Gerrie O’ Grady

First Published May 2018

A ROSE THAT BLOOMS FOREVER

As we all remember, Jennifer Byrne made history in the historic Dome in Tralee last year by becoming the first Offaly woman to be crowned the Rose of Tralee. And it’s hard to believe, but Jennifer’s year of representing Tralee, Offaly, and indeed Ireland, is entering its last stretch of road. Very soon a new Offaly Rose will be on her way to Tralee.

One woman with a better idea than most of what life has been like for Jennifer during the last year, is Cork’s Gerrie O’ Grady, the 1999 Rose of Tralee. Gerrie and I happened to cross paths at the Hot Country Awards recently and as well as enjoying the pleasure of her company on that particular evening, she very graciously agreed to have a chat about her own experience as the Rose of Tralee. And as it happens, Gerrie was also involved in the process of selecting Jennifer as last year’s winner. So with the selection night for the new Offaly Rose due to take place on Saturday, May 26th, what better time than now to hear from someone who quite literally has been there, done that, and worn the tiara – and sash! 

As someone so steeped in the Rose of Tralee festival, being a former winner herself and now being involved in the selection process, I began by asking Gerrie what the festival means to her….


“Well really what it means is it’s an opportunity for every woman who enters to bring her own personality and identity to the festival. I think sometimes that’s where people misinterpret what it’s about, because they think there’s a mould that you have to fit into. But I always say well all you’d have to do is come along to a Rose of Tralee reunion and you’ll see the variety of personalities that actually are there from previous years. It really is about every single person who enters bringing their own personality, and advancing it a little bit more. And in that way, it has evolved over the years. And that’s what the beauty of it is, that nobody can discount themselves as not being somebody who should be a contestant. Because that’s certainly what I had thought. I thought I was the farthest thing from Rose ‘material’, ya know [laughs]. But really it’s wide open.” 

Does Gerrie think that what it means to be the Rose of Tralee has changed much, in terms of what the Rose does or is expected to do, from when she wore the crown to the present day? 


“I think that social media has definitely changed expectations, in terms of accessibility, with people expecting to be very connected these days. And I think that’s part and parcel of being a public figure in 2018. I didn’t have that, so I always think of that particular challenge that’s there for a new Rose. For me, I was straight out of college, I was twenty-two, and it was an entirely different world. Suddenly you’re into liaising with the media, and with the public, and it was all a bit of a learning curve at the beginning. But now it’s even more so, because you have to be always vigilant, and conscious that more than ever, you are very accessible and anybody at any time can interact with you. So it has changed from that point of view, I think. But in some ways it’s still the same. It’s just those sort of things that really do change the nature of it.” 


I wondered would something like that – thinking about how people might deal with, and react in, and be able for certain situations – play a big part in the selection process, and what the judges have to consider? 


“That’s such a great question! And yes! That’s the short answer [laughs]. The longer one is that now on every Rose panel there’s a former Rose of Tralee – I’m judging Cork now in the next few weeks – that’s how it is nowadays. And it’s absolutely essential [that the chosen Rose is capable of handling such situations and circumstances] because you have to be ready to hit the ground running. You don’t get a lovely long lead-in where it’s like, ‘O.k, we’re going to do six months of prep with you now…’, ya know! It just doesn’t work like that [laughs]. Throughout the judging process you have to weigh up so many different things, and one part of it is is this person resilient enough, and I suppose clued in enough, too, to be able to respond straight away and instinctively at whatever is thrown at her. Because now you just can’t be sheltered. Even before, pre-social media, back in the dinosaur days when I was doing it [laughs], I had to be prepared. Because you could be faced with any sort of question at any time, so you have to be able to speak up and think fast. So definitely, when you’re in the judging process, that’s one part of what you’re considering, how would a person navigate those sort of situations.”


Given that Gerrie is so entwined in the festival herself, what does she think about the view that some people have (wrongly, I believe) of the Rose of Tralee as being almost outdated, or pretty close to what was portrayed in the ‘Lovely Girls’ competition in Father Ted? Because that is a view that’s out there among some people….


“For sure. And every year the same thing comes around again and again. Some people have this idea that it’s a very retrograde thing. But the Rose of Tralee is a platform to speak and the voice of the woman who wins is very important. So I would say well look at the people who are entering, look at their accomplishments, look at what they’re doing and what they’re achieving, and what they go on to achieve afterwards, and all of that speaks for itself. The evidence is all there. The women who enter are accomplished women, confident women, and it’s not just all one ‘type’ of woman, it’s very diverse. The Rose of Tralee doesn’t squash anyone into a mould. It doesn’t insist that you are a certain ‘type’ of woman, nor do you emerge from it a certain ‘type’ of woman. And again, I always go back to the reunions and say if only people could come along and see how different all the former Roses are it would allay a lot of those fears or concerns that people express about it. And often times what’s interesting is when you sit on a judging panel with someone, and they’d say, ‘God, this is completely different from what I expected!’ That can be a very eye-opening experience on the inside, and I suppose maybe that’s not always as apparent on the outside. The other thing too, which surprises me, and I really got to know properly as a contestant and then as a judge of the international qualifier two years ago, is the sense of international pride that’s out there, with people coming from second and third generation Irish families entering it, and learning what it means to them culturally, too. That’s sometimes missed, that kind of connection. There’s a lot more to it than somebody just having to be a ‘nice’ girl and being able to nod and smile. And all you have to do is look at any interview with previous Roses to know that’s not the case at all.”

Getting around to Gerrie’s herself, how did her own Rose story begin?

“Well, as I said, I thought I was atypical when it came to Rose material! [laughs] So I was in my final year in college, I was doing a feminist dissertation when it was first suggested to me. My dad, who was a Guard, and he said in Macroom, where I’m from originally, the Guards have been asked to put somebody forward to the Rose of Tralee and we all want you to do it. And I literally laughed at him, and said sure I’m completely not what they’d be looking for! [laughs]. I thought I’d be far too outspoken and different from the preconceived notion of what I thought they’d be looking for. So I took a lot of convincing! [laughs]. And in the end, it was really for my dad and for the Guards that I did it, because I felt, oh lord, they’re after going to all this trouble already so I felt like I should honour that. But right up to the last minute I was going, I don’t know if this is a good idea at all! [laughs]. But I did it. And a lot of people you’ll find do it like that, where they’re thinking, ‘Really?! Me?!’, ya know! So during my Cork Rose interviews and all along I spoke really from the heart about what was important to me and what my passions were, and the thesis I was doing, and people were so open to that. It was a really positive experience.” 


What did it actually feel like when she was announced as the winner? Did she have any sense at all that it was about to happen? 


“Oh none, none whatsoever. Absolutely none! There genuinely is a sense of shock. They always talk about the moment when they announce that you’re the Rose, and you can almost feel all of the energy in the room just concentrated into one funnel, and it’s all coming at you! It’s quite a profound feeling. One moment you’re just standing there, just one of the women on the stage – and I had actually had a really strong feeling that a particular one of the others was going to win – so that’s what I was thinking! So I was genuinely, to my heart, shocked when it was announced that it was me. It wasn’t expected at all.” 


Now involved in the judging process, I wondered what was it about Jennifer – from Gerrie’s point of view – that made her stand out last year?


“One of the essential qualities that we all look for when we’re judging is an honesty and an integrity. That’s what we all respond to. And Jennifer is a very authentic woman. She’s very true to herself and she has a very positive energy about her. She has a remarkable sincerity and she’s a very intelligent, accomplished woman. Her work means so much to her, and her recreational activities mean so much to her, but there’s something else there as well [about her] that’s really quite powerful to be in the presence of. It’s an authenticity, and you can see it in the way everybody warms to Jennifer.” 

