Even in the 21st century, an old-fashioned love is still what some girls dream of. And singer/songwriter LARISSA TORMEY just so happens to be one of them. In fact, Larissa is such an old-fashioned romantic herself, that she followed her heart all the way from her native Russia to her new home in the Irish midlands when she married a good old-fashioned Irish farmer, her husband Christy. So maybe it’s no surprise then that her new single will be the somewhat tongue-in-cheek single, OLD FASHIONED.
Set for general release across all digital platforms on July 30th, Old Fashioned is another original from Larissa’s own songbook, and features on her latest country collection, Breath of Fresh Air. That album hit stores last November, but this particular song holds a special place in Larissa’s affections, and she’s always had an equally special plan for it…
“I think everyone should just be themselves, I think that’s so important for everybody. And if that means that you might be a little bit old-fashioned in your ways, that’s grand, that’s no problem. It’s much better to be authentic than to ever feel like you need to pretend to be someone you’re not. Even though it’s a fun song, and a happy one, it does have that message in it, too. I think being old-fashioned is a great thing, and lots of girls still prefer gentlemen to bad boys! [Laughs]. After all, not everyone needs to be modern. At least not in every way.”
Larissa continued, “This is one of my favourite songs on my last album because it’s so funny. And I know it’s a little bit…maybe sarcastic you could say, but it’s in a very gentle and affectionate way. It’s just a playful song, and it’s the kind of thing you can say to a gentleman because you know they understand that. Because I loved ‘Old Fashioned’ from the moment I wrote it, I was really tempted to put it out as a single before now. But I decided that it would be even better to wait until summer came so that we could make a video here at home on Loughnagore Farm! So that’s what I did! So we recorded that last week and I’m delighted to say that one of the stars of the ‘Old Fashioned’ video will be a gentleman called Tom Lynam, who is not only one of our lovely neighbours, but a very good family friend as well. And of course we couldn’t film a video on our farm in the summer without making sure that our cattle got in on the action too! [Laughs].”
Despite the ongoing troubles faced by the music industry as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, Old Fashioned will actually be Larissa’s fourth release of what has already proved to be a busy 2021. Her musical year began with the duet, Agree To Disagree, with British country legend Dave Sheriff back in February. That was followed by One Man Band in March, a track with links to none other than Sir Tom Jones himself as it was penned by Jon Philibert who also wrote the Welsh legends 1984 hit, I’ve Been Rained On Too. Then, as summer began to appear on the horizon in April, Larissa treated fans to another original of her own, Slightly Mad, which will feature on a full original album she has in the works for before the year’s end.
With two Hot Press Award nominations also coming her way last March, in the Female Artist of the Year (alongside Imelda May, Denise Chaila, Emma Langford, and more) and the Best Songwriter (alongside Lisa Hannigan, Dermot Kennedy, and Niall Horan to name a few) categories, it’s already been a year to remember, no matter what else happens between now and December 31st.
But Larissa isn’t one for resting on her laurels. She’s always planning her next move. You could say, she’s kind of old-fashioned like that.
~ OLD FASHIONED, the brand NEW single from LARISSA TORMEY, will be available on all platforms from Friday, July 30th, and is now available to request from radio stations nationwide.
Long renowned as an innovator within the Irish country music scene where he has been an influential figure for more than a decade, Cork based HOTCOUNTRY TV host and founder HUGH O’ BRIEN, is about to launch an exciting new venture which will create almost fifty new jobs while offering artists an opportunity to grow their fan-base on a worldwide scale.
The Hot Country FREE HD TV iPlayer will open a portal for artists and fans alike to share and enjoy the best of Irish country anywhere across the globe.
The iPlayer (also known as the Hot Country TV Media Player) – which will be an on-demand service, similar to that provided by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Discovery, Now TV, and others – will be accessible via all Smart TVs and digital devices, taking only about ten seconds to download.
Speaking about his new venture, the Corkman, who first broadcast on SKY TV almost twelve years ago, explained how the new Hot Country TV iPlayer will change the landscape of the Irish country music scene.
“This is a first for Irish country music as currently there is no iPlayer available which can be downloaded to SMART TVs. This gives the viewer comfort, with top quality picture and sound at the flick of a button. If they like country music, and indeed associated programming, then this is the place to be. Country music is hugely popular and has the second highest audience rating on RTE 1 each year, The Toy show being the biggest.”
As well as creating up to fifty new jobs nationwide (with more to be added) by way of camera and sound operators, presenters and researchers, editors, sales and office staff, O’ Brien revealed that the free Hot Country TV iPlayer platform will also be available at extremely attractive rates to other video producers. These might be producers who have either a series or once-off shows available for broadcast. As this platform – that of TV and in this format is not available at present – he expects this option to prove very popular among creators. With the Hot Country TV iPlayer also offering a pay-per-view facility, O’ Brien has no doubt that its arrival will mark a new era for country music, and any and all associated businesses.
In fact, he sees this as an exciting opportunity to be availed of by businesses of any shape or size, and in any sector, remarking that, “We’ll have hugely attractive advertising rates, and we’ll happily talk to anyone about how we can work together. No problem at all.”
The Hot Country FREE HD TV iPlayer on-demand service will include the award winning Hot Country show (long noted for its role in helping to launch the careers of stars such as Nathan Carter, Derek Ryan, Mike Denver, Cliona Hagan, Jimmy Buckley, and many more), plus: Hot Country XTRA;The NewStars Of Irish Country Music, promoting Ireland’s newest country singers and bands; the Life & Times show profiling the life of Ireland’s top stars; TheMost Awesome Bathroom Singer in Ireland; as well as star interviews, a regular gig-guide, infomercials for wedding suppliers, shows from Nashville TN, and shows on farming, tourism, motor-sport, and more yet to be announced.
Now, one of the above-mentioned shows in particular may have caught your attention, and that’s The Most Awesome Bathroom Singer in Ireland.
