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

Mundy

First Published July 2016

ON MATTERS OF MUNDY

Mundy 1

Mundy brings his Grand Stretch Tour back home to Birr this Saturday night. But earlier this month the singer/songwriter was part of something pretty special in another part of Ireland very dear to him, holding court for the biggest ever street performance of the Galway Girl, as part of the city’s European Capital of Culture bid for 2020. Which, incidentally, Galway went on to win! Now every career will be examined for the usual milestones of number 1s and sold-out shows and such, but there must surely be something a little bit extra special about the likes of what happened in Galway, both in terms of what it must have felt like on the day, and in that it probably helped to lead to that victory?

“Galway girl is a lucky phenomenon, I covered it by accident. Actually, as a favour to Tom Dunne when he had his Pet Sounds show on Today FM. I read it off a piece of paper on air and it was my first duet and only the second time I met Sharon (Shannon). After that performance it took a life of its own. I look at it now as jewel in the crown. I look at my set-list on the floor, and when the show is already flying it and I know I still haven’t played that yet, and say ‘July’ and a few others too, well then I know it’s gonna be a great night! When I heard about the Galway street video I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest, or how it would be filmed, ya know. But now I look at it and I go….THIS is the ultimate tribute to a killer song! And one written, thankfully, by one of my favourite songwriters [ Steve Earle]. So I’m very proud to be part of a mighty journey to a song that’s part of history now.”

While Galway has tightened its handshake with Europe, our neighbours across the water – somewhat surprisingly to most people I know – have decided to release themselves from that close of a connection. I wondered what was Mundy’s opinion on what happened, and, as importantly now, what does he think will happen next?

“I think life will go on, Anthony. But I’m appalled at how those jerks that instigated the Brexit ran for cover and bottled out [afterwards]. I’m so glad that it’s not my country, in that my fury would be sky-high at the decision. I’ve some great friends from there who are shocked and anxious by it. As they’re our neighbours I hope that we can sustain business with them. Too many lives have been lost to smash the bonds that we’ve made.”

Back to music, and I saw that one of Mundy’s recent gigs was in a lighthouse (Hookhead in Wexford, to be exact) and it looked amazingly cool! I asked him how exactly did that show come about, and is there anywhere else like that – a little bit unusual, a little bit out of the norm – that he’s played?

“I drove to the lighthouse last summer and saw they had a gig on. Maria Doyle Kennedy and her husband Kieran. So I rang my agent straight away and said, ‘I wanna play here!’ And that was really how that came to pass. I sang Joe Dolans ‘Such A Good Looking Woman’ at the graveside of my friend Donal Scannell’s mum, Dorothy, in Ballinasloe a couple of months ago, while the funeral party sang out loud. That’s up there with the unusual, but it was joyous, too.”

It’s just about a year since his latest album, the self-titled Mundy, was released. While it’s still very young in terms of being ‘out there’, has he started to think about a next collection yet? Or started writing any new songs that will eventually lead in that direction?

“Yes, thankfully my creative juices are flowing again. I won’t say gushing, but at least flowing! If albums were babies, Anthony, I’d say the last one is still on formula!”

Not long after Mundy the album was released, Mundy the man was faced with a bit of a nightmare scenario for an indie artist when his distributor, Indi Entertainment, folded. For regular fans who might not fully grasp the consequences of something like that happening, I asked Mundy to explain just how big of a problem that was, and I wondered if it had been in any way resolved to what might be called his ‘satisfaction’?

“No, no satisfaction has come from that situation. Usually my albums pay for some of the costs especially in the early months of release and that then becomes your float for releasing the second single, making a low budget video and some PR. In my case, all the sales and stock got hoovered into the liquidators account even though it wasn’t the property of the distributor! Anyway, look, no-one cares, ya know. It’s a case of boo-hoo. The industry shot itself in the heart a long time ago regarding piracy on the Internet, so things like this are just some of the follow-on consequences.”

It’s almost impossible not to ask people about their thoughts on Donald Trump and the fact that he’s already gone as far as to become the official Republican candidate, which in itself, is something few could have imagined ever happening! So the next President of the United States, who is, potentially, depending on how you view the world, the most powerful person IN the world, will now come from one of just two people. And Donald Trump IS ONE of those people!!

