Even in the 21st century, an old-fashioned love is still what some girls dream of. And singer/songwriter LARISSA TORMEY just so happens to be one of them. In fact, Larissa is such an old-fashioned romantic herself, that she followed her heart all the way from her native Russia to her new home in the Irish midlands when she married a good old-fashioned Irish farmer, her husband Christy. So maybe it’s no surprise then that her new single will be the somewhat tongue-in-cheek single, OLD FASHIONED.
Set for general release across all digital platforms on July 30th, Old Fashioned is another original from Larissa’s own songbook, and features on her latest country collection, Breath of Fresh Air. That album hit stores last November, but this particular song holds a special place in Larissa’s affections, and she’s always had an equally special plan for it…
“I think everyone should just be themselves, I think that’s so important for everybody. And if that means that you might be a little bit old-fashioned in your ways, that’s grand, that’s no problem. It’s much better to be authentic than to ever feel like you need to pretend to be someone you’re not. Even though it’s a fun song, and a happy one, it does have that message in it, too. I think being old-fashioned is a great thing, and lots of girls still prefer gentlemen to bad boys! [Laughs]. After all, not everyone needs to be modern. At least not in every way.”
Larissa continued, “This is one of my favourite songs on my last album because it’s so funny. And I know it’s a little bit…maybe sarcastic you could say, but it’s in a very gentle and affectionate way. It’s just a playful song, and it’s the kind of thing you can say to a gentleman because you know they understand that. Because I loved ‘Old Fashioned’ from the moment I wrote it, I was really tempted to put it out as a single before now. But I decided that it would be even better to wait until summer came so that we could make a video here at home on Loughnagore Farm! So that’s what I did! So we recorded that last week and I’m delighted to say that one of the stars of the ‘Old Fashioned’ video will be a gentleman called Tom Lynam, who is not only one of our lovely neighbours, but a very good family friend as well. And of course we couldn’t film a video on our farm in the summer without making sure that our cattle got in on the action too! [Laughs].”
Despite the ongoing troubles faced by the music industry as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, Old Fashioned will actually be Larissa’s fourth release of what has already proved to be a busy 2021. Her musical year began with the duet, Agree To Disagree, with British country legend Dave Sheriff back in February. That was followed by One Man Band in March, a track with links to none other than Sir Tom Jones himself as it was penned by Jon Philibert who also wrote the Welsh legends 1984 hit, I’ve Been Rained On Too. Then, as summer began to appear on the horizon in April, Larissa treated fans to another original of her own, Slightly Mad, which will feature on a full original album she has in the works for before the year’s end.
With two Hot Press Award nominations also coming her way last March, in the Female Artist of the Year (alongside Imelda May, Denise Chaila, Emma Langford, and more) and the Best Songwriter (alongside Lisa Hannigan, Dermot Kennedy, and Niall Horan to name a few) categories, it’s already been a year to remember, no matter what else happens between now and December 31st.
But Larissa isn’t one for resting on her laurels. She’s always planning her next move. You could say, she’s kind of old-fashioned like that.
~ OLD FASHIONED, the brand NEW single from LARISSA TORMEY, will be available on all platforms from Friday, July 30th, and is now available to request from radio stations nationwide.
July 31st will mark the 46th anniversary of one of the darkest nights – in every meaning of that term – in Irish history. The Miami Showband Massacre. Even as a child, when hearing those words mentioned for the first time, without knowing any of the details, without having any context in which to place them, they chilled me to the bone. A showband? But they’re musicians, right? How could musicians become the victims of a massacre? And how could it happen here? In Ireland? It didn’t make any sense to me.
It doesn’t make any sense now either, of course. Even less so now that I do know so many details, now that I realise the horrible, heartbreaking context. Nor did it make any sense on that summer’s night, not long after 2am almost five decades ago. What doesn’t make sense is HOW such an atrocity could be allowed to happen. How some people could actually sit down and plan for something like that to happen. How some people were prepared to live out the remainder of their own lives forever accompanied by the knowledge of what they had been part of. None of that makes sense. Nor will it ever. And it shouldn’t, because for it to do so, you’d need to have an understanding of evil that could only leave the darkest of imprints upon your soul.
However, we can understand WHAT happened on that night because – by the grace of God, surely – there were survivors. While Fran O’ Toole, Brian McCoy, and Tony Geraghty perished in a torrent of unprovoked violence, Des Lea and Tipperary man STEPHEN TRAVERS managed to escape the same fate. Getting to and revealing the truth about what unfolded on the Buskhill Road that night, as he and four of his famed and adored bandmates simply endeavoured to make the journey home from a show at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, is something that Stephen has dedicated his life to.
That work, and the events of the night of July 31st 1975 itself, are stories unto themselves, and they more than warrant any time and attention you can give them. A few years back, when Stephen was getting close to embarking on a nationwide promotional tour in relation to some projects in this regard, I had the pleasure of spending some time in conversation with him ahead of the announcement of those dates. However, as can happen from time to time, unforeseen circumstances lead to that tour being rearranged, and as a result, our chat was never published.
But now, in honour of Stephen and the work he has done to make sure the truth about that night is known to all, and indeed, as a tribute to his fellow survivor Des Lea, and to his bandmates who never made it home – Fran O’ Toole, Brian McCoy, and Tony Geraghty – we are finally sharing that chat with our OTRT readers. So it is, ladies and gentlemen, our privilege to present this conversation with Stephen, not just an inspirational musician, but an inspirational human-being, and a gentleman of the highest order.
When we spoke, I began by asking Stephen about how his own interest in music first began to arise and develop?
“Well, I was born in 1951, so my formative years musically would have been the sixties. And they really only began in 1963 with the Beatles, with that whole musical and fashion explosion that happened. So that hit me right between the eyes when I was twelve years of age. There were an awful lot of young guys picking up guitars, and of course the showbands were there, so all of the stars aligned and came together and I decided to give it a go.”
I wondered if there happened to be any one particular moment that hit Stephen right between the eyes and made him think, ‘Right, I know what I want to do with my life from here on…’?
