First Published July 2021
“MY MUSIC IS FOR THE FANS”
LOUISE MORRISSEY has long been one of the most loved artists on the Irish country music scene. Respected by her peers, and looked up to by younger and up-and-coming artists, you would need to travel a long road to meet someone who better personifies all that is traditionally regarded as being best about country music.
With a voice that you could listen to from one end of the day to the next, and songs that will have your feet taking on a life of their own, can stop your in your tracks as you’re softly called back to another place and time, or that fill your heart with all the light of love in so many forms, Louise has a place in the hearts of Irish country music fans that she’ll never have to worry about.
And those fans will be back wearing smiles they can thank Louise for later this week as she releases her brand new single. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a sneak-preview of WE RISE AGAIN (written by Leon Dubinsky),and let me tell you this, folks, it’s a BIG song from Louise. I also had the great pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Louise last weekend, and to get things underway, I asked her how she came to find the song, and why she decided to cut it right now?
“I was sent the song last year, once the lockdown had happened. A friend of mine – Paul Egan – who I’ve known for a long time and would have given me songs in the past to record and who would have suggested songs for me as well, he sent me this. He thought it was something I might be interested in because of the words and what it was about, and because of the times we’re in and all of that, he said this might be worth a listen. He said I might be able to do my own thing with it, put my own stamp on it. Anyway, I really liked it, the chorus especially. It’s got a very strong chorus. So that’s how it came about. Of course, I had to wait a very long time then before I could get to a recording studio because of lockdown and travel restrictions, ya know. I went up to Peter Maher – where I live in Tipperary, Peter is about an hour away, up in north Tipp, up in Cloughjordan – I knew that Peter would have been the right man for this song and for the production and arrangement it needed.”
We Rise Again became a staple of Canada’s pop scene back in the 90s. Recorded by folk group The Rankin Family, the track featured on their 1993 long-player, North Country, becoming a crossover hit by reaching the Top 20 on pop charts, and the Top 40 in the country equivalent. When Louise and Peter were sitting down to plan their approach to the production of We Rise Again, given that it is such a big, anthemic song, what was going through their minds?
“Well I sent the song to Peter and said,”Have a listen to this.” Straight away, I said to him that it’s not a country song as such, and that’s what I would be known for, obviously. But I also come from the folk scene and I sing a lot of folk songs but with my own little stamp on them, do them in my own style. So I said [to Peter], look, this song needs a certain kind of production. It’s not going to be something that’s specially done for the dancing scene. Sometimes we record songs especially for dancing, but this was always going to be a concert song. I could hear lovely whistles in it, and pipes, it was that sort of vibe. Peter agreed, and we went along with that. The original recording didn’t have that, but I thought it would give the song that lovely sort of Celtic style. And going back to the chorus of the song, that’s what stood out to me straight away. We’ve all had setbacks in our lives, and we’ve all had things happen to us in our lives. But no matter what happens to you, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and you get going again. You’ll meet some setbacks or knockbacks over and over again, they might keep happening. But no matter what happens, life keeps going on. We rise again all the time. So I just thought with the times we’re in, with the Covid pandemic, and all of the restrictions, how it’s been for everybody right across the world with people not able to see and meet their families and their loved ones – and people who lost their loved ones as well – but still now things are starting to improve, thank God. So we can bounce back, and we will bounce back. We rise again, ya know.”
The weeks leading up to a new release are always busy and exciting anyway, with so much to get ready and prepare. And the week just gone had been an especially thrilling one for Louise as she had a brand new video shoot on her schedule as well. She has something very special in store for her fans…
“Yes, I saw the final cut the other night and I’m delighted with it. Again, thinking about the song…we’ve done all kinds of videos, some might be in concert, or you might be out in a dance situation…but I wanted to do something a little bit extra-special with this song. I thought it needed a little drama, and it needed the Atlantic ocean, cliffs, lovely scenery like that. So we (with Steve Bloor) went to Achill Island to film it. We went up on Monday night, started bright and early on Tuesday morning. We were out and on the road at half-seven, and we drove all over the island all day. We climbed up rocks and down rocks, down into coves, up hills to try and get to the little spots we wanted to get the best views. It’s the most beautiful, stunning place, and the weather was gorgeous. That kind of scenery was perfect for this song.”
