Singer/songwriter MARIA BUTTERLY is leading the way in demonstrating the helping and healing power of music.
The Meath based artist was the driving force behind a hugely successful fundraising concert in Drogheda’s TLT in recent weeks, and has also just launched a new songwriting workshop which has wellbeing as its focus.
Maria’s Mothers of Ukraine Charity Concert on April 13th saw a glittering parade of entertainers share their talent and time by banding together to raise funds for UNICEF and its work relating to the war-torn country. Maria has since been able to present a cheque for €10, 028.25 to UNICEF representative Amy Maher, funds sure to go a long way in providing help to those most in need of it right now.
Reflecting on the concert – which saw Counsellor Ms. Olena Shalopu, Deputy Head of Mission for Ukraine, join Drogheda Town Mayor James Byrne among those in attendance – Maria remarked that every artist had treated the audience to performances “from the heart”. While it was almost impossible for her to stand one moment apart from the next, Maria noted that several moments had struck a chord with large numbers of those who enjoyed the TLT event…
“The consensus among people who have been in touch with me since is that Sean Keane really set the crowd alight in opening the show. Likewise, the beautiful renditions of classic songs with their eloquent harmonies as performed by St Peters Male Voice Choir & MC Edward Holly will live long in the memory. Donal Lunny and Paddy Glackin – as you’d expect – raised the roof, and Vladimir Jablokov wooed all before him with pieces like ‘Libertango’, ‘Radetsky March’, and the famous piece from ‘Schindler’s List’, too.”
“And in what was a very special moment for me personally”, Maria added, “Vladimir also beautifully performed an Irish tune I wrote, one titled ‘Tonn na hEireann’, which means ‘Irish Wave’.”
While Maria was very much to the fore in bringing the Mothers of Ukraine concert from the good idea phase to reality, she readily acknowledges how that journey would have been incredibly difficult without the support that poured in from so many directions…
“There wasn’t one single instance where I asked someone to help in some particular way, and where that didn’t happen. That’s a reflection of how willing so many people were to do whatever they could, and I honestly can’t express enough my gratitude or appreciation for every single person and organisation who came on-board. I’d like to send a special thank you, though, to Drogheda Credit Union in particular, for their immediate and very generous support as one of our prominent sponsors. I’ve been a member of the Credit Union since I was just ten years old, and it was through them that I was able to purchase my first car. They were the first local business to come on board and support this event in the very early stages.”
Maria also composes music for film and TV, and runs a recording studio which has just opened to the public in Meath (for more information on Maria’s studio contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Given that Maria is so involved in the music world in so many ways, and with the vast depth of her musical experience, it’s hardly surprising that she has decided to pass on some of her knowledge in a way that has the potential to be of huge benefit to others.
To that end, she has recently launched a Songwriting Workshop with a focus on wellbeing, designed to cater for post-primary students and adults of all ages and levels, from beginners right up to those of a more advanced skillset. The workshop, which is in association with Exit Entry / IBM and Windmill Lane Recording Studio, will see students learn to compose hit melodies and lyrical hooks, how to record their songs, what they need to set up a home studio, and, of course, the all-important business side of songwriting too.
~ You can find more information about Maria’s Songwriting Workshop on her official website, www.mariabutterly.com
We’re now just a week away from the moment when all of Ireland’s EUROVISIONdreams will either fade quietly into obscurity for another twelve months, or possibly bloom gloriously in a way that writes the name BROOKE SCULLION into our history books forevermore. The hopes of a nation rest on the Derry girl’s shoulders as we await Ireland’s turn to step into the international spotlight during the second semi-final next Thursday, May 12th. A few weeks back when Brooke won the National Song Contest, OTRT confidently proclaimed that – at last – after years of depending on luck and the whim of the hand of fate, we finally had a song in THAT’S RICH and a performer in Brooke who had a real chance of leading us to our eighth Eurovision title.
But…the one thing that worries me now is how the song’s presentation has been ‘revamped’ by those who apparently ‘know’ what Eurovision needs. When Brooke performed the song on The Late Late Show last week, she could hardly have been more clear in stating that it wasn’t her idea to lose her backing dancers. This decision, in my opinion, serves neither the song nor Brooke, and is a big mistake. A huge part of the song’s appeal when it won it won the right to represent Ireland at Eurovision was the energy between Brooke and her dancers, and what that in turn added to the song. Without going all the way back to the era of the Spice Girls about it, the presence of her backing dancers and how they and Brooke worked together brought a certain ‘girl-power’ vibe to the performance. That wasn’t there on The Late Late Show last week, and if it’s not going to be there in the semi-final either, then someone somewhere has made a decision that will actually lessen Brooke’s chances of making it to the Grand Final on Saturday, May 14th. Thankfully for Ireland, Brooke has talent to burn, as the saying goes, and a personality that will illuminate one of the biggest stages and occasions in the world of entertainment. No matter what happens, she’ll do us proud during her time in Turin.
Should Brooke take home the crown, she’ll be following in the footsteps of a man who has walked that path himself, and not once, but twice. Back in 1994, BRENDAN GRAHAM‘s beautiful ROCK ‘N’ ROLL KIDS, performed by Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington, gave Ireland her sixth Eurovision #1. It followed Dana with All Kinds of Everything (Derry Lindsay, Jackie Smith) in 1970, Johnny Logan with What’s Another Year (Shay Healy) in 1980, and Johnny again with Hold Me Now (Sean Sherrard aka Johnny Logan) in 1987, Linda Martin with Why Me? (Johnny Logan) in 1992, and Niamh Kavanagh with In Your Eyes(Jimmy Walsh)a year later. Then, in 1996, Brendan repeated his victory when Eimear Quinn conquered Europe with THE VOICE.
