First Published April 2022
KEEPING THEIR HEARTS IN THEIR MUSIC
This week I want to tell you about two phenomenal artists who, by how they live, keep their music in their hearts in a way that’s a lesson to anyone in the music business. Some people preach it, but by God do country star SABRINA FALLON and folk favourite GEORGE MURPHY live it.
I’m lucky enough to know them both, and in the last week, I’ve been further reminded of why I hold Sabrina and George – as people and as artists – in such high-esteem, and why I’ll never tire of telling anyone who’ll listen that they should take any chance that ever comes their way to spend time in the company of both.
SABRINA FALLON, as regular readers of this column will know, is someone whom I’ve always considered to be one of Irish country music’s finest voices. It’s as simple as this: If you ever come across someone who wants to know what a country song should really sound like, when sung the way a real country song should be, just tell that someone to go listen to Sabrina Fallon. You won’t need to offer any further explanation. Once they listen to Sabrina, they’ll FEEL all they need to know about what real country music is. But Sabrina isn’t just a great country singer. She’s also a remarkable songwriter, as evidenced by her recent release in honour of her beloved parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, Waltz With Love.
“I wanted to express my parents’ love for each other”, she explained at the time, “a love they still hold on to 50 years down the road. Mum (Eileen) told me that she and dad (Patsy) waltzed in the kitchen when Valerie Hughes played it on Galway Bay FM. As long as mum and dad see how much their love has inspired me, that’s enough.” Sabrina’s artistry extends to creation in so many forms, and now, she can add the gorgeous WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition to that list.
This exhibition is a visual art and music project born from the clear love of country music always demonstrated by the participants of the That’s Life Community. Officially launched on April 22nd, the exhibition will run for a week at Nun’s Island Theatre in Galway.
We Love Country Music includes wonderful personal video messages projected onto a large screen, with contributions from Daniel O’ Donnell, Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Brendan Shine, John Hogan, Ray Dolan (as a representative of the late Joe Dolan), and former Glór Tíre contestant Damien Davis (as a representative of the late Big Tom), all of whom received personal handwritten letters from the participants to which they are replying in these messages.
We Love Country Music also features a large-scale textile exhibition created by Sabrina as a celebration of country music.
Sabrina had worked with the participants on several occasions and witnessed first-hand how much love they all displayed for country music. As she investigated the possibility of bringing the idea for this project to life, Sabria asked participants to gather some of their favourite and most treasured mementos collected from over the years, with some of the items eventually presented ranging from ticket stubs to the late Big Tom’s autograph.
Participants were also able to write to their favourite country singer because Sabrina herself – because of her position as a much-loved and respected recording artist and performer in Irish country music – was not only able to personally deliver those letters, but also get a personal message or letter in response from many of the country scene’s top performers. Many of these beautiful pieces were then photographed, and using a process known as a sublimation print, Sabrina created her large-scale textile exhibition.
This project has highlighted the wonderful two-way relationships between the performers and people with intellectual disabilities. It has, as Sabrina points out, “… many forms of beauty interlocked together”.
As well as getting in touch with their country music heroes and idols, the participants also had the fabulous opportunity – guided by Sabrina’s gentle hand and caring eye – to write their very own country song. The result is called Music In Our Hearts and it wonderfully and touchingly expresses the participants love and joy for country music. Music In Our Hearts was then professionally recorded and is now available to request from radio stations nationwide. Among the many highlights of last week’s official launch was Sabrina performing Music In Our Hearts ‘live’ for the very first time. Further adding to the all-round feel-good factor of that night were typically whole-hearted performances from both the legendary Johnny Carroll and another of the country scene’s friendliest faces and most enjoyable entertainers, Shane Moore.
The We Love Country Music project has been more than a year in the making, a fact which perfectly demonstrates Sabrina’s unwavering commitment to transforming the project from something that was simply an amazing idea to begin with, to something which has already touched countless hearts in unforgettable ways through the process of making it a spectacular, emotional, living, breathing, tactile reality.
When we sat down for a chat with Sabrina almost exactly a year ago, her excitement at what she was so passionately devoting her time to was easy to feel…
“I’m working with the That’s Life project, which is the Brothers of Charity. It’s an artistic community project that they’ve developed over the years, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Specifically, I’m working artistically with people with intellectual disabilities. I was singing for them once a week, because a lot of them – A LOT of them – LOVE country music! And I mean really love it. They, the Brothers of Charity, have created this project for me to explore why these people with disabilities love country music, to find out what it is that they love. To find out how it makes them feel. That’s what I’m working on now for the next couple of months with them. Part of the project is that each participant will bring in an item – not bring in, send in obviously, because this is all being done via Zoom at the moment to keep everyone safe. That could be a picture of their favourite artist, or them with their favourite artist, their favourite experience of them with their artist. Or maybe they have a stub of a ticket from a concert they were at. One gentleman is going to send in his cowboy hat. We’re going to get professional photos taken of all of these, and then have those superimposed onto fabric to make a big country quilt! Another part of it as well, is that they’re going to send letters to their favourite artists, hand-written letters, because there’s no such thing as a hand-written letter anymore. And hopefully, they’ll get one back from their artist as well. And using sublimation printing these will all be put onto the fabric so we can create a big, beautiful piece. The other part of that project as well, is that we’re going to be recording a song! So the participants are going to write their own country song about why they love country music, and we’ll be releasing that. I’ll be singing on it as well, so it’s a very exciting project. I’m really lucky to be working with them.”
