Olivia Burke

First Published July 2021

“MUSIC IS COMMUNICATION”

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

ENDS

Larissa Tormey

NEWS

Press Release via AS Written, July 2021

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE FOR A MODERN GIRL

Even in the 21st century, an old-fashioned love is still what some girls dream of. And singer/songwriter LARISSA TORMEY just so happens to be one of them. In fact, Larissa is such an old-fashioned romantic herself, that she followed her heart all the way from her native Russia to her new home in the Irish midlands when she married a good old-fashioned Irish farmer, her husband Christy. So maybe it’s no surprise then that her new single will be the somewhat tongue-in-cheek single, OLD FASHIONED.  

Set for general release across all digital platforms on July 30th, Old Fashioned is another original from Larissa’s own songbook, and features on her latest country collection, Breath of Fresh Air. That album hit stores last November, but this particular song holds a special place in Larissa’s affections, and she’s always had an equally special plan for it…   

     

“I think everyone should just be themselves, I think that’s so important for everybody. And if that means that you might be a little bit old-fashioned in your ways, that’s grand, that’s no problem. It’s much better to be authentic than to ever feel like you need to pretend to be someone you’re not. Even though it’s a fun song, and a happy one, it does have that message in it, too. I think being old-fashioned is a great thing, and lots of girls still prefer gentlemen to bad boys! [Laughs]. After all, not everyone needs to be modern. At least not in every way.”  

       

Larissa continued, “This is one of my favourite songs on my last album because it’s so funny. And I know it’s a little bit…maybe sarcastic you could say, but it’s in a very gentle and affectionate way. It’s just a playful song, and it’s the kind of thing you can say to a gentleman because you know they understand that. Because I loved ‘Old Fashioned’ from the moment I wrote it, I was really tempted to put it out as a single before now. But I decided that it would be even better to wait until summer came so that we could make a video here at home on Loughnagore Farm! So that’s what I did! So we recorded that last week and I’m delighted to say that one of the stars of the ‘Old Fashioned’ video will be a gentleman called Tom Lynam, who is not only one of our lovely neighbours, but a very good family friend as well. And of course we couldn’t film a video on our farm in the summer without making sure that our cattle got in on the action too! [Laughs].”  

       

Despite the ongoing troubles faced by the music industry as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, Old Fashioned will actually be Larissa’s fourth release of what has already proved to be a busy 2021. Her musical year began with the duet, Agree To Disagree, with British country legend Dave Sheriff back in February. That was followed by One Man Band in March, a track with links to none other than Sir Tom Jones himself as it was penned by Jon Philibert who also wrote the Welsh legends 1984 hit, I’ve Been Rained On Too. Then, as summer began to appear on the horizon in April, Larissa treated fans to another original of her own, Slightly Mad, which will feature on a full original album she has in the works for before the year’s end. 


With two Hot Press Award nominations also coming her way last March, in the Female Artist of the Year (alongside Imelda May, Denise Chaila, Emma Langford, and more) and the Best Songwriter (alongside Lisa Hannigan, Dermot Kennedy, and Niall Horan to name a few) categories, it’s already been a year to remember, no matter what else happens between now and December 31st. 


But Larissa isn’t one for resting on her laurels. She’s always planning her next move. You could say, she’s kind of old-fashioned like that. 

OLD FASHIONED, the brand NEW single from LARISSA TORMEY, will be available on all platforms from Friday, July 30th, and is now available to request from radio stations nationwide. 

ENDS

Lee Matthews

NEWS

Press Release via AS Written, May 2021

LEE RETURNS WITH NOUGHTIES COUNTRY THROWBACK

Singer/songwriter LEE MATTHEWS has finally made his long-awaited return to the airwaves. The Irish country star has just released his own unique take on a real noughties country throwback, I THINK SHE LIKES ME. 

          The song will be best known to country fans as a track on the One Voice album from American country child star Billy Gilman all the way back in 2000, his debut long-player that reached #2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. In the hands of Lee and his long-time producer Jonathan Owens, however, I Think She Likes Me has been given the kind of make-over that leaves it as an unmistakably Lee Matthews hit. 

