First Published August 2020
THE FINEST WINE OF SUMMER
If you’re a country music fan in Ireland then it’s a near certainty that you won’t have made your way through the last decade and half without enjoying the hit TG4 show, GLÓR TIRE. Kerry woman CAITRIONA O’ SULLIVAN has been a central figure in the show’s success, popularity, and longevity over that time, offering advice, reassurance, and encouragement to the new entertainers who have taken to The Quays’ stage in Galway, all dreaming of being crowned the winner on the show’s final night. Caitriona herself – as many will know – is a singer whose unique vocal gift is somewhat akin to the finest wine of summer. While you enjoy both, little else matters, a certain peace descends softly upon the soul, and in those moments, you find yourself gently reminded of life’s true beauty…
And, not only that, Caitriona is every bit as gracious with her time as with her words of succour and support to Glór Tire’s contestants. I had the pleasure of catching up with the singer/songwriter last week for a chat about the huge influence and impact Glór Tire has had on her life, and indeed, a chat about life in general, too. As it happens, Caitriona has a brand new single out at the moment as well, a pretty cool version of the old classic SUMMER WINE. The single is also a duet with another well-known artist around these parts – and in fact, beyond Irish shores also – the one and only Desi Egan.
So where better to begin. As it turns out, Caitriona and Desi didn’t actually know each other before they embarked on this project together, so I asked Caitriona to take us back to the moment when Desi first got in touch…
“Well sure basically during the lockdown I used to put up these videos of myself just literally playing songs in my kitchen. It was an escape for me, and it was nice to feel that you were putting up something for other people to enjoy when nobody could go anywhere, and peoples’ outlets were limited by being in the home so much. I suppose Desi was aware of me from judging Glór Tire, and I was aware of him because he’d worked with different bands, particularly some of the mentors that were on Glór Tire. But then he and his record company reached out off the back of seeing those Facebook videos and seeing me singing, they got in touch then. We were chatting a little bit initially just about different types of music and found that we liked a lot of similar types of music. So he mooted the idea then of us doing a song together. He sent me on some songs he’d done before, and he started looking into songs that might suit the two of us, ya know. When he chose ‘Summer Wine’ I was delighted with it as a choice. Being on Glór Tire, it has that little country flavour, but it’s also a really cool retro, pop kind of a song as well. So it was a perfect cross-over song for me to sing on. There’s been numerous great versions in the past as well, with Lana Del Ray, Bono and The Coors, and obviously the original one with Nancy Sinatra, too. It’s got those kind of James Bond string-lines going through it, and I love film music anyway. And I love the story of this song, and enjoyed getting into the character in the story as well.”
In this day and age it’s as much the norm for duets to be recorded in different sides of the world anyway. But given the way things have been over the last few months, I wondered if Caitriona and Desi had been able to actually get together in-studio to lay this down, or did they have to record their parts separately?
“Separately. Desi was doing a combination of things, he was working from home, and he was working out of a studio in Clara with Joe Egan, and then he had certain musicians in the UK work on it as well. Then I did my vocals actually down here in Kerry. I’m lucky that my husband is a sound-engineer. So we went off and bought a really nice quality vocal mic. Our own plan anyway was to do some recording over the summer and into the coming year as well. My husband has a what they call an in-the-box studio in a room in our house. And it’s great what you can do nowadays in a small space, if you get just a certain amount of equipment. He’s part of an online producers’ community, and apparently a lot of the huge producers now, they might get something recorded in a [traditional] recording studio, but they’ll go home then to record it ‘in the box’, as it were, their kind of little mini set-up at home. And it’s great that you have the flexibility, especially during lockdown, that you can do it that way. When we were recording it lockdown was still strict enough, back in May, June there, around that time. So you were still trying to keep your travelling to a minimum. So I did the vocals down here, and Desi got some people to play on it in the UK, and Joe Egan was mixing it then in Clara, where Desi did his vocals. So that’s how we did it. We were talking every day, though, so you’re still getting that ‘human touch’, I suppose, big long conversations about music and everything else [laughs].”
As someone who is a celtic soprano, and who has graced the stage of the National Concert Hall during her career, was Caitriona in any way surprised that it was Desi, a pop artist in many ways, who had reached out to her?
“Well do you know, in terms of my own background, I did start off training classically in the Royal Irish Academy, but my first album myself was actually pop. It’s a good many years ago now when I put it out, but I really love writing songs in the pop genre, and country-pop, and jazz-pop, I enjoy writing in all different styles. Probably what gives me my biggest thrill is writing a song like that myself, and delivering it. So I actually did spend a good many years songwriting and gigging with different bands and things around Dublin, I was there for about seventeen years. And I really enjoyed that. But I do have the classical training, so I have done a couple of concerts in the National Concert Hall, there was one in honour of Brendan Kennelly one night. I enjoy dipping in and out of different genres, I’d cover quite a wide spectrum, depending on the occasion that’s in it. But I think at heart what gives me my biggest thrill is writing songs and delivering them. And most of them would be in a pop genre. At the moment now, I have quite a body of songs written in a country-pop, indie kind of genre, along the lines of Kacey Musgraves. So that’s what I’m working on at the minute now. I have an upcoming collaboration where we’ve co-written a sort of a country-indie sort of a track. I have quite a number of tracks in that vein, so my plan is to release a number of them in that vein over the coming year, hopefully even get something out in the next two or three months. We’re just recording at the minute.”
That album Caitriona mentioned was intriguingly titled Fallen Angel. And I’m sure Caitriona’s many fans around the country are eagerly awaiting new music from her. Had working on this single with Desi reignited her desire to get back into the studio for herself?
“It definitely has. Definitely. Do you know what, it came at an amazing time in terms of my own life path. I’ve been wanting for a long time now to get back out recording and release more music. It was one of my goals for the year. Over the last number of years, ya know, I had two children, so there’s two or three years there out of your life where you just have to be at home and focus on that. I was also writing Irish textbooks, and contracted to write five of those, from first-year right up to sixth-year. I’m very passionate about the Irish language too, so I’m very lucky that all my work – in one way or another – is about Irish and music, those two passions. I was writing those books with a friend of mine in Mayo called Triona Geraghty, and they were quite labour intensive. It took a certain number of years, a year a book, if you like. And I was teaching as well, and we were buying a house, and I was having children and all of that. But I’ve been writing songs in the background the whole time, since that album, and yearning really to put out a second album for a long time. Finally now in my own life, that door is opening for me again, in the sense that I’m finished writing all the textbooks, I’m going job-sharing with teaching next year, my children are a little bit older…so there’s a little more time and scope for me to focus in on getting your machine up and running to release recordings again. So when Desi approached me, it was perfect timing. It was the end of the school year, I had it in my head that I wanted to record music for the summer, going into next year, and work on putting out another album. So when he approached me with this, I suppose it has reignited that desire, and it’s got me back out there again recording and out to radio. Desi had all of his machine in place to release it, and follow it up and everything, in Europe and in Ireland. It’s been played on the BBC now as well in England and doing well there, in Coventry and a couple of other stations. And Radio Europe in Spain, and in Belgium and Germany. It’s wonderful that he had all of that machine in place. It really did give me a great head-start. It all happened faster than I expected. It was wonderful timing. It gets you out there in touch with all the D.J.s again. Just prior to Desi approaching me, and again, off the back of the Facebook videos, a couple of D.J’s had got in touch from around the country and sort of said could I send them some of my songs, they’d seen me on Facebook singing ‘live’, so I sent them some of the tracks off my old album, like ‘I’ll Be There’ being the main single off it. That got a lot of airplay at the time. And it was lovely to hear that back on the airwaves again. Then Desi approached, which was really great timing because I could follow ‘I’ll Be There’ with the ‘Summer Wine.’ And now we’ll look forward to getting the next one out! I have all of these songs that I want to get out there, because I never stopped writing all the while. I wrote a lot of songs with a guy called Gavin Murphy who is the musical director with Celtic Woman at the moment, he produced my first album for me. So there’s a whole body of songs I wrote with him. Then I’ve been writing with country-pop singer/songwriters as well, so I’m looking forward to getting those songs out.”
Having mentioned Caitriona’s fans all around the country, one place they’ll know her well from is, of course, Glór Tire, where she’s been a fixture for many years as a judge. After being at the heart of the show for as long as she has, I asked Caitriona to tell me about the place the show has in her heart…
“It has a huge place in my heart, really. Even the whole way the journey started with Glór Tire is really, really special for me. Before the competition element to the series began, making it Glór Tire, there used to be a programme called Ceol Tire, which gave birth to Glór Tire, if you know what I mean?! [laughs]. I was on Ceol Tire, I remember, as a guest with country singer Gerry Carney. And that particular month, I remember it well, myself and my manager were trying to get a record deal and it was a tough climate at the time, because it was around the time that boybands were a big aspect of the music industry. And a lot of record companies didn’t have a lot of money at the time because the whole music industry was changing. A lot of music shops were closing down, and it was moving more to digital platforms, and a lot of companies had spent a lot of money on boy-bands and girl-bands, so didn’t have a lot of budget at the time. I went on Ceol Tire, sang my single, ‘I’ll Be There’ – which hadn’t been released as a single yet, but it was my original song – and another song that I’d written. And it was actually through performing on Ceol Tire that time in An Grianan in Letterkenny that I got the record deal with Rosette Records.”
Catriona continued, “There was an A&R guy there with another act who saw me. So it was through performing on that show that I got my record deal! And then, from having performed on that show also, I got asked to come back as a judge on Glór Tire at the start of the competition element of the programme. So it has a hugely special place in my heart. It really gave me my start in the music business with that record deal which funded making the Fallen Angel album at the time. And then, to be asked back as a judge was a huge privilege really. I suppose I was lucky as well to have the Irish language. It feels very sweet to me doing that show because it merges both my passions, music and the Irish language. It can’t get better than that for me. On top of that, to see wonderful young talent coming up through the show, from all different parts of the country, different demographics, different age profiles, different types of voices, I find that hugely interesting. Having got a very rigorous vocal training myself, I find it very interesting listening to different peoples’ voices. It doesn’t feel like a job to me at all. And often you’ll hear new songs that you might never have heard before. So I’ve learned a lot about country music from doing sixteen years on the show myself. It’s a really lovely job, and it’s a privilege to do it. The production team are a lovely bunch of people as well, and my fellow judges [Jo Ní Cheide and John Creedon], we’ve become great friends. It’s a pleasure going back to Galway every year.”
~ Caitriona’s new duet with Desi Egan, SUMMER WINE, is out now and available on all platforms, and to request from radio. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our chat with Caitriona, coming your way very soon!