ESTEL gigs by year. 2001.

4th February- 90 day men [u.s.]/ Waver. Frazer’s [Dublin].

This was Ashley’s last gig and Jamie’s first gig with the band. Waver were a solid ‘alternative’ group around Dublin at the time. The 90 day men were a great band and really nice guys to boot.

3rd May- Wormholes/ Large Mound. Temple. [Dublin].

The wormholes hadn’t played a gig in ages, possibly years when we asked them to do this one. They were one of the bigger Irish bands to be signed in the aftermath of the post Nirvana ‘alternative’ boom. Legends abound concerning them spending their advance on drugs and second hand gear. Regardless, this was a great gig and they played really well. They did wreck my head a bit though, when the drummer pushed the kit over before they finished. Cheeky fucker. Sound lads though. Large Mound are another in a long line of amazing and tenacious irish rock bands. Great stuff. If I remember correctly, half of Sarah’s keyboard died during this gig and Grainne’s guitar, not to be upstaged also gave up the ghost.

14th May- Brood [Germany]/ Future Kings Of Spain. Frazer’s [Dublin].

I’m drawing a blank on this one. The Future Kings Of Spain used to do a live cover of ESTEL’s ‘one deep breath’. They featured Karl Hussy who had played in  Bambi. They went on to be a very big band for a while before they ceased operating.

19th July- Somedaysbetter [u.k.]/ Jeff Martin. Temple Bar Music Centre. [Dublin].

This was the first gig of our first Irish tour.  Jeff Martin is a regarded songsmith and member of Halfset. I think that this may have been his first real gig? I may be, and probably am wrong.  Someday’s Better were an emo band from Belfast that we decided to tour with based on my friendship with the awesome-o Hornby. Hornby would later helm Selah, We Are Knives and more recently, The Continuous Battle Of Order. This guy has always been a great supporter of the ESTEL cause.

As for the gig. I remember that all of the bands played well. We had a problem in that the venue had given out literally hundreds of free passes, resulting in people turning up, then taking a pass instead of paying. To add to the stress, we got thrown out of the dressing room by a wanker bouncer. He started on Jamie for no real reason. Myself and Hornby stepped in between them by the time it had progressed to the lobby area near the bar. They owed us around two hundred pounds and wouldn’t pay up. This was our last time to play this room.

20th July- Somedaysbetter [u.k.]. Batty’s. [Roscommon].

This was in a small room to a decent crowd. I mainly remember destroying the drum kit at the end of the set.

21st July- Somedaysbetter [u.k.]./ Calzino Fiasco. Boat house. [Limerick].

I remember that Calzino Fiasco played first and the venue was full of their younger, metaller type mates. Once they finished around half of the audience split. We had a good gig. Much fun was had at the expense of the Somedaysbetter lads being described on the posters as ‘sounding like Foo Fighters’.

22nd July- Somedaysbetter [u.k.] / Cub Scout Disco. O’Malley’s [Galway].

This is probably one of my favourite gigs with this line up. We played really late and at the end of the set, Grainne pulled me out of the kit, knocking stuff everywhere. I lay at the feet of the crowd as they poured pints on me and cheered on the carnage. It was a good time.

16th August- Somedays better/ Robin G. Sheils. The menagerie. [Belfast- u.k.].

We fucking sucked at this gig. Inter- band nonsense resulted in an argument between two members, resulting in one of the worst gigs I have ever been a part of. That’s saying something. Honestly- we sucked ASS. We’ve always had a weird relationship with Belfast and I think that the reason we continue [ed] to book gigs there is that the people who dig us up there are great people that make it worth the nonsense.

13th September- Damian Frost/ Baseball Fury. Whelan’s. [Dublin].

This was [I think], the release for Damian Frost’s album. They were formed by Hag who had drummed in the Null Set before they came apart in an explosion of bad buzz. The other band that came from this break up was the Dudley Corporation, featuring, well, Dudley. The Baseball Fury were a short lived band featuring Bullets [Andy Fogarty] who later went on to play with Boys of Summer, Toymonger and tons more, Damo from crust heros Easpa Measa and Steven Doyle from Knife at a Gunfight and Neckweed. I remember a silly little spat involving a guitar being knocked over and a great gig.

26th September- Adrian Crowley/ A Lazarus soul and other bands. Shelter [Dublin].

this was the release of a compilation on the Vitaminic label. I really enjoyed the gig. Nena Hynes sat off stage shouting about loving us! Adrian was, of course, excellent as usual.

23rd September- ESTEL DJ’s. Lazybird club, the international. [Dublin].

This was our first of two appearances in this great club. These guys had a real thing for underground music lacking with today’s genre defined clubs and promoters. You’ll notice that I spelled ‘Lazybird’ as ‘Ladybird’ on the posters. Scarlet for me.

22nd October.- Art of fighting [Australia]./ Dudley Corporation. Whelan’s. [Dublin].

Don’t remember the gig too well. Around this time we were playing a lot of decent gigs. This  period was probably the high point for this line up. We’d add other people over the next few years but they couldn’t cover up the fact that the core four of us were finished as a unit. The Art of fighting guys were really nice and I remember having a really long chat with one of them.

23rd November- Tracer AMC [u.k.]. Isaac Butt. [Dublin].

This was a really good gig. We pulled a good crowd and played well. That’s it.

1st December- Bilge Pump [u.k.]/ Nathan Daniels [u.k.].  Bristol [u.k.].

Our first English tour. This was originally conceived and booked as a much longer tour. The observant amongst you will notice the space between the dates.  The rest of the gigs fell through while we were there. I remember that we got a ferry and loaded our gear into a shopping trolly to get it on the boat. We had a great time playing arcade games on the way over. It’s a misconception that we all got along terribly. We didn’t. It’s just that there was always a weird thing going on between one member, and at separate times, everyone else. Grainne was one of my best friends right up to her leaving the band and I still feel bad about her exit from the group.

Before the gig we visited the Clifton Suspension bridge and took funny photos of Jamie and the Samaritans posters. Also, Ivan Pawle, our sometime collaborator turned up to travel with us! Ivan later played [plays] with- The Boys of Summer and Sea Dog amongst others.

