Sometimes the stars align just right and magnificent things happen in the heavens … and sometimes a trio of brilliant Irish singer/songwriters plan a tour together around Ireland that promises to be out of this world.
Barry Jay Hughes, of Carrickmacross; Ian N. Brennan and Greg Clifford, both of Dublin, are sharing the triple bill on the Back to Basics Tour, Feb. 17 through at least March 11, with 16 dates already announced and more to be added.
The tour is a simple concept: A man + his guitar + his songs x 3 = a night of musical magic. Each man in his own right is a skilled tunesmith and bringing the three together in one show is a stroke of genius.
Barry Jay Hughes is one of the most down-to-earth, easy-going musicians with a velvety voice. His EPs “Tried and Treasured” and “This Way Up” are filled with fantastic tunes.
Ian N. Brennan is a fresh and bright songwriter, with an album coming out this year. “Can We Let It Go” is a stark, simple song with a poignant message.
Greg Clifford’s music is a pure and simple blending of alternative rock and modern pop. “You’re Out of Time” is a techno take on synth pop and is lots of fun. Greg also has a new album coming out this year.
I was able to get all three to tag-team on a texting chat to talk about the upcoming tour.
How long have you known each other? When/where did you meet?
Barry — Myself and Ian met at the 96/1 music festival in Cork when we shared the stage there in summer of 2016. He mentioned that Greg and himself had been chatting about the idea of a tour but they wanted a third act to complete it. So we joined forces.
Ian — I met Greg a few years back at a gig. He was playing guitar for a good friend of mine. Then I supported Greg in The Grand Social around this time last year and we kept in touch. Later on in the year I met Barry at a festival we played in August last year (2016). It’s a funny thing though, we have all been friends on Facebook for quite some time, but all never in the one room. You always meet the muso Facebook friends eventually!
Greg — Myself and Ian became acquainted back around 2014. Although I’d seen his previous band Future Phantoms play a few times and I’m pretty sure he was aware of my former group ELAVATOR. In fact, I’m almost certain we were on the same bill once or twice back in 2013. I previously worked as a graphic designer for an unsigned online music magazine so was familiar with the work of Barry Jay Hughes also, as he’s been featured in the mag. However, we didn’t meet in the flesh until a few months back when we each played a set at the Jailbreak Sessions in Kilmainham.
Who had the idea to tour together?
Barry — Ian maybe you can answer the second question more specifically.
Ian — I came up with idea during the summer as it’s just something I haven’t seen any artists do before at our level. I was deciding for weeks about who to ask and when I heard Barry play and after chatting to him, I knew I wanted him to be one of the other artists coming on board. I then had a headline show and asked Greg to support. Then I sprung the idea upon Greg and he was all over it. Ever since that we have all hit it off and to think it’s nearly upon us, is absolutely mental!
Greg — Ian conceived the idea and hit us with the proposal. I was very much taken by the idea. It all made sense to partake in. I needed a project to get involved in as I’d found myself meandering a bit. Motivation and focus slightly on the wane. A touch in the doldrums; going through the motions. But having a goal and central focus buoys me. It stirred the excitement in me. I was also flattered to be considered. Couple that with the fact this is a great networking opportunity. A chance to play to new crowds, in new venues. I also enjoy the challenge of working with others, collaborating and sorting out logistics, within the aesthetic of DIY and self-promotion.
Are you alternating placement as who plays first, second and last?
Barry — The lineup will change every night, Rebecca. No specific running order. And we all take equal time on stage with a short change over between acts.
Ian — We are definitely going to change it up every night. Although, I don’t feel there is a “headline” act as such with this tour. The idea of the tour is to take three brilliant writers and show the country what a man and a guitar can do. We will have guest players with us for some of the dates also. I think I can speak for us all by saying that this is something we are all really proud of creating and to be a part of. Who knows, maybe this could turn into an annual thing? Roll on February!
Greg — Each night we will rotate the order. There’s no headline act. This is three musicians presenting themselves on an equal platform. A solid rapport has formed between us and we’re all keen to get going.
Are you planning any duets or trios?
Barry — We have plans to join forces at some of the bigger gigs and finish the show by doing a cover or perhaps one of our own tracks with all three of us singing and playing. And as mentioned previously there will be guest musicians joining us at some of the gigs which will keep it interesting and fresh for us as well as the audiences.
Ian — I think we will, yes. It will make complete the show, but as Barry said it will be a cover we do. Now the arguments start over what cover we actually pick, haha.
Greg — I believe we may well be knocking out a tune together to round off the nights; Where applicable anyway. Encore kind of angle. Might be a nice touch.
How long have each of you been playing/performing?
Barry — I’ve been playing music since the age of 5 when I began to learn piano. I’ve been playing guitar and singing since I was 12.
