Do you like new stuff or regular stuff?

This podcast, through an almost 20 yr-old story about trying to sell new music (in a new, great-sounding format) to people, deals with the difference between people who generally like new stuff, and people who generally like the regular stuff.

It can be in relation to music, food, theatre, TV shows, right through to the use of technology in a football game but if you look deep enough, you’ll find that some people tend to go for the new thing most of the time, and others tend to go for the regular thing, the thing that everyone’s into, the thing that everyone’s doing.

There are more of the latter type, which means if you want something to break into a mass market, you need to start with the people who like new stuff, and make it so good that it slowly becomes regular enough so that people who like regular stuff will go for it.

The man in the above podcast failed in his venture because he incorrectly forecasted that the people to whom he was trying to sell would like to hear new music, whereas in fact they liked regular music, music they had heard many times before.

When we started the Teenage Theme Nights in 2014, only teenagers who were really into music got involved. There were less than 15 involved in the first one.

3 years later, in 2017 we had to put on a second show each time they came around to cater for the demand among performers, and next weekend for the first time we are putting on three shows, because the number of teenagers who want to be involved has risen to the point where we would be there until after midnight each night if we had to divide the number of participants across two shows.


Over the course of 5 years, it has slowly moved from something new to something more regular, something that many Sligo teenagers do, not just the ones who are really into music. This brings its own challenges (spare a thought for the band who have to learn an insane amount of songs for next week), but they are ones we are happy to deal with.

The vision behind these nights is to provide a musical education for Sligo’s teenagers in relation to performing to a professional standard. We hope to do this in a supportive yet challenging environment while creating a safe social outlet for them to meet other like-minded people and express themselves musically. I’m delighted that so many teenagers are now availing of the opportunity – I just wish they were around when I was growing up!

PS if you want to brighten up your January and experience what we have been up to…you can find tickets for next weekend’s gigs here.


American Tune (Answers and video)

So here are the answer to yesterday’s questions, as promised.

  1. In what key is the song? Does it change at all? C. No.
  2. How many beats in a bar? 4.
  3. How many bars in Verse 1 (i.e. from the beginning of Verse 1 until the beginning of Verse 2)? Are they all the same length? 19 bars of 4/4 and 1 bar of 2/4 (bar 15).
  4. Usually in pop/rock/folk/country music, the 1, 4 and 5 chords are major and the 2, 3 and 6 chords are minor. Are there any examples of this being reversed (i.e. the 1, 4 and 5 being minor or the 2, 3, 6 being major)? If so please give bar and beat numbers. Yes. All three minor chords (2, 3, 6) appear in this song as major also. The 2 chord (D) in Bar 14 of the Verse. The 3 chord (E) all over the song – for example in Bar 2, 3, 6 and 7 of the Verse. And the 6 chord changes from minor to major in Bar 12 of the Verse. 
  5. How many times does a diminished chord appear in the song? Is it always the same diminished chord? I can hear 4 diminished chords. A G#dim appears on the last beat of Bar 11 in the Verse, and a D# dim appears on Bar 4 of the B section.

Here is my take on Verse 1, with a few small reharmonisations, and below again is a complete chord chart for anyone interested.


American Tune

I’m going to start another weekly series in the blog starting today – where I look at a song of my (or maybe in the future your) choice and give you guys a quiz on it. It won’t be for everyone, but hopefully some of you musicians and aspiring musicians out there will get something from it.

The melody of this 1973 Paul Simon song is based partly on a Christian Hymn written in the Middle Ages called O Sacred Heart Now Wounded. The first 8 bars are almost identical melodically and even after that there are certainly other traces of the hymn’s melody in Simon’s song.

But it’s the fast-moving chords and their relationship to the melody that drew me to this song – it’s beautifully created in my opinion, and that’s before we come to the lyrics.

So here are some questions – some are easier than others. Feel free to comment below with your answers if you want. Answers in tomorrow’s blog.

  1. In what key is the song? Does it change at all?
  2. How many beats in a bar?
  3. How many bars in Verse 1 (i.e. from the beginning of Verse 1 until the beginning of Verse 2)? Are they all the same length?
  4. Usually in pop/rock/folk/country music, the 1, 4 and 5 chords are major and the 2, 3 and 6 chords are minor. Are there any examples of this being reversed (i.e. the 1, 4 and 5 being minor or the 2, 3, 6 being major)? If so please give bar and beat numbers.
  5. How many times does a diminished chord appear in the song? Is it always the same diminished chord?