Was that something that Gerrie felt and sensed about Jennifer from the first time she met her or did it kind of grow over time? 


“Jennifer makes an immediately great impression on everyone who meets her! She’s a very special woman.”

I wondered about the other side of a year as the Rose of Tralee. When it’s over, and you step back out of the limelight, is that as much of a shock to the system as the way your world changes in that moment when the crown is first placed atop your head is? 


“That’s another really good question! They’re things people don’t usually ask. But yes, it’s a transition. Everyone’s story is different, between what their life was like beforehand and what it becomes like afterwards. For me, I won the Rose of Tralee just after I finished college. My plan had been to take a gap-year before I did my masters. And I ended up thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just had the most unusual gap-year you could possibly imagine!’ [laughs]. I wasn’t expecting that! [laughs]. Afterwards I had to take some time to think, o.k, where to next? What do I actually want to do next? And it does take some time to adjust to a different pace [of life] again. Because being the Rose is such an intense and wonderful year. At the end there’s a sense of o.k, I can sleep now…for three months! [laughs].” 


I wondered if Gerrie had a favourite or stand-out memory from her year as the Rose of Tralee? 


There are so many memories. I’m being flooded with them now, just thinking back. My homecoming in Macroom was one highlight. You’re in a little bubble in Tralee and coming out of that and realising that life has now changed and also impacted those around you can be very profound.  As I was coming home to Macroom after the win, my parents started beeping the car horn as we got closer to home. I had no idea that they were warning our neighbours that we were nearby. I was met by so many family friends and it was very moving. A few days later, we had the formal homecoming welcome and I was completely shocked and overwhelmed that thousands of people attended. Many of the memories that stand out are to do with my family and what the win meant to them. As I’ve gotten older, that has become even more special to me. In the years since my win, I’ve lost my dad and I’ve lost my grandparents. My win meant so much to them and  those memories are very precious to me.  And that’s what stays with you as the years go on, what it meant to people around you. That’s worth everything.”
Gerrie continued, “And then of course you have the more public experiences. The travel opportunities were amazing and Texas in particular was a stand out! You have these extraordinary, huge experiences and think my God, I can never hope to replicate these!  But there are lots of more intimate interactions as well and they really stay with you. Those personal connections.  Like, you’ll meet somebody who’s always wanted to meet a Rose of Tralee and never has and it means so much to them.” 

Has the fact the Gerrie is a former Rose of Tralee stayed with her throughout her life since that time? In the same way, for example, that Oscar winners or Grammy winners are foreverafter known as ‘the Oscar-winning…’ whoever it might be?


“Yes, definitely it has. In my day-job, I manage a deaf charity and I use Sign Language every day in work. People are often given a Sign-name in the Deaf Community so you can sign out your name in letters, or you can have a symbol that represents your name. And my symbol is a sash made using the letter ‘G’. That’s my Sign name. So in work that’s how people refer to me, and people who don’t know my story will ask’ So, why is THAT your sign-name?’ [laughs]. So even in that small way it stayed a part of my life. And of course every year I tend to be involved in one way or another [in the festival], either in judging it or attending a selection. We also have a reunion every January. So there’s always a sense of staying connected.  And people will often say as well that they remember something about when you were the Rose. You’d be surprised that people can have such long memories.”

So what advice would Gerrie offer to the Offaly Roses as they prepare for their selection night this Saturday, and indeed, to whoever goes on to become the eventual Rose of Tralee for 2018? 


“What I would say is to leave all of your preconceived ideas aside. Go in to show people who you are. And use it as an opportunity to explore who you are as well.  You love, as a judge, getting to meet all of these wonderful women and getting to hear their individual stories, so make sure you’re telling your story. That’s the most important thing you can do. And for the new Rose, both whoever ends up winning the Offaly Rose and the Rose of Tralee as well, I would say the same. Maximise your opportunities throughout year. Remember everything. Keep a diary! [laughs]. I always wish I’d kept a better diary to record all of those moments, because it goes by in a blur! Soak in every part of the experience because this is once in a lifetime!”

ENDS

Eímear Noone

First Published November 2020

“MUSIC IS WHO I AM” (Part 1)

Those of us who are of a certain vintage in life will be familiar with the name Lynda Carter. The American actress – who was also a singer, songwriter, model, and beauty pageant title holder (Miss World USA 1972, and placed in the Top 15 in the Miss World finals that same year – brought to life the DC Comics superheroine Wonder Woman. That tv show aired first on the ABC network, and later on CBS, from 1975 to 1979. For so many around the world, Lynda, and Wonder Woman, were both inspirational figures because they showed that yes, a woman could be a superhero, too. And a damn
good one at that.


Well, Irish composer and conductor EÍMEAR NOONE is a real-life, real-world, Wonder Woman. And just like Lynda Carter did back then, Eímear – through her enormous musical talent and her pure, magnificent, dream-warrior spirit as a human being – has become a hero and an inspiration on a worldwide scale. And for the record, I definitely count myself among that number, even more so since having the pleasure to spend some time in her company. 


Last February, the Galway woman wrote her own page into the history of the Academy Awards when she became the first woman to ever…that’s EVER… conduct the orchestra at the Oscars ceremony. And that was just the latest in a long-as-your-arm list of accolades Eímear has to her credit. Her work has been central to the World of Warcraft, which once held the title of highest grossing video game of all-time, at an astronomical $8.5 billion dollars. She has conducted the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic in London, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and even the Los Angeles ballet, to name just a few of the world-class ensembles she’s held in her charge. Eímear has also toured the world as principal conductor for the Zelda Symphony, a full, four movement symphony, and also with the Video Games Live Tour. As well as a real-life Wonder Woman, make no mistake about this, Eímear is, in essence, a rockstar!  


Eímear had asked me to give her a call around 1pm on the day we spoke, and as we began our chat, she explained why. That was when she put her baby down for its nap. So yeah, just take a moment to read that again and let it sink in. One of the busiest and most influential women in the world of music, a history-maker, a woman whose life is destined to become a movie in its own right some day, also had the kindness, the humility, and the grace to grant an interview in the hour or so that her baby was taking a nap. Like I said, Wonder Woman, superhero, and rockstar. 


We began our chat around Eímear’s performance at the Oscars earlier this year. Ahead of that event, in speaking about the Rickey Minor, the musical director of the Oscars, Eimear remarked that he was, “…an amazing kindred spirit who endeavours to elevate music and musicians at every possible turn”, and spoke of how generous he was “…to hand over this incredibly poignant moment.” What struck me about that more than anything was Eímear’s selfless grace in turning the spotlight on someone else in what was her own moment of glory. I asked her would it be accurate to say that as a conductor who has to care about everyone in her charge, that sense of care actually reflects an important part of who she is as a person as well, something which reveals itself so easily when she so often takes the time to speak so highly of people? 


