NEW SINGLE FOR AISHLING AS TV DEBUT BECKONS ON GLÓR TÍRE
With 2022 shaping up to be the biggest year yet in her young career, rising country music star AISHLING RAFFERTYis set to get the year underway with a brand new single. With a first television appearance to look forward to when she takes to the GLÓR TÍRE stage under the mentorship of country superstar MIKE DENVER in the coming weeks, the Tipp lady is about to treat her ever-growing legion of fans to her take on SUDS IN THE BUCKET.
The song was a hit for American artist Sara Evans back in the early 2000s, a period now regarded by many as coming at the end of the country genre’s most recent golden-age in the States. Evans was one of the biggest names on the scene at the time, and Suds In The Bucket gave her a #1 back in 2004. Close on two decades later, and as her career continues to bloom here in Ireland, there’s every chance that Aishling – who is certainly putting her Tipperary homeplace of Knockshegowna on the Irish country music map – will take that song back to the top of the charts.
“We’ll see what happens”, laughs Aishling, “that would be lovely, of course! But the chart side of things is only a small part of what’s important when you release something new. And the charts can change so quickly too. It’s a lovely feeling when your single does well when it comes out, and that support from fans always means a lot to me. So yeah, hopefully it will get a good response to it. Fingers crossed, as always!”
2021 was a busy year for the Irish World Academy music student, with five very successful singles no doubt playing their part in bringing Aishling to the attention of Mike Denver who will be her mentor on TG4‘s long-running hit show Glór Tíre in the coming weeks. Darling, Say You’ll Love Me When I’m Old,Truck Driving Woman, Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Ol’ Days), Thanks To You, and Mama He’s Crazy all topped the Irish iTunes country chart. But not only that, all five singles quickly became fan favourites and made their presence felt at radio throughout the year, and indeed, are still being requested regularly. And it’s that same level of airplay that Aishling is hoping to achieve again with Suds In The Bucket.
“I still get excited whenever I hear one of my songs on the radio! I don’t think that feeling will ever get old for me, to be honest. And what’s really so satisfying as a recording artist is when you hear a song still being played months and months after you released it. To know that presenters and DJs still enjoy giving it a spin, and that fans still want to hear it, that’s the best feeling. With this new single, because of the time of year it is and everything, I wanted to give people something that was fun to listen to, something nice and upbeat. ‘Suds In The Bucket’ is always that kind of song for me when I hear it, and singing it always puts a smile on my face too. So hopefully with this song I can spread a few more smiles around the place!”
And as for Aishling’s soon to begin Glór Tíre journey, how is she feeling about that?
“I’m delighted to be taking part in the show this year. I was gobsmacked when Mike asked me to be involved. He’s obviously one of the biggest stars in Irish country, and has been for years. And Glór Tíre is a show that I’ve always watched on television growing up. I’ve even been down to a few of the ‘live’ shows in years gone by and I’ve loved everything about it. Now, to actually be a contestant this year, that’s an amazing honour for me. Everyone will have the same dream of possibly winning, of course, but that dream will only come true for one of us. That’s just the way it is, and I think once you’re ok with that, then you can really make the most of the experience. No matter what happens, I know it’s going to be a brilliant learning curve for me and that’s something that can only stand me in good stead in the future.”
With her voice of gold and a personality that glitters, not to mention a head fitted perfectly in place upon her young shoulders, the future is gleaming for Aishling. And already, 2022 promises to be an exciting next chapter.
~ SUDS IN THE BUCKET, the brand NEW SINGLE from 2022 GLÓR TÍRE contestant AISHLING RAFFERTY, will be available on all platforms from January 10th.
Singer/songwriter LARISSA TORMEYis beginning the new year in a reflective mood with the release of another of her own original songs as her first single of 2022. MIRROR, written in a style where jazz meets a more contemporary sound, will be available on all platforms from Friday, January 21st.
For the Kilbeggan-based chanteuse, the release of Mirror marks a continuation of a journey she began on her 2015 debut album, Perfect As I Am…
“From a very early age, as a songwriter and as a singer, I was always drawn to a certain kind of jazzy sound. But with a contemporary twist of my own on it as well. I think there’s a freedom in that style for any artist to really express themselves without having to wonder if their work is ‘enough’ of any particular sound. It can just be what it is. And as a person, that’s very much what I’ve always been like too. On my debut album, ‘Perfect As I Am’, the songs I recorded were deeply personal and full of different emotions. ‘Mirror’ takes me back in that direction, I think.”
