Editorial

First Published September 2021

MUSIC, ‘LIVE’ EVENTS, AND A GOVERNMENT THAT NEVER CARED

Anyone who couldn’t have foreseen the current government’s appalling treatment of the music and ‘live’ events sectors simply hadn’t been paying attention. The signs were on it right from the moment Catherine Martin T.D. was handed a portfolio that included responsibility for tourism, culture, arts, the Gaeltacht, sport, AND media. 


The argument can rightly be made that each of these areas needs and warrants a department of its own, given the importance of each to Irish life. At the same time, however, realism, pragmatism -and, in fact, the constitution – dictate that not every area of significance and consequence can be afforded the luxury of a department in its own name, given that our government can have no more than fifteen members (Article 28), including the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the Minister for Finance. So in effect, minus the aforementioned, only twelve seats – at most – ever remain to be filled in the cabinet. 


That fact notwithstanding, however, the decision to ask one minister to take on responsibility for six sectors which, each in their own right, play such prominent roles in Irish life, seemed crazy at the time. And nothing that has happened since has shown otherwise. Now, to be clear here, I understand that there’s seldom a perfect way to do anything in politics, and that no matter what any government – or minister – might do, there will be someone on hand straight away to say why they should have done the opposite. That, unfortunately, is the way of politics in general, and certainly in Ireland.


Moreover, when it came to the easing of restrictions, it’s perfectly understandable that a phased approach had to be taken, and that whatever such approach was decided upon, it would end up with some group or section of society having to bring up the rear. A phased approach makes sense. But a phased approach could still have included all stakeholders to some extent. 


What this situation has also revealed – laid bare in no uncertain terms, in fact – is that politicians – for the most part, there have been some exceptions – simply have no idea how the music or ‘live’ events sector. It’s not a matter of turning a key, opening a door, and hey presto…back in business, back to normal all in one move. There are very, very few music or ‘live’ events of any nature that happen without the need for a lot of advance planning. A lot of planning from a lot of people. Artists, their management team, their PR team, venues, sound and lighting experts, ticket outlets, and more. Everything needs to be coordinated on multiple levels. 


To be able to plan ahead, you need to be able to see ahead. And yet, as I write this, with September only a couple of sunsets away, no line of vision on a return to normality for the music or ‘live’ events sectors has even been hinted at in any detail, let alone laid out in black and white. 


For a profession so fond of hiring advisors, the ability of most politicians to communicate is worse than abysmal. A politician’s job, no matter what anyone says or thinks, is incredibly tough. There’s no doubt about that. Yes, they’re well-rewarded, but most of the people who only or primarily focus on that fact wouldn’t put up with the abuse that comes with the job for even a day. And to be fair, if they tried working as a councillor, a TD, or a minister for a week, they’d quickly find out that most in those roles – most…not all – more than earn their living. And that’s across the board, politicians of all parties and none.


A quick word on abuse, while we’re here. While frustration and anger, and a lot of other emotions are all understandable given where we are in this time of Covid, and everything that we’ve already had to deal with and come through, resorting to name-calling – sometimes in a way that’s really vile, vicious, and completely unnecessary – is not to be condoned. That’s just bad manners, childish, reflects extremely badly on those who do it, and it helps absolutely no-one in any way at all. Anybody who acts like that, regardless of who they are, doesn’t deserve to be a part of finding any way through this. 


However, there are many things that politicians could so easily do to make their own lives easier, and the lives of their constituents better. Communication is top of that list.  And right up there with it, is respect. And respect is not shown to anyone by running a so-called ‘pilot’ concert in a way that precisely zero events without further government funding could ever run in the real world. And respect is not shown by overseeing a grants process that sees several artists awarded more than one, while hundreds more received no help at all. That is not respect. Of course it was impossible to make sure that everyone who applied for funding of some kind got something that would help them. But what was always completely within the power of those who ran that operation to control, was making sure that no-one received multiple grants. Simple. 


Anyway, respect is what takes me right back to my opening point, that how little this government thought of the arts was evident from the moment the Green Party’s Catherine Martin was tasked with heading up a department that included six portfolios; tourism, culture, arts, the Gaeltacht, sport, AND media. 


Now, as far as Minister Martin herself is concerned, I admire her for having the courage to take on such a workload, and I have nothing but sympathy for the mess that she’s found herself at the centre of as far as the return to normality of the music and ‘live’ events sector goes. Even at the best of times, in a ‘normal’ Covid-less world, Catherine Martin would still have only twenty-four hours in her day, and seven days in her week, all to be divided between the six different portfolios for which her department has ultimate responsibility. Even at that, her task is monumental. Throw in Covid and its complexities, and it’s not just one magic wand she’d need, it’s a new one for every hour of every day of every week! 


The gov.ie website currently lists eighteen official government departments, and only one really comes close to Catherine Martin’s in terms of the spread of its duties, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, overseen by Minister Roderic O’ Gorman, although there are clearly more obvious links between each of those. There are some departments, which, understandably and for obvious reasons, must stand alone. Health, Foreign Affairs, and Justice. But surely, back when this government was being negotiated, more thought and care could have been given to the overall balance of things? I, for one, believe so. And have done for a long time. The madness and mayhem of the mess that has been the government’s treatment of the music and ‘live’ events sectors over the last number of months have only served to reaffirm that belief. 


So, what could have been done differently then, back when this government was formed? What would have given Minister Catherine Martin a fighting chance of representing artists and musicians with all of her might, which I genuinely believe she has always sincerely wanted to do? Well, let’s have a look…


The Department of Transport, as important as it is, could surely handle something else too. Tourism, perhaps? And do we still really need a Department of Finance AND a Department of Public Expenditure and Reform? Make them one! And, would not the Department of Rural and Community Development be a fitting and natural home for the care of the Gaeltacht as well? These questions give us somewhere to start from. 

With the Department of Finance becoming the Department of Finance, Public Expenditure, and Reform, that immediately frees up one department. The portfolios of Higher and Further Education should also come under the watch of the Department of Education, full-stop. That would mean that we then have a stand-alone Department of Research, Innovation, and Science. From the burden that rests on Catherine Martin’s shoulders right now, let’s actually go ahead and move Tourism to the Department of Transport seeing it become the Department of Transport and Tourism. As mentioned earlier, have the Department of Rural and Community Development become the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Gaeltacht. Now, Catherine Martin is left with just Arts, Culture, Sports, and Media in her charge. But, we’re not done here yet…


By making the Department of Finance become the Department of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, we freed up a department. This can now become the new Department of Sports and Media, taking two more briefs away from Minister Martin. A possible step further even, make it the Department of Sports, Media, and Communication, leaving us with a Department of Environment and Climate as well, because that’s a portfolio that will certainly need as much time as possible devoted to the growing challenges it will continue to face in the years to come. 


And we’re not done even at that, because there’s one more move which would also make sense in two ways. If we take Heritage from the current Department of Housing and Local Government and Heritage, and move it to what Catherine Martin still has on her desk, we end up with a Department of Housing andLocal Government (and as with a Department of Environment and Climate, a Department of Housing and Local Government will have more than enough on its plate!), while Minister Martin heads up our Department of Arts, Culture, and Heritage. 

