Grainne Gallanagh

First Published August 2018

FROM BUNCRANA TO BANGKOK

In the fabulous surroundings of the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin last Thursday evening, Donegal’s Grainne Gallanagh was crowned the new Miss Universe Ireland, by her predecessor Cailín Toibín. Twenty-four year old Grainne, a nurse who’s based in London, will now go forward to represent Ireland at the final of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 17th. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Grainne for a little bit of a chat in the days just after she received her crown and sash. And before we even spoke, I got a measure of just how sound Grainne is. We were originally scheduled to chat on Saturday evening, but the day passed without anything happening. Now that can often happen from time to time when you’re hoping to speak with someone who’s in demand, and as of last Thursday evening, Grainne is VERY much in demand. So you take it in your stride and just see what happens. On Sunday morning, however, I woke up to a text from Grainne, sent at 1.50am the previous night (so right at the end of a very long few days), offering her apologies for not being in touch, explaining that the day had just been hectic (as you’d expect), and offering to chat instead on Sunday at whatever time suited me. Now keep in mind that this Sunday just gone was pretty likely to be one of Grainne’s last days to herself, of any kind, for about the next year! 


But there she was, thinking about others. I guess that comes with being a nurse. But like I said, sound. With beauty, brains, a huge heart, and a sun-bright soul – and this top-level sense of soundness – put your money on this young lady to do us proud when December comes, folks. 


I began our chat by asking Grainne how she was feeling, just a few days after being presented with the crown and sash of her new role? Had she begun to get a sense yet of how much her life was going to change for the next year or so?


“Do ya know what? I’m absolutely still on a high! I don’t think it’s even sunk in yet at all, to be honest with you. I’m so, so happy that my face is sore because I can’t stop smiling! [laughs]. I just got home here today from Dublin, to my hometown in Buncrana in Donegal, and when I got out of the car all my cousins, and my aunties, and my friends, and all were all down to surprise me. And everyone’s so happy, so it’s lovely.”

What went through her mind at the moment her name was announced? 


“We were just standing there holding hands, me and Aoife [Rutledge] the first runner-up, and I was just praying please, please let it be me! [laughs]. But then I just couldn’t believe it [when she was announced as the winner], and I think I just stood there thinking, did I hear that wrong? I stood there for about ten seconds with my hands on my face. I don’t even know what I was thinking, it was just a blur. But it was so exciting, and everybody was screaming, but I was crying. It was so, so nice, such a lovely feeling.”

This year’s Miss Universe pageant will be held in Bangkok in December, where Grainne has actually been before on her travels. But what’s in store for her between now and then as the new Miss Universe Ireland? 


“Well I’ve met up with Brittany [Mason], the director of Miss Universe Ireland, and we briefly went through things like what do I want from Miss Universe Ireland. And there’s gonna be an awful lot of photo-shoots, modelling, travelling. But obviously I don’t want to give up my job as a nurse, because that’s who I am. It’s part of me. And I just don’t feel that if I was to give up nursing that it would be being true to myself. So I’m going to continue that. And because it’s a flexible job, I’ll be able to do less hours and focus on Miss Universe Ireland as well, and keep both of them as a priority. But I’m definitely going to work so hard for Thailand, I can’t wait. Like, I’m so, so, so excited! [laughs]”

Grainne works as a nurse in London, so how will she balance and integrate those responsibilities and duties with her new role? 


“Well I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t have any kind of a set plan for what I was going to do when I won, ya know. I just didn’t expect this. So I think now I’m just going to have to go day-by-day, and prioritize what I’m going to do. I can do agency work as a nurse, so I can book my shifts when I’m available and that way I’m not letting anybody down if I can’t go to work. And if an opportunity with Miss Universe Ireland comes up, I’ll be aware that I’ve got that and so I won’t be able to work this week, or whatever. I don’t want to be letting anybody down by not showing up to work, as such. So it’s good that it’s so flexible. If it was any other job, it might not be. So I feel like I’ll be o.k. in that sense.” 

Grainne has already stated that she wants to use her time as Miss Universe Ireland as a platform to promote and raise awareness and education for female health. Aside from the obvious reasons, I asked Grainne why this is something so close to her heart…


“I suppose with me being a nurse and being a woman, it’s very noticeable in the country, in Ireland, that women’s health issues do take a back seat. Obviously with the recent scandal around the smear-testing, being one example. It always seems to be that women’s health is never on the forefront, there’s always some publicity around it where something’s gone wrong, or the way it took so long for the Repeal the 8th amendment to finally happen, ya know. I just feel that in this country there could be more done to highlight the problems in women’s health. And obviously then with me being a nurse, and being a woman, all of these factors are the reasons that I chose that platform. I really do feel that it’s one that’s needed. There’s so many women in Ireland that need encouragement and support in that sense. And with me being a professional, I feel that I know what I’m talking about. I’m not just saying things off a whim, or while uneducated in those areas. So there was loads of reasons, but I’m definitely glad I chose that platform, and hopefully now I’ll be able to do more charity work around it now that I’ve got this title.”  

From working as a nurse in England, has Grainne noticed differences in standards towards women’s health care between the two countries? 


That’s a good question. I suppose there is a bit of a difference. I suppose in Ireland, it [women’s health] does take more of a back seat. Whereas in England, it is a bit more to the forefront. It’s just that you’ll notice kind of little things that are different in your day-to-day job. We’re not very bad, obviously. Women’s health is very important in this country, but I just feel it could use a little bit more encouragement with everything.”

