I TALK TO NIAMH LYNN ON MEETING EMMYLOU, MELTING IN THE FRENCH SUN, AND LOOKING FORWARD TO AN IRISH HARVEST TIME!
With this year’s Harvest Country Music Festival drawing nearer by the day, one of the Irish stars who’ll be joining headline acts Nathan Carter and Miranda Lambert in entertaining fans in Westport and Enniskillen come the weekend of August 26th and 27th, recently melted the hearts of 30,000 country fans in France. As well as her own toenails for good measure!
Over the past couple of years Dublin-born songstress Niamh Lynn has been wooing fans the length and breath of Ireland with her traditional style of country, calling to mind for many a style that might best be described as old-fashioned. But old-fashioned in the best possible way. We’re talking a Patsy Cline kind of old-fashioned. And I’ll take that any day of the year. Of any year, in fact. Niamh’s debut album is the immensely enjoyable ‘An Old Fashioned Song’, and it was many of the tracks from this collection which Naimh and her band performed at the Rendez-vous Festival, where none other than Emmylou Harris herself also took to the stage.
Needless to say, when Niamh and I sat down for a chat last week, the memory was still quite vivid in her mind’s eye….
“I’m still buzzin’ from it, Anthony, it was absolutely amazing. There’s no words to describe it. From start to finish, from the moment I got there, the festival looked after me so well. We got in on the Friday, then on the Saturday went down and did our soundcheck at the venue, then had another little rehearsal in the dressing room, and went on-stage at 6 o’ clock. And the heat! I can’t tell ya the heat! Oh my God. The nail varnish on my toenails actually melted! Swear to God, it was just so warm. Where I was, it was like a suntrap because it was just a big black stage, ya know, and then at that time of the day and where the sun happened to be and everything. The heat was stifling. Even one of the lads was burning his fingers from his guitar, it was getting that warm, crazy. But we soldiered on [laughs]. And the reaction I got from the crowd was unbelievable, there was 30,000 people there, like. As soon as we started to play everybody started coming down towards the stage, and we had them with us for the full ninety minute set. We came off stage then and one of the promoters came up to us and said I needed to go with him, that there was a queue stretching around the corner waiting to meet me! And I was just like, ‘Me?!’ But it was fabulous. People wanted their hats signed, and they were buying albums, some girl even asked me to sign my name on her arm and said she’s going to get it tattooed on! Very bizarre! [laughs].”
How did Niamh come to be taking part in the first place?
“Well my manager, Declan Quinn, LCM Promotions, he’s been chatting with them [the festival organizers] for a couple of years. And when he finally put me forward for it, he sent over a couple of my videos and my album, and they took me straight way, that was basically it.”
Niamh is well used to performing in front of big crowds here in Ireland, with numerous festivals, big support slots, and award ceremony appearances behind her. But a crowd of 30,000 is definitely a whole new level for any artist to experience. I asked Niamh how she felt about it?
“Do you know what, I was coming up the ramp at the back of the stage to go on, and Declan was walking with me, and I said to him, ‘It’s grand, sure it’s just like Moynalty when I supported Nathan [Carter], it’ll be fine.’ Cos’ Nathan always has huge crowds, ya know. But I got up at the side of the stage, saw the crowd, and I was like woooah!! [laughs]. There’s video of me standing there, looking cool as a cucumber, but I was screaming inside, I can tell ya! But once you get out there, it’s grand. You just get on with it. I was just trying to make sure I was on the same page as the lads, and concentrate on things like that, and in that heat it was work! It was hard work, but at the same time we had a ball. I’d do it a million times over again. We had the crowd with us from the second song in, they all started coming down towards the stage, it was just unbelievable.”
And to crown a magical moment in her life and career, Niamh also got to spend some one-on-one time with one of the most famous country artists of all time, the wonderful Emmylou Harris.
