BRENDAN GRAHAM and EIMEAR QUINN in conversation with FRANCES O’ROURKE
BRENDAN GRAHAM:‘THE FIRST TIME I met Eimear was at a Christmas concert by Anúna: I was at the back of St Patrick’s Cathedral, in the dim. I’d never met her, never heard of her but this voice came right down to where I was sitting. I was reminded of a John Donne poem – it seemed to me it was a voice between air and angels. Afterwards, although there’s always an element of insecurity asking a singer, ‘would you like to sing a song of mine?’, I did go up and ask her.
“It was a big take-on for her: she was young, but the thing about Eimear that’s special is that, as well as the voice, she has this atmosphere about her, she goes into a space that’s quiet. And the first part of The Voice is difficult: my friend Bill Whelan said, ‘do you not like singers? You make things so difficult for them’.
“At Eurovision, young as she was, Eimear exemplified everything that was best about the country in her whole demeanour – I was totally impressed by that. She has grace, dignity, was articulate and worked so hard.
“A number of years ago I was looking through a big box of photographs of Eurovision and it hit me, that was a wonderful time. I emailed her and she said, ‘I was thinking the same thing’. But at the time, we didn’t appreciate it, we were too busy.
“I was born in Tipperary but moved all over the place – my dad was in the bank. I was an industrial engineer, had got married in 1969 to Mary, who’s from Co Mayo, and we emigrated to Australia in 1969.
“We came back home for Christmas in 1972 with three daughters – now we have grandchildren – and stayed. My first attempt at songwriting was when I came back, in the 1970s. I knocked on Red Hurley’s door with a song I had and it went on to win the National Song Contest. That showed me I could do this so, until I was made redundant in 1998, I tried at nights and weekends.
“I wrote You Raise Me Up, to music by Rolf Lovland, around May/June 2001. It’s been covered 400 to 500 times now. You don’t even dream of something like this, it’s totally astonishing.
“Why did it take off? I think it was Josh Groban recording it, and being used at a Super Bowl.
“Eimear and I enjoy working together and we’re starting to create stuff. That’s exciting because she’s innovative, pushes to get things right, is very imaginative in terms of music. If you’re writing together, egos must be left outside the door, and she’s good at that.
“Bad points? She’s very polite. I hope she would tell me if something was rubbish. But we’re bonded by song. In songs and music there’s no age or gender divide, it’s wonderfully liberating.
“There are people like Eimear you just click with and long may it continue.”
EIMEAR QUINN:‘I WAS SINGING Winter, Fire and Snow, one of Brendan’s songs, with Anúna at a concert. Afterwards Brendan gave me his number and asked me to contact him. He made a big impression on me: he’s very tall, broad, with a rugby-player physique and a big friendly face. He had a song that had qualified for the National Song Contest and asked me to sing it. I was somewhat surprised, wondered if I’d be able to do the song justice. We worked very closely together on how the song ought to be communicated: he has such a gentle way about him.
“He is quite fatherly: a caring, warm open, person. When The Voice won the National Song Contest I was delighted for Brendan, who’d made such a leap of faith in choosing me. And then we went off to Oslo and won Eurovision.
“Even though my singing career has moved in many different directions since 1996, that song is still an absolute cornerstone of my repertoire, along with other songs of Brendan’s.
“I was very overwhelmed by the baptism of fire that winning Eurovision was. I had to do university exams right after the contest – I still had a year left to go in college – but then we went on the road in Europe doing publicity. I was a very young, innocent 23, and my parents were quite grateful that I had someone like Brendan, who’s very protective, to mind me.
“I learnt a lot from him: he was well on the road to full-time songwriting, but it was still new for him. The thing I’ve learnt from Brendan most of all is that he’s an incredibly hard worker. Brendan could give a masterclass in what goes into any kind of creative work, whether it’s writing a song or a novel – he’s a wonderful novelist too.
“He very kindly offered to help me make a CD, but I felt it was something I needed to come to on my own terms. Later I funded recording my own CD in order to learn the whole process. That led to performing a bit more; eventually I got a manager, got a record deal.
“For a few years we were both busy, didn’t see each other very often. Then five or six years ago we were both invited to Copenhagen for a big Eurovision celebration and made a point of seeing each other after that.
“Brendan and I are now on the cusp of trying to collaborate musically, when I liberate myself a little from full-time motherhood. I’m at the baby phase, he’s at the granddad phase, so he understands – and he’s a very hands-on grandfather.
“I’ve no doubt that I would always have been a singer, but Brendan singled me out as a performer, something a performer always hopes for in their career. I wouldn’t have had the life experiences that I’ve had if I hadn’t met Brendan.
“The best thing about Brendan is that he’s constantly good-natured. You’ll never catch him on a bad day.”
BRENDAN GRAHAMis a songwriter and novelist who wrote the lyrics for You Raise Me Up, a song which has been covered 400-500 times by singers from Westlife to Aretha Franklin. He became a full-time songwriter in 1993 after being made redundant at 48, and composed Ireland’s winning Eurovision entries in 1994 and 1996. He has also written three novels. He and his wife, Mary, live in Co Mayo
EIMEAR QUINNjoined choir Anúna while still a music student and in 1996 sang Ireland’s last song to win the Eurovision song contest, Brendan Graham’s The Voice. Since then she has developed a career as a singer and composer. She is married to RTÉ director-general, Noel Curran, and lives in Dublin and Monaghan with their daughters Joelene (3) and Marlene (five months).
Eimear Quinn will perform with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the Dublin Laptop Orchestra on Saturday, October 27th at the National Concert Hall, rte.ie/nso