As we mentioned earlier, Grainne has already been to Bangkok before, and indeed, has done a fair bit of travelling – spending time in Boston, San Francisco, and Spain – and with plenty more air-miles sure to be clocked up during the year ahead. But she’ll have to be careful not to have a repeat of what happened to her last Christmas! We’ll let Grainne explain…


“[Laughs] Is this the passport situation? [laughs]. I was going home for Christmas, and I was so excited about getting home to see my family. I was packing all my things, and packing all my presents, and didn’t realise that I didn’t have my passport! And I also didn’t have any photo i.d. at the time, because my purse had actually been stolen a few months before. So I got to the airport, realised I had no passport, it was Christmas time, so there wasn’t any other available flights to get home. So I started to panic, and I started to cry, and I was ringing my family saying I wasn’t going to get home, and that this was the most awful thing in the world! [laughs]. But then one of the girls that was working at the airport took pity on me and she checked my bag on herself, and took me up to the flight herself, and made sure I got on o.k. and everything. So it was great in the end. She was really, really nice.” 

The Miss Universe Ireland pageant 2018 wasn’t Grainne’s first venture into contests of this kind. She was actually crowned Miss Donegal in 2016, and was also the first runner-up in Miss Earth Northern Ireland in 2017. So I wondered when did Grainne first think about taking part in competitions like these?


“Yeah, my very first one was when I was Miss Donegal for Miss Ireland World in 2016, and I just entered that last minute. It was something that I’d always been interested in. Everybody told me it would be great for me to do that, so I just kind of thought well, why don’t I just go for it? And actually, Miss Universe Ireland was the first contest that I ever entered, but it didn’t actually end up happening that year. So Miss Universe Ireland was always my first dream, and my biggest dream. But before Brittany Mason took it over it was quite disordered, and disorganised. So it didn’t end up happening that year and that was when I decided to enter for Miss Ireland World instead, as Miss Donegal. It was a great platform, it was brilliant, but it just wasn’t to be the year for me. And again, Miss Earth, when I entered that, I think it finished the way it did for a reason, and that was because this one this year is the one I was supposed to get, ya know.”

For people who won’t know much about her yet, how would Grainne describe herself? 


“How would I describe myself? I kind of like everything! [laughs]. I like all different types of music. If you were on my phone you’d be thinkin’ what is this girl into?! Because I have everything from rap, to country, to pop, to Irish folk music! With t.v., I don’t get to watch much, because I’m quite busy. But if I’m free I like to sit in and watch some Netflix. And I love to run as well, and to swim in the sea when I can. Those are some of the things I like to do. As for my personality, well I’d like to think I’m quite bubbly, I’m definitely hard-working, I’m ambitious, I’m determined. And I feel like those are all good traits for me to have for being Miss Universe Ireland, and going on to compete in Miss Universe. And I suppose I’m quite talkative, too [laughs].” 

If, through being Miss Universe Ireland, Grainne could have the chance to meet anyone in the world, who would she want that to be, and why?


“Who would it be, and why? Hmmm. I don’t know actually. Oh my God, there’s so many people. I’ll have to think longer about that one! I don’t know. I’ll come back to you on that one [laughs].” 

As we came to the end of our chat on what I imagine will be Grainne’s last free Sunday for quite a while, I asked her if she had any kind of personal motto or mantra that she did her best to live by? 


“I do. What I live my life by is this: Anything worth having doesn’t come easy. And I’ve said that since I was very young. I just feel that if you work hard for something, that it’s always going to be worth it in the end. Because anything that you’ve worked hard for, is going to be something that you’ve really wanted. So it’s going to be something that you’ll look back on and be proud that you achieved. That’s definitely my motto, and it’s definitely something that I’ve stood by.”

Not only will Grainne stand out when it comes to beauty, brains, charm, and style in Bangkok next December, I don’t think there’ll be a sounder contestant there either. Maybe Buncrana should set aside December 18th for one hell of a party.

ENDS

Boyzone

First Published November 2018

BOYZ BOW OUT IN STYLE

Twenty-five years. Man, that’s a quarter of a century! It’s enough to make you feel old. Well, it is if you can remember that far back like it was yesterday. And for those of a certain generation, who grew up in that era when Boyzone first came to the fore and were at the height of their fame all those moons and issues of Smash Hits ago, it’s also somewhat sad to think that their latest album, the aptly titled Thank You & Goodnight, is where the last chapter will close on Ireland’s first boyband. 

By now, I think, it doesn’t even really matter if you like their music or if you ever actually did, for that matter. Because from their seemingly shambolic and now infamous Late Late debut, to the glory of sell-out tours, the heights of chart-topping singles, the prestige of number 1 albums, all the way to the incredible heartbreak of losing Stephen Gately so suddenly – and while still so young – Boyzone have been, more than anything, a bunch of Irish lads who knew they hit the jackpot and did their best to enjoy every minute of it. And for the most part, without ever losing any sense of who they were and where they came from. That’s not to say, of course, that there wasn’t bumps along the way, but hey, what road worth travelling doesn’t have its share of ups and downs, right?

Thank You & Goodnight sees the Dublin foursome of Ronan Keating, Keith Duffy, Mikey Graham, and Shane Lynch, going out in style, presenting us with an album that’s insanely catchy from start to finish. But not alone that, it carries at its core the unmistakable confidence of men in control of their own destiny in life, at peace in each other’s company, and following their hearts in putting this album together. That’s the way it should always be, true. But it’s not always the easiest place to reach or thing to do, so when it happens, credit should go where it’s due.  Tracks like Because (co-written by Ed Sheeran, hit songwriter Amy Wadge, ace producer John Shanks, and Ronan), and Love (co-written by Gary Barlow and Shanks again) are already as good as anything the charts have seen in the last few years, and easily so at that.  But there’s more to come from this album, in the shape of Talk About Love, Loaded Gun, and Learn To Love Again

The one that’s going to bring a tear to your eye, though – even if you don’t expect it to, trust me, it will –  as it closes out the album, and the Boyzone story, is Dream, which features a vocal from Stephen. In fact, his is the last voice you hear, something I’m sure didn’t happen by chance knowing the place Stephen still holds in his ‘brothers’ hearts. The song has a feel of Take That’s Never Forget to it, in that you can easily imagine it being the song that would be the perfect finale for every show they perform for the rest of their careers. Regardless of whatever I may have thought of Boyzone’s music from time to time, I’ll never forget the genuine, completely heartfelt love they showed for their bandmate when Stephen passed away so suddenly almost a decade ago. 

