First Published June 2021
DOIN’ IT ‘WRITE’
The country music scene in Ireland needs new artists coming through in order for it to truly thrive. And to thrive must be the aim, to evolve and grow, not merely to remain static, sometimes stagnant. But for that to happen, new artists alone are not enough. It needs new songs coming with them. In no other genre on this island – and hardly anywhere else on the planet, I’d say – do you so often find new artists coming along and trying to make a name for themselves and build a career by singing the same songs that have been sung for years by every other artist already out there. Or, and only slightly better, covering the same songs that everybody else seems to be doing around the same time. Looking at it from the perspective of a writer, of a country music fan, and of someone involved in the country music industry, artists going down this road has always puzzled and frustrated me in equal measure.
So why does it happen? Is it a lack of imagination? In part, yes. Is it a lack of ambition? Again, there’s no doubt that this plays a role. Is it fear? Quite possibly. Peer or industry pressure? For sure, unfortunately. One thing that’s certainly not to blame is a lack of fine songwriters. We have them. But too many of them just aren’t getting heard, at least nowhere near often enough. In truth, the ins-and-outs of why that might be would require an entire column all to itself. And believe you me, it might well come. But today is about a man who is definitely going against that grain, and is determined to carve out his own place – in every regard – on the Irish country scene.
Singer/songwriter COLIN KENNY is doin’ it the ‘write’ way, and he releases his latest single this coming Friday, June 4th. And that particular song, YOU’VE GOT THAT SOMETHING, will see him continue down a road he first embarked upon a few years ago now, that of recording and releasing only original material. In fact, so far down that road has he now travelled, that he’s also close to finalising his debut album…and it will consist entirely of songs written or co-written by him. I’ve known Colin for years, and had the pleasure of working closely with him during the early stages of his country career, and many times since. It’s also been my pleasure to co-write his new single with him.
And with release-day on the horizon, Colin and myself sat down for a chat about that and more last weekend. Having had the pleasure of co-writing You’ve Got That Something with Colin, I obviously knew the song already from my own point of view. So to get our chat underway, I asked him to tell me about the song from his side of the story…
“Well, I suppose when I write songs I try to get a tag-line or a line that will stick in peoples’ minds, rather than a one-word song-title. So ‘You’ve Got That Something’ is aimed at the people who go out dancing on the Irish country scene, and it’s got that love-at-first-sight idea about it. It’s a boy-meets-girl song, and about hoping that everything will work out in the end. That’s always a good theme for a love song, and I think it worked out pretty well.”
And even though it is a love song, it’s also very much a feel-good, up-tempo, fun song as well…
“Yeah. And as you know, the bones of the song was written a number of months ago, but it ended up having a very summery feel to it. So it’s an all-round feel-good song, it just so happens that we’re releasing it coming into the summer. And coming out of Covid and all that, it’s just nice to have a bright song to look forward to. And lucky enough too, it’s been getting great feedback so early after going to radio and ahead of it’s official release next Friday.”
You’ve Got That Something is the latest in a long line of original singles from Colin, something that’s unusual from most artists on the Irish country scene, but it’s an approach to his career which Colin has very purposely decided upon. I asked the Banagher man to tell me why he felt it was so important to record and release original material…
“Well the album will be ten original songs when that comes out, and I think ‘You’ve Got That Something’ is my fifth or sixth original release now. My main reason behind it, I suppose, is trying to be a little bit different from the status-quo. And as a singer, I wouldn’t be saying that I’m the greatest in the world, so I wanted songs that would maybe stick with the public, rather than trying to sing a classic song better than the original. Because like any Elvis number, or something from Johnny Cash, you’re not going to do it better than the original singers, ya know. It would take a fair singer to do that! [Laughs]. So that was the reason behind doing original music. Back a few years ago, I wrote my first song, and I actually called it ‘The Best Song of All Time.’ It was a nice foxtrot and told the story of all the great songs out there, both country songs and Irish songs as well. It was kind of like a tribute to the greatest songs of all time. Since then, that side of things has kept picking up, and now we’ve got ten originals ready for the album, so it’s great.”
So The Best Song of All Time was also Colin’s first song to ever write?
“Yeah, it was. My writing experience had been dabbling with a couple of choruses, a couple of verses, but that was the first original song I put down on paper in full, and actually went on to record, and release, yeah.”
