Sometimes, when an artist brings out a new album, you’ll hear them refer to it as the album that they ‘always wanted to make.’ And sometimes, they’ll actually mean that, too, because it’s only logical that an artist should get better, or refine if you like, what they do and how they present themselves to the public as their careers progress. But sometimes, that whole, ‘It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make’ line, is just that, a line.Something to say. As far as Simon Casey and his latest collection, ‘The Third Dance’, goes, that line is no-where in the script. It doesn’t need to be. Because the passion with which every word is infused when the Ballycumber man speaks about this album is evidence enough that this is a seminal moment as far as his recording career is concerned.
Make no mistake about it, Simon has long since taken his rightful place among the ranks of Ireland’s most instantly recognizable and best-loved voices. And not just of this generation, either, but of the last fifty years or more. And by an easy stretch at that. With the release of this brand new album, ‘The Third Dance’, however, the first page on a chapter of career-defining significance has definitely been turned.
Named in honour of his latest single, the achingly tender and touching true story, ‘The Third Dance From The End’ (from the gilded pen of songwriter Noel O’ Farrell), this collection of songs is by far and away the most accurate reflection yet of Simon Casey as an artist. In fact, the passage of time will surely come to show this album as being the milestone moment which finally marked, in the greater musical consciousness of the nation, Casey’s transition from that of the consummate, professional entertainer, to that of a recording artist who has surveyed the lay of the land in front of him, before confidently charting his own course to the destination of his choice. I caught up with Simon last week to have a chat about both the album and the single.
“Well ‘The Third Dance From The End’ was written by a local man, Noel O’ Farrell, from Mullingar. Everyone would probably know Noel from Midlands 103 where he presents The Saturday Mix. I remember listening to the song one day when we were both out on The Stars In The Sun show (for more details on next year’s tour, check out www.travelescapes.ie) over in Spain. Now, every time I hear a good song the ears prick up, ya know? I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. After hearing the first verse and chorus of ‘The Third Dance From The End’ I just had to say to him, Noel, look, this is a song I’ve just got to record. And he was delighted to give it to me, thank God. It’s a very personal song to Noel because it’s about his friend’s dad whose wife had very recently passed away. And I suppose Noel had asked that question that can always be a bit awkward at times like that: How are ya doin’? And the answer he got was, ‘Not that well, but I have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve got so many years of happy memories. And the truth is, I never would have been with my wife only for she asked me to dance at the third dance from the end.’ Now a lot of people these days mightn’t know it, but years ago the third dance from the end at the dances was the ladies choice, when a woman could ask a man to dance and not just the other way round. So his wife asked this man to dance, and the rest became history. The song was inspired by what was really a true love story. And even though part of it was a broken-hearted man, the song has turned out to mean so much to so many people. And that’s why it’s been a privilege for me to record it. And it’s been getting such a huge reaction all over the place – especially since I put the video up on Facebook – from all over the world, it’s been amazing. I’ve had loads of people telling me that it could be their story. So it’s definitely after pulling on a lot of heartstrings, and I think touching people in a very positive way, too, despite the sadness at the heart of it.”
‘The Third Dance’, definitely has a very strong country vibe about it, in comparison to past releases…
“There is, there’s a big country vibe goin’ through it alright, cos’ country’s been what I’ve always loved. I suppose if you look back over the years, even to the You’re A Star (talent contest in Ireland on which Simon first shot to fame) days which is coming up on fifteen years ago now, but even then my very first song was Randy Van Warmer’s ‘Just When I Needed You Most’, and nobody had heard that song in ages. But it did the business for me [laughs], got me into the auditions! Then my biggest weeks would have been when I did ‘Desperado’ and ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ later. I’ve always loved American country, so a lot of the songs on this album are one I would always have loved. Like the Randy Newman song, ‘Feels Like Home’, which was a big radio hit for me about six years ago, but hasn’t been on an album before this. ‘Another Day Gone’, from Hal Ketchum, was another big one on radio for me. And one of the more recent ones is Alan Jackson’s ‘As She’s Walking Away’, with Ray Lynam. So I think, and hope, there’s something on there that will appeal to nearly everyone. I’ve also recorded Vince Gill’s ‘Go Rest High On That Mountain’, which I think is a very, very special song.”
Is there a song, or songs, on that album that Simon thinks might surprise people?
“Yeah, I think so. It’s a song that I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. My mother bought it for me as a single, I think, when I was about ten, another one by Randy Van Warmer, called ‘Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes’, and I just thought it was one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And I still think that. So I’ve recorded that one as well. It’s a song Randy wrote about his dad and never getting to say goodbye to him. There’s a beautiful sentiment in the song. And again, it’s another one that when I sing it at something like a remembrance service, the song is massive. People were always coming up to me afterwards asking where could they get it, so it’s one that I’ve always been meaning to record as well.”
And not only is the vibe of the album very much country, but it strikes me as a collection of particularly emotional songs, too.