Some moments bypass and supersede all others, and one such moment was when Ronan, Keith, Mikey, and Shane, decided they wanted to spend one last night with their brother, and stayed the night with him in the chapel where he lay at rest ahead of his funeral the following day. That simple, yet overwhelmingly powerful and emotional gesture, showed how close the five lads from Dublin had become during the years of their adventures around the world. When it all came down to it, what mattered most was one thing, and it was one thing that no-one could doubt was real: togetherness. They were five lads from Dublin at the start, and with Stephen’s voice being the last you hear on the album, they’re still just five lads from Dublin at the end of it all, too. And there’s something that’s very hard not to like about that.

When you throw in their biggest hits from back in the day such as Love Me For A Reason, Picture Of You, A Different Beat, Baby, Can I Hold You?, and even No Matter What (which I always found hard to take to myself, for some reason), and so many more, well this farewell tour definitely has the makings of a pop-party to remember. So, lest there be any doubt about it, the Boyz will certainly be going out in style. 

If they’ve gone out of their way to make sure that Stephen is still seen as an intrinsic part of the Boyzone story, and rightly remembered for his role in making the band one of the pop sensations of their time, it’s interesting to note that nowhere in the album notes is there even a mention of Louis Walsh, a man who, for many, is as much a part of the Boyzone story as Ronan, Keith, Mikey, Shane, and Stephen. It seems hard to imagine that this was something as simple as an oversight. And whatever the reasons for it, that’s up to the band themselves, it’s their decision. But it does slightly leave you with the feeling that there’s still something unfinished, unresolved about it all. In Ronan’s liner notes, he writes, “We made it up as we went along with no one guiding us and look what we created.” In his notes, Mikey writes, “To all our managers…”, but nothing more personal than that. 

But it is what it is. Not everything can be perfect, as much as we’d all wish it could be sometimes. And maybe that’s the best way of summing up Boyzone. It was never perfect. But beyond the music, it was never less than real. Watching them take to the Strictly Come Dancing floor for Children In Need last week, it was impossible to feel anything other than proud of what they’ve achieved and who they’ve become, and how much they’ve meant to so many people, of all ages now, all around the world.

And as far as I’m concerned, that’s something well worth acknowledging and celebrating. So lads, THANK YOU, and goodnight. 

ENDS 

Jo Petit

First Published October 2020

ADDICTED TO THE MUSIC

If you haven’t been feeling at least a little bit stressed out from time to time this year, then I applaud you. And I also need to meet you so that you can let me in on your secret, because if you’ve been livin’ stress-free in 2020, you’re among a very small number, that’s for sure. Most of us, and I include myself in this grand and somewhat sweeping statement, have been stressed out to some extent most of the time. And it’s hardly a remarkably candid confession or revelation to say that it’s not a cool feeling. However, if you’re someone like singer/songwriter JO PETIT, part of what you do is find ways to make life cool. Even in 2020 and with all of its seemingly unending stress! 


In fact, not only did Jo turn the stress he was feeling earlier this year into something cool, he turned it into a song! And there was only ever going to be one name for it…you got it…STRESSED OUT. Born in Mauritius, but now living in Dublin, Jo has a wealth of talent and experience to pour into the creative side of his life. From supporting pop giants such as Westlife, Boyzone, and JLS, performing at venues such as the O2, the RDS, and even Trafalgar Square, and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in pop and rock history at times, Jo has learned to take almost everything in his stride. But this year has been different…


I had the pleasure of catching up with Jo last week, and I began our chat by putting it to Jo that his new single has pretty much perfectly summed up how everybody has been feeling these past few months, to which he replies with a good-natured laugh, “That’s what it’s all about!” But, he’s done so in a very cool, chilled out, and fun kinda way. I asked Jo to tell me how he came to write Stressed Out


“Basically, what happened is I had a beat, because I do production as well, and I knew that was cool. That was August, I think, last year. But I’d put it aside for a while. Then the lockdown came, and it was really, really stressing. Because all of our bookings and everything were going [Jo also fronts one of the country’s most in-demand weddingand corporate event outfits, The Dream Band], everything was being cancelled. So then I started to feel really stressed out, ya know what I mean. Obviously I wasn’t working, so I was like, you know what, I’ll do a bit of production, that will take my mind off things. Then just before opening up, one of the last sessions I did was that song, I was just singing, [sings] ‘I’m so stressed out…’, you know [laughs]. It took a few little changes to get it right, but yeah, that’s how it came about.”

Stressed Out was produced by Billy Farrell, a man whose name is well-known on the Irish music scene. So how did Jo and Billy cross paths, and what made Jo think Billy was the man for this particular project? 


“Well, I had the beat, you know, and I had put it aside. But then I started writing, and it started with one song, then two songs, and before I knew it, I had about ten songs written. And I actually didn’t know Billy Farrell at the time. I’d always comment on his posts and say something. I knew he was a producer, yes, but I didn’t know to what level, to what extent. I messaged him and said I had a couple of songs, and would he mind having a listen and telling me what he thought about them. I used to write for a company in the UK, co-writing, you know. They put the ideas out there, and then I can pitch something from there. But this was my first time writing from scratch. So I was thinking they were probably all rubbish [laughs]. But all I wanted was an insight of what he thought. So Billy said, yeah, send them over. Between that time of sending it over and hearing back from him, I checked out more of his work, and I was like…Oh…My…God! This guy is just gonna trash me! [laughs]. He’s gonna chew me up and spit me out, that’s what I thought, because I didn’t know who he was [laughs]. I started to feel a bit like I probably should have just shut my mouth! [laughs]”

Billy, by the way – just to offer some context as to why Jo was thinking that maybe he should have kept his mouth shut – has worked with artists like Bonnie Tyler, Brian Kennedy, The Corrs, and Westlife. 