If we’re all being honest about it, then most of us would have to admit that we think we’re a country star when we’re singing away to our heart’s content in the bathroom! And that’s whether we have a voice like Mike Denver or – as the saying goes – even if we couldn’t carry a melody if it had a handle. So here’s the BIG question: Have YOU ever fancied yourself as a bit of a Nathan Carter, a Derek Ryan, a Jimmy or a Claudia Buckley when you’re standing in front of the bathroom mirror? Or, when doing your best Daniel O’Donnell, Olivia Douglas or Sabrina Fallon impersonation while in the shower, has the thought ever crossed your mind that you could take that talent and step into the real-world spotlight with it? If the answer is yes, then there’s another question that awaits you…
Do you think you have what it takes to take home the title of The Most Awesome Bathroom Singer in Ireland?
Well, if you do, the chance to prove it is coming your way, and again, it’s coming courtesy of Europe’s longest-running country music TV show, Hot Country, and it’s founder Hugh O’ Brien. “Some of us wouldn’t sing in public even if we were paid to!”, exclaimed Hugh when we spoke recently, adding with a laugh, “And I’d be one of them!”
“And yet we’ll nearly all sing in the shower without any embarrassment. Believe it or not, there’s a scientific explanation behind such soapy musical stylings. Think about it, you probably don’t sing when you’re sad, unless you’re singing the blues, of course. For many people, shower time is the only time they’re alone all day. You’re in a warm, small, safe environment, and you’re comfortable enough to be in the buff! Stress literally washes off you. When you relax, your brain releases dopamine, which can give your creative juices a jumpstart.”
Hugh continued, “The warm water rushing over you relaxes you, and makes you feel good. And it turns out that singing makes you feel even better. You see, singing, because of the breathing you put into it, gets more oxygen into the blood. This gives you better circulation, which in turn improves your body and mood. Because you have to breathe a little deeper to belt out a song, you get some of the same relaxation and mind-clearing benefits as meditation. And when you’re singing, you really can’t think about your problems, so there’s more stress relief for ya!”
Hugh went on to explain that the best thing about singing in the bathroom is the acoustics. Because bathroom tiles don’t absorb sound, your voice bounces back and forth around the room before fading away. And because the shower is a small space, it also boosts your voice and even adds a little bass, making your singing sound more powerful. The sound bouncing gives your vocal styling a slight reverb effect, which makes your voice hang in the air longer and evens out variations in your singing. This can be thought of as a primitive auto-tune, making you sound better than you actually are, and giving you an added confidence boost in the process.
So, how exactly can you go about becoming the most awesome bathroom singer in Ireland? Well, that couldn’t be more simple.
All you have to do is record a video of yourself being the star that you are when you’re singing in the bathroom. Whether that’s in front of the mirror, in the shower, or even while relaxing in a bubble-bath, we’ll leave those choices up to you!
When you’ve captured the take that you’re happiest with, simply send your video to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a holiday for TWO in Spain, and a number of product hampers from Galway Irish Crystal.
The best videos will feature as part of the brand new original show on Hot Country TV’s newly launched Free HD iPlayer, presented by Jodie Lucas. This can be downloaded to all SMART TVs worldwide, plus all digital devices including Apple and android phones. The show will also be available on the Hot Country TV website www.hotcountrytv.com
With Hot Country TV, the whole world really is a stage…even your bathroom!
So get your voice warmed up, and get your phone out, because YOU could be…’the most awesome bathroom singer’ in Ireland!
~ Hot Country is Europe’s longest running country music TV show, broadcasting for the last twelve years and currently on the hugely popular Phil Mac’s Spotlight TV channel Sky 365, plus Freesat 516, Freeview 87 (Manchester), and Free to Air Satellite all over Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe. Broadcast times are Monday at 8 pm, repeated on Saturdays at 6 pm, also available worldwide at www.hotcountrytv.com and www.spotlightv.co.uk Hot Country is edited by Leo Fitzgerald at Music Row Studios in their state of the art video and audio studios in Ballydesmond, Cork, Ireland.
LOUISE MORRISSEY has long been one of the most loved artists on the Irish country music scene. Respected by her peers, and looked up to by younger and up-and-coming artists, you would need to travel a long road to meet someone who better personifies all that is traditionally regarded as being best about country music.
With a voice that you could listen to from one end of the day to the next, and songs that will have your feet taking on a life of their own, can stop your in your tracks as you’re softly called back to another place and time, or that fill your heart with all the light of love in so many forms, Louise has a place in the hearts of Irish country music fans that she’ll never have to worry about.
And those fans will be back wearing smiles they can thank Louise for later this week as she releases her brand new single. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a sneak-preview of WE RISE AGAIN (written by Leon Dubinsky),and let me tell you this, folks, it’s a BIG song from Louise. I also had the great pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Louise last weekend, and to get things underway, I asked her how she came to find the song, and why she decided to cut it right now?
“I was sent the song last year, once the lockdown had happened. A friend of mine – Paul Egan – who I’ve known for a long time and would have given me songs in the past to record and who would have suggested songs for me as well, he sent me this. He thought it was something I might be interested in because of the words and what it was about, and because of the times we’re in and all of that, he said this might be worth a listen. He said I might be able to do my own thing with it, put my own stamp on it. Anyway, I really liked it, the chorus especially. It’s got a very strong chorus. So that’s how it came about. Of course, I had to wait a very long time then before I could get to a recording studio because of lockdown and travel restrictions, ya know. I went up to Peter Maher – where I live in Tipperary, Peter is about an hour away, up in north Tipp, up in Cloughjordan – I knew that Peter would have been the right man for this song and for the production and arrangement it needed.”
We Rise Again became a staple of Canada’s pop scene back in the 90s. Recorded by folk group The Rankin Family, the track featured on their 1993 long-player, North Country, becoming a crossover hit by reaching the Top 20 on pop charts, and the Top 40 in the country equivalent. When Louise and Peter were sitting down to plan their approach to the production of We Rise Again, given that it is such a big, anthemic song, what was going through their minds?