Colin’s last release before You’ve Got That Something was a song called Will You Dance With Me, Annie?, based on his parent’s own love story. Also in his songbook is the track I’m A Country Singer, and I know his forthcoming album will feature a beautiful song about the callows around his hometown of Banagher. How do all of those different parts of his own life find their ways into his songs?
“Well, I suppose it has a lot to do with Covid, believe it or not. When that came into Ireland back in March of last year, we finished up our jobs. My parents are in the September of their years, if you like, so I decided to move back down to Banagher to stay with them. And what I thought might be a fortnight ended up being about five months in the long run! [Laughs]. So while I was in Banagher I wrote. And one of the songs I wrote was ‘The Callows Are Home.’ I wrote it, I suppose, when you could still only travel within your 5-K. So I used to drive down to the Shannon, and things like that, in the bog, and places that I’d forgotten about maybe over the years. And as I was living with my parents and not seeing anyone else really, we’d just start talking about old times, and all of a sudden then, songs were written. Before ya knew it, I had three or four songs written that will all be on the album ‘Annie.'”
“And with that song, Will You Dance With Me, Annie?”, continued Colin, “that was all over a small,’ simple story of back when my mam and dad worked together in a factory outside of Banagher, back in the day. They used to pass messages on notes to each other through a friend of theirs, because dad was on shift-work, and mam worked during the day. The story unfolds with me finding a box of those old letters and talking about what one of them said, that’s where that title line comes from, ‘Will ya dance with me, Annie?'”
We had both mentioned Colin’s forthcoming debut album a couple of times at this stage, so I asked Colin what more he could share with fans about what they can expect from that eagerly awaited long-player, and – as importantly – when can they expect it, too?
“Sure, well, on the album ‘Annie’, it’s actually all of my original work over the last few years. There’s songs on it like ‘Head Over Heels In Love’, there’s another new one called ‘Rockin’ And Rollin’, and another new one too, called ‘Never Said Goodbye.’ There’ll be touches of old-style American country from the sixties and seventies. You’ll get some folk and some ballads, and you’ll also get a gospel song, one I wrote a few years ago called ‘Let’s Step Together.’ That’s what you’ll find on the album. And with everything goin’ well, and with all the stars aligning, we’re hoping to have it out by the end of June, maybe early July. It’s very, very close. It’s all done on my end, I’m just waiting for a few more things to line up right now.” Colin continued, “I’ll be hoping to do two album launches, one in my hometown of Banagher, and one in Borrisokane, with a dance on the Saturday night. So you’ll probably be talkin’ about a weekend launch, with a Friday night concert, a Saturday night dance, and a Sunday concert as well, something along those lines is what I’m looking at. I’ll be doing more shows on the social dancing scene in future as well. Those album launches will probably be early next year, or the middle of next year, just depending on how things are. Before then, though, I’ll be looking at doing a virtual launch for the album, maybe in the middle of the summer this year, and possibly something with the lads at Spain AV.”
One of the fairly unique things about Colin as an artist is the broad range of performers that he’s had a chance to support during the earlier stages of his career. There’s been pop legend Tony Christie, one of Irish country’s biggest ever names in Mike Denver, folk greats The Fureys, and even a man who may well have been Ireland’s most loved entertainer of all time, the late Brendan Grace. For a new artist, learning his trade and building his profile and reputation back then, what were the biggest lessons he took away from moments like those?
“The biggest lesson was really to enjoy those moments at the time. At that time, I suppose, I was very fortunate, a lot of things rolled into each other in a very short space of time. For every singer, the easiest part is when you’re on stage. But you have to enjoy the process of going to the venues, meeting the management there, also meeting other artists along the way and their management as well. It’s important to learn the business side of things. That’s what I’ve taken on-board over the years, that side of it. The advice that I would give to any singer starting out is that you have to understand it’s called show-business. Understand the show side of it, but understand the business side of it as well.”
What other advice would Colin pass onto any new artist who might be coming onto the scene for the first time?
“Well the first thing I would say is don’t rush. Don’t rush into anything like recording songs or releasing them. I started with a couple of covers, the first was actually a favourite of mine, one called ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’ by Keith Whitley, a slow ballad, and it went down very, very well. The next one was a cover as well. I suppose you kind of have to find your own niche, your own path that you want to follow. I’m a great believer in the fact that you have to give fans something that the other singers are not doing. With me, I decided to go down the route of original music. Fun, happy, up-tempo, but with some serious numbers too. But songs that everyone could relate to. So for any new singer, the advice I would give is to choose your songs wisely, take your time with releasing them, and enjoy the whole process as well.”
