First Published February 2022
GOING FOR GLÓR TÍRE GLORY
By this day next week, GLÓR TÍRE will have added a new name to its eighteen season-long roll-of-honor. The big question is, will last year’s winner, Galway girl EMMA DONOHUE, have passed on her crown to a new queen – for only the fifth time in the show’s history – or will we get a new king of country in 2022? Well, a couple of people with more than a passing interest in how it all unfolds are two of this year’s semi-finalists, COLIN KENNY and AISHLING RAFFERTY.
If you believe in signs, then Aishling might well be waking up with a gigantic smile adorning her face a week from now given that her mentor this year is country superstar MIKE DENVER, who also guided Emma to glory last year. And that was Mike’s second time to taste victory as a mentor, having helped Mayo woman Eunice Moran navigate her way to the title back in 2010. Could Tipperary’s Aishling help Mike land his hat-trick?
Well, not if Colin and his mentor OLIVIA DOUGLAS can help it! Olivia, herself a former contestant on the show, has become one of the hottest names on the Irish country scene over the last few years. And in choosing Colin – a native of Banagher, but now based in Borrisokane in Tipperary – as one of her contestants this year, she clearly knows a star in the making when she spots one herself. With Colin’s recent debut album ANNIE featuring ten original songs, all either written or co-written by the man also known as ‘the singing barber’, his talent as a songwriter has been keeping speed with his ever-growing reputation as a vocalist and assured entertainer.
Having watched the show at home on his couch for so many years and seen people he knows, such as his mentor Olivia Douglas, his good friend Alex Roe, and not forgetting John Molloy from the midlands as well, how does it feel for Colin to now be part of that very show himself?
“It’s an amazing experience really, to be honest. From looking at it at home with my parents or with my family [to now], it’s a dream to be on the show. And now while I’m on the show, I’m really embracing it for what it is. I’m really enjoying myself and having fun with it. A lot of people are talking about the show. They come into me in my business, my barber shop in Borrisokane, and tell me they’re voting for ‘the singing barber’, which is always great to hear! [Laughs].”
When Colin says he’s embracing Glór Tíre “for what it is”, what exactly does that mean for him?
“Well the show is different this year, of course, in that there’s no crowd. But that almost suits me better because it’s kind of a concert style, even though there are audiences at concerts but it’s a quieter environment. So you’re more relaxed. I’d be more relaxed in that environment myself, personally. But embracing it also means the cameras, make-up and all of those wonderful things that are thrown into something like this [laughs]. I’m very fortunate in that I’m being supported by the brilliant Guy Clothing menswear store in Tullamore so this gives you an opportunity to dress up for the day as well, which is always good!”
When Colin talks about the cameras floating around or getting his make-up done before performing, those are things that he wouldn’t usually experience at a normal show, so what has it been like for him adapting to those situations?
“Very, very easy, to be honest! Not so much the make-up side [laughs], but usually my shows consist of working all day of a Saturday, then leaving work, going home to get changed, shower, back on the road again for maybe an hour or two hours of a journey, lifting equipment into a venue, getting it set up, being ready to go. And then, doing that whole procedure again in reverse at the end of the night. The easiest thing is singing. At least with Glór Tíre, when you go down to the show, you’re actually treated like royalty down there. The production team and everybody look after you so well, it’s a very easy environment to be in. And like I said, I’m really enjoying it.”
What would Colin say has been his own personal highlight of his time on the show so far?
“I have a couple, to be fair. Number one I would say is singing with such fantastic talent this year. There’s a broad spectrum there of American country, Irish country of course, Americanna, and country and western as well. That’s a big deal for me to meet those people. But also, to be able to sing my own songs as well. I had the opportunity as well in week one to sing a song I wrote called ‘I’m A Country Singer’, and last week I sang a song I wrote about my parents called ‘Will You Dance With Me, Annie?’ And after the show I got an awful lot of well-wishes from people saying they really liked ‘Will You Dance With Me, Annie?’, and that’s always lovely to hear. And of course, hearing that from my mother, that was the highlight for me! [Laughs].”