To my mind, this paints a much more balanced overall picture. But crucially for the music and ‘live’ events sectors, Minister Martin would, right from the get-go, have been in a significantly better position to champion these sectors. There’s just no question about that. Her workload and areas of responsibility would have been literally cut in half. The time and energy that she’s had to put into dealing with the tourism, Gaeltacht, sports, and media briefs since taking office could all have been devoted to her efforts on behalf of the music and ‘live’ events sector, as part of her Arts, Culture, and Heritage brief. There’s no way in the world that this wouldn’t have made some difference to things, and perhaps even enough for these sectors to – at last – be looking beyond Covid. 


So why would any government in its right mind even attempt to wedge six portfolios – each one so important in its own right, let me stress that again – into the department of one single minister? 
Well, it has to be said that the answer looks simple enough at this stage. For those of us who work in the music and ‘live’ events sectors, the problem isn’t just that this government has been acting like it doesn’t care right now. It’s that now, at last, maybe it’s becoming clearer to see that they never really cared at all. 
This government has already sanctioned the return to Croke Park of 40,000 fans for the All-Ireland hurling final. At the time of writing, public transport is set to return to full capacity next week (from Monday, August 30th), and schools are also due to reopen, if they haven’t already done so. But the music and ‘live’ events sectors? Still waiting on a ‘road-map.’ 


Just to be clear as well, very few who work in or are involved in the music or ‘live’ events sectors have any problem at all with the return of crowds to Croke Park or any other sporting occasions in large numbers, if it can happen safely. No problem at all. More luck to all involved. The point is, the exact same thing could already have been happening – in some shape or form – for concerts, festivals, and theatre too, as well as smaller ‘live’ music occasions. And the fault for that not being so, for this delay, and the embarrassing absence of clear communication on all of this, lies, ultimately, with the government. Not with Nphet as some would like us to believe. Throughout this whole pandemic, Nphet have been doing their job, which is just to advise the government. The final call rests with the government. 


And that’s who thought it was a good idea to ask one minister to take on the portfolios of the arts, culture, tourism, the Gaeltacht, sports, and the media in the first place. Those same decision makers are why the music and ‘live’ events sectors are still waiting on a ‘road-map’ instead of being well down the road to some kind of normality again. 

~ This week’s column can also be enjoyed in full at the official OTRT website, www.ontherighttrax.com 

ENDS

Dubh Lee

First Published August 2021

“GIGS MAKE ME HAPPY”

Photo Credit: Keery Irvine

It’s hard to believe it, but here we are. Sixteen months on from the beginning of the Covid era, and ‘live’ music and events are still most notable by their ongoing absence in our lives. And, the harsh truth of it all is this: we’re still a long way from even the slightest sign that things might actually be returning to pre-pandemic norms sometime soon. All that being said, however, thanks to a series of different government supports, there are at least more opportunities for small numbers of people to enjoy the unmistakable, incomparable buzz of a ‘live’ show. While not a perfect scenario – and to be fair, no-one in government is for a moment suggesting it is – this in itself is something to be grateful for. 


And just such an event is coming to Tullamore this very weekend – August 5th, 6th, and 7th – when a series of intimate outdoor gigs titled RISING 21 comes to Lee’s Bar and Venue on Church Street. Well-known in Tullamore and beyond as a ‘live’ music venue and a supporter of the arts and local events, Lee’s has a new name over the door now, as John replaces Joe. In some ways at least, the passing of this particular torch will signal the beginning of a new era. What anyone attending Rising 21 can be sure of, though, is the same warm welcome that ever and always greeted visitors in times pre-Covid, remains the same. 


Among the artists taking to the stage over the course of the Rising 21 weekend will be Tullamore singer/songwriter NIAMH DOOLEY, aka DUBH LEE. Having graced Lee’s with her vocal majesty and guitar-playing virtuosity at many’s an Open Mic night there over the years, Niamh will be returning to her roots with a band for the second time in eight months when she takes to the stage as part of the event’s early show on Friday, August 6th. 


The last time Niamh and I spoke for OTRT was back in November of last year. At that stage, any mention of gigs and performing revolved around reminiscing about her last chance to be on stage, and wondering when the opportunity to return to doing what she loves most would come around again. Now, while we’re still far from out of the woods yet, Niamh has – thank God – been able to get back to playing a little bit more often than had been the case for a long time. And Friday’s performance will give her the chance to shine again in her natural habitat…in front of an audience. I had the pleasure of catching up with Niamh last week, and we got things underway with her telling me all about Rising 21 and her involvement…


“Rising 21, it’s across three days, with two or three events per day. I’ll be playing on Friday, the 6th of August, and I think my slot is around 3pm. Gavin Ghee will be on before me, and there’ll be a comedian involved as well, and Pat Carty from Hot Press will be hosting. Jerry Fish will be headlining that early show on the day, I’m looking forward to that. I’ve opened for Jerry Fish before, in Maynooth, so it will be nice to do it again with a band this time, last time I did it acoustically. Unfortunately my keys player, Josh Murtagh, isn’t around so I’m gonna do it as a three-piece, with myself on guitar, David Griffin on bass, and Rob Kennedy on drums. So that’s fairly rock ‘n’ roll! [Laughs]. It’s a shame that Josh couldn’t make it, but I’ve done it before with the three-piece, so it’ll be a nice challenge. The concept is that it’s local acts mainly, plus the headliners, and it’s Offaly rising. The rising element ties in with the Phoenix imagery that’s associated with the town, which is cool. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to it because it’s been a while since I played a gig to an audience.” 

Will it be much of a challenge adjusting things to allow for the absence of Josh, I wondered? 


“Well, because I had done a few gigs without the keys last year, it’ll be easy enough to adjust. It’s just that in my ears it will sound less full minus the keys, if you know what I mean? We’ll be rehearsing with the other two lads, so we’ll make sure any gaps of where the keys would normally be are filled. We might have to take a song out of the set-list and replace it with another, that kind of thing. But it’s not too big a job. Because I have a large enough repertoire, that means I’m safe enough.” 

Back in December, also in Joe Lee’s/John Lee’s, Niamh performed at the first show that I had been to since the previous March. And, what made that day all all the sweeter for her, was the fact that as well as getting to play in her own hometown, with a very, very cool band (same guys that will be with her again this time around, minus Josh, of course), but her family were there in the audience too. I asked Niamh to take me back to that moment and tell me how it felt, especially after everything that had preceded it in 2020…


“That was fantastic. I think they asked me maybe only a month before, to see if I was available to do it. And we were in and out of lockdown so much last year it was hard to know where exactly I was at the time [laughs]. But I was just so delighted to be able to finish the year with a significant gig! And especially because I’ve never gigged with a band in Joe Lee’s. On the day of the gig, we had to do a very quick change-over with I Draw Slow, so it was hectic enough getting the soundcheck and everything done, but when it came to the performance, everything went amazingly. It felt great. Mam and dad were there, and my brother. And obviously the audience was very limited, I think there were only like fifteen people there. But I got a really good reception, so that’s all that really matters [laughs]. Then I got to stick around and watch I Draw Slow, who were amazing, and who were on directly after me. So yeah, it was a surprise, first of all, to get the call to do it from Cherrycool Promotions, the guys who do Castlepalooza, I wasn’t expecting it. But it was an absolute pleasure from then on.” 


