A Christmas Catch-Up…

A Christmas Catch-Up…

First Published December 2020

As much as we’d love to, there isn’t always the time or the space to cover everything we’d like to in this column sometimes. But every now and then, along comes a week like this one, where a little gap in the normal schedule of things appears and presents us with the perfect chance to have a little catch-up…! 

Given the time of the year it is, we couldn’t but cast an eye in the direction of some festive favourites to begin with. And in doing so, we need look no further than one of Irish country’s greatest servants of song, the gentleman that is singer/songwriter JOHN HOGAN. John has just released his version of the old Christmas carol, the Little Drummer Boya  superb reworking of the Bing Crosby and David Bowieclassic. This festive number has been a big favourite of John’s since he was a young lad. And whatever age you might be yourself, dear reader, hearing John perform this classic – in the way that only John can – will leave your heart all a-swirl in the spirit of the season. What a gift, indeed. 

Following his recent appearance on the Today Show with Daithi and Maura on RTE 1,John is now looking forward to joining a host of artists on the HOT COUNTRY TV Christmas Special – An Irish Country Christmas – which will be aired worldwide on December 24th. John has also been busy writing new material and laying down tracks for this forthcoming new album, with part of that process including the shooting a video for his recent self-penned recent hit, The Old Dance Hall.

Speaking recently about that very release, John said, “I wrote this song some time ago, and looking at a non-existent entertainment scene over the last number of months, I felt the time was now right to release it. The song is all about the good old days when people flocked in huge numbers to the dances from far and wide. Being a lively number, I hope it lifts people’s spirit during these uncertain times and brings back great memories.”

Like many entertainers over the last number of months, John has missed the live entertainment scene. But to keep in touch with his many fans and followers, the Offalyman regularly uploads (to his Facebook page John Hogan Singer/Songwriter) acoustic videos of himself singing songs from his large catalogue of recordings, with the count of such performances standing at wellover 70 to date. And  needless to say, they’re going down a treat with his many fans all over the world, from places such as St. Lucia, UK, Canada, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Staying with the Christmas theme, here’s another lady who we’ll be bringing to the OTRT pages for a proper introduction sometime in 2021, the brilliant GRACE FOLEY from Kerry. As well as writing one of the best – and I think by far and away the funniest – letters of introduction that I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving, Grace is also a classical crossover singer with what is perhaps the rarest female voice type; a contralto. According to the lady herself, “This basically means I have a classical style of singing… but a dark edge!” Grace said she’s made her way through this challenging year with music as her guiding light, and I have a feeling that her presence in the lives of those who know her has been every bit as much of a guiding light, too. 

With luck on her side, Grace confessed to being, “Blessed to get my music videos for the year recorded the day they announced the school closures back in March. I quickly turned to online platforms like Facebook and Instagram for performances, and this really was so important as it allowed me to continue to reach my audience to keep singing.” She wrote the song Together Apart about the lockdown back in the spring, recording it in her wardrobe, which, not surprisingly, she described as being,“… a new experience!” One of Grace’s favourite experiences of the year was when she performed Songs of Hope and Healing in an empty St. Mary’s Cathedral Killarney, a performance which was broadcast via Parish-Cam and which was, according to Grace, “…the most beautiful experience.” Like John, Grace also performed on RTE’s Today Show with Daithi and Maura, live from her living room with her little dog for company! 

Grace was also granted Arts Council funding to write and record her own music earlier this year, heading for Balbriggan to record two songs in back in September, just before Dublin went into lockdown. One of those songs – Goodbye To Dublin – was a Christmas one, so Grace decided she would release a Christmas EP. That collection, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1 – which features her own song and four festive favourites – met the world for the first time on November 27th, with the video, which was funded by the Arts Council, recorded literally on the day the Dublin lockdown was announced. As Grace remarked,“Basically, I’ve been creating a lot and narrowly avoiding lockdowns all year!”

We can’t wait to catch up with her in 2021, but in the meantime, add some Kerry flavoured cheer to your Christmas by adding Grace’s EP, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1, to your collection. 

Next up is HUBERT MURRAY is a Galway-born, Tullamore based folk and roots musician, best known as front man of two genre bending old time bluegrass bands: the Hot Rock Pilgrims – who have mostly seen action in the UK – and Lands End, who will be a name well-known on the ‘live’ circuit here in Ireland. He has toured the length and breath of Ireland, the UK and Europe, playing some of the most prestigious venues and festivals out there along the way, such as the Cambridge Folk Festival, Isle of Wight Festival, The Royal Southbank Centre in London, and the Wilderness Festival, to name a few. His discography to date includes three EPs and one album. Hubert’s newest musical adventure saw him departing the familiar territory of old-time and bluegrass sounds, choosing instead to further develop his voice as a singer-songwriter. 

That adventure, entitled Heaven Cried and released back in mid-November,is a song for those who sway on the balance of life, lost, as Hubert points out, “…in a never ending search for meaning.” Heaven Cried is a metaphorical idea about a person trying to help those who are having a hard time, who perhaps feel lost, or whose heads are not in the right place. It’s a caring soul reaching out to someone in need, to someone being held captive by the infamous ‘black dog’. The song asks the listener to slow down their thoughts and remember a time when they felt peaceful, and to grasp that positive memory. “Peace of mind”, declares Hubert, “will happen, there is someone out there who will help, unconditionally. You must not lose hope.”

Interestingly, Heaven Cried was recorded on digital-tape at Hellfire Studios in the Dublin mountains, and featured some of Ireland’s crème-de- la-crème when it comes to musicians, including; Pat Daly on Violin (has also worked with Ham Sandwich, Fionn Regan), Robbie Walsh on bodhran (Daoiri Farrell Eleanor Shanley), folk musicians Paddy Kiernan on banjo and Niall Hughes on double bass (both of Navá). The song was produced by Tony Byrne (Julie Fowlis, Danú) and mastered by Josh Clark (Kate Rusby), with artwork created by Tullamore native Claire Guinan.

