Joe Cooney

First Published October 2019

THE MAN BEHIND THE MIC

Hundreds of thousands of radio listeners and country music lovers around Ireland know and admire JOE COONEY as the voice of the Country Roads show on Midlands 103. And if there’s a country music event happening, then chances are Joe will be there too, up on stage holding it all together as M.C. And that’s a role he’ll be taking up once again on November 4th when the IRISH ENTERTAINMENT AWARDS take place in the Tullamore Court Hotel. 


At any event of this size – with star names such as CHARLIE McGETTIGAN, TOMMY FLEMING, FOSTER & ALLEN, MIKE DENVER and many more performing – the master of ceremonies is one of the most important roles, and needs to be in trusted hands. So what exactly does Joe’s job on nights like these entail, and how does he prepare for them? 


“Well thankfully this is something I’ve been doing for quite a number of years, so it’s pretty easy now in terms of preparation. But there’s a lot of things to do. You need to know your subject matter, which is each of the recipients of an award so that you know their history and when you introduce them you’re not bringing someone on stage who you know nothing about. That’s very, very important. So I always do my homework on everyone. I make sure I’m at the venue three, four – maybe even five hours – before the event, to make sure everything is where it should be and nothing is amiss from my point of view. There’ll be so much going on, you’ll have the sound-engineers there, the lighting guys, the band, and they’ll all deal with their own stuff, so I have no need to worry about that. But it’s important that each of them know where I am, and when I’m coming on stage during the night, who will be calling me on, who’s taking me off, little things like that which are all so important. But it’s something I love to do. And when it is, it doesn’t become a job, it becomes fun, ya know.” 

I wondered what’s Joe’s favourite part of nights like these? 


“The most important thing for me, and my favourite part of any night, is seeing the people who have paid their hard-earned money to come in, actually enjoy themselves. To see them clapping, and singing along with smiles on their faces. That, to me, more than just presenting special awards to different people – who deserve those awards, of course – is the most important part of the night. That the people who come along have a good night, and are happy, and are showing that happiness in their faces.”

Many artists have little routines that they always go through before going on stage each night, from finding a few moments to spend just by themselves, to sometimes having to do a certain few things in the same particular order. Does Joe have a routine that he tries to stick to when he’s hosting an event like the Irish Entertainment Awards? 


“Well my routine is kind of a weird one really! [laughs]. A lot of people need a few moments to compose themselves, but for me, I just go into the Green Room and mingle with the stars, and chat away with them. Because you never know, you see, you might get some new angle on someone just by talking to them. There might be something that just comes up on the night, and it becomes something that you can then add into your introduction. Or it might become a question you might put to the star on stage. So that’s what I do, I just mingle with the stars. That way, I’m familiar with everyone. I mean, I’m familiar with everyone I play anyway, of course. But you don’t actually see them that often during the year. So it’s always good and nice to go in and catch up with them, so to speak.”

The Awards on November 4th boasts a phenomenal line-up of star performers, including a few who Joe knows well, including Mike Denver, Sabrina Fallon, and Stephen Rosney and The Back Axles…


“Aah, Mike Denver in my book is one of the finest guys in the business. Lovely, friendly, down to earth, very thankful, very obliging. And definitely, as a live performer, is one of THE best I have seen in many years. And how he treats his fans is something else. He treats everyone with the same respect. From the people who play his songs, to the people who listen to his songs, to the people who go to his gigs, and every ordinary man and woman. Mike comes from a very nice family as well. Good stock! And you can’t beat good stock!” 

And Joe has great time for Sabrina Fallon as well, as he explained…


“Yeah, Sabrina and I, we’ve known each other since she started really, since she first sent in a cd and I listened to it. I’ve always liked her voice. But I didn’t know for a long time that she was related to Mike, so she’s played purely on merit, on the basis that she’s a great singer and the songs she brings out are terrific. My first involvement with Sabrina apart from playing her songs, was the song we recorded together. I found the song, ‘Stumblin’ In’, and I was looking for someone to do that duet with, and I picked Sabrina. And I’ve always been so happy that I did, because I couldn’t have picked better. And I’m looking forward to singing that on the night with Sabrina.”

Singer/songwriter Stephen Rosney and his band, the Back Axles, are also held in high regard by Joe…


“Again, I know all of these lads and girls through music. There isn’t really anybody that I would have known outside the business, except for Keith and Lorraine McDonald, I would have known their family long before I came into work on radio. But yeah, Stephen and the lads. He was playing with another band called Rsolyn, and that’s how I knew Stephen, from getting his cds sent into me and playing them. I met him one night then, it must have been at a gig somewhere, and he handed me a couple of the songs he had written himself. I played them on-air, and I’ve been playing them ever since. Stephen did the video for Sabrina and myself, for ‘Stumblin In’, too. And since then we’ve been involved in different bits and bobs together. I’d certainly use Stephen’s company, Rosney Media, when I’m doing the videos for any of my songs. And lots of people I know use them as well. Stephen is a lovely guy. All the lads in the Back Axles are lovely guys. And they have this great down to earth – I call it earthy music – bluegrassy type music. It’s so homely. It’s like sitting around a fireplace, or sitting around a camp-fire somewhere in America when you’re singing those songs. I have great respect for the lads. And especially as Stephen is a songwriter as well. Because you know what? There’s not a huge amount of songwriters. There’s lots of guys who are singing other peoples’ songs, but there are not many writers producing songs at the rate that Stephen is. And along with, of course, Derek Ryan as well. Stephen’s songs are songs of the earth. They keep you grounded.” 

In the last year or so, Joe’s music career has expanded from being the man behind the mic while presenting, to being the man behind the mic while actually performing, as a series of singles and a debut album have changed the trajectory of his musical journey…


“Well ya know, it’s kinda weird [laughs]. My mum sang when I was a kid, and I used to love singing along with her for the craic. But I never went out and sang publicly. But I decided when I reached sixty years of age that one of the things on my bucket-list was to go out and record a single. And that’s what I did with Sabrina. And ya know what? It’s a disease, and I mean that in the best possible way [laughs]. And people who know what I mean will laugh at that [laughs]. My end was always playing the artists, and listening to them, picking out good songs, always showing their best side on my show. But I’ve gone from that, to going out and recording an entire album myself, which I did about six months ago. ‘Stumblin In’ was the start of the bucket-list. Just record a single. And that one did it nicely. But once I recorded the single, I started to get a grá for it. Then I decided to do a ten-track album! And I have to say a big thank-you to Seamus Cullinane in Roseland Studios for guiding me along the way as well. I mean, what a great guy to go and record with. And with Stephen then, I’ve got videos for ‘Stumblin In’, as I mentioned, and ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’, and ‘She Believes In Me’. So there’s a few videos running around out there on the internet, so there is, all produced by Stephen, and great job he’s done on them all. Look, you get the bug. I didn’t expect to get the bug! But I got the bug [laughs]. And all you want to do then is sing! It’s mad, isn’t it! [laughs].” 


Joe is a man of more than one passion, though. His wife and family are definitely at the top of the list, but after them, as well as music, cars and Liverpool FC also have very special places in the presenter’s heart…


“Yeah, I’m very much a family guy. If I had nothing else in this life, and if I died having nothing more in this life, then I’ve had everything in having my wife, our three children, out three grandchildren, and a fourth on the way! They are the rocks of my life. That’s what I build everything on. Cars, well I’ve always worked on cars since I was a young lad. I remember working as a sales-trainer/teacher with a company where I was training and developing people for four and a half years. A lovely clean job, earning good money, a briefcase, a suit, in at 9am in the morning, home at 4.30pm in the evening. And I still just had to roll up the sleeves, and get oil on my hands, and oil on my face and my hair, working and playing with cars! My latest thing now, that I’ve been doing for a few years, is I buy 1950s cars and restore them. Now if you could just see a photo of a couple that I have there, people would think that I was stone mad [laughs]. Most people say when they see them that they should be dumped. But I love it! It’s hard work, and it’s very labour intensive, but at the end when it’s done and you’re looking back on the finished products, it gives me such heart. Even if the car ends up being owned by someone else, as long as I get to drive that car and feel that I’ve made this – from start to finish – it gives you great pride.” 

