Dubh Lee

First Published November 2020

GUITAR GODDESS

If there’s one thing Tullamore has been blessed with of late, it’s amazing female musical artists. It’s only a few weeks back since we covered BRÍ and the release of her latest single, the breathtaking Burying. If you haven’t heard that one yet, waste no more time, go seek it out right now. Then find the video for the single which brought the Grand Ballroom in Charleville Castle to life in a more elegant and enchanting way than anything has ever done before, as Birr dancer Lisa Hogan lights up the room.

And if you’re looking for a name to watch out for in 2021 and beyond, look no further than KEEVA KANE, a new voice that would – and one day should – easily sit comfortably and deservingly alongside the likes of Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, or Miley Cyrus in the charts. Keeva is just at the beginning of her career, but her voice is already winning her fans. Check out her Keeva Kane Music pages on Facebook and Instagram to become one of those fans yourself, too. And trust me, you will. 


And then…there’s NIAMH DOOLEY, aka DUBH LEE. I can’t actually remember for sure when I first heard Niamh perform. But if I had to wager a bet on it, I’d put everything on it probably being during an open-mic night in the Bridge House many, many moons ago now. That I can’t remember exactly the where or the when, however, is actually the perfect way to describe what happens when you experience Niamh take to the stage. When she takes her guitar and cranks or coaxes that axe into action, layering over it that bluesy, smokey, lived-in and laughed-in voice of hers, it’s always just pure musical joy to soak in those moments. You see, when Niamh has a guitar in her hands or a mic in front of her, everything except her voice and the music she conjures into existence becomes irrelevant. Unheard, unseen, and usually forgotten. And that, folks, explains why I can’t pinpoint the when or the where part of my first memory of Niamh performing. 


But here’s what I’ll never forget, and it’s the feeling that came when her voice filled the room, and the music she made filled the night. I didn’t actually know who Niamh was at the time, and I remember having to ask a friend of mine who was with me who she actually was. Niamh would have been in the early days of her musical career back then, but even then, there was an undeniably special quality to her voice that both drew you in and shut out the world at the same time. When I later found out that Niamh also wrote her own songs, well, that sealed it. If there’s a fan-club, just show me the dotted line, I’ll sign! Over the years that followed, any chance I got to hear her perform ‘live’ in Tullamore, I’d be there. But more than just that, more than being essentially a fan, I wanted everyone else I knew who was in any way involved in the music world to know about Niamh too. So anyone who knows me has probably heard her name at some stage by now.


To say that Niamh has blossomed into a singer/songwriter of extraordinary talent – even in as much as that’s a pretty cool compliment to throw anybody’s way – doesn’t really do her justice. Performing under her stage-name of Dubh Lee, Niamh continues to evolve in every direction; as a vocalist, as a guitarist, as a songwriter, and most recently, as a producer as well. Underpinning it all, is a sense of humour which thankfully, Niamh has managed to magically and wonderfully weave into her songs. Check out the fab video for her official debut single Virtue, which came out last year, for an idea of what I mean. 


Niamh as Dubh Lee occupies a unique space between folk and the blues, with the perfect measure of rock always artfully added to conjure up symphonies of sound you just won’t find anywhere else. Her latest single, CAROUSEL, which dropped last Friday, is a raucous blues-rock tune in which she – as the protagonist in her song – cries out in loneliness and distress. The track deals with using partying as a coping mechanism and features a driving, chromatic main riff, fat bass guitar, and unhinged lead guitarwork. It was recorded in The Meadow recording studio in Wicklow with David Griffin from New Secret Weapon enlisted to record the bass and drums for the track.


Niamh, as Dubh Lee, has performed at events all over Ireland, including Electric Picnic and the Ruby Sessions, along with more intimate shows opening for acts such as Jack Lukeman and Bagatelle. She also supported jazz band Jimmy’s Cousin on their Irish tour in 2019. So from somewhat folk-rooted beginnings, she has transitioned from performing solo with an acoustic guitar, to performing heavier material with a bassist and a drummer, and now playing energetic live sets as a power-trio featuring songs with blues and garage rock influences.


And 2020 was going to be a year when Niamh poured her heart and soul into her music and building her career, but alas – for all of us – 2020 had other plans. 


When I caught up with Niamh a little while back, there was still little in the way of clarity about what’s coming down the tracks for anyone involved in the music business. So, with any future gigs existing only in the realm of dreams for now,  I began our chat by asking Niamh if she remembered her last actual gig? 


“I’m pretty sure my last gig was on the 8th of March, at a place called The Clockwork Door, on a Sunday. This was about a week before the pubs all closed and everything like that. At that stage, I didn’t think it was actually going to be the end [laughs]. I did that gig in The Clockwork Door playing my own tunes, then I went straight to the International [Bar in Temple Bar] for another gig afterwards, which was a cover gig that I used to do every Sunday with my fried Shane May. That night was grand. Then mid-way through the next week, the two bars that I’d usually gig in at the weekend, Peadar Kearney’s and the International, both said oh, no, the gig won’t be happening this weekend. So I was like, alllllriiiight….that’s ok, I didn’t mind soooo much, because I thought it was going to be a two-week lockdown![laughs]. I had a whole trip to Amsterdam planned, I was about to go for five days, and I would have been performing five times, twice in Irish bars and there was another bar called The Waterhole and there were some other smaller open-mic style performances, and one in a smaller town outside of Amsterdam. So flights were booked, all the bars were good-to-go, and then it started to get serious and the bars were emailing saying, no, we’re actually not going ahead with these gigs. So I lost out on about a grand of profit over the few days, and I hounded Aer Lingus but I never got a refund because my flight still left, I just wasn’t on it. But I’m asthmatic, so I would have been in a high-risk category, but that didn’t really matter to Aer Lingus, so what can you do! [laughs]. But anyway, it was then when I realised that I was back home for the week and my residency gigs were cancelled that I was like, right, this thing might actually be going on! But at that stage, it was still meant to be just two weeks. It was probably about a month afterwards that I settled into thinking ok, my weekly gigs just aren’t there anymore, ya know. It took a while! [laughs].” 

At some stage late in 2019 or very early in 2020, Niamh had told me that she was putting all of her focus into her music for this year, and concentrating on little else apart from that. But given that 2020 has turned out the way it has, I wondered if that had changed Niamh’s relationship with music in any way, or changed how she writes her songs? After all, as a performer Niamh would be used to performing in front of an audience, and as a songwriter she writes songs to perform for an audience. But right now, when she gets a chance to play – unless it’s online – it’s just for herself. And likewise, if she’s writing songs right now, then for the time-being at least it’s only herself who’s going to hear them…


“I actually think it has. Oddly enough, and interestingly enough, I think it’s had a net-positive effect on how my songwriting has developed. I would be out four or five nights a week gigging before, and that normally involves a few pints as well, so…! [laughs]. And the thing about that is, I write at night-time. That’s when I write most of my songs. So sometimes me gigging at night will disrupt my songwriting. Since the lockdown, obviously I haven’t been going out, so I think I’ve had more time for introspection, and more time to explore ideas that I usually wouldn’t musically. I’ve been kind of migrating more away from folk and more towards rock, and blues-rock, back towards blues-rock maybe! So there’s that. I had intended this year to just gig so much. It was going to be a very active year, but since mid-March that hasn’t been the way it was able to work out. I would have liked to have a whole EP recorded, a five-track EP, recorded by now and released, but seeing as finances and how much we’ve been allowed to travel have been affected by Covid, that hasn’t happened yet. After the EP, I was planning to organise gigs across the country, so I was putting together a list of venues in the different counties I was going to go to. And I would have been playing a couple of festivals. So in the sense of releasing and performing around the country, or even abroad, that’s totally been taken away from myself and every other artist who had plans like that. But, on the other end of things, I’ve been able to focus more, in that with the time I have at home I’ve been able to upskill. I’ve been spending way more time on my instrument, on the guitar. I’ve also just completed a course on Ableton so I can record and mix my own audio at home. At the moment I’m doing an Introduction to Classical Music on Yale, it’s a free online course. There’s these other aspects to music that aren’t so in your face or so obvious to people, the stuff that has to happen in the background. The other thing that I’ve been able to focus on, is that so much about independent music these days is how you manage your social media. That’s how you get yourself across. Especially when we can’t see each other in person. So the other thing I’ve been able to devote more time to is making content for online, for YouTube, and Facebook, and Instagram. So that’s weekly or bi-weekly videos for YouTube, that kind of thing.” 

