Never Records, Derry

May 30th, 2011

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Across the ocean
From New York to Liverpool to Derry
We are the ones
Who Believe
That through joy
We can (forever) live.

May 21, 2011, a bomb was detonated in a bank in the Diamond of Derry, Ireland. It was the day that I arrived home to New York after three jubilant weeks of fellowship, performance, and understanding, called Never Records.

May 21, 2011 was also my forty-first birthday, an awkward age that some distant version of me might dread, or romance, but in the becoming, I had a realization of some prescient sense that I have only begun to live properly.

Our road to ruin
Was built with
Broken architecture and morality
An endless holy war upon
The enchantment of desire
And the wild romance of beauty.

When we went to pick up Rose in Belfast, we scoured the forest of tourist information kiosks in Belfast City Airport for a map or a brochure of Derry but could find none. We finally found a three-page pamphlet with the assistance of a woman behind an information desk after the three of us searched together for another ten minutes.

Mickey Guinness, an older gentleman who worked at the BSR turntable factory during the 1950’s and 60’s, told me that Derry’s dereliction and neglect was a result of its “preponderance of Catholics” while remaining an icon of Unionist history.

In a city renown for its history of shirt manufacturing, a job held exclusively by women, the BSR factory was one of the only factories to employ Derry’s men in the 20th century.

Some people sing
life’s hard and then you die
that nothin’ matters and what if it did
the ultimate sin is giving up.

Every day in Derry I faced an almost insurmountable task. I had to give each recording session, and there were many, my full attention and love, even if the music didn’t interest me, even if the performer was awkward and unengaging. These feelings were compounded by a horrible diet of overcooked, over-fried, reheated mush, and an almost intravenous consumption of Guinness.

One day, an awkward, shy, kid came into the shop. In spite of myself, I would judge him with my cynical and egotistical New York vanity. Then, out of his mouth would come a song of such eloquence and tenderness that I would become convinced once again there was no better place or thing for me to be doing with my life.

People like us must learn and sing
a song of resistance
together we will make
a joyful noise in the dark
our wild magic songs
will never die.

One of our first concerts at Never Records in Derry’s Context Gallery was on election night when I received a crash course in an alphabet of political party acronyms from Teknopeasant’s set: DUP, SF, SDLP, OUP, Fine Gael, Fine Fianna Fail.

While many of the artists I recorded to vinyl were more concerned with love than dissent, there was this palpable feeling that the music scene was the only guiltless group in town.

Long before, Punk had united the sons and daughters of paramilitary parents from both sides of The Troubles; music had always been a secular refuge in Derry.

Diane from Paddy Nash and the Happy Enchiladas described the artistic communion called Never Records in an interview with BBC’s “Across The Line,” “There was something really nice about the process. It felt like a gift.”

Luckily, the bomb blast on the 21st injured no one. While those responsible had probably never heard of Never Records, I feel its timing was symbolically significant.

Recently, I was asked to be on a panel discussion about the working artist. The conversation was preoccupied with the unjust nature of an all powerful commercial art market ruled by classism and greed. Panelists decried a system that needed to be overthrown, and demanded new and revolutionary solutions.

I purpose an idea: simple, timeless, and truly revolutionary. The most political thing we can do is to make art as fully and as wholly as we can, and art that is true to ourselves. We must be remade by our work and gift this process with those that will hear its song.

For a few weeks in Free Derry, we traded the experiences of audience and performers. We sang, beat-boxed, rhymed, strummed, and beat drums. The shock wave from our collaboration created seismic echo, a sonic boom, that, for a brief moment, arrested the hopelessness and cynicism of our age and etched our voices onto record. On vinyl or in our memories, our songs will never die.

SJ Downes Session, Never Records Derry

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