I can still recall the excitement of realising that a guy from Offaly who wrote his own songs, was not only having them played on national radio, but had one of those songs included on a Hollywood blockbuster! It seemed unreal, like the sort of thing a lot of people would have tried to tell you couldn’t happen. But there he was, Mundy, one Edmund Enright from Birr, right in the heart of the midlands, with ‘To You I Bestow’ on the soundtrack to ‘Romeo And Juliet’, staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes. And what was more, ‘To You I Bestow’ was from Mundy’s debut album, ‘Jelly Legs.’ Album number one and a track on a Hollywood hit! The big lesson I learned from that (and I carry it with me to this day) is that a lot of people often have no clue what they’re talking about, or what can and can’t happen. I also learned, of course, that Mundy’s ‘Jelly Legs’ collection was about far more than one song. ‘Life’s A Cinch’, ‘Gin & Tonic Sky’, ‘Arrow of Gold’, they all became trusted travelling companions for times of trouble, celebration, torment, and elation through the nineties and beyond for me. Me, and most of Ireland. And this year ‘Jelly Legs’ celebrates its 21st anniversary.
Now to many, Mundy will be known first and foremost as a rocker. But as seems to be the case with so many great rockers, an appreciation for country music is never too far away. And the same is true for Mundy. In fact, on his ‘Shuffle’ album, Mundy’s tribute to the songwriters who inspired him, he covers work from some songwriters who are nothing short of icons in country music: Hank Williams, John Prine, Lucinda Williams, and Jimmie Rodgers. Most people would also think of Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett as an out-and-out rocker, but yet he released his third Americana album, the glorious ‘West Coast Town’, earlier this year. So, when I sat down with Mundy recently, I asked him what is it about country songs that seems to attract and appeal to guys like Chris and himself?
“There’s an honesty in country music. And hey, not everybody’s from the city. I think there’s an honesty about where you’ve grown up, a rawness, a loneliness, and a starkness, and an abandonment there. There’s a lot of people in the music business who grew up in those kind of ‘one-horse’ towns, ya know. People that had to leave somewhere to get to the next place. I think country music – the right type of country music, at least – is raw, and vulnerable, and makes no qualms about saying what it wants to say. I think that’s probably what it is.”
Mundy, like all of us, has of course grown and changed as an individual during the twenty-one years between ‘Jelly Legs’ and today. But what about his songwriting? Has his style or process in that regard changed much over the years, or does it all happen in pretty much the same way?
“It’s getting harder for me to find the time, to be honest. When I do find the time, I have an idea of what I want to do and where to start. But the one big thing for me is just letting go. Forgetting about the end product, and just let the show begin! As in let the words come out, and let as many of them as possible come out. There’s a very bad habit where you can just ‘break-the-skeleton’ [of the song] before it’s even finished, and just throw it away. Like, I’ve had a good bit of success in the last twenty-one years, and you’re kind of always expecting the beginning of a song to get somewhere [to progress] very quickly. But when it doesn’t, you just throw it in the bin. And that’s the wrong thing to do. You have to nurture some of these ideas. Stay with them, and let them stay with you a little bit longer. So I’m tryin’ to be less critical, because it’s a bad habit to get into, ya know. And I’ve gotten a bit like that, killing an idea before it even has a chance to form. So, I’m trying to be kinder to the ideas, that’s exactly what I’m trying to do!”
Returning to the fabulous collection of songs on ‘Shuffle’, another of those writers to whom Mundy was paying tribute was Bob Dylan, who picked up (finally) the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. As a Dylan fan, and as a songwriter himself, what did Mundy make of that news?
“I thought, well that makes sense to me! I mean, he’s written a lot of great songs. And a lot of long songs. He labours over his words in a big way and I think he’s a master of turning a phrase. I can see why some people might have got angry, because it wasn’t exactly ….[a book? I suggested] Well, ya know what, ‘Chronicles’ is one of the best books I’ve ever read. But I’d say there’s a big hierarchy there in the world of literature who are goin’ through it with a fine-comb, and sayin’, ‘But this doesn’t make sense?!’ [laughs]. And I’m sure Dylan was probably sayin’ to himself, o.k, so I’ve received this even though I wasn’t lookin’ for it…..So I don’t know if he even knew himself what way to accept it. But yeah, why not, ya know. He’s definitely brought literature into music for the likes of myself. I wouldn’t have heard of Arthur Rimbaud or Kafka, or any of these people if it wasn’t for Dylan. So he’s certainly opened up that door.”
As mentioned, somehow, in that way time does, twenty-one years have passed since ‘Jelly Legs’ took its first steps upon the landscape of Irish music. Twenty-one years on, and it’s still standing strong. When we spoke, Mundy had just begun a tour celebrating the album’s 21st anniversary, and with the original band line-up from back in the day, too.I wondered if it all felt like twenty-one years ago, first of all? But also, did Mundy ever imagine back then that twenty-one years on so many people would still be so excited about listening to the songs on ‘Jelly Legs’?
