Image : Pookadubh [Used with permission]
pop/folk artist Ailie on the soundtrack to her life
What was the first album/single that you ever bought?
I’m not 100%, but I’d say it was Green Day, Pearl Jam, or Nirvana. When I started buying albums, myself and my friends were die-hard pop-punk and grunge enthusiasts. We used to listen to everything together in each other’s houses and share our albums around. I remember buying ‘Dookie’ by Green Day, ‘Vitalogy’ by Pearl Jam, and ‘Bleach’ by Nirvana. That would have been.. late 90s.
Oh, and the Romeo & Juliet and Empire Records soundtracks were big hits for us too.
I didn’t buy singles much.. but I definitely remember having ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion (from Titanic), because everyone within a 10-mile radius was learning the piano part. You’d hear it wafting out of the windows of Leitrim as you passed by.
What is your earliest musical memory?
A consistent one is my father playing the piano at lunchtime when we came home from school. He used to play waltzes, ragtime, songs from musicals, a bit of Turlough O’Carolan.. The kitchen radio was usually on as well, at the same time, so, it was a bit of a cacophony.
I also remember locking myself in the toilet now and again to protest at having to go to piano lessons. I’m a bit mortified about that now. There was a loose floorboard in there that I used to jump up and down on, to really hammer my point home.
Is there a particular song/band/singer that made you want to be a musician?
I remember there was a covers band in Carrick on Shannon when I was in my early teens called El Niño, and they used to play things like Skunk Anansie, Pixies, Talking Heads, and lots of alternative 80s and 90s stuff. I was in a covers band at the time too, but it was always great to hear the variety of songs that band would come up with. I loved being part of that.
I took up classical guitar after that – I was around 17 – and that was when I first connected being a musician with having a viable and powerful emotional outlet. I had a brilliant teacher, John Drummond, who was also a double bass player and producer. The experience of learning from him helped my confidence a lot. I loved the challenge of mastering techniques at home and then having the freedom to play them privately during the lessons, without any pressure to perform in public.
I was lucky to have been shown the hands-on, singer-songwriter ropes then after that – by my musician-cousin, Eoin Coughlan, and also the cellist/singer-songwriter, Vyvienne Long, whose bands I played in from time to time.
Is there a song/band that you love that was introduced to you by someone else?
Oh yeah, definitely. Most of them, I’d say. I remember that same cousin of mine playing me ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon on the road to Dublin one day. That really made an impression on me – the sense of fun in his songs, and the beautiful writing and arrangements.. I love Paul Simon.
We did a lot of music in school too, so teachers played a big part, especially in getting me interested in classical and contemporary classical music. My sister, in later years, has introduced me to lots of choral music – she’s a choral conductor.
And Daragh Dukes, who produced my début album (‘West to the Evening Sun’, 2017) nudged me in various musical directions too, especially more experimental electronic stuff, like Laurie Anderson and Imogen Heap.
So, basically, everything.
Is there a song whose lyrics resonate with you and why so?
I really like how Cork singer-songwriter, Ger Wolfe, writes.
“There is music in the river, listen to it dancing underneath the bridge. And the wind is hardly breathing words unto the willow branches overhead.” (‘The Curra Road’)
His turn of phrase is very poetic, and I love the soothing, nurturing, sensitive way he delivers his songs. I haven’t ever met him, but he has always struck me as a very special kind of artist.
I really like individual lines from lots of songs too: “There are brighter sides to life and I should know because I’ve seen them, but not very often”. That’s from ‘Still Ill’ by The Smiths. Great line!
“I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints”, from Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’. That one gets me in the gut – it’s very plaintive.
The band/musician that you grew up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of traditional music, and Celtic bands like Planxty and The Chieftains that my mother loved. Also, the piano and organ music that my father would play. With my siblings, I remember various stages of Blur, Oasis, Queen, Counting Crows, French accordion music, and the Beach Boys: ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ bring me right back!
What song do you wish that you had written and why?
‘Show Me Love’ by Laura Mvula. I love the writing, arranging, I love the production. My senses light up when I listen to it.
What song transports you back in time and why?
‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ by Shanks and Bigfoot always reminds me of being in the Gaeltacht in Black Sod in Mayo.. sneaking out one night with my friend, stuffing our pockets with biscuits, traipsing across fields and hills, and my friend losing her Nokia phone on the way, in the very early days of mobiles. We had to retrace our steps the next morning in the very tired light of day.
The MacGyver theme tune too: I was a gymnast as a child, and I used that tune for my floor routine for competitions. I loved it. Reminds me of the sense of mastery I used to feel over my body.
‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ is another one – that song reminds me of the teenage band I was in – Revamp – and especially of our drummer, Jason (RIP), because he practised very hard to get the drums right. And ‘Summer of ‘69’ – we nearly always started gigs with that song.
Which song makes you dance when you hear it?
Anything by ABBA. Or Bill Whelan. I can’t resist a bit of Riverdance.
Which song makes you sad when you hear it?
Oh that’s a hard one. ‘Táimse i mo Choladh’, the Irish slow air, is very special to me.
What was the first gig you went to?
We were lucky, growing up, in that our parents brought us to lots of concerts. I’d guess it was something one of my cousins was playing in – probably a trad gig. The first big music festival I went to was Slane ‘01 with U2 and Moby.
What was the first song that you ever performed
As a singer-songwriter? – it was a song called ‘Jean-Jacques Rousseau’. I wrote it while doing an essay in college about music and gender. I came across a Rousseau quote – something like “the education of women should always be relative to men: to please, to be useful to us, to make us love and esteem them, to educate us when young and to take care of us when grown up..” etc. The song was tongue-in-cheek. It won the Maynooth Songwriting Contest that year actually. A hundred quid. Not to be sneezed at – haha!
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