Chasing Abbey

First Published December 2021

BACK IN THE GAME

I was working away at my desk last Friday when I decided to turn off the news for a change and add some music to my day instead. Tapping into my Apple Music account and scrolling through my options, the playlist Today’s Hits caught my eye for some reason so I made it my selection. And a quick glance at what was on offer soon brought a smile as wide as the Shannon to my face. 

Right there in the middle of it all, keeping company with international superstars like Ed Sheeran and his recent gems Bad Habits and Shivers, Adele with I Drink Wine, boyband giants Westlife and Starlight, and Driving Home From Christmas by Dermot Kennedy…were three dudes from Tullamore and their newest banger, Close To You. What these guys have already achieved is immense. And the mind-blowing thing is that in terms of both their creative and commercial potential, they’ve barely even begun to jog yet. When they start running at full-speed…world watch out!

A few weeks back, before Close To You officially became CHASING ABBEY’s new single, I had the pleasure of catching up with the band. 

It was the afternoon after their first real-life gig in a long, long time when I sat down in the Brewery Tap for a catch-up with Bee (Jonathan Byrne) and Ro (Ronan Bell). Unfortunately, the previous night’s triumph had taken its toll on the vocals of lead-singer Ted, who wasn’t able to join us. The funny thing was, having viewed the band’s stories on Insta the night before, Ro was the one I didn’t expect to see! To say he enjoyed the band’s first night back doing what they love would be an understatement! And that was the note on which we began. 

What was it actually like for Bee and Ro to be back in the game again?

Bee: “It was…an adjustment. When Covid started, we were so used to gigs and being in front of people. Then when we had to start doing all the Zoom things, that was so strange. We had no clue what we were getting into and we weren’t able to feed off anyone. But then we got used to that. And now that’s been flipped on its head last night, trying to dust off the cobwebs. That was the feeling beforehand, but once we got into it, it was like we’d never left the stage…”

Ro: “It was carnage! [Laughs]. Even being back doing sound-check, being back on-stage, first time with a PA, just going through all those things, there’s a certain feeling that comes with all of that. And I hadn’t felt that in a long time. It felt special. And it was weird, because going into the gig, I thought it was going to be like a normal gig was before Covid. But once it started, with the crowd and everything, it felt like we were back to years ago. It was savage!”

Were there any nerves in the build-up?

Bee: “Yeah, but not nervous about being in front of people, more so remembering all the little things that you used to do, that would have been second nature to ya when you were gigging a lot. But now we had to start thinking about those all over again!”

Ro: “I think that was just before the gig, though, because halfway through the first song you kinda started shouting all the same stuff you would have done before, and jumping the same way [laughs], and we kinda slid back into what we always used to do. And I think we did that pretty early in the gig, which was fun.”

Bee: “A big thing for us as well, is that in the last eighteen months we’ve obviously been making a lot of music. Usually we’d make maybe five or six songs, pick our favourite one, and maybe try that one out at our next gig. But we had no gigs to try out any songs for eighteen months. And we had literally nearly a hundred songs to pick from. We played four or five of them last night, and just to feel the new songs ‘live’ was just…,  THAT was something we were really missing. Because you get to feel the way it went down with the crowd. And that’s a way you’d nearly pick what your next single could be.”

There’s always a certain performance high that comes with taking to the stage, but had the high of the previous night been a little bit higher than ever before?

Ro: “Yeah. It was the best we’ve felt since Covid began. We got off stage and we just said we feel alive again, ya know! It was just nuts.”

So does that mean the comedown is that little bit lower too?

Ro: “I think we’re still a little bit high! [Laughs]. Spirits were still high this morning!”

Bee: “You get a hangover from drinking, but there’s this thing called a ‘gig hangover ‘as well, where you’re just so drained. I’d say last night will go down as one of our favourite gigs for a while.”

Like everybody else, back in March of 2020, the world came to a very sudden halt for Chasing Abbey. I asked Bee and Ro to take me back to where they were as a band when that happened…

Bee: “We had just finished ‘Lately’…”

Ro: “’Lately’, along with three other songs, we had four songs ready to go.”

Bee: “And we had picked a release date for ‘Lately’, at the end of March, beginning of April, and we were going for it. Then all of this started to come up in the media and it was happening elsewhere…”

Ro: “Yeah, happening elsewhere, so we were like, won’t affect us…”

Bee: “Then it got a little bit closer to home and we were like, well maybe we’ll push out the release by two weeks, that should do it! Just until this dies down. But then it looked like we were gonna be in this for a month, so we pushed it out for another month. And we had been soooo busy up to that, for nearly two years, so in the beginning we were kinda like, well, this is kind of a nice rest [laughs].”

