Tag Archives: Grand Pocket Orchestra

The Year. Interlude: Grand Pocket Orchestra

As is customary, I try not to write about this especially in list context, but have asked Ruan, mogul of Popical Island and drummer in the awesome Squarehead and Tieranniesaur, to do a guest post on the topic instead. Here’s what he came up with.

I find it really hard to write at the best of times, but i was honoured to be asked to write this post and psyched to talk about an amazing album by one of my favourite bands. I failed, it’s proven too hard. At first i thought it’s because of my friendship with the band (one of them is sitting beside me right now, i have my monitor turned towards the wall). But that’d be odd, the music that’s excited me most this year has mostly been made by friends.

So i think that maybe i just listened to it too much, it reminds me of everything. ‘The Ice Cream’ is my 2010. Most of my memories, good and bad, are wrapped up in it. How can i put that into words? Really i just want to thank them so i drew this picture, the band as the Happy Tree Friends, I hope they like it.

And here’s a No Monster Club song.

No Monster Club – Wish Me Well


Say I have some stilletos… take ’em off and test your mettle.

Popical Island is without a doubt A Good Thing, in a quite important, structural way. There are a few reasons. Firstly, they are, to some degree, a label. The Popical Island #1 compilation (which is still around on Bandcamp) put a whole bunch of excellent Irish ‘bockety pop’ bands and bedroom projects in the same place and gave it to people in a form that made them take it seriously. It’s amazingly endearing, catchy and great as a collection. Stream it at least if you haven’t heard it. It opens with So Cow literally naming places on the road to Dublin on Exclusive Express Bus Service License Blues, makes Fake Blood by Squarehead available for a thousand potential future girlfriend mixtapes, and introduces a lot of cool music on the way. But it did more than that.

It created a scene. That sounds dramatic, but stuff always sounds dramatic, so let me explain what I mean. These bands existed beforehand, it’s not like they formed just so Popical Island could exist. But they were ‘Thumped bands’ or part of different vague alignments (in my mind at least) – Hefty Horse or whoever. What Popical Island did was to draw a Venn Diagram around indie pop in Dublin and the places that contribute to its scene. Where before, Dublin had indie pop bands, now it has a scene. And that has a home now, too.

I missed Popicalia 1, the first Popical Island club night in Shebeen Chic, but Popicalia 2’s line-up – Hipster Youth, Squarehead and the mighty Grand Pocket Orchestra – was too good to miss. So I shuffled down and got a pint of Harp, as you do. The place is the perfect size – a basement with enough space, but without being cavernous. There’s a distro table with CDs and (naturally) tapes from various affiliated bands, even if they’re not playing, like a hardcore distro or, I suppose, a twee pop one from a place with a slightly stronger tradition. Thumbs up to that, and to the money box concealed within a hardback dictionary. Twee as fuck yo.

Hipster Youth opened in two-piece live format, all crunchy, no-fi beats from a laptop and lapgaze keyboard playing. Despite sinning cardinally and breaking kayfabe by admitting (through a heavily distorted microphone) that they hadn’t practiced in a million years, they carried the lo-fi electronics thing well. Super Fun Hipster Suicide Party’s Twin Peaksy descending melody on the Casio keyboard every suburban house grows organically when the children hit five was an obvious highlight, as was Thursday night which, despite some rust, had enough complexity and belt to work. And then, announced as a Large Mound cover, Gardenhead by Neutral Milk Hotel. Teenage Elders is sold out as a physical release, but you can download it for free if you like, and the guitar lo-fi facet of Aidan Wall’s personality Porn On Vinyl is about to put out a cassette album on his label Long Lost too.

Squarehead came next, marking the third time in less than three weeks that I’ve been to a gig Squarehead played at. Would possibly be retreading to talk about them, but Fake Blood’s still the shit. So good.

But now to the crux of the matter. Grand Pocket Orchestra. Sometimes when you leave a gig, especially with an Irish band you’ve seen before, you get this weird idea that they’ve ‘arrived’ in some un-solid sense. It’s not like they haven’t been good forever – their EPs were brilliant and their album, which eventually came out (on the same day as Fight Like Apes’ second album according to Mary-Kate in UCD’s newspaper) is full of ‘riot pop’ excellence. They were great as a three piece the first time I saw them at HWCH 2007 (seeing as it’s blog birthday week), but now, with Maggie ‘The Social Hand Grenade’ Fagan on drums and Bobby ‘Brain Heat Wave by No Monster Club is finally about to be released this month‘ Aherne on miscellaneous, it seems like they’ve hit the peak of their powers.

