Dublin premiere of song-cycle project with accompanying album
Shortly before the pause button was pushed on life in 2020, Drogheda saw the premiere of a unique musical experience, with songs inspired by real and imagined stories associated with Drogheda Port’s rich and storied history.
PORT, produced by Droichead Arts Centre, is a song-cycle written during singer/songwriter SJ McArdle’s tenure as Artist in Association at Droichead Arts Centre in 2019.
At long last, it is now having its highly-anticipated Dublin premiere on July 1st in the Sugar Club, which is also providing the opportunity to launch the new album, Old Ghosts In The Water, with songs lifted from the show.
“People may remember the premiere in Drogheda back in November 2019, and it was due to be in the Project Arts Theatre in Dublin shortly before COVID hit,” explains SJ, who is joined by a stellar line-up of Irish talent in the show. “The advantage of the gap is that I got to write more material for the show, in particular, a song based on the incredible work done by the river rescue groups in Drogheda, called ‘Recovery’.”
Another plus to the hiatus is that the album could also be recorded, which will showcase songs from the project, including a beautiful first single called “All for the sailing tomorrow’ featuring critically-acclaimed Dublin vocalist Carol Keogh (Plague Monkeys, Automata, The Wicc).
"We used the time as best we could, and the album was recorded with Trevor Hutchinson (double-bassist with Lúnasa and The Waterboys), whom I also work with in Kern and the Long Woman’s Grave,” explains SJ. “The intention after the Dublin show is to tour with PORT and hopefully we can bring it back to Drogheda at some stage with the new material.”
The seven-piece band for PORT also includes keyboard player and arranger Graham Henderson (Moving Hearts, Atlantic Arc Orchestra, Sinéad O’Connor), pianist Josh Johnston (Roesy, Kila), vocalist and actor John Ruddy and fiddle player Barry Kieran (Kern).
The accompanying album, Old Ghosts In The Water, also features performances from accordion legend Dermot Byrne (Altan, Declan O’Rourke), Dundalk flute player Nuala Kennedy (The Alt) and uilleann piper Brendan McCreanor (Kern).
"The show is very much home grown, given it was produced by Droichead Arts Centre, and funded by the Arts Council and Create Louth, Louth County Council Arts Office and with sponsorship from Drogheda Port Company,” he explains. “I wouldn’t have attempted a project like this without their support, and I find I write well to topic, and Drogheda Port was very helpful, allowing me access to archive material for research.”
As a singer-songwriter, SJ has released three albums, most recently Blood and Bones in 2014. The album’s lead-off song, Two Steps From Heaven, was the main song in the Cecelia Ahern-written movie, Between Heaven and Here, while another of SJ’s songs, Till The Docklands Drown, was performed during Element Pictures’ A Date For Mad Mary (2016). SJ has performed in Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, the UK and the US, as one third of critically acclaimed folk trio Kern, and in collaboration with Trevor and Dundalk native Nuala Kennedy.
"It was important for me to keep going during lockdown, and I really enjoyed my live performances called First Tuesdays from home, which I’m still doing,” says SJ, who is married to Andrea, and has three daughters Eleanor, Alison and Joanie. “I was always gigging before COVID, and I would have missed the interaction with the audience, and it’s the same as being in the room, so we are really looking forward to July 1st and the subsequent tour.”
The new single has already received airplay on RTE and BBC NI, and tickets for the July 1st gig in the Sugar Club at 7.15pm are €15 available from https://www.droichead.com/show-detail/?id=873634975.
Pre-order the album: https://sjmcardle.bandcamp.com/album/old-ghosts-in-the-water.