Irish Unsigned - Bill Coleman

I think I was about 16 when I first picked up a guitar. I'd had lessons for everything from the recorder to the accordion but nothing had really appealed to me too much until I was at a party and someone was busking some songs - and getting a lot of attention from the ladies! From that moment on…

I didn't make an awful lot of progress until I was stuck doing the Leaving. "I'm going upstairs to study Ma" was usually followed by about half an hour of silence and three hours of badly strummed U2/Dave Gray/Bob Dylan/Beatles songs. No surprise then that I was able to bang out a few tunes for the post-leaving booze-up!

I'm from Cobh, in Cork, and headed to Dublin after my leaving for college and a change more than anything else. New sights, new sounds, new faces. Big smoke and all that I guess to an extent. Still here funnily enough :)

I'd started busking in college to help pay the rent and gradually got into the singer-songwriter thing and built up a little bit of confidence (still doing that). I'd been writing songs since I first picked up a guitar and I had a few together at this point but didn't feel ready to throw myself into the whole thing fully, and I had to work for a while to pay back college loans and all that.

So I got myself a job. Still doing that too. It pays the bills though. For buying music gear and getting the ball rolling this time round. I was in a band or two. No, actually only one, before I decided I really wanted to do things on my own terms, so when I'd got the loans paid off and a bit of money saved up I have to say it was nice to be able to go out and spend a years savings on a 16 track - much better than a holiday!

I demoed stuff from there - pretty basic, because I was doing it in my rented room, paranoid about having the other people living in the house hear the stuff and not having the slightest notion what, to begin with, or how, I wanted to get me on tape. Still trying to get the head around that one. I did a few support slots, Ruby Sessions and that, and then I kinda got stuck a bit. Recording was a handful for me - frustrating because I wasn't hearing on tape what I was hearing in my head - and for some reason I ended up doing a night course as well. Basically a year went by where I did almost nothing…

So then I got back on track a bit. I'd a good friend, Steve Fanagan, that I'd met in college and was into the idea of working with the songs I'd written to try and see where we could take them. So, a year and a half later, here we are. I think we might be nearly finished some at this point!

And that takes us up to the here and now. Doing support slots, looking like an EP release sometime this year, don't know exactly what, but something anyway, in the not too distant future. Hopefully! - "All Eyes On Bill Coleman"

Danielle McGrane
21 February 2006

There's no avoiding singer/songwriters in the current Irish music scene, and it's been that way for about half a decade.

I met with Bill Coleman, a Cork singer/songwriter based in Dublin, prior to what he describes as his 'mini-gadget' tour starting this Thursday 23rd February in Crawdaddy.

I began considering the popularity of the singer/songwriter in Ireland today; I didn't go so far as to wonder what was the point to them, but I did wonder why people found them so appealing. Back in the late '60s, early '70s, singer-songwriters such as Joan Baez, Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie used their music to make political statements about social issues not being addressed adequately by the mainstream, for example the Vietnam War. Their music reflected the political consciousness of a rebellious teen population.

Our own homegrown versions, such as Damien Rice and Declan O' Rourke, do not strike me as being overtly political in their songwriting (the exception on the scene being Damien Dempsey).

Armed with a preconceived view of a male singer/songwriter laden down with angst-ridden tales of middle-class suburbia, I awaited Bill.

He arrived and spent some time apologising for his ten minute tardiness (a prerequisite for any musician in the opinion of this writer, at least). He is amiable and has floppy black hair; all fitting into my stereotype of an Irish singer/songwriter. With some music anorak-type questions I began asking him about his first forays into 'the music business'

Danielle Mc Grane: "You started playing music when you were 16 to impress the ladies and avoid study?"

Bill Coleman: "Pretty much, yeah you've got the goods alright."

Danielle: "Why have you remained a musician?"

Bill: "Initially I had lessons for all sorts of instruments growing up, recorder, tin whistle piano."