Anyhow. The gig. Bilge pump were as amazing as ever. These guys are a MUST SEE band if you ever get the chance. Nathan Daniels was a quirky singer songwriter type and the audience loved him. We played a really good gig. The only hitch was when Grainne blew out our rental guitar cab early in the set. D’oh. It was soon fixed though.

The next day we bummed around the town and used a real camera obscura. Great stuff indeed.

3 December.- Capo D’astro [u.k]/ Lux Lisbon [u.k.]. Leeds. [u.k.].

Lux Lisbon was an all grrrl band formed by the ever lovely Cath O’Connor. They were rough around the edges but great. Capo D’astro were another fantastic band that probably only lasted for three gigs. I enjoyed this gig and the audience dug us. After we finished playing, a lad in a grey duffel coat came over to me to shower me with praise. I was wearing Brothel creepers at the time and he informed me that he was also. I noticed that one of them was covered in gaffa tape. When I enquired as to why, he informed me that one of them was lace up and the other was a buckle and that this disguised the fact that they were odd. Genius. He also informed us that he had a band called- ‘Satan, himself’. His goal was to get a guy to introduce them before each gig by saying ‘ now please welcome satan, himself!’ Genius times two.

5 December- Cat on Form [u.k]/ The Anti [ u.k.]. The Free Butt. Brighton. [u.k.].

I can remember that this was one of those gigs were the promoter forgot to do, you know, the promoting thing. We played to around fifteen people. Cat on Form were decent enough in a Fugazi-ish way. The Anti were a pack of terrible little snot nosed pricks. Honestly. I’m not being mean here, i’m giving them some slack. We played well to the paying punters. The next night it  would turn out that the pedals and leads had ‘gone missing’ from our back line. After contacting the promoter, who worked in the pub, he said that he couldn’t find them. After weeks and weeks, he ‘found’ them in ‘a corner’ of the venue. Anywho-

6th December.- Owls [u.s.]/ The Wow [u.k.]. Old Vic. Nottingham [u.k.]

The promoters for this were cool. The Wow were a great band of ex [spy vs spy] guys. The audience ignored them throughout their entire set. We played with borrowed pedals, leads etc and we were good at best. This didn’t bother the audience who were busy buying Owls merch whilst us pesky non- American bands played. The Owls were decent at that pre emo thing. Their claim to fame was being ex Cap’n Jazz guys. I remember they were all pretty cool but the singer rubbed me up the wrong way. This is not  however, to say that he is a douche for I was probably being my usual cranky self.

All of this is Bushie’s opinion and does not represent the opinion’s of blah, blah, blah….


ESTEL gigs by year. 2000.

30th January- Kabinboy [uk]/ Split Red [uk]/ Tarka. Frazier’s[Dublin]

This was a biggish gig for it’s day and it was the first gig for the ‘kids’ collective. The Kabinboy and Split Red were both bands almost made up entirely of Northern Irish folks and Tarka were the band of Tom Doherty, later of Risc records and many other groups. We had tons of problems with the keyboards during this gig and we eventually stopped playing after around twenty five minutes of ‘sound issues’.

27th February- Ritchie Egan./ Dudley corporation. Frazer’s. [Dublin].

This was the release of our first seven inch. I believe that this was Ritchie’s first real solo gig. This was before he became ‘JAPE’. The Dudley Corporation were awesome as usual and never fail to be anything less than a band of perfect gents making perfect odd indie. We pulled a decent crowd at this one and the seven inch got some good reviews.

7th March- Joan of Arse/ Omelette. Whelan’s. [Dublin].

This is one of my favourite gigs with the original line up. By this gig, Joan of Arse had changed line- up into a more ‘band’ type set up. Omelette was the project of my then boss, Ian. It was a really fun night and we had played well.

4th May- Bambi. Doyle’s. [Dublin].

Another great gig. This one was set up by Jamie Farrell and Willie stewart for a club they did. I remember we went down well and we played to a pretty full room.

???- Snow Patrol. Temple bar music centre. [Dublin].

This was an interesting mis- match of styles. At the time Snow Patrol were close to going global but for now they had to make do playing with ESTEL. I remember playing in front of a fairly hefty crowd and that we played and went down well. As for Snow Patrol, the singer was a really nice guy and their manager was a tosser. He got upset with me when I said that I wasn’t going to the witness festival.. [I should note that he had a girl under his arm and abottle of Jack Daniels in the other.] Eventually the singer told him to fuck off and that I didn’t have to like the music they played or go to witness.  Like I said, a nice guy.

???- Catalyser club. Rob Dredge plus more. Eamonn Doran’s. [Dublin].

This was set up by a guy called Oly [I think]. We got this gig through Steven Shannon who I knew from college and had just recorded our first album. [His first professional gig as a producer?]. I remeber this gig as the only time we performed with a good friend of our’s, Rob Dredge. Rob was killed soon after this in an accident. This weighed heavily on those of us who had known him.

???-Ninetynine [Australia]/ Dudley corporation. Doyle’s’ [Dublin].

This gig was played without Grainne and with Michael Sheil substituing for her. Grainne was off in the States at the time. Ninetynine are one of my favourite underground bands ever. Laura and Cameron were/are the constant members. We ‘clicked’ with these guys really well and we were to play with them again over the next few years. Always a pleasure.

October 30th. Peter Maybury- Hard Sleeper. Whelan’s. [Dublin].

This gig marked the release of our first album, ‘Angelpie I think I ate your face’. It was promoted by Folkrum records. A label that wanted to sign us but disolved before it happened. It was part of ‘a month of Mondays’. I don’t remember an awful lot about this. We sold some records and I don’t remember anything terrible happening. We got a good crowd.

November 30th. Cane 141. Temple bar music centre. [Dublin].

This was a fairly unremarkable gig. Small crowd in a big venue.