The last year and a half or so has been a tough time for everyone, and especially the music business. So much so, that a lot of artists have almost withdrawn form the public eye, all but vanishing completely, and we’ve barely heard or seen anything from them. Louise, however, did not take that approach, continuing to release new music in that time-period. I asked her why she thought that was so important to do, not just for herself, but for her fans also…
“Yeah, well for my own sake it was to stay sane! [Laughs]. It was great to be doing something. And when you are bringing out a single, as you mentioned, it is a busy time, you have a lot of things to get organised. But for the fans, who’ve been always there for us throughout the years, and even though this awful pandemic came and hit everybody, the fans are still there and listening to the radio, they’re still fans. They’re still there, still supporting us by watching our videos or requesting us on radio all the time. So it’s for them as well, the new music. All my music is for the fans. Because those people are so important to all of us. None of us would have careers without our fans, it’s as simple as that. So I just wanted to do that. And to keep busy myself as well. I will say that I am enjoying the time-off at home, with no big long journeys in the car or anything like that. You don’t miss that [laughs]. But you do miss the people. So it was nice to keep doing something, and I really enjoyed getting back up to the studio a few weeks ago to record that song. And I had a great time in Achill as well, just to be out, and to be somewhere different, outside of Tipperary [laughs]. Much as I love it! [Laughs].”
Speaking of being on the road, it’s still hard to know when exactly – or even roughly! – ‘live’ music will return in anything close to the form we’ve always known it. But, looking ahead to next year, by which time we WILL hopefully be back to something closer to some kind of normal again, Louise will be hitting the road with Declan Nerney and John Hogan as part of Declan’s nationwide tour, something I was sure Louise is probably looking forward to already. And just out of curiosity, I wondered if Louise could recall when her last proper gig had actually been?
“The last gig that I did was about two nights before the lockdown in 2020, in Wexford, in the Talbot Hotel. Declan Nerney was on the show the same night, I remember. There were five or six of us doing guest spots on a country show. And we were all there chatting in the Green Room about Covid and how the country might be going into a lockdown. That was the big topic of conversation on the night. And literally two days later, the country went into lockdown. And that was the end of that! The only other gig that I got to do where I got to work with a band – and the Ryan Turner band is the one that I would work with quite a lot over the last twenty years – we got together to do Glór Tíre last November. That was the only show that I got to do, and haven’t got to do anything since. Just one or two little bits, contributions to charity events online where I would have pre-recorded something at home. But that’s it. No ‘live’ shows since. It’s an awfully long time to be not doing your job.”
So when it comes to finally getting back up on stage again, when Louise hits the road with Decland and John in 2022, I imagine moments like that are going to be very emotional for a lot of people?
“I think it will. And I’m really looking forward to the tour and looking forward to working with Declan and John. We’ve all known each other a long time, and worked on different shows together over the years. But this is the first time we’re going on an official tour with Declan. We’re going to be doing lovely theatres and concert venues around the country. I’m so looking forward to that, to catching up with the boys, catching up with the band members, catching up with all the fans that are going to come to those shows. It will be lovely just to get doing that again. I was joking at home recently, I said God, will we all be gone too nervous to go back on stage! [laughs]. We’re away from it so long! But I think, with music – like a lot of things – you fall in where you left off. So it’ll probably feel like it was just last week [since our last show]. I think that’s the way it will be.”
Louise, Declan, and John are all part of the same generation of Irish country music stars. But in her role as a presenter on Tipp Mid-West, Louise gets to hear and see many of the new and younger artists who will become the next generation of country stars. I asked Louise for her thoughts on the talent that’s out there on the country scene right now, and also to tell me about her show, Lunch With Louise…
“Yeah, I love it, I’m there almost a year already, I can’t believe that I’m presenting the show. It’s on every Friday from twelve-to-two on Tipp Mid-West. That was just like a lifeline for me as well, when that opportunity presented itself for me to go in and do a show. Like we spoke about, I was at home, there was nothing happening, we were in lockdown. So it was fantastic to get that opportunity to go in and present a show and play all the Irish country, because most of my show is Irish country. I’d play one of two of the American artists as well, but I end up sticking with the Irish country because of the requests that come in. It took me a little while to settle in and to learn how to use all the controls and work everything so that I could work away on my own, and that’s what I do now. Now I do still press an odd wrong button here and there [laughs], but it’s all part of ‘live’ radio. It keeps you on your toes! But yeah, it’s lovely, and I’m on all the presenters’ mailing lists now so every week there’s new stuff being sent to me from all the new artists. And it’s lovely to get it, ya know, because that was where I was years ago starting out. I think there’s more opportunity for airplay nowadays as well, with all the great radio stations all over the country. We didn’t have as many when lots of us started out. So that’s great. And all the young singers, they’re going in and they’re recording the best of stuff, in with all the best producers and coming out with good stuff, it’s great. They’re starting off the right way. And I know it’s expensive too, it’s very expensive to record. But it’s a tool of the trade, if ya like. It’s just something that you have to do if you want to get out there.”
Something that I’ve been noticing a lot more recently, and perhaps it’s because I’ve been paying attention to how often it seems to be happening in the music business in general (a BIG shout-out to Linda Coogan Byrne and her Why Not Her? team for their work on this here in Ireland) and in American country music, is how many shows are dominated by male artists. You can see line-ups with five, six, or even seven male performers, and maybe just one female artist in amongst them! Now, as Louise and I both know well, there are SO MANY amazing female artists in Ireland, from brand new to rising stars, and from the already well-established to those who have long been household names. So personally speaking, I just can’t understand how anyone can put together a show with such an unbalanced line-up, look at it, and think to themselves, ‘Yeah, that’s the finest. Job done, nice one!’ I asked Louise for her thoughts on this subject.
