Brendan Graham

First Published May 2022

“IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SONG”

Part 2

Photo by THOMAS CONNEALLY

We’re now just a week away from the moment when all of Ireland’s EUROVISION dreams will either fade quietly into obscurity for another twelve months, or possibly bloom gloriously in a way that writes the name BROOKE SCULLION into our history books forevermore. The hopes of a nation rest on the Derry girl’s shoulders as we await Ireland’s turn to step into the international spotlight during the second semi-final next Thursday, May 12th. A few weeks back when Brooke won the National Song Contest, OTRT confidently proclaimed that – at last – after years of depending on luck and the whim of the hand of fate, we finally had a song in THAT’S RICH and a performer in Brooke who had a real chance of leading us to our eighth Eurovision title. 


But…the one thing that worries me now is how the song’s presentation has been ‘revamped’ by those who apparently ‘know’ what Eurovision needs. When Brooke performed the song on The Late Late Show last week, she could hardly have been more clear in stating that it wasn’t her idea to lose her backing dancers. This decision, in my opinion, serves neither the song nor Brooke, and is a big mistake. A huge part of the song’s appeal when it won it won the right to represent Ireland at Eurovision was the energy between Brooke and her dancers, and what that in turn added to the song. Without going all the way back to the era of the Spice Girls about it, the presence of her backing dancers and how they and Brooke worked together brought a certain ‘girl-power’ vibe to the performance. That wasn’t there on The Late Late Show last week, and if it’s not going to be there in the semi-final either, then someone somewhere has made a decision that will actually lessen Brooke’s chances of making it to the Grand Final on Saturday, May 14th. 
Thankfully for Ireland, Brooke has talent to burn, as the saying goes, and a personality that will illuminate one of the biggest stages and occasions in the world of entertainment. No matter what happens, she’ll do us proud during her time in Turin. 


Should Brooke take home the crown, she’ll be following in the footsteps of a man who has walked that path himself, and not once, but twice. Back in 1994, BRENDAN GRAHAMs beautiful ROCK ‘N’ ROLL KIDS, performed by Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington, gave Ireland her sixth Eurovision #1. It followed Dana with All Kinds of Everything (Derry Lindsay, Jackie Smith) in 1970, Johnny Logan with What’s Another Year (Shay Healy) in 1980, and Johnny again with Hold Me Now (Sean Sherrard aka Johnny Logan) in 1987, Linda Martin with Why Me? (Johnny Logan) in 1992, and Niamh Kavanagh with In Your Eyes(Jimmy Walsh)a year later. Then, in 1996, Brendan repeated his victory when Eimear Quinn conquered Europe with THE VOICE.


Just over a year ago, OTRT had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Brendan on the occasion of the release of his song Lullaby for the World by The Mahers. But given Brendan’s remarkable place in Irish and international music – he has also, let us not forget, penned the lyrics to Westlife’s huge hit, YOU RAISE ME UP, a song that has been covered more than 1,400 times, and by artists including Josh Groban, Aled Jones, and Celtic Woman – there was so much more to talk about as well. Including, of course, his memories of those very special nights in 1994 and 1996. This week, with Eurovision 2022 almost upon us, we’re delighted to share some more from that chat with Brendan…

“I actually don’t do many interviews”, revealed Brendan, “and that’s on purpose because I like to let the songs speak for themselves. The people who need to find me and who look for songs, will get me anyway. So, I don’t have an online presence. I remember Louis Walsh going on The Late Late once – and we didn’t have a telly at the time – so, I think it was Fr. Brian D’Arcy who rang me to say, ‘Did you see Louis Walsh on The Late Late?’, and I said ‘no’, and Brian said, ‘He’s trying to find out where you are to let you know that your song is going to be #1 in Britain next week!’ It also makes it simple for me to get on with things. I can go out and about and live life and sure nobody knows who I am. As long as they know the songs…and if they say, well that’s a Westlife song, or a Josh Groban song, or a Seán Keane song, I’m happy enough with that because that’s the way things work. I like the focus to be on the artist rather than on me.”

Before we got on to the subject of Eurovision, I wanted to ask Brendan about his songwriting and its process. 

Brendan’s song Crucán na bPáiste was written about a burial ground for unbaptised children near his Mayo home. And I couldn’t help but wonder if, in writing a song like that – because of the subject matter – there was an added emotional weight in what he was trying to create, one that might have presented some different challenges than those usually encountered when writing a song? 

“Songs are different. Some songs you sit down to write. And then there are songs, if you like, that you’re called to write. ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ was one of those latter ones that I felt summoned to write. I think that the special songs find us, we don’t find them. I had set a lot of my first book for Harper-Collins, ‘The Whitest Flower’, around the area where I live in Mayo, which includes the area of Crucán na bPáiste and Maumtrasna. I’d go up to that area to sit on the rocks and just think, and soak up the stories and history buried in the valleys and the streams. [With] Crucán na bPáiste, I began to think about how it’s in this extraordinarily beautiful place up high, and there’s only boulders that mark the graves. And I just wondered what would it be like for the parents burying those children, who would not see the beauty that I was seeing. That started me thinking. The place became a kind of a claw on my gut. I knew the song had to be written in Irish to be true to the time and its geography – it’s in a Gaeltacht area. And around that time, I think it was just before that, I’d gone back to do a ten-week course in Irish at Gael Linn, myself and Bill Whelan went. And we were all put to shame by the best person in the class who was a young Japanese student who was working with one of the government departments. So, all of the timings came right together. Crucán became kind of a pilgrimage to me, I had to go there. Bit by bit, the song kind of spoke itself, and then I was set free of it, and it had found its voice. I learned an important lesson, which is to keep out of the way and let the song write itself. The way I looked on that one, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and something that often I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard. It’s a special song. I placed the melody around a traditional melody and then took the liberty of adding some of my own music to it. It has seemed to connect with people, even people who don’t understand Irish, they get the feeling from it. That’s down to the fantastic artists who have recorded it, like Karen Matheson, Cathy Jordan, Eimear Quinn and others who understand the song and bring the emotion out of it. It’s a very special song to me, and one of only two that I’ve written as Gaelige. And it’s special because the place is special.” 

Most writers tend to rack up a long list of former jobs as they go through life before eventually – hopefully! – getting some kind of lucky break that makes all of those years pay-off. In all the time before his unquestionable success, and the recognition that has come his way for his talent as a writer, was that writer within him always alive? Always active? Or were there perhaps times when Brendan didn’t write for long spells, or wrote much less? 

“I suppose I was always interested in it, but y’know, you have a full-time job so you’re tipping away at songs at night and at the weekend. And the family is growing, and they’re going to music lessons, and athletics, and basketball and netball, all of that stuff! And I was playing sport up into my forties, competitive basketball. Now, not at the very top level, but it was still competitive. So songs were squeezed in here and there. I suppose really, I became a songwriter by default in 1993 when I was made redundant. I’d had conversations with friends, other writers and artists, and they might say to me ‘well, you should go full-time’. But I didn’t know anybody who was just a full-time songwriter. I knew people who wrote songs but who were artists who performed and I didn’t want to be that. I just thought it would have been too much of a risk to give up a job where I got a cheque every week to go into something that was unknown. So, in 1993, I was out of work and I had to do all sorts of bits and pieces to keep going, and I thought I have to make a go of this songwriting now. I have to put up or shut up. Fortunately then in 1994 ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’ came up so I began to earn some money, then in 1996 ‘The Voice’ also came up. I always had a hankering to be a full-time writer, but was always afraid to take the leap into that unknown. But I think I would have kept writing anyway, whatever happened, because I just loved it. I loved the process.” 

And of course, I couldn’t talk to Brendan without asking him about those most special nights in 1994 and 1996. What do those moments actually feel like? To be right there, at the centre of the storm, when history is being made in front of your eyes and out of your very own life in so many ways? 