Jo went on with his story…“But then he came back to me and he was like, ‘Jo, those songs are great.’ And I was like, whaaaaat?! He said yeah, really good. I asked him what did he think of the lyrics, because I’d never written a song from scratch on my own, and he said yeah, they were really well put together, well constructed. I had 80% of the production done already. So as the song is now, that’s the way I originally produced it, we just changed a few sounds, like the drums, made it more modern, changed the rhythm a bit to give it that more tropical vibe [laughs], that feel-good vibe! So we started from there.”

While Jo may well have been impressed with Billy’s bio, there’s a few big names that stand out in his own one as well. Try Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston, Chris De Burgh, and Paris Hilton for size! 


“I was born in, and grew up in Mauritius, where they’re are loads of high-profile, big-name hotels. And I used to sing in different ones. And I love what I do, so I would work seven days a week! Even if I had three days off! I’d call somebody up and ask if I could come in too, that’s the way I was, I wanted to learn. I would have been seventeen or eighteen at the time. So over time, I was getting better, and obviously getting involved with bigger bands. I’m a quite powerful soul singer, so I was going with these bands to do massive shows, funk and soul, and I loved it! At that time I was doing acoustic trios and part-time with bands too. There was a hotel called the San Geran, which was a massive hotel, and this is where all the celebrities would be going to. One time we were gigging there, and I noticed a familiar face! [laughs]. And I was like, I know them from somewhere. And I was asking the musicians and they said, oh, he’s here every year, and I thought then well that’s why he looks familiar. I probably saw him last year or something. But it was Chris De Burgh! [laughs]. We ended up exchanging a few words, and I met Rosanna Davison at the time, she was young herself too. The whole family. We started chatting, and it became a kind of every night thing, going in and saying hello. But back then I didn’t know he was from Ireland. And I met Whitney Houston out there as well, at the same hotel. Then, I was performing at the launch of the Hilton Hotel in Mauritius, and the Hilton family was there, including Paris. And Lenny Kravitz was performing on that night as well. I’ve also performed for the Prince of Dubai, too.” 

I suggest that Jo is obviously not a man who gets nervous in front of a famous face? 


“Well, it helps when you don’t know them at the time! [laughs]. I’ve been very lucky with those types of things. Once, I was just doing my thing, and this guy comes up to me and he says, ‘Hey man, you have a really good voice.’ And he looked like a rocker guy, you know. Then somebody said to me, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s Lenny Kravitz!’ That blew my mind! I actually felt nervous after that [laughs]. I went to say goodbye to him later, to say it was nice to meet you, you know, and I was literally so shaky! [laughs].” 

As well as being a solo artist with his original work like Stressed Out, Jo is also a part of The Dream Band, as previously mentioned. But before The Dream Band…came the boyband! Once upon a time Jo was a member of the Irish boyband The Boulevard, supporting the likes of Boyzone, Westlife, and JLS. I wondered how Jo looks back on those times and experiences now, and how much did he enjoy them at the time? 


“I absolutely enjoyed them, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was difficult at the time, because it’s not a nine-to-five job, it’s a twenty-four hour job, seven days a week, flat-out. Between rehearsing, keeping fit in the gym, all of that. It took literally every minute of my life. That’s the part that I probably would have changed if I could have [laughs]. But I really wouldn’t change a thing, because I learned so much from it. I’m somebody who’s very observant. If there’s a situation I’m in, I’m gonna learn from it. So that time taught me a lot of things. Observing the managers, the way they work. It wasn’t only the music for me, and the fans and the screaming girls, it was observation. How do they work? What are they doing? Why are they doing that? That taught me a lot for my career up to now. Now I’m able to manage certain situations better. And if I hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to approach certain people. After that time, I went to Scotland and worked with some extremely good songwriters and producers, through my experience in The Boulevard.” 

What was the most important thing Jo learned from back then, from observing everybody and what they were doing? 


“Professionalism. Professionalism. There’s nothing else I can think of that was that important. It might have been that people would manage a certain situation in such a professional way, that I would have thought, oh my God, this is something I need to remember. And even now, The Dream Band, which I founded, I founded based on those experiences of that time. So I know how to manage my own business on a much more professional level than if I never had the experience of being in The Boulevard and doing everything I did in that time.” 

This has been a crazy year for everyone, and it’s still really crazy for most people in the music business because any kind of normal – nevermind the normal we knew – still seems so far away. As an artist, and a creative person, and also just on a purely human level too, how has Jo been dealing with the strangeness of 2020? 


“Well…2020 is definitely a year I’m pretty sure everybody will remember! [laughs]. Especially artists. Because everything – all the bookings we had, everything that was set in stone – just literally…I mean, you would think that the entertainment industry is one that cannot break. Because as long as there’s music, we’ll be working. And then reality kicks in and says look, everybody else is now back working, and we’re not?! We’re not untouchable. There’s lessons to learn there. And it would be better for Stressed Out if there was gigs and I could perform it ‘live.’ That would have been great. Because with The Dream Band, we do a lot of weddings and corporate, and we travel all over Europe performing. You could put the song in your set to let people know it’s out. But there’s absolutely nothing. It’s a stand-still. The song is out…but now what? [laughs]. So yeah, it’s had a major impact on that side of things. Musicians are addicted to what we do. And not having that is hard. Not even talking about just paid gigs. Like sometimes, you’ll just do a gig for fun. And not even having that hit…that’s why so many musicians I’ve been talking to are stressed out. Actually, I was talking to one who said he was out of his mind, and I said yeah…that’s a good line for Stressed Out [laughs]. If you think about it, this industry is so big. There’s the musicians, but then the P.A. Hire, rehearsal rooms, dancers, singers…it goes on and on. That impact is just so huge. But at the same time, I don’t think the people who make the legislation have thought about it that way. They’re like, ok, no musicians are working. But what about the rest? What about event-planners? Venues? Everybody else is this huge industry that’s now just at a stand-still.” 

