Long renowned as an innovator within the Irish country music scene where he has been an influential figure for more than a decade, Cork based HOTCOUNTRY TV host and founder HUGH O’ BRIEN, is about to launch an exciting new venture which will create almost fifty new jobs while offering artists an opportunity to grow their fan-base on a worldwide scale.
The Hot Country FREE HD TV iPlayer will open a portal for artists and fans alike to share and enjoy the best of Irish country anywhere across the globe.
The iPlayer (also known as the Hot Country TV Media Player) – which will be an on-demand service, similar to that provided by Netflix, Amazon Prime, Discovery, Now TV, and others – will be accessible via all Smart TVs and digital devices, taking only about ten seconds to download.
Speaking about his new venture, the Corkman, who first broadcast on SKY TV almost twelve years ago, explained how the new Hot Country TV iPlayer will change the landscape of the Irish country music scene.
“This is a first for Irish country music as currently there is no iPlayer available which can be downloaded to SMART TVs. This gives the viewer comfort, with top quality picture and sound at the flick of a button. If they like country music, and indeed associated programming, then this is the place to be. Country music is hugely popular and has the second highest audience rating on RTE 1 each year, The Toy show being the biggest.”
As well as creating up to fifty new jobs nationwide (with more to be added) by way of camera and sound operators, presenters and researchers, editors, sales and office staff, O’ Brien revealed that the free Hot Country TV iPlayer platform will also be available at extremely attractive rates to other video producers. These might be producers who have either a series or once-off shows available for broadcast. As this platform – that of TV and in this format is not available at present – he expects this option to prove very popular among creators. With the Hot Country TV iPlayer also offering a pay-per-view facility, O’ Brien has no doubt that its arrival will mark a new era for country music, and any and all associated businesses.
In fact, he sees this as an exciting opportunity to be availed of by businesses of any shape or size, and in any sector, remarking that, “We’ll have hugely attractive advertising rates, and we’ll happily talk to anyone about how we can work together. No problem at all.”
The Hot Country FREE HD TV iPlayer on-demand service will include the award winning Hot Country show (long noted for its role in helping to launch the careers of stars such as Nathan Carter, Derek Ryan, Mike Denver, Cliona Hagan, Jimmy Buckley, and many more), plus: Hot Country XTRA;The NewStars Of Irish Country Music, promoting Ireland’s newest country singers and bands; the Life & Times show profiling the life of Ireland’s top stars; TheMost Awesome Bathroom Singer in Ireland; as well as star interviews, a regular gig-guide, infomercials for wedding suppliers, shows from Nashville TN, and shows on farming, tourism, motor-sport, and more yet to be announced.
Now, one of the above-mentioned shows in particular may have caught your attention, and that’s The Most Awesome Bathroom Singer in Ireland.
If we’re all being honest about it, then most of us would have to admit that we think we’re a country star when we’re singing away to our heart’s content in the bathroom! And that’s whether we have a voice like Mike Denver or – as the saying goes – even if we couldn’t carry a melody if it had a handle. So here’s the BIG question: Have YOU ever fancied yourself as a bit of a Nathan Carter, a Derek Ryan, a Jimmy or a Claudia Buckley when you’re standing in front of the bathroom mirror? Or, when doing your best Daniel O’Donnell, Olivia Douglas or Sabrina Fallon impersonation while in the shower, has the thought ever crossed your mind that you could take that talent and step into the real-world spotlight with it? If the answer is yes, then there’s another question that awaits you…
Do you think you have what it takes to take home the title of The Most Awesome Bathroom Singer in Ireland?
Well, if you do, the chance to prove it is coming your way, and again, it’s coming courtesy of Europe’s longest-running country music TV show, Hot Country, and it’s founder Hugh O’ Brien. “Some of us wouldn’t sing in public even if we were paid to!”, exclaimed Hugh when we spoke recently, adding with a laugh, “And I’d be one of them!”
“And yet we’ll nearly all sing in the shower without any embarrassment. Believe it or not, there’s a scientific explanation behind such soapy musical stylings. Think about it, you probably don’t sing when you’re sad, unless you’re singing the blues, of course. For many people, shower time is the only time they’re alone all day. You’re in a warm, small, safe environment, and you’re comfortable enough to be in the buff! Stress literally washes off you. When you relax, your brain releases dopamine, which can give your creative juices a jumpstart.”
Hugh continued, “The warm water rushing over you relaxes you, and makes you feel good. And it turns out that singing makes you feel even better. You see, singing, because of the breathing you put into it, gets more oxygen into the blood. This gives you better circulation, which in turn improves your body and mood. Because you have to breathe a little deeper to belt out a song, you get some of the same relaxation and mind-clearing benefits as meditation. And when you’re singing, you really can’t think about your problems, so there’s more stress relief for ya!”
