The Monthly talks to the OTH Music Collective’s Paul Kane about the Room Songs project

What is the name of the project and how did it come about?

The name of this project is called Room Songs and it really started off with me not being able to sleep at night. I was lying in bed trying various methods to get to sleep, a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, and even a glass of warm milk and when that didn’t work I decided to travel in my head to places I had been in my professional and private life.

I took walks to Greenwich Village in New York, I walked around Broadway in Nashville, to Kigali in Rwanda, to Matagalpa in Nicaragua, and I felt as if my bedroom was facilitating this experience. I started to think about the other rooms in my house, and what my relationship was with them might be.

Photo – Carrie Davenport

Now, Lockdown has to be factored into this because I live alone and I was spending a lot more time at home than I would normally. I don’t have a TV so there was a lot of time for thinking and for reflection. I was tending to read more, to listen to music and of course ultimately to think a lot more.

I started to think about music and about creating a musical response to my thoughts.  I wondered if anyone else might be going through a similar experience. I ended up contacting Jon Moorehead, Chip Bailey and Bernard Jackson, all of whom live alone and are also musicians to see if they might be interested in working up this idea.

How do you move from that to the project taking shape?

I received an email from Brona Whittaker from Arts and Business NI, talking about funding opportunities which were available to look into people’s experiences during Lockdown in an artistic way.  This was through Bank of Ireland and their all Ireland funding which had just launched.

I spoke to Hannah Lamont at Business To Arts in Dublin, went through some queries including potential conflicts of interest; OTH needed a partner organisation and I wanted to work with the Oh Yeah Music Centre.   We resolved those matters and then we were commissioned to work on a project where we would create songs, and produce a short film focussing on the rooms we all lived in.

Photo – Carrie Davenport

Where are you up to with the project?

The process has been us writing on our own, having conversations over the phone and on Zoom and now that Lockdown restrictions have eased we have been able to collaborate on each other’s work. We are almost complete with just our final film edits and tracks to be mastered.

What direction did you move in musically?

I have moved in a different direction to what I would normally produce. I created instrumentals and I am marrying them with Haiku poetry. So, I have created a trilogy of ideas expressed through short spoken word over instrumental music.

I had an idea for a track, which looked into the history of my house. That came about when I re-mortgaged my house and I was looking at the original deeds. The house was originally owned by two Jewish cattle merchants and I had been wondering what their life might have been like in the 1900’s. That started me thinking about the house and what things had happened with the people who had lived there. I ended up writing a trilogy called, “Alpha, Omega”.

Effectively the track looks at the house having had a death, a marriage, and a birth, and so I produced with the other musicians a Jewish lament, and then a Jewish Wedding Polka, and after that we produced another short piece of music about birth and regenration, all of which represent the various episodes within the house.

Photo – Carrie Davenport

What about the other musicians?

They all ventured in different directions. Chip produced a spoken word piece called reflections and How Did I Get Here which reflect aspects about his life, and he writes about his chosen room, which is his studio which is covered with Musical memories, family snaps and football memorabilia, he is a huge Chelsea fan.  Bernard produced an instrumental piece alongside a beautiful solo vocal and guitar track recorded live.  Jon produced a two instrumental pieces which featured a more heavy guitar sound with a bigger band feel.

Actually it is quite interesting that while we are all songwriters some have mostly stayed away from lyric writing and worked on instrumentals with the addition of spoken word in some instances.  Although we collaborated on some of the tracks they are all very different and diverse.

Photo – Carrie Davenport

What about the film?

That has also been very interesting because we have come together firstly as individuals and then as a group and through the process of making the film we have talked about loss, death, illness, divorce, all the things that we were all going through. Obviously we also discussed the impact Covid 19 had on all of us.

While it may seem personalised, we feel there would be a universal element to our stories as well. We think there will be plenty of people who have experienced things very similar to our experiences.

Is there any last things you want to say?

We are hoping that we can use the film and the songs for the work we do with OTH Music Collective. We hope to incorporate the material into our future workshops when we go into care homes and places like that. We feel that this is a snapshot of who we are and hopefully both the music and the film will be a lasting legacy to the work we created.

We also want to thank Bank of Ireland and the Begin Together Arts Fund, and we would like to thank the organisation, Business to Arts. Thanks to those organisations we were able to move forward with the project.


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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.