“Well, I think there’s nothing wrong with showing gratitude. And when somebody bestows an opportunity like that upon you, it’s not just about you. You’re given this spotlight for a moment, but it’s about all of the people that helped you get there as well. Nobody gets there on their own. It’s a moment for humility, and it’s a moment for gratitude. Ricky Minor is just one of those soulful people who believes in good people doing good things. I was there because of my colleagues. There’s another colleague of mine, called Chris Walden, he’s the principal arranger for the Oscars. A lot of the musicians in the orchestra I’d worked with many, many times. They gave me strength. They gave me the courage to get up there and to really, really possess the moment. Not to just get through it, but to really, really live it, enjoy it, and own it. I could do that because standing next to me, filming me on his phone at my feet at the podium, was Ricky Minor, one of the greatest music directors of all time. He was doing that so that I could have it for myself, to watch it afterwards! And then I had the harpist, Gayle Levant, who’s played every Oscars for decades, she’s like my big sister in music ever since I moved to L.A. So any time I just glanced down at her I’d get a big smile and lots of good energy and love. So many of the players I knew. And the tough guys, the brass players who take no prisoners, they’re all pussycats that I’ve worked with forever, ya know! So when you realise that you’ve got there because of your own work, but also because of being championed by your colleagues, I think it’s a moment to celebrate that. And I think it’s a moment for other musicians as well to appreciate our community, and to see that we really do have a professional community. We are a big global family. I also was aware that that moment was a moment I was sort of inhabiting on behalf of female members of my composing and conducting community. It was something that I took very, very seriously. That moment belonged to our community, rather than just to me alone.” 

While the Oscars brought Eímear to the attention of the world most recently, she came into the world in Kilconnell in county Galway, where her grandfather, Joseph Shea, a celebrated Irish trad musician, and where also lived until the grand old age of 102, Paddy Fahy, often spoken of as the most lauded composer of the trad music scene. Eímear has said before that she wanted to be a conductor from the age of just seven, so the environment she grew up in, I reasoned, must have greatly shaped her love of music? 


“Well, I think just having space, and space to think, and this beautiful east Galway scenery, ya know. I also grew up in a very historic village. The ‘new’ Abbey is from the 13th century, on the site of a 6th century settlement. But Paddy, I mean, having somebody who was a composer in the village, it made it a really normal thing to want to be! I suppose deep down in my mind [I was thinking], Paddy was a composer, so that was a thing you could do [laughs]. And he was an absolutely wonderful man, I adored him. But for me, what really drew me in, was the sound of the orchestra. And I mean, my first experience of the orchestra was on telly, ya know. It says a lot for our national broadcaster RTE that they support the orchestra, because that was my – as an Irish child – first experience [of an orchestra], it was seeing an orchestra on television. I decided wow, this is just the most exciting and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, I have to be a part of it somehow, some way.” 

Eímear once referred to music as being “my friends on the page in front of me”, so clearly, music is a huge passion in her life. But I was wondering if she could look back on any specific moment in her life when music first became so much more than something that was just an interest, and instead, became as she has described it, “friends on the page in front of me”


“I can’t ever remember music being a hobby. It was always who I was. I can never remember all of a sudden going, ‘Oh, maybe I could do this as a career.’ I don’t remember thinking that at all. I just always remember thinking this is who I am. No even thinking, just knowing, that was it.” 

As wide-ranging a question as it is – possibly one that it’s not even possible to answer – why does Eímear think it was that way? Why was it music and her? 


“I have absolutely no idea. Absolutely none. I just loved it so much. It was exciting to me on an emotional level and an intellectual level. And it also was so deep, with so much to know and so much to learn. Every day I’m learning something new. And I don’t just mean new pieces of music, I mean I’m learning something new about music. It’s just so fascinating. It’s like this magical world to me. It just never stops giving back, there’s so much music to discover, and so much about music to discover. It’s a life-long pursuit. But as a kid, I don’t ever remember it being a hobby, it was just…who I am. Like every child, my first instrument was my voice. I remember…[laughs]…I remember my first time on stage…and I don’t think I’ve actually told this to anyone in an interview before. I was four years old, singing at my aunt’s secondary school in Castleblakeney. There was a talent show [laughs], and I think I was shoved out on stage at four. I sang a song called Little Mammy Birdy [laughs]. And my mother still has the dress I wore my first time on stage, yeah. I was only four, but even then I felt like, yeah, this is what I do. This is me! [laughs].” 


Well when Eímear is doing what she does, when she’s conducting, she can have up to ninety people in the orchestra in front of her, and as she had when working on the Warcraft updates a few years ago, a choir of fifty or sixty more people on top of that. What kind of mental preparation does Eímear go through prior to something like that to get herself into the frame of mind she needs to be in? 


“It’s important to me to be physically strong. And like a lot of musicians, I’m not super-fond of the gym [laughs]. But I try to be physically strong. But I also do some meditation based on the teaching of a guy called George Mumford, who taught the L.A. Lakers meditation. He understood what it was like to be ‘in the zone’, and to be at your best with a lot of pressure on your shoulders, and a lot of stimulus, and a lot of moving parts. I love his work, so I’ll just sit and listen to him give a lecture on guided meditation. The other thing is I prepare, I prepare like crazy. I will spend a lot of time with the music. And sometimes I don’t get to do that! When we recorded for Warcraft, and when we’re recording in general, I won’t see the music ahead of time. So we’re straight into it in the recording studio, a giant stack of scores lands on the music stand, and we just go from there. Dive straight in. But yeah, I do mentally and physically prepare. There’s no way around that one. You feel so much stronger and so much more in control, and so much better able to serve the audience with adequate preparation.” 

Is there a big difference in how Eímear would prepare for something that might be happening in the studio as opposed to for a ‘live’ event, like the Oscars? 


“Yes, there is. I mean, when we’re in the studio we don’t have rehearsal. But when we’re ‘live’ we don’t get to do another take [laughs]. And yes, the Oscars is ‘live.’ Everything you heard, we were playing ‘live.’ I try to bring something from what I’ve learned from the ‘live’ performance to the recording studio, and something from the recording studio to the ‘live’ performance. And here’s what I mean by that. When the red light is on in the recording studio, I try and get that electricity, that frisson of energy from myself and from the ensemble, as if we had an audience in front of us. Because it’s a different energy when the audience is there. And you see that right now, where in order to keep some performances going during the pandemic, you see a lot of filmed performances by all kinds of artists. And it definitely feels a little different when the audience isn’t present. And what I bring from the recording studio to a ‘live’ situation is that focus on detail, and that level of detail in the performance that I use in the recording studio. Because I know that it has to be absolutely perfect to live in a recorded format. Otherwise, you spend a lot of time in post-production tidying things up. And when you have hours of music, and millions and millions and millions of notes, you want to avoid that kind of thing because you do have to deliver a project on a deadline and so on. So in a studio, I’m very, very detailed orientated because you also need to know what can and can’t be fixed after the fact. So I bring that kind of head-space to the ‘live’ performance. I want that level of perfection, as if everything I do is being recorded. And it just turns out that at the moment, everything I do is being recorded! [laughs]. So that’s good! I’ve been lucky enough to work in some of the most amazing recording studios on the planet, like Skywalker Ranch, Abbey Road, the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox, Sony Warner Brothers, Capitol Records, just being really spoiled.” 

And in the same way that she would prepare for a show or a recording session, does Eímear have any rituals for afterwards, to kind of come-down from that high of performance, and to help her unwind after the intensity of being ‘switched-on’? 