“The presidential campaign is bonkers. It’s too long, for one thing. And It’s poisonous, for another. It’s toxic. It’s sending people into subconscious delirium. I’m not American, but I love playing in America. Some of the greatest songwriters and music ever has come from there, but the media is dodgy. And Trump is loopy. Four years of him would be scary. And what makes it all so very upsetting is because you think: well, who’s left to trust? American politics is like a snickers…. it’s nutty and hard on the system! [laughs] I heard an advert for his hotel in Connemara on the radio recently and I just thought to myself, I’d like to pee on the 18th hole! Honestly.”

For my last question, I decided to take the intensity down a wee bit. I read that Mundy is a big fan of cooking programmes and that he’s actually quite the baker and chef himself! But what I was wondering is does he have any particular favourite tv chef? Is Gordon Ramsey someone he can’t miss, or is he more of a Rachel Allen fan?

And Mundy answered as only Mundy could!

“I’d rather drink a thimble of cider with Rachel Allen than a tumbler of Moët with Ramsey. Maybe he’s a ‘daycent’ skin, but he’s a jerk on the idiot box!”

ENDS

Brendan Bowyer (R.I.P)

First Published, October 2014

WHEN THE BEATLES MET BRENDAN! 

(Part 2)

Brendan Bowyer

Sitting across the table from Brendan Bowyer is a little surreal. Not because of the man himself, because quite simply, he could not be nicer. A real gentleman, in every sense of the word. His kind of humility, down-to-earthness, and respectful manner is a trait common to many of the biggest names I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with. Mike Denver, the late George Hamilton IV (more on George next week, R.I.P), Frances Black, Sandy Kelly, to name but four who spring immediately to mind, all household names but class acts, never the kind of people to ‘act the star.’

 

But Brendan Bowyer! Brendan is in a different league to almost everyone when it comes to the life he’s lived. He’s so easy chat to and so kind with his time and his answers that you’d almost – ALMOST – forget that this man sitting in front of you and laughing heartily as he shares another story, has also stood next to Elvis. And the Beatles! Elvis AND the Beatles, for cryin’ out loud!

 

And on Sunday night next he’ll stand on the stage of the Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore. In advance of the show I had the opportunity to sit with Brendan for a little while the other week. Surreal? Slightly! Memorable? Most definitely! Roll on Sunday night!

 

Having played in almost all of the world’s most iconic venues, I asked Brendan was there any one in particular of which he was especially fond? Or, was there any one gig which has always stood out as being especially memorable for him?

 

“I suppose it would have to be when we had our own show in Carnegie Hall in New York in 1966, Anthony. We were very well supported by the Irish, it was a full house, in fact, because emigration was still strong in the 60s, so it was full to the doors. And of course there was the thrill of playing where so many great acts and artists had played before me. There was an Irish ballroom down around the corner, on West 55th Street, which was run by Bill Fuller in the 60s, and it was no different than being in the Galtymore in Cricklewood, ya know! It was amazing. We were there one Patrick’s night, I think about 1962 or something like that, and there was a big queue going up the street and back around the corner. And I was going up the other side of the street anyway and there was two Americans right behind me and I could hear one saying to the other, ‘There must be a big name in Carnegie Hall tonight!’ But the crowd were going the other way that night, to see us.”

 

I wondered if Brendan had ever found it in any way uncomfortable being recognised, does he ever find it slightly intrusive, perhaps? Or is it just something that comes with who he is and what he has done and continues to do?

 

“Ah sometimes, but only sometimes, a little bit. Like if you’re trying to get from A to B. Like when I came into the hotel here today, a lovely gentleman came over to me and said, ‘You’re a long way from Seapoint here!’, (THAT would be YOU, John!) meaning Galway, ya know. People like to let you know they know you, and that’s always grand. But the youngsters today, not many would probably know me from Adam. Whereas in Dublin in the 60s, you couldn’t walk the streets. Well you could, but you’d want to be quick!”

 

When Brendan came into the music business he, and more like him, had to work hard, relentlessly and consistently to achieve what they did. There was no easy option available, no path of least resistance with the chance of fame (inevitably false) and success (inevitably short-lived) almost offered up on a golden plate. In other words, no x-factor type reality tv shows. I wondered what changes has Brendan himself witnessed within the industry that have really struck him?

