First Published February 2022
A TALE OF FAITH
Back towards the end of last year we had the pleasure of catching up with singer/songwriter NIALL McNAMEE to chat about his latest single, All I Need, a song the Dundalk man has described as being, “my ‘Willie McBride'”, and we also took a look back at how it felt to release his debut EP, Step By Step, in the middle of a pandemic earlier in 2021. As it just so happened, on the day we spoke Niall – had all been well in the world – would have been playing a show at the Water Rats venue in King’s Cross. That gig, however, like so many more for artists everywhere since March 2020, had its plug pulled due to you-know-what.
But, even in spite of that disappointment, he had recently – December 14th, to be exact – had the chance to perform with both his partner Imelda May (which is always cool in itself, of course!) AND, none other than Sir Rod Stewart! Not a bad consolation prize for losing his own gig, to be fair! The trio entertained fans at a very special Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy event at St. Luke’s Church in Chelsea where Niall accompanied Imelda and Sir Rod when they sang Grace, before teaming up with Imelda to perform their beautiful and moving duet – Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own – from Imelda’s latest long-player, 11 Past The Hour.
So where better to pick up our conversation and begin Part 2 of our chat with Niall, than by taking him back to that very night…
“The way you say ‘had the chance’, sounds like you mean but we blew it! [Laughs]. I’m only joking! What was it like? Well it was the most terrifying f&*king thing ever! [Laughs]. Do ya know what, right, it’s a funny thing, because if someone was to say you’ve got to get up on stage and sing with someone – whoever it is, the likes of Rod Stewart or any of those powerhouses – I wouldn’t be uncomfortable but there was something more terrifying about playing guitar for him. I get terrified playing guitar for Imelda! Because, you know, they know what they’re doing, those guys. So yeah, it was absolutely terrifying, BUT brilliant! Rod was such a gentleman, he couldn’t have been friendlier. I really mean that. He was so kind. It was just a great experience. And to play ‘Grace’ in that church, and the streets before it, it was very moving. Me and Imelda did our duet as well. And he made a good effort to say my name as well [laughs]. It went well enough that thanks to Rod I think a lot of people will be saying, ‘Hey, that Niall McNamm-aan-am-amee is alright!’ [Laughs]. But I get that all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever had one person say my name right, not from assemblies in school to anything. It’s just one of those things! It’s a great stage-name when people can say it [laughs].”
Something we hadn’t yet touched on in our chat with Niall was the fact that he’s a self-taught musician. I wondered how that part of his life first began and then progressed, and also, have there been any big pros and cons to being self-taught as opposed to having some kind of formal training?
“Ah yeah, definitely. Well, I don’t remember there ever being a moment when I was putting work into that side of stuff. But I have to say as well, my mam and dad booked me piano lessons when I was at school and we got a keyboard. But I’m useless at being taught anything. I just lose interest. I had a piano teacher [laughs], and her name was Mrs. Joy actually, which was very ironic [laughs]. She was so old-fashioned, she acted like Frank Sinatra was the Sex Pistols! So it was all very old baroque stuff, and I just never learned it. It was always that when there was an instrument just left there, I would sit with it and just teach myself. And the same with the guitar. My dad wanted to learn the guitar so my mam got him one for Christmas, but he never even started on it. It was just there in the corner. And then there was music gigs or something to do at school, and I was obsessed with the opposite sex, so it all kind of fell into place.“
“There’s pros and cons to all of it”, observes Niall. “All people who can read music will have a feeling that the grass is greener. And there’s some people who, without sheet-music, are absolutely lost. I think sheet-music would have come in handy for me a few years ago more than now. When I was working on building sites and stuff, and before I started playing in Irish pubs, I remember thinking jeez, I could make a killing playing piano in these restaurants and stuff. I liked that cool, romantic idea of sitting in a bow-tie and playing all the jazz standards. But, I couldn’t do it unless I knew them by-ear. So there are pros and cons, but there’s not many moments now where I wish I could read sheet-music, or have formal training. I think like with acting – cos’ I didn’t really get trained in acting, I did National Youth Theatre but I left Drama School three months in – when you have your moments of doubt, about your chances in the industry, when you’re going ‘am I good enough?’, or ‘what could I improve on?’, I think automatically if you haven’t had training, that comes into your head. I know it’s slightly different, but I could go for an audition sometimes and absolutely f*&k it up, and it might be the same week where I’d smashed another one! And so sometimes I’d think well maybe I didn’t train about this properly. In the same way I was naturally never good at maths at school, I don’t think I’m naturally good at sheet-music. The whole idea of having to look at something on a page and play it as quickly as you read it…yeah!”
As we were closing in on the new year when Niall and I spoke a few weeks back, I asked him how, from a professional and a personal point of view, he was looking forward to 2022?
“Well, I keep having to remind myself that there’s a movie coming out next year, called ‘Love Without Walls’, and I’m the lead-role in that. We filmed it during lockdown. It’s about a struggling singer/songwriter [laughs], who falls on hard times, and it can get quite dark. But the soundtrack of the movie is all my own songs, the likes of ‘China In A Box’ and a few other little ones as well. The last time we spoke, I think I had just been cast in it. I don’t think – just going over the timeline in my head – that anyone would have said it would be out this year , but it’s hard to remember how many months it got pushed back for. We only filmed it in July, so there’d be no chance of it coming out this year. We were meant to start [filming] it in December or January, and there’s moments in it where we’re homeless and it’s very hard, so we were glad that it was in July in the end. So yeah, that’ll be coming out. But that’s all out of my control now, but I will be releasing something with the movie, whenever that may be. It has to do the festival runs first and see who gets behind it. I’m really excited about this film, and I’m very proud of it. I’ve got a few dates booked in, music-wise, I just feel like I need to see where the land lies a little bit. I think in music, and it doesn’t matter when it is, but especially during lockdown, it’s harder to get up and start. It would have been very easy for me to not have done anything and just said, well, the lockdown got in the way! But I’ve learned this year, just now that I’m at the end of it, that it’s sometimes important to create a bit of time for rest and reflection, so that you can keep going. And that’s really hard, because I find it really difficult to not be doing something. It feels like wasted time in an industry where you have to constantly work. I can’t get to the end of this journey and think that I didn’t give it 100% all of the time, I couldn’t live with myself. I know that there are far more difficult jobs – and I’ve done many of them – but whenever I meet any musician I have such an enormous respect for them because it’s so hard, and f*&king impossible [laughs], to do anything [in this business]. So, to keep going anyway, that’s faith! [Laughs].”
Niall continued, “You know how some people who aren’t religious go, ‘I really wish I had the fate, though’, well there’s no-one in any religion that has a bigger faith than a musician! [Laughs]. It’s a faith they shouldn’t have! I’ll be bringing out music whenever the movie comes out, and I’m still humming and hawing about whether it’s the right time to do an album. There needs to be a big team in place and a big plan, and I need someone to help me with that. For the last six months, mate, sometimes to the detriment of my social life, if I had an evening free I’d go to an open-mic and play a few songs. Or busk. Or anything. I genuinely can’t remember a night in the last five or six months – I’m sure there’s probably been a couple – where I haven’t been playing music. I’m not stopping.”
~ Tickets for Niall’s St. Patrick’s Day show at the Bedford in London are ON-SALE NOW, and available from ticketsource.co.uk. Doors open at 7.30pm, with the show kicking off at 8.15pm.