Emigrant returns to take centre stage at Temple Bar Tradfest
Fresh off a plane from Nashville, Maura O’Connell is tickled at the prospect of headlining on her home turf, writes SIOBHAN LONG
Social media is so pervasive these days that you’d be tempted to believe that five minutes’ respite from the blogosphere might be enough to threaten artistic annihilation. Maura O’Connell has been largely absent from our radar for a long number of years, bar a recent trip home as guest vocalist with all-female Irish-American band Cherish The Ladies.
Yet, ever since her sparkling debut as lead singer with De Danann back in the dim dark days of the 1980s, she’s garnered a loyal following who’ve happily followed her beneath the radar, largely by word of mouth.
Her Grammy-nominated 2009 solo album Naked helped sustain what was a formidable reputation for single-minded, straight-down-the-line songs delivered by a voice that’s steeped in the music of her home place of Clare, shot through with a healthy infusion of American influences. These were characterised by a belly-deep investment in the lyrical shape of a song, and a keen ear for buoyant melody lines that insinuate themselves into the subconscious faster than you can hum the opening verse of My Irish Molly.
Hot off a plane from Nashville, O’Connell is tickled at the prospect of headlining at the Temple Bar TradFest in Christ Church Cathedral. Long on road miles and short on naivete, she’s a realist who’s relishing the chance to headline on home turf, after so many years living and working in the US.
“I’ve learned that I ain’t no spring chicken, right?” O’Connell smiles, “and I’ve learned that in terms of the music industry, I’m what is known as a ‘legacy artist’ now. But I still do what I always did, which is that I sing, I pick my own songs and I have an emotional investment in them, and I try and treat them well. And even though it’s not on there, I probably co-produced most of my own records, too.”
We live in an age when singers often feel a certain pressure to write their own material, but O’Connell is adamant that “to sing is by itself its own art”. The art of interpretation is one that’s sometimes underestimated, she believes. And Bess Cronin, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday would most likely agree with her.
“I still believe that not everybody has a great writer in them,” O’Connell says, “but I’m a damn fine editor and I can spot a song that was written for me coming down Fifth Avenue.” And there’s nothing worse than an artist who tries to morph into what his/her producer wants, either. “I think there’s enough crap in the world, without me adding to it,” she laughs, with the heartiness of an artist with a healthy respect for boundaries.