First Published November 2021
A LEGEND AND A LADY
The thrill of watching LINDA MARTIN win the Eurovision for Ireland when singing Johnny Logan’s brilliant Why Me? is a memory that will never leave me. Nor will hearing it ever fail to stir those same emotions of excitement and pride that I felt bursting in my heart as I watched Linda cast her spell over a continent back in 1992. Hearing her perform Why Me? in person in the Tullamore Court Hotel a couple of years ago was just like travelling back in time. I wasn’t a sixteen year old sitting at home in the kitchen in Lusmagh anymore, but I might as well have been. Music is magical, and songs like Why Me?, performed by artists like Linda prove why that’s true.
Little did I know way back then, of course, that one day I’d have the pleasure of working on a project with the very lady who won the first of Ireland’s famous three-in-a-row, leading the way for Niamh Kavanagh who took the crown in 1993 with In Your Eyes from the pen of Jimmy Walsh, before Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington gave us the hat-trick with Brendan Graham’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids in 1994. But, that pleasure did indeed come my way. And just last week, it was my privilege to sit down for another chat with Linda.
We’d been meaning to get around to this for a while now, and with Linda having two spectacular concerts coming up in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral next month, what better time to finally make it happen?!
“I’m grand, back to work again”, revealed Linda, as our chat got underway. “I had a year and a half off like everybody else. What can you do? You just get on with your life. But it’s been so difficult for everybody. I mean, looking back on it, I can’t believe that for a year and a half there wasn’t any gigging, or meeting musicians, or setting keys for songs, or doing something. It’s just incredible.”
Moving on to the forthcoming concerts of December 6th and 7th next, Linda explained how they came about…
“Well, we’ve been running them for about the last five years, hugely successful. Not last year, obviously, because of Covid. But this year, I reckon that people are gonna want to get out and revisit those fantastic nights that we had in the Pro Cathedral, which is a beautiful place. So I thought ok, we could go with a night which is Celine [Byrne], who is an opera singer, Red [Hurley], Mary Byrne, Michael English, and the choir [the Halleluia Gospel Choir], do that sort of a night. Then the second night, I was talking to Johnny Logan, and I said to him are you around at all on the 7th, and he said he was. ‘Will you come in?’, I asked him, and ‘I will’, he said, so when he said yes I got onto the other ones and they all said yes immediately. The only one who couldn’t do it is Eimear because she lives in Geneva, you see, so she couldn’t get home. So we went ahead and put all our arrangements in place and that’s what we have, two nights, and all profits, of course – as usual – going to three charities. The first one is The Peter McVerry Trust, I adore that man. I just think he should be sainted. We have a new charity on board [this year] called Blossom, which helps mentally impaired people get into the work-place. And the third one, of course, is the charity that I’m a patron of, and that’s Dogs Aid, up near Finglas in north county Dublin. That’s what we’ll be doing. And we have a raffle both nights in the middle of the show, and then we’ll have our guest readers as well, like Mary Kennedy, Anne Doyle, Rory Cowan comes in and he does a little Santa skit with lots of little kids dressed up as elves. He’s done that before for me and the public love it because all of the little tint kiddies are dressed up and he’s talking to them about Santa and everything. Peter McVerry will speak too. He enthralls everybody. People just sit with their mouths open listening to that man talking. Covid, I know people are scared, but we’re definitely adhering to every Covid rule that that government has told us to do, I think that’s important to say and for people to realise as well.”
One of the charities Linda will be helping to raise funds for is the Dog and Animal Sanctuary, and animals – dogs in particular – are and have always been a hugely important part of her life. In fact, Linda has twelve – that’s TWELVE – rescue dogs living with her. I wondered was there a moment, or perhaps a combination of certain moments in her life, that her love of dogs grew from?
“Ah yeah, it’s twelve. But listen, for this house, that’s quite a small number. Trust me. Trust me! I remember one Christmas many years ago, there were twenty-four dogs in this house. I couldn’t walk across the kitchen [laughs]. But sure I don’t care, I love them! My father’s family were the same, they always had animals, always. So it comes from that side. When I was a child, I didn’t actually play with dolls and prams and things like that, it was always a dog. And I was always allowed to have dogs as a child. But my mam, she used to say to me, she never had to worry if I was lost, she just had to look for a tail wagging somewhere and she knew i’d be beside it. So it’s just in my heart. I just adore them.”
How old is Linda’s eldest dog at the moment?
“Fourteen. I can tell you that immediately because I’m going to the vet with her on Saturday morning, just for a check-up. When she came in here, she was a little mange-ridden puppy fourteen years ago, and he’s still here. He’s called Tinky-Winky, and he looks like one of the characters out of Emmerdale, I think his name was Red? [Laughs]. He’s fourteen, still moving about, still eating away, still doing everything. I became a patron of the sanctuary just because they asked me. That would be the closest one to me, it’s only about twenty minutes away from my house, so I’d known of them. I can’t really remember the exact reason, but I got a message from them asking would I come on-board as a patron, and I did so gladly. And I’m still with them. They’re good people. It’s a voluntary organisation. Nobody takes any money, all of the money that comes in goes to the dogs. It’s actually operational because of public donations, it’s marvellous.”
