Ross McNerney, Emmett Collum, Mark Prunty and Podge Gill are the four north Longford lads who make up the most popular original band in the midlands, Brave Giant. Photo: Shelley Corcoran
Brave Giant may be the most popular original band in Longford - and in the midlands for that matter - but their rise to the top certainly hasn't given them any notions about themselves.
Approachable, friendly, and very humble for a group of young musicians who are picking up fans left, right and centre, they see themselves not as celebrities but “just the lads”.
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And “the lads” who make up Brave Giant are Ross McNerney, Emmett Collum, Mark Prunty and Podge Gill.
“We all grew up together,” said Mark.
“Initially we all knew each other. Myself and Podge and Ross went to the same pre-school. And myself, Podge and Emmett played in the same football club. We were all like five minutes from each other and we went to the same secondary school. So there are loads of different links.”
The band was started by Mark and Podge about seven years ago, with Ross joining them a year later. Not long after, the band was completed by drummer, Emmett.
“It’s a long road. We’re on the right path, we think anyway. It’s very hard to realise what you’ve done as you’re doing it, but if you’d told us six years ago that we’d play Croke Park or throughout America…,” said Mark.
“Yeah, the only way to do it is to look back at where you’ve come from to see where you are now,” Podge agreed.
“Our first gig that me and Mark did was in our local pub, a minute down the road and in December, we’re going to be playing in the 3 Arena.
“It’s mental to think that two lads that grew up with each other started something off and then you have two other friends that joined down the line and the four of us are going to be playing in probably the biggest institution of music in Ireland.”
There's a pause in the conversation so the lads can let that sink in.
It's certainly incredible to think that four local guys from a small, often forgotten county in the middle of Ireland can take the country by storm - something Brave Giant have certainly done through appearances on the Late Late Show, sold-out gigs in Dublin and London, not to mention their performance to over 80,000 people in Croke Park on All-Ireland Hurling Final Day.
They've really put Longford on the map.
“It does help that we are all fairly good friends. You can stretch it to best friends the odd time,” Mark commented.
“Well... let's not overstep the mark here,” Podge interjected to laughter from his bandmates.
There's no denying that Brave Giant are extremely talented when it comes to music and, perhaps, it all goes back to how music influenced them as children.
“Music would have always been played in my house,” Podge explained.
“My uncle is in a very, very good trad band called Lunaghsa and I would have gone to gigs of his when I was younger and stuff like that.
“There was kind of a weird upbringing of trad and Johnny Cash in my house. There was always music being played.
“I didn’t really start playing it properly until I was about 15 or 16. I was in a band with a few other friends from school.
“I have other friends,” he stressed as his bandmates laughed. “I want that on record!”
Mark's family was completely different when it came to music. His aunt was a singer and Mark himself liked to impersonate Elvis Presley as a child.
“I ended up singing in school plays and Scór and the Fleadh. And then in school talent shows. That’s where me and Podge saw each other singing or playing.”
Perhaps one of the most hilarious origin stories, though, is that of Ross McNerney.
“I started when I was four or five, playing the banjo. It was always trad,” he said.
“My family is kind of like the Von Trapp family. There was just a room of instruments and we all picked them up and played. So music was just massive in my house.”
As a teenager, Ross got into Mumford and Sons and realised that there was a whole other way to play a banjo.
“And then I just started going completely my own way with instruments.”
So much so that he got banned from competing in the Fleadh.
“I was supposed to be playing in the background and I was doing these solos and stuff. So they kicked me out of the competition. So then after that I was like ‘okay, the Fleadh is not for me’,” he laughed.
While trad music was popular in Emmett's family, he himself went in a completely different direction.
“I kind of went down the route of punk rock and that sort of stuff,” he recalled.
“I was heavily influenced by grunge and things like that. And I think my mother just saw me around Junior Cert time. I wasn’t really doing my homework. I was just whacking my pens off the pencil case and stuff, so they got me a drum kit one Christmas and I think they’ve regretted it ever since.”
The lads may have had completely different musical experiences in their younger years, but put them all together and you get the band that has become so popular today.
“The first completely original set that we did was in John Browne’s in Longford,” said Podge.
“We had the first eight songs we ever wrote and we just said we’d try these. And there was a great reaction.
“There wasn’t a massive crowd there or anything - there was about 50 people maximum. But they all really enjoyed it so we just said right, we have to get these songs recorded.
“The first song we ever released was Lordy Lordy and we barely have to sing it at gigs now. The crowd nearly do it for us.
