After a successful support slot with America’s Josh Rouse and debut single ‘Blind Is Blind’ in the bag, the name Dylan Walshe is definitely on the rise.
Life could have been very different for Dylan Walshe if the football boots had not been traded for the pursuit of the rock ‘n’ roll dream. Blessed with a footballing ability that made Billy’s Boots redundant, the lure of folk narratives steeped in history and set to a musical accompaniment proved irresistible and far more appealing than trudging around some muddy park for the foreseeable future for this now singer-songwriter.
Despite experiencing this career-changing epiphany all those years ago, Dylan Walshe is fully aware that the journey to rock ‘n’ roll riches is fraught with numerous pitfalls as with any budding musician pursing a life at the top can be a long arduous journey. The same can be said for the burgeoning talent of a footballer as there are definite parallels between the two career paths where the chances of success is a mere lottery for many when considering the competitive playing field. So with almost every boyhood’s dream of the life of a footballer or rock ‘n’ roller at your doorstep, FLW is curious to learn of the reason(s) why Dylan Walshe decided to opt for the guitar and a wagonload of folk ditties.
“Initially it started when listening to my folks’ records and reading the lyrics on the back [covers],” explains Dylan. “When I used to play Gaelic football my manager used to sing old-style Gaelic songs on the bus to away matches. So it was things like that that made a big impression on me and not necessarily famous singers and bands because they seemed as if they were from a different world as there wasn’t a lot of that in Ireland in terms of famous people. When I first showed an interest in the guitar, one of the guys who worked with my father loaned one to me but it was a right-hand guitar so I used to play it upside down. I had the guitar for a while but because of the area I was living in, I didn’t know any musicians as music didn’t happen where I come from [laughing]. So the guitar was put away and was kind of kept separate from what went on. Years later, I actually found out that one of my best friends had done the same, as he had a guitar hidden away too. We decided to form a band and then we started to rehearse in any kind of place really. In the end, we found this community hall which they used in the evenings and everybody used to come around from the area and have music sessions and sing-alongs. That was basically the beginning of the music for me, and from then on everything just changed.”
It is interesting to note that your involvement in Gaelic football introduced you indirectly to a traditional method of singing. Do you think, therefore, that your earlier involvement in football paved the way for your love of music in general?
“At the time, I was playing football for a team called St. Josephs who were linked to Blackburn [Rovers] and managed by Kenny Dalglish during this period. So I went to Stoke, for example, and played there and in Liverpool, Manchester and Brest in France as well. I was really good. Therefore, I was actually playing over here in England first, as that was my first glimpses of life outside of Ireland, but as soon as I started playing music, I couldn’t get up for football anymore and I stopped playing shortly afterwards. I suppose getting glimpses of life outside of Ireland through football just made me want to travel more. So I ended up moving to London first and playing gigs many nights a week for a few years.”
The transition from a small coastal town in Ireland to the bright lights of London with its relentless pace, not to mention incessant noise of human and mechanical traffic, must have come as a bit of shock to Dylan Walshe despite earlier ventures with his football boots overseas that provided those first glimpses of life outside his more idyllic surroundings of his home environment.
“I’m from a coastal town, which is seen as suburban Dublin but it doesn’t feel like suburban Dublin at all! For example, I used to wake up to horses looking in my window and you could pretty much walk out the backdoor straight down to the beach as there were no walls and people still digging their back gardens and taking the rocks out. It’s a bit of a valley as there are mountains on one side and coast on the other and the back garden is Wicklow, which is the Garden of Ireland and then north is the town. As soon as you were old enough, you went into town for a bit more variety because not much happened where I was from and [as a result] everybody hung around and got into trouble, which is what made the music so unique because it’s just like we created a different world. If you put on a local gig everybody went down and it was just magic!”
How would you describe your first experiences of London, therefore, considering the quieter surrounds of where you are from in Ireland?
“When I first came to London it was pretty much everything I wanted it to be. It took a good year and a half before I was living the kind of things I had envisioned before I came over. But it’s not easy as the quality of life is not good as people think London this and London that and yes, there is variety with different things happening and there is always potential, but there’s no floor to fall on. If you look at the way people live, the quality of life just isn’t good as everybody is rushing around and the rent kills everybody. I think what happens to a lot of people is that they arrive with ideas in terms of what they want to do, and then they end up getting caught in the cycle of having to pay the rent and the more they have to do other things to pay for the rent, the less time they spend doing what they actually wanted to do and then all of a sudden it’s ten years later.”
