One nation under a groove: Uncovering the  lost records of Irish funk

For those who believe that funk and groove based music was something that only emerged in Ireland in the 1990s, a new compilation pulls back to covers to reveal emerging pockets of funk in the 1970s and 1980s.

Against the seedy underbelly of showbands and Country & Irish on one side and the folk revival on the other, popular music in 1970s Ireland was a morass of blues-rock, Celtic rock and any other kind of rock you could think of.

“Back in the ‘70s, Ireland didn’t have a funk band,” observes Cork-based music collector and DJ John Byrne. 

John Byrne (left) and Colm Kenefick launch their new compliation album. Pic: Eddie O'Hare

“When funk music was like a popular music anywhere there literally was not a single funk band the whole length and breadth of the country.” 

Undeterred, Byrne went digging for early examples of Irish funk and thanks to his obsessive efforts he managed to excavate them in some unlikely areas. 

The results can be found in a forthcoming compilation to be released on Dublin’s All City Records titled Quare Groove Vol. 1.

Says Byrne: “Originally the whole idea for me was to take a survey of pretty much everything resembling groove music from this country before computer music and sampling.” 

Like searching for the veritable needle in a haystack, Byrne diligently trawled through record fairs, second-hand stores and bric-a-brac shops in search of elusive grooves.

“You can’t call it a genre where you got these accidents that happen, just tiny outcroppings of somebody doing something they would never have done normally,” he says.

One surprising example comes from the world of showbands in the shape of Northern Irish outfit Sunshine’s honey-vocaled disco stomper Give It To Me, which appeared originally as a 1981 b-side on Release Records, a label associated with showbands and Country & Irish.

Byrne discovered the band by total accident, his antennae twitched by a 1979 single from the band.

“When you see a record on Release and it has a track called ‘Boogie On Up’, it’s not going to be country and Irish,” Byrne chuckles.

Sunshine are a perfect example of the aforementioned tiny musical outcrop, a band who earned a crust on the showband circuit but once they got into the studio took the time to try out an experiment or two.

Other tracks on Quare Groove come from more obvious if no less obscure and disparate sources such as Dundalk’s Some Kind Of Wonderful, Limerick’s Barry Warner and Dublin’s Natural Wild.

Also present is the one band who brought funk and soul grooves to mainstream Irish ears in the 1980s, Sligo’s Those Nervous Animals. 

However, the song included isn’t the obvious hit, ‘My Friend John’, but their subsequent release ‘Hyperspace’. The track proved to be the starting point of the compilation.

Inspired by All City artist Onra’s Chinoiseries series, which sees the ethnically Vietnamese French producer plunder South East Asian records, Cork producer and DJ Colm K (Kenefick) considered doing something similar with Irish music as a source. 

Upon mentioning the idea to Byrne he was handed a homemade compilation CD containing roughly 20 tracks. Amongst the tracks was ‘Hyperspace’. Kenefick sampled the track for his 2013 release The Love EP.

“I was just listening to it at home saying ‘feck it, you could do something with that,’” recalls Kenefick. 

“And then we toyed with the idea of doing a compilation.” 

Fellow Cork DJ and musical crate digger Jeremy Murphy had also began taking an interest in lost Irish funk tracks and was recruited to the cause. 

Olan O’Brien of All City Records, who has released classic Irish hip-hop cuts as well as international innovators like Onra, Dâm-Funk and Hudson Mohawke, was also enthusiastic about the endeavour.

Together they widened the net to include more electronic and synth-based contributions and in the process have created a fascinating collection that spans The Pumphouse Gang’s exuberant ‘Welcome Back Into My Life’ to leftfield offerings from Stano, and post-punk funk by Microdisney. There’s even a promise of more to come.

Quare Groove Vol. 1 is out now on All City Records

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