Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and right now bar staff everywhere are getting their establishments ready for the upcoming night of drunken revelry as college kids everywhere head out for a ridiculous level of cultural appropriation. This also means that they are curating the bar’s Spotify playlist with all the usual suspects – Dennis Day, U2, The Irish Rovers, and perhaps The Cranberries, The Corrs, The Pouges and Thin Lizzy. For me, I’ll be staying home because, beyond sucking down McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, St. Patrick’s Day has never been my thing But if I could go to one St. Patrick’s Day event in the entire world tonight I’d be in Austin, Texas at the SXSE festival for Green Beer, Texas BBQ and to watch Ireland’s Dea Matrona. Have you heard of them? Coming out of the streets of Belfast, Dea Matrona is one of the most exciting bands trying to break into the mainstream, and my favorite group from the past few years. I’ve loved watching their continuous rise since 2020. Following in the footsteps of The Runaways, Suzi Quatro and Heart, sisters Mollie and Mamie McGinn and their friend Orlaith Forsythe embraced 1970’s styles and sounds and hav mixed them with their modern sensibilities. Releasing some pulsating rock anthems of their own, Dea Matrona have become social media darlings with their kick ass covers of songs by Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Putting it frankly, Dea Matrona has gone back to an era when rock n’ roll was exciting and original, and are bringing it into the modern era.
Dea Matrona first came to my attention in December 2020 when a video of the three attractive teenagers busking for Belfast Christmas shoppers went viral on You Tube. Performing an electrified cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” (a song I wasn’t at all familiar with) the girls just slayed it with their talent, expert handling of the instruments and obvious rock n’ roll glamour But what really caught my attention is that this music was live and being made on the streets. There was no studio magic, session players or auto tune. This music was flowing organically from these kids like is should be, and it was awesome. As an aging hipster record collector, I can often get cynical of the kids looking for instant music success via social media or a televised singing competition. But these girls, well, they had real world street cred and massive musical chops. I was so excited to see that in a heavily dominated pop saturated market, rock n’ roll was still alive and being created by three pretty girls in Ireland. They became my instant new favorites.
Dea Matrona originated in 2018 at the prestigious Assumption Grammar School near the town of Ballynahinch were students Mollie McGinn and Orlaith Forsythe were performing together in the school’s jazz concert band. A school that excels in music, both girls played multiple instruments and were trained vocalists, and they began to bond over their love for classic rock and vintage fashions, especially from the 1970’s. The two started collaborating together, leading them to start a musical duo called simply Mollie and Orlaith. Gaining ground as a reputable act locally, the girls were looking for a fuller sound. Wanting to continue out front as the voices of the group, they recruited Mollie’s little sister Mamie to join as their drummer and changed their name to Dea Matrona, which is the Celtic term for “divine mother Goddess.”
As a trio, Dea Matrona just popped. Not only were all three girls musically gifted and incredible performers, they had that rock n’ roll attitude that serious music fans love. Mollie, who is often the primary lead singer on most of the groups tracks has the pop appeal of Cherie Currie or Debbie Harry, but with a mischievous gleam in her eye and a sweet smile. With her long fingers and raven colored haired, Orlaith attacks the bass like John Entwistle, and does killer vocals on songs often not covered by women, including “Whole Lotta Love” and “Paranoid.” Mamie, meanwhile, is the quite one, rarely doing interviews or talking in videos, but showing a combination of spunk and attitude as she tackles the drums like a pro despite her obvious youth. Together they became an incredible trio with obvious potential star power. Putting together a four song EP titled “Away From the Tide” in April 2019, the original material included a Celtic flavored folk song called “Siren Song,” a fun novelty tune titled “Car Boot Sale” and two rock n’ roll bangers, “Nobody’s Child” and “I Want to Rock.” Commercially viable and radio ready, Dea Matrona were on their way.
