First Published April 2021
The thing I love most about Galway’s SABRINA FALLON as a country music artist, is that I know she’s on the scene first and foremost for one simple reason: she loves country music. And if you’ve ever seen her perform – be it in the cosy, intimate surrounds of a pub gig, or in larger settings such as on a festival or concert stage – then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Her love of the music, and the enjoyment she derives from entertaining, from seeing those in front of her with smiles on their faces and their worries – if only for a moment in time, forgotten – simply illuminates any event that she’s a part of. Her personality sparkles even brighter than the dazzling dresses which have become as much a trademark as her gorgeous, soulful, traditional country voice.
Throughout the last year, Sabrina – thank God – has continued to record and release music, offering up her unique talent as a balm for the soul of her fans in Ireland and beyond who have surely missed having the opportunity to feed off her positive energy in person. And as well as keeping her voice heard on the radio, she’s been doing her bit to make sure country music fans still get to hear from some of her fellow artists too, as host of Country Showtime withSabrina on the Spotlight TV channel each week.
I had the pleasure of spending some time in Sabrina’s company last Thursday morning, and we began our chat by talking about her brand new single, MISSISSIPPI. I asked Sabrina to tell me why she decided to record this particular song right now…
“I’ve noticed that I really tend to record something that reflects how I’m feeling, or how I’d like to feel. And obviously this has been such a hard, hard time for everybody. It’s caused an awful lot of people serious anxiety, this pandemic. Somebody came to me a couple of years ago – a lady who’s crazy about country music – and she asked me if I knew the song ‘Mississippi.’ And I was like, yeah, I do, but then when I came home I played it, I was like, oh my God! It really came back to me. It brought back childhood memories of vibing around our sitting-room and out the garden. So it always reminds me of being at a festival, a free-spirit festival, where there’s only love in the air, and there’s no worries and no cares. That’s the vibe I get from that song. So I wanted to record it to bring that vibe to other people, when it’s very necessary at the moment. And I love it! I love this song.”
I found it very interesting what Sabrina had just said about recording songs based on how she was feeling, or perhaps how she wanted to feel. I wondered if that had been a constant throughout her career, or something that had developed over time?
“Sometimes I’m not even aware of it, it could be subconscious, you know that kind of way? But something will stick out [to me], and I’ll go yeah, that’s the one I’m doing, but I won’t know why. And then it will become more evident as time goes on. ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ was a big one around dad when he was ill. I’d gone in to do it before I even knew what I was doing it for, if that makes sense? ‘Old Maid in the Garrett’ wasn’t that I wanted to get married, that’s for sure! [Laughs]. So maybe not every single song, but there’s definitely a story of some kind emotionally to each song, I guess.”
As Sabrina had touched on, it’s been a very strange year – year and a bit now – for musicians and entertainers of all kinds. What I’ve noticed is that without gigs, a lot of performers have pretty much retreated from public view, save, maybe, for the odd Facebook ‘live’ every now and then. But a good few, Sabrina included, have continued to at least record and release new music, remaining visible and maintaining their presence. What was the thought-process that led to Sabrina deciding to go that route over the past twelve months or so?
“I just kind of went with the ebb and flow of what I wanted to do still. There’s no secret…I’m addicted to recording music! I love the studio! I love it, I love it! [Laughs]. If there’s ever an opportunity for me to hear a new song, I want to listen to that song. I’m always looking for songs. I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s not. Anybody else who’s recording probably is too. I’m doing some Zoom singing with day-care centres and stuff like that at the moment. They might mention a song, and I’ll be like, ‘I’m sorry, can you say that again?’, and I’ll write it down, then go home and Google it! So I’m always looking for songs even though there are no gigs going on. That doesn’t change. And going into the studio is something that I absolutely adore doing. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, the studio. So it wasn’t an option for me not to record. Now, is it expensive? Absolutely! Is there the financial reimbursement that you would get from being able to then promote yourself at gigs, no, there’s not. So airplay, radio-play, that’s really important at the moment, and the Spotlight TV channel. They’re your only forms of exposure. So it’s very, very difficult to get a shelf-life out of a song. Particularly now. You might get a short time out of it, but then it’s gone, and you’ve got to go with another one. So yeah, it wasn’t an option for me not to record.”
As an artist, how is Sabrina feeling about heading into a second summer with what looks like no – or at the very least, very, very few – festivals or events taking place on the country music calendar?