And Liverpool? 


“Liverpool have been a part of my life since before I had my family, and always will be. I’m a passionate Liverpool fan. I just love the team. But I hate the way things go for them sometimes in so many situations. So many Premier League titles have gone-a-begging because of silly draws, struggling to get more goals. The one game that really broke my heart was the Crystal Palace game, where we were 3-nil up – 3-NIL UP – and we let Palace come back to draw. I think we lost the league by two points that same season. They kept pushing for more goals to get a better goal-difference, but they ended up drawing, and could even have lost in the end. You would not want to be beside me when I’m watching Liverpool play, because I go ballistic. Even my missus goes, ‘I’m going off to visit your mother, I’ll leave you alone to your battles!’ [laughs]. And that’s what it is, it’s an emotional roller-coaster, I don’t know how I don’t get a heart-attack. In fact, Will Faulkner recorded me – and I didn’t even know he was doing it – one time I was in one evening and Liverpool were playing. They were playing so bad that my language was…my language was choice! [laughs]. He recorded it and played it back with the expletives bleeped out and it was very funny. He caught me at my best! [laughs].” 

Probably hundreds of thousands of people around Ireland will know Joe as the presenter of Country Roads on Midlands 103, one of the most popular country music shows on Irish radio. Now I’ve met Joe many’s a time going into studio to present his show, and every time with armfuls of cds keeping him company for the night ahead. I asked Joe how much preparation goes into each show, because that’s something that a lot of people might not appreciate…


“Well for me, and number one, it’s very important that new artists get airplay. Now, in saying that, there is one little condition that I put on things. That’s that they can sing and that they’re single, or album, is recorded professionally. Sometimes people send stuff in, and they can sing alright, but the recording is awful. Or the other way round, the recording is brilliant, but they’re out of key, out of tune. So I won’t play those. I have to be very careful. I go through every single and album that’s sent to me, and I pick the very best of them. So even if I get in, let’s say for example, an EP of four tracks. I won’t just listen to the first one. If the first one is awful, I’ll still listen to the second and the third, ya know. I won’t be dismissive of anyone. And sometimes some of the people, the artists, who are around a long time, will send in a song that I think doesn’t suit them, so I won’t play it. I need to make sure that I put their best foot forward, so to speak. For them, and for me, and for the listeners as well. Sometimes too, people will ask me to give my honest opinion about a song, and I will. And I think I’ve only had one person who gave out about something I said. But, they did go ahead and change the way they were doing things after that and they improved a lot.”


“And it’s not just because I’m a professional”, Joe continued, “but look, I listen to all of the songs and all the singers. So who better to offer a comment as to whether something is good, bad, or indifferent, than the person who is playing them year-in, and year-out, for the past twenty years. Not all of those with Midlands 103, I started up in Dublin in 2000. So this year I’m actually twenty years in broadcasting. It’s not about insulting anyone, you never want to do that. It’s just about playing the very best of what’s sent it. So yes, there is a lot of preparation involved. Say Michael English brings out a new song, while I’ll play the bones out of that until it’s stuck in peoples’ minds and it’s branded as Michael English’s song, if you know what I mean. So what happens then for Michael, is people will say to him at a gig, oh will you play such and such a song, I heard it on Midlands 103. And that’s why they’ll ask for him to play it, because they’ve heard it. If they don’t hear it, they won’t know that any singer – be they old or new – have a new song out.”

Who, I wondered, is Joe’s own favourite country artist? If he was to do a one or two-hour special on someone, for instance, who would it be? 


“Well now…,that’s a very difficult question to answer! Because I want to be fair to everyone who’s sending me their records. But, I’m a massive fan of Mike Denver, and of Robert Mizzell, and Michael English, too. Derek Ryan, as well, Cliona Hagan, Lisa McHugh. Who would I go to to listen to as a fan? Well all of those artists. And The Back Axles, I’d sit all night and listen to those boys playing! If I was to look at this like making a cake, putting a few different ingredients in, and then making a decision as to who I thought was one of the very best in the country…I would say Mike Denver. Why would I say Mike Denver? Well let’s talk about those ingredients. There’s a lot of things. Mike is very approachable, a friendly guy. He could be away in Spain or somewhere when I play one of his songs, but a bleep will come on my phone, either from Mike or his manager, Willie Carty, to say listen, we heard you played the song there, thanks for the airplay. Now nobody has to do that, nobody. But Mike does. He’s so humble. He’s one of the biggest names in entertainment in this country, and yet, he carries himself like he’s just another ordinary guy. And I absolutely love that about him. So answering your question, it’s by adding all of those little things into the blend that I get Mike as my answer. I mean look, there’s so much competition out there. Michael English is off this planet, he’s brilliant. Robert Mizzell has that real American country voice, brilliant. Derek Ryan, in my opinion, is one of Ireland’s finest songwriters. And so can Michael English, for that matter. But Derek Ryan has album after album of self-penned tracks, and lots of other people are using his songs, too. Daniel O’ Donnell has recorded them, Michael has, Robert has, Mike has, all of these people have recorded songs Derek has written. An amazingly talented young man from Carlow. So I’d go to all of these lads. And Rosie Flanagan, there’s a local girl who is an absolutely superb singer. She had a duet out with Johnny Brady, which was gorgeous. Their voices blended so well together.”

Of the newer, and younger country artists on the scene, who has Joe been impressed by? 


“Eoin Mac, I don’t think anyone else will pass him for his vocal talent. He’s unbelievable. Well there’s lots of local talent around who have been catching my ear. There’s Colin Kenny from Banagher, there’s Alex Roe from Clara, who is starring on Glór Tíre at the moment. And it’s funny with Alex, when I first got his record in, there was one song I really liked so I kept playing it. So I said to him one day, Alex, will you send in more country songs to me, you have a great country music voice. I met him then at a fundraiser over in Banagher recently, one that I was singing at as well. Alex was on before me, and I was blown away by his Kenny Rogers, and his Merle Haggard, and his Willie Nelson songs that he was singing, songs that he hasn’t recorded yet at all. So that young man, in my opinion, he has massive potential. On the female artist side, there’s Olivia Douglas, of course, and Sabrina Fallon. Rosie Flanagan, too. Olivia is absolutely amazing. Herself and Sabrina. But they’re two different singers, but two powerful singers. And well able to get a crowd going, something that’s very important in the business. I was at another fundraiser recently – because I like to do some when I can, to give something back – and I was only meant to sing three or four songs, but they asked for one more. And that’s brilliant for a singer, to be asked to do another song. But what I loved even more was that the floor was full with people out dancing, and singing every word of the song with me. And that meant they must have been listening to the record that I released, my album. That’s the same kind of audience connection that I see with Olivia, that I see with Sabrina, with young Colin Kenny, who is a great little songwriter as well. Colin has written some songs that are very, very powerful. One of them was for Darkeness Into Light, Let’s Step Together, fabulous song.  And John Molloy is another man like that. A very talented guitar player, and a great ballad singer. There’s so many, many more out there that I could name. I love all the new people out there that are coming on board with country music, because they’re making my job easier. New people are refreshing my show all the time. There’s so many extremely passionate and talented young people, and new artists, out there. Not only making my job easier, but making it a pleasure. You have to have something new to play. I’ve never been bored in this job because of the amount of new, up-and-coming Irish talent that has kept coming along over the last twenty years. And of course, as a presenter, it’s also important for me to keep in mind the lads who trail-blazed over the years, like Larry Cunningham, Gene Stuart, Mick Flavin, Shawn Cuddy, Louise Morrissey, Susan McCann, Philomena Begley, people like that from way back in the day, but a lot of whom are still out there doing to this very day. You can’t forget them.” 