Eurovision is the theme of one of Linda’s concert nights, and no-one in this country is more connected to Ireland’s Eurovision history than Linda. Not only did she win it in 1992 with Why Me?, she also came second in the contest in 1984 singing Terminal 3, and has been a National Song Contest entrant nine times, a number that is – to the best of my knowledge – still a record. But in recent years…ok, decades at this stage, sadly… Ireland has badly lost its way in the Eurovision. There’s a Late Late Show Eurosong special coming up again soon, something which doesn’t fill me any hope because this is an event that deserves and warrants its own stand-alone show, not simply being tagged as another Late Late Show special, or indeed, having anything to do with The Late Late Show. How would Linda go about putting us back on the right path again?
“Well, exactly what you said. I’d make a special night of it. It could be in one of the studios in Dublin, but you could make it special [for the night], or else you could go to one of the theatres in Dublin and make money out of it. I truly believe that you’d be able to sell tickets. It’s a competition alright, but you could also have stars from Eurovision [as guest artists], you could bring them in. Think of Brotherhood of Man, for instance, they could be brought in. You would obviously go for the Irish winners, but you could go outside the box as well. Different countries that have won, RTE could approach them and just ask how they would feel about taking part in a show like that. It could be anybody. I think that would be a huge success, and it would make it something special again. When we don’t make it special, then the public tends to dismiss it. And Terry Wogan, God rest him, he was the worst! Jesus, the things he used to say about it [laughs]. But at the same time, he loved it. Graham Norton absolutely adores it. And I just think if we made this something special, whether we made the competition a stand-alone event, or really started trying to change the public’s opinion of it, because when you think about it on a base level, you’re providing work for an awful lot of people. Songwriters. The studios where the songs are recorded. Employees involved in putting the show together. There’s so much work in it that people would benefit from. People shouldn’t dismiss it, but think of it as a platform. If you can get your voice out in Europe in front of four-hundred-million people, that’s a platform for you! I just think we have to make something special of it. And we also have to take into consideration the days when we were all performing in cabarets, discos, variety shows on RTE and in the theatres, people got to know you, and you got your experience. So by the time that you had a few years under your belt, RTE would have heard about you, and you could put your name in the hat, and they would say well this song would suit X, Y, or Z.”
Linda continued, “Now I’m well aware that those situations don’t exist anymore. But, it’s not a contest for beginners. There’s no point unless you’ve got experience, are used to crowds, and dealing with people, don’t touch it. Seriously. If you think of last year’s Eurovision, and the amazing acts, all of those acts were brilliant. And I’m thinking of the women in particular. They were beautiful, dressed immaculately, smiling, dancing, singing, and they looked as if they owned the stage. And that only comes from experience. That applies to the boys as well. I remember suggesting to RTE one time, why didn’t they go around the karaoke competitions in Ireland. And they looked at me as if I’d just grown two heads! But it’s the only way these days that you’ll actually see and hear somebody. But I don’t know what we are going to do, because we can’t compete monetarily, or with some club-beat song, it doesn’t work for us. The Europeans have that nailed down. You know what their tracks and everything sounds like. We’ve always won with the big ballad. And I think we have to stick to that. Don’t try to compete with the other ones.”
So, what Linda is really saying, if I’m correct, is that it all comes down to the song still? Or at least it should all come down to the song?
“Yeah. Yeah. It really does. The song should be the most important thing. But it means nothing if you haven’t got a package around it. There has to be a ‘look.’ There has to be good vocals. They have to be camera-friendly. It’s a complete package that’s needed. And it’s very, very difficult to get that.”
It’s that time of the year again when loads of fabulous new books begin to appear, and one in particular that I can’t wait to get stuck into soon is Backstage Pass by Pat Egan, a man Linda knows well.
“I do, I do of course know Pat.”
And everyone is eagerly awaiting the day when another good friend of Linda’s, Louis Walsh, finally puts pen to paper!
But what about Linda herself? Has the thought ever crossed her mind to tell and share her incredible story in that way?
“Well, do you know something, I was approached a couple of times and I met up with a couple of publishers. And I just kept saying to them that I wasn’t going to name any names [laughs]. And they were sort of like well you’re no good to us then [laughs]. But I think I’d be boring. And I’m not looking for you to say, ‘Oh no, you wouldn’t’, or anything like that. I mean, genuinely, I think it would be boring.”
I knew Linda wasn’t just looking for compliments because that simply isn’t her way. But I had to disagree, and I said it anyway: No way would her book be boring. No way. I think it would be fantastic.