Obviously it would have been very busy in the lead-up to the show with getting everything ready, but maybe when it was all over, given the circumstances involved, was it an emotional kind of day at all? 


“Aaah… I wouldn’t say I was teary or anything. Gigs generally just make me happy! So it was a very happy situation for me to find myself in. And I suppose happiness is an emotion [laughs]. There’s so much going on on gig-day, with your nerves and with worrying about all your equipment and everything else, that until you’re on stage and actually doing it, there’s not a lot of space for anything else, or to pause and reflect [laughs]. Afterwards, though, I actually had a lovely time, I went up to Joe Lee and Dolores for a good hour while there were other acts playing, because my family are distant relatives of the Lees, I believe, somewhere back along the way. So we went upstairs and they gave us soup and sandwiches, and it was really, really nice. It was very sweet. But yeah, I remember that day as a very happy situation, I wasn’t on the verge of tears at any point [laughs].” 

Before Rising 21 comes around, fans of Niamh will have a chance to see her in action at a very special pre-recorded show from Moat Theatre, scheduled for broadcast a few days after we spoke…


“That was recorded the Monday before last…it could even be longer, it’s three Mondays ago, I think, on the 5th of July, whenever that was [laughs]. It was another one of these LPSS (Live Performance Support Scheme) gigs. The government gave out grants, and CS Promotions in Naas were lucky enough to avail of it, and they called me and asked would I like to do the pilot gig for the series they’re going to run. I said absolutely! It’s a two-hundred seater venue and they were planning to have an audience of maybe thirty people, really spread out, so that was really exciting. But as it got closer to the gig, there was all this talk about the Delta variant and they just decided they didn’t want to be the source of an outbreak. So they decided to just record the gig and put it out online later. I was disappointed because it’s so much nicer to play to an audience where you can get that direct feedback. But, at the same time, it was the safer thing to do. So we played it to an empty theatre and they recorded everything, Darren Skippy Productions were the video crew. That should be coming out on the 31st of July. Even though I was playing to an empty theatre, it was still a great experience. And it was nice to play on such a big stage, there was lots of room which is always a relief. I wasn’t tripping over my bandmates and cables and stuff! [Laughs]. The gig went great, my performance was very strong. So I’m curious to see it as well, I haven’t seen it yet.” 

In November of 2020, back when Niamh and I had last spoken, she had just released her single, Carousel. In 2020 and 2021, given the strangeness of the times, how does an independent singer/songwriter like Niamh gauge a single’s success? What metrics does she use to measure progress? 


“‘Carousel’ as a single did fine. It’s still steadily creeping up in streams. And the video is performing very well on YouTube. The single got a decent amount of media coverage and a good bit of radio-play as well, and radio-play for a long time after it was released, which is good. Overall, I’m happy with it. Obviously, it didn’t shoot me into superstardom or anything [laughs], but that’s not how it works in real-life, ya know. It’s a long-game. When it comes to measuring how you’re doing, for a lot of people it does come down to streams. And a lot of it comes down to social media following as well. But for me, I think you can have amazing artists that maybe aren’t streaming so well. Maybe I tell myself this to make myself feel better [laughs]. But I think a good metric for me is people booking you for gigs. Do people want to see you in real-life? There’s two places you can perform: online, or real-life. You could be doing well in both aspects, or just in one. But I think it’s nice to still be getting calls for bookings even when gigs are so quiet. So my metric for if I’m doing well is if people are calling to say we’d love you to come and play at our show.” 


Does Niamh track airplay for her singles? 


“I do. What I do is, in the three months around the release, I buy a three-month subscription to WARM (World Airplay Radio Monitor), Brí (another brilliant artist from Tullamore) put me onto that. So I can check how it’s doing for three months. Obviously that has now run out for Carousel, but I was able to see things for that three months. And I got a decent amount of international airplay around that, which was really interesting to see.” 

If you haven’t already seen Naimh’s video for Carousel, then make some time to check it out as a matter of urgency. Consider it a little treat to yourself. It’s way more than just rolling the camera, getting some footage, and editing it all together. Far from simply complimenting the song, this thing is a little work of art in its own right. And, it was produced by…Niamh’s brother, Declan! 


“Thank you! When it came to the video, I asked Declan if he would be interested in doing something again. The first single I released, ‘Virtue’, I had an idea and had the script which I gave to him and then we worked on it together. But this time around, for ‘Carousel’, I said, look Declan, do what you want, make it weird, I just want some crazy visuals! [Laughs]. And he was like, cool, deadly, let’s do it! I live in Dublin, but I came home I think for a week at a time twice last year to work on the video. A lot of it was me perched in front of a green-screen and all of the trickery happens in post [production]. So the brunt of the work was on Declan. All the editing took ages. When it comes to all the visuals that were there, they were basically his ideas. I think it turned out pretty class. It was thematically accurate, with lots of spinning visuals. And the colour in it is amazing. He has a nice lighting set-up. And we used a drone for a couple of shots. He even made proper mounts and rigs so that I could revolve around, so we could get all these smooth shots. An insane amount of work went into it on his end of things.”

One of Niamh’s more recent songs, When This Is All Over, is also accompanied by a beautiful, enthralling, and cinematic video. When This Is AllOver is a most tender and affectionate song. I asked Niamh to share a little about how both song and video came to be…


“I remember I wrote it in bed at some point [laughs]. I think it was July last year. I had been listening to Bob Dylan and I was learning travis-picking on guitar. So I had this Bob Dylan vibe in my head and I thought I wanted to write a song like that. It was also a few months of having no gigs by then, and it was like when is this gonna bloody end?! [Laughs]. I came up with this really sweet chord progression and I thought a positive message would suit it. It’s all about looking forward to when life goes back to normal – or whatever the new normal is – and getting to see people again, and see your family again. And also, the very last verse deals with how I’m looking forward to performing in front of people and hearing everybody singing along with me again. There’s a lot of yearning there for that future point where that can happen again. When I wrote it last July I thought well I’ll put it on an album sometime and it will eventually get recorded. But it’s taking a while for things to happen, for me to get funding for any EP or album. So this March, because I was at home, I just said I’d do a recording of it and make a video of it, and just put it out as is. That video is a collection of videos and images from archive.org, that has an amazing royalty-free, license-free database of images and videos. I was looking for stuff from the seventies and eighties, trying to correlate it to what the song was about. It took a while to organise and put together, but I did it, and then Declan recorded me in front of the green-screen and superimposed me on top of the whole shebang! I think it turned out like a really hopeful, and really sweet song.” 

One of the things that I’ve always liked and admired about Niamh, and it’s something which is always evident in her songs, is the fact that she’s clearly a deep-thinker. Her opinions are always carefully considered and well thought-through. So, I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t have looked at the government’s recent pilot music festival in Kilmainham and just thought, “Yeah, cool, whatever.” So… what did she make of that event? 


