DAVID CONNOR, one of the stars of the new series of TG4’s hit show GLOR TÍRE, has announced the release of his latest single, DOWN HOME. The man from Mayo has recorded a heartfelt version of the 1991 #1 from American country rock giants Alabama, which became available on all platforms at the end of January, and duly hit the top of the Irish country charts.
David, from Claremorris, is being mentored on this season’s Glor Tíre by none other than singer/songwriter MICHAEL ENGLISH, one of Irish country’s most accomplished male performers with numerous awards to his name. While this year’s series of the long-running show will be somewhat of a learning experience for everyone involved given the challenges of operating in the era of Covid, as far as the music side of things is concerned, David knows he couldn’t be in better company for learning!
“Michael is such a talented musician and performer, I’ve always been a big fan of his. His songs are brilliant, just so catchy and so lively to dance to as well. But more than just that, he’s the ultimate professional. For a man who’s so well known and who has had so much success, he’s just remarkably down to earth and humble to talk to. And he’s given me so much advice already. It doesn’t matter when I have a question – or if it’s something I might feel like is a shocking silly question to even have to be asking! [laughs] – Michael is always there with an answer. Whatever way Glór Tire ends up for us, I know that I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. Michael is a pure gentleman.”
Indeed, those same words – a pure gentleman – have often been used to describe David himself in Mayo and the wider west. A stalwart of the ‘live’ music scene in that part of the world with his band, Southern Revival, David’s first adventure into a recording studio was back in 2016, and as befits the man, it was all to help others. As Mayo bravely battled ever onwards against the weight of history and a tidal-wave of expectation in their continuing pursuit of the Sam Maguire, David and his sister Jenny recorded the MayoCup Song, with all proceeds going to support a cystic fibrosis charity.
Country music has always been a central part of David’s life, so much so that he was, as he says himself, “reared on it!” He went on to add, “Mid-West radio was always on in our house, every hour of the day. It’s as ingrained into my memory as anything else that has made me who I am today, and that’s the truth.” While David’s first experience of actually singing on stage came in a youth variety show, it was in February of last year that he took his first steps onto the national scene, releasing his official debut single, a rousing version of the Zac Brown hit As She’s Walking Away.
That choice of song offered an insight into the influence of American country music on his life, with artists like John Fogarty, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, the Eagles and Elvis quick to roll off his tongue when enquiries are made as to his musical inspirations. He’s equally quick to add, however, that, like his dad, he was also a huge fan of Big Tom and the Mainliners. The follow-up to As She’s Walking Away came in August of 2020, a cover of the Luka Bloom song, You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time. And so it proved, with the track claiming the #1 spot on the iTunes Irish country chart on the day of its release.
With Down Home, produced by Wayne Thorose, as were those first two singles, David is returning to the American country songbook to share a song that – as a country boy himself – has long held a special place in his affections…
“There’s so many lines in this song that I can relate to, and that are about the life I’ve always known and the life I try to live. This was always going to be a song I tried my hand at somewhere along the line. It’s about appreciating where you’re from, and the simple things that are actually so important in your life, all the characters and places that you’re so familiar with. I think country people in general, wherever you find them, are of a very friendly nature, in both difficult and happy times. It’s that community that reminds you that you’re in a place where – as it says in the song – ‘they know you by name and treat you like family.’ And, in the chorus as well, where ‘a man’s good word and a hand-shake are all you need.’ They’re simple little things, but they’re so important to me.”
David already has the experience of opening for the Keane Family and Finbar Furey to his credit, as well as performing with 2010’s Glór Tíre winner Eunice Moran and her band. And, with his down-home charm and Down Home as his new single too, it’s a safe bet to say that there are many more big experiences still to come the way of the Claremorris man.
~ DOWN HOME, the brand NEW #1 single from DAVID CONNOR is OUT NOW, and is also available to request from radio. To stay fully up to date with David’s musical journey, you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.
The thing I love most about Galway’s SABRINA FALLON as a country music artist, is that I know she’s on the scene first and foremost for one simple reason: she loves country music. And if you’ve ever seen her perform – be it in the cosy, intimate surrounds of a pub gig, or in larger settings such as on a festival or concert stage – then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Her love of the music, and the enjoyment she derives from entertaining, from seeing those in front of her with smiles on their faces and their worries – if only for a moment in time, forgotten – simply illuminates any event that she’s a part of. Her personality sparkles even brighter than the dazzling dresses which have become as much a trademark as her gorgeous, soulful, traditional country voice.
Throughout the last year, Sabrina – thank God – has continued to record and release music, offering up her unique talent as a balm for the soul of her fans in Ireland and beyond who have surely missed having the opportunity to feed off her positive energy in person. And as well as keeping her voice heard on the radio, she’s been doing her bit to make sure country music fans still get to hear from some of her fellow artists too, as host of Country Showtime withSabrina on the Spotlight TV channel each week.
I had the pleasure of spending some time in Sabrina’s company last Thursday morning, and we began our chat by talking about her brand new single, MISSISSIPPI. I asked Sabrina to tell me why she decided to record this particular song right now…
“I’ve noticed that I really tend to record something that reflects how I’m feeling, or how I’d like to feel. And obviously this has been such a hard, hard time for everybody. It’s caused an awful lot of people serious anxiety, this pandemic. Somebody came to me a couple of years ago – a lady who’s crazy about country music – and she asked me if I knew the song ‘Mississippi.’ And I was like, yeah, I do, but then when I came home I played it, I was like, oh my God! It really came back to me. It brought back childhood memories of vibing around our sitting-room and out the garden. So it always reminds me of being at a festival, a free-spirit festival, where there’s only love in the air, and there’s no worries and no cares. That’s the vibe I get from that song. So I wanted to record it to bring that vibe to other people, when it’s very necessary at the moment. And I love it! I love this song.”
I found it very interesting what Sabrina had just said about recording songs based on how she was feeling, or perhaps how she wanted to feel. I wondered if that had been a constant throughout her career, or something that had developed over time?