From a career point of view, how important is it for Colin to be recognised so widely now as ‘the singing barber’, but also as a songwriter, as someone who is bringing something new to the Irish country music scene?
“Well of course like anything else, in the music business you want people to remember you, both as a singer and a songwriter, and also to remember the songs you sing. The tag-line of ‘the singing barber’, I have my own business in Borrisokane in north Tipperary as I mentioned – there since 2015 and I hope to be there for some time into the future – but I hope to be a full-time singer as well. I enjoy doing all my shows on Saturday nights, but also my guest appearances at concerts or dances and some fundraisers, and what I do online, too. I do a lot of different work on the music scene, and really, I just want to become a full-time fixture on that scene. So being so widely known as ‘the singing barber’ is a big plus for me.”
Last week Colin was able to enjoy performing without having the threat of being up for elimination on his shoulders. This week, that will all have changed. As we spoke last Friday afternoon and looked ahead to last night’s semi-final, I asked Colin how he was feeling about everything, and what the next few days were going to be like for him?
“Yes, last Tuesday was a breath of fresh air really, to be honest. I haven’t experienced what the other contestants were going through in that eliminator round. But this week coming it will be my turn! I suppose, like anything else, it’s a campaign trail that I’m on. So what I’m doing is getting out into my local community and meeting people who would have supported me before I was ever on Glór Tíre. So for example, all the local businesses in Borrisokane. I’ve called into the local vet, the hardware store, the fruit-and-veg and grocery shop. But also as well, places like the North Tipperary Ploughing. In my home county of Offaly, in my local town of Banagher, the businesses there from my local takeaway Angelo’s to the supermarket, Flynn’s. And going back to my own GAA roots, Offaly GAA have got behind me as well, so I have a big thank-you to say to the chairperson Michael Duignan for that.”
As we were talking ahead of the show, but this interview wouldn’t be available until after it aired last night, Colin was able to let us in on what he had in store for fans in the semi-final showdown!
“On Tuesday night I’ll have two songs, and the good news is that one of those is in Irish and one is in English. So that’s obviously going to be a challenge in its own way. But it’s one I’m looking forward to. One of my songs will be Derek Ryan‘s ‘God’s Plan’, and Derek, of course, is a tremendously talented songwriter and performer from Carlow. My second song is from another midland’s gentleman, Mr. John Hogan, and that’s ‘Those Brown Eyes.’ I’ll be delighted to sing that because I’ve met John in the past and worked with him on different shows, and he’s a gentleman in country music, also known as the prince of Irish country. A lot of the songs I’ve performed on the show, I’ve either written myself or have been by Irish writers, which I think is important. Apart, that is, from my very first song which was ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’, but that was also my very first single so I had a good reason – a good sentimental reason! – for singing that one.”
A show like Glór Tíre is an amazing learning experience in so many ways. I wondered if Colin had taken any lesson from his time on the show so far that he’ll be taking forward with him for the rest of his career?
“Yeah, I think the biggest thing is song-choice. And that goes for doing your own shows as well. You have to think strongly about your song-choice. So moving forward, when I’m releasing songs in the future, I won’t be just recording songs so that I have something to release, I’ll be releasing songs that I think will do well, and also songs that I like and that the public will like, which is most important. The second thing is that you get used to talking into microphones and being interviewed, which is great, like today [laughs]! But also, the show is a chance to meet others in the industry which we don’t get an opportunity to do that often either. Generally, I’m a one-man show and I travel from town-to-town every weekend, so you don’t actually get an opportunity to meet the other singers out there. So the chance to do that is something else I’ll cherish from this show. And, of course, the experience of singing on ‘live’ television. While it was daunting, it was also very enjoyable looking back on it.”
We couldn’t fail to mention Colin’s mentor Olivia Douglas, someone Colin has known for many years already, and a previous Glór Tíre contestant herself back at the beginning of her career…
“Yeah, Olivia – for me and my fellow contestant Rachel McConnell – has been our rock, really. When things were beginning to get nervous and things like that, she was always there for us with a calming word, and a positive word as well, which was fantastic. She was also very helpful for me when it came to song-choice, we spoke at length about that, about what types of songs, and about my own songs. And she was very confident in any decisions I made, so I was very happy with that.”