“I was thinking about this, because ‘The Voice’ was twenty-five years ago this year (in 2021 when we spoke), and with time you kind of forget the trepidation of the votes coming in, and the exhilaration when they do come in! So, casting my mind back, it was absolutely magnificent. I had been trying for three years to get ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’ into the National Song Contest, and I was dogged about it until it got in. I actually decided on the night of the Eurovision at the Point not to go into the Green Room. I wanted to sit out front with the family and see the two lads come out and perform my song, and get the feeling that the audience was getting. And I also wanted to see Bill’s ‘Riverdance’, he had invited me to go into rehearsals and I said no, I’d wait for that night. He was about seven rows in front of me and when the boys did the song he turned around and gave me the thumbs-up. Then, when ‘Riverdance’ came out and blew us all away, I was holding all my thumbs up [for him]! It was wonderful. And then to see the crowd reacting, and our President, and our Taoiseach, and all of the people…it was a huge moment of just sheer joy. There was also, a sense of having represented your country, and that you’d done well for it. The other factor was that with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’, the song was presented exactly as I had envisaged it. I didn’t want an orchestra, I didn’t want anything interfering with the interaction between Paul and Charlie and the storytelling. I wanted it small. God and his mother were telling me ‘oh no, you need to use the orchestra, you need a string-quartet, you need this n’ that’… But I was probably old enough and dogged enough at the time to say ‘no, trust me, it’s gonna work’. And that was tough on the boys. They had nothing around them. But that created the vulnerability and it allowed them to interact. They were magnificent. ” 

PAUL HARRINGTON and CHARLIE McGETTIGAN being ROCK ‘N’ ROLL KIDS in 1994

Brendan continued, “And ‘The Voice’ then, I had actually started writing this around the time of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’, I had started to wander into songs that had an elemental side to them. In ’94, I had a song called ‘Winter, Fire and Snow’ that Anúna and Katie McMahon recorded, and subsequently Eimear Quinn recorded. That was set to a poem by MacDara Woods. I was starting to get interested in the world around me, the elements, the sounds, voices that you hear in the trees. So I had started work on ‘The Voice’ in ’94, ’95, I was tipping away at it, it took a long time. Anyway, we went off to Oslo with the wonderful Eimear, and she was fantastic. It was tough, she was still at college, and while she was singing in a choir, she hadn’t really sung that much as a soloist. And I wanted to put a traditional band around her, so it was going to be a different type of song to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids.’ And as well as being magnificent, she was also a fantastic ambassador for the country. At all the press receptions and interviews she was really well beyond her years in terms of how she carried herself and dealt with stuff. Interestingly, on her album that has just come out in the last year (‘Ériu’), she has done a new version of ‘The Voice’ with a full orchestra, calling it ‘The Voice 2020.’ Everybody had said to me, ‘Oh don’t enter it again, your chances of winning it the second time are gazillions-to-one!’ [Laughs]. But that didn’t deter me, and I was excited that it was a different kind of song. And again, it was wonderful to feel that you did the country proud and that people related to what you had written, and still do.” 

One of the interesting things about ‘The Voice'”, remarked Brendan, “which I think probably isn’t widely known, because it speaks about the famine and our bloody history and so on, but it ended up on the GCSE syllabus in Britain! Which was probably unusual for a Eurovision song! But I also thought there was a lovely sense of irony about it. That’s just one of those little strange things that happen with songs sometimes. They find their own way.” 

EIMEAR QUINN winning Eurovision 1996 with THE VOICE

As Brendan mentioned that he had played competitive sports into his forties, I wondered if winning Eurovision twice – given his competitive nature in a sports sense – brought with it any extra or added sense of joy? 

“You get the song right. You start from the bottom. It’s all about the song. Then you get the right artist. Sometimes, we’re sending songs with…not the right artist for that song, if you know what I mean? But at the time, RTE were actually very good and open about how I wanted the songs to be presented, even down to what people wore on stage. It was very much a team-effort. So I wasn’t ‘just the songwriter’ and out to the side. That was interesting for me to see. I also think that we’ve moved away from that notion of getting the right song, and it’s all about other stuff now. Which is a pity. But I wasn’t thinking about winning it twice or anything like that. I was thinking make it as good as it possibly can be. Give Eimear all the support that I can, and then I have to sit on the sidelines and she and the band had to carry it. But I think I got into a little bit of trouble with The Late Late at the time, because myself and my wife had decided that win, lose, or draw, we were going to go way up to the most isolated part of Norway that we could find! And of course, we won! Then we got home – the Irish delegation – and people were saying well where’s the songwriter? I was in a fisherman’s cabin that was on long-stilts, that sat in the water, looking at the twenty-four hour sun dip and come back up again [laughs]. I wasn’t being dismissive or anything, we had just decided that was what we were going to do.” 

In doing my research for my chat with Brendan, I came across a remarkable story relating to a Mr. W.G. Whelan. There was a message left on Facebook – on an article about Brendan – by a chap from the theatre in Nenagh letting Brendan know that a lady had found a diary belonging to a gentleman whom they believed to have been a relative of his. The aforementioned W.G. Whelan had fought in WW1. I wondered if indeed, he had turned out to be a relative of Brendan’s? 

“The answer is I don’t know. I probably dropped the ball there. But I am interested in genealogy and the family history. My maternal grandfather from Nenagh used to write for the Nenagh Guardian, and he wrote this headline once that totally mortified my mother and my aunts, saying ‘The Whelan Millions’, and he had a line drawn back to connect our Whelan’s to the Tsar of Russia [laughs]. Somehow! James Whelan was his name. But there is an interesting story on the other side. My father’s father was a judge at the Olympic Games finals in London in 1908, and he judged the sprints and the high-jumps and so on, and I didn’t know that until a few years ago when my aunt, who passed away, left me – out of the blue – this Olympic judges medal. I couldn’t believe it. And I found the official record of those Olympics, and there he was with his name for 100M and 200M finals, and hurdles and all that sort of thing. And [here’s] an even more extraordinary thing”, Brendan continued…

“My wife’s maiden name is O’ Brien, she’s from Mayo. RTE had this Big Music Week event in 2013, and they asked me would I write the song, a kind of anthem for it. So, I was wondering what would I write, because they had choirs, pop singers, country singers, rap singers, traditional, every kind of singer. I thought well I can’t really write a song that pulls in everyone for half a line. At the time, Ireland was going through a rough time, so I thought I’d write a love song to Ireland, and I called it ‘The Fair, Fair Land.’ I had an idea for it, and I had a melody which was good, and I probably could have worked it up. Then the Chieftains had recorded a song of mine, ‘Lullaby for the Dead’, and they were premiering it with the Symphony Orchestra in the National Concert Hall and Paddy (Moloney) invited me along, and I was delighted to hear it get its first performance in that manner. Before all that, the Chieftains on their own played this tune. It was beautiful and as soon as I heard it, I thought, it would be so right for what I was working on. I went backstage and checked with them if it was a traditional air. It was and  they were calling ‘Dóchas.’ I thought I’d make sure it was out of copyright, so I went to the Traditional Music Archive and they said the tune’s proper name was ‘Amhrán an Dóchais.'”

And quite amazingly, Brendan discovered that it had been a runner to be the national anthem back in the 1900s. It had Irish words put to it by an Irish scholar. But that was far from where the story ended, as Brendan went on to reveal…

“But then I looked it up further, and found out that the melody was older and came from the mid-1800s and was played by a Scottish piper down in Coolfree in the Cloyne area. And it was called Mór Chluana, ‘Mor of Cloyne’, about a queen who had this wonderful singing voice, so much so that she was kidnapped by the fairies. And the name attributed to it was Lewis O’ Brien. I asked my wife did she have any musicians in the family and she said ‘no’. But about a year later, an O’Brien cousin of my wife was over from Scotland, and ‘Did you know’, she says, ‘I found out that our family came from Scotland, and one of them was a piper who settled in Coolfree in the mid-1800’s?’ So the air that I had stumbled upon, that the Chieftains were playing, was collected in 1862 from Lewis O’ Brien, who was the great-great-great grandfather of my wife! He had moved up to the Mayo-Galway area at some stage, we don’t know why. I thought that was some sort of a sign. Eventually we did the song, and that had its debut on The Late Late. I wanted four female Irish voices to represent the different ‘voices’ of Ireland.  Marianne Knight, a fabulous traditional singer from Mayo, opened with the first verse. Then, Eimear Quinn was the other-worldly voice of the spéir-bhean. Nono Madolo, newly in Ireland  from Africa, sang a verse in Irish to demonstrate the potential of the richness of transition between different cultures. Then, the incredibly talented Celine Byrne brought it all to a stunning finale, giving  it that stately anthemic feel along with the RTE Concert Orchestra and guests. And all to raise funds for Barnardos Childrens’ Charity. I have been truly blessed by the songs that have been gifted to me over the last 50 years or so and by the very many wonderful singers, musicians and arrangers, who have given of their own talent in breathing them into a life…more than they could have been on their own. To them all – buíochas mór óm’ chroí.”

