Dubh Lee

First Published November 2020

GUITAR GODDESS

If there’s one thing Tullamore has been blessed with of late, it’s amazing female musical artists. It’s only a few weeks back since we covered BRÍ and the release of her latest single, the breathtaking Burying. If you haven’t heard that one yet, waste no more time, go seek it out right now. Then find the video for the single which brought the Grand Ballroom in Charleville Castle to life in a more elegant and enchanting way than anything has ever done before, as Birr dancer Lisa Hogan lights up the room.

And if you’re looking for a name to watch out for in 2021 and beyond, look no further than KEEVA KANE, a new voice that would – and one day should – easily sit comfortably and deservingly alongside the likes of Dua Lipa, Rita Ora, or Miley Cyrus in the charts. Keeva is just at the beginning of her career, but her voice is already winning her fans. Check out her Keeva Kane Music pages on Facebook and Instagram to become one of those fans yourself, too. And trust me, you will. 


And then…there’s NIAMH DOOLEY, aka DUBH LEE. I can’t actually remember for sure when I first heard Niamh perform. But if I had to wager a bet on it, I’d put everything on it probably being during an open-mic night in the Bridge House many, many moons ago now. That I can’t remember exactly the where or the when, however, is actually the perfect way to describe what happens when you experience Niamh take to the stage. When she takes her guitar and cranks or coaxes that axe into action, layering over it that bluesy, smokey, lived-in and laughed-in voice of hers, it’s always just pure musical joy to soak in those moments. You see, when Niamh has a guitar in her hands or a mic in front of her, everything except her voice and the music she conjures into existence becomes irrelevant. Unheard, unseen, and usually forgotten. And that, folks, explains why I can’t pinpoint the when or the where part of my first memory of Niamh performing. 


But here’s what I’ll never forget, and it’s the feeling that came when her voice filled the room, and the music she made filled the night. I didn’t actually know who Niamh was at the time, and I remember having to ask a friend of mine who was with me who she actually was. Niamh would have been in the early days of her musical career back then, but even then, there was an undeniably special quality to her voice that both drew you in and shut out the world at the same time. When I later found out that Niamh also wrote her own songs, well, that sealed it. If there’s a fan-club, just show me the dotted line, I’ll sign! Over the years that followed, any chance I got to hear her perform ‘live’ in Tullamore, I’d be there. But more than just that, more than being essentially a fan, I wanted everyone else I knew who was in any way involved in the music world to know about Niamh too. So anyone who knows me has probably heard her name at some stage by now.


To say that Niamh has blossomed into a singer/songwriter of extraordinary talent – even in as much as that’s a pretty cool compliment to throw anybody’s way – doesn’t really do her justice. Performing under her stage-name of Dubh Lee, Niamh continues to evolve in every direction; as a vocalist, as a guitarist, as a songwriter, and most recently, as a producer as well. Underpinning it all, is a sense of humour which thankfully, Niamh has managed to magically and wonderfully weave into her songs. Check out the fab video for her official debut single Virtue, which came out last year, for an idea of what I mean. 


Niamh as Dubh Lee occupies a unique space between folk and the blues, with the perfect measure of rock always artfully added to conjure up symphonies of sound you just won’t find anywhere else. Her latest single, CAROUSEL, which dropped last Friday, is a raucous blues-rock tune in which she – as the protagonist in her song – cries out in loneliness and distress. The track deals with using partying as a coping mechanism and features a driving, chromatic main riff, fat bass guitar, and unhinged lead guitarwork. It was recorded in The Meadow recording studio in Wicklow with David Griffin from New Secret Weapon enlisted to record the bass and drums for the track.


Niamh, as Dubh Lee, has performed at events all over Ireland, including Electric Picnic and the Ruby Sessions, along with more intimate shows opening for acts such as Jack Lukeman and Bagatelle. She also supported jazz band Jimmy’s Cousin on their Irish tour in 2019. So from somewhat folk-rooted beginnings, she has transitioned from performing solo with an acoustic guitar, to performing heavier material with a bassist and a drummer, and now playing energetic live sets as a power-trio featuring songs with blues and garage rock influences.


And 2020 was going to be a year when Niamh poured her heart and soul into her music and building her career, but alas – for all of us – 2020 had other plans. 


When I caught up with Niamh a little while back, there was still little in the way of clarity about what’s coming down the tracks for anyone involved in the music business. So, with any future gigs existing only in the realm of dreams for now,  I began our chat by asking Niamh if she remembered her last actual gig? 


“I’m pretty sure my last gig was on the 8th of March, at a place called The Clockwork Door, on a Sunday. This was about a week before the pubs all closed and everything like that. At that stage, I didn’t think it was actually going to be the end [laughs]. I did that gig in The Clockwork Door playing my own tunes, then I went straight to the International [Bar in Temple Bar] for another gig afterwards, which was a cover gig that I used to do every Sunday with my fried Shane May. That night was grand. Then mid-way through the next week, the two bars that I’d usually gig in at the weekend, Peadar Kearney’s and the International, both said oh, no, the gig won’t be happening this weekend. So I was like, alllllriiiight….that’s ok, I didn’t mind soooo much, because I thought it was going to be a two-week lockdown![laughs]. I had a whole trip to Amsterdam planned, I was about to go for five days, and I would have been performing five times, twice in Irish bars and there was another bar called The Waterhole and there were some other smaller open-mic style performances, and one in a smaller town outside of Amsterdam. So flights were booked, all the bars were good-to-go, and then it started to get serious and the bars were emailing saying, no, we’re actually not going ahead with these gigs. So I lost out on about a grand of profit over the few days, and I hounded Aer Lingus but I never got a refund because my flight still left, I just wasn’t on it. But I’m asthmatic, so I would have been in a high-risk category, but that didn’t really matter to Aer Lingus, so what can you do! [laughs]. But anyway, it was then when I realised that I was back home for the week and my residency gigs were cancelled that I was like, right, this thing might actually be going on! But at that stage, it was still meant to be just two weeks. It was probably about a month afterwards that I settled into thinking ok, my weekly gigs just aren’t there anymore, ya know. It took a while! [laughs].” 

At some stage late in 2019 or very early in 2020, Niamh had told me that she was putting all of her focus into her music for this year, and concentrating on little else apart from that. But given that 2020 has turned out the way it has, I wondered if that had changed Niamh’s relationship with music in any way, or changed how she writes her songs? After all, as a performer Niamh would be used to performing in front of an audience, and as a songwriter she writes songs to perform for an audience. But right now, when she gets a chance to play – unless it’s online – it’s just for herself. And likewise, if she’s writing songs right now, then for the time-being at least it’s only herself who’s going to hear them…