Although there have been no ‘live’ shows over the last year and a bit, that hasn’t meant no shows for Colin. He’s been taking to Facebook on a regular basis for Facebook ‘live’ performances. And I suspected that was something that wasn’t just a great way to connect with his fans and keep those bonds strong, but also, simply a way for Colin to continue to enjoy playing music until he can get back on a real stage again?
“Well, yeah, that’s it. What I did initially, was I was a one show in a blue moon kinda guy! I wasn’t very tech-savvy! But I suppose like anything else, you get used to it by just doing it, and you become more relaxed at it. I started off doing one show a week last October, because my single, Will You Dance With Me, Annie? had been released and people were asking me would I come on and sing the song for them on a ‘live’ show. So that was how it started. Then, as the turn of the new year came, I had moved it up to two shows a week, and now I’m at about three shows since last February time. I’m really enjoying it, I don’t overplay, I do about fifty to sixty minutes of a show. I have a nice following of between fifty to a hundred people who tend to join in all the time, they’re a very loyal group of ladies and gents. So that kept me on my toes as well, kept me playing guitar, and looking forward to having that outing three times a week. It kept the music going rather than just putting everything on stall and up on the shelf, ya know that kind of a way.”
As we look forward to the return of ‘live’ events hopefully moving closer, what shape does Colin – as someone who has been a part of some huge events as we mentioned, and more with Hot Country too – think things will take as they do return?
“[Laughs] If I only had those answers! [Laughs]. But no, on a serious note, it’s clear to see, I think, that it will be a slow process. Unfortunately, no-one wants to admit that. But it will. There’ll be outdoor shows during the summer, and later on in the year when people can come back into a room together, it will probably be like before when you could have a minimum of forty or fifty people. The bad news for dancers is that it could probably be later still in the year, or maybe next year, before dance events can take place again. That’s just what I think. I’ve seen it with my own job, we were out of work for six to seven months last year, and five months this year. So it’s not all gonna come back overnight, unfortunately.”
Because none of us have any of those answers, that means that it’s very hard to plan as well. Now Colin has his debut album coming up soon, but beyond that, what is he looking at for the rest of this year? How is he putting some shape on that time?
“Well, I’m obviously delighted to be back at work, which is the first thing. Music-wise, I’m hoping to record a couple more songs later on in the year, and I also hope to release a few more. So my plan for this year is to release a song maybe every three months. So the next one will be maybe September time, and hopefully one before Christmas. Moving forward to next year, I have plans to run a weekend in Scotland, but with Covid and everything it’s a little bit tricky to work on that. But hopefully Scotland will go ahead, around the middle of next year. That will be a dancing weekend with some other singers on the trip too. We’ll be going to the Scottish highlands, the idea being that it will be going from the midlands of Ireland to the highlands of Scotland. That’ll be the name of the tour. So I’ll be looking forward to putting things in place for that. And hopefully as well, of course, there’ll be some guest appearances at some of the concert shows that take place around Christmas, and into next year as well. So that’s the plan if everything works out!”
We couldn’t wrap things up without talking about how Colin has become affectionately known as ‘the singing barber.’ I wondered how he feels about that title? And also, now that he’s back at work, and having just opened his own premises in Borrisokane, is there a chance that over time it might become as well known here in Ireland for its connection to the world of country music in the same way that some locations in Nashville have done with American stars?
“Well, I’m delighted, first of all, to have the chance to open my own business. I’ve had some great help over the past five years with my partner Laura, working in the Serene Hair Salon in Borrisokane. I’ve been established in the locality since 2015, and delighted to be where I am now, too. As for the other part of your question [laughs], I don’t know if I’ll ever be as famous as some of the venues in Nashville! [Laughs]. A lot of people call in to get their hair cut, and I wouldn’t really know who everyone is, but after a couple of minutes they always ask, ‘How’s the singin’ goin’?’ [Laughs]. And then the conversation would turn to them having heard me sing on Tipp FM, or maybe Midlands 103, ya know. And that’s always lovely, to be honest.”
~ YOU’VE GOT THAT SOMETHING, the brand NEW single from COLIN KENNY (co-written by my good-self), will be available on all platforms from FRIDAY, JUNE 4th. The song is available to pre-add and pre-save right NOW from Apple Music, Spotify, and other platforms. You’ve Got That Something is also AT RADIO NOW, available to request from your favourite shows and stations nationwide. You can follow Colin on Facebook at Colin Kenny Music.