Now lest anyone think for a moment that the highlights of Brendan’s creative output might shine only in the past, we can assure you that this is far from the case. Look out for a brand new single from the great Red Hurley in the coming weeks, co-written by Brendan with Tommy and Jimmy Swarbrigg, plus exciting projects with Róisín O’ Reilly, Cathy Jordan, Feargal Murray, and Eimear Quinn between now and the year’s end. 

And not only that, Brendan has also penned the lyrics to a moving song called FOR ME, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Norway. The song was officially launched last month by Anette Trettebergstuen, Norway’s Minister of Culture and Equality. 

Speaking to Hot Press magazine about For Me recently, Brendan said, “I wrote the lyric to be an expression of individual empowerment and left it open to be an anthem for diversity and recognition, whatever the cause – gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation… whatever it be as a general, or individual expression of self-realisation and identity.” 

BROOKE SCULLION will perform THAT’S RICH, Ireland’s EUROVISION 2022 entry, in the second semi-final which takes place on THURSDAY, MAY 12th. Show your support for Brooke by following her on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter! 

ENDS

Eurovision 2022/Brooke Scullion

First Published February 2022

NIGHT OF GLORY FOR BROOKE

Last Friday was a night of glory for BROOKE SCULLION as the charismatic Derry singer/songwriter emerged triumphant from this year’s selection process to become Ireland’s Eurovision entry with THAT’S RICH. Brooke will now set her sights on Turin where she’ll represent Ireland at the 66th edition of the EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. Brooke will take part in the second semi-final on May 12th, performing That’s Rich – a song she’s also a co-writer of, along with Izzy Warner and Karl Zine – in the second half of that show. 


And, for my money, more nights of glory are on the cards for Brooke. For the first time in a long, long time, I believe we have a genuine chance of adding an eighth title to our collection. Given that our last win was with Brendan Graham’s almost mystical The Voice, so superbly performed by Eimear Quinn back in 1996, it’s well beyond time that we put up a serious challenge for the crown again. And in saying that, it is, of course, both important and only right to note that Marc Roberts – one of Irish music’s truest gentlemen – took Mysterious Woman (from the pen of John Farry, another gent) to a well-deserved second-place finish in 1997. 


But since then…well, since then we’ve even sent a puppet, in the shape of Dustin the turkey back in 2008. That’s a moment that should – as a nation ever brimful of culture and creativity – still shame us. And yes, it’s true that his God-awful song, Irelande Douze Pointe, won the public vote, and part of the problem – a huge part of the problem – is that the ‘powers that be’ in RTE allowed a song like that to even participate in the National Song Contest final. And those problems continue to this day. Last Friday night’s Late Late Show Eurosong ‘Special’ is all the evidence that’s needed to prove that. 


For a start, selecting our country’s song for the Eurovision Song Contest deserves a show of its own, and not just being reduced to yet another Late Late Show ‘special.’ 


There’s a truth about The Late Late Show that has been glaringly obvious for years and years now. The show is still in existence only because of the reputation it built, and the place it secured for itself in Irish life, when Gay Byrne was the host. A presenter of rare skill – albeit not without certain flaws in some circumstances – he was, nevertheless, a once in a lifetime talent. Once he retired, The Late Late Show soon became a pale imitation of what it had been for so long. If it was a show that had come into existence with Pat Kenny, then it would have ended with him too. In more recent times, however, the show has become more of a parody than anything else, with – to be fair – some exceptions from time to time. And again, if this was a show that had first hit our screens with Ryan Tubridy at the helm, it would also have sunk long ago. 


The influence that The Late Late Show has today is afforded it by two factors: the reputation it built during Gay Byrne’s time as host, and it’s prime-time Friday night slot. 


But back to last Friday’s show. Of the six finalists – selected from 330 entries – the RTE connections among some of them are something else. How anyone could even note this in passing and not be left scratching their heads, beats me.


Patrick O’ Sullivan, who performed One Night, One Kiss, One Promise, was the winner of RTE’s recent show, Last Singer Standing. That show, incidentally, was basically karaoke. It had a panel of judges who, on the face of it, and given their own careers and achievements, should have been able to contribute so much in terms of feedback. But the contributions of Nadine Coyle, Joey Fatone, and Samantha Mumba – as far as offering anything constructive or insightful went – were not even weak, they were almost non-existent. Anyone watching that show would scarcely have learned anything about the music business from listening to what that panel contributed on-screen each week, and that’s a crying shame. I honestly didn’t think that I’d ever see a panel on any TV show ever contribute in such a meaningless way ever again. But, Friday night proved me wrong on that score. 


Anyway, One Night, One Kiss, One Promise had Nicky Byrne as one of its co-writers. And Nicky, of course, as well as hosting one of RTE’s best shows in the shape of Dancing With The Stars, was also the presenter of Last Singer Standing. Nicky was also internally selected by RTE – so there was no National Song Contest, no public vote – to represent Ireland at Eurovision in 2016. He finished 15th out of 18 in his semi-final. 


Now, I actually like Nicky, and I think he’s a fabulous presenter. In fact, he would have been an ideal host for a proper National Song Contest show. 


Janet Grogan, who sang Ashes of Yesterday on Friday night, was also a finalist in Last Singer Standing. And Janet was also part of the RTE team in 2016, when she sang backing-vocals for Nicky. Janet was on duty again in 2018 when she filled the same role for Ryan O’ Shaughnessy, who – would you believe – was also internally selected by RTE. 


Brendan Murray, who sang Real Love on Friday night, was internally selected by RTE in 2017, when he sang a song that had British and Swedish songwriters. That’s something else that needs to be addressed, and which I’ll also come back to. Brendan also failed to qualify from the semi-final in 2017. 


I, for one – although I would imagine that I’m far from alone – find it remarkable that out of 330 entries, so many of RTE’s final six had so many RTE connections. I mean, really? 


Just to be very clear on something, however, let me repeat something I stated on social media last Friday when I wished all of the performers and writers involved the best of luck for the night that was to come. They can only go along with the process that’s in place. But man, that process has some gigantic issues with it. 


Going back to the subject of the studio-jury on last Friday night’s show, I’d love to know the thinking behind how that panel of Paul Harrington (the only obvious choice as a former winner), musician Caroline Corr, singer Lucia Evans and presenter Bláthnaid Treacy, was formed. It was certainly a pretty random group. But at the end of the show, that random group had it in their power to distribute votes that would go towards determining the overall winner, so in that respect, their presence on the night was very important to how everything turned out. 

This jury gave Brooke’s song, That’s Rich, just four points, while both the international jury and the voting public awarded her twelve points each, the highest mark possible. That doesn’t say much for the studio-jury’s judgement. Or, for that matter, the judgement of whoever appointed that studio-jury in the first place. 


Rachel Goode’s song last Friday night, I’m Loving Me, was written by a team of Swedish writers, some of whom were also involved in Poland’s entry last year. 

Surely, for Eurovision at least, where there’s a chance to represent your country on the international stage, we can find Irish performers AND writers? 

We don’t lack either. Truth be known, we have both, and in abundance. 

As puzzling – but maybe not surprising – as so many finalists having ties to RTE was, it’s incredibly frustrating for RTE to then, on top of that, select a song that doesn’t have a single Irish writer involved. But if you think back on Friday night’s show, you’ll be hard-pressed to recall songwriters getting any attention at all. Back in the day, an emphasis on the songwriter, and their story too, was always part of the National Song Contest, and it was the part that I most enjoyed. Arguably, when RTE brought You’re A Star to life they essentially relegated the importance of the song to a distant second place. A huge, and arrogant, mistake. 

Their contempt for songwriters is also a feature of The Late Late Show’s country music ‘specials.’ But that’s an argument for another day. And I’m sure that day is probably not too far away again either. 

Let me be very clear about this when I talk about having performers and songwriters who are Irish. I don’t care where someone’s passport says they’re from, that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about any performers or writers who live and work here, and for whom Ireland is home. People who may have moved here, settled here, married here, or happen to work here, but are every bit as much a part of our ever expanding, ever more colourful, ever more beautiful cultural fabric as someone who happened to enter this world in Dublin, Donegal, Galway, Cork, or anywhere in between. If someone is living with us and among us, and has talents to contribute, that’s cool with me. 