Hugh went on to explain that the best thing about singing in the bathroom is the acoustics. Because bathroom tiles don’t absorb sound, your voice bounces back and forth around the room before fading away. And because the shower is a small space, it also boosts your voice and even adds a little bass, making your singing sound more powerful. The sound bouncing gives your vocal styling a slight reverb effect, which makes your voice hang in the air longer and evens out variations in your singing. This can be thought of as a primitive auto-tune, making you sound better than you actually are, and giving you an added confidence boost in the process.
So, how exactly can you go about becoming the most awesome bathroom singer in Ireland? Well, that couldn’t be more simple.
All you have to do is record a video of yourself being the star that you are when you’re singing in the bathroom. Whether that’s in front of the mirror, in the shower, or even while relaxing in a bubble-bath, we’ll leave those choices up to you!
When you’ve captured the take that you’re happiest with, simply send your video to email@example.com, and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a holiday for TWO in Spain, and a number of product hampers from Galway Irish Crystal.
The best videos will feature as part of the brand new original show on Hot Country TV’s newly launched Free HD iPlayer, presented by Jodie Lucas. This can be downloaded to all SMART TVs worldwide, plus all digital devices including Apple and android phones. The show will also be available on the Hot Country TV website www.hotcountrytv.com
With Hot Country TV, the whole world really is a stage…even your bathroom!
So get your voice warmed up, and get your phone out, because YOU could be…’the most awesome bathroom singer’ in Ireland!
~ Hot Country is Europe’s longest running country music TV show, broadcasting for the last twelve years and currently on the hugely popular Phil Mac’s Spotlight TV channel Sky 365, plus Freesat 516, Freeview 87 (Manchester), and Free to Air Satellite all over Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe. Broadcast times are Monday at 8 pm, repeated on Saturdays at 6 pm, also available worldwide at www.hotcountrytv.com and www.spotlightv.co.uk Hot Country is edited by Leo Fitzgerald at Music Row Studios in their state of the art video and audio studios in Ballydesmond, Cork, Ireland.
Sometimes, just by being around for long enough, what you do can end up being massively taken for granted. Case in point, the hit TG4 show, GLÓR TÍRE. Despite the many complications caused by Covid-19, and the subsequent restrictions and guidelines which needed to be put in place and adhered to, the team behind the show managed to make sure that the 2020 series eventually came to a conclusion late last year. More than just that, though, they also found a way to make sure that the 2021 series went ahead.
A key-word to pay attention to in everything I’ve just pointed out, is ‘team.’ Because that’s what it takes to make Glór Tíre happen each year. And it’s a team that is in part unseen, but yet, without the talents of all involved, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the on-screen contributions of judges Jo Ní Cheide, Caitriona O’ Sullivan, and John Creedon, as well as presenters Aoife Ní Thuairisg and Séamus Ó Scanláin, and of course, the fabulous house-band. The show is not just about each year’s contestants, it’s bigger than that.
And yet, if you were to judge things by some of the vile, vicious, attention-seeking, and often desperately ill-informed vitriol that was regularly spewed forth in social media comment sections during the course of this year’s series, you’d assume Glór Tíre and almost all involved with it to be something akin to a TV Taliban, only to be reviled as a gang of clueless chancers. And that description, as colourful as it might be, doesn’t even approach the levels of hyperbole achieved by some of the country music ‘fans’, and indeed, self-appointed commentators of sort who felt the need to grace the world with their opinions. It certainly opened my eyes to some people, and how, and when, and in what manner they seem to like to share their thoughts with the world. All good to know, though.
Full disclosure, by the way, I had the pleasure – and it was a pleasure – of working with EMMA DONOHUE during her successful Glór Tíre campaign under the mentorship of MIKE DENVER this year. Without a doubt, Emma has everything it takes to carve out a career for herself on the Irish country scene. I’m more than certain that her natural talent, a work-ethic that’s simply second-to-none, and a personality that’s every bit as genuinely warm and funny off-stage as it is effortlessly comfortable on-stage, would have ensured this anyway, regardless of how things went for her on the TG4 show this year. I can say that with my hand on my heart.
Despite working with Emma this year, the last time I actually saw her in person – and probably her mentor Mike as well – would have been at the Keltic Country TV Irish Entertainment Awards at the Tullamore Court Hotel in November of 2019. As far as anything to do with her campaign went, we did everything by phone, email, messenger, you name it. We had little choice, of course, given the complications of the last year and the disruption that Covid has caused in all areas of life. This was my fourth time working with a contestant on the show, and my first time to be involved with a winning act. So I’ve been there before, seeing someone I believed in and wanted to succeed being voted out, or falling just short at the last hurdle. I’ve seen it happen, not understood it, been completely mystified by judges’ decisions, and ended up feeling completely deflated, frustrated, and disappointed. But I’ve never once become abusive about the show or anyone involved in it online, in either a direct or an indirect manner.