As a musician and a songwriter, so being a part of an industry that has effectively ground to a halt, an industry that is always part of the Ireland we boast about to the world, what was Naimh’s take on how the music business has been treated and considered or has not, as the case may be –  in the government response to Covid? 


“As a self-employed musician, I qualified for the Pandemic-Unemployment-Payment (P.U.P.), because my employment has been directly affected by the pandemic. So I was on the €350 a week, but then that rate got dropped, and the same thing happened to all the musicians that were on it, depending on how their incomes were judged on their 2018 figures or whatever. The thing with music and the arts is that it looks like these sectors are going to be the longest affected. A lot of other people have returned to their work or been able to reopen their businesses in some way, but pubs aren’t allowing musicians in. They’re sparing themselves that expense. And only the ones that serve food can even operate in the first place. So it looks like the music and arts sector is going to be indefinitely affected. At the moment, I’m a member of the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, and they’re in talks with the government about reinstating the payment for musicians and artists, but it doesn’t actually look like that’s going to be a fruitful negotiation, unfortunately. I think art is an after-thought for the government.” 

Does Niamh find that frustrating as someone who is directly involved with the arts? 


“Absolutely. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, ya know, seeing as one of the biggest draws for tourism in Ireland is the arts sector. Not even just music. There’s no reason for theatres to remain closed. Theatres are one of those places where it’s easy to social-distance people. You sit down for the duration of the performance, you’re not moving around. It would be very easy to seperate people in those situations. If people can go to supermarkets and can eat in restaurants, why can’t people go to theatres? And that doesn’t directly affect me, but it’s just one of those discrepancies in how the government is approaching this. Why can other industries function when the arts can’t? What is nice, however, is that the Arts Council and I.M.R.O. did allocate  funds at the start of the pandemic. You would draft up a proposal about what sort of art you could disseminate online, and I think the Arts Council were offering €1,000 per successful application. But they had something like one million euro in funds total, but only a tiny percentage of people who applied actually received the funds. I applied, and I didn’t get a grant. So yeah, I think it’s being mishandled, and they also could have done better with the funding for artists. It’s disappointing.” 

Even though the world is the way it is right now, Niamh has still managed to be involved in some very special musical performances this year. One of those was for another Tullamore musician, Eoin Martin, who should have been getting married during lockdown. Niamh takes up the story…


“So, the wedding was supposed to be in June. A lot of Eoin and my friends are musicians. Eoin and Rita had intended to have us sing Lovely Day by Bill Withers at the wedding. Obviously the wedding couldn’t go ahead, but Eoin had a very small gathering on the day of it – the lockdown was still on so it had to be small – out at his house. I wanted to make something for them to show my appreciation, but also, I’m a broke musician [laughs]. So the best gift in that situation is music! [laughs]. So what I did is two weeks before the day the wedding was meant to be on, I contacted a bunch of people who are friends of Eoin and Rita. There was Shane May, who I also gig with every Sunday, Graham Mitchell, Elisabeth Moen, who’s from Iowa but comes over to Ireland super-regularly and gigs over here, she’s amazing! A duo called KC Vik, another Tullamore man called Barry Quinn – Barry ‘Jimbo’ Quinn to his friends! – a Dublin singer called Aaron Rowe, Gaolbyrd, and Amy Naessens. So got them all together two weeks beforehand, and asked them to submit their vocals to me. Obviously everything had to be done remotely, so everybody recorded their vocals at home. I created all the music, then added their vocals on top, and mixed it all. Then what I did was I uploaded it to YouTube on the day and I just sent the link to Eoin and Rita. And they shared it from there. So it’s a performance of Lovely Day with a lot of their close musician friends as the lead-singers on it. The video is a split-screen video of us all doing our different parts of it. I spent the night before what would have been the day of the wedding up until 10 am, I stayed up all night editing because I’m new to editing videos! [laughs]. And my stupid computer couldn’t handle the programme I was using, it was taking up too much RAM or whatever. I stayed awake all night, but it was so worth it. When they got it, Eoin called me and he screamed down the phone at me [laughs]. They were delighted with it. And obviously it was super-fun for me to get to work with some many close friends, but I think it was quite a special present for the lovely couple as well. Great craic.” 

One of Niamh’s most recent YouTube posts is an incredible mash-up of Day Tripper by the Beatles and Seven Nation Army from The White Stripes. I wondered how Niamh came up with the idea to merge any two songs in the first place? Niamh plays everything on this herself, and it’s phenomenal. I asked her if she’s this good because she’s some kind of musical genius, because of witchcraft, or because of a lot of planning and practise, trial and error?

 “I’ll have a lot of video ideas, they’ll pop into my head and I’ll ruminate over them for ages before trying to execute them. The thing about ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Day Tripper’ is that they’re both in the same key, and they both centre around a riff that’s in E, they both fit around the E pentatonic minor scale. I think I just noticed one day when I was playing ‘Day Tripper’ that because they’re in the same key, you could slot the lyrics of one over the music of the other. And you could actually do it the other way as well. For the cover I did, I took the music of ‘Day Tripper’ and just stuck ‘Seven Nation Army’ over it, and just changed the structure of the underlying chord-progressions just to fit the lyrics of ‘Seven Nation Army’ better. But you could also take the ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff, and sing ‘Day Tripper’ over it and get a similar effect. For the video, as I was saying, I’ve been learning how to use my video-editors, and I’ve gotten better at that. I’ve figured out how to not make my computer crash as often! [laughs]. You can hear bass in the video, but I don’t actually own a bass guitar, and I can’t play bass guitar very well. But what I’ve done is I’ve taken an octaver pedal and just applied it to my regular electric guitar, and that makes it sound like a bass guitar! Soooo…it’s kind of like cheating [laughs], but it’s also what Jack White from the White Stripes does in ‘Seven Nation Army’, it’s actually just a normal guitar with an octaver applied to it to lower the pitch. What else do I have on it? Oh yeah, percussion. But sure anyone can shake a tambourine! [laughs]. Oh, and I mentioned that I had been doing an Ableton course, so I added in a midi kick-drum, which I’ve literally only learned to do in the past couple of weeks. That just gives it a stronger groove, ya know. The day before I uploaded it, I sat down and started putting it together. And it’s hard to know sometimes before you start a project, if it’s going to be any good at all! I thought it might sound really cheesy or something. But luckily enough with these two songs, it came out the other end sounding pretty buzzy, quite a fun tune! I was super happy with how it turned out.”

What I’ve always loved about Niamh as a songwriter and as a performer is that she writes such beautifully personal songs, whether they’re songs of heartache or pain, or whatever it might be. But her sense of humour nearly always shows up in there as well. What’s more, Niamh is always able to make those emotions felt in how she performs. So the emotions in her songs are not simply there to be heard in her lyrics, they’re there in her voice too when she sings. What I was wondering, though, is if she ever writes any angry songs? Or more specifically, especially with the times we’re in – with Trump, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with climate change, with a certain brand of nationalism finding a voice here in Ireland – protest songs of any kind? 


“Actually, I would like to write more protest songs. I am aware of what’s going on around me, but sometimes, political stuff doesn’t move me. But there is one song like that I’ve written, it’s online, and it’s called ‘Emerald.” What moved me to pick up the pen that particular time was I had just read a news article about how South Dublin County Council had just ruined a lovely area, a kind of natural meadow that had formed somewhere in Tallaght, by dumping a load of river dredge on it, so they had actually killed a bunch of  newts, European eels, frogs, plant-life…and I was just outraged! They did it out of gross negligence and then didn’t even inform anybody that it was done, it was discovered by a few ecologists after the fact. That pissed me off a lot, so I wrote ‘Emerald’, emerald obviously being a reference to our little emerald isle. It covered a lot of things that I think are wrong with how the country is run; the homelessness crisis, direct-provision, plans for the up-rooting a load of trees to put in a bus corridor in Dublin, which didn’t actually get executed in the end so that was great. Protest songs are super-important and I admire a lot of people who would have sang them back in the day like Woody Guthrie. And because music is so ubiquitous, protest songs are a great way of getting this information out to people who mightn’t hear about it otherwise. It’s not something that you hear on the radio a lot, protest songs are not usually pop! [laughs]. Which is a shame! I don’t think we hear enough of it. And I don’t think that I personally write enough of it either. But I’ve got that one song, ‘Emerald’, it’s on YouTube!”

