Bartholomew Ryan, an Irish musician/songwriter based in Lisbon, cites more than your average list of influences on his work. Hearing a track by The Velvet Underground in Oliver Stone’s movie, The Doors, while he was growing up near Dublin made him want to learn the guitar – okay, nothing too bizarre there – but then Czech author Milan Kundera enters the arena, credited with providing the perfect name for Ryan’s prospective band, the Loafing Heroes. Joining the dramatis personae along the way is a cast of characters as diverse as Søren Kierkegaard and Roger Casement, Herman Melville, Brian Eno and Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Perhaps it’s safe to say, then, that Bartholomew Ryan is not your average frontman.
He’s certainly a very well educated man. After what he describes as “an idyllic childhood”, he studied philosophy and political science in Trinity College Dublin, where he went on to gain a Masters in European Philosophy. He left Ireland in 2003 to complete a PhD in Denmark on the Danish philosopher-poet-theologian Kierkegaard. “During that time I pursued my parallel passion of writing songs,” he says. And so the title, The Loafing Heroes, at last had an embodiment.
The phrase comes from the first paragraph of a short novel by Kundera: “Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folksong, those vagabonds who wander from one mill to another and bed down under the stars?” A friend in Dublin first showed the novel to Bartholomew: the opening immediately struck him as a wonderful name for a band and project and vision to pursue, especially relevant to today.
“Loafing is a subversive gesture in the face of the technological and consumer society,” says Bartholomew. “I like to see the perspective and action of loafing as part of a tradition that questions a society whose values are skewed in a way that does not value slowness and non-linear thinking. The long tradition of the loafer - the stargazers, troubadours, the flâneurs and polemical gadflies - is mostly evident in poets and writers, and in many literary characters in novels, plays and movies.”
The approach has its rewards: Bartholomew for one welcomes “the portals of discovery that await us when we learn again to slow down”. It’s an idea that still drives his music. With The Loafing Heroes, he tries through the songs to continue this tradition of creativity, of slowness, of thinking differently and being free from the aggressive media all around us, from the pervasive demands of technology.
After Denmark, Bartholomew moved to Berlin in 2007 to take up a teaching post in the liberal arts college. Here also The Loafing Heroes’ first albums were recorded. He moved to Lisbon in 2011 on a postdoctoral research grant to write on the Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa. Such a peripatetic life has obviously meant a changing line-up in the band, though the band’s name travels with Bartholomew as song master and spur. One advantage of moving around so much, he says, is that he has been able to work with a great diversity of musicians throughout the years. “On the negative side, there are sometimes gaps in time when the project becomes dormant because I or other members move away and then a new phase begins.”
The Loafing Heroes are on tour in October 2016 in England and Ireland, promoting their fifth album, The Baron in the Trees. (Not surprisingly the title has a literary origin, being taken from an Italo Calvino novel of the same name.) In true loafing fashion the aim is not fame and gain but finding new listeners and spreading the word of loafing as a creative force. Is that the way to break into the big time? “I really don’t know,” says Bartholomew, “and sometimes I don’t really care. Fame and success are great when the music finds a wider outlet and one can meet talented musicians and have more options and actually survive a little bit off it. But it can often lead to confusion, delusion and bad music.”
(This article is adapted by ML from a Q/A interview with Bartholomew Ryan by freelance journalist Frank Armstrong.)
You can find out more at: www.theloafingheroes.com