With a single due in the autumn and a big tour to follow, Oisin Leech of The Lost Brothers tells about bunking off cello lessons, busking in Italy and the death of the band’s manager Frank Murray
Oisin Leech is one half of The Lost Brothers, a band whose music he describes as folk noir. The other half is Mark McCausland. Next month they release their new single ‘After The Rain’.
“Musically, the song’s inspired by Harry Nilsson and Phil Lynott,” he tells me. “There’s an emotional quality in the delivery of singers like Lynott and Nilsson that I find inspiring. They drag the listener into the ether of the song.
“Just before we recorded it in the studio in New York I listened back to my very first Sligo demo of the song on my phone. It had the same sense of the original emotion and feeling behind it.”
On November 11, the duo can get back to the emotion of playing live again, when their 2021 tour kicks off.
Oisin was born in 1980, in Navan. His father, Paul, is an architect and artist; his mother, Joan, taught in the Gaeltacht in Meath. His earliest childhood memory is of her singing him to sleep to Frankie Lane’s ‘The Little Boy and the Old Man’.
“I was very fortunate in that both my mum and dad’s side were all very much into music and theatre and the arts. On my dad’s side my great-uncle Richard Aherne was an actor.” In 1943, he was in Sahara, which starred Humphrey Bogart.
“My dad plays violin and has a great singing voice. As does my mum and my sister Saramai.”
The second youngest of four siblings, Oisin spent half his childhood in Meath and the other half in Donegal, where his mother was from. Any opportunity the family got, they’d jump in the red Volkswagen camper van and drive from Navan to Buncrana.
“The journey could take up to seven hours with border checks and a very slow-moving vehicle.”
His grandmother, Mae, ran the old Plaza Dancehall on the Main Street, Buncrana. “With the old spring dance floor and giant mirrors,” he says, “it felt like the inside of the Titanic.”
At six, Oisin studied piano and cello. Discovering alternative rock music soon changed his perspective. One day he hid behind a tree instead of attending cello lessons in Rathmines.
“When I think of it now, it’s all quite Charlie Chaplin,” he says, “this small boy with a huge instrument case hiding behind a tree, refusing to go in and learn cello scales.”
When he was 11, his cousins let him listen to their REM and Beck records and taught him chords on a guitar. Along the way someone gave him a cassette of Stiff Little Fingers’ Inflammable Material.
It “lived” in his Walkman and accompanied him on his walk to school every morning.
As he entered his teens, alternative American music, like Fugazi, took over his life. There were a handful of like-minded punks in Navan, he says. “We started bands with names like The Vermin and played to small crowds in my mum’s garage. We had skateboards, pink hair and made our own clothes.”
At 15 his life changed when a school pal played him The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album.
He studied theatre and English literature at Trinity College, but instead of devoting himself to his degree he would busk on Grafton Street with fellow students as The Fluid Druids.
“One of the lads in The Fluid Druids was studying Italian at the time and he needed to do one year in Naples. Instead of packing the band in, I decided to take a year out and I went to Italy too.”
Living in a bedsit in the Spanish Quarter of Naples, Oisin taught English in the morning in school and busked in the evening.
“One day, in Positano, the local police shut us down for making too much of a ruckus. I remember we had been playing on the seafront, and just as we were packing up to leave [the American actress] Kirstie Alley came over and offered us a gig that evening in her house. She saved us because we didn’t have the diesel to get back to Naples.”
In 2005 Oisin returned to Dublin, finished his degree in Trinity and moved to Liverpool.
There he formed a band called The 747s. “We went to Japan with The Arctic Monkeys.” In 2006 he befriended Tyrone singer Mark McCausland, who had a band called The Basement. And the following year, they started writing songs together.
“Quiet ballads that we never ever for a moment thought would get a release,” he explains.
Their first public outing together was in August 2007 at the Electric Picnic in Laois at 4am.
In 2008, Deltasonic Records heard some of their demos and helped them get to Portland, Oregon to record The Lost Brothers’ debut album, Trails of the Lonely. Two years later, Oisin and Mark met Frank Murray, former manager of Thin Lizzy and The Pogues, at a festival in Texas. He had seen their performance.
When Oisin bumped into Murray again at a concert in Dublin, “It was like seeing an old friend,” says Oisin.
A few months later, Frank started managing The Lost Brothers. He convinced them to release their album So Long John Fante. “We had sat on it for a year not knowing what to do with it.”
They put it out in 2011 and started gigging like never before. “He was constantly teaching us how to hone a live performance.”
In 2012, they released The Passing of the Night album, followed by the New Songs of Dawn And Dust album two years later. There was a mini album, Bird Dog Tapes, in November 2016.
A month later, Murray died of a suspected heart attack.
“We were heartbroken. There’s never a day goes by in the band that we don’t think of Frank. I think he would have been proud of some of the music we’ve made,” he says, referring to Halfway Towards a Healing in 2018 and last year’s After the Fire After the Rain.
Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier played on and produced the latter. Mojo magazine lauded it as one of the best Americana albums of the year, which wasn’t bad for two young men from Navan and the Gortin Glen in Tyrone.
“Who knows where we’ll go on the next album,” Oisin says.
The Lost Brothers 2021 tour runs from November 11 to December 3. For details, see thelostbrothersband.com.