In this edition of Under The Street Light with Dave McMahon, I spoke to Derek Clabby, frontman from The Bionic Rats, arguably, Ireland's best reggae/ska band. The band have just released their third album, Another Fine Mess.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a musician? I was into the idea from very early on, I loved making music & loved the fact you can never be bored when you can play an instrument.
How did you get started? When I was around 17 we used to sit around getting stoned listening to reggae, a guy called Ciaran Cullen used to pull a guitar out and would sing his own songs, another mate Keith O'Neill had a keyboard and then I was told that I was playing bass , didn't even know what a bass was. Once we got jamming I was hooked.
How did King Sativa form? I was in a ska band called Gangsters and was getting a little restless with how it was going, I wanted to do more dubby stuff & expand from the 2tone thing so instead of trying to fix it I left and half the band came with me. We were in the hunt for a singer as it was Anthony Kenny on Drum, myself on bass, Ray Creevy on guitar & Phil Fuller on keyboard. Anthony mentioned he had a mate who sings in his bedroom. Enter Liam Nolan who blew us a away with his voice.
Why did the band split? Just ran it's course, we did more drinking and talking about being in band than recording & looking after that side of the business. It came to a head on a tour in Poland when on the first night Anthony & Liam had a bust up & Anthony's thumb got dislocated so he had to do four gigs with one hand. The keyboardist at the time Richie Hayes had had enough too. Too much acting the bollix is the short answer really.
Who did you listen to when you were growing up? Me Ma & Da. I was into rock n roll when I was a nipper then my older sister Tina played me an early Bunny wailer track 'Let him go' and that blew my 12 year old mind. All things Jamaican from then on really.
How much do other musicians influence your music? Always picking little things up whether your aware of it or not, sometimes it's a obvious other times not. We play reggae and ska and that genre is always looking back to the past & re imagining songs, basslines etc when it's done good it can be amazing other times it's just lazy.
When and where did you play your first gig? First gig was with Gangsters in The Whitehorse Inn on the quays there near Tara Street. Half of Kilbarrack & Darndale where crammed into this tiny room, all the auld lads down stairs where giving out 'cause the plaster from the ceiling was falling into their pints from all the dancing going on, surprised the roof didn't come down. Great craic.
What has been your favourite venue to play? Apart from The Foggy? The Harbour Bar in Bray is a great little spot, good people, great sound man, barbecue in smoking area and treated really well by management & staff.
How much does playing a venue gig differ to playing in The Foggy Dew? The foggy is a little more infomal than playing a venue, no stage & people really close, I prefer it, don't really like big stages where your putting on a 'show'.
What has been your worst concert experience? Getting bottled at a Vibe for Philo event in The Village or whatever it was calling itself back then, kingsativa were asked by Smiley Bolger to do two songs by Thin Lizzy so we picked Solo In Soho & Dancing in the Moonlight, we never learned them and made a haymes of them on the night, forgetting words, wrong chords etc so the rockers (rightly) started showing their (dis) approval. Longest two songs of my life.
What was your favourite concert that you went to see? The Specials come back tour Sunday night in the Olympia 2009 I think, never seen so many hard looking guys look so happy. The joy in everyone's eyes, that they had waited since teenagers for this moment and the band didn't disappoint, from the moment the curtain dropped the place erupted, mayhem.
What has been the highlight of your career so far? I suppose I'm meant to say opening for the likes of The Wailers and Madness etc, bands that got me into all this but I'm loving it now, got two kingsativa old boys on board now, Graham Birney on bass an Richie on Drums with the added bonus of his keyboard magic getting laid down when we record. We've got two interskalactic boys on Brass Donagh Molly on Trumpet & Mason McMillon on Sax, with revolving crew of past pupils like Antonello D'Orazio, Anthony Kenny & Ken McGrath joining us from time to time. We're in good shape at the moment and are in jamming new material, so it's all good.
Your new album “Another Fine Mess” was released digitally recently, are there any plans for a physical release? Yes def, cd in June and if we can Vinyl whenever we can get that done.
Do you think physical releases still have a place in the current music industry? I hope so, even though the album is out a month or so it doesn't feel real without actually having something physical, maybe that's because I'm an old timer but we're doing a fundit campaign to see if anyone feel the same way.
What are your views on music streaming sites such as Spotify? It's definitely hitting musicians in the pocket, why go to ITunes or bandcamp when you can hear it there...but, the genie is out of the bottle, you have to be on these things, it's kind of like on demand radio. You can only hope people who dig the band and want to hear more material realise we need money to make music and support crowdfunding projects or buy directly from bandcamp.
What do you think of the current ska and reggae scene in Ireland? Never been healthier, when I started there was a handful of bands the likes of The Umbrellas, Trenchtown, Keltic Posee and Press the Thingy, now you can fill a three day festival with Irish acts. Tramore Ska Fest & Booleigh Ska Festival have been running 4 years now on Irish bands and still have to leave some bands out as there' not enough time. Lots of producers too like Salim Dastan, Graham Birney & Dan Talaris recording & mixing from home studio set ups, the days of hiring a massive studio with massive price are gone thankfully.
Who do you currently listen to? I'm going back in time rediscovering 60's & 70's reggae, rocksteady & ska I could spend my whole life doing this, very little new stuff interests me, love Chronixx & Ragin Fyah but it's all been done before, I'll check back when I'm in my seventies. UK band Skint are doing some really interesting stuff at the moment.
What are your top 5 albums of all time? So many, hard to narrow it down to 5 but here goes
1. Handsworth Revolution - Steel Pulse
2. Specials - Specials
3. Damien Demsey - they don't teach this shit in school - although I was disappointed when it came out with the band backing, but the songs are really strong (he should have got kingsativa to back him!!)
4. The Congos - Heart of The Congos
5. The Birth of a Legend - Bob Marley & The Wailers, this is the one that started it for me.
Whats the best advice you have been given in your career?
Don't give up your day job, never took it though.
What do you have lined up for the future?
We're in rehearsing new tracks, so hopefully have a new album out before end of the year as I'm not sure what 2016 is going to be like. I'm not really into the performing aspect as much as creating new songs, that's a really good energy and I want to be around that more.