“I actually think it has. Oddly enough, and interestingly enough, I think it’s had a net-positive effect on how my songwriting has developed. I would be out four or five nights a week gigging before, and that normally involves a few pints as well, so…! [laughs]. And the thing about that is, I write at night-time. That’s when I write most of my songs. So sometimes me gigging at night will disrupt my songwriting. Since the lockdown, obviously I haven’t been going out, so I think I’ve had more time for introspection, and more time to explore ideas that I usually wouldn’t musically. I’ve been kind of migrating more away from folk and more towards rock, and blues-rock, back towards blues-rock maybe! So there’s that. I had intended this year to just gig so much. It was going to be a very active year, but since mid-March that hasn’t been the way it was able to work out. I would have liked to have a whole EP recorded, a five-track EP, recorded by now and released, but seeing as finances and how much we’ve been allowed to travel have been affected by Covid, that hasn’t happened yet. After the EP, I was planning to organise gigs across the country, so I was putting together a list of venues in the different counties I was going to go to. And I would have been playing a couple of festivals. So in the sense of releasing and performing around the country, or even abroad, that’s totally been taken away from myself and every other artist who had plans like that. But, on the other end of things, I’ve been able to focus more, in that with the time I have at home I’ve been able to upskill. I’ve been spending way more time on my instrument, on the guitar. I’ve also just completed a course on Ableton so I can record and mix my own audio at home. At the moment I’m doing an Introduction to Classical Music on Yale, it’s a free online course. There’s these other aspects to music that aren’t so in your face or so obvious to people, the stuff that has to happen in the background. The other thing that I’ve been able to focus on, is that so much about independent music these days is how you manage your social media. That’s how you get yourself across. Especially when we can’t see each other in person. So the other thing I’ve been able to devote more time to is making content for online, for YouTube, and Facebook, and Instagram. So that’s weekly or bi-weekly videos for YouTube, that kind of thing.” 

As a musician and a songwriter, so being a part of an industry that has effectively ground to a halt, an industry that is always part of the Ireland we boast about to the world, what was Naimh’s take on how the music business has been treated and considered or has not, as the case may be –  in the government response to Covid? 


“As a self-employed musician, I qualified for the Pandemic-Unemployment-Payment (P.U.P.), because my employment has been directly affected by the pandemic. So I was on the €350 a week, but then that rate got dropped, and the same thing happened to all the musicians that were on it, depending on how their incomes were judged on their 2018 figures or whatever. The thing with music and the arts is that it looks like these sectors are going to be the longest affected. A lot of other people have returned to their work or been able to reopen their businesses in some way, but pubs aren’t allowing musicians in. They’re sparing themselves that expense. And only the ones that serve food can even operate in the first place. So it looks like the music and arts sector is going to be indefinitely affected. At the moment, I’m a member of the Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, and they’re in talks with the government about reinstating the payment for musicians and artists, but it doesn’t actually look like that’s going to be a fruitful negotiation, unfortunately. I think art is an after-thought for the government.” 

Does Niamh find that frustrating as someone who is directly involved with the arts? 


“Absolutely. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense, ya know, seeing as one of the biggest draws for tourism in Ireland is the arts sector. Not even just music. There’s no reason for theatres to remain closed. Theatres are one of those places where it’s easy to social-distance people. You sit down for the duration of the performance, you’re not moving around. It would be very easy to seperate people in those situations. If people can go to supermarkets and can eat in restaurants, why can’t people go to theatres? And that doesn’t directly affect me, but it’s just one of those discrepancies in how the government is approaching this. Why can other industries function when the arts can’t? What is nice, however, is that the Arts Council and I.M.R.O. did allocate  funds at the start of the pandemic. You would draft up a proposal about what sort of art you could disseminate online, and I think the Arts Council were offering €1,000 per successful application. But they had something like one million euro in funds total, but only a tiny percentage of people who applied actually received the funds. I applied, and I didn’t get a grant. So yeah, I think it’s being mishandled, and they also could have done better with the funding for artists. It’s disappointing.” 

Even though the world is the way it is right now, Niamh has still managed to be involved in some very special musical performances this year. One of those was for another Tullamore musician, Eoin Martin, who should have been getting married during lockdown. Niamh takes up the story…


“So, the wedding was supposed to be in June. A lot of Eoin and my friends are musicians. Eoin and Rita had intended to have us sing Lovely Day by Bill Withers at the wedding. Obviously the wedding couldn’t go ahead, but Eoin had a very small gathering on the day of it – the lockdown was still on so it had to be small – out at his house. I wanted to make something for them to show my appreciation, but also, I’m a broke musician [laughs]. So the best gift in that situation is music! [laughs]. So what I did is two weeks before the day the wedding was meant to be on, I contacted a bunch of people who are friends of Eoin and Rita. There was Shane May, who I also gig with every Sunday, Graham Mitchell, Elisabeth Moen, who’s from Iowa but comes over to Ireland super-regularly and gigs over here, she’s amazing! A duo called KC Vik, another Tullamore man called Barry Quinn – Barry ‘Jimbo’ Quinn to his friends! – a Dublin singer called Aaron Rowe, Gaolbyrd, and Amy Naessens. So got them all together two weeks beforehand, and asked them to submit their vocals to me. Obviously everything had to be done remotely, so everybody recorded their vocals at home. I created all the music, then added their vocals on top, and mixed it all. Then what I did was I uploaded it to YouTube on the day and I just sent the link to Eoin and Rita. And they shared it from there. So it’s a performance of Lovely Day with a lot of their close musician friends as the lead-singers on it. The video is a split-screen video of us all doing our different parts of it. I spent the night before what would have been the day of the wedding up until 10 am, I stayed up all night editing because I’m new to editing videos! [laughs]. And my stupid computer couldn’t handle the programme I was using, it was taking up too much RAM or whatever. I stayed awake all night, but it was so worth it. When they got it, Eoin called me and he screamed down the phone at me [laughs]. They were delighted with it. And obviously it was super-fun for me to get to work with some many close friends, but I think it was quite a special present for the lovely couple as well. Great craic.” 

One of Niamh’s most recent YouTube posts is an incredible mash-up of Day Tripper by the Beatles and Seven Nation Army from The White Stripes. I wondered how Niamh came up with the idea to merge any two songs in the first place? Niamh plays everything on this herself, and it’s phenomenal. I asked her if she’s this good because she’s some kind of musical genius, because of witchcraft, or because of a lot of planning and practise, trial and error?

 “I’ll have a lot of video ideas, they’ll pop into my head and I’ll ruminate over them for ages before trying to execute them. The thing about ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Day Tripper’ is that they’re both in the same key, and they both centre around a riff that’s in E, they both fit around the E pentatonic minor scale. I think I just noticed one day when I was playing ‘Day Tripper’ that because they’re in the same key, you could slot the lyrics of one over the music of the other. And you could actually do it the other way as well. For the cover I did, I took the music of ‘Day Tripper’ and just stuck ‘Seven Nation Army’ over it, and just changed the structure of the underlying chord-progressions just to fit the lyrics of ‘Seven Nation Army’ better. But you could also take the ‘Seven Nation Army’ riff, and sing ‘Day Tripper’ over it and get a similar effect. For the video, as I was saying, I’ve been learning how to use my video-editors, and I’ve gotten better at that. I’ve figured out how to not make my computer crash as often! [laughs]. You can hear bass in the video, but I don’t actually own a bass guitar, and I can’t play bass guitar very well. But what I’ve done is I’ve taken an octaver pedal and just applied it to my regular electric guitar, and that makes it sound like a bass guitar! Soooo…it’s kind of like cheating [laughs], but it’s also what Jack White from the White Stripes does in ‘Seven Nation Army’, it’s actually just a normal guitar with an octaver applied to it to lower the pitch. What else do I have on it? Oh yeah, percussion. But sure anyone can shake a tambourine! [laughs]. Oh, and I mentioned that I had been doing an Ableton course, so I added in a midi kick-drum, which I’ve literally only learned to do in the past couple of weeks. That just gives it a stronger groove, ya know. The day before I uploaded it, I sat down and started putting it together. And it’s hard to know sometimes before you start a project, if it’s going to be any good at all! I thought it might sound really cheesy or something. But luckily enough with these two songs, it came out the other end sounding pretty buzzy, quite a fun tune! I was super happy with how it turned out.”

