Abandoning Their Grannies
Belfast musical family The Delawares on tunes, the big-time and parallel dimensions
The Delawares provide something that is imperturbable to vogue and fashion, namely, proficient musicianship and god-damned tunes.
Generous in spirit, their brand of country-tinged rock is joyous, lusty, and wonderfully contrary, offering the kind of boisterous good time that any right-thinking music fan daren’t refuse.
In fact, until recently, there was but one complaint that could be brought against the band, why had they not yet surrendered their gifts unto record? With the release of their long-awaited debut EP The Space Between Us, we can’t even hold that against them. Band mainstay Dominic O’Neill (vox, guitar, piano) and most recent recruit Katie Richardson (vox) tell us the story so far.
Recently returned from Glasgowbury, their lungs still full of that bracing Sperrins air, the delightfully affable Delawares’ duo are high on enthusiasm, quick to add their voices to the veritable torrent proclaiming the festival ‘the best in Ireland’.
‘I’d never been before,’ says Richardson, her cherub face aglow with the memory. ‘I was so overwhelmed by it. So many people there, having fun, watching good bands.’
‘I love Glasgowbury,’ adds the rakishly thin O’Neill. ‘It’s the highlight of my year. We’ve got quite a good following down that direction and they all came out in force. And we had the brass section with us. I felt like I was playing Woodstock.’
Anyone who’s witnessed The Delawares live can attest to the wild abandon they bring to their performance, a Dionysian call that urges us to merriment.
‘It’s carefully engineered, good music,’ states O’Neill matter-of-factly. ‘As a group we’re a good bullshit-o-meter, we don’t play songs that are shit. I don’t care if that sounds arrogant. We‘ve got talented musicians, good songwriters and we‘ve worked and evolved to get to where we are. On stage we get so into it, enjoy it so much, that we just lose all our inhibitions. The day after gigs I get this real sense of emptiness, such a comedown. I can totally understand why some musicians take illicit substances, just to try and replace that feeling.’
Part of the reason why The Delawares connect so forcefully with their audience is that they remind us of an earlier, less contrived time in music, or as Richardson so succinctly puts it, when ‘a good tune was a good tune, a good band a good band’. When they speak of the artists that have inspired them it’s clear where, musically, the Delawares come from.
‘Gram Parsons is out there on his own’ opines O’Neill, ‘and The Beatles’ White Album, it’s got everything good you could want from guitar music. A lot of the stuff now is so derivative of what’s already happened.’ He hesitates, tapered fingers fumbling with sugar sachets, before adding, ‘which does, of course, beg the question - how are the Delawares not derivative? I don‘t know the answer.’
Perhaps what distinguishes The Delawares is that they make no pretence that what they’re doing is nu, new or neu and, after all, isn’t true innovation in guitar music the emperor’s nu clothes? They’ve no need to rebrand their music and sell it as some extraordinary, never-before-encountered phenomenon. With a fistful of conviction, armoury of stinging tunes and reservoir of talent they’ve got all the persuasive power they need.
These attributes are harnessed on The Space Between Us, a work of ragged opulence, upbeat and raucous with a nagging, melancholic edge. At last the Delawares have brought their guns out and gone-a-blazing onto record. But, why not sooner? O’Neill explains.
‘Early on we entered into a development deal. That lasted for 18 months. All the time there was the promise of a wider release and we didn’t think there was any point releasing anything locally. That ended and then Elaine (vocalist preceding Richardson) left. It was like year zero. We got Katie in. That brings us up to last October and since then we’ve been working towards this release.’
Unlike other bands, who struggle to rustle up one good songwriter, the Delawares have an abundance of writing talent at their disposal. Good thing though this is, I question whether it ever results in ego clashes? Not so, says Richardson.
‘We genuinely care about the music and the band, that’s the priority. So, when it came to picking songs for the EP the choices were made purely on how they would fit together as a whole and nothing else.’
Whilst they may not have set out to safeguard individual sensitivities it’s interesting to note that three different songwriters, O’Neill, Owen Lamont and Eamonn Lynch, are represented on the record. This wealth of talent fosters a pleasing diversity not only in the music, but in the lyrical content of the songs.
‘We’re all so different,’ notes O’Neill. ‘Eamonn writes songs of a particular type, knowing that I would write another style of material. I’ll go a bit left-field, I like to write about science-fiction, whilst the other guys write about relationships.’
O’Neill’s melding of conventional musical genres with unconventional subject matter is unusual if not unprecedented.
‘I’m developing something. I don’t really know what that is yet. I like the idea of writing about scientific things in a rock ‘n’ roll context. I’ve got this idea of a country-rock odyssey, of parallel dimensions and I also want us to do a Belfast song-cycle, but, for now, these are just ideas, every time I try to start writing I get distracted and start drawing pictures!’
No matter what promise parallel dimensions might hold for The Delawares, they can be happy with what they’ve achieved in the here and now.
‘This year’s gigs and the EP, these do feel like milestones,’ acknowledges O’Neill. ‘We’re hoping that we can get signed in the next few years. That would enable us to quit our jobs and concentrate on the music full-time. We‘ve written so many songs over the past few years, we want to get that out there, record and release two albums a year like they did in the 1960s. None of this hanging around the studio for four years.’
Music offers many rewards. There are the practical enticements, money and adulation to salve the ego. Then there's that other thing, the idealistic view, music solely as a means of connecting, of creating. Speaking to The Delawares it’s clear which camp they belong to.
‘It’s hard when you get involved with the industry, the further you go, to keep your joy in making music,’ argues Richardson. ‘It’s a challenge, but you’ve got to try and do that, to make the practical and the ideal balance out.’
However, occasionally, even romanticism has to allow for reality and as much as they love NI, The Delawares recognize that they will have to break beyond the loving embrace of the local if they are to achieve substantial success.
‘Making it in NI isn’t enough. You need to go further afield,’ says O’Neill. 'OK, the scene here has really improved over the last few years, there are more club nights, more people going to the gigs, but there isn’t the whole infrastructure in place, at the moment, for it to be self-sustaining. For example, there aren’t the labels.'
Having more than fulfilled their promise to NI it would be churlish to try and keep The Delawares to ourselves.
‘Everyone in The Delawares knows that if they’re gonna make it, then this is the band they’re gonna make it with,’ states O’Neill. ‘We give everything for this band, no one ever cries off a show or a rehearsal, not even if they’re supposed to be going to Blackpool with their granny.’
Granny abandoning, now that’s true commitment.