By this point we were already growing tired of being a ‘cool’ band. Getting asked to open for indie bands that we didn’t respect ‘on the way up!’. The next year was to show a more determined effort to get stuff rolling in a direction we liked. It would take us a few more years and line-ups to get it right but we were on the right track.


All of this is Bushie’s opinion and does not represent the opinion’s of blah, blah, blah….

Ladyfest Cork magazine interview 2007.

This was originally featured in a Ladyfest mag in december 2007.

LF: Hello, it’s great to have you play another Ladyfest gig, for all of those peoples who will be seeing you for the first time will you tell us a bit about yourselves?

Estel- Estel are old. Really. So fucking old. We started around nine years ago. The band was formed by Sarah and Ashley, then they got Grainne, then they got me [Bushie].
We’ve put out some singles and four albums. We’ve played in England, Scotland, Italy and a skillion times in Ireland. We have had so many line up changes since that initial line up. We are completely dedicated to the idea of the independent aesthetic and practice it in all we do. We have never played a single gig for a big promotion organisation, but we’ve turned down plenty. We hung the phone up on mister Sony a couple of times. The cheek! Personally, we’re entertaining, film quoting and slagging machines with a flair for mild mental illness and collecting music. Did that help make things clearer? No?

LF: We like that all the bands tonight are from different places and bring a mix-match of styles and influences to the night. Do you think that the music scene in Ireland can be a bit close-minded?

Estel- Yes, indeed. What attracted me to the underground music scene was that I believed that it gave me the oppurtunity to do what I wanted without rules or expectation other than my own. Unfortunately this idea is being marginalised more and more and blandness and sameness is the thing to aspire to now. I may get a bit ranty now. Indulge me.. When I was growing up I considered myself outside of the loop of the regular chap on the street. As a result of this I suffered a barrage of abuse from the afformentioned regular chaps. Myself and my friends, as would be expected, distanced ourselves from these chaps and eventually graduated to the underground music/culture scene where I believed I would be at home. I loved and still love this culture because I am happy to exist outside of the ‘straight’ life. In the late nineties a lot of attention was garnered on the wave of bands of the time, us included, and all of a sudden previously ‘diy or die’ type bands couldn’t support shit groups or play mcd gigs quick enough in an attempt to get ‘popular’ and be ‘hip’. It turns out that these people weren’t happy to be the freaks and were just biding their time till the cool kids wanted them to be in their gang. I was always happy to be the freak. The scene has never fully recovered from this change in aspirations. As a result it has become largely fragmented, resulting in many smaller cliques with little cross pollination and a desire to ape mainstream trends [post-punk, punk funk and so on.] These genres are basically retro based and ready made so I find it disheartening that for the first time [on such a large scale] in a forward thinking and creative movement such as ‘punk’ that it has largely stalled as a creative force and has become like fucking school with cool kids and gangs and other horse shit.[it’s like fucking kula shaker pretending it was the sixties ten years ago!] hmph. There are however tons of great bands out there like- we are knives, party weirdo, drainland, cian nugent, nn-, bats, vimanas, terrordactyl, herv, janey mac, wreck of the hesperus, dennovissimus, queen kong, deep burial and hundreds more. Basically we need the next generation of people to use punk/ underground music and culture/ ideas to empower themselves and offer an actual alternative lifestyle instead of a boring soulless popularity competition. So there. Phew. Sorry about that.

LF: Estel has been around for quite a while in some shape or form, you must have quite few stories to tell. We’d love to hear ’em!?

Estel-Eh… our stories normally involve our own stupidity or disasters or the merciless goading and slagging of us by us. A few examples would be the time Tommy got mashed at a festival and lost his keys resulting in us having to smash the windows on his jeep to rescue our equipment. Tommy had to stay awake for another day or so trying to figure out what to do until a crusty gentleman he doesn’t remember ever meeting gave him his keys back and saved the day. This resulted in the popular puzzle game ‘Tommy’s key caper’.
I slagged das wanderlust from the stage in Belfast not realising that referring to them as ‘stupid english people’ might be funny, just not there.
Recording with Mike Watt and Steve Mackay from The Stooges was mind blowing. Now that’s a story!
We nearly crashed our fan in thick fog on the way to Belfast when we drove onto a roundabout. I almost shat myself. On the way back our driver almost fell asleep a couple of times! fun, fun, fun!
Aaaaaaargh I can’t think of anything else. Ask me in person at the gig and the anecdotes will pour from me. Honest.

LF: Erm on a more childish festive note, a bit of a Christmas Cracker for ye;
What kind of paper likes music?

Estel- I don’t know. Should I?. Is it something to do with a fan?
Thanks for having us again. It’s chap[ettes] like yrselves that keep us doing what we do and make us happy. Thanks. Go team you! xxxx


Steve Mackay – Sax Man, talks The Stooges, Iggy and ESTEL.


Galway Advertiser 

By Kernan Andrews

STEVE MACKAY, the man who played saxophone on The Stooges, extraordinary 1970 album Funhouse and the 2007 reunion album The Weirdness, and who also toured with the band in 1970 and 2003, is coming to Galway.

On Thursday August 19 at 9pm, Steve will join Irish avant-garde/experimental rock band Estel, on stage for Strange Brew at the Róisín Dubh.


The Stooges and Funhouse

Steve Mackay grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to a family of Irish and Scottish descent. From a young age he was surrounded by music and was drawn to the saxophone through his mother’s record collection which included Stan Getz albums and Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool. However this was also the 1950s and the revolution in youth culture unleashed by rock’n’roll had a profound effect on the young man.

“There was a rockin’ tenor sax solo on almost every song on the Top 40 in 1958,” Steve tells me during our interview. “When the ‘British Invasion’ [when The Beatles, Stones and Kinks, came to the US] happened all my friends got guitars. Sax wasn’t cool but I was ‘the only one who could play a lead’. Do a Byrds’ song with the sax? No problem!”

In 1967 Steve moved to Ann Arbor, just outside Detroit, to attend the University of Michigan where he “got stoned, tripped, and radicalised almost immediately”. He also started his own band, Carnal Kitchen, a freeform drums and sax duo.

