First Published August 2021
“PEOPLE NEED MUSIC”
It’s far from a given that somebody who possesses an extraordinary talent will also possess a personality to match. One gentleman who effortlessly excels in both regards, however, is one of Ireland’s foremost talents when it comes to the gentle entwining of words and music, MARC ROBERTS.
Truth be told, in fact, if some extraordinary talents were relying only – or even too much – on their personalities, they’d be in big, big trouble. And just to be clear, when I talk about personality in this context, I mean something as simple as someone’s ability or inclination to be friendly, to be respectful of others, to be able to show some sympathy, some empathy, and some compassion as a matter of course, rather than as an exception, or only when they have their ‘show’ face on. There are some in the world of entertainment who consider themselves to be ‘stars’ first, humans second. In their own minds, they walk among us, rather than with us. Not so with Marc.
The Mayo native, who has made his home in the land of the tribes where he presents The Feel Good Factor on Galway Bay FM, is as down to earth and normal a chap as it could ever be your pleasure to meet. Marc is a genuinely extraordinary artist, as his latest single, CONSIDER IT DONE, proves yet again. And if you haven’t yet heard his previous release, the truly beautiful Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes, let that be exhibit B in this case.
But as well as being s songwriter of considerable skill and renown himself, Marc was also the man responsible for introducing Daniel O’ Donnell to the craft in a serious way. But how, I wondered, did it all happen? This week, we get Part 2 of our recent chat with Marc underway by the man himself telling us all about it…
“Well Daniel has been a friend of mine forever, for as long as I can remember. And he’s always been a great encourager and a great friend in the business, without a doubt. And we have a similar sense of humour too, to be honest. Then in 2004, I toured Australia with him, as his guest artist. He’s always said he loves my songs, so I used to always send them to him. But then he’d come back and say, ‘It’s a gorgeous song…but it’s just not me.’ And I was like, ‘Well what IS you then?’ [Laughs]. I didn’t get that. You see, with me, cathartically, I have to write. And I love it. I won’t push myself, but when something happens I go there. So it could be rock, pop, rap, classical, anything, I have bits of everything. I just love music, like I love people. That’s just me. And it has to come out some way. So I’d send him all of these, and in hindsight, I could see afterwards why they weren’t suiting him or whatever. So it was Don, my manager [Collins], while we were on tour who said, ‘For God’s sake, I’m sick listening to the two of ye talkin’ about writing. Why don’t ye get together and try writing something?’ The thing with Daniel is that he’s very lyrical in the way he speaks. And he comes out with some very profound statements, and some very positive things. He has his own definite thoughts on things. Almost to a charismatic point where he can comfort people by some of the things he says without even realising how important it was that he said it.”
“So when we came back from Australia”, continued Marc, “I went to his house in Donegal, and we wrote ‘I Will Think Of You.’ And then the following day – I stayed over that night – and the following day we wrote another one. That was two. And he was absolutely thrilled. He just couldn’t believe it. He was ringing two of his friends and goin’, ‘I’ve actually written my first song.’ And he did his work [on the song] the same as I did mine. We trashed out ideas back and forth, just kind of teaching him in a way that there are certain things you can say, but by not saying it. And there are certain words you shouldn’t use that just don’t work in a song, that kind of thing. And it went from there. We had two on that album, ‘Live,Laugh, Love’, then we had three on the next album, including the title-track, ‘Yesterday’s Memories.’ And then the next one was ‘Until The Next Time’, and I wrote two-thirds of that album, pretty much. The first single that came off it was called ‘Crush On You’, which went Top 20 in the UK pop charts.”
So would Marc say that songwriting is something that can be taught to someone who might have never even attempted it previously? Or would it have to be someone like Daniel who – as Marc had pointed out – is almost lyrical without even knowing it, so maybe just needed to be made aware of how close to being a songwriter he actually was?
“I’d say it’s a mixture of both, to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s something you can teach people. It’s something innate that we [songwriters] have. And there’s a general thought that you don’t question it too much in case it disappears [laughs]. We all do different things in life. I can’t do things that other people can do. I would be, probably, a deep thinker, I would think a lot and would be working things out that way. And I know Daniel would be the same, from the point of view of having definite thoughts and ways of saying things. His fans are just so important to him, no more than my own are to me as well. I mean, they are the reason that we do what we do. We’ve been given an amazing responsibility and opportunity to do what we do for a living, and meet people in the process, and make people happy. It’s just an amazing thing. So, for him, I would have definite ideas and things of what he wanted to say, and he did. All we did was get together and we tried it, and it worked. My manager and I have written a song together, just the one. And again, it was down to something that kept recurring thought-wise, words-wise, idea-wise. We finished it together coming back one night from a gig. So I don’t think it’s something you can teach people. You can show people the idea of what songwriting entails, but I think a lot of the magic is something that you have to be born with. It’s just something that happens. And as I said, you don’t question it too much [laughs].”
