Yorkshire Coast Gigs - A Community Interest Company

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Ishka Live

Ishka are: Sean Conroy (lead vocals, guitar): Ryan Heath (cajon, guitar): Danielle Potts (bass): Rob Simpson (guitar, bass, mandolin, Irish whistle). They were voted as the Yorkshire Coast Gigs Page 'Local Live Act of the Year 2012' via public votes.

Having taken a brief sabbatical whilst lead singer and guitarist Sean has been away in Ireland and the USA, we caught up with Ishka at midnight, after a gig at Indigo Alley; the high-spirited crowd have been dancing, singing along, and were loathe to let the band leave the stage. Afterwards, it's hard to get the band away from all the people who want to chat with them – it's been an energetic gig but they don't show their exhaustion, displaying only warmth and charm.

So, St Patrick's Day is next Sunday, and you've got FOUR gigs over the weekend?
Sean: Yes, Friday at the Downe Arms, Saturday at the Spa Pub, Sunday early evening at Cellars and Sunday night, the 'big' one at the Merchant.

Tell me where the name comes from?
Sean: Ishka is an Irish word, and it's Gaelic for water, but not normally spelt this way. It's just something very authentic sounding that seems to work. (It's traditionally spelt 'uisce', for those who are intrigued.)

What was the original line-up?
Sean: Well, right back at the start it was myself and Mister Jim (Taylor), then it developed to me and Rob, then Edd (Edmonds, preceding Ryan on cajon and guitar), and Dani.
Dani: Coastival was my first big gig, I'd only been playing the pubs with Ishka for about six weeks before that. Playing to that many people was terrifying, I used to get so pumped up with adrenaline I couldn't get my hands to work properly. But, as it went on, I got a grip, calmed down, and realised I loved it!
Sean: Last year Edd went off to Uni so had to leave us and ... well, we found Ryan just sitting by the side of the road one day... So here we are.

How does it feel to have been voted as the Yorkshire Coast Gigs Local Live Act of the Year 2012?
Ryan: Well in 2012 Ishka came second, so I'm assuming it's my fault we're first this time!
Sean: Yeah, for us it's absolutely fantastic, we've only been together two years, so to come second in our first year and win it in the second... It means a lot. Sure, we've played gigs where everyone's really into it, but we've played a lot of tough gigs, ones where it's literally taken until the last half hour to feel like we've won the crowd over... eventually, we seem to get them, even if they think it's not going to be their sort of thing.
Ryan: My grandma calls it foot-tapping music...
Sean: New Year's Day this year was definitely a tough one; the crowd were all hungover, we were hungover... but we got there.

The crowd always seem to adore the Ishka 'fretboard crossover', (each bandmate holds the fretboard of their neighbour but plays their own instrument, forming a chain). Was that inspired by something you'd seen before?
Sean: I'd once seen something like it years ago by a band I went to see back in Dublin, I never forgot it. Now it's a trademark look for us and something unique for our fans to witness at our gigs.

And as to upcoming treats - I heard a whisper that you're on the look-out for a fiddle player?
Sean: Yes. We're always looking to experiment and try new things. We've got a few ideas for the coming year and we're going to try as much new stuff as we can, we'll see what works and what doesn't...

Any hints for your fans about what to expect on St Patrick's Day?
Sean: Just to forget about seeing Monday... and Tuesday, and Wednesday...

Am I right in thinking your set list is all covers at the moment?
Sean: All of the stuff we do at the minute is covers, but the songs we've tended to pick lately are songs the general public probably wouldn't really recognise, so we are trying to put our own stamp on songs people might not know; so it might sound like they are our own songs. We have stuff in the pipeline; we are hoping to write some of our own this year.
Rob: The beauty of a lot of Irish music is there's no definitive version, you can do it any way you like...
Ryan: Ishka-fy it!
Sean: I saw someone at one of our gigs once with a t-shirt saying, 'I've been Ishka-fied'...I suspect Rob had something to do with that! There's definitely going to be a lot of experiments happening this year, especially with original material, because a lot of the things we want to do this year and next year will involve having to do our own stuff ... we feel we've done the covers thing now and put our stamp on it, we're looking for new ventures.
Ryan: When we do try a new song, we don't really discuss it first, we just try it a few times and see what happens.

Any collaborations you'd like to try?
Rob: I did a great gig today with one of the other bands I'm in (Bongoman and the Bongomaniacs) where we teamed up with Raven, who I think are great. They could work well with Ishka.
Sean: There's a lot of fantastic bands in Scarborough, no doubt about it. One of my favourite guitarists and singer/songwriters was here tonight at our gig, Jesse Hutchinson... it would be great to do something with the likes of Jesse, and many other bands in Scarborough... we'll see, you just don't know what is going to happen.

Anything else you'd like to add?
Ryan: Well, we might not survive next weekend!
Sean: Yeah, if we don't make it through the St Patrick's Day festivities, we'd like to thank everyone for all their support, we are where we are because of all those people coming to see us...So thank you. All we will say is next weekend is the one where we really kind of 'let ourselves loose'... and if we do come out of it alive, then the plan is... Ishka Assemble!


Find Ishka on Facebook 

*With thanks to Mike at Indigo Alley for letting us have a quiet space in one of Indigo Alley's hotel rooms for this interview.