Ro: “Especially in the few months before that, because we’d been working on those songs, and writing all the time, and we had shows as well. So when that first hit, we were like, this is kinda…grand, like! [Laughs].”

Bee: ”Yeah, we couldn’t leave our homes, but that was what we needed”

Ro: “But then it set in with us – with everyone – that this was gonna be here for a while.”

So that time of suddenly being apart, having been together so much and so intensely for so long, what was that like?

Ro: “At the beginning, it was ok. We went home to our own families, and that was lovely because we wouldn’t always be at home with our families all that much. So, that was nice for a little bit, but then it definitely got weird [laughs], not seeing the other lads.”

Bee: “We have a group-chat and stuff, so we all kinda kept in touch a good bit that way. But sometimes then, there might have been a day or two without any message going in, and THAT was strange because…”

Ro: “…if we’re not all together in person then the phone is always just hoppin’!”

Bee: “I think we all found it difficult at different times. At the beginning, I think we were all fine. But then it hit us about how real it all was. Like, one of us might have been down for a month, but then you’d pick yourself back up again. And then someone else might feel that way for a while. But I think that was normal, I think everyone was like that.”

Ro: “I think everyone was going through that. Even with dad in here [Paul Bell, proprietor of The Brewery Tap in Tullamore], there was just so much uncertainty. As a band, we didn’t know what to do in terms of releasing, we didn’t know when we’d have another gig, or IF we’d have another gig. You didn’t even know if you were going to get Covid and die. There was that, never mind music! We all went through different periods where different emotions were the main ones.”

Bee: “And there were a few lockdowns as well. The first lockdown was fine. But then the second one came, and we had started to make plans before that one. Then those plans all had to be pulled again.”

Ro: It was that little bit of hope…gone, ya know.”

Having seen everything that they’ve worked so hard for, and everything that they love so much, taken away in the blink of an eye by something completely out of their control, has that changed everyone as individuals in terms of what they’ll bring back to the band now? Has it, indeed, even changed the band? Whereas previously, 110% was given to every show, from now on will that be 210%?

Ro: “There was a bit of that last night! When we were walking to the stage, we were just like, let’s just go nuuuuts out here [laughs]!”

Bee: “Just before we went on-stage, we said let’s see who can go the craziest!”

Ro: “I think there’ll definitely be a bit of that, but once we got back working we slipped back into a normal studio routine again fairly quickly.”

Bee: “But it has made us – and it will make us – appreciate the moments. So we will be a little bit more present, I think. Say with gigs, you’ll take out your in-ears maybe, and just listen to the crowd, really take it in. Rather than just going, that’s unreal, you might just take a minute to go…wow, this is incredible! But ya know, we did also realise a song during Covid and it’s one of our most popular songs, ‘Lately.’It wasn’t all bad either.”

Ro: “That was like a test release, because we had to really think outside the box, and it was actually exciting to do that, to do a release completely different to how we normally would. Like, we couldn’t go to a radio station. We couldn’t sit down with people. We couldn’t do anything!

Bee: “We did it all from a room!”

Ro: “Yeah, and it went so well that it’s become a very proud thing for us, that release. And I think it impressed a lot of people, too. We hear that a lot.”

Bee: “Even the music video, we had a period where the first lockdown lifted…”

Ro: “It was in between them.”

Bee: “Yeah, and inter-county travel was allowed. So we had one week to get the whole thing done. And we did. But, oh my God [laughs].”

Ro: “I think we were up in Dublin with one of the videographers, and that was just a day or two days before we couldn’t travel again. We JUST got it all done in time!”

Considering how much the band were able to write during lockdown, I wondered if the different conditions for writing – not being around each other, not being around people, not being able to gig – if all of that had affected them creatively, and changed how they write?

Bee: “All the music kind of stayed within the normal [way that we’d write]…”

Ro: “Yeah, it did. The only thing that would have changed was the inspiration aspect, because you’re just going through the same kind of mundane thing every day. That definitely made a difference, compared to coming off the high of a gig, when you could write ten songs! In lockdowns at home, well, myself definitely, we upskilled a lot, in terms of production. In that way, we’ve come on an awful lot in the last two years or eighteen months. That’s changed the way we go about things in the studio. Some things are done quicker, easier, and end up sounding better.”