“Sometimes I’m not even aware of it, it could be subconscious, you know that kind of way? But something will stick out [to me], and I’ll go yeah, that’s the one I’m doing, but I won’t know why. And then it will become more evident as time goes on. ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ was a big one around dad when he was ill. I’d gone in to do it before I even knew what I was doing it for, if that makes sense? ‘Old Maid in the Garrett’ wasn’t that I wanted to get married, that’s for sure! [Laughs]. So maybe not every single song, but there’s definitely a story of some kind emotionally to each song, I guess.”
As Sabrina had touched on, it’s been a very strange year – year and a bit now – for musicians and entertainers of all kinds. What I’ve noticed is that without gigs, a lot of performers have pretty much retreated from public view, save, maybe, for the odd Facebook ‘live’ every now and then. But a good few, Sabrina included, have continued to at least record and release new music, remaining visible and maintaining their presence. What was the thought-process that led to Sabrina deciding to go that route over the past twelve months or so?
“I just kind of went with the ebb and flow of what I wanted to do still. There’s no secret…I’m addicted to recording music! I love the studio! I love it, I love it! [Laughs]. If there’s ever an opportunity for me to hear a new song, I want to listen to that song. I’m always looking for songs. I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s not. Anybody else who’s recording probably is too. I’m doing some Zoom singing with day-care centres and stuff like that at the moment. They might mention a song, and I’ll be like, ‘I’m sorry, can you say that again?’, and I’ll write it down, then go home and Google it! So I’m always looking for songs even though there are no gigs going on. That doesn’t change. And going into the studio is something that I absolutely adore doing. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, the studio. So it wasn’t an option for me not to record. Now, is it expensive? Absolutely! Is there the financial reimbursement that you would get from being able to then promote yourself at gigs, no, there’s not. So airplay, radio-play, that’s really important at the moment, and the Spotlight TV channel. They’re your only forms of exposure. So it’s very, very difficult to get a shelf-life out of a song. Particularly now. You might get a short time out of it, but then it’s gone, and you’ve got to go with another one. So yeah, it wasn’t an option for me not to record.”
As an artist, how is Sabrina feeling about heading into a second summer with what looks like no – or at the very least, very, very few – festivals or events taking place on the country music calendar?
“Do you know what? I’m really good at just accepting whatever my reality is. It is what it is. I’m not gonna fight what I have no way to change. It is what it is. We’ve got to go with the flow. Obviously, I would like to be out at some festivals singing, for sure. But it’s not gonna be that way. And I’ve always maintained a safety-first approach since the start of this. If it’s not safe to do, then it’s not safe to do. But I will look forward to when everything returns, how we won’t take it for granted again. And also, you know how that dance from the ‘roaring twenties’…what’s the name of it? Charleston! That came after the last pandemic, when everyone got that exciting vibe back, to live and to dance and everything. So God knows what’s going to come of this, ya know! So hopefully something exciting musically and artistically will develop. I hope so anyway.”
As more and more areas of everyday life begin to open up across the water, does Sabrina feel any more or less confident about what the future holds for the music industry here than she may have done maybe six months ago?
“The truth is, I don’t know. One minute, I think oh, that looks promising. And then a minute later, it’s like oh God no, that’s not gonna happen. So I don’t know. We can all try to predict things, and there’s lots of opinions goin’ around! But I don’t know. Eventually it will come right. It’s just the length of time that it’s going to take that we still haven’t discovered.”
Even though Sabrina hasn’t been able to gig ‘live’ for a long time, certainly not in the way she would have been used to, she has been doing some very special ‘live’ shows via Zoom for some very special friends of hers every week…
“I’m working with the That’s Life project, which is the Brothers of Charity. It’s an artistic community project that they’ve developed over the years, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Specifically, I’m working artistically with people with intellectual disabilities. I was singing for them once a week, because a lot of them – A LOT of them – LOVE country music! And I mean really love it. They, the Brothers of Charity, have created this project for me to explore why these people with disabilities love country music, to find out what it is that they love. To find out how it makes them feel. That’s what I’m working on now for the next couple of months with them. Part of the project is that each participant will bring in an item – not bring in, send in obviously, because this is all being done via Zoom at the moment to keep everyone safe. That could be a picture of their favourite artist, or them with their favourite artist, their favourite experience of them with their artist. Or maybe they have a stub of a ticket from a concert they were at. One gentleman is going to send in his cowboy hat. We’re going to get professional photos taken of all of these, and then have those superimposed onto fabric to make a big country quilt! Another part of it as well, is that they’re going to send letters to their favourite artists, hand-written letters, because there’s no such thing as a hand-written letter anymore. And hopefully, they’ll get one back from their artist as well. And using sublimation printing these will all be put onto the fabric so we can create a big, beautiful piece. The other part of that project as well, is that we’re going to be recording a song! So the participants are going to write their own country song about why they love country music, and we’ll be releasing that. I’ll be singing on it as well, so it’s a very exciting project. I’m really lucky to be working with them.”
What’s the timeline around all of that?
“Well, they’re hoping in autumn to have the exhibition. So at the end of September we’re talking. When I go on Zoom and sing with them, they literally come on every week with a different hat, and they just dance for the whole hour! You’re probably fairly used to Zoom too, I don’t know of anybody who’s not now [laughs]. But I’m looking at a screen of these little bobbing heads dancing around their kitchen and their sitting-rooms, and it’s just…it’s a two-way street, I’ve always said it, it brings me great joy. If I’m bringing them joy just by singing, then by Jesus, they’re bringing me just as much in return, ya know!”
Because Sabrina herself is both such a creative person and a people person, how much has that outlet – that connection – been a help for her in keeping her own spirits up over the past while?
“Oh yeah, very important! I love people. Not all people! [Laughs]. Not all humans [laughs]. But as an artist, we need that creative oxygen to keep us going. Part of that is bouncing off people. My main work as an artist is socially engaged. And there’s none of that right now. But even on Zoom, I’ll start interviews now with them, each participant will tell me their story. So I am socially engaged in that way, and I’m very grateful for that. Because I do feel like there is a drought creatively for artists. And we all need that little bit of water to feed us creatively.”