Niamh had already stated that from a songwriting and a music point of view, lockdown hadn’t been the worst time for her. But when we were seriously locked down the first time around people related to it in different ways. Some settled into it, finding the change of pace to be a positive thing. Others found it very tough to deal with the isolation and the hugely reduced interactions with others. How did Niamh find that time on a more personal level? 


“You know what, I had been so busy, like, I had been out the door every day with gigs, and being a dep – jumping in with other people and playing rhythm guitar for them – I was flat out! Right up until lockdown. So for the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I was like, oh my God…I needed this! I needed this holiday! [laughs]. Which is terrible, because obviously the lockdown was happening for the worst reasons! But honestly. I had a repetitive-strain injury in my right wrist, my strumming wrist, and I think I needed a little physical break from the constant gigging. So the immediate effect was just me getting to sleep a lot more! [laughs]. And effectively drinking a little bit less for the first while [laughs]. I’m obviously quite extroverted, but a lot of artists would be ambiverts. I enjoy, and I need solitude, and it was something that I wasn’t getting a lot of before. Then, all of a sudden, I had loads of it [laughs]. I wasn’t too mad about it for the first couple of weeks. The restlessness has come and gone since then. Sometimes it’s like, oh God, I’d love to be out gigging! I’ve been able to go and do these hybrid gigs lately, that have made life a bit more bearable, where there’s a tiny amount of people in attendance but the gigs are ‘live’-streamed. They’re good fun. They’re like a nice consolation prize! [laughs].”

So, if Covid disappeared tomorrow, and everything could go back to how it used to be, way, way back in February of 2020…what would Niamh’s ideal night-out be? Where would she want to gig again, or what gig would she want to go to? 


“What I’ve really missed are the Sundays that I perform in the International with my friend Shane May are ritualistic. They were the kind of one solid thing that I used to base my week around! I would always play the International every Sunday, and those gigs would be soooo much craic! [laughs]. We’d get paid, and we’d get free pints, it was amazing! [laughs]. And you’d meet so many different people, and tourists, and other musicians who would join us. So if I could do a gig, I’d definitely do one of them. It’s a covers gig, but the craic was always ninety. And if I could see a gig? God! I wish I could go see everybody that I was meant to go see and had to cancel. I think if I could go and see a gig, I’d probably go and support some other Irish artist. I’ve seen the importance of supporting locals nowadays, ya know. So I’d probably go to some of the smaller, independent venues in Dublin and see some small indie artists. You get that intimate setting, and you’re supporting people that aren’t backed by record labels or owned by MCD or whatever [laughs]. So whoever would be gigging, I would be there! One Irish group that I would definitely go and see is a band called The Scratch. They’re based in Dublin and they’re classsss!”

Although 2020 was very…2020…Dubh Lee still managed to perform at a number of live-streamed and hybrid events, such as the Hot Press Lockdown Sessions, Transmission Festival, Laters with Griff, and the Five Lamps Arts Festival. Her highly anticipated debut EP is scheduled for release in the spring of 2021. But before then, a mesmerising video to accompany Carousel is coming our way next month! 

CAROUSEL, the brand new single from DUBH LEE (Niamh Dooley) is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can follow Dubh Lee on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.

ENDS

Barry Kirwan

First Published December 2017

‘MOMENTS’ LIKE THIS SHOULD MAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS LIST!

How many days left until Christmas? Everybody seems to have a countdown going at this stage. And if you’re anything like me, the ever-decreasing number of days between now and Santa’s descent through chimneys far and wide is probably beginning to finally start pushing you into taking some action on the present front! The great thing about being a country music fan, of course, is that there’s never a shortage of wonderful albums to reach for, or events to pencil into your diary. And this year is no exception. In fact, let me tell you about one album in particular that’s just been released and definitely deserves a place on your Christmas wish-list. It’s called Moments, and it’s the brand new collection from one of Irish country’s finest young talents, Barry Kirwan. 


Barry, of course, comes from Irish country royalty in a manner of speaking, being the son of one of country’s top showmen and true gentlemen, Dominic Kirwan. It should be noted, however, that both men are far too humble to consider themselves anything even close to royalty, but it’s an accurate indication of their standing in the business. Barry, while relatively new on the scene as a solo artist, is neither a stranger nor a newcomer in more general terms, having earned his living as the man behind the drums for Derek Ryan for many’s a year before eventually deciding to go his own way. 
Now, as well as adding Barry’s new album to your Christmas wish-list, you should also leave room for the Christmas Country Concert Tour which comes to Tullamore on December 19th – only a few days before Santa himself, so this is definitely Christmas coming early for country fans! – where Barry, together with Dominic, the Queen of Country herself Philomena Begley, Cliona Hagan and more, will be taking to the stage in the fabulously festive surroundings of the Tullamore Court Hotel. 

Barry officially launched Moments, the follow-up to his hugely popular first album, New Beginnings, to a full-house in the Red Cow last Thursday night, but even so, the Tyrone man was up and at ’em early again the following morning to chat with us about it all. 


“Aye, it was actually a great, great night, so it was, thank God. I was delighted. Long day it was, too, because we were in Tralee on Wednesday night at Radio Kerry’s Night With The Stars show, and then we drove on to Cork to do the Today show with Daithi O’ Se and Maura Derrane yesterday afternoon, and then up to Dublin straight after that. So you could say it’s been a hectic couple of days alright [laughs].” 

So, what kind of moments can Barry’s fans expect from Moments


“Well ‘Moments’ is a twelve-track collection, ten of which are covers, songs that I would have loved growing up, being a massive fan of country music, as I was. So a lot of those ten are the artists and bands I would have loved singin’ along with, ya know. But there’s two originals on there as well, one written by my brother, Colm, and our good friend Bradley Banning, a song called ‘Merry Mary’. And there’s another original song on there which was given to me by Rory Feek (of the American country husband-and-wife duo, Joey and Rory, of which Joey sadly passed away last year), written by Rory and Paul Overstreet, a song called ‘Between The Cracks.’ It’s funny, when I knew I was gonna be makin’ the album, I just kinda out of the blue one day thought I’d give Rory a text and see if he did have anything, cos’ I know he’s a very, very busy man. But he literally came back to me within, I think, two days, and he said let me have a look. The day after that then he sent me an email with the demo of Paul Overstreet singing ‘Between The Cracks’, and it’s a completely original song which hasn’t been recorded by any other artist. So to have that calibre of writers give me a completely original song, I was delighted. It’s a very Don Williams kind of a song, a half-time tempo, with a brush kind of a feel. But you know yourself, Rory is a major lyricist and an amazing storyteller, so the song is really about how things in life can fall between the cracks, small things that you might not realise are big things really, and they’re slipping away. It talks about love and other things that can just slip away from you so easily if you just take your eye off the ball, so to speak.” 

And the story behind the other original, Merry Mary


“It tells the story of a young lad who becomes friends with a girl when he’s really, really young, and obviously likes her, and tells how they progress in life, ya know, from an early age.”

I always love finding out exactly why albums end up being called what they are, so with Moments, I wondered was there a track of the same name included in the set? 


