Of the advice that Irish Musician Jonny Colgan wishes to pass on to those thinking of making a break from his homeland to his new setting of London, one part seems prescriptive; the other, measured enough to encourage a generation of emigrants to follow in tow. “Only come over here if you think you’ve got what it takes; London is an incredible place, particularly if you believe in yourself.” The 27 year-old Belfast born drummer has established his talent with notable repute after arriving to the city four years ago.
In the summer of 2013, Colgan had to survive a last minute call to perform at Hyde Park with folk outfit Hudson Taylor. The occasion filled him with nerves, as it would most people playing to a crowd of 65,000, but this was his first unrehearsed live session playing with Dublin brothers Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor. “It was insane,” he recalls excitedly. “We practically flew across (Hyde Park) in a golf buggy. We didn’t have a chance to sound check; I was playing someone else’s drum kit. The stage was so big, the vista of people looked like an old computer game. They didn’t really have any features.” Such was his introduction to summer festival gigs. Colgan had been showering at a backstage portakabin, when he was told by a bandmate that they were due to replace warm-up act Tom Odell before The Rolling Stones closed the show. “I remember standing in a towel, popping my head out, thinking this is a joke,” says the Ulster man. “Harry and Alfie were interviewed (after we came offstage) and watching it back, you can see they were lost for words.” Drinking champagne followed that night, but a life of luxury has since made way for sleeper buses and meals on the road.
Shows in Ireland are very much the homecoming type with Hudson Taylor, and are always fondly remembered on their drummer’s watch. “Personally, for me being from Belfast, getting the chance to play in your home town is fantastic. We played the Mandela Hall in February, which sold out and was so loud. It’s not that the crowds in England are particularly reserved or anything, but this was on another level. It made me feel really happy to come home.” The joy that comes from these musical highs are similar to the emotions Colgan felt when he sat behind a drum kit in Stratford’s Olympic Stadium and played at the opening ceremony of the XXX Olympiad.
Having reached the point of “What do I do now?” once he arrived to sign a lease on an apartment in Morden (centred in the Borough of Merton), Colgan set his sights on finding work in the music industry before he planned on going down the road of hunting for temp or bar work. Bringing himself to the attention of well-known artists like drummers Ralph Salmins and Mike Dolbear paid off when the former recommended him to an Olympic talent supervisor. “My immediate reaction was, “I’ve just met this guy, why would he put me forward for a job?” reflects the freelance musician. After nine months in the role of drum captain, the opening ceremony was received to rousing ovation. “It was a crazy moment. You can imagine the goose bumps. I was completely overwhelmed.”
While London poured over sporting success and heartache in equal measure for a fortnight, the sense of accomplishment to an Irish immigrant who participated in that one night of spectacular ceremony stays long in his memory. It is the effort of Irish counterparts that endures, too. “When the parade (of nations) happened, I remember seeing people from Ireland come over and cheering the team on and I just thought to myself, this is a crazy thing to have been a part of. I felt really proud.” He found it welcoming to be inundated with well wishes and calls from family and friends after the event, as well. “It made me feel like a minor celebrity for a while, so it did take some time to readjust again.” Timing, much like his touch with a drum set, is something that serves Colgan well wherever he tends to go. A recent break to Vietnam excused him from band activities only to return and pick up the reigns for a short European series of gigs. Toward the end of this month, he will cross the Irish Sea with Hudson Taylor again. As they make their way to Cork from Belfast, it’s plain to see Ireland’s call is still fleeting, but it doesn’t beat to the sound of his drum.