And that’s a very different scenario to having a team of outside writers who have no other link to a country except wanting to represent it on one of the biggest musical stages the world can offer. 

Look, not everyone cares about the Eurovision Song Contest and whether or not Ireland is involved, let alone how we select the song that goes on to represent us. But, a lot of people do care as well. Whichever camp you belong to, the Eurovision Song Contest is a massive opportunity to present our country to an audience in excess of 180 million people. 

So, selecting the song that represents Ireland IS important. We need to give this selection process the standing it deserves. And the first thing it deserves to have is its own stand-alone show. On last week’s Late Late Show, you had – as you do almost every week – Ryan Tubridy offering viewers at home the chance to win a cash-prize. A show to find our Eurovision representative shouldn’t have something like that happening in the middle of it. And it definitely doesn’t need what has by now become the Late Late Show’s annoyingly condescending attitude to the studio-audience when it comes to giveaways. 


The second thing this process should ALWAYS involve is the Irish public having a say in things. 
And the third thing that should always be a given every year, is that Irish writers – as well as performers, of course – are the ones who are given the chance to represent their country, that should be without question. And ‘Irish’ can be a definition as simple as the one proposed earlier, or something similar. 

Ahead of last weekend’s show, I stated that in my opinion the best song of the six was Yeah We’re Gonna Get Out Of It, by Miles Graham. And I thought Miles and his team put in a brilliant performance on the night. And in fairness, I was also very impressed by Janet Grogan’s performance of Ashes of Yesterday, which revealed the song in a whole new light. However, after nailing my colours to the mast for Miles ahead of last Friday night’s show, I also said that, “I’d be equally happy to see Brooke Scullion, with ‘That’s Rich’, take the glory.” 

And to be honest, Brooke’s performance on the night, as with Janet’s, brought her song to a whole new level and won me over. As did Brooke’s brilliant personality. I’m delighted Brooke won, and I have no doubt at all that she’s going to do us all proud in Turin. 

I fell in love with the Eurovision Song Contest because of people like Dana (All Kinds of Everything, Derry Lindsay/Jackie Smith); Johnny Logan (What’s Another Year, Shay Healy, and again with his own Hold Me Now); Linda Martin (Why Me, also by Johnny); Niamh Kavanagh (In Your Eyes, Jimmy Walsh); Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan, Rock and Roll Kids, Brendan Graham); and Eimear Quinn, The Voice, again by Brendan).


That’s a relationship that’s been on the rocks for a long time now. But, I’m putting my money on Brooke to make me fall in love with the Eurovision Song Contest all over again. 
Roll on May! 


THAT’S RICH, by BROOKE SCULLION is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. Brooke will represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin in May. 

ENDS

Linda Martin

First Published November 2021

A LEGEND AND A LADY

The thrill of watching LINDA MARTIN win the Eurovision for Ireland when singing Johnny Logan’s brilliant Why Me? is a memory that will never leave me. Nor will hearing it ever fail to stir those same emotions of excitement and pride that I felt bursting in my heart as I watched Linda cast her spell over a continent back in 1992. Hearing her perform Why Me? in person in the Tullamore Court Hotel a couple of years ago was just like travelling back in time. I wasn’t a sixteen year old sitting at home in the kitchen in Lusmagh anymore, but I might as well have been. Music is magical, and songs like Why Me?, performed by artists like Linda prove why that’s true. 


Little did I know way back then, of course, that one day I’d have the pleasure of working on a project with the very lady who won the first of Ireland’s famous three-in-a-row, leading the way for Niamh Kavanagh who took the crown in 1993 with In Your Eyes from the pen of Jimmy Walsh, before Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington gave us the hat-trick with Brendan Graham’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids in 1994. But, that pleasure did indeed come my way. And just last week, it was my privilege to sit down for another chat with Linda. 


We’d been meaning to get around to this for a while now, and with Linda having two spectacular concerts coming up in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral next month, what better time to finally make it happen?! 


“I’m grand, back to work again”, revealed Linda, as our chat got underway. “I had a year and a half off like everybody else. What can you do? You just get on with your life. But it’s been so difficult for everybody. I mean, looking back on it, I can’t believe that for a year and a half there wasn’t any gigging, or meeting musicians, or setting keys for songs, or doing something. It’s just incredible.”

 Moving on to the forthcoming concerts of December 6th and 7th next, Linda explained how they came about…


“Well, we’ve been running them for about the last five years, hugely successful. Not last year, obviously, because of Covid. But this year, I reckon that people are gonna want to get out and revisit those fantastic nights that we had in the Pro Cathedral, which is a beautiful place. So I thought ok, we could go with a night which is Celine [Byrne], who is an opera singer, Red [Hurley], Mary Byrne, Michael English, and the choir [the Halleluia Gospel Choir], do that sort of a night. Then the second night, I was talking to Johnny Logan, and I said to him are you around at all on the 7th, and he said he was. ‘Will you come in?’, I asked him, and ‘I will’, he said, so when he said yes I got onto the other ones and they all said yes immediately. The only one who couldn’t do it is Eimear because she lives in Geneva, you see, so she couldn’t get home. So we went ahead and put all our arrangements in place and that’s what we have, two nights, and all profits, of course – as usual – going to three charities. The first one is The Peter McVerry Trust, I adore that man. I just think he should be sainted. We have a new charity on board [this year] called Blossom, which helps mentally impaired people get into the work-place. And the third one, of course, is the charity that I’m a patron of, and that’s Dogs Aid, up near Finglas in north county Dublin. That’s what we’ll be doing. And we have a raffle both nights in the middle of the show, and then we’ll have our guest readers as well, like Mary Kennedy, Anne Doyle, Rory Cowan comes in and he does a little Santa skit with lots of little kids dressed up as elves. He’s done that before for me and the public love it because all of the little tint kiddies are dressed up and he’s talking to them about Santa and everything. Peter McVerry will speak too. He enthralls everybody. People just sit with their mouths open listening to that man talking. Covid, I know people are scared, but we’re definitely adhering to every Covid rule that that government has told us to do, I think that’s important to say and for people to realise as well.” 

CHRISTMAS VOICES FROM THE PRO CATHEDRAL

One of the charities Linda will be helping to raise funds for is the Dog and Animal Sanctuary, and animals – dogs in particular – are and have always been a hugely important part of her life. In fact, Linda has twelve – that’s TWELVE – rescue dogs living with her. I wondered was there a moment, or perhaps a combination of certain moments in her life, that her love of dogs grew from? 


“Ah yeah, it’s twelve. But listen, for this house, that’s quite a small number. Trust me. Trust me! I remember one Christmas many years ago, there were twenty-four dogs in this house. I couldn’t walk across the kitchen [laughs]. But sure I don’t care, I love them! My father’s family were the same, they always had animals, always. So it comes from that side. When I was a child, I didn’t actually play with dolls and prams and things like that, it was always a dog. And I was always allowed to have dogs as a child. But my mam, she used to say to me, she never had to worry if I was lost, she just had to look for a tail wagging somewhere and she knew i’d be beside it. So it’s just in my heart. I just adore them.” 

How old is Linda’s eldest dog at the moment? 


“Fourteen. I can tell you that immediately because I’m going to the vet with her on Saturday morning, just for a check-up. When she came in here, she was a little mange-ridden puppy fourteen years ago, and he’s still here. He’s called Tinky-Winky, and he looks like one of the characters out of Emmerdale, I think his name was Red? [Laughs]. He’s fourteen, still moving about, still eating away, still doing everything. I became a patron of the sanctuary just because they asked me. That would be the closest one to me, it’s only about twenty minutes away from my house, so I’d known of them. I can’t really remember the exact reason, but I got a message from them asking would I come on-board as a patron, and I did so gladly. And I’m still with them. They’re good people. It’s a voluntary organisation. Nobody takes any money, all of the money that comes in goes to the dogs. It’s actually operational because of public donations, it’s marvellous.” 

EUROVISION VOICES AT CHRISTMAS

Eurovision is the theme of one of Linda’s concert nights, and no-one in this country is more connected to Ireland’s Eurovision history than Linda. Not only did she win it in 1992 with Why Me?, she also came second in the contest in 1984 singing Terminal 3, and has been a National Song Contest entrant nine times, a number that is – to the best of my knowledge – still a record. But in recent years…ok, decades at this stage, sadly… Ireland has badly lost its way in the Eurovision. There’s a Late Late Show Eurosong special coming up again soon, something which doesn’t fill me any hope because this is an event that deserves and warrants its own stand-alone show, not simply being tagged as another Late Late Show special, or indeed, having anything to do with The Late Late Show. How would Linda go about putting us back on the right path again? 