“It is something I would have noticed from time to time when you see that somebody puts up a poster for something, or in a newspaper for some upcoming event or show, or festival, whatever it might be. And yeah, very often there’s only one female singer on the show. I don’t know why, to be honest. Because as you already said, there’s some fantastic female artists out there in Ireland. That’s something that I’m very conscious of every week with my radio show, that I play a lot, or as many of the girls as I can fit in, with the boys as well. It’s important. The girls are putting in as much effort as the boys are. If they go in to record, it’s costing them as much as the boys. And if anything, the girls, with style and clothes, and make-up and everything, ya know, it can be costly. But I just don’t know why it is. I suppose, maybe some people would say that the guys will get a big female following straight away so then the husbands or the boyfriends bring them to the shows because they want to see their favourite male singer, ya know. Some people would have the idea that that’s a lot of it. But I honestly don’t know. I mean, I know that I would have a lot of female fans out there as well, and always had. But the scales should be balanced better, there should be more women on the shows, on any show.”
I point out the importance of young female artists, or girls and women even before they become artists, needing to see other women doing what they too dream of doing, to see and know that it’s possible, and Louise agrees…
“They do. And it’s like any job, you have to learn your trade and get experience. And the only way you can do that is by being on shows. And yet, you do see a lot of situations where there’s only one girl on a show of six or seven artists. I would love to see more girls getting work as well, and for the scales to be more evenly balanced.”
A lot of artists we’ve spoken to, including Nathan Carter when we spoke with him a few months back, have mentioned how this whole time of Covid has seen them reevaluate how they intend to do things when we make it to the other side. With Nathan, for instance, he shared that he probably won’t be on the road as much, having had a chance to do some other things during this break. I wondered if this time had changed Louise’s perspective on how she plans to enjoy music and life from now on?
“It has, definitely, without question. Before Covid and lockdown came in, you could see how busy some bands were, and it was like helter-skelter, six nights a week, all through the year. Which was fantastic to see, ya know, people being busy. But I think it’s very important that you make time for yourself, and make time to have a life for yourself outside of your job. You shouldn’t work seven days a week, all year round. Everybody needs to spend time with their husband, their wife, their boyfriend, their girlfriend, their family, their friends, and to be able to do that. And just have a little bit of time to yourself at home, to do the things that you want to do, and have some other hobbies outside of your job. That’s definitely something that has come about for me in the last year and a half. I would have thought back on some of the years when we would have worked so hard, and I’d think God Almighty, how did we do it at all?! I hadn’t time to bless myself, really [laughs]. But please God things will open up, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel now, so when things open up again I’m going to cut back, definitely. I’ll pick what I want to do, and just do so many in a month, that kind of thing, and have a lot more time at home. My husband was sick during the lockdown, he had surgery in January, and I’m glad that I was at home, to be there to look after him when he came home from hospital. It was a tough time for him. And when he was in hospital, I couldn’t get to see him, as was the situation for everybody that had someone in hospital. And how dreadful it was for anyone that lost loved ones during Covid, and couldn’t get to see them, a dreadful situation. But, I still obviously want to do my music, and from now on it’s going to be just concerts. And I’m not going to do long stints away from home anymore, either. I would have done it before where you’d go away on a tour and be gone for maybe three weeks at a time, I’m not doing that anymore. I just love my time at home, but I want to work as well. So there’s going to be a very happy balance.”
Before we wrapped up, I asked Louise if she had any message for the fans that she hasn’t been able to see in person for so long, but – hopefully – will be seeing again in the not too distant future?
“I want to say a big thank you to all of them for their continued support throughout the years, and through the lockdown as well, fans have continued to support all the artists by requesting us on the radio, and watching our shows on YouTube and Facebook, on everything. They were fantastic people to come out and support the shows before lockdown as well, and we know we’ll be seeing them again when things open up. And I’m looking forward to seeing them all again and catching up with everybody. Because we’ve missed everybody, we have. And I know they’ve missed all of us too.”
~ WE RISE AGAIN, the brand NEW single from LOUISE MORRISSEY, will be available from all digital platforms from July 9th, and to request from radio stations nationwide from July 12th. The video for We Rise Again will premiere on Louise’s official Facebook page on July 17th. Louise will also be performing at the Star Trax music venue’s Drive-In Country Show in Cork on July 25th. In an event hosted by Hot Country TV’s Hugh O’ Brien, Louise will be joined by Olivia Douglas, TR Dallas, and Paddy O’ Brien, all backed by the Glen Flynn Band. See Louise’s Facebook page for full details.