Mark McAvoy Interview

Cork Rock‘s  interview with Niall and Morty. An edited version of this appeared in the Evening Echo’s Downtown supplement on Thursday, July 31, 2014. By Mark McAvoy.

Here is Mark’s full interview. An edited version of this appeared in the Evening Echo’s Downtown supplement on Thursday, July 31, 2014.

While he may be best known as the flamboyant frontman of Cork favourites The Sultans of Ping, Niall O’Flaherty’s song-writing talent should never be underestimated. Last month, the Sultans’ football anthem Give Him A Ball (And A Yard Of Grass) won the ‘Football Anthems World Cup’ competition on BBC Radio 6.
The same track also accompanied a Vodafone Red TV advertisement in Ireland in 2013. However, this achievement hardly compares to the success of having their infectious 1992 single Where Me Jumper? used as the theme song in the Sky 1 hit TV show Moone Boy.Speaking to me in London, Niall O’Flaherty admits that some of his songs have now taken on a life of their own. He enthuses: “It’s peculiar. It seems there has been something in the air in the last couple of months. I can’t quite understand it. Where did that all come from? You really never know. It is true that once one of these things gets going, other things can follow.”Given that the Sultans’ love of football is well-documented in their music, drummer with the band Morty McCarthy was particularly happy to see them win the ‘Football Anthems World Cup’ organised by BBC Radio DJ Steve Lamacq. Morty recalls: “We beat Three Lions [chart-topping anthem for the English football team at the 1996 European Championships] in the semi-final. When I saw we were drawn against them, I thought that was the end of that. Then I saw the comments [about the Sultans’ song] on the BBC website and on Twitter. People from all over England were writing in saying things like: ‘It’s a class song!’ Niall loves his football and I think he was genuinely moved, which is very rare for him, when he saw the comments.”Niall adds: “That was great fun. It is amazing really! I just couldn’t believe that we would beat so many songs. I think Three Lions was one of the best-selling football songs of all time.”Since their 2005 comeback, a new generation of music fans have discovered The Sultans of Ping. Morty admits that this is in large part due to the Internet. He explains: “I have always said it to Niall that since the Internet has come about, it has helped the Sultans a lot. In Ireland, we have always had great support from the Evening Echo and the Irish Daily Star newspapers, but that would have been about it. We were never really acknowledged [in Ireland]. While we have always done well in England, we haven’t been in the media much [over there]. Now the Internet has taken over, it is the people deciding what they like.”

Earlier this year, The Sultans of Ping played a very well-received set at a special one day music event in Manchester called Gigantic. This experience proved a bit of an eye-opener for the band. “That gig in Manchester was fantastic. There were two and a half thousand people there. We were on in the afternoon and you couldn’t move in there, as so many people came early to see us and The Frank and Walters. Niall was saying: ‘What’s going on here?’ There was close to two thousand people jumping up and down in the room. So with the few gigs that we have done in the last few years, the audience has started getting younger again,” says Morty.

Could their increased popularity with younger audiences be attributed to the exposure they have received through providing the theme music to Moone Boy? The co-writer and co-star of Moone Boy, Chris O’Dowd, told London’s Time Out magazine that he loved: ‘the idea of bringing Sultans of Ping F.C. to a new audience.’

The Cork band have also gained their fair share of high-profile fans including Lily Allen and Florence Welch [of Florence and The Machine fame]. Morty recalls: “Lily Allen was on the BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs and she picked Where’s Me Jumper? as one of her eight favourite tracks. She is huge in the UK. So that was covered by the London Times and The Guardian. Recently, we had Florence Welch in Q Magazine talking about going to see the Sultans. It’s funny the way random people turn up at our gigs.”

The Sultans of Ping are set to play Cyprus Avenue this Friday night. After a four year absence from the local live circuit, they make this long overdue return to Leeside ahead of a gig on Saturday at the Indiependence Festival in Mitchelstown.
Morty reveals: “There are not too many shows left in the band. We won’t be doing any shows in Cork at Christmas. This will be the only Cork show this year. It is four years since we last played in Ireland. It is nice to play to your own people. We are looking forward to getting up close and personal and Niall revels in that – a small venue with a sweaty audience!”Niall is optimistic about the Sultans’ future. “We just play it gig by gig. In theory, there is a possibility that we will make one more single. I have a few songs banging about in my head. It is getting people together, that’s the difficulty.”So are the recent rumours of the band’s impending demise greatly exaggerated? Niall responds: “The rumours are really created by me and then it seems I change my mind. Every time I talk to you, I tell you that there aren’t many gigs left in us. Then more get booked. I think when there is a good break between gigs, we enjoy them a lot. It’s touring that we really can’t do anymore.”Considering the boost their profile received from Moone Boy, can we look forward to any more TV soundtrack work from the Sultans in the future? “I think we should be on every time you turn on your television. If there was any justice in the world – that is how it would be,” says Niall.


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