Friday 24 May 2019

Billy's themes ring true in 'Dead Man's Shoes'

Billy Roche (centre) with Mike Odlum (left) and Pete McCamley
Billy Roche (centre) with Mike Odlum (left) and Pete McCamley

Anna Hayes

The return of a long-lost red guitar has proved to be the genesis of a new album of music by Billy Roche which will be launched this Friday night.

'Dead Man's Shoes' is the first album, resulting from the Red Guitar Tour which features Billy, Mike Odlum and Pete McCamley, performing all new, original tracks.

By Billy's own admission, he has touched upon almost every corner of the performing arts spectrum, from music to fiction to playwriting, and back around again. The only thing, he says, that he hasn't really tried his hand at is poetry, though many would contend that the language and imagery in his playwriting is as rich as any collection of poems.

This new album of songs stems from the return of a red guitar which Billy sold over 35 years ago in order to buy a new Yamaha guitar. Almost four decades later, as Billy was about to play a solo gig in the Red Kettle cafe, his first in many years, and he was in Trax music store to purchase strings.

While there, staff member Matthew O'Brien, of Corner Boy fame, approached him to say that he had Billy's old red guitar, having been gifted it by a woman who found it in her attic.

'So this little beaut of a guitar came back to me and I think it started to possess me, to the extent that I'd be going to bed at night and I'd see it out of the corner of my eye and have to go in to mess around on it.'

Billy says that the music spilled out of him; he didn't know where from, but since getting the instrument back nearly two years ago, he has written 30 plus songs on it.

'It had been years since I'd written anything worth talking about in terms of music so it gave me some kind of inspiration. It's like any story - they come along and ask how they should be presented and these just happened to be songs.'

Amongst the selection of songs are: a murder ballad, strange love stories, a song about refugees that may also be about how we are all on the run from something (a common theme in Billy's work), and laments about feeling lost and wishing to turn back the clock.

'I was at a standstill in terms of writing at the time so the guitar came back to me, I suppose, when I needed it most. Mind you, if I hadn't got it back, maybe I'd have another play written by now!' he joked.

From there, Billy approached Mike Odlum and local actor and musician Pete McCamley whose ability to play an array of instruments, alongside Billy's open-tuned guitar playing, adds to the unique sound of 'Dead Man's Shoes'.

'It's a mixture of folk and an Eastern sound, along with some psychedelic stylings. I'm not playing for people to dance anymore, I always had a leaning towards folk music and have been influenced by various artists like Nic Jones, The Yard Birds, Pentangle, Donovan, and many others.'

Billy says that the album is not a case of harking back to the old days, adding that no one has asked for that which is a good thing.

'We've too much to do without harking back to older times and music. I'm a bit like Robbie Burns now; if nothing else survives me, maybe a song or two might, and that'll lead back to everything else.'

'Dead Man's Shoes' will be launched at Wexford Arts Centre on Friday night at 8.30 p.m. Entry is €20 and includes a copy of the album.

Wexford People

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