To make it to the top, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom first. That has certainly been the experience of Tullamore r’n’b sensations Chasing Abbey.
Today they’re one of Irish pop’s brightest prospects, with legions of fans and lashings of radio play. But the slog from obscurity has been long and challenging.
“We put out our first song in 2015,” remembers singer Bee (real name Jonathan Byrne). “At that time we could not get a gig to save our lives. No promoter wanted anything to do with us. No venue would book us.
This was to change when their single ‘That Good Thing’ rocketed up the charts in early 2016. But just before that there was still time one last humiliation.
“It was coming up to Christmas and we wanted to be able to tell our families that the band was going okay,” recalls Byrne. “We were given the opportunity to play a gig in Manchester. We weren’t getting paid and had to cover the cost of our own flights. But it was a gig. We turned up wearing our regular stage gear [tracksuits etc] only to discover it was a black tie event.
“Halfway through our set the owner of the venue walked on and told the DJ to come on. That was it. We were off. If you’d asked at that point if we wanted to end the band, we’d have said yes in a heartbeat.”
But then, a miracle. Seventeen days after the Manchester debacle, ‘That Good Thing’ became an airplay sensation.
Suddenly Chasing Abbey were the hottest thing in Irish pop (though they consider themselves a hip-hop group at heart).
Ever since they’ve gone from strength to strength. Their debut EP, The Odyssey Project, was engineered by Jay Weathers (Jacob Banks, Ray Blk). And they’re currently on a near-sellout national tour.
“‘That Good Thing’ was one of the first songs we had written. We were really young. But we’ve moved on. We didn’t think ‘That Good Thing’ was going to do well. In our hearts, we’re more hip hop and rap. We are pop — but more urban hip hop pop than ‘pop’ pop.”
Still, however, we categorise Chasing Abbey it’s obviously an existing time particularly in view of the struggles it took for them just to get here.
“There is definitely a small town mentality around Ireland,” says Byrne.
“Growing up in Tullamore, if you’re interested in music you are handed a tin whistle or a banjo.
Which is why the trio of Bee, Ro and Teddy C started playing trad music around their home town. What else were they supposed to do?
“There was this weird divide,” says Byrne. “We were listening to rap and hip hop and dance. But when we played music it was traditional folk and all that craic. It wasn’t until 2016 we turned around to each other and asked, why can’t be we more urban? “
The band’s slightly baffling name speaks to their desire to connect with their fans. “‘Abbey’ for us represents the audience. It’s neither male nor female. When we started writing songs, that was our nick-name for the
audience. We’d ask – ‘would Abbey like this, would Abbey like that? Chasing Abbey is another way of saying chasing the dream.”
They are taking nothing for granted. Chasing Abbey have come a long way. But there is still quite a distance to travel, they feel.
“We’re so appreciative of the journey we’ve been on. Today, people are digesting so much music, it’s so easy for the fan to find someone else to listen to. You have to are really conscious of that and really
appreciative of what you have.”
The Odyssey Project is out now. Chasing Abbey play Cyprus Avenue, Cork, Saturday, April 13