Derry’s very own high octane Gypsy and Balkan influenced band the Balkan Alien Sound have had yet another busy year. With trips to Catalonia, Amsterdam and mainland UK not to mention the vast amount of Irish gigs, the guys have been heavily in demand.
As champions of world music their Gypsy Folk Klub nights have been bringing international acts to this great city for my years now but the monthly event has recently taken up residence in Bennigans Bar. We caught up with Balkan Alien Sound’s accordion player Martin Coyle to get the low down on the monthly event and find out more about Balkan Alien Sound.
When were the band first formed and how did you all get together?
The band formed in 2007 and has had a few line-up changes over the years but essentially the four core members of the group have been involved from day one. At the minute we operate as a five piece, which at first was challenging, after working as a seven piece, but it definitely has made us stronger players. Working in a group with friends and people you can trust (musically) is very important and gives each of us freedom on stage to explore - which is the most enjoyable part of playing in the band really.
How would you describe the music of Balkan Alien Sound?
The music we play has certainly developed over the last 8 years. We started out being hooked on Klezmer music and were almost like a ska band, which was great fun. I’ve found the deeper we’ve delved into learning and playing Eastern European music, the more similarities we’ve seemed to find with our own traditional music here. Our latest compositions certainly have an Irish flavour but still maintain that rigid balkan rhythm. Obviously with the addition of an electric bass and drum kit, the music then immediately takes on a more contemporary feel.
What would you say you love most about this style of music?
To be honest there are two sides to this music that I love. Firstly, it’s great party music. When we have a good gig it’s a fantastic adrenaline rush coming off stage after playing such frantic music. On the other hand though we like to break up our sets with some slower songs. The music of Macedonia particularly lends itself to really heartfelt melodies and it’s great to have this as a foil to the hectic Bulgarian influenced rhythms of the more upbeat stuff.
Balkan Alien Sound
What would be your main influences?
Within the group there is such a wide range of influences. We are all into jazz, folk, traditional, blues, classical, punk and rock music. We’re music fans at the end of the day, regardless of genre. We like to pepper little bits and pieces of these influences into our own style of playing. If I had to site one main influence for the actual formation of the band though it would have to be the recordings of Andy Irvine and Planxty’s exploration of Bulgarian music in the 70’s. Tunes like Smeceno Horo from their After the Break album still blow me away to this day.
You guys have been big champions of World Music in Northern Ireland, how strong would you say the scene is at the moment?
It’s healthy, and growing! We’ve been running the Gypsy Folk Klub now since 2008 which plays hosts to an array of international touring acts in the world, folk, trad and roots scene. Initially we were running it every three months but this year we’ve been able to put on a monthly event due to the volume of acts coming through. We’re really happy to have teamed up with Bennigans who are providing a real intimate environment for people to fully experience performances. It’s great for us to be able to host bands from around Europe and beyond that we’ve played with and maintain a musical relationship with. Setting up an international network with Derry as a pivot is the idea, and giving the audience an exciting new experience each month is important. We’re already taking some exciting bookings for next year and have secured some great acts.
Next up for the Gypsy Folk Klub is Cup O’Joe in October, and Tolka Hot Club in November... tell our readers why they need to come and check these guys out...
As I mentioned, the club plays host to a lot of international acts but for us it’s equally as important to showcase home-grown talent as well. Cup O’Joe are a young bluegrass band from Northern Ireland who I feel are on their way to great things with their vibrant playing and musicianship beyond their years! Also then in November The Tolka Hot Club, from Dublin, will transform Bennigans into a Parisian Gypsy Swing night with echos of Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli throughout their sound. I’m really looking forward to October and November’s shows, and of course Balkan Alien Sound will be performing at the Christmas show on Boxing Night.