First Published April 2021
BRIGHT LIGHTS, WELLIES, AND COFFEE WITH ISLA GRANT
By the time you’re reading this for the first time on the morning of Wednesday, April 7th, the line-up for the Grand Final of the 2021 series of GLÓR TÍRE will have been decided. And depending on how things went in last night’s semi-final of the long-running TG4 TV show, the mood around Killoran in Galway could be one of either elation or heartbreak. But, regardless of what’s been or what’s yet to come, two things are certain as far as student-nurse EMMA DONOHUE is concerned.
The first is that – whether last night turned out to be her last performance or whether she’ll be back next week with her mentor MIKE DENVER to try and claim the title – Glór Tíre is just another step along the way in her music career. Her time on Glor Tíre will eventually come to an end one way or another, but her career is still only in its infancy. And make no mistake about it, the name of Emma Donohue is one that will be spoken about on the Irish country music scene for many a year to come. The second thing that’s for certain for Emma…is that there’ll still be work to do on the family farm!
“You could hear a duck, a rooster, a cow, a dog, you could hear anything! And you could hear Mammy roarin’ in ten minutes! [Laughs].”
That was Emma’s response to my question about the array of background sounds coming down the phone-line when we spoke on Saturday afternoon as she prepared lunch for her family. Multi-tasking could well be this girl’s middle-name! Exactly how well Emma keeps her feet on the ground will be revealed in a story later on in our chat, but for now, let’s just say that this rising young country music star is just as comfortable living life in high-heels and under the glow of the spotlight, as she is in her Wellingtons and going wherever those boots need her to go.
Her latest single, a stomping cover of the Isla Grant hit LOVE ME TONIGHT has just been released, and to immediate acclaim from the legendary songwriter herself among others. Emma continues to juggle the life of a student-nurse who’s both working on the front-line during this pandemic as well as studying for her upcoming exams, with that of a recording artist, and with the commitments that come along with playing a central role on a show like Glór Tíre. The fact that she takes it all in her stride not only tells you everything you really need to know about the twenty-one year old, it also proves that she’s right where she’s meant to be in her life.
This year’s series of Glór Tíre followed the 2020 edition in running into an unplanned but not altogether surprising need for a Covid-related pause in proceedings. As our chat began, I wondered how much did that unscheduled break in the show affect Emma and her campaign?
“Well, obviously I was disappointed when it did take a halt, but I’m happy now that it’s back on again. I didn’t stay idle or anything during the last few weeks, though. I wasn’t planning on releasing my next single until after the show, but when the opportunity arose, I just said, ya know what now, while we’re on this break, let it go and let it fly! So I’ve been working on that single and the campaign for that. And I suppose it’s after tying in very well with radio now that Glór Tíre is coming back again. So it all fell into place nicely.”
Going into Tuesday night’s semi-final (again, last night, if you’re reading this on publication day), how was Emma feeling about being back in front of the cameras again?
“I’m feelin’ good about it, yeah. I’m excited to get back. When you get so used to something every week, and I suppose you develop that routine, when it’s taken away from ya it leaves ya on the down-side of things. But when you know you’ll be getting back into it again, it’s a ‘go, go, go!’ situation. I’m lookin’ forward to it. There’s a few butterflies, but that’s only natural, I think. It’s all good.”
At what stage on Tuesday night did Emma think it might hit her that she was actually in the Glór Tíre semi-final, and that her next time in front of the cameras could…potentially, and God-willing…be for this year’s Grand Final?
“I think as soon as I stand on the stage on Tuesday, it’ll hit me! [Laughs]. I don’t think it’s even quite hit me at all yet either. Everywhere I go people are saying congratulations on being in the semi-finals, we can’t wait to see ya, ya know. And I’m just goin’, oh yeah, grand! [Laughs]. But yeah, when I’m standing on the stage with the mic in my hand, then I’m going to realise, right…this is for real! [Laughs].”
So what has the level of support been like for Emma locally in and around her native Killoran in Galway?
“It’s been huge. I didn’t expect it! The level of support from the wider community has been absolutely huge. If I go to Tesco or anywhere in Ballinasloe, everyone is wishing me luck, they’re all coming up to me. It’s great, because there’s a good auld buzz when it’s goin’ on. But it’s definitely unexpected. You feel like you’re a local celebrity, even though you’re only from Killoran! [Laughs].”
From always being a fan of Glór Tíre in years gone by, to actually being part of the show this year, how different has it been from how Emma thought it might be?
