Back to Brass: An Interview with Booka Brass Band

If any of you were lucky enough to attend any of Ireland’s biggest festivals this summer, then you without a doubt heard the jazzy tones of Booka Brass Band. Dubbed ‘Ireland’s Best Live Act right now’ by the GoldenPlec in their review of their performance at Knockanstockan, Motley’s Emily Horgan  was  thrilled to get to chat to two of the seven (and a half) members of Booka to quiz them about how they keep the crowd going, balance their college work and the secret behind the bands unusual name…

So, tell us a bit about how the band started up?

Jack – We started off getting to know each other at band camp, basically. Some of us were in the National Youth Orchestra a couple of years ago as well. As the group kind of expanded, we knew people in the Dublin brass scene.

Ronan – It started off with six of us, four of us who had been there from the very start. We have kind of settled on a core group of seven with one in rotation – two trumpets, two trombones, two sax players, a sousaphone and drums.

Did you feel that it was a big risk to start up such a different style of band?

Ronan – At first, we obviously knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge. We have sort of followed our big influences: Hot Eight Brass Band, Hypnotic Brass and Young Blood that seem to have a great young following.

Jack – We are definitely conscious of that, which is why we bring in our popular covers. We still do New Orleans standards and original music, but we also do Beyonce and Jason Durelo covers to get people involved.

Ronan – Yeah, people are not really used to hearing pop songs on those kind of instruments – it’s really something that people can relate to. People can really appreciate the time and work that have been put in by some of the people in our band. We have had years, decades even, of practice and playing.

So, you played LOADS of festivals this summer, including Glastonbury. How do ye feel about that?

Jack – We were obviously starstruck. The show went down really well, considering it was our first gig outside of Ireland. We really were like kids around grownups there. We were playing on the Sunday and we showed up on the Wednesday and were like “Hey, we are Booka Brass, we are here for our passes” and they were so confused that we had shown up so early.

Does it not get tempting to get caught up in the whole festival vibe and just go crazy?

Ronan – It’s lucky because we are used to playing more serious situations so we do turn our blinkers on when needs be. We are obviously going to enjoy ourselves, but we are constantly aware too. It’s a skill you learn and maybe something we weren’t great at first.

You always have a consistent level of energy, how do you keep it going?

Jack – It definitely helps that we really enjoy what we are playing and what we do. We have gotten to a point where we have a great mix of our own tunes which we love because its putting something of your own creation out there and pop covers that get the crowd going. At the end of the day, we prefer playing our own music because we have put so many hours into it.

Ronan – Of course it’s still a mix. We picked the covers because they are what people would like to hear and for ourselves as well.

How do you go about writing originals?

Ronan – Someone will come in with a melodic line, four bars or eight bars, and then Jack might add to that, which makes a massive change to the sound. The bass and drums are usually the foundation of a lot of the stuff sometimes.

Jack – Ronan is always very good to put out a beat to it and then from there people usually suggest new lines. Our rehearsals are intense in a good way because we are all pretty prepared and we get straight down to business. It’s just something we are kind of used to from our experiences before.

 

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What was the highlight of your career so far?

Ronan – When we were playing in the Cork Jazz fest last year, we were playing the only Hot 8 tune in our set, Rastafunk. Next thing we know, the crowd parts and these two massive lads stroll out. It was the trombone player and the sousaphone player from Hot 8! What are the odds.

Jack – They hop up on stage, one of them grabs the trombone off James, shreads a solo and then we played Jungle Boogie together. It was amazing.

Whats the plans for the future?

Jack – This summer we have really established ourselves as a good Irish festival band. Maybe next summer, we might go to Europe or maybe the UK for a month or so. There’s no one I know of that has anything like it in Europe.

Ronan – Of course, one of the goals we had once we set out was to play in New Orleans at some stage, so we would really love to go there.

Any advice for people studying music?

Ronan – Practice really was the most important thing to our success. We put an awful amount of work into this and we are really glad it paid off. Just really dedicate your time to it. The more time you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

And finally… where did the name come from?

Jack – It’s a closely guarded secret. No one is allowed know. Part of the reason was from a story that involved the word ‘Booka’ and we thought, “How awful would it be if we named our band after that?” Then we just did. But when our memoirs come out in years to come, all shall be revealed.

Booka Brass Band are playing in Cork for the Jazz Weekend – Friday 24th, 10:30 in Gallaghers, 12:30 in the Metropole Hotel. Saturday 12:30 in the Metropole again and Sunday in the Oliver Plunkett at 5:30. Booka are also working on an EP, have played with James Vincent McMorrow, Jerry Fish and have a gig in the Button Factory on Friday the 17th of October in Dublin with Paul Noonan from Bell X1. Follow them on Facebook for regular updates.