Meanwhile, HALLE KEARNS is an emerging artist quickly making a name for herself in country music over stateside. As a songwriter, Halle differentiates herself through her controversial storytelling, melodic sensibilities, and authenticity. As a performer, she has over three-hundred shows under her belt resulting in an undeniable ability to captivate her audiences, instantly connecting them to her passion for music. Despite only being in Nashville for a year so far, Halle has already had the opportunity to open up for legendary country acts such as Trace Adkins, David Nail, Eli Young Band, William Michael Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, and The Oak Ridge Boys, to name but a few.

By all accounts, Nashville has been a-buzz with this young ladies name since her debut release, Pick Me Up, back in July. That track was featured as Song of the Week on a number of stations, including Radio Disney Country and Country Hits Radio UK. Follow-up singles I Drink Whiskey and Shoes To Fill have certainly kept that buzz going, leading to a huge – and justified – sense of anticipation around her debut EP, Finally, the five-track collection which dropped on December 11th. We’re looking forward to catching up with Halle and introducing the lady herself to OTRT readers in the new year.

Also back in November UK pop-country duo, EMMA & JOLIE, announced the release of their sophomore single, Cry For You, on, of all days, Friday 13th! November 2020. But given the huge few months for the new duo had just had – with a performance at the C2C Festival’s Country Music Week under their belts, along with the release of their debut single – I Don’t Need A Man – that shot to the number one spot on the iTunes country chart, and number thirty-two all genre charts, plus a feature on Apple Music’s Today’s Country and Country Wide playlists – a little matter like superstition was hardly likely to slow their groove. This second single again saw the duo partner with long-time collaborator and producer Johnny Douglas, and was a Nashville co-write with Lena Stone, during the duo’s first trip to Music City, one that has proved to be a formative part of Emma and Jolie’s journey. 

The tune was one of the girls’ quickest writing sessions, taking only about an hour to get out this raw, emotional ballad that speaks universally to the healing process post-breakup. Of the track, Emma said “Everything we write about has always stemmed from personal situations we’ve both been in. This song comes from a place of pain we have both experienced. The two of us, and a lot of people we know have felt this way after breaking up with somebody, and so we just want to say that if this is you we see you and you’re not alone, you can’t always shut it off because it’s so difficult.” Jolie continued, “There’s also an element of frustration in the song, when you see your ex seemingly moving on no problem but you’re still finding it difficult to keep going. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that things can take a bit longer when you have a big heart and you love deeply. It’s okay to still cry for them.”

Cry For You very much shifts gears in production when compared to the anthemic, fun summer track that was their I Don’t Need A Man debut hit. This go -round producer Douglas has created an emotional, yearning sound complete with a strings section that puts the duo’s stunning harmonies at the forefront of the song. The duo – whose full-names are Emma Walker and Jolie Harvey – met back in 2015 at music college and have been singing together ever since. Influenced by the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift, the pair bring together a mix of storytelling and modern country with sensational harmonies. A universally heart-breaking track, Cry For You will quickly become a song you return to again and again. Expect even more and bigger things from Emma and Jolie in 2021! 

After recently receiving international acclaim with a number one on the Ignition Country Charts for previous single, Thinking About Last Night back in April, UK country star HAYLEY McKAY returned with another uptempo country-pop banger, Breathe, in November.

Written in lockdown in May, and co-written and produced with Newcastle based Hattie Murdoch over Zoom, the song features pulsating rhythmic guitar, flowing drums and big melody with slick production, and deep backing-vocals. Inspired as it was by the lockdown, Breathe is about being able to enjoy the smaller things in life and taking that all-important breather that we all need sometimes, and something that was very much needed in 2020.

Hayley is an accomplished and insightful songwriter with an incredible vocal range. Blessed with a distinctive all-round style, she can effortlessly leap from earthy and soulful raw emotion, to soaring and ethereal angelic tones, which, not surprisingly, have seen her likened to Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchel, LeAnn Rimes and Kate Bush. Over the last few years Hayley has been co-writing songs with award winning songwriters such as Nashville’s twice Grammy-nominated Jan Buckingham who has written for Whitney Houston amongst others, and Bill DiLuigi and Claire Hamill, who have written for Eva Cassidy and Wishbone Ash.

Hayley decided to release Breathe after the great international response to her previous single, the aforementioned Thinking About Last Night, which garnered radio support in Ireland and the UK, and was voted in the Top 10 Valley FM Indie charts in Australia. That track also earned support via BBC Introducing, and saw Hayley named artist of the week on various international radio stations in the US and the UK, earning features with Country Line TV, BMCA and the ISSA (International Songwriters Association). 

With the big day itself now only hours away, there’s another few Offaly artists with releases that should be on everyone’s holiday playlists. For the traditionalists out there – for all of us really, given the kind of year that it’s been – the news that Clara woman NOREEN RABBETTE had recorded a very special version of one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, O Holy Night, brought not only excitement and expectation, but immeasurable levels of comfort as well. The Glór Tire finalist from 2019 – who hopefully has an album on its way to us next year – has what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful voices Ireland has ever produced. Whether her name eventually graces billboards around the world, or whether Noreen remains one of our best kept secrets just doesn’t matter. None of that changes the fact that her voice is golden, and will forever be so. And be assured if you haven’t already heard it for yourself, it makes her version of O Holy Night an epic moment. You could leave aside presents, trees, movies, turkey, nights-out…anything else that you might normally associate with the Yuletide season, and as long as you could hear Noreen – who, I should point out, is joined in a beautiful video for the song (filmed in Clara Church) by her brother Joe and her sister Claire – sing O Holy Night…you would still have Christmas in your heart, and all the Christmas feels. 