“Again, I go back to looking back to where we’ve come from to now. It’s just crazy that from such real humble beginnings - from four lads in Longford, which didn’t really have a massive hub of music - we’ve had to fight that extra bit harder.”
Coming from Longford, Ross added, has always been seen as somewhat of a disadvantage for some reason. But Brave Giant certainly don't see it that way.
“Everyone in Longford got behind us - you wouldn’t get that in urban areas,” he said.
“Obviously in Dublin you might have contacts and it might benefit you in that way. But you don’t have the same pride of place.
“The Longford Festival on the street was mental.”
Headlining the Longford Festival in July and performing in front of 5,000 people was definitely one of the highlights of their career so far, all four lads agreed.
“We were just after having a drink before in the Longford Arms and you couldn’t see too far - probably about as far as AIB bank,” Podge recalled.
“And then we got up on stage, me and Ross, and I looked down and it was just people the whole way down as far as the traffic lights… how long would that be?” he asked his bandmates.
“About a mile,” Mark joked, to which Podge responded “Two or three miles at least!”
All joking aside, though, the gig was an incredible experience.
“I got goosebumps when I saw it,” Podge continued.
“You just knew this was going to be absolutely brilliant. When you get this feeling before that a gig is going to be good, you just get extra excited.
“But Mark was coming up the steps and I just told him to brace himself because you get up and it’s just… woah! It was just crazy to look out and see that many people and have that many people singing your songs back to you as well. I didn’t realise that many people could fit into Longford,” he laughed.
Later in the summer, the lads enjoyed a manic weekend of the Marquee in Drumlish Festival, followed closely by a gig in Croke Park.
“Drumlish is a festival that we would have aspired to play but to be the headline act of it when you were going there as a kid… and then two days later going playing Croke Park. It was a very, very, very mental weekend,” said Podge.
And the layout of Croke Park on the day was a little different to their usual gig, with a platform in the middle of the pitch and GAA fans seated in the stands.
“It felt like a mirage,” Mark recalled, “It was just a sea of 84,000 people. You didn’t even know what to think. You just keep playing.”
Podge agreed; “I realised in the middle of the song… I looked to my right and saw the big screen and us on it… and I was like ‘sh*t - this is real’.
“But the things like that… any of the milestones we’ve hit… it’s all just a massive lead up to it, getting prepared for it and by the time it’s done, you’re just like ‘right, that’s that done, what’s the next thing?’”
Right now, the next thing is the 2FM Christmas Ball in the 3Arena on December 14 in aid of the ISPCC.
Brave Giant will be sharing a stage with some of the biggest names in music, including Hozier, Walking On Cars and Keywest to name a few - and that's no mean feat.
They certainly won't be out of place up there with the greats either. Brave Giant have released a number of incredible singles to date, that have gone down extremely well with the national public.
The latest single is 'Somebody's Someone', which was accompanied by a beautifully created music video.
“The guy we shot the video with is a friend of mine from New York,” Emmett explained.
“He used to drink in the pub that I worked in and we got very friendly there. He actually shot the video for ‘Easy’. He shot it in New York, just by himself - a camera and actor and actresses.
“Michael Gugger is his name. He’s just fantastic. He’s got a good eye and great ideas as well.
“Usually the way the process works is we would have some sort of general idea and we bounce it off the person we want to do the video. But in this case I think Mike led the way.”
And the video is certainly worth a watch. Starring Brave Giant and Vara Kane - with Podge as the leading man - it's a truly unique video set to one of the band's most beautiful singles to date.
And there's plenty of new music in store for 2019, according to the lads.
“We will have an exciting 2019 in terms of an album,” said Ross.
“We’re kinda going with early 2019 I suppose but we’ll probably have to hibernate for the weekends and get it out for the summer.”
“Narrowing down what we’re going to put on the album is going to be a long process. We have stuff there.
“We’re toying with new music at the minute too. It’s bridging the gap between the old Brave Giant and the new Brave Giant,” said Podge.
“Though it has been years in the making at the same time,” Mark added, “Our songs from years ago and then there are very recent songs... So we want to have some fluidity between the two as well.”
“Yeah, you don’t want it to sound like it’s two completely different bands. You want to have an album of uniform I suppose, so it leads into the new era,” Podge agreed.
“We’ve had an incredibly hectic 2018 with festivals and our own gigs in the Button Factory,” said Podge.
“So it’s exciting to be coming to the start of a new year again because at the beginning of a year you don’t know what’s going to happen. So it’s just very exciting to see what’s in store."