Music in the Shadows: Derry band Dirty Faces have their say

The past month has seen numerous businesses reopened. Whilst hairdressers, pubs and restaurants returned to business, the date for live music has been pushed back to at least July 5 so what future is there for musicians and performers?

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 10:17 am
Derry band Dirty Faces (Photo by Gerry Craig)

Gigs and live concerts have arguably been hit the hardest. The lack of assurance for the future of entertainment is an ongoing issue that the government, many have said, has over the pandemic failed to address.

For over a year now musicians in this city have been left with an unknown fate. Many have had to find new ways to get their music heard. The only option for most bands was to host performances online. This hasn’t benefitted everyone, especially for independent musicians who rely on an audience to fully express themselves. The technicalities of switching to an online platform is a struggle for those who are not equipped with professional gear.

Josh O’Kane is the lead singer of Derry band Dirty Faces. The two-piece outfit call themselves a ‘rant-hop’ group. Bassist Lorcan Hamilton, or ‘King Crabit,’ as Josh calls him, came up with the idea of a duo five years ago. Over the past few years the band have gained a strong following in the city. Dirty Faces have a sound which is both raw and original. The cynical lyrics and groovy bass lines ring true to the Derry scene.

Dirty Faces (artwork by Diabhal666)

“I started gigging in 2014 in a band called Monday Club, named after a faction of back benchers in the Tory party back in the 80s - I think Maggie was a member,” Josh said.

“We played a few gigs including a BOTB in the late great Bound for Boston. That band didn’t last long, then Lorcan approached me in 2016 with a new idea for a group and I was all over it. After a few gigs under the name Hush, we changed it to Dirty Faces. Been gigging semi-regularly around town ever since, up until the Covid restrictions came in. We had a St. Patrick’s Day gig lined up last year too but had to pull out due to public opinion around the responsibility of playing a gig during a pandemic at that time.”

The band have travelled over Ireland performing at music festivals in places like Dundalk, Aranmore Island and Roscommon. Music has always been a part of Josh’s life from an early age. He says his family where influential in his love for music.

“My Da had a tape of the U2 album ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ which I played on repeat any car run - I was obsessed,” he said. “I had every song lyric learned from the booklet in the case. He had an Undertones tape too, but every song on it was taped from the radio so I could hear all these DJs talking over half the songs. I thought it was part of the songs and it’s the reason I love and include voiceovers and samples in the intros of our songs. U2 would have been my biggest and first influence, especially in terms of Bono’s song writing. My friend had me listening to Rolling Stones as well, so between Mick Jagger and Bono, I knew I wanted to be a front man.”

Dirty Faces (photo by SJD Photography)

Aside from writing rap lyrics about socioeconomic issues, corruption, politics and Buckfast, Josh has been studying a Politics degree at the University of Sussex in Brighton. Like a lot of students studying during the pandemic, Josh returned home to Derry. Lockdown measures shut down his university and also his place of work. Josh believes that musicians need to become more united. He feels performers should be considered part-time staff and be included in furlough.

“It’s the one aspect of the hospitality industry that was forgotten about during the likes of a furlough scheme.” He said. “If a bar or restaurant is closed, then the musicians they have been playing every week have lost their income. It’s not something bar owners were fighting for because musicians aren’t considered staff. They’re self-employed or freelance.”

Derry has always been a hotspot for music and a breeding ground for raw talent. With a severe lack of venues, the musicians from this town pursued their talent by performing regularly in the local bars. For bands like Dirty Faces, playing to audiences in bars around the country was their step into the music industry. Josh feels the government has left musicians behind.

“Live musicians who have a regular spot, that can be traced over the last year or so, should be considered part-time staff and be included in furlough,” he said. “There should be a system in place where a band can track their live gigs and festival activity and earnings, submit it to the government, and have 80% of that paid out in furlough the same as everyone else. But there’s no middle man or line manager to facilitate this system. We’re too unorganised. It works both ways.”

Questions into the future of live entertainment remain ever present. With venues still not open, and bars not yet catering for bands, Josh believes musicians should continue to write and become more active.

“The only advice I’d give is to make contacts early and use every resource and opportunity available. Also, get the socials active and buzzing because that’s the way forward in this industry in my opinion. And don’t be afraid to be political or outspoken - I’m bored of the same old, watered down, vague style of song writing.”

Check the band out at their YouTube Channel Dirty Faces or open.spotify.com/album/16FPpBmljjwHoBOWhvWsM1