I pulled my cap further down my brow and buried my face deeper in my scarf to shelter from the biting cold. It had been threatening to snow all day but so far only delivered misty rain that cascaded down in brilliant sheets through the winter night.
First came a pair of headlights, piercing the rain grey. Soon the entire shape of the lorry tore around the McKenzie roundabout I was standing on, shuttling at a speed which I feared would cause it to topple over on top of me. The driver maneuvered the roundabout with ease, circling and parking up on the roadside with it’s snout facing northward to home. The passenger door swung open and I lurched up the steps, slinging my guitar bag in ahead of me and quickly following suit. I slammed the door shut and tossed my cap onto the bag.
‘Dermy’s cub, aye?’ he greeted me.
‘That’s me, ye well?’ I answered.
‘Can’t complain. By fuck that’s a miserable day.’
The lorry lurched forward and with that we were moving again.
‘Sure it’s not even taking time to come down!’
‘They say you need to breath underwater to live in Galway.’
‘And can ye?’
‘Haven’t drowned yet.’
He laughed and we fell into silence. I stared through the window into the night, the darkness punctured metronomically by the street lamps on the road.
‘Do you smoke?’ he asked, extending a cigarette with his left hand, steering the wheel with his right forearm and lighting his smoke.
‘Nah, not really.’
We split Ireland through the flat midlands, talking sport, weather, work and the world. What’d we’d seen and what we’d wish to see, letting the conversation crest and lull naturally.
‘So what’s in Belfast?’ He asked after an hour or so. ‘Work?’
‘Kind of. Recording.’
‘And what’s in th’on?’ He nodded to my guitar bag between us. ‘Banjo or guitar or what?’
‘Nah, nothing. It’s full of bricks.’ I joked.
He popped another smoke between his mouth, lit it and took a tight drag.
‘You’re heading to the right place then.’
A few months previous, Walter, an old friend, landed in Galway with a spare ticket to a gig in The Roisin Dubh. I met him in town and got to talking, and within ten minutes we’d agreed that I should come up and record an album in his studio. It was the following January now, after the flag protests had begun. Businesses were closing and gigs were drying up. When I landed, the town centre had hollowed. The protests were sucking the marrow from the city’s bones.
The temporary studio was in an old business building in the centre. It was all but derelict, filled with abandoned offices of businesses past. It looked like the kind of place you’d find yourself in after the world had ended. I looked out of the window as a riot van tore around Custom House Square and faded into the blizzard. We had no running water, which we countered with drums of tap water brought in from Walter’s house. No heat was the real problem. I straddled myself across a tiny electric radiator while we talked about how we wanted the album to sound.
‘These songs are like busker’s songs. This should be a busker’s album,’ was Walter’s conclusion. He wasn’t wrong. I was living in the spiritual home of buskers and drinkers and it had led my songs gently by the hand down one of it’s many meandering streets.
We began recording tracks as the weather waged a war on the city from above and the protesters waged a war from within, while normal folk had to temper both. We got deep into the night and recorded until my fingers ached from playing in the cold. When I could play no more we packed up the gear and headed up High Street and into Victoria Square for a bite to eat. The usual city crowd-shuffle was decimated by the unrelenting weather. Shop front shutters rattled in the wind and in the distance a lone helicopter buzzed overhead.
As we turned into the square, the sound of music drifted towards us. Someone was wailing on a harmonica and a tambourine battered as a pair of guitars fought valiantly to make themselves heard. Voices sang in unison:
‘This train is bound for glory, this train,
This train is bound for glory, this train,
This train don’t carry no gamblers,
Liars, thieves or big shot ramblers,
This train is bound for glory, this train.’
Four young lads were busking. They sang with spirit and knowing smiles, acutely aware of what singing Woody Guthrie songs suggested after all the city had went through in the previous year. Nothing was going to keep them down. We hurried by, nodded in silent appreciation and tossed a few coins into their case.
‘There’s hope yet’. Walter said. Michael McCullagh (Meb Jon Sol)