Just over a year ago, OTRT had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Brendan on the occasion of the release of his song Lullaby for the World by The Mahers. But given Brendan’s remarkable place in Irish and international music – he has also, let us not forget, penned the lyrics to Westlife’s huge hit, YOU RAISE ME UP, a song that has been covered more than 1,400 times, and by artists including Josh Groban,Aled Jones, and Celtic Woman – there was so much more to talk about as well. Including, of course, his memories of those very special nights in 1994 and 1996. This week, with Eurovision 2022 almost upon us, we’re delighted to share some more from that chat with Brendan…
“I actually don’t do many interviews”, revealed Brendan, “and that’s on purpose because I like to let the songs speak for themselves. The people who need to find me and who look for songs, will get me anyway. So, I don’t have an online presence. I remember Louis Walsh going on The Late Late once – and we didn’t have a telly at the time – so, I think it was Fr. Brian D’Arcy who rang me to say, ‘Did you see Louis Walsh on The Late Late?’, and I said ‘no’, and Brian said, ‘He’s trying to find out where you are to let you know that your song is going to be #1 in Britain next week!’ It also makes it simple for me to get on with things. I can go out and about and live life and sure nobody knows who I am. As long as they know the songs…and if they say, well that’s a Westlife song, or a Josh Groban song, or a Seán Keane song, I’m happy enough with that because that’s the way things work. I like the focus to be on the artist rather than on me.”
Before we got on to the subject of Eurovision, I wanted to ask Brendan about his songwriting and its process.
Brendan’s song Crucán na bPáiste was written about a burial ground for unbaptised children near his Mayo home. And I couldn’t help but wonder if, in writing a song like that – because of the subject matter – there was an added emotional weight in what he was trying to create, one that might have presented some different challenges than those usually encountered when writing a song?
“Songs are different. Some songs you sit down to write. And then there are songs, if you like, that you’re called to write. ‘Crucán na bPáiste’ was one of those latter ones that I felt summoned to write. I think that the special songs find us, we don’t find them. I had set a lot of my first book for Harper-Collins, ‘The Whitest Flower’, around the area where I live in Mayo, which includes the area of Crucán na bPáiste and Maumtrasna. I’d go up to that area to sit on the rocks and just think, and soak up the stories and history buried in the valleys and the streams. [With] Crucán na bPáiste, I began to think about how it’s in this extraordinarily beautiful place up high, and there’s only boulders that mark the graves. And I just wondered what would it be like for the parents burying those children, who would not see the beauty that I was seeing. That started me thinking. The place became a kind of a claw on my gut. I knew the song had to be written in Irish to be true to the time and its geography – it’s in a Gaeltacht area. And around that time, I think it was just before that, I’d gone back to do a ten-week course in Irish at Gael Linn, myself and Bill Whelan went. And we were all put to shame by the best person in the class who was a young Japanese student who was working with one of the government departments. So, all of the timings came right together. Crucán became kind of a pilgrimage to me, I had to go there. Bit by bit, the song kind of spoke itself, and then I was set free of it, and it had found its voice. I learned an important lesson, which is to keep out of the way and let the song write itself. The way I looked on that one, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and something that often I don’t fully understand is given voice and is heard. It’s a special song. I placed the melody around a traditional melody and then took the liberty of adding some of my own music to it. It has seemed to connect with people, even people who don’t understand Irish, they get the feeling from it. That’s down to the fantastic artists who have recorded it, like Karen Matheson, Cathy Jordan, Eimear Quinn and others who understand the song and bring the emotion out of it. It’s a very special song to me, and one of only two that I’ve written as Gaelige. And it’s special because the place is special.”
Most writers tend to rack up a long list of former jobs as they go through life before eventually – hopefully! – getting some kind of lucky break that makes all of those years pay-off. In all the time before his unquestionable success, and the recognition that has come his way for his talent as a writer, was that writer within him always alive? Always active? Or were there perhaps times when Brendan didn’t write for long spells, or wrote much less?
“I suppose I was always interested in it, but y’know, you have a full-time job so you’re tipping away at songs at night and at the weekend. And the family is growing, and they’re going to music lessons, and athletics, and basketball and netball, all of that stuff! And I was playing sport up into my forties, competitive basketball. Now, not at the very top level, but it was still competitive. So songs were squeezed in here and there. I suppose really, I became a songwriter by default in 1993 when I was made redundant. I’d had conversations with friends, other writers and artists, and they might say to me ‘well, you should go full-time’. But I didn’t know anybody who was just a full-time songwriter. I knew people who wrote songs but who were artists who performed and I didn’t want to be that. I just thought it would have been too much of a risk to give up a job where I got a cheque every week to go into something that was unknown. So, in 1993, I was out of work and I had to do all sorts of bits and pieces to keep going, and I thought I have to make a go of this songwriting now. I have to put up or shut up. Fortunately then in 1994 ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’ came up so I began to earn some money, then in 1996 ‘The Voice’ also came up. I always had a hankering to be a full-time writer, but was always afraid to take the leap into that unknown. But I think I would have kept writing anyway, whatever happened, because I just loved it. I loved the process.”
And of course, I couldn’t talk to Brendan without asking him about those most special nights in 1994 and 1996. What do those moments actually feel like? To be right there, at the centre of the storm, when history is being made in front of your eyes and out of your very own life in so many ways?
