Last year, I heard an album that left me hyperentilating. Almost. It was From Tallagh to Halle by a band called Aldoc, named after the head honcho and guiding spirit, Alan Doherty from the People’s Republic of Tallaght in County Dublin. So taken by the band was I that I spend a whole day driving around in the pouring rain with no chance of a B&B and a two day camel ride to get something to eat to hear the band play in Campbell’s in Headford, County Galway. It was worth it.
Later, I called Alan at his adopted home town of Halle in Germany and this is most of our conversation:
Did you picture yourself doing this when you were a young boy growing up in Tallaght?
Well, I always did want to be on tour, it was a dream of mine but I never thought it’d be a big thing, that I’d be doing as much as I’m doing now.
I’ve been playing since seven when I went to see my dad playing, me getting up on stage, playing a tune with my dad’s band, dreaming of being on the stage for the rest of my life, it’s always been a dream, but it’s a come true thing.
Obviously you’re dad was an influence. Who else would have influenced you when you were growing up?
I grew up listening to the likes of the Fureys, not so much the Wolfe Tones, but I grew up doing support for the Wolfe Tones and the Fureys and the likes for about two years. Myself and my dad used to go around and do support for them, and this particular pub called The Wexford Inn which was next to Whelan’s.
Then I started listening to the likes of Mary Black and a lot of singers, so I grew up playing along to singers, and it wasn’t until I was introduced to maybe Davy Spillane, that’s when I started to kind of learn some tunes and stuff like that. In fact, the Davy Spillane band was the kind of first kind of big instrumental band I heard, And then, I remember starting a band in college, with some of the local musicians, lads, and I called it the Baby Spillane Band. I eventually told Davy that and he wasn’t too impressed!
That didn’t hold you back, of course. How did you meet with the boys in Gráda, how did Gráda come about?
Myself and Gerry, the guitar player from Aldoc who’s half-Irish, half-Kiwi, he came over to Ireland and there was this kind of course going on, the Ballyfermot Trad Course, and we kind of started off there. We had great facilities for rehearsals and stuff, so we just kind of used that every day. We did one gig in Dublin, and it was just a success from then. So yeah, that was in 2001, the start of Gráda.
And you and Gerry would be on the same musical wavelength, so to speak? You know the music, you want to play, you know what you like…
Yeah, we definitely are because we just like creating new music and writing, rather than like picking old tunes and doing old stuff. We like to compose, you know.
Gerry comes from a kind of bluegrassy-songwriter kind of sound and I’m kind of really into the Indian and African kind of music and stuff like that, so I suppose we put the two ideas together for Aldoc.
I was talking to Liam Ó Maonlaí about modal music (http://bit.ly/1p7hIQ8) and he was saying that music is the same all over the world, so what do you personally get from Indian and African music?
Well, I think from African music I get, I just love the sound of the language, I guess. It’s kind of like the sound and kind of like the scales and stuff like that, the modal scales, but in Indian music it’s the kind of, the chanting and the speed of the scales more so than the melody, but just the technique in the Indian stuff, and especially they use this thing called Konnakkol (see http://bit.ly/1vaYYUW), whereas African music has a lot of soul, yeah, still has that kind of, element of kind of gospel or something, I don’t know, it’s kind of more of a vocal thing for me, the African thing that I like.
From Tallaght to Halle is the the perfect coming together of all those influences as realised by a superb group of musicians. Despite the weird and wonderful influences, it’s still very Irish. I mean you could take all those background sounds away and what’s left is quintessentially Irish. So how did this cornucopia of ideas which had been in your head come together into a wonderfully coherent whole?
I suppose when I moved from Tallaght in 2010 I think, I guess I was kind of lonely in that I had nobody to play with I suppose, and it was kind of, just myself and my wife, which was fine but coming from playing seven nights a week I had to take on a new life and I started teaching.
But every time I took up the flute I’ve always put 110% so it’s more of a voice for me, rather than just being technical on a flute. I’d use a lot of slides and a lot of emotion in the playing and stuff like that but the music came together from me just sitting in my bedroom just playing along to different things, you know? I’d make up a sample on a table or something or a guitar and just jam along to it.
I didn’t want to make an album where it was just sets of Irish tunes and all this kind of backing and effects and stuff. I wanted to just write one tune and just make it a uniq ue piece of music, you know?
I think the fact that it sounds Irish is it’s a wooden flute, it has the tone of that and also I’m kind of writing in that modal thing again, you know, I’m writing in the same structure of A, B, Irish style, you know? But the melodies are different from Irish melody if you know what I mean.
Did you say ‘right guys, I’ve got, here’s my idea for some tunes. Do you want to join in?’, or how did the rest of the band come together?
The album was recorded basically in between two cities, it was in Cologne in Germany and Wellington, New Zealand, and it was myself and Gerry and I asked Gerry to produce it, because I was so stuck in the songs over that three year period, so it was great to have someone I could trust.
I’d say, you know ‘I want sax and I want trumpet or whatever’ and he went and found all the musicians over there. That’s another reason we recorded in New Zealand, because the musicians that we wanted on the album for that kind of dub, kind of reggae, slow kind of, not electronic, but kind of just generally guys that play every style of music, that’s the kind of musicians that we wanted and he went out and found them there in New Zealand. All the musicians I just met in the studio, you know, myself and Gerry, we met them for the first time in the studio and for two weeks we just jammed and kind of put it all together, but that was it.
There is a lot of chanting going on on the album and that was important to you, that chant sort of thing that goes through the album?
Yeah, I think it is. I think I started doing that with Gráda, just messing around during one gig and then I suppose it’s just having the courage then to forget about not having, not knowing the language and just doing chants and just making sounds, you know? For me, I feel I don’t have to have a language, I can just make sounds like, like Bobby McFerrin, he just makes sounds and whatever, you know, so, music is sounds, that’s all there is, you know?
On elephant movement, the opening is in a strange language.
It’s in Swahili, yeah.
And you wrote the poem and it was then trangláilte?
Yeah, it’s a funny poem, it’s just about missing Ireland, and it’s about missing the food, like the curries and pints and the craic and you know, just something that… I was in France on tour and I met this guy in a bar who works there and he spoke English, French and Swahili, and he said he liked my runners, my shoes, and I said ‘I’ll give them to you if you translate a poem for me’, so we just had a few pints and I started writing, ‘awh I miss the fish and chips back home in Ireland’, you know, ‘and I miss the pints of Guinness and the craic, I miss the local bar and all the people and fresh bread’, and just like, all about food, just strange things. So he translated it into French and into Swahili and I thought, leaving it in Swahili would be better because less people would know what the hell we’re talking about!
Yeah, but it sounds great!
So, I just got off him the recording in the basement of the bar on my mobile phone and that’s what it is. It’s just a silly poem about food in Ireland.
And what does the future hold for Aldoc? I was just thinking that as well, how great you were in Campbell’s last year but at the same time you could just imagine you playing in a big open-air festival and the sun shining and that great music, you know?
Yeah, that’s the kind of we like but you know, we loved the gig in Campbell’s in Headford so even a small, intimate gig like that is great, once the crowd are into it, you know. But everybody has been very positive.
Aldoc are playing in the The Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts tomorrow (Saturday) night, January 31. Be there.