Another Offaly family who you need to check out at some stage over this festive season are the fabulous ROSNEYS! Headed up by my good friend Stephen Rosney – who also fronts the Irish/Americana outfit The Back Axles – the Rosneys have released an original from Stephen himself, entitled Come On Santa. And whereas Noreen’s wonderful rendition of O Holy Night slows the world to a standstill and is deeply reflective, Come On Santa really lets the reins off Santa’s reindeers and cranks the Christmas cheer right the way up to eleven in the most joyously playful expression of the kind of fun that Christmas should always be. Stephen is majestically assisted on this track – as indeed he is on his current single, Something We Can Work On – by his wonderful wife Helen, and the couple’s three children, Mark, Luke, and Jade. Rosneys…take a bow, one and all, and may there be many encores like this in the years to come! 

And last, by no means least, a long-player that should be on every music fan’s Christmas wish-list, This Kinda Love, from the brilliant SIMON CASEY. It’s not a Christmas album, but it’s clearly been a labour of love for Simon, and it’s definitely a collection that is – as the title suggests – full of heart. Featuring a title-track written by Simon himself, and which was recently play-listed by RTE Radio 1 and has been receiving extensive air-time all around the country, This Kinda Love sees Simon turn in what might well be his most accomplished vocal performances ever. At this stage in his career, Simon, with nothing to prove to anyone when it comes to his talent, and fast approaching the horizon beyond which lies the title of ‘national treasure’, is simply a joy to listen to, no matter what he’s singing. But as it happens, this collection is filled with songs you’ll simply adore him singing. From the magic of the Extreme chart-topper More Than Words, where Simon is joined by his Take It To The Limit bandmate, Johnny Brady, to the Lady A crossover-classic, Need You Now, where a delicately stripped back version of the song sees Simon and Irish country star Cliona Hagan ramp things up to an emotional high that even the American super-group couldn’t match, to the achingly beautiful Elliott Park and Walt Aldridge penned, I Loved Her First…every song is a gift in itself. Perfect for right about now really! 

ENDS

The Late Late Show Country Special 2020

First Published December 2020

HO, HO…NO!

It’s honestly hard to know where to begin when it comes to talking about another Late Late Show Country ‘Special.’ And it’s nothing short of frustrating in the extreme to actually need to talk about it again. But I have to. To not do so would be to simply ignore the fact that, at this stage, I believe this yearly event – as it is and as it has been organised and presented nearly every year so far – is actually doing more harm than good to the country music scene in Ireland. 


Look, if all you were expecting, looking for, or hoping for from last Friday night’s show was an evening’s entertainment, then sure, your expectations were probably met and similarly your hopes fulfilled. But, if you’re someone who works largely in or around the Irish country music scene, then this show will have left you lost in feelings of deja-vous and despair. If these ‘Specials’ are being billed as the biggest night in Irish country music, and they’re taking place every year, then they have to be viewed in a context much wider than just one night, and not just on how well they fill two or so hours of television every twelve months. One of the most important questions that has to be asked is this; Do they serve well the Irish country music scene as a whole? And the answer to that, certainly in my opinion, is, after five years of these shows (going back to the inaugural – and so far only – RTE Irish Country Music Awards in 2016), a resounding no. 


For one thing, this is not the biggest night of the year in Irish country music, nor should it for even a moment be considered as such. In terms of its potential audience reach, then yes, of course, that fact alone rightly places it amongst what can be considered the biggest nights – plural – of the country year. But it seems to have been created – and certainly year on year it has been maintained – as something much more akin to an exclusive members-only affair than anything that even attempts to be truly reflective of the Irish country music scene. It is not inclusive of the many artists – older and younger – and other important players who have helped to make the country scene what it is, and who tend to have been around well before RTE and The Late Late Show deemed country music worthy of any serious attention in 2016. 


Of the artists who were featured on last Friday’s show, and I make it twelve (counting The Three Amigos as one act, and not counting the six artists who were asked to be their backing-singers and who were only on-screen for about five seconds, if even that!), EIGHT of those were on last year’s Special as well. Cliona, Sandy, Philomena, The Three Amigos, Margo, Mike, Daniel, and Nathan. And most of those eight have featured on every Country Special. Many of them are also guests on The Late Late at some stage during the rest of the year too. 


Of the remaining four artists from last week’s show; Una Healy, Claudia Buckley, Trudi Lalor, and Barry Kirwan, Una and Claudia have appeared on regular season installments of The Late Late Show as well. Trudi was part of the opening sequence of last year’s Country Special, but didn’t have a chance to perform in her own right. In fact, I’m not sure if Trudi has ever been invited to appear on The Late Late Show. And as one of the greatest female voices the Irish scene has been blessed to have, how can that be right? So, of the twelve artists featured on this year’s show, only TWO did not feature last year as well. Only two. 


This is NOT – I repeat NOT – a negative commentary on ANY of those artists. I’ve interviewed most of them for this column. I admire all of them as artists in their own right. I know how hard EVERY artist in this business has to work. I know many of these artists very well and hold them in high regard not just as entertainers, but as people. 


But, this IS about the fact that RTE and The Late Late Show keep bringing back the same guests on these ‘specials’ every year, as if there were no other artists on the Irish country scene. That is simply not true. Now of course, it’s impossible to feature every single artist out there in one-go. Common sense. But no-one has ever asked for that to happen. However, it can’t be denied that since 2016, The Late Late Show has made zero effort – never mind tried and failed, they haven’t even attempted it! – to present the Irish country scene in any kind of way that truly reflects it. If they had, then over the last five years, the Irish public in general would know a lot more about many of the amazingly talented artists and great people who make up the scene. 


There are so many artists who have helped to set the standard for today’s stars, who made them dream and inspired them, and helped them to embark on their own musical voyages. And to be clear…Margo, Philomena, Sandy, Daniel…they all fall into that category too, and they absolutely deserve every word of praise and credit that comes their way. But what The Late Late Show either doesn’t seem to know or is unwilling to recognise, is that there are several more artists who have made today’s stars dream, who have inspired them, and who have helped them on their way. To name but a few; John Hogan, Shawn Cuddy, Mary Duff, Dominic Kirwan, Paddy O’ Brien, Mick Flavin, Ray Lynam. And yes, some of those have been spoken to for a minute or so when in the audience during previous shows, but never given the attention that their careers and their contributions to Irish country music have deserved. And as well as those who I’ve mentioned, I’m sure there are many more whom those with the benefit of more wisdom than I could also – and rightly – point to. 