Pre-Covid, Sabrina was one of the busiest entertainers on the road. And during Covid she’s remained so. Part of what she’s achieved in that time was completing her Masters. And part of that involved the most amazing – and, in many ways, haunting and heartbreaking – presentation on how the country music industry has been affected by Covid…
“Initially, I was doing my Masters on vulnerability. So I did my thesis on vulnerability, because I’ve always been very aware of peoples’ vulnerabilities, and of my own vulnerabilities as well, and of how the word ‘vulnerability’ could sometimes be seen as someone being weak. But really, vulnerability was once looked at as being the most beautiful gift we all have. To be vulnerable is to love, to be open to love. Because of the lockdown then, we couldn’t go into the college or use any of the machines so we weren’t able to create our piece for our final exhibitions. So we had to come up with something at home. And this was just at the start of it, so we didn’t know what we were goin’ to do. So I was just thinking, ok, what’s vulnerable around? And what can I create that’s tactile? And all I could see was people being so upset online. Musicians and singers, overnight – overnight – their careers were taken away from them. I’ve been at it a few years, but for the likes of the beautiful Philomena Begley, and Johnny Carroll, people who have had long careers, I was thinking about how vulnerable they all were.”
Sabrina continued, “So I started talking to these people, and I asked them, ‘How has Covid changed your life?’ And they were sending back some very, very powerful quotes. I also wanted to use this to create a textile project, so I asked them for a piece of clothing, to send me on a piece. And some of them were just outstanding. Mary Coughlan! Oh my God! Her jacket! This is a jacket that was made for her. And oh my God, it’s so beautiful, it gave me goosebumps! I will never forget opening the package in my art studio, and it was almost like I was hit by a train with the energy that was coming out of this beautiful coat that she would wear on stage. I’d seen it before on her. So I wired this, and put the form [of a body] into it, but the human was not there. They were suspended like that. There was an array of clothing from artists who are completely vulnerable now. The music scene is completely vulnerable. I had Nathan’s jacket, I had Mike Denver’s suit. Louise Morrissey was gracious enough to send me beautiful jewellery. I had Philomena. Johnny Carroll was very moving! There was his trumpet, and notes from when he was a teenager, still in his trumpet box. And he’d never left these down before, never let them out of his sight. It’s something that’s not finished [this project]. It’s not finished. But it is something that needs to be physically visited. That’s something I’d like to see happen. It was very powerful. And big thanks to everyone who took part.”
On the music front – and allowing for the fact that it’s almost impossible to look too far into the future except for what’s in her own control – what does the rest of 2021 look like holding in store for Sabrina?
“Ok, what are we in now? March or April? [Laughs]. Well, I guess the project we were talking about is going to take a lot of time and energy, beautiful time and energy! And I also have my own art studio here, where I’m creating pieces daily also, for my online shop. I have pieces of jewellery and various textile pieces distributed to a couple of different stores, so I have lots to keep me busy. And in fairness now, if I had a look at my garden and a look at my house, I have about ten year’s work to do! [Laughs]. I wasn’t one of those people who got their house transformed when the lockdown happened [Laughs]. I just haven’t really stopped. But musically I have an exciting duet coming! It’s with somebody who I would have always listened to and looked up to, and an amazing songwriter. And we’re going to record a duet next! So that will be my next feel-good project. And of course…of course!… I have more music lined up to record as well, because that’s probably never going to stop! But the duet will be the next one now. And I’m very excited about it.”
When all of this Covid related strangeness is over, and normal – of some kind – returns, does Sabrina think that her own personal approach to life or to music will have changed much as a result of everything that’s happened since March 2020?
“I think we’ve all probably learned to slow down a bit. I think that it would be a lie for me to say that I miss being out five or six nights a week. I actually don’t. The truth is that the pandemic hasn’t hit me terribly badly. Maybe creatively, bouncing off other people. But that’s the only thing that I’m not doing, is I’m not getting in my car and going travelling, and going meeting people. And I’ll really look forward to that part. Not the loading up and bringing all the gear in and out now! No way [laughs]. I think everybody will really appreciate it [being able to do it] a lot more. I think it was taken for granted before this. I mean, never once in my wildest dreams did I ever think that – overnight! – everybody’s musical careers, and indeed, many, many more careers across the country, could be wiped out. Who would have ever predicted this?”
And when the music industry does kick back into life again, does Sabrina feel that will have changed much? Or changed at all? Or, might it just fall slowly back into how it was?
“I don’t know. That’s crystal-ball stuff, isn’t it. And I’m not very good at predicting things! [Laughs]. So I don’t know. I definitely don’t try and work it all out. Sometimes, I’ll get into it, and I’ll be getting all philosophical about it, and I have to tell myself now hold on, you actually don’t know, Sabrina! My views change daily. Sometimes I’ll hear somebody say, ‘Oh there’s no way I’m gonna go back to a dance, I’m too nervous.’ And then another day, I’ll hear somebody else say, ‘Oh my God, I cannot wait to get back out dancing! If there was a dance tomorrow, I would go!’ So I just don’t know. I would love if things could go back to the way they were, that would be fantastic. Maybe concerts might become more of a bigger thing at the start. I think it will be a slow and steady return, please God. But sweaty ballrooms? I don’t know! [Laughs]. Shirts flyin’? Ah, I just don’t know! [Laughs]. Some lads would be bringing bags of five or six shirts to be changing into! I’m not sure anyone’s ready for that yet [Laughs].”
~ MISSISSIPPI, the brand NEW single from SABRINA FALLON is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. Her TV show, COUNTRY SHOWTIME WITH SABRINA, airs every Thursday and Monday on the Spotlight channel. You can follow Sabrina on Facebook and Instagram.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, WELLIES, AND COFFEE WITH ISLA GRANT
By the time you’re reading this for the first time on the morning of Wednesday, April 7th, the line-up for the Grand Final of the 2021 series of GLÓR TÍRE will have been decided. And depending on how things went in last night’s semi-final of the long-running TG4 TV show, the mood around Killoran in Galway could be one of either elation or heartbreak. But, regardless of what’s been or what’s yet to come, two things are certain as far as student-nurse EMMA DONOHUE is concerned.
