Glór Tíre

First Published July 2021

LONG LIVE GLÓR TÍRE

Sometimes, just by being around for long enough, what you do can end up being massively taken for granted. Case in point, the hit TG4 show, GLÓR TÍRE. Despite the many complications caused by Covid-19, and the subsequent restrictions and guidelines which needed to be put in place and adhered to, the team behind the show managed to make sure that the 2020 series eventually came to a conclusion late last year. More than just that, though, they also found a way to make sure that the 2021 series went ahead. 


A key-word to pay attention to in everything I’ve just pointed out, is ‘team.’ Because that’s what it takes to make Glór Tíre happen each year. And it’s a team that is in part unseen, but yet, without the talents of all involved, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the on-screen contributions of judges Jo Ní Cheide, Caitriona O’ Sullivan, and John Creedon, as well as presenters Aoife Ní Thuairisg and Séamus Ó Scanláin, and of course, the fabulous house-band. The show is not just about each year’s contestants, it’s bigger than that. 


And yet, if you were to judge things by some of the vile, vicious, attention-seeking, and often desperately ill-informed vitriol that was regularly spewed forth in social media comment sections during the course of this year’s series, you’d assume Glór Tíre and almost all involved with it to be something akin to a TV Taliban, only to be reviled as a gang of clueless chancers. And that description, as colourful as it might be, doesn’t even approach the levels of hyperbole achieved by some of the country music ‘fans’, and indeed, self-appointed commentators of sort who felt the need to grace the world with their opinions. It certainly opened my eyes to some people, and how, and when, and in what manner they seem to like to share their thoughts with the world. All good to know, though. 


Full disclosure, by the way, I had the pleasure – and it was a pleasure – of working with EMMA DONOHUE during her successful Glór Tíre campaign under the mentorship of MIKE DENVER this year. Without a doubt, Emma has everything it takes to carve out a career for herself on the Irish country scene. I’m more than certain that her natural talent, a work-ethic that’s simply second-to-none, and a personality that’s every bit as genuinely warm and funny off-stage as it is effortlessly comfortable on-stage, would have ensured this anyway, regardless of how things went for her on the TG4 show this year. I can say that with my hand on my heart. 


Despite working with Emma this year, the last time I actually saw her in person – and probably her mentor Mike as well – would have been at the Keltic Country TV Irish Entertainment Awards at the Tullamore Court Hotel in November of 2019. As far as anything to do with her campaign went, we did everything by phone, email, messenger, you name it. We had little choice, of course, given the complications of the last year and the disruption that Covid has caused in all areas of life. This was my fourth time working with a contestant on the show, and my first time to be involved with a winning act. So I’ve been there before, seeing someone I believed in and wanted to succeed being voted out, or falling just short at the last hurdle. I’ve seen it happen, not understood it, been completely mystified by judges’ decisions, and ended up feeling completely deflated, frustrated, and disappointed. But I’ve never once become abusive about the show or anyone involved in it online, in either a direct or an indirect manner. 


Normally the nights of the ‘live’ shows down at Quays Bar in Galway are bursting with excitement, full to the brim with fans and supporters of the contestants. Despite the nerves, the tension, the inevitable waiting around that comes with television, and sometimes the disappointment, the adrenaline  and the fun of those nights always makes them memorable. That ‘live’ element of Glór Tíre has been a crucial factor in making the show the success it has been for close on two decades now. So it would have been understandable to some degree if the show’s producers had decided that the 2020 series could not finish, nor the 2021 series get underway without a ‘live’ audience being able to attend. But, to the credit of all involved, the power of that evergreen mantra of those who work in the entertainment industry – the show must go on! – was invoked. The 2020 series finally came to a conclusion in November of last year with Offaly’s own Alex Roe – with whom, by the way, I also had the pleasure of working with during his campaign – narrowly missing out on the crown of champion. And following that, also in November of last year, filming got underway for the first episodes of the 2021 edition. 


