Featuring: Lisa McHugh, Aishling Rafferty, Emma Donohue, Brendan Graham, Tenille Townes, and Seaforth
First Published September 2022
ELECTRIC LISA McHUGH MAKES HISTORY
There’s really only one place to start this special round-up edition of OTRT, and that’s with country music history-maker LISA McHUGH. The Glasgow born singer/songwriter has been one of the leading lights of the Irish country music scene for well over a decade now and last weekend she made history by becoming the first country artist to ever perform at Electric Picnic. In doing so, Lisa has blazed a trail in a direction that few people probably ever thought possible. Unless, of course, you happen to know Lisa, in which case you also know she’s a woman and an artist who is not afraid of any challenge, regardless of how big it may seem to others. And what’s more, Lisa has always had the courage of her convictions as well.
Reliving the moment with her fans on her official Facebook page afterwards, Lisa wrote, “Honoured and so grateful to have been the first country act ever to play Electric Picnic, and I honestly can’t tell you how happy I am that so many of you came to see us. A huge moment for not only me, but, here’s hoping for country music at Electric Picnic in the future”.
We’ve had the pleasure of featuring Lisa in OTRT many, many times over the years, so we know country music could wish for no better representative in both showing that country can move in a more pop direction while remaining country and still being cool, and in taking Irish country music to a broader audience.
When we last spoke to Lisa back in the summer of 2020, here’s part of how we introduced her to readers on that occasion…
“If you’re arguably the reigning and undisputed top female star in Irish country music, and seemingly all of a sudden, you just take a complete step back from almost all public performances of note for over a year…, well, make no mistake about it, that takes courage. And if you’re profiling the career of LISA McHUGH, and you don’t talk courage at some point, then you’ve failed to recognise and acknowledge one of her strongest character traits.
Moving to Ireland from Glasgow to pursue her dream of a career in country music was one of the earliest manifestations of Lisa’s determination. Ten years on, after a decade of success that saw awards galore come her way, hit after hit top the charts, and sell-out tours up and down the country, Lisa decided that to truly follow her heart, she needed to move in a slightly different direction. And admirably, that’s exactly what she’s done.
To anyone who thinks she’s just nonchalantly decided to abandon the style of country music that first made her famous, you’re missing the point. Completely. Firstly, she’s far from nonchalantly abandoning it anyway. What she’s doing is continuing to follow her heart. Which is exactly the sense of self-awareness that helped fire her to fame the first time around. And following your heart is courage in real-time.
What we’re witnessing now, is just a different side to Lisa. It’s the next stage of the evolution of a woman who is no longer satisfied with just being a performer, when the creative spirit of a songwriter and an artist has always burned within. Now, it’s time for that fire to be seen – and heard – by the world.”
Well done, Lisa, we’re proud of ya!
YOUNG COUNTRY QUEENS AISHLING AND EMMA HEADED TO RATHENISKA
Country music fans can look forward to a real double-treat at this year’s National Ploughing Championship with the announcement that TWO GLÓR TÍRE winners will grace the Main Stage at the event which gets underway in Ratheniska, Laois, on September 20th. Both AISHLING RAFFERTY and EMMA DONOHUE – winners of the long-running TG4 show in 2022 and 2021 respectively – have been confirmed as part of the entertainment for Wednesday, September 21st, with a set scheduled to begin at 12 noon.
For close on two decades now, Glór Tíre has consistently offered a platform to new and younger artists looking to forge a career in country music in Ireland, something for which both the show itself and TG4 deserve great credit for. In all that time – and quite staggeringly given the wealth of hugely talented female singers in Ireland – only five have been crowned Glór Tíre champion, with Tipperary’s Aishling and Galway’s Emma following in the footsteps of Carmel McLoughlin, Eunice Moran, and Lauren McCrory.