Danielle: "The usual?"

Bill: "Yeah, the usual but none of it stuck. I did a load of sport really, Gaelic football, hurling, did a bit of soccer and rugby. We had this family reunion on Stephens day every year. My mothers side of the family would all get together. A couple of cousins were a dab hand at doing a bit of the busking and I was really interested by that. We had an old guitar that my brother had been learning to play and my mum went away and got it strung for some reason."

So Bill decided the guitar was for him. Through college he played gigs in the student union bar. He started work straight after college in a non-music related job and kept the music up on the side. He used the job to pay the bills and build up his collection of music equipment. Eight years later he has his album finished and he's starting out on his tour. It's a good story, my respect for him builds, he's really stuck it out, maintained the nine to five job. His sensible nature is appealing, and it's refreshing not to see some 18 year old brat who got lucky with a record deal and thinks the world owes him a favour. Bill has worked hard.

Danielle: "So you have this album ready for a while?"

Bill: "Well, we (Bill has been working with the producer Steve Fanagan) worked on a lot of songs for a long time. It's taken me ages to get an album together because I didn't have a clue what I wanted it to sound like. It's not like I didn't have a clue, but I wasn't all that terribly sure. So basically, myself and Steve sat down and recorded loads of songs. A lot of it kind of wasn't working. I didn't think it was realising its potential, or whatever, so we kind of kept going, we changed things, we changed the instrumentation that we were using. We decided at one point that, because we were doing everything through a drum machine, which worked on some but not on others, that we would bring in live drummers, so it was a big long sort of process seeing what worked and what didn't. Bringing new songs in etc. It was quite a long process of working it out."

The songs I've heard from the album sampler are great tunes. Bill has an unusual voice, verging on a falsetto. He sounds like a more tolerable James Blunt (Coleman has probably been singing like this while Blunt was still in fatigues). His guitar style is similar to that of Jose Gonzalez, finger-picking abounds.

There's a simple beauty to his music, the most endearing quality being his positivity. This is perhaps what sets him apart from the Damien Rice wannabes. When I ask him if there's a theme to the album he replies 'keep your chin up, no matter what happens keep going'. His inspiration comes from 'any kind of art' but predominantly from those around him and conversations with friends. It's taken him a while to do 'the music thing' he admits it wasn't always his number one priority. When I ask him why is he doing it now he replies "Well, it's like that great quote from Mark Twain, 'you'll regret the things you didn't do more when you're sixty, than the things you did'. It's like me knowing for myself, that I've to give it a proper lash, none of this half assedness basically or I'll end up being a miserable old man."

Our conversation turns to live performance. This is Bill's favourite part, performing live is why he's a musician. He seems to really want the audience to be enjoying themselves, as much as he appears to be. While discussing performance I ask him what he thinks of the different instruments people have been bringing to their live performances recently, like xylophones. He seems to revel in this new wave, using a glockenspiel himself on occasion, or synths and an effects pedal. He sees it as a means by which people can exploit change to improve their sound.

This in turn brings the conversation around to advancements in technology and the use of the internet as a launching pad for some artists (i.e. The Arctic Monkeys).

Of course he has his own web site, and is an advocate of MySpace - the cyber phenomenon which allows people to essentially run their own web page where they can post blogs and, like Bill, promote their music.

So with all this talk of technology and the internet, the message or politics behind Bill's music could be to roll with the changes.

Bill shows me, he may not be overtly political, but that there is a message in his art. In a world where the media tells us daily that 'terrorists' are active, people in Ireland are stuck in a rat race and politicians are pouring our money down the drain on failed projects, maybe we don't need our musicians to point our political problems out to us.

However, Bill Coleman's message is clear: stay positive and embrace change, and that's a song we can all sing.

Bill plays Crawdaddy, Dublin Feb. 23rd, Cubiculo, Cork Feb. 25th, The Stables, Mullingar March 3rd. You can buy Bill's EP at