“Well I sent the song to Peter and said,”Have a listen to this.” Straight away, I said to him that it’s not a country song as such, and that’s what I would be known for, obviously. But I also come from the folk scene and I sing a lot of folk songs but with my own little stamp on them, do them in my own style. So I said [to Peter], look, this song needs a certain kind of production. It’s not going to be something that’s specially done for the dancing scene. Sometimes we record songs especially for dancing, but this was always going to be a concert song. I could hear lovely whistles in it, and pipes, it was that sort of vibe. Peter agreed, and we went along with that. The original recording didn’t have that, but I thought it would give the song that lovely sort of Celtic style. And going back to the chorus of the song, that’s what stood out to me straight away. We’ve all had setbacks in our lives, and we’ve all had things happen to us in our lives. But no matter what happens to you, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and you get going again. You’ll meet some setbacks or knockbacks over and over again, they might keep happening. But no matter what happens, life keeps going on. We rise again all the time. So I just thought with the times we’re in, with the Covid pandemic, and all of the restrictions, how it’s been for everybody right across the world with people not able to see and meet their families and their loved ones – and people who lost their loved ones as well – but still now things are starting to improve, thank God. So we can bounce back, and we will bounce back. We rise again, ya know.”
The weeks leading up to a new release are always busy and exciting anyway, with so much to get ready and prepare. And the week just gone had been an especially thrilling one for Louise as she had a brand new video shoot on her schedule as well. She has something very special in store for her fans…
“Yes, I saw the final cut the other night and I’m delighted with it. Again, thinking about the song…we’ve done all kinds of videos, some might be in concert, or you might be out in a dance situation…but I wanted to do something a little bit extra-special with this song. I thought it needed a little drama, and it needed the Atlantic ocean, cliffs, lovely scenery like that. So we (with Steve Bloor) went to Achill Island to film it. We went up on Monday night, started bright and early on Tuesday morning. We were out and on the road at half-seven, and we drove all over the island all day. We climbed up rocks and down rocks, down into coves, up hills to try and get to the little spots we wanted to get the best views. It’s the most beautiful, stunning place, and the weather was gorgeous. That kind of scenery was perfect for this song.”
The last year and a half or so has been a tough time for everyone, and especially the music business. So much so, that a lot of artists have almost withdrawn form the public eye, all but vanishing completely, and we’ve barely heard or seen anything from them. Louise, however, did not take that approach, continuing to release new music in that time-period. I asked her why she thought that was so important to do, not just for herself, but for her fans also…
“Yeah, well for my own sake it was to stay sane! [Laughs]. It was great to be doing something. And when you are bringing out a single, as you mentioned, it is a busy time, you have a lot of things to get organised. But for the fans, who’ve been always there for us throughout the years, and even though this awful pandemic came and hit everybody, the fans are still there and listening to the radio, they’re still fans. They’re still there, still supporting us by watching our videos or requesting us on radio all the time. So it’s for them as well, the new music. All my music is for the fans. Because those people are so important to all of us. None of us would have careers without our fans, it’s as simple as that. So I just wanted to do that. And to keep busy myself as well. I will say that I am enjoying the time-off at home, with no big long journeys in the car or anything like that. You don’t miss that [laughs]. But you do miss the people. So it was nice to keep doing something, and I really enjoyed getting back up to the studio a few weeks ago to record that song. And I had a great time in Achill as well, just to be out, and to be somewhere different, outside of Tipperary [laughs]. Much as I love it! [Laughs].”
Speaking of being on the road, it’s still hard to know when exactly – or even roughly! – ‘live’ music will return in anything close to the form we’ve always known it. But, looking ahead to next year, by which time we WILL hopefully be back to something closer to some kind of normal again, Louise will be hitting the road with Declan Nerney and John Hogan as part of Declan’s nationwide tour, something I was sure Louise is probably looking forward to already. And just out of curiosity, I wondered if Louise could recall when her last proper gig had actually been?
“The last gig that I did was about two nights before the lockdown in 2020, in Wexford, in the Talbot Hotel. Declan Nerney was on the show the same night, I remember. There were five or six of us doing guest spots on a country show. And we were all there chatting in the Green Room about Covid and how the country might be going into a lockdown. That was the big topic of conversation on the night. And literally two days later, the country went into lockdown. And that was the end of that! The only other gig that I got to do where I got to work with a band – and the Ryan Turner band is the one that I would work with quite a lot over the last twenty years – we got together to do Glór Tíre last November. That was the only show that I got to do, and haven’t got to do anything since. Just one or two little bits, contributions to charity events online where I would have pre-recorded something at home. But that’s it. No ‘live’ shows since. It’s an awfully long time to be not doing your job.”
So when it comes to finally getting back up on stage again, when Louise hits the road with Decland and John in 2022, I imagine moments like that are going to be very emotional for a lot of people?
“I think it will. And I’m really looking forward to the tour and looking forward to working with Declan and John. We’ve all known each other a long time, and worked on different shows together over the years. But this is the first time we’re going on an official tour with Declan. We’re going to be doing lovely theatres and concert venues around the country. I’m so looking forward to that, to catching up with the boys, catching up with the band members, catching up with all the fans that are going to come to those shows. It will be lovely just to get doing that again. I was joking at home recently, I said God, will we all be gone too nervous to go back on stage! [laughs]. We’re away from it so long! But I think, with music – like a lot of things – you fall in where you left off. So it’ll probably feel like it was just last week [since our last show]. I think that’s the way it will be.”