That fact in itself would make both ladies’ achievements all the more noteworthy, even if both successes had occurred in what we might now refer to as ‘normal’ times. But it shouldn’t be overlooked that Aishling and Emma – both mentored to glory by Mike Denver, by the way, who also guided Eunice Moran to first-place in 2010 – navigated their time on national television under the shadow of Covid, which meant that there was no in-studio support from fans.
Since her big moment earlier this year, Aishling has been in huge demand at events of all kinds nationwide, making the student of voice at Limerick’s Irish World Academy one of the most popular – and busy – artists on the Irish country music scene right now. Aishling followed her Glór Tíre success with the release of her debut album, Love Me When I’m Old, and by taking home her first major award in country music, being honoured with the Big Tom Inspiration Award at this year’s Hot Country TV Awards Concert. And on September 28th the Knockshegowna woman will make her solo debut at Limerick’s famous University Concert Hall, as part of that venue’s Acoustic Country series of concerts (tickets on-sale now from www.uch.ie).
For Emma, the challenge of taking part in Glór Tíre during an unprecedented pandemic was brought into even sharper focus given that she was also a student nurse at the time. Switching effortlessly between lighting up our tv screens, working on the frontline with her colleagues in the health service, and at the same time, remaining a vital cog in the machinery of her family’s farm, Emma’s remarkable display of sheer determination and resilience will take some beating when the history of Glór Tíre is finally written.
Since her win, Emma’s focus has been mainly on her studies and continuing her work in the health service, meaning that – for the time-being at least – her ‘live’ appearances have needed to accommodate those other commitments. However, she’s lost none of her juggling ability when it comes to multi-tasking, and fans will be delighted to know that Emma has been working away on new music behind the scenes, with more information on a new single expected in the very near future.
If you’re planning a trip to Ratheniska later this month, make sure it’s on September 21st, and get yourself along to the Main Stage for this high-noon country music belter!
ANOTHER HONOUR FOR BRENDAN
From Finny to Finuge – Brendan Graham honoured to receive the Seán McCarthy Lifetime Achievement Award
The North Kerry village of Finuge gave a resounding welcome to musicians, songwriters and storytellers who travelled on the August Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate and compete in the 2022 Seán McCarthy Memorial Weekend, following a three year absence.
The festival of music, story and song proudly presented the Seán McCarthy Lifetime Achievement Award for songwriting to world renowned Mayo based songwriter and novelist Brendan Graham for his great contribution to the Irish songbook. Former Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – and Festival founder – Jimmy Deenihan, made the prestigious presentation to Graham.
The man who penned hugely successful songs such as You Raise Me Up and Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, was accompanied by Róisín O’Reilly and musician Denis Carey who performed a range of Graham’s best known hits on Friday evening, July 29th, in Teach Siamsa, Finuge.
Brendan expressed his gratitude following the announcement.
“I am deeply honoured to receive this year’s Seán McCarthy Lifetime Achievement Award. Given the high standard of the craft of songwriting achieved by both Seán himself, with his classics like ‘Shanagolden’,’Redhaired Mary’, and also reached by the previous recipient in 2019, Mickey McConnell with classics like ‘Only Our Rivers Run Free’ and ‘December 1914’. These timeless songs have touched so many people who received them into their hearts. It is a spur for me to keep writing and to try to reach that higher ground of writing, which Seán and Mickey inhabit.”
McCarthy and Graham’s songwriting gave a voice to the Irish diaspora all over the world in tune with Ireland’s long history of emigration, cementing the link between Ireland and its people abroad.
This is Brendan’s third award for songwriting in the past twelve months, including standing ovations following recent performances of You Raise Me Up by Westlife and Andre Rieu in Dublin and at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics closing ceremony. Graham, whose first song was recorded fifty-four years ago, shared his delight in his song Lullaby for the World shared on World Earth Day in April 2022 for a second year.