 

“Well to relate to what you’re saying, Anthony, we started in 1957, and I remember Radio Luxembourg. Are you familiar with Radio Luxembourg? Because in Ireland at the time, forget it, maybe on Irish Hospitals Request on a Wednesday you might hear a popular song by Perry Como or something like that. But Elvis, it was in 1956 I think I first heard him, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, and I can remember looking at the radio and thinking ‘What in the name of God is this?!’, it was just a total change of everything! I used to have a tape-recorder ready for the Royal Top 20 on a Sunday night and a little transistor radio too! Now a guy called Larry Kirwan, of the band Black ’47, they filled the Meadowlands (home to NFL sides the New York Giants and the New York Jets) where the Super Bowl was, I think 2 years ago. And they’ve often been called a rebel band, which I think is somewhat incorrect. They do a certain amount of rebel stuff, they’re kind of a rock version of the Wolfe Tones. But Larry is also an author and a poet, and he said to me when I described to him how I was getting stuff off the radio – and remember, people would ask me was I writing songs back then, and I’d go ‘Whaaat? Sure we’d be lucky to even hear a popular song!’ – but Larry has a saying that he often uses, it’s ‘Never make light of the past, it was once all that we were capable of.’ And it was, it’s true.”

 

“Even the Beatles”, Brendan continued, “when they played support to us in Liverpool, their opening number was Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’, which I was also doing at the time. And they did it so darn well that I told our band I wasn’t doing it that night! They came over and played in Middle Abbey Street in 1964 and Lennon was interviewed by Michael Hand of the Sunday Press, who was ghosting a column for me in the Press at the time. So Michael says to John Lennon, ‘Well, what did you think of our Royal Showband when you were with them?’, and Lennon took his time before he replied, then he said, ‘It was a bit of a f@%kin’ talent competition!’ And I could see why he might have seen it that way, because I’d go out and do my thing, then Tom (Dunphy) would go and do a country number, Charlie Matthews would sing a standard, Jim Conlon at the time was singing ‘Living Doll’, the Cliff Richard song. So this was all going on and I can imagine the boys, John, Paul, George and Ringo, all watching it from the wings! It must have seemed like a talent competition! We used to do a lot of Percy French numbers as well, and a bit of comedy too. About the mid-60s though, is when I think it changed [the music scene in Ireland], with the arrival of the big country and Irish bands, Big Tom and the Mainliners, Larry and the Mighty Avons. The showband thing had kind of run its course at that stage. People had seen it all. They still did well after, but that was when the end began, if you like.”

 

As perhaps the greatest entertainer that Irish music has ever known, our own Elvis in many ways, I asked Brendan what’s the most important thing for an entertainer to remember about entertaining his audience?

 

“Well I always remember that they’ve paid to come and see you. But you’ve also got to make contact with your audience. How do you do it? Well, you try and use a bit of charm as well as singing for them. Contact with your audience is the most important thing, so trying to create that between you. I don’t know if that was something that came naturally to me, or just developed over time, to be honest. A lot of bands today, when they’re on stage, they just seem to be doing their own thing, not too worried about the audience. You need a team working with you, and behind the scenes as well. What really got us through in Vegas was we brought 4 girls who would do the Hucklebuck, right, but we also made sure they were good Irish dancers. So we identified as being Irish! And we’d rock out the reels and the hornpipes, and the girls were great. And it’s funny, and I’ve told this story before because Bill Whelan gets a kick out of it, but when ‘Riverdance’ went to Vegas people said this has all been done before by the Royal Showband! Even though it was only 4 girls! Of course it wasn’t the same thing at all, it’s just funny. But we were commercial; we’d sing Irish songs in between, songs that people would know well, ‘Danny Boy’ and a few more. When we auditioned for Vegas in 1966 we did a few Elvis songs and Tom Jones songs and the guys said to us, ‘That’s all wonderful, but you guys are from Ireland, the real Elvis is just down the street here and Tom Jones and Sinatra, they’re not far away either!’ He said, ‘People can get the real thing so you need to identify as being Irish.’ And he was right, so we did that. And it made all the difference to us in Vegas. And of course Vegas also helped us become entertainers because we did 24 years of residencies in 3 hotels, The Stardust, The Aladin and The Barbary Coast.”

 

When listening to two tracks in particular from Brendan’s Greatest Hits, I Ran All The Way Home and Kiss Me Quick, the one name that came instantly to mind with both was Buddy Holly. I wondered if Buddy Holly had been any kind of an influence on Brendan, and indeed, who else might have been?