When you speak of things you had envisioned before coming to London, are you referring to the variety that London can offer in terms of gigs and possible bridges to record companies?
“The thing that I felt about Dublin is that it’s very small whereas in London there is a different venue in many different areas,” explains Dylan. “Also, if you were to play a venue and come back in six months, it has probably changed from the ownership, audience and right down to the paint as you never run out of places to play. At this stage now, because I have done that for so long in terms of performing live, I want to focus on the recording process more.”
Turning his attention to the recording process has certainly arrived at the right time for Dylan Walshe. After a lengthy period honing his craft on the London live circuit, German-based record label Squoodge came calling and offered a welcome platform for the single release ‘Blind Is Blind’ on 7″ vinyl. But just how exactly did this German-based record label become interested in the life and times of Dylan Walshe?
“They’re kind of a DIY label but they’re not limited to any genre,” says Dylan. “The interest from Squoodge developed in terms of the live thing I was doing of making it work with percussion at my feet and harmonica. Such a method in terms of my music very much suited the record label because they’ve got one-man bands and garage and punk-blues and things like that. The label mentioned that they like the full recording [‘Blind Is Blind’] and said that they’d like to release that as that would be a first for them in terms of that area of music. But they’ve got people like Billy Childish, Reverend Beat-Man, Bloodshot Bill and they’re all kind of rockabilly but psychobilly as well.”
What was your thinking behind releasing ‘Blind Is Blind’ as a 7″ record?
“The record label makes sides of records as opposed to albums and there is no signing involved,” explains Dylan. “Therefore, Squoodge release a lot of songs on vinyl and such a method allows me to approach things song by song because I’m not sure I believe in the album at this moment in time.”
Care to elaborate a bit further on your lack of faith in the album at this moment in time?
“Going back to 1920s records, artists didn’t make albums as they only made sides of records. So for me that’s the real way, but having said that, the album is embedded in the brain and I would like to have one but it’s not as important to me as going to the songs one by one, which is what the record label do. So that suits me from where I’m at right now.”
You must have a considerable amount of material written for a whole album due to the amount of years spent performing live?
“Yeah, as I’ve been playing and writing for a long time now,” acknowledges Dylan in agreement. “I’m only coming to record right now, and I’ve got so much stuff. In fact, that would be the other argument for making an album, as people seem to make an album just for the sake of it when they only have three, four or five really good songs and the rest of them are fillers. I’m not interested in that as that to me is absolutely pointless. If you were in a band and you’ve got a good sound and people like your sound, then yeah an album’s good as people will like the sound, but if you’re in it for the songs, putting four fillers on an album is just not going to work for me. I’ve got a big back catalogue of songs, so it’s just a matter of resources from this point onwards.”
Do you think the music industry will eventually go that way with more artists releasing singles and/or EPs?
“I used to think the EP wasn’t great because if you release a single it’s nice and strong, but if you release an EP you’re giving away more tracks than what is necessary but it’s not enough to be an album. A few years ago, I viewed an EP as a lazy album, but now I see it as a perfect thing for bands to do because it’s not just the one song for a single. The whole term of single sounds like a competitive thing and sounds like you want to compete and you associate it with charts and all the rest, which it’s not as it’s just a single song. If bands release EPs, it’s just like a little nugget that’s big enough to get a good grasp of a band but for the band to not totally devote themselves to an album and the pressures of quality of production. So, I think an EP is perfect at the moment, and I think that’s the way everybody is going.”
Despite such a low profile in terms of actual songs committed to physical recordings, it is quite difficult to gain an overall picture of the music of Dylan Walshe because this Irish folk singer is at the early stages of the recording process. Therefore, FLW is keen to learn of the period(s) in history that his folk sounds hark back to in order to achieve a clearer understanding.
