KEVIN MAGEE gets warmed up for this week's home-made music festival at the Forum by getting a few of the main players to share their war stories.

Homegrown ’18 is on this Friday in the Millennium Forum, now in its sixth year, it was the first live gig of the City of Culture in 2013 and has grown annually to become the start-off point for the year’s local entertainment.

Steven McCool, the lovely lead singer and bassist from Ports filled me in on the craic. You have been quiet, too quiet, what’s been happening? “We're all fried up from touring all year and used up all our kudos points from our girlfriends. Steadily building them again for next year”.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the band from day one, how did the weight of expectation affect you?  “We were expecting an a la carte but got a taximan special. Not that that's a bad thing. It's perked us up for Album 2”.

Two members of the band are from Top of the Hill, is that what makes you so good? “Ha-ha. It's amazing what boys from Top of the hill will do for a Doherty’s bap”.

Did you drop the stroke from the O because you realised it was pronounced PURTS? “I nearly had a stroke when when I found out”.

Paddy Enchilada-less

Paddy Nash is one of the finest musicians the town has produced, he fills his time in by teaching his craft to young musicians, taking music to people who otherwise wouldn’t get a chance, bakes and occasionally predicts football results. Last year he released his fourth album.

Was shedding a few enchiladas a gamble? Did it pay off? “I didn’t see it as a gamble at all. I had a load of songs that didn’t fit the Enchiladas vibe and I also felt the need for a different challenge after three band albums. I think my song writing has improved on this album and I’ve definitely reached a wider audience. It’s also easier to do shows as a solo act or a two- or three- piece. That said I do miss the big sound, madness and camaraderie of the Enchiladas”

Which is more rewarding, playing with Billy Bragg or massive gig in your back yard? “They’re both completely different experiences. When I’m touring with Billy I’m playing to his audience so winning them over is always a challenge and while it’s not always easy I think I do ok. There’s always a feeling when playing a Homegrown gig that the crowd is already on your side and willing you to do well and that’s lovely. Both equally rewarding in different ways I guess”

You’ve gotten around promoting Gate Fever in 2017, what have you got planned this year? “Gate Fever only came out in June and I like to give an album a good 12 months to breathe so I’m organising more shows North, South, East and West to continue promoting it. There has been really good interest in Europe for this album so Diane and I are hatching something to build on this which involves us heading away for a month later this year in the camper to gig. We intend to document the experience in film too.  Apart from that, Paul Casey and I have been threatening collaboration for a few years now. We’ve a couple of songs in the bag and I think we have the makings of a good rocking country album, we could be the next Kenny & Dolly!”

And….Did you and Tonto ever find the Lone Ranger? “Of course we did. They’re both coming to Homegrown.”

The Anderson factor

Paul Casey, currently on his sixth solo album, has gained major recognition not only as a musician, touring with Chris Rea but for recording, mixing and producing albums…notably mixing “On the Road” by Christy Moore.

Gigs take a lot of work to organise, how does a huge gig like this set you up for the year? “It proves to me that we here in Derry love to promote our own which is a brilliant thing. There is such music and diversity that comes from Derry that it should be celebrated every once in a while”.

When you have ‘Thanks for Letting Me Crash’ in your repertoire, is it harder to get attention to the new songs? “The song that kinda put me on the map here in Northern Ireland was 'Big World'. As soon as I finished it I gave Gerry Anderson a copy first. He loved it so much he played it twice that day and continued to play it then on! I never thought he'd play it as much because the song is nearly six minutes long and it doesn't have a chorus. Gerry was essential for all of us upcoming/unsigned local bands, he got us heard to a big audience and opened many doors for us all. He is truly missed.”

What’re the plans for this year? “Currently I'm recording a brand new album for release in Spring '18. I built a recording studio a few years back to be able to constantly write and record although the studio has now taken on a little life of its own as I get to work on some other albums. I recorded Paddy Nash's solo album here and just recently I was involved in mixing the brand new Christy Moore album 'On the Road' here! I always feel lucky to still be able to make a living from music and you never know what the next job will be."

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