Sugar Club. Dublin. Friday 31st January 2015 and I was standing at the back of the auditorium of this venue amongst a rather jovial crowd singing along to Echoes, the hit track that made Dublin stand up and take note of the Darling sound back in late 2013. A range of different age groups filled the venue and to my right a few heads from Google who had listened to our podcast 05.01.15.
The opening track on that podcast was Darling’s current single It’s Just One Look off their same titled new and second EP that had gone straight to number 1 in Ireland. The EP shot to No. 1 in the iTunes download charts on the same day of its release and the single had grabbed hold of the attention of this small contingent of Google’s professionals aged somewhere in their mid to late twenties. As a result they had purchased tickets to the gig eager to catch this band live.
To my left a group of young lads in their early twenties I reckoned were singing the lyrics note for note for most of the night and it made me smile. Here in this room as I scanned it was a band appealing to a cross section of people from anywhere between the ages of early twenties to late forties I had calculated.
The track that turned my head to Darling was Sail Away off their first EP with that opening guitar haunting me still every time I hear it. Their sound for me is and I have said this before very solid. It appeals to the ‘80s pop-rock archive of sounds in my mind of that era and I read a brilliant review of their gig and sound a few days later. It was written by Ciara Sheahan for Concerts.ie and here is the link to it if you fancy a nose
In it Ciara writes, ”Just One Look is the single, a bubble gum pop tart with Mock Turtles repetitive bass loops that wiggle in your brain. Not bad for a second EP. Mind you the first one was a sparkler as well. The anthemic “Sail Away” is familiar to most in the room, the urban styled council estate video enhancing the integrity of the story. Honestly, it’s beyond perfect for two guys in the infancy of their music careers. Huge commercial potential explodes when “Life Is What You Make Of It” is played – pop infused, fast paced loud and layered track that’s very Vaccines in the middle. Cool and clever drums increase the speed to equal the rushing visuals. Destined for the XFM playlist.
There’s homage to the eighties with “Echoes”, splendid with Ultravox and Depeche demons in exaggerated, enduring riffs. The full fat live version is intense and dramatic. A lighter nod to pop presarios Erasure starts with the opening phrases of “2001″. Impressive Jimmy Somerville style spiralling vocals from Gary, polished and produced by Stephen Lipson (he of Pet Shop Boys fame) sends the popsters home happy.”
And again I smiled. This was an excellent write up on Darling and it concreted what I had come to surmise, that Darling were giving youngsters a new sound to listen to while giving us older listeners something to relate to and while doing so were grabbing all of our attentions on every track. Their music is beyond good, it’s genius. Clever writing, clever playing. Darling is a very clever band.
Getting back to the gig and I spotted sitting smack bang in the middle of the venue Ollie Grimes, an eccentric, over energetic and lovable character, an all-time fun guy and a really talented and creative owner of a very popular bar Ollies in a very popular north county area of Dublin, Skerries. Ollies bar is quirky, it’s fresh and it’s constantly trying out something new. The staff that work there love their tunes and fronted by Ollie have a very entertaining YouTube channel where they sometimes recreate iconic videos mostly shot inside the bar itself. The videos are so much fun and have collectively attracted in the region of 100,000+ views and I thought to myself, there’s a man who goes out of his way to do something with his love of music. I’d like to talk to him about Darling to find out what he has to say about them. And so I did talk to him, a week later.
Lunchtime Saturday 07th February and I called to the bar and asked if I could leave a message for Ollie to get in touch if he was interested at all in speaking with me about Darling. I wanted to talk to another music fan to get his perspective on their sound. The guy behind the bar smiled at my request and said something along the lines of, “hold on there” and off he went. Moments later I was told Ollie would chat to me there and then. This is how much music is loved in this country that no matter how busy the day is a music lover will invariably down tools to chat tunes with you, no bother at all.
I found myself sitting cosy with a cup of coffee in another section off Ollies shortly afterwards, a real retro, off duty rock ‘n roller style den called the Snug.
This quiet and intimate alcove just off the bustling and lively Ollies Bar has legitimate memorabilia steeped in music history pinned to its walls. There is a miniature bronze sculpture of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott encased and hanging left of the bar, which was presented to Ollie by Philomena Lynott herself. Skid Row’s Brush Shiels had visited Ollies for a pint and had spotted never before seen photos of Phil that had been taken by Liam Quigley, a friend of Ollie’s and a well-known professional photographer to the rock stars in the calibre of Bob Dylan and the Stones. Brush told Philomena about these rare photos of Phil adorning the corridor walls of the Snug and she duly made a visit to see them for herself. There is a white feather attached to the statuette of Phil which in turn has a really nice story attached to it and if you are ever in the Skerries area, drop into Ollie for a pint and he’ll be happy to tell you that story. I won’t spoil it for you in this article but it’s a little gem of a tale.