“And you know what”, concluded Joe, “I just want to give a mention to my mum, too. She’s eighty-six years of age now, her name is Patricia Cooney, but she’s known as Bernie Cooney. She sang all around the midlands years ago to keep us alive, and that’s exactly where I got my inspiration from to sing. She got the name Bernie – because she wasn’t Bernadette – years and years ago, I remember her telling me this story, when their dresses had to be down around their ankles! But Mammy wore dresses that were at her knee. This is a funny story, but it’s a fact. The dress was down to her knee, but when she’s sit down it would come up above her knee, and she got the name ‘bare-knee’! [laughs]. And that eventually became Bernie!”

~ You can tune into Joe on his show, Country Roads, every night of the week at 8pm on Midlands 103.

ENDS

P.J. Gallagher

THE I.N.L.A., TRUMP, AND PUBLIC WHIPPINGS!

First Published November 2017

If all I ever knew about P.J. Gallagher was how passionately he feels about animals and their welfare, that would be enough for me to know I’d go into battle at his side without even a moment’s hesitation should such an hour ever come. But that’s not all I know about him. There’s also the fact that he considers Donald Trump to be looney, so we’re on the same page there, too! And there’s a couple of other things that most folk probably have no idea about, but, no more than both of the points already mentioned, really shine a light on P.J’s character as a human being.

For as long as it was possible for him to do so before his work shifts with Classic Hits 4FM ruled it out, P.J. was a volunteer with Blood Bikes East, meaning he was on call at a moment’s notice to transport blood supplies for hospitals in case of emergencies. And not only that, but since moving to Dun Laoghaire, P.J. has become a volunteer with the R.N.L.I. (Royal National Lifeboat Institution, as opposed to the I.N.L.A, but more on that anon!), because he believes in giving back to the community where you live. 


And on top of all this pure soundness, of course, there’s the fact that P.J. is one of the funniest men in the land. And on December 2nd he’s bringing his latest tour to the Tullamore Court Hotel. I had the pleasure of catching up with P.J. recently for a chat about the new show, and life in general. Now, most comedy shows usually go for some kind of witty play on words to get peoples’ attention when it comes to a name. And P.J. has definitely got peoples’ attention taking his ‘Dickhead’ tour on the road! Only one question to kick things off with then…..!!!


“Ya know somethin’? I wish I had a really good story for this, I really do! I come from when, in stand-up, you didn’t really name your show, you just said, ‘P.J. Gallagher will be ‘live’ on this date and at this time’, and that was it. But at some stage a few years ago somebody started namin’ all these tours! So I started callin’ mine all these stupid names that meant nothin’. And this year the show is about a bunch of stupid stuff that’s happened to me over the last two years, and I said I’m just gonna call it ‘Dickhead’, it’ll be grand! Of course I was thinkin’ nobody would pay any attention. But then you have to have a poster, and suddenly I’m Ireland’s most popular dickhead! [laughs]. So it’s a title I’ll wear with pride, I guess [laughs].”


So the show title doesn’t necessarily indicate what fans will be getting on this occasion? 


“Well, no, I think they will [be getting it]. Because in the last couple of years, since I’ve hit forty-two, I’ve realised I am a bit of a clueless dickhead, so that’s exactly what they’ll get. And what they’ll have to bear with for at least an hour and ten minutes! [laughs].”


How long does it generally take to put together a new show like this? 


“Ah God, it can take up to a year to get a show right. And then, as soon as you get it right, and get out and start actually tourin’, it changes every bloody night anyway! So it’s always a work in progress, ya know. Like, if you saw the first gig I did on this tour – and the last gig is going to be in Donegal on the ninth of December – if you saw those two shows you’d be like, ‘Whaaaaa?!’ Cos’ they’d only be vaguely familiar! But they definitely wouldn’t seem like the same show, ya know that kind of way? So it changes all the time. It’s a really weird process, to be quite honest with ya. Someone like Neil Delamere can just write a whole new show, from start to finish, in a couple of months. For me, it’s probably a year, realistically. That’s how long it takes me.”


So it’s definitely a case of the show evolving as it goes along?


“Yeah, jaysus, I’d get sick of the sound of my own voice if it was the same every night. I wouldn’t be able for it! I did a play last year in the Dublin Theatre Festival, so I had to say the exact same words for a week and it nearly killed me! [laughs]. I was there, how do people feckin’ do this?! How do they do it every single night! I was like this is a disaster of a job, thank God I never made it as an actor! [laughs].”


Between stand-up, tv, and of course radio, being in front of an audience is something P.J. is something that’s second nature for P.J. by now. But is there one of those areas in which he feels most comfortable now and would be quite happy doing forever if it came down to picking just one?


“Yeah, there is, and it’s really surprising for me, to be honest because I would have said no to that a year ago. But now it’s radio, one hundred percent. It’s radio that I enjoy the most, and it’s what I hope I can do for years and years. And if I had to pick one, I’d pick radio in a heartbeat these days.” 


And why radio? 


“Well, ya know with telly ya have to wait so long to get a result. Like, we’ve just finished filming ‘The Young Offenders’ but it’s still gonna be well into 2018 before we know if anybody likes it or not! With stand-up, it’s instant. But you spend so much time on your own. A stand-up comedian is a van driver, essentially! You get into your car or your van, you drive for four hours, you tell some jokes – you deliver jokes instead of parcels – then you go and drive home! You’re on your own all the time. And when you finally do talk to people, they’re not allowed talk back to ya! But radio, it’s so interactive. And it’s got the same sort of instant thing you get with stand-up. Basically, you get to go into the same place, with your friends, and have a laugh every feckin’ day! And radio as well, it’s such a thrill to everything else I’ve done before, too. At least I haven’t had that and been paid for it! I’ve had it in other jobs and been sacked for it [laughs]. But actually gettin’ paid for it is a different thing.” 


P.J. has stated before that he does comedy because he’s good at it, but his real passion in life is bikes. Unfortunately, P.J. fell victim to some shameless scumbags earlier this year, who first of all stole his beloved motorbike and then tried to sell it back to him! I asked P.J. how that all played out in the end? 


“Well, I’ll tell ya now, it actually did play out alright in the end because the insurance company paid up almost straight away, which was grand! So then I went and I got another bike, but the bloody bike I got is so uncomfortable that there’s actually another bike that I’m lookin’ at at the moment! It’s in me Ma’s front garden where the last one was robbed from, and I’m lookin’ at it as I’m talkin’ to you. So the saga continues, but I’m nearly there [laughs].” 


As mentioned in my opening paragraph, P.J. put his love of bikes to positive use for the greater good of his community when he served as a volunteer with Blood Bikes East for a time.


“Yeah, I had to stop when I started the radio show because the shifts crossed over, so that’s why I had to give it up, unfortunately. But I loved it. And I’ve just moved to Dun Laoighaire, so I’ve just joined the R.N.L.I. now, I joined them a couple of weeks ago. I love the social side of it, but also it’s nice to be able to contribute to where you live, at least I think it is. Like, we can all do comedy gigs to help out different things, but it’s rare you’ll actually get to see the effects of where that money goes, so it’s great to be a part of something like that, that you can actually participate in, ya know. And it’s gas, right, cos’ this is only two weeks ago, so I came back to the house here [his mam’s], and I said, Ma, I’m after joining the R.N.L.I. and she was, ‘Ahh feckin’ great, good for you’, ya know. But then I heard her talkin’ to her neighbour, over the garden wall, and she goes, ‘He’s after joinin’ the I.N.L.A.’ (Irish National Liberation Army), she goes! [laughs]. She said, ‘Yeah, he met a fella on the pier and apparently there’s a great social side to it!’ [laughs].”