“Well, exactly what you said. I’d make a special night of it. It could be in one of the studios in Dublin, but you could make it special [for the night], or else you could go to one of the theatres in Dublin and make money out of it. I truly believe that you’d be able to sell tickets. It’s a competition alright, but you could also have stars from Eurovision [as guest artists], you could bring them in. Think of Brotherhood of Man, for instance, they could be brought in. You would obviously go for the Irish winners, but you could go outside the box as well. Different countries that have won, RTE could approach them and just ask how they would feel about taking part in a show like that. It could be anybody. I think that would be a huge success, and it would make it something special again. When we don’t make it special, then the public tends to dismiss it. And Terry Wogan, God rest him, he was the worst! Jesus, the things he used to say about it [laughs]. But at the same time, he loved it. Graham Norton absolutely adores it. And I just think if we made this something special, whether we made the competition a stand-alone event, or really started trying to change the public’s opinion of it, because when you think about it on a base level, you’re providing work for an awful lot of people. Songwriters. The studios where the songs are recorded. Employees involved in putting the show together. There’s so much work in it that people would benefit from. People shouldn’t dismiss it, but think of it as a platform. If you can get your voice out in Europe in front of four-hundred-million people, that’s a platform for you! I just think we have to make something special of it. And we also have to take into consideration the days when we were all performing in cabarets, discos, variety shows on RTE and in the theatres, people got to know you, and you got your experience. So by the time that you had a few years under your belt, RTE would have heard about you, and you could put your name in the hat, and they would say well this song would suit X, Y, or Z.”

Linda continued, “Now I’m well aware that those situations don’t exist anymore. But, it’s not a contest for beginners. There’s no point unless you’ve got experience, are used to crowds, and dealing with people, don’t touch it. Seriously. If you think of last year’s Eurovision, and the amazing acts, all of those acts were brilliant. And I’m thinking of the women in particular. They were beautiful, dressed immaculately, smiling, dancing, singing, and they looked as if they owned the stage. And that only comes from experience. That applies to the boys as well. I remember suggesting to RTE one time, why didn’t they go around the karaoke competitions in Ireland. And they looked at me as if I’d just grown two heads! But it’s the only way these days that you’ll actually see and hear somebody. But I don’t know what we are going to do, because we can’t compete monetarily, or with some club-beat song, it doesn’t work for us. The Europeans have that nailed down. You know what their tracks and everything sounds like. We’ve always won with the big ballad. And I think we have to stick to that. Don’t try to compete with the other ones.” 

So, what Linda is really saying, if I’m correct, is that it all comes down to the song still? Or at least it should all come down to the song? 


“Yeah. Yeah. It really does. The song should be the most important thing. But it means nothing if you haven’t got a package around it. There has to be a ‘look.’ There has to be good vocals. They have to be camera-friendly. It’s a complete package that’s needed. And it’s very, very difficult to get that.” 

It’s that time of the year again when loads of fabulous new books begin to appear, and one in particular that I can’t wait to get stuck into soon is Backstage Pass by Pat Egan, a man Linda knows well. 


“I do, I do of course know Pat.”


And everyone is eagerly awaiting the day when another good friend of Linda’s, Louis Walsh, finally puts pen to paper! 


Hahaha!”


But what about Linda herself? Has the thought ever crossed her mind to tell and share her incredible story in that way? 


“Well, do you know something, I was approached a couple of times and I met up with a couple of publishers. And I just kept saying to them that I wasn’t going to name any names [laughs]. And they were sort of like well you’re no good to us then [laughs]. But I think I’d be boring. And I’m not looking for you to say, ‘Oh no, you wouldn’t’, or anything like that. I mean, genuinely, I think it would be boring.” 

I knew Linda wasn’t just looking for compliments because that simply isn’t her way. But I had to disagree, and I said it anyway: No way would her book be boring. No way. I think it would be fantastic.


“Well you’d never know what would happen in the future [with me], but Pat Egan’s is definitely going to be worth reading. I’ve known Pat for years, and he’s an extraordinary character. He’ll tell you the stories, but he never, ever runs anybody down, I’ve learned that from Pat. He always speaks very respectfully of people, no matter who they are. He tells amazing stories of stars he’s worked with and booked into Dublin, the festivals he’s run, and everything in between. A really interesting and lovely man. His book is definitely worth a read. I’m a voracious reader. My favourite author of all time is Frederick Forsyth.” 

It’s funny that Linda mentioned her karaoke idea to RTE all those years ago, because with their latest show – Last Singer Standing – well, it’s basically just karaoke and nothing more. When it comes to TV shows like this, of course, Linda has been there, done that, and went home with the tee-shirt as well, as they say. She worked with Louis on The X-Factor, and she played a major role on You’re A Star, so she knows what these shows are like. But in terms of something like Last Singer Standing, and indeed, the recent mess that was Virgin Media One’s The Big Deal (definitely not a big deal!), what were thoughts? 


“I have to give kudos to people who are actually trying to bring things forward. From what I’ve seen, there wasn’t anybody that sort of stood out and made me say oh Jesus Christ, you’ve got to sign that guy or that girl, you know. I did notice the winner of the first week of Last Singer Standing, a guy called Alex King, I remember Alex when he auditioned for Louis’s bands and things like that. And he’s a fine singer alright. But trying to get a record deal [now], it sounds to me like you need to have millions of followers on Facebook, then the record companies take notice, then possibly they’ll sign you to something. But there’s no money involved anymore. There isn’t. In days gone by you might have got €100,000 up front. That doesn’t happen anymore. Unless you’re Lady Gaga or somebody like that, that’s a different thing altogether. But no, I have seen anybody standing out. And Louis Walsh watches these things like a hawk. And nothing has come to his mind either. But he is putting some sort of a new act together. He’s looking for ‘something’, or ‘somebody’, or maybe a group, or people that he can put in a group, sixteen to twenty-one years old. He’s going to do something, he just doesn’t know what. The way he feels about it is when he sees it, he’ll know. And then he’ll push with a record company. But like I said, it’s very, very, very difficult.” 

Is it so difficult now because so many people try to just copy what’s already out there, rather than trying to be themselves and stand out as an individual? 


“There’s some unique people alright [that stand out]. Dua Lipa, I think she’s fantastic. There’s some around. But I don’t know if copying is the right word because you fall into that trap anyway without realising it. Somebody could sit down and start writing a song and then realise it sounds like Elton John, but listen, that’s just the way it goes. Music selling, of course, has been destroyed because of Spotify and all of those things. Songwriters are making nothing because of that. It’s so easy to go online, listen to a song or listen to an album, and if you don’t like it, you don’t buy it. In the old days, you had to buy the album to listen to the one song. We’re caught in that trap as well.” 

Returning to the idea of if Linda did ever write a book, I have no doubt that she could fill volumes with advice to those in the worlds of  music, showbiz, and entertainment. Acknowledging the fact that it’s hard to ever narrow down advice to one or two golden nuggets, if Linda were to try, what words of wisdom might she pass on? 


“Yeah. To all young people who ask me that, I say you’re limited where you can be seen, so go and join your local amateur dramatic society. And they’re looking at me like, ‘Whaaaat?!’ [Laughs]. But I say, I’m telling you, these people know so much, they’ve been there for a long time, they will teach you stage-craft, voice projection, they’ll teach everything that happens backstage, and it’s so well worth trying. I don’t know if anybody has ever gone and done that, but I think it’s a great idea to do it. Most of these people [in local ADSs] are so helpful as well. The second piece of advice is go and camp out outside Louis Walsh’s house! [Laughs]. The options are limited. You have to push yourself because if you don’t, nobody hears about you. But then there’s an over-confidence that turns everybody against you. You’re looking for that middle-line all the time.” 

As we tip-toe around the edge of another new year now- and even if things are still somewhat uncertain in a lot of ways – what is Linda looking forward to or hopeful about in 2022? 


“Not so much for myself, but what I’m hoping we can do is progress animal welfare laws in this country, that the government will actually say no, and start to take action against these dreadful puppy farmers and people who inflict such cruelty onto animals. That would be one thing that’s always on my mind. And for myself, just getting back to work! That’s all. That’s how my life has been spent, so it’s alien to me to be sitting not doing anything. And the Covid, I know we’re going to be living with it for the rest of our lives, but hopefully we can get it down to where it’s there, but we’re not actually getting sick from it.” 

