Pete Kavanagh, singer, songwriter, musician, storyteller.
Where it all started
Pete was drawn to music from a young age, learning the basics in his local brass band. This is not a line you hear much in Irish musical biography, but in Co Kildare, where Pete grew up, there was a tradition of brass and reed bands, perhaps a legacy of the County’s military history.
Pete’s instrument was the trombone. “I never got very skilful on the trombone”, admits Pete, “but I did learn about tone, arrangements and key structure.” In his early teens, Pete found a beat-up acoustic guitar in his grandparents’ bin and something clicked. He became absorbed in the creative energy of music, honing his craft in earnest and learning to play and sing songs from the likes of Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Christy Moore and The Dubliners. In his early twenties, Pete began to write songs. He formed a band called The Scene, which was popular on the live circuit in Kildare. The Scene recorded four original tracks before disbanding in the mid-90s.
In 1996, Pete met vocalist Pamela Halpin at a songwriters’ session in Newbridge, Co. Kildare. The duo moved to Galway in 1997 and collaborated under the moniker ‘Tongue’. Tongue was featured on two compilation albums released by Galway label Origin Records, produced by Jon Richards of Galway Bay FM, which featured artists including Ultan Conlon, Kirsten Hersh, Dean Friedman and The Devlins. Tongue performed numerous live shows in Galway and Kildare before moving to Edinburgh, supporting acts such as Juliet Turner, Scullion, Martin Stephenson and Luka Bloom.
Pamela and Pete moved back to Ireland in the 2015. Since then, Pete has been performing at venues in Leinster. In 2018, an unusual opportunity presented itself, an opportunity which. given his love of story and character, was right up his street.
He was asked to work on a soundscape, including the composition of original music, to accompany a play written by Pete’s cousin, Tom Noone, about the great grandfather to both Tom and Pete. The play, Who Will Separate Us, told the story of Eddie Noone, a skilled hunter and trapper from Naas who, like thousands of other poor Irishmen, fought in the Boer War and the Great War. Pete composed and arranged the music and played live at each performance, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe of that year.
“Writing a score for a theatrical piece and working closely with actors was an incredible experience for me as a musician. It focused my creative energy in a very visual way in relation to the music, and this carried through into the writing process for Join Up The Dots. For example, one of the songs on the album, Sweet Friend, is inspired by Annie Noone, my great grandmother, who was portrayed so vividly by Mary Power Cooney in the play. ”
— Pete Kavanagh, on scoring Who Will Separate Us
In the Spring of 2019, Pete began recording his debut album, Join up the Dots, at Arthouse Studios in Naas.
Things didn’t quite go to plan, however.
In May of that year, Pete’s father, Barney, sadly died.
“I just withdrew from the world and retreated into a cocoon of sorts,” remembers Pete. “I abandoned the remaining tracks I was planning to record – they just became less relevant. I began to write songs to channel my grief. I found refuge in music, which has always been a means of expression and healing throughout my life.”
As is the case for many artists in the year 2020, the coronavirus became a character in Pete’s creative life. Just as Pete had finished recording tracks for the album, the virus hit Ireland and the album was put on ice again until June.
After a long gestation, Join up the Dots, which has been recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by Hally at Arthouse Studios, Naas, will be released on November 18th 2020.
Pete is joined by a host of musicians on this album including Frankie Lane, Lenny Cahill, Mark Dudley, Patrick Hopkins, Noelie White, Barry Mulrennan, Joe Heffernan, Hally, Jennifer McMahon and Pamela Kavanagh. The songs delve into dark themes such as PTSD, mental illness, war, grief, addiction, unrequited desires as well as positive themes of love, peace and hope shining through. The music has flashes of alternative country, folk, jazz, and rhythm and blues, yet stays faithful to Pete’s signature singer-songwriter/acoustic-guitar feel. Having said that, there is a rich array of instrumentation on the album with songs soaked in the sweet sounds of mandolin, banjo, dobro, Hammond organ, electric guitar, bass, acoustic guitar, piano, percussion with a sprinkling of synths. If Pete’s strong voice carries the narrative in these songs, the female backing vocals add tonal tangents to the stories told.
The first single to be released from the album is To Hold the Red Rose, an emotive song of love, hope, family and unity.