“Yeah [laughs], I do have an opinion on this [laughs]. So, it was nice to see activity happening again in the sector. However, that event went ahead with an audience of 3, 500…great. It employed lighting and sound engineers, so some people got work out of it. The audience got a chance to see some music, that’s brilliant. But, at the same time, in other countries where similar events – pilot events like that one – have gone ahead, they’ve used PCR testing for everybody going into the event and coming out again, and used that to collect data about the nature of having large events in times of Covid. This didn’t happen here. There was no data collected. It wasn’t used as a way of figuring can we open up the country more, can we have these large events? So I think it’s great for the small number of people who got to go, but we’re still in a place where we can’t have loads of those gigs because we don’t know whether they’re a good idea or not! And obviously, I’m delighted for the artists who were booked, but it is very much the top 1% that got that opportunity. For your regular everyday musician, say if you’re just a cover musician and not an original artist, you’re completely left out in the cold. Live music is not permitted indoors until November as it stands, I think I heard. I get my bread-and-butter from going in and playing in small venues. And if I wasn’t an original recording artist on the side, that would be my only revenue stream. So [even after the pilot festival] we’re still completely in the dark about other types of performances, like indoors. I’m glad it went ahead, but I think they could have done a lot better of a job with it.” 

Does Naimh get the feeling that it was a PR event more than anything, and that if it had just been presented as such – as a morale booster of sorts – it would have been better received? Because nothing, after all, is going to happen in the way that event did on any wider scale, it’s just not practical on so many levels.


“Yeah, definitely. I think it was more on the PR end of things. And a lot of people saw through that, and that’s why people aren’t happy.” 

On the day we spoke, both Bressie and Jerry Fish had been talking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk about the sense of frustration – and indeed, desperation for some – that still exists right across the events industry. For Niamh, and her peers and her friends in the business, how are they all feeling about the way things stand at the moment? 


“I feel like I have the same conversation with my fellow musicians all the time now. ‘It’ll be over soon.’ ‘It’s pretty bad right now, but it’ll be over soon.’ But that conversation’s been going on since last March and April. I think a lot of people are optimistic. I’m a member of the M.E.A.I. (Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland), and you can see there that a lot of people are disgruntled and frustrated, and aren’t getting supported by the government through this. There’s a lot of…I’m not gonna say hopelessness, because everybody’s hopeful that things are gonna go back to normal…but there’s a lot of frustration about the way things stand, and about the lack of information for performers who are at our level. Every now and then I’m kinda like I’m just sick of talking about Covid, ya know [laughs]. There’s nothing new to say in the conversation because there’s so little information being put forth by the powers-that-be.”


So for Niamh, for the rest of 2021, what has she got planned? And, she mentioned an album earlier, and God knows I’ve been bending her ear on that for years wanting to know when we’ll see it…so…might it be 2022? 


“[Laughs] Basically, I’m gonna try and record an EP this year. I was gonna try and release it, but it might have to be a case of recording it this year and releasing it next year. That’s gonna be a four-track EP, I’ve decided. I know I keep changing my mind about things, but this time, I’m serious [laughs]. My studio of choice wasn’t available, so I’m kinda studio hunting at the moment. This first EP is gonna be called…’Animals and Friends’! It’s a reference to one of the lyrics on one of the songs that will appear on the EP. It’ll be on the rockier end of things, it’s not gonna be super folky. Once I have that recorded, it will probably be early next year when I do all the promotion stuff. At the moment I have a YouTube video in the works, and it will probably be up before this article goes ‘live.’ It’s a video of myself and Joshua Murtagh, the keys player from my band, we’re covering a song called ‘The Water’ by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling. That’ll be up in the next few days. My YouTube’s been kinda quiet lately because I got bored of it! [Laughs]. I’m trying to keep life interesting and have a bit of variety during Covid [laughs]. Then mid to late 2022 – I already have the album written and planned out – so there’ll be an eight-track album next year at some point. Big plans, big plans! But it’s taking a while to get around to them. I think that’s mainly Covid’s fault [laughs].” 

DUBH LEE (Niamh Dooley) will be performing at RISING 21 in JOE LEE’S/JOHN LEE’S, Tullamore, on Friday, August 6th. You can follow Dubh Lee on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also enjoy this interview with Dubh Lee in full on the official OTRT website, www.ontherighttrax.com For more information on Rising 21, check out www.leesbar.ie 

ENDS

Olivia Burke

First Published July 2021

“MUSIC IS COMMUNICATION”

It’s been a while – too long, in fact – since we last had a new reason to enjoy the glorious voice of OLIVIA BURKE. But thankfully that all changed last Friday with the release of her brand new single, YOU’RE ALIVE. A superb songwriter in her own right, You’re Alive sees Olivia take on the role of artist only, as she brings this Keith McLoughlin and Grace Day penned creation to life. 


We had the pleasure of catching up with Olivia last week on the night before You’re Alive officially entered the world, and we kicked off our chat with her explaining how she became involved in this project…


“Well I’ve known Keith for a good few years, he does a radio show on the station Dublin South FM, and I’ve done a couple of interviews and performances on the show. And we just stayed in contact. So Keith wrote that song with Grace, and I believe they did most of it over Facebook video-calls, because obviously with the pandemic and everything they weren’t able to do it in person. Then they passed it onto me and asked would I be interested in singing it. The  minute I heard the song I said yeah, it’s definitely something I’d like to be involved in. I just thought it was really catchy, there’s just kind of a good vibe around it in general. After that, I got involved in the pre-production side of things, and took part in some of those video-calls with Grace and Keith, along with Rohan from Beardfire Studios who produced the track.” 

From the time Olivia first heard a version of You’re Alive, to the finished product that we were all about to hear a few hours after she and I spoke, how much did her involvement change the song? 


“The melody mostly stayed the same, the lyrics and the chords stayed the same. There were a couple of bits, little sections, that were shortened and things like that, instrumentally, when we went into the studio. Over the video-calls, we all had a lot of input in picking out songs that would be good reference tracks, to the point where we were actually listening to tracks and saying do ya know what, we like the drums out of this track, and then listening to something else and liking the guitar out of that. It was a very focused approach to it in that regard. When I did hear it first, though, it was only an acoustic demo with Grace singing and playing guitar. So we did, we changed it a lot. One thing led to another. When we were discussing it we said we might take it a more pop route instead of going acoustic country with it. Although it still has those nuances to it, it’s definitely more kind of radio-friendly…although country and acoustic would be as well…I don’t know, it’s more universal, I suppose? Just because it is hitting the pop scene.” 

I’ve known about Olivia for a good few years already, and always as being a songwriter herself. So I was wondering, with something like this, where she was coming on-board as a vocalist, was it her first time doing that? And if it was, what was her reaction to being asked? 


“Yeah, absolutely, my first time doing anything like this. I went and studied music for four years in college, in BIMM in Dublin, so I was doing a lot of collaboration, but nothing to this level, but just playing with other people and performing original music from other people. And I really enjoyed that collaborative side of it. So when I heard Keith and Grace’s song, I knew I liked it, and that it was something that I’d like to be a part of. I was absolutely delighted to be a part of it. Of course, it was kind of a different experience, coming at it from the perspective of a songwriter. But I thought the song was great, so in that sense, it wasn’t something that felt too far out of my comfort zone just because I’d been used to playing with other people over the last couple of years.” 

So as an artist who is also a songwriter, what was Olivia’s approach to getting ‘inside’ the words of other writers? 


