When we catch up with Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh, he’s just in the door from a trip to SuperValu. Having contributed to the November issue of the Irish music magazine with a tribute to dearly departed Tom Petty, he’s keen to get hold of a copy.
“They don’t stock it,” he tells ThisIsArdee.ie. “I think they have it in the shop across from the post office (O’Brien’s Spar) but I’m too lazy so I’ve come home and I’m just having a cup of tea.”
Always upfront, honest and refreshingly blunt, Walsh calls Ardee home this days. He is – we suspect – the only Ivor Novello nominated, critically acclaimed musician currently residing in the town.
Friday sees the release of his seventh studio album – titled Silverlake – under the Pugwash moniker. Already, fans will have heard tracks What Are You Like and A Perfect Summer and those based in London will be treated to a special show at London’s The Islington on Saturday night as Thomas launches the record.
The Drimnagh-born performer left Ardee behind briefly earlier in the year, swapping the tail end of an Irish winter for sunnier climes, linking up with and long time Beck and Air collaborator Jason Falkner in LA. A first record having disbanded the traditional Pugwash line-up, it wasn’t so much a journey into the unknown but a fresh take on solo writing, producing and performing – what Thomas loves the most.
“I really hadn’t planned on doing another Pugwash record because of the last one (Play This Intimately (As If Among Friends)) being so tough and the band finishing after it. We’re all great friends but we decided it was time to go and do our own thing again.”
After a gap of 10 years since the last time Walsh worked with Falkner, a speculative enquiry into his availability led to Thomas having to get his skates on in regards to the making of this new record. Central to his plans, was crowdfunding support from his fans.
“A lot of people were very happy to hear me and Jason were working together again after a long time,” he remarks. “It came together really quickly. I was in my element – the funding, the writing and the recording. It was all done in a manic five month period.
“I really didn’t think it would turn around so quick. I had to write the record, because I didn’t know if he’d be free. I like the pressure. I was able to work with it, I’m very happy with the songs.
“Music is a very weird thing, especially on my level of it. It’s almost a cult thing, especially abroad. There’s peaks and throughs. You have lots of activity and then you have nothing,” he says.
An Ivor Novello nominated artist, Walsh is perhaps most widely known for his work with The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon as one half of The Duckworth Lewis Method. Their two cricket inspired albums – 2010’s eponymous debut and 2013’s Sticky Wickets – both pierced the UK Top 40 charts.
Before arriving in Ardee, Walsh recalls how despite having spent ten years in the music business prior to the band’s formation – releasing four Pugwash records – its success brought with it wholly new experiences and notably, excesses.
“It nearly killed me!” he tells us. “I suddenly had money. I stuck it up my nose, down my throat. I behaved embarrassingly. I got a publishing deal with Sony, my first real deal after all those years and I was living in a bedsit in Crumlin. Which I was living in until I moved to Ardee. It was killing me.
“It coincided with my lost weekend period. I ended up in hospital for ten days. I’ve never touched a drink or a drug since – seven years. They haven’t passed my lips.”
“It was more drinking than drugging – but there was a lot of drugging,” he says. Describing his time collaborating with friend – and occasional Ardee visitor – Neil Hannon (“Neil comes to visit and we go into the café out on the Ashwalk”), Walsh calls it “the weirdest and most fun thing.”
He recalls in detail the night Michael Jackson died, in June 2009. The Duckworth Lewis Method debut crept into the top 40 chart that weekend, but would have been considerably higher were it not for the rush to remember the King of Pop with posthumous purchases.
“The thing about Duckworth Lewis Method, the genius of it, was it was an album about sport – about cricket,” Walsh tells us. “It got sporting press and entertainment press. We were doing Sky Sports, BBC, Channel 4 and the Setanta. We had promo – too much of it. We were doing ten things a day.
“An interview with a cricket magazine and then an interview with the NME. We literally went to England and sat in digital studios and did regional interviews all day for ten hours. It was amazing. It charted – 24 in the midweek listings – and then Michael Jackson died.
“We were in Lords having dinner with Tim Rice. I was sat beside Frank Skinner for dinner for the whole evening. Graeme Swann and the head of the Bank of England Mervyn King was there. I was there with Neil and it was the absolute weirdest.
“We all had our phones but they were off because at Lords, you don’t have your phone on for dinner. At about 10.30pm, people started getting up for mingling. People put their phones on and it was like an ice-cream van had been driven into the room. I had like 50-something messages. All these journalists, people started running out of the room. It was mad.”