Louise, Declan, and John are all part of the same generation of Irish country music stars. But in her role as a presenter on Tipp Mid-West, Louise gets to hear and see many of the new and younger artists who will become the next generation of country stars. I asked Louise for her thoughts on the talent that’s out there on the country scene right now, and also to tell me about her show, Lunch With Louise…
“Yeah, I love it, I’m there almost a year already, I can’t believe that I’m presenting the show. It’s on every Friday from twelve-to-two on Tipp Mid-West. That was just like a lifeline for me as well, when that opportunity presented itself for me to go in and do a show. Like we spoke about, I was at home, there was nothing happening, we were in lockdown. So it was fantastic to get that opportunity to go in and present a show and play all the Irish country, because most of my show is Irish country. I’d play one of two of the American artists as well, but I end up sticking with the Irish country because of the requests that come in. It took me a little while to settle in and to learn how to use all the controls and work everything so that I could work away on my own, and that’s what I do now. Now I do still press an odd wrong button here and there [laughs], but it’s all part of ‘live’ radio. It keeps you on your toes! But yeah, it’s lovely, and I’m on all the presenters’ mailing lists now so every week there’s new stuff being sent to me from all the new artists. And it’s lovely to get it, ya know, because that was where I was years ago starting out. I think there’s more opportunity for airplay nowadays as well, with all the great radio stations all over the country. We didn’t have as many when lots of us started out. So that’s great. And all the young singers, they’re going in and they’re recording the best of stuff, in with all the best producers and coming out with good stuff, it’s great. They’re starting off the right way. And I know it’s expensive too, it’s very expensive to record. But it’s a tool of the trade, if ya like. It’s just something that you have to do if you want to get out there.”
Something that I’ve been noticing a lot more recently, and perhaps it’s because I’ve been paying attention to how often it seems to be happening in the music business in general (a BIG shout-out to Linda Coogan Byrne and her Why Not Her? team for their work on this here in Ireland) and in American country music, is how many shows are dominated by male artists. You can see line-ups with five, six, or even seven male performers, and maybe just one female artist in amongst them! Now, as Louise and I both know well, there are SO MANY amazing female artists in Ireland, from brand new to rising stars, and from the already well-established to those who have long been household names. So personally speaking, I just can’t understand how anyone can put together a show with such an unbalanced line-up, look at it, and think to themselves, ‘Yeah, that’s the finest. Job done, nice one!’ I asked Louise for her thoughts on this subject.
“It is something I would have noticed from time to time when you see that somebody puts up a poster for something, or in a newspaper for some upcoming event or show, or festival, whatever it might be. And yeah, very often there’s only one female singer on the show. I don’t know why, to be honest. Because as you already said, there’s some fantastic female artists out there in Ireland. That’s something that I’m very conscious of every week with my radio show, that I play a lot, or as many of the girls as I can fit in, with the boys as well. It’s important. The girls are putting in as much effort as the boys are. If they go in to record, it’s costing them as much as the boys. And if anything, the girls, with style and clothes, and make-up and everything, ya know, it can be costly. But I just don’t know why it is. I suppose, maybe some people would say that the guys will get a big female following straight away so then the husbands or the boyfriends bring them to the shows because they want to see their favourite male singer, ya know. Some people would have the idea that that’s a lot of it. But I honestly don’t know. I mean, I know that I would have a lot of female fans out there as well, and always had. But the scales should be balanced better, there should be more women on the shows, on any show.”
I point out the importance of young female artists, or girls and women even before they become artists, needing to see other women doing what they too dream of doing, to see and know that it’s possible, and Louise agrees…
“They do. And it’s like any job, you have to learn your trade and get experience. And the only way you can do that is by being on shows. And yet, you do see a lot of situations where there’s only one girl on a show of six or seven artists. I would love to see more girls getting work as well, and for the scales to be more evenly balanced.”
A lot of artists we’ve spoken to, including Nathan Carter when we spoke with him a few months back, have mentioned how this whole time of Covid has seen them reevaluate how they intend to do things when we make it to the other side. With Nathan, for instance, he shared that he probably won’t be on the road as much, having had a chance to do some other things during this break. I wondered if this time had changed Louise’s perspective on how she plans to enjoy music and life from now on?
“It has, definitely, without question. Before Covid and lockdown came in, you could see how busy some bands were, and it was like helter-skelter, six nights a week, all through the year. Which was fantastic to see, ya know, people being busy. But I think it’s very important that you make time for yourself, and make time to have a life for yourself outside of your job. You shouldn’t work seven days a week, all year round. Everybody needs to spend time with their husband, their wife, their boyfriend, their girlfriend, their family, their friends, and to be able to do that. And just have a little bit of time to yourself at home, to do the things that you want to do, and have some other hobbies outside of your job. That’s definitely something that has come about for me in the last year and a half. I would have thought back on some of the years when we would have worked so hard, and I’d think God Almighty, how did we do it at all?! I hadn’t time to bless myself, really [laughs]. But please God things will open up, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel now, so when things open up again I’m going to cut back, definitely. I’ll pick what I want to do, and just do so many in a month, that kind of thing, and have a lot more time at home. My husband was sick during the lockdown, he had surgery in January, and I’m glad that I was at home, to be there to look after him when he came home from hospital. It was a tough time for him. And when he was in hospital, I couldn’t get to see him, as was the situation for everybody that had someone in hospital. And how dreadful it was for anyone that lost loved ones during Covid, and couldn’t get to see them, a dreadful situation. But, I still obviously want to do my music, and from now on it’s going to be just concerts. And I’m not going to do long stints away from home anymore, either. I would have done it before where you’d go away on a tour and be gone for maybe three weeks at a time, I’m not doing that anymore. I just love my time at home, but I want to work as well. So there’s going to be a very happy balance.”
Before we wrapped up, I asked Louise if she had any message for the fans that she hasn’t been able to see in person for so long, but – hopefully – will be seeing again in the not too distant future?
“I want to say a big thank you to all of them for their continued support throughout the years, and through the lockdown as well, fans have continued to support all the artists by requesting us on the radio, and watching our shows on YouTube and Facebook, on everything. They were fantastic people to come out and support the shows before lockdown as well, and we know we’ll be seeing them again when things open up. And I’m looking forward to seeing them all again and catching up with everybody. Because we’ve missed everybody, we have. And I know they’ve missed all of us too.”
