While the many degrees of romanticism and longing for bygone eras of Leeside music are often backed up by incredible tunes and stories that could only emerge from a city like Cork, by the time the 2000s rolled around, wider changes in the music business had taken their effect.
Audiences and venues came and went, mainstream music press and radio retreated into a now-ingrained conservatism as the internet loomed, and the slowdown of the CD boom was already underway. Into this breach stepped a new generation of Cork rockers, emboldened by a more eclectic palate of influences.
Among these were a trio of awkward young Kerry lads going by the name Ten Past Seven, a wonky, noisy, yet precise post-rock proposition, emerging initially as underage stragglers sneaking into (and getting kicked out of) their own Cork gigs, before coming into their own while studying Music, Management and Sound at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa.
“We had been playing music together since we were in secondary school, in different guises,” says guitarist Rory O’Brien. “Myself, Ger [Mangan, drums] and Matt [Shallow, bass]. We were learning a lot about music theory, putting on a show and all that stuff. We were just using all the stuff we were learning, but also not taking it in any way seriously.”
“You had to have a band, and then you had to practice every day with that band,” adds Mangan. “We got put down in the bowels of the college, somewhere really far away from everyone else (laughs). The gear was stored in the gym.”
The band’s drive and dedication to their art paid off, as they garnered goodwill with relentless work and hyperkinetic live shows, aided by the release of their debut EP, Onehundredandfiftydegrees, recorded and produced by Ber Quinn, who would later go on to work with John Grant, The Divine Comedy, and James Vincent McMorrow, to name a few.
This momentum drove the band further onto an incredibly busy Irish music scene in the mid-Noughties, where bands and artists existing outside the singer-songwriter bubble largely had to plough their own furrow - finding common cause with the likes of metallers like Rest and My Remorse, post-rockers Waiting Room, and the post-hardcore outfit that became Hope is Noise, among others.
"There were seven of us living in this terrible student accommodation,” says Mangan. “[Promoter] Dave Ahern was putting on gigs and a few others, maybe the My Remorse lads. The bands would stay with us, and we would get to play the gig.”
“What was happening with us was, we were just kind of hearing about stuff that wasn't the cookie-cutter stuff,” adds O’Brien. “I guess it was At the Drive-In and Fugazi was opening us up to stuff. And then we met people like Dave Ahern, and PLUGD Records had just started. It was all becoming more accessible, as we all got interested.
"We ended up getting a ton of gigs, with a lot of different bands that people brought over, swapping gigs with them. And I remember at the time, there was a whole thing about (promoters and venues like Fredz, the Wolfhound and the Bróg) were surprised that we would just play, and go on first, and not care. Just happy to do it loads and loads. I think we were doing three gigs a week at one stage."
Out of this flurry of activity came the initial ideas for a debut long-player, eventually known as Shut Up Your Face, recorded in 2005, in the Co Cork home of producer Ross O’Donovan.
The early process of writing and selecting tunes happened with a second extended-player in mind, before that most Noughties of band phenomena struck the trio - a win at an annual Murphy’s Live battle-of-the-bands, of the sort that ran throughout the decade.
With prize money in hand, the band’s ambitions turned toward crafting their debut full-length - in suitably spartan, do-it-yourself fashion.
“That might have lit a fire under our arses, because you might have had to do it in a certain timeframe,” Mangan says. “The prize money for that was recording money, and that's what we used to fund the album - it worked out to be exactly the cost of it.”
“The drums were in (O’Donovan’s) bedroom,” elaborates Mangan. “We had the songs done. We were doing it live, and just playing the songs over and over. It took us maybe five days to track it.
“The bass booth was in the little bit of hallway outside the hot press, so it was a matter of trying to get the door to not rattle! The attic space, then, was the control room. We were just listening to Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. That's the soundtrack of the whole thing for me,” adds O’Brien.
The band released the album in early 2006 through Limerick label Out On A Limb - a DIY label co-founded by Corkonian record-slinger Albert Twomey that’s still a pillar of independent music in Ireland.
The album was well-received by press upon release, a lovingly-assembled affair that alternated between an idiosyncratically Irish take on the instrumental rock oeuvre that was in its pomp at the time, and textured, noise-rock chaos. RTÉ’s Harry Guerin remarked that “when they opt for all-out fury they're a fearsome proposition, that should fear no-one they have to share a stage with”.
Shut Up Your Face set the tone for a body of work that’s taken its time to unveil (see panel), but has never been less than intriguing, if not outright demanding of the listener’s close attention. But more than anything else, it exemplified the spirit of community that permeates music and art in Cork to this day.
“We collaborated with designers the Project Twins at the time on the album cover,” says O’Brien, “and we were just getting this bit of an idea, that it wasn't just the CD cover with a picture. The [tinfoil-effect] front cover had a reflection and the cover and text that was backwards, and that collaboration was really cool. I really am proud of that. The things we were doing... it was all just friends, really.”
- ‘Shut Up Your Face’ is available to download and stream from Ten Past Seven’s Bandcamp on a pay-what-you-want basis: https://tenpastseven.bandcamp.com/album/shut-up-your-face
While a dearth of international gigs in the immediate aftermath of the release of Shut Up Your Face in 2006 affected the band’s immediate trajectory, 2007 saw them climb Carantuohill, the highest mountain in Ireland, with gear in tow. They proceeded to gig at its peak, alongside Cork messers Los Langeros. A split 7” between the two bands marked the occasion.
Singles and an EP at the start of the last decade marked a busy period for the band, leading to the crowdfunding and release of the Black Box Recordings EP - produced by John 'Spud' Murphy (Lankum, Black MIDI) and accompanied by a limited physical run.
Intermittent gigging activity in the years to follow served as prelude to the final recording and release of a follow-up LP, Long Live the Bogwalrus, via Sligo label Art for Blind in the middle of 2020’s lockdowns, featuring Lankum's Cormac MacDiarmada, and trad vocal quartet Landless.