By that stage he had already heard of a band called The Iguanas and their “wild and singing drummer Iggy”. That “wild” man was James Newell Osterberg, who would later become famous the world over as Iggy Pop.

By 1968/69, Steve saw Iggy regularly at gigs in Ann Arbour and Detroit, where he was the singer in a band called The Psychedelic Stooges, and the two men started to get to know one another. Iggy was also taking time out to check out Steve’s band.

“I was impressed when Jim saw Carnal Kitchen’s first big show in 1970 from the front row, so I wasn’t surprised he invited me to jam with The Stooges,” says Steve. However he had no idea that Iggy wanted Steve to record with them as well.

Steve would eventually join the band in Los Angeles for the sessions which became the mighty Funhouse, with Steve playing sax on the title track, ‘1970’, and ‘LA Blues’.

“I didn’t know he had ‘1970’ and ‘Funhouse’ all set up for me,” Steve recalls. “Iggy said: ‘Just play like Mace Parker [James Brown’s saxman] on acid.’ I said: ‘No problem, Jim!”

Steve’s favourite song is ‘Funhouse’, where he and guitarist Ron Ashton belt out the riff with gusto (“What a chance to blow funky and free!”). However the album’s most uncompromising track is the ‘free jazz’ of ‘LA Blues’, which these days Iggy describes as something akin to “a demonic howl”.

“As a finale to our shows we would do what we called a Hippy or Freakout ending in freeform, leaving guitar and bass feeding back as we left the stage while the crowd was still passing Jim around [after one of his stagedives],” says Steve. “Don Galucci, the producer, thought it would be good to make it its own track. We did it all live in the studio.

“I always would brag about how I was high on acid when we did it until I heard Jim’s recollection that he was on acid every day during the recording. Demonic Howl indeed! Forty years later, it still stands up and we do a somewhat abbreviated version in our shows, where Mike Watt and I throw in some Coltrane.”

Steve toured with The Stooges for six months in 1970, performing in Detroit, New Orleans, St Louis, New York, and LA, after which he returned to Carnal Kitchen. However it was not to be the end of his association with The Stooges, who recruited him for live duties in 2003 and recording commitments in 2007.

“Before the reunion I had sat in with J Mascis and The Fog when they came to San Francisco, Watt on bass, Ron Asheton on guitar doing Stooges covers as part of the show,” says Steve. “Then, Scott [Ashton, Stooges drummer] and Ron did those great tracks for Iggy’s solo album Skullrings and the idea of a reunion was born. Needless to say I was delighted when I got a call from Jim (‘Do you need to rehearse?…‘No.’)

“Even if that had been a one-off, what an experience, leading to the kind of vindication very few get to experience. Before you know it, we were going to Spain, France, and Japan and began this incredible journey I never had anticipated would be taken. Jim had been laying the groundwork in Europe for 25 years on his own.

“Regarding The Weirdness I wish I had been allowed more input. I was not allowed to even hear the material until I walked into the session from the Chicago Airport. We have done some of those songs live and they sound far better than the record. It was a pleasure working, however briefly, with Steve Albini.”

Iggy and Steve remain great friends to this day and Iggy has contributed vocals to a track on Steve’s forthcoming album, Sometimes Like This I Talk.

“We talk on the phone regularly, either just for a chat or more often with saxpart suggestions,” he says. “He is a terrific bandleader and we have remained friends all these years. I have learned a lot about when and when not to play from him. I asked him how he wished to be billed in the credits for Sometimes Like This I Talk, he said however I wanted, so we just call him ‘Ypsi Jim’ after his hometown between Ann Arbor and Detroit.”


The return

Throughout the 1970s Steve continued to work with Carnal Kitchen, and participated in numerous collaborations, most notably with the Violent Femmes, but despite being an in-demand musician, for years many in the music media believed he had died of a drug overdose in 1975.

“A British journalist named Nick Kent wrote a Stooges/Iggy book and confused me with Zeke Zettner, Stooges bassist who sadly, in fact did die ‘of a drugs overdose in 1975’,” says Steve. “I did almost die of a collapsed lung in SF in 1983 but Snakefinger and the Femmes helped in my recovery. There was, incredibly, another premature report of my demise in the late 1990s when a namesake of mine did in fact die of AIDS in San Francisco, a Google search gone awry. Anyhow am delighted to still be among the living!”

Steve took some time out from music in the 1980s, working as an electrician, but thanks to encouragement from his partner Patricia and Iggy Pop he took up his sax and started travelling again, leading to solo recordings and work with J Mascis, The Stooges, the Radon Ensemble, and The Minutemen’s Mike Watt.

His current collaboration is with Dublin band Estel. So when they take to the stage of the Róisín Dubh, what can audiences expect?

“This will be our first tour together,” says Steve. “We will draw from Estel’s rich, if dark, musical landscape, but as going ‘where no sax player has gone before’ is my tendency, it should be a great show!”

Last year, Steve and Estel released an album featuring four tracks named after the Gospels, plus a cover of The Stooges ‘Funhouse’ (which Iggy loved). The album also features Steve’s old friend and frequent collaborator Mike Watt.

“Watt and I have become close friends over the last years and he has done so much to inspire me,” says Steve. “He is a dynamo of positive and wise energy and I am so blessed to have him in my corner.”


The Ultimate ESTEL article.

See other great articles on Ireland’s best music blog-


Sarah Shiel & Andrew BusheFrom early shoots in Temple Bar, Estel celebrate a career spanning a decade in 2009. Not quite a Kurt vsCourtneySid & Nancy or Peter and Jordancourtship, the union of musicians under the Estel canopy boasts its own tale laced with euphoria, arguments and sinister tattooed visions, as rife with birth and divorce as any marriage.
“I got the vibe that they would probably kill for you once you befriended them, which was rather exciting,” confessed Fringilla Montifringilla/Party Weirdodrummer Emily when asked of her impression of first sharing a stage with Estel. “There was a distinct solidarity vibe from them as Irish underground musicians.  I was already aware they had about a million albums but I was intrigued by the magical evil-genius, swamp-girl, kill-your-Ma horrors they composed. Estel are unbelievably prolific, it’s shockin’.”