“There is a track on there called ‘Moments’, aye. And it’s funny, this album has been released by Rosette Records, and it’s the first album I’ve done with them. But at the very first meeting I had with them, with Mick Durkin, down in Dublin, we were just talking about different songs that we both liked, just general chat really. It wasn’t even about me releasing an album with them at that stage. We just pretty much talked music for about two hours. And as it happened, ‘Moments’ was a song he mentioned to me that he thought would be a good one to record, that it has a great message. It was originally done by a band called Emerson Drive, a Canadian band, and they had a number one hit with it in 2005. But not long after that, 2007 I think, their guitarist was killed in an accident. So they’ve never really had the same kind of success since then, sadly. But nowadays, with mental health being a major issue everywhere, and homelessness as well, ”Moments’ is just a great message song because it kinda talks about both. And actually, Bradley Banning, the co-writer on ‘Merry Mary’ with Colm – we’ve become very good friends with him – but he was Emerson Drive’s tour manager for the past few years. The last time I was in Nashville I actually had dinner with one of the guys from Emerson Drive, so it’s all a bit crazy the way things can fall into place and link up.” 

On any artists new album, every song is special to them in some way. And of course the originals usually even more so, because often times no-one else will have recorded them or put them out there before. But is there a particular song on Moments that Barry is especially looking forward to fans hearing? 


“It’s funny, I think a lot of artists will tell you that when you record albums you’re working on it so much that you don’t really like listening to it after! [laughs]. But I have to say, the other night there I was driving home from a gig and I had the album on the whole way down the road and I just loved listening to every track, so I did. But to answer your question, there’s a song on the album called ‘Why Don’t You Spend The Night’, and it seems to be a favourite for a lot of people who have heard it, and it’s definitely a favourite of mine. My manager actually suggested that song to me. I think it was written by Bob McDill, and recorded by Ronnie Milsap. It’s just a lovely, lovely song. But that’s just one of the ones I like. I mean, I’ve been a massive Garth Brooks fan over the years as well, and ‘The Dance’ has always been a favourite of mine. And even though it’s such an iconic song, and there’s nothing much you can do to change it, I really love what Jonathon Owens (the album’s producer) has done with this version.” 

With December now upon us, and the Christmas season well underway, I asked Barry if he was looking forward to all the coming weeks would bring, including his trip to Tullamore on December 19th as part of the Christmas Country Concert Tour? 


“I absolutely love Christmas, getting to spend some time with family. And my partner and myself have just moved into a new house, and we’re expecting a new baby as well in February, so it’s exciting times ahead! This will be our first and last Christmas alone in this house. Yeah, Christmas is always a great time of the year, and obviously Colm comes home from the States as well. And the tour, yeah, I did it with Brian (Cunningham, the promoter) last year for the first time. And again, I think all artists on the Irish country scene will tell ya, it’s just always great to get to spend some time with other artists cos’ we don’t really get a chance through the rest of the year. And sure the characters that are on this tour, the likes of Philomena Begley, and even Cliona as well, it’s good banter on the road and it’s good fun to be around.” 

And if Barry could be assured that his own letter to Santa would make it straight into the great man’s hands, what would Mr. Claus be asked for this year? 


“What would it be? Well I think I’d love a number one album if I could possibly have that! [laughs]” 

ENDS

Abbii Badmuss Yusuff

First Published November 2020

OFFALY’S QUEEN ABBII

If this was any other year, then the new MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND would already be well into her reign. Last year’s title holder, NASA data scientist Fionnghuala O’ Reilly, would have passed on the tiara and sash at a spectacular, sold-out ceremony in the famous and historic Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House back in August sometime. But hey, 2020 y’all! This is the year that will more than likely go down in Irish history as being the very definition of a year like no other! But, there will still be a Miss Universe Ireland 2020, and Offaly’s ABBII BADMUS YUSUFF has her sights set on making history by bringing that crown back to the midlands. 


Miss Universe Ireland director Brittany Mason and her team have already pulled off a minor miracle this year by even making it to the point where the selection of a Top Twelve was possible. While the exact timeline of what happens and when between now and the moment this year’s winner is finally crowned remains in flux for obvious reasons, this year’s event does – for the first time – include a public voting element which will help determine who becomes the last lady standing and Ireland’s next representative on the Miss Universe stage globally. To give Abbii your votes, all you need to do is go to the official Miss Universe Ireland website – www.missuniverseireland.eu – click on Abbii’s image [Abi Yusuff on the website), and cast your votes as you decide.  


The Miss Universe pageant is without a doubt the most famous of its kind in the world, with the Miss Universe Ireland set-up being one of the very best there is anywhere on the planet. So for Edenderry woman Abbii to be crowned Miss Universe Offaly is already an honour in itself. When we had the pleasure of spending some time in her company recently, the delightful Abbii – who has also played Gaelic football for Offaly at county level – explained how it all came to be…

“I’ve known about the Miss Universe pageant for a couple of years now, but it was never something I really focused on. But over those last couple of years, I’ve been seeing different bits and bobs of different people, different contestants like Fionnghuala last year, and Grainne Gallanagh as well. I’m the kind of person who likes getting myself into different things. So when it came to this year, to 2020, which has been a tough year for me, I decided to apply. Different females in the past have been role models for me, and Fionnghuala [the first woman of colour to win the Miss Universe Ireland crown] from last year is a role model for me too, she just inspires me so much. She proved that at the end of the day being Irish and being part of Miss Universe is not just about your colour, it’s about what’s in you. And that’s something that I wanted to show too.” The most recent Miss Universe Ireland winners, Grainne Gallanagh in 2018 and Fionnaghuala O’ Reilly last year, have both been very visible and active in the public eye, especially on social media. Grainne, a nurse by profession, has taken every opportunity to promote womens’ health, while Fionnghuala, a data scientist with NASA, has been to the fore in highlighting the roles that women can reach for in STEM related subjects and disciplines. And even when Grainne and Fionnghuala have been on the receiving end of various kinds of online abuse, they’ve always remained focused and positive in their outlooks and their ambitions. Was that something that surprised Abbi? 


“I think that people are brave behind the computer screen on social media, or with text messages. I feel like as women, these individuals, like Fionnghuala and Grainne, they pick themselves up regardless of what people have to say. And that’s what I focus on too. Being black myself, I face racism on a daily basis. Some of it might be just minor, but some of it can be something that’s very, very hard to take in. So you have to learn to live with it, because some people are always going to criticise you, regardless of if you’re doing good or bad.

It was a terrible question to even have to ask, but I wondered if, since becoming Miss Universe Offaly, Abbii had to face any racism over that?

“I have had a few comments thrown at me. But with myself, I’d rather just leave it to the side and not let it get to me, because that’s what those people are trying to do. I’m Irish at the end of the day. We’re all one. There’s no difference to me. Everyone’s the same.”

So when Abbii decided to actually get involved in the Miss Universe Ireland competition this year, what was the big reason that made her decide to go for it?  


“Well, the pandemic that’s going on now worldwide now has been such a huge, huge problem. And with all of that happening, we haven’t been able to showcase ourselves. And I think with me, I have a lot of personality. The first couple of months of 2020 were very rough for me, we were very, very busy. I’m a full-time worker in a medical device company, we’re providing ventilators. I was working six days a week sometimes, on long ten, eleven hour shifts. I had some health issues at the time as well, including some anxiety, so I was just feeling broken. And that’s not me!I’m always the go-getter, always the one with the winner’s attitude. So after feeling down, I thought it was time to pick myself back up. And I just thought right, Miss Universe Ireland is something that would suit me. It’s something that I am willing to put myself out there for, to teach young women of today that they can build themselves up, and they should live every day as if it’s their last.” 

So once Abbii had decided to apply, what was the process like from there? And how did she feel when she eventually heard that SHE was, in fact, Miss Universe Offaly? 


“So I first applied in July, and it was like a job application [laughs]. They wanted to know every detail about us, which was fine [laughs]. And then there was a period of a while, weeks, where we didn’t hear anything back. Then we got an email where they said they’d keep us updated. And that three weeks was…I don’t know…like the longest three weeks of my life! [laughs]. And I hadn’t said anything to anyone at that stage that I had applied, because the thing with me is I like surprising people [laughs]. They’re not surprised when I do stuff, like when I come out and say, ‘Oh look, I’ve done this’ [laughs]. So we got to August, around my birthday, and we were told we’d made the next round of applications, and we were asked to submit a video of us cat-walking or modelling for the bikini shoot, and just a short interview video, just so the directors of Miss Universe Ireland could get to know us more. So I did that, and gave it to them. And doing that video was amazing, because looking back on it now, I was so, so nervous, I was a wreck at the time! But then when I got the feedback, they said they really loved my energy, and they liked this, and liked that about me! So that became my passion from that moment, that I wanted to do this. From then on I was like, ok, head-down, let’s go! I was still working at my full-time job, but looking after myself, treating myself better. Then one day, randomly, about two weeks or maybe three weeks after that, we got an email. And it said, ‘Congratulations, you’re in the Top Twelve of Miss Universe Ireland.’ I nearly dropped! [laughs]. I woke at six-am to that email! And I had to keep it to myself that day as well, because they weren’t announcing it until Wednesday. It was a shock, but such amazing news to wake up to, and something I’ll never forget.” 

