It's funny the way paths collide, and who ends up guiding us towards our friendships. It was at a dinner in Dublin that I first heard of two brothers who live in West Hollywood - where I was about to relocate to in a week's time. Apparently, it was imperative I meet them. They were, it seemed, very welcoming to new artists in town and would offer me guidance.
Fast forward two months and I am being invited to a 'Taco Bonanza' (very LA) in West Hollywood, where I was told a collection of Irish heads would be gathering. The host, an Irish actor friend, very excited, telling me all about the spices he had put into his meat, as he plastered a taco with home-made assortments. Suddenly, this tiny white dog starts attacking the host's German shepherd. Chaos ensues, tacos everywhere, and suddenly I'm grabbing onto this feisty little dog and protecting him from certain death. That dog was just three months old, but had as much tenacity as the brothers who share his nurturing. You could say it was Finn the dog who finally introduced me to the Cassidy brothers, Patrick and Frank.
Spin forward six months and Patrick has just finished composing the music for Bad Suns, a film the Taco Bonanza host and I produced together in LA. Collaborating with the Cassidys was a real pleasure, and through the process I became very curious about how they got to LA. I heard anecdotes here and there, but I wanted the full story, and so I finally sat down with them - Patrick had been knighted as a Cavaliere by the Italian Government for his contribution to the arts - to hear about their more humble origins in Claremorris, Co Mayo.
Frank, the younger by a year, began: "Our father was obsessed with music and particularly with Irish culture and the language. He was a pharmacist and always had traditional records for sale in the shop. He was one of those people who was very mindful of the fact that we have this extraordinary tradition in Ireland, and sent Patrick and myself to piano lessons. He then bought a couple of instruments for the house each Christmas and whoever wanted to pick them up, could play them."
Patrick's first love was the harp, an instrument that has been more associated with female players, he tells me. "My sister was going to boarding school and the nuns taught the girls the harp. On holidays, when my sister came home, I would pick it up. It's interesting because in ancient Ireland, the harp was played predominantly by men - and the last of the great bards was O'Carolan, whose harp music was revived by [composer and arranger] Sean O'Riada, who inspired me greatly as a young man."
A home-from-home for the diaspora After that Taco Bonanza, I began to find myself invited to the Cassidys' for their regular dinners - they live in West Hollywood; each has his own house, but on the one property. One night I would arrive and there would be an Iranian playing a three-string lute and the next, there would be three Irish violinists performing after dinner. It began to dawn on me that the Cassidys' was like a junction point in LA: lots of artists would stop by when they first arrived into the city. It was a kind of HQ, a place to get the low-down. They have an open-door policy, creating a home-from-home for the diaspora, including Irish actors Patrick Bergin, Tim Murphy, Kevin Ryan and Fionnula Flanagan - who all drop by often.
Seeing how these nights would culminate in performances - something I dearly missed about Dublin and was very happy to find a version of in LA - I wondered when the brothers began to jam together.
Frank tells me they had a rock band in school - Patrick on keys, Frank on guitar. The band's name, he laughs sheepishly, was Hermetic Students Revival. Very Dead Poets Society, I say. "Everything had to be psychedelic in those days. Our sound was very Jethro Tull," Frank continues. "We really got going when we went to college in Dublin. We started as a duet playing the club circuit and, frankly, we went nuts! Dublin back then was so exciting; a truly bohemian city full of musicians."
I think about the Dublin of my college years, and wonder if the same haunts were around in their time. Frank tells me about playing Slattery's, which I used to love, and then mentions venues that have since vanished: "The Meeting Place, run by Christy Moore's sister; Tailors' Hall in the Liberties, and The Coffee Inn were our go-to spots to play as a duet," he says.
Could you make a living from music back then? "We got paid in pints," Frank says. "We didn't care about money. You had money in your pocket that day, you spent it, then you woke up the following day and figured it out. It was a special time."
I think about the hustle required in the arts today and wonder if they were career-focused initially. "I mean, until we got our first album going, we didn't take it too seriously," Frank says. "Although I now know, if you're not obsessive with your art, you won't make it."
I ask what changed to take it from fun to a career. "Very quickly it became apparent that Patrick was taking off in a completely different direction and I realised I had to help him. He was always arranging music and I could see his brilliance, so I just began to manage him. No contracts or anything," Frank laughs.
What was their first move in Dublin?
"Patrick had been gigging with his harp and we recorded some of the sessions on cassette tape. I brought this to the Irish music label Gael Linn, which was partly aided by the government to revive Irish music, and they funded a solo album called Cruit ('harp' in Irish). That was well-received and gave us a chance to write something larger. Patrick went away and over a year later, he had written the Irish folk tale, The Children Of Lir.
"I used the original Irish text and made a cantata from that," Patrick says. I ask if that helped the brothers. "Enormously," says Frank. "It got us our first invite to America. We played a couple of small venues in LA over 10 days and we liked what we saw. We were in our late 20s at this stage, and so when we got back to Dublin, I decided to go back out on my own with a demo tape and some of Patrick's photos. I crashed with some friends in Santa Monica and took the bus up to Hollywood and knocked on production company doors. It's mad now that I think of it, but I was wide-eyed and people took me in. I also now realise that optimism is your greatest asset."
I ask if he had any luck, knocking on doors. "I got a meeting with a big producer, Edward Pressman, who had done films like Wall Street and Conan the Barbarian. During the short meeting, his secretary came in to move him along to his next appointment. We were getting on well, so I asked him if we could meet for a pint after work. He looked at me very seriously for a second and said, 'Sure'. Ed opened a lot of doors for me, and we are still friends to this day. He put us in front of [music publishing company] Warner Chappell, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, who loved Patrick's work and offered a publishing deal, so now we had our first contract in the States."