Larissa continued, explaining how different styles of writing allow her to access and express different parts of herself as an artist…
“When I write a country song, for example, because country music is so much about the art of storytelling, that’s what I want to do. I want to share something in a way that the listener can relate to it, so that it can somehow make sense to them in their own life and experience. And in country music as well, even though there can be sadness and heartache, there is also a lot of fun and cheekiness too, which is so important. Fans love that, and we all need it in our lives. When I write a pop song, it can be more just about a feeling. You don’t have to try and tell a story or share something in particular. Most of the time, you just want to make people feel happy and alive. And that’s just as important and I love being able to do that too.”
“But with a song like ‘Mirror’, written in this kind of jazzy way”, observes Larissa, “I can be a little bit more serious, and go a little bit deeper in my writing. I think we live in an age where peoples’ attention spans have shrunk to matters of seconds, and I don’t like that at all. Everything has to happen now, straight away. Fast isn’t even enough anymore, it has to be instantaneous. And that’s crazy. That’s not how you live life, that’s how you miss life. Too many people these days are completely engrossed in themselves. Everything is about ‘me, me, me.’ And if you’re only thinking about yourself, you’re only looking inwards. But again, that’s not where life is or where life happens.”
For Larissa, the inspiration behind Mirror is the concept that the world you see is a reflection of your inner state…
“Yes, this is what I believe, and very much so. And this applies especially to love and to relationships. The world you see in front of you will reflect your inner state. If you, as a person, are full of love, then that is what you will give to the world, and bring into the world. In order to receive, you have to be able to give. One cannot really happen without the other. And likewise, if you are empty, then emptiness is what you will see around you. And it’s what will stare back at you from the mirror too.”
Mirror, arranged by Kevin Whyms and with an accompanying video by Andrew Jordan of AJ Films, will feature on Larissa’s forthcoming album of original contemporary material, currently scheduled for release in March.
~ MIRROR, the brand NEW single from LARISSA TORMEY, will be available on all platforms from FRIDAY, JANUARY 21st.
Not a man to ever spend too long away from the studio these past few years, Donegal’s NORMAN BORLANDis already on his way back to the airwaves with his first record of 2022 before the month’s end. And Norman‘s cheeky take on Jon Philibert‘s light-hearted tale of heartache is exactly what we need to guide us through the early days of a brand new year and set us on a perfect course for brighter days ahead.
“I have a list of songs in the back of my mind that I want to record someday, and it’s something I’m always adding to”, reveals Norman, before laughing as he adds, “That’s probably one of the reasons why I spend so much time in the studio! And SHE DON’T LOOK THAT LONELY TO ME has been on that list since the moment I first heard it.”
“And I’m not talking about the moment I first heard the whole song”, he points out, “I mean from the moment I heard the first few lines. It’s just one of those perfectly written country songs that has a way of putting a smile on your face even though it’s about a heartache! That’s the genius of great songwriting. And there’s no doubt about it, Jon Philibert is that kind of genius. I’m a huge fan of his work, and it’s an honour for me to be able to put my stamp on any song of his, but especially this one.”
Working once again with his long-time producer Brian Kerrigan,SHE DON’T LOOK THAT LONELY TO ME sees Norman follow on from what was a very busy year of releases in 2021, with the man who modestly describes himself as simply being “a country singer singing country songs” sending four tracks to radio in the last twelve months. The first of those was his take on the Don Williams hit Healing Hands this time last year, with Gerry Guthrie joining him for their version of John Bunzow‘s up-tempo feel-good tune Ain’t No LittleThing in April. In June, Norman was once again joined by a special guest as the wonderful Patricia Maguire shared vocal duties on the Randy Travis, Steve Dorff, and John Bettis penned Friends Like Us. Norman’s biggest hit of 2021 was his final release of the year, the Jerry House number Working Woman.
With the ‘live’ music scene still shrouded in uncertainty, Norman admits that it’s tough to plan too far ahead in that regard, but he can’t wait to get back in front of as many people as possible as soon as he can. And in the meantime, there are no prizes for guessing where he’ll be found…that’s right…in the studio!