“I think music is a form of communication, more so than anything else. And you really want to communicate with the listener and get the message across. So I suppose I took the same approach as I would to a cover-song, when I was thinking about how to approach the emotion in it. Because you need to connect with whoever’s listening to it. I spent a lot of time reading the lyrics and trying to come about those emotions in my mind, the ones the song was representing for me, and trying to convey that in the way I sang it. In the studio recording it, I think we took three vocal takes for the main vocal. And every time Rohan was pushing me to put more emotion into it! [Laughs]. He’d be saying, you did great in this line conveying the emotion, now push it for the next line. And it worked in the end. In a way, there is a bit of drama to it, I suppose [laughs]. It’s a bit like acting in a way, isn’t it.” 

Was Olivia able to link the lyrics to something in her own life to make that personal connection, or was it – as she had just said – more a case of acting it out? 


“I think in a way, all lyrics – even when it comes to ones I write myself – you want to make them universal so that it’s something that everyone can relate to. But at the same time, this song deals with the feelings around the end of a relationship, or a friendship, and drawing parallels between that and the feelings of grief if you’ve actually lost a loved one for any reason, death, or if they’ve moved away for some reason. So I suppose they are things that I would relate to, but also that everyone would relate to as well. Although it’s a personal song, it’s not very specific. So I was able to approach it from my perspective as well.” 

As Olivia had mentioned, she’s just finished four years studying Commercial Modern Music and Songwriting at BIMM in Dublin. So I asked her to tell me about her time there and what it’s set her up for next in her career…


“Well, first off, I had an absolutely amazing experience there. I’ve been slow with releases and everything the last couple of years just because I’ve been trying to focus on that, and wanting to make the most of my time there. I’ve made amazing connections with other musicians that I know will be life-long friendships, and life-long musical partnerships, hopefully. Covid has put a bit of a spanner in the works because it’s harder to collaborate with people and work with people. BIMM is so great because they teach you about the business side of it [the music industry] and the law side of it. I feel like, as a musician – when all you want to do is play, and write music – you push that more practical side of it to the back of your mind. In the sense of what you need to do marketing-wise, business-wise, what you need to know about the legalities of it all. So learning about all of that, as well as being able to perform, was absolutely amazing. We all like to think that as musicians we’ll be in a position where one day we’ll have people dealing with all that kind of stuff for us [laughs]. But at the same time, I think it’s good to actually have a base in all of it, and know what you’re talking about, and what’s right and what’s wrong. If you’re offered, let’s say, a contract or something like that, to know that you’re not getting screwed over, basically [laughs]. But it was a great experience, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough for musicians, or anyone else interested in the music business in general, because you learn so much. It was four or five days a week, four years, so a level-eight course, so a proper bachelor’s degree. Which is unusual in itself for a music course which is so modern. As you know, in Ireland most courses are related to Irish music or classical music. So it was really cool, even though it wasn’t all just sitting around and playing music. Even though that would have been great! [Laughs].” 

So when did the thought of going to BIMM first come into Olivia’s head? Was it always her plan for after secondary school? 


“Absolutely! I think when I was in third-year, or transition-year, I heard about it for the first time, and I knew that was definitely what I wanted to do. There were obviously other things I was interested in school, but I said ya know what, I want to go and pursue my passion, and see what comes of it. I believe when I was filling out the C.A.O. form that was the only thing that I actually had written down [laughs], I was just banking everything on that! [Laughs].” 

So now that Olivia has completed her four years in BIMM, how will everything that she’s learned, as well as all of the relationships and connections she’s made, help to lead her into this next stage of her career? 


“Well, I’ve found a new love in music, in production. I love producing music now. A lot of that was through BIMM and what they’ve taught us in relation to demos, and different software to make demos. A lot of the assignments on the course I did would be submitting portfolios of songs. I released a single in May called ‘Anybody Else’ that I self-produced, and just recorded at home. And I have other stuff that I’m working on and I’m hoping to bring out. So it’s benefited me in that way, especially at the minute because even with the worry of Covid, it means that I can still get music out without having to go and record somewhere else, ya know. And it makes it easier to show people your ideas, if you’re able to throw something together at home and say look, this is what I’m thinking of. Rather than trying to explain yourself and maybe not being able to find the words. Music, as I said, it’s a lot about communication. And that comes down to working with other people as well. And BIMM has been great for giving me that knowledge, to be able to show people what I’d like to do.” 

Olivia is still only twenty-two, but even six years ago, at just sixteen, she released her debut EP, Notes On My Napkin. I remember being at that launch in Hugh Lynch’s in Tullamore, and being blown away by just how special a talent Olivia already was, even at that very, very early stage of her career. But to end up with an EP at just sixteen, means her writing career itself began even earlier…


“Ah, thanks so much! [Laughs]. Yeah, I started writing when I was just a kid. I always loved music. I was writing songs that were basically rip-offs of Britney Spears songs [laughs]. I’d take whatever I heard on the radio and try and make something [else] of it. But when I was about twelve, I think, I learned how to play the guitar. I started writing lyrics then, and I’ve been at it ever since. It’s second nature to me now at this stage, I suppose.” 

Staying with Olivia’s writing, and her time at BIMM, I wanted to know how much that had helped to change, or develop, her approach to songwriting. By ‘changed’, I wondered if her approach now was completely different to when she first went to BIMM four years ago. And by ‘developed’, I wondered if her approach was perhaps the same, only now honed much closer to perfection…


“I think it’s a bit of both, to be honest. Because I would look at songwriting in a different sense [now], because I’m well-aware of all the theory around it, the practicalities of it, and the things that are in place that songwriters have been doing for years. Even taking thematic approaches to songs rather than just writing down lyrics that come to my head straight away. I don’t think my approach has necessarily changed, because I’ve always been someone who would write lyrics, melody, and music at the same time. But I definitely feel like I’ve become a more rounded songwriter. I can write songs now from other peoples’ perspectives as well, or about things I haven’t necessarily gone through myself. I think things like that are always positives for a writer. And as well as that, the practise of having to write songs specifically for briefs and assignments, has pushed me more. But in my mind, it’s always going to be quality over quantity anyway, so if I go through a bit of writer’s block, sure that’s all part of it [laughs].” 

Olivia had briefly mentioned Covid earlier in our chat. I was wondering how it might have affected her life – not being able to perform, not being able to see people, all of that – and in turn, how that might have affected her writing? 


“Environmental factors are always, always going to be a part of it, whether you’re even conscious of it or not. But I think music has shifted to becoming more…emotional in a way, I suppose. People want a little bit more substance to lyrics instead of just easy-listening on the radio. Not to say that stuff from the last couple of years isn’t good or anything [laughs], I love listening to pop music. But I think people want stories right now. With Covid, because it is such a universal thing, honing in to those emotions and those feelings that everyone has known; being stuck at home, or feeling a bit lost, that’s something a writer can use to try and connect with people a little bit more than maybe they could before. Because there is that solidarity about what we’ve all been going through.” 

