First Published July 2019
NIAMH’S PASSION IS A ‘VIRTUE’
There’s a couple of things you should know about Tullamore singer/songwriter Niamh Dooley, aka, Dubh Lee. The first is that when you hear Niamh perform her own songs, you don’t just ‘hear’, you listen. You’re instantly drawn in by an incredible talent and willingness to essentially lay bare her own soul in the most honest, tender, and a lot of times funny, of ways. The second thing you need to know is that if you’re ever chatting to Niamh, you’ll do a lot of laughing along the way. Her creative side tackles some of life’s weightier moments and challenges, but her personality is as light as the breeze and laughter is an essential part of what makes that possible. All of which, of course, makes any time in Niamh’s company a real pleasure.
With Niamh’s debut single Virtue set for release this week (today, in fact, if you’re reading this on Wednesday), that was the only place to start when we met last weekend. So I asked Niamh to tell me about Virtue...
“Yeah, ‘Virtue’ is the name of the single, it’s my debut single as you said, and it’s going to be out at noon on Wednesday, the 31st. ‘Virtue’ is like a folk-infused pop song, cos’ I’ve always erred on the side of folk and blues, so this is quite a folky tune. It’s a song about patience and self-doubt, and it examines your relationship between respecting yourself and then loving another person that maybe isn’t reciprocating, and the doubts that arise from waiting around for someone to come around, ya know. I recorded it in Cavan, in Millrose Recording Studio back in February, it was mixed by a fella called Robin Ball. There’s a good friend of mine, Cathal Farrelly on bass, Jollie from WOB on drums, Josh Murtagh on keys…and who else do I have…? Oh yeah, then there’s me! [laughs]. I’ve always thought it was quite poppy, but other people have described it as a folk song. And also on Wednesday, there’s going to be a music video coming out. I won’t reveal too much about that, but basically, it’s quite a funny video! It involves a mannequin, which was loaned to us by Galvins for men in Tullamore! We’re super-grateful to them for that! Some of it was shot in the Slieve Bloom mountains, and some of it was shot in the thatch house that my parents own, An Teach Tuí. So that’s out on Wednesday, too.”
I’ve been lucky enough to hear Niamh perform on more than a few occasions, and to hear her sing a lot of her own material. What always strikes me is how personal her work always feels. So I wondered if Virtue was another song from Niamh’s own personal experience, or from observation of the world and lives around her?
“Yeah, ‘Virtue’ is definitely from a very personal experience. I tend to always write from what’s happening to me at the time. I won’t get too into the nitty-gritty details of it [laughs], but yeah, I was talking about a romantic relationship that I was involved in. Or am involved in. Whichever! [laughs].”
So in a more general sense, how did Niamh’s journey as a songwriter first begin?
“I suppose that would have happened back in Tullamore with friends. When I was in school I was singing with various schoolmates and things like that, and we’d always make stabs at writing songs. Back then, when I was a teenager, those kind of songs that we were writing were basically just us trying to write what it sounded like other people were writing, ya know? They weren’t based specifically on what any of us were goin’ through. That was my first foray into songwriting. And I always ended up writing humorous songs, that were kind of loosely about me, but were more meant to entertain other people! Then I moved to Germany for a year and I was all alone, so I started singing and writing songs alone. So I guess at that point, I started writing about things that were personal and were happening to me. And since I returned from Germany, I’ve continued in that vein. I’ve written about my issues with work-life, normally there’s a lot of songs about romance there [laughs], and I’ve tried writing more conscious stuff as well. And I will hopefully be playing those songs to people, too, my anger at how the environment is being treated and stuff like that. They’re all in the works!”
Who would Niamh’s influences and inspirations have been when she took those first moves into songwriting?
“When I was younger, my parents would always have been playing Leonard Cohen in the car, say for longer journeys, he’d be the background music to those. I absolutely LOVE Leonard Cohen. And I got to see him once in Sligo with my parents, when he performed in Lissadell House….aaaaw, incredible! From a songwriting perspective, he’s probably shaped a lot of how words come out of me! When I was a teenager, the bands I was crazy about were Led Zepplin, AC/CD, Blink 182, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, all that kind of thing, bluesy-rocky stuff. So I think I could basically be the love-child of Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin, if you combine her bluesy-rockiness and his chilled out lyrical prowess [laughs]. When I started playing guitar it was quite blues influenced. But as I grow older, I tend to err more on the side of folk. So yeah, it was an amalgamation of loads of Leonard Cohen, which is brilliant, well-informed poetic writing, and then mixed with all the blues and rock influences I had as a teenager.”
Now I, and many more, know Niamh best as…surprise, surprise…Niamh! But, she also has a stage name, Dubh Lee, which I asked her to tell me a little about…
“So Dubh Lee is a bit of a pun on my surname, Dooley is my surname. Dooley is the anglicised version of Dubh Laoch, which means black hero or black knight. So I just broke it in two and took the Dubh from Dubh Laoch and the Lee from Dooley, and that gave me Dubh Lee. Not too complicated! [laughs].”
Why did Niamh want to have a stage name?
“I like the idea of having a separate persona. I think I’m a different person on stage to how I behave in the course of everyday life. And I though Dubh Lee was kind of a bluesy suggesting name. If you look back at old blues there’s a lot of Lees. So yeah, I like the idea of having a stage persona, and it’s a kind of homage to old blues performers as well.”
As well as her glorious songs, Niamh’s sense of style always sets her apart on stage, sliding effortlessly between casual, laid-back chic and an undeniably alluring elegance. As an artist, so Niamh feel that she has a particular style that’s part of her overall image?
“So I gig a lot, so for certain gigs it’s very much just whatever is on me! [laughs]. But for the larger gigs, I try to go for something that looks a little bit more old-fashioned.I was always mad on seventies fashion. I really like dressing in the brown or sepia range, those colours. It’s hard to get flares anymore, ya know [laughs]. But yeah, a little of the classic looks from the seventies, and back in the sixties, that’s what I go for when I’m doing my larger gigs.”
Niamh mentioned her involvement with WOB earlier in our chat, so we returned to that collaboration to finish up…
“I ran into Jollie, who is WOB, last year, and we started just jamming together. We were actually in a covers band together for a while. Out of that jamming together, we wrote two songs, one of which is called Falling With Me, that was released in December. Then the other song, Where I Wanna Be, that was released a few months after. He makes drum ‘n’ bass music, electronica, but when he performs it, it’s live. So it’s not just d.j-ing. It’s a live band performing very fast-paced electronic music. So we wrote those songs together and then we started playing gigs together. And it’s such a radical change from the kind of gigs I’m used to playing, because everybody’s raving, dancing around and jumping around. I’m playing electric guitar normally, and I get to dance on stage quite a lot as well [laughs]. It’s a fantastic departure from folk and seated gigs, from what I’m used to. We’ve done loads of festivals so far this year, Vantastival, and we just did Knockanstockan, which I’m still recovering from, that’s why my voice is kinda hoarse [laughs]. And tonight [Saturday, July 27th] we’re actually heading to Valley of the Arts in Tipperary. So I’ve been quite active with WOB recently and I love it. It’s a total learning experience for me. It’s a different way of approaching live music, and we’ll be writing more in the future, definitely.”