“I’m talking to people about ‘live’ dates for the year ahead, and we’re putting some plans in place where we can. I’m certainly open to talking to anyone in that regard, all they have to do is get in touch and we’ll chat, no problem. But what I am 100% sure of is that there’ll be more new music coming throughout the rest of 2022, that’s for certain. And what a song to kick things off with in Jon Philibert’s SHE DON’T LOOK THAT LONELY TO ME. We’re setting the bar high for ourselves again, but that’s the only way to do it. Country fans deserve no less.”
Regarded as one of British country music’s leading lights when it comes to the art of crafting a song, Londoner Philibert holds the distinction of having written the song that is a special part of the Tom Jones story, with I’ve Been Rained On Too being his longest ever country charting record. The song became a top-ten hit for the Welsh legend in 1984, going on to hold a place on the Billboard Country chart for a staggering twenty-two weeks. I’ve Been Rained On Too has also been recorded by Charlie Landsborough and featured on his 1989 collection, Still Can’t Say Goodbye. Other Irish artists to have recorded titles from the Philibert songbook include Larissa Tormey, Mick Flavin, and Trevor Loughrey.
~ SHE DON’T LOOK THAT LONELY TO ME, the NEW SINGLE from NORMAN BORLAND, will be released on all digital platforms on FRIDAY, JANUARY 21st, and will be available to request from radio from Tuesday, January 11th.
“This is my ‘Willie McBride’ and I really hope fans will like it. I wrote it when I was eighteen, and finally recorded it in Belfast at Halfbap studios three years ago, so it’s been a long road.”
Dundalk’s NIALL McNAMEEis a singer/songwriter and actor, known for his passionate, thoughtful and full-blooded songs. And the one he was talking about in the quote above – and a perfect example of just why his work is so highly thought of – is his latest release, the very beautiful ALL I NEED.
A self-taught musician, Niall has been immersed in music his whole life. Throughout years as a struggling young actor, he supported himself by performing Irish folk songs, resulting in his knowledge of traditional music growing rich and deep. But all the while, he was writing his own material, drawing not only on his Irish heritage but also pushing into contemporary rock and pop territory, finding inspiration from artists as diverse and celebrated as Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The Pogues, Christy Moore, and more recently, The Undertones as well.
Niall has starred opposite Pierce Brosnan, fought with Jackie Chan, played comic foil to Bono, and even romantically duetted with Imelda May. He also landed a starring role in the feature film Love Without Walls– due for general release this year – which saw him performing his own songs.
OTRT had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Niall ahead of the release of his superb debut EP, Step By Step, last year. And we recently had the pleasure of catching up with him again, this time to talk about his latest single, the aforementioned, All I Need. The song narrates the story of a man in his last moments before death, with the listener catching glimpses of that man’s life flashing before his eyes. As Niall remarks, “He sits in the pub of his mind and looks around at his friends – all going off to war soon – with the knowledge they’ll not return the same. But ultimately it’s about an impossible promise. To get home safe and make his way back to Edinburgh from London where his sweetheart waits for him.”
Niall told us more about how All I Need came to be…
“I wrote this song when I was eighteen. The song is a love song mixed with what I wanted to be an anti-war song. It was definitely inspired at the time by a song that was definitely my favourite, which is ‘Willie McBride.’ I remember wanting to write something along those lines about the injustice of war. There’s obviously the mention at the end of France, that it’s ‘not so far’, which my mate – who’s called Francis – thought it was his mam shouting, ‘Francis, not so far!’ [Laughs]. He was like, ‘Why is that in there?!’ [laughs]. But anyway, it’s an anti-war song.”
Niall continued, “For the music video, I tried to get loads of different pieces of military or conflict gear, to represent loads of different conflicts. This is about working-men dying against other working-men, under millionaires giving the orders. The chorus are British towns now that think about it, but that was more because I was having a romance at the time with a girl who lived in Edinburgh and I lived in London, so that’s just the train ride between the two [laughs]. One of the things that scared me the most about this song is that it could be interpreted as some sort of poppy or pro-British Army song, which is interesting because it’s meant to be the opposite of that. It’s about men who don’t want to go, and shouldn’t be going. It’s about the love they have in their families, ya know. Any working-men across Britain, Ireland, anyone who fought in the Great War who was conscripted, you wouldn’t need to go into politics to show that they shouldn’t be going and don’t need to go. I think loads of people have touched on that over the years. While there’s injustice in Irish soldiers going to World War One, or any war, there’s injustice in any working-man being made to fight. [So] this isn’t an anti-British Army thing either. I don’t want to disrespect anyone at all.”