“I was thinking about this, because ‘The Voice’ was twenty-five years ago this year (in 2021 when we spoke), and with time you kind of forget the trepidation of the votes coming in, and the exhilaration when they do come in! So, casting my mind back, it was absolutely magnificent. I had been trying for three years to get ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’ into the National Song Contest, and I was dogged about it until it got in. I actually decided on the night of the Eurovision at the Point not to go into the Green Room. I wanted to sit out front with the family and see the two lads come out and perform my song, and get the feeling that the audience was getting. And I also wanted to see Bill’s ‘Riverdance’, he had invited me to go into rehearsals and I said no, I’d wait for that night. He was about seven rows in front of me and when the boys did the song he turned around and gave me the thumbs-up. Then, when ‘Riverdance’ came out and blew us all away, I was holding all my thumbs up [for him]! It was wonderful. And then to see the crowd reacting, and our President, and our Taoiseach, and all of the people…it was a huge moment of just sheer joy. There was also, a sense of having represented your country, and that you’d done well for it. The other factor was that with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’, the song was presented exactly as I had envisaged it. I didn’t want an orchestra, I didn’t want anything interfering with the interaction between Paul and Charlie and the storytelling. I wanted it small. God and his mother were telling me ‘oh no, you need to use the orchestra, you need a string-quartet, you need this n’ that’… But I was probably old enough and dogged enough at the time to say ‘no, trust me, it’s gonna work’. And that was tough on the boys. They had nothing around them. But that created the vulnerability and it allowed them to interact. They were magnificent. ”
Brendan continued, “And ‘The Voice’ then, I had actually started writing this around the time of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids’, I had started to wander into songs that had an elemental side to them. In ’94, I had a song called ‘Winter, Fire and Snow’ that Anúna and Katie McMahon recorded, and subsequently Eimear Quinn recorded. That was set to a poem by MacDara Woods. I was starting to get interested in the world around me, the elements, the sounds, voices that you hear in the trees. So I had started work on ‘The Voice’ in ’94, ’95, I was tipping away at it, it took a long time. Anyway, we went off to Oslo with the wonderful Eimear, and she was fantastic. It was tough, she was still at college, and while she was singing in a choir, she hadn’t really sung that much as a soloist. And I wanted to put a traditional band around her, so it was going to be a different type of song to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids.’ And as well as being magnificent, she was also a fantastic ambassador for the country. At all the press receptions and interviews she was really well beyond her years in terms of how she carried herself and dealt with stuff. Interestingly, on her album that has just come out in the last year (‘Ériu’), she has done a new version of ‘The Voice’ with a full orchestra, calling it ‘The Voice 2020.’ Everybody had said to me, ‘Oh don’t enter it again, your chances of winning it the second time are gazillions-to-one!’ [Laughs]. But that didn’t deter me, and I was excited that it was a different kind of song. And again, it was wonderful to feel that you did the country proud and that people related to what you had written, and still do.”
“One of the interesting things about ‘The Voice'”, remarked Brendan, “which I think probably isn’t widely known, because it speaks about the famine and our bloody history and so on, but it ended up on the GCSE syllabus in Britain! Which was probably unusual for a Eurovision song! But I also thought there was a lovely sense of irony about it. That’s just one of those little strange things that happen with songs sometimes. They find their own way.”
As Brendan mentioned that he had played competitive sports into his forties, I wondered if winning Eurovision twice – given his competitive nature in a sports sense – brought with it any extra or added sense of joy?
“You get the song right. You start from the bottom. It’s all about the song. Then you get the right artist. Sometimes, we’re sending songs with…not the right artist for that song, if you know what I mean? But at the time, RTE were actually very good and open about how I wanted the songs to be presented, even down to what people wore on stage. It was very much a team-effort. So I wasn’t ‘just the songwriter’ and out to the side. That was interesting for me to see. I also think that we’ve moved away from that notion of getting the right song, and it’s all about other stuff now. Which is a pity. But I wasn’t thinking about winning it twice or anything like that. I was thinking make it as good as it possibly can be. Give Eimear all the support that I can, and then I have to sit on the sidelines and she and the band had to carry it. But I think I got into a little bit of trouble with The Late Late at the time, because myself and my wife had decided that win, lose, or draw, we were going to go way up to the most isolated part of Norway that we could find! And of course, we won! Then we got home – the Irish delegation – and people were saying well where’s the songwriter? I was in a fisherman’s cabin that was on long-stilts, that sat in the water, looking at the twenty-four hour sun dip and come back up again [laughs]. I wasn’t being dismissive or anything, we had just decided that was what we were going to do.”
In doing my research for my chat with Brendan, I came across a remarkable story relating to a Mr. W.G. Whelan. There was a message left on Facebook – on an article about Brendan – by a chap from the theatre in Nenagh letting Brendan know that a lady had found a diary belonging to a gentleman whom they believed to have been a relative of his. The aforementioned W.G. Whelan had fought in WW1. I wondered if indeed, he had turned out to be a relative of Brendan’s?
“The answer is I don’t know. I probably dropped the ball there. But I am interested in genealogy and the family history. My maternal grandfather from Nenagh used to write for the Nenagh Guardian, and he wrote this headline once that totally mortified my mother and my aunts, saying ‘The Whelan Millions’, and he had a line drawn back to connect our Whelan’s to the Tsar of Russia [laughs]. Somehow! James Whelan was his name. But there is an interesting story on the other side. My father’s father was a judge at the Olympic Games finals in London in 1908, and he judged the sprints and the high-jumps and so on, and I didn’t know that until a few years ago when my aunt, who passed away, left me – out of the blue – this Olympic judges medal. I couldn’t believe it. And I found the official record of those Olympics, and there he was with his name for 100M and 200M finals, and hurdles and all that sort of thing. And [here’s] an even more extraordinary thing”, Brendan continued…
“My wife’s maiden name is O’ Brien, she’s from Mayo. RTE had this Big Music Week event in 2013, and they asked me would I write the song, a kind of anthem for it. So, I was wondering what would I write, because they had choirs, pop singers, country singers, rap singers, traditional, every kind of singer. I thought well I can’t really write a song that pulls in everyone for half a line. At the time, Ireland was going through a rough time, so I thought I’d write a love song to Ireland, and I called it ‘The Fair, Fair Land.’ I had an idea for it, and I had a melody which was good, and I probably could have worked it up. Then the Chieftains had recorded a song of mine, ‘Lullaby for the Dead’, and they were premiering it with the Symphony Orchestra in the National Concert Hall and Paddy (Moloney) invited me along, and I was delighted to hear it get its first performance in that manner. Before all that, the Chieftains on their own played this tune. It was beautiful and as soon as I heard it, I thought, it would be so right for what I was working on. I went backstage and checked with them if it was a traditional air. It was and they were calling ‘Dóchas.’ I thought I’d make sure it was out of copyright, so I went to the Traditional Music Archive and they said the tune’s proper name was ‘Amhrán an Dóchais.'”