~ WE RISE AGAIN, the brand NEW single from LOUISE MORRISSEY, will be available from all digital platforms from July 9th, and to request from radio stations nationwide from July 12th. The video for We Rise Again will premiere on Louise’s official Facebook page on July 17th. Louise will also be performing at the Star Trax music venue’s Drive-In Country Show in Cork on July 25th. In an event hosted by Hot Country TV’s Hugh O’ Brien, Louise will be joined by Olivia Douglas, TR Dallas, and Paddy O’ Brien, all backed by the Glen Flynn Band. See Louise’s Facebook page for full details.
July 31st will mark the 46th anniversary of one of the darkest nights – in every meaning of that term – in Irish history. The Miami Showband Massacre. Even as a child, when hearing those words mentioned for the first time, without knowing any of the details, without having any context in which to place them, they chilled me to the bone. A showband? But they’re musicians, right? How could musicians become the victims of a massacre? And how could it happen here? In Ireland? It didn’t make any sense to me.
It doesn’t make any sense now either, of course. Even less so now that I do know so many details, now that I realise the horrible, heartbreaking context. Nor did it make any sense on that summer’s night, not long after 2am almost five decades ago. What doesn’t make sense is HOW such an atrocity could be allowed to happen. How some people could actually sit down and plan for something like that to happen. How some people were prepared to live out the remainder of their own lives forever accompanied by the knowledge of what they had been part of. None of that makes sense. Nor will it ever. And it shouldn’t, because for it to do so, you’d need to have an understanding of evil that could only leave the darkest of imprints upon your soul.
However, we can understand WHAT happened on that night because – by the grace of God, surely – there were survivors. While Fran O’ Toole, Brian McCoy, and Tony Geraghty perished in a torrent of unprovoked violence, Des Lea and Tipperary man STEPHEN TRAVERS managed to escape the same fate. Getting to and revealing the truth about what unfolded on the Buskhill Road that night, as he and four of his famed and adored bandmates simply endeavoured to make the journey home from a show at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, is something that Stephen has dedicated his life to.
That work, and the events of the night of July 31st 1975 itself, are stories unto themselves, and they more than warrant any time and attention you can give them. A few years back, when Stephen was getting close to embarking on a nationwide promotional tour in relation to some projects in this regard, I had the pleasure of spending some time in conversation with him ahead of the announcement of those dates. However, as can happen from time to time, unforeseen circumstances lead to that tour being rearranged, and as a result, our chat was never published.
But now, in honour of Stephen and the work he has done to make sure the truth about that night is known to all, and indeed, as a tribute to his fellow survivor Des Lea, and to his bandmates who never made it home – Fran O’ Toole, Brian McCoy, and Tony Geraghty – we are finally sharing that chat with our OTRT readers. So it is, ladies and gentlemen, our privilege to present this conversation with Stephen, not just an inspirational musician, but an inspirational human-being, and a gentleman of the highest order.
When we spoke, I began by asking Stephen about how his own interest in music first began to arise and develop?
“Well, I was born in 1951, so my formative years musically would have been the sixties. And they really only began in 1963 with the Beatles, with that whole musical and fashion explosion that happened. So that hit me right between the eyes when I was twelve years of age. There were an awful lot of young guys picking up guitars, and of course the showbands were there, so all of the stars aligned and came together and I decided to give it a go.”
I wondered if there happened to be any one particular moment that hit Stephen right between the eyes and made him think, ‘Right, I know what I want to do with my life from here on…’?
“There was actually. I was in school, and every year that school would put on an operetta. It was the Christian Brothers school in Carrick-on-Suir. They’d put on a show for all the parents. One of the lads in my class, a lad called Jim, his mother was actually a choreographer, and she came up to put us through our paces. I can’t remember what the name of the operetta was. Anyway, her son, Jim, had been learning drums, so she got him to bring along the snare drum. When he started to play it I was fascinated by the fact that a young kid of my own age could do this. And I thought, you know what, I’d like to do it as well because everybody was dancing to his tune as he was playing. I think it was ‘The March of the Toy Soldiers’, or ‘The March of the Tin Soldiers’, something like that. It involved the lads in the play marching around and doing their thing, and I was fascinated by it.”
Stephen mentioned the fact that so many people were picking up guitars back in the sixties. It happened to be the bass guitar that he reached for himself. I wondered if there was a particular reason for his choice?
“Yeah, my schoolmates had formed a little group, they had about two years start on me. I had a guitar at home that I never bothered with, but I went to hear them rehearsing and I was fascinated that they were playing The Shadows and the Beatles, and all that kind of stuff. And they said to me, ya know we need a bass player? I didn’t really know what a bass player was, but I found out pretty quickly! [Laughs]. At that time, a bass guitar would have had four strings, so I thought well this will be easy enough! But that’s not the case! Anyway, I started to play bass, and happily it was MY instrument, ya know. It’s the one that, to this day, I love to learn more and more about all the time, even though now I play a five and a seven-string bass. I just love it. And then, of course, Paul McCartney I consider to be the greatest bass player that ever walked the face of the Earth. He was such a cool character. So it was no problem playing bass in a band! If it was good enough for him, then it was good enough for me.”
Stephen joined the Miami Showband when he was about twenty-four, and they were already massive at that stage. Was becoming a member like landing a dream-job, or as a musician, was it just another job, albeit, a pretty cool one all the same?