“Well, that’s a good question. I never thought twenty-one years ahead back then. I was only livin’ day-to-day and song-to-song, to the next album, ya know. But lookin’ back, it doesn’t feel like twenty-one years, no. But there’s a lot of it that I kinda had forgotten about, cos’ it is a long time ago, I suppose. I reformed the band that played on the album – we hadn’t played with each other in nearly…had to be the guts of eighteen years – so that was kinda nerve-racking. I was hoping we still had ‘it’, ya know. I mean, the lads have all still carried on with their own musical careers, so thankfully there was none of us all over the place, like if we were starting all over again! [laughs]. And ironically we started off with what was is, I guess, the first song on ‘Jelly Legs’, a song called ‘Reunion.’ We played that one first, and it and it’s not the easiest of songs, but it was awesome. It just sounded really, really good. So we’ve had some great rehearsals and we’ve got three gigs behind us now, and another five left to go.”
So what had fans been getting at these shows? Had Mundy been playing the album straight-through, like it’s tracklisted, as is often the case for occasions like these?
“More or less, yeah. We have an intro tune, then we walk on, we play the first six songs of the album. Then we do a B-side from one of the singles, a rare song that we never really played ‘live’, but it’s probably a song that should have been on the album. Then we go back and play another bunch of songs from the album, then a cover, a few more rockers, then an encore. So yeah, we kinda mix it up. I do a couple of other oldies as well, because there are people coming to the gigs – and it always happens, even when you tell people what you’re celebrating or doing – they want to hear some of the other songs, so I’m throwin’ in a few solo ones like that. And I have a new song that’s basically like an autobiography up to now of my musical career, so that’s quite appropriate, I think. It’s called ‘Sometimes I Thought I Was You.’ ”
Everybody knows and remembers the big songs from ‘Jelly Legs’, tracks such as ‘Gin And Tonic Sky’, ‘Life’s A Cinch’ (one of my own all-time favourites!), and of course, ‘To You I Bestow’. But what I wondered if there was a song, or maybe songs, on the album that Mundy felt might never have received the attention they deserved?
“Well, it’s weird, I mean they’re three really good songs. But there’s a load of other really good songs on it which I forgot about! The one song I’m really excited about singing, that I feel is very much in my heart now, is ‘Springtown’, which is a song about Birr. It’s quite a melancholy, bitter-sweet ballad, really. There’s three or four other upbeat rockers on it, there’s a song called ‘Thanks For The Stones’, (‘The Stone’) which would have been one of the first songs I wrote on the album, a really upbeat, grungy thing! Then there’s a song called ‘Sisters’ that’s in that vein, too. There’s an energy there, let me put it this way, that only a twenty year old could have, ya know.”
Was he surprised that ‘Springtown’, a song he wrote so long ago and when he was so young, had come to mean so much to him at this particular time in his life?
“Well, like I was sayin’, it is quite bittersweet, and I suppose I was a bit…kind of afraid, of a few things that I said in it. But I wrote it without editing it too much because I suppose I had that belief in what I was sayin’. But now, I’m kinda listenin’ to it and goin’, ya know what…it’s kinda quite poetic. It’s actually very poetic, in its own way, so I’m proud of it, yeah, very proud of my words. It was a sub-conscious honesty, ya know.”
‘To You I Bestow’ was the song that really catapulted Mundy before an international audience. Looking back on it now, that really was such a monster achievement, having a song from his debut album make the soundtrack to such a massive movie, ‘Romeo And Juliet.’ Could he still remember how it all unfolded at the time?
“Oh yeah, yeah. Basically I got a phone call about it one day. I always used to ring my manager over in England and go, any good news, any bad news, any whatever, ya know [laughs]. And she said to me that Sony had been approached by this guy called Nellee Hooper regarding a couple of songs for a new movie that was coming out, and it was going to be a big blockbuster, fingers crossed we’d get one on it. So I was like, what songs did you send and she told me ‘Gin And Tonic Sky’ and ‘To You I Bestow.’ Now, we didn’t think we had a chance because other bands had been mentioned like Radiohead, and The Cardigans. So then when it happened, it was like, oh my God! Things are gonna change now.”
One of the hugely positive developments in the music industry over the last few years has been the resurgence of interest in vinyl, because, as anybody in the industry will tell you, it’s an actual, physical, tangible, tactile product that fans want. And now, of course, and for the first time, ‘Jelly Legs’ is on vinyl, too! What was it like for Mundy to finally get a copy in his own hands?
“It was pretty incredible! And the thing is, all of the singles [from the album] came out on vinyl, so I never understood why they did that but never put the whole album out on vinyl. And I didn’t think I had a relationship left with Sony, to be honest. But me and a friend of mine called in and we said, look, this is what we’re doing, and we’ll be going out on a tour as well…is there anything ye think that ye could get involved in with a reissue of the album? Because it isn’t available physically anymore. And they were like, we’ll do a double-vinyl of it. And I was like….Are you kidding me?! [laughs]. So they sent it to me anyway, and it’s way more impressive than the cd, ya know. You’re pulling two big, heavy vinyls out of two big, massive pictures of me and the band, and you have all the lyrics written on the back, all the credits. Ya know, it’s not all squashed down. Because when I actually hand-wrote all the lyrics for the cd, then everything was brought down to scale rather than left at the scale it was written at. But yeah, I’m very impressed with it. I have it at home, and it sounds great on the record player. Every home should have one! [laughs].”