What was the reaction like when Abbii was finally able to tell everyone? 


“I was at work the day that I was allowed to tell people. So as soon as Miss Universe Ireland announced it publicly, I went and told one of my work colleagues. And the hug that she gave me was amazing! It was something that she didn’t expect because she only started working with us a couple of months ago. And then after that I was like, I need to walk out of here and send this to my sister, and I sent her the screenshot [laughs]. The reaction, and the support of my family has been so, so great. I have a huge family. My mum couldn’t be prouder. She works at Dunnes Stores at home in Edenderry, so she knows a lot of people and she talks to a lot of people on a daily basis. And they’re all coming to her and saying, oh, your daughter is this and that, you know. Everyone is proud of me. So I’m ready to go the full way! [laughs].” 

Obviously everything about 2020, even in the most general sense, is different than normal. But under normal circumstances, all of this year’s Miss Universe Ireland contestants would have met Brittany and the rest of the Miss Universe Ireland team – not to mention each other – in person by now. Not so in 2020, however…


“No, unfortunately not, I haven’t met anyone yet. We’ve all met virtually, that’s the only thing we’ve done. But honestly, I can’t wait! I wish the pandemic was just over. Or even that the restrictions were just lifted, because there is a Miss Universe Galway here [where Abbii is living at the moment]. Even if we were in counties close by, maybe we could meet up as individuals, one or two other people at a time or something. Just to get to know each other a bit more. But even with the directors, Brittany herself, she’s been with us every step of the way. So it’s like she’s actually been with us, she’s been doing her best in the circumstances, and we really, really appreciate it. She’s lovely, I can’t get over her. I love her energy! She inspires me, too. She pushes you. She’s good at her job and knows what she’s doing.” 

As mentioned earlier, back in 2018 when Grainne Gallanagh held the Miss Universe Ireland title, she focused a lot on womens’ health because, as a nurse by profession, that was an area of particular importance to her. Last year, Fionnghuala O’ Reilly, as a data scientist with NASA, turned her attention to women in the S.T.E.M. arenas. If Abbii finds herself wearing the crown of Miss Universe Ireland for 2020, what would she like to use her platform to highlight? 


“I think I would be on the Grainne side of things as well, looking at womens’ health. I think a lot of women nowadays, we need to be able to speak up if we have issues. There’s always people to turn to in terms of mental health, and even physical health. I’m someone that used to play football [for Offaly, by the way, folks], I’m a big athlete. I used to run the Harriers in Tullamore, too. So I know it’s important to keep your fitness going as well. But I’m not even going to lie to you, I’m not the fittest person out there at the moment [laughs]. But I want to get back into it. I’m joining a G.A.A. football team in Galway here. It’s about building yourself up to the best of your ability. Everyone is unique, and different in their own ways. And sometimes women need to shine, and say look, this is the power we have and what we’re capable of.” 

So what’s the next big step or big date on the Miss Universe Ireland calendar? 


“Well the Top Six finalists for 2020 will be announced soon, so there’s a crazy time ahead! [laughs]. Myself and the rest of the girls are all trying to showcase ourselves, put ourselves out there on our social media platforms, just trying to get everyone to know us better. We have loads of assignments, little bits and bobs, for the judges as well, just for them to get to know us better too. The Top Six will be influenced by the public vote, so if everyone can vote for me, I would really, really, really appreciate that! Thank you! We just had our first official Miss Universe Ireland interviews as well, with four American judges. And actually, it was fun! [laughs]. By the end of it! [laughs].”

While Abbii is from Edenderry, she’s living down in Galway at the moment. I asked her about the journey that took her there…


“Yeah, I’m from Edenderry, but I moved to Galway in 2014, I moved to study Accounting in G.M.I.T. I went in to study Business actually, and I did two years of that, then I went to Accounting which was a three year course. So that’s why I first moved to Galway. But I don’t regret doing so because I was able to get my education here. And furthermore, when I finished college, I went on to work in the finance sector, as a trainee financial advisor which was a great achievement for me. And I’ve got my job now in a medical devices company, so I’m pushing myself, always, always, always.” 

How would Abbii describe herself to people who, because of the current Covid health restrictions, might not get a chance to meet her during her time as Miss Universe Offaly? And does she think her friends would describe her in the same way as she describes herself?


“I don’t know [laughs], I think they’d all have different words to describe me [laughs]. They all think I’m mad anyway, I know that! Me, myself? I think I have a lot of love, I’m a loving person. I have a lot of love in me to give. I’m caring. I’m easygoing. And I’m humble, too. And I try to always stay positive and true to myself as well. To relax, I like to go for a walk in the woods, maybe do some online shopping, or just go for a drive sometimes. And try to talk to the family and catch up with them, because none of the family live in Galway, they’re all in different places. So trying to catch up with them is a job of its own [laughs]. I have two brothers and two sisters. An older brother and an older sister, and then I’m the middle child. Then a younger brother and younger sister as well. But when I say older and younger, the oldest is twenty-eight and the youngest is eighteen. And separately to that, I have half-siblings on my dad’s side, and there’s ten of them. So there’s fifteen of us altogether. Some live in America, some live in England, some are in Nigeria.”

One thing that’s clear about Abbii, and comes across time and time again in our chat, is her positivity, and good humour, as laughter freely and liberally permeated our conversation. But what, I wondered, makes Abbii happiest of all in life? 


“Hmm? What makes me happy in life? What makes me happy in life is to be calm. I don’t like to stress! [laughs]. Once I get stressed, it’s kind of impossible to control anything. I think I’ve actually managed to grow up and still be myself. And a lot of people are kind of looking up to me at the moment. So, for someone who’s still not, you know, anyone really yet, that makes me happy too. And I want to keep doing better and keep putting myself out there for people to see that they can do things as well. I try to always have a smile on my face, and to stay positive!” 

~ You can stay up to date with Abbii’s Miss Universe Offaly journey – and hopefully beyond that too – by following Abbii and Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram. To vote for Abbii, simply visit the official Miss Universe Ireland website – www.missuniverseireland.eu – click on Abbii’s image, and cast your votes as you decide. And REMEMBER, if any businesses out there want to become part of Abbii’s Miss Universe team as a sponsor, and possibly help Abbii follow in the footsteps of Cailín Toíbín (2017), Grainne Gallanagh (2018, and of Dancing With The Stars Ireland fame in 2019), and Fionnghuala O’ Reilly (2019),  just drop her a DM! 

ENDS

P.J. Gallagher

THE I.N.L.A., TRUMP, AND PUBLIC WHIPPINGS!

First Published November 2017

If all I ever knew about P.J. Gallagher was how passionately he feels about animals and their welfare, that would be enough for me to know I’d go into battle at his side without even a moment’s hesitation should such an hour ever come. But that’s not all I know about him. There’s also the fact that he considers Donald Trump to be looney, so we’re on the same page there, too! And there’s a couple of other things that most folk probably have no idea about, but, no more than both of the points already mentioned, really shine a light on P.J’s character as a human being.

For as long as it was possible for him to do so before his work shifts with Classic Hits 4FM ruled it out, P.J. was a volunteer with Blood Bikes East, meaning he was on call at a moment’s notice to transport blood supplies for hospitals in case of emergencies. And not only that, but since moving to Dun Laoghaire, P.J. has become a volunteer with the R.N.L.I. (Royal National Lifeboat Institution, as opposed to the I.N.L.A, but more on that anon!), because he believes in giving back to the community where you live. 