What I’ve always loved about Niamh as a songwriter and as a performer is that she writes such beautifully personal songs, whether they’re songs of heartache or pain, or whatever it might be. But her sense of humour nearly always shows up in there as well. What’s more, Niamh is always able to make those emotions felt in how she performs. So the emotions in her songs are not simply there to be heard in her lyrics, they’re there in her voice too when she sings. What I was wondering, though, is if she ever writes any angry songs? Or more specifically, especially with the times we’re in – with Trump, with the Black Lives Matter movement, with climate change, with a certain brand of nationalism finding a voice here in Ireland – protest songs of any kind? 


“Actually, I would like to write more protest songs. I am aware of what’s going on around me, but sometimes, political stuff doesn’t move me. But there is one song like that I’ve written, it’s online, and it’s called ‘Emerald.” What moved me to pick up the pen that particular time was I had just read a news article about how South Dublin County Council had just ruined a lovely area, a kind of natural meadow that had formed somewhere in Tallaght, by dumping a load of river dredge on it, so they had actually killed a bunch of  newts, European eels, frogs, plant-life…and I was just outraged! They did it out of gross negligence and then didn’t even inform anybody that it was done, it was discovered by a few ecologists after the fact. That pissed me off a lot, so I wrote ‘Emerald’, emerald obviously being a reference to our little emerald isle. It covered a lot of things that I think are wrong with how the country is run; the homelessness crisis, direct-provision, plans for the up-rooting a load of trees to put in a bus corridor in Dublin, which didn’t actually get executed in the end so that was great. Protest songs are super-important and I admire a lot of people who would have sang them back in the day like Woody Guthrie. And because music is so ubiquitous, protest songs are a great way of getting this information out to people who mightn’t hear about it otherwise. It’s not something that you hear on the radio a lot, protest songs are not usually pop! [laughs]. Which is a shame! I don’t think we hear enough of it. And I don’t think that I personally write enough of it either. But I’ve got that one song, ‘Emerald’, it’s on YouTube!”

Niamh had already stated that from a songwriting and a music point of view, lockdown hadn’t been the worst time for her. But when we were seriously locked down the first time around people related to it in different ways. Some settled into it, finding the change of pace to be a positive thing. Others found it very tough to deal with the isolation and the hugely reduced interactions with others. How did Niamh find that time on a more personal level? 


“You know what, I had been so busy, like, I had been out the door every day with gigs, and being a dep – jumping in with other people and playing rhythm guitar for them – I was flat out! Right up until lockdown. So for the first couple of weeks of lockdown, I was like, oh my God…I needed this! I needed this holiday! [laughs]. Which is terrible, because obviously the lockdown was happening for the worst reasons! But honestly. I had a repetitive-strain injury in my right wrist, my strumming wrist, and I think I needed a little physical break from the constant gigging. So the immediate effect was just me getting to sleep a lot more! [laughs]. And effectively drinking a little bit less for the first while [laughs]. I’m obviously quite extroverted, but a lot of artists would be ambiverts. I enjoy, and I need solitude, and it was something that I wasn’t getting a lot of before. Then, all of a sudden, I had loads of it [laughs]. I wasn’t too mad about it for the first couple of weeks. The restlessness has come and gone since then. Sometimes it’s like, oh God, I’d love to be out gigging! I’ve been able to go and do these hybrid gigs lately, that have made life a bit more bearable, where there’s a tiny amount of people in attendance but the gigs are ‘live’-streamed. They’re good fun. They’re like a nice consolation prize! [laughs].”

So, if Covid disappeared tomorrow, and everything could go back to how it used to be, way, way back in February of 2020…what would Niamh’s ideal night-out be? Where would she want to gig again, or what gig would she want to go to? 


“What I’ve really missed are the Sundays that I perform in the International with my friend Shane May are ritualistic. They were the kind of one solid thing that I used to base my week around! I would always play the International every Sunday, and those gigs would be soooo much craic! [laughs]. We’d get paid, and we’d get free pints, it was amazing! [laughs]. And you’d meet so many different people, and tourists, and other musicians who would join us. So if I could do a gig, I’d definitely do one of them. It’s a covers gig, but the craic was always ninety. And if I could see a gig? God! I wish I could go see everybody that I was meant to go see and had to cancel. I think if I could go and see a gig, I’d probably go and support some other Irish artist. I’ve seen the importance of supporting locals nowadays, ya know. So I’d probably go to some of the smaller, independent venues in Dublin and see some small indie artists. You get that intimate setting, and you’re supporting people that aren’t backed by record labels or owned by MCD or whatever [laughs]. So whoever would be gigging, I would be there! One Irish group that I would definitely go and see is a band called The Scratch. They’re based in Dublin and they’re classsss!”

Although 2020 was very…2020…Dubh Lee still managed to perform at a number of live-streamed and hybrid events, such as the Hot Press Lockdown Sessions, Transmission Festival, Laters with Griff, and the Five Lamps Arts Festival. Her highly anticipated debut EP is scheduled for release in the spring of 2021. But before then, a mesmerising video to accompany Carousel is coming our way next month! 

CAROUSEL, the brand new single from DUBH LEE (Niamh Dooley) is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. You can follow Dubh Lee on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter.

ENDS

Abbii Badmuss Yusuff

First Published November 2020

OFFALY’S QUEEN ABBII

If this was any other year, then the new MISS UNIVERSE IRELAND would already be well into her reign. Last year’s title holder, NASA data scientist Fionnghuala O’ Reilly, would have passed on the tiara and sash at a spectacular, sold-out ceremony in the famous and historic Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House back in August sometime. But hey, 2020 y’all! This is the year that will more than likely go down in Irish history as being the very definition of a year like no other! But, there will still be a Miss Universe Ireland 2020, and Offaly’s ABBII BADMUS YUSUFF has her sights set on making history by bringing that crown back to the midlands. 


Miss Universe Ireland director Brittany Mason and her team have already pulled off a minor miracle this year by even making it to the point where the selection of a Top Twelve was possible. While the exact timeline of what happens and when between now and the moment this year’s winner is finally crowned remains in flux for obvious reasons, this year’s event does – for the first time – include a public voting element which will help determine who becomes the last lady standing and Ireland’s next representative on the Miss Universe stage globally. To give Abbii your votes, all you need to do is go to the official Miss Universe Ireland website – www.missuniverseireland.eu – click on Abbii’s image [Abi Yusuff on the website), and cast your votes as you decide.  