“Nobody’s ever asked me that question. Oh my goodness. It is so unromantic, I hate to burst peoples’ bubbles. Generally when I come off stage, especially if I’m on tour, I’ll check in with my family. And when I’m on tour, there will most likely not be anyone in the audience that I know personally. So I’ll come backstage, I’ll see the crew, say hi to all the orchestra managers, the stage-managers, that kind of thing, go into my dressing room…and pack! [laughs]. Then I go back to my hotel room, have something to eat, look at the news online, and stare at the ceiling [laughs]. So unromantic! It’s really hard when you’re on tour as well, because your adrenaline is going after the concert, and you’ve got to get up and travel the next day and do it all over again. So you come back from touring and your adrenal glands have just given up and died! When I was a student in Trinity College, a huge part of doing rehearsals and doing a concert was so you could party afterwards! And nobody told me that when you’re a pro you don’t get to party afterwards, only rarely. Very rarely do you actually get to do that. I remember when I started working at the studios in L.A. first, we’d do six-hour sessions, and afterwards your adrenaline is going mad, and you’re like, ‘Let’s go everybody, what pub are we goin’ to?!’ But everybody’s just like, ‘Ok, see you tomorrow!’ And you’re there like, ‘What?!’ [laughs]. I suppose that’s an Irish was as well. And it’s a healthy thing as well, to go and have a couple of drinks after a show and let that adrenaline just peter out, ya know. But if I have to get up the next day and do it all over again, I won’t even have a glass of wine. I need every brain-cell working at its optimum! Yeah, it’s weird. Especially if you’re dealing with jet-lag as well, things like that. You become this sort of energy-camel, it’s like you’re storing energy for the concert, and you won’t give it up for anything else!”Eímear continued, “I’m looking forward to doing something here with the Symphony Orchestra soon, and even after that, I mean, oh my God, I finally thought I’m doing something in Ireland, I can finally go and party afterwards, but nobody’s partying right now, at all. We can’t. At the moment, we’re waiting for restrictions to lift just so we can get the players together! Let alone the audience. You can’t even put an orchestra on the stage in Ireland at the moment because of the restrictions. And you know what? That’s all fine. We all need to keep each other safe. And we need to keep our musicians safe. That’s absolutely necessary. But it’s tough on all the players, not getting to be together, and not getting to play together. I saw some things about telling musicians to re-tool or whatever, and I thought it was hilarious. God, you may as well tell us to breathe through gills! That’s absolutely futile. You’re also talking about, in an archestra, everyone – every single person – has at least one post-graduate degree. The hoops that they jump through to actually get that seat in an orchestra, to be there…it’s just astronomical what they go through to get that job. Every single person there, they’re not there because they’re good at music, they’re there because they live, breathe, eat, and sleep it!” 

~ To stay up to date with everything that Eímear is working on, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Watch this space for Part Two of our chat coming your way in the weeks ahead! ENDS

Jim Lauderdale

First Published October 2017

LAUDERDALE’S LIFE – A SONGWRITING LEGEND

It’s not too often that you get the opportunity to speak to someone like Jim Lauderdale, where most of the names that come up in conversation have all secured their own places in the music history books, too. Harlan Howard, Buck Owens, Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, Robert Hunter, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Harry Chapin, John Oates, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, John Levanthal, Emory Gordy Jnr. And for good measure, a tale relating to John Lennon that almost steals a beat of your heart when you think about it for a moment.

Nope, it’s definitely not too often that you hit lucky enough to chat with someone like Jim. Hardly surprising, though, given the fact that there aren’t many like Jim out there. In fact, when we talk about Jim Lauderdale, we’re into talking about once-in-a-lifetime talents territory. And it was my good fortune, and great pleasure, to talk to the man himself recently.


Sadly, when we spoke it was only a few days after the shooting at Jason Aldean’s concert in Las Vegas, followed by the untimely death of a true rock and roll icon, Tom Petty. It would have been impossible not to begin by touching on both for a moment, so I asked Jim if he’d like to share what was going through his mind on either event? 


“Yes, oh my gosh. It was mind-numbing, both of those different tragedies. What happened in Las Vegas was just unfathomable. I’m still, and I think everybody is really, we’re just reeling from it. And then Tom last night. I mean, he’d just wrapped up a very successful leg of his tour and seemed to be very healthy. His music really brought a lot of enjoyment to millions of people. He was a real master [entertainer] and he’s really gonna be missed.”


Jim’s new album, London Southern, is his 29th, an extraordinary output by anyone’s measure. It includes a song co-written with John Oates, called If I Can’t Resist. Now Jim has described Oates as being, “More hungry than most guys that are on their way up.” I put it to Jim that, given his vast back catalogue, that same could be said of him. And I asked him, what keeps him hungry to keep on writing and recording? 


“It’s just the desire to get these songs out as they come to me, or if I’m collaborating with others. It’s just a need I have. Something I have to do is to write, and then to sing. So I stay in the studio frequently and I tour more and more these days. It seems like both the recording and the touring has continued to grow through the years, and I’m  really glad about that. So writing songs and recording them, it’s just such an intense, challenging, but wonderful process. And like I said, I just have to do it.” 


I’d read somewhere once that Jim never ‘refuses’ a song if he feels one coming on, even if it has nothing to do with whatever specific project he might be working on at that time. If the song comes to him, Jim takes it. 


“Yes, that’s right. And I often wonder if my mind plays tricks on me, that when I’m working on a particular project, that’s when I get song ideas for a different style of music [laughs]. If I’m working on more of a soul type thing, then I might get an idea for a bluegrass song, or a traditional country type song, or vice-versa. But that’s o.k! I let my mind play those tricks! [laughs].” 


Whenever I’m thinking of buying an album by an artist I don’t really know much about, one of the first things I do is check out the song titles and the songwriting credits. That’s how I first discovered an amazing Texan artist called Sunny Sweeney, she has three of Jim’s songs on her Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame record. In other words, if I see a Jim Lauderdale song on an album, that’s good enough for me: sold! And Jim is often referred to as a ‘songwriter’s songwriter.’ I wondered what it meant to him to be the subject of such a description? 


“It’s very flattering. But I try not to…well, I feel like I’m still in the beginning stages of my career, so I don’t let that stuff go to my head because I’m always onto the next project. And it’s always challenging for me to get through those projects and come up to the level of other writers that are out there. So I’m always kinda doing the next thing and not thinking too much about my past work.” 


As a writer Jim is nothing short of prolific. A few years back, he released a staggering FOUR records in just ONE year. How does something like that work on a business level? 


“[Laughs] It doesn’t! It doesn’t work that way [laughs]. And even though I get told that by people trying to advise me, I just do it anyway. And actually, this record that’s out now, ‘London Southern’, those records came out after I’d recorded ‘London Southern’ and I was waiting for the right home for it. So these other things were kinda coming out, these other songs and project ideas, and I thought, well, ‘London Southern’ will hopefully be out in the spring-time so I’ve got to clear the decks and get these others out. And this went on for three or four years. So finally, I found a home for it which is in the U.K, on a label called Proper Records, that really liked the album a lot. I knew from their enthusiasm about it that it was in the right place at last so I’m really happy about finding that home for it.” 


Another area in which Jim moves at an astounding pace is when he co-writes with Robert Hunter, lyricist of The Grateful Dead, with whom Jim has recorded and released a number of albums. Once, they wrote EIGHTEEN songs in just EIGHT days! And another time, a phenomenal TEN songs in a day and a half! In those instances where Jim and Robert write together, are they going in with ideas ready to bounce off each other, or does every song start from scratch? 


“Starting from scratch, usually. In the early days when Robert Hunter and I started writing, I was doing my first album with one of my bluegrass heroes named Ralph Stanley. So I contacted Robert just on a whim, thinking, you know, he’s probably not going to return my message but I’ll at least try. But I think he and Jerry Garcia were such fans of The Stanley Brothers that he agreed! So we went from there. And either he would give me a completed lyric and I would write the music to it, or I would give him a melody. And when we’re in each other’s presence he would either hand me a lyric or a melody would just come out, which I would record quickly and send to his computer. Then he’d work in one room, while I’d work in different room coming up with another melody. Usually one or the other of us gives our contribution to the other to get things started. But during those circumstances we’re both usually pretty fast with each other. And it’s something I still have to pinch myself about, to realise that I’ve written with Robert. I think we must have written about one hundred songs together.” 