The Jelly Legs Anniversary Tour is scheduled to finish up in Birr, or ‘Springtown’, on October 29th. Now Mundy has obviously played many’s a hometown gig over the years, but this time, given the occasion, I felt it would be something a little bit extra-special for him. Was I right, though?
“It will, absolutely. I was putting this tour together, I don’t know, eight or nine months ago, and I was looking around at what dates were around the country, what venues were available and all of that, and Birr was definitely going to be one of them. But it was due to their calendar that we’re playing on the 29th, it was the date they had left. And I just thought, well this is perfect, it’s the very last night of the tour. I mean, I didn’t even realise that it wasn’t a school night [laughs]. Myself and the lads are going to stay down in Birr and have a hooley! And it looks like there might be some gigs coming over in the UK as well. Sure it’s twenty-one [the album] for a whole year, that’s the way I look at it!”
Keeping Mundy and his band company on this tour are the North Carolina outfit, Happy Abandon.
“There’s a pal of mine, Stephen Judge, who’s from North Carolina, where he has a little record label and a well-known record shop. He had a wedding party and the band, Happy Abandon, were playing at it and they were really, really good. Then he asked me if I was interested in having them along for support, and I said yeah. They’re really worth hearing, they’re pretty awesome. It’s a three-piece band, but they make a BIG sound.”
While he made it to Screggan for the National Ploughing Championships recently, he’s also been back over in the States and in Finland of late. Now here at home, I’ve seen it with my own eyes, nights where Mundy can barely get to say hello before there’s some bright spark screaming for ‘Galway Girl’! But when he’s overseas, does he find that it’s a very different set of songs that fans most often request?
“Yeah, I just played Finland, right, and nobody really knows anything about me there, but I had a couple of really great gigs. But when people hear that you’re Irish they do associate you with Irish music. So I’ve found that I’ve thrown about four Irish ballads into my set, plus ‘Galway Girl’, you kind of have to embrace where you’re from in situations like that. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Like I keep telling people too, ya know I’ve written all my own songs and they’re Irish as well cos’ I’m Irish [laughs]. Even though they probably don’t ‘sound’ like what people expect Irish songs to ‘sound’ like, ya know. But yeah, sometimes you just embrace your heritage and throw in a few songs that will keep the flag flyin’. I rarely have to do that, mind you, but I don’t mind doin’ it when it makes sense to do it.”
* Mundy’s ‘Jelly Legs’ 21st Anniversary Tour wraps up in Birr on October 29th. And, not surprisingly, the ‘Full House’ sign is already set to hang on the front door that night as the show is a complete sell-out.
** Fear not, though, because some tickets are still available for his shows in Monroe’s of Galway on October 27th, and The Academy in Dublin on October 28th.
His contribution to the Irish music scene has been recognised by his inclusion in the entertainment industry directory, the Hot Press Yearbook 2017, which is the essential music and media who's-who in Ireland. Anthony was also asked to present John Farry (Nathan Carter's manager) with his award for Best Original Album at the 2017 Hot Country Awards and in 2015 presented Lisa McHugh with her Female Entertainer of the Year award.
In his role with HEM Country, Anthony has interviewed many artists who are well known names on the international stage, among them Clare Bowen, Imelda May, and Una Healy, as well as rising stars like Courtney Marie Andrews. Anthony's features for HEM Country have also helped to shine a spotlight on many of the best Irish country acts like Robert Mizzell, Cliona Hagan, Barry Kirwan, Bernie Heaney, and Hurricane Highway, bringing their talent and achievements to an even wider audience.
During his time writing 'On The Right TRAX', Anthony has interviewed most of the biggest stars on the Irish country scene, including Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Lisa McHugh, Philomena Begley, Sandy Kelly, and Derek Ryan. He has also chatted with international artists such as Sunny Sweeney, Jim Rooney, Max T. Barnes, the late George Hamilton IV, and Tony Christie.
Anthony's sphere of influence extends well past the boundaries of country music, however, with time spent in conversation with international popstar Kiesza also to his credit. He has also shared time with several other artists from the Emerald Isle whose fame reaches beyond those shores, including Mundy, The Fureys, Frances Black, Pete Kennedy, Rackhouse Pilfer, The 4 of Us, Roisin O, Ham Sandwich and Mick Flannery.
As a writer, lyricist, and poet himself, however, songwriters have a very special place in Anthony's heart and some of his favourite interviews (together with the songwriters already mentioned) include those with Jimmy McCarthy, Johnny McEvoy, Charlie McGettigan, Kieran Goss, and Niall Toner.
Other household names whom Anthony has interviewed for 'On The Right TRAX' are the famous comedians Tommy Tiernan, Des Bishop, Neil Delamere, Jason Byrne, Andrew Maxwell, and Brendan Grace, as well as celebrity chef Rachel Allen, and television presenter Kathryn Thomas.
Anthony also does some artist representation and PR work, and has successfully secured national television and radio appearances for Irish and American artists.
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