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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Exclusive Interview with Lulubelle III frontman Ronnie Carnwath

Very happy to present an exclusive interview with the amazingly talented and loveable rogue Ronnie Carnwath of the delightful Lulubelle III, Northern Ireland's hottest Indie band destined for world domination (if someone could lovingly buy them some plane tickets!).

S4L:  When did you first pick up a guitar and learn to play? Was there anything or an artist or song that inspired you to do that?

Ronnie: It's hard to say whether anything inspired me initially. We had a guitar in the house which had belonged to my brother, who had recently passed away and the music teacher at our primary school asked if anyone wanted to learn an instrument. It just seemed natural that I'd learn to play. Of course it helped that my music teacher looked like Emmylou Harris! I had such a crush on her at the time! I recently managed to track her down again - I just wanted to say thanks. She was living in Belfast at the same time I was there. We never got to meet up but she has been keeping an eye on my progress.
My first public appearance was at a social club down the road from our house in 1978. My mum was a singer during the 70s and she encouraged me. We sang 'Mull of Kintyre' together. It was easy cos it was just three chords - I guess it could have been 'Blitzkrieg Bop' if I'd heard it at the time...
Around that time, I was getting into music myself and I was loving bands like XTC and the Pretenders. Then Adam and The Ants came a long and it was one of those "Eureka!" moments. You know how all the original punks said they got into bands because of Bowie doing 'Starman' on TOTP or the New York Dolls on Old Grey Whistle Test? I saw Adam and The Ants on TOTP and thought: "That's what I want to do when I grow up!"
It wasn't until The Jesus and Mary Chain came along that I thought it might actually be possible. I then discovered I could play by ear, so it didn't matter that I couldn't remember the names of the chords - if you played it to me once, I could follow it on guitar.

S4L: You've been around playing for quite a while Ronnie, your former band, Honey Ryder were a bit of a legend in Derry. Can you tell us a little about them? Did you put any music out? Play a lot of shows?

Ronnie: Honey Ryder were going in the early 1990s and only really lasted about 18 months. I was the guitarist and we had a female singer, Heather McClean, Colin Wasson on bass and a feller called Ronan Cunningham on drums. We did have another drummer before that, but when we did our first gig, she'd only been playing a matter of months and the poor thing was so traumatised, she sold her kit and never drummed again, so, Cathy Quinn - if you're reading this, whatever we did, I'm sorry...
I was terribly shy at the time, so even though we had all these nice tuneful songs, I didn't have the nerve to sing them, so I'd be standing at the back with my head down. In the bootlegs, I'd sing one or two songs live and I was barely audible! It's only now that I actually have the confidence to sing in front of people.
We were a little bit ramshackle, if I'm totally honest - we never really got to record anything, although I have most of our practices and gigs on tape. I was immensely proud of the songs we did, some of which have turned up on our first CD, 'A Saucepan Full of Sequins' - namely, 'Love Like Hours, 'Lucinda Singular, 'Yesterday', 'Albert Ross' and 'Wishing On You'.

S4L: When did the whole idea for Lulbelle III come about? Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted the band to be?

Ronnie: Around 2009, my friend Christopher Cowan suggested we do some stuff together. I'd been mucking about on his Mac, recording some of the old songs on Garageband - the original idea was to carry on where Honey Ryder had left off. I initially wanted to get the old band back together again, but everyone was living in different cities and they'd all grown up and lives - two things I didn't have at the time - and it wasn't logistically possible. As I said, I was proud of the songs we'd done and I'd been transferring old gigs and practices to CD and thought it'd be nice to have decent recordings of this stuff, so that's how we started Lulubelle III.
The name, incidentally, comes from the cover of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' LP - Lulubelle III was the name of the cow on the front cover. We drew up a "shortlist" of about 50 names, all of which are listed on our MySpace page - if anyone wants to use any of them, they're more than welcome to do so - just drop us a line and let us know... My personal favourite was 'The Adam Hart Motherf*ckers' but Christopher and I both have children and we thought it'd be nice for them to have copies of any records we made - the name wouldn't go down to well at school - and besides, you'd probably have to sound like the MC5 to get away with a name like that...
After a while, it became apparent that the band was going to be something else - we were both inspired to write more as a result of doing the demos. By the time of the first album, we had about 50 songs to choose from!
(Having their cake and eating it!)

S4L: You are based out in Northern Ireland. Is that something that hampers the rise of the band or because of the way things are with the internet etc these days does it not really matter so much?

Ronnie: In some respects, it's not really an issue nowadays - in Honey Ryder, if you didn't live in Derry at the time, you wouldn't have seen us, but technology being the way it is now, we can record a demo and straight away it's on Soundcloud or wherever - it's great to be able to communicate with people in that way. What's also fantastic is that we've had support from the likes of Marc Riley (BBC 6 Music) and Rodney Bingenheimer (KROQ FM, Los Angeles), so people get to hear us without our having to play there. Ideally, we would love to play some more far-flung places, but until we're in a position where we can afford to do so, we'll just have to make do with the internet.

S4L: What inspires you to write music these days? Are you one of those folks who sits down with purpose to write or do lyrics/tunes come into your head as you go about your daily business?