“There was actually. I was in school, and every year that school would put on an operetta. It was the Christian Brothers school in Carrick-on-Suir. They’d put on a show for all the parents. One of the lads in my class, a lad called Jim, his mother was actually a choreographer, and she came up to put us through our paces. I can’t remember what the name of the operetta was. Anyway, her son, Jim, had been learning drums, so she got him to bring along the snare drum. When he started to play it I was fascinated by the fact that a young kid of my own age could do this. And I thought, you know what, I’d like to do it as well because everybody was dancing to his tune as he was playing. I think it was ‘The March of the Toy Soldiers’, or ‘The March of the Tin Soldiers’, something like that. It involved the lads in the play marching around and doing their thing, and I was fascinated by it.”
Stephen mentioned the fact that so many people were picking up guitars back in the sixties. It happened to be the bass guitar that he reached for himself. I wondered if there was a particular reason for his choice?
“Yeah, my schoolmates had formed a little group, they had about two years start on me. I had a guitar at home that I never bothered with, but I went to hear them rehearsing and I was fascinated that they were playing The Shadows and the Beatles, and all that kind of stuff. And they said to me, ya know we need a bass player? I didn’t really know what a bass player was, but I found out pretty quickly! [Laughs]. At that time, a bass guitar would have had four strings, so I thought well this will be easy enough! But that’s not the case! Anyway, I started to play bass, and happily it was MY instrument, ya know. It’s the one that, to this day, I love to learn more and more about all the time, even though now I play a five and a seven-string bass. I just love it. And then, of course, Paul McCartney I consider to be the greatest bass player that ever walked the face of the Earth. He was such a cool character. So it was no problem playing bass in a band! If it was good enough for him, then it was good enough for me.”
Stephen joined the Miami Showband when he was about twenty-four, and they were already massive at that stage. Was becoming a member like landing a dream-job, or as a musician, was it just another job, albeit, a pretty cool one all the same?
“I had served my time in country bands, and what they called big bands, jazz bands. From day one I was very interested in blues and jazz. Of course, the only game in town if you wanted to earn a living was – back in the late sixties – country, when it began to become very big, as it is today. That’s when I went and joined a country band called The Cowboys. One of the lads that had been in the earlier group, Gay Brazel, later went on to become the band leader with Tweed, he was in The Cowboys. And Billy Byrne, my friend. So I learned my chops, learned my trade in bands like The Cowboys and in school, in young beat groups and that. But when you need to earn a living, or buy a new car, or put a deposit on a house, you join a showband. So I set my sights on the one that was going to pay me the most money! I got a call from The Miami Showband in September 1974, to ask me if I’d like to go up and meet them to talk about joining. As it turned out, I didn’t join them. I waited until the end of May 1975, and I took the job then. I quickly realised that these guys were phenomenal musicians. Tony Geraghty on guitar, it was arguable whether he was more influential than Gary Moore when he was playing in his rock days. He had gone and joined a showband because he was getting married, and the usual thing, he wanted to buy a car and a house. Fran O’ Toole, I think everybody knew, was one of the most sensational vocalists as well as being an incredible keyboard player, a great jazz player. So when I joined, it was a bit of a reality check that I was among guys who were every bit as good – if not better! – than myself. This wasn’t just about joining a band to earn a few quid. It was an honour to play with these guys.”
I didn’t want to get into what happened to Stephen and his bandmates in the Miami in July of 1975 without first showing the courtesy and respect of asking if that was something he would be comfortable talking about. I knew it was something he’d been asked to talk about on countless occasions before, and regardless of how much detail any of those conversations might go into, even going back in time to that fateful night to any degree must bring with it memories that none of us will ever be able to comprehend. Displaying the generosity of spirit for which he has always been known, however, Stephen agreed.
What happened on that July night almost fifty years ago now, changed the course of Irish music history. I don’t think there’s anyone who doubts that. I asked Stephen how he thought Irish music would have developed had that tragic night not come to pass…
“Just referring to what you said there at the beginning of your question, that night didn’t just change Irish music history. In fact, it had very little effect, a temporary effect, on Irish music history. But it changed Irish history [itself]. And the reason being was that it was an attempt by a neighbouring, so-called friendly government, to influence Irish politics. They felt that security was lax on the southern side of the border, so they set up a plan – a brilliant plan, even though it was evil – to make it look as if all innocent Irish people should be suspects. And had they succeeded in doing that, the whole world would have shrugged its shoulders and said let the British deal with the Irish whatever way they want to now, because every one of them is a potential terrorist. So had we been successfully framed as terrorists when they attempted – unbeknownst to us – to put a bomb in our van, nobody would have known about the road-block, and we subsequently would have blown up fifteen minutes down the road, and been accused of being terrorists. So thankfully, Des Lee – or Des McAlea, as his real name is – and I survived to tell what happened, [because] that had the potential to turn Ireland into another Gaza. Our young people, instead of having a friendly nod from Immigration in Australia or wherever, as they do now, had we been successfully framed as terrorists, then like the Palestines today our young Irish people would be called aside at every airport, or searched vigorously or whatever. So that was a massive, massive thing to happen. So it’s wrong to think that it was just something that happened to a band, or a small story. And this was pointed out to me when we were doing the screenplay of the movie by a world renowned director. He said, ‘This is not just a story of a local band, and a local terrorist attack. This is an international crime.'”
“Apart from that”, Stephen continued, “from the musical aspect of things, it caused a temporary lock-down, a close-down, as George Jones, the musician and broadcaster in the north said [at the time], ‘You look at a ballroom and expect to see tumbleweed.’ As to the development of Irish music, the showbands had had their day. When I joined the Miami, it was called The Miami, it wasn’t actually called The Miami Showband. They had shortened it, they didn’t want to lose the value of the name. But it was more a pop group than anything else. Along with a number of other bands, the Miami was writing its own material. I think the Miami is probably the link between the old and the new. We’re frozen in history for this. Fran would have gone on to be a singer/songwriter in America, because it was planned to take him out to America. I think he would have perhaps written for lots of other people. Because he wasn’t a kid anymore, he was twenty-eight, and that in the pop business – even then – was getting on a bit. So I think he and Des would have concentrated on their writing. Tony Geraghty and I would have formed a jazz/rock group, I think.”
