Once upon a time, Richie Egan gave me a call, and asked me if I’d like to play bass in his band. Naturally, I jumped at the chance, having heard his solo stuff before. Already on board was drummer Graham Hopkins and Paula Pee-Pee Cullen of the Chalets on backing vocals. We met up, listened to the tracks Richie had written, did some rehearsals in Matty Bolger’s shed, a shanty of some repute, as it was where the Redneck Manifesto recorded their first record, and went to the Four Roads for a few scoops after. What are you calling yourself, I asked. “Jape”, he said. “I think I’ll change the name”.
Back in 2002 that iteration of Jape played together just the once, in the elevated surroundings of the Gravity Bar atop the Guinness Storehouse, part of the Wonky2 festival. Wonky2 was a celebration of everything that was currently great in the capital, from visual artists to music, with No Disco’s very own Leagues O’Toole at the fulcrum. Leagues was trying to mark the thing that was happening in the city at the time, the sudden burst of energy emanating from local bands who had gone beyond the three chord thing, or if they were playing the three chord thing, they were playing the wrong chords. Maybe you wouldn’t have picked out Jape as the one to be going strongest nearly 10 years later, and I think, that had he stayed with the acoustic, the subtlety, and me on bass, that may not have been the case.
As the sun set, and the sky turned all salmon belly pink over the miniature city stretched out beneath us, Richie strummed and plucked an acoustic guitar, and sang his lyrics, even then oblique, odd, humorous, ironic. But this was not the music Jape ended up making. By the time Richie’s records started to come out, some of those songs had disappeared, and been replaced by electronica, beats, synths, pulsating basses, kinkier lyrics. The kind of softly murmuring, solipsistic, curly haired, I’m-a-bastard, song imp ouvre was never going to be his thing. “Toolbadours, we call them”, he says. “You know the type”. Expanding his palette musically was crucial, but for Richie that was always going to be the case. “It was a natural progression,” he says. “It started more quiet and ramshackle, is suppose. I didn’t really know how to program synths and computers back then, so it was a process of learning how to do that technical stuff, and then trying to meld that with the song writing. The electronic stuff was more interesting over time.”
That was a time of unbridled optimism for the country and maybe us musicians were mirroring that. Looking around at one’s fellow artists many of us felt that anything was possible; if we, collectively, could create acts like The Redneck Manifesto, Connect4 Orchestra, The Last Post et al, then with these people around anything was possible. It may have been a symptom of the Celtic Tiger’s candied blinkers, that everything was rosy and that we had created something meaningful and lasting, but that’s not how it worked out. We’d merely created a beautiful setting and sexy soundtrack for something passionate and ephemeral. Along the way, many people lost the belief that anything was possible. Reality did that. As they say, life is what happens when you’re trying to make records. However, Richie never lost it, and he never lost it because all he ever wanted to do was his own thing. The ebb and flow of a scene, the highs and lows, the inevitable dissolution and period of change meant nothing to him. He, as Jape, and also as the Rednecks, was too busy doing his own thing.
There were some seriously good bands around then. But, as he says, “there are shedloads of great bands now.” Seems like there’s always a scene, some evolve from times of penury and strive toward the grail of the record deal, some, like ours, are from a time of plenty, and have studios in their houses. Albums nowadays are released without an executive interference, sometimes too quickly. I suppose we’ll judge this current crop in a decade, but if we were to judge the players at Wonky2 by what they’ve achieved since, then Jape would set the high watermark.
Was the scene a help in getting the music out there?
“There was a lot of bands around at the time, and it’s great that bands influence each other, but you have to be your own island, in a way. You respect what other people are doing but you have to do you own thing. I think if people get too close then it’s not good. It leads to human things coming into play. Jealousy, stuff like that. You’re better off keeping people at arms length. That way you don’t get close enough to people to make enemies, you don’t get close enough to get to personal.”
The Redneck Manifesto were always like that, they were that good that they didn’t subsist merely on the oxygen of a scene, they didn’t need to. They had a song called ‘Please Don’t Ask Us What We Think Of Your Band’, which kind of told what you needed to know about their place in the scheme of things.
“I always find it strange when people talk about scenes, when you talk about scenes, there’s always somebody left out. If you talk about a group of individuals then nobody is left out, and that’s kind of the way I feel about it. Everybody should do their own thing, and if it’s good, people will catch onto it.”
It seems as if that’s what has happened with Jape, Richie having show patience over the years as he honed his skills is now full time with Jape. “Jape has been a living for the last two or three years, believe it or not, through sheer luck. With the album coming out it’ll be good for at least another year.” He says, completely seriously.