Revisited: Theme Night #1 (Christmas songs)

There’s now less than a month to go to Theme Night #22 in Vicar St, Dublin. The theme this time is “The Story So Far” and hence I thought I’d start a weekly series in the blog for the next 5 Tuesdays – which looks back at various Theme Nights from over the years.

And where better to start than at the start.

Theme Night #1 took place on 22 Dec 2011 in Source Sligo. It came about on the back of a weekly residency I had started in a new wine bar/restaurant  in Sligo called Source. There was a nice baby grand there, and the man in charge – Joe Grogan – had kindly allowed me free reign to put together weekly Thursday gigs with different guests each week.

It allowed me to invite musicians I had long admired but never played with to come in and try some stuff out. I played my first gigs there with the likes of Gerry Grennan, Cathy Jordan, Seamie O’Dowd, Eoin Troy, Jane Tansey and Maev Gallagher and many others with whom I have since enjoyed long and fruitful musical relationships.

Anyway the thought had been in my head to put together a gig at the end of the year featuring all of these musicians, and when Cathy approached me with the same idea, that gave me the push I needed to actually organise it.

The theme, unsurprisingly, was Christmas Songs, and it’s interesting to look back at the setlist from that night.


There are some people who sang that night that I never played with again, and others who have been part of almost every theme night since. Unlike now, some people had to sing two or even three songs to make up a full evening’s entertainment.

But I have three people to thank for making that night memorable, and possibly ensuring that the theme nights didn’t become another great idea that faded away after a while.

Let me set the scene for you – we’re in a wine bar, not a theatre, and some people are chatting, others quietly listening to the music. There are 50-60 people there and so there is a hum of conversation accompanying the music throughout the night, until Eoin Troy stands up and begins singing his contribution to the night – Joni Mitchell’s River.

Now Eoin is a regular on the pub circuit in Sligo – a great guitarist and entertainer who always picks an interesting set of songs to sing. But when he stood up without his guitar that night and hit the high notes on River, people really took notice. He sang it beautifully, and inadvertently created the first really memorable theme night moment.

Joe Hunt and his Dad rounded off the night with another winner – performing the Bing Crosby/David Bowie Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth duet, and between that, Eoin’s song and the general community vibe of the evening, it ensured that people told their friends about the night, which in turn ensured that a crowd showed up for Theme Night #2 – The songs of Tom Waits – a week later (something else that would never happen now).


And then what did you do?

A friend of mine recently sent me on this podcast – in which Alec Baldwin interviews Billy Joel.


They are of similar age, from similar backgrounds, and their shared life experiences lead to a engaging, insightful and funny interview.

Baldwin moves things along fairly quickly, often cutting across Joel asking ‘And then what did you do”.

And Billy Joel being Billy Joel, did lots of stuff, and has lots of interesting stories to tell about record deals good and bad, the albums he recorded, the songs he wrote, and the gigs he played.

And he sounds happy to tell them. He was 63 at the time of recording and can look back on a life of action, a life of doing.

The question wasn’t “And then what did you think about doing”, or “And then what did you really want to do but didn’t” – it was “And then what did you do”?

If you want to be able to answer that question with pride later in life, the doing must be done today.

Sea swimming

It gives you a jolt. Especially in the winter. In Ireland.


Within seconds of jumping in your body feels immediately more alive. Whatever thoughts were in your head have been overtaken by the sensations you are feeling. It never fails to bring you into the present. People who do it regularly swear by it and I’m not surprised.

I love when a fellow musician gives me a jolt. It can be the first few notes of a solo that aren’t what I was expecting . Or a look. Or a chord hit with extra power and precision. Or the crack of a snare drum.

It says to me – “Right – I’m on it here. Are you? Are you ready for this? Let’s do it.”

And I’m brought immediately into the present, more alive to possibilities, to sensations, and it usually results in a great gig.

Squash vs tennis

Some people love playing squash. You can hit the ball as hard as you like every time and even at a basic level have a pretty good chance of it staying in play. It’s a short, sharp, fast game and provides an intense workout.

Other people love playing electric guitar. You can play loud (as loud as you want if you have no neighbours), and even at a basic level play enough chords to sound like some pretty famous guitarists and bands.


It’s a different story if you take up tennis, or for that matter the trumpet or violin. At the beginning you will hit the ball into the net or out of play as often as you’ll hit it in, and play a lot of squeaky notes before you hear the sound you’re hoping for.

Results can take different lengths of time to arrive depending on the discipline. If you’re starting something new this January or at any time, remember that and keep at it.