And quite amazingly, Brendan discovered that it had been a runner to be the national anthem back in the 1900s. It had Irish words put to it by an Irish scholar. But that was far from where the story ended, as Brendan went on to reveal…
“But then I looked it up further, and found out that the melody was older and came from the mid-1800s and was played by a Scottish piper down in Coolfree in the Cloyne area. And it was called Mór Chluana, ‘Mor of Cloyne’, about a queen who had this wonderful singing voice, so much so that she was kidnapped by the fairies. And the name attributed to it was Lewis O’ Brien. I asked my wife did she have any musicians in the family and she said ‘no’. But about a year later, an O’Brien cousin of my wife was over from Scotland, and ‘Did you know’, she says, ‘I found out that our family came from Scotland, and one of them was a piper who settled in Coolfree in the mid-1800’s?’ So the air that I had stumbled upon, that the Chieftains were playing, was collected in 1862 from Lewis O’ Brien, who was the great-great-great grandfather of my wife! He had moved up to the Mayo-Galway area at some stage, we don’t know why. I thought that was some sort of a sign. Eventually we did the song, and that had its debut on The Late Late. I wanted four female Irish voices to represent the different ‘voices’ of Ireland. Marianne Knight, a fabulous traditional singer from Mayo, opened with the first verse. Then, Eimear Quinn was the other-worldly voice of the spéir-bhean. Nono Madolo, newly in Ireland from Africa, sang a verse in Irish to demonstrate the potential of the richness of transition between different cultures. Then, the incredibly talented Celine Byrne brought it all to a stunning finale, giving it that stately anthemic feel along with the RTE Concert Orchestra and guests. And all to raise funds for Barnardos Childrens’ Charity.I have been truly blessed by the songs that have been gifted to me over the last 50 years or so and by the very many wonderful singers, musicians and arrangers, who have given of their own talent in breathing them into a life…more than they could have been on their own. To them all – buíochas mór óm’ chroí.”
Now lest anyone think for a moment that the highlights of Brendan’s creative output might shine only in the past, we can assure you that this is far from the case. Look out for a brand new single from the great Red Hurley in the coming weeks, co-written by Brendan with Tommy and Jimmy Swarbrigg, plus exciting projects with Róisín O’ Reilly,Cathy Jordan, Feargal Murray, and Eimear Quinn between now and the year’s end.
And not only that, Brendan has also penned the lyrics to a moving song called FOR ME, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Norway. The song was officially launched last month by Anette Trettebergstuen, Norway’s Minister of Culture and Equality.
Speaking to Hot Press magazine about For Me recently, Brendan said, “I wrote the lyric to be an expression of individual empowerment and left it open to be an anthem for diversity and recognition, whatever the cause – gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation… whatever it be as a general, or individual expression of self-realisation and identity.”
~ BROOKE SCULLION will perform THAT’S RICH, Ireland’s EUROVISION 2022 entry, in the second semi-final which takes place on THURSDAY, MAY 12th. Show your support for Brooke by following her on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter!
This week I want to tell you about two phenomenal artists who, by how they live, keep their music in their hearts in a way that’s a lesson to anyone in the music business. Some people preach it, but by God do country star SABRINA FALLONand folk favourite GEORGE MURPHYlive it.
I’m lucky enough to know them both, and in the last week, I’ve been further reminded of why I hold Sabrina and George – as people and as artists – in such high-esteem, and why I’ll never tire of telling anyone who’ll listen that they should take any chance that ever comes their way to spend time in the company of both.
SABRINA FALLON, as regular readers of this column will know, is someone whom I’ve always considered to be one of Irish country music’s finest voices. It’s as simple as this: If you ever come across someone who wants to know what a country song should really sound like, when sung the way a real country song should be, just tell that someone to go listen to Sabrina Fallon. You won’t need to offer any further explanation. Once they listen to Sabrina, they’ll FEEL all they need to know about what real country music is. But Sabrina isn’t just a great country singer. She’s also a remarkable songwriter, as evidenced by her recent release in honour of her beloved parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, Waltz With Love.
“I wanted to express my parents’ love for each other”, she explained at the time, “a love they still hold on to 50 years down the road. Mum (Eileen) told me that she and dad (Patsy) waltzed in the kitchen when Valerie Hughes played it on Galway Bay FM. As long as mum and dad see how much their love has inspired me, that’s enough.” Sabrina’s artistry extends to creation in so many forms, and now, she can add the gorgeous WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition to that list.
This exhibition is a visual art and music project born from the clear love of country music always demonstrated by the participants of the That’s Life Community. Officially launched on April 22nd, the exhibition will run for a week at Nun’s Island Theatre in Galway.
We Love Country Music includes wonderful personal video messages projected onto a large screen, with contributions from Daniel O’ Donnell, Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Brendan Shine, John Hogan, Ray Dolan (as a representative of the late Joe Dolan), and former Glór Tíre contestant Damien Davis (as a representative of the late Big Tom), all of whom received personal handwritten letters from the participants to which they are replying in these messages.
We Love Country Music also features a large-scale textile exhibition created by Sabrina as a celebration of country music.
Sabrina had worked with the participants on several occasions and witnessed first-hand how much love they all displayed for country music. As she investigated the possibility of bringing the idea for this project to life, Sabria asked participants to gather some of their favourite and most treasured mementos collected from over the years, with some of the items eventually presented ranging from ticket stubs to the late Big Tom’s autograph.
Participants were also able to write to their favourite country singer because Sabrina herself – because of her position as a much-loved and respected recording artist and performer in Irish country music – was not only able to personally deliver those letters, but also get a personal message or letter in response from many of the country scene’s top performers. Many of these beautiful pieces were then photographed, and using a process known as a sublimation print, Sabrina created her large-scale textile exhibition.
This project has highlighted the wonderful two-way relationships between the performers and people with intellectual disabilities. It has, as Sabrina points out, “… many forms of beauty interlocked together”.
As well as getting in touch with their country music heroes and idols, the participants also had the fabulous opportunity – guided by Sabrina’s gentle hand and caring eye – to write their very own country song. The result is called Music In Our Hearts and it wonderfully and touchingly expresses the participants love and joy for country music. Music In Our Hearts was then professionally recorded and is now available to request from radio stations nationwide. Among the many highlights of last week’s official launch was Sabrina performing Music In Our Hearts ‘live’ for the very first time. Further adding to the all-round feel-good factor of that night were typically whole-hearted performances from both the legendary Johnny Carroll and another of the country scene’s friendliest faces and most enjoyable entertainers, Shane Moore.
