Cillian Foster isn’t merely the familiar face slinging the best pints of Guinness in Malta to thirsty customers from behind the pine of Spinola Bay’s beloved Dubliner Pub. He’s an artist brimming with ability, embracing a temporary hiatus from the chaos and demand of Dublin’s music scene while soaking up inspiration on Malta’s sunny shores until his next project takes flight.
To some in Malta, he’s the blurry-faced scapegoat for Sunday morning hangovers – but to many back in Dublin he’s a status-quo dissenter, a revivalist of the punk spirit, and a nostalgic necromancer of Britpop in its heyday.
His previous album, “Volume I”, can only be described as the sound of a poised Johnny Rotten and contemplative Joe Strummer debating the fate of punk rock, while Richard Ashcroft, Damon Albarn, and the Ocean Colour Scene peer over the fence for an eavesdrop, and The Brothers Gallagher bulldoze that very fence in a chaotic waltz.
I caught up with Cillian at his perch in Pieta to delve into his past as an indie musician in Ireland, discover what he’s been up to here in Malta, and uncover his blueprints for future projects.
Mike Finnegan: So Cillian what have you been up to here in Malta?
Cillian Foster: I’ve been working every day at the bar! (laughs) Nah, I’ve also done a few gigs at Casey’s Bar, was there last night actually. It’s starting to rejuvenate my passion for playing live again. But mostly I’m just trying to enjoy this new lifestyle.
I bought a one-way ticket, so there’s no go-plan really. Whenever I get bored, I’ll just head off to the next country.
Cillian Foster’s GDC – Jazz
MF: I saw that you’ve done quite a bit of touring with some pretty big names back in Ireland, like Paddy Casey, Relish, The Fureys, Mundy, and Don Baker. How did you all link up?
CF: When you’re touring with these bands, you get to meet all of these other musicians, and if they like what you’re doing then you’ll get a few phone calls, yunno?
But when I was really starting off, at about 18 or 19, I remember buying the Hot Press Yearbook. And at the back of it, there’s a list of all the band’s managers and their contact info. I rang every single one of them – but when they learned I was solo, I didn’t get very far, yunno?
So what I did was, (laughs) I set up a fake record label just to sound a bit more legit in those days. I think it was called GMC records or something? And I would give fake phone numbers in the UK and New York that would just have a dial tone – no one would pick up on the other end. Just the home phone.
I was 18 at the time, living at home, and I made my parents answer the phone every time with: “Hello, GMC Management”! Yunno, just in case… They were GMC receptionists at the Dublin branch (laughs).
MF: Bold man, I like it! Did it work?
CF: Eventually I got a call from Don Baker and he said, “Cillian there?” and I was like, “Emm, yeap it’s Cillian”. And Don goes, “Listen how long is your set?” I told him I had about an hour and half or two hours of material, and he goes, “Right, so how about you open for me in Clifden for an hour and half, and I’ll do thirty minutes?” (laughs)
So that was my first gig with Don Baker! What an introduction…Then from there I did a ton of gigs with him for about four or five years, and I just met a bunch of these other artists on the road.
Cillian Foster’s GDC – “See What Happens”
MF: I saw that you played with Glen Hansard as well, what’s the story behind that one?
CF: So that was to raise money for the Special Olympics. My sister’s child has Down syndrome, and I got a phone call from somebody involved with this charity busk on Henry Street in Dublin. I was to do an hour, and then Glen was to do an hour, and whatever we raised was pooled for the charity.
I knew Glen from the touring circuit, and when I finished up my hour he said, ‘Hang on, play a couple songs with me.’ There were busks going on all over Ireland, and I believe we all raised well over a million.
MF: Brilliant work. I saw Glen at a benefit concert in Galway back in December of last year, he was just after an all-day charity busk in Dublin, then drove cross-country and did it all again for us in the West. He’s some man for raising money.
CF: Funny thing, later on when I released the single “Ballad of Addiction” from my last album, I rang up Glen and told him, ‘Look guys, I’ve this song that I want to release as a single, and donate whatever it makes to the Home Sweet Home charity’ – where he’s been raising money for the homeless through his Christmas busks and benefit concerts. The same charity he raised money for at your Galway show.
I’ll tell ya, when we played together on Henry Street that time…he sang “Star Star” which is one of his quieter songs, but the projection in his voice…you could fuckin’ hear it all down the street! The busk wasn’t advertised or anything, just people walking by, crowding in. By the end we played with about 400 people in front of us piled in on the street.
Cillian Foster and Glen Hansard
MF: You can’t teach passion, you either have it or you don’t. And you’re either willing to share it, or you’re not. I could hear a Hansard-esque passion in your lyrics on “Volume I”. It was the first thing I noticed, followed by your conjuring of Joe Strummer.
CF: Yeah as a songwriter you’re putting it all out there to be criticized. Whether they’re good or bad, each and every one of those songs are about me, and there’s nothing hidden. If you sit and read the lyrics, some of them are pretty tough man, but it’s me. Down to the Dublin accent, it’s me.
MF: Can we look forward to any new projects in the coming months?
CF: At the moment I’m just enjoying a bit of a break, and recharging the gears. But music is in my blood, so I’m always playing. I’ll be doing a few gigs down at Casey’s Bar here and there, and maybe a few different spots around the island later this summer.
At the moment I’ve a side project going called LostFoundingFathers, with Ray Heffernan who’s in Milan, Micheál Roche in County Sligo, and Tyrone Relph in County Tyrone. It started with us all wanting to write a song together, so we got on Skype, and one of us would write a guitar piece, play it for the others – and we’d all go off and write our own song with it. Then we’d get back online, sing it, and pick the best bits from the lot of it.
So we planned on doing just one song, but ended up doing about five or six which are all pretty much ready for the studio.
Words by: Mike Finnegan