“I had served my time in country bands, and what they called big bands, jazz bands. From day one I was very interested in blues and jazz. Of course, the only game in town if you wanted to earn a living was – back in the late sixties – country, when it began to become very big, as it is today. That’s when I went and joined a country band called The Cowboys. One of the lads that had been in the earlier group, Gay Brazel, later went on to become the band leader with Tweed, he was in The Cowboys. And Billy Byrne, my friend. So I learned my chops, learned my trade in bands like The Cowboys and in school, in young beat groups and that. But when you need to earn a living, or buy a new car, or put a deposit on a house, you join a showband. So I set my sights on the one that was going to pay me the most money! I got a call from The Miami Showband in September 1974, to ask me if I’d like to go up and meet them to talk about joining. As it turned out, I didn’t join them. I waited until the end of May 1975, and I took the job then. I quickly realised that these guys were phenomenal musicians. Tony Geraghty on guitar, it was arguable whether he was more influential than Gary Moore when he was playing in his rock days. He had gone and joined a showband because he was getting married, and the usual thing, he wanted to buy a car and a house. Fran O’ Toole, I think everybody knew, was one of the most sensational vocalists as well as being an incredible keyboard player, a great jazz player. So when I joined, it was a bit of a reality check that I was among guys who were every bit as good – if not better! – than myself. This wasn’t just about joining a band to earn a few quid. It was an honour to play with these guys.”
I didn’t want to get into what happened to Stephen and his bandmates in the Miami in July of 1975 without first showing the courtesy and respect of asking if that was something he would be comfortable talking about. I knew it was something he’d been asked to talk about on countless occasions before, and regardless of how much detail any of those conversations might go into, even going back in time to that fateful night to any degree must bring with it memories that none of us will ever be able to comprehend. Displaying the generosity of spirit for which he has always been known, however, Stephen agreed.
What happened on that July night almost fifty years ago now, changed the course of Irish music history. I don’t think there’s anyone who doubts that. I asked Stephen how he thought Irish music would have developed had that tragic night not come to pass…
“Just referring to what you said there at the beginning of your question, that night didn’t just change Irish music history. In fact, it had very little effect, a temporary effect, on Irish music history. But it changed Irish history [itself]. And the reason being was that it was an attempt by a neighbouring, so-called friendly government, to influence Irish politics. They felt that security was lax on the southern side of the border, so they set up a plan – a brilliant plan, even though it was evil – to make it look as if all innocent Irish people should be suspects. And had they succeeded in doing that, the whole world would have shrugged its shoulders and said let the British deal with the Irish whatever way they want to now, because every one of them is a potential terrorist. So had we been successfully framed as terrorists when they attempted – unbeknownst to us – to put a bomb in our van, nobody would have known about the road-block, and we subsequently would have blown up fifteen minutes down the road, and been accused of being terrorists. So thankfully, Des Lee – or Des McAlea, as his real name is – and I survived to tell what happened, [because] that had the potential to turn Ireland into another Gaza. Our young people, instead of having a friendly nod from Immigration in Australia or wherever, as they do now, had we been successfully framed as terrorists, then like the Palestines today our young Irish people would be called aside at every airport, or searched vigorously or whatever. So that was a massive, massive thing to happen. So it’s wrong to think that it was just something that happened to a band, or a small story. And this was pointed out to me when we were doing the screenplay of the movie by a world renowned director. He said, ‘This is not just a story of a local band, and a local terrorist attack. This is an international crime.'”
“Apart from that”, Stephen continued, “from the musical aspect of things, it caused a temporary lock-down, a close-down, as George Jones, the musician and broadcaster in the north said [at the time], ‘You look at a ballroom and expect to see tumbleweed.’ As to the development of Irish music, the showbands had had their day. When I joined the Miami, it was called The Miami, it wasn’t actually called The Miami Showband. They had shortened it, they didn’t want to lose the value of the name. But it was more a pop group than anything else. Along with a number of other bands, the Miami was writing its own material. I think the Miami is probably the link between the old and the new. We’re frozen in history for this. Fran would have gone on to be a singer/songwriter in America, because it was planned to take him out to America. I think he would have perhaps written for lots of other people. Because he wasn’t a kid anymore, he was twenty-eight, and that in the pop business – even then – was getting on a bit. So I think he and Des would have concentrated on their writing. Tony Geraghty and I would have formed a jazz/rock group, I think.”
Stephen had mentioned the screenplay of the movie about his life, upon which pre-production had begun at the time we were speaking. I asked him how that project was progressing, and, on a project like that, how involved does Stephen himself get to be? Or at what point does he have to hand over artistic control of what happens?
“Well, I was very careful with that. We’ve been doing this now for five years. And that in itself, apparently, isn’t too long when it comes to the making of a movie, I believe. Great films like ‘Lincoln’, and other Oscar winners recently, have taken up to ten, eleven years to make. But we had the screenplay done almost three years ago now. When we met with some directors from Hollywood to talk about it, we became aware that it was much more than just a local event, so we went back to the drawing-board. About last September, we finished that screenplay, and now they’re all very, very happy with it. They’re now in that phase that’s pre pre-production really, because the finance is together now and a lot of other things. So we expect to be full hammer-and-tongs at it within the next two or three months. And hopefully it will be filmed. The actual filming of any movie only takes about six weeks, that’s the short part. It’s all the work that goes on before and after it. With regard to artistic license, that was something I was very careful of. I have a great responsibility to the truth, and for the portrayal of the lads. This is one of the reasons that we asked the producers to do everything in their power to keep this an independent movie. What they call an independent movie, rather than handing it over to a studio. Because once you do that, then you don’t have any control over it. Whereas in an independent movie, and because I was part of the screenwriting team, I have an official credit, which means I can remain on-set and can keep an eye on things and make sure they don’t lose the run of themselves and make it into something that we’ll find either objectionable or embarrassing.”
I wondered if Stephen still taught bass guitar, as he did for a while?
