Up at Pirate Studios, a rehearsal space in Broombridge, The Tolka Hot Club is busy getting ready for their upcoming gig at The Cobblestone with Babylon Radio. A folk band from right in the heart of Dublin city, the groovy music makers were generous enough to take a break and chat with me about their history, style and aspirations.
The band consists of Eugene Ryan (harmonica), David Harrington (guitar), Stephen Daly (guitar & violin), Brendan Lawless (viola), Holly Periera (vocals), Ken Whelan (accordion), Tom Mulrooney (bass)
So how did the band meet? How did you guys get started?
[Stephen] Well me and Dave had been knocking around for a good while, doing this sort of thing…
[Dave] Playing jazz for fun
[Stephen]…and then we weren’t doing anything for ages, but we decided to get back at it around 2015. We met Tom who came in with the double bass and then Hollie joined pretty quickly after, so that was that.
[Dave] We just picked up members bit by bit…
[Stephen]…and lost just as many
How would you describe your sound?
[Eugene] That’s a tough one.
[Holly] It’s a combination between folk music and pretty straight gipsy jazz music, am I right?
[Stephen] Yeah, yeah, that’s it. Anything that we’re doing is going to have that Gipsy jazz shape to it because it’s predominantly string-based really, with the exception of the accordion.
[Dave] And the harmonica
[Holly] Like, there’s no drums, it’s a very particular set-up for us
[Stephen] Acoustic, strings…it’s got a very jazzy backbone with some baltic additions…we throw a lot of classical influences in, and some country, bits of anything once it works. We’re open to trying anything.
[Holly] By Balkin we mean music from Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary that kind of area of folk music.
[Dave] Anything you can play without needing to bring an amplifier
What was it that drew you guys to that genre?
[Holly] Stephen Daly loves it
[Stephen] You get a lot of similar set-ups and groups over there, but I suppose it’s all very
acoustic-based instruments. It’s all stuff you can do if the lights go out. I played a lot of Balkan music for years with The Contraband (Stephen Daly’s old band) and I’ve just been mad into it since then. It lends itself nicely to snappy up-tempo, acoustic music. I grew into liking [balkan music] and I saw the potential in what you could do with it. How it lends itself to any type of style if you can shape it that way. I don’t know if anyone else likes doing it…
[Ken] I think a lot of classical music takes its influence from Balkan music. Like, Bhrams would have taken the Hungarian Dance from Hungarian dance tunes. That’s prevalent in a lot of classical composers, you can hear the influence of folk music in their music. We try to take elements of folk tunes, and the classical music inspired by them, and work that into what we play.
[Dave] It’s got a cool, dark sound and I think that adds a lot.
[Stephen] I think Tim gave you the best answer. Even Tchaikovsky and those fellas, they took folk melodies and recrafted them. It’s a real melting pot of different styles and cultures.
[Eugene] It also just works really well playing it life. Because it’s up-tempo and unusual, and it gets people dancing every time.
What’s the best gig you guys have done?
[Stephen] Probably one of the Arthurs gigs we’ve done
[Holly] The last one we did in Sin É was excellent, if I do say so myself.
[Dave] The night we did in The Cobblestone with John Walsh, that was a fabulous night.
[Stephen] Yeah, just before the pandemic we had this thing where we were going to do a run of nights, the first one was called Bangers & Mush. We had plans to do more but then the virus shut it all down. That was March 2020, three or four days before the whole country shut down.
[Holly] But we’re back again so, and happy to be back.
[Brendan] We had a gig [last] December in Sin É, that was our first in almost two years.
[Ken] I don’t know about you, but I think that gig was very poignant. I felt a weight on my shoulders thinking that we hadn’t been together in so long, and it was almost like a release that we were able to do the gig. Because it was touch and go for that week while the government were introducing more restrictions. We managed to get it over the line which was great, and I think the crowd could sense how excited we were. There was a palpable excitement in the room on the night.
Are you looking forward to playing The Cobblestone?
[Stephen] Always looking forward to going to The Cobblestone, whether it be to play or not. There’s always something good on up there. Tom is one of the barflies up there…
[Tom Laughs] A connoisseur
[Stephen]…part of the furniture at this point.
What are some of your inspirations?
[Stephen] In terms of playing the guitar, Django Reinhardt naturally, and some of the modern gypsy jazz players. In terms of the fiddle just any traditional Irish music.
[Dave] I’m very into trad and folk music. We do our best to throw in a bit of whatever we can. If someone has a suggestion we do our best. It’s never too out there for us.
What’s your favourite piece that you’ve done?
[Stephen] I like what we’ve done with the Lambada. It’s an old cheesy holiday song that we’ve completely reworked. You should hear it on The Cobblestone on Thursday night.
[Holly] Stephen is a real musicologist. He roots through old songs and we try to give them new life…there’s a lot of songs which have been buried through history, so that’s a nice part of it.
[Tom] A lot of original pieces have come from within the group too.
Do you have any advice for people trying to get into the industry?
[Stephen] Just try to play as much as possible., try and meet people.
[Dave] Be on time, be good at what you do and be nice to other people.
[Holly] Play with a good variety of different people.
[Dave] And try to have a little fun with it
The Tolka Hot Club are playing The Cobblestone this Thursday