Aideen Rickard is a trombonist for St George’s Brass Band. Trombones, like most brass instruments, are not quiet, or subtle.
You can buy mutes for many brass instruments – truncated cones of metal or plastic to stick in their bell and dull the sound – but that isn’t always enough. Depending on your neighbours.
When Rickard moved in to her current home, practising became an issue. Neighbours “complained, and eventually we got letters from the management company, and told to stop,” she said.
She is not alone. For many musicians in the city, finding a place to practice can be a major challenge – or even an obstacle to their career and creative development.
It’s the hottest Monday of the year, for sure. It is still a Monday, though, and St George’s Brass Band are gearing up for their weekly rehearsal in the Church of St George and St Thomas, a small, dignified house of worship on Cathal Brugha Street.
“We’re the only brass band in Dublin,” says the band’s chairperson, Joe Sheils. There’s the Blanchardstown Brass Band, and the Stedfast band in Blackrock, but within the area an older generation would have called “town”, St George’s are the only ones.
“The rest are all concert bands, or wind bands,” says Sheils. Most others have a wind section, or a few clarinets alongside the brass instruments – a fine distinction, maybe, but as anyone who’s serious about music will know, it’s the small things that make all the difference.
St George’s, like many bands of a similar nature, have been secure in where they practice for years. Similarly, Philip Bailey of Stedfast says that “we have been renting the same premises for, probably, about fifty years, so we don’t have any issue”.
The musicians that play in these bands, though, are not always so lucky. In apartments, rented accommodation, or even just in densely populated neighbourhoods, there are rules, there are neighbours, and there is always somebody you might annoy.
While Rickard has had troubles, Wolfgang Marx, solo cornet player for St George’s, says he’s lucky at the moment: although his apartment block has rules about noise levels, his work schedule means he can practice during the day.
Andrew Sparks, who plays the repiano cornet for the band, says, “I’d almost feel embarrassed practicing some of the time.” Some of his neighbours are musicians, but he doesn’t feel comfortable practicing with everyone listening.
You get the sense talking to any given musician that finding somewhere to practice in the city isn’t really an issue – until it is.
Rickard says she can’t get as much work as she’d like done, owing to her present situation. But many others, no doubt, have rarely or never had to think about it.
Joe Panama is the bass player with Overhead, The Albatross, a mainly instrumental post-rock band who have recently brought out their debut album.
“I think the city centre is a difficult place to have rehearsal spaces,” he says. He says that bands encounter any number of problems looking for places to rehearse. Sometimes it’s the cost – “you rent spaces for a four or five hour slot, but you’re playing over the odds for a space”. Different studios lack the requisite equipment, be it with regards to amps, PAs, or drum kits. Others just aren’t open at the right times.
For a band like Overhead, The Albatross, with a line-up that includes plenty of synths, keys, and any number of other instruments, it can be hard to get the sound right. There’s more to it than bashing away at a drum kit and cranking up the distortion on your guitar. Panama says there are places that might not be equipped for these nuances in their sound, being more accustomed to blunter, more straightforward rock groups.
One such group is Bitch Falcon. Their social-media channels list their genre as “straight-up rock”.
They are a three-piece at present, and all three members have full-time jobs. They’ve been making some reasonably sized waves with their music of late, “but it’d be going an awful lot better if we had access to more time”, says drummer Nigel Kenny. They are splitting a city-centre rehearsal studio with other bands, and they’re guaranteed one day out of seven in it. But that’s not enough.
“We need to be in a room three days a week, really four days a week, for it to work”, he says. Such an arrangement, in a decent room, is hard to come by, however.
Without the time and space to practice, their sound and the potency they can bring to a live performance, both of which have “accelerated” somewhat in the last year, are inhibited.
“Without somewhere for us to rehearse on a regular basis,” Kenny says it’s hard for the group to make the same progress as they’d hope. He’d go as far as saying that the group’s career is being impeded by the lack of available facilities.
Panama meanwhile, says that Overhead, The Albatross practice in a studio their keyboard player built in his garden, in Straffan, Co. Kildare, partly at least because it was so hard to find adequate spaces in the city.
Adam Redmond, the drummer of Search Party Animals, a young band formerly known as Bagels, says finding a practice space has “never really been a hindrance”.
Redmond, however, is the first to acknowledge that his group have been lucky. Nowadays, they practice in their keyboard player’s house.
And before that? “My granny’s shed.”