J.T Osbourne, of The Brothers Osbourne, observed recently that he feels like Nashville songwriters these days might be thinking too much about what they think people want to hear, and not enough about what they, as songwriters, actually want to say. What was Jim’s take on this? 


“He might be onto something there. I think that there are so many talented songwriters in Nashville. And I think that it’s hard to know what’s going on in their creative process. But in a lot of circumstances when you’re co-writing the goal is to get someone to record that song. So I think that’s sometimes how trends happen in the music market, when one thing is successful then it’s followed by a lot of things that sound like it, whether it’s melodically or thematically. So, it could be a conscious or a sub-conscious thing with writers sometimes. But there are just so many talented songwriters that end up in Nashville and write with each other, and with commercial music in general, even the most mundane type songs will be written by great writers who are still more than capable of writing profound and deep songs. But these other ones ended up kind of making it through the cracks and somehow being commercially successful. But those writers, there’s more than meets the eye as far as their abilities go. Does that make any sense?” 


One of my favourite songs of Jim’s – and one of my fav country songs, come to think of it – is The King Of Broken Hearts. I love the story of how Jim wrote it after hearing Gram Parsons describe George Jones as being just that; the king of broken hearts. But what’s always intrigued me is the story of how George himself came so close to recording the song….


“That’s right, that’s right. I was working on an album that was being co-produced by Rodney Crowell and John Levanthal and I got a call at the studio from Emory Gordy Jnr., who’s married to Patty Loveless, and is a very talented producer and bass player, and he told me that George wanted to record the song. So I was totally overjoyed. Then Emory said, ‘But there’s a problem. George is having a hard time singing this part of the song, could you change the timing of it?’ So I thought for a minute, and I think I said well, yeah, sure, sure. But then I think I thought for another minute more and I said, ya know, it just won’t work. Unfortunately. That’s like such a huge part of the melody of the song. So I had to say gosh, ya know if there’s any way he can do it that’s great, but I can’t change it. And it wasn’t a matter of principle or stubborness or anything, it was just that it would it would totally change the song. So it wouldn’t be what it was if I did that. But I did get to perform that song in front of him at one of his birthday celebrations at the Grand Ole Opry house so that was really special. And there was a play that was in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium, about Tammy Wynette, and I actually portrayed George Jones in that. And that was a real thrill for me. And he came to the show, too. I’m a George Jones…freak, I guess [laughs]. I just love his music so much, and his voice.” 


Harlan Howard, even today, some fifteen years after his passing, is still regarded by many as the master of country music songwriters. And naturally, there’s another great story here about Jim, and when he and Harlan wrote together. I’m sure there’s probably far more than one, indeed, but one I particularly love concerns the song You’ll Know When It’s Right. Essentially, Jim was telling Howard his story of one particular heartache and Howard reassuringly replied, “You’ll know when it’s right”, and went on to craft the song from the rest of the details of Jim’s pain! That, folks, is songwriting genius! But what was it, in Jim’s view, that made Harlan Howard so special as a writer? 


“Well, he was very in touch with mankind. He had worked in a factory in Detroit before he ended up moving to California for a while, He was roommates in California with Bobby Bare and kind of got into getting cuts with Buck Owens and things, so eventually moved to Nashville. But I think that when he worked at an auto-factory in Detroit at like a eight-to-five job, that he had a strong work ethic. And he wanted to get away from that kind of life and just be a songwriter. But one thing he would tell me when we wrote, was that he really wanted to go abroad, to places like the U.K, and Ireland, and just sit at a bar and talk to a guy who drives a truck. He said, ‘I just want to sit there and talk to the everyday working man.’ I just feel that he had such an understanding, and an empathy, with the everyday person, somebody that didn’t have great wealth or a title or whatever. He was more comfortable in that kind of situation. I think his understanding of the human psyche really, is what came through in his songs. He had a very conversational way of writing as well. He was really a great guy, who was very passionate about life and about music. It was a great experience to write with him and to be his friend.” 

Patty Loveless once said that Jim, as a songwriter, knew how to, “Gut an emotion, head right to the truth, and keep going.” Is that an instinctual ability, or something that can be learned? 

“Well, maybe both. I know that songwriting is something that, for me, parts of it are effortless and come easy. But then other things take a lot of effort on my part to finish. The melodies are always the easiest things for me. And sometimes titles are as well. But to really get into a song and make it work is the challenge for me.”

So how does Jim know when a song is as bare as it can be, how does he gauge when it’s ready? 


“I just kinda know. I have that feeling. There’s an expression, ‘Stick a fork in it’ [laughs], so I think you just kind of instinctively know. It’s like, o.k, I’ve said it, I’ve gotten the point across, and it doesn’t need to be edited or tweaked, or added to. Mind you, with most songs I worry if something is over five minutes! Buck Owens used to say, ‘Well, you’re only two and a half minutes away from a hit!’ Meaning that at any given time, not me personally, but a person can write something and it lasts two and a half minutes and hey…it’s a hit song! And radio has changed a lot, and records have changed a lot. They don’t have to be as short these days. But that was kind of a formula for many years in pop music and country music, that songs were roughly that length or less.” 


My last question was one I tend to end with whenever I can. One about advice for songwriters. Michael Weston King, the British singer/songwriter, said the best piece of advice he ever received came from the legendary Townes Van Zandt, and it was just two simple words: Keep going. Now Jim himself has said before that whenever he’s feeling bad or going through something a little on the tough side, he tells himself that he needs to write himself out of that situation. Which, when you think about it, isn’t too far off what Townes advised. But what is the best piece of advice Jim has ever been given? 


“I was living in New York city years ago, and Buddy Miller had moved up there at the same time. And interestingly enough, there was an influx of country music writers and singers and musicians that converged on New York city, of all places! Buddy Miller calls it The Great Country Music Scare of 1980 for New York city! [laughs]. I had just gotten a job in a house-band at a large new country venue in Jersey, and they would have national acts come and play there and we’d be the opening act. So that was a big deal for me, and I though this was my big break. But I had auditioned for a play where I was playing the banjo and the guitar – the play had a small bluegrass band – and one actor ended up being called Cotton Patch Gospel. And Harry Chapin, the singer/songwriter, wrote the music. So I auditioned, but I didn’t get it. But the man who did couldn’t fulfill his duties in the show so they offered me the role, but I turned it down. Because I said I had this new thing where I had to do my own music. And Harry Chapin said to me, ‘Well, you’ve got to do your own songs, and don’t forget that.’ He was very gracious. He said you’ve got to do your own things, don’t just do other peoples.’ And that’s what I really wanted to do, but he really reinforced it. He said, ‘Keep that fire in your belly.’ In other words, that passion, that urgency about things. And I thought that was really good advice.”

I was very fortunate years ago”, Jim continued, “I used to sing on Lucinda Williams’ albums back when her ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ album came out, and she had allowed me to open the show playing solo acoustic, then be in her band singing harmonies. So during that time I had already recorded an album and I was ready to put it out. But hearing her songs, and singing them night after night, I realised that the record I had just wasn’t up to par. Not that I wanted it to be like her record, which it couldn’t be, because nobody could do that. Now she didn’t say this to me about my record, even though she had heard it. But for me, from being around people like her, and Robert Hunter, and Harlan Howard, it’s almost like osmosis..it’s like your own kind of understanding of their process, and what they do, or the end result of their work. And in that case, with Lucinda, I just knew that I had to try harder and dig deeper. Because her songs were such masterpieces. I knew I had to go back to the drawing board, so I did, I scrapped that album. You’ve got to be honest with yourself.”