“Well, obviously it’s very different this year because you can’t go around gigging and things like that. And unfortunately the duets with our mentors were pulled as well due to social-distancing, and that was a bit disappointing. But I have to hand it to Glór Tíre and to all the staff and to all the crew that’s working on it, they’ve been absolutely mighty. Anything that you need, or that you want, they’re there on hand. They’re so helpful. It’s like a big family, is how I describe it. Anything you need in any way, shape, or form, they don’t bat an eyelid, they just sort it out. And that does add to the whole experience of it, because it makes it a lot more fun, and for you – as the contestant – it puts you a lot more at ease.”
While Glór Tíre is undoubtedly a great platform for any new artist to showcase their talents, it’s so important to also have plans for after the show comes to an end. And in that regard, Emma definitely has a few things up her sleeve…
“Yeah, I’m currently working on my album, so when restrictions lift, hopefully I can get back into the studio. I’m working on that with Enda Dempsey and Paddy Jordan, and all going well, I hope to have it out next year. If not, definitely very early in 2022. There’s a lot of lively songs comin’ on it, a lot of well-known songs as well, that people will like. So I’ll be focusing a lot on that. We’ll plan as much as we can for the future, but it’s still unknown territory whether we’ll be back gigging or anything like that. But if an opportunity arose where there was an outdoor festival, I’d be willin’ to jump on that opportunity or anything else that might be goin’ on. I’d definitely get involved with things. But I suppose the album now would be my main focus. I’ll be gettin’ out more singles and music videos as well, if I can.”
As far as that album goes, how set in Emma’s mind is the final shape that things will take? Or is there – and excuse the pun – still a little play in how that all might go?
“There’s a little bit of play at hand, for sure. We haven’t finalised fully all the songs we want to do yet. I think there’s at least two that are in the mix for whether we’ll keep or whether we’ll leave for another day. It’s very much open at this stage. With this album I want it to be about me. As everyone probably knows, I’m a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none [laughs], but I do have that personality where I’m kind of happy-go-lucky, and go with the flow. But I want this album to portray the message I want to get out, bringing back old songs that haven’t been released in a long time, but put a new lease of life in them. But I want that to match who I am, so I suppose it’s trial and error as well. And I definitely want to put in an original song as well. Lookit, hopefully it will all work out!”
Well Emma’s brand new single is certainly an older song that she has brought back to life again, and how! Love Me Tonight, written by the brilliant Scottish singer/songwriter Isla Grant, was a part of Isla’s Only Yesterday album nearly twenty years ago. And in the week just gone, as Emma’s version went to radio and was released, she even had a bit of a surprise from Isla herself…!
“I did! We serviced the single to radio, to all the presenters, through Debra Dowler, at Debra Communications, and she did a fantastic job. And out of that, I actually got acknowledged by Isla herself, which was a huge, huge surprise! I had to look at it two or three times to see was it actually real [laughs]. But it was! She messaged me and said she was delighted with what I had done with her song, she loved this version of it, and she wished me luck in Glór Tíre as well. And then, through further emails, she said that one day when restrictions lift hopefully we’ll get to meet up for a coffee and a chat. So it’s a huge honour to be acknowledged by the woman who wrote and produced the song, but then to be invited for coffee when all this lifts was a bigger bonus! I was absolutely honoured that she loved what I did with her song. It’s always a risk when you do a cover of a song that was originally put out by the person that wrote it, because you don’t know if they’ll like it or not. To say I was on cloud-nine now would be an understatement!”
Emma had mentioned his name a few minutes previously and when last we spoke, she had emphasised the importance of the role he plays in her career, both as a friend and as her producer. And as it happens, Enda played a big part in Emma’s decision to cut Love Me Tonight…
“Yeah, he did. We had it narrowed down to three songs that we were going to do. And I was kind of humming and hawing about different ones. Ya know now when different personalities come together [laughs]. But Enda said, no now, Emma, this one is gonna be a good one. I remember him saying that he knew the guys who originally produced Isla’s recording with her back around 2000, so I think it had a sentimental meaning to him too. He said he’d been waiting for someone to do it for a long time, and he said to me, give it a go. So I said, do ya know what, let’s give it a shot. I was never ruling it out, I always wanted it to go on the album, and maybe put it out at some stage, I just didn’t know when. But he said it was going to be a good one, and I just needed to have faith in it. And he’s never steered me wrong yet. I’ve known him for a long, long time, through the dancing and everything. But as a producer, and as a best friend at this stage, he’s never steered me wrong in my music career. And the signs are on it, because the song is hopping on all the stations all week! I’m delighted.”