Now, here’s a point that simply can’t be stressed enough when it comes to Glór Tire. I’ve mentioned it already, but it’s worth repeating. The show is not just about whoever the lucky contestants are each year. Yes, the focus of the show is on the contestants. But the show itself is not just about them. And that’s a distinction that seems to have been lost on a lot of people this year. Without the production crew, the presenters, the judges, the mentors, and of course the band… there is no show. It’s as simple as that. Every year a line-up of new contestants get the opportunity to perform on ‘live’ television, to a national audience, because the Glór Tíre set up is in place. Without each of those elements being in place, the spotlight never lands on any artist. 


This year, everyone involved in the show was asked to accept a certain level of personal responsibility in adhering to the guidelines and regulations necessary for the safety of EVERYONE involved in the show. These guidelines and regulations were not in place just to protect the contestants. Again, they were there to protect the contestants, AND the production crew, AND the presenters, AND the judges, AND the band. And by extension, the family, friends and loved ones of all of those people. Those guidelines and regulations were in place so that the show had a chance to go ahead at all this year. They were in place so that six more new and young country music hopefuls could have a chance that simply does not come their way through any other media outlet in Ireland. 


Everyone knew what was expected and needed from them at the beginning, and everyone agreed to it. 
Now, if you were to base your assessment of how well or otherwise this year’s series of Glór Tíre went from what you might have seen on social media at the time, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was nothing less than an unmitigated disaster, organised by amateurs, and unnecessarily and recklessly cruel to some contestants. And not only that, you’d possibly end up being fully convinced that the show achieved nothing other than bringing country music into disrepute while calling the future of the whole scene into question. 


The problem, of course, is that social media has become the best possible example of how the court of public opinion is so often formed on ignorance, and a few quick lines thoughtlessly thrown out into cyberspace with either no basis in reality or one that can usually be dismissed in well under a minute with a little careful examination. Simply put, a huge amount of the social media reaction to this year’s show was disgraceful nonsense. It served only to betray a lack of knowledge about the music industry in general, and – what’s worse in this case -a lack of any kind of genuine care about the country scene as a whole in particular.

 
Most of that negativity stemmed from the fact that two contestants had to withdraw from the show for breaching the Covid guidelines and regulations that were in place. According to some who felt so compelled to share their wisdom and insight, these guidelines and regulations should not have been enforced at all, and doing so only made a mockery of the show. Gimme a break. Two contestants broke the rules (whether accidentally, unintentionally, or unluckily), and had to withdraw, which was only right. But FOUR contestants did everything that was asked of them, from the beginning of their involvement on the show, to the end.  Now this point has nothing to do with who those contestants were, on one side or the other, because that doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. If, with circumstances such as they were, anyone broke the rules that were in place to protect EVERYONE, then the only right and fair thing to do was to leave the competition. 


However, to go by the reaction of some (and I mean some supporters of those contestants here, not the contestants themselves, let me be very clear about that), you’d swear that when the two withdrawals occurred, there was absolutely no point in continuing on with the show from that point. The show was slammed in various comments as being a sham, rigged, nothing but a money-maker, and having only useless singers left in it anyway. Pardon my language here, but… bullshit, all of it. 


If you think the rules of anything should only apply to whoever you care about, you’re deluded. If you think the best way of showing your support for someone is by throwing out insults in the direction of others, then you’re an asshole. If you seriously think that a show which has been a hugely valuable platform for new artists for so long should suddenly cease to exist just because your favourite contestant had to withdraw as a consequence of their own actions, then you’re a selfish, deluded asshole. 


And it’s not just for new artists that Glór Tíre has done some service, either. Don’t forget that each mentor gets to perform a full-televised show every year as well. That fact should not be forgotten so easily. Long, long before The Late Late Show began trying to paint itself as an altruistic endorser and supporter of Irish country music – which it isn’t – Glór Tíre was there. While Glór Tíre creates a space for new and emerging talent to begin to make a name for themselves and build a career, The Late Late Show has a view of country music that can only be described as willfully and woefully myopic. The future of the Irish country music scene depends far more on Glór Tíre than it does on The Late Late Show, just as much as the country music as it is today, owes far more to Glór Tíre than it does to The Late Late Show. 