“Absolutely. If you look at them all, I think there’s great meaning in these songs. ‘Feels Like Home’, ‘Simple Love’, ya know, songs that are what life’s all about. At the end of the day, life comes down to your family, your friends, and being happy. Then songs like ‘Go Rest High On That Mountain’, and ‘Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes’, ‘Living Prayer’, and ‘Someone Else’s Star’, the Bryan White song, there’s emotion at every turn nearly! But at the same time, things are nicely balanced because you have songs like ‘Hey Soul Sister’, ‘Something About You Baby I Like’, and ‘You Never Can Tell’, songs that have that ‘lift’ to them that life needs, too. Making people want to well up is all grand as long as you give them reasons to smile and laugh, too, ya know [laughs]. But yeah, certainly overall, there’s definitely a lot of emotion on this album. Emotion, fun, and a cool, country vibe the whole way through.”
So where can fans find Simon over the coming weeks, and hopefully get to enjoy hearing some of the new album in a ‘live’ setting?
“Well I’m really looking forward to a show that’s coming up in Ballymore on December 14th, because I’m headlining a major concert there and it’s going to be an absolutely beautiful Christmas show. And that’s exactly what I love. As a performer, it shows like this one [will be] that I live for. I’m also doing a very special concert the week before that in Athlone where I’m guesting with the Army Band of the 2nd Brigade. So again, that’s going to be different, with such a big band, ya know. So I’m really looking forward to those shows. And since ‘The Third Dance From The End’ came out loads of different radio stations have been reaching out to me as well. So I’ll be doing A Night With The Stars with Shannonside Northernsound, and then one with Highland Radio up in Donegal, and another down in Killarney. I’ll be all over the place [laughs]. But I have to say, I do feel a little bit blessed at the moment, to be honest, with all the attention the single has been getting. It’s definitely a song that I know I’ll sing, and love singing, for the rest of my life. No matter what.”
So this will hardly be the last time Simon will work with Noel, then?
“Noel has written some amazing songs, he really has. And ya know, a local guy, from Mullingar, but what a talent. And he’s actually written a few more for me, but I’m not going to say too much about them at the minute. But they’re definitely songs that I’ll be recording for another project, probably in the next year or so. I have a lovely Irish ballads album nearly finished as well, and that’s something I’d love to tour with as well when the time comes. I grew up listening to country and listening to folk, so it’s kinda hard for me to say I’m just one and not the other. I think I’m both.”
And speaking of touring, what does 2018 hold in store? Will Simon be taking ‘The Third Dance’ on the road?
“Yeah, the hope is that we’ll do that. By tour, I mean a mini-tour, something like little theatre shows because that’s something I wouldn’t have done since the You’re A Star days either. But it’s something I think I’d feel very at home doing. I did the Reeling In The Sixties tour a few years ago with Ronan Collins and the Swarbriggs, and that really sparked the idea of theatres. Theatres are a completely different kind of show. You have everybody almost in your face, but I love that. I love it. And I think some of the songs on ‘The Third Dance’ would lend themselves beautifully to those environments too.”
We couldn’t end our chat without mentioning Simon’s long-time musical partner, Paul Skelton, who has found the spotlight turned on him recently as his own new album, ‘Goosebumps’, topped the dance charts both here in Ireland and in the U.K.
“Look, Paul is just a great guy, and he’s been gigging with me for years. I’ve been giving him advice – I’m not tryin’ to take the credit now [laughs], cos’ everyone’s been giving him advice -, but I said to him you’ve got to just get out there and actually do an album. Show the world how good you are. I think everything happens for a reason, and in its own time. Paul’s been like us all, wonderin’ when is the right time to do something, ya know. But listen, the success he’s had over the last number of months has been incredible, and not before time. And it couldn’t be happening for a nicer guy. ‘Goosebumps’ is well-titled, I’ll tell ya, because that’s what it gives you. He’s an amazing talent and there’s no-one happier than me to see it happening for him.”
I couldn’t agree more with Simon where Paul is concerned, and it’s true to say that there’s more than a few people who would also describe Simon himself as an amazing talent, and rightly so as well.
There are songs on ‘The Third Dance’ with such genuine depth of emotion that you can feel every word soar from Simon’s own heart to yours, every line delivered with the grace of a man who has mastered his craft. But there are also songs that celebrate the joy of simply being alive. There are songs that remind us how music offers shelter to the soul when storms rage, and songs to become the soundtrack to hours of love and laughter spent in the company of the ones who matter most to us. In every track, from the opening ‘I Own The Road’ to the album closer ‘If You Don’t By Now’, this album reveals shades of Simon Casey the man, and the artist, as a father, husband, son, and friend. And as ever, of course, as a showman.
This isn’t just a new album for Simon Casey. It’s a whole new chapter, because ‘The Third Dance’ is his most intimate body of work ever.
It’s out now. And it’s already a first-rate classic.