So, why would The Late Late Show bring back some artists as guests several times over, and ignore other artists completely? It’s not because their judgement on Irish country music is definitive or deeply insightful, because it most certainly is not. They prove that fact year on year. It’s not because no-one involved in the Irish country scene has tried to make them aware of other artists that should be considered, or other ways that things could be done, because people have tried to do both those things.


And just as those older artists need to and should be remembered and acknowledged for having blazed the trails that today’s stars now travel, so too do the younger and newer artists of today need to be remembered and acknowledged when shining a spotlight on the country scene. Because today’s dreamers will become tomorrow’s stars. And I stress the younger AND newer aspect of that, because one of the great things about country music, is that for the most part, age is no limit. New artists can emerge or first come to public attention in their forties, fifties, sixties or beyond, just as easily as in their twenties or thirties. Nobody is a ‘big-name’ from day-one of their careers. Nobody. Even the biggest names of today began with little more than just their dreams. 


With a little imagination and a little vision – and that’s all this would take – there is absolutely no reason why a show that happens every year could not feature a different selection of heritage or legacy artists ( which are terms that are probably more honourable and respectful than ‘older’) each year, plus up-and-coming rising stars, and some of the biggest names of the moment. 


If we take twelve guests as a benchmark of sorts, then there’s no reason why three artists – or musicians, songwriters (more on songwriters in just a while!), promoters, journalists, etc – could not be honoured for their contributions to country music, and why three artists could not be highlighted as ones to keep an eye on over the coming year or years, and yet still be able to feature six more ‘big-name’ artists in some way. An approach such as that would easily offer a better overall view of the Irish country music scene as it is, how it came to be this way, and where it might be headed. If an approach like that had been taken or considered, then since 2017 (leaving 2016 aside as that was the year of the RTE Irish Country Music Awards), up to twelve artists (or other influential contributors to the country scene) could have been honoured, and up to twelve new artists could have been introduced to a national audience. 


And don’t let anyone tell you that there are no new artists coming along who deserve some attention, or none who are worth hearing other than those who are regularly featured on The Late Late Show. If you ever hear that from anyone, then all that’s just happened is you’re witnessed a confession that that person doesn’t know enough about the Irish country music scene to even be passing such a comment. Simple as that. 


Again, to name but a few; there’s Sabrina Fallon, who has one of the most popular songs anywhere on Irish country radio right now in Candlelight And Wine with Shane Moore, and is constantly releasing top-class material. There’s Deirdre Keane who, like Sabrina, has a voice that would fit right into place on anything being recorded in Nashville, and whose latest release, I Just Want To Thank You, Lord would have been a perfect fit for last week’s Circle Of Friends segment instead of Christmas songs that were the laziest and most predictable choices possible. There’s Alex Roe, a guy who has been performing – as in gigging, as in out on the road, as in earning his dues – all around the country for years already and is yet to even face a cake with twenty-two candles on it. There’s Colin Kenny, not just a man with a voice who can effortlessly take on any style of music, but also a songwriter of fantastic ability who is recording and releasing his own material and getting serious airplay on country radio. There’s Stephen Rosney, another songwriter of immense talent who has been adding to the canon of Irish country music culture for years by releasing original material. Likewise with Justin McGurk, whose new song, You Are, would also have been an ideal choice for the aforementioned Circle Of Friends segment. You can add Jordan Mogey and Niamh McGlinchey to that list of artists and songwriters as well. And as far as guitarists on the Irish country scene go, there are very few with as much talent as Ciaran Rosney. 


As well as all of those artists, you can count in John Molloy, Alanna Maher, Caitlin, Pamela Gilmartin, Kerry Fearon, Aoife McDonagh, Aishling Rafferty, Larissa Tormey, Patricia Maguire, Lisa Stanley, Norman Borland, Joe Moore, John Rafferty, Noel Boland, Brian Mullen…and again, these are just a few of the names that could and should be considered and given more attention. Most people who are in any way aware of the Irish country scene know who these artists are. How can The Late Late Show, when organising yearly country ‘specials’, not be? These people are not in hiding, their music is out there to be heard. And their music is worth hearing. I’ve worked with almost all of these artists at one time or another, and in one way or another. They are more than deserving of being in with a chance of having their talents, and what they bring to the Irish country music scene, recognised on the national stage at some point in time. Right now, it’s just more than clear that there’s no hope of such a chance as things stand. 

Going back to last Friday’s show, something that seemed to confuse a lot of people this year was the actual theme of the show. Was it an actual Dolly Parton tribute show? That impression was certainly given, and you could forgive people for understanding that to be the case. Was it just the annual Country Music Special, except at Christmas this year? Or was it an actual Christmas country special, where Christmas itself would be central? As it turned out, it was a little bit of everything, which made it feel a little bit messy. And to be honest, it also felt like the show was built more around the interview with Dolly than anything else, and that the Irish artists were filling in the gaps between the opening tribute to her and the actual interview at the end. 


Dolly Parton is literally a living legend. Her life and her career have more than earned her the right to be honoured on any show anywhere, be it The Late Late Show or anything else. That’s without question. And Dolly’s appearance on the show, her involvement with it in any way, or the tribute to her are not being questioned either.


It’s also without question that the opening sequence of the show, featuring Una, Cliona, and Claudia, was outstanding. It was spectacular, and hearty and sincere pats on the back are due to everyone who made it happen. It’s also true, however, that artists like Olivia Douglas, Sabrina Fallon, and Deirdre Keane for example – none of whom have ever featured on The Late Late Show before – could also have stepped into those roles and done Dolly, her songs, and Irish country music proud. To be absolutely and unequivocally clear, Una, Cliona, and Claudia DID do Dolly, her songs, and Irish country music proud. Personally, I’m a massive fan of all three ladies, as artists and as people. My interviews with each of them on the OTRT website will clearly show that. I’m just further reinforcing the point that The Late Late Show relentlessly turns to the same artists all the time. 


