First Published July 2022
TRUDI TO HER COUNTRY
If you know anything about country music, you’ll know that some artists eventually attain a special status whereby they become immediately recognisable by their first names alone. Think Dolly, Reba, or Garth. And, of course, Ireland’s very own Daniel and Margo.
And to that list, you can add TRUDI.
Over the last few years in particular, TRUDI LALOR has established herself as one of the most influential figures in Irish country music. Already a household name for her talent on-stage, Trudi has gone on to found Reach Out Radio with husband BILLY MORRISSEY (who is also one of the country scene’s top promoters and foremost songwriters), and has also taken up the role of editor of the RSVP Country magazine.
OTRT had the pleasure of catching up with Trudi last weekend, and with that Tullamore date with Margo just over the horizon now, that’s where we began our chat.
With Margo one of a few artists held in the highest possible esteem by everyone on the Irish country music scene, from newcomers to its modern day stars such as Trudi herself, I asked Trudi what is it about Margo that makes ‘the Queen of Country and Irish’ so special to everyone? And on a more personal note, what makes Margo so special to Trudi herself, too?
“Well, Margo is real. And she’s authentic. I would know her for the last twenty-five years, but I really only got to know her maybe in the last five years. We became very friendly, and we met at a lot of shows that Billy would have her on as a guest artist. And she and I just got on really, really well from the word go. And when we spoke I was asking her questions like how long was she on the road, and it emerged that in 2019 she was going to be on the road fifty-five years. I said to her, well you’ll have to celebrate that for your fans, and friends, and supporters, and followers, and people in the business who would like to celebrate that with you. So we did that, and Billy went on to put together a really successful tour for her in 2019, and that’s when I really got to know her, because we were touring on the road together, arriving at soundchecks and everything. And I just saw her love of her followers. She doesn’t call them fans, she calls them friends. She would stand at the top of the queue where people were waiting to get in, so that when they were handing in their tickets Margo would be shaking hands with them and getting photographs! Which was brilliant! She met everybody before she even sang a note on the stage. And I said to myself, this is what’s unique about her. This is the difference in somebody like her. That shows why there’s longevity in her career, because she knows everybody who comes to her shows, and [has] that whole connection with her friends, as she calls them. And of course we know that country music is unique in the sense that most of the singers know most of the people that go to see them, and get to know them. As you know, there’s not the barrier there that maybe is in different genres of music. It’s certainly not there in country music. Most people that follow a particular singer will get to meet them at some stage and get photographs, and get to shake their hands. It’s that whole family ethos that country music is based on. But with Margo, she takes it a step further. She really does care about the people that come to see her. I noticed that about her during the Reach Out initiative, she was literally getting thousands of phone-calls to make but she never once said, ‘I can’t make those, Trudi, there’s too many there’. She would take her time and then come back to me and say, ‘Now, I have those calls made, I’ll make the next few tomorrow’. She’s a wonderful, genuine person, and that’s what comes across. Not just in her shows and in her recordings, but in her as a person. That’s what I’ve seen in her. And that’s what makes her so special.”
Being part of this tour with Margo is just one of the many things on Trudi’s schedule, of course, with the proud Laois woman being one of the busiest people on the Irish country scene, involved in so many ways in that scene. Before we went on to chat about some of those, I asked Trudi what her assessment of the Irish country scene was right now – from her point of view and from where she’s positioned – as we kind of emerge from the strained and draining circumstances of the last two years or so?
“I think it’s going to skyrocket again. I think it’s going to be bigger than it was in 2019. I think people have still been very cautious at the start of the year, and they’re still a little bit cautious, because there are obviously still variants of Covid out there. But I think people are getting more courageous and braver as well, while staying as safe as they can, and following the singers. And what I mean by that is, when singers take a stand and go up on stage to perform – like at festivals, you’re performing to thousands of people, you’re shaking hands, you’re hugging, you’re meeting everybody – and I think when people see that singers aren’t afraid to get back up on stage, and musicians aren’t afraid, it gives confidence to the people that follow them and support them. As a small example of that, last Sunday, at the Kilkenny Country Music Festival, it’s been running for five years but last week was the biggest crowd they ever had. It had thousands and thousands of people in Gowran Racecourse who were hungry for entertainment. Hungry for the music that they have grown up listening to . Hungry to meet other people, just for that natural connection from human beings to each other. They were missing that. Everybody’s been missing that. It’s been a horrendous two and a half years, and for singers and entertainers in particular, it’s been extremely difficult. But especially so on people who follow country music, because it is a family, as I’ve said. A lot of people live on their own, and their source of connection with the outside world is to go to their favourite country music singer and meet similar people who love the music as well. That’s where they get to talk, and they get to dance, they get to enjoy and celebrate life. That was taken away from us [by Covid]. But now, people are saying, we’re going to get back to following our singers again, we’re gonna get out there. And I think the summer is a lovely time for it to happen, because you’re open-air at a lot of these festivals. So there’s that sense of extra security inside of you, you feel that bit happier being outdoors. So, I see it being huge again. There’s great talent coming up. And again, I felt so sorry back in 2020 for the young artists that were out there carving great careers for themselves when everything had to be put on hold. But they’re coming back. And the crowds are coming back which is the main thing. I also see a huge future with the Irish folk and ballad scene, that’s coming back big-time as well. A lot of younger people are following that style of music and that genre, and I’m delighted. It’s getting people back out to ‘live’ music, ‘live’ entertainment, and I think the whole country music scene is going to take off even bigger than it was back in 2019.”