The Miss Universe pageant is without a doubt the most famous of its kind in the world, with the Miss Universe Ireland set-up being one of the very best there is anywhere on the planet. So for Edenderry woman Abbii to be crowned Miss Universe Offaly is already an honour in itself. When we had the pleasure of spending some time in her company recently, the delightful Abbii – who has also played Gaelic football for Offaly at county level – explained how it all came to be…

“I’ve known about the Miss Universe pageant for a couple of years now, but it was never something I really focused on. But over those last couple of years, I’ve been seeing different bits and bobs of different people, different contestants like Fionnghuala last year, and Grainne Gallanagh as well. I’m the kind of person who likes getting myself into different things. So when it came to this year, to 2020, which has been a tough year for me, I decided to apply. Different females in the past have been role models for me, and Fionnghuala [the first woman of colour to win the Miss Universe Ireland crown] from last year is a role model for me too, she just inspires me so much. She proved that at the end of the day being Irish and being part of Miss Universe is not just about your colour, it’s about what’s in you. And that’s something that I wanted to show too.” The most recent Miss Universe Ireland winners, Grainne Gallanagh in 2018 and Fionnaghuala O’ Reilly last year, have both been very visible and active in the public eye, especially on social media. Grainne, a nurse by profession, has taken every opportunity to promote womens’ health, while Fionnghuala, a data scientist with NASA, has been to the fore in highlighting the roles that women can reach for in STEM related subjects and disciplines. And even when Grainne and Fionnghuala have been on the receiving end of various kinds of online abuse, they’ve always remained focused and positive in their outlooks and their ambitions. Was that something that surprised Abbi? 


“I think that people are brave behind the computer screen on social media, or with text messages. I feel like as women, these individuals, like Fionnghuala and Grainne, they pick themselves up regardless of what people have to say. And that’s what I focus on too. Being black myself, I face racism on a daily basis. Some of it might be just minor, but some of it can be something that’s very, very hard to take in. So you have to learn to live with it, because some people are always going to criticise you, regardless of if you’re doing good or bad.

It was a terrible question to even have to ask, but I wondered if, since becoming Miss Universe Offaly, Abbii had to face any racism over that?

“I have had a few comments thrown at me. But with myself, I’d rather just leave it to the side and not let it get to me, because that’s what those people are trying to do. I’m Irish at the end of the day. We’re all one. There’s no difference to me. Everyone’s the same.”

So when Abbii decided to actually get involved in the Miss Universe Ireland competition this year, what was the big reason that made her decide to go for it?  


“Well, the pandemic that’s going on now worldwide now has been such a huge, huge problem. And with all of that happening, we haven’t been able to showcase ourselves. And I think with me, I have a lot of personality. The first couple of months of 2020 were very rough for me, we were very, very busy. I’m a full-time worker in a medical device company, we’re providing ventilators. I was working six days a week sometimes, on long ten, eleven hour shifts. I had some health issues at the time as well, including some anxiety, so I was just feeling broken. And that’s not me!I’m always the go-getter, always the one with the winner’s attitude. So after feeling down, I thought it was time to pick myself back up. And I just thought right, Miss Universe Ireland is something that would suit me. It’s something that I am willing to put myself out there for, to teach young women of today that they can build themselves up, and they should live every day as if it’s their last.” 

So once Abbii had decided to apply, what was the process like from there? And how did she feel when she eventually heard that SHE was, in fact, Miss Universe Offaly? 


“So I first applied in July, and it was like a job application [laughs]. They wanted to know every detail about us, which was fine [laughs]. And then there was a period of a while, weeks, where we didn’t hear anything back. Then we got an email where they said they’d keep us updated. And that three weeks was…I don’t know…like the longest three weeks of my life! [laughs]. And I hadn’t said anything to anyone at that stage that I had applied, because the thing with me is I like surprising people [laughs]. They’re not surprised when I do stuff, like when I come out and say, ‘Oh look, I’ve done this’ [laughs]. So we got to August, around my birthday, and we were told we’d made the next round of applications, and we were asked to submit a video of us cat-walking or modelling for the bikini shoot, and just a short interview video, just so the directors of Miss Universe Ireland could get to know us more. So I did that, and gave it to them. And doing that video was amazing, because looking back on it now, I was so, so nervous, I was a wreck at the time! But then when I got the feedback, they said they really loved my energy, and they liked this, and liked that about me! So that became my passion from that moment, that I wanted to do this. From then on I was like, ok, head-down, let’s go! I was still working at my full-time job, but looking after myself, treating myself better. Then one day, randomly, about two weeks or maybe three weeks after that, we got an email. And it said, ‘Congratulations, you’re in the Top Twelve of Miss Universe Ireland.’ I nearly dropped! [laughs]. I woke at six-am to that email! And I had to keep it to myself that day as well, because they weren’t announcing it until Wednesday. It was a shock, but such amazing news to wake up to, and something I’ll never forget.” 

What was the reaction like when Abbii was finally able to tell everyone? 


“I was at work the day that I was allowed to tell people. So as soon as Miss Universe Ireland announced it publicly, I went and told one of my work colleagues. And the hug that she gave me was amazing! It was something that she didn’t expect because she only started working with us a couple of months ago. And then after that I was like, I need to walk out of here and send this to my sister, and I sent her the screenshot [laughs]. The reaction, and the support of my family has been so, so great. I have a huge family. My mum couldn’t be prouder. She works at Dunnes Stores at home in Edenderry, so she knows a lot of people and she talks to a lot of people on a daily basis. And they’re all coming to her and saying, oh, your daughter is this and that, you know. Everyone is proud of me. So I’m ready to go the full way! [laughs].” 

Obviously everything about 2020, even in the most general sense, is different than normal. But under normal circumstances, all of this year’s Miss Universe Ireland contestants would have met Brittany and the rest of the Miss Universe Ireland team – not to mention each other – in person by now. Not so in 2020, however…


“No, unfortunately not, I haven’t met anyone yet. We’ve all met virtually, that’s the only thing we’ve done. But honestly, I can’t wait! I wish the pandemic was just over. Or even that the restrictions were just lifted, because there is a Miss Universe Galway here [where Abbii is living at the moment]. Even if we were in counties close by, maybe we could meet up as individuals, one or two other people at a time or something. Just to get to know each other a bit more. But even with the directors, Brittany herself, she’s been with us every step of the way. So it’s like she’s actually been with us, she’s been doing her best in the circumstances, and we really, really appreciate it. She’s lovely, I can’t get over her. I love her energy! She inspires me, too. She pushes you. She’s good at her job and knows what she’s doing.” 

As mentioned earlier, back in 2018 when Grainne Gallanagh held the Miss Universe Ireland title, she focused a lot on womens’ health because, as a nurse by profession, that was an area of particular importance to her. Last year, Fionnghuala O’ Reilly, as a data scientist with NASA, turned her attention to women in the S.T.E.M. arenas. If Abbii finds herself wearing the crown of Miss Universe Ireland for 2020, what would she like to use her platform to highlight? 


“I think I would be on the Grainne side of things as well, looking at womens’ health. I think a lot of women nowadays, we need to be able to speak up if we have issues. There’s always people to turn to in terms of mental health, and even physical health. I’m someone that used to play football [for Offaly, by the way, folks], I’m a big athlete. I used to run the Harriers in Tullamore, too. So I know it’s important to keep your fitness going as well. But I’m not even going to lie to you, I’m not the fittest person out there at the moment [laughs]. But I want to get back into it. I’m joining a G.A.A. football team in Galway here. It’s about building yourself up to the best of your ability. Everyone is unique, and different in their own ways. And sometimes women need to shine, and say look, this is the power we have and what we’re capable of.” 

So what’s the next big step or big date on the Miss Universe Ireland calendar? 