He was also honoured recently at the Home to Mayo – A Transatlantic Journey Home concert in the Royal Theatre, Castlebar as one of Mayo’s great musical ambassadors and was awarded the 2021 Cong Hands of Fame alongside RTE’s Mary Kennedy. Graham yielded great Eurovision success writing two winning songs, Rock & Roll Kids by Paul Harrington & Charlie McGettigan in 1994, and The Voice by Eimear Quinn in 1996.
Graham has worked with a diverse range of artists including Josh Groban, Westlife, IL Divo, Celtic Woman and Katherine Jenkins. The Nenagh native now resides in County Mayo for many years.
NEW HEARTBREAKER FROM TENILLE
Songwriter, performer and two-time ACM winner TENILLE TOWNES hasdropped her heartbreaking new single, THE LAST TIME. The song talks about the universal feeling of nostalgia you get after the realisation that an occurrence in your life happened for the last time.
“We always remember the first time something happens”, observes Tenille. “We put it in a certain frame in our mind because we know it’s special. But the last time often doesn’t get the same frame because we don’t know that it’s happened until it’s already a part of our past. I wanted to write a song that captured that sentimental reality, with nostalgia in the fabric of the music. This song reminds me to stop and take in the moments that are happening right now, and I hope it feels like a comforting reminder to anybody else who needs it too.”
Tenille was recently announced alongside Blanco Brown to host the 2022 Canadian Country Music Association Awards, set for September 11th in Calgary, AB, where she is also set to perform. She also leads the nominations for the show this year, which include Amazon Music and Alexa Fans’ Choice Award, Spotify Female Artist of the Year Award, Single of the Year, Ford F-150 Album of the Year Award, Video of the Year, Songwriter(s) of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year!
Earlier this summer, Tenille was announced alongside Carrie Underwood as the first two country artists to take part in Apple’s new Apple Music Sessions. The sessions are exclusive live releases featuring some of the world’s most prolific and emerging artists, all in Spatial Audio. Tenille performed her recently released Same Road Home, off her Masquerades EP, as well as her GOLD certified debut single Somebody’s Daughter, and a gritty, soulful cover of Etta James’ At Last.
Catch Tenille right here in Ireland next month with an October 14th show at Dublin’s Workman’s Club, and in Belfast at the Limelight 2 on October 16th.
SEAFORTH DROP NEW ALBUM
Arista Nashville/Sony Music Nashville buzzworthy duo SEAFORTH has released their latest project, WHAT I GET FOR LOVING YOU, which was produced by the pair’s TOM JORDAN entirely from their home studio.
Featuring their breezy summertime collaboration Queen of Daytona Beach with Sean Kingston and feel-good duet Good Beer with Jordan Davis, What I Get For Loving You also goes deeper, revealing new layers to the duo as songwriters and artists.
“’What I Get For Loving You,’ for us, translates to more than just a relationship. It’s also, ‘This is what we’re doing. We chose this path,’” said the duo’s MITCH THOMPSON. “Everything that comes along with it, the ups and downs, that’s what we get for loving what we do. If you take a step back, it captures everything and just our journey in general.”
“It’s easy to just look at us like, ‘Oh, these guys are funny,’” added Jordan. “But at the end of the day, we are musicians. We are producing the songs, and we are writing the songs, and we have real stories to tell.”
Their career growth was hard won for the pair who thought they were on the fast track to their dreams at the end of 2019. Seaforth just finished opening shows in Sydney for their musical hero Keith Urban, was playing to full houses in Europe at Country-2-Country Festival, booked their first sold-out headlining show in Australia and felt like the world was at their feet. Then, the harsh reality of the pandemic isolated them from their careers, their friends, and held them captive a world away from their families in Australia.
Feeling uninspired, they didn’t write music for nearly a year, but credit their newfound personal and professional relationships with co-writers Rocky Block and Jordan Dozzi – who have multiple credits on the EP – for helping to revive their passion in the craft.
Having returned to the road with their electrifying live show, the pair also returned to the UK for the second time this year to perform on the main stage and at the after-party of The Long Road Festival on August 27th.