Some might believe that having a famous parent in the entertainment business is one of the easiest routes ‘in’ that there could possibly be. Just start showing up, say your name, and hey presto, everybody loves you from the get-go and just like that, you’re a star, too! The reality, however, as anyone who’s actually in the business will tell you, and especially if they happen to be the son or daughter of a famous mother or father, is quite different indeed. A famous parent can be a help, but after that, you’ve got to put the work in just like everybody else. You’ve got to have the desire, have the will, have the work-ethic, and of course, have the talent, too.
One young man who has all of those qualities, as well as the famous dad, is Barry Kirwan, son of the one and only Dominic. And while he’ll always be his father’s son, equally so, Barry will always be his own man, too.
I had the pleasure of sitting down for a few coffees and a chat with Barry lately, and with his new single all over the airwaves, that was where we kicked things off. The song’s title alone has certainly got people talking, and if they’re honest, singing along! Barry shared the story behind ‘She Only Loves Me For My Willie’…..!
“I’ll tell ya, where I came across that song first was when I lived in Nashville for three months back in 2010. I was livin’ on Joey and Rory’s farm with my brother, Colm, and Joey and Rory asked me to do a few gigs with them. So I started learnin’ their set and and this was one of the songs that Rory sang in that set. So that’s where I first heard it. I know Paul Overstreet [one of the song’s co-writers] had recorded it too, but I’d never heard of it until we did it for these gigs. And then the reason it popped back into my head was because there at Christmas time Kacy Musgraves did a Christmas album and there’s a song on it that’s a kind of play on words about Willie Nelson [‘A Willie Nice Christmas’] as well, and Willie Nelson is actually on the track with her. I was just out driving in the car when I heard it and it just made me think, God, that Willie Nelson song that Rory sang, I haven’t listened to it in a while, ya know. So I went home, and I had all of their demo stuff that they had sent me to learn for their gigs, and I found that song. I listened to it and I thought, ya know what, this could go down well in Ireland. I mean, I did play with the idea in my head for a few days, and I asked my Dad what he thought, and did he think the radio station would even play it at all, and all of that kind of thing. So, yeah, in the end, I just thought it would be a good catchy song to get out there.”
How did the connection with Joey and Rory come about?
“Well my Dad was managed by a guy called Robert Pratt, who was Don Williams’ manager, he’s Scottish, from Glasgow. And he had an office out in Nashville. So me and Colm were both working with Dad at the time, and Colm had been out in Nashville doin’ some songwriting and stuff. He was friendly with a girl called Brittney Allen, who was George Jones’ backing singer. She got Colm a few writing appointments and things, and Robert knew that Colm wanted to do the singer/songwriter thing. Joey and Rory had just come third in the duet competition called ‘Can You Duet?’, on CMT, and their first song, ‘Cheater, Cheater’, I think it was, went into the Top 10. They were looking to branch out and do some different things, so Robert caught onto them. He decided to do a songwriting tour for Colm, a kind of showcase, like an in-the-round, and he decide to take Joey and Rory on the tour as well. And there was another husband and wife duo also, Steve McClintock and Cathy McClintock, and there was a girl called Julie Forester as well. So everyone did that tour and that was really how we got to know Joey and Rory. They came over here as well and did a show in Glasgow, and four in the north of Ireland.”
To me, as a fan, Joey and Rory always seemed like the most adorable, sincerely sweet, and loving couple, and the most genuinely lovely people. Barry confirmed that they were exactly that.
“They were, they were such lovely people. They welcomed me and Colm into their house, and I stayed for three months, Colm for six before he moved closer in to Nashville. They lived about forty minutes outside of Nashville, place called Pottsville, pretty much a ranch. Me and Colm were living in an apartment which was built above a barn, and that’s all since been turned into a theatre for when Joey and Rory did their tv show which they recorded there at the house.”
Again, I know for me, as just a fan, it was heartbreaking watching Joey get sick again and everything that followed. For Barry, who actually know Joey and Rory, it must have been a really tough time?
“We were hearing news firsthand from Colm, because he was stayin’ very much in contact with them. I wrote Rory a few emails too, and in fairness, he did write back to most of them. But aye, it was a hard time. We were like everybody else in the world reading Rory’s blog. Yeah, the fact that we knew them, and knew them very well, it was tough reading.”
Aside from his new single, the other big news involving Barry lately was the fact that his contestant on this year’s Glor Tire [country music talent show in Ireland], Lauren McCrory, emerged victorious, winning the competition.