          For Matthews, who has a string of chart-topping albums and singles to his name, I Think She Likes Me is his first post-lockdown release, and it’s one he’s been excited about sharing with his fans…

          “I’ve spent the best part of the last eighteen months or so writing new material, and working on some of those songs in the studio as well. Not being able to be on the road for a while really gave me the opportunity to turn my focus on what has probably always been my greatest passion, and that’s writing songs. And even more importantly than that, this last year and more have given me the opportunity to spend more time with my son, Noah. And there’s nothing better for any man’s heart and soul than getting to spend more time with his children, so I’m incredibly grateful for that. But I’m a performer too, and that’s my next big passion after songwriting. And it had just been way too long since I’d shared anything with my fans, that was something I wanted to put right. This song, I Think She Likes Me, is one that might not be so well known to some people, but it’s been one of my favourite American country songs from the 1990s, and I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to take it into the studio someday.”

          Matthews continued, “It’s one of those catchy, upbeat songs that has a way of bringing back all kinds of memories of childhood and first love, and things that have a way of putting a smile on peoples’ faces. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do when it came to putting some new music out there again. I’m very, very lucky to have more than 50,000 listeners each month on Spotify, and that’s growing all the time, thank God. Some of my songs actually have more listeners in the United States even than they do in Ireland or the U.K. But regardless of where people are listening, when it came to giving them something new to listen to, well like I said, something to put smiles on faces, that was the first priority. Jonathan and myself had the craic working on this in the studio, and the feedback so far from fans and radio seems to be that everyone else is enjoying it as much as we did.”

          I Think She Likes Me – written by George Teren and Bob Regan – was backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council. And while Matthews drew from the well of songs he loves most from other artists and writers on this occasion, fans can look forward to hearing some new and original music from his own songbook very soon…

          “After spending so much time writing and in the studio, I honestly can’t wait to share some of that material with fans. So that’s what’s going to be happening next. The plan is – as it stands at the moment anyway – that my next two singles will probably both be originals. Not sure when we’ll be dropping the first of those just yet, because the reaction to ‘I Think She Likes Me’ has been amazing, so it has a lot of life left to live yet. But there’ll definitely be more new music coming this year, that’s for sure. The wait was long enough, but that wait is over now. Fans can be sure of that, too!”

I THINK SHE LIKES ME, the brand NEW single from LEE MATTHEWS, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms, and to request from radio. 

ENDS

Mark Caplice

First Published June 2021

“FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE”

Part 2

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

And his biggest disappointment? 


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

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


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


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

ENDS

Niall McNamee

First Published June 2021

‘STEP BY STEP’ TO FIGHTING JACKIE CHAN

Part 2

Last month saw Dundalk’s NIALL McNAMEE release his long-awaited debut EP, STEP BY STEP. The five-track collection showcases the singer/songwriter’s finely honed skill for carving out of his own life, moments in time that – in their essence  – could just as easily have been lifted from yours or mine. In any writer, such ability is the mark of a master of his craft. Niall’s natural humility reveals itself at regular intervals through his good humour and his willingness to see, and share, the humour in his own life. That same humility would have him wince at any notion of being known as anything more than a storyteller. Well, he may wince a little bit for a little while anyway, because Step By Step is a debut that pushes him well ahead of the ordinary in every sense. 


We had the pleasure of catching up with Niall on the phone from his London home early last month as he looked ahead to the EP’s launch. If you happened to miss that chat, it’s well worth checking out and can be found elsewhere on this site simply by searching Niall’s name. Today, we begin Part 2 of our time in conversation with Niall by taking a look at the final track on the collection. 