“Do you know what? I’m really good at just accepting whatever my reality is. It is what it is. I’m not gonna fight what I have no way to change. It is what it is. We’ve got to go with the flow. Obviously, I would like to be out at some festivals singing, for sure. But it’s not gonna be that way. And I’ve always maintained a safety-first approach since the start of this. If it’s not safe to do, then it’s not safe to do. But I will look forward to when everything returns, how we won’t take it for granted again. And also, you know how that dance from the ‘roaring twenties’…what’s the name of it? Charleston! That came after the last pandemic, when everyone got that exciting vibe back, to live and to dance and everything. So God knows what’s going to come of this, ya know! So hopefully something exciting musically and artistically will develop. I hope so anyway.”
As more and more areas of everyday life begin to open up across the water, does Sabrina feel any more or less confident about what the future holds for the music industry here than she may have done maybe six months ago?
“The truth is, I don’t know. One minute, I think oh, that looks promising. And then a minute later, it’s like oh God no, that’s not gonna happen. So I don’t know. We can all try to predict things, and there’s lots of opinions goin’ around! But I don’t know. Eventually it will come right. It’s just the length of time that it’s going to take that we still haven’t discovered.”
Even though Sabrina hasn’t been able to gig ‘live’ for a long time, certainly not in the way she would have been used to, she has been doing some very special ‘live’ shows via Zoom for some very special friends of hers every week…
“I’m working with the That’s Life project, which is the Brothers of Charity. It’s an artistic community project that they’ve developed over the years, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Specifically, I’m working artistically with people with intellectual disabilities. I was singing for them once a week, because a lot of them – A LOT of them – LOVE country music! And I mean really love it. They, the Brothers of Charity, have created this project for me to explore why these people with disabilities love country music, to find out what it is that they love. To find out how it makes them feel. That’s what I’m working on now for the next couple of months with them. Part of the project is that each participant will bring in an item – not bring in, send in obviously, because this is all being done via Zoom at the moment to keep everyone safe. That could be a picture of their favourite artist, or them with their favourite artist, their favourite experience of them with their artist. Or maybe they have a stub of a ticket from a concert they were at. One gentleman is going to send in his cowboy hat. We’re going to get professional photos taken of all of these, and then have those superimposed onto fabric to make a big country quilt! Another part of it as well, is that they’re going to send letters to their favourite artists, hand-written letters, because there’s no such thing as a hand-written letter anymore. And hopefully, they’ll get one back from their artist as well. And using sublimation printing these will all be put onto the fabric so we can create a big, beautiful piece. The other part of that project as well, is that we’re going to be recording a song! So the participants are going to write their own country song about why they love country music, and we’ll be releasing that. I’ll be singing on it as well, so it’s a very exciting project. I’m really lucky to be working with them.”
What’s the timeline around all of that?
“Well, they’re hoping in autumn to have the exhibition. So at the end of September we’re talking. When I go on Zoom and sing with them, they literally come on every week with a different hat, and they just dance for the whole hour! You’re probably fairly used to Zoom too, I don’t know of anybody who’s not now [laughs]. But I’m looking at a screen of these little bobbing heads dancing around their kitchen and their sitting-rooms, and it’s just…it’s a two-way street, I’ve always said it, it brings me great joy. If I’m bringing them joy just by singing, then by Jesus, they’re bringing me just as much in return, ya know!”
Because Sabrina herself is both such a creative person and a people person, how much has that outlet – that connection – been a help for her in keeping her own spirits up over the past while?
“Oh yeah, very important! I love people. Not all people! [Laughs]. Not all humans [laughs]. But as an artist, we need that creative oxygen to keep us going. Part of that is bouncing off people. My main work as an artist is socially engaged. And there’s none of that right now. But even on Zoom, I’ll start interviews now with them, each participant will tell me their story. So I am socially engaged in that way, and I’m very grateful for that. Because I do feel like there is a drought creatively for artists. And we all need that little bit of water to feed us creatively.”
Pre-Covid, Sabrina was one of the busiest entertainers on the road. And during Covid she’s remained so. Part of what she’s achieved in that time was completing her Masters. And part of that involved the most amazing – and, in many ways, haunting and heartbreaking – presentation on how the country music industry has been affected by Covid…
“Initially, I was doing my Masters on vulnerability. So I did my thesis on vulnerability, because I’ve always been very aware of peoples’ vulnerabilities, and of my own vulnerabilities as well, and of how the word ‘vulnerability’ could sometimes be seen as someone being weak. But really, vulnerability was once looked at as being the most beautiful gift we all have. To be vulnerable is to love, to be open to love. Because of the lockdown then, we couldn’t go into the college or use any of the machines so we weren’t able to create our piece for our final exhibitions. So we had to come up with something at home. And this was just at the start of it, so we didn’t know what we were goin’ to do. So I was just thinking, ok, what’s vulnerable around? And what can I create that’s tactile? And all I could see was people being so upset online. Musicians and singers, overnight – overnight – their careers were taken away from them. I’ve been at it a few years, but for the likes of the beautiful Philomena Begley, and Johnny Carroll, people who have had long careers, I was thinking about how vulnerable they all were.”