“Well you’d never know what would happen in the future [with me], but Pat Egan’s is definitely going to be worth reading. I’ve known Pat for years, and he’s an extraordinary character. He’ll tell you the stories, but he never, ever runs anybody down, I’ve learned that from Pat. He always speaks very respectfully of people, no matter who they are. He tells amazing stories of stars he’s worked with and booked into Dublin, the festivals he’s run, and everything in between. A really interesting and lovely man. His book is definitely worth a read. I’m a voracious reader. My favourite author of all time is Frederick Forsyth.”
It’s funny that Linda mentioned her karaoke idea to RTE all those years ago, because with their latest show – Last Singer Standing – well, it’s basically just karaoke and nothing more. When it comes to TV shows like this, of course, Linda has been there, done that, and went home with the tee-shirt as well, as they say. She worked with Louis on The X-Factor, and she played a major role on You’re A Star, so she knows what these shows are like. But in terms of something like Last Singer Standing, and indeed, the recent mess that was Virgin Media One’s The Big Deal (definitely not a big deal!), what were thoughts?
“I have to give kudos to people who are actually trying to bring things forward. From what I’ve seen, there wasn’t anybody that sort of stood out and made me say oh Jesus Christ, you’ve got to sign that guy or that girl, you know. I did notice the winner of the first week of Last Singer Standing, a guy called Alex King, I remember Alex when he auditioned for Louis’s bands and things like that. And he’s a fine singer alright. But trying to get a record deal [now], it sounds to me like you need to have millions of followers on Facebook, then the record companies take notice, then possibly they’ll sign you to something. But there’s no money involved anymore. There isn’t. In days gone by you might have got €100,000 up front. That doesn’t happen anymore. Unless you’re Lady Gaga or somebody like that, that’s a different thing altogether. But no, I have seen anybody standing out. And Louis Walsh watches these things like a hawk. And nothing has come to his mind either. But he is putting some sort of a new act together. He’s looking for ‘something’, or ‘somebody’, or maybe a group, or people that he can put in a group, sixteen to twenty-one years old. He’s going to do something, he just doesn’t know what. The way he feels about it is when he sees it, he’ll know. And then he’ll push with a record company. But like I said, it’s very, very, very difficult.”
Is it so difficult now because so many people try to just copy what’s already out there, rather than trying to be themselves and stand out as an individual?
“There’s some unique people alright [that stand out]. Dua Lipa, I think she’s fantastic. There’s some around. But I don’t know if copying is the right word because you fall into that trap anyway without realising it. Somebody could sit down and start writing a song and then realise it sounds like Elton John, but listen, that’s just the way it goes. Music selling, of course, has been destroyed because of Spotify and all of those things. Songwriters are making nothing because of that. It’s so easy to go online, listen to a song or listen to an album, and if you don’t like it, you don’t buy it. In the old days, you had to buy the album to listen to the one song. We’re caught in that trap as well.”
Returning to the idea of if Linda did ever write a book, I have no doubt that she could fill volumes with advice to those in the worlds of music, showbiz, and entertainment. Acknowledging the fact that it’s hard to ever narrow down advice to one or two golden nuggets, if Linda were to try, what words of wisdom might she pass on?
“Yeah. To all young people who ask me that, I say you’re limited where you can be seen, so go and join your local amateur dramatic society. And they’re looking at me like, ‘Whaaaat?!’ [Laughs]. But I say, I’m telling you, these people know so much, they’ve been there for a long time, they will teach you stage-craft, voice projection, they’ll teach everything that happens backstage, and it’s so well worth trying. I don’t know if anybody has ever gone and done that, but I think it’s a great idea to do it. Most of these people [in local ADSs] are so helpful as well. The second piece of advice is go and camp out outside Louis Walsh’s house! [Laughs]. The options are limited. You have to push yourself because if you don’t, nobody hears about you. But then there’s an over-confidence that turns everybody against you. You’re looking for that middle-line all the time.”
As we tip-toe around the edge of another new year now- and even if things are still somewhat uncertain in a lot of ways – what is Linda looking forward to or hopeful about in 2022?
“Not so much for myself, but what I’m hoping we can do is progress animal welfare laws in this country, that the government will actually say no, and start to take action against these dreadful puppy farmers and people who inflict such cruelty onto animals. That would be one thing that’s always on my mind. And for myself, just getting back to work! That’s all. That’s how my life has been spent, so it’s alien to me to be sitting not doing anything. And the Covid, I know we’re going to be living with it for the rest of our lives, but hopefully we can get it down to where it’s there, but we’re not actually getting sick from it.”
~ CHRISTMAS VOICES from the PRO CATHEDRAL takes place on DECEMBER 6th, featuring Celine Byrne, Michael English, Mary Byrne, Red Hurley, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and Linda Martin. The EUROVISION VOICES at CHRISTMAS concert takes place in the Pro Cathedral on December 7th, featuring Johnny Logan, Dana, Paul Harrington, Charlie McGettigan, Niamh Kavanagh, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and Linda Martin. Tickets for BOTH shows are ON-SALE NOW, available from eventbrite.ie, and the Pro Cathedral Parish Office.