Talk of the show being rigged, or a sham, or just a money-maker are each so equally preposterous as to warrant immediate dismissal rather than too much further time. But also, such ridiculous notions should never be just let slide. So…


Everybody knows the format of the show, and how the voting system works at the outset. It’s no secret. And nobody ever has a problem with it until…again…their favourite supposedly falls prey to something as sinister as…the obvious! Contestants who get the least votes run the risk of being in the bottom two, and having their fate then decided by the judges. If a contestant ends up in that position, that’s not the show’s fault, or the judges’ fault, or any of the other contestants’ fault. The system is the same for everyone, from start to finish. Now, I’m not for a minute saying that I’ve always agreed with every decision that the judges have made, because I most definitely have not. There have been occasions, including this year, when I’ve been left somewhat baffled. But, in those situations the judges are doing their job, and doing so as they best see fit. And that’s exactly what they’re there to do. And their opinions should be respected. Opinions will always differ, after all. That’s the nature of everything. 


Perhaps the most sickening – and stupid – comments that kept showing up in one form or another revolved around the aspersions cast on the ability of the singers involved this year. Just think about that for a moment. Everyone who vomited up such ill-thought-through opinions considered themselves to be better judges of talent than the actual mentors on the show, AND the people involved in the production of the show who go through this process every year. Imagine being able to strut through life with that level of blissful arrogance? Must be some feeling. And every time comments such as those were posted, even if they didn’t actually name any of the remaining contestants, imagine how that felt for the singers who remained in the competition. Because the contestants would have seen them and heard about them, don’t think they didn’t. So imagine how that felt. How it felt for their families. Just think about that for a moment or two…


They’d done nothing wrong. They were just doing something they love, chasing a dream in what is a really tough industry to ‘make it’ in anyway. And yet, they were being subjected to such shameless and unnecessary negativity. 


You can take it as fact that the people who were posting such comments did not – not even for a heartbeat – consider the feelings of anyone except themselves on those occasions. They were angry, they wanted to vent, so vent they did, just playing up to the online crowd by contributing their two-pence worth to a sewer of ramblings and ravings that never amounts to more than the manifestation of a ‘mob’ mentality in these situations. If they were in possession of even a shred of self-awareness, and for even half a heartbeat had thought about what they were writing and saying before finally publishing those comments, the sheer embarrassment of relaising that they were acting in such an entitled, childish, and – in some cases – just plain stupid way, would have been enough to make them delete every word as fast as possible. 


But something else that you can take as fact is that those people would never come out with such rubbish if they ever found themselves standing face to face with any of the people involved in Glór Tíre and whom their comments were directed at. Just wouldn’t happen. Cowards tend to become rather shy when they venture out into daylight. 


Being chosen to participate in Glór Tíre this year (as it is any year) was a brilliant achievement for all concerned. It should have led to a host of moments they could look back on proudly for the rest of their lives, regardless of where their careers do or don’t go following the show. And hopefully all six contestants will be able to look back on some moments that will always warm their hearts to remember. Unfortunately, however, everyone’s experience will have been tainted somewhat by some of the nonsense that polluted the comment sections on so many posts about the show.

One of the main reasons that seems to have allowed this to happen, is that a certain number of country ‘fans’ have come to take the existence of Glór Tíre in our lives, as part of the country music calendar, very much for granted. What a mistake, and what fools. 


Glór Tíre has offered so many artists the chance to perform to a national audience for the first time. And the chance to perform on television for the first time. And sometimes, to perform with the backing of a full, professional band for the first time, too. Opportunities like that are priceless in the development of any new or emerging artist’s career. And, as the show always sees some of the more established artists on the Irish country scene mentoring each year’s contestants, you have a coming together of different generations, with some of those who have already been stars forever and some of those who are the stars of today, meeting and sharing their hard-won wisdom and experience with the potential stars of tomorrow. 


THAT is what Glór Tíre makes happen every year. THAT is what Glór Tíre does for Irish country music every year. 


And none of us should be taking it for granted. It deserves better. 


Long live Glór Tíre. 

ENDS

Sorcha Fahy, Sofia Stanley, Brí

First Published May 2021

SORCHA, SOFIA, AND BRÍ ARE THREE TO HEAR

Chances are that anyone who knows the music scene in the midlands will already be familiar with the name of SORCHA FAHY from various singer/songwriter nights. Well, the Tullamore native has now taken the next steps in further building her reputation at a national level too, with the release of her stunning debut single, No Sleep.

