A Tête-à-tête with Phoenix ChroiWritten by Grainne Walsh
Recent years have seemed a mix up of the days we thought had gone with austerity and protest and stand offs on the streets,
we have never needed our anthems and music that calls to take a stand for our beliefs so much; old bands are celebrating anniversaries for longevity whilst musicians of every generation are starting exciting new projects that are coming out of the grassroots with important impact on that scene.
One such band, Phoenix Chroi was formed from the ashes of the IPO Mob, an East London post punk band. Joe Buck - writer, singer and bassist with FBI and other late 70's/early 80's punk bands and a successful session musician for Recession Recordings, whose clientèle included The Clash, Madness, The Dammed, and the Pogues; and Elaine McGinty - a second generation Irish singer songwriter, continued writing as a duo. The pair worked on other musical projects, infusing different cultural influences, and brought in musicians to collaborate and work with.They continue to mentor other musicians in developing their own original projects and run a project in their home town setting up a non profit community live music venue. The Fiery Bird.
Darren Patoto and Graeme Reeves have been enlisted to complete the line-up and help infuse the Phoenix Chroi songs with their unique talents drawn from their experience over many years of writing and playing, making them the modern anthems they are- the whole band bringing a depth of musicianship in each of their fields and writing songs able to throw out the anger at what is now, the optimism of what is possible, and bringing grown men to tears in a set of beautifully crafted songs exploding out of a powerful live performance.
Phoenix Chroi have been gigging extensively playing with prestigious acts such as: Richie Ramone, The Avengers, and Menace, as well as various punk rock festivals. Their first album "Songs from the Last Five Years" was released during this time. The band continue to play regular shows and are preparing to release a second album.
The Woking band is celebrating the start of an important milestone year for them with the release of their second album 'Humanity Lands' at its launch on 25 February in Guildford. Audiences have been badgering them for another album since Songs from the Last Five Years was released in July 2015. On it's release it was requested by the British Library for their archive as an important cultural contribution to contemporary music 'Humanity Lands is a collection of ten powerful songs covering stories from the lives of people living under regenerating landscapes (Pigeons) the wants vs needs Generation (Ashes) and the title track Humanity Lands, an exhortation to look to the examples of generations past to to be brave and rebuild a future for all.' Despite their credibility of lyric and work in the background this is a band that have seemed to stay under the radar, and you would be forgiven for not hearing of them before. I'd heard good things on the grapevine and wanted to find out more from this enigmatic band so meeting with vocalist and writer of the four piece, Elaine, who met me on a cold day in a small arts centre she runs in Woking, a town that seems like a building site.
What is the Phoenix Chroi story, how did the band come about and what is the history of the name?
The band initially started as The IPO Mob in early 2010 in Hackney. At the time Joe & Misha asked me to join them as a recording project to provide lyrics and vocals on their work; some were adapted from songs that Joe wrote in the late 70's early 80's when he was with various punk bands on the scene or with Recession Recordings. He said as a young boy he was finding out about bands like The Clash and The Damned as they came to record at the studios, not the usual way for kids to find out about bands,\ but in the 70's bunking off school in East London there were lots they were able to get involved with and the older punks were kind and welcoming. We'd meet up to do rough recordings in Misha's flat in Hackney to be sent to other artists who had requested songs. As it went on we were writing songs straight from the warm up sessions, coming away with sometimes 8 songs written each session. The creative spark and band rapport was good so we formed a three piece just vocals, drums and bass did some gigs in London and South East and jammed at a new community venue taken over by friends of Joe's TChances. They went down really well and songs were taken up over in America. Misha left the band to go back to USA and we carried on but without Misha it didn't feel right to use the name we all came up with.