How many crowd-surfers do you see at your average indie pop collective club night? Honestly? Well there were upwards of five at this, plus two band members. Mr. Pop-I Ruan’s tweet summarises it well:


Trouble deciding the best moment of tonight…the dweeb mosh-pit or barry lennon keeping them in line.

Barry Lennon’s from Richter Collective, by the way. Footnote there.

Anyway, GPO. It was incredible. Frantic as hell, with album songs sitting confidently as equals alongside the early EP songs. There can’t be highlights when it was so intense for the whole thing – Radio, Get Go, Odd Socks, Ballet Shoes, Basketballs, Worms, all genius. Plaintive requests for water from the band were met mostly with blankness from equally thirsty spectators. The floor got wet, people fell over. At the end of the set, evidently with no more songs to play, they got back up and played Get Go again at about 1.4 times the regular speed.

Anyone I talked to afterwards said it was the best Grand Pocket Orchestra gig they’d ever seen. It was definitely the best I’ve ever seen. Out the back afterwards, in the company of a gypsy euphonium player who can’t actually play any further than the third bar of Happy Birthday but tries anyway, people were comparing wounds. I was wringing sweat from my hair (sorry anyone I dog-splashed), others had grapefruitesque swellings on their shins, bruises in various places, desperate thirsts for water, ill-advised internal urges to take their shirts off.

Goes in the top tier of the memory bank, for sure.


Who needs an eye?

Two open proposals to Grand Pocket Orchestra:

1. Make a limited run of GPO action figures. Of all bands that have ever lived in Ireland, none would make a better set than you. And it’s not even like people would just want the singer or anything. Everyone in Grand Pocket Orchestra has a distinct, fruit-flavoured air. There could even be two Paddys, one with a guitar and one with a mic lead wrapped around himself, eyes bulging, face looking blue from lack of oxygen, doing the Wii skiing action that he does. I would buy them. If Of Montreal can sell their album as a paper lantern, GPO’s album could easily be action figures with secret USB ports where you can get 1/4 of the album.

2. How deadly would a Monkees-style mini-series about life in a fictionalised Grand Pocket Orchestra house be? They could all get into half an hour of mischief, before introducing guest stars or something, and they could open and close with a song. There could be puppets in the kitchen who only talk to Bronwyn or something. Imagine it though… *ding dong* “I wonder who’s there?” (Noel Edmonds style), then the door opens to canned applause and Fight Like Apes appear. The fun is doubled.

So the in-store itself in Tower was fun. Grand Pocket Orchestra are getting better and better as time goes by and any initial reservations I had about a second guitarist drowning the tweeness are completely gone by now. The balance that seemed like it was slightly tipped when Flesh first joined is restored, and the songs are getting complex and nearly chin-strokingly thought-worthy while staying in the same Kinder Egg world. It was disappointing that there weren’t more people there to get a copy of Make Happy War, which is the older, better brother to the young, fun first EP.


Dance of the Sugar Rush Fairy

Okay, back to do this after an absence due to dog ear haematoma removal. Let’s do this shit.

Grand Pocket Orchestra
are back (i.e. I haven’t seen them in a while), and they’ve evolved (like a Pokémon) into something essentially the same but intangibly better. Boat loads of songs I hadn’t heard before were spilled out into Andrew’s Lane Theatre on Saturday with maximum aplomb. It wasn’t just that I hadn’t seen them performed before… they were songs I hadn’t heard before, a style that was new and different. Less finger-paint, more Jackson Pollock.

New single Ballet Shoes is an example of it, to an extent. Hearing that song makes me do the band-comparison stream in my head. Vampire Weekend? Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!? Built To Spill? Am I just going mad? Possible. But other songs, only experienced for their sub-two minute durations and then part-forgotten after they zoomed by, had even more of an impression. One of the songs, with no guitar in the intro, reminded me of something Sunset Rubdown might do. Another one didn’t remind me of anyone from America, and I can’t remember any details apart from thinking it was DEADLY.

In my last Fight Like Apes post, I finished saying something silly like “Grand Pocket Orchestra, step it up” or whatever. But I have to admit, as stupid a remark as that was, I was not fully expecting them to make a leap. I liked them, and I expected them to be as good as they were for a while yet. The kind of band I’d go to see at a festival, or at Whelans maybe if I had the money to spare. I’d buy what they put out, and use it in my CD alarm clock. But, to borrow Ian’s expression… shit just got real, yo. Excitement is kicking in. Genuinely anticipating their next EP. Waiting on an album. Wanting to see the songs that they played so briefly again, and get to know them. I can’t wait to watch this unfold.

