First Published September 2021


Anyone who couldn’t have foreseen the current government’s appalling treatment of the music and ‘live’ events sectors simply hadn’t been paying attention. The signs were on it right from the moment Catherine Martin T.D. was handed a portfolio that included responsibility for tourism, culture, arts, the Gaeltacht, sport, AND media. 

The argument can rightly be made that each of these areas needs and warrants a department of its own, given the importance of each to Irish life. At the same time, however, realism, pragmatism -and, in fact, the constitution – dictate that not every area of significance and consequence can be afforded the luxury of a department in its own name, given that our government can have no more than fifteen members (Article 28), including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the Minister for Finance. So in effect, minus the aforementioned, only twelve seats – at most – ever remain to be filled in the cabinet. 

That fact notwithstanding, however, the decision to ask one minister to take on responsibility for six sectors which, each in their own right, play such prominent roles in Irish life, seemed crazy at the time. And nothing that has happened since has shown otherwise. Now, to be clear here, I understand that there’s seldom a perfect way to do anything in politics, and that no matter what any government – or minister – might do, there will be someone on hand straight away to say why they should have done the opposite. That, unfortunately, is the way of politics in general, and certainly in Ireland.

Moreover, when it came to the easing of restrictions, it’s perfectly understandable that a phased approach had to be taken, and that whatever such approach was decided upon, it would end up with some group or section of society having to bring up the rear. A phased approach makes sense. But a phased approach could still have included all stakeholders to some extent. 

What this situation has also revealed – laid bare in no uncertain terms, in fact – is that politicians – for the most part, there have been some exceptions – simply have no idea how the music or ‘live’ events sector. It’s not a matter of turning a key, opening a door, and hey presto…back in business, back to normal all in one move. There are very, very few music or ‘live’ events of any nature that happen without the need for a lot of advance planning. A lot of planning from a lot of people. Artists, their management team, their PR team, venues, sound and lighting experts, ticket outlets, and more. Everything needs to be coordinated on multiple levels. 

To be able to plan ahead, you need to be able to see ahead. And yet, as I write this, with September only a couple of sunsets away, no line of vision on a return to normality for the music or ‘live’ events sectors has even been hinted at in any detail, let alone laid out in black and white. 

For a profession so fond of hiring advisors, the ability of most politicians to communicate is worse than abysmal. A politician’s job, no matter what anyone says or thinks, is incredibly tough. There’s no doubt about that. Yes, they’re well-rewarded, but most of the people who only or primarily focus on that fact wouldn’t put up with the abuse that comes with the job for even a day. And to be fair, if they tried working as a councillor, a TD, or a minister for a week, they’d quickly find out that most in those roles – most…not all – more than earn their living. And that’s across the board, politicians of all parties and none.

A quick word on abuse, while we’re here. While frustration and anger, and a lot of other emotions are all understandable given where we are in this time of Covid, and everything that we’ve already had to deal with and come through, resorting to name-calling – sometimes in a way that’s really vile, vicious, and completely unnecessary – is not to be condoned. That’s just bad manners, childish, reflects extremely badly on those who do it, and it helps absolutely no-one in any way at all. Anybody who acts like that, regardless of who they are, doesn’t deserve to be a part of finding any way through this. 

However, there are many things that politicians could so easily do to make their own lives easier, and the lives of their constituents better. Communication is top of that list.  And right up there with it, is respect. And respect is not shown to anyone by running a so-called ‘pilot’ concert in a way that precisely zero events without further government funding could ever run in the real world. And respect is not shown by overseeing a grants process that sees several artists awarded more than one, while hundreds more received no help at all. That is not respect. Of course it was impossible to make sure that everyone who applied for funding of some kind got something that would help them. But what was always completely within the power of those who ran that operation to control, was making sure that no-one received multiple grants. Simple. 

Anyway, respect is what takes me right back to my opening point, that how little this government thought of the arts was evident from the moment the Green Party’s Catherine Martin was tasked with heading up a department that included six portfolios; tourism, culture, arts, the Gaeltacht, sport, AND media. 

Now, as far as Minister Martin herself is concerned, I admire her for having the courage to take on such a workload, and I have nothing but sympathy for the mess that she’s found herself at the centre of as far as the return to normality of the music and ‘live’ events sector goes. Even at the best of times, in a ‘normal’ Covid-less world, Catherine Martin would still have only twenty-four hours in her day, and seven days in her week, all to be divided between the six different portfolios for which her department has ultimate responsibility. Even at that, her task is monumental. Throw in Covid and its complexities, and it’s not just one magic wand she’d need, it’s a new one for every hour of every day of every week! 

The gov.ie website currently lists eighteen official government departments, and only one really comes close to Catherine Martin’s in terms of the spread of its duties, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, overseen by Minister Roderic O’ Gorman, although there are clearly more obvious links between each of those. There are some departments, which, understandably and for obvious reasons, must stand alone. Health, Foreign Affairs, and Justice. But surely, back when this government was being negotiated, more thought and care could have been given to the overall balance of things? I, for one, believe so. And have done for a long time. The madness and mayhem of the mess that has been the government’s treatment of the music and ‘live’ events sectors over the last number of months have only served to reaffirm that belief. 

So, what could have been done differently then, back when this government was formed? What would have given Minister Catherine Martin a fighting chance of representing artists and musicians with all of her might, which I genuinely believe she has always sincerely wanted to do? Well, let’s have a look…

The Department of Transport, as important as it is, could surely handle something else too. Tourism, perhaps? And do we still really need a Department of Finance AND a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Make them one! And, would not the Department of Rural and Community Development be a fitting and natural home for the care of the Gaeltacht as well? These questions give us somewhere to start from. 

With the Department of Finance becoming the Department of Finance, Public Expenditure, and Reform, that immediately frees up one department. The portfolios of Higher and Further Education should also come under the watch of the Department of Education, full-stop. That would mean that we then have a stand-alone Department of Research, Innovation, and Science. From the burden that rests on Catherine Martin’s shoulders right now, let’s actually go ahead and move Tourism to the Department of Transport seeing it become the Department of Transport and Tourism. As mentioned earlier, have the Department of Rural and Community Development become the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Gaeltacht. Now, Catherine Martin is left with just Arts, Culture, Sports, and Media in her charge. But, we’re not done here yet…

By making the Department of Finance become the Department of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, we freed up a department. This can now become the new Department of Sports and Media, taking two more briefs away from Minister Martin. A possible step further even, make it the Department of Sports, Media, and Communication, leaving us with a Department of Environment and Climate as well, because that’s a portfolio that will certainly need as much time as possible devoted to the growing challenges it will continue to face in the years to come. 