The first is that – whether last night turned out to be her last performance or whether she’ll be back next week with her mentor MIKE DENVER to try and claim the title – Glór Tíre is just another step along the way in her music career. Her time on Glor Tíre will eventually come to an end one way or another, but her career is still only in its infancy. And make no mistake about it, the name of Emma Donohue is one that will be spoken about on the Irish country music scene for many a year to come. The second thing that’s for certain for Emma…is that there’ll still be work to do on the family farm!
“You could hear a duck, a rooster, a cow, a dog, you could hear anything! And you could hear Mammy roarin’ in ten minutes! [Laughs].”
That was Emma’s response to my question about the array of background sounds coming down the phone-line when we spoke on Saturday afternoon as she prepared lunch for her family. Multi-tasking could well be this girl’s middle-name! Exactly how well Emma keeps her feet on the ground will be revealed in a story later on in our chat, but for now, let’s just say that this rising young country music star is just as comfortable living life in high-heels and under the glow of the spotlight, as she is in her Wellingtons and going wherever those boots need her to go.
Her latest single, a stomping cover of the Isla Grant hit LOVE ME TONIGHT has just been released, and to immediate acclaim from the legendary songwriter herself among others. Emma continues to juggle the life of a student-nurse who’s both working on the front-line during this pandemic as well as studying for her upcoming exams, with that of a recording artist, and with the commitments that come along with playing a central role on a show like Glór Tíre. The fact that she takes it all in her stride not only tells you everything you really need to know about the twenty-one year old, it also proves that she’s right where she’s meant to be in her life.
This year’s series of Glór Tíre followed the 2020 edition in running into an unplanned but not altogether surprising need for a Covid-related pause in proceedings. As our chat began, I wondered how much did that unscheduled break in the show affect Emma and her campaign?
“Well, obviously I was disappointed when it did take a halt, but I’m happy now that it’s back on again. I didn’t stay idle or anything during the last few weeks, though. I wasn’t planning on releasing my next single until after the show, but when the opportunity arose, I just said, ya know what now, while we’re on this break, let it go and let it fly! So I’ve been working on that single and the campaign for that. And I suppose it’s after tying in very well with radio now that Glór Tíre is coming back again. So it all fell into place nicely.”
Going into Tuesday night’s semi-final (again, last night, if you’re reading this on publication day), how was Emma feeling about being back in front of the cameras again?
“I’m feelin’ good about it, yeah. I’m excited to get back. When you get so used to something every week, and I suppose you develop that routine, when it’s taken away from ya it leaves ya on the down-side of things. But when you know you’ll be getting back into it again, it’s a ‘go, go, go!’ situation. I’m lookin’ forward to it. There’s a few butterflies, but that’s only natural, I think. It’s all good.”
At what stage on Tuesday night did Emma think it might hit her that she was actually in the Glór Tíre semi-final, and that her next time in front of the cameras could…potentially, and God-willing…be for this year’s Grand Final?
“I think as soon as I stand on the stage on Tuesday, it’ll hit me! [Laughs]. I don’t think it’s even quite hit me at all yet either. Everywhere I go people are saying congratulations on being in the semi-finals, we can’t wait to see ya, ya know. And I’m just goin’, oh yeah, grand! [Laughs]. But yeah, when I’m standing on the stage with the mic in my hand, then I’m going to realise, right…this is for real! [Laughs].”
So what has the level of support been like for Emma locally in and around her native Killoran in Galway?
“It’s been huge. I didn’t expect it! The level of support from the wider community has been absolutely huge. If I go to Tesco or anywhere in Ballinasloe, everyone is wishing me luck, they’re all coming up to me. It’s great, because there’s a good auld buzz when it’s goin’ on. But it’s definitely unexpected. You feel like you’re a local celebrity, even though you’re only from Killoran! [Laughs].”
From always being a fan of Glór Tíre in years gone by, to actually being part of the show this year, how different has it been from how Emma thought it might be?
“Well, obviously it’s very different this year because you can’t go around gigging and things like that. And unfortunately the duets with our mentors were pulled as well due to social-distancing, and that was a bit disappointing. But I have to hand it to Glór Tíre and to all the staff and to all the crew that’s working on it, they’ve been absolutely mighty. Anything that you need, or that you want, they’re there on hand. They’re so helpful. It’s like a big family, is how I describe it. Anything you need in any way, shape, or form, they don’t bat an eyelid, they just sort it out. And that does add to the whole experience of it, because it makes it a lot more fun, and for you – as the contestant – it puts you a lot more at ease.”
While Glór Tíre is undoubtedly a great platform for any new artist to showcase their talents, it’s so important to also have plans for after the show comes to an end. And in that regard, Emma definitely has a few things up her sleeve…
“Yeah, I’m currently working on my album, so when restrictions lift, hopefully I can get back into the studio. I’m working on that with Enda Dempsey and Paddy Jordan, and all going well, I hope to have it out next year. If not, definitely very early in 2022. There’s a lot of lively songs comin’ on it, a lot of well-known songs as well, that people will like. So I’ll be focusing a lot on that. We’ll plan as much as we can for the future, but it’s still unknown territory whether we’ll be back gigging or anything like that. But if an opportunity arose where there was an outdoor festival, I’d be willin’ to jump on that opportunity or anything else that might be goin’ on. I’d definitely get involved with things. But I suppose the album now would be my main focus. I’ll be gettin’ out more singles and music videos as well, if I can.”
As far as that album goes, how set in Emma’s mind is the final shape that things will take? Or is there – and excuse the pun – still a little play in how that all might go?
“There’s a little bit of play at hand, for sure. We haven’t finalised fully all the songs we want to do yet. I think there’s at least two that are in the mix for whether we’ll keep or whether we’ll leave for another day. It’s very much open at this stage. With this album I want it to be about me. As everyone probably knows, I’m a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none [laughs], but I do have that personality where I’m kind of happy-go-lucky, and go with the flow. But I want this album to portray the message I want to get out, bringing back old songs that haven’t been released in a long time, but put a new lease of life in them. But I want that to match who I am, so I suppose it’s trial and error as well. And I definitely want to put in an original song as well. Lookit, hopefully it will all work out!”