Like P.J., I’m a huge dog person, and indeed animals in general. And one of the things that really annoys me about this country is how slack, to the point of non-existence sometimes, our animal welfare laws are. I wondered if this was something that ever bothered P.J., too?


“Yeah, it’s a disgrace. It really bothers me. Like, I love the I.S.P.C.A., but when ya hear the stories that the inspectors will tell ya, it would shock ya what goes on in Ireland. To be honest, when it comes to dogs especially, and the way people breed dogs, it’s just a disgrace. I love being Irish, and I love Ireland, but some things are an absolute disgrace and our animal welfare is just….It really upsets me, it actually gets me down, ya know. What I’d say to people is, if you’re gettin’ a dog, please go to the shelters. They’re amazing dogs. A rescue dog, there’s just nothin’ in the world like it. And get it neutered, everybody needs to do their part. Cos’ we’re puttin’ down as many dogs in a month as Scotland puts down in a year! And we’re roughly the same population! Like, it’s so hard to comprehend…If you think of that in numbers, like…The world isn’t good enough for dogs, it really isn’t. We owe them a lot more. I’ve got a Weimaraner and a Collie-cross, she’s actually here lookin’ at me now wonderin’ why I’m not givin’ her attention! She’s from Dogs Trust, she is. But she has a bit of a face on her now, she’s not happy with me [laughs].”


When he first started being recognised in the streets P.J. recalled how he found it hard to get his head around – that complete strangers would know who he was – for a long time. So is ‘fame’ something that he’s settled more into over the years? 


“Well I don’t really know if I’m famous, as much as it is that people just sorta go, ‘Alright there P.J.’, ya know! People kinda know my face, but they never treat me like I’m ‘famous’ or anything. But yeah, ya get used to people knowin’ ya, and ya get used to people chattin’ ya. Ya just have conversations everywhere ya go! Sometimes the motorbike helmet is the best thing in the world, it’s the only way to be anonymous! If I ever want some peace and quiet I just stick on the motorbike helmet, even if I’m drivin’ the car! [laughs]. I’d either look like a very nervous driver, or an I.N.L.A. man, God knows which! [laughs].” 


If the powers-that-be at Classic Hits 4FM came to P.J. in the morning and told him he was in luck, for one show only they were going to be able to get him whatever three people he wanted as guests for his show, who would he choose to fill those spots? 


“Oh man! Jeez, that’s a good question. Well Donald Trump anyway, cos’ I just want to sit down with the man and see if he’s actually that looney and that mad! And I’m sure I’d get some great comedy material out of him. And if I didn’t, there’d still be enough outrage for me to enjoy it [laughs]. So Donald Trump….and maybe Louis Walsh, because I think they might be related! And maybe Shergar, the horse. I want to get his testimony of what the IRA did to him. So Shergar, Donald Trump, and Louis Walsh. I think that could be the best dinner party actually ever!” 


As a comedian, does P.J. believe that there are some things which just shouldn’t be joked about, or which can possibly be joked about too soon? As we spoke, it was just a few days after James Corden had found himself in hot water over comments he made in relation to the Harvey Weinstein scandal that’s rocking Hollywood. Corden, incidentally, was defended by Russell Brand, who pointed out that comedians are needed in life to find and point out the funny side of things.


“Yeah, I’d be more with Russell Brand on that one, I think. I don’t think there is a ‘too-soon’, as such. The problem is if you do something and it’s just not a good joke, then you’re up for a bigger fall. I think that was Corden’s biggest problem, that it just wasn’t a great joke. Like, if he’s made a better joke, it probably wouldn’t have even got that much attention. I’d agree with Russell Brand, I don’t think there is a ‘too-soon’ time. I mean, you can tell a joke, right, and at the same time not be completely insensitive about something. You can always tell a joke, I really do believe that. In fact, I don’t think we’d get over tragedy at all if we didn’t tell jokes. Jokes are how we find our way out of tragedies, or out of scandals, or out of any of these things. Of course, I’m biased, aren’t I, I make jokes about everything for a livin’ [laughs]. But I do genuinely believe it, I don’t think there is anything that shouldn’t be joked about to some degree. That doesn’t mean that you go out and do racist jokes, but that you can go out and do jokes about racism, ya know. There’s ways of doin’ it.”


When I was growing up CHIPS was one of the biggest shows on tv, and Erik Estrada, who played the character of ‘Ponch’, was one of the show’s top stars. P.J. actually got to meet Erik Estrada in real life a few years back, and turns out the man is as much of a legend in real-life as his tv character ever was.


“We were doin’ the series ‘Makin’ Jake’, the Jake Stevens [one of P.J’s characters in ‘Naked Camera’] spin-off series over in L.A., and one of the set-ups was to go and meet him [Erik] in his house.And even though he didn’t know we were filmin’ him at the start, he was just the soundest bloke ever. And when he did know, he started actin’! He was givin’ us shots on the bikes and everything! He goes against all the rules about never meet your heroes! He breaks them all! He’s just the nicest bloke in the whole world, just such a great fella. Now he’s nuts about himself, but I suppose if you’re Erik Estrada you’re allowed to be nuts about yourself! So ya may leave him at it [laughs]. There was talk of him comin’ over here to do somethin’ with the Guards, cos’ he loves cops, but sure it never happened which is a shame. But if he ever does come to Ireland I’ll be queuing up to meet him again, because what a deadly fella!” 


Has there ever been a celebrity whom P.J. has met that was the exact opposite to Estrada, as in, well…not cool?! 


“No, I haven’t actually. No, wait, I did, and do ya know who it was? Brett ‘The Hitman’ Hart, the wrestler. I met him one day in RTE years ago. I used to love wrestling when I was a kid. So I seen him and I said to him, ‘I used to love you when I was a kid’, and he just said, ‘Yeah’, and he just walked past me. Just ‘Yeah’, and then shook his head like I was a pathetic little pain in the ass, and walked on. I was like, holy s&it, man, that hurt! That really hurt. You’re after stampin’ on my childhood, ya asshole! [laughs]. But that’s the only time that’s happened really.”


Last question, and another one where P.J. could put his imagination to use. If he was to get a phone-call from Leo Varadkar asking P.J. to do him a huge favour and stand in as Taoiseach for him for one day, but in return, P.J. could sign into law, with immediate and everlasting effect, any one thing….what would it be?


“Ah, this one is easy and obvious. Immediate and long-term jail sentences for animal cruelty. That would genuinely be it. Absolutely. And public floggings for them! If you do something to animals, then you have the same done to you, at the Central Bank, in front of a crowd while they cheer! That’s absolutely what I’d do. If I had that one chance on that one day, then for my day people who abuse animals would be whipped up and down the street!”

ENDS

Aoife McDonagh

First Published April 2018

HOW COWGIRLS AND HEROES ARE MADE

Aoife McDonagh

At last year’s Cowboys & Heroes Festival in Drumcoura City in Leitrim, Aoife McDonagh was crowned the winner of the festival’s Search For A Country Star competition. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to schedule an interview, but for one reason or another – all on my side, I’m afraid – we had to keep putting it off to another day. But we stayed in regular contact, and last week, at last, we managed to nail down a time and a day, and we ‘made it happen’, as the saying goes! There’s another saying about things being well worth the wait, and in Aoife’s case this is accurate to the nth degree! As soon as I first heard her debut single, Go Down Swingin’, I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy chatting with the Sligo woman. Anybody who could come out with a first song that catchy – and, on today’s Irish country music scene,that unique – could only be pretty cool in real-life, too. As soon as we finally said hello, I knew I was right.