As he mentioned, All I Need is a song Niall wrote when he was just eighteen. So it is a track that could have been in contention for a place on his debut EP, Step By Step, which was released early last summer. I wondered if one of the reasons why it didn’t make the cut for that selection was perhaps because Niall always saw this song as belonging to this particular time of the year?
“It’s the first song that I can remember writing. I don’t have any songs in my repertoire that I play that are older than it. It’s been with me for so long. To be honest, it was really hard putting songs together for the EP because I had so many, because that was my first EP. I didn’t know which ones to put [out] first. And when you’re starting out, there’s a feeling that you have to put some of your best ones forward to get ya out there. But equally, you know that you’re sacrificing them a little bit. It wouldn’t be too different, I suppose, if you were in a fighting situation, or a war, you have to put strong people forward first. But also, you lose them first. So with ‘All I Need’, I was too precious about it, to be honest. That’s why it hasn’t been released until now. That’s why I waited. I tried to record the song loads of times. And as you can see, I’ve released two different versions of it as well, because I just couldn’t decide. I’d played it for too long, just me and a guitar. I played it for too long with different bands, with different versions of it. I was always thinking if I release this the music video is gonna cost me millions! [Laughs]. And I haven’t got millions [laughs]. I was thinking I need this to be absolutely perfect. But then I just realised, do ya know what? This is a song that I love and I just need to get it out there. I need to move forward. It was like getting a monkey off my shoulder, because it was so precious to me. It was like my first child and you want to give it a good opportunity in life. I felt, maybe, that I couldn’t give it the push that I wanted to. But then I thought I’m a songwriter! I need to release the songs that I’m writing. And that’s kind of why it all started a bit late for me. Not late, but I had enough songs to release an album probably six or seven years ago and I still haven’t done that. So I’m trying to be less precious, but still be protective and not be too naive, ya know.”
Staying with Niall’s Step By Step EP, these last twenty or so months have surely been a strange time (to say the least!) for anybody releasing new music, let alone for someone sending their debut EP out into such a crazy world. Looking back on it all now, from the perspective of six or seven months on, what was that whole experience like for Niall?
“It was strange…well, I say it was strange, but I didn’t know any different at the time. It was a new experience. It was like starting a new job in a new industry you’ve never worked in before, and during the pandemic. It would be more unusual knowing what it was like in real-life, when Covid wasn’t around. All I can say is that I found it far more difficult to get one single out when things have been a bit more opened up than I did to get that whole EP out during the pandemic. During the pandemic, I had time. I had people who were around and who wanted to do things. It could be that I’ve only just finished releasing ‘All I Need’ so it feels like I’m wrecked now. Maybe the EP was harder. Not to downplay anything about ‘All I Need’, because I love it and I’m delighted with it – and it’s actually doing far better than anything on the EP which is good, I suppose, because you want to see progress – but, I was very aware when I was releasing the EP that the industry always says you can only release your first stuff once. You can only release your first album once. You can only release your first EP once. There’s an industry side to that, but also there’s a spiritual side to that. The hope [laughs], when you’ve never released something before is that you can go, ‘Well, when I release this, this is it! This is gonna be brilliant. It’s gonna solve all my problems.’ It’s like when you start acting, you go brilliant, I’m starting out now, I’ve got my first audition, I don’t see why I wouldn’t get this part. I’ll get that, and then it will all work out!’ [Laughs]. You only get a couple of times like that before you get a couple of no’s, and you start going aaw f*$k, this isn’t actually as easy as I had hoped it would be! [Laughs].””If I’m being honest about it”, confessed the Dundalk man, “without being too glib about it, it was more scary doing this single, ‘All I Need’, because I knew the work that I had put in before. I felt like with the EP I really didn’t give myself a second to rest for months and months and months. And then here I am releasing a single at Christmas and thinking now I’ll have to work ten times harder than that [for the EP]. And it’ll be the same again next time when something else comes out next year. It gets harder, and harder, and harder. And you keep having to get better, and stronger, and try not to go mad! I suppose one thing that helped with the single this Christmas was I recorded it three years ago in Belfast. So I’ve had it there for a long time. It could well have gone on the EP. The difference with ‘All I Need’ and the songs on the EP is that some of them on the EP I had to record and get ready for release. Whereas ‘All I Need’, I could have just put it out at any point in the last three years. But I held onto it.”
