The Beat Poets Took a Long and Winding Road
Francis Jones talks to John Dinsmore about a lot of work and a little luck
It is on a dreary Thursday morning in a Botanic Avenue coffeeshop that I meet with The Beat Poets vocalist John Dinsmore. As a rule local bands are notoriously cagey when it comes to describing their ambitions. Understandable really, say the wrong thing and you will be dismissed as an ungracious, flatulent fathead. It’s all very diplomatic if rather tiring for the music journalist.
Let’s be honest, we want the unexpurgated dirt, who hates who, do you really think your band can be the biggest to come out of NI since Snow Patrol, that kinda thing. Thank the lord then for the sheer charisma of John Dinsmore and his unwavering belief in his band. Acutely focused and bereft of affectation or pretensions, Dinsmore is a wholly amiable companion with whom to shoot the breeze for an hour or two.
What’s more it looks like his passion for music and the sheer hard graft that he and his bandmates have invested in The Beat Poets could soon be paying handsome dividends. With whispers of high-profile management deals and label interest it is all a far cry from those slogging it for no return days in, previous incarnation, Elation.
'We were in a band called Elation and for four years we’d been learning our trade, gigging up and down the country, playing every toilet we could find. We went to this place called Tumbleweed Studios, Dundalk, in December 2003 and we got totally robbed blind by a producer down there and lost £4,000. Basically we ended up with this recording we couldn’t use. So we had all these ideas and they never got out. Anyway we carried on as Elation and recorded this EP called Stories Told.'
Although Elation were beginning to build their reputation on the local scene, Dinsmore was altogether unconvinced by the direction the group was pursuing.
'Every song we were doing was boring me and what’s more it was boring the crowd. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the Elation stuff, but thought I would carry on and see. Then I was in a bar one night and I got me teeth kicked in, I couldn’t sing and that gave me a lot of thinking time. After about 16 operations to get everything fixed I was ready to come back. We did a couple of gigs then. But, I knew that I wanted to start again. I scrapped every single song that I wrote with Elation, everything to do with it.'
It would be in the life and legend of one of rock music’s Dionysian greats that Dinsmore a, well-informed and enthusiastic, purveyor of musical lore would turn for inspiration.
'It was Christmas 2004. I was reading a lot of biographies, Jim Morrison and The Doors. Then I came across the Beat poets. In every piece of musical literature to do with that period you’ll come across a reference to the Beats. So I started sussing these guys out, who they were and what they wrote about. I found that they were very modernistic poets and their stuff, it appeals to young people. I wanted that name (The Beat Poets) and totally new tracks. So it was the three boys from Elation and a new bass player who we’ve since replaced with Keith Doran. Fucking genius.'
New name, new line-up and what about that new sound?
'When we were in Elation it was like one day you’d wake up and decide you wanted to sound like The Frames, so then we had to go out and find a fiddle player. Basically we were just doing crap versions of whatever. Now though it’s different. I’m into a lot of the new bands, Killers, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys. I mean my favourite band is The Doors; I grew up with that old-school rock kinda thing, Led Zeppelin and the like.
'Lyrically though I would always go back to Morrison, but you’re always learning with your lyrics, the important thing is to give them meaning. I mean 'Staring Stars Down', it’s about being down on your luck and just going out on the rip. That sense of liberation, we weren’t getting a reaction with what we did before so we thought we’d go for it.'
Perhaps the fact that Elation suffered every slight and misfortune in the book was a blessing in disguise. Its former members being better prepared to grapple with the music industry second time around.
'I wouldn’t be as aware of the industry as I am now. I think I’ve met every bastarding shark in it and there are some real bastards out there. Basically for four years with Elation we never got paid. We did a gig in Doran’s once, sold it out. I went looking for the promoter and was told he was in the toilets. I went in looking for our money, never found him and never got paid.'
Following their uncompromising, scorched earth, approach to reinvigorating their music, The Beat Poets have been receiving plentiful positive feedback for their new efforts.