Sorcha first came to my attention, as she did many others, when she began showcasing her immaculately emotional interpretations of various songs via her social media platforms. These videos, usually as simple as a piano and vocal set-up, placed Sorcha’s vocal gift right at the centre of everything…and by everything, I mean the very heart of the listener.  

What I felt, others felt too. And following the strength of this online reaction, Sorcha began gigging her original material around Ireland, playing intimate sets supporting fellow musicians in venues like Whelans, the Grand Social, and The Vintage Rooms. Sorcha supported JJ Hannon at his debut Irish show in the Academy, Dublin , and has also made appearances at the Canal Quarter Festival and Riverfest.

Released on April 9th last, Sorcha describes No Sleep as being about, “…finding yourself in a cycle of bad habits and struggling to pull yourself out of them. This all leads to a place of anxiety and panic when you don’t keep the promises you make to yourself, leaving you feeling like control over your life is slipping away from you.”

In the works for over a year, No Sleep was originally in Sorcha’s diary for a March 2020 studio session, but that ended up being postponed until July due to the health restrictions around Covid.

No Sleep was eventually recorded at Darklands Audio recording studio in Dublin with Dan Doherty. “Dan’s great at guiding you through the process whilst delivering your vision for the track”, confirms Sorcha. “As well as producing the track, he laid down the drums and bass, and Kaitlyn Cullen- Verhauz performed the stunning cello on the track. I provided keys and vocals.”

To double the impact of this spectacular debut, Sorcha has also recorded a video to accompany the No Sleep, filmed on location in Whelan’s Parlour Room, directed by Gerard Walsh, and shot by David Christopher Lynch. According to Sorcha, “The video represents a repetitive cycle of events in a surreal setting but also captures the real and intense emotions that accompany that. The gradual build in the song, the intensity of the shots, the turning bottle, all mirror the image of a life spinning out of control and one that’s a victim of its own decisions.”

Sorcha recently performed an acoustic version of No Sleep on the RTE Today Show with Maura and Daithi.

Sligo’s LISA STANLEY was born into showbiz with both her parents being household names in their own right, the legendary Maisie McDaniel and the gifted Fintan Stanley. That showbiz gene has seen Lisa shape a successful career of her own over the years, with her weekly appearances hosting her own show – The Lisa Stanley Show – on Spotlight TV making her a very well-known face with fans across Ireland, the U.K., and beyond.


Lisa has toured extensively with the likes of Nathan Carter, Dominic Kirwan and The Phil Mack Country Music Tours, building up a fan base wholly appreciative of her four studio albums.

And the Stanley star will be shining bright for a third generation too, with the news that Lisa’s daughter, SOFIA, at only seventeen, has released a brand new single. Describing herself as a “passionate pop artist”, Why? showcases Sofia’s strong and confident vocals which have been causing fans and commentators alike to sit up and pay attention. Birmingham based Sofia actually joined Lisa’s band as a backing-vocalist, and would even perform some of her own songs during Lisa’s shows.


Despite her youth, Why? displays a maturity that bodes well for what we can expect to hear from Sofia in the years to come. The track touches on the silver-linings that can occur even through some of life’s more unfortunate events. Why? was inspired by an uncomfortable, awkward day at work, with the result that Sofia ended up putting pen to paper in order to get those feelings out of her system, doing so in just three hours. The combination of Sofia’s powerhouse voice and the sincerity of her lyrics create something that listeners of all ages will be able to relate to.

Why? is the follow-up to Sofia’s previous releases, last year’s Angel, and 2019’s Sweet, Sweet Smile, with the track incorporating a wide variety of styles and sounds fusing elements of rock, electro-pop and even soulful R&B. While it took ‘one of those days’ in work to finally bring the song to life, Sofia definitely has the songwriter’s knack of threading experiences together in order to weave the story she wants to tell.

Sofia explained, “I was able to look back on some of my most embarrassing moments, ones that simply wouldn’t give my mind peace, and draw on them for the sake of the song. Moments like calling your teacher ‘mum’, or committing a photobomb, to getting someone’s name wrong and wanting the ground to swallow you whole.”