~ CHRISTMAS VOICES from the PRO CATHEDRAL takes place on DECEMBER 6th, featuring Celine Byrne, Michael English, Mary Byrne, Red Hurley, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and Linda Martin. The EUROVISION VOICES at CHRISTMAS concert takes place in the Pro Cathedral on December 7th, featuring Johnny Logan, Dana, Paul Harrington, Charlie McGettigan, Niamh Kavanagh, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and Linda Martin. Tickets for BOTH shows are ON-SALE NOW, available from eventbrite.ie, and the Pro Cathedral Parish Office. 

ENDS

Marc Roberts

First Published August 2021

“PEOPLE NEED MUSIC”

Part 2

It’s far from a given that somebody who possesses an extraordinary talent will also possess a personality to match. One gentleman who effortlessly excels in both regards, however, is one of Ireland’s foremost talents when it comes to the gentle entwining of words and music, MARC ROBERTS. 


Truth be told, in fact, if some extraordinary talents were relying only – or even too much – on their personalities, they’d be in big, big trouble. And just to be clear, when I talk about personality in this context, I mean something as simple as someone’s ability or inclination to be friendly, to be respectful of others, to be able to show some sympathy, some empathy, and some compassion as a matter of course, rather than as an exception, or only when they have their ‘show’ face on. There are some in the world of entertainment who consider themselves to be ‘stars’ first, humans second. In their own minds, they walk among us, rather than with us. Not so with Marc. 


The Mayo native, who has made his home in the land of the tribes where he presents The Feel Good Factor on Galway Bay FM, is as down to earth and normal a chap as it could ever be your pleasure to meet. Marc is a genuinely extraordinary artist, as his latest single, CONSIDER IT DONE, proves yet again. And if you haven’t yet heard his previous release, the truly beautiful Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes, let that be exhibit B in this case. 


But as well as being s songwriter of considerable skill and renown himself, Marc was also the man responsible for introducing Daniel O’ Donnell to the craft in a serious way. But how, I wondered, did it all happen? This week, we get Part 2 of our recent chat with Marc underway by the man himself telling us all about it…


“Well Daniel has been a friend of mine forever, for as long as I can remember. And he’s always been a great encourager and a great friend in the business, without a doubt. And we have a similar sense of humour too, to be honest. Then in 2004, I toured Australia with him, as his guest artist. He’s always said he loves my songs, so I used to always send them to him. But then he’d come back and say, ‘It’s a gorgeous song…but it’s just not me.’ And I was like, ‘Well what IS you then?’ [Laughs]. I didn’t get that. You see, with me, cathartically, I have to write. And I love it. I won’t push myself, but when something happens I go there. So it could be rock, pop, rap, classical, anything, I have bits of everything. I just love music, like I love people. That’s just me. And it has to come out some way. So I’d send him all of these, and in hindsight, I could see afterwards why they weren’t suiting him or whatever. So it was Don, my manager [Collins], while we were on tour who said, ‘For God’s sake, I’m sick listening to the two of ye talkin’ about writing. Why don’t ye get together and try writing something?’ The thing with Daniel is that he’s very lyrical in the way he speaks. And he comes out with some very profound statements, and some very positive things. He has his own definite thoughts on things. Almost to a charismatic point where he can comfort people by some of the things he says without even realising how important it was that he said it.”

“So when we came back from Australia”, continued Marc, “I went to his house in Donegal, and we wrote ‘I Will Think Of You.’ And then the following day – I stayed over that night – and the following day we wrote another one. That was two. And he was absolutely thrilled. He just couldn’t believe it. He was ringing two of his friends and goin’, ‘I’ve actually written my first song.’ And he did his work [on the song] the same as I did mine. We trashed out ideas back and forth, just kind of teaching him in a way that there are certain things you can say, but by not saying it. And there are certain words you shouldn’t use that just don’t work in a song, that kind of thing. And it went from there. We had two on that album, ‘Live,Laugh, Love’, then we had three on the next album, including the title-track, ‘Yesterday’s Memories.’ And then the next one was ‘Until The Next Time’, and I wrote two-thirds of that album, pretty much. The first single that came off it was called ‘Crush On You’, which went Top 20 in the UK pop charts.” 

So would Marc say that songwriting is something that can be taught to someone who might have never even attempted it previously? Or would it have to be someone like Daniel who – as Marc had pointed out – is almost lyrical without even knowing it, so maybe just needed to be made aware of how close to being a songwriter he actually was? 


“I’d say it’s a mixture of both, to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s something you can teach people. It’s something innate that we [songwriters] have. And there’s a general thought that you don’t question it too much in case it disappears [laughs]. We all do different things in life. I can’t do things that other people can do. I would be, probably, a deep thinker, I would think a lot and would be working things out that way. And I know Daniel would be the same, from the point of view of having definite thoughts and ways of saying things. His fans are just so important to him, no more than my own are to me as well. I mean, they are the reason that we do what we do. We’ve been given an amazing responsibility and opportunity to do what we do for a living, and meet people in the process, and make people happy. It’s just an amazing thing. So, for him, I would have definite ideas and things of what he wanted to say, and he did. All we did was get together and we tried it, and it worked. My manager and I have written a song together, just the one. And again, it was down to something that kept recurring thought-wise, words-wise, idea-wise. We finished it together coming back one night from a gig. So I don’t think it’s something you can teach people. You can show people the idea of what songwriting entails, but I think a lot of the magic is something that you have to be born with. It’s just something that happens. And as I said, you don’t question it too much [laughs].” 

Songwriting is a funny thing on the Irish country scene, in that it can often be ignored. An artist like Derek Ryan, for example, will – quite rightly – be heralded as a figure to admire precisely because he’s such an excellent songwriter. But he’s not the only great songwriter in Irish country music. Yet, so often you’ll see Irish country artists covering American country songs that, of course, first entered the world as…original songs. So why not find great original songs from Irish writers too? As a songwriter, how does Marc see that side of things? 


“The only thing that really bothers me is that there’s an element of karaoke coming into the business that I don’t like. I’ve written with Derek, we’ve written three or four songs together, and we’ve had quite a lot of success with those. And everytime we meet we say we must get together again! I’ve written with Brian Kennedy, I’ve written with Jimmy MacCarthy, there’s quite a lot of people I’ve written with and loved the whole process. Gary Barlow calls it sharing the birth experience! [Laughs]. It’s great to get like-minds in a room and to just work at something, and see it evolve. So that’s the only problem I have with the business. There’s even karaoke tracks being released with vocals on them, and that’s not what the business is about. Derek Ryan and I always say that the amazing thing about writing a song and releasing it is that you KNOW that no-one else is going to have that song as their next single. Whereas if you’re recording covers all the time, there’s always a danger that somebody else is going to have the same song recorded with three-and-a-half-grand spent on it, and so did you! Then it’s a battle for the playlists [laughs]. But you see, for us, for people like yourself and myself that write and are in the business, it’s a total commitment. You’re there for every element of it. And there’s nothing nicer for me than to hear somebody who wrote something perform it. If you ever hear Jimmy MacCarthy perform his own songs, it’s just the most magical thing. And you realise why he used a particular word in a particular place…because it’s him. I did a lot of stuff with Jimmy down through the years and he’s just amazing, the way he thinks and the images he creates. People that do write their own songs, I have so much respect for them because you have bought in totally into the whole business. Everything about who you are and what you do is music. Even when you’re off, you’re writing. You’re thinking about songs. You’re coming up with something. Then you’re seeing if it’s good enough, will people identify with it? It’s a full-package kinda thing, which is what the Americans have done for years. But people have always covered songs, and if it’s a great song, or something that meant a lot to me, I would certainly do it. But I love the original element of things because you’re getting a part of the person really.” 