“Well the Top Six finalists for 2020 will be announced soon, so there’s a crazy time ahead! [laughs]. Myself and the rest of the girls are all trying to showcase ourselves, put ourselves out there on our social media platforms, just trying to get everyone to know us better. We have loads of assignments, little bits and bobs, for the judges as well, just for them to get to know us better too. The Top Six will be influenced by the public vote, so if everyone can vote for me, I would really, really, really appreciate that! Thank you! We just had our first official Miss Universe Ireland interviews as well, with four American judges. And actually, it was fun! [laughs]. By the end of it! [laughs].”

While Abbii is from Edenderry, she’s living down in Galway at the moment. I asked her about the journey that took her there…


“Yeah, I’m from Edenderry, but I moved to Galway in 2014, I moved to study Accounting in G.M.I.T. I went in to study Business actually, and I did two years of that, then I went to Accounting which was a three year course. So that’s why I first moved to Galway. But I don’t regret doing so because I was able to get my education here. And furthermore, when I finished college, I went on to work in the finance sector, as a trainee financial advisor which was a great achievement for me. And I’ve got my job now in a medical devices company, so I’m pushing myself, always, always, always.” 

How would Abbii describe herself to people who, because of the current Covid health restrictions, might not get a chance to meet her during her time as Miss Universe Offaly? And does she think her friends would describe her in the same way as she describes herself?


“I don’t know [laughs], I think they’d all have different words to describe me [laughs]. They all think I’m mad anyway, I know that! Me, myself? I think I have a lot of love, I’m a loving person. I have a lot of love in me to give. I’m caring. I’m easygoing. And I’m humble, too. And I try to always stay positive and true to myself as well. To relax, I like to go for a walk in the woods, maybe do some online shopping, or just go for a drive sometimes. And try to talk to the family and catch up with them, because none of the family live in Galway, they’re all in different places. So trying to catch up with them is a job of its own [laughs]. I have two brothers and two sisters. An older brother and an older sister, and then I’m the middle child. Then a younger brother and younger sister as well. But when I say older and younger, the oldest is twenty-eight and the youngest is eighteen. And separately to that, I have half-siblings on my dad’s side, and there’s ten of them. So there’s fifteen of us altogether. Some live in America, some live in England, some are in Nigeria.”

One thing that’s clear about Abbii, and comes across time and time again in our chat, is her positivity, and good humour, as laughter freely and liberally permeated our conversation. But what, I wondered, makes Abbii happiest of all in life? 


“Hmm? What makes me happy in life? What makes me happy in life is to be calm. I don’t like to stress! [laughs]. Once I get stressed, it’s kind of impossible to control anything. I think I’ve actually managed to grow up and still be myself. And a lot of people are kind of looking up to me at the moment. So, for someone who’s still not, you know, anyone really yet, that makes me happy too. And I want to keep doing better and keep putting myself out there for people to see that they can do things as well. I try to always have a smile on my face, and to stay positive!” 

~ You can stay up to date with Abbii’s Miss Universe Offaly journey – and hopefully beyond that too – by following Abbii and Miss Universe Ireland on Facebook and Instagram. To vote for Abbii, simply visit the official Miss Universe Ireland website – www.missuniverseireland.eu – click on Abbii’s image, and cast your votes as you decide. And REMEMBER, if any businesses out there want to become part of Abbii’s Miss Universe team as a sponsor, and possibly help Abbii follow in the footsteps of Cailín Toíbín (2017), Grainne Gallanagh (2018, and of Dancing With The Stars Ireland fame in 2019), and Fionnghuala O’ Reilly (2019),  just drop her a DM! 

ENDS

Stephen Rosney

First Published January 2016

MADE OF THE ‘WRITE’ STUFF

Stephen Rosney C

If country music is your thing, then the Rosney surname will immediately bring the excellent Ciarán Rosney straight to mind. And if that’s the case, then the chances are high that Ciarán’s debut album (one of the finest debut album’s I’ve ever heard, might I add), Country At Heart, is one of the most played in your collection. Well, get ready to meet another member of the gifted Rosney clan.

 

Ciarán’s brother, Stephen, together with Daniel Boland, make up Roslyn. And if you get the chance to catch these guys somewhere, I suggest you do, because music as good as they can make it sound is good for the soul. But Stephen has more strings to his bow than just the six strings on his guitar, ya know! He’s writing songs that will eventually, I believe, work their way into the set-list of every Irish artist who wants to make an audience smile, laugh or cry when they perform. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out Ciarán Rosney’s latest single, The Old Turf Sod, a gem of nostalgia and sentiment from Stephen’s pen. Or Roslyn’s own latest single, Forgotten Hero.

 

I caught up with Stephen the other week as Roslyn, supported another great Offaly artist, Olivia Douglas, in opening for the legendary Fureys in Birr Theatre. We began by chatting about Forgotten Hero.  The beautiful artwork for the single, plus the title, both hint at a military slant to the story. I asked Stephen to fill me in.

 

“It’s funny how I came to write that one. I had an uncle in America, James Duffy, and he lived in Brooklyn in New York, and he spent a bit of time in the U.S. Army. He told me a story one night when he was home about how he’d been on a routine parachute mission. The guy in front of him had jumped and my uncle was next to go, but he had noticed the guy in front of him, when he’d pulled his ‘chute, it didn’t open. So against orders, my uncle jumped early and dived down beneath the other guy, let out his own ‘chute, and was somehow able to catch the other guy in it, and bring him to the ground. So that story struck a note with me, the way people can do these heroic acts and yet most people would never hear of them, ya know. A lot of times these guys who fight are simply forgotten about.”

 

Stephen is one half of the duo that is Roslyn, with the fiddle-playing maestro that is Daniel Boland making up the other half. Stephen gave me a brief run-down of what he and Daniel have been up to.

 

“Well our first video, ‘Red Haired Mary’, was released in March, and that did pretty well for us. After that we did a song of mine, ‘Movin’ Out’, and that did well for us, too, thank God. Then we did a song I wrote for Christmas called, ‘Come On, Santa.’ And we’re onto ‘Forgotten Hero’ now. Daniel lives not too far from me, he’s from Rosemount, in Moate. We didn’t know each other as such, before we got together, but we knew of each other.”

 

While you may not have heard of Stephen or Roslyn yet, I’d bet good money with you that you’ve heard one of Stephen’s songs if you’re a country music fan. One of the brightest rising stars of the scene over the last few years, and to my mind, the ‘Gentleman of Irish Country Music’, has been Ciarán Rosney. And, as mentioned in my opening paragraph, Ciarán just happens to be Stephen’s brother. His most recent hit, The Old Turf Sod, came from Stephen’s pen, and the songwriter himself told me about the song.

 

“Well I do cut turf myself, ya see, and I came home one day when we weren’t able to because it was rained off, and I sat down in the kitchen and said to mammy, ‘Stick on the kettle there, I’m gonna write a song about the bog!’ So mammy, of course, says, ‘Don’t be acting the eejit there, what are ya at?!’ [laughs]. So I was putting it together anyway and I was adding in a few funny things, and mammy was there saying to me, ‘Oh you can’t say that!’, cos’ I was talkin’ about the ass ‘starting and farting’, ya know! [laughs]. But that’s how that one started. My father cut turf, and his father before him cut turf, too, so it’s a kind of a tradition. And to some people, it’s nearly a kind of a religion; it’s such an important part of their lives and their histories. It’s a way of life to them.”