Stephen had mentioned the screenplay of the movie about his life, upon which pre-production had begun at the time we were speaking. I asked him how that project was progressing, and, on a project like that, how involved does Stephen himself get to be? Or at what point does he have to hand over artistic control of what happens?
“Well, I was very careful with that. We’ve been doing this now for five years. And that in itself, apparently, isn’t too long when it comes to the making of a movie, I believe. Great films like ‘Lincoln’, and other Oscar winners recently, have taken up to ten, eleven years to make. But we had the screenplay done almost three years ago now. When we met with some directors from Hollywood to talk about it, we became aware that it was much more than just a local event, so we went back to the drawing-board. About last September, we finished that screenplay, and now they’re all very, very happy with it. They’re now in that phase that’s pre pre-production really, because the finance is together now and a lot of other things. So we expect to be full hammer-and-tongs at it within the next two or three months. And hopefully it will be filmed. The actual filming of any movie only takes about six weeks, that’s the short part. It’s all the work that goes on before and after it. With regard to artistic license, that was something I was very careful of. I have a great responsibility to the truth, and for the portrayal of the lads. This is one of the reasons that we asked the producers to do everything in their power to keep this an independent movie. What they call an independent movie, rather than handing it over to a studio. Because once you do that, then you don’t have any control over it. Whereas in an independent movie, and because I was part of the screenwriting team, I have an official credit, which means I can remain on-set and can keep an eye on things and make sure they don’t lose the run of themselves and make it into something that we’ll find either objectionable or embarrassing.”
I wondered if Stephen still taught bass guitar, as he did for a while?
“I did, I was a bad teacher! I expected people to know what I knew. Whereas a good teacher doesn’t have to be a great player, but is somebody who’s methodical. Having said that, I had some great students. One in particular stands out, which I just recall now as we mention it. John Walsh, the original bass player with Stockton’s Wing. John would have been a star pupil for me. And also I had some very interesting encounters with Aubrey Oaki from the Hugh Masekela band, called Kalahari, that I met in the UK. He would teach me a lot about Africian music. His guitar player, in fact, is the same guy that you see on the Graceland tour with Paul Simon. I would teach him jigs and reels on the bass, would you believe! This was at a time when he was recording with Peter Gabriel, who left Genesis and did the thing with Kate Bush. So Aubrey would leave the studio and we’d meet up and trade licks and all that. So, apart from teaching, there’s still an awful lot to learn about bass guitar for me. As I say, the great master will be there every time I turn on a Beatles number, when I hear the immaculate playing of Paul McCartney. He’s just a man who knows the right note to put in the right place. I have great heroes as well, people like James Jamerson that did all the Motown music, and Joe Osborn that did all of the early American California stuff by the Carpenters. Just beautiful people, beautiful bass players. I’ll teach, but I learn as well. I learn far more than I teach now.”
Given the journey that Stephen has travelled in his life and music career, I couldn’t possibly have brought our chat to a close without asking him if there was any advice he’d pass on to someone who might be starting out in the music business today. Were there any words of wisdom that had always stood him in good stead?
“Yeah, play with guys that are better than you. It’s difficult if you join a band and you’re all starting off at the same time. Because you’re only going to progress at the same speed as the slowest person in the band. This is one of the great tragedies that the showbands aren’t around anymore because it was the best apprenticeship that you could possibly get. I remember, for instance, when I joined the Mick Delahunty Junior Orchestra. His father was Mick Delahunty Senior, and he was a very famous band leader. But when Mick Junior started the band, he had the cream of his father’s band when he retired and all of these guys were much, much older than me. I learned more from these fellas than you could if you went to university. These guys were street-wise. They knew every twist and turn that it took to be a professional musician. They were fabulous players, world class. Young fellas should beg, borrow, or steal an opportunity to get into a band with seasoned musicians, or guys who know more than them. And learn from them. The other thing would be to play a pure style. Something like country or blues or reggae, something like that that teaches you what a bass guitar actually does. As opposed to learning gratuitous sort of riffs from rock or pop numbers. To learn the basics is very important. And I suppose finally, learn how to read music, that will definitely stand to ya in good stead.”
~ The documentary, Remastered: The Miami Showband Massacre, is available on Netflix.
Towards the end of last month, Wicklow singer, songwriter, and producer MARK CAPLICE released his much anticipated single, CATCH A TEAR. In Part 1 of our chat with Mark, we got the lowdown on how Catch A Tear came to be, and why now was the right time to share it with the world, as well as taking a deep-dive into Mark’s songwriting process. This single, however, was far from being Mark’s first foray into the spotlight in the music-world, as the Baltinglass man has also had the honour of seeing his song, Dirty Secret (co-written with Cian Sweeney and Briony O’ Toole) being named Song of the Year in ALL of Russia earlier this year.
Today, Part 2 of our chat gets underway by sticking to that international theme. It was Eurovision time of the year again when Mark and I spoke, and while Ireland didn’t make it to the Grand Final…again…this year, being in that coveted and once very much taken for granted position is something that Mark does have experience of. Back in 2018, he co-wrote the Irish entry, Together, with its performer Ryan O’ Shaughnessy, and Laura Hughes. Ireland has a great history in Eurovision, but over the last twenty years or so it’s become a subject of division in so many ways. I wondered if, for Mark, being involved was something that was always an ambition, or did the opportunity just happen to come along and prove too good to turn down?
“Genuinely, it’s something I always wanted. Actually, I remember when I was a kid thinking that surely I’m not allowed to write a song for Eurovision?! That was something far beyond my reach, I couldn’t even contemplate this [laughs]. But the further and further I grew into my career, I stumbled into a few friends who had had similar experiences. They had written a song or two that they had entered. So slowly but surely the belief started to grow [in me]. And honestly, the day that we found out, I just started shouting my head off [laughs]. My housemate was upstairs, and he ran down thinking someone was after dying! Cos’ I was just shouting, like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!’ [laughs]. He was like what’s wrong, what’s wrong, and I told him to read it, and it was the confirmation letter from RTE that our song had been accepted. And I can’t even describe that feeling. So yeah, it was definitely something that I always wanted to do. And the experience itself was just…out…of…this…world! Going from living in a small town in Baltinglass in Wicklow, to a police-escort into stadiums of thousands…it’s a bit of a juxtaposition! Like, holy God, what’s goin’ on here?! [Laughs]. It was a beautiful experience. And funny enough, I’ve had a couple of close encounters since. And I’d love to do it again. It was just so much fun. But I don’t think anything will ever match that first experience when we were sitting on the couch waiting to hear who was going through [to the final]. And we could see before everybody else could because the camera crew had to get into position to be on the country that was going through. I happened to catch the event-controller’s eye as he was coming up with the camera, and he smirked and he looked away from me! And as soon as he did that, I was like, oh my God, it’s us! [Laughs]. Good times!”
