Interview by Barry Egan
The title of Helsinki’s new album, A Guide For The Perplexed, should tell you enough about the record, which is existential alt.rock brilliance, courtesy of a charming man from Dun Laoghaire — step this way into the spotlight, unassuming hipster Drew McConnell.
Master McConnell, whom I know for years, is a true gent, a lamb-shy ingenue with an endearing artistic sensibility and yearning. . .
His parents Siobhan and Hedley McConnell were an artist and photographer respectively. In 1981, when Drew was two, he and older sister Niamh and younger brother John Hedley (who sadly passed away in 2006) moved to Ballyneale, just outside Carrick-On-Suir.
The family also at one point moved to Tenerife to “pursue", says Drew, “Hedley’s dream of opening a little bar in a sleepy seaside village, Los Gigantes.”
In his teens, Drew had a large collection of dubbed cassettes featuring Fugazi, Sonic Youth and Bad Brains
When he was 16, Drew took a notion, like an Irish Baudelaire, to follow his muse and travel around Europe.
Young Drew was “looking for the right musicians to form a band with". In 2003, in London, he met a nice young fella called Pete — “a kindred spirit” — and formed a band, the enduring cult that is Babyshambles.
The rest is history.
Or hysteria, as perhaps anything involving Pete Doherty, the aforesaid “kindred spirit”. That band still co-exists with Drew’s own band Helsinki. The lyrical concerns of Drew’s second solo album A Guide For The Perplexed — unsurprisingly perhaps given the title itself — came about because, he smiles, “I spent most of my time feeling pretty confused and baffled by the conundrum of existence. I think I spend most of my time perplexed. The lyrical concerns on this record are just observations over the years about the world,” Drew adds.
How does he see the world?
“I try and see it as positively as I can, but sometimes it is very hard to remain chipper in the face of things.”
In truth, Drew has remained remarkably, to use his own phrase, chipper in the face of things. Three years ago, he was almost killed in an accident involving a car in London. I say to him that it is remarkable that he sitting here at all — having just performed so passionately for The Windmill Lane Sessions for the Independent.
“I was very lucky,” he says.
“I suppose you could say that I was very unlucky. I was hit by a car. I was very lucky not to be paralysed. I broke my spine in three places. They spent nine hours picking shards of bone out of my central nervous system. I broke my knee. I broke my arm. I broke my elbow. Five ribs. I was in a bit of a mess.”
Asked how he got through all that pain, the bass-playing Bionic Man from Dun Laoghaire, now long-since living in London, Drew jokes that it “was grapes and Lucozade and bedside stories.”
Did Pete Doherty come over with his own particular medication?
“Now, now!” Drew cautions with good humour. “Just bedside stories!”
“Pete was one of the first people to arrive in the hospital, actually. When I came to one day, with what felt like bunch of bananas on my forehead., but it was Pete’s hand. A bunch of dirty bananas!” Drew laughs.
Why did he choose Alice In Chains’ Brother as a cover for The Windmill Lane Sessions?
“I thought it would be nice to do something that comes from our heritage, our culture, I suppose — as 15-year-olds we were in our bedrooms listening to Alice In Chains going: ‘ That’s mental.’
“So it was just fun to revisit something that was in our DNA.”
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