 

Would songs often come about that easily for Stephen?

 

“Yeah. Well it’s like this: you see if you said something in particular here as we’re talking, it could trigger something off in my head. I’d start thinking about it and putting something together from as little as that. Mammy does be walking around the kitchen saying she’s half afraid to talk in case it ends up in a song! [laughs].”

 

I wondered if there was ever any sense of competition between the two Rosney brothers?

 

“Ah no, not at all [laughs]. I’ve written a good few songs for Ciarán already, and I’ve three or four songs done for his next album for him. No, we also work closely and well together, and that’s the way we were brought up. If we couldn’t help someone, well then we wouldn’t do anything to hinder them, either.”

 

Roslyn were named as ‘Best Irish Country Group’ by CRC FM in their awards for 2015. I asked Stephen how much that recognition meant to him.

 

“Yeah, that was great. Because I’m not really too long writing songs, I only really started last year. So for someone to come along and think that much of your work, it’s great, and it means an awful lot to me.”

 

It’s hard to believe that Stephen is only writing songs for the past year or so and already turning out such gems. So what started him writing in the first place?

 

“Well it kind of just started by itself nearly, I suppose! I came home one night and sat down and just started writing one. There’s another one I have, actually, that Ciarán has recorded, it’s called ‘Mama’s Prayer.’ It’s funny and it’s sad. I was nearly cryin’ writing it! Helen, my wife, she’s always busy. She comes home from work, she collects the kids, brings them to Irish dancing, then the next thing, and the next thing….she’s always on the go! But I was at home in the dining room playing around with a few songs when she came in one evening, and she said, ‘Oh I’m wrecked, if there’s a Lord up there looking down on me!’ Straight away I wrote the chorus for ‘Mama’s Prayer.’ It goes, ‘And the Lord up above looks down on us every day / Helps us through the bad and good and guides us along his way / Always there when needed, all we had to do was say / Oh Lord, be with us every day.’ And the rest of it is very sad. My mother lost her own mam when she was very young, only nine, I think. So she had to become the ‘mammy’ nearly at that age. So that’s what the song is about, about a child losing her mother very early. And by the end of it, the father is gone as well. So it was a sad song to write, so it was.”

 

Does Stephen find happy or sad songs the hardest to write?

 

“Well I’m in fairly regular contact with Max T. Barnes (famous American songwriter and the man behind the gorgeous hit, ‘Love, Me’, by Collin Raye), and Max does say to me that what you really want, is a sad song with a happy ending! So I try and keep that in mind. But sometimes you have a story to tell, and if it’s sad, well then it’s sad. We have another song just recorded, it’s called, ‘Thank God For My Wife’, and it’s a bit of a funny one. When I had it written, Helen was like, ‘Sure I don’t do that!’ [laughs]. It goes, ‘Thank God for my wife / Two left feet, but one hell of a life / I’m truly indebted forevermore / For every mornin’ without warnin’ / She comes out a-hollerin’ and a-stormin’ / Promises to leave me here and lock the door. ‘ That’s the chorus, and it’s really a very funny one so hopefully it does well.”

 

Roslyn do everything (record, distribute, promote, etc) independently. I wondered if this was hard-going for the two lads?

 

“Yeah, we do it all. We drive down and collect the cds, we pack them up, post them out. It’s a lot of work, it is, and it’s costly as well, but it’s rewarding too when d.j’s message you and say they love the song. That makes it worth it. We’ve never really thought about getting management or anything. We have a new album coming out and that’s what we’re concentrating on now. And we’re also recording a second album that’s all original material, so we have a lot going on and we’ll see how all of that turns out.”

 

Without doubt, I think Stephen is a gifted songwriter. And I don’t think it will be too much longer before that’s something widely acknowledged. I wanted to ask Stephen about two of his songs in particular, Picture Of Me, and True Friends Last Forever. Stephen told me about Picture Of Me first of all.

 

“What triggered that one was one of Helen’s sisters putting a video up on Facebook. Helen has four sisters and they were all in competition to get Jade to say she loved them, ya know, or which one of them was the best, that kind of thing [laughs]. Then I saw a picture of her when she got her communion, and it all just came together to get me thinking. And it goes, ‘When you came into my world / And you opened your eyes / Your soft, gentle hands / And your tender smile / I knew from that moment / It was plain to see / That I was looking at a picture of me.’ Sometimes I like to have the melody first, but it can work any way. I have another one called ‘Mr. Bartender’, cos’ I’ve always loved ‘Working Man’s Blues’, by Merle [Haggard], and I wanted a song something like that. Not a copy of that, but in that vein. So I wrote ‘Mr. Bartender’, and for that one I had the melody before I wrote the words. That’ll be on the originals album.”

 

And True Friends Last Forever?

 

“That’s a very sad song. I can sing it now without breaking down, but there was a good while when I couldn’t. It’s about a good friend of mine who was only nineteen when he lost his life in a car accident. He used to work with me on the bog. And his mother was also a very good friend of mine. Less than nine months after he’d been killed, his mother was killed on the same stretch of road, about eight-hundred yards apart. Just a horrible, tragic, freak accident. I was at home one day anyway, and I said I wanted to do something to remember them, and I ended up writing this song.”

 

Is it difficult to pen songs that are so emotional and so personal to a writer?

 

“Ah it is, yeah, it takes a lot out of you. But then, daddy would always say to me that Big Tom used to say, ‘It’s nice to have a song with a tear in it.’ A lot of people will come up to you after a gig and tell you how much they really got into listening to the whole song, and as a songwriter that’s great.”

 

With showtime approaching and an eager and expectant crowd waiting to take their seats in Birr Theatre, I brought our chat to an end by asking Stephen what kind of advice has Max T. been able to offer on the songwriting side of things?

 

“It’s funny, because we’d have the perception here that country music right now is what Brad Paisley is. But Max tells me that country music in Nashville is changing. Like, I have another song, a really rockin’ Brad type song, as it happens, called ‘Stay A Little While’, and I sent it to Max and he loved it. But he said things in Nashville are changing, going back towards the old country, almost full circle. So they’re looking for upbeat love songs, he tells me. So I’m working on one of those next!”

 

ENDS

John Hogan

First Published January 2019

HOGAN’S HEART IS IN HIS SONGS

John Hogan

John Hogan’s new single, I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, is as powerful a piece of work as you’re likely to hear anywhere in the twelve months that will make their way into the history books as 2019. Written by the man himself, this is a track which hits home hard in the emotion stakes. Does it do so in what might be too hard a way for some? Possibly. But even if that proves to be the case, it doesn’t matter. The reason why it doesn’t matter is ‘I Don’t Want To Feel Like This’, and songs like it, serve a far greater purpose than just making sure everybody likes it. We’ll come back to that point, and this song in particular, in a few moments.

But first, let’s look at those responsible for songs like I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, songwriters like John. There’s an art and a craft to songwriting, two distinct elements,  either one of which alone can lead to the desired effect of melody matched to lyric. In some writers, of course, both elements co-exist. So let’s define the ‘art’ of songwriting like this: it’s when that mysterious visitor, inspiration – in whatever guise she may choose to reveal herself – crosses the path of the writer and as if by magic (though a little work is still required, for a little work is always required), a new song is born to the world. The ‘craft’, on the other hand, is when an idea is there to some degree, maybe in the shape of a phrase, or perhaps maybe a couple of lines, or even in a way as near complete as a storyline. But from those starting points, you have to roll up your sleeves, get your head down, and get to work. The art comes from the heart, and the craft from the head.