Well Emma’s brand new single is certainly an older song that she has brought back to life again, and how! Love Me Tonight, written by the brilliant Scottish singer/songwriter Isla Grant, was a part of Isla’s Only Yesterday album nearly twenty years ago. And in the week just gone, as Emma’s version went to radio and was released, she even had a bit of a surprise from Isla herself…!
“I did! We serviced the single to radio, to all the presenters, through Debra Dowler, at Debra Communications, and she did a fantastic job. And out of that, I actually got acknowledged by Isla herself, which was a huge, huge surprise! I had to look at it two or three times to see was it actually real [laughs]. But it was! She messaged me and said she was delighted with what I had done with her song, she loved this version of it, and she wished me luck in Glór Tíre as well. And then, through further emails, she said that one day when restrictions lift hopefully we’ll get to meet up for a coffee and a chat. So it’s a huge honour to be acknowledged by the woman who wrote and produced the song, but then to be invited for coffee when all this lifts was a bigger bonus! I was absolutely honoured that she loved what I did with her song. It’s always a risk when you do a cover of a song that was originally put out by the person that wrote it, because you don’t know if they’ll like it or not. To say I was on cloud-nine now would be an understatement!”
Emma had mentioned his name a few minutes previously and when last we spoke, she had emphasised the importance of the role he plays in her career, both as a friend and as her producer. And as it happens, Enda played a big part in Emma’s decision to cut Love Me Tonight…
“Yeah, he did. We had it narrowed down to three songs that we were going to do. And I was kind of humming and hawing about different ones. Ya know now when different personalities come together [laughs]. But Enda said, no now, Emma, this one is gonna be a good one. I remember him saying that he knew the guys who originally produced Isla’s recording with her back around 2000, so I think it had a sentimental meaning to him too. He said he’d been waiting for someone to do it for a long time, and he said to me, give it a go. So I said, do ya know what, let’s give it a shot. I was never ruling it out, I always wanted it to go on the album, and maybe put it out at some stage, I just didn’t know when. But he said it was going to be a good one, and I just needed to have faith in it. And he’s never steered me wrong yet. I’ve known him for a long, long time, through the dancing and everything. But as a producer, and as a best friend at this stage, he’s never steered me wrong in my music career. And the signs are on it, because the song is hopping on all the stations all week! I’m delighted.”
I asked Emma how does that feel, hearing her latest single being played all over the radio? Especially as an artist who is still relatively new to the scene and trying to establish herself in a notoriously tough business…
“It’s an absolute pinch-me moment. It really is. Everytime. It’s a surreal feeling. You’re thinking to yourself, they’re actually talking about me! My song, my music, my work. And it’s great to be acknowledged. And ya know, I have to say, fair play to all the radio presenters and DJs, because without them up-and-coming artists like myself, who are trying to make our names on the scene, it’s very difficult at best. Without them, I wouldn’t be half as far along as where I am today. They keep country music alive. To be part of their play-lists on their shows, near and far, across Ireland and further afield, it’s definitely an honour. And it’s a huge experience, and huge exposure too.”
Emma is still studying and working as a student-nurse right now, as well as living and working on the family farm, and running her Glór Tíre campaign while also building her country music career in a more general sense. That mix of different sides to her life led to a little bit of a funny encounter the very next day after the last ‘live’ show of Glór Tíre, as Emma recounted for me…
“[Laughs] After the last ‘live’ show, we came home and I was still in my lovely white dress, but that was short-lived because when we got home into the yard, Mammy was ready and waiting for work! We actually had two calves born that same night. So I was out of the dress fairly lively, and it was back into the wellies, and out the gap! [Laughs]. But the following day, unfortunately, we had a little calf that was under the weather and we had to go to the vet. And of course, Emma here was wearing wellies, a track-suit, not looking the best like she did the night before! I was sitting in the back of the trailer with the calf, waiting for the vet, and I was covered in…I won’t tell ya what! [Laughs]. Anyway, he came out, and he looked at me, and then he looked at me again, and then he said, ‘Were you not on telly last night?!’ I was, says I, and he goes, ‘Talk about a full 180 turnaround, goin’ from a white dress to being covered in muck in the back of a trailer!’ [Laughs]. But sure it made for an interesting day anyway. They were all laughing at me telling me I was a Jack-of-all-trades! But sure lookit, that’s part of life, it’s part of farming, it’s part of everything.”
As Emma takes a look back on the past year of living with Covid, working through so much of it on the front-line, and building her career as a new artist on the country scene all at the one time, what has she learned about herself that perhaps she might not have known before all of this?
“Well, I definitely had doubts, I suppose, before even goin’ on Glór Tíre, about where I was going or how I was going to make a name for myself. And I kinda didn’t know what angle to take, or how to push myself forward. Glór Tíre has helped me in so many respects. I feel like I’m a politician like, asking them to vote for me [laughs]. But that’s good in a way, because I’m actually getting a lot more confident in myself, and I’m meeting a lot more people. And now I know that the support is there if I want it. It’s just about getting a campaign out there. And that’s something that I would never have done in my life. I’d never have been out asking for votes before, or putting myself out there in so many respects, so much so that my face is plastered all around county Galway and further afield! [Laughs]. Definitely it’s all been a huge confidence boost. I didn’t know myself that I could do it. I suppose…not fully believe, but I just wouldn’t have been the kind to just say, right, let’s do this. But now, this year – and I remember saying this to Enda, and to mum and dad – I said this year was gonna be my year for music. Regardless of Covid, and regardless of anything else, I am gonna give it everything I have! And let’s see if it pays off. And so far, so good. I mean, Isla Grant has contacted me about my version of her song, I’m on Glór Tíre in the semi-final, Mike Denver – a huge name in country music – picked me to be his contestant. So even to be able to say those things, in such a short time-frame, that’s a dream come true and certainly something that I could never have seen happening in 2020.”
