John Spillane tellshow he’s hoping to fund his next album by taking the bardic route of writing unique compositions for people on whatever they’d like
Fancy a song written about you by one of Cork’s best-loved folk songwriters? It can be yours for €1,000.
John Spillane, who jokes about fancying himself as a “latter-day bard”, is up for the challenge; many years of crafting songs, both with former bands like Nomos and The Stargazers and in his enduring career as a solo singer-songwriter, as well as the song writing trial by fire that was his TG4 series Spillane an Fánaí, mean he finds he can pen a ditty about just about any topic these days.
“It’s like a language I have now,” Spillane says. “It’s like you’ve picked up the song writing vocabulary from all the traditional ballads and Bob Dylan songs you know, and you can use that language and apply it to different situations. I haven’t failed yet.
You’d think that sometimes you’d get a bardic commission that would fall flat, but that hasn’t happened yet, so I’m going to keep going until it does.
He’s discussing the practicalities behind his recently launched crowdfunding campaign. Spillane’s next album, 100 Snow White Horses, will be his first independent release since his former record company, EMI Ireland, shut up shop in 2013. And he needs €25,000 to do it. But, he’s keen to stress, he’s not asking people for donations.
“This isn’t a charity fundraiser; heaven knows there are enough good causes out there to donate to, children’s hospitals and hospices and things,” he says.
When people say to me, ‘oh, I must donate,’ I remind them that it’s not a donation. It’s basically pre-orders and a series of rewards.
“I’ll be putting a burden on myself for the next twelve months to fulfil all the rewards, but that’s part of what it’s about too.”
The €1,000 so-called “hit factory reward” on Spillane’s fund:it campaign website does indeed promise that Spillane will compose an original song for the funder, about a “historical or personal story,” delivered in MP3 form. Or if you’d prefer, for €3,000, Spillane will play a personal gig anywhere on the island of Ireland.
Lesser rewards for funding the album due out next May include song-writing workshops, digital downloads of the new album and album sleeve acknowledgements.
Having brought out eight albums in 12 years with EMI, Spillane says the process of crowdfunding is a “voyage of discovery” in the uncharted waters of the digital-first, DIY seascape.
“I’ve spoken to musicians who have found crowdfunding wonderful and who’ve said they get to build a real sense of community around the making of the record,” he says.
Musicians are boosted by the support people show them; it can give you confidence to feel that support, so I feel very positive about it.
It’s also a slightly risky business. Unlike international crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, the Irish fund:it site only pays out if the crowdfunding goal is met in an allotted time-frame, in Spillane’s case, a month.
By day 10, 244 backers had already funded Spillane’s album more than 53%, so he has every reason to feel positive. He’s also enjoyed working with Dingle vocalist Pauline Scanlon again, as well as London-based producer John Reynolds, another collaborator of old.
The band he’s assembled for the album, and for two final 2019 gigs including his 21st straight year playing a pre-Christmas gig in Cork’s Everyman Theatre, is called Lapwing Nation.
Spillane is 58. “I know yeah, that sounds insane to me,” he says with a laugh. “I’m basically going towards the days of glory now, and the ten-year plan.”
He’s always been a strong advocate of the Irish language, and of cultural legacy in general; as he heads towards sixty, does he consider his legacy as a songwriter more? “I wouldn’t look towards legacy deliberately, but I’m overjoyed with what just happened with Christy Moore,” he says.
Moore’s newly released live double album is Magic Nights, named for Spillane’s song, ‘Magic Nights At The Lobby Bar’ the legendary Kildare folk singer says Spillane has been his “favourite songwriter for ten years.” On top of this high accolade, Spillane has just enjoyed a brief cameo on an episode of that new Cork institution, The Young Offenders.
It seems the Gaelic Hit Factory remains not just open for business, but booming. “My confidence is better than it’s ever been, and I’m writing away steadily, and I think this is going to be the best record that I’ve ever done,” Spillane says.