Bee: “We can literally do everything just from a room now.”

Ro: “Yeah. Whereas before, it was at ‘a level’, ya know, but it wasn’t at THAT level. But having the time, and when there was no pressure of writing songs to release them, we were able to get lost in learning different skills.”

So if upskilling might have been one of the ways that Ro got through things by becoming something he could focus his attention on, what filled that role for Bee or even Ted?

Bee: “Initially, I suppose, because I don’t live with my family, so just coming back home to them. That took up a couple of months because we got to spend a lot of time together. I also got into cooking! I did a lot of that, and explored a lot of different diets, all that kind of stuff.”

Ro: “I started running as well. We all went through a bit of a running phase. Our house is down by a canal, so I used to do quite a bit of running around there, which I never did before. We’d meet up outdoors and go running.”

Bee: “But mainly, I think, what we did was just chilled out through it all. Just took a breather.”

At this stage of their careers, Chasing Abbey is a brand, a machine in a way. How do the lads plan on bringing that machine back to life after a lay-off like this?

Bee: “Well we have loads of music there. And we didn’t put any pressure on ourselves to release the next song, because we really want to find the one that can bring us to the next stage. That’s why we wrote so much. We have a few contenders now, so when the right one hits we’re just gonna put everything into it.”

Ro: “New music will really help with that, and then the introduction of more gigs as well. One thing we’ve all loved from the start of Chasing Abbey is the ‘live’ shows. So that mix of new music, and playing those songs at ‘live’ shows will ramp it back up pretty quickly.

Bee: “And once the music is out, we’ll go back on tour.”

Aside from what the band had done online, was there anything else they’d done to stay connected to their fans over the last eighteen months?

Bee: “We started making Tik-Toks, not music related ones, more kind of sketch based.”

Ro: “At the very, very beginning of Covid, Tik-tok was really taking off because everyone was at home, it was the new app. We jumped on that with ‘Lately’.”

Bee: “And it’s funny, we have our most social media followers on Tik-Tok.”

Ro: “And that’s mad, because that’s a lot of new people. Obviously it’s a mix, a lot of people did know of us, but we’ve definitely made new fans as well. It’s a different way of interacting.”

Bee: “We went through a stage with it where it was all music, then it was all promoting ‘Lately’, then a stage where it was all sketches where there was really no music involved.”

Ro: “For our next release, we’ll definitely have a Tik-Tok campaign, because it’s huge. Huge!”

So what is next for the band?

Ro: “I think right now, we’re just looking at singles. So a single, and then the next single. We’re not even thinking too far ahead. Just the next one that feels right.”

Bee: “And feels right in every aspect, the timing, the story, the sound of it. Is it gonna take us a step forward to what music sounds like now? Will it be fresh? There are so many different things to consider. But we think we’re nearly there…!”

CLOSE TO YOU, the brand NEW single from CHASING ABBEY, is OUT NOW, available to stream and download from all platforms, and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Elton John

First Published October 2021

THE KING STILL REIGNS

“There were challenges involved in collaborating during a global pandemic – I had to get used to recording over Zoom and Rina Sawayama had to quarantine for two weeks before we recorded together – but the tracks I worked on were really interesting and diverse, stuff that was completely different to anything I’m really known for, stuff that took me out of my comfort zone into completely new territory.”

Those are the words of the one and only king of pop ELTON JOHN, talking in advance of last weekend’s release of his latest album, the dazzling collection that is THE LOCKDOWN SESSIONS, a long-player that proves that crown is still very much his. The king still reigns, and don’t you doubt it. If there’s one thing that the esteemed Sir Elton has never shied away from, both in his personal and musical life – and for his courage and daring in both, we can be thankful – it’s an openness to adventure. The Lockdown Sessions is certainly that.

A collection of sixteen songs, all collaborations with some of the biggest, most exciting artists in the world today, The Lockdown Sessions features performances from Brandi Carlile, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, Eddie Vedder, Gorillaz, Lil Nas X, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Rina Sawayama, SG Lewis, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, Surfaces, Years & Years, Young Thug, and more.

In a somewhat beautiful little coincidence, it was officially released here in Ireland last Friday; on the day most – for all intents and purposes – remaining restrictions were lifted in all or in part. This wouldn’t be the first time, of course – nor will it be the last either – that this gifted magician of the ivories has been at the heart of our reasons to celebrate. 

