I don’t know who first turned me on to Walking On Cars. You never heard of them? They’re the rage of the Dingle Peninsula and all points east in County Kerry!
I get a lot of tips on bands from listeners to Celtic Crush, my show on SiriusXM. Most come to nothing: though the band may be dynamite on stage, they often lack great or distinctive songs; and for radio it’s all about the magic that unfolds in those three for four broadcast minutes.
I was intrigued that Walking On Cars hails from Dingle. That part of the world may boast the finest traditional players; yet, it has made less than a dent in the international pop charts.
The first thing that struck me about the band was that Patrick Sheehy sings with his natural Kerry accent. In an odd way it was like hearing The Dubliners for the first time and realizing that the inner city Dublin burr is head and shoulders above any generic mid-Atlantic accent. It’s real, in your face, and reeks of the ancient streets that have nurtured it.
Two Stones from Walking On Cars first EP, doesn’t immediately jump out at you – most songs that leave a lasting impression don’t – the rule of thumb being: if you like it instantly it’s derivative. But on a second listen I was hooked within minutes.
Walking On Cars synthesizes so much of the fine pop music of the last 50 years, beginning with The Beatles and ending with the current 17 year old New Zealand wunderkind, Lorde. And yet, Two Stones is its own distinct universe, full of lovely harmonies, simple but affecting piano chords, a driving rhythm section, melodic guitar, and impassioned vocals – all wrapped together with a Dingle sensibility.
I played the track a number of times on Celtic Crush and was impressed by the reception. One person even pulled his car off the highway just to savor the song.
There’s a deep emotional pull to the music, something you just can’t put your finger on, and yet you know that it’s coming from the singer not the song - the band not the notes they’re playing.
I was in Dingle for a night in October and met Patrick, Sorcha Dunham (keyboards) and Paul Flannery (bass). I was a bit stunned by Patrick at first, for he bears an odd resemblance to our own late lamented singer, Ray Kelly. Their personalities were not unlike either – friendly, thoughtful, intense, a little shy. Sorcha and Paul, the heartbeats of the band, were more outgoing.
They invited me to see Walking On Cars the following night in Killarney. I thought it might be a local pub gig; instead it was sold out concert and I had to fight my way to the front through a mob of screaming teenage girls.
And what poise this young band has. They already behave like seasoned professionals. Each has found his/her own place in the spectrum of sound and presence – Paul, chatty and rock solid on bass; Sorcha, appealing and quietly assertive on keyboards; Dan Devane, melodic - even symphonic on guitar; Evan Hadnett propelling the whole thing on drums. And all coalesced around, but not dominated by, a sensitive Kerry heartthrob, Patrick.
Backstage after I mentioned some of the echoes I’d heard – The Cars, Phil Manzanera; but they’d never heard of Ric Ocasek, though Roxy Music rang a bell. Good for them! Who needs the past when they’ll soon become their own icons.
Will they make it? In a way they already have – attracting a big following without a hit on the radio – much like Black 47 did in New York City.
Will they become big stars? Luck, perseverance, and the right connections will be of paramount importance. And so much can go wrong so quickly.
But I think they’ll be fine. They’re infused with a can-do spirit and are united against the world; and while they posses that great Kerry exuberance, they’re not without a dollop of Kingdom reserve and common sense.
It’s a long way from Slea Head to superstardom, but how great it will be to hear a Dingle accent pealing out from Number one!