And we’re not done even at that, because there’s one more move which would also make sense in two ways. If we take Heritage from the current Department of Housing and Local Government and Heritage, and move it to what Catherine Martin still has on her desk, we end up with a Department of Housing andLocal Government (and as with a Department of Environment and Climate, a Department of Housing and Local Government will have more than enough on its plate!), while Minister Martin heads up our Department of Arts, Culture, and Heritage. 

To my mind, this paints a much more balanced overall picture. But crucially for the music and ‘live’ events sectors, Minister Martin would, right from the get-go, have been in a significantly better position to champion these sectors. There’s just no question about that. Her workload and areas of responsibility would have been literally cut in half. The time and energy that she’s had to put into dealing with the tourism, Gaeltacht, sports, and media briefs since taking office could all have been devoted to her efforts on behalf of the music and ‘live’ events sector, as part of her Arts, Culture, and Heritage brief. There’s no way in the world that this wouldn’t have made some difference to things, and perhaps even enough for these sectors to – at last – be looking beyond Covid. 

So why would any government in its right mind even attempt to wedge six portfolios – each one so important in its own right, let me stress that again – into the department of one single minister? 
Well, it has to be said that the answer looks simple enough at this stage. For those of us who work in the music and ‘live’ events sectors, the problem isn’t just that this government has been acting like it doesn’t care right now. It’s that now, at last, maybe it’s becoming clearer to see that they never really cared at all. 
This government has already sanctioned the return to Croke Park of 40,000 fans for the All-Ireland hurling final. At the time of writing, public transport is set to return to full capacity next week (from Monday, August 30th), and schools are also due to reopen, if they haven’t already done so. But the music and ‘live’ events sectors? Still waiting on a ‘road-map.’ 

Just to be clear as well, very few who work in or are involved in the music or ‘live’ events sectors have any problem at all with the return of crowds to Croke Park or any other sporting occasions in large numbers, if it can happen safely. No problem at all. More luck to all involved. The point is, the exact same thing could already have been happening – in some shape or form – for concerts, festivals, and theatre too, as well as smaller ‘live’ music occasions. And the fault for that not being so, for this delay, and the embarrassing absence of clear communication on all of this, lies, ultimately, with the government. Not with Nphet as some would like us to believe. Throughout this whole pandemic, Nphet have been doing their job, which is just to advise the government. The final call rests with the government. 

And that’s who thought it was a good idea to ask one minister to take on the portfolios of the arts, culture, tourism, the Gaeltacht, sports, and the media in the first place. Those same decision makers are why the music and ‘live’ events sectors are still waiting on a ‘road-map’ instead of being well down the road to some kind of normality again. 

~ This week’s column can also be enjoyed in full at the official OTRT website, www.ontherighttrax.com 


Dubh Lee

First Published August 2021


Photo Credit: Keery Irvine

It’s hard to believe it, but here we are. Sixteen months on from the beginning of the Covid era, and ‘live’ music and events are still most notable by their ongoing absence in our lives. And, the harsh truth of it all is this: we’re still a long way from even the slightest sign that things might actually be returning to pre-pandemic norms sometime soon. All that being said, however, thanks to a series of different government supports, there are at least more opportunities for small numbers of people to enjoy the unmistakable, incomparable buzz of a ‘live’ show. While not a perfect scenario – and to be fair, no-one in government is for a moment suggesting it is – this in itself is something to be grateful for. 

And just such an event is coming to Tullamore this very weekend – August 5th, 6th, and 7th – when a series of intimate outdoor gigs titled RISING 21 comes to Lee’s Bar and Venue on Church Street. Well-known in Tullamore and beyond as a ‘live’ music venue and a supporter of the arts and local events, Lee’s has a new name over the door now, as John replaces Joe. In some ways at least, the passing of this particular torch will signal the beginning of a new era. What anyone attending Rising 21 can be sure of, though, is the same warm welcome that ever and always greeted visitors in times pre-Covid, remains the same. 

Among the artists taking to the stage over the course of the Rising 21 weekend will be Tullamore singer/songwriter NIAMH DOOLEY, aka DUBH LEE. Having graced Lee’s with her vocal majesty and guitar-playing virtuosity at many’s an Open Mic night there over the years, Niamh will be returning to her roots with a band for the second time in eight months when she takes to the stage as part of the event’s early show on Friday, August 6th. 

The last time Niamh and I spoke for OTRT was back in November of last year. At that stage, any mention of gigs and performing revolved around reminiscing about her last chance to be on stage, and wondering when the opportunity to return to doing what she loves most would come around again. Now, while we’re still far from out of the woods yet, Niamh has – thank God – been able to get back to playing a little bit more often than had been the case for a long time. And Friday’s performance will give her the chance to shine again in her natural habitat…in front of an audience. I had the pleasure of catching up with Niamh last week, and we got things underway with her telling me all about Rising 21 and her involvement…

“Rising 21, it’s across three days, with two or three events per day. I’ll be playing on Friday, the 6th of August, and I think my slot is around 3pm. Gavin Ghee will be on before me, and there’ll be a comedian involved as well, and Pat Carty from Hot Press will be hosting. Jerry Fish will be headlining that early show on the day, I’m looking forward to that. I’ve opened for Jerry Fish before, in Maynooth, so it will be nice to do it again with a band this time, last time I did it acoustically. Unfortunately my keys player, Josh Murtagh, isn’t around so I’m gonna do it as a three-piece, with myself on guitar, David Griffin on bass, and Rob Kennedy on drums. So that’s fairly rock ‘n’ roll! [Laughs]. It’s a shame that Josh couldn’t make it, but I’ve done it before with the three-piece, so it’ll be a nice challenge. The concept is that it’s local acts mainly, plus the headliners, and it’s Offaly rising. The rising element ties in with the Phoenix imagery that’s associated with the town, which is cool. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to it because it’s been a while since I played a gig to an audience.” 

Will it be much of a challenge adjusting things to allow for the absence of Josh, I wondered? 

“Well, because I had done a few gigs without the keys last year, it’ll be easy enough to adjust. It’s just that in my ears it will sound less full minus the keys, if you know what I mean? We’ll be rehearsing with the other two lads, so we’ll make sure any gaps of where the keys would normally be are filled. We might have to take a song out of the set-list and replace it with another, that kind of thing. But it’s not too big a job. Because I have a large enough repertoire, that means I’m safe enough.” 

