First Published March 2013
PARLE BY NAME, PEARL BY NATURE
Much of what still makes Ireland such a great and beautiful country (despite well documented difficulties of recent times) is often overlooked or taken for granted simply because whatever it may be rests right beneath our eyes. Blinded thus by the glare of familiarity, we fail to realise, let alone cherish, the blessings bestowed upon us.
Where eyes unused to such scenery are widened by sight of our rolling fields of green, soaked in life by precious rainfall and often bordered by stone walls crafted by hands long since returned to the earth themselves, our own gaze can drift to horizons assumed, for no good reason, more heavenly.
The same is true of our music scene on far too many occasions. Sometimes, we don’t seem to know or accept the talent that’s around us until its existence is heralded from afar. Then, and only then, do some of us join in the chorus of approval. But why do we wait? Why should we? We shouldn’t, of course, that’s the thing! When it comes to artists like Meteor Award winning singer-songwriter Luan Parle, her name should seldom be off of our lips and her voice of sheer velvet never long absent from our airwaves. By anyone’s measure of talent, hers merits such recognition.
I had the absolute pleasure of catching up with this pearl of Irish music recently, and I began by asking Luan about her involvement in the I.A.S.C.A. (Irish Association of Songwriters, Composers & Artists), how it came about, and what kind of issues are the Association helping Irish artists to confront?
“Sinead Troy, who’s the brains behind the operation, approached me in 2010 and asked if I was interested in becoming one of the board of directors at I.A.S.C.A, which was just in the process of being formed. I jumped at the chance as I feel it’s so important for Irish artists to receive radio play and the recognition they deserve. Every country has the equivalent to the I.A.S.C.A, so it’s hugely important for Irish songwriters, composers and authors. Our proposal to increase radio play for Irish artists and songwriters is currently under consideration by Minister Jimmy Deenihan. The proposal represents our best chance in a long, long time to increase access for Irish writers and artists to mainstream Irish radio playlists. In other radio news, we have approached BBC 6 Music with the idea that they might feature contemporary Irish music on Saint Patrick’s Day this year. Brilliantly, they have responded positively and we’re currently working with them to identify ways in which we can help with their programming. Our ‘Play Irish’ Project has now been launched in Galway, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, and South Tipperary on BEAT 102-103.”
When I interviewed Johnny Duhan (writer of The Voyage) a short while back, he pointed out that over 92% of royalties generated from airplay on Irish radio go out of this country every year. What’s been Luan’s experience of support, or not, from Irish radio over the years?
“I find the regional radio stations very supportive. Ian Dempsey of Today FM has also been a massive supporter of mine and was responsible for breaking ‘Ghost’ [NOTE: one of THE most beautiful songs EVER written by ANY Irish songwriter! You doubt me? Check it out! A.S.]. Aidan Butler in RTE Radio 1 has also been a great supporter, not only of mine, but of Irish artists in general, and we need more Aidan Butlers in Ireland. I wrote, recorded and performed a song for the John Murray Show on Radio 1 a couple of years ago, titled ‘The Little Match Girl.’ This song was released on a compilation last Christmas called ‘A Murray Christmas’, and was a huge success.”
Like more and more artists these days, Luan set up her own record label to release her latest album, The Full Circle. I wondered how she’s found that experience so far?
“It’s a lot of hard work being responsible for everything, not to mention the financial side! I signed my first record deal at twelve, my next with Sony at twenty, and again when Sony merged with BMG, so you could say I’ve been in contract most of my life. I released ‘The Full Circle’ on my own label as I wanted to enjoy the process without having someone looking over my shoulder. And I really enjoyed having the freedom to make the album that I wanted to make, and having control of everything from the songs that were chosen, to the album artwork. I loved making it but I also know how important a major label is to take things globally with resources, p.r. and such. I would hope to sign with a major again and I’m actually in talks with some people at the moment.”
In her song Ain’t No Temptin’ Me , Luan name-checks Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and Elvis as being where her musical roots hail from. So how much did they influence her in her early days as a singer and a songwriter?
“The first album I released at twelve, ‘First Impressions’, was quite a country album and I suppose I spent years trying to move away from that, when in fact, that is where my roots lie. I grew up listening to all those you mentioned, as well as Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and so many others. We were very lucky in that my dad is a musician and introduced us to really great music growing up. There was a little second-hand shop not far from where we lived and my dad would take me along and we’d spend hours sifting through the vinyl records.”
The Irish Independent once said they could imagine Shania Twain having a hit with Luan’s songs, but would Luan herself foresee a career where she’s always a singer-songwriter, or maybe at some stage down the line, just as a writer for other artists, perhaps?
“It’s always an honour when other artists record your songs and I would definitely like to explore that some more, but I got into this because I love to sing and perform and my passion for that I hope will never die.”
To enjoy the best of both worlds as a singer-songwriter then, I asked Luan who would be her dream duet or co-writing partner. And the answer to both came within a heartbeat!
“Prince! I’m a massive fan! The man is a genius and I have massive respect for him. I had front row tickets to his show in Madison Square Garden some years back, which was one of the best gigs of my life!”
So finally, as someone who has already been through so many different experiences in her career, what’s the most important piece of advice Luan would like to pass onto other songwriters and artists who are trying to get a break in the business or just to develop their craft?
“I would just say keep following your dream and keep doing what you love. How do you measure success? Is it about making millions? Which, of course, would be nice! Or is it about doing what you were born to do and never having to ‘work’ a day in your life? It’s not an easy path to choose, but I don’t think that you choose it. It chooses you. And, as a wise man once said, ‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall!’”