 

“I loved Buddy Holly, Anthony, I did. Buddy Holly would have been right next to Elvis for me. Here’s another funny story. We had a manager, TJ Byrne from Carlow, who was very much responsible for ‘Kiss Me Quick’ getting the publicity it did. He got it into the national newspapers, which would have been the Herald and the Press at the time and which would have had a huge circulation because television was still in its infancy. But anyway, he said Elvis was going to sue me for ‘Kiss Me Quick’! And my poor mother, she believed it because it was in the paper, and I remember her saying, ‘Elvis, sure hasn’t Elvis enough!’ But the funny thing is that years later when I met Elvis I said, ‘By the way, I recorded one of your songs, ‘Kiss Me Quick’, and there was just a blank stare from him. Sure he didn’t even remember recording it himself, nevermind having any knowledge of me having recorded it, Anthony! But yes, poor Buddy Holly was a great loss, he was so young.”

 

As our immensely enjoyable chat came to a close, I wondered if, when Brendan’s daughter, Aisling, decided that she wanted to follow her famous dad into showbusinness, was there any one silver bullet-like piece of advice with which he armed her for life on her chosen road?

 

“I said to her that when you’re on the stage just go to your audience, that’s what’s important, what you feel inside will come out when you connect with your audience. I’ve always said that. And she has, she’s done a great job on stage. She can sing country songs without the accent, you know, and sing them really well. And rock songs, too, particularly Tina Turner type rock. And musical theatre, stuff from ‘Les Miserables’, ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ from ‘Evita’, she’s very versatile.”

 

 

ENDS

Derek Ryan

First Published October 2016

DOUBLE DELIGHT FOR DEREK’S FANS

Derek Ryan

When it comes to songwriting and country music, there’s only one town that matters. And that’s Nashville. And when it comes to songwriting and country music in Ireland, there’s one man who’s proved he’s got the golden touch, with hits to his name such as God’s Plan, Life Is A River, It’s Friday and so many more. So it was always just a matter of time until Derek Ryan and Nashville crossed paths. The good news for fans of the Carlow born singer/songwriter is that it’s finally happened! And we’ll all soon be able to hear the results when Derek’s brand new album, This Is Me-The Nashville Songbook, is released this month.

 

But Derek has decided to do something a little bit different, making Irish country music history by releasing TWO brand new albums at the SAME time! For country fans, it really is time to hold onto your hats! Not only will there be This Is Me-The Nashville Songbook, but also an album of Irish country tunes called, Happy Man. And to make things even better for his fans here in the midlands, Derek will be visiting TRAX in Tullamore next Sunday (October 23rd) to sign copies of both albums and meet his fans.

 

We had the pleasure of catching up with the newly married and recently crowned Songwriter of the Year at the RTE Irish Country Music Awards as he took a break from his hectic schedule following his return from a tour of Scotland, and we began by asking when and how the idea of doing TWO albums at once came about?

 

“Well we did the ‘This Is Me’ album in Nashville in January because we had an open time-slot in the diary then. It’s always hard to fit these things in when they have an international aspect to them, with the time it takes to get there, and tours going on at the same time, and what have you. But it was always a dream of mine to do a Nashville album. So yeah, we started work on it back in January, going back and forth with the producer, Jeff Balding. We got in touch with a few different guys and Jeff, just after he’d been nominated for a Grammy, came straight back to us which was cool. He was up for it straight away. So we were back and forth with him a lot, on Skype and stuff, and really by January a lot of things were ready to go. I suppose it took until about the end of March to get the final mixes and masters done. At the same time I was still recording Irish country songs, and I think it must have been June when we decided you know what, we’re gonna do the two of them together! My manager mentioned that it was something he’d seen Bruce Springsteen do a few years back and he’d never seen anyone else do it, so I thought brilliant, let’s go with it. It’s something different, what harm can it do?! Sure look, the more the merrier! [laughs].

 

Some might think that recording a song or an album would be the same wherever it happens, but to anyone actively involved in country music, they know that recording in Nashville is always different to anywhere else. So what was Derek’s experience of Music City?

