Friday 20 October 2017

'The smell of the fire was on me and I ran' - Galway fiddle player on how alcohol left him homeless in Australia at his lowest point

Fiddle-player Aindrias de Staic (39) had his laptop stolen and lost his fiddle in a fire in Melbourne, Australia
Fiddle-player Aindrias de Staic (39) had his laptop stolen and lost his fiddle in a fire in Melbourne, Australia

Patricia Murphy and Mark McConville

A Galway musician said his "toxic" relationship with alcohol and drugs drove him to his lowest point and left him homeless for seven weeks on the other side of the world.

Fiddle-player Aindrias de Staic (39) had his laptop stolen and lost his violin in a fire in Melbourne, Australia, as his addiction to alcohol and drugs spun out of control.

Now sober for more than ten years, the musician spoke about the most frightening period of his life during which he said he lost everything, including his mind, after moving to Australia in 2003.

"I was in Australia for seven years. I had this show called Around the World in Eighty Quid, which was about my journey to Australia through Eastern Europe and Italy," said Aindrias, who describes himself as being from "out the Tuam road".

"I was travelling around like this with the fiddle, the show was about the journey of a travelling fiddle player.

"In my late twenties, I had been playing a lot in Irish pubs, drinking and drugs as you do. Hanging around playing music and busking on the streets. My system just got toxic, too much drink, too much drugs, I just went a bit crazy. I started getting thrown out of pubs, wasn't able to keep it together as a musician.

"I lost my laptop, then I lost my violin in a fire, then I lost my mind and I was running around. I was homeless for seven weeks. I'll never forget it, I ran away from Melbourne with the smell of burning clothes... the smell of the fire was on me and I ran. I ran to Sydney."

Aindrias said he was lucky to fall into a good crowd in Sydney; people who were keen to get sober and regain control over their lives.

Aindrias de Staic said alcohol drove him to his lowest point
Aindrias de Staic said alcohol drove him to his lowest point

"I met some people in Sydney, one or two Irish guys in particular, who were giving up the drink as well. I just got in with a good crowd. A community and a fellowship that were giving up the drink together. I would advise anyone in recovery to get into a community where other people are in recovery. It's hard if you're giving up the drink and your friends are still drinking. Try and find a few friends who don't drink."

The musician and renowned story-teller said it can be hard for young people coming onto the Irish music scene, as performance and alcohol are so intrinsically linked.

"Being Irish and playing music, the drink goes hand in hand. We love our music and we love our drink. It's very difficult to separate the two. I was a man and I played the fiddle and I drank pints and it took a long time for me to separate the two. To just be a man with music without drinking pints," he said.

"I started taking drugs from a young age. Growing up in Galway in the 90s, we'd smoke joints, hash was the big thing. I suppose I was in my twenties when the Celtic Tiger came to Galway and next thing there was clubs, there was cocaine, there was escasty. We thought it was rock'n'roll you know. You didn't have to go to LA to live the dream, it was happening there in Galway. It started to fall apart for me then."

As the pubs around the country prepare for a boozy celebration tomorrow,  Aindrias said he will have the kettle boiled to toast to our patron saint. The performer is preparing for the Newstalk debut of his show The Man from Moogaga, a story about small-town lad from the West of Ireland who becomes a part of the Irish diaspora.

"The show, the Man from Moogaga, it basically just started from a few stories I was telling to friends of mine in the pub here and there. I didn't think it would ever work outside Galway and Mayo. It was very much a story I do for friends and family and the craic. And then I went to Westport Arts Festival last year and then my girlfriend Clodagh saw it there and said 'Why don't we do it in Dublin', so that's what we're doing now on Sunday night in the Grand Social."

"I'm lucky that in recent years I've managed to combine music with story telling. There's a huge interest now in spoken-word storytelling and comedy. People are able to listen again to storytelling. I've clicked into my own niche, particularly outside of Ireland, I've just come back from a tour in Kansas and California, at the end of the year I go back to Australia and New Zealand. There seems to be a vibe and an opening for that," he said.

Last St Patrick's Day, Aindrias spent the holiday performing at a sober celebration in Richmond, West Virgina. The musician said Irish people have so much of themselves entwined in alcohol that we feel sometimes as though we can't "have the craic" with out it.

Aindrias will perform his show, The Man from Moogaga on Sunday in the Grand Social
Aindrias will perform his show, The Man from Moogaga on Sunday in the Grand Social

"It was nice, you know, I was able to play music and people were actually listening. I think that's what as Irish people we have to learn. To go back to having the craic without the booze, you know. There's nothing wrong with having a few pints but it is something we've become known for internationally and it's almost socially acceptable to get rotten drunk.

"People do it when you're young, when you're a teenager, when you're in your twenties but it gets to a point when you hit your thirties and forties when you say 'I can't do this anymore'.

"What I learned at the sober St Patrick's Day is that so many other cultures don't have that. They drink a lot in America, they drink a lot in Australia, but they still have alternatives to it. But we're still catching up to that.

"I don't have any problem with anyone having a few pints. I love to do venues when people have a few pints. When we do Body and Soul or EP, we're playing to a crowd that are off their heads but it's great craic. I'm not anti-booze or anti-craic. I'm just lucky to have come through it myself," he said.

Aindrias de Staic is bringing his show The Man From Moogaga to the Grand Social on Sunday March 19, followed by a performance by his band The Latchikos. For tickets visit www.thegrandsocial.ie. You can also catch the show on Newstalk at 6PM on March 17.

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