The We Love Country Music project has been more than a year in the making, a fact which perfectly demonstrates Sabrina’s unwavering commitment to transforming the project from something that was simply an amazing idea to begin with, to something which has already touched countless hearts in unforgettable ways through the process of making it a spectacular, emotional, living, breathing, tactile reality.
When we sat down for a chat with Sabrina almost exactly a year ago, her excitement at what she was so passionately devoting her time to was easy to feel…
“I’m working with the That’s Life project, which is the Brothers of Charity. It’s an artistic community project that they’ve developed over the years, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Specifically, I’m working artistically with people with intellectual disabilities. I was singing for them once a week, because a lot of them – A LOT of them – LOVE country music! And I mean really love it. They, the Brothers of Charity, have created this project for me to explore why these people with disabilities love country music, to find out what it is that they love. To find out how it makes them feel. That’s what I’m working on now for the next couple of months with them. Part of the project is that each participant will bring in an item – not bring in, send in obviously, because this is all being done via Zoom at the moment to keep everyone safe. That could be a picture of their favourite artist, or them with their favourite artist, their favourite experience of them with their artist. Or maybe they have a stub of a ticket from a concert they were at. One gentleman is going to send in his cowboy hat. We’re going to get professional photos taken of all of these, and then have those superimposed onto fabric to make a big country quilt! Another part of it as well, is that they’re going to send letters to their favourite artists, hand-written letters, because there’s no such thing as a hand-written letter anymore. And hopefully, they’ll get one back from their artist as well. And using sublimation printing these will all be put onto the fabric so we can create a big, beautiful piece. The other part of that project as well, is that we’re going to be recording a song! So the participants are going to write their own country song about why they love country music, and we’ll be releasing that. I’ll be singing on it as well, so it’s a very exciting project. I’m really lucky to be working with them.”
And all of the participants are equally lucky to have had Sabrina step into their world. And so too, for that matter, should the country music scene count its blessings to have someone like Sabrina as a representative. Her selflessness and care for others is the perfect example of how we can truly keep music in our hearts, and a vital antidote to the rhetoric of some who throw around like confetti empty words or phrases, designed and intended only to impress without ever making any substantial difference to anyone’s lives but their own.
Sabrina, on the other hand, through her music – and because of her heart – is changing lives in the best and most beautiful ways. Gimme that any day.
Last Friday night GEORGE MURPHY and his band, THE RISING SONS, brought their combined musical powers to Hugh Lynch’s in Tullamore. Now, George, as many of us will remember, first shot to fame on RTE’s You’re A Star show back in 2003. Just out of school and only seventeen years old, his talent was – and remains – beyond question. In the years since, George has been both a solo artist and for a period of time, a member of The High Kings, thrilling fans across the world with his musicianship and a voice that ranks among the most sublime of all that Ireland has ever been able to lay claim to. It’s a voice that warrants descriptions such as ‘breathtaking’, ‘spellbinding’, and ‘spine-tingling.’ And yet, even they feel like they lack the accuracy to fully explain what happens in a room when George begins to sing.
And like Sabrina, George is also a gifted songwriter. Check out Hands Of Time and Shadowman (co-written with Donnacha Fox) on The Rising Son’s Live In Dublin album. And now, as he writes in the liner-notes of that same long-player, George has – in the company of ‘the Sons’ – rediscovered a love of music in a place so close to home that it took him by surprise…
“The setting up of The Rising Sons is my proudest musical achievement. I am still amazed that it was completely spontaneous that I would find my favourite experience in music on my doorstep and in the local pub. That really is the beauty of music.”
And he’s right. The beauty of music is that it transcends all else, brushes away differences, and illuminates gloriously what is shared. Emotions. Feelings. Hopes. Dreams. Possibility. Defiance. Resilience. Remembrance. Love. For those with music in their hearts, this is always true. What’s also true, though, is that in the music business, it’s not always the music that rules all hearts. Often – too often – ego dominates. The stage and the spotlight can be seen as being only so big.
That’s why what George and his bandmates did in Tullamore last Friday night is a rare enough sight, and one deserving of praise. In calling on Kilcormac’s champion fiddler KIMBERLEY DELANEY to join him on stage for a poignant and hauntingly beautiful version of When You Were Sweet Sixteen, in honour of Kimberley’s former teacher, the late Ashling Murphy, George – and indeed all of the Sons – showed the size of their hearts. Having been given a heads-up on Kimberley’s talent and her recent achievement in being chosen as a Fiddler of London finalist (only ten fiddlers selected out of open entries from all over the world), he extended the invitation for Kimberley to join him at his show in Tullamore.
No headlining artist is ever obliged to share their audience with anyone, be it an opening-act or any other kind of guest-appearance. That’s just a fact. And that’s fair enough in some ways. But, if and when they do, however, they are literally giving the gift of their audience to someone else. And that takes a lot of trust and belief in the talent of whoever that someone else might be. It also demonstrates a huge amount of grace and kindness. And that’s exactly what George and the band showed Kimberley last Friday night. After only meeting her in person for the first time for the soundcheck to run through When You Were Sweet Sixteen, George very graciously offered Kimberley the chance to stay on-stage after that song and play a couple of tunes herself.
Trust. Belief. Grace. And kindness. That’s what George and the Sons showed to a seventeen year old who they had only just met. That’s the beauty of music, too, that talent can so easily recognise talent, and know that talent is all that counts. Not age, not experience, not being some ‘big-name.’ And that’s what happens when people – people like Sabrina and George – live with their music in their hearts.
Kimberley, deservedly, earned herself a standing ovation at the end of her performance. And so too did George and The Rising Sons at the end of the night. And again, completely deserved. I’ve been to a lot of shows in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a closing number as powerful as when George and the Sons break into The Auld Triangle. The Sons, by the way, are (as named on their Live In Dublin album); Declan Parsons, Joey Hughes, Luke Cosgrove, Jimmy Morrison, Tom Whelan, David Brown, and Shane O’ Hannigan. Throughout their set, the quality of their musicianship is as clear as a winter’s night sky in the countryside…stars in all directions. But what really steals the show and makes their performance unforgettable, is when everyone in the band – literally every member – takes a verse of The Auld Triangle.