On the day we spoke, Niall had been supposed to play a show at the Water Rats venue in King’s Cross. Unfortunately, like so many shows in 2021, this fell by the wayside. I asked Niall if he would mind sharing what it’s like for an artist when this happens, both from a practical and an emotional point of view…
“Yeah, it’s strange. I remember the lockdown at the start, the last day I lived in London – with my pals and stuff – it was the day before St. Patrick’s Day. And we had a big sold-out gig ready to go and we had to call it quits. And that was very hard. It was almost harder cancelling that first gig because we didn’t know about pandemics, about what it was going to be like. It was disappointing because we were like, ah God, St. Patrick’s Day, sure it’s only once a year! What a shame [laughs]. We wrote a big message about it, and felt loads of guilt having to explain to people that we were cancelling it. I find it a lot harder when there’s not an official lockdown. Because there are gigs happening tonight. It is really hard, but I felt lucky that I’ve been on tour for the whole month of December. I’d overworked myself, to be honest. Imelda was saying to me that you’ve got to give yourself time to rest because people will put work in front of you anyway. I booked a tour; Glasgow, Dublin, Dundalk, and Belfast. But I was thinking about it, and I think most people were assuming it’s cancelled, when the restrictions started to come in and as Christmas started coming, I was getting messages from people saying, ‘Aw, I’m sorry about your gig’ before I’d even cancelled it [laughs]. So I decided to have a real think about it, and I spoke to my agent, and he said he thought I should cancel. Then we spoke to the venue and they were like ok, so then I was like well hang on, do THEY want to cancel it? And my agent said they’d do it if I wanted to, but it was up to me. Niall went on, “So I said ok, we’ll do it. But then I just thought to myself actually, how would I feel – really – if I found out someone got Covid at a gig? Or, if I did my gig, and took a test, and realised the next morning that I had Covid? How would I feel knowing it’s probable that someone would either not be able to go home for Christmas because of the gig, or, be going home for Christmas not knowing that they’d been made ill by someone at the gig? And I thought that would kill me. I wouldn’t deal with that well at all. I felt like people wanted to feel safe. It’s really hard. And especially when you’re building up to that last moment. I’m flying back to Ireland tomorrow – hopefully, I’ve got my test this afternoon – but that gig was going to be that final moment after a long time of non-stop work, so yeah, that was hard. But it just felt like the right thing to do. And that’s all you can go by really. I’ve got my vaccination and all that kind of stuff, and my family are kind of the same, we’re strong people, so if it came to it and I had to spend Christmas on my own, it wouldn’t kill me actually. I’d happily sit around on the sofa and do nothing! That’s my instinct anyway, I might be totally wrong [laughs]. But for everyone else, I don’t think I have it in me to risk someone else getting ill from the gig. So that was that.”
“And in terms of how it feels cancelling gigs now”, continued Niall, “it didn’t need much of an explanation, just had to put ‘cancelled.’ It was like, you know what it is [laughs]. Having played a load of gigs in December, and looking at the industry, one thing that’s been really interesting is that a lot of people aren’t asking for refunds. They understand that the money still needs to go into the industry, and actually the twenty quid or fifteen quid or whatever it is they’ve spent, will go to helping whoever is on stage. About fifty-per-cent of people who had bought tickets were actually coming, so I thought, ya know, we can do this another time, in these circumstances.”
~ ALL I NEED, the brand new single from NIALL McNAMEE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio.
“Yeah, we’re about a week or so in. It’s very enjoyable, I have to say. You’re being trained by a world champion. I mean, how often do you get a chance to be trained by someone who’s so talented at what they do? It’s great fun. You get into it, you really get into it. The thing about me is I have nothing to judge it off from the start. I haven’t done as much as a dance class along the way, of any kind! So there’s no frame of reference for how quickly I’ll pick something up or maybe how slowly I’ll pick something up! But it’s been great fun so far.”