To wrap things up, and of course, not yet knowing what the semi-final of Glór Tíre would hold in store, I asked Emma what message she’d like to pass on to her fans and supporters…
“Thanks a million! Just thanks a million for everything they’ve done so far. I know there’s been a little bit of a break and it can be hard to get back into things, but nothing goes unnoticed. I see everyone who’s sharing posts, I see all the ‘likes’ and comments, and shares. So I want all of those people to know that none of that goes unnoticed. Everything that they do for me, be it little or large, or whatever way they want to do it, even to spreading the word to their friends or their relatives, it all really helps. And you’re making my dreams come true. That’s something that I’m very grateful for. I don’t know how I’ll ever thank everyone who’s got me behind me. I’m excited, I suppose, to see what the future holds, and to see how Glór Tíre ends up and what happens after it!”
~ LOVE ME TONIGHT, the brand NEW single from EMMA DONOHUE, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can follow Emma on Facebook and Instagram at Emma Donohue Music.
EMMA DONOHUE, who has proved to be one of the stars of the 2021 series of TG4’s long-running show GLÓR TÍRE during her run to the semi-final, has revealed details of her new single. Student-nurse Emma, who is being mentored on Glór Tíre by country superstar MIKE DENVER, will release LOVE ME TONIGHT on April 3rd.
Announcing the news on her social media last weekend, Emma said, “I’m thrilled to let you all know that I am releasing my brand new single, ‘Love Me Tonight’, on Saturday, April 3rd. I can’t wait for you all to have a listen to my take on this beautiful song.”
The track, which will be the fourth release from her upcoming debut album, sees Emma take a trip down memory lane to bring fans her version of the classic from Scottish singer/songwriter ISLA GRANT. Originally released on Isla’s Only Yesterday album back in 2000, Emma breathes new life into Love Me Tonight, a tune that’s sure to turn back the clock for fans of Isla, while also turning today’s generation of country fans onto one of the Irish scene’s newest young talents.
With the production team of Enda Dempsey and Paddy Jordan once again on hand to shape the song’s sound, Emma’s trademark ‘lived-in’ vocal – which belies her still tender years – together with her love of uptempo, playful, and instantly catchy songs, is perfectly complemented by an arrangement that highlights the Galway girl’s natural flair for fun. As the latest taster from a first collection that’s expected later this year, and which will include previous singles, Coat Of Many Colours, Ramblin’ Man, and I Fell In Love, Love Me Tonight is certain to see the sense of excitement around this young rising star from Galway continue to grow.
Given that ‘live’ music has yet to return, and with the remaining Glór Tíre shows currently on-hold over Covid concerns, Emma felt it was important not only to get some new music out there, but to make sure it was something that would put smiles on the faces of fans when it comes on the radio.
“I think we’re all searching for reasons to stay upbeat and keep the best side out right now”, she explained, continuing, “because it’s been a tough year as it is. And I think hitting that one year marker of trying to live with Covid in our lives – when it’s still affecting so many things, and while it’s still so hard to see exactly when we might glimpse that little bit of life at the end of the tunnel – that’s been tough. There’s no denying it. So I wanted to give fans something that would take them out of the moment, and just get people tapping their feet and thinking to themselves, I can’t wait until I can get back out on the dancefloor to this one!”
“This is a song that will remind people of what we can enjoy again when all this is over”, revealed the Kiloran lady, “and if a song can make people remember what there is to look forward to, while bringing them a few minutes of happiness in the present as well, sure that’s perfect. You couldn’t ask for more from a single right now.”
The current series of Glór Tíre was suspended on March 14th, with the last two shows – the semi-final and final – postponed in the interests of the health and safety of the contestants and crew. While voting has also been suspended since that date, all votes cast up to then will still be valid when voting resumes.
~ LOVE ME TONIGHT, the brand NEW single from EMMA DONOHUE (written by Isla Grant), will be available on all platforms from April 3rd. You can follow Emma on the remainder of her Glór Tíre journey and to stay up to date with plans for her debut album at Emma Donohue Music on Facebook and Instagram.
Earlier this month, Kildare singer/songwriter MEGAN O’ NEILL celebrated – in as much as one can celebrate anything right now – what is always one of the biggest days in the career of any artist…album release day! Her latest collection, and her sophomore long-player, is called GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY. I doubt there has been a more sage piece of advice encapsulated in an album title anywhere this past year! But now that her new album is out in the world, is Megan getting comfortable with the fact that – after two years of putting everything together, and a full year of working on the recording process – her baby has officially flown the nest at last?
“[Laughs] It’s always a weird one when you release an album, especially for this one, because I’d worked on it for soooo long! And then I sat on it for sooo long as well because of Covid. When I was approaching the release date I was almost like, ‘Oh my God, I hope it’s still as good as I thought it was when I was in the studio?!’ [Laughs]. But yeah, I’m so thrilled it’s out, and with how it’s been received. It’s been amazing.”
When Megan released her debut album, Ghost Of You in 2018, the world was still a normal place. Now, of course, normal has taken on all kinds of new definitions, very few of which resemble that old world in any way. How different have those two experiences been?
“To be honest, there’s been pluses and minuses to it. When you’re bringing out an album, you’re usually on tour when the album comes out. Therefore, you’re just completely overwhelmed, because you’re playing gigs but you’re also doing radio stuff during the day, you’re doing press during the day. There’s an awful lot of stuff around the release of an album in a normal world when you’re able to tour. In this scenario it was actually nice because I was able to give a lot more time to long-form interviews, to doing long podcasts, and chatting to so many different people about the album. Because you had the time to sit and do it from home. And you weren’t driving to Manchester to appear on the radio, ya know! There were a lot of elements like that that I really enjoyed. But I suppose the weird thing with Covid for everybody is that you can’t mark things with celebrations. So sometimes it feels like they don’t happen. I was like that after The Late Late Show. I just came home and had a glass of wine and was sitting on the couch, and I was like, ‘Did any of that happen?!’ [Laughs].”
Does Megan think that when things come back to some kind of normal, because people have now had these new experiences of how things can be done, that there’ll be a shift in how the music industry operates? Or will everything snap back into the way it used to be?