Well one thing that Jo has been able to do, thankfully, is put together a video for Stressed Out that’s every bit as cool as the song itself. And indeed, at the time of our chat, views of the video on YouTube had already gone well past the 100,000 mark. Jo told me all about putting that side of things together…


“We were obviously planning that in advance, but then the government said we were going to shut down for a month or two, and then everything was going to go back to normal. So we were planning to have a bunch of people at the beach and have a real tropical vibe with it. So myself and the director, we had designed a full set and started getting people involved, we needed about fifty people there for the end, all clapping and dancing and singing the song. And we were going to do a bit in a venue as well, on stage, you know. There was a whole plan going ahead. But then, about ten days before we were due to shoot the video, they announced that the lockdown was not going away, nowhere was opening, no weddings happening, no groups of people meeting, and all of this! [laughs]. So we had to literally strip everything then to the bare minimum. But it was very enjoyable. We were like, ok, cool, let’s make it like a kind of scenario where you wake up and the minute I leave the apartment that we hired, from that time until going to the beach, it’s just me trying to get away from all the craziness! It still works! There’s just a lot less people involved. Because we couldn’t have done it the way we planned it, and then have everybody see that we’d done it at a time when people were not meant to be together that much. This is why we ended up really stripping it back, and having less people in isolated places.” 

To bring our chat to an end, I asked Jo what’s next on his schedule for 2020, in as much as it’s even possible to plan anything right now…


“I’m just hoping that we will see more consideration given to the events industry. Up to now, there’s been no thought or emphasis on it. I think they just need to consider the thousands and tens of thousands of people who are out of work right now in this industry. Music, at the end of the day, and entertainment, it’s something that people look forward to. If there’s a show, people plan weeks in advance. Even musicians as well, knowing that something is coming back, that would lift our spirits. We were meant to have a gig this week, but then they were saying that Cork might be locked down, and that’s where our gig was. We’re literally working on a day-to-day basis not knowing what’s happening. For 2021, I just hope that everything goes back to some kind of normal [laughs]. So that we can go out gigging and promoting. Because what I’ve found out is that it’s so hard to promote anything if you’re not able to go out and show it to people. Ok, I can do so much on video, so much on Facebook, but then…there’s nothing else I can do. And then it’s destructive for the art itself. Because you start questioning yourself, am I doing the right thing? Because it still costs money to do a song.”One thing is for sure, though, and that is that no matter what happens, Jo will remain addicted to the music.

STRESSED OUT, the brand new single from JO PETIT is out now, available on all platforms and to request from radio

ENDS

Ed Holland

First Published June 2017

A HURRICANE AT HARVEST TIME

Since first appearing on the country music scene in Ireland in the last few years, Mayo based band Hurricane Highway have been gathering new fans as fast as they’ve been releasing some top quality tunes. And that’s pretty fast! The music, however, is just one of the reasons why the band have come so far in such a short time. 


Another, and one that’s equally as important, is the fact that frontman and lead-singer Ed Holland, and band co-founder Kevin Collins, are two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. And funny, too. What you see is what you get with both men, and what you’ll also get whenever you’re in their company is some good laughs. They take their music seriously, but they know life is to be enjoyed. So they make it as enjoyable as they can for themselves and those around them.


Ed and I had been trying to make our diaries match up for some time so we could have a chat about all the exciting things that have been happening for Hurricane Highway. Sadly, though, we were finally able to catch up on the morning after the terrible events at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester a couple of weeks back, when twenty-two innocent men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood by a callous, and cowardly, act of terrorism. And equally sadly, our chat on that morning is now published here only a few days after yet another despicable terror attack in London.
We began by Ed telling me how he’d become aware of unfolding events in Manchester the night of the atrocity at the M.E.N. Arena….


“Well basically I was havin’ a kind of a sleepless night so I logged onto Facebook, and I hadn’t heard anything at that stage cos’ I’d been watchin’ a bit of a film before I went to bed. I hadn’t even switched over to the news. So I logged onto Facebook, saw what was happening, and my first thought was just shock, horror straight away. I mean, at a concert, such a cowardly attack, ya know. I jumped up outta bed and I switched on Sky News, that’s what I did. It was horrific, such a helpless feeling. Needless to say, myself and Kevin (Collins, from Hurricane Highway), and everyone involved with the band send our condolences and our deepest sympathies to all of those affected and to Manchester.”


Moving on to happier matters, and one of the main reasons why we’d scheduled our chat in the first place, the release of Hurricane Highway’s fantastic debut album, ‘Exposed’, in late April. As the days ticked down to the album finally being released, I wondered what was life like for the band as they prepared for their big day? 

“Very nervous! [laughs]. And excited, too. Both. So much work went into it, three years of work and seven singles in that time. There was anticipation, nerves, and excitement all at once. And anxiety, too, I’ll be honest [laughs]. All of those emotions were involved. And we weren’t expecting to hit the number one spot with it, we thought if we charted at all it would be great because there’s so much competition out there. So to actually do that, to get to number one, we were delighted. And the way it’s been received so far, and the airplay it’s been getting, it’s actually given life again to all the older singles. It’s been great.” 


What had Ed been most worried about around the album’s launch?


“I suppose any artist’s biggest worry is that it wouldn’t realise the potential you feel it should. Especially when you put so much into something, with no stone left unturned, and that’s really the way we kind of tried to deliver each song and our videos, as we were goin’ along. Doin’ it all to the best of our own abilities anyway. So you’d worry that certain people mightn’t like it, that it might get slated. I haven’t really thought about it like this before, it’s a good question.” 


So, for fans who may not have managed to get their hands on a copy yet, what can they expect to find on the album? Will all seven singles be there?


