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Under The Street Light - Stef Byrne (The Shades)


Ahead of their debut single release in The Grand Social this Friday, November 13th, I spoke to Stef from The Shades for another edition of Under The Street Light with Dave McMahon.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be a musician?

I grew up in a big music family – both my parents are musicians so from a young age I was surrounded by both the sounds of them performing as well as the music they listened to.

In particular, the music of The Beatles and Buddy Holly fascinated me as a child, where I would listen to a cassette tape of early Holly singles and obsessively play The Beatles ‘1’ album.

Both these factors had a profound effect on me as I was raised and by the time I could walk I knew that music would play an important role in my development and would be something that I would become increasingly involved in.

How did you get started?

I started taking formal music lessons when I was 6 and as time went on I expanded my knowledge of various instruments. I began with the violin, and then over the years eventually progressing to clarinet, saxophone, mandolin, piano, harmonica, guitar, bass guitar and vocals. As I entered my mid-teens I began focusing on the latter five as I began to identify more with the artists I was listening to and started performing both individually and with various small bands around Dublin.

Who did you listen to when you were growing up?

I grew up listening to a lot of music my parents liked – mostly guitar-based artist such as The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Elvis, as well as some 70s Irish artists such as Thin Lizzy and Rory Gallagher. My dad played in a big band so a lot of that trickled through as well – Glen Miller, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra...

By the time I turned 15 or 16 I developed more of an opinion towards music and began listening to more 50s and 60s artists. A general interest in music from this period led to the discovery of more bands that had an influence on me. The Beatles were the main one, however I started listening more and more to artists like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, Woody Guthrie, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers as well as most of the Motown back catalogue.

How did the band form?

We’re a five piece – that’s me - (lead vocals, bass guitar), Donagh (lead vocals, keys, harmonica), Mark (drums, vocals), Mikey (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and David (lead guitar, backing vocals).

The Shades came about following the demise of an old band called The Confusion. Three of the lads, Mikey (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Mark (drums, vocals) and David (lead guitar) were eager to continue performing and sought to complete the line up following the lead singer’s departure.

I had just left an old band by now as well, and heard the lads were looking for musicians (with similar 50s and 60s influences) to join them. Living down the road I reckoned it’d be handy to jam together and I was already semi-familiar with Mark from playing football some years back. Since then I’ve been one of the lead singers and the bass guitarist in the band. Soon after that we got Donagh in, with the same influences as the rest of us, to complete the line up as another singer and keys player and ever since we’ve been gigging, writing, recording and touring.

For anybody who hasn’t heard you, how would you describe your music?

We mostly write and perform our own songs, bar one or two covers, taking influence from many great artists from the 1950s and 1960s. A lot of our sound revolves around raw energy, melodic harmonies and driving rhythms which is reflected in our live performances. We base a lot of our songs off the sounds of artists such as Chuck Berry, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones - so energetic rock’n’roll, rhythm and beat would be a good way to describe that.

There is a UK band named The Shades, are you worried that people might mix you guys up?

Not really. We’ve toured over in the UK twice before and haven’t encountered any problems. Either way, I think we’ve got a distinct enough style and set of original songs that should set us apart.

When and where did you play your first gig?

Once we got Donagh in we played in the basement of The International Bar, Dublin on a stage the size of a door mat on St. Patricks Day, 2014. Given the size of the place there was no room for amps so we have all vocal mics as well as two guitars and a bass going through a tiny litte PA. It was fairly hectic for such an intimate venue but nonetheless it was a fun gig to play.

Our rhythm guitarist Mikey was in Germany at the time but as our traditional five-piece we closed the Ballinamore Fringe 2014 to a packed out barn in the middle of rural nowhere. It got fairly mental as a wedding party strutted in half-way through our set and by the time we finished at 3am in the morning, there was calls for us to repeat the over two hours of material we’d just performed. What has been your favourite venue to play?

We’ve had some great gigs both in Ireland and over in the UK, however I suppose all five of us would agree that playing a sold-out Mercantile (Dame St. Dublin) earlier in the year was definitely a highlight – there was a great buzz on the night and the crowd was terrific.

We’ve had some great gigs in places such as Sweeneys (also on Dame St.), and Coughlans down in Cork which deserve honourable mentions as well being both stellar venues.

What has been your worst concert experience?

For us personally I’d say playing at a less-than-favourable pub down in Shannon, Clare would be the most forgettable. As if the shite weather was a sign of things to come, the whole thing was plagued from the beginning - bus schedule mishaps and driver misdirections en-route, Shannon taxi drivers who hadn’t a notion where they were heading, unruly venue staff and sound problems on the night, etc. By the time we began set up and began playing up it was hardly worth our while at all. Needless to say we haven’t played that godforsaken pub since! What was your favourite concert that you went to see?

For myself seeing Paul McCartney in Dublin was definitely up there. I saw Brian Wilson over the summer as well and that was incredible. The other lads would probably mention seeing The Stone Roses in 2012 as a concert highlight.

