‘I was in the middle of a solo, eyes closed really getting into it. Then in walk two big American lads and the crowd parts…’ – Gary Meyler talks to Paul Kiernan of the Booka Brass Band ahead of their sold out Cork Opera House show
To see a sousaphone dance is a wonderful if bewildering sight. My first such encounter with a jiggly-hipped brass instrument took place on the Sunday night of last year’s Cork Jazz Festival. Booka Brass Band were approaching a peak of parp-parping a heaving bar into the late hours, the only evidence of the band’s presence being the crest of the coiled, almost incomprehensibly large instrument, ever so slightly grazing the bar’s ceiling as its invisible wielder enthusiastically bobbed to and fro to a brass-bastic beat.
From toppling tents at Electric Picnic and Body & Soul to stirring up hell with their horns across the Irish Sea at Glastonbury and Latitude, the Booka Brass boys have blown through an exhilarating twelve months. With the release of a frenetic debut EP coupled with collaborations with high profile names such as The Frames and James Vincent McMorrow, the Dublin eight piece race towards the new year having just broken the news that their biggest Cork headline slot to date has now completely sold out. The fact that the band have upgraded from a 50 capacity corner pub on MacCurtain Street to the 1,000-seater Cork Opera House in just twelve months is proof of the direction that the octet are going.
With another long weekend looming down south, BBB trumpeter Paul Kiernan looks forward to that sold out Opera House headline appearance when his band of merry brass men returns to Cork on Saturday night.
Hey Paul! Where are you right now and how are you feeling ahead of the rapidly approaching madness that is the Cork Jazz Festival?
At the moment I’m on the way to give a few trumpet lessons to some beginners! I’m feeling great at the start of a very busy week and I’m mad excited for the weekend as well!
From supporting The Frames in the marquee to selling out the Opera House, Booka Brass Band have certainly stepped it up a gear. What to you are the most notable differences between Booka Brass of, say two years ago, and now?
I’d say the most notable difference is the combination of our own improvements from playing together so much and also we have much more original material now than before which has been received brilliantly. We always love to include a few covers in our set but we are all delighted to see people enjoying our own music too.
I got to see you guys play Gallagher’s at last year’s Jazz festival. I loved that, despite playing far “bigger” gigs that weekend that you still gave it everything for the whole set, even more so it seemed.
Smaller shows are sometimes just as good if not better craic than the bigger ones. Everyone is able to feed off each other’s energy much easier and it really helps while playing! We love playing all types of venues and try to not change our performances and energy levels because of the size.
From Jerry Fish to Lisa Hannigan, Booka Brass is developing a reputation for collaborations. What have been some of your favourite so far and why in particular did they stand out?
All of our collaborations have been amazing to be honest. For me collaborating with Jape for his Electric Picnic set was incredible! Also playing Crazy in Love with Hannah Grace. Her voice is ridiculously good.
I know some of you met while part of the National Youth Orchestra. If you had to convince a child or young teenager to join a youth orchestra, what would you say to them?
That’s a difficult one to answer because I think it’s more difficult to convince a child or young teenager to start an orchestral instrument than it would be to join an orchestra. Once they get up to a standard they would be more willing to join in groups and play music with as many people as possible. The one thing I will say is playing in the youth orchestra is the reason I chose to play music as a career.
How do you keep eight very different personalities content and happy?
The great thing about the band is that when it comes to rehearsing, our egos go out the door so if someone has an idea we will try it out and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. With other decisions it goes to majority vote. It usually makes everyone happy in the long run, and sure if it doesn’t we’ll get over it!
Again due to having eight in the band, every tour must feel like a mobile party! Are you guys disciplined on the road?
It depends on what we have to do the next day really. We wouldn’t say no to a night out like!
What does it feel like to know that your music basically makes people happier?
To have even a few people listen to our music is amazing. We still can’t get over how great a journey it’s been so far for us. Genuinely, Couldn’t be happier!
New records, festivals, world tours: what’s the plan for 2016?
There are plans for recordings but nothing done as of yet. We are trying to make sure we have everything as we want them first!
Lastly, what are your favourite Jazz festival memories?
The first year we played at the Jazz Festival in Gallagher’s. We were in the middle of covering a tune by Hot 8 Brass Band – Rastafunk. I was in the middle of a solo; eyes closed really getting into it. Then in walk two big American lads and the crowd parts. It’s only two of the Hot 8 lads who happened to be walking by while we were playing their tune! So we got them to get up to have a jam with us. It was a ridiculously cool experience to have on our first time at the Jazz Festival.
Booka Brass Band play Cork Opera House on Saturday, 24th October 2015 as part of the Cork Jazz Festival