London musician draws on two years of interviews with Irish granny (88) for stunning new album
James Patrick Gavin's new album has been ten years in the making, with two of those dedicated to mining the memory of his beloved Irish granny Mena.
Chewing the Fat is a sprawling epic charting his Irish heritage and the links between Mena's home county of Fermanagh and London, the city to which her son and James' father Seamus, like so many fellow Irish, emigrated to in the 80s, and where James was raised.
Several songs include audio of Mena chatting about her life as well as snippets of soundscapes from the top of the mountain on which she lives and the surrounding area.
James (27) has been playing the fiddle since he was "4 or 5" and his Irish heritage has been a huge influence on his music.
"My add is born and bred Fermanagh and I'm born and bred in London and that's kind of what the album is about, the story of that side of my family leaving Ireland and comign to Londona dI suppose being stuck there by having more family!
"My dad came over to study originally, he was studying law, but ended up squatting and sort of being a part of that scene in London in the 80s, working on building sites to pay for his education. He became a solicitor and had a family - me and my two younger sisters so the album kind of deals with us being the first generation born away."
Chewing the Fat is a collection of originals and covers and features guest musicians Tommie Black-Roff, Jez Hellard, Dominic Henderson, J Eoin, Órlaith McAuliffe, Hugh O’Neill, Tad Sargent and James' dad Seamus.
One song, Tae, is inspired by James' grandfather Jim, who passed away in 2003, and who loved his cupán tae. 1500 cups of tea were consumed at his wake: "It was as if the mourners were sharing a last cupán tae with Jim."
Another song, London Town, composed for the album by Seamus and James (27) was written by Seamus one morning in London in the 80s.
"My father left Mountdrum and arrived in south London during the 1980s where he began opening squats," explains James on the album.
"After having fallen head first through a window and landing on the wrong end of a crow bar, he found himself watching the sun come up over a muddy London skyline: 'with guitar in hand I started to play and this Fermanagh blues song came out.'"
The star of the show, however is undoubtedly Mena, who was born in the year of the Great Depression and has many a story to tell. She refuses to leave her house, Standing Stone, which was built by herself and Jim - they made the blocks for the build themselves.
Initially she was quite "self-conscious" about speaking on tape, but once she warmed up she was happy to chat.
"None of it is staged in any way," says James. "There are some really nice moments that sit in naturally with the songs. You couldn't write it."
The album will undoubtedly resonate most with the London Irish who emigrated in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
There is still a huge Irish population around Holloway Road, where James was raised and still leaves nearby. In the 60s and 70s it was host to several Irish dancehalls and pubs from The Roundtower and the Gresham to The Half Moon.
The nostalgic element of the album may also appeal to the current swathe of emigrants to the UK and beyond as well as those of us still here and entrenched in modern Ireland.
James is launching Chewing the Fat at the impressive Union Chapel venue near Highbury & Islington, which is at the bottom of Holloway Road, on February 5. The album itself is being released later this month, on January 26.
"Holloway features heavily throughout the album and so it made sense to launch it there," he says. "It's also an incredible venue - the acoustics are great and it's visually stunning. The gig will feature everyone on the album plus some special guests and support from Fiona Fey."