 

“It was amazing really. I sent off the songs pretty much with just a guitar and maybe a drumbeat, in its simplest form, cos’ funny enough that’s how they like to get songs in Nashville, as raw as they can. But the whole creative experience was just mind-blowing. The players [the session musicians] come into the studio and they want you to play the song ‘live’ for them, so they can get the vibe of it. These guys are top-notch, like we had Keith Urban’s guitarist as the MD, so they pick up on that vibe very, very quickly. Three or four takes, if even that. And they have a discussion after every take about what they could do to improve it. And what I noticed was that it was ALL positive. They were all there to make sure the end product sounded amazing. There was no negativity. Everything was about looking forward and trying to get the best result. And then when they’d come to a final arrangement, they’d turn to me and be like, ‘Right, Derek, what do you think?’ And if I wanted to change anything, maybe the tempo or the key, I’d have my shot at it then before they went for the final takes. I think we tracked all the songs with the band in two days, and then my vocals after that again. You know, in Ireland a lot of people always say sure if we don’t like how something is done, how it sounds, we can always send it back. But once it’s done in Nashville, it’s very much done! And some people ask me if I found that scary, but I swear to God, Anthony, I was the total opposite, I LOVED working on the spot. I think it’s the way forward for over here, too. Because you can tell by your gut if something isn’t right. I mean, sometimes it’s said that there’s no right or wrong in music, but sometimes…there kind of is! [laughs]. It’s like songwriting. Sometimes you’ll write with people who say there’s no right or wrong. But sometimes there just is! So it was the same with this. Working on the spot, to get it right there and then, that’s what I want to be doing. I really loved that aspect of it.”

 

This Is Me features two of Derek’s best known, but already recorded and released songs, God’s Plan and 100 Numbers. With so many great originals songs to his credit, was it tough picking just a few from his back catalogue to give the Nashville treatment to?

 

“We also have ‘Fine Line’ on it too, which was on the ‘One Good Night’ album, so we have three old songs of mine on there. But yeah, it was tough deciding what to do. You want to be progressive and creative in taking to the Nashville sound, but you also want something like ‘God’s Plan’ which would have that subtle connection to the Irish market. And I wanted something to kind of meet in the middle as well, and I think ‘Connemara Sky’ really does that. There’s so many songs I could have put on there, and there’s so many songs that I haven’t used at all anywhere yet, and this was all part of the discussion with the producer as well. I think we started off with fourteen tracks and I wanted to get down to the best eleven.”

 

Some people have long been of the belief that Irish country artists wouldn’t be able to ‘do’ American country, or wouldn’t be able to achieve success in both the Irish and American genres of country music. Personally, I think this is rubbish, and I think Derek is about to prove it with these two new releases. So I asked Derek what he feels about people who think that way?

 

“Well I don’t like people saying you can’t do something anyway, that gets my back up straight away, ya know! [laughs]. I’d never tell someone they couldn’t do something. But at the same time, I know Irish country is different to American country. My album, ‘This Is Me’, was recorded in Nashville, I did use American musicians, but at the same time it’s not me singing in an American accent! Or me in a cowboy hat! Actually, it’s funny, because I said to Jeff when we were doing the arrangements that some of it was very heavy, almost pop/rock. And he said well that’s country nowadays, that’s what we call country here in Nashville. But then there’s some of the more easy-listening ones like ‘More To Good Loving’, so there’s a good mix there. I would be a little wary of people saying I’ve gone pop, or gone rock or whatever, because I haven’t. This is the sound that Jeff feels at the moment suits my voice and my songs, ya know. And I’m looking forward to people hearing it and giving it a chance. Hopefully they’ll give it a chance anyway! [laughs].”

 

Derek recently held both the number one and number two positions on the Irish iTunes country chart with the first singles off his two new albums, This Is Me and City of Chicago. I asked how it felt to have both first singles chart so well?

 

“Yeah, and they stuck around for a while in those positions which is always a good sign. It’s a brilliant feeling. But look, I always try to work hard, keep the head down, keep recording, keep doing those things and hopefully everything else looks after itself then. As long as people are still enjoying the music and coming to the gigs, the charts are a bonus. I’d be delighted if we could get the two albums in the Top Ten but I don’t know what way that’s going to work out. People always ask were you happy that you got a number one with ‘Simple Things’ and ‘One Good Night’, and I was. But at the same time, I’d be delighted just to have people buying the album and loving the album, ya know.”

 

When we spoke Derek had just returned from his sold-out Scottish tour. I wondered if being away like that is something he enjoys or, now that he’s a married man, he prefers getting home to his own bed each night as much as possible?

 

“I suppose there’s pluses and negatives to it really. In the one sense the show becomes really tight, cos you’re doing it every night. And it’s really great to get that feeling of everything going the way it should and slotting together nicely, it’s like being on a roll! And the craic is brilliant with the band as well, and the support acts. But yeah, the travelling! [laughs]. We generally do a week and a half and then come home. Doing something like three or four weeks in Australia or wherever, I don’t know if I could do that to be honest with you. I mean I’d do it, of course I would. And I’d love it too. But I’d just rather the way we do it now, the week and a half, ten days and home then go again. But yeah, I love being on tour, I love being in a different town every night and every day, hotels, the new crowd, all of that.”