“Yeah, I got to meet Emmylou afterwards, got a photograph with her, too. And there was security everywhere with her. I was in my dressing room, right, which was directly across from hers, and I got in after finishing my set to get my dress off, because of the heat it was soaking, ya know. And I heard Emmylou coming in. And as I said, before that, there was security all around her, you couldn’t get near her. So I said right, now’s my chance [laughs]. So I stuck my head out and I just asked her for a photograph! And we got talking, and she was asking me about my dress, and we got yapping away then. I was telling her about a song that I love her singing called ‘Goodbye’, which I heard about two years ago. And I was listening to it at the time because my grandmother was only after dying. And I never used to say goodbye to my nanny, I always used to say ‘I’ll see ya when I see ya.’ And I was telling her this, and why that song means so much to me, and she said she loved the song too and she was so sorry to hear about my grandmother. She was just so lovely. It happened so quickly, but I’d say I must have been talking to her for about five minutes. And nobody came near us. So it was just us talking about that song and the songwriter, and how she came to hear it, and then listened to it over and over again. So it might be one for my next album now, you’s never know.”
And Niamh won’t have too long to wait for another big career milestone to come along, because the Harvest Country Music Festival is so close now you can almost hear the bands beginning to tune up! Is Niamh excited about her upcoming trips to Westport and Enniskillen?
“Oh I can’t wait, because I’ll have the same band with me as I had in France and the lads are brilliant. I’m really looking forward to seeing them again. And Harvest Fest is gonna be huge, two days, Westport and Enniskillen. I’m in Westport first, on the Saturday, then Enniskillen on the Sunday. I think. But I could be wrong, I’m shocking with dates! [laughs]. So everybody check that! [laughs]. I think it’s a forty minute set, too, so it’s gonna be great fun. And we had a photo-shoot with the Irish Independent for it last week, so that should be out sometime soon, a nice glossy magazine, should be good.”
Asked if there was is any artist in particular whom Niamh was most looking forward to seeing, and maybe meeting as well, her response was instant and definite!
“Charley Pride!! Of course! [laughs]. The big one, for sure. And Mo Pitney, too, I’m looking forward to meeting him. There’s gonna be so many great artists there who I’m looking forward to seeing. I’ll be wanting photos with them all, I think [laughs].”
Now while Niamh has always known she could sing, and has always enjoyed sharing her gift with people, she hasn’t always been a country singer, per say. So what prompted her turn in this direction in the last year or so?
“I was in a variety group when I was about twelve, thirteen, until I was about fifteen, I think, and it was called the Joe Mack Group. We used to go around to hospitals and Nursing Homes and we’d all have our own act, and mine was Country Sounds with Niamh Phillips, that’s my maiden name. So that’s what I did, When I left that I came up with the idea of a gospel choir in school, we were called Saint Mary’s Angel’s Gospel Choir. And there was an end of school year mass coming up that we were asked to come in and sing at, and I said, yeah, but what if we do gospel instead, ya know, like something out of Sister Act 2, cos’ I loved Lauren Hill! [laughs]. So Brother John said to me, right so, well sing me a song. So I sang ‘Oh Happy Day’, and his eyes kinda went in spirals, and I think it set off some light-bulbs for him. He went off and he got a load of songs, and I ended up being in that choir for three years. We even ended up singing with Celine Dion, and on the Bibi Baskin Show (on Irish television), loads of things. And they’re actually known now as the Dublin Gospel Choir, and they’ve gone on to do great things. But I decided to leave them to join a band, a wedding band, because there was actually a good living to be made out of it, ya know. So I did that for a few years and then I went back to college. I wanted to study beauty because I loved anything kinda sparkly, make-up and stuff [laughs]. So I studied Beauty Therapy for a few years and then I worked in that industry for three years. After that I got married and had my kids. But then I said right, it’s time for music again, because I always wanted to go back to it. I was living in Cavan by then, and I’m still living there, and I could see how big the country scene was. So I started thinking maybe I could go back into country again, because that’s what I used to do in the Joe Mack Group. So that’s what I went back to doing, singing those old country songs that I love. There’s a niche there for it, I think, because nobody really does it anymore. And I think that was part of the reason for all of the attention I got in France, ya know, simply because nobody really sings those songs anymore. So I suppose you could say that I’ve just started up again where I left off once before.”