Step By Step closes with the song When She Goes, another great title, and a song that has echoes of Damien Dempsey about it. It also, and I think this thought was sparked by hearing the strings in there, got me thinking about how wonderful it would also sound if slowed right down, and perhaps performed with just a string quartet. The lyric has the line, ‘It would appear there’s been deep harm in trying’, a clever reversal on the more common usage of that particular phrase. I asked Niall to take me back to the inspiration behind this one, and into the crafting of lines like the one just mentioned…


“Well, that’s about being in a relationship, and sometimes things just feel like they’re not working. It’s that mixture of feelings, that of, oh my God, this isn’t working, but also…the fear of IF it doesn’t work, what happens then, when she goes? Or when I have to leave? That song changed around a lot. I originally wrote that on piano, sometimes it’s easier to write a song on piano than on guitar. Then when we went to do our first gig as a full band – which was in the middle of lockdown – I was practising with the lads and I realised that it would work so much better on guitar. Again, I couldn’t be happier with Damien Dempsey as a reference there! I love playin’ that song ‘live’, it’s got a real energy to it. It was a real challenge – a new challenge for me, actually – of making these songs come to life with more instruments, and knowing what to have and what not to. I had people willing to play on my album, and I was like, cool! Let’s get trumpets! And an orchestra! And everything! [Laughs] I had to learn not to put something in for the sake of it. We’ve done a great little music video for this song as well, which will be out in a few weeks, probably a good few weeks, we’re keeping it as a little bonus. We did a music video for each song on the EP, which was a bit insane, but I had the time during lockdown.” 

While Step By Step has offered fans a whole EP’s worth of Niall’s talent to enjoy, that feast was preceded by a glimpse of it on Imelda’s new long-player, 11Past The Hour, courtesy of the song, Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own. Generally, duets fascinate me anyway, wondering who might first realise or suggest that a particular song would suit and work with more than one voice to the fore, and what exactly it might be about a song that would make it work like that. But in this instance, of course, Niall and Imelda co-wrote Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own together. So, was it always going to be a duet from the get-go? 


“Well, first of all, I’ve never, ever before written with anyone, never. And probably in a kinda youthful, arrogant way, didn’t see the point. Me and Imelda are very proud, ya know [laughs]. So there wasn’t going to be a song on her album that she wasn’t involved in writing, and vice-versa. I don’t know where I was going, or where I was coming back from, and this was long before the lockdown, but I’d been back in the house for about thirty-minutes, and for some reason I was just messing around on the guitar. I had this tune. And I had it in open-tuning, which is my favourite, and has been since I got really into Paul Brady. I had a few lyrics as well, some of them that are in there now. When I start writing a song, I like to keep playing it over and over again, then eventually some words stick, lyrics like ‘Don’t let me stand on my own’ as the chorus. For some reason I recorded this on my phone and I sent it to Imelda, and I said what do you think of this? She said it was lovely, it was good. Then we were around the house and she said play that to me ‘live.’ I think I was trying to go off the romantic thing, thinking I’d written too many love songs, so there were a few verses in there about anti oil-rigs in Iraq! [Laughs]. Imelda was like, ‘Yeaaah…it’s a lovely sentiment, but…I’m not sure for this song!’ [Laughs].””So she started writing a few lyrics down and singing along one day, and it sort of became that [song]. There was a bit of push-and-pull from the two of us, a fear – if I’m honest, between the two of us – of is it a good idea that we’re doing this together. Because we hadn’t been together that long at the time. And Imelda’s been in the industry long enough to know that’s not always a good thing, working with your friends, or your partner, or your family. But we pushed on with it anyway, and Imelda sent it off to her people and they liked it. Then, every now and again, we’d be at a gig or an after-party, and out would come the guitar and we’d play that song. And it would always get a reaction. I certainly didn’t want to have a song on Imelda’s album just for the sake of it. I was thinking too, hang on here a second, I haven’t released anything myself yet. I didn’t want to be her Jordan to her Peter Andre! [Laughs]. That’s what I was kinda terrified about! But then as time went on, I thought it would be good, and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have that song together, and to play it, and to have it be one that people ask for.” 

