Peter O'Toole of Hothouse Flowers writes for Culture on RTÉ about how he came up with a novel approach and method to make his new album, Leaving White Cedar
I was always destined to be a musician. As a young kid I nailed together two pieces of wood and used my grandmother’s wool as make believe strings and started dreaming of playing venues around the world. Born with a perforated eardrum, it looked like my hearing was in doubt but I never stopped dreaming. After several years of hospital visits all was corrected.
Fast forward to March 2020 . . . Belgrade, London, Belfast, Larne, Newry, Glastonbury . . . the list goes on. All my concerts with Hothouse Flowers cancelled.
What next. Well I decided to get busy. I wrote, produced, recorded, filmed, and released two works that are now available to watch and listen to. Aided by a Covid 19 award from The Arts Council of Ireland, I was able to put my plans into action.
I looked at how I could connect with an audience in an interesting and uplifting way and came up with 10 Tunes 10 Instruments One Musician. Inspired by walks in the countryside during lockdown, I composed 10 tunes to be played on 10 different instruments and recorded with one microphone with an android phone capturing the performances.
I started observing life around me. Fields and animals, old ruins and the stories they leave behind. Knowing emigration hit Tipperary hard, I sensed the past in these places. So I started to write down what I saw and felt and noticed the volume of the birds singing. I recorded them on my phone and that was the beginning of the journey. Life goes on in the animal world. Farmers are as busy as ever. The sky is empty. No planes. Only birds and insects. The community had to adjust and all those chats people were used to had to stop. Even mass stopped.
Instruments used include harmonica, tin whistle, bouzouki, piano, Zhong Ruan (a Chinese guitar borrowed from a friend), acoustic electric and bass guitars, mandolin and banjo.
Described by Pat Carty in Hot Press Magazine as "being able to make music from a ball of wool", I set about opening my musical mind and producing this unique piece of work. It was as if the world went into pause and opened up space for me to do something that was waiting for the right moment to appear.
The natural thing to do next was an album. Leaving White Cedar includes the 10 tunes from the short movie plus four brand new songs that were composed in May/June. I wanted to share this music with people because of its raw calming emotional and comedic effects.
There are meditation pieces, like April Morning Walk, and Butterfly Leaf but also joyous barnyard stomps like Tipperary Cockarel and The Gap In The Hedge. It’s soothing and energetic at the same time. All captured with the most basic equipment and technology. I want to tour this album when venues open up again but will need to design a big enough flight case to hold all the instruments being played in the show!!
I decided to release it myself through my website and email order and maybe try online platforms and record shops later. I’ve been given amazing support and encouragement so far and for that I am grateful. No big machine, just people connecting.
Having done an online show as part of Ireland Performs, I plan to put together another show online to celebrate the release of his album. The creative and arts and music sector is still basically shut down and a lot of people are awaiting the reopening of venues clubs, bars, theatres, concert halls, and arts centres. Thousands of people are without work right now in this industry and I am lucky that I can at least make music and perform mini house gigs.
The feeling of performing to an empty room never felt so magical as it does right now knowing people are at the other end of the phone or computer listening and sharing and commenting. It’s a very special feeling."
Leaving White Cedar is available to order from email@example.com and