"Because of that, we were able to record The Children of Lir at Abbey Road Studios," he continues. "A lot of people thought we were bananas to record this type of Irish-language album, but we stuck to our guns, and while getting it produced, we even had to raise funds from our parents to fill the shortfall; we were glad we did."
'Coming here was incredibly daunting' So you have this Irish-language album, what did you do with it, I ask. Was there a market? "We shopped it in Dublin and fortunately U2 had a record label called Mother Records, where Dave Pennefather was MD, and he conceptually understood the album and placed it perfectly. We were number one on the classical charts for over a year," Frank smiles.
I ask Frank how it has been all these years working with his brother. "It's because of the music that we are still together," he says. "I would always trust Patrick's vision and integrity. If you go for the money and compromise the music, that can be the end of the relationship. We never did that!" So how did they find themselves living in America? "Our grandfather was in the US Marines during World War One and that made citizenship easier for us, due to his services to America. The timing of when we left coincided with our father's death in 1997, just as we had our biggest concert, Patrick's Famine Remembrance, performed in St Patrick's Cathedral in New York for the 150th anniversary of the Famine. Our father was always very supportive and his death was a big shock. That concert was a milestone for us, and also bittersweet. It felt time to move."
Thinking about my own reasons for moving here, I ask Patrick why he chose Los Angeles.
"I was ambitious and wanted to try my luck here. At that time, we were approached by Ridley Scott to do an aria for an opera sequence in Hannibal. It was telling the story of Dante and his love of Beatrice. That gave us a line into more movie work and LA made the most sense. Coming here was incredibly daunting," Patrick continues. "You arrive here with a bundle of clothes, a few books and you have to make it up along the way. It's not for the faint-hearted; it's a tough town."
I understand this sentiment with regards to my own journey - you arrive to LA with a bag of dreams, maybe even with something behind you, but there are no guarantees.
I learn that in recent years Patrick has been working back in Ireland quite a lot. He composed the music for the film Calvary with Brendan Gleeson, and the documentary 1916, and also composed the song Mise Eire for the Centenary celebrations. His new album, The Mass, is a new symphonic setting of the Latin mass, the first by an Irish composer. The jewel in his crown, though, is a new opera that he has been working on for the last six years.
"While reading a book on Dante, I realised I could visualise an opera based on the story," Patrick says. "I approached Martha De Laurentiis, who produced Hannibal, and showed her some storyboards and initial music; and we are now on course for September 2021. It will be my biggest project, set in the Roman amphitheater in Verona [in Italy]! I have had to learn Italian to manage the process," he laughs.
I ask the two brothers how they feel about America today and Frank ponders before answering. "Ireland has a very special relationship with America. One million of our race, 170 years ago, came to the shores of this country on coffin ships and were allowed to make a life. It's a very special bond. I personally am a liberal and loved what Barack Obama stood for."
I pry further, asking if they ever miss Ireland. Frank continues: "We go home at least twice a year and I love pottering around the kitchen with my mother."
I ask if he thinks that being part of the Irish diaspora should carry entitlements - do Irish Americans deserve a vote in Ireland?
Frank smiles, "I'm Irish and don't really feel Irish American. I don't believe that I have a right to vote, as my nose isn't against the grindstone back at home. I wish I had a vote when it comes to who picks the national football team, but that's another matter."
"The two places are connected in so many ways," Patrick says. "I mean, just the other day I learned that the hike we do five times a week - a popular hike in LA called Runyon Canyon - is in fact, a canyon that was owned for many years by Count John McCormack, a very famous Irish tenor."
As I round up our conversation, I ask Patrick what his thoughts are on the virus that is currently keeping people at home. He ponders my question for a few quiet moments and responds softly, "Maybe when it's all over, it will be a better world. The contemplation and isolation might be good for people."
And as I listen to his words, I think of all the people that have contemplated their own humanity while listening to one of Patrick's ancient songs, and wonder to myself whether I am sitting across from an Irish Bach or Beethoven.
Photography by Dylan Townsend
Born in Boyle, Co Roscommon (and forever, delightfully, Sean Murphy of Moone Boy for many of us), O'Dowd moved to the UK to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. First visible in the Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd, O'Dowd's breakthrough came with the movie Bridesmaids, following up with This Is 40; Thor: The Dark World and recently Get Shorty on Epix. Married to Dawn O'Porter, the couple bought a house in West Hollywood.
From Terenure in Dublin, Tracey, pictured below, studied English and French at UCD with a view to becoming a teacher, but teaching jobs were scarce, so she decided to try modelling instead. Aged 24, in 1984, she won Miss Ireland, worked in RTE as a continuity announcer and TV host for a time, then studied acting at the Gaiety School. She moved to London, then New York and then, in 1997, to LA, armed with her savings and a list of 40 names gleaned from friends. "It was very hard for the first two years, and I took a long time to settle," she said. But settle she did, finding work acting, modelling, writing and narrating.
Barry came to acting after seeing an ad in the window of a shop on Sheriff Street near where he grew up. Independent filmmaker Mark O'Connor was casting Between the Canals. Keoghan got a part, and loved it. He left Dublin for LA because: "LA is where the work is, man... I have to do that. I miss home, but when you get home you get itchy again." And LA has been good to him, with roles in David Lowery's medieval epic The Green Knight, and upcoming Marvel blockbuster Eternals.