I mentioned to Mark that I’d recently heard about an actual Irish Eurovision winner that didn’t even make it out of Ireland the first time it was submitted for consideration to be our entry, and yet, it went on to win Eurovision a couple of years later…
“That’s a funny one, because ‘Together’ was entered twice, and it was the second highest song – so very close to being picked – the year before. So there ya go. But I LOVE that! I love that as a message and as an absolute life-hack. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t go anywhere! Pitch a tent! And keep knockin’!”
Outside of the pop field, Mark has also worked with two of the biggest names in Irish country, Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan. Derek, of course, is a natural songwriter, already well-known for his talent in that area, while it’s fair to say that Nathan would write a little less. What was Mark’s experience of working with both men?
“That’s one of the things I just adore about songwriting, different people have different perspectives, different approaches. It’s funny, Nathan probably wouldn’t be as well-known for writing, but I’ve written a good bit with him and he’s no stranger to it, he’s great. You can’t climb to the position he’s in without songs being your life. Same for Derek. They’re different in a lot of ways, but they’re similar in many too. They’re both really good people to write with, and especially in Ireland and the UK they’ve got great careers. Who knows what the next couple of years have in store for them. I won’t give away any trade secrets [laughs].”
When writing with artists like Nathan or Derek, where the song is aimed at the Irish country scene, does that make it a very different kind of song than if he was writing with an artist from the pop field, for example?
“Genres differ. And genres tend to have a certain language, a certain melody. That’s why I adore writing with different genres and different people, you just learn so much about what works in each genre. The dialogue, and where you even place the message of a song. Pop, it can be a little bit more right in your face. I am sad today because the rain is falling down. Country, it can be quite literal as well. That’s why I quite like writing my own stuff as well. You can use metaphors to share the message you’re trying to communicate. Language works differently in each genre. You learn as you go. The more people you write with, the more little tips and tricks you pick up. Then you learn about different structures, and how you can create dissonance even with a structure. Depending on your story, there’s different ways to tell it to make sure the listener feels what you’re trying to tell them.”
We’d done a lot of talking about Mark as a songwriter, but we couldn’t overlook the question of how exactly he became one. When did he know that he wanted to be a songwriter?
“I was in a band for six or seven years and we did a lot of collaborating [within the band]. There were two main co-writers in the band, we’d write the core of the song, and bring it to the band, and we’d all work on it. It was a very collaborative experience. That’s when I was nudged into the slightly more commercial side of it. As a band, we were discussing what we wanted to do, and world takeover was the plan [laughs], all this kinda stuff! As it happened, we signed a deal, went to America, recorded an album, everything was looking amazing. Then, a couple of things happened here and there, probably a miscommunication, and there was a bit of legal argy-bargy. It ended up that the album couldn’t get released, and it’s now in limbo forever. It won’t see the light of day. When that finished, I was very nearly going to give up music. And as odd as this will sound, I was sitting in my grandparents living-room, and I was thinking to myself, right…if I died and went to heaven, what would God say to me? I walked up to God, and I said to God, howya God [laughs], I did music for a while, then I became a marketeer. And his response was, ‘Ya big eejit! I gave you perfect pitch!’ And that’s really rare, and super-handy when you’re writing songs! [Laughs]. So, because I have this super-unique thing that lots of people don’t have, his response to me was, ‘Ya big eejit, I gave you perfect pitch and ya wasted it!’ [Laughs].”
“That conversation”, explained Mark, “as silly as it may sound – a hypothetical conversation with God – was the kick in the backside I needed to jump back into music. So I said ok, now that I’m certain I’m 100% invested, I’m going to make a living from music, and that’s that. So I started thinking about what avenues were there, and what I wanted to be. I was a little bit wounded by the band experience, so I didn’t want to jump back into being in a band. But I knew I could write songs. So I started writing songs with people. There’s a friend of mine, Josh Gray, who had left Louis Walsh’s band, Hometown, and he was kind of in a small bit of limbo as well. So we started writing together, and he has grown exponentially from it, it’s been amazing to see. Some of the songs we wrote together kicked him back into the spotlight, and since then he’s signed a publishing deal as well. Things are going really well for him. He’s on the slightly poppier side of things, which was a new experience for me, but I really enjoyed it.”
Mark continued, “When I was in a band, there’d be this country song writing itself in my head, and I’d be wondering, what do I do with this?! Then I could have a more rocky song, or a folky song, because I definitely come from a more folk background, I’d be into Glen Hansard, Elbow, Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac, and Jackson Browne, where the stories are really at the core of the music. In pop, it’s more about how it sounds, rather than what it’s saying. And that’s a huge, huge thing for a songwriter. Especially me, coming from guitar-land! [Laughs]. Never going anywhere without a guitar, and wanting to tell stories. It was such a different experience, having to push myself out of my comfort-zone. But it was really interesting to see, and to learn about, and ultimately, it’s helped me to grow a lot as a songwriter.”
To finish up our chat, I had three quick-fire questions to put to Mark. The first one was what would be the proudest moment of his career so far?
“I find it hard to overlook that Eurovision moment when we were sitting on the couch, waiting to hear if we’d made it through. Nine countries had already been called out. I knew how crazy it was at home. When I was chatting to my parents, they were saying it was like Italia ’90, everybody was going crazy. And I just knew, as soon as our names were called, that this was such a win for absolutely everyone involved. Our families, our friends, our country. Just getting us back in the Final again. That was a beautiful, beautiful experience.”