And all of the participants are equally lucky to have had Sabrina step into their world. And so too, for that matter, should the country music scene count its blessings to have someone like Sabrina as a representative. Her selflessness and care for others is the perfect example of how we can truly keep music in our hearts, and a vital antidote to the rhetoric of some who throw around like confetti empty words or phrases, designed and intended only to impress without ever making any substantial difference to anyone’s lives but their own.
Sabrina, on the other hand, through her music – and because of her heart – is changing lives in the best and most beautiful ways. Gimme that any day.
Last Friday night GEORGE MURPHY and his band, THE RISING SONS, brought their combined musical powers to Hugh Lynch’s in Tullamore. Now, George, as many of us will remember, first shot to fame on RTE’s You’re A Star show back in 2003. Just out of school and only seventeen years old, his talent was – and remains – beyond question. In the years since, George has been both a solo artist and for a period of time, a member of The High Kings, thrilling fans across the world with his musicianship and a voice that ranks among the most sublime of all that Ireland has ever been able to lay claim to. It’s a voice that warrants descriptions such as ‘breathtaking’, ‘spellbinding’, and ‘spine-tingling.’ And yet, even they feel like they lack the accuracy to fully explain what happens in a room when George begins to sing.
And like Sabrina, George is also a gifted songwriter. Check out Hands Of Time and Shadowman (co-written with Donnacha Fox) on The Rising Son’s Live In Dublin album. And now, as he writes in the liner-notes of that same long-player, George has – in the company of ‘the Sons’ – rediscovered a love of music in a place so close to home that it took him by surprise…
“The setting up of The Rising Sons is my proudest musical achievement. I am still amazed that it was completely spontaneous that I would find my favourite experience in music on my doorstep and in the local pub. That really is the beauty of music.”
And he’s right. The beauty of music is that it transcends all else, brushes away differences, and illuminates gloriously what is shared. Emotions. Feelings. Hopes. Dreams. Possibility. Defiance. Resilience. Remembrance. Love. For those with music in their hearts, this is always true. What’s also true, though, is that in the music business, it’s not always the music that rules all hearts. Often – too often – ego dominates. The stage and the spotlight can be seen as being only so big.
That’s why what George and his bandmates did in Tullamore last Friday night is a rare enough sight, and one deserving of praise. In calling on Kilcormac’s champion fiddler KIMBERLEY DELANEY to join him on stage for a poignant and hauntingly beautiful version of When You Were Sweet Sixteen, in honour of Kimberley’s former teacher, the late Ashling Murphy, George – and indeed all of the Sons – showed the size of their hearts. Having been given a heads-up on Kimberley’s talent and her recent achievement in being chosen as a Fiddler of London finalist (only ten fiddlers selected out of open entries from all over the world), he extended the invitation for Kimberley to join him at his show in Tullamore.
No headlining artist is ever obliged to share their audience with anyone, be it an opening-act or any other kind of guest-appearance. That’s just a fact. And that’s fair enough in some ways. But, if and when they do, however, they are literally giving the gift of their audience to someone else. And that takes a lot of trust and belief in the talent of whoever that someone else might be. It also demonstrates a huge amount of grace and kindness. And that’s exactly what George and the band showed Kimberley last Friday night. After only meeting her in person for the first time for the soundcheck to run through When You Were Sweet Sixteen, George very graciously offered Kimberley the chance to stay on-stage after that song and play a couple of tunes herself.
Trust. Belief. Grace. And kindness. That’s what George and the Sons showed to a seventeen year old who they had only just met. That’s the beauty of music, too, that talent can so easily recognise talent, and know that talent is all that counts. Not age, not experience, not being some ‘big-name.’ And that’s what happens when people – people like Sabrina and George – live with their music in their hearts.
Kimberley, deservedly, earned herself a standing ovation at the end of her performance. And so too did George and The Rising Sons at the end of the night. And again, completely deserved. I’ve been to a lot of shows in my time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a closing number as powerful as when George and the Sons break into The Auld Triangle. The Sons, by the way, are (as named on their Live In Dublin album); Declan Parsons, Joey Hughes, Luke Cosgrove, Jimmy Morrison, Tom Whelan, David Brown, and Shane O’ Hannigan. Throughout their set, the quality of their musicianship is as clear as a winter’s night sky in the countryside…stars in all directions. But what really steals the show and makes their performance unforgettable, is when everyone in the band – literally every member – takes a verse of The Auld Triangle.
George Murphy and The Rising Sons will be back in Tullamore again. And next time they are, whatever it takes, make sure you’re there. Nights like these – and bands like this – don’t come along often.
And neither do people like Sabrina and George, who keep their hearts in their music in every way. Legends. ~
MUSIC IN OUR HEARTS by SABRINA FALLON is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio stations nationwide. For more details on her WE LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC exhibition, follow Sabrina on Facebook and Instagram.
Sabrina has also released two great duets recently, both of which are also available on all platforms and to request at radio. They are The Taxi’s Waiting (written by Finbar Furey) with P.J. Murrihy, and a beautiful version of If Teardrops Were Pennies with Shane Moore. Sabrina’s TV show, COUNTRY SHOWTIME WITH SABRINA, continues to air on Sky channel 365 at 7pm every Thursday.
You can follow GEORGE MURPHY on Facebook and Instagram, and THE RISING SONS on Facebook.