Sofia recorded and produced the song herself in her home studio last October, using Logic Pro X on her laptop and voice memos on her iPhone.  Sound-wise, Sofia reveals that the song was inspired by a wide variety of different artists, ranging from Julia Michaels, to Ariana Grande, and with even a little pinch of Shania Twain in there, too.  

“I think”, continues Sofia, “that for anyone who has ever spent long stretches of the night re-living any social faux-pas or mortifyingly clumsy incidents from their past, ‘Why?’ will surely resonate!”

According to Offaly indie-pop princess BRÍ, her latest single More Than is, “about craving more than the situation you currently find yourself in. It’s a place where passion and emptiness meet, the point where two conflicting paths overlap and where all that is cloudy becomes clear.”

Fans who have been following Brí’s career to date will already have enjoyed her debut single Low Supply, it’s follow-up Polite, and most recently, Burying. On the back of the success of those releases, Brí sold-out her own headliner show in Whelan’s, earned high praise from a multitude of blogs and at radio, and was selected to perform at Beatvyne’s MusicX Tech Experience. 2020, despite all of its obvious difficulties, saw Brí performance at the esteemed Whelan’s Ones to Watch, the Ruby Sessions, headline in the Sound House, the Spirit Store, and festival line-up announcements such as Vantastival. 

With More Than, Brí expressed a determination not to let the chaos of the past year hold her back. Speaking about the process of the project, Brí said, “My original plans for the visuals fell through due to travel restrictions. After a lot of waiting for restrictions to lift, I decided to direct my own music video and my friend Constance Vance stepped in as my photographer, videographer, and stylist. We discovered that she had talent to burn! The photos and video were shot at Charleville Castle, Tullamore.”

Bri continued, “In this music video, I long for more than my current situation as I struggle to sit with the spinning wheel which, for me, symbolises that ‘groundhog day’ feeling. Watching this video back reminded me that my passion for songwriting could never have been discovered if there wasn’t firstly a struggle. The very action of writing a song to express this was my answer to feeling the passion and excitement in my life that I was craving. I love the simplicity of that.”

As well as fashioning up those homemade visuals, the vocals on More Than were also somewhat of a DIY affair, recorded in Brí’s bedroom due to restrictions. “Darragh Nolan, of Asta Kalapa studios in Wexford, built magic around it as usual,” revealed Brí, adding, “and my friend Aidan Mulloy lent his electric guitar skills once again. He also makes his debut bass performance on this track.”

~ All three tracks – NO SLEEP from SORCHA FAHY; WHY?  by SOFIA STANLEY; and MORE THAN from BRÍ – are OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio. The official music videos for all three songs can also be enjoyed on YouTube (Search Sorcha Fahy Music, Sofia Stanley Music, and BRÍ respectively).

ENDS

A Christmas Catch-Up…

A Christmas Catch-Up…

First Published December 2020

As much as we’d love to, there isn’t always the time or the space to cover everything we’d like to in this column sometimes. But every now and then, along comes a week like this one, where a little gap in the normal schedule of things appears and presents us with the perfect chance to have a little catch-up…! 

Given the time of the year it is, we couldn’t but cast an eye in the direction of some festive favourites to begin with. And in doing so, we need look no further than one of Irish country’s greatest servants of song, the gentleman that is singer/songwriter JOHN HOGAN. John has just released his version of the old Christmas carol, the Little Drummer Boya  superb reworking of the Bing Crosby and David Bowieclassic. This festive number has been a big favourite of John’s since he was a young lad. And whatever age you might be yourself, dear reader, hearing John perform this classic – in the way that only John can – will leave your heart all a-swirl in the spirit of the season. What a gift, indeed. 

Following his recent appearance on the Today Show with Daithi and Maura on RTE 1,John is now looking forward to joining a host of artists on the HOT COUNTRY TV Christmas Special – An Irish Country Christmas – which will be aired worldwide on December 24th. John has also been busy writing new material and laying down tracks for this forthcoming new album, with part of that process including the shooting a video for his recent self-penned recent hit, The Old Dance Hall.