And on top of all this pure soundness, of course, there’s the fact that P.J. is one of the funniest men in the land. And on December 2nd he’s bringing his latest tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel. I had the pleasure of catching up with P.J. recently for a chat about the new show, and life in general. Now, most comedy shows usually go for some kind of witty play on words to get peoples’ attention when it comes to a name. And P.J. has definitely got peoples’ attention taking his ‘Dickhead’ tour on the road! Only one question to kick things off with then…..!!!


“Ya know somethin’? I wish I had a really good story for this, I really do! I come from when, in stand-up, you didn’t really name your show, you just said, ‘P.J. Gallagher will be ‘live’ on this date and at this time’, and that was it. But at some stage a few years ago somebody started namin’ all these tours! So I started callin’ mine all these stupid names that meant nothin’. And this year the show is about a bunch of stupid stuff that’s happened to me over the last two years, and I said I’m just gonna call it ‘Dickhead’, it’ll be grand! Of course I was thinkin’ nobody would pay any attention. But then you have to have a poster, and suddenly I’m Ireland’s most popular dickhead! [laughs]. So it’s a title I’ll wear with pride, I guess [laughs].”


So the show title doesn’t necessarily indicate what fans will be getting on this occasion? 


“Well, no, I think they will [be getting it]. Because in the last couple of years, since I’ve hit forty-two, I’ve realised I am a bit of a clueless dickhead, so that’s exactly what they’ll get. And what they’ll have to bear with for at least an hour and ten minutes! [laughs].”


How long does it generally take to put together a new show like this? 


“Ah God, it can take up to a year to get a show right. And then, as soon as you get it right, and get out and start actually tourin’, it changes every bloody night anyway! So it’s always a work in progress, ya know. Like, if you saw the first gig I did on this tour – and the last gig is going to be in Donegal on the ninth of December – if you saw those two shows you’d be like, ‘Whaaaaa?!’ Cos’ they’d only be vaguely familiar! But they definitely wouldn’t seem like the same show, ya know that kind of way? So it changes all the time. It’s a really weird process, to be quite honest with ya. Someone like Neil Delamere can just write a whole new show, from start to finish, in a couple of months. For me, it’s probably a year, realistically. That’s how long it takes me.”


So it’s definitely a case of the show evolving as it goes along?


“Yeah, jaysus, I’d get sick of the sound of my own voice if it was the same every night. I wouldn’t be able for it! I did a play last year in the Dublin Theatre Festival, so I had to say the exact same words for a week and it nearly killed me! [laughs]. I was there, how do people feckin’ do this?! How do they do it every single night! I was like this is a disaster of a job, thank God I never made it as an actor! [laughs].”


Between stand-up, tv, and of course radio, being in front of an audience is something P.J. is something that’s second nature for P.J. by now. But is there one of those areas in which he feels most comfortable now and would be quite happy doing forever if it came down to picking just one?


“Yeah, there is, and it’s really surprising for me, to be honest because I would have said no to that a year ago. But now it’s radio, one hundred percent. It’s radio that I enjoy the most, and it’s what I hope I can do for years and years. And if I had to pick one, I’d pick radio in a heartbeat these days.” 


And why radio? 


“Well, ya know with telly ya have to wait so long to get a result. Like, we’ve just finished filming ‘The Young Offenders’ but it’s still gonna be well into 2018 before we know if anybody likes it or not! With stand-up, it’s instant. But you spend so much time on your own. A stand-up comedian is a van driver, essentially! You get into your car or your van, you drive for four hours, you tell some jokes – you deliver jokes instead of parcels – then you go and drive home! You’re on your own all the time. And when you finally do talk to people, they’re not allowed talk back to ya! But radio, it’s so interactive. And it’s got the same sort of instant thing you get with stand-up. Basically, you get to go into the same place, with your friends, and have a laugh every feckin’ day! And radio as well, it’s such a thrill to everything else I’ve done before, too. At least I haven’t had that and been paid for it! I’ve had it in other jobs and been sacked for it [laughs]. But actually gettin’ paid for it is a different thing.” 


P.J. has stated before that he does comedy because he’s good at it, but his real passion in life is bikes. Unfortunately, P.J. fell victim to some shameless scumbags earlier this year, who first of all stole his beloved motorbike and then tried to sell it back to him! I asked P.J. how that all played out in the end? 


“Well, I’ll tell ya now, it actually did play out alright in the end because the insurance company paid up almost straight away, which was grand! So then I went and I got another bike, but the bloody bike I got is so uncomfortable that there’s actually another bike that I’m lookin’ at at the moment! It’s in me Ma’s front garden where the last one was robbed from, and I’m lookin’ at it as I’m talkin’ to you. So the saga continues, but I’m nearly there [laughs].” 


As mentioned in my opening paragraph, P.J. put his love of bikes to positive use for the greater good of his community when he served as a volunteer with Blood Bikes East for a time.


“Yeah, I had to stop when I started the radio show because the shifts crossed over, so that’s why I had to give it up, unfortunately. But I loved it. And I’ve just moved to Dun Laoighaire, so I’ve just joined the R.N.L.I. now, I joined them a couple of weeks ago. I love the social side of it, but also it’s nice to be able to contribute to where you live, at least I think it is. Like, we can all do comedy gigs to help out different things, but it’s rare you’ll actually get to see the effects of where that money goes, so it’s great to be a part of something like that, that you can actually participate in, ya know. And it’s gas, right, cos’ this is only two weeks ago, so I came back to the house here [his mam’s], and I said, Ma, I’m after joining the R.N.L.I. and she was, ‘Ahh feckin’ great, good for you’, ya know. But then I heard her talkin’ to her neighbour, over the garden wall, and she goes, ‘He’s after joinin’ the I.N.L.A.’ (Irish National Liberation Army), she goes! [laughs]. She said, ‘Yeah, he met a fella on the pier and apparently there’s a great social side to it!’ [laughs].”


Like P.J., I’m a huge dog person, and indeed animals in general. And one of the things that really annoys me about this country is how slack, to the point of non-existence sometimes, our animal welfare laws are. I wondered if this was something that ever bothered P.J., too?


“Yeah, it’s a disgrace. It really bothers me. Like, I love the I.S.P.C.A., but when ya hear the stories that the inspectors will tell ya, it would shock ya what goes on in Ireland. To be honest, when it comes to dogs especially, and the way people breed dogs, it’s just a disgrace. I love being Irish, and I love Ireland, but some things are an absolute disgrace and our animal welfare is just….It really upsets me, it actually gets me down, ya know. What I’d say to people is, if you’re gettin’ a dog, please go to the shelters. They’re amazing dogs. A rescue dog, there’s just nothin’ in the world like it. And get it neutered, everybody needs to do their part. Cos’ we’re puttin’ down as many dogs in a month as Scotland puts down in a year! And we’re roughly the same population! Like, it’s so hard to comprehend…If you think of that in numbers, like…The world isn’t good enough for dogs, it really isn’t. We owe them a lot more. I’ve got a Weimaraner and a Collie-cross, she’s actually here lookin’ at me now wonderin’ why I’m not givin’ her attention! She’s from Dogs Trust, she is. But she has a bit of a face on her now, she’s not happy with me [laughs].”


When he first started being recognised in the streets P.J. recalled how he found it hard to get his head around – that complete strangers would know who he was – for a long time. So is ‘fame’ something that he’s settled more into over the years? 


“Well I don’t really know if I’m famous, as much as it is that people just sorta go, ‘Alright there P.J.’, ya know! People kinda know my face, but they never treat me like I’m ‘famous’ or anything. But yeah, ya get used to people knowin’ ya, and ya get used to people chattin’ ya. Ya just have conversations everywhere ya go! Sometimes the motorbike helmet is the best thing in the world, it’s the only way to be anonymous! If I ever want some peace and quiet I just stick on the motorbike helmet, even if I’m drivin’ the car! [laughs]. I’d either look like a very nervous driver, or an I.N.L.A. man, God knows which! [laughs].” 


If the powers-that-be at Classic Hits 4FM came to P.J. in the morning and told him he was in luck, for one show only they were going to be able to get him whatever three people he wanted as guests for his show, who would he choose to fill those spots? 