Traditionally in country music, most songs have been written by one person, or sometimes by a pair of songsmiths. In Nashville these days, co-writing is the religion, the only way to go. And while the number of writers attributed to a song can sometimes go beyond three or four, it’s still rare enough. Even three or four people writing a song seems like two or three too many to me, but  nonetheless, that’s how it is. And in country music, the heart – for the most part – still leads, with the head coming into play at the heart’s request. And, importantly, they work together at that stage. Not so much in other genres, however, with pop and hip-hop being the most notable examples, with the number of co-writers involved often stretching into double-figures. And when it happens, it seldom raises an eyebrow anymore. It is what it is, and it’s accepted as being such. But there’s the question: what exactly is it?

Well, it’s craft, of course. And credit where it’s due in that regard. But where’s there’s sooooo much craft, can there really be any room left for art? And where there’s little or no art, there’s little or no heart. And this point, folks, takes us right back to John. Because a writer without heart, is everything John is NOT. If there’s one thing you can bet your life, your house, and whatever else holds any kind of value to you on, it’s that John Hogan‘s heart is in his songs.

So back to I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, John‘s new single. This is a song that is simply all heart, in every word of every line. And as with most hearts, when they’re open and revealed in any kind of honest light, there’s pain, and sadness, and frustration, and anger, and loneliness to be found. This is a song of brokenness, of bleeding, and of battle-scars. All of those emotions, and what they result in, belong to the character at the centre of the song. But here’s the crucial point. Those emotions could not be seen first of all, and then shared so movingly, by anyone except a man, and a songwriter, who is all heart, too. Because the pain of another person, and their sadness, and frustration, and anger, and loneliness, that can’t be truly seen or understood by the eyes alone. No, only by the heart. John Hogan is without a doubt a master of the art and the craft of songwriting. And I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, not for the first time in his distinguished career, offers proof of this.

What the new single also does, however, is point to a sense of integrity that is shared by John the man, and John the songwriter. I Don’t Want To Feel Like This isn’t a song that was written to fill the dancefloor. And it wasn’t written to be heard as a sing-a-long, feel-good party piece. Nor is the song’s intention to make you forget about the real world for three minutes or so. This is a song about the real world, and a song that was written because it had to be written. This is a song that demonstrates the all too often understated importance of the songwriter bearing witness to history as it happens. And here’s how it happened in this case, because I Don’t Want To Feel Like This is based on a true story. One day not so long ago, while walking along the streets of an Irish town, John saw a homeless man. As he often does, as a simple matter of courtesy, to try and let someone know that they have been seen and recognised as still being a fellow human being, John paused his own day for a few moments to go over and say hello and spend a few minutes chatting to this man. One of the first things that gentleman said to John, was “I don’t want to feel like this.” 

For too many people, this is real-life for them in Ireland in 2019. Homeless, alone, desperate, in pain, frustrated, angry. And not wanting to feel that way. Too many people in Ireland in 2019, who, as well as having lost almost everything else, are sometimes left without even a voice, too. But John Hogan, the man with his heart, and through the art and craft of his talent has, with I Don’t Want To Feel Like This, given them that dignity back in some sense, by giving them a voice again. We all need songs like this to be written and to be heard.

And that’s why we need songwriters – and men – like John.

ENDS

 

Paul Skelton

First Published September 2018

LORD OF THE TRANCE

Paul Skelton

That old cliche about a prophet seldom being feted in his home-place still has some miles in it, that’s for sure. And especially when applied to the arts and entertainment. In Ireland, thankfully, what that comes down to a lot of the time is just that people are still seen as being who they always were, even after they’ve achieved levels of success that might see them mobbed elsewhere. And in truth, that’s a good thing. And probably the way it should be. Now, I’m not talking about begrudgery, about trying to put, or keep, someone in ‘their place.’. I’m talking about just accepting and respecting people enough to let them still be themselves, in the place where they became themselves in the first place. 

But what’s probably the most common reason for ‘prophets’ of any kind being underestimated where they’re best-known, is simply that people don’t immediately grasp just how great that prophet – or, as it is in this case, that musician – may be. When it comes to the world of trance music, Paul Skelton is literally giving people goosebumps. In fact, if everything goes according to plan, then next month he’ll be giving people Goosebumps – Volume 2, his second album. When Goosebumps – Volume 1 was released last year, it topped the dance charts here and climbed to the dizzy heights of number 2 on the U.K. Dance Albums chart, with only a Ministry of Sound compilation denying Paul his place at the summit. One year on, and Goosebumps – Volume 1 is still making its presence felt on the U.K. chart, just one place outside the Top Ten in late August.

When Paul and I met up for a chat about how his career was taking off, the first thing he revealed was that he was upping sticks (and keys!) and leaving Ireland to set up base in the U.K!

“Yeah, well I’ve been planning this move for a while now. The sort of music I do is massive over in the U.K., the kinda classical-dance scene. Some shows like that can sell-out in an hour, cos’ you have orchestras playing all the classics, so older people like it [laughs]. And even a lot of younger people love it, too. So I’m hitting that market at a really good time.” 

Moving onto the subject of Goosebumps 2, would it be the same mix that had worked so well on his first collection, songs he loved plus some new originals of his own?

“Yeah, it’s gonna be half original material, half covers, so six of each. Some people like to hear the covers as well, ya know. There’s gonna be more ‘feel’ to this one, more instruments, even some drums [laughs]. And more synths as well. Piano can get a bit boring if you’re listening to it for too long!”

Those new originals of Pauls that will feature on the album, are they songs that didn’t make the final selection for his debut album, or tracks he’s been working on in the time since Goosebumps first stormed the trance world?

“In the last year I’ve been tryin’ to spend a lot of time writing songs. I don’t do it every day cos’ it’s hard to just go into a room and write songs! But, if you get some inspiration, you can go in and write five or six songs in a night. Basically, I have them all stored on my phone. Some of them I haven’t listened to in about a year. But I’m recording them tomorrow, so I may revisit them tonight! [laughs].”

I’d already used the term on a couple of occasions as we spoke when it dawned on me that even I wouldn’t be sure how to define ‘trance’ if that question was put to me! Just as well I had an expert in front of me to clear things up!

“Trance is a genre of dance music. It has a lot of uplifting builds in it, a lot of strings, synth noises, and usually ranges from 128 to 145 beats-per-minute. I like a lot of classical elements, a lot of those strings, pads, emotional sort of vibes, ya know. I reckon the best year of trance ever was 1999. Like, in Ibiza nowdays, there’s almost no trance, it’s all house or techno. But back in 1999, every nightclub in Ibiza was trance. Techno wouldn’t be as melodic as trance, whereas house is kinda repetitive. It doesn’t slow down or speed up. But trance can start off fast, then have a big massive breakdown, then a big build, then boom! That’s basically what trance is.” 

Everything Paul has been doing for the last year, and maybe a little bit longer, started with his version of the tune Children by Robert Miles, which has amassed a views total that’s now in excess of THREE MILLION. I asked Paul how does that feel, when he gets a chance to think about it?

