Podcast: Musician of the Month John Cummins | Cassandra Voices

Podcast: Musician of the Month John Cummins


We have a special edition in our Musician of the Month series as Frank Armstrong interviews John Cummins of the Dublin band Shakalak.

Aficionados of the Dublin cultural scene over the past decade or two are likely to be familiar with John Cummins. Cutting a dash with a distinctive Rasputin beard and Reggae styles, John’s poetic performances in the Dublin vernacular have mesmerised audiences young and old. His playful, rhyming verse always had great musicality, and it seemed a natural progression for him to begin collaborating with musicians, culminating in the formation of the band Shakalak in 2018, which also contains another former Musician of the Month in Fin Divilly. If you haven’t made it along to one of their gigs yet, you are in for a treat.

John recalls some of his earliest musical memories:

Absolutely loved music … I remember going into into the record player in the room and putting her on and learning how to treat the needle respectfully and all that. So you just listen to whatever was there. What was that? Leo Sayer, you know, things like that … And then when I was a little bit older, maybe my brother [Paul] was probably fifteen and he got his hands on the guitar … So Paul would be playing and learning songs in the room, and yeah, I’d be left handed picking her up upside down, just playing one string or something like that, you know, that kind of thing. He’d be doing Simon and Garfunkel songs. I remember your wonderful tonight, Eric Clapton. He learned how to do that one, and he told me that that was his song and that he wrote it, and I believed him. I was of an age to believe that … I must have believed that for years, until it was years later when I was at a party somewhere and I heard it …, fucking Penny dropped … I am old enough to remember Bob Marley when he passed away and and everyone getting the the reggae into you. The knitted jumpers [with] Bob Marley R.I.P. all around and Bobby Sands at the time, all that. And then people going off to the Lebanon, maybe bringing back cassette tapes … and they do the rounds around the estate … So you’d be getting all sorts. And then you may be working and then you’re buying, buying your own music, whatever you like.

And talks about moving from poetic performances into becoming a musician:

So everything that I’ve been writing for a good number of years has consciously been with structure around where it’s easily adaptable to a template for a song. So everything’s been written with music in mind for years and sometimes they’d have melodies, sometimes they wouldn’t, sometimes they’d have certain BPMs or whatever, or even a key. And around that time, 2010 was when I first started. I suppose really performing … I started doing the open mics [in the International], and Stephen James Smith would help me a lot back then. The glass sessions, the Monday Echo, similar things that Minty is doing now on the Tuesday nights and the circle sessions on the Monday nights. Great stuff. This is a great old spot.

And that was where I came out of the shell. I started off hiding behind the page. Then I’d be doing things with my eyes closed. And then you’re just meeting people and you’re hooking up, and you’re there strumming a guitar, and you’re chatting your poems over and it’s all coming together. Loads of little collaborations down the years … Played with a band during the Lingo Festival. I don’t know if you remember that. The Lingo Festival 2014, 15, 16, … played with a band. Then I got the bug and then there was a couple of vibe for fillers where I jumped up on stage with these amazing musicians. And I was doing my poems in between, and that gave me the bug as well. You know, I kept feeding the bug, as it were …  So Fin and I just got just got chatting. It just really happened very naturally, organically and quickly, you know? Meanie. A friend of Finn’s, came in with a couple of little beats because we were looking for a drummer back then, you know, a real life human being drummer like, which, you know, are not that easy to come across.

As to the vibrancy of the Dublin cultural scene today compared to the time he was starting off in early 2010s he says:

It’s a shilling thing, I think. It’s a money thing. Definitely. Things are more expensive. There were some Wednesday nights back then you’d be like a stone going across the town trying to catch several nights that were going on, and the talent, as it were. I don’t really like that word, the talent, but the people sharing their songs and doing their bits and bobs, it was great … there was something in the air … Well venues are less. That’s maths isn’t it. That’s just out there. You can Google that and find out all them that’s disappeared and gone … [But] I think it’s going strong [still]… If you go down there to the sessions on the Monday night [in the International], that room is jammed down there, you know. And then there’s the Smithfield creatives that do bits and bobs. I haven’t been on social media now for for a few years, so I feel that I’m not up to speed to tell you what’s going on around town. But from word of mouth, from what I’m hearing, it’s not the same. Not as maybe … prolific or strong or whatever, but it is happening. Definitely. Yeah.


About Author

Comments are closed.