Pugwash produce album with perfect pop pitch

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

THOMAS Walsh yawns, rubs the sleep from his eyes and apologises for being half-asleep. He has been up half the night watching Martin Scorcese’s new documentary about George Harrison.

THOMAS Walsh yawns, rubs the sleep from his eyes and apologises for being half-asleep. He has been up half the night watching Martin Scorcese’s new documentary about George Harrison.

“Phenomenal, mind-blowing,” he mutters, more to himself than anything. (He’s not wrong by the way). “Ok, go ahead, let’s do this,” he says, stifling a yawn.

Walsh - perhaps better known as Pugwash, or not, but more of that later - can identify with Harrison, who is one among his pop heroes, chiefly led by Jeff Lynne of ELO fame, who he recently found out was a fan of his in turn.

You see, the larger than life Walsh, an incredibly affable, forthright yet searingly honest character, makes pop music almost as if he is the natural heir to Harrison, McCartney, Lynne, Gallagher et al - a daring brand of innocent and defiantly upbeat power-pop music that never strays into saccharine territory and bustles with vivid lyrics and witticisms. There is a reason he was the perfect foil for Neil Hannon on the duo’s Duckworth Lewis Method album, which saw the pair nominated for an Ivor Novello songwriting award - Walsh adding serious pop muscle and humour to Hannon’s warped straight man act.

But, despite the upbeat nature of his work, Walsh has been struggling for years - making, as he calls them, “elaborate flops”. Not this time, his most recent - and fifth - studio album, The Olympus Sound, charting in Ireland and shifting units as well as earning the Dubliner critical acclaim.

While he might sound downbeat, he is more pragmatic, a realist, his deadpan delivery tempering his words, a smile forming at the corner of lips, making it impossible to be sure when he is serious and not so. Having just returned from a UK tour with The Bluetones, Walsh has started to glimpse the direction he needs to take his music.

“We did 3000 miles and 20 gigs with them and it was f*cking incredible, it was exactly what we needed. It would have been great to do this ten years ago, but just didn’t have an opportunity like that, because there are not many bands that would be as kind as they are. They just love the music and want to see us succeed,” he says.

“Ireland is a tough market, it is not big enough for what we do. We love it and have a lot of affection for it but we just know that we have to go away to earn a living, because you just can’t do it here.

“We charted with this album, first time ever, probably shifted a few thousand, but it is incredible, because people just won’t go out to gigs,” he adds.

This is delivered in a straight-up tone with no hint of self-pity. Pity is not something Walsh seems interested in, no less than his decision to avoid the dreaded ‘singer-songwriter’ tag when he first started producing music.

“Although I am absolutely a singer-songwriter, I didn’t want to be one back in the day, that is why I gave myself a band name. But Pugwash is always me, at home writing the songs, and then when I went to record or play, it is with good friends,” he says.

The album is a two-toned effort, darker lyrics hidden among joyous pop sensibilities - a factor of upheaval in Walsh’s life.

“What I tried to do when I came back from the Ivor Novellos in 2009, that changed my life because I was in a room with these incredible legends of songwriting and music and I was there as one of them because I was nominated and I never felt as proud,” he explains.

“There is no denying how positive we are now, that is the point. (But) I do look back at the time around Eleven Modern Antiquities (his previous album) and I was completely and utterly at the end of my musical life because it had been four albums at that point and you are talking about more than 10 years of releasing music in this country and having massive critical success but no sales,” he says, without a touch of bitterness.

“It took a while, but the success and confidence the (Duckworth Lewis) record gave me was phenomenal, I couldn’t have been more proud.”

This album’s production was different in many ways, buoyed from the success of the Neil Hannon collaboration, Walsh started recording as a band, with Tosh Flood, Shaun McGee and Joey Fitzgerald.

“With this record, I wanted to have a band and friends and make it like that. We just literally went in and made it in three weeks. I am very proud of that because I never worked like that before,” he says.

“The connection between us and the public has been a massive, gaping wound, and this record and what has gone on in the last few years has been a lot of surgical work to heal that wound and it has worked! We are very proud of that and feel like a band with a debut album,” he smiles.

Pugwash play in Dolan’s Warehouse this Friday, October 21.