“Yeah, all seven singles are on ‘Exposed’, everything we’ve done since the very beginning. There’s eleven tracks in total on there, so a good few new ones as well. We have the current single, ‘Make You Mine’, which is track one on the album, and we’re hoping to release another single from it in September. We’re already workin’ on new stuff cos’ goin’ into next year we’ll be back in the studio again workin’ on the next album. We’ll probably pick a song to be the new single and test the water with it. That system kinda works for us. A lot of other artists maybe record the whole album then pick the best singles out of it, but we kinda do it the other way round [laughs]. But that just seemed to be the way it happened, there wasn’t any plan. We recorded ‘Your Man’ and that took off with all the regional radio stations. Then we were under pressure to get somethin’ else out after that, and so on it went. Yeah, so that’s kind of how it happened.”


The release of Exposed was one huge date in the diary for Hurricane Highway in 2017, and there’s another coming up in August when the band will be among an impressive homegrown contingent who will entertain country music fans at Harvest Fest. 


“Yeah, Aiken Promotions rang us on a Friday and asked would we be available to go to a press-conference on a Monday, the official launch of the festival, so we said absolutely! On the Saturday they rang us again just to confirm everything and say they were delighted to have us as part of the line-up. And we were obviously pretty delighted with that, too, of course [laughs]. So we’re up in Enniskillen on the Saturday, the 26th, and Westport then on the Sunday, the 27th. We have some other good shows comin’ up too in the next while. We’re in the Roisin Dubh in Galway on the 4th of August, we’re in Ballymaloe at their festival on the 1st of July, and a few more cool ones like those, too.” 


Hurricane Highway, for those of you who may not know, are very much a country-rock band with a distinctly American country influence. And to the best of this writer’s knowledge, Hurricane Highway are also the only band of their kind in Ireland. Given that fact, how would Ed describe the journey of trying to establish themselves? 


“It’s been a building process, for definite. I’ll have to say that. You’re competing with all the main contenders who are in the charts, and then there’s a certain flavor of country too, so you’re goin’ to be competing with the country stars as well. Ours is more of a cross-over style, though, so there’s a small percentage of the market that we’re lookin’ at in some ways. But look, I suppose it’s about carving out a niche for ourselves in that market, really. And that’s the way it’s been from the start. So we’ve been building it all song by song. So people are getting to like us through the songs, more so than just because we happen to be the only band of our kind or anything like that, ya know. A lot of people have come up to us and said, ‘You’re brave for goin’ down the route you have’, and what they mean by that, I think, is that sometimes you’ll see even some of the big country acts comin’ in from America, the ones that are kind of doin’ what we’re doin’, and it can be hard for them in Ireland, too.”


At this stage, I suggest to Ed that we better bring his Hurricane Highway co-founder Kevin Collins into the conversation, or he won’t be too pleased with either of us! 


“[Laughs], I suppose we better! Yeah, it was myself and Kevin that started Hurricane Highway. Kevin’s wife passed away a couple of years ago and he was goin’ through a kind of a hard time. And I was just after breakin’ up from a twelve year relationship around the same time. Now I’d known Kevin alright, but not very well. Anyway, he was playin’ in a bar in Westport and I went in when he was playin’ one night, and he asked me up to sing a song. So up I went, and I sang ‘Sweet Sixteen.’ Now I only found out a couple of months ago that this was actually his wife’s favourite song, which was a bit of a mad coincidence. But we’ve always felt like there was something kinda guiding us along the way, with all of the positive things that have happened. It’s been an amazing journey. So the band helped Kevin in that way, brought him out of that place he was in and gave him a kind of a distraction, I suppose you could call it. We just really bounce well off each other musically. Kevin came to me with ‘Your Man’ and said, ‘Hey, I think we should record this’, and that’s how the whole journey started. We recorded it, and from that Hurricane Highway was born. So out of bad can come good, ya know.”


I wondered if there had been any particular piece of advice that’s ever come Ed’s way, about either life in general or life in the music business, that has really helped to shape him?


“Oh yeah, jeez, that’s a tough one. But yeah, there is, plenty. I suppose one would definitely be to enjoy the journey because you don’t know what the destination is gonna be like! And that really applies to so much in life, including what happened yesterday in Manchester, ya know. Because you just don’t know what’s goin’ to happen, you have to really live in the day, I think. There’s certain things that everybody has to plan in life, but you can’t be livin’ in next August or whatever. It has to be for today, for the moment you’re in right now. We know the work we have to do for Hurricane Highway, and I know the work I have to do for it myself, but it’s still important to enjoy every part of it. And that’s more what we’re tryin’ to do with Hurricane Highway, more so than saying, well we want to reach such a peak, but never knowing if we’ll ever get there, ya know. You have to set standards, and you have to set goals, and try to achieve them all even though there’ll be some you won’t. And in this business it’s very tough because you do get a lot of knock-backs. But that’s the music business, it’s one of the toughest businesses to be in, so you have to be able to take it. I think acceptance is key as well, acceptance of life’s circumstances. Accepting life on life’s terms, I suppose.”


If it was in Ed’s power to change one thing about the country music scene in Ireland, a change that he feels would be for the better and for the greater good, what would it be? 


“I’d stop people from jiving!! [laughs]. I’d get them to sit down and then they might go to more concerts! [laughs]. Ah no, I’m only joking there. I know plenty of people who are mad into jiving, they love it. But I think people sitting down to enjoy more country artists, concert style, that mightn’t be such a bad thing either, ya know! [laughs]”


To wrap things up, I decided to really get Ed thinking! So, if a movie was about to be made of Ed’s life, what would it be called? And not only that, but what songs would play over the opening and closing credits?


“That’s a tough one now! I’d have to think about that! I don’t know, ‘Exposed’, maybe, get a bit of promotion out of it for the album, too! [laughs]. I’ll probably be thinkin’ about this later and I’ll come up with a great answer altogether! I’ll ring ya back later! [laughs] And songs? Right, for the opening credits. Well I have to look at this in two different ways if it’s a movie about my life. Are we looking at the happiness, or the sad parts, ya know? I think, Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’, is that too cheesy? [laughs] I don’t know really. But there’s a song or two on the album which are very meaningful to us. ‘More Than I Could Be’ is one, track seven, and ‘If This Is Goodbye’, track number ten. Those two songs explain so much actually, they’d be great for a movie.”