With Trudi involved in so many different projects, and influential in so many different ways in the country scene, it’s important not to forget that it’s the music itself that’s still right at the heart of it all. And in that regard, Trudi released her latest single – They’re Gonna Run – back in April…
“Well that’s something that I was really excited about, because it’s the second song that I’ve co-written with Billy [Morrissey], who is my husband and manager, but who has also written so many of my songs over the years. He wrote the lyrics and I loved it, and straight away I could hear the air going with it. So we co-wrote that, the second one I’ve ever done with him, and I loved that. It’s a song that’s taken from my new album. We have one more song to finish before bringing that out, probably in August. And I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been about four or five years since I released an album. But I have been releasing a lot of singles, and a lot of them are original songs. I’m a real believer in the wonderful songwriters we have in Ireland, just incredible songwriters. I really believe that a lot of young artists need to be looking at the great, great crafts-people we have in Ireland: our songwriters. And the great talent we have in the country music circle, particularly. I’m really excited about that new album, and delighted to be singing a lot of the songs from it at the various concerts, and events that I’m taking part in. Because as you said, music is what it’s all about. And the excitement and the buzz from performing again in front of a ‘live’ audience, it’s just been magical. During lockdown, a lot of singers had the opportunity to go into recording studios and record some new material, which is fantastic. But nothing beats the live connection with your audience, the people who love your music and want to enjoy it with you. That’s the most important thing. It IS all about the music. It’s all about the songs, and delivering them to the people, and connecting with them. And I’ve missed that. I’m so delighted it’s back, and back with force!”
What, I wondered, had been the first song Trudi and Billy wrote together? And was there anything more she could let us in on regarding her new album?
“Well the album will predominantly be the last few singles I’ve released. So there was a duet with Daniel O’ Donnell, ‘I’m Getting Over You’, and also a duet with Billy, ‘Irene Goodnight’, which I was delighted to get Billy on with me. Also, we did an upbeat version of ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’ with the great Mick Foster playing accordion on that, and that was a popular radio hit for us. There’s also ‘Keep On Keepin’ It Country’, which hasn’t been on an album, nor has ‘Everybody’s Looking For Love’. They’re all previous singles that Billy would have written for me and we would have got airplay with, but have never been on an album yet. ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ is also included in that list. The first song we ever wrote together? That was one called, ‘I Remember You, My Love’, a ballad, and it was taken from my Greatest Hits album. It’s a song that we wrote when we were away on holiday, oh…maybe twelve years ago. I always liked the idea of being able to write a song, but I left it to Billy because he was writing a lot! And I was just happy to be able to sing them [laughs]. Billy tends to run a lot of his songs by me. There’s certain songs he would write for different singers, for instance, Jimmy Buckley has one of his songs on his his new album, ‘The Last Cowboy’, and Paddy O’ Brien has one on his new album, ‘My Home in the Decies’, and Daniel has recorded a couple of Billy’s songs, and many more singers as well. So when he’d play me a song I’d know exactly who it was meant to be for. He’d say this is one I’m thinking of for such and such, and sure enough, straight away I’d hear that singer singing it. “
“Young Alex Roe“, continued Trudi, “actually did an incredible version of a song that Billy wrote – ‘No-One Will Ever Love You (Like I Do)’ – and when Billy asked me first what did I think of that one for Alex, I said it was great. And it really did well for Alex. And Billy has co-written a lot of songs as well with Max T. Barnes, the great Nashville songwriter. It’s very important when you’re out doing your ‘live’ shows to do songs that people are familiar with, and bring in some of your own as well. But when it comes to recording, it’s very important for artists to source original material. When it comes to radio play and radio presenters, every one of them will tell ya – and you know this yourself – they want to be able to bring something new to their radio shows, and to the airwaves and to their listeners. The same song or songs being redone is not really a good idea, especially for a new artist starting out. It’s very important that they carve out their own careers with their own songs, that’s vital. That’s why we’re very lucky to have the songwriters that we do in Ireland, so young artists should just go after them and look for songs from them.”
Staying with Trudi and her husband Billy, and continuing the theme of how they work so well together, another of the projects they’ve been the driving forces behind is Reach Out Radio. Evolving from the Reach Out initiative which Trudi and Billy also founded during the days of lockdown, Reach Out Radio is a station that they have a very specific vision for…
“Yes, as you said, the Reach Out initiative began at the start of lockdown. When we finished with all the phone-calls, we had to bring that to an end. So we did that on Easter Sunday night with a live-streamed concert with singers from the country music family performing a couple of songs from their own home that went out through YouTube, Facebook, and our Reach Out Radio website at the time. Altogether, we raised €40,000 for Childline that night, by asking people to donate on the night. It was a fantastic success, the whole Reach Out initiative – thank God! – was a great success. All the singers contacted me and Billy afterwards and they said ye can’t leave it at this, Reach Out has to continue in some shape or form. We’re all together, for the first time we’re united as a country music family, as singers and musicians, we have to keep this going. And down through the years, as you’d be well aware, at many a concert and many a show we’d all meet up as singers, or as songwriters, performers, and we’d talk about the whole idea of protecting our music and making sure that it’s heard on radio.”