Aoife, as well as being a beautiful, beautiful singer, which is clearly why she won last year’s competition, is one of those people who it’s probably impossible not to ‘click’ with straight away. You meet, you start to chat, and the most lovely and genuine warmth, sense of fun, and down-to-earthness radiates from her personality. I could have chatted to Aoife all day long. And, I could listen to her sing all day long, too. And these are just two of the reasons why Aoife should become a household name as far as Irish country music is concerned in the coming years.

But for right now, it’s all about the present, and Aoife has just released her debut single. Go Down Swingin’, is a wonderfully old-style country-swing tune, and to be honest, I’ve loved it from within about the first few seconds of the first time I heard it. This is my kinda country. I knew it wasn’t an original, but it also wasn’t a song I could honestly recall hearing before, either. So, slightly puzzled as to how this one might have slipped by me, I began by asking Aoife how she came to choose this particular track as her debut single…

“Well, I entered into this competition in the Cowboys & Heroes Festival over in Drumcoura city, there in Leitrim. And it was actually a lad I started singing with, called Liam Gilmartin, who’s from here in Sligo – and he played with Ray Lynam back in the day, and he was a member of Jargon with Charlie McGettigan, too – so it was Liam who said it to me about the competition. Now, I’ve been goin’ to that festival for twenty years, since I was a child, when my father used to bring me over there. But there wasn’t a hope in hell that I was gonna go up on stage and go singin’, not a hope in hell! [laughs]. Cos’ I only started singing last year [2017], so I was way, way, way too shy and too nervous. But anyway, Liam said to me, ‘Look, if you don’t try this, you’ll never know [how it might have went], and if you don’t go and do it, you’ll never have the courage to get up in front of a big crowd like that.’ So he said, ‘Just go over without any expectations, just go for yourself.’ So that’s what I did. I just did it for myself.” 

 

Aoife continued, “You had to enter the competition by sending them in a little video, so we recorded one down in Liam’s kitchen! [laughs]. I sang the song, ‘Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You’, and sent it in, never thinking I’d hear anything from them. But I got picked! And what happened was, there was twelve of us picked and we went up to Drumcoura City and we sang on the stage [at last year’s Cowboys & Heroes festival], and I absolutely loved it! I enjoyed every minute of it. It was the Ryan Turner Band who was backing me, and they’re great. They just made me feel really relaxed and everything. So that was fine, really enjoyed it, and thought to myself it was going to be the first and last time that I’d ever get on a big stage like that, do ya know! [laughs]. So I said I’d better give it socks! [laughs]. So I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I couldn’t believe it when I heard my name coming out through the speakers to come back the next day! So panic stations then, sure I had nothing to wear! [laughs]. I had to get someone to mind the children as well, because I hadn’t sorted that either, because I never thought that I’d need to be there the second day. Anyway, went back over the next day, and I think I relished it even more that time, I really was thanking my lucky stars. I was like, wow, how lucky am I to be getting on this stage a second time! This is it now, enjoy it! So you can imagine my absolute shock when they announced the winner and it was my name. I was actually in conversation with somebody – I’m a bit of a talker, ya know [laughs] – and I was chatting away to someone and when my name came out through the speakers, I didn’t even hear it because I was chatting! And the lady I was talking to, she says, ‘That’s your name, that’s your name! You won it!’ And I thought, won what? I thought she was talking about a raffle or something! [laughs] I was like, what’s goin’ on?! But then the next thing I realised was they were all calling me up on the stage. Still to this day I’m pinching myself asking did that actually happen?! It was a dream come true.”

 

And part of Aoife’s prize was to actually record a single, and a video to go with it…

“To do a single, ya know…I mean, I’m a mum of three, a stay-at-home mum, I never thought I’d ever be able to do anything like this. I thought it would cost too much money, where would I get the time, and this and that. So I wanted to pick something special. I didn’t want to do something that was done before. I didn’t want to pick a song that people were very familiar with. I wanted something completely fresh, and completely new. So how I actually found the song in the end was, my aunty – and unfortunately she only just passed away a month ago, my poor aunty, she was like my best friend – Carmel, it was her and my father who got me into music, especially the American country, and Carmel was forever buying me cds. You know those five-cd compilations, ‘101 Great Country Songs’ or whatever, with all these songs you’ve never heard of in your life, like! So I was listening to all this music trying to figure out what would I release as the single, and I found this song, ‘Go Down Swingin’. It’s from a band called Wild Roses, an all-female American country band, with five members in it. They formed in 1988, which was the year I was born, so I thought that was a good omen anyway [laughs]. They were only together though for three years, but they released three albums one year after the other, then they broke up. And what I also found out when I started researching them, was that Lisa McHugh’s song, ‘I’m A Little Bit Lonely’, that was there song as well. And, it’s actually from the same album as my song, ‘Go Down Swingin.’ And it was actually Wayne Thorose, over at Ballyrose Studios, when I was recording my single, that informed me of that. Because Lisa had recorded ‘I’m A Little Bit Lonely’ there with him. And when I brought him over my song, Wayne was like, ‘Jesus, I’ve heard that song before.’ And he was trying to think where he heard it, and that’s where it was. So that was kind of interesting!” 

 

When it came to making the final decision on exactly which song it was going to be, though, Aoife called in some experts for their advice….

“So there was two or three songs I had it narrowed down to before I chose that one, and I was playing them all here at home listening to them. But here’s what really made me pick that one. My two little girls here – they’re eight and four, Caoimhe and Cora – they absolutely loved that song! And they kept asking me to put it on, ‘Will ya put on THAT song, Mammy, will ya?!’ And they were singing’ it themselves goin’ out the door to school in the morning. So I thought well that shows it’s catchy, and it’s fun! So I said right, that’s the winner!” 

 

But Aoife did have some concerns (unwarranted, in my opinion) about her choice…

“But I was afraid now, being honest, that the song, because it’s not your typical Irish jive, I was afraid that it wouldn’t go down too well. It is good and catchy, and fast and lively and everything. But I was afraid that it wouldn’t go down well because it’s not a typical Irish jive. But sure look, I love it, the kids love it, I said let’s go and do it! It’s something different! And I’m getting great feedback from it so far, so I hope everyone does like it! [laughs].” 

 

At this point, I realised that Aoife had answered about half of the questions I had prepared in her very first answer! When I pointed this out, she just laughed and apologised.

“Sorry! I’ll tell ya, that’s me, I’m a total talker! When I start telling a story, I tell every little detail! [laughs].” 

 

Part of her prize was to record a single, and that’s just been released in the last few week’s too, the brilliantly western-swing styled, ‘Go Down Swingin.’ Personally, I love this song and I hope country radio recognises how good it is. And let me tell you, Aoife is every bit as great to chat to as she is a pleasure to listen to when she sings. When it comes to talent and personality Aoife is already top of the charts.

So how did she finally start to gig following that Cowboys & Heroes victory last year…

“Well first of all, I was working full-time as a beautician here in Ballymoate, my local town, working in a pharmacy downstairs and managed the salon that was upstairs. So I was basically between the two, but I was the only one working in the salon so it was tough going. But after I had my second daughter, I was thinking it was just far too busy at work. And it really doesn’t pay either when you have childcare for the two of them. And I wanted to be at home with them anyway. So I gave up the job and was being a stay-at-home mum here, and I honestly had no ‘plan’, I just wanted to get out of that job at the time. I knew there was something else for me out there, but I didn’t what. So I always sang in the choir in the local church, and I was always involved in pantomimes in the town as well. But I never actually went out gigging in pubs or anything, because I just thought I’d never be able to do that, to be honest! So, what happened was a lady asked me to sing at her aunty’s month’s mine, and I asked her, ‘Do you mean the choir?’ But she said, ‘No, I want you.’ She said I like your voice, I think you’re great. So I thought to myself then, Jesus, maybe I could do this. She was actually the first person who ever asked me to do it like that. So I started to dip my toe into it a little bit, having a look around to see what was out there [someone to sing with].”