If you haven’t already heard, the Estel band are an alternative rock outfit with five albums, almost-four EPs, several singles and DVDs under their belt with more soon to come. They’ve played live in Europe and their press cuttings span the globe. Comparisons have been made likening their sound to GoblinGodspeed You! Black Emperor and even Grandaddy. Aspersions have been cast that they’re “art fags” and “not hardcore enough”. Generalisations have been made and paid for.
Over scrambled eggs in the Fairview Grill, drummer Andrew Bushe begins our interview with an informal introduction to his fellow bandmembers. Another is already in attendance: Sarah Sheil is eating peanuts and naming the Rat Pack paintings on the walls. Along with the booths and jukebox and kitsch ice-cream menu,Bushie’s horn-rimmed spectacles and her own leather jacket, we agree they suit the place quite well. What about the others?

Tommy is a fantastic engineer who records our albums as well as many other bands’ work. Bassist Andy is currently in the beginnings of a degree in psychology and also plays some fine guitar, while Aonghus has a couple of degrees including one in ethno-musicology. Sarah is a full-time artist and musician who plays a mean banjo and accordian. I’m a qualified cameraman and chef but I work as a drum teacher and collect weird movies and records.” Not a drinker, Bushie’s sobriety also provides a yang to the band’s ying.
“We have huge, varied music collections but nearly all agree on Butthole Surfers, Throbbing Gristle, Black Flag, Killing Joke, Goblin, Queen, Hawkwind, Frank Zappa, Phillip Glass, Ennio Morriconne, Burzum, Mayhem, Sonic Youth, Minutemen.  After that, having very different tastes means we constantly turn each other on to stuff that we otherwise wouldn’t hear.
“None of us are too pushed about political interests but it’s safe to say we’d all fall to the left of the fence. This does not however, instantly allege us with PC bleeding heart crybabies! Basically none of us go out of our way to behave in a manner that would cause offence to an intelligent human. For guilty pleasures, it’s safe to say we’ve all enjoyed Flash Gordon by Queen.”

Currently a quintet, members Andrew Bushe (drums), Sarah Sheil (keys), Steven Anderson (bass),Tommy O’Sullivan (guitar) and Aonghus McAvoy (synths/guitar) recently toured a five-track Untitled 1EP across the country. This latest in a long line of releases is especially precious. Recorded under an auspicious jamming haze, the EP is a collaboration featuring the bass notes of Minutemen’s Mike Watt and renownedStooges saxophone player Steve Mackay – the very same who lent wind to Zu’s jazz metal, the man whomRolling Stone claimed died in 1970. As friends rather than idols, Untitled 1 is tight and shrill, a dark dance across a canvas, one which now hangs proudly in the Estel gallery. As a truly independent band, theirs is career built from scratch, for the elusive ‘right reasons’.

We couldn’t find a drummer and convinced ourselves we didn’t need one. Those gigs proved us wrong…

Beginning in 1999, Estel saw Sarah, her guitarist sister Ashley and bassist Grainne Donohue find their feet with Saturday afternoon shows. “Estel’s first two gigs were just Ashley, Grainne and myself as we couldn’t find a drummer and convinced ourselves we didn’t need one,” begins keyboardist Sarah. “Those gigs proved us wrong…we were terrible! Bushie must have seen some potential because he offered to play drums. We decided to take him up on it as being atrociously out-of-time wasn’t really working for us.”
Atrocious maybe but independent from the start and not in a Riot Grrl reactionary way. Preferring the pragmatic approach, the three women had set about compiling their music into a set list. Men always dominated Irish music but Feminism was just an Estel fact of life…until the appearance of ex-Waltonsdrummer Andrew Bushe at one of the Doran’s gigs.
“I don’t know how I feel about Doran’s to tell the truth,” muses Andrew,  “I played many of my first gigs there so have fond memories of the place but for us it always seems like a difficult venue to pull a crowd into.”
Probably because of the free-house policy. “Basically, every Saturday in Doran’s new bands were welcome to put their name down in the afternoon and wait for their turn to play for no money, just experience.” saysSarah.”Back then myself and Ashley were on a post-rock buzz which prompted us to be mainly instrumental but Ashley could sing so there were some vocals. Coupled with the fact that my keyboard at the time was a piece of shit, I would be extremely nervous on-stage and forget my parts, so most of those gigs are best forgotten!”

“It’s a bit weird to be held accountable for shit that you did ten years ago as a band, for a gig that someone saw you play in 1999. We were really just trying to learn to play well and that resulted in us coming up with some weird stuff. People always remember you as the last time they saw you, which can be a problem for us considering we’ve evolved a lot.”

Did they realise even then, that Estel would still be truckin’ together, ten years on?
“Yep, I always knew I’d be a lifer!” quips Sarah, luckily perhaps, as most of Estel’s album art adorns her body in tattoo ink.
“I’d like to say yes, but the truth is that we’ve just continued to enjoy playing together.” Bushie says. “Eventually we passed the ten year mark.”

It’s a bit weird to be held accountable for shit that you did ten years ago as a band, for a gig that someone saw you play in 1999.

