Walking down Shop Street is a wonderful experience – assuming you’re not in a rush that is, because buskers take over. But one band in particular grabs your eye and your ears and that is the Galway Street Club – 15 people playing as many instruments aren’t something you can walk easily past.
Galway Street Club started by accident in March 2016 when a group of individual buskers decided to start jamming together and it grew from there. Scally, a cajun musician; Laura, a ukulele player; Spud, a guitarist, Adnaan, a fiddler; Kai, a drummer; and James, a guitar player, talk about their journey to Galway Street Club and what being a part of the group is like.
“I came up to Galway to go to college,” laughs Scally, “but that didn’t go too well.” He explains that after a night out he decided to go out and play guitar, even though he only knew a few chords. When he saw the money in his pocket the next morning he couldn’t believe people gave cash for that. And so, he dropped out of college to pursue busking.
Adnaan started busking at the age of five in front of a local supermarket in small-town Connecticut. He laughs as he tries to remember whether or not his mother was behind this.
“It was my idea to play the violin and then she wouldn’t let me stop,” he says. “I was pretty bad at the violin at that point, as you might imagine, but the cuteness factor helped,” laughs Adnaan. Now, at the age of 24, he is still busking.
“As the cuteness factor dropped as I got older, the skill level kind of went up, so I make about the same money at 24 as I did at five.”
Guitarist James also took up playing as a youngster. “I started playing guitar when I was ten or eleven years-old and was pretty much an annoying little guitar kid singing Mumford and Sons for my teenage years,” he laughs.
He studied astrophysics here in Galway for two years but he admits that he took too much on with that course and dropped out of college. He began busking when he first moved here but he was on the verge of moving back in with his parents when Galway Street Club started. “Everything’s been fantastic since then,” he says.
Kai began his music career at the age of five or six, making his money later in life gigging, and he only got into busking properly this year. He went travelling for a while and music soon took a backseat, but when he returned to Galway he wanted to return to music and do something different.
He saw Spud and another member, Craig, jamming on the Galway streets and asked if they needed a drummer. They asked him to join them there and then, “so I just dropped everything and just started playing and that was it”, he explains.
Spud started busking about five years ago in the United States. “I was playing farmers markets and going anywhere that would let me set up a tip bucket,” he says. When he came back to Ireland around two years ago, he tarted busking alone. He did this for a few months until he met two guys and they set up a band called The Alcoholics.
They played late at night and soon started another band to play by day and that kept growing. “It wasn’t supposed to be a band,” he declares. Called the Galway Street Club, they got their first gig after winning an Open Mic Night at the Róisín Dubh and “it has just snowballed since then”, says Spud.
Laura started busking at the end of her second year of college, about two summers ago. “I did a little bit by myself but it was tough,” she explains. “I met the guys one by one and we just kind of started busking together so, you get to know the other buskers – one knows one and then one knows another so it takes off like that,” she says.
Spud’s band, The Alcoholics, and other buskers, including the six mentioned, merged into one big 15-person band and they started doing more than busking.
Galway Street Club returned from an impromptu European tour recently and it was an intense and exciting time for the members. Last year, Laura was on Erasmus in Rennes and Scally, along with Johnny, another member of the band, decided to go to France.
“They were going to France and everybody else was like ‘well if we’re going to do it, we might as well try,” explains Spud. “We just kind of fell into a tour,” he laughs. They met up with Laura before heading east but since Laura was in college she could only meet the band for gigs and some busking for two weeks in Lyon. Not all members were on the tour at the same time but most made their way at some point.
Adnaan got the ferry to France and made it across the country in a day to meet the band. He got a lift from a theatre director and made the 12-hour journey. “When I got there they were in an Irish pub in Lyon called Johnny’s Kitchen and everyone was drunk. That describes the Lyon experience pretty well,” recalls Adnaan.
Laura talks about the one-bedroom apartment that everyone shared. “There were eight people in a one-bedroom apartment,” she says. The first thing they got for the apartment was a coffee pot, “one of those ones that drip”, explains Scally, “So we were cooking stews in the coffee pot because we had nothing else to cook with.”
Most members would try each night to find somewhere else to sleep to avoid sleeping on the floor of the ‘stinky-feet room’ of the shared flat, “It’s fine when you’re just hanging out and playing for a night but when you’re all sleeping in the same room for weeks on end it gets pretty gnarly,” explains Adnaan.
For most members, the band is their full-time work and Kai, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. “I may not make as much money, definitely not, I’m broke as sh*t, but it’s definitely more fulfilling. I get to get up in the morning and I get to play music.”
Adnaan does seasonal work, he sometimes teaches English and he has just got his nautical captains licence, so hopes to do more with that. He loves music but he needs to do more physical labour to feel totally fulfilled. “It’s great and I’ll be doing it for a long time, but I won’t be doing it all the time,” he says.
When asked just how a band of this scale works, the room fills with laughter. Apparently, it doesn’t, it’s just ‘organised chaos.’ Picture a house party jam, but on a bigger scale.
Laura explains that the band have now started practicing Monday and Tuesday each week which has really stood to them. “I’m really happy that we started practicing and I think it’s made a big improvement,” she says.
Galway Street Club are playing more and more gigs on top of busking, including gigs in Dublin and Kilkenny, as well as here in Galway, and for a band that started by accident, they are certainly gaining a big online following with over 11,000 likes on Facebook.
Find them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GalwayStreetClub/ and head along to Roisin Dubh on the 16th June to see them play.