Ian — I’ve been playing guitar since I’m 14. Started singing a year later and then songwriter shortly after.
Greg — I was surrounded by music from a very young age. So being in a band/performer has always been the dream! My dad, Dave Clifford, was a guitarist with Thee Amazing Colossal Men during the mid-80s, booked acts in venues around Dublin and was editor of the Vox Magazine. Music was constantly played in the house. I was bitten by the bug and loved it. The music of the Beatles, The Kinks, The Doors and The Rolling Stones proper did it for me and drove me mad as my Granny claimed. I studied classical guitar for a number of years, gigged with ELAVATOR (rock trio) for six to seven years, studied classical music completing a bachelor of music and masters in contemporary composition in NUI Maynooth along the way … Became a singer songwriter, by circumstance rather than choice, in 2012. and have remained a solo act since. Sometimes performing solo intimate shows and other times with five to eight backing musicians. I like to change it up and embrace different instrumentations and musical timbres. For this tour I may incorporate some piano accompaniment for a few of the gigs; still in negotiations as we speak. Aside from solo endeavours, I’ve scored for the RTE Concert Orchestra, written some string arrangements (including Hozier on his early demos), toured with guitar orchestras and played as session guitarist and pianist for various acts. Basically music is my life.
Besides this tour, what is new for each of you this year?
Barry — The tour is a massive challenge for all of us and something that I think none of us have done before — a three act tour — all self-financed, planned and promoted etc. This year I will get to perform more gigs abroad and have secured dates in Sweden which I did last year, but I have added dates in Poland this summer too. I’m also toying with the idea of recording another EP but in a very different way — I can’t say any more than that at this point.
Ian — I have what I hope to be a huge year ahead for myself. I’m currently recording my debut album which I hope to be out by the end of the summer (more like summer of 2023 at this stage), but I’m getting there. I’ve a few big shows this year also. I’m supporting Mary Coughlan in Vicar St. and I have four to five headline shows in the pipeline also.
Greg — In April I will be releasing my new nine track studio album entitled “Quodlibet.” I tracked it last year in London and am very keen to release. Two tracks have already been presented to the public and have been received well … I think it’s my strongest work to date and I’m generally very excited by the prospects that lay ahead in 2017!
Will any of the shows be taped or streamed live for us to see?
Ian — I don’t think we are streaming any of the shows as the Internet isn’t great down in the countryside. Although we are considering making a documentary of the tour and then putting it up on Facebook and YouTube for everyone to see. That would be great.
Barry — Ian has covered it on those three questions to be honest. The documentary is something that will finish off the promo very nicely and may even lead to more high-profile gigs for us. I hope we can do the occasional live stream during sound checks etc.
Greg — It’d be cool to do a live stream during sound check at least. The more content and interaction the better. I’ll have my camera with me, so I’ll capture general gigging angles and life on the road. I’ll put a series of tour update videos together during the three weeks of gigging and then a complete short documentary. Having the documentation to reflect back on will be ace and could be useful promo content?!
Have you considered songwriting together?
Ian — I think at this point in time we are all very busy to try write a song together or at least I am anyways. In the future it’s definitely something I would like to give a try.
Greg — In regards co-writing, it’s not something that greatly appeals to me. Maybe it’s a subconscious innate want for self-control that inhibits me? But I just find the lyrics/subject matter becomes diluted and the music fragmented. I do dig collaborative efforts in regards making a band sound and arrangements though. Earlier in the year I worked with Geoff Raffe (poet/painter) on a project called “Ever Tried … Ever Failed,” which consisted of live painting to a series of improvised feedback loops and synthesisers. So I wouldn’t say I’ve an aversion towards working with others … anyway, I’m rambling!
What are your dressing room demands — if you have a dressing room!
Ian — Haha, dressing room?! We will be getting changed in my car, never mind a dressing room!
Greg — Backstage demands … Four or five free gargles will do me nicely.
So you have any preshow rituals?
Ian — The only ritual I have is warming up or if you’d even count that I don’t know. But it’s vitally important in my opinion.
Barry — We were actually asked by one Booker what our rider was and I replied by saying some water and somewhere to chill out before the gig. Keeping it BASIC this time round.
Greg — Rituals?? I put a plectrum in my left sock and say a few Hail Mary’s.
You can find Barry on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/barry.j.hughes, on the web at http://barryjayhughes.com/, on Twitter at @BarryJMusic and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/tonbon100.
You can find Ian on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ian.n.brennan/, on Twitter at @ian_n_brennan and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVGSjAms00KctjfR4fzs53Q.
You can find Greg on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/gregcliffordmusic/, on the web at https://www.gregcliffordmusic.com/, on Twitter at @GregClifford87 and on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsfpyV9HhemKDBxgWz_ikxg.