Back in December, also in Joe Lee’s/John Lee’s, Niamh performed at the first show that I had been to since the previous March. And, what made that day all all the sweeter for her, was the fact that as well as getting to play in her own hometown, with a very, very cool band (same guys that will be with her again this time around, minus Josh, of course), but her family were there in the audience too. I asked Niamh to take me back to that moment and tell me how it felt, especially after everything that had preceded it in 2020…

“That was fantastic. I think they asked me maybe only a month before, to see if I was available to do it. And we were in and out of lockdown so much last year it was hard to know where exactly I was at the time [laughs]. But I was just so delighted to be able to finish the year with a significant gig! And especially because I’ve never gigged with a band in Joe Lee’s. On the day of the gig, we had to do a very quick change-over with I Draw Slow, so it was hectic enough getting the soundcheck and everything done, but when it came to the performance, everything went amazingly. It felt great. Mam and dad were there, and my brother. And obviously the audience was very limited, I think there were only like fifteen people there. But I got a really good reception, so that’s all that really matters [laughs]. Then I got to stick around and watch I Draw Slow, who were amazing, and who were on directly after me. So yeah, it was a surprise, first of all, to get the call to do it from Cherrycool Promotions, the guys who do Castlepalooza, I wasn’t expecting it. But it was an absolute pleasure from then on.” 

Obviously it would have been very busy in the lead-up to the show with getting everything ready, but maybe when it was all over, given the circumstances involved, was it an emotional kind of day at all? 

“Aaah… I wouldn’t say I was teary or anything. Gigs generally just make me happy! So it was a very happy situation for me to find myself in. And I suppose happiness is an emotion [laughs]. There’s so much going on on gig-day, with your nerves and with worrying about all your equipment and everything else, that until you’re on stage and actually doing it, there’s not a lot of space for anything else, or to pause and reflect [laughs]. Afterwards, though, I actually had a lovely time, I went up to Joe Lee and Dolores for a good hour while there were other acts playing, because my family are distant relatives of the Lees, I believe, somewhere back along the way. So we went upstairs and they gave us soup and sandwiches, and it was really, really nice. It was very sweet. But yeah, I remember that day as a very happy situation, I wasn’t on the verge of tears at any point [laughs].” 

Before Rising 21 comes around, fans of Niamh will have a chance to see her in action at a very special pre-recorded show from Moat Theatre, scheduled for broadcast a few days after we spoke…

“That was recorded the Monday before last…it could even be longer, it’s three Mondays ago, I think, on the 5th of July, whenever that was [laughs]. It was another one of these LPSS (Live Performance Support Scheme) gigs. The government gave out grants, and CS Promotions in Naas were lucky enough to avail of it, and they called me and asked would I like to do the pilot gig for the series they’re going to run. I said absolutely! It’s a two-hundred seater venue and they were planning to have an audience of maybe thirty people, really spread out, so that was really exciting. But as it got closer to the gig, there was all this talk about the Delta variant and they just decided they didn’t want to be the source of an outbreak. So they decided to just record the gig and put it out online later. I was disappointed because it’s so much nicer to play to an audience where you can get that direct feedback. But, at the same time, it was the safer thing to do. So we played it to an empty theatre and they recorded everything, Darren Skippy Productions were the video crew. That should be coming out on the 31st of July. Even though I was playing to an empty theatre, it was still a great experience. And it was nice to play on such a big stage, there was lots of room which is always a relief. I wasn’t tripping over my bandmates and cables and stuff! [Laughs]. The gig went great, my performance was very strong. So I’m curious to see it as well, I haven’t seen it yet.” 

In November of 2020, back when Niamh and I had last spoken, she had just released her single, Carousel. In 2020 and 2021, given the strangeness of the times, how does an independent singer/songwriter like Niamh gauge a single’s success? What metrics does she use to measure progress? 

“‘Carousel’ as a single did fine. It’s still steadily creeping up in streams. And the video is performing very well on YouTube. The single got a decent amount of media coverage and a good bit of radio-play as well, and radio-play for a long time after it was released, which is good. Overall, I’m happy with it. Obviously, it didn’t shoot me into superstardom or anything [laughs], but that’s not how it works in real-life, ya know. It’s a long-game. When it comes to measuring how you’re doing, for a lot of people it does come down to streams. And a lot of it comes down to social media following as well. But for me, I think you can have amazing artists that maybe aren’t streaming so well. Maybe I tell myself this to make myself feel better [laughs]. But I think a good metric for me is people booking you for gigs. Do people want to see you in real-life? There’s two places you can perform: online, or real-life. You could be doing well in both aspects, or just in one. But I think it’s nice to still be getting calls for bookings even when gigs are so quiet. So my metric for if I’m doing well is if people are calling to say we’d love you to come and play at our show.” 

Does Niamh track airplay for her singles? 

“I do. What I do is, in the three months around the release, I buy a three-month subscription to WARM (World Airplay Radio Monitor), Brí (another brilliant artist from Tullamore) put me onto that. So I can check how it’s doing for three months. Obviously that has now run out for Carousel, but I was able to see things for that three months. And I got a decent amount of international airplay around that, which was really interesting to see.” 

If you haven’t already seen Naimh’s video for Carousel, then make some time to check it out as a matter of urgency. Consider it a little treat to yourself. It’s way more than just rolling the camera, getting some footage, and editing it all together. Far from simply complimenting the song, this thing is a little work of art in its own right. And, it was produced by…Niamh’s brother, Declan! 

“Thank you! When it came to the video, I asked Declan if he would be interested in doing something again. The first single I released, ‘Virtue’, I had an idea and had the script which I gave to him and then we worked on it together. But this time around, for ‘Carousel’, I said, look Declan, do what you want, make it weird, I just want some crazy visuals! [Laughs]. And he was like, cool, deadly, let’s do it! I live in Dublin, but I came home I think for a week at a time twice last year to work on the video. A lot of it was me perched in front of a green-screen and all of the trickery happens in post [production]. So the brunt of the work was on Declan. All the editing took ages. When it comes to all the visuals that were there, they were basically his ideas. I think it turned out pretty class. It was thematically accurate, with lots of spinning visuals. And the colour in it is amazing. He has a nice lighting set-up. And we used a drone for a couple of shots. He even made proper mounts and rigs so that I could revolve around, so we could get all these smooth shots. An insane amount of work went into it on his end of things.”