Speaking recently about that very release, John said, “I wrote this song some time ago, and looking at a non-existent entertainment scene over the last number of months, I felt the time was now right to release it. The song is all about the good old days when people flocked in huge numbers to the dances from far and wide. Being a lively number, I hope it lifts people’s spirit during these uncertain times and brings back great memories.”

Like many entertainers over the last number of months, John has missed the live entertainment scene. But to keep in touch with his many fans and followers, the Offalyman regularly uploads (to his Facebook page John Hogan Singer/Songwriter) acoustic videos of himself singing songs from his large catalogue of recordings, with the count of such performances standing at wellover 70 to date. And  needless to say, they’re going down a treat with his many fans all over the world, from places such as St. Lucia, UK, Canada, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Staying with the Christmas theme, here’s another lady who we’ll be bringing to the OTRT pages for a proper introduction sometime in 2021, the brilliant GRACE FOLEY from Kerry. As well as writing one of the best – and I think by far and away the funniest – letters of introduction that I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving, Grace is also a classical crossover singer with what is perhaps the rarest female voice type; a contralto. According to the lady herself, “This basically means I have a classical style of singing… but a dark edge!” Grace said she’s made her way through this challenging year with music as her guiding light, and I have a feeling that her presence in the lives of those who know her has been every bit as much of a guiding light, too. 

With luck on her side, Grace confessed to being, “Blessed to get my music videos for the year recorded the day they announced the school closures back in March. I quickly turned to online platforms like Facebook and Instagram for performances, and this really was so important as it allowed me to continue to reach my audience to keep singing.” She wrote the song Together Apart about the lockdown back in the spring, recording it in her wardrobe, which, not surprisingly, she described as being,“… a new experience!” One of Grace’s favourite experiences of the year was when she performed Songs of Hope and Healing in an empty St. Mary’s Cathedral Killarney, a performance which was broadcast via Parish-Cam and which was, according to Grace, “…the most beautiful experience.” Like John, Grace also performed on RTE’s Today Show with Daithi and Maura, live from her living room with her little dog for company! 

Grace was also granted Arts Council funding to write and record her own music earlier this year, heading for Balbriggan to record two songs in back in September, just before Dublin went into lockdown. One of those songs – Goodbye To Dublin – was a Christmas one, so Grace decided she would release a Christmas EP. That collection, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1 – which features her own song and four festive favourites – met the world for the first time on November 27th, with the video, which was funded by the Arts Council, recorded literally on the day the Dublin lockdown was announced. As Grace remarked,“Basically, I’ve been creating a lot and narrowly avoiding lockdowns all year!”

We can’t wait to catch up with her in 2021, but in the meantime, add some Kerry flavoured cheer to your Christmas by adding Grace’s EP, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1, to your collection. 

Next up is HUBERT MURRAY is a Galway-born, Tullamore based folk and roots musician, best known as front man of two genre bending old time bluegrass bands: the Hot Rock Pilgrims – who have mostly seen action in the UK – and Lands End, who will be a name well-known on the ‘live’ circuit here in Ireland. He has toured the length and breath of Ireland, the UK and Europe, playing some of the most prestigious venues and festivals out there along the way, such as the Cambridge Folk Festival, Isle of Wight Festival, The Royal Southbank Centre in London, and the Wilderness Festival, to name a few. His discography to date includes three EPs and one album. Hubert’s newest musical adventure saw him departing the familiar territory of old-time and bluegrass sounds, choosing instead to further develop his voice as a singer-songwriter. 

That adventure, entitled Heaven Cried and released back in mid-November,is a song for those who sway on the balance of life, lost, as Hubert points out, “…in a never ending search for meaning.” Heaven Cried is a metaphorical idea about a person trying to help those who are having a hard time, who perhaps feel lost, or whose heads are not in the right place. It’s a caring soul reaching out to someone in need, to someone being held captive by the infamous ‘black dog’. The song asks the listener to slow down their thoughts and remember a time when they felt peaceful, and to grasp that positive memory. “Peace of mind”, declares Hubert, “will happen, there is someone out there who will help, unconditionally. You must not lose hope.”