 

For our last question, we returned to the subject of songwriting. Now, as strange as it may seem, there are many songwriters out there who claim that they find it extremely difficult to write when they’re happy. They say they need a certain amount of tension or conflict in their lives in order to be creative. Given that both the Happy Man and This Is Me albums show Derek to be in a great place in his life both personally and professionally, I wondered how this might affect his songwriting?! Does his writing depend on feeling in a certain mood, or can he ‘switch on and off’ whenever he needs to or wants to write?

 

“It’s funny, ya know, cos’ I guess the ‘Happy Man’ and ‘This Is Me’ titles say it all for me at the moment, don’t they. But it’s almost like being an actor at times, you have to switch into your imagination and your feelings, and tap into your emotions and all of that. You might see something on TV or hear a story and it just kicks you into action. You don’t have to literally experience everything that you write about. There’d be a few lads being asked some questions if that was the case! [laughs]. But yeah, I do understand if people say they went through a break-up or whatever and they wrote twenty songs out of it, ya know. But to be honest, Anthony, if that’s the sacrifice you had to make to write songs I think I’d stay away from it! [laughs].”

 

ENDS

 

 

 

 

Round-Up & Review

First Published May 2020

NEW FROM SIMON, SABRINA, LISA, NOREEN, AND MORE! 

Column 301

In this week’s column we’re back to doing something we promised a lot more of every chance we get, and that’s a round-up of some of the brilliant things happening on the music and entertainment scene right now. And truth be told, when you have new singles dropping from artists like SIMON CASEY, SABRINA FALLON, LISA McHUGH, and NOREEN RABBETTE all within a short space of time, then you can’t just let that moment pass. As well as the aforementioned fab four, we’ll also be taking a look at the long-awaited debut album from one of Irish country’s most loved figures, JOHN MOLLOY, at how the BREWERY TAP have found a way to adapt their legendary Monday Night Sessions to the age of C19, and in taking a little step away from the music side of things, we’ll be filling you guys in on a relatively new YouTube channel that’s more than worth your while checking out, that’s Emily and the Craic from Offaly woman EMILY PIDGEON.

So let’s get things started by looking at the latest release from SIMON CASEY, a devastatingly beautiful version of American country superstar Brad Paisley’s song Then. There’s so much to talk about here, but the only place to really begin is with the song. Because in music, everything starts with, should come down to, and should back to the song. So everything ties into the song. And one of Simon’s great strength’s as an entertainer lies in always choosing wisely in this regard. But wisely could be as simple as picking a song that you’re already certain everybody knows. In effect, you’re attempting to mitigate that certain level of risk that’s always par for the course with any new release. Simon, though, rarely relies on this easy option. Instead, as with Then right now, Simon goes for songs that might not necessarily be well-known to everyone, but – and it’s not a but that everyone can pull off, by the way – the songs he picks, coupled with his particular gift for performance, are ones everyone can relate to. If it’s a song you knew already, then hearing Simon sing it only tends to make you love it all the more.

As far as Brad Paisley goes, I’ve been a fan since his first album, Who Needs Pictures, which was released back in 1999, the first summer I spent in America. I fell in love with his songwriting from the get-go. Paisley has a unique ability to weave humour, emotion, and in some cases too, political and social commentary into the songs that make up his albums. And hand on my heart, there’s never been a Paisley album that I haven’t loved since Who Needs Pictures, and seldom a song that doesn’t live up to the incredible standards Paisley has set for himself. Then hits home everytime. And more than just being a songwriter of supreme skill, of course, the man from West Virginia is rightly hailed as one of the world’s top guitar players. More than that again, however, his reputation as being one of life’s good guys is set in stone. And it’s that last point, as much if not more than anything else, that makes Simon covering one of his songs the perfect match.