'About fucking time. People don’t realise we’ve worked really hard to get here. The first CD we sent out was to Tom Dunne. He phoned us, “These songs are great. I’m gonna make you Rising Artists of the Week.” And we had to say “But, Tom we haven’t done a gig.”
So we told him we were going over to play the Cavern Club and he hyped us up with two weeks airplay, spoke to Niall Stokes (Hot Press) people like that. We ended up playing about a million gigs in Dublin, everywhere from Whelan’s to The Sugar Club. Then did, obviously, places like the Empire. Then we decided right let’s take this to London. That was great and we got to meet the likes of Sonic Youth and The Chemical Brothers.'
Additional interest would come from the most unexpected of quarters.
'Robert Reynolds, who’s The Killers manager has taken a big interest in us. We’re in negotiations with about 8 labels in the States, with some of them looking to finance us to fly over to South-by-Southwest to do showcases. Then we get this phonecall from LA to say that Kiefer Sutherland had got a copy of our record and wanted to invite us down to meet him in Dublin.
'Apparently he owns this label called Ironworks. We’re thinking it’s a total wind-up and the other lads don’t go, so I land into Whelan’s on my own. I asked the barman “Is Kiefer in?” and he goes “aye, he’s round the corner.” Anyway got brought up to meet him, and we spent all night drinking. He said that we have to get over there (LA) and that he’ll look into financing it through his label. At the minute we’re looking at different things, waiting on contracts coming through. But, it’s weird meeting people like that.
Despite having achieved a considerable amount in a relatively short space of time, Dinsmore is confident that even greater success and recognition is not far away.
'Obviously playing Marley Park was fantastic. Before Christmas we did a gig in the Hope & Anchor in Islington and that was absolutely bunged. We were headlining, so that was a big deal for us. Going to London and proving you can do it in one of their venues. I mean it only holds about 150, but the atmosphere was brilliant. I think this year could be the big one for us.
'We’ve done our groundwork, built up a really good CV and we hope to be signing contracts over the next few weeks. By the end of February we should have a number of people working for us. The management team that’s coming in is made up of really big players. We want to get at least a single out this year because if we do get signed then it’s potentially next year before we could do the album.'
Ok, so we may have to wait before we hear The Beat Poets in recorded form. However, in the meantime make sure and catch them live. They are an enthralling live prospect with their animated vocalist, not surprisingly, the catalyst for their most outré on-stage antics.
'I can go a wee bit overboard at times. We did a gig in Dublin and I decided to climb out the window to the ledge. It was one of those venues where the windows had those old wooden frames. Well the top part of the window dropped and I was hanging clean out by my fucking feet. So I had the boys all running over to drag me in, but I kept singing anyway.
'Generally I tend to stand on things, climb on things. See I’m a big fan of The Who as well, those bands that put on a show. We’re definitely not a shoe-gazing band, the market at the minute is a wee bit oversaturated with those bands. When we go over to London you see these bands and they look like they belong on the front page of Cosmopolitan. Atrociously bad mind you, but they look fantastic.'
The Beat Poets are not the sort of people who put limits on what they could achieve. It is not so much naked ambition as innate self-belief. And hearing Dinsmore talk passionately about what he wants makes for a refreshing change from the vast majority of wary, circumspect musicians.
'We’d look to be the biggest band in the planet. And I think anyone who says otherwise is talking absolute crap. Maybe this time last year we would’ve settled for a good live review. Inevitably if you keep going and keep meeting your milestones you’ll wanna be the biggest and the best. That’s what will keep you at the cutting edge and you’ve got to think that way from the start.'
So just how important is music to the band?
'It’s pure life like. I don’t want to spend the next 100 years working at a desk. I did that for a year and a half and I just had to leave before I ended up one of those people who turn into the furniture they sit on. If this works out then I will be over the fucking moon and if not, well at least I can say I gave it my best shot.'