Sabrina continued, “So I started talking to these people, and I asked them, ‘How has Covid changed your life?’ And they were sending back some very, very powerful quotes. I also wanted to use this to create a textile project, so I asked them for a piece of clothing, to send me on a piece. And some of them were just outstanding. Mary Coughlan! Oh my God! Her jacket! This is a jacket that was made for her. And oh my God, it’s so beautiful, it gave me goosebumps! I will never forget opening the package in my art studio, and it was almost like I was hit by a train with the energy that was coming out of this beautiful coat that she would wear on stage. I’d seen it before on her. So I wired this, and put the form [of a body] into it, but the human was not there. They were suspended like that. There was an array of clothing from artists who are completely vulnerable now. The music scene is completely vulnerable. I had Nathan’s jacket, I had Mike Denver’s suit. Louise Morrissey was gracious enough to send me beautiful jewellery. I had Philomena. Johnny Carroll was very moving! There was his trumpet, and notes from when he was a teenager, still in his trumpet box. And he’d never left these down before, never let them out of his sight. It’s something that’s not finished [this project]. It’s not finished. But it is something that needs to be physically visited. That’s something I’d like to see happen. It was very powerful. And big thanks to everyone who took part.”
On the music front – and allowing for the fact that it’s almost impossible to look too far into the future except for what’s in her own control – what does the rest of 2021 look like holding in store for Sabrina?
“Ok, what are we in now? March or April? [Laughs]. Well, I guess the project we were talking about is going to take a lot of time and energy, beautiful time and energy! And I also have my own art studio here, where I’m creating pieces daily also, for my online shop. I have pieces of jewellery and various textile pieces distributed to a couple of different stores, so I have lots to keep me busy. And in fairness now, if I had a look at my garden and a look at my house, I have about ten year’s work to do! [Laughs]. I wasn’t one of those people who got their house transformed when the lockdown happened [Laughs]. I just haven’t really stopped. But musically I have an exciting duet coming! It’s with somebody who I would have always listened to and looked up to, and an amazing songwriter. And we’re going to record a duet next! So that will be my next feel-good project. And of course…of course!… I have more music lined up to record as well, because that’s probably never going to stop! But the duet will be the next one now. And I’m very excited about it.”
When all of this Covid related strangeness is over, and normal – of some kind – returns, does Sabrina think that her own personal approach to life or to music will have changed much as a result of everything that’s happened since March 2020?
“I think we’ve all probably learned to slow down a bit. I think that it would be a lie for me to say that I miss being out five or six nights a week. I actually don’t. The truth is that the pandemic hasn’t hit me terribly badly. Maybe creatively, bouncing off other people. But that’s the only thing that I’m not doing, is I’m not getting in my car and going travelling, and going meeting people. And I’ll really look forward to that part. Not the loading up and bringing all the gear in and out now! No way [laughs]. I think everybody will really appreciate it [being able to do it] a lot more. I think it was taken for granted before this. I mean, never once in my wildest dreams did I ever think that – overnight! – everybody’s musical careers, and indeed, many, many more careers across the country, could be wiped out. Who would have ever predicted this?”
And when the music industry does kick back into life again, does Sabrina feel that will have changed much? Or changed at all? Or, might it just fall slowly back into how it was?
“I don’t know. That’s crystal-ball stuff, isn’t it. And I’m not very good at predicting things! [Laughs]. So I don’t know. I definitely don’t try and work it all out. Sometimes, I’ll get into it, and I’ll be getting all philosophical about it, and I have to tell myself now hold on, you actually don’t know, Sabrina! My views change daily. Sometimes I’ll hear somebody say, ‘Oh there’s no way I’m gonna go back to a dance, I’m too nervous.’ And then another day, I’ll hear somebody else say, ‘Oh my God, I cannot wait to get back out dancing! If there was a dance tomorrow, I would go!’ So I just don’t know. I would love if things could go back to the way they were, that would be fantastic. Maybe concerts might become more of a bigger thing at the start. I think it will be a slow and steady return, please God. But sweaty ballrooms? I don’t know! [Laughs]. Shirts flyin’? Ah, I just don’t know! [Laughs]. Some lads would be bringing bags of five or six shirts to be changing into! I’m not sure anyone’s ready for that yet [Laughs].”
~ MISSISSIPPI, the brand NEW single from SABRINA FALLON is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. Her TV show, COUNTRY SHOWTIME WITH SABRINA, airs every Thursday and Monday on the Spotlight channel. You can follow Sabrina on Facebook and Instagram.