Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Mullingar musician Nathan Johnston set to return for hometown gig

Mullingar musician Nathan Johnston will perform with Hamburg soul group Angels Of Libra in Smiddy’s on Friday, 26 April. Nathan is based between Mullingar, Dublin and Hamburg and flew out to the German city on Wednesday, 10 April to rehearse for the band’s upcoming Back to Basics tour of Ireland.

The band will play three gigs during the tour starting in Smiddy’s. Angles of Libra will then journey to Galway to play in Monroe’s on Saturday, 27 April before rounding off the tour with a performance at the Soundhouse in Dublin on Sunday, 28 April. Nathan said he is “buzzing” to play a gig in his own backyard.

“It’s really cool. It’s the first time I’ve played in Mullingar for three or four years,” he told Topic.

Angels Of Libra is a collective with up to 15 musicians performing live at one time. Nathan said it will be a “challenge” to fit the group on the Smiddy’s stage but is looking forward to getting to close quarters with fans during the performance. “It’s going to be a lot of chaos,” he added.

From Mullingar to Hamburg

Nathan cut his teeth playing open mics in the Mullingar music scene when he was sixteen. He regularly played in jam sessions with Paulie Martin and other local musicians at Danny Byrne’s. The first “real” gig the songwriter played was in Smiddy’s when he performed as Sion Hill, a successful solo project.

“It was a full room and it was really good fun. It was the last day the previous owners of The Stables were handing the place over to Smiddy. There were flowers being given at the end of the show so it was a really good vibe. People were in a good mood and dancing. Hopefully it’s going to be the same thing this time.”

Nathan connected with Angels Of Libra in 2019 and said the closest Irish comparison with the band is The Commitments. The group was a nameless studio project signed to the same independent label in Hamburg as Nathan when he came across them. He was recording solo music at the time and got to know the band during his breaks.

Out of the ashes

“I was just playing piano in one of the rooms. The door was open and one of the producers from a different band was standing in the door and heard me playing. He came in and asked if I’d be up for singing on one of his songs.”

Nathan wrote lyrics for the untitled song which he called ‘Angel of Libra’. The band loved it and took the title as its name. Providence played a role in the studio project becoming a live band when an explosion that threatened to halt their takeoff paved the way for their ascent. Music buffs will know of the flammable nature of analog tapes and producer Denis Lux recorded all of Angels Of Libra’s songs on tape along with numerous other artists. The band had a close call but the other artists’ work was destroyed.

“He had a disaster where there was an explosion in the building where his studio was. Because everything was recorded on tape — it’s extremely flammable — he lost 90% of the recordings. All that was left was the stuff he’d done with me,” said Nathan.


Lux asked if Nathan was interested in going to Hamburg and recording more music. A new album was born from the ashes and this was the beginning of the Angels Of Libra. Things have gained momentum from here and the group are currently recording a new album.

“It’s really interesting the direction it’s going in. I don’t think that was the original plan. I was never really meant to be in the band, it was sort of a side project. It’s just been growing. We got a lot of really good reviews for our first album. We got album of the year in multiple publications around Germany, Italy, France. It’s very exciting bringing it to Ireland,” said Nathan.

“I’m not sure how people are going to warm to this. There’s no real solid soul music scene in Ireland as far as I know. I feel like there is a place for that. It is a bit of a niche. Maybe this will open up the doors for that.”

Local soul acts from each tour stop are supporting Angels Of Libra on their Irish tour and Mullingar’s Ben Mulligan will open for the outfit in Smiddy’s. The gig is “pretty close” to being sold out according to Nathan who said fans can expect “a lot of dancing” and a “lot of movement” from the eight-piece band.

“It’s going to be a good night,” he added.

For tickets click here.

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