“I’d met Lauren, probably about two years ago, when I was doin’ a Hugo Duncan outdoor broadcast and Lauren was on it, too. I think it was in Omagh. I heard her singing that day, so I knew she could sing! Glor Tire contacted me then about doin’ the show, and they said they’d send me the audition videos and I was to just pick from those. I think there was about sixty of them to go through. So I saw Lauren in there, and even though I already knew she could sing anyway, her audition video really stood out from all the rest as far as I was concerned. So that was it with Lauren. We recorded my show with her in November [each mentor records a full show with their contestant], and we didn’t really do anything else until the show actually aired for the first time in January. Once it started to air Lauren kept coming out to my gigs and getting up to sing, handing out her flyers, and stuff like that, just getting to meet people. And that was what we did as much as possible.”
Around the same time Barry began mentoring Lauren on Glor Tire, he was also nominated for the Best Newcomer Award at last year’s RTE Irish Country Music Awards. I wondered if Barry thought that may have confused some people, the fact that, on the one hand, he was being heralded as a mentor, but on the other hand, he himself was being seen as a ‘newcomer’?
“Well a lot of people always have a lot of things to say! [laughs]. And I did hear about some people asking how I could be a mentor when I was only just on the scene myself, and that kind of thing. But look, I didn’t care. I’d been on the scene for a long, long time. Some people think I’ve just come out of the blue, but I haven’t. I’ve been sittin’ behind a drum-kit and backing, probably at some stage, nearly every artist who’s on the scene. I mightn’t have been in their full-time bands, but I would have backed them at different concerts along the way. So I’d seen a lot of people work. And I think I had what it took to be a mentor. And we won, so maybe I did [laughs].”
I wondered if the urge to be out front, and in the spotlight, so to speak, was always something that was in Barry?
“It was, it was always there. Because even at a younger age I was involved in musicals, I was part of the drama group, took part in Feis Ceoils. I was an Irish dancer from the age of five. So I’ve always been on stage, and yeah, it’s always been in me. I always wanted to be a singer, but I was always attracted to the drums as well. It just so happened that I was offered a drumming gig and that’s the way it went. It’s not that I got stuck behind a drum-kit for ten years. It was a very good life, I got paid well for it. So when I took the decision to go out front [to sing], it wasn’t an easy one. I was working with Derek Ryan and had been for four and a half years, and was makin’ a very good livin’, and really enjoyin’ workin’ with Derek. I made great friends while doin’ that. And Sean Corr, my manager, still works with Derek, as his lighting man. So yeah, it was always somethin’ I wanted to do. My Dad said to me that if I wanted to do it, to be a singer, it was an opportunity he could give me by letting me go out as his support act and seeing how I felt on stage, and with the audience. I could do that and see what I thought and then take it from there. So I had to make a decision about leaving Derek. But I’m glad I did it.”
Could he remember the actual moment when he knew he had finally made that decision?
“I think it was the day I actually had to tell Derek that I was leaving. It was October, and I told him I’d be leavin’ the followin’ February. In fairness, he was dead-on about it. He backed it and said look, you’ve got to do what you want to do. So Once I got it out of my mouth that I was leaving, that’s where it became real! [laughs]. We did two nights at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh, and those were my last two nights working with Derek. That last night now, it actually really did hit me. I was thinkin’, God, Derek will be workin’ on Friday night and I won’t be there! It really did hit me hard then. It was scary in a way. I mean, what a lot of people don’t realise is to put a band on the road costs a lot of money. Which can all be eaten up pretty fast! That kind of thing was the scary part. Because when you’re a drummer, you turn up at a gig, you set up your kit, you play. You might do that for three, four nights a week, then you get handed your wages on a Sunday. That’s all you have to think about. Whereas now, the thought of having to pay five or six guys, and a band, get a manager, and you have to have meetings every so often to make sure you’re getting gigs… I mean, all that kinda stuff is what people don’t think about. Since June 2016 I’ve had a band together. Some members have come in and gone out in that time, but right now I have a five-piece band out there on the road.”
Barry had mentioned that his manager, Sean, still worked with Derek. But how important is it to have a manager, and to have a strong relationship with them?
“I think it’s very important. He’s the guy that does the talkin’ for ya, really. He’s a vital cog in the whole thing. So I think you definitely have to have a good relationship with him because if you don’t, you probably wouldn’t get anywhere. The fact that I was very friendly with Sean meant we always talked very regularly and we’re still very friendlym which is a good sign, I suppose [laughs[, and that does help. I’ve known him for the whole time I was with Derek, that’s where our relationship would have started. I would have toured around with Derek’s road crew mostly, especially in England, I was always in the band with them. This is Sean’s first time managing someone too, but it’s the same kinda thing as with me. We talked a lot when we were on the road with Derek, and Sean always had aspirations to be a manager. So it all kinda clicked in together well.”