Normally the nights of the ‘live’ shows down at Quays Bar in Galway are bursting with excitement, full to the brim with fans and supporters of the contestants. Despite the nerves, the tension, the inevitable waiting around that comes with television, and sometimes the disappointment, the adrenaline and the fun of those nights always makes them memorable. That ‘live’ element of Glór Tíre has been a crucial factor in making the show the success it has been for close on two decades now. So it would have been understandable to some degree if the show’s producers had decided that the 2020 series could not finish, nor the 2021 series get underway without a ‘live’ audience being able to attend. But, to the credit of all involved, the power of that evergreen mantra of those who work in the entertainment industry – the show must go on! – was invoked. The 2020 series finally came to a conclusion in November of last year with Offaly’s own Alex Roe – with whom, by the way, I also had the pleasure of working with during his campaign – narrowly missing out on the crown of champion. And following that, also in November of last year, filming got underway for the first episodes of the 2021 edition.
Now, here’s a point that simply can’t be stressed enough when it comes to Glór Tire. I’ve mentioned it already, but it’s worth repeating. The show is not just about whoever the lucky contestants are each year. Yes, the focus of the show is on the contestants. But the show itself is not just about them. And that’s a distinction that seems to have been lost on a lot of people this year. Without the production crew, the presenters, the judges, the mentors, and of course the band… there is no show. It’s as simple as that. Every year a line-up of new contestants get the opportunity to perform on ‘live’ television, to a national audience, because the Glór Tíre set up is in place. Without each of those elements being in place, the spotlight never lands on any artist.
This year, everyone involved in the show was asked to accept a certain level of personal responsibility in adhering to the guidelines and regulations necessary for the safety of EVERYONE involved in the show. These guidelines and regulations were not in place just to protect the contestants. Again, they were there to protect the contestants, AND the production crew, AND the presenters, AND the judges, AND the band. And by extension, the family, friends and loved ones of all of those people. Those guidelines and regulations were in place so that the show had a chance to go ahead at all this year. They were in place so that six more new and young country music hopefuls could have a chance that simply does not come their way through any other media outlet in Ireland.
Everyone knew what was expected and needed from them at the beginning, and everyone agreed to it. Now, if you were to base your assessment of how well or otherwise this year’s series of Glór Tíre went from what you might have seen on social media at the time, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was nothing less than an unmitigated disaster, organised by amateurs, and unnecessarily and recklessly cruel to some contestants. And not only that, you’d possibly end up being fully convinced that the show achieved nothing other than bringing country music into disrepute while calling the future of the whole scene into question.
The problem, of course, is that social media has become the best possible example of how the court of public opinion is so often formed on ignorance, and a few quick lines thoughtlessly thrown out into cyberspace with either no basis in reality or one that can usually be dismissed in well under a minute with a little careful examination. Simply put, a huge amount of the social media reaction to this year’s show was disgraceful nonsense. It served only to betray a lack of knowledge about the music industry in general, and – what’s worse in this case -a lack of any kind of genuine care about the country scene as a whole in particular.
Most of that negativity stemmed from the fact that two contestants had to withdraw from the show for breaching the Covid guidelines and regulations that were in place. According to some who felt so compelled to share their wisdom and insight, these guidelines and regulations should not have been enforced at all, and doing so only made a mockery of the show. Gimme a break. Two contestants broke the rules (whether accidentally, unintentionally, or unluckily), and had to withdraw, which was only right. But FOUR contestants did everything that was asked of them, from the beginning of their involvement on the show, to the end. Now this point has nothing to do with who those contestants were, on one side or the other, because that doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. If, with circumstances such as they were, anyone broke the rules that were in place to protect EVERYONE, then the only right and fair thing to do was to leave the competition.
However, to go by the reaction of some (and I mean some supporters of those contestants here, not the contestants themselves, let me be very clear about that), you’d swear that when the two withdrawals occurred, there was absolutely no point in continuing on with the show from that point. The show was slammed in various comments as being a sham, rigged, nothing but a money-maker, and having only useless singers left in it anyway. Pardon my language here, but… bullshit, all of it.
If you think the rules of anything should only apply to whoever you care about, you’re deluded. If you think the best way of showing your support for someone is by throwing out insults in the direction of others, then you’re an asshole. If you seriously think that a show which has been a hugely valuable platform for new artists for so long should suddenly cease to exist just because your favourite contestant had to withdraw as a consequence of their own actions, then you’re a selfish, deluded asshole.