ENDS

Caitriona O’ Sullivan

First Published September 2020

THE SPECIAL BOND OF SONG

Part 2

It’s not an unusual occurrence in life that we sometimes get so used to seeing certain people from one particular perspective, that we forget about – or perhaps fail to notice at all – other aspects of who they are which are equally, if not more important. And this may well be the case with Kerry singer/songwriter CAITRIONA O’ SULLIVAN. Caitriona, of course, is no doubt best-known as a long-term occupant of one of the judges’ chairs on TG4’s hit show, Glór Tire, having been part of this successful team from the get-go over a decade and half ago now. But if you ever thought that’s all there is to Caitriona, oh how wrong you would have been! 


When you see Caitriona offer contestants on the show words of support and encouragement, she’s not simply going on gut-instinct, or reading from a script, or – as is often the case on many’s a show like this (but never this one, in fairness) – talking for the sake of talking, and hoping that something she says will sound like it makes sense. No. What Caitriona provides is the benefit of her own knowledge as a student of music, but not just that, either. She also shares a reservoir of hard-won wisdom from her own experiences as a performer, something she’s been since way before the TV spotlight first fell upon her face. And, given her deeply held affection for both singing and the craft of songwriting, one suspects Caitriona will be a performer until the end of her days. 


If you follow Caitriona on social media, then I’m sure you, like myself and many, many more, will have listened in quiet fascination as the beauty of her voice entertained us so splendidly over the last number of weeks and months of this very strange year. If you don’t follow Caitriona yet, then you should start doing so today. Your heart will thank you. Let me put it this way…I don’t know exactly how many hours of Glór Tire have been recorded in its sixteen year lifetime, but if each one of those hours was just of Caitriona singing, I’d wager you that the show would still be the favourite it is today, with not a single viewer lost along the way, and lord knows how many extra gained. 


Caitriona has a brand new single out right now, a stunning duet of SUMMER WINE with Desi Egan. But we begin Part 2 of our chat on the subject of Glór Tire, with Caitriona telling us more about why it holds a very special place in her heart…


“The other thing I really like about the show is that a lot of the contestants do go on to have proper, great careers out of it. A lot of the contestants who have got to the semi-final or the final, the likes of Chantelle Padden, Lisa McHugh, all of these artists who have been through the show. With a lot of talent shows on TV, that doesn’t happen, it’s a bit of a flash in the pan and is short-lived.”

Among the other artists who have been through the Glór Tire process and have gone on to become some of the finest voices in Irish country music are Olivia Douglas, Sabrina Fallon, and John Molloy, just to name a few, all first coming to national attention through the show. But yet, Glór Tire has seldom had winners who have progressed to become big names on the country scene. I wondered if that was something that ever frustrated Caitriona in any way? 


“Well John Rafferty did now alright. I suppose a lot of it does come down to the contestants’ campaigns then as well, and that’s beyond the control of the production team or us as judges. There is an aspect, as there is with any competition, of the contestants organising their campaigns, that’s a big part of it. And then it does come down to the votes of the public. But at the same time, I think whether a singer wins or not, the exposure they get from being on the show twice a week, aired on TV for a period of four to five months, it gives them a great chance, I think, to get that national attention, and to build up their following. And the fact that it’s repeated during the week is important as well. If someone misses it one night, they can get them to tune in again four or five nights later. I’d be listening to a lot of the country stations myself now as well, and it’s very gratifying to hear how many former contestants would be on those play-lists, ya know. Between the mentors and the contestants, very often the majority of the country shows I’d be listening to would have some association with Glór Tire. That adds a sense of realness to it, that it’s not just being on television with all this hype to it for a couple of weeks, and then lacking any longevity after that. I remember Lauren McCrory, who won Glór Tire, winning a country music award for Best Newcomer the year after. Shauna McStravock had a #1 single there just a couple of months ago too, and that’s all great to see. And that’s what sets the show apart, and people know that.” 

This year’s series, of course, has been cut short for the moment, also falling victim to Covid. But hopefully there’s still a chance that it will be wrapped up in the coming weeks. Forgetting about Glór Tire for a moment, though, I wondered how had Caitriona herself – both as a regular, normal human being like the rest of us, and as someone who has that creative instinct of the the songwriter about them – how had she been dealing with life since the world changed so much last March? 


“To be honest, music has been a saving grace for me. To have that focus, and to have a project, and to have that passion, has definitely helped me to keep my own head straight. The world has become a different place, and it’s been difficult for people, and myself as well. Our social interactions are so curtailed. And definitely, during the intense lockdown when we weren’t allowed to see our friends and family, I definitely, like everyone else, found that very hard. I’d be very much a sociable creature, and enjoy interacting with people. So music was a saviour really. I think the two things that were the saving grace for me personally, were sitting down at the piano and writing songs at home, and going for a walk in a beautiful place by the sea. I’m lucky enough to live in the countryside and be able to go for a walk on the beach. That helped to keep me feeling positive. Making the music videos for Facebook was lovely because it was another focus and an escape for myself, but you also felt like you were offering other people a bit of an escape too. Your own little contribution to providing some sort of entertainment to people when they couldn’t go out or go to gigs. I have two children as well, and it was very tough on them not being able to see their friends and have their little play-dates. When restrictions eased and were lifted, I was delighted, mainly for my children so that they could mix with other children again. I very much felt for them. I suppose us adults, we can talk on the phone, talk on Facebook, that type of thing. Children, young children, don’t really have that. It’s important for them to see each other face-to-face, for their development socially and emotionally, and every other way.” 