George Murphy and The Rising Sons will be back in Tullamore again. And next time they are, whatever it takes, make sure you’re there. Nights like these – and bands like this – don’t come along often.
And neither do people like Sabrina and George, who keep their hearts in their music in every way. Legends. ~
MUSIC IN OUR HEARTS by SABRINA FALLON is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio stations nationwide. For more details on her WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition, follow Sabrina on Facebook and Instagram.
Sabrina has also released two great duets recently, both of which are also available on all platforms and to request at radio. They are The Taxi’s Waiting (written by Finbar Furey) with P.J. Murrihy, and a beautiful version of If Teardrops Were Pennies with Shane Moore. Sabrina’s TV show, COUNTRY SHOWTIME WITH SABRINA, continues to air on Sky channel 365 at 7pm every Thursday.
You can follow GEORGE MURPHY on Facebook and Instagram, and THE RISING SONS on Facebook.
I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone in feeling like 2022, although just entering its fourth month in the last few days, already feels like it’s been one of the heaviest years we’ve ever known. There’s been so much that’s been way out of the norm to process in the last few months, that sometimes – if I’m being honest – it all kind of numbs you a little bit. Covid is still with us, for one thing. But at least with that – at last – it looks like we might be reaching a place where some kind of ‘normal’ as we knew it before is possible again.
But even if you forget about the pandemic for a while, what we’re seeing happen in Ukraine, the senseless devastation wreaked on that country by a man who will never again deserve to be known as anything other than a crazed dictator – and those around him, and on the ground in Ukraine doing his bidding…he’s not alone -is heartbreaking.
Where that ends, well, that’s still anybody’s guess right now. But that it will end soon is something that we all pray for.
When it comes to remembering 2022 here at home, in Tullamore and the midlands, and indeed, throughout the entire country, the shock, the horror, and the pain at what happened to Ashling Murphy at the beginning of the year will be felt by all of us – and deeply – for many’s a long year to come. But, in recalling how swiftly that darkness descended upon us, we must also remember to shine as bright a light as we can on the wonderful person that Ashling already was, and was in the process of becoming. And at the heart of Ashling’s life was music.
This year, as TULLAMORE TRADFEST returns – and meaning more than ever before – Ashling’s friends in the trad music community are going to remember her in a way that she will, quite simply, always be with us…through the beauty and the power of music.
The Tradfest committee recently announced their delighted at being able to confirm some of the headline acts who will be appearing at the CEILIÚRADH CEOLMHAR ar ASHLING MURPHY in the Tullamore Court Hotel on April 10th. Among the acts performing are Ballyboy C.C.E., the Macalla na hÉireann Tour Group, the Sacred Heart School Choir and Orchestra, and the legendary Best Foot Forward. Thanks to the support of Hymany Films and TG4, this celebration of the life and music of Ashling Murphy will be live-streamed.
In a recent post on their official Facebook page, Tullamore Tradfest said, “We also feel privileged to be the first organisation to fundraise for the ‘Ashling Murphy Memorial Trust’. This trust fund was recently set up by the Murphy family who will administer donations received to causes and organisations relevant to Ashling’s memory. As tickets for this event were made available for free and performers are giving of their time and talent for free, we are appealing to those attending the event either in person or via live stream to support our GoFundMe campaign (link available on the Tullamore Tradfest Facebook page). All donations are greatly appreciated, and all funds raised will go directly to the Ashling Murphy Memorial Trust.”
Back in 2019, in looking back upon that year’s first edition of Tullamore Tradfest and looking forward to the 2020 festival, I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the visionaries behind bringing such a brilliant event to Tullamore in the first place, the one and only Tommy Craven, the then chairperson of the Tullamore Tradfest committee.
Now, as we look ahead to the return of the event this year, and, as I’ve already said, at a time when we need it more than ever, it’s worth taking a little trip back in time to that chat with Tommy (first published September 2019). And it all began with him explaining how Tullamore Tradfest actually came to be in the first place…
“Well how it came about was a group of us were down at Dingle Tradfest, and my wife, who wouldn’t be a trad-head at all, said ‘Ye guys travel all over the country, why don’t ye bring the festival to ye for a change.’ And there was logic there that we couldn’t argue with, ya know [laughs]. So that was the initial spark for it all. And it snowballed then after that.”
So what exactly is Tradfest?
“The gist of Tullamore Tradfest was that we intended to flood Tullamore with traditional music over the weekend in question. The core element of any tradfest is the session trail, so we put that in place and then built in other elements around it. We had a big concert on the Friday night which was sold out, three-hundred people were at that. We had workshops then on the Saturday morning with one-hundred-and-twenty kids in for them. On the Saturday night we had the Festival Club, which was also sold out, at two-hundred capacity. And then the session trail again on the Sunday.”
Who featured in that Friday night concert?
“We had a great act. We had Brid Harper on fiddle, Darren Breslin on accordion, and they had Brian McGrath on keyboard. It’s gas that you ask that, actually, because we tried to be strategic in who we picked, ya know, you have to be. And Darren would be kind of a cult figure, He actually brought people from Glasgow and Leeds, as in they came from there just to see him alone! So even though traditional music doesn’t have superstars, it does have its own little folk or cult heroes all the same.”
Tommy stressed that Tradfest is not about any element of competition, but rather inclusion, so that anyone who wants to play and be part of it all, has the chance to. The workshops he referred to would have, I imagined, played a huge part in helping people to further develop their love of trad music, or perhaps even discover it?
“Absolutely. The workshops were key for us. We wanted to give an opportunity to local music students to come and learn from some of the best tutors from around the country, giving them a flavour of some of the regional styles. We had Aoife Granville on flute from Kerry, we had Oisín MacDiarmada as well, and Brid Harper on fiddle, who would have brought a kind of a northern style. They were all hugely popular and all sold-out. We even had one fella on the day who just turned up, without any prior contact with us at all, he was on his holidays from Canada. And up he rocked with a fiddle to take part! [laughs]. There were loads of little incidents like that, little surprises. And when you think about it, those one-hundred-and-twenty kids in the workshops, they all bring mammies and daddies along, too. So it’s great to have them around the town and bringing a bit of business to Tullamore, which was also one of our aims.”
