It's all about the roots – we are what we are because of circumstance, upbringing, family environment and influence. For proof of this all you need to do is take even a cursory look at the career of Colm Quearney (aka Q). If his father had been a plumber then it's likely Q would have tackled the intricacies of U-Bend technology rather than music. But Q's father wasn't into such work, and so it was that a young Colm grew up listening to blues and jazz, and checking out his dad's nifty bass playing at Sunday afternoon gigs in various venues around Dublin.
Q says he had little interest in becoming a musician until he heard the guitar riff from Satisfaction (a song by a band called The Rolling Stones – you may have heard of them). “It sounds like a cliché,” he relates, “but when I heard it I just wanted to find a guitar to replicate it as quickly as possible.”
And so started a life's journey in music: initially playing electric bass at the School of Hard Knocks, and studying double bass in the rather more refined quarters of the College of Music. “I was academically trained up to a point,” admits Q. “Conversations with my dad were always about music, and that informed how I approached the playing of it. I went on to forming bands, discovered the music of Jimi Hendrix, and then moved from playing bass to the lead guitar.”
In tandem with all of the above was Q's experience in the early 1990s at the Ballyfermot Rock School, of which his time there he describes as a terrific experience, “a melting pot of people from different backgrounds with the same aspirations. It had a profound effect on me – being surrounded by people that loved music as much as I did.”
While at Ballyfermot, Q formed Dragonfly, a cultish rock act that imploded in 1994. Within weeks of Dragonfly splitting, he received a phone call from (then) Irish contenders Lir, whose keyboard player had left the band. There followed a time spent living the life of a rock star in a band that was on the cusp of potential significant success. Like so many before and after, however, plans for this Irish rock band didn't work out. Every cloud, though, has a veritable silver lining.
“I learned how to be in a band, how to write songs,” says Q, “and of how hard it was to be in a band, and how much fun it was. The people that I worked with were likeminded, yet I never felt with Lir – as well as with Dragonfly - that I was doing anything that would ever be commercially viable. It didn't matter to me, though, because I felt that would come later. I was working through a lot of music I was interested in and influenced by. It was a bit self-indulgent, perhaps, but it was also great fun.”
Yet the realisation that being in a band isn't all it's made out to be set in around the time when Q broke one of his legs in a football match. Putting his record store job (the first job he had since he
left school) on hold for a few months afforded him the space to demo a batch of solo material he had been working on.
“The interesting thing about being in a band writing songs with other people,” states Q, “is that you're not entirely free because you're starting to censor yourself. In your head you're going, ‘well, the guitar player won't like that riff, or the singer won't like this song, or the drummer won't like that rhythm'.”
The penny, as they say, finally dropped: being a full time member of a band inhibited the flow of independent creativity. According to an intriguing theory of Q‘s, this is how bands develop those famous ‘music differences', because they become so comfortable with each other that creative viability is, ironically, undermined by their close friendship. “That's not unique. I've seen it happen in a lot of bands. So it's great to be writing songs when there's no agenda, when there's no idea of who you're writing the song for, or when you might be releasing it.”
In 2001, these songs eventually found their way onto Q's contrarily titled debut album, The World's Not Round. Thereafter followed more songwriting, a sophomore solo album in 2004 (Bodyelectric) and, to a gradual degree, a switch from solo act to contributor/collaborator/co- conspirator with the likes of Mundy, Jerry Fish & the Mudbug Club, Pugwash and a plethora of other acts that required help from a nifty guitarist as well as someone who could find their way around a song. All of this creativity and work, reckons Q, built up its own singular head of steam that fed - directly and by osmosis - into his own songwriting.
As if that wasn't enough, Q was often delving into the roots of his own inherently personal influences by performing with unsung Irish blues heroes (and his father's contemporaries) such as Pat Farrell, Jimmy Faulkner, Ed Deane and Noel Bridgeman in bands such as The Houseshakers and Left, Right & Centre. “I secured a work ethic and integrity from these people,” states Q, “that otherwise might not have been there.”
These influences notwithstanding (“playing with bands is a challenge, and your game has to be up to scratch.”), Q's primary focus is his solo work. Resilient and resourceful, he has kept himself busy through downtime periods by building a studio (The Qube Analogue & Digital) from where he plots, ponders and produces.
Q's new album, Root To The Fruit, sees the multi-faceted musician once again chase a sound that promises to blow you away. Unusually, it's an album where the production (courtesy of Q) and the sound are elements of the songwriting.
“You can get the song right and the recording totally wrong,” claims Q correctly. “Have I got it right? Maybe I have and maybe I haven't, but perhaps down the line I'll realise I've created all these songs. Maybe I'll look back when I'm not so close to it, and just enjoy the album.
“And it feels like an album, in the old sense of the meaning. The previous two albums, proud of them though I am, felt as if they were experiments. Root To The Fruit is an album I made that sounds like it's going somewhere. The songs deserve to be there, there's ebb and flow to them. They fit.”
Root To The Fruit is released on Strange Vibe/1969 Records. Q will be performing at the following venues throughout April and May.