With his journey as part of next year’s DANCING WITH THE STARS IRELANDclass just getting underway, there seems to be little doubt that comedian NEIL DELAMERE is taking it all in his stride. With the hit show finally set to return to our TV screens in January, Delamere – amazingly – is one of TWO Offaly men who will be aiming to get their hands on that prized Glitterball, with rugby star Jordan Conroy also looking to impress on the dancefloor. And Neil – who brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th next – has already seen the signs of his new sequined self beginning to emerge, as he explained when we caught up for a chat about DWTSIrl, and more, last week…
“Some things are coming easier than others, but it’s incredible how quickly you get into it, in terms of you’re doing steps when you’re walking around the house…or, I said this on The Late Late Show…I’ll put on the indicator of my car, and as it goes tick, tick, tick, I’m goin’, ‘One, two, three, four, five,six, seven, eight…!’ So the patterns are getting into your brain!”
I suspect that Neil has a competitive side to him. Will we see that in this competition?
“Haha, well I have a competitive side to me IF I have the ability to compete! If it becomes evident very quickly that there are some people who are amazing dancers and the rest of us are just making up the numbers, well then you’ll just kind of enjoy it on that basis. But ah yeah, listen, I’ll give it what I can, and after that let the chips fall where they may!”
Somewhere else I didn’t expect to see Neil showing up in the coming weeks was on Ireland’s Fittest Family. But sure enough, he’s taking part in the show’s Celebrity Special at the end of December. Also taking part is someone else I’m lucky enough to know pretty well, Grainne Gallanagh, who was Miss Universe Ireland in 2018. I put it to Neil that this – no more so than Dancing With The Stars – was definitely a different kind of show for him…
“Well, it came about because of Covid, and because my normal schedule wasn’t what it normally is. I was asked to do it and I said I’d love to. You have a couple of months lead-in time, about six weeks lead-in or whatever – and then you have some degree of focus, ya know. You know you have to get this done or otherwise you won’t be fit enough to do the show. It was as much about me saying this will give me some sort of structure on my weeks, because as you know, because of Covid we were restricted in what we were allowed to do and what we weren’t allowed to do. Comics, without a deadline, we tend to not be massively creative! It’s not like writing a book or doing a TV show, so you need something where you have to have a show done by X day. So, I had a lot of time, and I also didn’t have the usual structure on the year that I’d always have, so I went yeah, absolutely, I’m gonna do it. I got a team together, and it was us against Grainne, Sinead Quinlan, and the Happy Pear as well. We did it for the Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland. I can’t tell you who won, but if you look at who’s in and judge the fitness of people on sight, you’ll probably be in the ball-park of who did! [Laughs].”
In Dancing With The Stars and the Celebrity Special of Ireland’s Fittest Family, we’d already touched on two huge upcoming events in Neil’s life. But never a man to do things by halves, there’s something even bigger coming up in 2022. In fact, it’s Neil’s biggest solo show ever, and it’s happening at the SSE Arena in Belfast in March ???
“Biggest solo show I’ve ever done, yeah. I’ve done gigs to ten thousand people before, but on mixed bills. Can’t wait to do it. I was up having a look at the Arena the other day, the Belfast Giants Arena, and it looks spectacular. And again, that sprang from Covid, from wanting to give myself something to aim for in these weird times when we don’t know what’s going on, ya know. So ya kind of force yourself into, ‘Oh God, this is happening…write jokes, write jokes, write jokes!’ I can’t wait for it. I think it will change the way I do the show in some ways, because a big, big room might not have the usual messing and interplay that I would have with the front row if people can’t really see the front row! [Laughs]. I know from playing the really, really, big rooms that you have to do it in a different rhythm, you almost have to wait for the wave of laughter to come back. It’s a slightly different technique. And I’m very grateful that ‘The Blame Game’, which we’re doing at the moment, is allowed a small ‘live’ audience, and that kind of keeps the name out there in the north still.”
Neil’s current tour is called Liminal (relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process) and from the meaning of the word, my guess was that it’s to do with the place the world finds itself in with Covid, amongst other things as well. I wondered if I was correct in that assumption, and if I was, where, in fact, does Neil think we – as a country and a planet – are with Covid at this stage?