And his biggest disappointment?
“Oh wow! [Laughs]. Biggest disappointment? Probably…let me just think. There’s two in my mind. One, is when my first band broke up. Because we were brothers, and we were all fighting for the one cause, but it just wasn’t working. And it wasn’t helping our mental health either. So it was literally for the best that we walked away. But crazily enough, as one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I think it was also the most forming. It really, really taught me a lot about who I am. It made me self-reflect. I feel I grew as a human, massively, from that experience. Yes, it was the biggest disappointment, and a tough experience, but…that could very easily have been my best experience either.”
And finally, what’s the greatest lesson Mark has ever learned as a writer, and also about the music business in general?
“As a writer? For me, I always feel the best songs are songs that will resonate with people. You’re supposed to feel music. Music is a feeling. Not a building, ya know. For me, music is pure magic. And for me, the real music comes when you’re in a discussion with somebody, or you’re in a room alone with a guitar or a piano, and you’re diving deeper and deeper into a thought…I feel as though the songs that will resonate most, will come from a real place. For the music business, I think it’s just super-important to know what you enjoy, but equally – if not more important – to know what you don’t enjoy, what you’re not mad about. If there was a way of explaining it all, it’s stay true to yourself. Figure out what you love. Figure out what you don’t love. And stay closer to the former.”
~ CATCH A TEAR, the brand NEW single from MARK CAPLICE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio.
Last month saw Dundalk’s NIALL McNAMEE release his long-awaited debut EP, STEP BY STEP. The five-track collection showcases the singer/songwriter’s finely honed skill for carving out of his own life, moments in time that – in their essence – could just as easily have been lifted from yours or mine. In any writer, such ability is the mark of a master of his craft. Niall’s natural humility reveals itself at regular intervals through his good humour and his willingness to see, and share, the humour in his own life. That same humility would have him wince at any notion of being known as anything more than a storyteller. Well, he may wince a little bit for a little while anyway, because Step By Step is a debut that pushes him well ahead of the ordinary in every sense.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Niall on the phone from his London home early last month as he looked ahead to the EP’s launch. If you happened to miss that chat, it’s well worth checking out and can be found elsewhere on this site simply by searching Niall’s name. Today, we begin Part 2 of our time in conversation with Niall by taking a look at the final track on the collection.
Step By Step closes with the song When She Goes, another great title, and a song that has echoes of Damien Dempsey about it. It also, and I think this thought was sparked by hearing the strings in there, got me thinking about how wonderful it would also sound if slowed right down, and perhaps performed with just a string quartet. The lyric has the line, ‘It would appear there’s been deep harm in trying’, a clever reversal on the more common usage of that particular phrase. I asked Niall to take me back to the inspiration behind this one, and into the crafting of lines like the one just mentioned…
“Well, that’s about being in a relationship, and sometimes things just feel like they’re not working. It’s that mixture of feelings, that of, oh my God, this isn’t working, but also…the fear of IF it doesn’t work, what happens then, when she goes? Or when I have to leave? That song changed around a lot. I originally wrote that on piano, sometimes it’s easier to write a song on piano than on guitar. Then when we went to do our first gig as a full band – which was in the middle of lockdown – I was practising with the lads and I realised that it would work so much better on guitar. Again, I couldn’t be happier with Damien Dempsey as a reference there! I love playin’ that song ‘live’, it’s got a real energy to it. It was a real challenge – a new challenge for me, actually – of making these songs come to life with more instruments, and knowing what to have and what not to. I had people willing to play on my album, and I was like, cool! Let’s get trumpets! And an orchestra! And everything! [Laughs] I had to learn not to put something in for the sake of it. We’ve done a great little music video for this song as well, which will be out in a few weeks, probably a good few weeks, we’re keeping it as a little bonus. We did a music video for each song on the EP, which was a bit insane, but I had the time during lockdown.”
While Step By Step has offered fans a whole EP’s worth of Niall’s talent to enjoy, that feast was preceded by a glimpse of it on Imelda’s new long-player, 11Past The Hour, courtesy of the song, Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own. Generally, duets fascinate me anyway, wondering who might first realise or suggest that a particular song would suit and work with more than one voice to the fore, and what exactly it might be about a song that would make it work like that. But in this instance, of course, Niall and Imelda co-wrote Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own together. So, was it always going to be a duet from the get-go?
“Well, first of all, I’ve never, ever before written with anyone, never. And probably in a kinda youthful, arrogant way, didn’t see the point. Me and Imelda are very proud, ya know [laughs]. So there wasn’t going to be a song on her album that she wasn’t involved in writing, and vice-versa. I don’t know where I was going, or where I was coming back from, and this was long before the lockdown, but I’d been back in the house for about thirty-minutes, and for some reason I was just messing around on the guitar. I had this tune. And I had it in open-tuning, which is my favourite, and has been since I got really into Paul Brady. I had a few lyrics as well, some of them that are in there now. When I start writing a song, I like to keep playing it over and over again, then eventually some words stick, lyrics like ‘Don’t let me stand on my own’ as the chorus. For some reason I recorded this on my phone and I sent it to Imelda, and I said what do you think of this? She said it was lovely, it was good. Then we were around the house and she said play that to me ‘live.’ I think I was trying to go off the romantic thing, thinking I’d written too many love songs, so there were a few verses in there about anti oil-rigs in Iraq! [Laughs]. Imelda was like, ‘Yeaaah…it’s a lovely sentiment, but…I’m not sure for this song!’ [Laughs].””So she started writing a few lyrics down and singing along one day, and it sort of became that [song]. There was a bit of push-and-pull from the two of us, a fear – if I’m honest, between the two of us – of is it a good idea that we’re doing this together. Because we hadn’t been together that long at the time. And Imelda’s been in the industry long enough to know that’s not always a good thing, working with your friends, or your partner, or your family. But we pushed on with it anyway, and Imelda sent it off to her people and they liked it. Then, every now and again, we’d be at a gig or an after-party, and out would come the guitar and we’d play that song. And it would always get a reaction. I certainly didn’t want to have a song on Imelda’s album just for the sake of it. I was thinking too, hang on here a second, I haven’t released anything myself yet. I didn’t want to be her Jordan to her Peter Andre! [Laughs]. That’s what I was kinda terrified about! But then as time went on, I thought it would be good, and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have that song together, and to play it, and to have it be one that people ask for.”