Niamh’s album is called ‘An Old Fashioned Song’, and I think that really sums up her love for traditional, ‘old-fashioned’ country, like Patsy Cline. What is it about that old-fashioned style of country that has always drawn Niamh to it?
“Well Patsy Cline, who you just mentioned, would be one of my favourite singers. And I think that’s where I get the tone of my voice. I’ve always loved singing her songs, and I’ve always felt comfortable singing those type of songs, too. They seem to suit my range and my tone. I don’t think it’s really a choice, to be honest. It’s more that country chose me, rather than me choosing country, if that makes sense?! [laughs].”
Niamh had mentioned her manager, Declan Quinn, earlier in our chat, and one of my favourite tracks on ‘An Old Fashioned Song’ is ‘I’m Missing You’, written by Declan. How important has Declan been in Niamh’s career?
“Oh listen…he’s the one who’s got me to where I am now, and in the direction I’m going in. I never knew which way to go myself. Just by chance I sent him my demos and they were country ones. He got onto me straight away and we set up a meeting where he said look, you need to get an image, you need to get a video, and you need to get a good song. And he asked me if I had any in mind. So I said yeah, and mentioned ‘An Old-Fashioned Song’, and he was like, yeah, good song! So he told me what I needed to do, and I went off and did it. So Declan knows I can come up with good ideas, with my image, and for the type of videos I want, ya know. Declan, to put it simply, has been a massive help to me.”
So Niamh is pretty hands-on with most aspects of her career then?
“Oh Yeah, absolutely.”
It’s often remarked upon that it’s much harder for female artists on the country scene than their male counterparts. I wondered if that had been Niamh’s own experience too, or what were her thoughts on this?
“I honestly think that for any type of work that a woman goes into, it’s gonna be hard [to be successful], so you have to push. With the country scene, I don’t feel that I need to be a b*t*h, as such, not to anyone. I don’t see it that way. But I do think you have to work that little bit harder alright for people to notice you. But again, to be honest, I don’t even really think about in that sense, female artist or male artist. I just think that whoever you are, you just need to work hard to get on in what you do.”
Before the year ends Niamh hopes to make it to Nashville, where she’ll be turning her attention to her songwriting.
“I’m in the middle of recording the first of my own songs now. I have loads of songs written, but I’ve never had the courage to do them before. And I don’t play an instrument so it’s harder as well. But there’s one particular song of my own that I’m in recording at the moment, and we’re back in there again working on that next week. So that’ll be my first self-penned song that I’ve recorded and am putting out there. With Nashville, we’ve been planning on going for the last few years but I kept saying no, I don’t want to go over there with nothing of my own to show. ‘An Old Fashioned Song’ is an album that gives people a first chance to hear me, see what I’m about and how I sound, but it’s not my own stuff. But my own stuff, when it’s out there, will be based on that old-time Nashville sound. That’s the way I want it to be, but with my own songs, ya know. So I want to go over there with something of my own done, because that’s what it’s all about in Nashville, songs and songwriters, and singer/songwriters. You can’t be going over there with covers! I’m pretty sure that would be frowned upon! [laughs]. So yeah, that’s the plan with Nashville. Please God, once I have everything in place, and I’m comfortable with what I have, we’ll be all guns blazing to get over there.”
And when might fans be able to expect a second album from Niamh, featuring some of her own songs this time?
“God, I don’t know. But I’m thinking next summer. Because I’m taking my time with it. I don’t want to be just throwing something out there, I want it to be good. I mean I could just get a few more covers, and write a couple, and throw them all in together, but I don’t want to do it that way. I want to do it right. And I tend to not look at what everyone else is doing, to be honest with ya. I go at my own pace, and do what feels right for me. You need to be committed to these things for them to work, and what I have at the moment is working nicely for me. People are getting to know me at a steady pace. I’m not throwing myself into a band here, then a band there, I’ve got a great band behind me. So I’m going to take it from here and take my time.”
* Niamh Lynn performs at the Harvest Country Music Festival in Westport [on Sunday!] and Enniskillen on August 26th and 27th. For more information on this event, go to aikenpromotions.com
** For more information on Niamh, check out her website, niamhlynn.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.
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