“I think overall Ireland has done very well. Our vaccine roll-out has been amazing, and I think our vaccine uptake has been amazing. Smaller countries in Europe tend to do better than their larger neighbours in terms of social cohesion. In terms of how many people passed away, our figures were much lower than say the UK. I don’t know how far we are into this. My worry would be that we may not be as far in as people think. And selfishly, I suppose, for people in the arts, we’re wondering what’s going to be left at the end of all this. My worry wouldn’t be for the people that are going ten or fifteen or twenty years, that they’ll be removed from the scene. My worry is for the younger people – either younger in age or in experience – doing their respective music, dancing, comedy, whatever it is. They may well have been washed out of the system by Covid. So we could lose all these important and exciting new voices. The rest of us will be fine. If we’ve built up enough touring, and enough TV shows, and enough radio, we can afford – almost – to take a hit. But my worry is that we would lose the next generation of people, ya know.”
Neil mentioned how the way he performs his show in a bigger venue might have to change slightly, but I wondered if how he writes his material had to change over the last twenty months or so too. So much of what he does is observational, comes from being out in the world, around people and with people. Did the lockdowns, and Covid in general, change his creative process much?
“That’s a very good point. I suppose it didn’t change the observation as much as much as it changed the anecdotal stuff. A lot of the time you’re telling stories and you’re animating the stories with observations and characterisations and stuff. But you are still telling stories about what had happened to you. If you haven’t done anything [laughs] – because most of us didn’t do anything for a fairly protracted period of time – what do ya talk about? ‘Dancing With The Stars’ and ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ have given me ten minutes of material sort of thing. It’s not why I did them [laughs], that’s a beneficial extra from the two of them. But it’s such a strange world to be thrust into, that you can’t fail to get some stuff out of them. Also, I probably have a decent closer for the SSE Arena and for the Tullamore Court Hotel and everywhere else, because I know Des [Bishop] when he did it years ago, I think he used to bring his pro dancer and they’d dance at the end. So, ya know something…I wouldn’t rule it out! I haven’t talked to my pro dancer about it yet, but it seems like a cool way to end a really big show. It’s something I would definitely consider if I was any good anyway [laughs].”
Looking at everything that’s happened since March of 2019 when Covid kicked in – and even going back a little bit before that to when Neil and I last spoke – there’s been so much absurdity. From almost everything to do with Boris Johnson in the UK, to Trump and January 6th in the States, to the whole anti-vax movement here, and more. From a comedian’s perspective, what’s been the most absurd moment of it all?
“Well January 6th was completely off the wall, I thought. I almost couldn’t believe that was happening. If a couple of things had gone a different way, maybe if Mike Pence had made some decisions in another way, it could have been much more serious. That, in terms of one day, was bizarre. The Dominic Cummings thing and how he was supported by a Prime Minister who has since completely removed his support. I mean, Cummings driving to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was so absurd! Boris Johnson is the gift that keeps on giving. All I’ll say is his testicles are as fertile as his imagination! As good as he is as a comedy source, I wouldn’t wish him as a Prime Minister on anybody. We criticise politicians in Ireland, but there’s a lot to be said about a steady, seasoned hand at the tiller, both in terms of Michael D. Higgins and some of the members of the government. I think we can be overly harsh on them in a very difficult – VERY difficult – scenario for them.”
Going back to events on the horizon for Neil, he’s also filmed Pointless Celebrities…
“I did! I love a quiz. Since we last spoke, I did Richard Osman’s ‘House of Games’, which is the big one, you do five episodes and you’re on for the entire week. I managed to nip a victory in that at the last minute. So you’re paired with somebody else in ‘Pointless Celebrities’, and all I’m saying is I DID ok! My partner, however…may be a different story [laughs]. So people can look out for that fairly soon as well [laughs].”
Between getting himself ready for Ireland’s Fittest Family, and now for Dancing With The Stars, Neil – certainly from a fitness point of view – will definitely have been seeing some positive changes in himself over the last few months. Indeed, this whole period of humanity has changed many people, some in good ways, but some more – unfortunately – in bad ways. In a general sense, has Neil noticed any changes in himself and maybe how he sees life?
