Co Antrim singer Ciaran Lavery on his album Let Bad In
Ciaran Lavery counts Gary Lightbody as a fan and has toured America and Europe already this year. Now the Co Antrim singer-songwriter has just released his second album. He talks to Brian Campbell
FROM the story of his milkman/musician uncle’s career choices to his fear of being compared to Barry Manilow, singer-songwriter Ciaran Lavery is an entertainer in more ways than one.
Now touring his acclaimed second album Let Bad In, the chatty beard-sporting Co Antrim man spoke to Scene last Friday as he was making his way from the airport to his London launch show at the stunning St Pancras Old Church.
It was in another church – St George’s in Belfast for a Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival gig last month – that Lavery unveiled his new three-piece live line-up.
“That was a great gig and a lovely venue. That was the first time I had Dan Byrne-McCullough and Rachael Boyd with me,” he says.
“Rachael plays violin and piano and loop pedals, then Dan does guitar and loops and effects. It makes it quite atmospheric. Before that, it was just me on acoustic guitar. That’s the set-up for the foreseeable now. It’s always more craic to travel with more people too.”
Having just returned from gigging around Europe, Lavery says things are picking up for him in Germany.
“We found out about it through Spotify. You sign up with digital distributors and they let you see where your plays are coming from and I was getting regular plays in Germany last year. I hadn’t been there at that stage but I’ve been a few times now, so they’re probably sick of me at this stage,” he laughs.
This is when he mentions that his family has form in Deutschland; two of his uncles were in a rock band called Ezy Meat.
“You can find a few of their songs on YouTube. They were quite big in Germany. People in rock magazines still want to write stuff about them and there was talk of re-releasing albums,” he says.
“They packed it in in the 80s. My uncle said he had to choose between keeping his milk run or doing music. He had just got married, so rock’n’roll missed out; he gave up music for his milk run,” he laughs.
“I heard lots of stories. One time they did a gig in the hall in Aghagallon. Only one of my uncles could afford a guitar, so the bass player Paul had to use a broom handle and he just made bass noises.”
From Aghagallon in Co Antrim himself, Lavery is well beyond having to use stage props. A member of the Belfast alt-country act Captain Kennedy for seven years, he is now a successful solo act and Let Bad In is the follow-up to his debut Not Nearly Dark.
It’s an assured piece of work, with a healthy mix of folkie acoustic numbers, strings, brass and electronica. Blood Red Fist is Springsteen-esque, while Return to Form is a radio-friendly slice of folk-pop in the vein of Ray LaMontagne.
Tongue-in-cheek, Lavery describes his style as “lo-fi head-bang” and it’s easy to see why he gets compared to the likes of LaMontagne, Glen Hansard and James Vincent McMorrow.
“I don’t mind those kinds of comparisons,” he says. “I like being compared to people I like. I wouldn’t be too happy if people were saying, 'He sounds exactly like Barry Manilow’,” he laughs. “It’s a thing people do and I do it myself. I’ll say 'You know who that really sounds like?...’ and it’s a compliment.“
He’s such a fan of Texas band Okkervil River that he named one of the best songs on the album after them.
“They tweeted about it, so that was nice. I was listening to them a lot when I was writing that song, so I thought it would be cool to reference a band that I like that aren’t too mainstream. So I worked their name into the lyrics.
“It’s nice that they were happy with it and I think they were happy that I pronounced their name right.”
Lavery has collaborated with several musicians to date, most notably the Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker and Co Derry’s Ryan Vail.
“Emily’s great and she’s a great songwriter. It just works sometimes. There has to be a bit of give and take, but it always helps to get on with the person,” he says. “I like working with people I like. I don’t want to work with someone who’s talented but who’s a d***."
One high-profile fan of Lavery’s is Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody.
“Yeah, he tweeted about my song Shame once, so that was lovely. I’ve never met him. He seems to be a nice guy and he’s really supportive of local music [in Northern Ireland].”
Lavery enjoyed his gigs at South by Southwest in Texas [SXSW] in March but admits the festival is “absolutely mental”.
“It was great but it’s a circus. There were a lot of great shows, but it’s hard to find time to take a break because there’s so much going on. I’m friends with the Nashville singer Liza Anne and she’s very cool and very dark; it’s almost like 80s rock. I saw her at SXSW and I was blown away.”
He says he’s a big fan of Neil Young – even though he didn’t “get him” the first time he started listening to him – and hopes to go and see the veteran rocker in Belfast next week.
And he’ll also be taking the opportunity to work on some new songs between now and his Sea Sessions gig in Co Donegal later this month.
“It’s easier to work on stuff when I’m at home in Aghagallon, where I don’t have a great mobile phone reception. If someone wants to phone me, I have to give them my landline number.”
He says the village is “proper countryside; there’s no real centre” and jokingly admits that he grew up thinking that Ballymena was a massive city.
“Ah, the bright lights. We called Ballymena ‘Vegas’,” he laughs.
Let Bad In is out now on Believe Recordings. Ciaran Lavery plays the Sea Sessions festival in Bundoran, Co Donegal, on June 24 (ciaranlaverymusic.com).