Poitín is an old Irish moonshine, a homemade, incredibly potent whiskey often made with fermented potatoes or malted barley. It’s also an Irish folk band based in the Czech Republic, one of the first Celtic music groups to form in the Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution.
Today, we’re here to talk about the latter.
Jeremy King, the band’s frontman sat down and talked to us about the band, their influences and what drew him to the art of Celtic folk.
What drew you to the Czech Republic?
Destiny, fate, chance, my mate Tim.
I’d sunk into a bit of a hole after closing my art gallery in Brighton and felt I was just going round in circles instead of going forward. Then one day, my mate Tim asked me what I was doing in the summer- ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘OK,’ he tells me, ‘we’re going to look after the gardens of a Czech castle and drink lots of beer.’ ‘Sounds like a good plan,’ says I, ‘where’s the Czech Republic?’ I really didn’t know much about the place - of course I knew about Prague, but I thought Pilsen (where I ended up living) was in Germany. So we hitch-hiked from Brighton to this castle north of Prague and met up with a group of volunteers from all over Europe who all fancied the idea of messing around in a park, drinking beer, cutting grass, doing the weeding, that kind of thing. It was great. The last weekend we were there, me and my mate Tim headed towards the city lights of Prague to see what we could see. We ended up at a dance party on an island in the Vltava river and that’s where I met my future wife. It was magic. I couldn’t speak a word of Czech (actually that’s a lie, I knew the word for beer- ‘pivo’), and she couldn’t speak a word of English, but there and then we both knew that we were made for each other. I went back home and told everybody I’d met the person I was going to marry, and Blanka went back to her home and told everybody the same thing. So here I am, in Pilsen in the Czech Republic, playing Irish and Celtic music with a bunch of fantastic musicians in our band Poitín.
Are there any musical influences, traditional or contemporary that you’d say inspire your sound?
We were in the studio the other day and I asked the rest of the band this question. They took it to mean what made them want to play the music we play in the first place. The answers varied from Jethro Tull, Mike Oldfield, Solas and even our own first CD (that was Sasha’s influence, our whistle and flute player). I’d had a band in Brighton with the very unlikely name of the Bodley Head Ceilidh Band, which played traditional Scottish, Irish and English tunes. This was at the time bands like the Levellers and McDermott’s Two Hours (also from Brighton) were starting up. It was a lively time to be in Brighton in terms of folk music. I was listening to folk music from an early age thanks to my Dad’s musical tastes. He played blues guitar and banjo and had a record collection which included sea shanties, blues legends like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, folkies like Woodie Guthrie, Steeleye Span, and the Chieftains. Throw it all in the mix, along with some of my own tastes- Led Zep, David Bowie and obscure 60’s psychedelia and that’s what made me want to play music.
Have you ever played in Ireland, if so, do you have any stories to tell?
We haven’t played there as a band but some of us have played there at sessions and done a bit of busking. From what I hear, it was all good. It would be great to get over there all together at some point.
If you could perform alongside anyone, who would it be?
It would be easy to say the legends like Planxty and the Chieftains, but I have a feeling that I would be too overwhelmed to actually enjoy the experience. I think I’m happiest playing with enthusiastic, friendly, committed and talented musicians whoever they might be. But, come to think of it, I would probably find (given the chance) that the members of Planxty and the Chieftains fitted that description quite nicely....
What is the Czech response to Celtic music, or Irish culture in general?
Well, when you consider that many of the original Celtic tribes actually come from here, you won’t be surprised to learn that Celtic music has a place in many Czech hearts. There are some really good annual Celtic festivals here, which we play regularly and the response is fantastic. The festivals aren’t just music either, the billing usually includes some of the country’s very fine Irish dance companies and culinary delights.
With the name Poitín, we guess you’re a whiskey drinker. What’s the perfect setting for a whiskey?
You’re right, I’m a whiskey drinker. I like to savour it in peace and quiet, so not usually in a pub, but unwinding at home after the day is done, the cat curled on my lap, is a perfect setting.
What would be a perfect gig for Poitín?
I asked the band this one, and the answer was pretty much unanimous. If we could play a festival in Ireland and get a great response from the audience, we would be extremely satisfied.