As we touched on briefly in Part 1 of our chat, there are more elements to Niall’s talents than just that of being a singer/songwriter. He also knows what it takes to be creative in front of the cameras as an actor. And he’s got an exciting project coming up soon, a movie called Love Without Walls. I asked Niall how much could he share with us about that?
“About this time last year in the UK, it might have been later, maybe July or August, but there was a little gap where you could do gigs in pubs, with social-distancing, table service, but they had music back. For years, if I wasn’t acting, I spent my weekends – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – playing in the Irish pubs around London. My mam decided that it was time for me to do that because the building sites were killin’ me! [Laughs]. It felt sometimes like the more you worked, the less you made. So I was doing this gig back during lockdown, not my own gig, just in the corner of a pub. It had been so long since I’d played any ‘live’ music, I said to some people, listen, I’m back in London, come and have a look. And about sixty or seventy people turned up, which was awesome, and we had this amazing night. Then this lady approached me, and I kinda thought, is she a police officer? Am I doing something wrong here? But she said, ‘My name is Jane’ – Jane Gull, she’s the director of ‘Love Without Walls’ – ‘I’ve written a script about a young, married couple who fall on hard times, and the leading role for the male is a singer/songwriter.’ She said, ‘I was going to talk to your agent, but I saw you had a gig on. If you’re interested, we’d love to chat with you about it. But there’s one thing we really need, that’s a singer/songwriter who has his own songs. Because we’d like him to do the soundtrack.’ I was just like, YES, Please! [Laughs]. I think she thought I’d be a bit more coy about it, a bit more like, ‘well have your people talk to my people’, or whatever! But I was just like, oh my God, that sounds incredible!” “So we met up and had a chat about it, and I read with Shana who is the leading lady, and there was a chemistry. So we went ahead with it. The movie kept getting put back because of lockdown, and I kept getting fat and slim, and shaved and bearded! [Laughs]. So ‘China In A Box’ is the main track. In fact, ‘China In A Box’ wasn’t going to be on the EP, I was saving it. But then they said, look, it’s going to cost us a whole load of money to shut down the whole production, but we can do a day of it and we need to get a few shots of when you first met, and your relationship before it all goes wrong. So why don’t we do that, and film a musical video for ‘China In A Box’ as a little teaser, so that was that. On the same day the EP comes out, I’m going into London to quarantine for a bit, and then we’ll get to filming. I can’t wait to get started. I’m absolutely terrified [laughs], because I’ve never really played myself in anything. I mean, I’m not playing ‘Niall McNamee’, I’ve got a part to play [laughs]. But they are my songs and there are elements of me in there.”
It had been Bono’s 60th birthday the day before we spoke. And Niall, I can absolutely guarantee you, is the only person I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with who has the coolest of stories involving Bono (to an extent), one of the best Bonds ever in the shape of Pierce Brosnan, AND…and with Jackie Chan! And a story of fighting Jackie Chan, at that! Talk about literally having one story cooler than another…
“Well I was playing Neil McCormick in ‘Chasing Bono.’ He, by all accounts, set up a band at the same time and they both thought they were going to be the main hitters in the music world. The story is about how it didn’t really quite happen for Neil, who’s a really good friend of mine now, and a great journalist. But it didn’t go the way he wanted it, while Bono obviously went off and became…Bono! [Laughs]. That was an incredible time, to get that opportunity on stage for all that time. And to have so many lines, to be given that responsibility. Sally Woods, Ronnie Woods’ wife, was producing it, she was amazing. And Ronnie came down loads of times, he’s a good bloke, and they’re a lovely couple. Then press-night came, and they invited their friends…and one of their friends was Imelda, and that’s where we met. Yeah, she came to watch ‘Chasing Bono’ and we swapped numbers. I don’t think we knew what for, but we obviously liked each other. And then the rest is kinda history! ‘Chasing Bono’, and the friends I made on that, that was such an important time. It felt like my ‘moment’, in many ways, and I’d really worked hard for it.”
“And as for ‘The Foreigner'”, continued Niall, “that was mental! [Laughs]. That was the first film role I ever did, which was crazy. I was still working on the building sites and I remember going to the audition, without knowing what it was for. Because you don’t go into an audition knowing that you’re auditioning for a Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan film! But I knew I was sort of in the ‘RA or something like that [laughs]. I had five lines in the audition. I don’t know what they can take from five lines, but it can’t be much. But I was the last person of the day. It was five o’ clock, I came in, and they were like, ‘Oh hi ya, look, don’t want to put ya off, but because we’re running really late, we’re going to be packing up during your audition.’ So I thought fair enough [laughs]. But I did these five lines, and I got the part. Then my agent rang me up – to tell me that – but without saying hello or anything, just started reading the script, and reading this fight scene between me and Jackie Chan! Within the next few days, I’d quit the building site and I was getting collected in this fancy car and taken to my trailer. For the first three weeks, solidly, we were choreographing a fight with Jackie Chan. It was mental! And there was a part of me thinking at the time, do ya know what, if things go tits-up and I don’t make it as an actor, I’ll always have this! It would be an interesting one for the ‘office news’ of what people used to do, ya know! So we spent three weeks learning the fight, and I’d never done any combat training or anything like that, I’m not a fighter really. Especially not on stage or on screen. So I worked so hard to get it right, because I really wanted to do it well. And I got it bang on! I was like, this is it! I’m smashing this, I’m ready.”