It’s clear that Estel flourished thanks to the hands-on approach of managing all aspects of band-life under the mantle of Little Plastic Tapes, from courting interest from other record labels and distributors, sourcing gigs and promotion, arranging tours, rehearsal space and recording time to art & design and merchandise, DIY at its purest. The uncompromising nature of doing it themselves appeals to musicians who equate success as artistic fidelity instead of wealth. For Estel, a healthy archive of stationary and photographs from past efforts is proof of success.
“We wanted to be in control of what we were doing/creating so that naturally led us to the idea of self-sufficiency. To this day it remains the cornerstone of our work ethic. We still make everything by hand.”Bushie says, producing an old prototype flyer for photocopying, squares of text and images stuck to the paper like a ransom note. “I think a visual aesthetic is very important to an artist in any medium. Whether it’s orange Impulse spines, Raymond Pettibon drawing for Black Flag/SSTCrass‘ collage work or Sarahpainting our album sleeves, it’s a clue as to what’s inside the package. It’s how people recognise your work amongst other artists’. Bands like us don’t advertise in magazines…our merch and artwork is our advertising.”
Sarah agrees. “Sometimes merch is the only way you can make money. We’ve always used my art for album covers and so on, that’s quite important as I feel the art visually represents the music very well. They’ve grown together and complement each other ”

From the first 4-track cassette in November 1999 to the latest black-eyed baby EP cover, Sarah’s artchronicled the band’s evolution. Her early work is tentative, cheery on the One Deep Breath EP and childish on album debut Angelpie, I Think I Ate Your Face. It’s not unreasonable to suggest Angelpie marked the end of Estel’s childhood: Ashley left shortly after its release. Produced by Stephen Shannon who later won critical acclaim for his own band Halfset, it was his first time working with the band. Steve reflects on those early days:

“I had just returned to Ireland from a few years’ travelling and had a really basic recording set-up (an eight-track and two cheap mics) in the basement of my flat in Cabra. I’d met Andy (Bushe) in college and he told me about his band, Estel, who needed to record an album.  I have fond memories of the few days it took to complete it. They were really into the DIY thing, happy to improvise and experiment. We converted one of the bedrooms into a live room for drums and placed the amps in the kitchen and on the stairs…I got evicted shortly afterwards for being noisy! Sarah’s sister Ashley sang on a lot of the songs and and her voice adds to the lo-fi charm of the record.”
Critics agreed. Angelpie, I Think I Ate Your Face was described by the Irish Times as “full of neat touches and sublime rackets” and by Hot Press as “virtually faultless”. Paul Fogarty of the Event Guide had this to say: “After releasing one of the very best singles of the year in the form of One Deep BreathAngelpie takes them a step further – an album brimming with confidence, packed with ideas, one which excites and emotes in equal measures and stands up to repeated listens effortlessly.”
By all accounts, a very successful debut for an experimental rock band, giving their off-the-wall determinism an encouraging push. Though stylistically estranged, the confusion around Estel’s not quite post-rock debut in 2000 seemed akin to those of And So I Watch You From Afar and Adebisi Shank today, not quite Punk, not quite Math Rock, definitely Irish.

The line-up swelled in 2001 to admit Michael Sheil on guitar for one song, Regardez-Moi, released as a split 7″ with Joan of Arse on Road Records’ Relish label (the other song Starting Fights At Taxi Ranks was recorded by Steve Albini, which didn’t do Joan of Arse any harm at all). Releases like this have been the lynchpins of the band’s discography. CD collectors don’t burn with the same zeal as vinyl hoarders and albums on iTunes lack the romance of a rare 7″ single or bootleg DVD. Credit where it’s due, you have to admire the consistent creativity that goes into regular releases in various media, the ambition and involvement in keeping things fresh, For DIY bands, there are no safe choices, every financial endeavor is a risk and so in recent years sporadic CD-format albums and EPs have become the music scene’s stable currency. Green Lights‘ Colin Boylan recently spoke to Drop-d of his annoyance at Irish bands’ sparse habits, and one can only wonder how much difference it would make if all independent bands took a leaf from Estel’s book and competed by way of once-off releases, touring new material to maintain interest and fund more full-length albums.
“With regards to releasing albums I think that it’s important to put out the stuff you write so the listener can piece together the evolution of the band’s style and ideas. Too many  great bands break up having never released a single CDr, why? If you have ten songs that you deem worthy put them out there!”
Such ideals propelled Estel to continue releasing, no matter how stern the scene appeared, and no doubt, each record brought its own lessons. With a decade’s experience, what observations have the band made of the DIY scene? Ideally, what should happen next?
“One of the main things I’ve noticed is a change of opinions.” says Bushie. “There used to be  very honest peer-to-peer criticism [at least with my friends] and we really paid attention to each others’ opinions. Now, it seems more bands look to the audience for approval and get really bummed out if they don’t play to big crowds or if they don’t sell X amount of CDs. The truth of the matter is, you should be fucking honoured if a single person will leave their house, travel and then hand you money they earned to see you on a stage. The same goes for selling albums. Audience numbers + units sold does not = quality of art.”
“A lot of people exist out there, good folks who put gigs on all around the country with no financial gain for themselves,” Sarah counters, “but it seems to me that in the last couple of years the scenes have become truly segregated.  People want to go to gigs where they’re guaranted all the bands will sound and look the same, nice and safe.”

You should be fucking honoured if a single person will travel and hand you money they earned to see you on a stage.

“If I could see two things happen,” Bushie continues, “they’d be firstly, to see more labels like Out On A LimbRichter Collective, Stitchy Press and so on releasing more, so that Punk bands wouldn’t have to look outside of Ireland to get records released on a bigger scale. There are always bands out there making amazing music in the Punk ethic…by “Punk”, I refer to independent, underground music, not GBH and the exploited. These bands can be amazing, beautiful, fucked-up and challenging to the listener. These are the bands that you won’t hear about unless you go looking for them.
“On the other hand, there are bands who lack common sense to resist playing shitty showcase gigs in order to turn up on inane ‘118 Irish Bands To Look Out For‘ lists. I think that they may have missed the fucking point.”
“Secondly, if kids in small towns didn’t have to leave for bigger cities once they reach 18 or 19, if there was a way to consolidate the many school/punk/indie/alternative/goth/metal bands that exist in every corner of Ireland that would result in a much bigger network for ALL Irish bands. Imagine being able to book an Irish tour that lasted for more than five gigs without losing money! Sweeet.”