“Local radio has certainly done its bit, community radio, and online radio as well”, explained Trudi, “they’ve all done their part. But we’ve always felt the need for a national online country music station that would also branch into Irish folk and ballads which is huge, and which is our music, our heritage. And also Irish showband music as well. The music that people want to hear, and are really only getting to hear a little bit, a few hours here and there on certain radio stations. A lot of radio stations don’t play our music…at all! Including our national stations. They’re very, very slow to play it. National TV has been good, the Late Late Show Country Special has been fantastic, in my opinion. But I’m on about our actual national stations who have never done anything. And there’s no point in just giving out and saying the same things year in, year out, we needed to be proactive about this. So we said, look, why don’t we develop our own radio station? Run by ourselves? We know our industry inside-out. All the presenters are household names on the country music circuit, they’re singers themselves, they’re songwriters. And we’re even reaching out even more, and getting more singers on board.”
“From that perspective”, Trudi continued, “we felt the hunger was there, the need was there. And the people who love country music, who love Irish folk and ballad music, were crying out for it. They were saying, ‘This is something that we need. We want to hear our music twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so that when they tune in they know they’re going to get the music that they want to hear. They won’t have to be fiddling around with different buttons trying to find whoever is on tonight somewhere, what show is on what station. This is a one-stop shop. The music that they want to hear is all together on Reach Out Radio. When we decided to go with this idea, it was hugely supported, and it continues to be hugely supported. Our singers, and our presenters are all fully behind it, but most importantly, our listeners are. We started out on New Year’s Day, and we just got our figures again the other day, and we’re up to 56,332 listeners last weekend alone. It’s a team-effort. We all work together fantastically. We have John Hogan on in the mornings, I’m on then, then Paul Kelly presents his show, then Billy Morrissey brings his folk and ballad show which is hugely popular. Max T. Barnes does a show from Nashville, Tennessee, Marc Roberts has his show ‘Country Roads.’ We’ve branched out even more and have Tony Brook, the drummer with Gina, Dale Haze and the Champions, he does a showband show. We have the Susan McCann Show being added shortly. Sina Theil will be doing a new country-rock show. Kerry Fearon as well, and loads more too. It’s twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with ‘live’ presenters every Saturday and Sunday from 9am in the morning until 10 o’ clock at night. Then from Monday to Friday, we have a ‘live’s show from 12 noon until 2 o’ clock as well. And we’ll be extending that again by the end of July. We’ve created something that is connecting with the people who follow our music. They love it. They’re tuning in in their thousands. They’re letting people know how to reach us and listen in, and that’s very easy. All people have to do is download the Reach Out Radio app for free onto their phone, or listen in on Alexa, or it’s available online at reachoutradio.com We’re also on the Radio Player app as well. It’s the music people want to hear, plus giveaways, and up to date information on our country music scene, and on our folk and ballad scene. So you’ll get to hear who’s playing where. We don’t do news, the reason being that we feel if people want to hear the news they can turn on their telly and listen to it. We want it to be upbeat, so it’s all about the music, and all about having fun. As the weeks and months progress, our schedule will extend, with a lot of ‘live’ interviews with the country music stars, and the folk and ballad stars as well.”
And the Reach Out Radio won’t always be behind a mic in the studio either, as Trudi went on to reveal…
“And we intend to go even further with it, which is the whole ‘live’ events sector, with a Reach Out Radio stage at various different events. And we’re delighted that already this year we’ve secured a two-hour spot on the main-stage at the World Ploughing Championship up in Ratheniska in my home county of Laois. It was to be the National Ploughing Championship, with the World Championship due to be in Russia. But due to the war, they’re now coming to Ireland, so it’s going to be the World Ploughing Championship on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of September up in Laois. And we’re thrilled that Reach Out Radio will be there with a ‘live’ country music show every day. We’ll have a ‘live’ backing band and a host of Ireland’s top country singers appearing each day. It’s a huge opportunity for people to see all the big names who will be coming. We’ll be announcing the details in the coming weeks. They get about 100,000 through the gates every day when it’s the National Ploughing Championship, but it’s going to be at least half-a-million people over the three days for this. That’s part of the kind of vision I have [for Reach Out Radio], I have so many ideas just bursting to get out there! 2023 is going to be phenomenal for Reach Out Radio, and for country music in general.”
~ TRUDI LALOR joins MARGO in the TULLAMORE COURT HOTEL on July 20th for Margo’s 70th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION CONCERT TOUR, along with other special guests MICK FOSTER, MOYRA FRASER, and ALEX ROE. Tickets are available now from hotel reception and/or by calling 05793-46666.