In as much as I’ve a huge fan of Simon’s and everything he does, the same applies to country star SABRINA FALLON. Simply put, the Portumna woman has one of the most authentic ‘country’ voices Ireland has ever produced. Whether or not that’s a widely known or recognised fact at this moment in time will never overshadow the certainty that it is a fact. If you’re new to the Irish country music scene, and you’re trying to define what that sound is and the way some of the greatest country songs ever written should be performed, Sabrina is one of the first voices I’ll be turning you towards all day long. She’s just released a brand new single, her version of the Phil Everly pop hit When Will I Be Loved, which Linda Ronstadt took to the #2 spot in the U.S. charts in 1975. In terms of vocal ability, Sabrina finds a way to effortlessly channel the same depth of emotions that are signature features of legends like Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and of course, Loretta Lynn. But the flip-side to that is something that anyone who has met Sabrina, or enjoyed one of her shows, will know all about. Essentially, what you’re taking about is fun, energy, and connection. But to make it more accurate as far as Sabrina goes, you need to say it like this; FUN, ENERGY, and CONNECTION. When Will I Be Loved, which Sabrina teased pre-release was going to be “something for the girls”, captures all of this. Whenever we get back to whatever ‘normal’ is going to be from now on, this is going to be one of the show-stoppers in Sabrina’s set.

A few years back LISA McHUGH had the world of Irish country music at her feet. A multiple award-winner in the Female Entertainer of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year categories year-in and year-out, the Glasgow girl was to the forefront in being one of the wave of artists – along with Nathan, Derek Ryan and later Cliona Hagan – responsible for attracting a younger audience to the genre. So it was definitely with some surprise that she seemed to take a total step back from the world over the last year or so, only to re-emerge as – pretty much – a more pop/country orientated artist, with possibly more emphasis on the pop side now – signed to the same management as Ireland’s latest global pop giants, Picture This. And her latest single You’re Gonna Get Back Up fits right into that pop/country format. And to be clear, this is a GOOD thing, because You’re Gonna get Back Up is a GREAT song. And like I said when writing about Simon earlier, everything comes back to the song.

I’ve been a fan of Lisa’s since the early days of her career, and have had the pleasure of interviewing her on a few occasions over the years, as well as presenting her with one of those many awards, as it happens. I know how hard she worked to first get to the heights she reached, and then to stay there for as long as she did. Make no mistake about it, talent alone – which Lisa has by the tonne as well – earns no artist the right to anything in the music business. So by anyone’s measure, and certainly by mine, Lisa has earned the right to make her own decisions about what direction her career takes. For sure, her absence from the country circuit, and those regular opportunities to see her perform ‘live’, is a huge disappointment to fans who would have supported her for so long. But, as with Taylor Swift when she made a similar career move from country to pop, I’ve always maintained that real fans of the artist will travel with the artist. Speaking for myself, that’s what happened with Taylor, and that’s what’s happening with Lisa, too. It’s not an easy move to make, and if anything, it carries even fewer guarantees than the country side of the music business. So I applaud the fact that Lisa has had the courage of her convictions. More over, I’ve seen Lisa perform ‘live’ from her home on Facebook with just her vocal and guitar, and when any artist does that, there’s no-where to hide. Lisa can. And Lisa can do country. And Lisa can do pop/country. And as long as Lisa just keeps making music, that’s really all that matters to me. Because it all comes back to the song. And what You’re Gonna Get Back Up proves once again, is that whenever Lisa gets in front of a mic, she’s still a star.

And speaking of stars, it was only last year that NOREEN RABBETTE’s star first began to shine on a national level when the Clara woman made it all the way to the final of TG4’s ever-popular hit show, Glór Tíre. And the good new for country fans is that her debut single has finally made it to the airwaves. The phrase ‘voice of an angel’ is so often invoked that it probably doesn’t impart the sense of beauty intended by its use. But if I had to name someone whose voice best defines that phrase, I’d honestly have to think long and hard before coming up with anyone other than Noreen. For a voice dripping in honey, it’s probably a little bit of a surprise that her first single out of the gates is the classic country foot-stomper Redneck Woman, originally from Gretchen Wilson. Noreen’s vocal versatility, however, is writ large across this track, as evidenced by the fact that she took it straight to the top of the Irish iTunes country chart upon its release towards the end of last week. As a teaser for an album that’s also in the works, Redneck Woman hints at a collection that’s sure to be heavily influenced by an American country sound. And if this single is what we’re taking as our marker, then the sooner we can get back here talking about Noreen’s debut album, the better.