Estel’s first heartbreak came when founding guitarist Ashley Sheil returned to native Roscommon in 2001. The crack was patched by the recruitment of Jamie Farrell on bass, with Grainne shifting to guitar. Over the next year they reassembled as a foursome – naturally, the music changed. True Stories/My Raymond Is Contagious was the first release under this new line-up, a 7″ funded by Ivan Pawle, a friend who joined the band in live sets as a synths player. Gelling into a new form, Estel gigged frantically, embarking on a very satisfactory UK tour with Bilge Pump.
At this point of 2003, instrumental music was in full-bloom. While The Jimmy Cake and Redneck Manifesto (with The Waltons’ Matty Bolger) set their own high standards, young men in Cork and Wicklow emerged as Rest and God Is An Astronaut. Also produced by Steve Shannon (though in a ’serious’ studio), 2003’s A Guide In Time of Great Danger marked a new point of change, charging into second-album territory with little trace of Angelpie’s successful whimsy. The symmetric line-up pounded out, invigorated by art, combining elements of Krautrock and New Wave for a brasher, progressive sound. Although her strength had always been inventive bass, Grainne’s transition to guitar struck a new line in the sand, its delivery more pronounced than Ashley’s previous offerings, growling with the vigour of earlySonic Youth, adeptly vying with Sarah’s rich keyboards. Rough edges knocked off, the “weird stuff” that resulted in Estel’s music was essentially Irish but clearly marked them out amongst their fellows. Guest collaborations on the album included Hugh Holmes (also of The Waltons) and one Adrian Crowley, who’d become acquainted with Bushie on the gigs scene. On recording with Estel, he remembers the details vividly:
“As I walked into the common room of the studio the rest of the band were playing pool and sitting around. There was this terrifying screaming coming from the studio monitors. I looked in shock at the others and someone said ‘oh that’s the other guest vocalist, he’ll be finished in a minute’.
“I remember the exact date: March 15th 2003 – my son had just been born four days earlier. I’d just played two gigs, really I shouldn’t have been anywhere but home that week. I’d travelled back from Belfast totally exhausted and all my nerves were shot. I had my book of lyrics containing some words for the song which I’d written a few days before – at night in the maternity hospital waiting room. Bushie introduced me to the engineer (Stephen Shannon!) and I tentatively started whispering my words into the microphone. A few minutes later I came out of the vocal booth, disheveled and spent. Everyone was standing there, just smiling.”

Crowley’s single vocal take became the prepossessing, poignant Electric EelsA Guide In Time of Great Danger garnered itself a new dossier of reviews and no doubt, an array of new faces at numerous gigs. Though all seemed well for Estel, behind the scenes a rift had formed and deepened. Tensions mounted, arguments erupted over associates, ethics and style. Despite the album’s resounding success, the line-up was not working and eventually in January 2004 Grainne Donohue and Jamie Farrell decided to leave and start up on their own, marking the biggest turning point for the band to date.
“People drift apart, musically and personally, it happens….” reflects Sarah. “Previous members of Estel took a different path; I think both parties have benefited and are happier for it.”
“We’ve only ever parted on bad terms once.” Bushie interjects. “Considering we’ve had a lot of line-ups I reckon that’s pretty good going. We grew apart, someone was asked to leave. We didn’t think it was such a big deal at the time, they didn’t seem to like the direction the band was taking anyway.  When this happened, someone else left too. To this day, I regret that stuff caused such hurt feelings.”
“So yeah, we had a few capers down the years but no casualties yet. When you’ve been around for as long as us, you’re bound to have line-up changes. You just have to be honest and not be a prick about it.” finalises Sarah.

Grainne and Jamie’s new offshoot, wildly different, was named Cap Pas Cap. Away they went, expanding the No/New Wave sound that began with AGITOGD, resulting in the dainty and deep Not Not Is Fine EP in 2006. Jamie’s work with Peter Symes in the promotions company Skinny Wolves really took off and booking obscure art-rocking bands before anyone else had heard of them eventually led to the successful expansion into their own record label, recently resulting in a split offering from bright Indie favouritesTelepathe and Effi Brieste.

When you’ve been around for as long as us, you’re bound to have line-up changes. You just have to be honest and not be a prick about it…

Down to nuts and bolts, where did that leave Estel? Fed up of being compartmentalised as post-rock and aware of the pitch and roll of popularity tides, Sarah and Bushie rejected the attention of the media and set about rebuilding the band. Enter Stephen Anderson on bass and guitarist Tommy O’Sullivan of the Blood Red Dolls, a sound engineer who’d recorded Estel’s previous incarnation, although the songs were never released. For any band, this new era would be tumultuous and uncertain but if anything, it seemed to inject a new lease of life into the unit. Once again a four-piece but with the balance now weighing firmly in the male favour, Estella had got their groove back.
This became clear on the arrival of album #3, My Dreams Are Like Rabbits, They Built A Tunnel, Fell On To The Pavement And Died, its nefarious title perhaps a band in-joke at the hyperbolic names apparent in the post-rock genre they so keenly sought distance from.  While zines and sites picked up on Estel’s latest, this album did not scoop the rave reviews from Irish press as their predecessors had. Keeping the media at arm’s length had proved to be a double-edged sword.
My Dreams Are Like Rabbits became a truly definitive record in the band’s history, a corporeal representation of their furious determination to evolve and expand on all that had gone before. As with all their goals, they were successful: when ‘Rabbits emerged, it showed yet another mutation of the band’s sound, dark and proggy, the vocal tracks this time coarse and courtesy of Bushie and Tommy on I Am But A Vessel. Three of the songs (Running With Scissors, Instrumental in the Killing and Stab You At A Later Date) had been written with Grainne and Jamie but fit neatly into the new package. Tommy’s engineer capabilities came to the fore, resulting in Estel at their most fully-realised sound so far. Local engineers and producers have always played an important role in the production of their music:
“There’s a mindset that if people don’t like your band, you better pay some bozo in Butthole, Montana, thousands of euros to make you sound like another band that the kids already dig,” argues Bushie. “This causes two main problems: regional scenes lose what made them special in the first place – unique sounds specific to that area. The underground music takes another step towards it all sounding the same.
“Second and most importantly, the money that goes towards paying these people and on flights etc. could well be spent recording with local engineers and putting out more local albums. We have incredible engineers working in the Punk arena in Dublin, give them your money! Eventually people will want to come here based on the quality of the work that was made in Ireland. Does it really matter if people in London don’t like your stuff? It’s still fairly tough to get bookings other than stuff we go out and get ourselves. Surely we should worry about having a good touring network and audience in every county in Ireland before we worry about elsewhere?”

