Beautiful harmonies, sumptuous melodies, swirling organs, Mellotrons, chiming Rickenbacker guitars and beguiling chords all mashed together with shades of The Jam, The Who, XTC, ELO , The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Beach Boys and, dare we say it, Peter Frampton: who else could it be but Dublin’s own Pugwash.
The Olympus Sound, released in August 2011, is the fifth offering from Pugwash front man/songwriter Thomas Walsh, and follows Almond Tea (1999), Almanac (2002), Jollity (2005), and Eleven Modern Antiquities (2009). Pugwash have always been something of an oddity, crafting intelligent and honest retro pop within a city, indeed a country, which cares little for the genre. The Irish music scene has produced some wonderful pop groups over the last few decades, but few have been able to carve out a successful mainstream career with its financial rewards. Such success seems all too easy for rock bands who take themselves too seriously, or artists with a traditional music variable who can rely on a heavy appeal to a pre-conditioned population.
Ireland simply doesn’t have a huge tradition in pop, which is not surprising given the special hold trad has within and without the major towns and cities. This is compounded by the damaging and one-dimensional legacy followed on the success of the country’s major international rock acts throughout the ‘70s/’80s/’90s and beyond.
"Dublin Is Dead" was the controversial slogan of one of Dublin’s few indie acts of the mid 90s. The city, and the country has however undergone a regeneration of sorts over the past 10-15 years, producing an eclectic array of pop acts which, while hardly rivalling the output of any major UK city, has still been a vast improvement on its sometimes dull musical past.
Over the past 12 years, Thomas Walsh and Pugwash have been at the core of this renaissance. Walsh, like many purveyors of his particular brand of classic pop (what some call "power pop") was weaned on the giants of the genre: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, ELO, and XTC.
It was his discovery that Andy Partridge of XTC composed in his garden shed which led Walsh to erecting a wooden shed in his parents' back garden, filling it with cheap recording devices and instruments and running a power cable from his home in Drimnagh to his new abode. It was in this same shed that Walsh spent 10,000 hours learning his craft and amassing a wealth of demo tapes.
These tapes eventually led to his discovery by US producer Kim Fowley and hitting the touring circuit with Belfast singer/songwriter Andy White.