As we touched on briefly in Part 1 of our chat, there are more elements to Niall’s talents than just that of being a singer/songwriter. He also knows what it takes to be creative in front of the cameras as an actor. And he’s got an exciting project coming up soon, a movie called Love Without Walls. I asked Niall how much could he share with us about that? 


“About this time last year in the UK, it might have been later, maybe July or August, but there was a little gap where you could do gigs in pubs, with social-distancing, table service, but they had music back. For years, if I wasn’t acting, I spent my weekends – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – playing in the Irish pubs around London. My mam decided that it was time for me to do that because the building sites were killin’ me! [Laughs]. It felt sometimes like the more you worked, the less you made. So I was doing this gig back during lockdown, not my own gig, just in the corner of a pub. It had been so long since I’d played any ‘live’ music, I said to some people, listen, I’m back in London, come and have a look. And about sixty or seventy people turned up, which was awesome, and we had this amazing night. Then this lady approached me, and I kinda thought, is she a police officer? Am I doing something wrong here? But she said, ‘My name is Jane’ – Jane Gull, she’s the director of ‘Love Without Walls’ – ‘I’ve written a script about a young, married couple who fall on hard times, and the leading role for the male is a singer/songwriter.’ She said, ‘I was going to talk to your agent, but I saw you had a gig on. If you’re interested, we’d love to chat with you about it. But there’s one thing we really need, that’s a singer/songwriter who has his own songs. Because we’d like him to do the soundtrack.’ I was just like, YES, Please! [Laughs]. I think she thought I’d be a bit more coy about it, a bit more like, ‘well have your people talk to my people’, or whatever! But I was just like, oh my God, that sounds incredible!” “So we met up and had a chat about it, and I read with Shana who is the leading lady, and there was a chemistry. So we went ahead with it. The movie kept getting put back because of lockdown, and I kept getting fat and slim, and shaved and bearded! [Laughs]. So ‘China In A Box’ is the main track. In fact, ‘China In A Box’ wasn’t going to be on the EP, I was saving it. But then they said, look, it’s going to cost us a whole load of money to shut down the whole production, but we can do a day of it and we need to get a few shots of when you first met, and your relationship before it all goes wrong. So why don’t we do that, and film a musical video for ‘China In A Box’ as a little teaser, so that was that. On the same day the EP comes out, I’m going into London to quarantine for a bit, and then we’ll get to filming. I can’t wait to get started. I’m absolutely terrified [laughs], because I’ve never really played myself in anything. I mean, I’m not playing ‘Niall McNamee’, I’ve got a part to play [laughs]. But they are my songs and there are elements of me in there.” 

It had been Bono’s 60th birthday the day before we spoke. And Niall, I can absolutely guarantee you, is the only person I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with who has the coolest of stories involving Bono (to an extent), one of the best Bonds ever in the shape of Pierce Brosnan, AND…and with Jackie Chan! And a story of fighting Jackie Chan, at that! Talk about literally having one story cooler than another…


“Well I was playing Neil McCormick in ‘Chasing Bono.’ He, by all accounts, set up a band at the same time and they both thought they were going to be the main hitters in the music world. The story is about how it didn’t really quite happen for Neil, who’s a really good friend of mine now, and a great journalist. But it didn’t go the way he wanted it, while Bono obviously went off and became…Bono! [Laughs]. That was an incredible time, to get that opportunity on stage for all that time. And to have so many lines, to be given that responsibility. Sally Woods, Ronnie Woods’ wife, was producing it, she was amazing. And Ronnie came down loads of times, he’s a good bloke, and they’re a lovely couple. Then press-night came, and they invited their friends…and one of their friends was Imelda, and that’s where we met. Yeah, she came to watch ‘Chasing Bono’ and we swapped numbers. I don’t think we knew what for, but we obviously liked each other. And then the rest is kinda history! ‘Chasing Bono’, and the friends I made on that, that was such an important time. It felt like my ‘moment’, in many ways, and I’d really worked hard for it.”