One of Niamh’s more recent songs, When This Is All Over, is also accompanied by a beautiful, enthralling, and cinematic video. When This Is AllOver is a most tender and affectionate song. I asked Niamh to share a little about how both song and video came to be…

“I remember I wrote it in bed at some point [laughs]. I think it was July last year. I had been listening to Bob Dylan and I was learning travis-picking on guitar. So I had this Bob Dylan vibe in my head and I thought I wanted to write a song like that. It was also a few months of having no gigs by then, and it was like when is this gonna bloody end?! [Laughs]. I came up with this really sweet chord progression and I thought a positive message would suit it. It’s all about looking forward to when life goes back to normal – or whatever the new normal is – and getting to see people again, and see your family again. And also, the very last verse deals with how I’m looking forward to performing in front of people and hearing everybody singing along with me again. There’s a lot of yearning there for that future point where that can happen again. When I wrote it last July I thought well I’ll put it on an album sometime and it will eventually get recorded. But it’s taking a while for things to happen, for me to get funding for any EP or album. So this March, because I was at home, I just said I’d do a recording of it and make a video of it, and just put it out as is. That video is a collection of videos and images from archive.org, that has an amazing royalty-free, license-free database of images and videos. I was looking for stuff from the seventies and eighties, trying to correlate it to what the song was about. It took a while to organise and put together, but I did it, and then Declan recorded me in front of the green-screen and superimposed me on top of the whole shebang! I think it turned out like a really hopeful, and really sweet song.” 

One of the things that I’ve always liked and admired about Niamh, and it’s something which is always evident in her songs, is the fact that she’s clearly a deep-thinker. Her opinions are always carefully considered and well thought-through. So, I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t have looked at the government’s recent pilot music festival in Kilmainham and just thought, “Yeah, cool, whatever.” So… what did she make of that event? 

“Yeah [laughs], I do have an opinion on this [laughs]. So, it was nice to see activity happening again in the sector. However, that event went ahead with an audience of 3, 500…great. It employed lighting and sound engineers, so some people got work out of it. The audience got a chance to see some music, that’s brilliant. But, at the same time, in other countries where similar events – pilot events like that one – have gone ahead, they’ve used PCR testing for everybody going into the event and coming out again, and used that to collect data about the nature of having large events in times of Covid. This didn’t happen here. There was no data collected. It wasn’t used as a way of figuring can we open up the country more, can we have these large events? So I think it’s great for the small number of people who got to go, but we’re still in a place where we can’t have loads of those gigs because we don’t know whether they’re a good idea or not! And obviously, I’m delighted for the artists who were booked, but it is very much the top 1% that got that opportunity. For your regular everyday musician, say if you’re just a cover musician and not an original artist, you’re completely left out in the cold. Live music is not permitted indoors until November as it stands, I think I heard. I get my bread-and-butter from going in and playing in small venues. And if I wasn’t an original recording artist on the side, that would be my only revenue stream. So [even after the pilot festival] we’re still completely in the dark about other types of performances, like indoors. I’m glad it went ahead, but I think they could have done a lot better of a job with it.” 

Does Naimh get the feeling that it was a PR event more than anything, and that if it had just been presented as such – as a morale booster of sorts – it would have been better received? Because nothing, after all, is going to happen in the way that event did on any wider scale, it’s just not practical on so many levels.

“Yeah, definitely. I think it was more on the PR end of things. And a lot of people saw through that, and that’s why people aren’t happy.” 

On the day we spoke, both Bressie and Jerry Fish had been talking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk about the sense of frustration – and indeed, desperation for some – that still exists right across the events industry. For Niamh, and her peers and her friends in the business, how are they all feeling about the way things stand at the moment? 

“I feel like I have the same conversation with my fellow musicians all the time now. ‘It’ll be over soon.’ ‘It’s pretty bad right now, but it’ll be over soon.’ But that conversation’s been going on since last March and April. I think a lot of people are optimistic. I’m a member of the M.E.A.I. (Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland), and you can see there that a lot of people are disgruntled and frustrated, and aren’t getting supported by the government through this. There’s a lot of…I’m not gonna say hopelessness, because everybody’s hopeful that things are gonna go back to normal…but there’s a lot of frustration about the way things stand, and about the lack of information for performers who are at our level. Every now and then I’m kinda like I’m just sick of talking about Covid, ya know [laughs]. There’s nothing new to say in the conversation because there’s so little information being put forth by the powers-that-be.”

So for Niamh, for the rest of 2021, what has she got planned? And, she mentioned an album earlier, and God knows I’ve been bending her ear on that for years wanting to know when we’ll see it…so…might it be 2022? 

“[Laughs] Basically, I’m gonna try and record an EP this year. I was gonna try and release it, but it might have to be a case of recording it this year and releasing it next year. That’s gonna be a four-track EP, I’ve decided. I know I keep changing my mind about things, but this time, I’m serious [laughs]. My studio of choice wasn’t available, so I’m kinda studio hunting at the moment. This first EP is gonna be called…’Animals and Friends’! It’s a reference to one of the lyrics on one of the songs that will appear on the EP. It’ll be on the rockier end of things, it’s not gonna be super folky. Once I have that recorded, it will probably be early next year when I do all the promotion stuff. At the moment I have a YouTube video in the works, and it will probably be up before this article goes ‘live.’ It’s a video of myself and Joshua Murtagh, the keys player from my band, we’re covering a song called ‘The Water’ by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling. That’ll be up in the next few days. My YouTube’s been kinda quiet lately because I got bored of it! [Laughs]. I’m trying to keep life interesting and have a bit of variety during Covid [laughs]. Then mid to late 2022 – I already have the album written and planned out – so there’ll be an eight-track album next year at some point. Big plans, big plans! But it’s taking a while to get around to them. I think that’s mainly Covid’s fault [laughs].” 

DUBH LEE (Niamh Dooley) will be performing at RISING 21 in JOE LEE’S/JOHN LEE’S, Tullamore, on Friday, August 6th. You can follow Dubh Lee on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also enjoy this interview with Dubh Lee in full on the official OTRT website, www.ontherighttrax.com For more information on Rising 21, check out www.leesbar.ie 


Norman Borland


Press Release via AS Written, June 2021


NORMAN BORLAND will perform a Facebook ‘Live’ concert direct from STRULE ARTS CENTRE in Omagh on Saturday, June 19th. The Donegal country singer will take to the stage with an All-Star Country band and his special guest on the evening, PATRICIA McGUIRE, for the hour-long special event which will get underway at 8pm. Fans can enjoy the concert from the comfort of their own homes simply by joining in via the Strule Arts Centre Facebook page.  