“Actually, a few weeks before that, and this is where it really started, I think, a fella had me booked for his wedding, right. And he wanted Adagio for Strings [to be played] while he was walking up the aisle, and it worked out beautifully. On the day of that wedding then, I was belting out a few tunes like that, and ‘Children’, and the crowd were going mad for it. So after that I went home, did a video of Adagio for Strings, and when I put it up [on Facebook], it got a great response. A week or two after that I did the Robert Miles tribute, ‘Children.’ Then I did the Goosebumps 1 album, with songs I’d been playing for a long time. The three-million views side of it, that’s all crazy. Just crazy. I think it’s been shared, something like 48,000 times, the last time I looked. Then a few weeks ago I did a new video, twenty-five trance classics, and that’s been viewed over a million times now, too. And it’s been shared by the likes of Ministry of Sound, one of the biggest dance labels in the world. So that’s huge exposure worldwide.” 

Jumping back in time a little bit, why did Paul decide to record his first Goosebumps album?

“Well it’s music that I love, that’s one reason. But there’s a big demand for it, too. I was getting messages all the time from people telling me I should release an album. So I just decided right, I am going to do it! I picked twelve tracks – two of my own, and the rest covers – and that was it. At the time as well, I was doing a lot of Facebook ‘live’ shows, and getting over 40,000 views each week. There’d be like 5,000 people tuned in, all sending in requests, I couldn’t believe it. But the funny thing was that every second message was, ‘….Goosebumps…!’, as in that’s what people were getting, ya know. So that’s why I named the album Goosebumps. And on those Facebook ‘Live’ shows I had a link for the pre-release, so over 40,000 people were seeing that, which is why it did so well for me in the charts. It went to number 2 in the the U.K. Dance Chart, just behind Pete Tong.”

 

Given that he’s had such huge – and genuine – success already, I suggested that it must feel at least a little bit strange that such success is not recognised more here in Ireland…

“Yeah, trance is not as well known around here [Ireland] at all. And that’s part of the reason why I’m making the move. It’s massive in the U.K. And a lot of my fans are based in the U.K., so there’s a lot of practical reasons for it.” 

Something you’ll see happening regularly on Paul’s ‘live’ Facebook performances are people – from everywhere and anywhere you can imagine – asking Paul if, or when, he’ll be coming to perform in their town, which must be a very special feeling for Paul.

“It feels great! It’s only in the last year that people have started paying to see me. Throughout the years it’s just been pub-shows, where you get your fee at the end of the night. Now, you’re paid before the gig even happens, because people are actually paying to come see you. And it makes you really appreciate that.” 

Something else you’ll quickly notice on Paul’s Facebook page is how interactive he is with his fans.

“I am, except for that Robert Miles one, because there’s like 40,000 comments [laughs], I haven’t had time to write to write back to them all yet! [laughs]. Even last week in Newcastle [at a show], there were over one-hundred tickets sold for that, and before the show I was greeting them all coming in, chatting to them, and they all wanted pictures and everything. It was a great experience. It spurs you on for the next thing you do.” 

So, all modesty aside, and speaking in terms of simple facts, it’s pretty true to say that Paul is fast becoming a bit of a famous ‘name’ in the trance world?

“Well, in the world of trance, yeah, definitely. I’m movin’ up in that world. I’ve done a few big shows, like Gatecrasher, that’s one of the biggest trance brands in the world. They sell-out every show they do. You’re talkin’ about three, four thousand people. And what they’re doin’ now is Gatecrasher classical, which is basically like a one-hundred piece orchestra playing old trance tunes. People who are probably too old now t go to clubs – in their forties or fifties, or whatever – they all come and love it.” 

 

Not long before we met, Paul had shared a graphic on his Facebook page which gave the breakdown of where his followers are based around the world. That graphic included countries like the U.K., but perhaps somewhat less obviously, Australia, Indonesia, India, and even Mexico!

“Trance is huge down in Mexico, believe it or not. And in Argentina and Brazil. But I think it’s 31,000 of my followers that are U.K. based. Well you can see where all of your fans are from, so you can plan shows around that. Like with Newcastle last weekend, I think I have 1,000 followers around there, and there you go, we ended up with over 100 people at the show on my first time there. So I’ve done Newcastle, Birmingham Glasgow, Liverpool, London. I’m back in Liverpool later this year, and down in Wales, too. I’m even doin’ trance weddings now as well. People are booking me to play trance at the meal. It’s something different!”

One of the most pivotal moments in Paul’s rocketing career trajectory in the last twelve months came when he signed with Next Gen Artists.

“I think it’s very important to have an agent these days. If you go to do a gig it needs to be under contract, just to be sure you get paid, no matter what. So that there’s no having to go chasing after money at the end of a gig! Nothing worse. And most musicians have been there. My agent, Micky Crilly, he owns Next Gen Artists, and they’ve got a lot of big D.Js worldwide. I think there’s eight of us signed at the moment. And these are the lads who are playing the biggest trance festivals in the world. They’re the heavyweights. So how I hooked up with them was I was playing in Milton Keyes last year, and at that time I had no agent. I was doing it all myself. So a few people had been onto me saying they were coming to the show. These two guys in particular were trying to sign me. Then Micky got in touch to say he’d be there, too. I got talkin’ to both parties anyway, and decided to go with Micky Crilly’s offer in the end and what a great decision its proven to be”. 

 

If you’ve tuned into Paul’s Facebook ‘live’ performances of late (August/September 2018), you’ll have seen him playing both a grand piano AND a keyboard at the same time. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have been wondering one thing…how?!

“Yeah, it’s difficult, alright. See, I had been doin’ a lot of shows with just the white grand piano. But some people might get bored with just hearing the piano all the time. So I said I’d make it a bit different by adding strings and pads, and as a result, a lot more people are tuning in.” 

Is Paul breaking out the grand piano and keyboard move to impress at his actual shows?

“Well for my ‘live’ shows I have a different piano altogether. I have a red Nord piano. I bought it there two years ago, for like thirty euro! I took the whole inside out of it, and painted it red. It comes apart in like ten different pieces now, and the red keyboard fits into it. So that’s what I actually use now for the gigs. So I have that piano, and then synths on top. That piano, the red Nord, is actually already in the U.K, in my new house, ready to be taken around. People can’t believe that it fits in the car. Sometimes I don’t tell them that it comes in them different pieces, I tell them it’s all about the angle you put it in! [laughs].”

 

So what does 2019 look like having in store for Paul?

“Well the gig enquiries are flyin’ in. so next year is goin’ to be super busy, I know that much anyway. And I’m planning a BIG show in Tullamore – a hometown gig for me – in Hugh Lynch’s on December 29th. I’m bringing over a few lads from the U.K. for it. And a few lads from Tullamore are going to play support, too.” 

Looking back on what’s been a year or so with so many real contenders for the honour of being the standout moment, what has been Paul’s favourite memory of them all?

“There’s times I’d be sitting in the house watching TV, and I’d decie I’d go and do a ‘live’ show [on Facebook]. All I have to do is walk into the piano, set up my camera, and go ‘live.’ And that ends up being shown all around the world, in so many different countries, with comments coming in every second. I always kind of plan to do about an hour, but sometimes I end playing for three hours, and it only feels like half an hour. And that’s because I enjoy it so much. That’s a brilliant feeling. ” 

 
 

ENDS