Caitriona is probably uniquely positioned as someone who is an artist herself, but also a central figure on one of the nation’s longest-running music shows, a show which plays a huge importance on how an artist performs ‘live.’ But the ‘live’ music scene in Ireland has been at a stand-still for months now, something no-one could ever have imagined only a short time ago. And, no-one really knows what’s going to happen next, or when, or how. What were her thoughts on how the ‘live’ music scene, and indeed the music business in general, can make a comeback? 


“I’d be hoping that the idea people had where people could drive to concerts in their cars, that that would be something that could get off the ground. Even in our own local town here, the circus was on there a couple of weeks ago and people would go to watch. Obviously that’s not as enjoyable as the normal way that we’d attend a concert, but I think something like that is worth looking at. A lot of artists have been performing online and on Facebook, and friends of mine have gone down the line of setting up links whereby people can make a small donation if they want to. Full-time musicians have to find a way of being able to earn some bit of a living through their performing as well, if this is going to go on and on and on into the long-term. People have to live. And maybe putting on some larger scale concerts, with a few acts together, and then people driving to watch that concert from their cars. Those are kind of the only avenues I see at the moment in which artists might make a little bit of money.”

As our chat came to an end, we’d spoken a lot about what Caitriona is doing now, about her new single, Summer Wine with Desi Egan, and what she’s been doing over the last few years with Glór Tire. So as we prepared to say our goodbyes, I wanted to go right back to the beginning of Caitriona’s life in music. When, I wondered, did she know that music was indeed the life she wanted to live? 


“I can pin it down! There’s one specific occasion that stands out in my mind. For a number of years I didn’t know that I could sing, when I was a small child. But I used to be down in my bedroom playing tin-whistle, and my grandmother had an accordion lying around the house, so I taught myself the accordion. So I used to just be down in my room teaching myself these things. And I remember our national school teacher used to teach us tunes on tin-whistle, and I always really enjoyed that. But I didn’t actually know I could sing until one day when my mother had a Nanci Griffith record – ‘From A Distance’, I remember was the song – and I learned that song at home and my mother heard me singing it. And she must have picked up that I could hold a tune [laughs]. Then in school, there was a big occasion coming up where our national school in Farranfore, where I was going to school at the time, was celebrating a hundred years. It was a really big event in the community, with people coming from all the local villages and the surrounding hinterlands to celebrate. There were a couple of hundred people at it, in the school-yard and car-park, so quite a big event. I was ten years old at the time, and I got up and sang ‘From A Distance’, and I was completely surprised by the reaction. I’d never sung in public before. I didn’t even know that I could sing [laughs]. Because as a child, you’re not really aware of yourself like that. It got a really, really strong reaction from the people that were there. And I suppose, that was THE moment when I realised, oh…I can sing! [laughs]. Playing the tin-whistle and the accordion down in my bedroom was just something that I naturally did. But at that moment, on that occasion, my teacher turned around to my parents and said they should really look into getting me some singing lessons, and maybe learn the piano. We moved into Tralee then the next year, where my parents bought a bar called The Munster Bar, and living in the town then it was a little bit more accessible for me to start going to lessons. And that was another big turning point. I was very lucky to be able to do that. Growing up in the bar then from ten or eleven years of age onwards also contributed to my musical training, because there was no shortage of opportunities where my dad might want entertainment! [laughs]. So very often you’d be called down to, ‘play a couple of tunes there on the piano’ for so-and-so, ya know. loads of opportunities to perform, loads of opportunities to get feedback. Then he would have had musicians in every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night so you’re listening to all these different genres of music, from pop to country, all of these different styles, and you’d be absorbing all of that.” 

Can Caitriona trace the beginning of her songwriting back to a similarly specific moment? 

“Yes. Yes, yeah. I think at sixteen, I had started sort of messing around on the piano with chords and lyrics and things. But again, there was one specific event. There was a competition during the Rose of Tralee called Garvey’s International Songwriting competition, and that was coming up in the August, so I set my mind to writing a song in the June or July, I was seventeen. I remember doing a little demo with a local musician in Tralee and performing that song along with a cover version, I think it was ‘Mustang Sally’, I did! The Commitments were big at the time [laughs]. And I always loved soul and Motown music as well. So yeah, ‘Mustang Sally’ and this little love song that I’d written at seventeen. That was on-stage, downtown Tralee, a nice crowd watching it. I came second in that competition in that, with an older lady winning first prize. But it was nice to get the encouragement from the judges about the song I had written. It kind of all came from there, that was the start of it. Then I kept writing and I would play different songs in the bar, testing out the reaction. What would often test it out to me is you’d play a couple of well-known songs that everybody knew, then you’d slot in your own song and see would it stand up with the others. That was always a good way of testing something [laughs]. We lived upstairs over the bar, and music was such a huge part of life growing up there. My dad loved music too, and he’d sing a few songs in the bar. It’s very much the tradition in Kerry that on a night-out everybody gets up and does their party-piece! It’s a very natural part of Irish society, I suppose, in general. So you’d be developing the whole time, unbeknownst to yourself from listening to other musicians and playing yourself. And even the social skills that growing up in a bar taught me were very valuable as well. It’s all about people. And what I love most about the music business is connecting with other people, making other people feel an emotion. And a huge part of music too, is the relationships you have with other musicians when you’re working with them, or your production team if you’re on a TV show. Social skills are a very important part of it, and connecting with people is a very important part of it. Growing up in a bar, it’s like a study in human nature. You’re talking to people all the time, you’re hearing peoples’ life stories. In terms of material for writing songs, and for empathising with people in different situations, it gives you a lot more food for thought than just your own life path when you’re thinking of what to write about. Connecting with people through music makes you feel bonded to them, and I love that feeling. Even growing up, if you played in the bar and someone shed a few tears if you sang a particular song, I loved that feeling, that kind of bond. That’s what makes it really special.” 

~ Caitriona’s new single – SUMMER WINE, her duet with Desi Egan – is out now, available on all platforms and to request from radio. 

ENDS