Ollie is not only the owner of some really nice originals of Phil Lynott but Liam also gave him the first ever official studio photo shot he took of The Hype who later became known as U2. Ollie is also a messenger boy for some of his customers who have quite the rock star friends in their little black books. His place of business was sent a Christmas card one year by Roger Daltrey of The Who. Roger wanted Ollie to pass the card onto a mate of his living in Skerries. That bit of history is also framed in the Snug.
The coffee was going down well now as was the chat I was having with Ollie. He agreed with me that Darling was appealing to the youngsters who were getting a new sound to hear while the older crowd could relate to what we’d come to love in the ‘80s. I threw down on the table similarities to Echo and the Bunnymen and Ollie threw down Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears and even U2. Ollie was bowled over by the achievement of Gary Harding (vocals, keys and guitar) and James McGuire (guitar). He knew them personally from coming into the bar and he said of them that they were just really down to earth humble lads who just happen to become rock stars at the weekend. Ollie said that if they made it big time which he truly felt they had it within their reach to do, that he reckoned they would just remain the same lads behind it all. Approachable, focused and driven but ultimately enjoying what they do.
I got from Ollie that the key to Darling’s success with their sound was not only down to sheer talent but down to their tunnel vision of what to produce, when to produce it and the means it would take to carve out where they wanted to go. Precision, dedication and discipline applied to their outlook and quality of play at all times and it’s because of this that they have produced to date two quality EPs (produced by Stephen Lipson) and not a weak track amongst their set lists that I’ve heard them play at Whelans last year and now the Sugar Club.
Ollie told me that James was a triplet and came from a music oriented family with his Dad, Pascal having played blues guitar. An artistic lad James had made a promise to Ollie he’d make a lampshade no doubt for the Snug! I love it and how fantastically old school rock ‘n roll! That Gary had studied sound engineering and was most probably very hands on in the studio with production. Both guys had been members of a previous band the Kinetiks and that Gary and James had stayed together after the band split. Afterwards I looked this up to find out the score. The Kinetiks performed at Oxegen in 2008 where they shared the stage with the Dirty Epics and the Saw Doctors no doubt. A ha! Now it all made sense. How cool and how very much at ease Gary and James were while on stage for supposedly newcomers and I had ear marked this on the podcast about their Whelans gig. Their management under Alan Hennessy whom I’d dealt with for that podcast was being highly commended now at this point in the conversation by Ollie.
Ollie reckoned they were on target for the bigger venues and mentioned one of my most favourite in Dublin city, the Olympia. I have seen so many artists play there over the years and I will be there again end of this month to catch the Kooks gig. When he mentioned the Olympia I could see the lads play that venue alright. They belonged at the Sugar Club the other night. They filled the room, its aisles and their sound ricocheted from walls to ceiling. Yes I could see them move it up a notch and do the same at the Olympia maybe after an album release and boy what a gig that would be.
Leaving the Snug I asked Ollie what track of Darling’s was the clincher for him and he said it was Tappy and I smiled. That was the track that lyrically gave me goose bumps at the Whelans gig last year and is the opener on their second EP. This time round at the Sugar Club and it was 2001 that really impressed me and when I saw that it too featured on their second EP I was grinning big time leaving the gig that night.
The Google ladies accompanying me to the gig were also smiling having met both Gary and James a few moments earlier when they appeared in the crowd to press the flesh and talk shop. It’s how we like to roll with it here in Dublin, no boundaries whatsoever between musicians and music fans.
I really enjoyed the chat with Ollie that day and when I hear Darling’s newest release It’s Just One Look playing on national radio now I’m reminded of that coffee break from life to talk music with him and this is another great thing about great music, it gives two strangers something wonderful to talk about.
By Nic Timmons
Update: After this article was written Darling announced Monday 16th Feb 2015 that they would be “opening up for seminal indie rock n roll band Echo and the Bunnymen” that coming Wednesday at the Olympia. BIG Smile. Ollie was right, it is truly amazing just what James and Gary have accomplished on their own.