But, like the rest of the world, Dea Matrona’s musical journey was stalled in 2020 when the COVID 19 virus derailed live music and personal interaction worldwide. This meant no live gigs and no music festivals. Like most musicians, the girls from Dea Matrona did what they could to stay relevant and and visible on social media, including Tik Tok videos and making a great isolated video for “Car Boot Sale.” So, when the girls did feel ready to creep back into the world near the end of the year as pandemic levels ebbed and flowed, they brought their act to the streets of Belfast where they could perform in public again in the open air. With audiences trapped at home looking for on-line content, the time was right for the world to discover Dea Matrona when their busking video dropped in December 2020. In Canada where I live, with the frustrating upheaval of constant openings and closings, I was starving for live performance and something new and exciting to see so Dea Matrona gave me a taste of what I was hungry for. I suspect this was the case in most areas of the world because 23 thousand people have watched the video since it dropped.
Dea Matrona were suddenly on the radar of music fans worldwide, and many, like myself, were adding them to their social media accounts to see what they would do next. Releasing videos of them performing both covers and originals, Dea Matrona were proving they were not just a cover band because, as entertaining and original that their covers were, their best material was the original stuff Orlaith and Mollie were writing. With the on-line audience now watching them, Dea Matrona released their first original single since their You Tube fame. – another pulsating rock anthem called “Stamp On It.” But this time something special was coming with it – vinyl!
I remember waking up early the morning of the “Stamp On It” pre-sale was starting to ensure that I could get a copy of this original release before it sold out. I had recently missed out on securing a copy of the Olivia Jean/April March collaboration from Third Man Records and had learned my lessons on not acting immediately on a limited release album from an independent band. Well, with the 2021 vinyl shortage (thanks Adele) it took forever for the vinyl to arrive, but Dea Matrona kept their fan base engaged with fully staged on-line concerts and a second original single, “Make You My Star.” When the group was invited to perform on Ireland’s “Late Late Show” in March 2021, albeit it to no studio audience, the girls brought “Make You My Star” to an even wider audience beyond social media, and the song quickly climbed to the #1 spot on the Irish iTunes charts, and #2 on the British iTunes charts. Now I’m not sure how the iTunes charts work, but it seemed that Dea Matrona had arrived in their own country anyhow. In Canada they still were unknown, but that summer both “Make You My Star” and “Stamp On It” were on my 2021 summer jam playlist.
It took a long time for the “Stamp on It” albums to arrive, but once they came I wasn’t disappointed. It came autographed by the band, and I even got individual signed photographs of all three girls. A three song EP, the album also included a studio version of Orlaith doing “Oh Well,” the song that started it all. Score!
As the COVID situation changed and the world began to adjust to its current situation, the promise of live performances and music festivals was apparent, and Dea Matrona had hit a level of success to successfully ride that wave. However, changes were in store for the band again when it was announced that Mamie was leaving her drums behind. In a release it was explained she was quitting to focus on school and other pursuits. Although Orlaith and Mollie were the voice and faces of Dea Matrona, Mamie managed to make her own group of followers who were dismayed to see her leave the group, especially when Dea Matrona began going on tour with a male drummer. In a recent interview with the website The Irish World, Mollie dashed the hopes of Mamie fans (myself included) that she’d someday appear again behind the drums by saying “It was me who persuaded her to go busking with us at the start anyway. She always loved busking but I always kind of knew and so did she that (music) wasn’t her calling so that was always understood with us anyway. So it never really came as a big shock when things got more serious that she wanted to go her own way because I always knew her interests were elsewhere.”
And things got more serious. Once again a duo, Dea Matrona have been constinuously touring across Europe and releasing new material, including a second limited edition vinyl release in 2022 for “Glory Glory (I Am Released).” This time I did sit on it too long and I missed it (damn). Orlaith and Mollie continue to have a strong on-line presence, and I love watching their adventures across Europe as their rock n’ roll dreams come true. Although they still haven’t hit the mainstream, they are teetering on the boundaries of fame.
This week Dea Matrona travelled to North America for the SXSE Music Festival in Austin, Texas to make their American debut. On this St. Patrick’s Day I’m wishing them the luck of the Irish so they’ll gain more success, meaning more international tours, more vinyl and, hopefully, one day to see them in Canada.