Entertainment

The Lost Brothers's Oisin Leech on solo single October Sun and shows with Dónal Lunny

David Roy chats to Oisin Leech of acclaimed alt-folk duo The Lost Brothers about going it alone with his new solo single October Sun, recording with some of his favourite musicians and why 'the Losties' are still very much a going concern...

Oisin Leech on the beach. Picture by Cait Fahey
Oisin Leech on the beach. Picture by Cait Fahey (Cait Fahey )

HAVING spent the last 15 years as one half of acclaimed alt-folk duo The Lost Brothers, Co Navan man Oisin Leech has now struck out on his own with his debut solo single October Sun.

A hushed, hauntingly melodic slice of autumnal, melancholy-tinged folk, the song was recorded by Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Steve Gunn in an old schoolhouse in Malin, Co Donegal, and also features Portland, Oregon-based solo artist (and Lost Brothers fan/collaborator) M Ward on guitar and Bob Dylan's regular sideman Tony Garnier – another Losties ally – on bass.

"My mum was born in Derry and both my brothers were born in Derry, so I've spent a lot of time in that part of the world, and Inishowen," explains Dublin-based Oisin of why he wanted to head up to the wilds of the north-west for the single.

"I love it up around there. It's kind of magical. You know, really beautiful. I definitely think that wherever you record a song, the atmosphere of that day will find its way into the track. So we just thought, let's go and record there for fun.

"It was a little bit of a road trip, and when we got there it kind of all fell together. We got a little schoolhouse and borrowed some equipment from neighbours and just recorded the tune. I think we used the first or second take, so it just happened really quickly.

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Oisin Leech and producer Steve Gunn at Schoolhouse Studio
Oisin Leech and producer Steve Gunn at Schoolhouse Studio

From the studio to the stage

"We did a session with Tony, and M Ward is one of my favourite songwriters. So it was amazing to have him on electric guitar. He actually sent his part over from Portland.

"Then the video was filmed by Neil McGrory, a local musician from Culdaff who just came over and filmed us as we were recording."

Released back in October (naturally), by Canadian label Outside Music, October Sun has also given singer/guitarist Oisin his first extended taste of performing live as a solo artist via support slots with M Ward and Lisa O'Neill in Europe and the UK last month.

"It's the first time I've put a song out, and I'd never really gone up on stage and sang on my own before," says Oisin, who has most recently been playing live with The Lost Brothers, still very much an ongoing concern despite October Sun's release being preceded by Notes From The Boneyard Vol 1, the critically acclaimed debut album of folk instrumentals by McKowski, side project of the other Lostie, Co Tyrone-born Mark McCausland.

"October Sun is the first time I've put something out and said, 'OK, this is an Oisin Leech song. It kind of happened by kind of accident, through a folk club I run in Navan, the Joey Procida Folk Club. I introduce three or four different acts, play a couple of songs, and then the night goes on.

"So, really, I kind of started writing with the folk club in mind. I remember writing October Sun one day and then putting it in a drawer for a while. When I came back to it, I played it to Steve Gunn and M Ward, and they both loved it.

October Sun is the first taste of Oisin Leech solo
October Sun is the first taste of Oisin Leech solo

"They were like, you should just record it. So that's kind of how it came about. It wasn't anything super-planned, it kind of came about organically – which is always the best way with music.

He adds: "I never really expected to get phone calls from Lisa O'Neill and M Ward asking did I want to come on tour".


The rail deal

Happily, it seems these first forays into solo live performance went well, especially the dates where the Navan man let the train take the strain.

"I did the England tour by train, and it was hilarious – doing my bit for the planet," enthuses Oisin.

"It was great, just me, my bag and a guitar. It was really, really cool actually, I really loved it. You know, some of the journeys were four to five hours, so it kind of turned into a weird meditation before the shows.

Oisin Leech. Picture by Cait Fahey
Oisin Leech. Picture by Cait Fahey

"From Leeds down to Cardiff was the longest journey, I think: I arrived an hour before the show and literally just jumped up and played."

He also got to perform October Sun with M Ward during their European run.

"M Ward played some electric guitar for me in Paris," he enthuses.

"That was amazing. It was a real moment, because it wasn't super planned – he kind of just jumped up. It means the world that he likes that song."

Headline act

Fans who enjoyed October Sun and are hungry for more such musical goodness should get themselves tickets for Oisin's first ever solo headline shows, which will find him playing out in April next year with an ensemble also featuring the aforementioned Steve Gunn, Irish trad legend Dónal Lunny, and Inishowen-bred fiddler Róisín McGrory.

"Dónal really liked October Sun – he sent me a lovely message," says Oisin of how he recruited the Bothy Band and Planxty legend into his touring band for what has been dubbed 'The Maiden Voyage Concert Series'.

"Those shows will kind of be like three musical experiments, really. We'll just be kind of collaborating onstage. We start at The Sugar Club in Dublin on April 4, then we go to Galway's Taibhdhearc Theatre on April 5 and then we finish on April 6 in Letterkenny, at the Regional Cultural Centre.

Oisin Leech. Picture by Cait Fahey
Oisin Leech. Picture by Cait Fahey

"But it'll be so special to have that ensemble together, because the line-up is completely unique: I mean, to have Steve Gunn, Lunny and Roisin – that will never happen again, probably."


Seeing other people

Die-hard Losties fans may be fretting about Oisin and Mark 'seeing other people' of late, but it seems the arrangement is mutually consensual. Moreover, it might actually help to kindle the spark for new Lost Brothers material in the near future.

"The timing feels good now to do it," says Oisin, who's also been presenting his show Caravan Radio on RTÉ Radio 1.

"We'd always had other little things going, so it's it's nice to do the side things now and then come back to the Losties. I think it kind of freshens everything up for the next Losties album."

Oisin Leech will be on tour in April, see oisinleech.com for full details on dates and tickets. October Sun is out now.