We have incredible engineers working in Dublin…Eventually people will come here based on quality work made in Ireland.

In this respect, it seemed keeping the music press at arm’s length had its drawbacks. At their productive zenith, powering on fourth album, The Bones of Something, the band found the network they needed to promote their music in Ireland had shrunk, not because of a tail-off in quality or inflated ego, simply because cultivating a public image as a currency was not part of the band ethic.
“When we started there were a lot of fanzines around to do interviews with, the bigger magazines had people writing for them that were quite open to interesting music and would do their best to cover unusual records. This has changed quite a bit, for us anyhow. For example, with the Watt/Mackay/Estel CD, we didn’t get reviews in any of the big magazines despite sending out the copies. Surely that record is an important artifact for Irish underground music? It’s far more difficult to get written about these days, not because we’ve been pricks but because we haven’t sucked cock. It’s almost like a punishment for not kissing ass for ten years. ”

Normally, papers and magazines certainly might be interested in such a collaboration – Watt and Mackayhad never recorded before despite playing with the same band, albeit at different times – namely The Stooges, who headlined Electric Picnic in 2006, just hours before the Estel session. However, those who wrote about post-rock in the early 2000s moved on to pastures new and the current field of music criticism is a different shade of green, minus the bitter sap of past rejection. So if it’s not personal, is it safe to suggest Estelno longer garner attention because they’re simply not cool?
“We’re not looking for outward acceptance. We need music to work and please us first and foremost.” Bushie is ambivalent. “With the Internet it’s become easier to take personal jabs at people that you generally wouldn’t take in person. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that a person is entitled to any opinion but you get people likeNialler9 making comments of “indulgent pants”…why go on the net just to slag someone’s work off? After ten years, a lot of people respect us and enjoy our art. On the other hand the country is full of kids that have never heard us. Now the scene has become so genre-orientated they may never be exposed to our music, which is a bit shit really because I think it’s taken this long to really blossom as a band.”

Sarah Sheil & Andrew BusheSarah seems to operate very much in the here and now, united with the structure of Andy, Aonghus, Bushie and Tommy, focused on music yet to come. Popular opinion is irrelevant “When we first started, we quickly became flavour of the month but I was a bit lost…we weren’t making the type of music I wanted to be making. With the line up we have now, finally we’re writing and performing the heavier, more atmospheric music I always had in mind. We have always tried to involve interesting people and friends with a guest vocal or laying down some guitar or synth tracks to keep it challenging but in the last two years we have met and recorded with some great musicians I consider very important in the development of Estel, musically and personally.”

“At the beginning the band was very tight as a unit, on and off stage. As time progressed and line-ups changed…we lost the rapport that we once had with each other as people. It took us a while to get that back.” Bushieis matter-of-fact. “I think that at the start we had the same motivation that we have now – to put out good records and to make the best art that we can without compromising ourselves. We get up on stage to try to purge ourselves, reach another state through music. There are moments when it synchronises…you forget the other guys, the audience, and most importantly, yourself as an individual.”

We get up on stage to reach another state through music…when it synchronises…you forget the other guys, the audience, and most importantly, yourself as an individual.

We as humans learn who we are by what we like, and by shaping art, give it the power to shape us into individuals. Estel make Art. Huff and puff if you like or agree to disagree: the fact is, they think, make and do without demand. Art is attainable perfection. Ideal societies are confined to daydreams and fiction, the notion of paradise is foreign as an island in the sea. With art however, in the right medium, people can create their own ideal and refine it. The beauty resides in its subtlety, the profoundly intimate experience of its interpretation. Some look at it, some create it, some act it…whether by word or body, brush or beat, we look to art for answers to our own credulous imagination. The enduring impression of this band, from the paint strokes, drum rolls, guitar-squalls and paper prints, is an evolving excercise of imagining aloud.

Nostalgia will evoke definite recollection, though as of yet, they are undefined. Nonetheless, the band whose name means ‘hope‘ in Tolkien’s Elvish made their own reality. There is a place named Estel in the music realm of Ireland’s culture, populated with records, faces and performances.  The terrain is rough and ploughed with furrows but true to nature, Estel play ever hopefully on, never stopping for applause between songs.

ESTEL gigs by year. 1999.

Feb/March- Four gigs in Eamonn Doran’s [Dublin].

These were ‘cutting our teeth’ type gigs. I don’t remember much about these other than technical disasters

and other onstage japery.

30th May- with Month of Birthdays [u.k.]/ Capstan [u.k.] and Joan of arse. Fusion bar [Dublin].

This was a hope collective gig. I think that they were nearing their end at this point. The touring bands    hailed from Leeds in the u.k. and I seem to remember liking both of them. The Joan of arse line up was the two man version with Lee and Ross. They were great as usual. I remember that a lot of people made mildly sexist comments about the girls in the band like ‘Wow, for a band full of girls you’re really good’ etc.

?? August- Warzone festival with many other bands. Belfast [u.k]

A weird one. We turned up at this gig, all excited about the prospect of playing to a big crowd of underground music fans. Before we’d even set our gear up a gang of young ‘punk’ girls had began chanting nonsense at us regarding us not being ‘punk’ enough. Retards abound. We played and went down well enough with the non- spiky element of the crowd. The best moment of the day was when a twat in an exploited outfit told Grainne that she needed ‘a hard cock up her ass’, she looked him up and down and said ‘Call yourself a punk?’ He didn’t know what to say and looked teary eyed.

6th November- Milgram [France]/ Redneck manifesto. Isaac Butt. [Dublin]

This was a fairly uneventful gig. I enjoyed all of the other bands and had fun. This is the only time we ever played with TRM. We also hand distributed the first run of our debut cassette at this one.

That was the end of our first year of gigging and I feel that it served us well.


All of this is Bushie’s opinion and does not represent the opinion’s of blah, blah, blah….