“Oh man! Jeez, that’s a good question. Well Donald Trump anyway, cos’ I just want to sit down with the man and see if he’s actually that looney and that mad! And I’m sure I’d get some great comedy material out of him. And if I didn’t, there’d still be enough outrage for me to enjoy it [laughs]. So Donald Trump….and maybe Louis Walsh, because I think they might be related! And maybe Shergar, the horse. I want to get his testimony of what the IRA did to him. So Shergar, Donald Trump, and Louis Walsh. I think that could be the best dinner party actually ever!” 


As a comedian, does P.J. believe that there are some things which just shouldn’t be joked about, or which can possibly be joked about too soon? As we spoke, it was just a few days after James Corden had found himself in hot water over comments he made in relation to the Harvey Weinstein scandal that’s rocking Hollywood. Corden, incidentally, was defended by Russell Brand, who pointed out that comedians are needed in life to find and point out the funny side of things.


“Yeah, I’d be more with Russell Brand on that one, I think. I don’t think there is a ‘too-soon’, as such. The problem is if you do something and it’s just not a good joke, then you’re up for a bigger fall. I think that was Corden’s biggest problem, that it just wasn’t a great joke. Like, if he’s made a better joke, it probably wouldn’t have even got that much attention. I’d agree with Russell Brand, I don’t think there is a ‘too-soon’ time. I mean, you can tell a joke, right, and at the same time not be completely insensitive about something. You can always tell a joke, I really do believe that. In fact, I don’t think we’d get over tragedy at all if we didn’t tell jokes. Jokes are how we find our way out of tragedies, or out of scandals, or out of any of these things. Of course, I’m biased, aren’t I, I make jokes about everything for a livin’ [laughs]. But I do genuinely believe it, I don’t think there is anything that shouldn’t be joked about to some degree. That doesn’t mean that you go out and do racist jokes, but that you can go out and do jokes about racism, ya know. There’s ways of doin’ it.”


When I was growing up CHIPS was one of the biggest shows on tv, and Erik Estrada, who played the character of ‘Ponch’, was one of the show’s top stars. P.J. actually got to meet Erik Estrada in real life a few years back, and turns out the man is as much of a legend in real-life as his tv character ever was.


“We were doin’ the series ‘Makin’ Jake’, the Jake Stevens [one of P.J’s characters in ‘Naked Camera’] spin-off series over in L.A., and one of the set-ups was to go and meet him [Erik] in his house.And even though he didn’t know we were filmin’ him at the start, he was just the soundest bloke ever. And when he did know, he started actin’! He was givin’ us shots on the bikes and everything! He goes against all the rules about never meet your heroes! He breaks them all! He’s just the nicest bloke in the whole world, just such a great fella. Now he’s nuts about himself, but I suppose if you’re Erik Estrada you’re allowed to be nuts about yourself! So ya may leave him at it [laughs]. There was talk of him comin’ over here to do somethin’ with the Guards, cos’ he loves cops, but sure it never happened which is a shame. But if he ever does come to Ireland I’ll be queuing up to meet him again, because what a deadly fella!” 


Has there ever been a celebrity whom P.J. has met that was the exact opposite to Estrada, as in, well…not cool?! 


“No, I haven’t actually. No, wait, I did, and do ya know who it was? Brett ‘The Hitman’ Hart, the wrestler. I met him one day in RTE years ago. I used to love wrestling when I was a kid. So I seen him and I said to him, ‘I used to love you when I was a kid’, and he just said, ‘Yeah’, and he just walked past me. Just ‘Yeah’, and then shook his head like I was a pathetic little pain in the ass, and walked on. I was like, holy s&it, man, that hurt! That really hurt. You’re after stampin’ on my childhood, ya asshole! [laughs]. But that’s the only time that’s happened really.”


Last question, and another one where P.J. could put his imagination to use. If he was to get a phone-call from Leo Varadkar asking P.J. to do him a huge favour and stand in as Taoiseach for him for one day, but in return, P.J. could sign into law, with immediate and everlasting effect, any one thing….what would it be?


“Ah, this one is easy and obvious. Immediate and long-term jail sentences for animal cruelty. That would genuinely be it. Absolutely. And public floggings for them! If you do something to animals, then you have the same done to you, at the Central Bank, in front of a crowd while they cheer! That’s absolutely what I’d do. If I had that one chance on that one day, then for my day people who abuse animals would be whipped up and down the street!”

ENDS

Nathan Carter

First Published November 2020

“I LIVE FOR THE GIGS”

If you’ve ever been to a NATHAN CARTER show then you’ll understand exactly why the man himself says, “I live for the gigs.” Sold-out and jam-packed venues, excitement all round, laughter, fans singing along with every song, and smiles everywhere you look, whether that’s from the stage looking down into the audience or from the audience looking up at Nathan and his band on stage. More than just Nathan have lived for those nights. 


A Nathan show, you see – and I’ve often said this – is more than just a night-out, it’s a celebration of everything that’s great, powerful, and positive about music. And you’ll see that too at the end of each show when fans queue for as long as it takes to get a moment at Nathan’s side and have their photo taken with the biggest draw in Irish country music. What those moments at the end of every show also illustrate perfectly is exactly why Nathan has become the superstar that he is. As long as there’s someone waiting to meet him, Nathan will be there ready to meet them too. But as Nathan will tell you, that success didn’t arrive overnight. It’s been a decade in the making. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Nathan again last weekend, with the main reason for our chat being his brand new album which celebrates the last decade in his career, THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS . This anniversary collection drops tomorrow, November 12th, and is essentially a greatest hits album, a huge milestone in the career of any artist. Now if there’s one thing that 2020 has given Nathan in bucketloads, it’s time to look back over those first ten years. So, when he does, how does he feel to have reached the point in his career where he is today? 


“To be honest, it’s been a great journey over the last ten years, gigging and playing and going from small pubs and clubs, to dance-halls, to theatres, and then the 3Arena, and the SSE Arena. It’s been a journey that I never imagined really, that it would be so successful. Looking back over the last ten years, which I’ve had to do picking these tracks, it’s brought back a lot of great memories of the venues I’ve played, the people I’ve met along the way, the ups and the downs of the music business and show-business! But yeah, we’ve put together twenty tracks, some of them from when I first started out to the most recent singles that I’ve released over the last couple of years, and there’s some newly recorded songs especially for this album. So it’s an album filled with the old and new, something that I’m very proud of, and it’s been nostalgic looking back over the last ten years at where I’ve got to.” 

As Nathan mentioned, there are twenty tracks on the album, four of which are new songs. And one of those – Wings To Fly – was to see its video premiered later in the evening on which we spoke. Nathan had mentioned on his social media that this song was dedicated to a good friend of his who is sadly no longer with us. I asked Nathan if that might be the late Nicky James, and also if he’d tell me a little bit about writing what must be one of his most personal songs…


“It is, ya know [one of my most personal songs]. I don’t write songs that often, and I wouldn’t consider myself as a great songwriter or anything like that really, I consider myself more of a singer. But I do a bit of writing, and I’m very proud now of this song in particular. As you say, it’s written about a good friend, Nicky James, who unfortunately passed away at the start of this year. I kind of put pen to paper and came up with this song, ‘Wings To Fly.’ It was very emotional really, writing it. But I’m so glad I did. And we recorded a video there in a castle not too far from my house where I live in Fermanagh, a castle called Belle Isle Castle, we were lucky that it was empty last weekend. There were no weddings obviously, due to Covid, so we took over the Castle for the whole day and did a load of filming. That video, as you said, is being released tonight online. I’m very proud of the song, so looking forward to peoples’ reactions to it and just seeing what they think of the lyrics and the actual recording.” 

I wondered if recording the video and putting himself back into that emotional space of what the song is about, was a hard thing to do? Or was Nathan able to distance himself from what the song was actually about until the recording was in the can? 