Having mentioned Olivia Douglas above, I cannot for the life of me understand why she – and five other artists – were asked to sing backing-vocals for The Three Amigos. First of all, there was no need for backing vocals. Robert, Jimmy, and Patrick were more than capable of giving their version of From A Distance everything that it needed, as they proved. And there was certainly no need for six artists to provide backing-vocals (seven, if you count both Ennis Brothers, together with Olivia, Clodagh Lawlor, Marc Roberts, Niamh Lynn, and David James). They got about five seconds on screen. There’s hardly any other way to see that than as a token gesture, simply a way to say six more artists were involved in this ‘special.’ And yes, involved they were. But included? That’s a different story. And a different question. And the answer is no. 


Olivia was invited to be part of the grand-finale of last year’s ‘special’ as well, another segment that is little more than a token gesture, involving people – as you would involve a prop in something – but not genuinely including them. At least they got more screen-time out of it last year. But of what worth to any artist is a camera panning past you a few times? 


Olivia is one of the most exciting new artists to appear on the Irish country music scene for years. She has another of those voices that you could put on any record that comes out of Nashville and it would sound like it belongs there. And by that, I don’t mean that she sounds American – an accusation often levelled at Irish country artists – I mean she would sound perfectly, authentically country. She has multiple awards to her name, has toured with both Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan several times, and as a musician is in a league of her own on the accordion. 


Not only that, but Olivia’s most recent release, A Hug Or Two, has racked up over ELEVEN MILLION IMPACTS on Irish radio since March of 2019, made up of 2,185 plays. Thats TWO-THOUSAND-ONE-HUNDRED-AND-EIGHTY-FIVE PLAYS. One of the songs Olivia is perhaps best known for now, Leaving Tipperary (released in March 2018) has amassed an equally phenomenal EIGHT MILLION PLUS IMPACTS on Irish radio, made up of  2,442 spins. That’s TWO-THOUSAND-FOUR-HUNDRED-AND-FORTY-TWO PLAYS. So that’s just two of Olivia’s songs that have clocked up over NINETEEN MILLION IMPACTS on Irish radio since March 2018, made up of 4,627 – that’s FOUR-THOUSAND-SIX-HUNDRED-AND-TWENTY-SEVEN PLAYS. On just two of her songs. That’s a reflection of both Olivia’s talent and her standing within the Irish country music scene. The Late Late Show’s interpretation of that talent, however, has led them to place her in a chorus-line once, and as a backing-vocalist once. 


So, either they don’t recognise her talent, or have no interest in acknowledging it. Either of those options is a terrible, yet realistic possibility. What isn’t, is that they are unaware of her talent. I can state this for a fact, because I myself have made them aware of it on numerous occasions. And not because I thought she’d be great as part of a group-finale or as a backing vocalist, I assure you. 

One last point as far as newer and younger artists go where The Late Late Show is concerned. The show – and rightly so – never seems to have any problem with giving opportunities to new and younger pop acts, or rock acts, and more recently, to hip-hop and rap acts to perform on the show. That’s as it should be. Newer and younger acts, whatever their genre, deserve those breaks. However, such opportunities never come the way of country artists. Not even on shows that are supposed to actually focus on country music. 


Last Friday’s show opened with that wonderful tribute to Dolly, and went on to include Christmas songs during the Circle Of Friends segment. So you can see again why some viewers might have been confused about what the central theme of the night was. On the subject of songs, and leading to the subject of songwriters, it was surprising to see that while Dolly’s songs got the night underway, and the artists involved in the Circle Of Friends segment had to perform Christmas songs, The Three Amigos were performing their new single, From A Distance. Would something from Dolly’s extensive songbook, or perhaps a Christmas medley, not have been better suited to the night for their performance as well? 


Christmas covers always tend to work best with artists who are already well-known, because then hearing a Christmas tune from them becomes something that’s a little bit different and that has a fun and novelty side to it. But singing Christmas tunes essentially just for the sake of it, man…that was an idea that definitely should have been pushed back on by somebody somewhere. Margo’s turn in that round worked well, because her song choice, An Old Christmas Card – written I think by Vaughn Horton and recorded by Jim Reeves amongst others – was perfect. Country, with a Christmas theme. And anyway, ladies like Margo – and Philomena too for that matter – can sing whatever they want, wherever they want, whenever they want. I’ve seen Margo sing acapella to full houses of seven or eight-hundred people and hold the room in the palm of her hands, with everyone so absolutely captivated that not only could you hear your own heartbeat, you could nearly hear that of the person next to you as well! 


Mike can carry off a Christmas tune too, because we’re so used to hearing him sing anyway, and because he’s an entertainer of immaculate talent. But a little thought from someone could have turned up a choice similar to Margo’s, something that was country in style and would also have fitted in with the Christmas theme. The same goes for Barry Kirwan, who is an absolute gent, and a really talented musician and performer. For someone who was being featured on the show in any meaningful way for the first time, to ask him to just sing any random Christmas song was terribly unfair. Barry has three great albums to his name; New Beginnings, Moments, and most recently – as in just weeks ago – Walk With Me. I’m absolutely certain there was a song of his own that would have been ideal for that segment. For a man to be as humble and open about how this year has affected his life and career, the very least he deserved was to be able to sing a song that also had some personal meaning or connection to him. If it wasn’t set in stone that everyone had to sing a Dolly or a Christmas tune, then this should easily have been possible…right? 


