A new stage for Ivan's sounds

Brian Friel's new play 'The Home Place' has opened in An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny. And a well-known name from the Derry music scene is among those involved, as DAITHI RAMSEY reveals.

Ivan Birthistle is telling of how he came to be a sound designer.

"I was sharing an apartment in Dublin with my sister Eva, who is an actress, and some of her friends started a theatre company to have something to do between jobs. They were doing a fringe piece and I just asked if they'd like me to create some sounds for it. They said yes and it went from there.

"Now I'm doing about twenty shows a year. It's great because it's a way of doing music and getting paid. At the time I started I was painting and decorating to get by. I work with another sound designer Vincent Doherty, pooling our talents, and we are doing well. We've worked for The Lyric and The Abbey and loads more. It's a new discipline 'Sound Design' and people are still getting used to the idea of it.'

But the roots of it all go way back . . .

'It kind of all started when I moved to Derry from Dublin at 16. My dad was in the rag trade and had a job at Adria but preferred Derry to Strabane so we moved to the Waterside, where my parents still live.

"I did GCSEs and A Levels at Foyle and Londonderry College and during this time met Christian McNeill and started playing guitar with Children's Hour. There was a lot of people involved in it, like Kieran Coyle on bass and Sting (Gary doherty) on drums. It was exciting and fun, we used to play the Gweedore back in its sticky floor days and it'd be sold out. We supported Blur at The Mandela Hall in front of 1500 people at that time, and then Children's Hour split and with Christian, James Cunningham and Rory McCarron we had Schtum. '

Schtum were the great white hope for 1996 for Derry's music scene. Signed to Sony after an A&R frenzy they released one album 'Grow'. They were managed by Undertones Billy Doherty and Paul McLoone, and were expected to be stars. It didn't quite turn out like that.

'We released an album, a few singles and e.p.s and toured the UK and America to great acclaim but the sales didn't really match what the record company were hoping for and the constant touring took its toll on the personal relationships within the band. "Eventually we just split. I spent the next year sorting out the financial aspects of our deal, making sure we got out from under without any debt hanging over us. Then I moved to Dublin and took up with a few bands there. It's mainly instrumental stuff which is great because I've been able to use some of it in recent plays.

"I've done Friel before with the Director Mick Gordon, 'Dancing at Lughnasa', and he obviously liked what we'd done so he asked me to do this. Friel is really prescriptive with his sounds so with his plays it's basically working from his directions in the script. With some plays you might compose more and it is a grey line as to where 'composition' starts and 'sound design' ends. This is shaping up to be a great production. Mick is a really talented director and he’s working with a great cast so it’s just good to be part of it, and of course to get home and see my parents.

“I do come home at Christmas and every so often and keep up with some of the local Derry music scene, the likes of Fighting With Wire and Red Organ Serpent Sound - actually I found them their Red Organ and helped buy it for them!”

Ivan Birthistle and Vincent Doherty are the Sound Designers on the An Grianan Theatre/ Lyric Theatre co-production of Brian Friel’s latest play 'The Home Place', which is at An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny from tonight Tuesday 3rd February until Saturday 7th February. Bookings on 00 353 74 91 20777 or www.angrianan.com