Aside from Glór Tíre, what else is happening in Colin’s career right now, and what has he planned for the rest of 2022?
“Well, my big plan at the moment is that I would like to bring a concert tour to the public, bring that on the road, maybe perform it in three different locations around the midlands. Hopefully we’ll be booking those dates soon, and then when Glor Tíre is finished people will be able to come and see…possibly Olivia [laughs]…and myself and some of the other Glór Tíre contestants on the road, somewhere near you, as they say!”
Given that we didn’t know how Tuesday night would eventually unfold as we spoke last Friday, I asked Colin if, nevertheless, he had any message for all of his fans and everyone who had supported him during the course of the show – and, indeed, his career – so far?
“Just a big thank-you! Thank you to everybody who took the time to view the show. Thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for me as well. It means the world to me! I hope everyone will stay supporting me in the years to come, both as a solo artist and when I’m on different shows too.”
As with Colin, I began by asking Ashling how it felt having watched Glór Tíre on television for so many years – and even making the trip down to the Quays in Galway to be there in person a time or two – to now actually be one of the stars of the show herself?
“I don’t even know how to describe it! I can hardly believe it still [laughs]. When I was down there before there were cameras everywhere and I was just completely taken aback by it! And now that I’m there in my own right, I just can’t believe it. And I’m still blown away by it [laughs]. I’m privileged and honoured to have been asked to be on the show. It’s a great platform to get myself out there. And even my ‘likes’ on Facebook are after going up by so much as well! It’s brilliant, and it’s a huge milestone for me on my musical journey.”
Aishling referred to it as being a great “privilege” to be on Glór Tíre, and indeed it is. So I asked her to take me back to the moment that opportunity came her way, courtesy of her mentor this year, the man who guided Emma Donohue to glory last year, Mike Denver...
“Yeah, well I had a few gigs with Mike over the summer, Willie Carty – Mike’s manager – had got in touch with me. So we’d just been working away on those few gigs, and, as Mike says himself, I went down a storm at the gigs [laughs]. Then, once they found out about Glór Tíre this year, Willie contacted me straight away to see if I’d be interested. And of course, there was no hesitation on my part in saying yes! [Laughs]. That was back in October, I think. The phone just rang and Willie asked me the question, and I said yes straight away, I didn’t even have to think about it [laughs]. I was honoured. It was a shock, it really was. I never really expected that Glór Tíre would be something that I’d be on, because I think every young singer aims for it. So yeah, it was a very big shock. But then, the more time goes on, the more I think I was deserving of being asked onto it because I have been putting in a lot of hard work and I think this was a sign of it beginning to pay off.”
Has there been any particular moment that stands out to Aishling as being her personal highlight of the show so far this year?
“I suppose just doing my family and my friends, and my neighbours and everybody proud has been a huge thing, seeing all the comments coming in on Facebook. Even if I had never got through to this stage, everyone would still have been so proud. It’s been great to see all those lovely comments coming in and everyone being so supportive, and I suppose, just realising how much of a fanbase I really do have, ya know. Sometimes you kind of doubt that, and you don’t realise how big of a deal it is. But now, I do, and that’s from seeing all the messages and comments rolling in. That’s been a big thing for me.”
In last week’s eliminator round, three contestants were unfortunately sent home, with only one – Aishling – living to sing another day. What was the experience of that show like for her?
“Well, I had done all my work and I knew I was ready for it. But it was still a shock to the system coming in and doing things ‘live’, and it was a long day and everything. But as I say, I had done my work so I knew that whatever happened I was going to be proud. So to even get through it was huge. But it wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all if I didn’t either because I’d have known I had put my 100% effort into it. I was prepared for it either way. If I didn’t get through, I’d still be going out and doing my gigs at the weekend, it wasn’t going to change anything drastically. And if I did get through, that was just going to be a bonus. So I was taking it, and am taking it, one day at a time.”