And then there was Trudi, which brings us back to songwriters again. Or rather the lack of Irish songwriters anywhere in these ‘specials.’ Trudi was asked to sing Rockin’Around The Christmas Tree, and as Trudi does with every song she sings, she put her heart and soul into it. An example to every young artist out there, Trudi is the ultimate professional in everything she does. Always has been, always will be. But here’s the thing…just last year Trudi released a beautiful original Christmas song written by her husband, Billy Morrissey, another terrific Irish country songwriter, called The Old Christmas Waltz. In other words, in her own song-catalogue, Trudi has a Christmas tune tailor-made for a segment like the Circle Of Friends at this time of the year. And as well as highlighting Trudi’s impeccable voice, it would have showcased an original song from an Irish country songwriter. Who could have not thought that this was a perfect scenario? And why would they think like that? 


And if you think that doesn’t matter, well then think again, and look at it like this. There were eleven songs performed last Friday night. Not even one of them was written by an Irish songwriter. Go back twelve months to the previous ‘special’, and there were sixteen songs performed over the course of the show, including two medleys and a group finale. Again, not one single song from an Irish writer was involved in that bill. In fairness to Margo, though, she did make sure to mention the great Shunie Crampsey (as she remembered to draw everyone’s attention to the late Brian Coll last week). Shunie is the man who penned another Olivia Douglas hit, I’m Off To Lisdoonvarna In The Morning. That song has over FIVE MILLION impacts on Irish radio, made up of almost 2,500 plays – that’s TWO-THOUSAND-FIVE-HUNDRED PLAYS – since its release in September 2018. That’s a fact that should matter. 


The fact that not one of twenty-seven songs performed on the last two Late Late Show Country Specials came from the pen of an Irish songwriter is something that should matter, too. 


And it does. All of this does. At least to some of us. 


But to others, clearly, not so much. 


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly where the problem lies. 

ENDS

Boyzone

First Published November 2018

BOYZ BOW OUT IN STYLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS 

Natalie Maines

First Published July 2013

CHICK, FIGHTER, MOTHER

Thirty-two words. That’s all it took to turn Natalie Maines from a dixie darlin’ to a Saddam supportin’, America hatin’, devil in disguise. At least, that’s what happened in the eyes and ears of country music radio and a large number of country ‘ fans ‘. Fans for whom, it must be added, the subtleties of irony and the intricacies of reason and logical thinking – even common sense, perhaps – were as much a foreign language as any other found beyond the shores of their good ole U.S. of A.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against America or country music, far from it. In fact, I’ve spent some of the most memorable days and nights of my life under the blue of a ‘Buckeye’sky in Ohio, and country music defines a massive a part of who I am. But even now, a decade on, how Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks were treated back in 2003 still gets me shaking my head in disbelief. There truly are times in this life when no matter how much you love something, you can still find yourself almost diametrically opposed to everything that something seems to stand for or represent at that moment in time. And 2003 was one of those times.

With the release of Mother, Natalie’s first solo record last May, it’s worth remembering how this Dixie Chick spoke her mind, stood her ground, and fought back when lesser souls would have shattered in face of the storm that engulfed her and her bandmates, sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison.

It was London, 2003 at the Shepherd’s Bush Theatre. The world stood just ten days away from yet another war as the U.S. and Britain prepared – despite huge anti-war demonstrations – to invade Iraq in search of the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ their intelligence services had confirmed beyond a doubt existed. That was the message being relayed to the world by then President George Bush, his Vice-President Dick Chaney, their Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. For the greater good of the free world, war had to be waged, they argued. But a lot of people disagreed with that assessment, Natalie Maines among them.

The Chicks were on the European leg of their Top Of The World Tour. Their album sales were in the tens of millions. They already had eight Grammys to their name and their count of CMA Awards topped that by a further two. Their cover of the Stevie Nicks classic Landslide was riding high at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Just three years earlier they had performed the national anthem at the Super Bowl, the sporting and television highlight of the American calendar. But then Natalie Maines spoke from her heart. And thirty-two words changed everything. As she was later to sing, “The top of the world came crashing down.”

“Just so you know”, she began, “we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

Now, in the same way as I’m not attempting to run down America as a country or all Americans, or everyone who’s a country music fan, or who was involved in the industry then, I’m not saying that Saddam Hussein was basically a good guy, a bit of a character who was misunderstood and suffered a bad reputation because of that. Absolutely not. He was a tyrant, a dictator. A brutal, arrogant, selfish narcissist. But was the invasion of Iraq and the grief it brought upon so many the way to deal with him? Again, in my opinion at least, absolutely not.

As soon as word reached the States of Natalie’s comments while on stage in London, the fallout began. And the nature of the attacks on her, Martie, and Emily were deeply personal, vicious, founded mostly in the flag-waving bluster of patriotism as defined only by flag-waving and bluster. As mentioned earlier, all argument and rationale was as far removed from the subtleties of irony and the intricacies of reason and logical thinking as Bush et-al always were from those ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Unquestionably, no male band would have been vilified in the same manner.

Maines and the Chicks were accused of supporting communism. One radio caller suggested, in total seriousness, that Maines herself should be strapped to a bomb and dropped on Iraq. Bill O’ Reilly – renaissance man that he is – referred to the band as, “callow, foolish women who deserve to be slapped around.” In the ultra-conservative world of O’ Reilly’s middle class America just ten years ago, it seems that while opposing war was a big no-no, encouraging violence against women was an acceptable form of free speech.

Other protesters labelled Maines, Maguire and Robison as  ‘bimbos’ and ‘dixie twits.’ “Free speech is fine”, remarked one man, “but you don’t do it outside of the country and you don’t do it publicly.” Another reasoned that, “Being ashamed of our President means being ashamed of our country.” One couple even offered this sage advice, “Keep playin’, keep makin’ music, and keep your mouth shut.”

Within a week Landslide had fallen from #10 to #43 on the Billboard Hot 100. And within two weeks it had crashed out of the chart completely. Country radio all but banned the Dixie Chicks in response to the frenzy of country ‘fans.’ Many stations even went as far as to set up bins outside their offices so that ‘fans’ could publicly dump their Dixie Chicks albums. In some cases, the public destruction of their albums was encouraged and even arranged by having tractors drive over them to crush them.