After a succession of radio-friendly singles over the course of the last year or so, Norman is finally returning to the stage to bring those hits – and many more – to life! With his latest release – Ain’t No Little Thing, featuring Gerry Guthrie – riding high in the country radio airplay charts, Norman is already looking forward to the big night…     


“It’s going to be such a wonderful feeling to get back on stage again, even if our audience on the night will be out of view on this particular occasion. At least we’ll know they’re there on the other side of the camera, and ready to enjoy the night with us! And you’d never know, we might be able to do it all again when it’s safe to have everybody come and join us in person. It’s been a while now since I had the chance to play ‘live’, so I’m really excited about sharing some of my latest singles with everyone. And the fact that I’ll have such a gifted line-up of musicians behind me makes it all the better. As well as that, it will also be my pleasure to have the lovely Patricia McGuire join me for a very special song, too.” 

Fans can expect to be treated to renditions of Norman’s latest release, the aforementioned Ain’t No Little Thing, plus recent singles Healing Hands, Loving You’s Like Coming Home, and many more country classics. In fact, if there was one word to sum up what this night will be about, then that word is country. Because when it comes to Norman Borland, the deal is simple…he’s a country singer, singing country songs. 

~ NORMAN BORLAND and His All-Star Country Band, ‘LIVE’ in CONCERT from Strule Arts Centre, takes place on Saturday, June 19th, beginning at 8pm. Fans can tune in and enjoy the show via the Strule Arts Centre Facebook page on the night. Norman’s latest single, Ain’t No Little Thing – featuring Gerry Guthrie – is available now on all platforms, and to request from radio stations nationwide. You can follow Norman on Facebook and Twitter, and at his official website, www.officialnormanborlandmusic.com 


Joe Cooney

First Published October 2019


Hundreds of thousands of radio listeners and country music lovers around Ireland know and admire JOE COONEY as the voice of the Country Roads show on Midlands 103. And if there’s a country music event happening, then chances are Joe will be there too, up on stage holding it all together as M.C. And that’s a role he’ll be taking up once again on November 4th when the IRISH ENTERTAINMENT AWARDS take place in the Tullamore Court Hotel. 

At any event of this size – with star names such as CHARLIE McGETTIGAN, TOMMY FLEMING, FOSTER & ALLEN, MIKE DENVER and many more performing – the master of ceremonies is one of the most important roles, and needs to be in trusted hands. So what exactly does Joe’s job on nights like these entail, and how does he prepare for them? 

“Well thankfully this is something I’ve been doing for quite a number of years, so it’s pretty easy now in terms of preparation. But there’s a lot of things to do. You need to know your subject matter, which is each of the recipients of an award so that you know their history and when you introduce them you’re not bringing someone on stage who you know nothing about. That’s very, very important. So I always do my homework on everyone. I make sure I’m at the venue three, four – maybe even five hours – before the event, to make sure everything is where it should be and nothing is amiss from my point of view. There’ll be so much going on, you’ll have the sound-engineers there, the lighting guys, the band, and they’ll all deal with their own stuff, so I have no need to worry about that. But it’s important that each of them know where I am, and when I’m coming on stage during the night, who will be calling me on, who’s taking me off, little things like that which are all so important. But it’s something I love to do. And when it is, it doesn’t become a job, it becomes fun, ya know.” 

I wondered what’s Joe’s favourite part of nights like these? 

“The most important thing for me, and my favourite part of any night, is seeing the people who have paid their hard-earned money to come in, actually enjoy themselves. To see them clapping, and singing along with smiles on their faces. That, to me, more than just presenting special awards to different people – who deserve those awards, of course – is the most important part of the night. That the people who come along have a good night, and are happy, and are showing that happiness in their faces.”

Many artists have little routines that they always go through before going on stage each night, from finding a few moments to spend just by themselves, to sometimes having to do a certain few things in the same particular order. Does Joe have a routine that he tries to stick to when he’s hosting an event like the Irish Entertainment Awards? 

“Well my routine is kind of a weird one really! [laughs]. A lot of people need a few moments to compose themselves, but for me, I just go into the Green Room and mingle with the stars, and chat away with them. Because you never know, you see, you might get some new angle on someone just by talking to them. There might be something that just comes up on the night, and it becomes something that you can then add into your introduction. Or it might become a question you might put to the star on stage. So that’s what I do, I just mingle with the stars. That way, I’m familiar with everyone. I mean, I’m familiar with everyone I play anyway, of course. But you don’t actually see them that often during the year. So it’s always good and nice to go in and catch up with them, so to speak.”

The Awards on November 4th boasts a phenomenal line-up of star performers, including a few who Joe knows well, including Mike Denver, Sabrina Fallon, and Stephen Rosney and The Back Axles…

“Aah, Mike Denver in my book is one of the finest guys in the business. Lovely, friendly, down to earth, very thankful, very obliging. And definitely, as a live performer, is one of THE best I have seen in many years. And how he treats his fans is something else. He treats everyone with the same respect. From the people who play his songs, to the people who listen to his songs, to the people who go to his gigs, and every ordinary man and woman. Mike comes from a very nice family as well. Good stock! And you can’t beat good stock!” 

And Joe has great time for Sabrina Fallon as well, as he explained…

“Yeah, Sabrina and I, we’ve known each other since she started really, since she first sent in a cd and I listened to it. I’ve always liked her voice. But I didn’t know for a long time that she was related to Mike, so she’s played purely on merit, on the basis that she’s a great singer and the songs she brings out are terrific. My first involvement with Sabrina apart from playing her songs, was the song we recorded together. I found the song, ‘Stumblin’ In’, and I was looking for someone to do that duet with, and I picked Sabrina. And I’ve always been so happy that I did, because I couldn’t have picked better. And I’m looking forward to singing that on the night with Sabrina.”