One man who made us wait long enough for his first long-player is JOHN MOLLOY, but that collection of 13 of the best from one of Irish country’s best is officially out now. Entitled Introducing John Molloy, the album was already highly anticipated and long awaited when the launch party was originally announced for last February. Unfortunately for the Westmeath man who now lives in Offaly, a severe storm warning paid no heed to the needs of country music lovers deciding to head this way on the exact date of the launch, leaving John with no choice but to reschedule for the safety of all. Roll on that new date in April, however, and it was a case of lightning striking twice for John as the Covid19 outbreak put paid to that night, too. If there’s one thing you learn in the music business, though (whether you want to or not!), it’s resilience, and John is definitely a road-warrior in that regard. While two such setbacks in so short a space of time might well have shaken many, John remains adamant that as soon as government guidelines mean it’s possible to make it happen, all roads will finally lead back to The Well in Moate, and the party will be worth the wait! In the meantime, John took to Facebook ‘Live’ on his John Molloy Country page on Sunday afternoon for a ‘virtual album launch’ as a special thank-you to his fans for all of their support. Introducing John Molloy is available now from John’s official website, www.johnmolloycountry.com.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, of course, that as well as musicians themselves, another sector of society suffering from the enforced but necessary absence of ‘live’ music from our lives are venues, pubs included. The Licensed Vintners Association nationally did themselves no favours with their proposal to government for an earlier than planned reopening which would actually ban ‘live’ music. But on a local level here in the midlands, the famed BREWERY TAP in Tullamore has found a way to reignite their legendary Monday Night Sessions, thereby keeping ‘live’ music very much at the core of what ‘The Tap’ has always been about.  As of April 27th, the sessions have been taking place – like so much of life over the past couple of months – via Zoom! Singers, musicians, and interested spectators who in better times, and for years gone by, have taken their place on the high-stools and comfy seating in Paul and Cathy Anne Bell’s High Street premises, have been logging on from home to keep that sense of community the Monday Night Sessions have long fostered alive and well. As I wrote myself in a piece on the Monday Night Sessions for the Tullamore Annual a few years back, “Monday nights at The Tap. Five little words that have come to roll off the tongue with all the ease and comfort of a best friend’s name, for so many musicians and fans alike, over the course of almost thirty years now. Five little words that have taken on a life of their own, becoming a living, breathing, always evolving, and most importantly and steadfastly of all – ever welcoming – part of Tullamore’s culture.” The words “always evolving” seem almost prophetic in a way now, and they’ve definitely been proven true. When all of this is over, the chapter of the Tap’s history that looks back on 2020 can proudly say that even a pandemic that shut down most of the world couldn’t stop the Monday Night Sessions. Now there’s something that we’ll all look forward to raising our glasses to! 

 

And finally for this week, we’re stepping away from music altogether, and into the world of YouTube. Truth be told, with so many social media platforms and places to go for online content and entertainment these days, it’s hard to spare time for them all. Personally speaking, something I’ve all but neglected for the entirety of my life is YouTube. Until, that is, a friend of mine – whom, might I add, I’d always considered to be on the higher-end of the shy-scale – decided to launch her own YouTube channel. Of all things! Well, in just a few months, Emily and the Craic, fronted by Tullamore’s EMILY PIDGEON, has already passed the one-thousand subscriber mark, no small achievement in this day and age, when, as already mentioned, the fight for the public’s attention is such a crowded battleground. For someone I thought was shy (Emily…how wrong was I?!), Emily has taken to presenting her show with consummate ease. In fact, one of the two main reasons Emily and the Craic has racked up the following it has so far surely comes from the fact that Emily is so good at being herself on screen. Not only does this make her instantly relatable, but her willingness to bare her own soul has also enticed her boyfriend Barry into making frequent appearances, every one of them a comedic feast given that Barry, like Emily, excels at being himself. The other main reason I’d highly recommend for anyone to check out Emily’s channel is because of the variety on offer. From the most recent episode which lists her and her sister Alison’s Top 20 Best Eurovision Songs of All Time (and let me warn you, it’s controversial!), to Emily cutting her own fringe, dyeing her other sister Lauren’s hair, the best shows to binge watch during quarantine, to trying American candy with her little nephew Noelie, and much more, it’s real-life, smiles, honesty, and laughter all the way in Emily and the Craic. Subscribe today, folks. 

 
 

~ The singles Then by Simon Casey, When Will I Be Loved by Sabrina Fallon, You’re Gonna Get Back Up by Lisa McHugh, and Redneck Woman by Noreen Rabbette, as well as the album Introducing John Molloy from the man himself, are all OUT NOW and available on all digital platforms. You can subscribe to Emily and the Craic, fronted by Emily Pidgeon, on YouTube. 

ENDS