Before I let Jim back to the studio (he was recording on the day we spoke), there was one other thing I had to ask him about. I’d read before – but I was never sure if it was true or just a myth – that Jim had actually been outside The Dakota Hotel in New York on the day John Lennon was shot….? 


“That’s right. I used to have to pick up and deliver camera equipment for Annie Leibovitz, so that was the tragic day that she did that last  photo-shoot with John and Yoko. I had a gig the night before, a country gig, and I had one [coming up] that night, and I was really tired. I was waiting outside in the hope of catching a glimpse of John and Yoko, and I waited for a while but then I thought I only live a couple of blocks down the street, I’m gonna see him again, ya know.”


And did he really believe that he had actually seen Mark Chapman, standing there, waiting, as it would later transpire, to carry out his evil plan? 


“I did, I did. I know I did because part of my thoughts were was I gonna stand around like this other guy waiting for an autograph, and he had an album in his hands at the time. And there was a woman standing with him at the time, but I think she was just another bystander.” 

ENDS

Brí

First Published October 2020

BURYING HER HEART IN HER SONGS

Photo Credit: Molly Keane

These are intense times we’re living through right now. And Tullamore singer/songwriter BRÍ has managed to perfectly capture a flavour of what so many of us are feeling most days in her captivating new single, BURYING. Released last Friday, Burying is Brí’s third single, following on from her critically acclaimed and beautiful debut Low Supply and the follow-up, Polite – which was also greeted with open arms and hearts by the Irish music scene – both of which were released last year. Brí possesses a voice of the most exquisite and tender quality, which instantly draws you into her music, as if to share a secret whispered from her very soul. And in a sense, that’s exactly what her songs are. 


With the deft touch of a true artisan, Brí’s songs entwine the reflections of her own life’s journey with moments of time that we have all experienced in our own ways, but will feel an instant kinship with through her words and melodies. That’s no easy thing to do. But when it’s done as well as Brí can do it, what’s conjured up in that space of time is a world that becomes a better place for at least as long as the song plays. Burying is a song that we’ll all be hitting repeat on for some time to come, and the world will be a much, much better place for it. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Brí towards the end of last week. In fact, as it just so happened, it was the day before the official release of Burying when we spoke. I began our chat by asking Brí how she was feeling knowing that in less than twenty-four hours, Burying would be officially a part of the musical landscape of the world? What’s the day before a single release usually like for her? 


“I suppose today I’m mainly focusing on replies from different people I’m hearing back from, which is great. I’ve got a few nice reviews already. And making sure all of the links and everything work, and run smoothly. But yeah, it was different recording this time, because I was recording it during the first official lockdown, when was that…? Back in March time, was it? April? I recorded the vocals at home in my house, which I had never done before. I kind of recorded them as guide-vocals, and I didn’t think I would end up using those vocals at all. Then when I was able to actually visit Daragh in Astakalapa Studios in Wexford, he worked his magic on the rest of it, and my guitarist, Aidan [Mulloy] added his guitar. And I kinda just said, I think the vocals are good! [laughs]. Somehow! The same ones I recorded from home. So we were delighted with that.” 

Was it a kind of a nervous day for Brí? Or exciting? Or perhaps one with a lot of tiredness in it, just wanting at that stage for the following day to arrive and everything to go according to plan? 


“I probably would be a bit nervous. I’ll probably enjoy it more once I know that everything is out, and all the links are working. I’m probably a bit of a perfectionist as well, I put a lot of work into doing my own PR for it, and giving it its best chance by sending it out to all the right people. I’ve got my coloured-coded Excel spreadsheets that I’m keeping an eye on [laughs], and once that all goes smoothly I will be excited, yeah. Once I finish work here this evening I’ll be able to enjoy it, because I’m amazed at the response so far which has been really affirming, which is nice.”

Brí has described Burying has being a song written almost in reaction to the way the world has turned today, in that everything needs to be seen as being ‘left’ or ‘right’, every issue has to be either black or white, and in many cases now, quite literally so. And that ‘have to be’ part can be quite forceful too. So Burying, while it’s not a political song, is most definitely a statement song. And very, very definitely a very personal song for Brí. I asked her if that was fair to say…


“Yeah. And it’s actually funny, because I didn’t have that in mind at the time when I wrote it. But it’s become that for me. It was an experience I had when I was writing it, I feel that there’s certain people you meet in your lifetime that they have a lack of tolerance if you see something in a different way to the way you do. And they need to convince you to see it their way. I’ve just always thought that was wrong. I like hearing peoples’ opinions. But I find that in today’s world, it’s sometimes hard to share that without feeling that you’re against one another. I really dislike any feeling of tension or argument, it just makes me want to get out of the situation and bury my head in the sand, and just go, ‘Yeah, ok, I agree.’ Because with some people, it’s just not worth having certain conversations with, I guess. And it’s just me learning that. Every time I listen to Burying now, for me it’s a mix of strength and weakness, because I know that sometimes checking out of a situation is a sign of weakness. But also there’s a bit of strength in it. I really wanted – and I was insisting [laughs] – on having tribal sounding drums [on the single], as kind of like an inner-strength, that I’m also feeling a little bit above having those kinds of arguments. Conversations don’t necessarily need to turn that way when you’re talking about controversial things or issues.” 

I would have to agree with Brí here. Sometimes staying out of some conversations or arguments on social media is an example of inner-strength, because you’re taking the decision to look after your mental health by not allowing yourself to become dragged into some of that stuff…especially of late.


“There’s a lot of people sharing strong opinions and views that I would agree with as well, and I’d say good for you, you’re standing up for what you believe in. Sometimes it can be seen as a negative, maybe if there’s a silence, that you’re on the opposite side. But for me, personally, I just think that everybody is entitled to believe what they do. It’s great that people are sharing their opinions out there, but it’s also ok if you do want to stay quiet on some of your own views. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative either.” 

So the way the world is right now had a very real influence on Brí writing this song. But I wondered if how this whole year, the way it’s been and the way it’s going, had affected her songwriting at all? 


“Yeah, and it’s funny actually, because overall I’ve found that I’ve written less because I’m not having as many experiences out in the world [laughs]. None of us are doin’ a whole lot right now [laughs]. So no, I haven’t been writing as much. But one of the first songs I wrote during lockdown had this strange kind of peacefulness. There was a lot going on in Dublin at the time and I had to move home again to Tullamore, and I hadn’t lived with my parents in about ten years. So suddenly, it was very quiet. I think a lot of people noticed around that time that there were no traffic sounds, so you could hear the birds singing again. I wrote one song that was very peaceful and happy. And I barely can write happy songs! Usually I would write a song because I’m going through something, so just to kind of let it out. So that was one song. I’ve written a couple based on the past, like memories of certain things if they’re triggered, rather than things that are happening to me right now. That’s probably the main difference.”