Again, when Aishling and I spoke last Friday evening, last night’s semi-final was still to come. So I asked her how she was feeling about everything in the build-up to the big night?
“I’m just going to go to my gigs this weekend as normal, and just keep working hard on my songs, and learning my Irish songs by heart. I’m very lucky that I’m in college in the Academy (the Irish World Academy in Limerick, where Aishling is a student of Voice) so I’ve been practising my songs up there as well, so it’s been great to get feedback from world-class tutors too. So yeah, my next few days are going to consist of me just concentrating and really putting my head down and working as hard as I can for the semi-final. And, of course, trying to get through to as many people as possible for votes as well [laughs].”
As Aishling and I were speaking on a Friday evening, that meant last night’s semi-final would have aired before our chat was published. And that being so, I asked Aishling to let me in on what she had planned for her semi-final performance…
“Well I’m singing ‘Will Ye Go Lassie, Go’ in Irish, a song I’m very familiar with because I’ve been singing it for years. And I love Irish as well, I do some Irish up in college, so it’s great to have such a lovely song that I’m able to do in Irish. The other song that I’m going to sing is one by Jimmy Buckley, it’s called ‘Roll Out The Red Carpet’, another song that I’ve been singing for ages. So I hope everyone enjoys them because I absolutely love singing them, and every time I sing them at the gigs as well I get great feedback.”
Has there been any lesson that Aishling has taken from her time on Glór Tíre so far, that she’ll now take with her into the rest of her career, given that the show provides so many new experiences for contestants?
“I suppose just hard-work pays off. I’ve worked so hard to get to Glór Tíre, and I’m working so hard on the show as well, and I think that could have been seen last week as well. Hard work, that’s it. And I’m always going to keep doing that, because if you stop you’ll be left behind. So loads of hard-work, that’s what it takes.”
Leaving Glór Tíre to one side for a moment, I asked Aishling to share both what else is happening in her musical career right now, and what she has planned for the rest of 2022 as well…
“I’ll have my album coming out in the next few weeks, which I’m really excited about. Everyone will know a lot of the singles that I’ve already released from my album, there’s ‘Darling, Say You’ll Love Me When I’m Old’, ‘Grandpa, Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days’, and ‘Truck Driving Woman’, to name but a few. I’ve worked so hard on this over lockdown, so it will be great to finally bring it to the people. I think there’s something there for everybody to enjoy. And of course, I want to keep the gigs going as well. I’m only twenty years of age and I’m out three and four nights a week, which is great. And I’ve started on the social dancing scene as well, as some of your readers might know. And I want to get busier at that as well, and it’s slowly starting to happen. So all of that is my plan for the rest of the year.”
Fingers crossed that as you guys are reading this now Aishling is already making plans for next week’s Grand Final, where – hopefully – she’ll also be joined by Colin. As with Colin, though, when we spoke on Friday last the semi-final was the next hurdle facing both. But regardless of how things went, I asked Aishling if she had a message that she wanted to send to her fans, and to everyone who has been behind her so far on her Glór Tíre journey?
“From day-one, since I started out on the country music scene, I’ve been blessed to have great people following me on Facebook, and supporting me by coming out to the gigs. And even being on Glór Tíre wouldn’t be possible without those people. So just a big thank-you to everyone who has requested my music, who has streamed my music, who has messaged me on Facebook wishing me well, and who has voted for me. It’s overwhelming! And I can’t believe the support I’ve been getting for such a young girl from Tipperary! It’s mad [laughs]. So yeah, thank-you to EVERYONE who has been supporting me so far. And I’m sure Glór Tíre is only the start of a lot of things for me as well, please God!”
~ The Grand Final of GLÓR TÍRE takes place next Tuesday night at 9.30pm on TG4. NEVER SAID GOODBYE, the brand NEW single from COLIN KENNY, and SUDS IN THE BUCKET, the brand NEW single from AISHLING RAFFERTY, are both OUT NOW, available to request from radio stations nationwide.