“I did, I was a bad teacher! I expected people to know what I knew. Whereas a good teacher doesn’t have to be a great player, but is somebody who’s methodical. Having said that, I had some great students. One in particular stands out, which I just recall now as we mention it. John Walsh, the original bass player with Stockton’s Wing. John would have been a star pupil for me. And also I had some very interesting encounters with Aubrey Oaki from the Hugh Masekela band, called Kalahari, that I met in the UK. He would teach me a lot about Africian music. His guitar player, in fact, is the same guy that you see on the Graceland tour with Paul Simon. I would teach him jigs and reels on the bass, would you believe! This was at a time when he was recording with Peter Gabriel, who left Genesis and did the thing with Kate Bush. So Aubrey would leave the studio and we’d meet up and trade licks and all that. So, apart from teaching, there’s still an awful lot to learn about bass guitar for me. As I say, the great master will be there every time I turn on a Beatles number, when I hear the immaculate playing of Paul McCartney. He’s just a man who knows the right note to put in the right place. I have great heroes as well, people like James Jamerson that did all the Motown music, and Joe Osborn that did all of the early American California stuff by the Carpenters. Just beautiful people, beautiful bass players. I’ll teach, but I learn as well. I learn far more than I teach now.”
Given the journey that Stephen has travelled in his life and music career, I couldn’t possibly have brought our chat to a close without asking him if there was any advice he’d pass on to someone who might be starting out in the music business today. Were there any words of wisdom that had always stood him in good stead?
“Yeah, play with guys that are better than you. It’s difficult if you join a band and you’re all starting off at the same time. Because you’re only going to progress at the same speed as the slowest person in the band. This is one of the great tragedies that the showbands aren’t around anymore because it was the best apprenticeship that you could possibly get. I remember, for instance, when I joined the Mick Delahunty Junior Orchestra. His father was Mick Delahunty Senior, and he was a very famous band leader. But when Mick Junior started the band, he had the cream of his father’s band when he retired and all of these guys were much, much older than me. I learned more from these fellas than you could if you went to university. These guys were street-wise. They knew every twist and turn that it took to be a professional musician. They were fabulous players, world class. Young fellas should beg, borrow, or steal an opportunity to get into a band with seasoned musicians, or guys who know more than them. And learn from them. The other thing would be to play a pure style. Something like country or blues or reggae, something like that that teaches you what a bass guitar actually does. As opposed to learning gratuitous sort of riffs from rock or pop numbers. To learn the basics is very important. And I suppose finally, learn how to read music, that will definitely stand to ya in good stead.”
~ The documentary, Remastered: The Miami Showband Massacre, is available on Netflix.
Towards the end of last month, Wicklow singer, songwriter, and producer MARK CAPLICE released his much anticipated single, CATCH A TEAR. In Part 1 of our chat with Mark, we got the lowdown on how Catch A Tear came to be, and why now was the right time to share it with the world, as well as taking a deep-dive into Mark’s songwriting process. This single, however, was far from being Mark’s first foray into the spotlight in the music-world, as the Baltinglass man has also had the honour of seeing his song, Dirty Secret (co-written with Cian Sweeney and Briony O’ Toole) being named Song of the Year in ALL of Russia earlier this year.
Today, Part 2 of our chat gets underway by sticking to that international theme. It was Eurovision time of the year again when Mark and I spoke, and while Ireland didn’t make it to the Grand Final…again…this year, being in that coveted and once very much taken for granted position is something that Mark does have experience of. Back in 2018, he co-wrote the Irish entry, Together, with its performer Ryan O’ Shaughnessy, and Laura Hughes. Ireland has a great history in Eurovision, but over the last twenty years or so it’s become a subject of division in so many ways. I wondered if, for Mark, being involved was something that was always an ambition, or did the opportunity just happen to come along and prove too good to turn down?
“Genuinely, it’s something I always wanted. Actually, I remember when I was a kid thinking that surely I’m not allowed to write a song for Eurovision?! That was something far beyond my reach, I couldn’t even contemplate this [laughs]. But the further and further I grew into my career, I stumbled into a few friends who had had similar experiences. They had written a song or two that they had entered. So slowly but surely the belief started to grow [in me]. And honestly, the day that we found out, I just started shouting my head off [laughs]. My housemate was upstairs, and he ran down thinking someone was after dying! Cos’ I was just shouting, like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!’ [laughs]. He was like what’s wrong, what’s wrong, and I told him to read it, and it was the confirmation letter from RTE that our song had been accepted. And I can’t even describe that feeling. So yeah, it was definitely something that I always wanted to do. And the experience itself was just…out…of…this…world! Going from living in a small town in Baltinglass in Wicklow, to a police-escort into stadiums of thousands…it’s a bit of a juxtaposition! Like, holy God, what’s goin’ on here?! [Laughs]. It was a beautiful experience. And funny enough, I’ve had a couple of close encounters since. And I’d love to do it again. It was just so much fun. But I don’t think anything will ever match that first experience when we were sitting on the couch waiting to hear who was going through [to the final]. And we could see before everybody else could because the camera crew had to get into position to be on the country that was going through. I happened to catch the event-controller’s eye as he was coming up with the camera, and he smirked and he looked away from me! And as soon as he did that, I was like, oh my God, it’s us! [Laughs]. Good times!”
I mentioned to Mark that I’d recently heard about an actual Irish Eurovision winner that didn’t even make it out of Ireland the first time it was submitted for consideration to be our entry, and yet, it went on to win Eurovision a couple of years later…
“That’s a funny one, because ‘Together’ was entered twice, and it was the second highest song – so very close to being picked – the year before. So there ya go. But I LOVE that! I love that as a message and as an absolute life-hack. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t go anywhere! Pitch a tent! And keep knockin’!”
Outside of the pop field, Mark has also worked with two of the biggest names in Irish country, Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan. Derek, of course, is a natural songwriter, already well-known for his talent in that area, while it’s fair to say that Nathan would write a little less. What was Mark’s experience of working with both men?