Interestingly, Heaven Cried was recorded on digital-tape at Hellfire Studios in the Dublin mountains, and featured some of Ireland’s crème-de- la-crème when it comes to musicians, including; Pat Daly on Violin (has also worked with Ham Sandwich, Fionn Regan), Robbie Walsh on bodhran (Daoiri Farrell Eleanor Shanley), folk musicians Paddy Kiernan on banjo and Niall Hughes on double bass (both of Navá). The song was produced by Tony Byrne (Julie Fowlis, Danú) and mastered by Josh Clark (Kate Rusby), with artwork created by Tullamore native Claire Guinan.

Meanwhile, HALLE KEARNS is an emerging artist quickly making a name for herself in country music over stateside. As a songwriter, Halle differentiates herself through her controversial storytelling, melodic sensibilities, and authenticity. As a performer, she has over three-hundred shows under her belt resulting in an undeniable ability to captivate her audiences, instantly connecting them to her passion for music. Despite only being in Nashville for a year so far, Halle has already had the opportunity to open up for legendary country acts such as Trace Adkins, David Nail, Eli Young Band, William Michael Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, and The Oak Ridge Boys, to name but a few.

By all accounts, Nashville has been a-buzz with this young ladies name since her debut release, Pick Me Up, back in July. That track was featured as Song of the Week on a number of stations, including Radio Disney Country and Country Hits Radio UK. Follow-up singles I Drink Whiskey and Shoes To Fill have certainly kept that buzz going, leading to a huge – and justified – sense of anticipation around her debut EP, Finally, the five-track collection which dropped on December 11th. We’re looking forward to catching up with Halle and introducing the lady herself to OTRT readers in the new year.

Also back in November UK pop-country duo, EMMA & JOLIE, announced the release of their sophomore single, Cry For You, on, of all days, Friday 13th! November 2020. But given the huge few months for the new duo had just had – with a performance at the C2C Festival’s Country Music Week under their belts, along with the release of their debut single – I Don’t Need A Man – that shot to the number one spot on the iTunes country chart, and number thirty-two all genre charts, plus a feature on Apple Music’s Today’s Country and Country Wide playlists – a little matter like superstition was hardly likely to slow their groove. This second single again saw the duo partner with long-time collaborator and producer Johnny Douglas, and was a Nashville co-write with Lena Stone, during the duo’s first trip to Music City, one that has proved to be a formative part of Emma and Jolie’s journey. 

The tune was one of the girls’ quickest writing sessions, taking only about an hour to get out this raw, emotional ballad that speaks universally to the healing process post-breakup. Of the track, Emma said “Everything we write about has always stemmed from personal situations we’ve both been in. This song comes from a place of pain we have both experienced. The two of us, and a lot of people we know have felt this way after breaking up with somebody, and so we just want to say that if this is you we see you and you’re not alone, you can’t always shut it off because it’s so difficult.” Jolie continued, “There’s also an element of frustration in the song, when you see your ex seemingly moving on no problem but you’re still finding it difficult to keep going. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that things can take a bit longer when you have a big heart and you love deeply. It’s okay to still cry for them.”

Cry For You very much shifts gears in production when compared to the anthemic, fun summer track that was their I Don’t Need A Man debut hit. This go -round producer Douglas has created an emotional, yearning sound complete with a strings section that puts the duo’s stunning harmonies at the forefront of the song. The duo – whose full-names are Emma Walker and Jolie Harvey – met back in 2015 at music college and have been singing together ever since. Influenced by the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift, the pair bring together a mix of storytelling and modern country with sensational harmonies. A universally heart-breaking track, Cry For You will quickly become a song you return to again and again. Expect even more and bigger things from Emma and Jolie in 2021! 

After recently receiving international acclaim with a number one on the Ignition Country Charts for previous single, Thinking About Last Night back in April, UK country star HAYLEY McKAY returned with another uptempo country-pop banger, Breathe, in November.

Written in lockdown in May, and co-written and produced with Newcastle based Hattie Murdoch over Zoom, the song features pulsating rhythmic guitar, flowing drums and big melody with slick production, and deep backing-vocals. Inspired as it was by the lockdown, Breathe is about being able to enjoy the smaller things in life and taking that all-important breather that we all need sometimes, and something that was very much needed in 2020.