Aoife continued, “My sister-in-law told me about this thing she’d seen on Facebook, the Sligo Musicians’ Notice Board. I’d never heard of it, but sure we went onto it anyway! [laughs]. So she said why don’t we put up an ad saying I wanted to do a bit of country music singing, but that I was just starting out and I’d love to meet somebody who’d accompany me on guitar or piano. So that’s what I did, and Liam Gilmartin answered the cal! Now Liam was Ray Lynam’s lead-guitarist for years in the 80s, and do you remember that band, Jargon? With Charlie McGettigan? Well he was in that with Charlie, that was Charlie’s first band. And The Cotton Mill Boys, did you ever hear of them? Well Liam was the guitar player with them as well. So there was a few things that Liam had done that were kinda jaw-dropping. And I was thinking, ya know, I’m not worthy of this fella! [laughs]. So I rang him and I told him I was literally just starting off, I hadn’t done ANYTHING! But he said that didn’t matter. Now Sligo, unfortunately, is very bad for venues when it comes to country music. There’s nowhere really to play it. There’s one or two places in the town, and that’s where we go, but that’s it. It’s very sad.”

 

As is so often the case in life, timing is everything. And so it proved with Aoife and Liam….

“So as it happened, Liam was dying to get back into doing a bit of country again, so he said come on down to me and we’ll do something. So we started doing a two-piece acoustic set-up, and got a few gigs in our local pub and things like that. That was going very well, so we decided we wanted to do something more, to make it a fuller sound. Liam knew a guy called Michael Coggins, and he plays the steel-guitar and also the mandolin and electric guitar. He came along with us as well, so now there’s the three of us! We use a drum and bass for a backing-track, and the boys play ‘live’, and we’re out now every weekend! I can’t believe that I’m so lucky to have met those two. And we love it!”

As well as recording a single, another part of Aoife’s prize from last year was to record a video to go along with it. And that’s happening this coming Sunday, too, back where it all began, at Cowboys & Heroes….

“That’s right. Well there were a few different times I was going to do it, and a few different places I was going to do it, but then I was talking to Simon over at Cowboys & Heroes and he said well why don’t you do it here? Where it all started off in the first place. And actually do it around the time of the festival. Because the song is called ‘Go Down Swingin’, and it’s about dancing and singing, you have to kind of tie all that into it. I didn’t just want a video of me…out in a field! [laughs]. Or beside a river, ya know! [laughs]. That’s not the way I wanted it. I want something good and lively, something that’s going to be….that’s going to be entertaining to watch, yeah. I feel very passionate about this video, I’ll be very hands-on with it. I think it’s because it’s my debut and people don’t know who I am and have never heard of me. So I’m like, right, this has to be right, it has to be perfect. So I’m going to singing at Cowboys & Heroes this year anyway, on the Sunday in the afternoon, so we’ll get some footage there. And maybe, maybe I might be making another appearance again later in the evening, too. We’ll see how it goes! But fair play to Simon for suggesting that we do it there. I would never even have thought of imposing in any way like that. So hopefully it all works out.” 

So one year one, and with Go Down Swingin’ finally landing punches on the country charts, is Aoife looking forward to being back on the Cowboys & Heroes stage?

 

“I can’t wait! Now, I am nervous, I will say that. last year I was only doing it for myself, it was like an experiment! [laughs]. I never thought what might come out of it. Last year it all happened so quick, and I had no time to think about it. Whereas this year now, there’s plenty of time to think about it, and I’m like, ‘Oh God!!!’ [laughs]. If I’m thrown in the deep-end I’m better off, I much prefer that. If I think about something too much it worries me. But look, I know I’ve done it before, so I’m sure it will be fine. And Stuart Moyles** is on the same day and I’m so happy about that because Stuart is a friend of ours and he’s been so, so good helping me with any questions I’ve had and stuff like that. So I’m looking forward to having Stuart in the same building at the same time! [laughs].” 

ENDS

 

Linda Coogan Byrne

First Published July 2020

IRISH RADIO HAS FAILED IRISH FEMALE ARTISTS

Linda Coogan Byrne

Hasn’t it been brilliant seeing Irish artists such as Gavin James, Hozier, Picture This, Dermot Kennedy, and Niall Horan becoming the huge acts they have over the last few years? And make no mistake about it, for their talent, the work hours they put in, and the miles they clock up in making it happen, they deserve every accolade, plaudit, and hit that comes their way. No question about it. I’ll tell you what, though, HERE IS a question for you, and it’s one that LINDA COOGAN BYRNE has decided to ask out loud…what about Ireland’s female artists…where are they? Why aren’t they breaking through to the same degree? Why, actually, are they barely even being heard on Irish radio?

If music is just something that you tune in and out to during your day or every now and then, then perhaps you might be forgiven for falling for the rather lazy assumption that if Irish female artists were ‘good enough’, or ‘as good as’ their male peers, then they’d be getting the same amount of airplay. And in turn, there’d be as many – if not more – breaking through in the same spectacular fashion as the gents mentioned in my opening. But, if music is the world in which you live, and is what you live for, and is at the centre of how you live, then this question will have bothered you in the same way it’s bothered Linda for a long time. Too long now. Way too long to not finally look deeper.

When you know Ireland has fantastically talented female artists like Megan O’ Neill, like RuthAnne, like Emma Langford, like Luan Parle, like Una Healy, like Soulé, like Kehli, like Hannah Kathleen and so many more…but you hardly ever even hear them on Irish radio, then you know that something is definitely not right. And when Linda decided to look deeper, by compiling her recently released report on Gender Disparity on Irish radio, an ugly truth was revealed. And there’s no other way to say – nor should there be – than that Irish radio has failed Irish female artists. Over the course of a full year, from June 2019 to June of this year, only RTE Radio 1 achieved a 50-50 gender balance in terms of their Top 20 most played Irish artists over that time. Many stations had as little as 5% Irish female artists in their Top 20. And that is definitely NOT an accurate reflection of the number of amazing female artists we have on this island, nor of the music they’re creating.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Linda to talk about her report last week. As the founder of Good Seed PR, and someone who has experienced every area of the music business – from having played in bands herself, to working for and with major record labels – what, I wondered, was the tipping-point for her to actually chase down these figures, put things into black and white, and say to Irish radio…LOOK! Linda had mentioned in a recent interview elsewhere on this same topic that while compiling the data there were actually moments where she became really angry, and even cried. Were there, I wondered, similar moments along the way to finally making the decision to put this report together?

“Yeah, totally. I mean, first of all, during Covid I had time to actually finish the report, because I had started it last year. That’s why it’s from June of last year to now. I’ve worked in the industry for over fifteen years, professionally as an industry person, but I was in bands since I was seventeen years of age. So I’ve been in the industry for a long time, as both a musician and an artist as well. And just seeing the disparity and inequality that women constantly have to face…You know, the likes of walking into a recording studio, and there’ll be two lads beside ya. I’d walk in with a guitar and even whoever is producing, or is on the desk as an engineer, would be like, ‘Oh right, go on, let us see ya play, go on take it out there.’ And I’m like, would you say that to a dude? Would you say that to a guy? It’s about always having to constantly validate ourselves because we’re women! It’s ridiculous. Or wearing a tee-shirt, a Rolling Stones tee-shirt, or a Ramones tee-shirt, and someone’s goin’ around to ya goin’ can ya name a song? Ya know! [laughs]. And I’m sure any woman that hears me say this will be like, ‘Yeah, totally.’ It’s this gender bias that women have no idea about music and that it’s all about men. And unfortunately, it’s because the industry hasn’t supported us. It’s not because women aren’t making  music. It’s the fact that females creating music aren’t being given the same platform and opportunities as male acts to be broken. And it’s neglect. It’s inequality on a national level in Ireland. It has devastating effects on women who are creating music and on those who aspire to create it. Because the message that they’re sending, and have been sending for more than a decade, is that they [female artists] don’t matter. What they’re creating doesn’t matter, because they won’t be heard. You have the likes of the UK who have broken their own domestic acts, I mean, Jesus, just to name a few there’s Amy Winehouse, Mabel, Rita Ora, Jessie Ware, Paloma Faith, Dua Lipa…the list goes on! But in Ireland, in the last ten years, who can name a breakthrough Irish commercial act that has gone outside of Ireland? I mean, anyone can name Picture This, Gavin James, Dermot Kennedy. They roll off the tongue. And that’s just in the last few months. There’s no women. The Cranberries were 1989, The Corrs were 1990. B*Witched were probably the last pop commercial act from Ireland. That’s shocking to see that that’s the last era of Irish female acts that were adequately represented. Why did that stop? That’s the question we need to ask.” 