For me, a life-long fan of the man who – together with Bernie Taupin – makes up one of the most revered songwriting partnerships of all time, the release of this album brought with it a moment that will be remembered long into the autumn of my days. Last month, courtesy of Elton‘s label, Universal Records, I had the pleasure and privilege of sitting in on an invite-only interview with that man himself.

Hosted by Matt Everitt, the webcast took place at Metropolis Studios in London, and it began with Elton remarking that this was an album he never thought he was going to make during lockdown…

“I had no plans to make any music at all during lockdown. So, this really came together as an accident. It started in March 2020 when I met Charlie Puth at a restaurant in Los Angeles. I’d never met him before and he actually lived only four doors away from me in LA and he said, I’ve got a studio if you feel like coming up while you’re here and writing something. So, I did and it’s the track that appears on the record, ‘After All’, and that was fantastic. And the next day I went next door to my music publisher’s house, who lives three doors away from me, and I worked on the Surfaces track via Zoom, the first thing I’d ever done via Zoom. They were in Texas and I played piano on some of that track. And so the first two things really were those two things. And I came back to England and then Damon Albarn asked me to play on ‘Gorillaz’, Rina Sawayama asked me to do a duet and play piano on ‘Chosen Family’. I did the Metallica Miley Cyrus track with Andrew Watt. I did ‘It’s a Sin’ with Olly Alexander and then I went and did Glenn Campbell and Lis Nas X and I thought I’ve got the germ of an album here. And then we got the Pnau track, which was just me singing, and I thought I don’t want to sing the ‘Rocket Man’ but we’ve got to get someone else to sing that.”

“And this year”, continued Elton, “we took Dua Lipa to dinner in Los Angeles and I’d become friends with her and my manager said, listen to the track and see if you like it and play it by the pool very loudly and then give us a call. And she did play it by the pool very loudly and she called us and said, I’m in, I want to do it. So, gradually I got an album coming together. So, I thought, I’m going to continue. I went to Los Angeles and I went with Andrew Watt and the studio and did Brandi Carlisle, Eddie Vedder, Stevie Wonder, Young Thug and Nicki Minaj and Stevie Nicks. And then I came back and SG Lewis had finished the track that I’d written with him in the studio, so I had 16 tracks. And I did Jimmie Allen in LA as well, a bit of vocal on that track. So, voila, out of nothing… It’s all Charlie Puth’s fault, basically. So, there you go.”

A fact sure to interest many is that the vocal on It’s A Sin is actually taken from Elton and Olly Alexander’s Brits performance…

“Oh, yeah. I did that at the Brits because ‘It’s a Sin’ was a fantastic TV series about AIDs in the 1980s in Britain, which I loved and was a huge critical success, and I redid that – ‘It’s a Sin’ – came in the studio and recorded the piano and then the vocals on it are live from the Brits. They’re the actual ones that we sang at the Brits, yeah.”

Elton went on, “I did the piano in here, put that on, and then they added some orchestra after we’d done the Brits performance and so I’m thrilled with that because it’s a great song, one of the Pet Shop Boys’ greatest songs. So, yes, that. And Olly and I have become friends. Rina and I are friends. Brandi and I are friends. Charlie Puth and I are now friends. Lil Nas X and I are now friends. So, it’s just amazing. Andrew Watt and I are now best friends. So, out of this has come a lot of friendships and a lot of magic and a lot of happiness and I loved doing it so much. As a surprise, I’m playing other people’s records and then you have to fit in with what they want and what they tell you to do, which was great, because in the early days I was a session musician, before I became Elton. When I did the Lil Nas X track and Glenn Campbell, I was in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. Fifty-four years prior to that I was in the same studio playing on The Hollies’ ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’ track. So, I thought I’ve come full circle here and I’m really loving what I’m doing. So, it’s lovely to be able to play on another musician’s track.”

The Lockdown Sessions was, observed Matt, “a record of relationships, a record of friendships”,an insight with which Elton readily agreed…

“Yeah. I do a lot of radio shows. I’ve done a radio show for six years in a row now on Apple and I’ve created and cultivated friendships with young musicians, and that’s really spurred me on. It excites me when I hear something new by somebody new, a Billie Eilish or a Lorde or a Khalid or in England by Berwyn or someone like that. Billie Eilish has just astonished me, when I played that first record by her. So, it gives me an access. And when I love a record by someone new, I interview them on the show, or I phone them up. Even if they’re in Australia or they’re in Europe, it doesn’t matter, because it’s important for me to offer a hand of friendship and offer a hand of authenticity to what they’re doing.  Because when I first came to America, Neil Diamond, the Beach Boys, Leon Russell, The Band, George Harrison, all got in touch with me and Leon Russell took me on tour and it made me feel very happy, that they liked my music and it validated what I did. So, you must always try and pass those thoughts on to other young musicians, because it helps them.”