Even President Bush himself commented on the controversy, although this time he was perhaps pointedly missing the point and the bigger picture as opposed to just not getting it, as was so often the case. “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt”, he opined, “when people don’t want to buy their records.” Bush, of course, like the Chicks themselves, is a native of Texas where he served as the Lone Star state’s 46th governor between 1995 and 2000.

On May 1st, 2003, Bush held court aboard the USS Lincoln, a banner behind him proclaiming, ‘Mission Accomplished.’ He stated at the time that this signalled the end of major combat operations in Iraq. In December of 2011, President Obama oversaw the final withdrawal of the last remaining US troops from Iraq. There have been almost 4,500 US casualties in Iraq, nearly 4,000 of them since President Bush’s ‘mission’ was ‘accomplished.’

In 2007, Taking The Long Way, the Dixie Chicks’ first album since the top of their world came crashing down, claimed five Grammys. Among them, the awards for Album Of The Year and, for their defiant, fight-not-flight anthem Not Ready To Make Nice, the awards for Single and for Song Of The Year. Upon its release, Taking The Long Way debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 and the country charts, despite receiving next to no support from country radio. Clearly and thankfully, however, the band retained the support of their more liberal, contemplative fans. Even if, to their eternal shame, a significant number of their fellow country artists distanced themselves from the Chicks in every way possible. But they were not without allies among big names in the music world as both Bruce Springsteen and Madonna were vocal in support of the Chicks’ right to express their opinions freely.

Even country legend Merle Haggard could see through the bluster and past the flag-waving. “I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks”, he stated, “but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching.” 

Mother is not a Dixie Chicks album. And it’s definitely not country, so don’t expect either one. But it’s doubtful that any labels like country, pop, rock – or whatever else – were even discussed by Maines and her producer Ben Harper when they began work on this collection of songs. And in truth, what ‘kind of’ an album it is doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that one of the most powerful, expressive and emotive voices of the last fifteen to twenty years, a voice that has been too long gone, has gifted its vocal dynamism to the world once more. As it happens, though, Mother (whose title track comes from Pink Floyd’s The Wall album) IS an excellent debut. Among the standout offerings are Natalie’s graceful embrace of the Jeff Buckley classic Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, and Come Crying To Me, a Maines co-write with Dixie Chick band-mates Martie and Emily.

Last week the US celebrated the fourth of July, its Independence Day. If anyone can claim to have truly lived in the spirit of what that day is supposed to recognise, then it’s Natalie Maines.

And long may she continue living that very same way.

ENDS

Lily Allen

First Published May 2014

WHAT A GEM WE HAVE IN SHEEZUS

Lily Allen

Some people seem born to a destiny of dividing public opinion. The merest whisper of their name can be akin to a drawing of battle-lines, a pinning of colours to masts, or the firing of a warning shot across the bows of those who may – in their poor and to be pitied uninformed bliss – have taken up positions among the ranks of the ‘other side’!

Not quite sure exactly what I mean? Fair enough. Then think Roy Keane. He’s either a hero with the courage of his convictions who stood firm in his beliefs, or he’s a traitor who turned his back on his country. Or think Barack Obama. To many, President Obama is already one of history’s most defining and charismatic leaders, and one of the greatest orators of our time. But to more, he’s the poorest excuse for a president ever to set foot inside the fabled Oval office. Heck, as far as some are concerned he’s not even a ‘real’ American anyway! How could he be, with a name like ‘that’?! And as hard as that is to fathom, amazingly, there are even the odd few out there who think that, because of the colour of his skin, Barack Obama couldn’t possibly have Irish ancestry! But we’ll leave that to one side for another day!

By now, however, you get my point. Well, London born singer/songwriter Lily Allen most definitely falls into the same category as the iconic ex-Manchester United and Ireland gladiator and the current leader of the free world. Mention her name and some eyes will roll heavenward without need of any further prompting, voices will begin to rise unknowingly but uncontrollably, and fissures with all the potential to run to depths which could well be described as being of a musical civil war kind, will appear in some friendships!

To say most people who know Lily Allen either love her or hate her falls some way short of being an accurate reflection of her place in popular music culture. The truth of it is, that while those who love her do so in a way that accepts and respects her for the artist and person she is and has every right to be, those who hate her seem to see ‘hate’ not as the final exasperated expression of their contempt and disgust for her, but rather as the first! Hate is just a starting point that quickly leads to ‘despise’, ‘loathe’, and ‘detest.’ And yet, far from being a plastic pop star who simply shows up and does what she’s told, Lily Allen is an artist of real substance.

So her recent return from a self-imposed period of retirement was greeted by her fans with all the delight and excitement of being reunited with a friend of old. And as old friends will tend to do, her fans – and yes, I AM ONE! – will defend her to the hilt. So, here goes…

Sheezus, the title of Lily’s first studio album in four years, offers one example of why and how she so easily causes friends and family to split ranks. The title, as she has freely admitted, is a tongue firmly in cheek nod towards American hip-hop artist, ‘Mr. Kim Kardashian’, and Taylor Swift-bashing, God wannabe… Kanye West, whose own last album was called Yeezus.

The major difference between Lily and Kanye is that while irony is skillfully and clearly crafted into Allen’s latest release in a highly witty and entertaining way, Kanye’s production is more of a what you might call a ‘Ronseal’ type affair! That is to say, his album was called Yeezus because he actually does appear to see himself, for all intents and purposes, as a saviour figure. In case any of us failed to pick up on the gift to the world that is his presence among us, his album title was just a subtle reminder. His kind of subtle, mind you.

Lily Allen, however, is just having fun with words. And in seeing and highlighting the extreme egotistical tendencies of Mr. West/Kardashian, she reveals a lack of any real ego in herself. Is she confident in herself? Well that’s a different question entirely, and the answer is that she most surely is! Does she speak her mind freely and perhaps sometimes too openly and willingly for her own good? No doubt about it. But is there a massive ego behind any of that? In my opinion, no. But I can understand how it seems that way to some. The title of Allen’s previous album, 2009’s It’s Not Me, It’s You, is another example of how her playful wit could easily be mistaken for arrogance, I suppose. But, if she was a man one doubts the question of wit or arrogance would ever even arise….

