Schull sessions make for a heady brew

The late Fergus O’ Farrell, pictured with David Bickley in Cork in 2007. Picture: Jean Curran

Releasing the music he made with the late Fergus O’Farrell was a labour of love for David Bickley, writes Ellie O’Byrne

When Interference frontman Fergus O’Farrell succumbed to the muscular dystrophy he’d battled for most of his life in 2016, the singer-songwriter left behind any number of un-released recordings.

But not all of them sound the way Interference fans might imagine they would; in fact, O’Farrell’s side-project, Avian Attak, formed with Interference guitarist James O’Leary and musician and filmmaker David Bickley, is a surprising brand of experimental electronica.

Avian Attak released a debut self-titled album in 2015, based on three extended jamming sessions held by the trio at O’Farrell’s studio in Schull, Co Cork. Now, posthumously for O’Farrell, a second album, spinning world, has been released. While recordings for the second LP were made in one final session with all three musicians present, the songs were arranged and mixed following O’Farrell’s death.

“It was strange to mute all the tracks and listen just to Ferg’s voice on his own,” David Bickley says. “You’d think that could get quite tearful, but it’s not, you just end up laughing: you can just hear his humour and his character.”

Bickley, whose own inter-Celtic electronic outfit Hyper[borea] were voted best Irish dance act by Hotpress in the late 1990s and who has worked extensively in music, video art and documentary filmmaking since, first met O’Farrell when he recorded with the wheelchair-bound singer on the 2006 EP All Your Life.

Bickley has been left with a lot of recordings of O’Farrell, not only from the material recorded for both Avian Attak albums, but also from All Your Life.

It’s weird that we have so much material left over,” he says. “Even just the other day I found this recoding in amongst all my files on my hard disks and it just said ‘Ferg Vox’ and I didn’t know what it was. And it was this amazing song.

O’Farrell was something of a musician’s musician; revered and loved by those he collaborated and played with, his career was dogged by his health struggles and, despite Interference’s success on Irish shores, the coveted international record deal always eluded them.

Unlike O’Farrell’s songs with Interference, where lyrics at once worldly-wise and tinged with naïve optimism were delivered in his characteristic angelic voice, Avian Attak’s albums see the singer experiment with electronic vocal effects over O’Leary’s guitar and Bickley’s use of electronic instruments, including a Korg Kaosilator.

“People knew and revered Fergus as this great singer-songwriter, but he had this whole other world which was very experimental and completely mad,” Bickley says, smiling. “He wanted it to be known that he wasn’t just a one-trick pony.”

O’Farrell’s stoicism in coping with his disease, Bickley recalls, led to his physical deterioration seeming almost imperceptible over the years it took to record both albums.

We had some fairly mad jamming sessions and I think he really liked that we didn’t seem to consider he was disabled. One night myself and James went to bed and got up again at 11 in the morning, all bleary-eyed, and there was Fergus, looking terrible.

“We said, ‘Didn’t you sleep?’ and he said, ‘No, I’ve been to the emergency ward, an ambulance came for me in the middle of the night.’”

Is delving into the vault and releasing recordings containing O’Farrell’s voice after his death in any way problematic?

Bickley says spinning world remains true to the trio’s original musical mission and that O’Farrell would have approved.

“He did really want this to be released, but it was just a question of the time it took.

“He always said he couldn’t climb mountains or go scuba diving, so this was his way of exploring the world. He continually worked on these albums. The only difference is that Fergus would want us to pick away at it and change tiny details, but that’s not how I work: I think it’s good to get it done and get it out. But there’s nothing being released that he wouldn’t want to have released.”

- Avian Attak spinning world is out now.

- Interference play Live at St Luke’s, Cork on March 15

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