With You’re Alive due out only hours after we spoke, I asked Olivia what the rest of 2021 looked like holding in store for her…


“Well I’m hoping that as soon as things start to open back up for ‘live’ music that I’ll be out doing open-mics and stuff back in Dublin, and hopefully a few gigs. I’m working on a new single that will hopefully be coming out at the end of August as well, called ‘Graves’, which is an original. So hopefully that will be out around the end of August, early September, I’m not entirely sure yet. But that’s another self-produced one. There’s a lot of ‘hopefully’ involved in looking ahead right now [laughs]. ‘Graves’ is a song I wrote when I was in my first year in college, it’s about people using different vices to survive in life, whether that’s drugs, alcohol, toxic relationships, that kind of thing. It’s a song about self-sabotage. It’s written as a love song. It’s an interesting one, it’s an interesting one [laughs]. I’ll be sticking with the pop route, but it’ll be a little bit heavier than ‘You’re Alive’, but still radio-friendly. More Billie Eilish than any country kinda vibes! It’s a little bit more hip-hop inspired, I suppose.” 

If Olivia wrote Graves in her first year in college, four years ago, does that mean that she probably holds onto a lot of songs for a long time? Until she feels the time is finally right to finish them and send them out into the world?


“Absolutely. There’s songs that I’ve written six and seven years ago that I’d be happy recording and releasing now. But at the same time, the last single that I released back in May, ‘Anybody Else’, I only wrote that one over the pandemic. And it was to do with what we were just talking about, those feelings of loneliness, grief, and everything people were feeling over lockdown. Feeling a bit detached from yourself, ya know. I wrote that and released it very quickly afterwards. So it just depends really. I’m only getting to a stage now where I feel confident enough with my production to actually release things properly. So I have a lot of things built up. Folders upon folders of lyrics and songs that I’d like to get out into the world. Look, it’ll be a long time before they’re all out there [laughs], but hopefully we’ll get there someday!” 

YOU’RE ALIVE, the brand NEW single from OLIVIA BURKE (written by Keith McLoughlin and Grace Day), is OUT NOW, available on all digital platforms and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Mark Caplice

First Published June 2021

“FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE”

Part 2

Towards the end of last month, Wicklow singer, songwriter, and producer MARK CAPLICE released his much anticipated single, CATCH A TEAR. In Part 1 of our chat with Mark, we got the lowdown on how Catch A Tear came to be, and why now was the right time to share it with the world, as well as taking a deep-dive into Mark’s songwriting process. This single, however, was far from being Mark’s first foray into the spotlight in the music-world, as the Baltinglass man has also had the honour of seeing his song, Dirty Secret (co-written with Cian Sweeney and Briony O’ Toole) being named Song of the Year in ALL of Russia earlier this year. 


Today, Part 2 of our chat gets underway by sticking to that international theme. It was Eurovision time of the year again when Mark and I spoke, and while Ireland didn’t make it to the Grand Final…again…this year, being in that coveted and once very much taken for granted position is something that Mark does have experience of. Back in 2018, he co-wrote the Irish entry, Together, with its performer Ryan O’ Shaughnessy, and Laura Hughes. Ireland has a great history in Eurovision, but over the last twenty years or so it’s become a subject of division in so many ways. I wondered if, for Mark, being involved was something that was always an ambition, or did the opportunity just happen to come along and prove too good to turn down? 


“Genuinely, it’s something I always wanted. Actually, I remember when I was a kid thinking that surely I’m not allowed to write a song for Eurovision?! That was something far beyond my reach, I couldn’t even contemplate this [laughs]. But the further and further I grew into my career, I stumbled into a few friends who had had similar experiences. They had written a song or two that they had entered. So slowly but surely the belief started to grow [in me]. And honestly, the day that we found out, I just started shouting my head off [laughs]. My housemate was upstairs, and he ran down thinking someone was after dying! Cos’ I was just shouting, like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!’ [laughs]. He was like what’s wrong, what’s wrong, and I told him to read it, and it was the confirmation letter from RTE that our song had been accepted. And I can’t even describe that feeling. So yeah, it was definitely something that I always wanted to do. And the experience itself was just…out…of…this…world! Going from living in a small town in Baltinglass in Wicklow, to a police-escort into stadiums of thousands…it’s a bit of a juxtaposition! Like, holy God, what’s goin’ on here?! [Laughs]. It was a beautiful experience. And funny enough, I’ve had a couple of close encounters since. And I’d love to do it again. It was just so much fun. But I don’t think anything will ever match that first experience when we were sitting on the couch waiting to hear who was going through [to the final]. And we could see before everybody else could because the camera crew had to get into position to be on the country that was going through. I happened to catch the event-controller’s eye as he was coming up with the camera, and he smirked and he looked away from me! And as soon as he did that, I was like, oh my God, it’s us! [Laughs]. Good times!” 

I mentioned to Mark that I’d recently heard about an actual Irish Eurovision winner that didn’t even make it out of Ireland the first time it was submitted for consideration to be our entry, and yet, it went on to win Eurovision a couple of years later…


“That’s a funny one, because ‘Together’ was entered twice, and it was the second highest song – so very close to being picked – the year before. So there ya go. But I LOVE that! I love that as a message and as an absolute life-hack. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t go anywhere! Pitch a tent! And keep knockin’!” 

Outside of the pop field, Mark has also worked with two of the biggest names in Irish country, Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan. Derek, of course, is a natural songwriter, already well-known for his talent in that area, while it’s fair to say that Nathan would write a little less. What was Mark’s experience of working with both men? 


“That’s one of the things I just adore about songwriting, different people have different perspectives, different approaches. It’s funny, Nathan probably wouldn’t be as well-known for writing, but I’ve written a good bit with him and he’s no stranger to it, he’s great. You can’t climb to the position he’s in without songs being your life. Same for Derek. They’re different in a lot of ways, but they’re similar in many too. They’re both really good people to write with, and especially in Ireland and the UK they’ve got great careers. Who knows what the next couple of years have in store for them. I won’t give away any trade secrets [laughs].” 

When writing with artists like Nathan or Derek, where the song is aimed at the Irish country scene, does that make it a very different kind of song than if he was writing with an artist from the pop field, for example? 


“Genres differ. And genres tend to have a certain language, a certain melody. That’s why I adore writing with different genres and different people, you just learn so much about what works in each genre. The dialogue, and where you even place the message of a song. Pop, it can be a little bit more right in your face. I am sad today because the rain is falling down. Country, it can be quite literal as well. That’s why I quite like writing my own stuff as well. You can use metaphors to share the message you’re trying to communicate. Language works differently in each genre. You learn as you go. The more people you write with, the more little tips and tricks you pick up. Then you learn about different structures, and how you can create dissonance even with a structure. Depending on your story, there’s different ways to tell it to make sure the listener feels what you’re trying to tell them.” 

We’d done a lot of talking about Mark as a songwriter, but we couldn’t overlook the question of how exactly he became one. When did he know that he wanted to be a songwriter? 