“I’d be more inclined [now] to do something that’s a bit off the wall. Like, I have been approached about doing ‘Dancing With The Stars’ several times before, and either I couldn’t do it or I wasn’t ready to do it in some ways. This is the year where I kinda went, well listen, who knows what’s gonna happen next year in terms of what we’re allowed do ‘live’, but another part of me – that’s kind of the legacy of this last eighteen, twenty months – is just do something that scares the hell out of ya! Why not?! Life is too short. Particularly in the western world, we go through periods of thinking we can control things. If you get sick, you get antibiotics. If something goes wrong, well you can pay someone to fix it. If it’s something with your health, you can get an operation. We tend to think we can control things, but actually, every so often, God/ the universe/ whatever you believe in, throws a curve ball at us. And that’s what Covid has been. And there’s a freedom in relinquishing that control in some ways. Covid has made me more likely to take risks and do something brand new because who knows what the future holds really?”
Neil has his huge show at the SSE Arena coming up next year, and he’s also had some gigs in gorgeous churches – of all places – in recent times. But, if he was to plan his perfect show, here’s what I wanted to know. Where would his venue be, what three guests would he invite along to chat to, and what musical act would he choose to close out the night?
“Hmm. Let me see. I think in terms of places I’ve played before, I’d say Vicar Street. It’s a fantastic venue, and I’m playing there again soon. It has the roar of a thousand, eleven-hundred people, which is a great roar. But it’s physically intimate enough for everybody to feel connected to what’s going on on stage. So it would probably be Vicar Street as the venue. The three guests that I would like to interview, off the top of my head…David Attenborough would be one. I think he’s absolutely fascinating. There’s nearly a hundred years there of wisdom, and he’s such a brilliant communicator. I think he’d be first on the list. Second on the list, would be Mark Rylance who is an actor people would know from ‘Bridge Of Spies’, and from ‘Wolf Hall’, and ‘Dunkirk’. I’m actually going to see him very soon in the West End. He’s one of those magnetic presences on the screen, that you cannot take your eyes off. I’m hoping that he’d be able to replicate that if you were having a chat. I think he sees the world in an interesting way in his work. So I wonder would that be the same if you met him in person, ya know. I’ll come back to the third person, but a musical act to close the gig off entirely? I would reform Oasis! For one gig! Because first of all, nobody has ever got them to do that. And secondly, the music of when you were a teenager holds a special place in everybody’s heart. I think that would be…oh my good God! [Laughs]. What a night that would be! Just for one night only. And my third guest…let me see…I think I would pick somebody like Orla Guerin, the BBC war correspondent. I think she’s seen a huge amount of the world and what people do to each other, great heroism, great sacrifice, and great cruelty. So, assuming that the gig has been great fun, and assuming that at the end of it it’s going to be lifted in an amazingly unique way by the reformed Gallagher brothers [laughs], and assuming that David Attenborough is going to give us some wisdom, and Mark Rylance is going to give us some laughs and some wisdom, I think we can go fairly deep about humanity with Orla, knowing that that’s the light and the shade. I think that would be an unbelievably good night out!”
Finally, and we didn’t know when we spoke that there would be another address to the nation only days later, I asked Neil to put himself at that lectern outside Government Buildings in Dublin. If either Micháel Martin had called on Neil to don the green jersey as it were, face the cameras and deliver a message to the people of Ireland ahead of 2022 getting here…what thoughts would he have shared with a weary nation?
“I think we should be proud of ourselves and how well we’ve done so far. We do, as a small country, tend to compare ourselves to other countries, and broadly speaking, if you look at the figures, we have done very well. And we’ve done well because we’ve looked after each other. That’s what I would say. And let’s all continue to look after each other. The country is a much better place when we [all] consider other people. That old Irish phrase, ‘Ní neart go cur le chéile’ (There’s no strength without unity) is the thing that comes to my head. That’s all I’d say. The country doesn’t need me to preach to them. That’s the thing about comedy gigs. People go to them to get away from life. They go to get away from their troubles for a while. And when we have been allowed to do things, you could see that people were going to escape the news-cycle. So let’s just stick together, and this too shall pass.”
~ DANCING WITH THE STARS returns to our screens in January. Before then, on December 29th, you can catch Neil in the Celebrity Special of IRELAND’S FITTEST FAMILY. Neil brings his LIMINAL tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel on March 5th, with tickets ON-SALE NOW. For more details, check out www.neildelamere.com