“And as for ‘The Foreigner'”, continued Niall, “that was mental! [Laughs]. That was the first film role I ever did, which was crazy. I was still working on the building sites and I remember going to the audition, without knowing what it was for. Because you don’t go into an audition knowing that you’re auditioning for a Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan film! But I knew I was sort of in the ‘RA or something like that [laughs]. I had five lines in the audition. I don’t know what they can take from five lines, but it can’t be much. But I was the last person of the day. It was five o’ clock, I came in, and they were like, ‘Oh hi ya, look, don’t want to put ya off, but because we’re running really late, we’re going to be packing up during your audition.’ So I thought fair enough [laughs]. But I did these five lines, and I got the part. Then my agent rang me up – to tell me that – but without saying hello or anything, just started reading the script, and reading this fight scene between me and Jackie Chan! Within the next few days, I’d quit the building site and I was getting collected in this fancy car and taken to my trailer. For the first three weeks, solidly, we were choreographing a fight with Jackie Chan. It was mental! And there was a part of me thinking at the time, do ya know what, if things go tits-up and I don’t make it as an actor, I’ll always have this! It would be an interesting one for the ‘office news’ of what people used to do, ya know! So we spent three weeks learning the fight, and I’d never done any combat training or anything like that, I’m not a fighter really. Especially not on stage or on screen. So I worked so hard to get it right, because I really wanted to do it well. And I got it bang on! I was like, this is it! I’m smashing this, I’m ready.”

But then,” recalled Niall, “I remember like ten minutes before we started filming, on the first day, someone came up to me and said, ‘Ahh, Jackie’s not actually happy with your fight, some of the moves and stuff. So he wants to change it.’ And I’m going, oh my God, no, no, no! [Laughs]. So I said right, show me. And they showed me the first bit, and I kinda got that. Then they showed me the second bit, and I was like, here, look, I am never gonna get that! And I asked what could I do. So, I went up to Jackie Chan… [laughs]…and I said, ‘Listen…Jackie…’, [laughs], ‘I’m lost here. I don’t know what I’m doing. They’ve changed it.’ I had to. And it was grand, it worked out great. Even though you shouldn’t be, I was constantly just worried that they would sack me! [Laughs]. A lot of us there, we didn’t really know what we were doing there. I don’t really know what the casting process was. Maybe they just found all the right people, but that’s rare. So Jackie said, ‘Oh, right.’ And I had this fake knife. So he said, ‘Well, when they say action, just try and stab me, and I’ll do the rest.’ And there was me worrying, like, ‘Oh no, what if I kill Jackie Chan?!’ [Laughs]. How arrogant, to worry that on my first day of filming I might be too good! [Laughs]. So I went to stab him when they said action, and he grabbed onto the end of the knife, kinda pulled it back and forth, and I was following the knife, then he just flipped me over his shoulder and smashed me through a glass table! I was lying there winded going, oh my God, what was that?! And at the same time, the crew are like, ‘Right, let’s get in the next fake glass table.’ And I’m thinking, fake glass table?! I didn’t know anything about this! [Laughs]. And if you watch it back, it looks like I’m going for him. But I promise ya, it was all him! He took my knife, made me fight him, and then beat the sh*t outta me! [Laughs]. And it was incredible, it was amazing!” 

“And then obviously Pierce Brosnan was a lovely man. I actually remember the lads taking the mick out of me because of the wrap-party, which everyone was fairly excited for. I thought I’d show where my loyalties lie, and I said I don’t know if I can make the wrap-party because Ireland were playing England at Twickenham and I had tickets. So, I turn up at this wrap-party, half-cut, with my Ireland scarf around me, and the lads are goin’, ‘Ah Jeeesus, what are ya doin’?’ Then Pierce Brosnan turns up ten minutes later with a scarf around him, after being at the same game. And I remember saying to him, ‘You could have given me a fu*king lift!’ [Laughs]. That whole experience of that movie was definitely one of the cooler moments of my life!”

STEP BY STEP, the new EP from NIALL McNAMEE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms. 

ENDS