“But then,” recalled Niall, “I remember like ten minutes before we started filming, on the first day, someone came up to me and said, ‘Ahh, Jackie’s not actually happy with your fight, some of the moves and stuff. So he wants to change it.’ And I’m going, oh my God, no, no, no! [Laughs]. So I said right, show me. And they showed me the first bit, and I kinda got that. Then they showed me the second bit, and I was like, here, look, I am never gonna get that! And I asked what could I do. So, I went up to Jackie Chan… [laughs]…and I said, ‘Listen…Jackie…’, [laughs], ‘I’m lost here. I don’t know what I’m doing. They’ve changed it.’ I had to. And it was grand, it worked out great. Even though you shouldn’t be, I was constantly just worried that they would sack me! [Laughs]. A lot of us there, we didn’t really know what we were doing there. I don’t really know what the casting process was. Maybe they just found all the right people, but that’s rare. So Jackie said, ‘Oh, right.’ And I had this fake knife. So he said, ‘Well, when they say action, just try and stab me, and I’ll do the rest.’ And there was me worrying, like, ‘Oh no, what if I kill Jackie Chan?!’ [Laughs]. How arrogant, to worry that on my first day of filming I might be too good! [Laughs]. So I went to stab him when they said action, and he grabbed onto the end of the knife, kinda pulled it back and forth, and I was following the knife, then he just flipped me over his shoulder and smashed me through a glass table! I was lying there winded going, oh my God, what was that?! And at the same time, the crew are like, ‘Right, let’s get in the next fake glass table.’ And I’m thinking, fake glass table?! I didn’t know anything about this! [Laughs]. And if you watch it back, it looks like I’m going for him. But I promise ya, it was all him! He took my knife, made me fight him, and then beat the sh*t outta me! [Laughs]. And it was incredible, it was amazing!”
“And then obviously Pierce Brosnan was a lovely man. I actually remember the lads taking the mick out of me because of the wrap-party, which everyone was fairly excited for. I thought I’d show where my loyalties lie, and I said I don’t know if I can make the wrap-party because Ireland were playing England at Twickenham and I had tickets. So, I turn up at this wrap-party, half-cut, with my Ireland scarf around me, and the lads are goin’, ‘Ah Jeeesus, what are ya doin’?’ Then Pierce Brosnan turns up ten minutes later with a scarf around him, after being at the same game. And I remember saying to him, ‘You could have given me a fu*king lift!’ [Laughs]. That whole experience of that movie was definitely one of the cooler moments of my life!”
~ STEP BY STEP, the new EP from NIALL McNAMEE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms.
If you were asked to name the Irishman who has represented us a songwriter at Eurovision, has won Song of the Year in Russia, and as a producer, has had his work featured on a major Netflix show, you might well struggle just a little bit to come up with the answer. But, if you can join all those dots, then you’ll come up with the name of Wicklow man MARKCAPLICE.
Part of the reason why Mark remains a ‘well-kept secret’ can be attributed to the fact that he is almost cursed by talent. Because he tends to be involved in so many projects with so many different artists, and often times as both writer and producer, a lot of his many musical gifts burst into life ‘behind the scenes’, as it were.
However, if you happen to spend any time ‘behind the scenes’ of the music industry in Ireland in any capacity, or spend time with anyone who does, the name of Mark Caplice will be no stranger to anyone. Chances are, though, the gent you’ll hear folk praise will be known to all as ‘Cappy.’ And Cappy is a man in demand. He’s also finally about to step out from behind the scenes and into the limelight in his own right as an artist, and not before time, too.
Mark’s brand new single, the brilliantly titled CATCH A TEAR, will be released on May 27th. I had the pleasure of catching up with the man himself last week, and began our chat by asking Mark to tell me about that title and how the idea for the song came about…
“Well, the overall message of the song is that you want to be there for someone that you love. A large number of people quite close to me were having really tough times, and lately, obviously, this goes for the whole planet as well. There were numerous different circumstances where it was really just raining down on people, and I remember thinking to myself I’m not much of a praying man, but if I was to start praying, I wouldn’t know who to pray for. That was the stem of the thought. I was like, Christ…where would I begin?! I just wanted to write something that would be very special and close to me, for some of the people that are special and close to me that needed a bit of help.”
And the phrase itself – catch a tear – was that Mark’s starting point for everything, or more something that revealed itself as the song developed?
“As the message and the concept of the song grew in my head, of I wouldn’t know who to pray for if I was praying and not wanting to lean too much into religion because it’s not a religious message by any stretch of the imagination, I was trying to think of different ways you could show – even in a phrase – that you’re there for someone. And I liked the idea of catching a tear because it shows both that you’re literally close to someone, close enough to catch a tear, but it’s also metaphorical, that if you’re under a bit of pressure let me take the weight. I can help.”
In speaking elsewhere about his new single recently, Mark said the reason he was releasing his own music under his own name right now was because a loved one who was ill had asked him to do so back at Christmas. I wondered if that particular loved one had not asked him to do it, would this be happening right now, or perhaps at all?
“It’s been on my mind for quite a while that I have wanted to release music, and I was going to slowly start gathering songs, and I was thinking of putting together a bit of an album this year, or maybe next year. So I was going to start the process of gathering songs now. But that conversation hit me pretty hard. It was a blunt, but important reminder that with every second time gets more precious. And that’s true for you, for me, for the loved one I spoke to. It’s a big part of my mindset and philosophy that time is so precious and so short. You never know when it’s going to be too late to start releasing music again. Tomorrow is guaranteed for no man. But I think I was just so busy writing with and for other people that I kinda put myself in the back-seat. And then I put myself in the other back-seat. And then I put myself in the boot! [Laughs]. Yeah, that conversation was definitely a big positive reminder to act on doing the things you love to do, when you can do them.”
Because Mark has been busy for so long working with other people, as both a writer and as a producer, now that he is finally turning the spotlight back on himself a little bit more with this new single, what’s the main emotion around it all? Is it nerves? Excitement? A mad mix of both from hour to hour and day to day, perhaps?
“[Laughs] It’s a mad mixture of everything from day to day, I’d say! There’s definitely a bit of, ‘Ah God, whatever I do couldn’t possibly be good enough!’, because I’ve had the pleasure of working with many, many gifted artists and songwriters over the past few years. And then having been a producer, I’m thinking I wanted to make it sound sonically amazing and do loads of incredible things. But it just comes back to what the song means. And the message of the song. What is the message of the song? It’s about making sure that message is clear, and that it’s sonically supported from what comes through the speakers. That’s how I diffused any anxiety or madness about it. As a friend of mine, Philip Magee, said to me not so long ago, if you’re trying to record a song for a producer, most of the time you’ll come up short, because there are insanely talented producers all over the world that can do incredible things sonically. So if you try to compare yourself to, or try to be like others, you’re putting yourself at a step back before you even get going. So it always comes back to what the song means for me, and for the people around me that the message is for.”