“I kind of tried to distance myself from it a little bit, ya know, cos’ I’d only end up getting emotional doing it. But at the same time, I did want a bit of emotion in the video. To be honest, the guys I work with, Mick Bracken and the crew who do the filming, they’re good fun. They had me laughing hysterically most of the day, so to try and then be serious again for the song was quite tough [laughs]. But I’m very proud of the video as well, and I’m looking forward to people seeing it this evening, so hopefully people will check it out on Facebook and YouTube and let us know what they think.” 

Another of the new tracks on the album is Sarah Jane, and as it so happens, OTRT will be talking to Sarah Jane herself – the wonderful Sal Heneghan – in the next few weeks. I asked Nathan to tell me how he and Sal came to link up for that project…


“Basically I wrote that song at the start of this year, and we were shooting a video in Dublin. So we needed a fiddle player who was preferably good looking! [laughs]. A friend of mine, Peter Maher, who owns a studio in Tipperary, he knows Sal from through the years. He sent me a picture of Sal, and a video of her playin’ fiddle, and I said that’s our one! [laughs]. She looks great, and she sounds great, so we got in contact with her and asked if she’d mind playing a role in a music video. And she said she’d love to. So Sal Heneghan ends up being ‘Sarah Jane’ for the day, and it turned out really well. She’s a great girl, and very talented as well.” 

Nathan said in a recent interview that back at the beginning of lockdown, when he didn’t really know what to be doing with himself, some people told him to just go and use the time to write some songs. Nathan, however, replied that he just had no interest at all in music there for a while around that period. I wondered if he’d rediscovered that spark since the, and if putting this album together had helped him to do that? 


“Yeah, I definitely had kind of just lost interest in music for a while when lockdown did kick-in. I just had no want really to do anything. I kind of live for the gigs, to be honest. The gigs are the thing, being on stage and with a live audience, interacting, that’s what I do it for really. When that was taken away, it kind of just felt like a big hole was there. But no, definitely, when I started picking tracks for the album, and I’ve been doing a bit more writing there recently, that’s definitely helped, a lot! Just in getting inspiration again for music, and wanting to be involved in the whole music business side of things.” 

One of the things that a new album always usually means – at least in normal times – is a new tour as well. That, of course, is impossible right now. But Nathan, his manager John Farry, and their team, have been working hard to try and put a show together for Nathan’s fans in Crumlin Gaol. Having already had to be rescheduled a couple of times, it’s now set for January 16th. Is that really looking like being the next time Nathan actually gets to perform? 


“Unfortunately, it is. I’m actually recording a TV special for BBC at my home, myself and Jake, my brother, in the coming weeks which is going to be shown at Christmas. I haven’t actually told anybody that yet, you’re the first guy I’ve mentioned it to. But when it comes to actually performing in front of an audience, I think, yeah, that really is going to be the next time I’ll be lucky enough to perform in front of people, next year in January. If we’re lucky! Keep everything crossed, fingers, toes, legs and everything [laughs]. To be honest, until we get a vaccine and get this thing [Covid] kicked into shape, I don’t think ‘live’ music is possible until we get that sorted, ya know.” 

While it’s very difficult to look too far forward at the moment, in terms of looking back, could Nathan remember the last show he played before all of this began, back in the ‘good old days’? And on that occasion, did he have any idea at all that it might have been his last show for at least a while? 


“The last professional gig I did was on a cruise ship in February, myself and the band, and a lot of other different artists were on the ship as well. Mike Denver, and Daniel O’ Donnell, and The High Kings. That was our last gig. And looking back now, we definitely didn’t imagine this! And even if we did, when we first heard about it we thought it was going to be three or four months, and then, ah sure we’ll be back in May or June, ya know. That’s what we were sayin’. We’ll get the festivals in, and then we’ll be back doing a Christmas concert tour. But obviously all that went out the window! We are where we are, and all we can do is hope and pray that this time next year it will all be a distant memory and a thing of the past, and we’ll be back to normal.” 

When we do get back to normal, and Nathan gets back out on the road again, and back up on stage around Ireland and around the world, will 2020 have changed him as far as how he approaches and enjoys his music career? 


“Definitely, yeah. Yeah. I will definitely appreciate it a lot more, I think. I’ve had a lot of time to spend at home the last nine months and I don’t know if I’d go back gigging as much as I had done previously, because I’ve kind of enjoyed just being able to do other stuff, other than music, and airports, and tour buses, and travelling. There is more to life. And I’ve kind of realized that over the last year. So I will appreciate the gigs I do a lot more, and I probably will do slightly less of them than what I had been doing.” 

Is there anything in particular that Nathan has found himself doing in this ‘time-off’, which he’s really enjoyed and just wouldn’t have had the same time for before this? 


“I took to bike-riding, and doing a lot more exercise in the gym, that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and it’s definitely helped mentally, keeping me focused and keeping me busy. Which I need to be, because I’m the type of character that can’t be doin’ nothing, can’t have no projects or aspirations. I always have to be doing something. So all of that has helped for sure, exercise and staying busy.” 

One high-point of this year for Nathan was winning the UK Male Country Singer of the Year Award. But apart from Covid, there have been several sad moments for him too, with the passing of his great friend Nicky James whom we already spoke about, but also the founder of The Irish World newspaper Paddy Cowan, and of Highland Radio presenter Pio McCann, three men who all played important roles in Nathan’s career in their own ways. I wondered if, when looking back over the last ten years that this new album celebrates, Nathan could pinpoint one high-point and one low-point that were each in their own ways very significant moments in the shaping of his career? 


“Over the last ten years? Yeah, well definitely losing Nicky James has probably been the toughest thing. Just because Nicky has been involved with me since I was a kid. Music is my whole life, and he basically put me on that path. So that’s been the low-point. The highest point, I’d have to say, is probably playing the 3Arena, with that many people. And we were very lucky to have been able to do it twice. That’s something that I never, ever would have dreamt would be possible, me singing country songs and old folks songs [laughs], at a venue like that. So that’s definitely been a high-point. And for me, longevity is key, ya know. And if I can still be singing and entertaining people in ten or twenty years time to come, then I’ll be a happy man!” 

Nathan had briefly touched on the subject of his mental health, and indeed, that’s one thing that everyone is trying to be especially careful about this year. But his profile as one of the biggest entertainers in Ireland seems to mean that he’s also ‘fair-game’ on social media. I see some of the stuff that’s often written about him, andit usually ranges from the utterly stupid to the utterly disgusting. I assumed that Nathan himself must see some of it as well from time to time, so I asked him how he makes sure that abuse like that doesn’t end up getting to him? 


“Yeah, I mean that is one thing with social media. It’s great for advertising, and it’s great to chat to people, but it also opens a lot of floodgates and doors for people to just pull ya down straight away. As you say, that’s the problem with being in the public eye. I do see a lot of those comments. And years ago, it would have affected me a lot more. Nowadays, I still would take them on board, and I’m not gonna say it doesn’t annoy ya, it does when ya see someone having a right go at ya for no reason. And you don’t even know them, generally, the person having a go at ya. And you’re never going to meet them, because they won’t come to a gig. And the funny thing is, they would never say it to your face either. Most of these people are just keyboard-warriors, and they love to just comment on stuff. So I’ve kind of learned that during the last few years. I’d like to think that now I’m a bit more accepting of it, and just go well listen, everybody’s entitled to their opinion. You’re never going to please everyone, that’s a given fact. So yeah, I’d like to think that nowadays it doesn’t affect me as much as it did.”

It’s been a while now since Nathan last had a chance to play for his fans here in the midlands of Ireland, and it might well be a little while longer yet before he gets a chance to again. So, until then, what message would he like to send to his fans…apart from please buy the new album?! 


“[Laughs] Well, I’d like to say that obviously every year we would normally play Mullingar, and Tullamore, and a lot of other shows around the midlands, Ballinasloe as well, and I’m definitely missing that. And we look forward to the day when we can get back and play a good few shows, and hopefully bring a new show to all of those towns. We’ve got some new music from this album. So we want to get back on stage, entertaining, and putting smiles on peoples’ faces. I want to wish everybody a happy Christmas, and stay safe. We will all get through this, and I look forward to seeing everybody on the other side.” 

~ Nathan’s brand NEW album, THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS, is released TOMORROW, November 12th, available on all platforms and from all good record stores nationwide. 

ENDS