Tommy mentioned a core group who had kicked-off the whole Tullamore Tradfest adventure…
“That gang of us who were down in Dingle would have been myself, my wife Eimear, James Hogan, his wife Lorraine, and Ann-Marie Kearns and her husband Damien. That’s where it all came out of to start. But since then, we’ve been joined by Frank Walsh, Denise Bracken, Brian McDaid, and Paddy and Mick Buckley. It’s a great committee. Now I don’t like the name chairperson, even though that’s what I am [laughs], because everyone I’ve mentioned provides leadership to the group. We all work really well together.”
I wondered what the response was like from the businesses and the people of Tullamore when the idea for Tradfest first came to light?
“The whole Tullamore community was absolutely phenomenal. The first people we approached were the vinters, to get them on board for the session trail. And they were super. From there, we followed on with the hotels, with Offaly Local Development Company, Tullamore Credit Union, all the local media like the Tullamore Tribune and Midlands 103, and so many more. The response in general was amazing. And that great response from everyone really allowed us to push the boundaries with what we could try and do and achieve in year one. I think at times we sell ourselves a bit short here in Tullamore. There’s no reason why events like this can’t happen, ya know. We have the facilities, the infrastructure, and most importantly of all, we have great people locally. That was one of the biggest parts of the feedback from our 2019 visitors, they couldn’t get over how welcoming and friendly and helpful everyone was.”
Since this year’s Tullamore Tradfest Tommy and others who were involved in its organisation have been around Ireland at similar events, and word on the success of the initial festival in Tullamore seems to have spread far and wide…
“It has. And it gives us a great sense of pride and achievement, so it does. Obviously it’s the people who came and visited us this year who have gone home and spread that good news about us around the country. We’ve been to other events over the summer, some of the more established and well-known festivals, and we’d be meeting new friends as you do. Say you’re from Tullamore, and they’d be like, ‘Oh we heard that ye had a super first festival up there, we heard great reports about it. Ye looked after the musicians really well.’ Now that wasn’t just us, of course, the committee. That was all of the local people here in Tullamore. It was everyone they met while they were here. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the local people and agencies who helped us out in that regard.”
Have the Tradfest folk anything planned for Culture Night at the end of this week?
“We have, we’re hosting a trad music session in Digan’s pub at nine-thirty. Everyone’s welcome to come along, and we’d love to see as many people there as possible to enjoy the night with us.”
So onto 2020, and Tullamore Tradfest which will be happening in April…
“It will! It’s the third, fourth and fifth of April next year. And we’re easily gonna double everything that happened this year. So we’ve doubled our own efforts for a start to make that happen. Not only are we gonna have one concert on the Friday night again, we have plans for one on the Sunday, too. We have plans to double-up on the instrumental workshops in Colaiste Choilm, and plans to extend the session trail onto the Monday as well. Because we had such a great year-one, and because we’re getting such great support again, we’re pushing the boat out further this time, too.”
I wondered if Tommy and the rest of the committee even had a chance to sleep over these weekends?!
“No [laughs], sleep is at an absolute minimum over that weekend! But look, it’s great fun. We all do this on a voluntary basis, there’s nothing in it for us only the enjoyment of getting to play a few tunes at the end of it!”
Tommy referred to ‘year-one’ on a few occasions, which was this year, with year-two obviously being what’s coming in 2020. It all suggests that the committee have a long-term vision in mind for what Tullamore Tradfest can become?
“Yeah, we do, and that goes back to the committee again. We have serious people involved there. We were able to announce the dates for 2020 on the Sunday at the end of the festival this year, and once we had 2019 over and behind us, we started developing a vision for the future. It’s going to be an annual event, and we have a five-year plan that we’re already working on. I can’t tell you yet exactly what we have planned for Year-Five [laughs], but we do have that plan in place with something special coming down the line in Year-Five.”
And what about Tommy himself as a musician?
“Well I’d be far from an accomplished musician, I’d be very average, if the truth be told, ya know. But that again is another element to the Tradfest idea. It’s an event for everybody. You don’t have to be a champion musician. It’s to give everybody a chance to come together, and to collaborate, and to learn tunes and share tunes. And you get to make friends, have fun, and have the craic as well. It’s just about throwing yourself into it and making the most of it.”
Looking back on this year, and on putting it all together for the first time, can Tommy remember any particular moment over the course of the weekend where he felt like, ya know what, we’ve made something great happen here…!
“There were one or two moments like that for me, alright. So I’m a teacher in Colaiste Choilm, and we finish at lunch-time on a Friday. I hopped over to the Court Hotel just to check in on things with them, to make sure everything was o.k. for the weekend. And as I approached reception, I was met by two carloads of lads from Dublin who were down for the weekend! They had banjos, fiddles, and all their gear for the weekend with them. The trad community is small enough, you’d know lots of people, you’d know them to see. But I didn’t know who these eight, nine, ten lads were. I had no idea. So that was a kind of a, ‘Jesus, we could be onto somethin’ here, this could be a great weekend!’ [laughs]. That was one moment. The concerts were great. The workshops were great. The session trails were great. There was so much to enjoy about everything really. But the Festival Club with Damien Mullane on the Saturday night, that was something totally different, something that Tullamore had never had before. It’s not a sit-down concert. Damien Mullane and Eugene Quinn, for the Festival Club they get up on stage and, in his own words, ‘puc tunes out of it!’, for two hours! [laughs]. Everyone gets up and jumps around, and just has the craic. That was special. And the Sunday sessions were very special as well, the session trail seemed to be wedged no matter which pub you went to. Everyone, even at that stage, were saying they were looking forward to 2020. And like I said, we already had dates ready to go, posters ready to go, and we announced the dates on the Sunday so that people could book in for the following year when they were checking out of where they were staying. And the feedback from the hotels was that yeah, people had been doing that.”
How satisfied are Tommy and the rest of the committee that what they’ve put together for Tullamore matches the standards of similar events they’ve experienced around the country?
