By Niall O’Driscoll
THE Sweet Spot has been seven years in the making and contains some of Interference frontman Fergus O’Farrell’s most beautiful work. Co-written with long-time writing partner Malcolm MacClancy and with further contributions from Maurice Seezer, Glen Hansard, Paul Tiernan, Bertrand Galen and Paul Griffin, this record once again demonstrates that O’Farrell’s ability to combine storytelling with poetry and breathtaking music had, and still has, very few equals.
His skill in surrounding himself with exceptional musicians was a reflection of his drive for absolute perfection, and his band Interference has been a musical home to some of the best players in the country over the years. Their influence on their peers is very hard to ignore, and when O’Farrell passed away at his home in Schull on February 2nd, 2016 after a lifelong battle with muscular dystrophy, his family and bandmates were completely overwhelmed with the tributes which arrived from all over the world. Fans and fellow musicians felt they needed to share their sadness at the loss of one of Ireland’s greatest songwriters.
One need only listen to Glen Hansard speak about him to realise the regard in which he held his late friend as a musician and artist. ‘Ferg had a kind of prophecy to his lyrics,’ he told The Southern Star in 2016. ‘I had never heard anything like them from anyone, except maybe Bowie. He [Fergus] was the first real example I saw of a living artist who was speaking about where he was, rather than speaking about faraway distant desires. Definitely a man speaking about the life he was living and the body he was living in.’
Hansard will lead Interference and special guests in two celebratory concerts in O’Farrell’s memory this February in Cork Opera House (2nd) and in Vicar Street in Dublin (5th). Both shows, which will feature some very special guests, are completely sold out – a fitting epitaph for an incredible talent.
Composer Maurice Seezer, one of Fergus’ close collaborators and friends spoke to The Southern Star about The Sweet Spot earlier this week:
‘The album represents a celebration of the process of creativity as the real goal, as life itself. I’m not overstating things to suggest that as long as Fergus was working on it, he was sustained by it. Now that he is no longer with us, his album is complete.’
‘I had the privilege of being a friend and band member alongside Fergus for many years, whether it was with Interference, in one of its many guises, or with Dogtail Soup,’ Maurice continued. ‘Over the years, whenever he sang live, it seemed to me that his voice got better, which, when you think about it, shouldn’t have been the case. While his daily life was spent coping with being physically less able, his capability as a singer grew despite his ever decreasing lung capacity. Because of his particular need to truly prepare himself for a gig, it was on stage where Fergus really lived as a performer. This was where he had a one-off engagement with an audience ... there was no second take live. The Sweet Spot, thankfully has some evidence of this. It’s a part studio, part live album, and that’s absolutely appropriate. Fergus liked to use the studio as an instrument, and his capacity to enthuse a song into existence, often by staying awake for up to 48 hours straight was a marvel to behold.
‘We will remember him, though, for his energy, his enthusiasm and his drive to be an artist. When finally he could no longer sing to the standard he expected of himself, he returned to painting and his joy was reborn. Maybe his friends and collaborators had some role in maintaining him, but we all felt utterly sustained by him,’ Maurice concluded.
John Fitzgerald is another musician who worked with Fergus O’Farrell over the years and he also runs Lettercollum Studios in Timoleague, where parts of the new album were recorded. He explains: ‘I’d say about 95% of the album was finished prior to Ferg’s passing last year. Pretty much everything else that was done in the meantime was just touching up – some small overdubs and things. It sounds great – it sounds like Ferg. There’s a great sense of ‘live’ performance about it and with good reason as that’s how most of it was recorded.’
‘He [Ferg] would have been the harshest critic of it himself, but with a ferocious vision. He was a total advocate of the idea that an album is never finished, but rather it’s abandoned. He would have kept pushing it and tweaking it. But it’s important to remember, and this goes back to Ferg’s own vision, that now that he’s gone that there’s something left behind, a legacy, especially for his wife Li and his family.’
‘There are other tracks and there’s probably the equivalent of six different versions of this album recorded – songs and versions of songs that just didn’t make the cut. There’s tons of material there,’ John added.
‘That said, Ferg would have been very definite about the versions that are on the album – he would have signed off on those a couple of years ago, having weeded it all down from all the other versions that were there. It’s very true to his vision – it’s not like it was taken and somebody else ran with the ball then after that. He was very definite. It’s very Ferg.’
Breaking Out – documentary
As part of the gigs in the Opera House and Vicar Street, filmmaker Michael McCormack will be showing a trailer from Breaking Out – a film about Fergus, his music, art and the very special relationship he had with his family and his wife Li.
Michael has been working on the documentary (named after an Interference song) since 2005 and most, if not all of the footage, remains unseen to this day by anyone other than the filmmaker himself.
A fan of Interference since he first saw them at the age of 14, Breaking Out is a labour of love for McCormack, who has kept up work on it over the past 12 years despite occasional funding difficulties, and he has even gone on sabbatical from his day job with RTÉ to concentrate on the completion of the film. Even when Glen Hansard and The Frames came to O’Farrell’s West Cork home for a week in January 2016 to work on some music, Michael was there with his cameras. This footage is particularly poignant as Fergus died a week and a half later.
Breaking Out will be finished later this year and to help facilitate this, a crowd-funding campaign will be launched at the gigs. More info on this as soon as it becomes available.
• Following its release on February 2nd, The Sweet Spot will be available to buy straight away from www.interference.ie and subsequently in shops and from CDBaby and Amazon.