The show must go on
Ollie Cole speaks of how Turn are determined not to let the loss of their bassist to Idlewild get in the way of their rising popularity.
Ollie Cole first got a glimpse of his future standing outside a church in Kells. In the true style of teenagers and towns, Ian Melady, the future Turn drummer, was just arsing around. "I saw him and thought: He's very cool looking!" says Ollie. "I went up and asked him if he wanted to be in a band? 'Yeah!' said Ian. 'What do you play?' 'Nothin', said Ollie, 'but I think I can sing!'" And so Swampshack was born.
The lads enjoyed reasonable success, along with John Mulvany on bass. "We released a couple of records and played at a couple of Féiles," says Ollie. It was during this time that he and Ian moved up to Dublin. "We'd be playing gigs there on a Wednesday and Saturday and it made sense just to move. So, I went on the dole and got a bedsit on South Circular Road." During this time, Ian and Ollie met bassist Gavin Fox, from Dublin, and formed Turn.
Fast forward eight years or so and Ollie is sitting in Whelan's bar, contemplating the gradual success of the band. Last year was one they won't forget in a hurry. In 2002, Turn gained a much bigger fan-base, got good write-ups and airplay and recorded a new album on their own label. They played the main stage at Wittnness and supported Aslan at a sold-out Point. They played in the UK, New York and at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The Arts Council funded the flights to the last. "The contacts we made there have really paid off," says Ollie.
However, the lads will undoubtedly remember 2002 as the year that their bass player was poached by Idlewild. "It caused a lot of bad feeling at the time. Idlewild were supposed to be friends of ours - they used to come over and stay in our houses and email us. I don't think they should have even asked Gavin to be their bass player." But they did and, after a few month's deliberation, he chose the route to instant success. "I think Gavin was looking for a shortcut to fame. This way, he gets to be in a band that features in NME every week If he had hung on though, the success he could have with us would be 100 times better because it's his band instead of someone else's."
Ollie has a feeling that Gavin will do a u-turn, so to speak. "By all accounts he's really lonely. They're not his people. The songs are not his songs." While there is no ill-feeling between Gavin and Turn, Ollie doesn't have a lot of time for his UK "friends". "I'm sure the next time I see them, I won't have a whole lot to say to them." However, the show must go on and in the ongoing bass odyssey, Alan Lee, formerly of Skindive, quickly stepped in
Ollie is the only Cole in his family of eight pursuing a career in music, though his elder brother was undoubtedly an influence in his formative years. "He was a drummer in the first ever band in Kells - The Blackhawks. They used to rehearse in our garage". When he was 15, Ollie started singing with them. "My mother didn't want me going on tour with this heavy metal band, who were about 10 years older and were drinking and stuff." Still, it got him a lot of attention. "I thought I was king of the world!" he says. "People would look at me and say: Ah, look at the little kid, he's brilliant!"
But despite his love for Kells, he concedes that if you're a musician living there, the first thing you have to do is go to Dublin to play gigs. Turn hardly ever play around Meath, apart from once a year at the Wittnness festival at Fairyhouse. "There's a real lack of suitable venues around. I think it's changing though. I have a feeling some of the former dance music venues will be turned into live music venues." Fingers crossed.
However, Ollie says it's a great place to become a great songwriter "because you're away by yourself and not getting influenced by other bands. We had been playing in a caravan, oblivious to whatever scene was going on in the early '90s. All we had was Neil Young and AC/DC records." While the rest of the world was trying to be cool, Ollie says that growing up in Kells, he didn't understand what cool was. "Which was probably a good thing!"
He believes that there's some great songwriters in Meath. "John Mulvaney, our Swampshack bassist, is a brilliant songwriter, as is Martin Flannigan who used to be in a band called Vanwinkle." Michael Brunnick from that other great Kells band, Little Palace, who have since broken up, also gets an notable mention. The schoolteacher, now living in the US, rings Ollie during the interview looking for gift advice for a mutual friend. Ollie suggests the Aerosmith biography!
"I'm really into '70s rock bands at the moment", he says by way of excuse. "I'm in the middle of reading every band's biography. The cheesier the better. Motley Crue's is fucking hilarious!"
There was never any doubt that Ollie would be a musician. When he was younger, he was always taking things apart and building amplifiers out of household items, no doubt both frustrating and amusing his mother. "Calling yourself an artist sounds really arsey, but I suppose that's what I am. I get up in the morning and pick up a guitar or sit down at the piano and play and write all day. I'm driven by something out of my control."
This becomes evident. As Irish band, The Last Post, play on Whelan's stereo, Ollie starts picking out the guitar riffs in the air, with eyes sparkling and a goofy grin on his face.
Turn's next album, Forward, comes out in March
by Anne-Louise Foley