Ronnie: Anything at all during the course of my day can inspire a song. I've gone to bed and the second my head hits the pillow, I've come up with a lyric or a melody! For some reason, the loo and the shower seem to inspire me - or when I'm vacuuming the house - I think it's something to do with the drone of the vacuum cleaner - I always hear tunes...
Shane Macgowan once said that nobody really writes songs - he claimed they're floating about in the air and the trick is to grab them before someone like Paul Simon does. I totally believe that! I understand exactly what he means - how else can you explain how I might come up with a chord progression and a melody, only to have The Mock Turtles or whoever release something very similar? When Green Day released 'American Idiot', I was very concerned that the chorus was the same chords and a similar tune to my own song 'Love Like Hours'. I wondered how they could possibly have heard it - although I'd written the song in 1991, we'd never released it. Then it occurred to me that the chorus was nicked from 'Me And Bobby McGee' by Kris Kristofferson, so I'd best keep my mouth shut!

S4L: You still do some live shows, is that something you enjoy doing or are you happier stuck in the studio creating music?

Ronnie: I love playing live - it's a totally different scenario from fiddling about in the studio, although I love doing that as well. I love creating music, but it's great fun, getting out there and seeing people and we're much more loose and punky live.
I defintely think the next album will be recorded in a more live situation. At the moment, Christopher and I do stuff in our houses, but we've been practicing with a couple of other guys and we sound great live, so it makes sense to try to do it more live next time and include those other musicians.

S4L: Who have been the biggest influences upon your own musical journey and the band's musical journey?

Ronnie: Well, Christopher and I are both huge fans of Pink Floyd, The Fall and Half Man Half Biscuit. We also both love The Jesus and Mary Chain and Bob Dylan. I love The Stranglers, Bowie, Eno ... the list is endless - it really is! There are many more elements at play in our music though - there've been songs inspired by Patti Smith, Dick Dale, John Barry, Julian Cope, the Pixies, Teenage Fanclub ...
The thing is, anything can inspire me - I can hear something on the radio like - I dunno, Justin Bieber - and at some point, I'll think: "There should've been a chord change there..." It's like my brain never switches off sometimes ...
In fact, I caught a couple of minutes of a Robert Johnson documentary on YouTube the other day and worked out a typical blues riff within seconds, so I wrote a kind of comic blues song, 'Lazy Day Blues'. When I did the demo, it sounded like The White Stripes covering Robert Johnson with Tom Waits on vocals, which put quite a strain on my voice but it was worth it!
(The debut album by Lulubelle III 
is entitled 'A Saucepan Full of Sequins'.)

S4L: So, as Lulubelle III you have now released two albums, it's nice that your music is getting the opportunity to be heard and in some odd places as did you mange to get hooked up with the lads mag Nuts who spotlighted 'Frankie' on a Frankie Sandford (of The Saturdays) feature?

Ronnie: That was really funny - we've no idea how that happened! The song itself was a backing track I'd had for several months and when Frankie's birthday came around last year, I posted a Saturdays video on my facebook page and wrote: "I know you hipsters will be quick to diss this, but I know who I'd rather be stuck in a lift with..." It occurred to me, I had a rhyming couplet. So now, what rhymes with "Lift with..." I know - "NewYork-London-Paris-Aberystwyth", so there was a lyrical nod to 'Pop Muzik' by M - one of my childhood favourites.
My friend Alan and his daughter Sarah made the video and we discovered one night it was on the Nuts page as a tribute to Frankie! It was very strange indeed... I don't know if she's ever got to hear the song. We did send a promo over to their managers before the CD came out, along with a little letter, addressed to her, but we never heard back. I guess it takes a while for the courts to issue a restraining order!

S4L: Any more live shows coming up for the band? Do you ever have the opportunity to play outside of Northern Ireland? If not, would you like to see that happen?

Ronnie: We did one small gig before Christmas but I've been really busy with courses recently - I even had to let my radio show go, which was heartbreaking - and we haven't had much time to practice but we're starting again this week. We fully intend to do more gigs and to try out some new songs on an unsuspecting public. We'll just have to see what happens ...

S4L: You got married recently, is your good lady as passionate about music as you and does her presence in your life inspire you when you write? (If so can we expect a Lulubelle III collection of love ballads anytime soon!!)

Ronnie: I did indeed! Martha is very passionate about music - we like a lot of the same bands - in fact, we met through MySpace and through a mutual love of The Chameleons! She does inspire me sometimes - 'Daylight/Moonlight' and 'Seven Days' were both directly inspred by her.
As regards doing a collection of love ballads, I'll never rule anything out - I once dreamt that Louis Walsh rang me and said he wanted Westlife to cover one of my songs and would I play guitar on it? I was on the train in a heartbeat!
I've said it before and I'll say it again, but I will happily sell out, do Tampax adverts, let Ronan Keating cover my songs, whatever - if it gets my music to a wider audience and makes me some money ...

S4L: Soundtrack4Life always likes to find out the music that inspires and has been part and parcel of our guests musical journey so can you do the impossible and name 5 songs (or albums) that have accompanied you on your journey and will forever be part of your Soundtrack4Life?

Ronnie: Wow - that's quite a task! Let's see - out of the million or so albums which have soundtracked my life, I choose ...

One piece of advice, from Adam and The Ants' 'Cartrouble' which always sticks in my mind is: "And keep your feet off the upholstery, Ronnie."

  The Latest Album Release From Lulubelle III - Foyle Delta Blues

All pictures are courtesy of 
Lulubelle III
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