Burying is a gorgeous song, no doubt about it. Equally so, there’s no doubt that Brí has made an astonishingly beautiful video to accompany it. It stars – and stars is the word, because this is one very special performance – the fab dancer Lisa Hogan, and was filmed in Tullamore’s Charleville Castle. I asked Brí to talk me through that process that goes into making a video for one of her songs, and specifically, to how it led her to Lisa on this occasion…


“I really wanted to hear those tribal sounding drums in the song, and I could just see a dance every time I thought of a music video. So I really wanted there to be a dance to it. So first of all I was asking a friend of mine, Sorcha Fahy, who had been teaching dance before, to maybe teach me a dance. I had done a bit of it in college, but I wasn’t that confident so I was thinking we could work together on one. But she actually recommended a friend of hers who is a dance teacher, and that was Lisa Hogan from Birr. Originally we only went to the ballroom of the Castle to use it as a rehearsal space, and she was teaching me the dance. But I was just amazed at her doing it. So I said could she please be in the video instead! [laughs]. And she said he’d love to, so I was delighted. When I sent the video to our videographer – Alan, of Aldoc Productions – and he was looking at the background. Originally, we were actually planning on doing it at the beach, to go along with the photos I had taken and with the sand idea. But he said that room – the ballroom in the Castle – is beautiful, and I said you’re right, it would be crazy not to use that room. So we ended up doing it there. And Lisa is just…amazing! She must have done twenty or thirty takes of the video and she wasn’t even out of breath! I don’t know how she did it, she’s incredible. She’s a choreographer and dance teacher, and she just interpreted the music perfectly and came up with the whole thing herself. She kept asking me if there was anything I’d change, and I was just like, ‘No! You’ve nailed it!’ [laughs]. She was amazing.”

Brí has covered all the bases creatively on this release. There’s the audio aspect – of course – with the track itself. There’s the audio/visual element with the outstanding video starring Lisa. And, there’s the visual side of things to which Brí had briefly alluded to, a magnificent photoshoot she did with photographer Molly Keane on Killiney Beach in Dublin. As an artist who obviously puts a lot of thought and planning into her career and her image, I wondered how important is that image to Brí, and how it compliments her music? And also, how much of her focus goes into taking care of that through her social media? 


“That’s a good question. I think it’s something I’m starting to get better at. I suppose it depends on the song and if certain ideas come into my head that are really strong. This time I really felt that way. I felt I needed a long flowy dress in the wind, like on a cloud day. And luckily enough we got one, you can’t always bank on a cloudy day in Ireland [laughs]. They just turned out beautiful, and I just felt really lucky that they turned out the way they did. It’s definitely something that I really want to keep improving at. I think recently, I’m taking a little bit more care. But I wouldn’t say I’m the best at planning the old Instagram and having all the right photos in order, or anything like that! [laughs]. Sometimes I’m quite spur of the moment. Ya know, I mightn’t have thought I was going to post that day, but then I’ll just have a thought and decide to post a photo. But I would like to put a little more thought into it as I go on. I’m trying to keep similar themes. I suppose I think of the long, flowy dress as a kind of feminine frailty almost, that I want to keep running throughout the rest of my songs.” 

Having mentioned Lisa and Molly – who are clearly hugely creative in their own rights also – does Brí feel that, as an artist, she has – and maybe even needs – a certain kind of community of creative people that she surrounds herself with as much as possible in life? 


“Definitely, yeah. I think once I moved to Dublin, about seven years ago, once I moved there I really felt a support system coming together. I started going to songwriter nights and meeting creative people. And I just found that, as a whole, they were such an accepting kind of person, everyone I met. They were all so accepting of who you were, and happy for you and the things you wanted to achieve, and in helping you along the way. So I’ve learned a lot from other artists. And as I did my first two releases, I got to know various people like photographers, like Molly Keane who is amazing. And videographers like Alan at Aldoc Productions who is just so good, too. The biggest part for me was finding Darragh Nolan of Astakalapa Studios, I just feel like we’re a great team. He’s very patient and understanding when we’re working through what I’d like out of a song. And he also adds so much of his own creative ideas. There’s so many people. Aidan Mulloy, my guitarist, has been amazing. Whether it’s an unpaid open-mic night [laughs], or a big gig in Whelan’s or wherever, he’s up for it and he’s there with you. And he’s so talented as well. It’s a huge help. I’d say to anyone who might be trying to start out, to try and surround yourself with as many creative people as you can.” 

Burying is Brí’s third single, following on from her debut, Low Supply, and then Polite. But was that always the plan Brí had for the order of things? 


“I probably should have had a plan like that [laughs], but the truth is, no, I didn’t [laughs]. I actually didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. The first song – ‘Low Supply’ – I think I had written it only a year or two before that, and it was probably one that I was hearing that people liked the most when I was playing it ‘live.’ So I decided to go with that one first. ‘Polite’ then, was kind of quite catchy and again, a lot of people would ask me to play that one ‘live.’ So I decided to go with that one next! I actually didn’t have an original master-plan, and it’s only now that I’m trying to bed down which songs are coming next and how I’m going to wrap them up. I’m trying to figure that out at the moment actually.” 

Speaking of master-plans, as far as ‘live’ music as we knew it goes, the rest of 2020 can be written off. And the cold, hard truth of it all is that we have no idea what 2021 is going to bring for the prospect of ‘live’ music either. For Brí as an artist, how hard does that make it for her to plan ahead for her career? And on that note, what is she planning for 2021? 


“Yeah, well at the moment, I’ve taken a step back from my ‘live’ music plans. I’ve just seen so many friends of mine planning gigs and then cancelling them, and rescheduling them. And it’s pretty stressful for them at the minute. I’m lucky in that I’m working away at something else as well, so I can manage without the ‘live’ gigs for the moment. I’m focusing on recording at the moment. I wasn’t a big fan of the live-stream gigs, so that was one thing that I didn’t really jump on with everyone else at the start of lockdown. I think I did one of them, but it wasn’t the same atmosphere at all of having people around you and getting that feeling from the crowd. So yeah, I’m holding off for now on booking anything. But I’m hoping to get a lot more of my music out there, and to have that to promote on a tour hopefully some day.” 

For our last question, I wanted to take Brí back in time to the reasons why she first began writing songs. Who were the songwriters that had inspired her, and could she remember the very first song she ever wrote? 


“Yeah, I can. I was sixteen, and my late aunty Kathleen passed away. My mam is American, so we would have spent every other summer over there visiting her. And at the time, she would have been the closest person to me who had passed. So it was my first time really feeling huge emotions of loss. It felt like there were so many emotions that they needed to spill out into something else, rather than just be held in me. I was following a Taylor Swift documentary, I was a fan of Taylor when I was younger, and she said something like she just tried writing a song some day and she was able to. And that stayed in my head. I was a huge fan of Laura Marling at the time as well, and Birdy, they would have been my biggest influences at the time. So I just wrote a song kind of describing how it felt losing my aunty at the time. Then when I listened to it back, it was just so cathartic. I just couldn’t believe the relief. It was like it was bubbling over, but once I wrote the song it was somewhere else. And I could visit it, rather than it staying in me. So that was really nice. It was called ‘Picture Frames.’ The idea was that you had the picture frame, but the photo wasn’t there anymore. So it was all missing the face.” 


BURYING, the brand new single from BRÍ, is out now, and available on all platforms. Check out Brí’s YouTube channel to see the amazing video – starring Lisa Hogan and filmed in Charleville Castle – that accompanies the song. 

ENDS

George Murphy

First Published October 2019

MORE HIS OWN MAN THAN ANYONE’S KING

George Murphy is a man who has already been famous in so many ways. But more than anything, he’s always been his own man. And that’s why he’s now more his own man once again, than anyone’s king. 


As George, now an ex-High King, prepares to bring his new project, The Rising Sons, to the Tullamore Court Hotel in December, I had the pleasure of spending some time in his company recently for a bit of a chat. Joining George and The Rising Sons on December 28th will be The Wrafter Family Band, and it was with a memory of the Wrafters that our conversation began…


“Amazing family, so much talent there in those young children. I remember them opening for us a few times in Tullamore when I was with The High Kings, and they were just so impressive. The children, obviously, being so young, but also the way the whole family, all five of them, connect so well together on-stage. I’m delighted to have them coming back to open for us when the Rising Sons come down to Tullamore.” 