Of course it isn’t just Daniel from the O’ Donnell household that Marc has co-written with, having collaborated with Majella on When I Found You, a very special song for the couple…


“That was amazing, yeah. And the way we did it. It was Don again, my manager, who came up with the idea. Majella had said to me one time she was down in Galway – her sister lives here – that she wanted something special for the wedding, and she’d love to write a song. She has a great voice, you know. And she just wanted to do something different. So she wanted to write one, but she had no idea if she could. And to be honest, I had no idea whether she could or not either! But Don came up with the suggestion that Majella write Daniel a letter telling him exactly how she felt about him from the minute she met him, and how her life has changed. And God forbid, but if he was to head off to war tomorrow and she was never to see him again…what would she say? What are the things you would say to someone you loved who you might never see again. And you’d only have this one opportunity to do it. We were performing our tribute to the music of John Denver in the National Concert Hall in Dublin at the time, and Majella came to the show with one of her friends. And before the show she handed me a letter, and she said, ‘Do not show this to anybody or I’ll kill ya!’ [Laughs]. I said no problem. So I came back to Galway, and I live beside the beach. So I literally went to the beach with the guitar, opened the letter, and twenty minutes later I had a song called ‘When I Found You.’ And that title was one of her lines. The very first line in the letter was, ‘How can I put into words the way you make me feel’, and that’s the first line of the song. So I literally crafted the song out of what she had given me. ‘You’re everything I’ve lived for/ Somehow it feels so right/ You’re the sunlight in the morning/ You’re the stars above at night/ I want this day to last forever/ I hope it always will/ I thank God above for making dreams come true/ Cos he gave me all I wished when I found you.'”

Marc went on, “While I know Majella, and she’s a dear friend of mine – more so now than at the time, when I would only have known her for about a year and a half, and on occasions where I would have met herself and Daniel at shows or maybe out in Tenerife – but we wouldn’t have been as close as we are now. And you need to be close to someone [to write with them], almost to be able to give out to them, to say, ‘You can’t say that!’ [Laughs]. When you’re writing with somebody you have to be so honest. You need to know you can trust that person, that you can say whatever it is, and sound as stupid as you want. Because then the other person can come back and say, that won’t work…but this will! That kind of trust has to be there. Anyway, when she heard the song, she was just blown away. Because she could hear the various things she’d said, ya know. So on the day of the wedding, after the first dance, I went up on stage with the guitar and Majella came up and sang it. And she made a gorgeous job of it. I’ll tell ya, he was one shocked Daniel! First time I’ve ever seen him speechless [laughs].” 

While every song will, of course, have its own special place in his heart and its own memories attached to it, I wondered which songs in Marc’s own catalogue held a particularly special place in his affections? 


“Probably the one I mentioned before, ‘Four Empty Walls.’ Because every Sunday afternoon, myself and my mum and dad, and my sister, always went to my grandparent’s house for a visit. That was my mum’s mum and dad. It was something we always did, and always loved to do. It was just unquestionable that every Sunday that’s where we were going to be. And some of my other relations would arrive and it was just gorgeous, it really was. Then, over a short period of time, both my grandparents passed away. And it became too difficult for any of us to go back and see the house. But one day, without telling anybody, I hopped in my car and I drove to the house. The wall around the front of the house that was too high when I was a kid, I could step over. At the back of the house there was a tree. And I remember one day, myself and my sister, Marie, we were playing at the tree and we tied a little piece of the tree down to the ground, so it was like in an arch. It was just a small piece of a twig. And all these years later, I came back and that tree had totally grown into that shape. And it really got me. And the house, all that was left of it was four empty walls. I sat in the car, I was quite upset, and I wrote ‘Four Empty Walls’ from beginning to end. Then I put it away because I couldn’t tell anybody that I’d been to the house, because I didn’t want to upset them. As in emotionally. Not that they would have minded me going there. But eventually I did [tell them]. It’s just one of those songs that affect all of us. And then, Shay Healy, God rest his soul, heard me sing it, asked for a copy of it, and sent it to Ralph Murphy, who sadly is no longer with us as well. Ralph was one of the people behind me being one of the six Irish writers who would go to Nashville, because of that song. To this day, everytime I sing it I’m back there. And I see my grandparents, so it’s special. It means a hell of a lot. And I’m so happy to say that it means a lot to a lot of people. Because everybody has that one little house, that one place in their life that they can’t go back to.” 

Because it is such an emotional song, is it also a hard one for Marc to sing? 


“It can be. It’s even harder if my mum and dad are in the audience. So I literally just have to blank them out [laughs]. Because the last thing you’d want to do is to upset your parents, needless to say. But everybody is back in that moment when I sing it…and me too. It’s just one of those things, every little bit of it brings me back…”

One thing we couldn’t pass over before our chat came to an end, was the state that the music and ‘live’ events industries remained in. On the day we spoke, indoor dining had just returned, and yet, for music to return indoors, the road ahead was – and is – still as unclear as it had been six, eight, and more months ago. What did Marc think lies ahead? Or what way back is one he thinks would work? 


“I honestly don’t know. It’s a little bit frightening. We were the first to go, we’ll be the last to come back. And we’re always the first port of call for anybody who needs any celebrations or charity, or whatever. And I have no problem with that. That’s one thing I spent a lot of time doing in lockdown, doing a lot of stuff for charity, which I’m very proud of. We did a concert on Valentine’s night for the National Breast Cancer Research Institute, I put it together and compéred it, and sang on it. We got all our buddies, Daniel, and Nathan, and everybody else to do it. And we raised €69,000, which was amazing. Again, for a very worthy cause, because everybody is affected by something like that. But yeah, I honestly don’t know what the answer to those questions are. What scares me a little bit is that we’re not talked about that much, as an industry. I know for a fact people need music, in every sense. Emotionally, physically, socially, whatever it may be. Everybody needs it, and I think this has highlighted it. On the other hand, this is unprecedented, this has never happened before. So I mean, my heart goes out to the government at the same time, because there’s no blueprint. Everybody’s waiting to see what’s going to happen. It’s difficult for everybody. I have no idea how music is going to come back, be it in phases or whatever. But I really do believe that it has to come back. People cannot live without music. We can’t live without performing it, and people can’t live without that social element, and music’s release, and that ability to provoke thought. Everybody needs it. I’d be quietly positive, and I always would be, that we’ll get there.” 

Finally, we finished up with what is possibly my favourite question to ask anybody that I’m lucky enough to have a chat like this with. I asked Marc if he could remember one of the best lessons he’s ever learned, be it about life in general or specifically music related. And also, is there any one piece of advice he’s ever been given – again, about life in its broadest sense or just about music – that has stuck with him and served him well to this very day? 


“Great question. I went to secondary school in Gortnor Abbey in Crossmolina, which was the Jesus and Mary nuns. And they always said one thing: you have two ears and one mouth for a reason! And I think that’s the best advice in the world. Listen. Speak your mind, but listen when you’ve spoken, like I said in the song. It’s amazing even at gigs when you meet people, and how people can feel comfortable enough to talk to ya. Ok, it might end up in a song [laughs], but at the same time, I think it’s so important to listen. I really do. To anybody. I find in conversations, if there’s a lot of talk goin’ on, I get quieter [laughs]. I just listen. And that’s not being judgemental, it’s not being anything. I just feel that when the time is right, or if I have something to say, I ‘ll say it. But in the meantime, I’ll just keep quiet. That’s one of the most important things, and I’ve always remembered it…you have two ears and one mouth for a reason! Listen twice as much as you speak. And the other one then, well I remember being asked once by Brenda Balfe on RTE Radio 1, aroundabout the time of Eurovision, my favourite proverb. And it would be, ‘Never leave to do tomorrow what you can do today.’ Because if you do it today and you like it, then you can do it again tomorrow! [Laughs].

CONSIDER IT DONE, the brand new single from MARC ROBERTS, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can also tune into Marc’s shows on Galway Bay FM every weekend, The Feel Good Factor (Saturday and Sunday afternoons), and Sunday Night Country.

ENDS

Marc Roberts

First Published August 2021

“BELIEVE THAT IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN”

Part 1

There are certain artists who don’t just fall into the category of ‘gentleman’ in the world of Irish music, but whose very names could well be used to define the term. And singer/songwriter MARC ROBERTS is most definitely one of those artists. Simply put, if you were to name someone with a bad word to say about Marc, I’d name you two liars in return. And you’d be one of them. 


As well as sharing his own considerable talents with us over the years, Marc has also represented Ireland on the international stage, taking the song Mysterious Woman – written by Nathan Carter’s manager (and no slouch himself in the songwriting department), John Farry – to within one place of glory in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. Not just someone who happens to make his living in the music business, Marc also harbours a deep appreciation for those whose musical gifts have graced the world. This sense of gratitude led to him recording the album A Tribute to the Music of John Denver, with a live show performing the hits of the Country Roads legend also giving rise to ‘full-house’ signs going up at venues nationwide. In fact, that show even made it to Denver’s hometown of Colorado. 