Lily Allen doesn’t possess the vocal ability of someone like Adele, let’s say, but there is an almost fragile beauty to her style of singing that sets her apart from many who may be more technically proficient. And while she may not have Adele’s way of synchronising every heartbeat in the room in time with her voice, I doubt if Adele could pull off the rap-like, half-singing/half-spoken approach to expressing herself which Allen has become the leading exponent of on this side of the Atlantic. What Lily and Adele do have in common, though, is their enormous songwriting talent. Adele, quite rightly, has been lauded far and wide for writing the hits which have turned her 19 and 21 albums into such massive global success stories. But Lily receives far less, if indeed, any, credit for her achievements in this regard.

How many of the people who are so quick to dismiss her as ‘all mouth’, for instance, would know that she won an Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of the Yea’ in 2010, and that her song, The Fear, clinched the prize for Best Song Musically and Lyrically AND for Most Performed Work in the that same year? My guess is not too many. And to put the worth of an Ivor Novello Award into some kind of context for you, previous winners include the likes of Gary Barlow and Elton John. Again, two artists who have come in for more than their fair share of criticism from time to time, but their quality as songsmiths is beyond question.

To further emphasise Lily’s flair and strength as a songwriter, it’s worth pointing out that she also collected a prestigious BMI Songwriting Award for Smile (from her Alright, Still… debut album) in 2008. Mark Ronson, producer of Alright, Still…, also claimed a Grammy Award in the category of Producer of the Year-Non Classical for the single Littlest Things from that same album. A second BMI Award came her way in October 2008 for extensive airplay of The Fear stateside.

September 2009 marked the beginning of a self-imposed retirement of sorts for Allen. Between then and now she married Sam Cooper, a builder and decorator who seems to have acted as a major stabilising factor in her life, simply by accepting and loving her for who she is. Having suffered the trauma of a miscarriage from a previous relationship in 2008, she endured similar heartache with Cooper when a viral infection led to a stillbirth in late 2009. Thankfully, however, the couple have since been blessed with two daughters, with the birth of Marnie Rose in February 2013 bringing a little sister for Ethel Mary, who came into the world in November 2011.

But, back to Sheezus. And what a way to return to the top of the charts. In the time between this album dropping and It’s Not Me, It’s You, we’d only had little teasers of Allen’s unmistakable vocal tones when, under her married name of Lily Rose Cooper, she guested on Pink’s track True Love (from Pink’s 2012 album, The Truth About Love) and, back as Lily Allen again, from her cover of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, which climbed all the way to number 1 last Christmas. But neither offering had that stamp of Lily’s own unique take on this world. 

Sheezus makes up for lost time. Lead-off singles Hard Out Here and Air Balloon are instantly hummable and swirl around your head for hours after hearing either. And on Hard Out Here in particular, she’s back to her most confident and confrontational as the lyric, ‘…if I told you ’bout my sex life you’d call me a slut/ When boys be talkin’ ’bout their bitches no one’s making a fuss/ There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh huh, there’s money to make/ And now it’s time to speed it up ‘cos I can’t move at this pace…’, perfectly demonstrates.

Sheezus – produced by Greg Kurstin who also worked the desk and co-wrote on It’s Not Me, It’s You -has a definite electro-pop feel to it, with little hints of TLC and Warren G moving in and out of the shadows throughout. It’s catchy in a way that is neither in-your-face nor drowns out the consistent class of Allen’s lyrics on every track. Aside from the singles already mentioned, there’s the hilariously wicked URL Badman, in which she perfectly describes and rips apart the kind of numbskulls that infest social media these days, always so quick to throw out their opinions on everyone and everything from behind the safety of a screen, as if that ‘distance’ and ‘shield’ absolves their ‘opinions’ from a need to be based (even loosely!) on fact and reason.

On this track she writes, “I work at home in my parent’s basement/ I don’t troll, I make statements…”, and later, “…I don’t like you, I think you’re worthless/ I wrote a long piece about it up on my WordPress…”, and, “…It’s not for me, it must be wrong/ I could ignore it and move on/ But I’m a broadband champion, a URL badman/ And if you’re trying to call it art/ I’ll have to take it all apart…”

Elsewhere, on Insincerely Yours, she paints a picture of the celebrity social scene that, in seeming somewhat extreme, is probably closer to the truth than many would dare to tell it. She writes, “I don’t want to know about your perfect life, you’re a perfect wife and it makes me sick/ I don’t give a f*&k about your Instagram, about your lovely house or your ugly kids/ I’m not your friend and I can’t pretend…”

Perhaps the two most telling tracks of this whole collection, however, are Take My Place, on which she deals with the subject of her miscarriage, and As Long As I Got You, a touchingly sweet yet not over-sugared tribute to her husband, Sam. Take My Place contains the poignant lines, “…if I could then I would scream/ I’d wipe the tears off of my face/ Wake me up if it’s a dream/ This is more than I can take…

In As Long As I Got You she declares,”I had that awful feeling, that I needed help/ My life had lost its meaning/ But you saved me from myself…”

Just how much some people are missed – while felt of course, in their absence – is often only truly acknowledged upon their return. Part of the reason for that is because they leave a hole so big that only they themselves can fill that space. So has it been with Lily Allen. During her ‘retirement’ her music was still played and she was still talked about, and in the papers, so she wasn’t really ‘gone’ gone, if you know what I mean. But she wasn’t really ‘here’ here, either.

Sheezus is the perfect comeback. It marks the return of a young woman who will probably always divide opinions. But make no mistake about this, folks: her opinions, be they expressed in her songs or otherwise, are an elixir of truth that a music world so often built solely on and basked in the finest of fakery, needs to have around.

Lily Allen is back, and long may her voice be heard.

ENDS