Songwriting is a funny thing on the Irish country scene, in that it can often be ignored. An artist like Derek Ryan, for example, will – quite rightly – be heralded as a figure to admire precisely because he’s such an excellent songwriter. But he’s not the only great songwriter in Irish country music. Yet, so often you’ll see Irish country artists covering American country songs that, of course, first entered the world as…original songs. So why not find great original songs from Irish writers too? As a songwriter, how does Marc see that side of things?
“The only thing that really bothers me is that there’s an element of karaoke coming into the business that I don’t like. I’ve written with Derek, we’ve written three or four songs together, and we’ve had quite a lot of success with those. And everytime we meet we say we must get together again! I’ve written with Brian Kennedy, I’ve written with Jimmy MacCarthy, there’s quite a lot of people I’ve written with and loved the whole process. Gary Barlow calls it sharing the birth experience! [Laughs]. It’s great to get like-minds in a room and to just work at something, and see it evolve. So that’s the only problem I have with the business. There’s even karaoke tracks being released with vocals on them, and that’s not what the business is about. Derek Ryan and I always say that the amazing thing about writing a song and releasing it is that you KNOW that no-one else is going to have that song as their next single. Whereas if you’re recording covers all the time, there’s always a danger that somebody else is going to have the same song recorded with three-and-a-half-grand spent on it, and so did you! Then it’s a battle for the playlists [laughs]. But you see, for us, for people like yourself and myself that write and are in the business, it’s a total commitment. You’re there for every element of it. And there’s nothing nicer for me than to hear somebody who wrote something perform it. If you ever hear Jimmy MacCarthy perform his own songs, it’s just the most magical thing. And you realise why he used a particular word in a particular place…because it’s him. I did a lot of stuff with Jimmy down through the years and he’s just amazing, the way he thinks and the images he creates. People that do write their own songs, I have so much respect for them because you have bought in totally into the whole business. Everything about who you are and what you do is music. Even when you’re off, you’re writing. You’re thinking about songs. You’re coming up with something. Then you’re seeing if it’s good enough, will people identify with it? It’s a full-package kinda thing, which is what the Americans have done for years. But people have always covered songs, and if it’s a great song, or something that meant a lot to me, I would certainly do it. But I love the original element of things because you’re getting a part of the person really.”
Of course it isn’t just Daniel from the O’ Donnell household that Marc has co-written with, having collaborated with Majella on When I Found You, a very special song for the couple…
“That was amazing, yeah. And the way we did it. It was Don again, my manager, who came up with the idea. Majella had said to me one time she was down in Galway – her sister lives here – that she wanted something special for the wedding, and she’d love to write a song. She has a great voice, you know. And she just wanted to do something different. So she wanted to write one, but she had no idea if she could. And to be honest, I had no idea whether she could or not either! But Don came up with the suggestion that Majella write Daniel a letter telling him exactly how she felt about him from the minute she met him, and how her life has changed. And God forbid, but if he was to head off to war tomorrow and she was never to see him again…what would she say? What are the things you would say to someone you loved who you might never see again. And you’d only have this one opportunity to do it. We were performing our tribute to the music of John Denver in the National Concert Hall in Dublin at the time, and Majella came to the show with one of her friends. And before the show she handed me a letter, and she said, ‘Do not show this to anybody or I’ll kill ya!’ [Laughs]. I said no problem. So I came back to Galway, and I live beside the beach. So I literally went to the beach with the guitar, opened the letter, and twenty minutes later I had a song called ‘When I Found You.’ And that title was one of her lines. The very first line in the letter was, ‘How can I put into words the way you make me feel’, and that’s the first line of the song. So I literally crafted the song out of what she had given me. ‘You’re everything I’ve lived for/ Somehow it feels so right/ You’re the sunlight in the morning/ You’re the stars above at night/ I want this day to last forever/ I hope it always will/ I thank God above for making dreams come true/ Cos he gave me all I wished when I found you.'”
Marc went on, “While I know Majella, and she’s a dear friend of mine – more so now than at the time, when I would only have known her for about a year and a half, and on occasions where I would have met herself and Daniel at shows or maybe out in Tenerife – but we wouldn’t have been as close as we are now. And you need to be close to someone [to write with them], almost to be able to give out to them, to say, ‘You can’t say that!’ [Laughs]. When you’re writing with somebody you have to be so honest. You need to know you can trust that person, that you can say whatever it is, and sound as stupid as you want. Because then the other person can come back and say, that won’t work…but this will! That kind of trust has to be there. Anyway, when she heard the song, she was just blown away. Because she could hear the various things she’d said, ya know. So on the day of the wedding, after the first dance, I went up on stage with the guitar and Majella came up and sang it. And she made a gorgeous job of it. I’ll tell ya, he was one shocked Daniel! First time I’ve ever seen him speechless [laughs].”
While every song will, of course, have its own special place in his heart and its own memories attached to it, I wondered which songs in Marc’s own catalogue held a particularly special place in his affections?
