American singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey is no stranger to Ireland. He served his musical apprenticeship on the streets of Dublin every weekend of the Spring of 1989. During the week, he was attending St. Patrick's in Maynooth. This, combined with his Catholic upbringing has led to numerous reports that he was training for the priesthood.
"I was at Maynooth, but I was a lay student. I have learned to say 'I was at Maynooth, don't worry about it. [laughs] My father was a seminarian, so I can see how you put these things together. But, it's not actually true - IT'S NOT TRUE."
Peter was speaking in the Cobblestone Bar in Smithfield, during the interval of the last gig of his fifth Irish tour. He seemed delighted to discover that the fifty or so people gathered to see him included a journalist and he was eager to talk. Having played such high-profile locations as Ballymore Eustace ( a vey small rural village), I was probably the only journalist he'd seen since he arrived.
Peter Mulvey is one of the new generation of American folk singers who mix gutsy acoustic music with alternative influences. He has been compared to artists like Eddie Vedder and Michael Stipe as often as he has to more mainstream folkies Leo Kottke and Chris Smither. His set featured songs by Prince and Tom Waits sitting snugly alongside those of Leonard Cohen and the aforementioned Smither.
The majority of new artists in this genre who have received media attention are the women. Peter remains philosophical about the fact that if he had tits and a chip on his shoulder, he'd probably be selling millions of records.
"I guess that sorta goes through phases, although I hesitate to say that it's just a phase. I know you're thinking of Ani [diFranco] and she's really good and that's also a part of it. But, I do know what you mean, certainly in the past five years there've been dark days. I think it's healthy and I don't think it's just a phase. I think women are beginning to have an equal say and probably will from now on. We've had our 2,000 years."
In fact, he says that he isn't interested in selling millions of record, but would be happy with tens of thousands. He shows his folk colours by drawing a parallel between the music biz and mass agriculture.
"The agricultural system in the United States is devastated and it's gonna be an ugly century. We're gonna have to repair it. I feel you can do the same thing to almost anything. You can destroy a discipline just by trying to get as much out of it as you can quickly - it bleeds everything."
Despite the fact that he is not even part of the big corporate music machine yet, he does like to escape from the business side every now and again. When he does, he goes back to his roots.
"Whenever I'm back in Boston, I'll go down into the subway and busk there. It's just good practice, you're reduced to meaning nothing, having no record label, no career, none of this crap, you're just there on a platform or on the sidewalk."
The fact that he plays so many covers live and includes a few on his albums seems like a tendency left over from his busking. He even included a version of the Waterboys' "Whole of the Moon", recorded live in the Boston subway, on his "Rapture" album. However, he doesn't see a direct link between the two.
"I certainly did more covers, and less adventurous covers, in my busking days. I felt free to play anything when I was busking and I still do. At the same time, playing covers is something I really like doing. I don't really consider the songs particularly mine anyway, it's not like I made them, it's not like I can point to where they came from and say ‘Oh well, I own this.'”
The set that night, which included many songs he wrote, even if he doesn't own them, and many others he didn't write, was being recorded for his next album. During the show, he promised that all the talk between the songs would be edited out and included on a separate CD to make repeated listenings more enjoyable.
Whatever the format, he said that it should be available by early December. Keep an eye on his website (www.petermulvey.com) for further details.
by Donnacha DeLong.