“No, there’ll be a huge shift. Even for me, I work regularly – like two or three times a week – I would be in a songwriting session with somebody in Dublin, or Mayo, or Cork, or Belfast, or London, or Nashville, wherever. And that’s all made possible actually, because of the pandemic, and do we all do those over Zoom. In the past, I would have flown to Nashville for two weeks to write with people. I think that’s gonna be gone. I think Zoom songwriting, it’s become the norm. People have gotten really used to it. In a way, it’s really nice because you have all of your gear, like for me, I’m in my home studio and my set-up is how I like it. I’m not having to go abroad or hop in my car and drive for two hours to go work with somebody. I don’t think that change is gonna change [back], I think that’s here to stay. I think live-stream, to a certain extent, are here to stay, but will be coupled with actual real-life gigs as well. I think the way that fans probably now expect to be welcomed into your home [laughs], the way they have been for the last year, that will stay.”
Megan has described these thirteen songs as being her “most personal work so far.” For her, as a writer, I wondered if that was because of the subject matter of the songs themselves, or perhaps more so how, as a songwriter, Megan has learned how better to shape and share her experiences with the passing of time?
“I think it’s a bit of both, probably. Between ‘Ghost Of You’ and ‘Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty’ there was an awful lot of growth for me, as a songwriter, as an artist, and as a person. Growth as a person changes how you are as a writer, and as an artist. And probably what you’re open enough to talk about. Maybe for me, in the past, I was a little afraid to be that open. Or a little nervous about being that open. I think now, I’m like, screw it! [Laughs]. We’re all humans. We’re all having a shared human experience, we’ve all felt a lot of the same things, so why am I afraid to talk about it, ya know? And that will be the case even with the stuff I’m writing now, it’s even more in-line with that. I’ve invested a huge amount of my life into my songwriting, so you do get better at knowing how to portray that, I guess.”
Like so many more, I’ve known of and been a fan of Megan’s for years already at this stage. But the entire nation got to meet her and enjoy her spectacular talent when she performed on The Late Late Show recently. As a platform, the show remains the biggest in the country, and because of its long and illustrious history, it’s a landmark moment for any artist to perform on it. I asked Megan to tell me how that experience was for her…
“Yeah, The Late Late is an institution, so it’s a career milestone for a lot of Irish artists, and it certainly was for me. ‘Time In A Bottle’, the cover that Mark and I did, was on Firefly Lane (the Netflix series) and had attracted a lot of attention. So I got the call to go up to The Late Late. In one way, I was upset that it wasn’t non-pandemic times because I would have loved a ‘live’ audience there, and I would have loved my family to be in that audience. Because this was huge for them as well, having supported me so much in my career. But in another way, because of Covid, so many more people tune into The Late Late. So again, two sides to the same coin, pros and cons. But I was so thrilled to showcase that song. Ryan Tubridy was amazing, and so full of the most lovely things to say, both on-screen and backstage. The actual recording of it was a bit mad, because everyone was in masks and socially-distanced. It feels a bit abnormal. But just like anything, when the lights go down and the performance starts, you get in the zone. It was amazing, and I’m so happy to have done it.”
Before going on to talk a little bit more about some of Megan’s own songs on Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty, I wanted to ask her about the approach she and Mark ‘Cappy’ Caplice took to recording Time In A Bottle. It’s such a gorgeous song even to begin with, and obviously such a well-known song to those of us who would be big fans of the late singer/songwriter Jim Croce. So how did Megan and Cappy take on the challenge of a song like that, respecting the original, but also, I was sure, wanting to be original in what they did with it?
“Hmm, yeah. Mark and I recorded and produced that song for the Netflix series, Firefly Lane. And we chose to do that one because they were looking for a female version of that song. That was the motivation behind going into the studio to do it. We had a lot of conversations about the song, because yeah, that song is so precious to so many people, myself included. I grew up listening to that song, it’s one of my mam’s favourites. With songs like that, that you know are so loved, you’re like, ‘Ok, how am I going to do this?’ You don’t want to get too close to the original because you don’t want people to listen to it and be like, oh she never should have touched that! Yeah, we had a lot of discussions about making it uniquely our own, and we came up with this version which would be very haunting and very ethereal. The day it came to recording it – well, it was all in the one day, the discussions and the recording – we just turned off all the lights in the studio, lit a candle, and just went for a take. And that’s actually the take that you hear. And we didn’t even do it to a ‘click’, the timing of the track is not as we would usually do it, we just wanted it to be free-flowing. It was one of those performances where it was so important to capture the energy, not a note-perfect, metronome-perfect, timing-perfect track. It was more so capturing the emotion of the song. I think that’s what worked so well in it.”
Megan has described the track London City as being the hardest song to write on Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty. But did that then make it the hardest song to record as well? Was it just in that first fire of creation – the actual writing of the song – that she had to battle through the emotions or memories that gave life to it in the first place, and are still wrapped up in it? Or do you have to go through those all over again when you record the song?
“So, I didn’t think I’d have to! [Laughs]. But I did. I thought I’d be fine. I wrote that song with The Dunwells, maybe in the summer of 2018 when I knew I was going to be leaving London in the October time. So I was feeling all those things, grieving a place before you have to leave. And it was really difficult to write, yeah. It was very emotional to write. And then, when it came to actually recording the vocals of it – because we’d built the track around it first, and we were doing the vocals probably six months later – I thought I was fine! I was like, ‘I’m grand!’ [Laughs]. I can get through this! But I just balled, the whole day we were recording that song. Poor Dave Dunwell, he was the one at the keypad, torn between oh no, I really want to capture this emotion, so maybe I’ll just get her to push through? But also, maybe she just needs some fresh air?! [Laughs]. I left London because my dad’s not well. And at the same time, I don’t know if you’re ever really ready to leave London. It was a real push-and-pull for me for a long time.”
