BY SEÁN P. FEENY
IN THE winter of 2008 Martin Smyth was back-packing from San Francisco to New York. When he was half-way he decided to step on a train in Chicago, heading towards the home of musical legends, Memphis, Tennessee.
What he didn’t except was that this simple train trip would end up sending him on a completely different journey, one of a musical kind.
On the train Martin met a fellow back-packer, Joe Francis from another beautiful and rural peninsula, Cornwall in England.
Fast forward to the present day, the two friends have just released their self-titled debut album, Winter Mountain, as the first act to be signed to the Charcoal Records label, run by none other than renowned Dungiven singer Cara Dillon and her musician husband Sam Lakeman.
Just this week the band also announced that they have signed a major publishing deal with Faber Music Publishing in the UK.
Martin and Joe first recorded a few songs together as Winter Mountain after winning a battle of the bands competition in Derry over three years ago.
It was these recordings that would see them signed to Cara and Sam’s label after the Inishowen/Cornwall duo gave them a copy after supporting them in Culdaff.
In June 2011 Cara first revealed to the Donegal News that they had signed a young duo whom they were very excited about working with.
Since then Martin and Joe have worked with some incredible names, under the guidance of Sam and Cara, slowly building towards their debut album.
Martin said: “I think as we were adding a band to what had always been a duo, we wanted to be careful and take our time while recording, not to take away from the original sound. It took a real team effort with Sam and co-producer Matt Lawrence.
“I suppose taking out time with the album gave us a chance to reflect during recording sessions and we learned so much during the process from Sam, Matt and Cara.”
Before they started recording, Martin said they probably had over 40 songs to choose from, but the final choices were a mixture of songs that were done in the very beginning and brand new ones that had only recently been written.
“There are songs that we did in the very beginning like Sarah, Stronger When You Hold Me and the Shed A Little Light that have lasted the whole process; the strong ones really shone through, especially through the reaction we received while touring.”
The duo has an incredible band on the album, including Sam’s brother Seth Lakeman, a renowned musician in his on right, bass player Ben Nicholls and guitarist Robbie McIntosh who has worked with The Pretenders, Paul McCartney and John Mayer to name a few.
Martin said: “We also got to work with cellist Audrey Riley, who has arranged strings from bands as big as Coldplay, Style Council, Nick Cave, Smashing Pumpkins and many more.
“It was actually hard to get over that feeling of ‘why do I deserve to be working with these guys’, but Sam and Cara gave us great confidence saying that they wouldn’t be involved if they didn’t enjoy the songs and saw something in us.”
In only a week Winter Mountain’s debut album has shot into the top five of the UK iTunes singer/songwriter charts and fantastic reviews are flooding in as the boys prepare for a busy few months with their tour of Ireland and the UK and supporting Cara on her UK tour.
“Our tour starts in Mullingar next Thursday before we perform in McGrory’s, Culdaff on Friday night, September 6. The next day we are playing in Cork and on Wednesday, September 11, we’ll be doing RTE 1’s John Murray Show in the morning and then Whelan’s in Dublin.”
Winter Mountain will then tour the UK for the remainder of September before they join Cara Dillon as the opening act on her UK tour in October and November.
“We are so please with how everything is coming together and we are really looking forward to touring and getting to see new places. We would like to thank everyone in Donegal for their support over the past few years and we hope you enjoy the album.”