Without a doubt, Barry is very much his own man, and even if we were to leave aside for a moment his solo career which is still in its early days, he has a career as a drummer which anyone would be more than proud to look back on. There’s no getting away from one fact, however, nor should there be. Because it’s also something to be proud of. We’d mentioned him momentarily at different times during our chat, but how important a figure in his career has Barry’s dad, the great Dominic Kirwan, been?
“Well I was a rock drummer [first], I went to London to study music, at what was then called Drum Tech but it’s now BIMM, and it was all pretty much rock music. Dad was the one who gave me a break. I know it’s a very hard scene to get into, so I might have had it slightly easier because my dad was Dominic Kirwan. I had to learn how to drum country music. Even though I was a country music fan, I’d never really had to drum it. People might think it’s a very easy genre to drum, but it’s not. You have to have a certain feel for it. Especially for dances, because it’s all about the tempo. That was a major learning curve for me, for the first year on the road with dad. But he’s always been behind me, thankfully. And when I decided to go out on the road, I was his support act for four months around Ireland and the U.K. Every night he watched me perform, and every night he would have had somethin’ to tell me at the end. Like maybe don’t talk as long between those songs, but take a bit longer between those other two. And movement. Because of being a drummer, it’s very hard to come out from behind a kit and know what to do with your hands! [laughs]. So I had a problem with my left hand for a while there, it was just there doin’ nothin! Dad picked up on that, and pretty much stage presence generally. He’d critique me every night. I thought that movement on stage would come naturally enough. But it didn’t [laughs]. I don’t know if it was like a fear factor thing, or a nerves thing. I remember we were doin’ Newtownabbey for my first two nights as a front man, and I’d say I was probably the most boring person to watch. I think I was just like a statue on the stage, just standing there. But the more you do it, the more the nerves relax, and the more the body relaxes. And with Dad giving me the wee pointers every night, just gradually over the four months it became more natural. But there’s definitely a lot to learn. Talkin’ to an audience is a craft in itself, never mind singing to them. You have to make sure you don’t bore them, and that you keep them with you.”
Barry’s new single, ‘She Only Loves Me For My Willie’, is available now to download and to request from all country radio stations.
For all the latest info on Barry, check out his official website, barrykirwanmusic.com
His contribution to the Irish music scene has been recognised by his inclusion in the entertainment industry directory, the Hot Press Yearbook 2017, which is the essential music and media who's-who in Ireland. Anthony was also asked to present John Farry (Nathan Carter's manager) with his award for Best Original Album at the 2017 Hot Country Awards and in 2015 presented Lisa McHugh with her Female Entertainer of the Year award.
In his role with HEM Country, Anthony has interviewed many artists who are well known names on the international stage, among them Clare Bowen, Imelda May, and Una Healy, as well as rising stars like Courtney Marie Andrews. Anthony's features for HEM Country have also helped to shine a spotlight on many of the best Irish country acts like Robert Mizzell, Cliona Hagan, Barry Kirwan, Bernie Heaney, and Hurricane Highway, bringing their talent and achievements to an even wider audience.
During his time writing 'On The Right TRAX', Anthony has interviewed most of the biggest stars on the Irish country scene, including Mike Denver, Nathan Carter, Lisa McHugh, Philomena Begley, Sandy Kelly, and Derek Ryan. He has also chatted with international artists such as Sunny Sweeney, Jim Rooney, Max T. Barnes, the late George Hamilton IV, and Tony Christie.
Anthony's sphere of influence extends well past the boundaries of country music, however, with time spent in conversation with international popstar Kiesza also to his credit. He has also shared time with several other artists from the Emerald Isle whose fame reaches beyond those shores, including Mundy, The Fureys, Frances Black, Pete Kennedy, Rackhouse Pilfer, The 4 of Us, Roisin O, Ham Sandwich and Mick Flannery.
As a writer, lyricist, and poet himself, however, songwriters have a very special place in Anthony's heart and some of his favourite interviews (together with the songwriters already mentioned) include those with Jimmy McCarthy, Johnny McEvoy, Charlie McGettigan, Kieran Goss, and Niall Toner.
Other household names whom Anthony has interviewed for 'On The Right TRAX' are the famous comedians Tommy Tiernan, Des Bishop, Neil Delamere, Jason Byrne, Andrew Maxwell, and Brendan Grace, as well as celebrity chef Rachel Allen, and television presenter Kathryn Thomas.
Anthony also does some artist representation and PR work, and has successfully secured national television and radio appearances for Irish and American artists.