“Well from the feedback we’ve got from people who attend festivals all the time, what we’ve heard is that Tullamore Tradfest far surpassed the vast majority of festivals around the country and was well on its way to matching and meeting some of the top ones, the ones that are already well established. So that’s what we’re aiming for. Now look, we didn’t get everything 100% right this time, but that’s part of the learning process. We tried to include as many people as possible, but even then, on the weekend of the event, people were coming to us saying they would have loved to have been involved. So we’re open to anyone becoming involved and we welcome anyone contacting us, be it myself or any of the committee members, to chat about that.”
~ TULLAMORE TRADFEST 2022 kicks on FRIDAY, APRIL 8th. For a full listing of events that will be taking place over the weekend, check out the official Tullamore Tradfest Facebook page or visit www.tullamoretradfest.com
The CEILIÚRADH CEOLMHAR ar ASHLING MURPHY – a special musical tribute and celebration of the life and music of Ashling Murphy – takes place in the Tullamore Court Hotel on SUNDAY, APRIL 10th AT 6PM. Donation to the ASHLING MURPHY TRUST, a charity established by the Murphy family, can be made at the event. This concert will also be live-streamed by Tullamore Tradfest and TG4.
OFFALY’S KIMBERLEY HITS THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE AS FIDDLER OF LONDON 2022 FINALIST
An Offaly musician is in the running to land a prestigious title in April. Seventeen year-old KIMBERLEY DELANEY from Kilcormac has been announced as one of just ten finalists in this year’s FIDDLER OF LONDON 2022 competition, the final of which will take place in the English capital on April 2nd.
The competition, which is named in honour of the late Justin Whelehan, was open to entries from all around the world and of all ages. Now in its second year, the 2021 event took place online. However, twelve months on and with a largely vaccinated world now in a safer place far as the pandemic is concerned, Kimberley will be taking to the stage in person on Saturday, April 2nd, for the Fiddler of London 2022 Live Gala Final at the Irish Cultural Centre in London where she’ll perform two different selections of tunes.
Adjudicators Mike McGoldrick and Dezi Donnelly will choose the winner of the title on the night with the new Fiddler of London receiving the bronze perpetual sculpture Children of Lir, plus a Supreme polycarbonate Panther series Bam fiddle case. This year’s winner will also record an album with Mike McGoldrick as producer.
Kimberley is a sixth-year student at Colaiste Naomh Cormac and her selection as a finalist for an event of this stature – one supported by both the government of Ireland and the mayor of London – will come as no surprise to those familiar with Offaly’s rich and vibrant traditional music scene. A multi-instrumentalist, Kimberley is as much at home on the banjo, the button-accordion, the piano or the tin-whistle as she is on her beloved fiddle, something that’s practically been an extension of herself since she first started learning it at the age of five.
A member of Ballyboy Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) Kimberley also teaches fiddle in Rahan CCE. Speaking of her surprise and delight at being selected to perform at the Gala Final, Kimberley revealed that when she first spoke to the event’s executive director, she found it almost impossible to believe what she was being told…
“We had to submit an online application form and videos of ourselves performing four tunes. But when I was doing that, you see, the site crashed, because so many people were trying to enter. So I contacted them – the Fiddler of London organisation – on Instagram, and I was able to send them the videos that way, but the application form still wouldn’t go through. What happened next, a few weeks later, was that someone I knew called me and gave me a number that they said I had to ring. I had an idea that it might be to do with the Fiddler of London, but I thought it was going to be about the application form not working, so maybe they needed some information from me. But when I rang the number, it was actually Eilish Byrne-Whelehan, the executive director, and she said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a finalist!’ I was stunned. I just couldn’t believe it, I really couldn’t. I had to ask Eilish if she was really sure, and she said she was. So yeah, I was definitely stunned, but delighted too, of course.”
Kimberley was a student – and then a friend – of the late Ashling Murphy for eight years, and is very clear about the hugely positive and influential role Ashling had in her life.
“I remember the first time I saw Ashling play the fiddle when I was only about eight years old, I think, and I was convinced she was a star! I thought she just had to be someone famous. Everything about her that day, from how she played to how she looked and acted, I was just in awe. I even made my mam go up and get Ashling’s autograph for me, on the back of a cigarette box! A little while after that, my mam told me to grab my fiddle one day because we were going for a drive. I didn’t think anything of it because we were always heading off somewhere to play music. But when we walked into Ashling’s house and mam said to me, ‘This is your new fiddle teacher’, I could hardly speak!”
Kimberley continued, “I thought Ashling was a star when I saw her first, but she actually became a real-life hero to me as I got to know her over the next eight years. She was like a big sister to me, but with the perfect fiddle teacher built-in too. She had so much patience and was always so kind, and she could give you advice about anything. She was like that with everyone. In my mind, no-one will ever be able to play like she could, but I try to be the same kind of teacher for others that she was for me. That’s how I can honour her memory. I’ll always think of Ashling when I play, and I’ll always want to feel like I’m making her proud of me.”
Regardless of how things turn out in London in April, Kimberley can rest assured that she’s already made her family, friends, school, her wider musical family – and, we’re sure, Ashling too – more than proud of her incredible list of achievements to date in her seventeen years. That list includes several Fleadh Cheoil appearances (both as a soloist and as a part of a group), including as part of the Grupa Cheoil collective that Ashling Murphy and her sister Amy guided to a 2nd place finish at the 2018 All-Ireland Fleadh. Kimberley was also awarded two scholarships before taking part in the 2019 Fleadh in Drogheda.
As impressive as that list already reads, there’s still more to add in order to paint the fullest possible picture of Kimberley’s talent. Among several that are noteworthy are appearances on Fleadh TV and TG4 as a member of the group Spreach (Spark) following a week at the Meitheal Irish Trad Music Summer School, and another appearance at the Irish World Academy in Limerick. Moreover, and as importantly as anything already mentioned, if not more so, when it comes to revealing the kind of person – and the kind person – that Kimberley is, is the fact that she’s a familiar face at charity events of all kinds and in many local nursing homes as well. Kimberley, should she win the Fiddler of London title, will be named Fiddler in Residence for the Irish Community and will be invited to perform at a number of high-profile events in the UK and Ireland during her year in office.