“I was in a band for six or seven years and we did a lot of collaborating [within the band]. There were two main co-writers in the band, we’d write the core of the song, and bring it to the band, and we’d all work on it. It was a very collaborative experience. That’s when I was nudged into the slightly more commercial side of it. As a band, we were discussing what we wanted to do, and world takeover was the plan [laughs], all this kinda stuff! As it happened, we signed a deal, went to America, recorded an album, everything was looking amazing. Then, a couple of things happened here and there, probably a miscommunication, and there was a bit of legal argy-bargy. It ended up that the album couldn’t get released, and it’s now in limbo forever. It won’t see the light of day. When that finished, I was very nearly going to give up music. And as odd as this will sound, I was sitting in my grandparents living-room, and I was thinking to myself, right…if I died and went to heaven, what would God say to me? I walked up to God, and I said to God, howya God [laughs], I did music for a while, then I became a marketeer. And his response was, ‘Ya big eejit! I gave you perfect pitch!’ And that’s really rare, and super-handy when you’re writing songs! [Laughs]. So, because I have this super-unique thing that lots of people don’t have, his response to me was, ‘Ya big eejit, I gave you perfect pitch and ya wasted it!’ [Laughs].”

That conversation”, explained Mark, “as silly as it may sound – a hypothetical conversation with God – was the kick in the backside I needed to jump back into music. So I said ok, now that I’m certain I’m 100% invested, I’m going to make a living from music, and that’s that. So I started thinking about what avenues were there, and what I wanted to be. I was a little bit wounded by the band experience, so I didn’t want to jump back into being in a band. But I knew I could write songs. So I started writing songs with people. There’s a friend of mine, Josh Gray, who had left Louis Walsh’s band, Hometown, and he was kind of in a small bit of limbo as well. So we started writing together, and he has grown exponentially from it, it’s been amazing to see. Some of the songs we wrote together kicked him back into the spotlight, and since then he’s signed a publishing deal as well. Things are going really well for him. He’s on the slightly poppier side of things, which was a new experience for me, but I really enjoyed it.”

Mark continued, “When I was in a band, there’d be this country song writing itself in my head, and I’d be wondering, what do I do with this?! Then I could have a more rocky song, or a folky song, because I definitely come from a more folk background, I’d be into Glen Hansard, Elbow, Bruce Springsteen, and Fleetwood Mac, and Jackson Browne, where the stories are really at the core of the music. In pop, it’s more about how it sounds, rather than what it’s saying. And that’s a huge, huge thing for a songwriter. Especially me, coming from guitar-land! [Laughs]. Never going anywhere without a guitar, and wanting to tell stories. It was such a different experience, having to push myself out of my comfort-zone. But it was really interesting to see, and to learn about, and ultimately, it’s helped me to grow a lot as a songwriter.” 

To finish up our chat, I had three quick-fire questions to put to Mark. The first one was what would be the proudest moment of his career so far? 


“I find it hard to overlook that Eurovision moment when we were sitting on the couch, waiting to hear if we’d made it through. Nine countries had already been called out. I knew how crazy it was at home. When I was chatting to my parents, they were saying it was like Italia ’90, everybody was going crazy. And I just knew, as soon as our names were called, that this was such a win for absolutely everyone involved. Our families, our friends, our country. Just getting us back in the Final again. That was a beautiful, beautiful experience.” 

And his biggest disappointment? 


“Oh wow! [Laughs]. Biggest disappointment? Probably…let me just think. There’s two in my mind. One, is when my first band broke up. Because we were brothers, and we were all fighting for the one cause, but it just wasn’t working. And it wasn’t helping our mental health either. So it was literally for the best that we walked away. But crazily enough, as one of the most difficult experiences of my life, I think it was also the most forming. It really, really taught me a lot about who I am. It made me self-reflect. I feel I grew as a human, massively, from that experience. Yes, it was the biggest disappointment, and a tough experience, but…that could very easily have been my best experience either.” 

And finally, what’s the greatest lesson Mark has ever learned as a writer, and also about the music business in general? 


“As a writer? For me, I always feel the best songs are songs that will resonate with people. You’re supposed to feel music. Music is a feeling. Not a building, ya know. For me, music is pure magic. And for me, the real music comes when you’re in a discussion with somebody, or you’re in a room alone with a guitar or a piano, and you’re diving deeper and deeper into a thought…I feel as though the songs that will resonate most, will come from a real place. For the music business, I think it’s just super-important to know what you enjoy, but equally – if not more important – to know what you don’t enjoy, what you’re not mad about. If there was a way of explaining it all, it’s stay true to yourself. Figure out what you love. Figure out what you don’t love. And stay closer to the former.” 


CATCH A TEAR, the brand NEW single from MARK CAPLICE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Mark Caplice

First Published May 2021

PRECIOUS TIME

Part 1

If you were asked to name the Irishman who has represented us a songwriter at Eurovision, has won Song of the Year in Russia, and as a producer, has had his work featured on a major Netflix show, you might well struggle just a little bit to come up with the answer. But, if you can join all those dots, then you’ll come up with the name of Wicklow man MARKCAPLICE. 

Part of the reason why Mark remains a ‘well-kept secret’ can be attributed to the fact that he is almost cursed by talent. Because he tends to be involved in so many projects with so many different artists, and often times as both writer and producer, a lot of his many musical gifts burst into life ‘behind the scenes’, as it were.


However, if you happen to spend any time ‘behind the scenes’ of the music industry in Ireland in any capacity, or spend time with anyone who does, the name of Mark Caplice will be no stranger to anyone. Chances are, though, the gent you’ll hear folk praise will be known to all as ‘Cappy.’ And Cappy is a man in demand. He’s also finally about to step out from behind the scenes and into the limelight in his own right as an artist, and not before time, too. 


Mark’s brand new single, the brilliantly titled CATCH A TEAR, will be released on May 27th. I had the pleasure of catching up with the man himself last week, and began our chat by asking Mark to tell me about that title and how the idea for the song came about…


“Well, the overall message of the song is that you want to be there for someone that you love. A large number of people quite close to me were having really tough times, and lately, obviously, this goes for the whole planet as well. There were numerous different circumstances where it was really just raining down on people, and I remember thinking to myself  I’m not much of a praying man, but if I was to start praying, I wouldn’t know who to pray for. That was the stem of the thought. I was like, Christ…where would I begin?! I just wanted to write something that would be very special and close to me, for some of the people that are special and close to me that needed a bit of help.” 

And the phrase itself – catch a tear – was that Mark’s starting point for everything, or more something that revealed itself as the song developed? 


“As the message and the concept of the song grew in my head, of I wouldn’t know who to pray for if I was praying and not wanting to lean too much into religion because it’s not a religious message by any stretch of the imagination, I was trying to think of different ways you could show – even in a phrase – that you’re there for someone. And I liked the idea of catching a tear because it shows both that you’re literally close to someone, close enough to catch a tear, but it’s also metaphorical, that if you’re under a bit of pressure let me take the weight. I can help.” 

In speaking elsewhere about his new single recently, Mark said the reason he was releasing his own music under his own name right now was because a loved one who was ill had asked him to do so back at Christmas. I wondered if that particular loved one had not asked him to do it, would this be happening right now, or perhaps at all? 


“It’s been on my mind for quite a while that I have wanted to release music, and I was going to slowly start gathering songs, and I was thinking of putting together a bit of an album this year, or maybe next year. So I was going to start the process of gathering songs now. But that conversation hit me pretty hard. It was a blunt, but important reminder that with every second time gets more precious. And that’s true for you, for me, for the loved one I spoke to. It’s a big part of my mindset and philosophy that time is so precious and so short. You never know when it’s going to be too late to start releasing music again. Tomorrow is guaranteed for no man. But I think I was just so busy writing with and for other people that I kinda put myself in the back-seat. And then I put myself in the other back-seat. And then I put myself in the boot! [Laughs]. Yeah, that conversation was definitely a big positive reminder to act on doing the things you love to do, when you can do them.” 