Apart from intelligent and engaging new songs, Grand Pocket Orchestra still have: an ADD-esque mentaller for a singer, a lady with an octopus-like capacity for playing multiple instruments simultaneously, a vaguely unsettling guitarist and an excellent drummer with a mohawk. The live show has never been less than excellent with this combination. But imagine: GPO action figures… how is that not a good idea?


When he turned around and cried…

Fight Like Apes last Friday in Whelans, then. Suppose I better talk about that. I was hoping to get a photo from the man who spent THE ENTIRE GIG bumping his camera into me or standing completely rigid when everyone else in the place was dancing. I expect that they’d be pretty good, seeing as he took pictures of the same people from the same angle for nearly an hour. I kept planning to ask him to stop, but of course I never plucked up the courage. In my head, it went like this.

Me: “Hey, how much did you pay in to this?”
Him: Either “13 euro” or “I was on the guestlist”
Me: Either “Me too, please stop bumping your camera into me” or “I paid 13 euro, please stop bumping your camera into me.”

Anyway, this is the kind of aside that used to annoy me about other blogs. But I had to say it, in case any prospective photographers are planning on getting all elbows around me in venues without photographer pits in future. Please somebody think of the punters.

Grand Pocket Orchestra were the support. They were pretty good on the whole. It was my first time seeing them with their new guitarist (and my second time seeing them ever) and they’re pretty different. I mean, their songs are the same, but a lot of their tweeness gets lost under Mr. Second Guitarist’s Marshall stack guitaring. They’re still great though. Their “slow” song, Little Messy, is not actually slow. The whole thing is just breakneck twee rock (the rock bit is newish), and if the sound was A LITTLE better they would have killed it.

Then Fight Like Apes. This was the longest I’ve seen them play for, and most of the length consisted of SP-303 atmospherics and movie dialogue, and general messing around. I love messing around though. Fight Like Apes are in their groove at the moment. I remember reading some terrible music magazine like Q once, talking about the Rolling Stones going from strength to strength. I don’t remember the context. But that’s what it seems like for Fight Like Apes.

Phantom is all over them, even Herald AM are calling them gig of the week, anyone who cares about what’s going on in Dublin knows that Fight Like Apes are what’s going on in Dublin. They don’t fuck around either. It doesn’t matter where they are or who’s there, they whack saucepans (which I assume Pockets now possibly known as Jamie also uses to cook his food, given the reasonable price of their gigs and CDs) and fall over and scream and pretend to be karate people and all kinds of things.

Do You Karate? has grown to rival Jake Summers as my favourite Fight Like Apes song, and though the new EP is marginally less good than the old EP, it’s good to have more recorded stuff. The Mclusky cover fits so incredibly well into the rest of their stuff. It’s good to be at a gig where a lot of other people are into it. I keep having premonitions that in twenty years saying”I saw Fight Like Apes in Dublin before their first album came out… three times and maybe more” will be like saying “I saw Joy Division in the Hacienda” or “I bought crack off Jay Z before he was a rapper”.

Hopefully. It was a very good gig. I do hope they can write more great songs, and put out a fantastic album. Which I will buy, even though I have the first EP, the second EP, the first and second EP and the 7″, because maybe if Jamie gets enough money to buy an SP404 he’ll put his SP303 on eBay and I can buy it and pretend to be Panda Bear.

This review has been pretty flitty. There’s another one from HWCH around as well though, so check out my more organised thoughts there. This one wasn’t quite as good. Sorry. I hate being a cunt. But it wasn’t. It was still very good though.


General Post Office.

Fun is the new black. Grand Pocket Orchestra sound like Danielson Famile, Go! Team, White Stripes, bluegrass, punk rock and a multi-pack of Skittles all in a blender, but most of all they sound like the sound of the blender. The band is idiosyncratic in hitherto unheard of ways (for an Irish band). If somebody drew them with crayons, you’d know immediately who it was, and if someone mentioned “tweeabilly” trying to be clever and stupid at the same time you could stand up and put on some Grand Pocket Orchestra to shut them up. Their songs are very short and most of the singing comes in the form of a super-sped-up Daniel Smith and even sometimes almost Jack White-like yelp-bark-squeals. It’s very interesting stuff, and great fun to watch. Keep eyes peeled for a postulated EP.