“Up until recently, it was very much driven by the trance roots rhythms of early recorded music because all my listening and interest in music led me back to the 1920s and 1930s; a time when genres weren’t really defined and musicians making it work on their own. I guess the rhythm of what I do is related to that, but the lyrical content is probably a bit more contemporary and closer to home in terms of how people write. Coming from Ireland, seeing people of celebrity status within music or art and things like that, it was like they were from a different world. The literary side of things, you’re very much aware that Ireland is renowned for that but it was presented with reverence and a sense of scholar and a sense of them being scholars. Over the years that barrier has come down as people realise that poetry isn’t about that as it’s about connecting with people. So it’s nice how it has changed as I feel it’s about the songs and not necessarily about the music. I play other instruments to get the song out but I don’t begin with the instruments as I begin with the song that I’m writing on and that’s very important to me.”
When you refer to 1920s – 1930s influences in terms of folk roots, are you talking about music from Ireland and/or America as well?
“They’d be American records but the music itself I don’t really see it as American as I see it as a merging of many different migrations,” responds Dylan. “For every person that is on a record, there are hundreds who aren’t on records. So you kind of filter through everything until you find people who are distinctively different but they’ve all got soul which is the most important part and that’s what hits me first. If I don’t feel like they have something to say or they don’t have soul, I’m just not interested. To hear those guys [1920s – 1930s] they were all developing their unique styles. Leading up to the 1920s, the most common instrument would have been the banjo because that would have been the African influence as there would have been a drum and they would have put strings over the drum and then it was a banjo. Then at the turn of the century, and just before the 1920s, the guitar was being introduced. So I didn’t feel there was any point in listening to other people until I heard the roots.”
By listening to the roots, did this help to create a better understanding of music in general?
“Once I had listened to the roots, it helped me understand when listening to everybody else as I could hear everything in terms of where it came from and it just made everything more complete. When I listened to people after these periods who had written songs, I could hear what they were bringing to the music because you can’t go any further back to audio music than the 1920s. If you go back before that, you’ve pretty much got documentation of classical stuff and that’s about it. Obviously, there have been some music historians who were clever enough to go round and pick up folk songs and write them down, but they’re not songs you can listen to as they’re only available to read.”
Dylan Walshe has every reason to feel optimistic about his future as he heads out to perform live duties in both Bremen and Berlin to help promote debut single ‘Blind Is Blind’, not to mention the dream ticket of working and recording with Muddy Roots Nashville later this year. The decision taken, therefore, to pursue the one-man band route of singer-songwriter after some initial reluctance on his behalf seems to be paying off as Dylan Walshe acknowledges.
“As I have said, it’s always about the songs for me. Everything I have done so far, apart from the one song I recorded last year, they’re not the finished products. I have always been a live artist, so I’ve always used things in order to play live. Being from Dublin, which is very much known for its singer-songwriters, I didn’t feel that I had much in common with a lot that went on there at the time. However, it’s a lot more eclectic now with the standards and quality a lot higher. But back then, I just didn’t feel connected, so I hated the term singer-songwriter and I did everything I could to shake it off. So I would introduce things that would create rhythm because then the rhythm would permit me to be on the larger stages and play alongside bands and get away from singer-songwriters because I just found them a bit dreary to be honest. So I developed by starting to use my feet to put a bit of a beat behind it and then started using my harmonica to play in between those beats. Therefore, when I play live I do that stuff but in my head that’s not where the songs are at because when I come to record they will be a lot more band-orientated. All these years later, I’ve come full circle and allowed myself to be a singer-songwriter again [laughing]. I spent all these years shaking it off, but now I feel that I’ve got a sense of freedom.”
Going back to 1920s records, artists didn't make albums as they only made sides of records. So for me that's the real way."
FLW - From the Tapes
Dylan Walshe lets slip to FLW that in order to make it in the music business you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
“There have been various ups and downs but here are two examples. I was playing at a pub called the Fiddlers Elbow in Kentish Town [London] and there was only a friend of mine watching when two tramps came in but they weren’t with each other. They both had dogs and I was in the middle of a song when the two dogs had a full-on proper dogfight and I just kept playing and thinking this is London! When the dogs had finished fighting, one of them walked up on stage and drank my pint that was beside me whilst I was playing. The plus side the following week, I played at a pub called the Boogaloo in Highgate [London]. I had just finished the gig and Shane McGowan [The Pogues] was there. I was sitting there talking with him when a producer came up from a radio station inviting me to play on his radio show. It was the first radio show I had performed on, and it was broadcast all over London. From that point on, I knew it could go either way from witnessing a dogfight and the dog drinking my pint to sitting at a radio station thinking this is exactly what I am looking for and this is what I need in my life.”