Creative Minds returns with Glen Hansard and Paul Williams

The American Ambassador’s Creative Minds series is a newcomer to the Irish music scene over the last few months that has seen the representative’s magnificent Phoenix Park residence opened up to arts invitees for talks on music, and other significant areas in developing arts. Proceedings are recorded for posterity, as well as shown as they happen on YouTube.

The premise is simple: firstly, that the continuation of strong relationships between Ireland and America is best served by active encouragement, particularly when it comes to collaborations in areas such as music, which sees so many acts crossing between the countries on a week by week basis, and evokes so much passion. Secondly, that economic development and cultural progression are so often intrinsically linked, and the latter is therefore worthy of our attention for reasons beyond its simple existence.

Each evening has a loose theme, and the latest, which took place on Tuesday the 14th of May featured Glen Hansard (The Frames/ Once/ The Commitments/ The Swell Season) and Paul Williams (songwriter, as performed by The Carpenters, Daft Punk, The Monkees and, memorably, The Muppets). The evening is very loosely based around a theme of copyright in music, though it also takes an extended and memorable detour through the careers of the two guests along the way.

Niall Stokes (editor of Hot Press) led the discussion, which delved heavily into areas such as Hansard’s early musical experiences and Williams’ adaptations in songwriting after he gave up alcohol, which sound like a memorable and complex progression.

There are some great highlights to be had from the speakers, and the entire conversation, as well as introductions from ambassador Kevin O’Malley (who’s clearly passionate about the role of music in Irish culture) are worth spending a little time on. There’s also a presentation made to Hansard in honour of his achievements in America over recent years.

Some particular stand outs are worth mentioning in summary, however.

One is the story of The Frames second album funding. Having signed a poor record deal to release their first record that – astonishingly – left the band with 15 pence per copy sold to share between them, Hansard took advantage of the record label’s buck to wander the streets of New York wallowing in despair. Meanwhile, he was mentally putting together what was to be one of their greatest moments, ‘Fitzcarraldo’.

When it came to releasing the album, The Frames struck a deal with Whelan’s that saw the venue pay €20,000 towards recording costs in exchange for a series of live shows from Hansard’s act. The album might not have ever seen the light of day had the deal not been made. The rest, as they say, is history.

Williams is not short a story or two, either, not least about his failure as an actor before he even turned to music, in his late 20s. He sees his music as ‘co-dependent anthems’ – a form of therapy. He also auditioned for The Monkees in earlier days, and didn’t make it. Evidently he’s a man who found his calling late, and what a calling it turned out to be.

The event closed with Hansard performing some stunning rarities on piano, while Williams – who’s more noted for this songwriting than his own vocal – made a good effort at reproducing the vocal complexities of The Carpenter’s on his own seminal moment “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

With an audience that consciously included a host of up and coming Irish musicians who might be looking to make an impact oversees in the coming years, it’s easy to see the benefits of inspirational events like this. Creative Minds is different to much of what’s going on in Dublin, in being formalised, focused on talks over performance and making a huge effort to connect with the people who will benefit the most. That makes it a wonderful and memorable addition.

View the event in full, below (skip forward to about nine minutes to see the start, or 38 minutes for the start of the Hansard and William’s discussion):