This article was first published on CLUAS in June 2000
Thomas Walsh of Pugwash
An interview with the man behind one of Dublin's better kept musical secrets...
Underneath the hustle and bustle of shoppers grabbing the 'Corrs Unplugged' and 'Westlife' albums by the box loads last Christmas one could almost hear the smallest of buzzes being emitted by a recent release found in the 'P' section of the record store bins. Though the sleeve of the album in question, 'Almond Tea', states it should be filed under 'Power Pop', it was actually found under the barely-stocked 'Pugwash' section divider. While the distribution company seemed to have their priorities aimed at the guaranteed sellers (guaranteed fluff) of the season, Irish music critics were falling head over heels to find the latest and greatest superlatives to describe Pugwash, Ireland's first purveyor of professional Power Pop since The Blades.
Pugwash is basically one immensely talented Thomas Walsh with a little help from many equally talented friends. His album 'Almond Tea' is overflowing with three-to-four minute power pop gems containing those rarest of commodities nowadays known as strong melodies, harmonies, hooks and choruses. Anyone who loves XTC, The Beatles or even ELO - his prime influences - could easily fall for his music. Though the original critical buzz surrounding his album has slowly spread towards the listening public, the recent release and airplay of the first single, 'Finer Things in Life,' has finally and deservedly brought his talents to a much wider audience.
When I met up With Thomas at his abode in Crumlin, it was immediately apparent that this musician / songwriter is a music fan and collector first and foremost. Above his stacks of CDs and records, Beatles, XTC, and ELO posters and photos fill the walls until they reach the ceiling. Ever since his birth in Drimnagh 30 years ago he's been surrounded by music. His brother introduced him to ELO at the tender age of eight. When he was 10 he remembers jumping straight on the bus in his confirmation gear, "a green velvet jacket that was disgusting," to use his collected money to buy records. After ELO disbanded in 1986, XTC managed to fill the void when he chanced upon their video in an eatery. He remains a fan of both bands to this day.
Shortly after his XTC introduction, Thomas started constantly writing songs in his "little cocoon from the real world" - the garden shed behind his parent's house. By 1994 he'd amassed some 150 songs on 4-track demo tapes and adopted the moniker Pugwash. He'd always known he wanted to work in music but didn't know on what level. "When it got to '93-'94 I got my own identity by moving out of my Mother and Father's house and getting my own place. Then I focused on what I wanted to do, pulled my demo tapes out, gave some to Hot Press and they gave me 'Demo of the Year' for 1995."
American producer/songwriter Kim Fowley heard some of those demos and eventually sidetracked Thomas down a different road. He introduced him to Andy White who he subsequently toured with "all over England, Ireland, everywhere. We did lots of TV, lots of radio. It was a good learning ground. When I finished with Andy and Kim went back to America, I said that I have to get this thing going now or I never will. Nothing's going to take my mind off Pugwash and releasing songs."
He wrote three new songs in 1997, pressed them onto CD and inked a record deal. Drum tracks were laid down in the now defunct Funnel and the rest of the album was recorded in two houses in the Dublin area in only three weeks time - albeit spread out over 1? years. Though heavily reflecting his influences, the resulting album has been a breath of fresh air in the otherwise mostly stale guitar/bass/drums music scene. The quality of the 12 (plus one hidden) tracks could easily put most musician/songwriters to shame.
The album title itself, Almond Tea, originates from a magazine listing of the 10 favourite things owned by Andy Partridge of XTC. "I was reading away and got to the bottom and there was almond tea. Andy likes it and said he was told that it tastes like everything from Christmas thrown into a blender. I thought we took all these different musical styles and threw them into a blender and came out with this. I was sitting there going 'I don't believe it! That's the title!' It was all very spiritual."
Reflecting the psychedelic artwork of the late 60's and early 70's, Almond Tea's cover was accidentally provided by Thomas's former classmate Kenneth Slevin who's done work for both Don Bluth and Disney. Thomas explains: "I didn't commission it or anything. It just really happened. Everything you see he actually drew in a half-hour during a free class when he was 14. That was 15-16 years ago. I found it going through some old stuff here one day and to me it just works. We just put it into the computer and colorized it."
Thomas has now put song writing on the back burner in order to devote his time to the promotion of the album. In regard to his recent shift from writing and recording to gigs, Thomas notes: "I love playing live. I don't want to become one of these reclusive people." When finally asked about the word of mouth buzz that's developing around Pugwash's music he replies: "I'm delighted about that buzz. It's so weird because I was always the person doing that. It's amazing when it's suddenly you! I'm a collector, I'm a fan, so I know if people are turned on by that, the kind of feeling that they have. I just can't believe it's me that's giving it to them!"
With over 150 songs behind him, we can only hope that he continues to put out great music until the buzz turns into a roar.