“That’s one of the things I just adore about songwriting, different people have different perspectives, different approaches. It’s funny, Nathan probably wouldn’t be as well-known for writing, but I’ve written a good bit with him and he’s no stranger to it, he’s great. You can’t climb to the position he’s in without songs being your life. Same for Derek. They’re different in a lot of ways, but they’re similar in many too. They’re both really good people to write with, and especially in Ireland and the UK they’ve got great careers. Who knows what the next couple of years have in store for them. I won’t give away any trade secrets [laughs].”
When writing with artists like Nathan or Derek, where the song is aimed at the Irish country scene, does that make it a very different kind of song than if he was writing with an artist from the pop field, for example?
“Genres differ. And genres tend to have a certain language, a certain melody. That’s why I adore writing with different genres and different people, you just learn so much about what works in each genre. The dialogue, and where you even place the message of a song. Pop, it can be a little bit more right in your face. I am sad today because the rain is falling down. Country, it can be quite literal as well. That’s why I quite like writing my own stuff as well. You can use metaphors to share the message you’re trying to communicate. Language works differently in each genre. You learn as you go. The more people you write with, the more little tips and tricks you pick up. Then you learn about different structures, and how you can create dissonance even with a structure. Depending on your story, there’s different ways to tell it to make sure the listener feels what you’re trying to tell them.”
We’d done a lot of talking about Mark as a songwriter, but we couldn’t overlook the question of how exactly he became one. When did he know that he wanted to be a songwriter?
“I was in a band for six or seven years and we did a lot of collaborating [within the band]. There were two main co-writers in the band, we’d write the core of the song, and bring it to the band, and we’d all work on it. It was a very collaborative experience. That’s when I was nudged into the slightly more commercial side of it. As a band, we were discussing what we wanted to do, and world takeover was the plan [laughs], all this kinda stuff! As it happened, we signed a deal, went to America, recorded an album, everything was looking amazing. Then, a couple of things happened here and there, probably a miscommunication, and there was a bit of legal argy-bargy. It ended up that the album couldn’t get released, and it’s now in limbo forever. It won’t see the light of day. When that finished, I was very nearly going to give up music. And as odd as this will sound, I was sitting in my grandparents living-room, and I was thinking to myself, right…if I died and went to heaven, what would God say to me? I walked up to God, and I said to God, howya God [laughs], I did music for a while, then I became a marketeer. And his response was, ‘Ya big eejit! I gave you perfect pitch!’ And that’s really rare, and super-handy when you’re writing songs! [Laughs]. So, because I have this super-unique thing that lots of people don’t have, his response to me was, ‘Ya big eejit, I gave you perfect pitch and ya wasted it!’ [Laughs].”
“That conversation”, explained Mark, “as silly as it may sound – a hypothetical conversation with God – was the kick in the backside I needed to jump back into music. So I said ok, now that I’m certain I’m 100% invested, I’m going to make a living from music, and that’s that. So I started thinking about what avenues were there, and what I wanted to be. I was a little bit wounded by the band experience, so I didn’t want to jump back into being in a band. But I knew I could write songs. So I started writing songs with people. There’s a friend of mine, Josh Gray, who had left Louis Walsh’s band, Hometown, and he was kind of in a small bit of limbo as well. So we started writing together, and he has grown exponentially from it, it’s been amazing to see. Some of the songs we wrote together kicked him back into the spotlight, and since then he’s signed a publishing deal as well. Things are going really well for him. He’s on the slightly poppier side of things, which was a new experience for me, but I really enjoyed it.”
Mark continued, “When I was in a band, there’d be this country song writing itself in my head, and I’d be wondering, what do I do with this?! Then I could have a more rocky song, or a folky song, because I definitely come from a more folk background, I’d be into Glen Hansard, Elbow, Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac, and Jackson Browne, where the stories are really at the core of the music. In pop, it’s more about how it sounds, rather than what it’s saying. And that’s a huge, huge thing for a songwriter. Especially me, coming from guitar-land! [Laughs]. Never going anywhere without a guitar, and wanting to tell stories. It was such a different experience, having to push myself out of my comfort-zone. But it was really interesting to see, and to learn about, and ultimately, it’s helped me to grow a lot as a songwriter.”
To finish up our chat, I had three quick-fire questions to put to Mark. The first one was what would be the proudest moment of his career so far?
“I find it hard to overlook that Eurovision moment when we were sitting on the couch, waiting to hear if we’d made it through. Nine countries had already been called out. I knew how crazy it was at home. When I was chatting to my parents, they were saying it was like Italia ’90, everybody was going crazy. And I just knew, as soon as our names were called, that this was such a win for absolutely everyone involved. Our families, our friends, our country. Just getting us back in the Final again. That was a beautiful, beautiful experience.”
And his biggest disappointment?
“Oh wow! [Laughs]. Biggest disappointment? Probably…let me just think. There’s two in my mind. One, is when my first band broke up. Because we were brothers, and we were all fighting for the one cause, but it just wasn’t working. And it wasn’t helping our mental health either. So it was literally for the best that we walked away. But crazily enough, as one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I think it was also the most forming. It really, really taught me a lot about who I am. It made me self-reflect. I feel I grew as a human, massively, from that experience. Yes, it was the biggest disappointment, and a tough experience, but…that could very easily have been my best experience either.”
And finally, what’s the greatest lesson Mark has ever learned as a writer, and also about the music business in general?
“As a writer? For me, I always feel the best songs are songs that will resonate with people. You’re supposed to feel music. Music is a feeling. Not a building, ya know. For me, music is pure magic. And for me, the real music comes when you’re in a discussion with somebody, or you’re in a room alone with a guitar or a piano, and you’re diving deeper and deeper into a thought…I feel as though the songs that will resonate most, will come from a real place. For the music business, I think it’s just super-important to know what you enjoy, but equally – if not more important – to know what you don’t enjoy, what you’re not mad about. If there was a way of explaining it all, it’s stay true to yourself. Figure out what you love. Figure out what you don’t love. And stay closer to the former.”
~ CATCH A TEAR, the brand NEW single from MARK CAPLICE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio.