space. In the meantime, have a listen and let me know what you think.
We record every single Brownbread Mixtape, and we have managed to capture some truly magical moments down the years from that room. Nowadays it is easier to share things digitally (even though we have yet to truly share even a fraction of our enormous library of recordings) but back in the day we decided to go relatively old school and create a limited run of CDs of some of those early performances that we could raffle off at our live shows. We enlisted help from New York filmmaker and graphic designer David Bagnall to create unique and supremely cool cover art, and then we pieced together some of our favourite artists from the first run of shows that gave a good snapshot of the music, spoken word and sketch comedy we were showcasing every month. Manyof these artists have gone on to greater things since, which is so briliant to see, but here they are in the cosy surroundings of the Parlour Bar upstairs in The Stag’s Head pub. The result is a moment in time, replete with all the ramblings and imperfections that come with a live performance, as well as the moments of utter magic that we were witness to. In recent years I decided to upload it to bandcamp so others could get a chance to hear the tracks too. There are even a few of my early poems and comedy sketches with The Brownbread Players on there, which have a certain charm to them too. Have a listen and let me know what you think – tell me about your favourite. Enjoy!