Billowing in the bluegrass

Clare has been long known as the home of traditional music but Spancil Hillbillys have combined a wide-range of genres to form a unique brand of authentic music. As the Quin quartet go from strength to strength, vocalist and guitarist Davy Moore spoke to David Byrne.

NEWLY-FORMED Quin-based rootsy band Spancil Hillbillys have quickly built up a reputation for their unique combination of music genres and lively performances.

The four-piece feel good band have been combining their real life experiences with their love for music to entertain crowds across the county since joining forces nearly a year ago.

Taking major influences from a diverse range of music from traditional songs to ‘Old-Timey’ country ballads to Hillbilly and Rock’n’Roll classics, the Spancill Hillbillys’ music “stands the test of time”.

While band members Kay, Davy, Eddie and David are all constants of the music scene in Clare, it wasn’t until March of last year that they combined their different styles to form Spancil Hillbillys.

“We’ve always played together, we’ve known each other for years and years,” Davy explained.

“David was in a sca band, Eddie has been a stalwart in the trad scene with the mandolin for years and years.

“I’ve played in this sort of band before when I was in the States then I went into the trad scene – Kay and myself went to school together.

“We’ve always played together – either one at a time, two at a time or three at time but we’d never got together as all four.

“Apart from the trad scene – we all still play in that, it’s our scene – we just wanted to do something different as well,” added the Spancil Hillbillys’ vocalist and guitarist.

Bringing together the diverse range of music, “the way it used to be”, Spancil Hillbillys showcase the art of telling the story behind a song.

“We are all kind of old hippies or protestors, so that folk rootsy Americana Bob Dylan protestor vibe always appealed to us,” said Davy.

“Combine that with rootsy country and it’s perfect.

“I’ve always grown up listening to blues – county blues is my thing,” he added.

Taking influence from the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Davy relishes the opportunity to use his musical talent to capture a crowd and portray a strong message, an art he feels is hard to find in modern day music.

Music runs in the veins of the four members of Spancill Hillbillys and it was their connections in the tight-knit music scene in Clare that officially brought the group together.

Lead vocalist Kay O’Donoghue comes from a well-known Clare musical family, daughter of the late Paddy O’Donoghue, and following the untimely death of the her brother Paul ‘Swive’ O’Donoghue in March last year Davy and Kay rekindled their musical partnership.

 “After that [Swive’s death] I got back in touch with Kay again and I said look would you like to come in on this? [plans for a new band],” Davy explained.

“I won’t say that’s what brought us together but that is how we got back in touch together. “I knew she [Kay] could really sing so we brought her in.

“She said she would give it a go – her genre was always gospel.”

After the band played around with a mixture of genres including country and rock music, as a result of the mixed backgrounds of all four members, they “turned the corner into where we actually want to take it”.

With this in mind, Davy reiterates his belief that Spancil Hillybillys are playing music, the way it used it be.

“It now more about the messages – the stories behind the song rather than the rhythms.

“The real protests – looking at Trump, looking at what is going on in the world.

“We aren’t going to make a difference but we are interested in that scene ourselves.

“If you go back to the 20s and listen to people like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan in the 60s -all these protesters – Steve Earle, Neil Young up through the 70s.

Quin band Spancil Hillbillys

“They had a message – they were real good protest, anti-government and anti-establishment songs and then it went so poppy in the nineties and noughties that it turned my stomach.

“Now you’ve got some great people like Keb Mo and that message is coming back again. “They are saying that there is something really wrong with society.

“So, there are those new younger bands saying the same message so it is great to get back in to it.

“I was at it in the nineties so to get back in to doing it again is a great feeling.

With this in mind, Davy says that living in the United States had a massive influence on him, following his younger years when he grew up listening to the blues.

They had a message – they were real good protest, anti-government and anti- establishment songs and then it went so poppy in the nineties and noughties that it turned my stomach.

“We ended living down Arkansas in the Delta where the blues are.

“It used to be a ninety mile drive to Memphis at the weekend to listen to some of the best blues around.

“You didn’t even have to go from here [Clare] to Dublin – it was half the distance – and I could be in Beale street for the night.

“Where I lived going out and finding blues music was the same as going out and trying to find trad here, you just fall over it.

“Every bar has it – good and bad, different levels.

“By osmosis it has to get in to you, there is no way around it. “Dave, the base player is so diverse as well.

“He grow up in the late seventies and eighties as a bass player, basically mimicking ‘Top of The Pops’.

“He is so good at learning stuff that they would watch something on ‘Top of the Pops’ on a Thursday and be playing it live on a Saturday night – that was their job.

Davy expressed his delight with the rise in authentic singer song writers and the revival of “music the way it used to be”

“There is a revival of this sort of thing,” he added. “The likes of Mumford and Sons, they are starting to explore this genre.”

“You are starting to hear the banjos and the mandolins in music again – it is great.

“Even though he is a different kind of genre to us, you have to respect the likes of Ed Sheeran. “He is not for everybody but he is getting out and doing it.”


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