As a thousand festival goers gathered at the Body and Soul main stage at Electric Picnic to evade the depressive Friday evening showers, their panacea comes in the form of Dublin reggae outfit The Barley Mob and their collection of feel-good anthems. The Barley Mob’s journey to this year’s festival has been one of hard work, relentless gigging and word of mouth promotion. Some would look upon their meteoric rise and dismiss it as luck, others would call it providence. In truth, their success is the product of an incomparable work ethic and a genuine passion for playing music.
18 months since their first appearance on the Dublin scene, they found themselves at their second Electric Picnic, where they played no less than six sets over the weekend. State caught up with the seven-piece before their midnight performance on the Trenchtown stage to learn a little more about Ireland’s hardest working reggae band.
What does music mean to you?
Adam: I left a job to play music. I was a year off finishing an apprenticeship, but I wasn’t in the right place mentally so I just made a decision to leave. I said ‘I can spend the rest of my life working for other people and get nothing from it or I can follow a path where I don’t know what’s ahead of me but I know I’ll be happy every step of the way. And that decision really has come back to me tenfold. If I could live the rest of my days just playing music and not worry about money, I’d be happy.
Conor: Music is the most honest thing I’ll ever do with my life. I actually gave up playing music ten years ago. My dad was a musician, he played all his life and he used to give out shit to me because I didn’t play piano and I didn’t practice. It was only when he passed away that I saw the significance of it; I knew I had to do something with what I had been given. It’s like being a good footballer and not playing Sunday league.
Adam: You get little signs along the way that let you know you’re doing the right thing with your life. It happened to Conor recently.
Conor: On the day of my dad’s anniversary, we were coming back from a gig in Old Castle, this was only a few weeks ago, we went down a road that had a Garda blockade, so we took another road but there was a diversion there as well so we went down a third path to try to find our way home. Now there’s no reason whatsoever why we ended up there, but we went straight down that road and drove past where my dad was born and raised, on the day he died two years previous. I don’t normally believe in things like that, but I turned to the boys in the van that night and said no matter what we do from here on in and no matter where we go, there’s somebody looking after us.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
Adam: There have been a lot of challenges financially cos it costs money to go out and gig. When we started, we only had two cars between us so we had to load them to the hilt with a full backline and drive to the back-arse of Cork and not get paid or go to Raithlin Island and have to pay for ferries and you’re literally taking money from your own pocket that you don’t have. Now that three of us have kids, we had to figure out a way to make it financially viable because we need a van. When we started getting paid work, we just put the money to one side and said ok that will keep us on the road.
Andy: If you’re in a band for a wage though, you’re in it for the wrong reason. If you wanted to make money, you’d join a wedding band.
Adam: Apart from the money side of things, I think the biggest challenge is being away from our families; it’s difficult being away every single weekend. We pride ourselves on the amount of work we do; we’d gig 7 days a week if we could. But it’s very hard to justify that when you have kids at home.
Is it hard balancing your personal lives and the band?
Conor: Our families have a lot of patience with us so you find a way to keep it all together. There’s a three-metre couch in my house and my missus will look over at me from one end with my headphones on still practicing my keyboards. I take the headphones off for a second and say:
‘Yeah I’m grand’
‘Grand, see ya’
And put the headphones back on. That’s when I realise I’ve found the right woman!
Reggae has always been a vehicle for social commentary, how do you think reggae fits into the current climate in Ireland?
Adam: Reggae was born out of economic and social oppression; it was created by people who came from nothing and this is exactly what’s happening to people in this country today. Fair enough we’re not in the third world, we have a lot of luxuries here but when those luxuries were taken away, there were a lot of people left on their arses; people like ourselves were put out of work so it made sense to talk about things that were important right now. With reggae, you can deliver a sincere message. We want to be honest with ourselves and honest to the people who come to see us play. That’s very important to me, to keep that honesty about what we’re doing because the minute we lose that, we’ve lost sight of why we started playing in the first place.
What’s the best thing about being a musician for you?
Adam: Knowing that what I’m doing right now is what I’m meant to be doing with my life. There’s no greater feeling than that.
Conor: The best part is being with other musicians, creating something bigger than you with other people. You can sit at home and sing to yourself all night, but when you’re out there with other people it takes on a life of its own. There’s no point building the Eiffel Tower and sticking it in a box. Music in some ways is a very personal thing but at the same time it’s about being a part of a collective.