Singer/songwriter Stephen Rosney and his band, the Back Axles, are also held in high regard by Joe…

“Again, I know all of these lads and girls through music. There isn’t really anybody that I would have known outside the business, except for Keith and Lorraine McDonald, I would have known their family long before I came into work on radio. But yeah, Stephen and the lads. He was playing with another band called Rsolyn, and that’s how I knew Stephen, from getting his cds sent into me and playing them. I met him one night then, it must have been at a gig somewhere, and he handed me a couple of the songs he had written himself. I played them on-air, and I’ve been playing them ever since. Stephen did the video for Sabrina and myself, for ‘Stumblin In’, too. And since then we’ve been involved in different bits and bobs together. I’d certainly use Stephen’s company, Rosney Media, when I’m doing the videos for any of my songs. And lots of people I know use them as well. Stephen is a lovely guy. All the lads in the Back Axles are lovely guys. And they have this great down to earth – I call it earthy music – bluegrassy type music. It’s so homely. It’s like sitting around a fireplace, or sitting around a camp-fire somewhere in America when you’re singing those songs. I have great respect for the lads. And especially as Stephen is a songwriter as well. Because you know what? There’s not a huge amount of songwriters. There’s lots of guys who are singing other peoples’ songs, but there are not many writers producing songs at the rate that Stephen is. And along with, of course, Derek Ryan as well. Stephen’s songs are songs of the earth. They keep you grounded.” 

In the last year or so, Joe’s music career has expanded from being the man behind the mic while presenting, to being the man behind the mic while actually performing, as a series of singles and a debut album have changed the trajectory of his musical journey…

“Well ya know, it’s kinda weird [laughs]. My mum sang when I was a kid, and I used to love singing along with her for the craic. But I never went out and sang publicly. But I decided when I reached sixty years of age that one of the things on my bucket-list was to go out and record a single. And that’s what I did with Sabrina. And ya know what? It’s a disease, and I mean that in the best possible way [laughs]. And people who know what I mean will laugh at that [laughs]. My end was always playing the artists, and listening to them, picking out good songs, always showing their best side on my show. But I’ve gone from that, to going out and recording an entire album myself, which I did about six months ago. ‘Stumblin In’ was the start of the bucket-list. Just record a single. And that one did it nicely. But once I recorded the single, I started to get a grá for it. Then I decided to do a ten-track album! And I have to say a big thank-you to Seamus Cullinane in Roseland Studios for guiding me along the way as well. I mean, what a great guy to go and record with. And with Stephen then, I’ve got videos for ‘Stumblin In’, as I mentioned, and ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’, and ‘She Believes In Me’. So there’s a few videos running around out there on the internet, so there is, all produced by Stephen, and great job he’s done on them all. Look, you get the bug. I didn’t expect to get the bug! But I got the bug [laughs]. And all you want to do then is sing! It’s mad, isn’t it! [laughs].” 

Joe is a man of more than one passion, though. His wife and family are definitely at the top of the list, but after them, as well as music, cars and Liverpool FC also have very special places in the presenter’s heart…

“Yeah, I’m very much a family guy. If I had nothing else in this life, and if I died having nothing more in this life, then I’ve had everything in having my wife, our three children, out three grandchildren, and a fourth on the way! They are the rocks of my life. That’s what I build everything on. Cars, well I’ve always worked on cars since I was a young lad. I remember working as a sales-trainer/teacher with a company where I was training and developing people for four and a half years. A lovely clean job, earning good money, a briefcase, a suit, in at 9am in the morning, home at 4.30pm in the evening. And I still just had to roll up the sleeves, and get oil on my hands, and oil on my face and my hair, working and playing with cars! My latest thing now, that I’ve been doing for a few years, is I buy 1950s cars and restore them. Now if you could just see a photo of a couple that I have there, people would think that I was stone mad [laughs]. Most people say when they see them that they should be dumped. But I love it! It’s hard work, and it’s very labour intensive, but at the end when it’s done and you’re looking back on the finished products, it gives me such heart. Even if the car ends up being owned by someone else, as long as I get to drive that car and feel that I’ve made this – from start to finish – it gives you great pride.” 

And Liverpool? 

“Liverpool have been a part of my life since before I had my family, and always will be. I’m a passionate Liverpool fan. I just love the team. But I hate the way things go for them sometimes in so many situations. So many Premier League titles have gone-a-begging because of silly draws, struggling to get more goals. The one game that really broke my heart was the Crystal Palace game, where we were 3-nil up – 3-NIL UP – and we let Palace come back to draw. I think we lost the league by two points that same season. They kept pushing for more goals to get a better goal-difference, but they ended up drawing, and could even have lost in the end. You would not want to be beside me when I’m watching Liverpool play, because I go ballistic. Even my missus goes, ‘I’m going off to visit your mother, I’ll leave you alone to your battles!’ [laughs]. And that’s what it is, it’s an emotional roller-coaster, I don’t know how I don’t get a heart-attack. In fact, Will Faulkner recorded me – and I didn’t even know he was doing it – one time I was in one evening and Liverpool were playing. They were playing so bad that my language was…my language was choice! [laughs]. He recorded it and played it back with the expletives bleeped out and it was very funny. He caught me at my best! [laughs].” 

Probably hundreds of thousands of people around Ireland will know Joe as the presenter of Country Roads on Midlands 103, one of the most popular country music shows on Irish radio. Now I’ve met Joe many’s a time going into studio to present his show, and every time with armfuls of cds keeping him company for the night ahead. I asked Joe how much preparation goes into each show, because that’s something that a lot of people might not appreciate…

“Well for me, and number one, it’s very important that new artists get airplay. Now, in saying that, there is one little condition that I put on things. That’s that they can sing and that they’re single, or album, is recorded professionally. Sometimes people send stuff in, and they can sing alright, but the recording is awful. Or the other way round, the recording is brilliant, but they’re out of key, out of tune. So I won’t play those. I have to be very careful. I go through every single and album that’s sent to me, and I pick the very best of them. So even if I get in, let’s say for example, an EP of four tracks. I won’t just listen to the first one. If the first one is awful, I’ll still listen to the second and the third, ya know. I won’t be dismissive of anyone. And sometimes some of the people, the artists, who are around a long time, will send in a song that I think doesn’t suit them, so I won’t play it. I need to make sure that I put their best foot forward, so to speak. For them, and for me, and for the listeners as well. Sometimes too, people will ask me to give my honest opinion about a song, and I will. And I think I’ve only had one person who gave out about something I said. But, they did go ahead and change the way they were doing things after that and they improved a lot.”