I asked Emma how does that feel, hearing her latest single being played all over the radio? Especially as an artist who is still relatively new to the scene and trying to establish herself in a notoriously tough business…
“It’s an absolute pinch-me moment. It really is. Everytime. It’s a surreal feeling. You’re thinking to yourself, they’re actually talking about me! My song, my music, my work. And it’s great to be acknowledged. And ya know, I have to say, fair play to all the radio presenters and DJs, because without them up-and-coming artists like myself, who are trying to make our names on the scene, it’s very difficult at best. Without them, I wouldn’t be half as far along as where I am today. They keep country music alive. To be part of their play-lists on their shows, near and far, across Ireland and further afield, it’s definitely an honour. And it’s a huge experience, and huge exposure too.”
Emma is still studying and working as a student-nurse right now, as well as living and working on the family farm, and running her Glór Tíre campaign while also building her country music career in a more general sense. That mix of different sides to her life led to a little bit of a funny encounter the very next day after the last ‘live’ show of Glór Tíre, as Emma recounted for me…
“[Laughs] After the last ‘live’ show, we came home and I was still in my lovely white dress, but that was short-lived because when we got home into the yard, Mammy was ready and waiting for work! We actually had two calves born that same night. So I was out of the dress fairly lively, and it was back into the wellies, and out the gap! [Laughs]. But the following day, unfortunately, we had a little calf that was under the weather and we had to go to the vet. And of course, Emma here was wearing wellies, a track-suit, not looking the best like she did the night before! I was sitting in the back of the trailer with the calf, waiting for the vet, and I was covered in…I won’t tell ya what! [Laughs]. Anyway, he came out, and he looked at me, and then he looked at me again, and then he said, ‘Were you not on telly last night?!’ I was, says I, and he goes, ‘Talk about a full 180 turnaround, goin’ from a white dress to being covered in muck in the back of a trailer!’ [Laughs]. But sure it made for an interesting day anyway. They were all laughing at me telling me I was a Jack-of-all-trades! But sure lookit, that’s part of life, it’s part of farming, it’s part of everything.”
As Emma takes a look back on the past year of living with Covid, working through so much of it on the front-line, and building her career as a new artist on the country scene all at the one time, what has she learned about herself that perhaps she might not have known before all of this?
“Well, I definitely had doubts, I suppose, before even goin’ on Glór Tíre, about where I was going or how I was going to make a name for myself. And I kinda didn’t know what angle to take, or how to push myself forward. Glór Tíre has helped me in so many respects. I feel like I’m a politician like, asking them to vote for me [laughs]. But that’s good in a way, because I’m actually getting a lot more confident in myself, and I’m meeting a lot more people. And now I know that the support is there if I want it. It’s just about getting a campaign out there. And that’s something that I would never have done in my life. I’d never have been out asking for votes before, or putting myself out there in so many respects, so much so that my face is plastered all around county Galway and further afield! [Laughs]. Definitely it’s all been a huge confidence boost. I didn’t know myself that I could do it. I suppose…not fully believe, but I just wouldn’t have been the kind to just say, right, let’s do this. But now, this year – and I remember saying this to Enda, and to mum and dad – I said this year was gonna be my year for music. Regardless of Covid, and regardless of anything else, I am gonna give it everything I have! And let’s see if it pays off. And so far, so good. I mean, Isla Grant has contacted me about my version of her song, I’m on Glór Tíre in the semi-final, Mike Denver – a huge name in country music – picked me to be his contestant. So even to be able to say those things, in such a short time-frame, that’s a dream come true and certainly something that I could never have seen happening in 2020.”
To wrap things up, and of course, not yet knowing what the semi-final of Glór Tíre would hold in store, I asked Emma what message she’d like to pass on to her fans and supporters…
“Thanks a million! Just thanks a million for everything they’ve done so far. I know there’s been a little bit of a break and it can be hard to get back into things, but nothing goes unnoticed. I see everyone who’s sharing posts, I see all the ‘likes’ and comments, and shares. So I want all of those people to know that none of that goes unnoticed. Everything that they do for me, be it little or large, or whatever way they want to do it, even to spreading the word to their friends or their relatives, it all really helps. And you’re making my dreams come true. That’s something that I’m very grateful for. I don’t know how I’ll ever thank everyone who’s got me behind me. I’m excited, I suppose, to see what the future holds, and to see how Glór Tíre ends up and what happens after it!”
~ LOVE ME TONIGHT, the brand NEW single from EMMA DONOHUE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can follow Emma on Facebook and Instagram at Emma Donohue Music.