My dad gave me a mixtape of The Beatles when I was a child. It was enough to hook me. From then onwards, I knew that music was going to be a big part of my life. But what I didn’t foresee is that it would take me in a completely different direction, and ignite a passion for something entirely different.
I formed my first band way back in spring 2004 as something to do with the luxury of spare time that comes with being a teen. It comprised of a fresh faced me, my brother Rory and my cousin Barry. At that stage, I was the only one who knew a few chords. Sure, we were novices, but we knew there was much more to come.
Before long, we had learned how to put together a few tunes and luckily found a guy who could sing. We headed off into the unknown.
We aptly named our band The Q, given that we were all a bit obsessed with The Who. It sounded similar enough but not too much that it would be a giveaway.
As many a young band begins, we started playing in my parent’s garage every weekend. The routine of learning how to both play and write music became a way of life for me. Just as I was hooked on that Beatles compilation way back when, this was a new sort of love.
And with any band hoping to make a name for themselves, we knew we had to take the next step, which comprised of playing our first set of gigs in the winter of 2004. Another member was added and we were set.
I remember well the first few ‘day’ gigs in the Nerve Centre. Total madness ensued. The place was rammed with people we knew from school (no pressure). It quickly became the place to be, and we were at the heart of it.
With a passion ignited, we wanted more. We soon realised that it would be a great idea to start recording in a professional studio. At the time the answer wasn’t quite as simple as a Google search away.
We needed somewhere we could afford and close by as none of us could drive – high demands indeed. But low and behold while at a gig, Barry had bought a CD from another Northern Ireland band and on the back they had the studio name it was recorded in – The Blast Furnace. Luckily, the studio was in Derry and we had enough money to record a few tracks!
It was a bit daunting stepping into the studio for the first time and now we were suddenly aware of every single note we played. It sounded totally different from the security of the garage and the euphoria of playing in a sweaty dark venue to a bunch of teenagers. Feeling exposed, the naivety of youth showed as we thought ‘yeah three hours – that would be long enough to record and mix three tracks’. How green we were at that stage.
In the end we managed to record one original track that we were happy with before embarking on the next stage. We brought this disc to anyone who would listen and hustled for gigs and airplay on radio, waiting for our big break.
We played all over the north and south of Ireland, getting air play on Radio 1, 2 FM, 6 Music, Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle by the champion of local music, Stephen McCauley. He was the first DJ to take us seriously and gave us our first airplay on his electric mainline show.
While I learned a great deal during this momentous time in my life, I also met my wife, Breffni, through the band. The singer knew her from a few years back through a friend of a friend. On a night out he bumped into her. He quickly invited her to our next gig when the small talk fizzled out.
Thankfully she was free and she wasn’t as shy as I was. She asked me up to dance! We hit it off from there, ten years ago.
Throughout this time, I have many, many fond memories. A definite highlight of band life was working with the Glasgowbury music group. This is a great collective of musicians and creatives in mid-Ulster who mentored us as a band. They are behind the largest independent music festival in Ireland – Glasgowbury. In total, I played this festival four times. Three of which were with The Q and once with my second band, The Wood Burning Savages.
Recording a live session at RTE with The Q on 2FM for the Dan Hegerty show was something else. We likened ourselves to The Beatles recording in Abbey Road and definitely weren’t in my garage anymore.
The Q also featured on BBC2 twice for ATL Rock School for the BBC NI’s annual Battle of the Bands competition. The atmosphere was unlike anything else I had experienced before. The competition ignited a real passion in everyone, with a shared end goal in mind.
But perhaps the biggest highlight in my music career was cutting a vinyl record live on radio. In 2011 Never Records arrived in Derry. Its frontman travelled the world recording artists straight to vinyl record. We set up in an art gallery in Derry and recorded live on the Radio Ulster show ‘Electric Mainline’. Needless to say it was really a one take type of deal. Check out the video of it below.
I played my last gig with The Wood Burning Savages in 2013 at the last ever Glasgowbury music festival. Fitting you might say.
During this time, I had a yearning to pursue other creative outlets, and in particular photography was calling. I was ready for a new challenge. Just as I picked up that guitar in my garage, armed with only a few chords and ready to see where music brought me, I was ready to learn everything I needed to know about photography.
After I played my last set on the Friday, I picked up my camera as soon as I got off that stage. I spent the rest of the weekend photographing the other bands on stage.
This was the turning point for me. That’s the moment when my photography career began. To see more of my work from my days as music photographer check out this blog post.
BECOME A HERO
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.