It’s a very broad question in so many ways, something I acknowledged to Linda as I put it to her, but in her own opinion and based on her own many years of experience in the music business and dealing with radio…why does she think this gender gap has come to exist across Irish radio? And to exist in so big a way at that…

“That’s a good question, and it’s one that keeps coming up. A lot of people go with the argument that commercial radio plays what’s commercial and what’s on Spotify, and what’s trending. And while that’s all well and good for the likes of Doja Cat who trends on Tik-Tok and then everyone starts playing her. The likes of Gavin James, the likes of Picture This…and I have to keep going back to the lads because this is about male and female in Irish radio, it’s Irish artists only…but they were being played on the radio before they broke. It wasn’t the fact that radio suddenly started playing them when they got this big record deal. They were supported, record labels saw the support they got, and then they took a chance on signing these artists. Women aren’t getting the same chances. So why are radio doing that? I don’t know. I have to question how play-lists are put together. Some say it’s an algorithm based system whereby they chose what’s on-trend, they look to Spotify and see who’s trending. But if you do that, then the likes of RuthAnne [Cunningham], who’s brought out the Women In Harmony single [a cover of Dreams by the Cranberries], but prior to her even doing that collaboration, she has over three billion – THREE BILLION – streams collectively on Spotify for artists that she’s written for. And herself, she has millions of streams on her own merit, on her own music that she’s released as an individual artist. So if it was a case where the argument is, ‘Oh radio are following trends’…, that’s not true. Because there are female artists that are mentioned in the report that have got more streams than some of the artists that have been broken in Irish radio that are male. So it’s really about why the system is in place in Irish radio where they can add a female to a play-list and add a male to a play-list, and yet the females are getting totally thrown aside and not being appointed the heavy rotation play-lists that men are. They [female artists] are being put on overnight play-lists that nobody listens to because it’s in the middle of the night! It really needs to be properly looked at and inspected. Because to be honest, it’s not only a blatant disregard of female creatives, it’s an infringement on basic human rights. If you’re given a broadcasting licence in Ireland, there are standards that come with that, stipulations where there has to be equality all around. It’s legislation. So if they’re neglecting that…! It’s a discriminatory practise if they’re directly impacting how an artist can make money and earn a living, and that’s what they’re doing. It’s 100% radio licences who are being given the privilege, via the government, and they’re taking that privilege and they’re rejecting female artists. And that is a big issue.” 

Something I’m sure Linda has probably thought about often is what would she do right now, if she was in a position of influence within a radio station, to go about redressing this horrific imbalance?

“I’d look for an opt-in solution. RTE Radio 1, our national station, they have gender balance. I rang Martina McGlynn and Aidan Butler, who are senior producers and who are on the play-list committee – because it’s a play-list committee that’s on Radio 1 – and I asked them why did they think they have come up trumps in this, because they have, they’re 50-50. And their answer was because it’s mindful. They go in every week, they sit down, they look at the submissions, and they say right, we have to make sure that there’s a non-gender bias here. Some weeks it might be six women over four men or whatever. But generally, from their annual perspective, they have got it right. She said you can’t always have every week five and five, or 50-50, but they mindfully are always aware to try and enact gender balance. She said it’s as simple as that. Women and men deserve equal opportunities. So what I say to radio, and what I have said to radio, because I’ve issued an email to every single radio station, to every single head-of-music in each station, and I’ve welcomed them to open up the conversation. I’ve said that myself and Áine [singer/songwriter Áine Tyrrell who co-compiled the report with Linda] are here to discuss it, to accept and acknowledge that they have let down the women of Ireland – because they have, this is a fact, it’s not an opinion – and how they can go about changing that and enforcing change. And how do they do that? They get together as a team, the programme directors, the marketing team…because everyone goes, oh it’s marketing because men are easier to market than women, which is absolute tripe! Some of the biggest artists in the world of music are female artists; Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Billie Elish…they’re all some of the biggest artists ever, in history! So this whole thing of people don’t like women being heard on the radio, or female voices, ya know, it just has to stop. Radio needs to sit down and look at the facts. And stop feeling so personally attacked that someone has stated the obvious. And this is what we’re seeing coming back. Even on these ridiculous Twitter attacks where DJs are feeling like they’re being targeted. We’re not targeting DJs. This is not a personal attack. This is not an opinion based report. It’s a factual data report, which outlines the gender disparity that’s in radio. It’s as simple as that. I have DJs that I’ve worked with for years going, ‘Oh Linda, I feel like you’ve fed me to the wolves.’ And I’m going to them, well if you feel that, how do you think female artists have been feeling for over a decade in Ireland?! So again, they have to put their ego aside, because this isn’t about them. It’s about gender equality. It’s about the likes of FM104 giving 100% male acts, 100%! Most stations are 95% [male] to 5% [female]. Like…5%? I mean, I can’t even…! When I was putting this report together, I had to keep checking, because I was thinking, am I seeing this right? Is this actually true?! [laughs]. But these figures can’t be pushed away. It can’t be the case where it’s like, oh it’s just another woman voicing her opinion. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. And we’re not going to be hushed away this time. I’ve noticed that other types of reports, and research pieces have been done – especially through colleges, and women studying women, womens’ equality and all that – and it’s fallen on deaf ears. For whatever reason, I don’t know. But this time it’s not falling on deaf ears. The article itself has reached just over sixteen million views worldwide, it’s been shared by every national publication in Ireland. There’s going to be more international publications published over the next few weeks because I’ve literally been doing back-to-back interviews since the 24th of June. We have solidarity in the UK, we have solidarity coming in from the US. There’s other people getting in touch going, oh my God, this is a human rights issue. So radio stations cannot ignore this anymore. They’ve turned their back on a generation of Irish women that have been told their music is not good enough, and that their voice is not important, and is not up to the standard of their male counterparts. And that is not true.” 

We talk a lot about the importance of mental health these days, which, of course, is just as it should be. But in terms of the impact that this treatment has surely had on Irish female artists over the years, and the loss to Irish musical culture (through the loss of the music itself, but also through the denial of opportunities for those artists to grow), what kind of damage does Linda think may have been done?

