Gary Hannon DJs a music show on AtlanticRadio.ie. He plays with the Clonakilty Jazz Collective every Monday night in the Emmet Hotel and once per month on Sunday afternoons in De Barra’s, both in Clonakilty.
The travelling entertainer is a lifestyle that is nearly as old as civilisation, be it in the form of a bard, musician, poet, part of a touring troupe, or simply by those spreading the latest from the North, East, West and South. It is a good sign of our society that, in these days of constant, instant electronic connectivity, this is still a viable lifestyle choice.
With his long hair, beard, and given that he seemingly never sins, Christophe Capewell exudes the aura of a Christ-like being. Humble, talented and gentle, he is not just softly-spoken, but he is softly-being. Christophe has little or no ego too, so who better to get an accurate, honest account of the life of a travelling musician than from him?
Most of his travels have been as one of the two longstanding members of the folk band The Rubber Wellies along with Harry Bird, with whom he has toured for a decade. He says that they are “fiercely independent.” Perhaps this is the key to their longevity? Christophe agrees. “I’ve seen too many musicians get contracts and deals, and then things go pear-shaped and they lose their creative input.”
Christophe explains how it all began for him as a musician. “I started at school playing violin, piano, playing in string groups and orchestras, and playing bass in a grunge band. I then studied a degree in music in England. I’ve been playing ever since in folk bands, trad bands, filling in with a lot of Irish bands and singers. I came over for the Fleadh in 2004 and had the craic, and then moved to Dublin and haven’t looked back really. I have been full time playing music for the last 10 years.”
“Someone like me, I’m not a front man, so I have to tip away at doing different things. It’s great—it keeps things interesting and varied. You have to flexible—I do composing, string arrangements, theatre work, producing, etc.”
Christophe says that he is well aware of the long history and tradition of travelling musicians. “It’s great – first coming to Ireland I’d come around to friend’s parent’s houses for food or a cup of tea, and they would be like, ‘Oh you’re a fiddle player, play a tune.’ And it was such a nice exchange – of food and the craic for playing a few tunes. That wouldn’t really happen in Britain as much. It’s a nice life exchange – of time and energy – it is very special. That’s the way to go. I mean if possible, that would be the preferred path in life.”
What are the best parts of being a travelling musician? “Playing music and getting to meet people as you travel around, seeing the world. It’s a great job – we’re very blessed. The worst parts are probably the e-mails and admin…and travelling sometimes can be hard, like long journeys in a small car.”
But would he recommend it? “Definitely, but it’s a hard auld path. It’s not all easy, but it’s great – it’s very rewarding. I really enjoy it, especially what we do with The Wellies. It is very uplifting – the songs and the craic we have onstage. It’s great to see how the audience reacts. The room changes after a gig. It’s lovely to soak it in and enjoy the happiness that the gig has created. We’re very lucky to have that with The Wellies. To have the sense of uplifting energy with Harry, it’s great. It’s not generally the case with a lot of bands that I play with. Sometimes it’s more serious and that’s great too – a different vibe.”
What advice does he have for budding musicians? “You have to be true to your heart. You have to have a lot of belief that you’re on the right path. I’m really lucky in that the various projects I’m working on appeal to me. That’s what you must aim for.”
What does he like about playing in West Cork? “Coming to West Cork is always a treat! It’s been a few years since we’ve played there, so really looking forward to it. We always try to factor in a couple of days off when we’re not playing, to go for walks and swims and meet friends.”
And finally, what are his plans for the rest of the year? “I am working on a few albums, including West Cork’s own Marcella O’Sullivan’s second album, my own debut album of soundtrack music, touring with Lisa O’Neill, a 10-year celebratory tour for The Rubber Wellies taking in Germany and the UK, and acting and playing the soundtrack for a 56-date run of A Christmas Carol in Bristol later in the year.” Who said that the life a travelling musician was simple?
I have seen The Rubber Wellies perform on many occasions, and I can attest to a truly original and thoroughly enjoyable experience! If you want to see them, get to Ballydehob for the Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival to see them in Levis’s at 7pm on June 17, a “pass the hat gig”, (i.e. donations); or on June 20 in De Barra’s, for €7 from debarra.ie.
My gig of the month is Sam Amidon in De Barra’s June 6 at 9pm. Tickets €15 from debarra.ie.
If you have any comments or events, you can contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above: Christophe Capewell. Pic: Vanessa Jordan.