“Probably the one I mentioned before, ‘Four Empty Walls.’ Because every Sunday afternoon, myself and my mum and dad, and my sister, always went to my grandparent’s house for a visit. That was my mum’s mum and dad. It was something we always did, and always loved to do. It was just unquestionable that every Sunday that’s where we were going to be. And some of my other relations would arrive and it was just gorgeous, it really was. Then, over a short period of time, both my grandparents passed away. And it became too difficult for any of us to go back and see the house. But one day, without telling anybody, I hopped in my car and I drove to the house. The wall around the front of the house that was too high when I was a kid, I could step over. At the back of the house there was a tree. And I remember one day, myself and my sister, Marie, we were playing at the tree and we tied a little piece of the tree down to the ground, so it was like in an arch. It was just a small piece of a twig. And all these years later, I came back and that tree had totally grown into that shape. And it really got me. And the house, all that was left of it was four empty walls. I sat in the car, I was quite upset, and I wrote ‘Four Empty Walls’ from beginning to end. Then I put it away because I couldn’t tell anybody that I’d been to the house, because I didn’t want to upset them. As in emotionally. Not that they would have minded me going there. But eventually I did [tell them]. It’s just one of those songs that affect all of us. And then, Shay Healy, God rest his soul, heard me sing it, asked for a copy of it, and sent it to Ralph Murphy, who sadly is no longer with us as well. Ralph was one of the people behind me being one of the six Irish writers who would go to Nashville, because of that song. To this day, everytime I sing it I’m back there. And I see my grandparents, so it’s special. It means a hell of a lot. And I’m so happy to say that it means a lot to a lot of people. Because everybody has that one little house, that one place in their life that they can’t go back to.”
Because it is such an emotional song, is it also a hard one for Marc to sing?
“It can be. It’s even harder if my mum and dad are in the audience. So I literally just have to blank them out [laughs]. Because the last thing you’d want to do is to upset your parents, needless to say. But everybody is back in that moment when I sing it…and me too. It’s just one of those things, every little bit of it brings me back…”
One thing we couldn’t pass over before our chat came to an end, was the state that the music and ‘live’ events industries remained in. On the day we spoke, indoor dining had just returned, and yet, for music to return indoors, the road ahead was – and is – still as unclear as it had been six, eight, and more months ago. What did Marc think lies ahead? Or what way back is one he thinks would work?
“I honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit frightening. We were the first to go, we’ll be the last to come back. And we’re always the first port of call for anybody who needs any celebrations or charity, or whatever. And I have no problem with that. That’s one thing I spent a lot of time doing in lockdown, doing a lot of stuff for charity, which I’m very proud of. We did a concert on Valentine’s night for the National Breast Cancer Research Institute, I put it together and compéred it, and sang on it. We got all our buddies, Daniel, and Nathan, and everybody else to do it. And we raised €69,000, which was amazing. Again, for a very worthy cause, because everybody is affected by something like that. But yeah, I honestly don’t know what the answer to those questions are. What scares me a little bit is that we’re not talked about that much, as an industry. I know for a fact people need music, in every sense. Emotionally, physically, socially, whatever it may be. Everybody needs it, and I think this has highlighted it. On the other hand, this is unprecedented, this has never happened before. So I mean, my heart goes out to the government at the same time, because there’s no blueprint. Everybody’s waiting to see what’s going to happen. It’s difficult for everybody. I have no idea how music is going to come back, be it in phases or whatever. But I really do believe that it has to come back. People cannot live without music. We can’t live without performing it, and people can’t live without that social element, and music’s release, and that ability to provoke thought. Everybody needs it. I’d be quietly positive, and I always would be, that we’ll get there.”
Finally, we finished up with what is possibly my favourite question to ask anybody that I’m lucky enough to have a chat like this with. I asked Marc if he could remember one of the best lessons he’s ever learned, be it about life in general or specifically music related. And also, is there any one piece of advice he’s ever been given – again, about life in its broadest sense or just about music – that has stuck with him and served him well to this very day?
“Great question. I went to secondary school in Gortnor Abbey in Crossmolina, which was the Jesus and Mary nuns. And they always said one thing: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason! And I think that’s the best advice in the world. Listen. Speak your mind, but listen when you’ve spoken, like I said in the song. It’s amazing even at gigs when you meet people, and how people can feel comfortable enough to talk to ya. Ok, it might end up in a song [laughs], but at the same time, I think it’s so important to listen. I really do. To anybody. I find in conversations, if there’s a lot of talk goin’ on, I get quieter [laughs]. I just listen. And that’s not being judgemental, it’s not being anything. I just feel that when the time is right, or if I have something to say, I ‘ll say it. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep quiet. That’s one of the most important things, and I’ve always remembered it…you have two ears and one mouth for a reason! Listen twice as much as you speak. And the other one then, well I remember being asked once by Brenda Balfe on RTE Radio 1, aroundabout the time of Eurovision, my favourite proverb. And it would be, ‘Never leave to do tomorrow what you can do today.’ Because if you do it today and you like it, then you can do it again tomorrow! [Laughs].“
~ CONSIDER IT DONE, the brand new single from MARC ROBERTS, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can also tune into Marc’s shows on Galway Bay FM every weekend, The Feel Good Factor (Saturday and Sunday afternoons), and Sunday Night Country.