Hayley is an accomplished and insightful songwriter with an incredible vocal range. Blessed with a distinctive all-round style, she can effortlessly leap from earthy and soulful raw emotion, to soaring and ethereal angelic tones, which, not surprisingly, have seen her likened to Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchel, LeAnn Rimes and Kate Bush. Over the last few years Hayley has been co-writing songs with award winning songwriters such as Nashville’s twice Grammy-nominated Jan Buckingham who has written for Whitney Houston amongst others, and Bill DiLuigi and Claire Hamill, who have written for Eva Cassidy and Wishbone Ash.

Hayley decided to release Breathe after the great international response to her previous single, the aforementioned Thinking About Last Night, which garnered radio support in Ireland and the UK, and was voted in the Top 10 Valley FM Indie charts in Australia. That track also earned support via BBC Introducing, and saw Hayley named artist of the week on various international radio stations in the US and the UK, earning features with Country Line TV, BMCA and the ISSA (International Songwriters Association). 

With the big day itself now only hours away, there’s another few Offaly artists with releases that should be on everyone’s holiday playlists. For the traditionalists out there – for all of us really, given the kind of year that it’s been – the news that Clara woman NOREEN RABBETTE had recorded a very special version of one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, O Holy Night, brought not only excitement and expectation, but immeasurable levels of comfort as well. The Glór Tire finalist from 2019 – who hopefully has an album on its way to us next year – has what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful voices Ireland has ever produced. Whether her name eventually graces billboards around the world, or whether Noreen remains one of our best kept secrets just doesn’t matter. None of that changes the fact that her voice is golden, and will forever be so. And be assured if you haven’t already heard it for yourself, it makes her version of O Holy Night an epic moment. You could leave aside presents, trees, movies, turkey, nights-out…anything else that you might normally associate with the Yuletide season, and as long as you could hear Noreen – who, I should point out, is joined in a beautiful video for the song (filmed in Clara Church) by her brother Joe and her sister Claire – sing O Holy Night…you would still have Christmas in your heart, and all the Christmas feels. 

Another Offaly family who you need to check out at some stage over this festive season are the fabulous ROSNEYS! Headed up by my good friend Stephen Rosney – who also fronts the Irish/Americana outfit The Back Axles – the Rosneys have released an original from Stephen himself, entitled Come On Santa. And whereas Noreen’s wonderful rendition of O Holy Night slows the world to a standstill and is deeply reflective, Come On Santa really lets the reins off Santa’s reindeers and cranks the Christmas cheer right the way up to eleven in the most joyously playful expression of the kind of fun that Christmas should always be. Stephen is majestically assisted on this track – as indeed he is on his current single, Something We Can Work On – by his wonderful wife Helen, and the couple’s three children, Mark, Luke, and Jade. Rosneys…take a bow, one and all, and may there be many encores like this in the years to come! 

And last, by no means least, a long-player that should be on every music fan’s Christmas wish-list, This Kinda Love, from the brilliant SIMON CASEY. It’s not a Christmas album, but it’s clearly been a labour of love for Simon, and it’s definitely a collection that is – as the title suggests – full of heart. Featuring a title-track written by Simon himself, and which was recently play-listed by RTE Radio 1 and has been receiving extensive air-time all around the country, This Kinda Love sees Simon turn in what might well be his most accomplished vocal performances ever. At this stage in his career, Simon, with nothing to prove to anyone when it comes to his talent, and fast approaching the horizon beyond which lies the title of ‘national treasure’, is simply a joy to listen to, no matter what he’s singing. But as it happens, this collection is filled with songs you’ll simply adore him singing. From the magic of the Extreme chart-topper More Than Words, where Simon is joined by his Take It To The Limit bandmate, Johnny Brady, to the Lady A crossover-classic, Need You Now, where a delicately stripped back version of the song sees Simon and Irish country star Cliona Hagan ramp things up to an emotional high that even the American super-group couldn’t match, to the achingly beautiful Elliott Park and Walt Aldridge penned, I Loved Her First…every song is a gift in itself. Perfect for right about now really! 

ENDS