And it’s not just for new artists that Glór Tíre has done some service, either. Don’t forget that each mentor gets to perform a full-televised show every year as well. That fact should not be forgotten so easily. Long, long before The Late Late Show began trying to paint itself as an altruistic endorser and supporter of Irish country music – which it isn’t – Glór Tíre was there. While Glór Tíre creates a space for new and emerging talent to begin to make a name for themselves and build a career, The Late Late Show has a view of country music that can only be described as willfully and woefully myopic. The future of the Irish country music scene depends far more on Glór Tíre than it does on The Late Late Show, just as much as the country music as it is today, owes far more to Glór Tíre than it does to The Late Late Show.
Talk of the show being rigged, or a sham, or just a money-maker are each so equally preposterous as to warrant immediate dismissal rather than too much further time. But also, such ridiculous notions should never be just let slide. So…
Everybody knows the format of the show, and how the voting system works at the outset. It’s no secret. And nobody ever has a problem with it until…again…their favourite supposedly falls prey to something as sinister as…the obvious! Contestants who get the least votes run the risk of being in the bottom two, and having their fate then decided by the judges. If a contestant ends up in that position, that’s not the show’s fault, or the judges’ fault, or any of the other contestants’ fault. The system is the same for everyone, from start to finish. Now, I’m not for a minute saying that I’ve always agreed with every decision that the judges have made, because I most definitely have not. There have been occasions, including this year, when I’ve been left somewhat baffled. But, in those situations the judges are doing their job, and doing so as they best see fit. And that’s exactly what they’re there to do. And their opinions should be respected. Opinions will always differ, after all. That’s the nature of everything.
Perhaps the most sickening – and stupid – comments that kept showing up in one form or another revolved around the aspersions cast on the ability of the singers involved this year. Just think about that for a moment. Everyone who vomited up such ill-thought-through opinions considered themselves to be better judges of talent than the actual mentors on the show, AND the people involved in the production of the show who go through this process every year. Imagine being able to strut through life with that level of blissful arrogance? Must be some feeling. And every time comments such as those were posted, even if they didn’t actually name any of the remaining contestants, imagine how that felt for the singers who remained in the competition. Because the contestants would have seen them and heard about them, don’t think they didn’t. So imagine how that felt. How it felt for their families. Just think about that for a moment or two…
They’d done nothing wrong. They were just doing something they love, chasing a dream in what is a really tough industry to ‘make it’ in anyway. And yet, they were being subjected to such shameless and unnecessary negativity.
You can take it as fact that the people who were posting such comments did not – not even for a heartbeat – consider the feelings of anyone except themselves on those occasions. They were angry, they wanted to vent, so vent they did, just playing up to the online crowd by contributing their two-pence worth to a sewer of ramblings and ravings that never amounts to more than the manifestation of a ‘mob’ mentality in these situations. If they were in possession of even a shred of self-awareness, and for even half a heartbeat had thought about what they were writing and saying before finally publishing those comments, the sheer embarrassment of relaising that they were acting in such an entitled, childish, and – in some cases – just plain stupid way, would have been enough to make them delete every word as fast as possible.
But something else that you can take as fact is that those people would never come out with such rubbish if they ever found themselves standing face to face with any of the people involved in Glór Tíre and whom their comments were directed at. Just wouldn’t happen. Cowards tend to become rather shy when they venture out into daylight.
Being chosen to participate in Glór Tíre this year (as it is any year) was a brilliant achievement for all concerned. It should have led to a host of moments they could look back on proudly for the rest of their lives, regardless of where their careers do or don’t go following the show. And hopefully all six contestants will be able to look back on some moments that will always warm their hearts to remember. Unfortunately, however, everyone’s experience will have been tainted somewhat by some of the nonsense that polluted the comment sections on so many posts about the show.
One of the main reasons that seems to have allowed this to happen, is that a certain number of country ‘fans’ have come to take the existence of Glór Tíre in our lives, as part of the country music calendar, very much for granted. What a mistake, and what fools.
Glór Tíre has offered so many artists the chance to perform to a national audience for the first time. And the chance to perform on television for the first time. And sometimes, to perform with the backing of a full, professional band for the first time, too. Opportunities like that are priceless in the development of any new or emerging artist’s career. And, as the show always sees some of the more established artists on the Irish country scene mentoring each year’s contestants, you have a coming together of different generations, with some of those who have already been stars forever and some of those who are the stars of today, meeting and sharing their hard-won wisdom and experience with the potential stars of tomorrow.
THAT is what Glór Tíre makes happen every year. THAT is what Glór Tíre does for Irish country music every year.
And none of us should be taking it for granted. It deserves better.
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.