Answering a question about how recording during a pandemic was different from his usual experience (submitted by Joanna, of W Extra, Poland), Elton pointed out that once the person he was working with knew exactly what they wanted, that made everything much easier…

“If people are vague and say, ‘I’m not sure about that’, you don’t really know what they want. Sometimes, when I’m playing on something, I can be a little too Eltonish and they say, can you cut back a little bit on that, you’re playing on my record, you’re not playing on your record. And so it’s really helpful and it’s really interesting, to see what they want rather than what I would have played. I end up playing something different. Like on the Metallica track with Miley Cyrus, Andrew wanted me to start the song on piano and finish the song on piano. On the Metallica track originally, it was just guitar. So, it was another way of looking at things. So, if someone knows what they want, it gives you a direction. It’s fun. And I have to say I never ever thought of making a record during lockdown whatsoever, and it’s become a joyous thing for me.”

“I learn something from each artist that I work with that I wouldn’t normally have learnt,” stated Elton. From Stevie Nicks, from Stevie Wonder, from Sam Lewis to Lil Nas X. I learnt something from each of them and if you’re at my age, which I’m seventy-four now, and you can still be learning from other musicians, that’s the greatest gift of all. You can never stop learning as a musician. If you shut your mind off and say, I’ve done it all now, I can do everything now, I don’t need to hear anything else, then for me that’s the dead end. I’m more excited now about music than I’ve ever been.”

During the course of the conversation, Matt touched on one of the stories that has always added some extra sparkle to Sir Elton’s already glittering legend, his all-round love of music. And this led to Elton revealing something a lot more people should take heed of, and indeed, should do themselves: buy actual physical albums!

“I buy my CDs still. I write the list of CDs that I want and I get the list that comes out on a Friday. I buy my CDs and I buy vinyl. I do my radio show every week, so Apple send me all the new releases that are coming out. There are 30,000 new songs every week on Spotify. So, you’ve got a lot to choose from. I’ve never lost it from when I bought 78 records, and that shows how old I am. The first 78 record I ever had was by Doris Day and it was called ‘The Deadwood Stage’ with ‘Secret Love’ on the other side, and I was so excited. My family always bought records. There was always music in the house. I’ve never lost that thing of going to a record store and buying something. I must have bought so many records the same, duplicate. Scritti Politti with ‘Cupid & Psyche’, every time I go into a record store and see it, I buy it. And so I must have ten CDs or three albums on vinyl. But it just never… It’s so exciting to go in a record store. Wherever I am and wherever I go in the world, I go to a record store or a vinyl store and I get as excited as I did when I was four or five years of age.”

As a massive country music fan, the song that excited me most from the first second I laid eyes on the album’s track-listing was its closer I’m Not Going To Miss You, Elton’s collaboration with the late Glen Campbell…

“Oh, it’s an amazing song. It’s the last song he ever wrote. This album came out ten years ago and it was his last album he ever made, and when it came out I commented on the song ‘I’m Not Going to Miss You’ and his family said, thank you for doing that, because they wanted to thank me for mentioning the song.  And so when they decided to recreate the album ten years on, with people doing duets with him, they asked me specifically to do that song, and I was so honoured that they asked me, because it is such a beautiful lyric about the heartbreak of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and I jumped at the chance. And it was really one of the most difficult tracks I had to do on the album because I had to get it right. I had to have the same emotion in my voice that he had. But it was such an honour because I’ve always been a Glen Campbell fan from way back when he was a guitarist on the Wrecking Crew, one of the greatest guitarists ever. One of the greatest records he used to sing, all the beautiful Jimmy Webb songs.”

“He was a gentleman”, concluded Elton, “a brilliant musician, a brilliant singer, a great voice. Like a James Taylor. You can hear them sing, and you love what they sing. So, for me it was an honour to do that and that song in particular I was so thrilled to be able to do. But I had to do it justice.”

THE LOCKDOWN SESSIONS, the brand NEW album from ELTON JOHN, is OUT NOW on all platforms.

ENDS

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