How does it feel to be finally releasing your debut single?

It’s great to get it out there, especially after all the hard work put into it and various obstacles we’ve had to overcome in order to get everything to fall into place.

With your old school sound and the resurgence of vinyl in the last few years, will the single be released on vinyl as well as CD?

Our debut single will be released on CD, itunes, Amazon and all the other usual online outlets. Though the massive resurgence in vinyl has caught our eye and we’re certainly planning to have our subsequent release put down on wax so keep an eye out for that!

The launch night will be held in The Grand Social in Dublin on November 13th. What can the crowd expect?

Well first off the Ireland game will be on in the beer garden and downstairs beforehand so that’ll be some craic in itself. Judging by the result it’ll be a great way to celebrate the win (or draw!) or take the mind of the pain of defeat. We’ve got a terrific support act kicking things off on the night through ‘Late City Edition’ As for ourselves expect some new tunes and one of our most kicking sets to date! We’ll have the physical CD for sale on the night and on the day it’ll be launched on all online retailers as well.

Has work begun on an album yet?

We’ve got plenty of original tunes that we’d love to get into the studio with and release aside from our single material and while we haven’t started on an album yet, it is something we would love to get done sometime in late 2016.

What did winning Best Newcomer at this year’s Pure M awards mean to you?

It was great for us to win as it’s nice to get recognised for all the hard work we’ve put in as an actively gigging outfit on the Irish music scene. There’s been countless hours spent working on songs and setlists, hundreds of gigs up and down the country and abroad and some great memories and shows. Winning the Pure M award was a great testament to everything we’ve put into The Shades so yeah, it’s terrific to get recognised for your hard work!

Who has caught your attention on the Irish music scene recently?

There’s been some great acts nationwide though some that have caught our attention include young Derry based rock’n’roll band The Docs and the psychedelic sounds of Belfast based Buffalo’s Bay. Dublin based Beatfink are very good as well. Booka Brass Band, Late City Edition, Áine Cahill and Spam Turner and Anderson all deserve a mention as well.

Who do you currently listen to?

Aside from the usual 50s, 60s and 70s stuff, I’ve really enjoyed Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’, as well as Paul Orwell’s most recent release ‘Fangz’. I also think Hoziers an excellent original artist, his version of ‘Blackbird’ is great. Dublin artist Anderson’s ‘Patterns’ is pretty sweet too. More recently I’ve gotten into gospel and soul artist Leon Bridges as well, I think he’s got some top-notch songs.

What are your top 5 albums of all time and why?

‘Elvis Presley’ – Elvis Presley; This was the album that started it all. The energy and ferocious vocals Presley presented was a breath of fresh air that kicked off the entire rock’n’roll craze in 1956. From Blue Suede Shoes right through to Money Honey, it’s the perfect album that captures the early sound of rock’n’roll.

‘Highway 61 Revisited’ – Bob Dylan; On top of his game at only 24 years old, Dylan masters the electric album and presents us with some top-notch rockers and absurdist social commentary. ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ kicks the album off and that’s not even the best song on the record. ‘Pet Sounds’ – The Beach Boys; The genius that is Brian Wilson unleashed this timeless masterpiece in 1966 during a peak period of artistic innovation. It’s nuts to envision the complex and gorgeous choral and orchestral arrangements and soaring harmonies are the brainchild of a man deaf in one ear. Often called the first concept album, it spurred The Beatles to do ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and holds its own 49 years after its release.

‘Abbey Road’ – The Beatles; Their final piece of recorded material and the finest album by the fab-four in my opinion; their magnum opus. It blew my mind the first time I heard it. Aside from the iconic artwork and the lush and beautifully crafted B-side medley, nearly every song (barring Octopus’s Garden/Maxwells Silver Hammer) conveys The Beatles at their creative peak. Those harmonies on ‘Because’, the guitar solo in ‘Something’, the driving rhythm and instantly recognisable bassline from ‘Come Together’, the rocker that is ‘Oh! Darling’. An instant classic.

‘Let It Bleed’ – The Rolling Stones; There’s some timeless tracks on this album – ‘Gimme Shelter’ is one of the most powerful songs of the 20th century, yet alone the 1960s. Most of the LP has that familiar Stones sound but there’s something about it that all blends so well together. ‘Love in Vain’ is a hidden gem of a cover and the fade out of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ closes both the album and the decade of the 1960s in stylish fashion. Like the sleeve says this album should be played loud.

What’s the best advice you have been given in your career?

Buying someone a drink is five times better than a handshake. What does 2016 have in store for The Shades?

We’re hoping to get some more significant releases out next year - we’ve working away on a few things at the moment so they’ll hopefully be finished and put out further down the pipeline. It’d be great to hopefully tour abroad again and talks are underway regarding that at the moment.

We’ll have some sweet announcements once the New Year hits so keep your eyes on the facebook page then!

#underthestreetlight #theshades #retro #retrorevival