Mark is planning some Irish and European tour dates for later this year which makes me think there’s probably another single or two – maybe even an EP or an album – in the works for around those dates too. I asked him about what is coming after Catch A Tear, and for what kind of a heads-up he could offer on those tour dates…
“That’s a big point. I’ve got a lot of music I want to put out over the next while, and I think this first song was just a gentle reminder [to myself] to get back into the releasing world. But I’ve got a lot of music to come. And I think some of it is really special. I’m looking forward to getting it out there. Probably an EP. The thought of an album terrifies me! [Laughs]. So we’re probably lookin’ at an EP. The tour dates are looking to be about September, October, but obviously with regulations things are taking their time. But we’ll be patient, and abide by whatever guidelines we’re given. It’s lookin’ pretty positive that by the end of the summer there’ll be a few more tracks out in the world and I’ll be jumpin’ into a tour bus and travellin’ the length and breadth of the country! And THAT thought gives me so much excitement!”
Mark said recently in relation to this solo-project, that it “isn’t focused towards commercial success, but more so to create a body of work that I feel passionate about as a writer and artist.” Now, Mark is very much a commercial writer as well, and a very successful one. So I asked him to talk as a songwriter about the line that can exist between what you need or want to do from a commercial point of view, and on the other side of that line, where passion and creativity and inspiration can be the driving forces in what he writes…
“Yeah, that’s an interesting and really good question. This is a conversation I have quite regularly. Some of the time, when you’re in a session, it would be more so, ok, what do you think the audience of this artist or performer will want to hear? That’s where the thought starts and grows from. You almost imagine a seed being planted in the middle of the 3Arena, right in the middle of the crowd, and that’s where the seed of the song grows from. Because you’re trying to think about what the audience wants to hear. What tempo will it be? What’s the message of the song gonna be? Is it gonna be upbeat? Or is the artist goin’ through a bit of a tough time and they need to let their fans know about this? And they want to communicate all of that in an effective way for their own sonic brand, so that will include the type of melodies you use, the type of instrumentation you use, the type of wording you use. That’s where that seed grows from. Songwriting has to be a selfless act when you’re writing for someone else because you totally put yourself in their shoes. You can draw from your own experiences, but it definitely leans more into the artist. But when it comes to my own stuff, I want it to be more autobiographical, to be closer to home for me.”
Earlier this year, Mark gained a kind of national notoriety by becoming big in Russia! His song, Dirty Secret, co-written with Cian Sweeney and Briony O’ Toole, achieved all kinds of amazing things, including being named Song of the Year in ALL of Russia! But funnily enough, this was actually the first song that Mark, Cian, and Briony had ever written together, and it happened over three years ago! So I asked Mark to talk me through how it all blew up in such a big way for him at the start of 2021…
“It’s a funny amalgamation of stories, if you will. Cian and I met at an IMRO seminar, for publishing, I believe. We just got chatting, and then gently stayed in each other’s circle. I think he told me about this girl called Briony and he showed me some of her stuff, and I thought God, she’s amazing. But in the back of my head I was like, Briony? I know that name! It’s a very unique name. Well it actually ends up that Briony and I are related! Yeah, I swear! And we only found this out a week before we were due to do the writing session, which was hilarious. We went to her house in Laois and it ended up being where a lot of my family grew up and everything. A crazy 360. So we got together, started just messing about with ideas. It was the first time I’d met her as well. So it was all just quiet, chilled out, laid-out, exploratory, just having fun. Let’s throw ideas and melodies and beats and stuff out there. It was very organic and real. A fun session, a fun session.”
Mark continued, “When we finished the song, we knew it was good. I was thinking about releasing it myself, but I wasn’t fully sure about it. Around the same time, I actually met a publisher in Dublin and they said they really liked it and offered to, as they say, shop it! And it found its way to Russia, and Grigory Leps, who is a major, major artist in Russia. It was released at the very beginning of 2020. Via a contact that I have in Russia, they were filling me in on all of the information on how it was doing. And it was skyrocketing, it was super popular, always on the radio, that’s what she was telling me. And I was just like, that’s cool, that’s cool [laughs]. Then, by pure chance, I messaged her at the beginning of 2021, just saying happy new year, hope everything is well with you and everyone, and she replied, ‘Oh thank you so much, it’s lovely to hear from you! And by the way, your song has won an award.’ I was like, oh, alright. Well cool! I like awards! [Laughs]. So I asked her what award did it win…and she said it won a Golden Gramophone! And I was sitting in this armchair that I’m sitting in right now, and I was thinking to myself, did I just win a Grammy in Russia?! [Laughs]. It was a real what-is-happening-here moment! So I asked her if it was a Grammy, but it’s not, it’s a little bit different. Basically it’s for songs that have been in the top-twenty airplay chart in Russia, in the whole of Russia, for more than twenty weeks. So it’s a serious stint. So I was sayin’ wow, that’s insane, it’s so cool, ya know, and I was super-chuffed.
But there was even more to come, as Mark went on to explain. “But then she says, ‘Oh, but by the way, it won another award, I almost forgot!’ So I was like, again, ok, I love awards! [Laughs]. What award did it win this time? And she said it actually won Song of the Year in Russia. I was like, in ALL of Russia? And she said yeah! This was one of the team that has worked on the song in Russia, so it was a fairly reliable source. So for the whole country, that’s huge! I think their population is around 145 million. I had to check, I was just curious [laughs]. So yeah, on their national broadcaster it was awarded Song of the Year. And I saw the awards show. At the beginning of it, it sounded so funny hearing my name spoken by a Russian gentleman! [Laughs]. It was a wow-moment again. There were like thousands of people at the ceremony, and I was just sitting here in my home in Baltinglass thinking, WHAT is goin’ on?! [Laughs].”
~ CATCH A TEAR, the brand new single from MARK CAPLICE, is out May 27th, available on all platforms.