It was under Marc’s expert guidance that Daniel O’ Donnell himself first ventured into the realm of songwriting, something we’ll come back to in much more detail during Part 2 of our chat. 


So, with all of the foregoing considered, it seems more than fitting – and especially given the monumental achievement of his fellow county-men in dethroning the Dubs at Croke Park last Saturday! – that we point the OTRT spotlight in the direction of this proud Mayo man this week. 

I had the pleasure of catching up with Marc a week or so ago, with the main reason for our chat being the release of his latest single, CONSIDER IT DONE. I asked Mark if that song was based on anything in particular from his own life, or was it more a case that he came up with the hook or a couple of good lines and just took it from there? 


“It’s kind of a mixture, because the expression, ‘consider it done’, just came to me, and I thought, wow, that’s catchy. But what could it mean, though? Then when I started to think about it, it’s kind of like how your life progresses and the way you should think. The chorus is, “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride/ It’s not how you look, but how you feel inside/ And if you need a helping hand, consider it done.” Don’t ever be afraid to ask for a helping hand. It’s all about the whole idea that life is about choices. I was always torn between the expressions, ‘Everything comes to he who waits’, and then, ‘He who hesitates is lost.’ Because how can they both be right? ‘Consider It Done’ was on my first album, and for me at the time it was my perception of the business. How does it start…God, I’d need the guitar on my knee now to think of the lyrics [laughs]. ‘When you sit and count the stars in the sky/ You want to touch them, but they’re too damn high/ If you want the brightest star, consider it done.’ Everything seems like, oh my God…how is this gonna happen? But if you have a bit of belief and faith in yourself and what you’re doing, and you know it’s right…then karma! It’ll happen! If it’s supposed to happen, it will happen. Consider it done.” 

While I didn’t realise that Consider It Done had also appeared on Marc’s debut album, I did notice that it was also the title of his publishing company. So ‘consider it done’, as a phrase, obviously has a much deeper significance in Marc’s life? 


“Well yeah, that’s it. And that’s the explanation for it. It’s my publishing company, and our record label is C.I.D., which is also ‘consider it done.’ It’s like a positive affirmation. If you want something, consider it done. Believe in it. Believe that it’s going to happen, and have faith. The problem is a lot of us don’t know what it is we want [laughs]. I think everybody is the same, no matter what walk of life you’re in. You want something, whatever it is. But if you believe that it can happen, just believe in it, then consider it done. It will happen.” 

Marc mentioned how he was always torn between the two phrases, “He who hesitates is lost”, and “Everything comes to he who waits.” But of those two, which one did Marc himself tend to veer more towards, I wondered? 


“All my life it’s been a mixture of both, and that’s what always kind of confused me. How can they both be right? Everything comes to he who waits. So, if you sit back and wait for something to happen…allegedly it will happen. But I do believe that everything happens for a reason. People come into your life for a reason. Things happen in your life for a reason. So it would be more that than he who hesitates is lost. That used to always throw a spanner in the works for me. I used to try to figure out, well, if I hesitate too much…time is passing, life goes on, things change, everything changes. Music changes. Thankfully for me, that song still means as much to me as it did when I wrote it. And I see it in so many people, and it’s such a positive affirmation to have. Just consider it done, whatever it is.” 

Was there any particular reason why Marc wanted to bring the song back into the public arena right now?


“Because anytime that I performed it ‘live’, people loved it. And I wanted to bring it to a different audience. I got it remastered and edited for radio, so it sounds very much of what’s happening now in lots of ways. It’s very radio-friendly, and any presenter that’s heard it has loved it. So thankfully, from that point of view, it’s been playlisted everywhere, including RTE, which is great. It’s a very polished production. It was Chris O’ Brien and Graham Murphy that did it, and they’re both Grammy nominees, as you know, for their production. And Billy Farrell, who I write with, and produces quite a lot of my stuff, is also a Grammy nominated producer, he mastered it for me. There’s still a lot of people who hadn’t heard, so to them it’s a brand new song anyway.” 

Consider It Done is the follow up to Marc’s previous single, Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes. What process does Marc go through when he’s considering a new release? 


“Well, to be honest with you, I’d normally be a bit more organised than I am now [laughs], but with the way things are with the pandemic…! ‘Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes’ was a huge radio hit from our point of view, and again, it ticked a lot of boxes for me. It’s a song that I was inspired to write by my niece and nephew when they were kids. And it all came from the way when you’re a kid, and you know when you look up at the sun and you get tears in your eyes? And my wish for them was that the only time they’d have tears in their eyes was when they looked at the sun. So ‘Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes’ was my little way of twisting it around and saying don’t get those tears in your eyes. And again, the song was very much along the lines of something that you could live your life by, at any age. ‘Let tears of joy be the only tears you cry/ May the universe guide you in everything you do/ ‘Cause love will always see you through.’ It goes on, ‘Speak your mind, but listen when you’ve spoken/ Choose your words so no-one feels the pain/ Open your heart, although it may get broken/ Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ Again, it’s saying to live your life in a positive way. Be good to people. You’ll get it back tenfold. Help people whenever you can. And I’ve always lived my life by that. So that song was me telling them what I felt would help them in life.” 

Even just listening to Marc speak about those two songs – Consider It Done and Don’t Let The Sun Get In Your Eyes – and hearing him recite some of the lyrics, it really emphasises how philosophical a songwriter he seems to be. I asked Marc if he thought that was a fair observation? 


“Hmmm…I can be. Depending on the type of song. Those two songs, for instance, they almost wrote themselves, both of them. Because they’d be very much an extension of the way I would think. I wouldn’t like to see myself pontificating to people that they should do this, or that. But it’s to remind people that life is always full of choices. There’s lots of things that you can do. If it can be half-full or half-empty, it’s always better to be half-full. It’s that kind of thing. You only have to listen to the younger artists now to realise – and this is in general, in pop music, Ed Sherran, Tom Grennan, any of these guys – the lyrics are so important. I think people don’t realise how important they are. It’s not all about, ‘I love you and you love me.’ That’s been done a million times. You have to find a different way of saying that, but still keeping the sentiment. I think, if you can make people think, you’re halfway there. If it does nothing else but somebody gets something positive out of it… Usually people will just go, ‘Ah it’s a lovely song, I love the melody of it.’ But then all of a sudden they’ll come back and go, ‘Wow, I was listening to the words!’ It proves that the perfect marriage has to be both words and music. Words are so important. Down through the years, a lot of the time, they’ve become lost. And that’s a pity, because they’re very important.” 

Given how hard the last seventeen or so months have been for the music, entertainment, and arts industries, did being a songwriter help Marc to get through it all? Was he able to fill some of that extra time writing, or, like a lot of songwriters, did he actually find it a hard time to write? 


“Good question. I’ve done some writing, but no more than I would have ever done. I’m not very regimented and orderly in that sense. It’s hard to explain. I’ve never done a 9-to-5 writing job. I know that works for Gilbert O’ Sullivan and Chris De Burgh, and people like that, and that’s great. But I don’t know, I kind of consider that too much like work! [Laughs]. I always used to write better when coming home from a gig, it could be three or four o’ clock in the morning and there’s nobody on the road, you have a coffee, and you take your time. Just empty your head of any thoughts, and that’s when I get ideas. My only thing that I was very conscious of from the very beginning of Covid, was that I didn’t want to write anything negative. I didn’t want to write anything that was going to be very much of a pandemic type of song. Because we all just have had enough of it. We just want to get on with life. We want to get back to some semblance of normality. I wrote one with Charlie McGettigan, and in that one we actually went there. It’s one called ‘To Hold You Again.’ We were both kind of thinking God, ya know there’s people that would come to our gigs that we’d give a hug to at the end of it. And we were thinking if only we could get back to that person again, that would be an indication that things were normal! But, we’ll just have to wait. I’ve always done a little bit of writing, the usual scribbling down little bits and singing my heart out into my phone. That’s what I do. I’ve finished a song with Max T. Barnes, that’s going to be a single soon.”

CONSIDER IT DONE, the brand new single from MARC ROBERTS, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can also tune into Marc’s shows on Galway Bay FM every weekend, The Feel Good Factor (Saturday and Sunday afternoons), and Sunday Night Country. 

ENDS