“And it’s not just because I’m a professional”, Joe continued, “but look, I listen to all of the songs and all the singers. So who better to offer a comment as to whether something is good, bad, or indifferent, than the person who is playing them year-in, and year-out, for the past twenty years. Not all of those with Midlands 103, I started up in Dublin in 2000. So this year I’m actually twenty years in broadcasting. It’s not about insulting anyone, you never want to do that. It’s just about playing the very best of what’s sent it. So yes, there is a lot of preparation involved. Say Michael English brings out a new song, while I’ll play the bones out of that until it’s stuck in peoples’ minds and it’s branded as Michael English’s song, if you know what I mean. So what happens then for Michael, is people will say to him at a gig, oh will you play such and such a song, I heard it on Midlands 103. And that’s why they’ll ask for him to play it, because they’ve heard it. If they don’t hear it, they won’t know that any singer – be they old or new – have a new song out.”

Who, I wondered, is Joe’s own favourite country artist? If he was to do a one or two-hour special on someone, for instance, who would it be? 

“Well now…,that’s a very difficult question to answer! Because I want to be fair to everyone who’s sending me their records. But, I’m a massive fan of Mike Denver, and of Robert Mizzell, and Michael English, too. Derek Ryan, as well, Cliona Hagan, Lisa McHugh. Who would I go to to listen to as a fan? Well all of those artists. And The Back Axles, I’d sit all night and listen to those boys playing! If I was to look at this like making a cake, putting a few different ingredients in, and then making a decision as to who I thought was one of the very best in the country…I would say Mike Denver. Why would I say Mike Denver? Well let’s talk about those ingredients. There’s a lot of things. Mike is very approachable, a friendly guy. He could be away in Spain or somewhere when I play one of his songs, but a bleep will come on my phone, either from Mike or his manager, Willie Carty, to say listen, we heard you played the song there, thanks for the airplay. Now nobody has to do that, nobody. But Mike does. He’s so humble. He’s one of the biggest names in entertainment in this country, and yet, he carries himself like he’s just another ordinary guy. And I absolutely love that about him. So answering your question, it’s by adding all of those little things into the blend that I get Mike as my answer. I mean look, there’s so much competition out there. Michael English is off this planet, he’s brilliant. Robert Mizzell has that real American country voice, brilliant. Derek Ryan, in my opinion, is one of Ireland’s finest songwriters. And so can Michael English, for that matter. But Derek Ryan has album after album of self-penned tracks, and lots of other people are using his songs, too. Daniel O’ Donnell has recorded them, Michael has, Robert has, Mike has, all of these people have recorded songs Derek has written. An amazingly talented young man from Carlow. So I’d go to all of these lads. And Rosie Flanagan, there’s a local girl who is an absolutely superb singer. She had a duet out with Johnny Brady, which was gorgeous. Their voices blended so well together.”

Of the newer, and younger country artists on the scene, who has Joe been impressed by? 

“Eoin Mac, I don’t think anyone else will pass him for his vocal talent. He’s unbelievable. Well there’s lots of local talent around who have been catching my ear. There’s Colin Kenny from Banagher, there’s Alex Roe from Clara, who is starring on Glór Tíre at the moment. And it’s funny with Alex, when I first got his record in, there was one song I really liked so I kept playing it. So I said to him one day, Alex, will you send in more country songs to me, you have a great country music voice. I met him then at a fundraiser over in Banagher recently, one that I was singing at as well. Alex was on before me, and I was blown away by his Kenny Rogers, and his Merle Haggard, and his Willie Nelson songs that he was singing, songs that he hasn’t recorded yet at all. So that young man, in my opinion, he has massive potential. On the female artist side, there’s Olivia Douglas, of course, and Sabrina Fallon. Rosie Flanagan, too. Olivia is absolutely amazing. Herself and Sabrina. But they’re two different singers, but two powerful singers. And well able to get a crowd going, something that’s very important in the business. I was at another fundraiser recently – because I like to do some when I can, to give something back – and I was only meant to sing three or four songs, but they asked for one more. And that’s brilliant for a singer, to be asked to do another song. But what I loved even more was that the floor was full with people out dancing, and singing every word of the song with me. And that meant they must have been listening to the record that I released, my album. That’s the same kind of audience connection that I see with Olivia, that I see with Sabrina, with young Colin Kenny, who is a great little songwriter as well. Colin has written some songs that are very, very powerful. One of them was for Darkeness Into Light, Let’s Step Together, fabulous song.  And John Molloy is another man like that. A very talented guitar player, and a great ballad singer. There’s so many, many more out there that I could name. I love all the new people out there that are coming on board with country music, because they’re making my job easier. New people are refreshing my show all the time. There’s so many extremely passionate and talented young people, and new artists, out there. Not only making my job easier, but making it a pleasure. You have to have something new to play. I’ve never been bored in this job because of the amount of new, up-and-coming Irish talent that has kept coming along over the last twenty years. And of course, as a presenter, it’s also important for me to keep in mind the lads who trail-blazed over the years, like Larry Cunningham, Gene Stuart, Mick Flavin, Shawn Cuddy, Louise Morrissey, Susan McCann, Philomena Begley, people like that from way back in the day, but a lot of whom are still out there doing to this very day. You can’t forget them.” 

“And you know what”, concluded Joe, “I just want to give a mention to my mum, too. She’s eighty-six years of age now, her name is Patricia Cooney, but she’s known as Bernie Cooney. She sang all around the midlands years ago to keep us alive, and that’s exactly where I got my inspiration from to sing. She got the name Bernie – because she wasn’t Bernadette – years and years ago, I remember her telling me this story, when their dresses had to be down around their ankles! But Mammy wore dresses that were at her knee. This is a funny story, but it’s a fact. The dress was down to her knee, but when she’s sit down it would come up above her knee, and she got the name ‘bare-knee’! [laughs]. And that eventually became Bernie!”

~ You can tune into Joe on his show, Country Roads, every night of the week at 8pm on Midlands 103.


Barry Kirwan

First Published December 2017


How many days left until Christmas? Everybody seems to have a countdown going at this stage. And if you’re anything like me, the ever-decreasing number of days between now and Santa’s descent through chimneys far and wide is probably beginning to finally start pushing you into taking some action on the present front! The great thing about being a country music fan, of course, is that there’s never a shortage of wonderful albums to reach for, or events to pencil into your diary. And this year is no exception. In fact, let me tell you about one album in particular that’s just been released and definitely deserves a place on your Christmas wish-list. It’s called Moments, and it’s the brand new collection from one of Irish country’s finest young talents, Barry Kirwan. 