Megan spoke recently about how she had invested a huge amount of time into her songwriting in the past few years. Did that investment take the form of more time simply spent writing? Was it time spent studying the art and the craft of songwriting? More time co-writing, perhaps? I asked Megan to expand…
“I think songwriting is a life-long education. It’s always gonna require the investment of your time. And again, as I said, because you’re growing as an individual, your needs with your songwriting – whether it’s to write in different genres, whether it’s to write with different influences, whether it’s to write about different topics – all of that requires more work. And that’s more investment of your time. So for me, throughout the last year, I’ve done a lot of solo songwriting which has been really enjoyable because I would have been more focused on the co-writing element in the past. And solo stuff usually takes on a different angle for me when I write by myself. I’m exploring that and finding it really interesting. then a lot of co-writing is writing for other artists, which is a new-ish thing for me. I’ve always done that, but in the last few years I suppose, that’s been more prevalent, and I’ve been writing other peoples’ stories. That’s been really exciting. I’ve got some songs coming out with other artists in the next year which I’m incredibly excited about! So yeah, it’s more time invested in co-writing, it’s more time writing in certain directions – whether that’s for another artist or for synch, or a brief – and it’s also been more time invested for me in learning production. I’ve been doing a production course since the beginning of this year. So it’s a lot of time staring at Logic and pulling my hair out [Laughs].”
While there are very few artists in a position to see any light at the end of the tunnel as far as ‘live’ shows go just yet, Megan is one of those who can, with dates in the diary for Ireland and the UK in October. As far as those dates go, is the hope that by the time October gets here they’ll be able to take place in conditions as close as possible to how they would have done pre-Covid, or are they being planned with a new set of logistics that now, and possibly for the foreseeable future, will include Covid considerations?
“They’re basically being planned both ways, a Plan A and a Plan B. Ideally, Plan A is everything goes ahead as normal if everybody is vaccinated. Plan B is hey, here’s what we have to do if we social-distance. I’m very optimistic that they can go ahead, even if they have to go ahead under certain restrictions. Ideally, if they can go ahead without social-distancing, it will be a full-band situation. But if they have to go ahead with social-distancing, and you can only fill half the room, it would be really hard for me to bring a full-band, obviously. But to be honest with you, I’m just playing it by ear. I’m not stressing about the outcome. It’s just, look, those are in the diary, and I’m really hopeful that we can do them. But these are my third rescheduling of these dates. So…[laughs]…I’ve kind of gotten used to the push-and-pull of that for now [laughs].”
Many artists are now of the opinion that if something seems possible to try, then let’s do it and see how we can make it work. Because once things begin to happen, and people can better judge what is possible and isn’t, what does work, and doesn’t, that in itself will create a sense of confidence that can be built upon further. Would Megan be of the same opinion?
“Yeah. And I’ve got more shows to be announced abroad, as well as these ones. And if it’s the case that it’s going to be building a new method of doing events, I want to be a part of that. I don’t want to be waiting, just sitting waiting until everything is back full-tilt. That could be…2023! And then I’m like, great, I haven’t played a show in three years! [Laughs]. I’d much rather be in with the movement and seeing what’s possible.”
When Megan and I last spoke in July of 2020, it had, at that stage, been only a few months since Megan had last been on stage. The 9th of March this year, however, marked a full year since her last ‘real-life’ show. Mind you, that was in support of Jamie Cullum at the Bord Gais in Dublin, so as far as last shows to look back on go, that’s not too shabby! Throughout her career, Megan’s ‘live’ shows have been an intrinsic element of who she is as an artist, and how she connects with her fans. And over the past few years, as well as her own full diary, Megan has ticked off some seriously high-profile gigs, opening not just for the aforementioned Mr. Cullum, but also Sir Tom Jones, the Lighthouse Family, and alongside Gavin James at some private Oscars’ parties in L.A.
Now, when some of the shows you’ve been missing out on over the past year are ones like that, I can only imagine the chasm it leaves in an artist’s world. But, what I wanted to know was this. When the moment finally comes around that Megan can walk back out under the spotlight, in front of a venue full of people again (at whatever capacity), for one of her own shows or to open for someone else…what’s that moment going to feel like? Is that the kind of moment that Megan sometimes day-dreams about?
“Oh my gosh! All the time! ALL the time! It’s been such a huge part of my life that, through no fault of mine or of anyone else, it’s just been wiped from underneath me. And I know that’s the case with everybody. 2020, for me, was my biggest year to date. It was two albums. One with a label – a compilation album – and then my own album was coming out. A hundred-plus shows all over the world. I was geared up for an incredible year. And there’s certainly an element for artists now, that feels almost like you’re starting from scratch again. On the one hand, the thoughts of a ‘live’ gig are so exciting, like, I’m jumping out of my skin and I’m like, ‘OH MY GOD!’ [Laughs]. But, on the other hand, I’m anxious about it. By the time these gigs come around [in October], it will have been eighteen months. Playing ‘live’ again will definitely be a little bit scary. And playing with a full-band again. I’ve gotten so used to just playing by myself! Playing with a full-band will be weird. But, the excitement part of it will be much stronger than the anxious part of it!”
As Megan had previously referred to the two years around the process of making Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty as being a period that left her feeling “pretty battered”, I wanted to end our chat with something a little more personal. So, as we sat there on the morning of Friday, March 26th, 2021…how was she feeling? In both a personal and a professional sense?
“I’m great! Yeah, I’m in a really good place. And I’m so grateful for that! There’s been a lot of…yeah, s*it [laughs]…and a lot of stuff that’s been really hard to get through. But I firmly believe, I really strongly believe, that you don’t grow from a place of comfort. You just don’t. You grow – well, I certainly have grown – when you go through really tough stuff. And for me, I’m still dealing with my dad’s illness at home, which is really hard. And that’s a big part of my life right now. But I’m really grateful to be here to actually, ya know…be here! And that’s a benefit of the pandemic in a weird way, it’s allowed me more time with my family, where I’m not out touring and I’m not away. But yeah, both personally and professionally at the moment, I feel really happy where I am. I feel really excited about what’s coming in the next year or two. I work really hard at putting myself consistently in a good space. And I’m grateful for everything.”
~ GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH UNCERTAINTY, the brand NEW album from MEGAN O’ NEILL, is OUT NOW and available on all platforms.