We called it the Phoenix Chroi Collective wanting to incorporate the music that fired us from youth and culture that made us what we are - both our families are from Ireland (Chroi pronounced Cree is the Irish word for heart) but there is a unique thing to being the second generation of a culture abroad - John Walsh wrote a book called Falling Angels those caught in limbo between heaven and earth to describe the diaspora, we identified with that, friends who have parents from other countries have said they felt the same, in each place, the other side especially for those of us growing up in the 70's & 80's. We wanted to work with a variety of musicians on our songs so the collective formed for a while. First and foremost we write songs that mean something to us, either it has happened, an observation on time or it is something someone has told us about, sometimes we will tell people, others it has to speak for itself they can be raw and sometimes so much easier to write or sing the visceral than talk about it.
We decided that we wanted to have a band unit again and our line up of me, Joe, Graeme & Darren came together in 2013. Having worked with so many great people though has given us an extended family of musicians that we value and respect and it is lovely to be on great terms with everyone as well.
We released our CD Songs From The Last Five Years in 2015, (Paul Stone also played on that as he was with us for a while) these were the most prominent of the gigged songs we had done in that time, we wanted to get them documented and move on.
How does the songwriting work for you all, is there a formula or is it more fluid?
Well I write a lot anyway, our lyrics are mainly based on poems that I write - the words just usually spill out in one go and are on the paper before I know what is written there's no plan, and bring to Joe who gets a feel from the poem for the dynamic of the song; Humanity Lands - the title track of our new album was like that, he saw the words as strong and a call to action, they were written a while ago but the timing of release has made us feel the same optimism that people will take back their lives for them and the future, the music went around that feeling, of needing to be strong and hopeful. Similarly, the anger in Pigeons about people being left out of regeneration - I ran a job club and confidence building courses for a charity where I used to work and the stories the people I worked with are in that song. Working for a charity or in the community the buzz word these days is Corporate Social Responsibility, we almost have to doff our caps and companies decide if you are they type of cause they want, half the time you spend trying to get some help for your clients and they decide your cause isn't 'sexy' enough for them, it's frustrating, these things aren't owned by anyone, everyone deserved the right to respect and dignity whatever their need and so many don't realise how easy it is to fall on hard times through grief, or illness or just life hitting you in the face. We were using time we could be helping people trying to sell our need to business for crumbs from the table because business doesn't pay tax. Destruction was a song where the music was written awhile ago and I jammed some lyrics over them of a poem I wrote. That one raises money for a charity that helps people coming out of abusive relationships. Other times, he will play something and it will give me an impression. Beaches, from our first album was like this, it reminded me of the rhythm of waves, and my Mum had recently passed away so it felt reminiscent of a beautiful beach in Ireland we went to as kids, and how your mum is always with you regardless of if they are alive or not, what they teach you are sacred words and then you pass them on. It kind of speaks of how we hear their voices always in our hearts and is a conversation almost between three generations. As time has gone the new songs are worked on from the bones by Joe and words by me by all four of us.
The post punk/new wave band have been busy over recent years not only with their own music but developing other musicians, writing projects and a non profit live music venue project in Woking, the Fiery Bird which is taking off in 2017. Time to spend on their own music has been hard to come by but the band have gigged at festivals and venues over the South East and have a vast catalogue of songs.. How has the band, the venue project and full time jobs and families fitted together it sounds like a lot to deal with?
It is but each is the thing that inspires the other though really the band has taken a back seat to developing the venue but it is really important to us. We live in a wealthy town with pockets of deprivation and it is regenerating, there are no live music venues, we have the highest ethnic diversity in Surrey but no cultural centre, 100k people live in our town and there is a 20year age expectancy difference from one postcode to another because of the social gap. We have a great music heritage - The Jam, Rick Parfitt, Peter Gabriel, Ethel Smyth, but not one single music venue that originals bands can play in, no writing development. We wanted a safe space where everyone felt welcome, traditionally live music has not been a platform for women, despite what people think, to take their place but that needed, and is now changing. Over the last few years there have been more women on the scene promoting and running things and we have set up support groups ourselves to encourage women musicians and then a raft of new promoters seemed to take the next step in 2016 and we are seeing more amongst the younger women go into this especially in the Riot Grrrl scene. We wanted a space where everyone no matter where they were from or who they were could express their creativity and encourage new bands and musicians, where the profits from big gigs (where we would ask the headliner/promoter to give a slot to a local band) be put back into the community to support it, give support to mental health groups, training and employment opportunities to people in creative arts. We have been putting on music for about 8 years in our town, got this small shop a few years ago and now this 1000 cap venue to use for 3 years to make a go of it. We work and connect with a few other like minded venues and promoters in the area and beyond and the network is looking optimistic especially now the Music Venues Trust is advocating for everyone. It felt very lonely when we started and it has been hard but we are going to do our best to get this place set up, because we feel passionate about it. It isn't ours Joe and I started it so the Town owned it to make a future for music and community arts here Joe had worked on projects like this before and been teaching music in different settings as well as playing and writing. It has meant we haven't had time to market our band in the way that it is usually expected like the online presence; we love writing, gigging etc all are intrinsic to what we do and that is where we like to meet people and always have a great gig, but we admit that we are more comfortable pushing other people forward than marketing ourselves, maybe we should get someone to take us in hand. It's been an uphill struggle, a lot of knockbacks, sometimes very isolating and sometimes felt like an episode of Scooby Doo and we are the pesky kids getting in the way of the big plans but you can't resent the sacrifice when we see so many people excited about their venue though, or a new band get on because of that work either, it makes for a happy life and after all it is better than being at Bingo, apparently.
You have been described as having poetic lyrics, powerful vocals, driving bass and spare guitar riffs have drawing comparisons to Patti Smith, Grace Slick and Siouxsie Sioux, are these aims or an accidental collide?
Well obviously any iconic comparisons are going to be welcome, there was nothing deliberate because when you write something that just comes from you I can't see how you can make that sound, the words and feelings anything other than what it wants to be though none of us exist in a vacuum, all our cultural references come to bear on what we do. The thing I have liked about that comparison is it gave me the impetus to find out more about those artists beyond the superficial I knew and Patti Smith in particular is a true literary icon for me. In all honesty with writing, William Blake and other poets have been my main influence and bands like The Small Faces, artists like Kirsty MacColl and Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, Ray Davies, Nina Simone probably too as lyricists and people who work in authenticity and integrity with their creativity, but amongst so many others - there are so many different things that ping about in our brains and everyday. Joe is more from the punk scene and worked with many musicians both in previous bands and when he did session work for some of the bigger bands in his early days. Graeme and Darren are from completely different outlooks of music, it makes it interesting as none of us understand a single thing the other is talking about so what ends up is an coming together of something that is about that song entirely. Mainly though, because we are in touch with so many new and emerging bands on the scene, in all honesty their originality is inspiring and we find there is a really strong artistic grass roots scene, it just needs the support it deserves.
The CD launch will take place at the City Club, St Joseph's Rd on Sat 25 February with support from festival favourites Morgellons, young ska punk ambassadors Skaciety and DJ's Rudeboy Productions. MC on the night will be Undercover Festival founder Mick Moriarty keeping them all in order. The band want the night to be a party to celebrate with supporters and friends. Entry is £5 with all proceeds going to The Phoenix Cultural Centre CIC the project that runs the community live music, cultural and arts venue project in Woking.
Event Details Here
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What other people have said
' there's original and there's bands that break the mould apart - this is the latter, they are a powerhouse of no nonsense no hype musicians at the top of their game - finely crafted songs bringing forward the legacy of the poetry of Patti Smith and the power of Grace Slick with a compassionate eye on the horrors of the day a jewel amongst what can be a tired retro concrete jungle'
' a league apart, never seen a bad gig from this band every single time they deliver'
'Phoenix Chroi tear through a blistering set of finely crafted tunes'
'Phoenix Chroi, an amazing band I caught live nearly a year ago. The band's performance that night has been the longest running 'ear worm' ever and last week I got round to buying their very wonderful album. Check them out - The CD is great, live they are so powerful...Treat yourself and buy the album' Mark C
'late 70's punk meets the stooges/and replacements/meets mid-late 70's Patti Smith, amazing stuff, great riffs' Stray Monkey Productions