Barry, of course, comes from Irish country royalty in a manner of speaking, being the son of one of country’s top showmen and true gentlemen, Dominic Kirwan. It should be noted, however, that both men are far too humble to consider themselves anything even close to royalty, but it’s an accurate indication of their standing in the business. Barry, while relatively new on the scene as a solo artist, is neither a stranger nor a newcomer in more general terms, having earned his living as the man behind the drums for Derek Ryan for many’s a year before eventually deciding to go his own way. 
Now, as well as adding Barry’s new album to your Christmas wish-list, you should also leave room for the Christmas Country Concert Tour which comes to Tullamore on December 19th – only a few days before Santa himself, so this is definitely Christmas coming early for country fans! – where Barry, together with Dominic, the Queen of Country herself Philomena Begley, Cliona Hagan and more, will be taking to the stage in the fabulously festive surroundings of the Tullamore Court Hotel. 

Barry officially launched Moments, the follow-up to his hugely popular first album, New Beginnings, to a full-house in the Red Cow last Thursday night, but even so, the Tyrone man was up and at ’em early again the following morning to chat with us about it all. 

“Aye, it was actually a great, great night, so it was, thank God. I was delighted. Long day it was, too, because we were in Tralee on Wednesday night at Radio Kerry’s Night With The Stars show, and then we drove on to Cork to do the Today show with Daithi O’ Se and Maura Derrane yesterday afternoon, and then up to Dublin straight after that. So you could say it’s been a hectic couple of days alright [laughs].” 

So, what kind of moments can Barry’s fans expect from Moments

“Well ‘Moments’ is a twelve-track collection, ten of which are covers, songs that I would have loved growing up, being a massive fan of country music, as I was. So a lot of those ten are the artists and bands I would have loved singin’ along with, ya know. But there’s two originals on there as well, one written by my brother, Colm, and our good friend Bradley Banning, a song called ‘Merry Mary’. And there’s another original song on there which was given to me by Rory Feek (of the American country husband-and-wife duo, Joey and Rory, of which Joey sadly passed away last year), written by Rory and Paul Overstreet, a song called ‘Between The Cracks.’ It’s funny, when I knew I was gonna be makin’ the album, I just kinda out of the blue one day thought I’d give Rory a text and see if he did have anything, cos’ I know he’s a very, very busy man. But he literally came back to me within, I think, two days, and he said let me have a look. The day after that then he sent me an email with the demo of Paul Overstreet singing ‘Between The Cracks’, and it’s a completely original song which hasn’t been recorded by any other artist. So to have that calibre of writers give me a completely original song, I was delighted. It’s a very Don Williams kind of a song, a half-time tempo, with a brush kind of a feel. But you know yourself, Rory is a major lyricist and an amazing storyteller, so the song is really about how things in life can fall between the cracks, small things that you might not realise are big things really, and they’re slipping away. It talks about love and other things that can just slip away from you so easily if you just take your eye off the ball, so to speak.” 

And the story behind the other original, Merry Mary

“It tells the story of a young lad who becomes friends with a girl when he’s really, really young, and obviously likes her, and tells how they progress in life, ya know, from an early age.”

I always love finding out exactly why albums end up being called what they are, so with Moments, I wondered was there a track of the same name included in the set? 

“There is a track on there called ‘Moments’, aye. And it’s funny, this album has been released by Rosette Records, and it’s the first album I’ve done with them. But at the very first meeting I had with them, with Mick Durkin, down in Dublin, we were just talking about different songs that we both liked, just general chat really. It wasn’t even about me releasing an album with them at that stage. We just pretty much talked music for about two hours. And as it happened, ‘Moments’ was a song he mentioned to me that he thought would be a good one to record, that it has a great message. It was originally done by a band called Emerson Drive, a Canadian band, and they had a number one hit with it in 2005. But not long after that, 2007 I think, their guitarist was killed in an accident. So they’ve never really had the same kind of success since then, sadly. But nowadays, with mental health being a major issue everywhere, and homelessness as well, ”Moments’ is just a great message song because it kinda talks about both. And actually, Bradley Banning, the co-writer on ‘Merry Mary’ with Colm – we’ve become very good friends with him – but he was Emerson Drive’s tour manager for the past few years. The last time I was in Nashville I actually had dinner with one of the guys from Emerson Drive, so it’s all a bit crazy the way things can fall into place and link up.” 

On any artists new album, every song is special to them in some way. And of course the originals usually even more so, because often times no-one else will have recorded them or put them out there before. But is there a particular song on Moments that Barry is especially looking forward to fans hearing? 

“It’s funny, I think a lot of artists will tell you that when you record albums you’re working on it so much that you don’t really like listening to it after! [laughs]. But I have to say, the other night there I was driving home from a gig and I had the album on the whole way down the road and I just loved listening to every track, so I did. But to answer your question, there’s a song on the album called ‘Why Don’t You Spend The Night’, and it seems to be a favourite for a lot of people who have heard it, and it’s definitely a favourite of mine. My manager actually suggested that song to me. I think it was written by Bob McDill, and recorded by Ronnie Milsap. It’s just a lovely, lovely song. But that’s just one of the ones I like. I mean, I’ve been a massive Garth Brooks fan over the years as well, and ‘The Dance’ has always been a favourite of mine. And even though it’s such an iconic song, and there’s nothing much you can do to change it, I really love what Jonathon Owens (the album’s producer) has done with this version.” 

With December now upon us, and the Christmas season well underway, I asked Barry if he was looking forward to all the coming weeks would bring, including his trip to Tullamore on December 19th as part of the Christmas Country Concert Tour? 

“I absolutely love Christmas, getting to spend some time with family. And my partner and myself have just moved into a new house, and we’re expecting a new baby as well in February, so it’s exciting times ahead! This will be our first and last Christmas alone in this house. Yeah, Christmas is always a great time of the year, and obviously Colm comes home from the States as well. And the tour, yeah, I did it with Brian (Cunningham, the promoter) last year for the first time. And again, I think all artists on the Irish country scene will tell ya, it’s just always great to get to spend some time with other artists cos’ we don’t really get a chance through the rest of the year. And sure the characters that are on this tour, the likes of Philomena Begley, and even Cliona as well, it’s good banter on the road and it’s good fun to be around.” 

And if Barry could be assured that his own letter to Santa would make it straight into the great man’s hands, what would Mr. Claus be asked for this year? 

“What would it be? Well I think I’d love a number one album if I could possibly have that! [laughs]”