Moving onto The Rising Sons themselves, George told me how the band came to be…


“Well basically, while I was playing with The High Kings I was kind of missing the music in a sense. It was the same show every night, and it was the same four or five songs that I was singing. It became very momentous and very repetitive. I was missing just havin’ a jam and playin’ with players who wanted to just play off the cuff, play raw, and play whatever kind of curve-ball is thrown their way, ya know. So I put the word out to start a session in my local bar and just said any musicians around the area who want to come and join, are more than welcome to. So soon we had loads on vocals, and a whistle player, and a banjo player, and a mandolin player, and a bodhran player. Then after that, a guy came down with an electric guitar and a bass guitar. And I was kinda thinkin’, jeez, I don’t know if I want electric and bass. That’s kinda takin’ it in a new direction! [laughs]. But I said, look, let’s see how they play and if they’re any good. And it just so happened that they were! So there ended up being about fifteen of us. But I mean, look, I’m not going to be taking fifteen people out on the road! [laughs]. It’s just that about fifteen people make up the session. So I’ve kind of hand-picked the musicians out of the group; so the fiddle player, the whistle player, the banjo player, the mandolin player, the bodhran player, the electric and bass guitarists, and they’re ALL comin’ out on the road with me. So it’s still gonna be a big, kind of eight-piece band.” 


George continued, “Now I don’t know, some of the venues down the country mightn’t warrant having all eight of us, we might even have to tighten that down again. But in an ideal world, I’m lookin’ to hit people with a wall of sound, and all of these people who helped me create this band. We were just calling ourselves the Thursday Night Sessions, but one of the songs we were asked to play was House of The Rising Sun. And we were in the middle of playing that when one of the lads turned around and said to me that would be a good name for the group, just change sun to sons. It was a great idea and a great concept, and the rest is kinda history now. The lads have been getting great attention from it already. One of the lads that’s involved in the session wrote a song called The Drive For Five, for the Dubs goin’ for five-in-a-row. And RTE came out and filmed us doin’ it and everything, we got loads of exposure online, too. And that didn’t even really have anything to do with me. I was involved, I was playin’ in the background, but that was all. It was just that the session itself started growin’ legs, and people were askin’ who are the Rising Sons? Where did they come from? How did it all start? So I’ve just been using some of the attention and the profile we’ve been gettin’ from it to bring it on from strength to strength, ya know.” 

Just briefly touching on George’s time with The High Kings, even though he was missing the music as he said, and it was the same set and same songs he was singing every night, was it still an experience that he can look back on and say he enjoyed? 


“Ah yeah, I did enjoy it. I mean, for me, it wasn’t ticking a lot of boxes that I would consider myself to be musically. It was too polished, too prim and proper. And look, maybe that is necessary when you’re taking things to a bigger stage, that everything is perfected. But I just prefer the idea of things being raw. I like that I could be at a show and somebody will shout up a song, and regardless of whether it’s on the set-list or not, if I know it, I’ll play it! I like being spontaneous on stage. I like playing with musicians who are spontaneous. And the show [with The High Kings] just wasn’t that. In fact, that’s the best way to describe it. It wasn’t a gig, it was a show. With it being so polished, and prim and proper and all the rest of it, it just wasn’t what I wanted. I mean, the experience of travelling around and seeing big audiences and everything, that’s always  something that I will hold in high regard and look back on fondly. But I’m in a happier place now, musically, playing with the Rising Sons than I ever was with The High Kings.” 

George began his career as a solo-artist, then became part of a band with The High Kings, and now is back to being a solo-artist again…although also kind of still being in a band with the Rising Sons! Does he feel a little bit like things have come full circle, or more so that he’s now entering a brand new phase in his career? 


“It’s kind of…well it’s a little bit of both. It does feel like it’s come full-circle, because I am going back out on my own. But I also feel like, with these new lads, well look, I wouldn’t be takin’ them out with me if I didn’t think they were good enough. They’re more than good enough. People have told me – management, friends, family, the rest of it – to just go and hire session musicians, ones that play professionally for a living. And it would be very easy for me to do that. But that’s not what I want to do. Because the lads who helped put this together are school-teachers, electricians, carpenters, some of them are even retired. The bass player is older than my father! So it’s not your typical line-up of people. They’re not professional musicians. But in my opinion, they’re good enough to be professional musicians, they just never went down that route. They stuck to their day-jobs. I want to shine a light on these people and let people see that just because you don’t take music up as a full-time musician, doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough to be standing on some of the best stages around the country.” 

Now George isn’t just back in the spotlight for music lately. He’s also been threading the boards as well, with a part in Dermot Bolger’s Last Orders. In fact, on the day we spoke, George was about to head back on-stage for a matinee performance as soon as we finished our chat…


“Well acting, believe it or not, has always been something that I wanted to do, in some ways even before singing. When I finished school, I was only seventeen. I was in college studying theatre, and from there I was hoping a career in acting might take off for me. But then all of a sudden the audition for You’re A Star came around and I ended up getting offered a record deal. And I never really went back to the acting. But it was always something that…it was an itch that went unscratched, if you will. So from time to time I would audition for certain plays and certain movies and things like that, and a couple of times I was offered roles. But I had to turn them down because it clashed with a music tour or a gig that I was doin’. So thankfully, having finished with The High Kings, my schedule was empty, I didn’t have anything booked in, I didn’t have anything ready to go. This play was on the horizon so I auditioned for it and I got the part. And in a lovely way, it’s acting as a nice platform to promote my music. Because I’d be pulling in a different kind of audience from the Abbey stage that will get to see me sing a few songs and do a bit of acting. So when this finishes I’m straight into the thick of it with the music tour. The timing all worked out well this time. If it was a thing that I had gigs while this was on, I would have had to turn it down. But thankfully I didn’t, and it was a nice situation that allowed me to take the part.” 

I wondered if he gets the same buzz from acting as he does from music? 


“It’s different. I mean, I don’t have a very big part in this play. I’m the barman, and most of the acting is going on in front of me. But the action is happening in the bar, so I’m in the background pulling pints. But every now and then they turn around and say something to me, and I say something back or whatever. A lot of it is acting in the background, but it’s made me hungry for more. It’s made me want to be more in the thick of it, to be more in the conversations. But because it’s a musical as well, they turn around and they ask me to sing a couple of songs. And there’s a full ‘live’ band on-stage, and I get to get up and sing with them. So it’s a little bit the best of both worlds. But it’s different in terms of when you’re acting you’re showcasing a different side of your skill-set.” 

George released a new single back in September, Universal Soldier. I asked him to tell us a little bit about the song…


“Myself and my manager, Pat Egan, we sat down and we said look, if we’re going to have a tour coming up, we should hang it on the back of a song. We should put something new out. So I toyed with the idea of releasing one of my own songs. And some of them were good, and Pat was thinking yeah, maybe we’d go with one of them. But then we got onto the subject of war, and how some great war songs were written back in the sixties that are still every bit as relevant today. And a whole new generation of people that wouldn’t have heard these songs yet, should maybe have an opportunity to hear them. Especially with what’s going on with Trump, and Brexit, and in Syria, I just think that politics and war is something that’s very much on the tip of everybody’s tongue at the moment. So I wanted to bring out a song that would display that. And I think ‘Universal Soldier’, even though it’s fifty years old, is as relevant today as the day it was written.” 

ENDS