Joe Clarke moved back to Ballina from London a year ago, after having worked as an actuary all over the UK in places like Bristol, York, and Manchester (where he fronted the band Adventures of Salvador for nearly four years) and briefly in the Isle of Man (where he was interested to find that the entire tourist trade consisted of OAP coach tours).
Joe became a full-time musician just before Covid-19 struck (“great timing, I know, but I got a lot of writing and rehearsing done”) and then moved back to Ireland permanently last July. He had come home a few months earlier for family reasons and discovered that he just “felt happier and better” in Ballina.
“I was in England for 15 years,” he says, “but it never felt like home. Now it’s like the town has opened up before me.”
He is living back in the house in O’Rahilly Street where he was brought up, an experience he describes both as “kind of weird” and “absolutely fine”.
“It’s full of childhood touchstones, melancholy but not in a negative way. I feel safe in this house, in the way I don’t feel safe anywhere else. I feel the silence when I lie in bed at night. London is vibrating all the time, but here there is a deep stillness.”
It has had an impact on his songwriting – not on his style (which Hot Press magazine has described as “laid-back folky musicianship”) but on its emotional quality; he feels he has more room here to “place himself into the unknown”.
Joe’s eponymously named album backinhumanform has already been released to excellent reviews. It was recorded in Martin Coogan’s Manchester studio – and there’s a Mayo connection there too because Martin is the brother of Steve Coogan and their mother was from Westport.
Because of lockdown, this will be Joe’s first chance to perform the songs live, and he is delighted to be fronting his new band, which he recruited by word of mouth since returning to Mayo: they are Colm Cahill on drums, Ray McHale on lead guitar, and John Hanly on bass.
Colm and Ray were both “friends of friends” whom Joe had never met before, and John came recommended to him.
“I was blown away by how many great musicians there are living in Ballina,” says Joe. “There are dozens of practiced bass players, guitarists, drummers, there’s a huge amount of talent.”
Perhaps the track most praised so far has been, ‘Auld Lang Xiety’, but a Ballina audience might want to listen out for Joe’s personal favourite, ‘Half-Light’, which was inspired by a half-waking moment he once had in the very room he is sleeping in now, in O’Rahilly Street.
“When I was young, I woke in the darkness of my bedroom, sat up and listened to the silence of the house… My guitar was leaning in the corner, and I took it and played softly in the dark, and I just felt… Everything was better after that. I’ve never forgotten that moment.”