By the weekend, 15 of Jackson’s albums had charted. “We dropped to 40 but we were the highest new entry apart from Jackson.” Four years on, their second effort – Sticky Wickets – came along and with the help of the likes of Stephen Fry, Neil Finn, Daniel Radcliffe, Henry Blofeld and Matt Berry – surpassed even that.
During his time making music with and as Pugwash, mainstream success has eluded Walsh. Not that he’s particular bothered. He has the back catalogue to prove his worth to the Irish, UK and international music scene. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is among his fans. Even when he promoted The Duckworth Lewis Method, he struggled to capture the attentions of music journalists sitting just a few feet away.
“For the first album for the first two weeks of promo, I wasn’t asked a question. I was fucking laughing about it. I had to use my wits to get into the British journalists because they just wanted to talk to Neil. It didn’t ever change mine and Neil’s relationship. It wasn’t Neil.”
After learning that Thomas possessed a voice that was brutally honest and a wit best described as razor sharp, he didn’t struggled to get quoted once the second album interviews were being conducted.
“It was wonderful,” he concludes about a period of his life that culminated in that 2010 Ivor Novello songwriting nomination. Both Walsh and Hannon are linking up again, with the Ardee local set to appear on the next The Divine Comedy album, due next year.
Over the course of a wide-ranging hour long chat, Walsh explained why after spending three years touring extensively across America, he had decided to part ways with bandmates Tosh Flood, ShaUN McGee and Joey Fitzgerald.
“We decided to tour America for two or three years. We went round six or seven times. I understand why people might think it (the disbanding of the line-up) was the end of something but I released music before that – songs that people know me for – with just me and friends.
“Long before I got the band together. It’s the way I always worked. I can see why the impact with the two albums with the band was so strong. They were probably my most successful time.” 2011’s The Olympus Sound was nominated for a Choice Music Prize, ultimately won by Jape.
Walsh has strong opinions on the Irish music scene, saying he doesn’t depend on it because he can’t. No one can, he says.
“Ireland’s a small country and we have great fans here but you couldn’t survive making original music here. No band does” he says.
“Kodaline, The Coronas – they seem to do lots of great work but they don’t make a lot of money. You only need to sell 1,000 albums in Ireland to be number one, 700 or 800 will get you in the top ten.
“I sell a lot more abroad. I go to London and England and my music is being played on BBC, Absolute, Virgin, I go there to do interviews and they’re throwing out these bands CDs. It’s a false economy in Ireland with music. The market isn’t there. I tend to look to the world. I make records you could buy as quickly in Indonesia as you could in Ardee.
“Ireland wants their own version of what’s big in the world. Coldplay are huge so you might get a ‘Coldplay’ band, like Kodaline. People say ‘Wow, they’re huge in Ireland!’ But Richie Kavanagh’s huge in Ireland. You can be anything you want in Ireland, but it’s small.
“It’s beautiful, it’s brilliant, it’s where I’m from, I love it. But it’s not the big picture for me. I couldn’t survive if I was just selling music in Ireland,” he continues.
Recalling swapping a Crumlin bedsit for a house in Ardee, Walsh says “I had to get out of that place. It was killing me. Bedsits were becoming illegal anyway and the truth is I should have been out 10 years earlier.”
He began looking online for new living arrangements, first in Dublin, then Wicklow, then Kildare. The search widened. “Typically, I started looking in Dublin. It was embarrassing the state of the places and the prices too. It was insulting. Ireland is a beautiful country. I’d look anywhere.”
It was almost by chance he ended up in Ardee. He came to view a property at the back of Ashwalk. Neil Hannon’s then-wife Orla was Orla Little, niece of local real estate agent John. Thomas viewed and then went off to think about the house. It didn’t take long.
“I love it,” he says. “I’d lived in a bedsit for 25 years – this was like a fucking mansion. I absolutely love Ardee, great people, lovely town. My Russian girlfriend and her mother came last year and fell in love with the place. The buzz of it, the friendliness of it – I love it.
“Some people can be very cynical. Ardee is a very beautiful place. It’s people who are in charge will end up making people negative about it – but it’s the people who keep these places going. People keep Dublin going, people keep Ireland going.
“The reason we survive is because we have these wonderful communities like Ardee and Crumlin and Drimnagh.
“I can hear birds in the morning. It’s completely silent at night. I look out the window and there’s a castle lit up across the road. It’s glorious. It’s beauty all round. It’s wonderful, I love it.
He affectionately calls his new home, “chemist-town”, which draws a chuckle from this writer. “I think there’s a chemist every three shops. In a way, it’s quite exciting. It’s better than 50 bookies!”
All he needs now is someone to stock all the music magazines, and he’s an even happier man.
Silverlake, the brand new album from Pugwash, is released on Lojinx on Friday November 24th.