John D'Arcy, Poetry Picnics and Punks
The Lisburn-based musician with multiple personas says that eventually 'there will be only one'
It is probably not the first time the comparison has been made, but there's a bit of the 'Buddy Hollies' about Lisburn singer-songwriter-poet John D'Arcy. The accent doesn't quite map, but the curly dark hair and black framed glasses fit the image of idiosyncratic crooner.
So it's a little disconcerting when D'Arcy recalls his earlier life as a punk rocker, albeit a 14 year old punk that 'didn't want to get piercings or dye my hair green'. After talking to D'Arcy for a while, however, that sort of cognitive dissonance seems to be part and parcel of his multi-faceted artistic persona.
D'Arcy is a punk who writes poetry, an indie-pop singer who creates chords from tuned traffic-noise and a children's songwriter who is still influenced by The Ramones. Even his online presence is fractured, with separate websites for D'Arcy the academic and D'Arcy the musician.
D'Arcy charts his artistic evolution, from The Ramones to 'the hard stuff' after his punk band broke up, namely Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and 'even Elvis Costello'. He started writing his own songs and formed another band, John D'Arcy and A Great Bunch of Lads, who 'play my songs, but louder and faster'.
In addition to that D'Arcy also writes and performs poetry at Queen's University, as well as studying for a PhD in the use of poetry in sound art. He explains that he is currently working on a 'locative sonic poetry app' based around the Lagan.
'A lot of people, me included, can be quite intimidated by the idea of poetry,' D'Arcy adds. 'They think it's only for people who are into that, for a literary audience, and forget it's just words.'
That scattershot creativity could be seen as a 'career limiting' move, especially in an industry where people boast of their clarity of purpose. D'Arcy, although he admits he wouldn't want to burden any industry professional with trying to brand him right now, says he prefers to think of it as 'career liberating'.
'Right now I am still working out what I want to do stylistically,' he says. 'And in the future I am going to be testing the boundaries even further, trying to see how much I can get away before anyone realises it is just one guy doing this.'
D'Arcy's latest venture is A Walk Around Lisburn, an album of children's songs supported by the Lisburn Arts Advisory Committee. In it D'Arcy adopts the persona of a powder-blue suited children's host, the eponymous John of John and Harmony Hill, who sings about superfoods, juicy juice and bath-time. Surely his Ramones-loving inner 14 year old is rolling his eyes in horror?
'I don't know,' D'Arcy laughs. 'I think he'd be surprised at how much The Ramones influenced the CD, particularly 'Sitting in the Bath'.'
Although D'Arcy enjoyed creating the album, he notes that he has no immediate plans for a follow-up. His stint as a children's performer was 'not my main thing, just a little side thing'. D'Arcy is just waiting for his 'music to align with the arty stuff' to create a weird, but cohesive and accessible sound.
'In 10 years I want to maybe be working on my third album,' he says. 'I want to still be releasing music from my living room in Lisburn.'
Nobody, D'Arcy argues, really needs to move away – out of Northern Ireland to London or elsewhere – to make it in the music industry any more. In fact, he points out, few of the musicians he knew who did go to London ever had enough money to see it through. Instead they were working so many jobs just to make ends meet that they couldn't make any music.
'Everyone realised that was a stupid idea, when they could just stay home and tour,' D'Arcy points out. 'And Belfast is this new music hub. Like people say, it's a music city. Musicians here can get a lot of support from Oh Yeah and Third Bar Development to get an agent or go to South by Southwest to expose themselves… not like that,' he giggles. 'You know what I mean.'
D'Arcy is less eager to acknowledge the internet's role in this musical paradigm shift. It is a useful tool for bands, but the removal of industry gate-keepers means there is so much music available that it gives him 'musical snow blindness'.
He finds himself going back to the past, where the music is already there, rather than trying to keep up with 'what's current, what's been released and who the new musicians are.' 'It's just really confusing,' says the PhD-punk who writes children's songs.