Because Mark has been busy for so long working with other people, as both a writer and as a producer, now that he is finally turning the spotlight back on himself a little bit more with this new single, what’s the main emotion around it all? Is it nerves? Excitement? A mad mix of both from hour to hour and day to day, perhaps? 


“[Laughs] It’s a mad mixture of everything from day to day, I’d say! There’s definitely a bit of, ‘Ah God, whatever I do couldn’t possibly be good enough!’, because I’ve had the pleasure of working with many, many gifted artists and songwriters over the past few years. And then having been a producer, I’m thinking I wanted to make it sound sonically amazing and do loads of incredible things. But it just comes back to what the song means. And the message of the song. What is the message of the song? It’s about making sure that message is clear, and that it’s sonically supported from what comes through the speakers. That’s how I diffused any anxiety or madness about it. As a friend of mine, Philip Magee, said to me not so long ago, if you’re trying to record a song for a producer, most of the time you’ll come up short, because there are insanely talented producers all over the world that can do incredible things sonically. So if you try to compare yourself to, or try to be like others, you’re putting yourself at a step back before you even get going. So it always comes back to what the song means for me, and for the people around me that the message is for.” 


Mark is planning some Irish and European tour dates for later this year which makes me think there’s probably another single or two – maybe even an EP or an album – in the works for around those dates too. I asked him about what is coming after Catch A Tear, and for what kind of a heads-up he could offer on those tour dates…


“That’s a big point. I’ve got a lot of music I want to put out over the next while, and I think this first song was just a gentle reminder [to myself] to get back into the releasing world. But I’ve got a lot of music to come. And I think some of it is really special. I’m looking forward to getting it out there. Probably an EP. The thought of an album terrifies me! [Laughs]. So we’re probably lookin’ at an EP. The tour dates are looking to be about September, October, but obviously with regulations things are taking their time. But we’ll be patient, and abide by whatever guidelines we’re given. It’s lookin’ pretty positive that by the end of the summer there’ll be a few more tracks out in the world and I’ll be jumpin’ into a tour bus and travellin’ the length and breadth of the country! And THAT thought gives me so much excitement!” 

Mark said recently in relation to this solo-project, that it “isn’t focused towards commercial success, but more so to create a body of work that I feel passionate about as a writer and artist.” Now, Mark is very much a commercial writer as well, and a very successful one. So I asked him to talk as a songwriter about the line that can exist between what you need or want to do from a commercial point of view, and on the other side of that line, where passion and creativity and inspiration can be the driving forces in what he writes…


“Yeah, that’s an interesting and really good question. This is a conversation I have quite regularly. Some of the time, when you’re in a session, it would be more so, ok, what do you think the audience of this artist or performer will want to hear? That’s where the thought starts and grows from. You almost imagine a seed being planted in the middle of the 3Arena, right in the middle of the crowd, and that’s where the seed of the song grows from. Because you’re trying to think about what the audience wants to hear. What tempo will it be? What’s the message of the song gonna be? Is it gonna be upbeat? Or is the artist goin’ through a bit of a tough time and they need to let their fans know about this? And they want to communicate all of that in an effective way for their own sonic brand, so that will include the type of melodies you use, the type of instrumentation you use, the type of wording you use. That’s where that seed grows from. Songwriting has to be a selfless act when you’re writing for someone else because you totally put yourself in their shoes. You can draw from your own experiences, but it definitely leans more into the artist. But when it comes to my own stuff, I want it to be more autobiographical, to be closer to home for me.” 

Earlier this year, Mark gained a kind of national notoriety by becoming big in Russia! His song, Dirty Secret, co-written with Cian Sweeney and Briony O’ Toole, achieved all kinds of amazing things, including being named Song of the Year in ALL of Russia! But funnily enough, this was actually the first song that Mark, Cian, and Briony had ever written together, and it happened over three years ago! So I asked Mark to talk me through how it all blew up in such a big way for him at the start of 2021…


“It’s a funny amalgamation of stories, if you will. Cian and I met at an IMRO seminar, for publishing, I believe. We just got chatting, and then gently stayed in each other’s circle. I think he told me about this girl called Briony and he showed me some of her stuff, and I thought God, she’s amazing. But in the back of my head I was like, Briony? I know that name! It’s a very unique name. Well it actually ends up that Briony and I are related! Yeah, I swear! And we only found this out a week before we were due to do the writing session, which was hilarious. We went to her house in Laois and it ended up being where a lot of my family grew up and everything. A crazy 360. So we got together, started just messing about with ideas. It was the first time I’d met her as well. So it was all just quiet, chilled out, laid-out, exploratory, just having fun. Let’s throw ideas and melodies and beats and stuff out there. It was very organic and real. A fun session, a fun session.”

Mark continued, “When we finished the song, we knew it was good. I was thinking about releasing it myself, but I wasn’t fully sure about it. Around the same time, I actually met a publisher in Dublin and they said they really liked it and offered to, as they say, shop it! And it found its way to Russia, and Grigory Leps, who is a major, major artist in Russia. It was released at the very beginning of 2020. Via a contact that I have in Russia, they were filling me in on all of the information on how it was doing. And it was skyrocketing, it was super popular, always on the radio, that’s what she was telling me. And I was just like, that’s cool, that’s cool [laughs]. Then, by pure chance, I messaged her at the beginning of 2021, just saying happy new year, hope everything is well with you and everyone, and she replied, ‘Oh thank you so much, it’s lovely to hear from you! And by the way, your song has won an award.’ I was like, oh, alright. Well cool! I like awards! [Laughs]. So I asked her what award did it win…and she said it won a Golden Gramophone! And I was sitting in this armchair that I’m sitting in right now, and I was thinking to myself, did I just win a Grammy in Russia?! [Laughs]. It was a real what-is-happening-here moment! So I asked her if it was a Grammy, but it’s not, it’s a little bit different. Basically it’s for songs that have been in the top-twenty airplay chart in Russia, in the whole of Russia, for more than twenty weeks. So it’s a serious stint. So I was sayin’ wow, that’s insane, it’s so cool, ya know, and I was super-chuffed. 

But there was even more to come, as Mark went on to explain. “But then she says, ‘Oh, but by the way, it won another award, I almost forgot!’ So I was like, again, ok, I love awards! [Laughs]. What award did it win this time? And she said it actually won Song of the Year in Russia. I was like, in ALL of Russia? And she said yeah! This was one of the team that has worked on the song in Russia, so it was a fairly reliable source. So for the whole country, that’s huge! I think their population is around 145 million. I had to check, I was just curious [laughs]. So yeah, on their national broadcaster it was awarded Song of the Year. And I saw the awards show. At the beginning of it, it sounded so funny hearing my name spoken by a Russian gentleman! [Laughs]. It was a wow-moment again. There were like thousands of people at the ceremony, and I was just sitting here in my home in Baltinglass thinking, WHAT is goin’ on?! [Laughs].” 


CATCH A TEAR, the brand new single from MARK CAPLICE, is out May 27th, available on all platforms.

ENDS