“Irreparable damage. Irreparable on the psyche, on the levels of confidence a woman can have within herself and in her own voice, in who she is as a person with a view, a perspective, a story to tell. We’re all weaving stories in terms of our own narratives in life, as songwriters, as composers. I’ll go back to Ruth Anne. Ruth Anne has written for John Legend, for Niall Horan, for Brittany Spears, Bebe Rexa, JoJo…the list goes on. She is a brilliant storyteller. She has reached billions of people through her songwriting with men singing her songs, and other women singing her songs at an international level. But when it comes to her own country, telling her stories…And by the way, Irish radio has no problem playing Niall Horan. And RuthAnne has written songs for One Direction as well. I have so much respect for the women of Ireland, honest to God, because I can’t imagine the mental weight that they’ve had to carry for a generation of songwriters, and music creators, and musicians, and session musicians, and women in bands and fronting bands. Because they’re looking at their male peers thrive, being told yes, yes, you’re great, this is brilliant. And they’re being told to look sexy. Lose a bit of weight. Maybe if you get more followers…Men aren’t being told any of that! Lewis Capaldi is one of the biggest male artists in the world! And I love Lewis, but nobody ever told him to look sexy, ya know? Dermot Kennedy was never told to look sexy. There’s a lot of sexism as well involved. And we have to look at it from a broader perspective as well, because most of the heads of music in radio stations are men. OK, this is a fact. So men have to address the issue of gender imbalance and gender inequality. For whatever reason it is, and I don’t know why they’re choosing not to play women, but it has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed now. Because we’re not going away. We’re going to keep speaking. And we’re not shouting. This isn’t women shouting. It’s not opinions. We’re voicing facts at this stage.” 

If it seems to be mostly men who also compile play-lists, does the fact in itself point towards a large part of this problem? Or does it point towards an even deeper problem still in Irish radio?

“I mean…you said it, not me! [laughs]. At the moment, I’m being harassed, there’s Facebook groups after being created, hate groups, ‘ya sexist feminist’, all of this absolute tripe. On the Nialler9 Facebook group, one of the women put up the report, and the horrific comments that started coming in. Horrific. And I’ve said to the ladies, because we’re all in this together, do not go onto that page. You’re all better than that and you do not deserve to be reading the comments that men are putting on the page. And I just want to address another thing. I don’t know why Nialler is allowing that type of commentary to happen on a page that should be a safe space. I think that needs to be moderated in a better capacity than just letting people have free reign to tear women down. I love Dermot Kennedy’s music. Hozier is an incredible activist, let alone a musician. He’s a brilliant man. I travelled to Amsterdam last year to see Dermot Kennedy because I couldn’t get a ticket to go to his show here. And I want to be able to travel to another country because I can’t get a ticket to see an Irish woman playing here as well. All of those men deserve to be where they are. But there should be some balance. RuthAnne deserves to be where Hozier is. Soule deserves it. All of these other amazing female artists, Kehli, Hannah Kathleen, there’s loads of these artists emerging who are creating brilliant pop music. It’s really well produced and the quality standard is there. I just don’t know why the predominantly male play-listers aren’t deciding to play them. I think they need to take a long, hard look at themselves to see what they’re doing to the creative women of Ireland and why they’re doing it. They need to have a good answer for that, because the facts are there. The data is there. And they should respectfully respond.”

I wondered if perhaps play-lists themselves – the fact that they exist, why they exist, what their presence in the industry in turn allows to exist – are a part of the problem? Are they a part of what has damaged the way some people value music, and therefore, its creators?

“That’s a very good question. That goes to a deeper level of opinion, and again, I don’t want to go too far away from this report on this occasion. Because it’s a factual report, it’s a data report. So I’m just mindful that we don’t go off the terrain of factual data versus opinion too much. This report isn’t based on one argument over another, it’s just about the findings and how we can get people to react. I can’t answer the question of play-lists. Only people within broadcasting can. The likes of the B.A.I. [Broadcasting Authority of Ireland], it’s even on their site that they will endeavour to ensure that viewers and listeners in Ireland will have access to a diverse range of services, programming, and perspectives that meets their needs and reflects their diversity. And that it will actively encourage and support Irish broadcasters in realising this objective. So it is within the objective of radio play-lists all across the world to reach an equal level of diversity. And it’s not happening in Ireland. So in terms of looking deeper into the play-lists, I don’t even think it’s play-lists that are the issue. It’s the people behind the play-lists. That’s where the issue lies. Irish artists are being broken, but it’s male Irish artists. Certain stations will have a remit, which is basically the genre relating to a station and the commercial viability of that and how it will pan out. So there’s pop music, there’s rock music, Radio Nova, for example, is predominantly guitar led rock music, it’s a specialist station, that’s what it is when you go there. 98FM is a commercial station, you’ll mostly hear pop music and R’n’B, commercial mainstream. FM104, the same. Spin, the same. RTE Radio 1 is adult contemporary, folk music crossing over mainstream acoustic. You’re not going to hear a mad, up-tempo pop song on Radio 1 because it’s not their remit. So there are remits to different radio stations, and that’s standard within the whole entire industry. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is the people that the artists that are played across every genre, are predominantly male. So for every Hudson Taylor, there’s an Emma Langford. There are all these counterparts on the female side who are just as good as their male equivalent. So why is it a case that it’s predominantly male?” 

So with regard to the report, what does Linda want to see happen next, as in right now?

“I want to see radio stations respond. I’m issuing a report tomorrow about the response from Irish male artists, and their initial reaction. And they had no idea it was this bad. In an ideal world, I want radio stations to firstly get back to me, because only five have got back to me so far. The rest are ignoring me. So I want them to actually respond. I want them to engage and open a conversation. I want them to not look at this as a direct attack, it isn’t. It’s a question. Women are entitled to ask a question without being seen as being shrill, without being seen as being argumentative, without being seen as,’oh she’s on one!’ Ya know. This thing that I’m getting on Twitter, and there’s some female DJs that are on the defensive as well, going oh why are you attacking me? But I’m not. I just asked a question. You can see that they are intimidated by the companies that they work for, because they’re on eggshells at the moment in the radio industry. And I have to say, one major station got back to me and said that they’re gonna work on it, and that’s 2FM. And it’s amazing that they have because they are one of the trending stations when it comes to breaking Irish music. They have amazing champions of Irish music like Tara Stewart, Tracy Clifford, Eoghan McDerrmott. They got back to me like a flash and said, ‘we’re definitely going to look into this, thank you for highlighting it. We’ll try to do better.’ That’s what I want the other station to do. I want them to follow Radio 1’s influence, that they mindfully go into a play-list meeting. This isn’t a hard thing we’re asking them to do. Let’s split this down the line. We’ll appoint play-lists to women, and we’ll appoint play-lists to men. That’s what I want to see happen. It shouldn’t take six months to happen. They can do this in the next few weeks.” 

Looking at the music business and the impact of Covid 19, I asked Linda how she sees the industry returning from the trauma of the last few months? How far away are we from the old ‘normal’, or, what does she believe a new ‘normal’ for the industry will look like?

“I think the way people perform is gonna change. I think with the likes of ‘net gigs, different online platforms that will show artists playing from their home or from a home studio direct to their fans, I think that’s gonna be huge. I think people need to stop putting up their performances for free. I love the likes of IG TV which is great, it’s raw, and putting a song or two out there, that’s fine, no problem. But for actual gigs, people need to realise that the likes of this pandemic can happen again. There could be a second wave of this one as well. If you keep up with the actual science side of it – not just the news – they are saying that it might get worse. So we mightn’t even be at the worst stage of Covid yet. We have to embrace change. And we have to embrace the digital era of music, and the digital era is having the likes of these huge online platforms that are now catering for artists to perform and to stream ‘live’ gigs. And to pay for it. To be honest, a fiver to see your favourite artist versus eighty-eight euro to see them in the 3Arena, I know it’s not the same buzz or whatever, but if there’s an alternative there to engage with someone you love listening to, why not engage? People need to stop putting up free gigs because it’s reducing the value of their own creative work, their portfolio. They need to think right, this could be a long-term thing, so they have to still be able to monetise what they’re creating because it’s a profession that they’re in, it’s a business that they’re in. I feel that as the music industry expands, it’s going to become more digitised and we’ll see a lot of new, different platforms emerging.” 

 
 

~ You can view Linda’s full report into Gender Disparity on Irish radio by visiting her website, www.lindacooganbyrne.com. You can also follow Linda on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

 
 

ENDS