First Encounters: Singer-songwriter Damien Rice and composer David Arnold
‘David and I were on the same wavelength and that was a really nice thing. It’s still like that’
Musician Damien Rice and composer David Arnold
Damien Rice is an Irish singer-songwriter whose first album, ‘O’, released by himself in 2002, became a major success in Ireland, the UK and US. His third album, ‘My Favourite Faded Fantasy’, was released recently. Originally from Celbridge, Co Kildare, he says he currently lives out of a suitcase
My grandmother – my father’s mother, Mary Rice – showed me a paper clipping one day that had some news about some music David was composing for a film. She said, you know you have this second cousin in London, you should send him some of your songs. Before that I hadn’t known about him. I was a fan of the song Play Dead by Björk, but didn’t realise that he had worked closely with her on it.
We get on really well – it was a relief to find someone else in the family who’d gone down a similar road. We first met around 2000. I loved his sense of humour, especially about the music and entertainment industry. It was never serious; his light-heartedness kept things very buoyant.
My music was turned down, it’s a classic story – you get no, no, no, no. So we just did it ourselves. I put the record out in Ireland, it started doing well, then it started doing well in England and Wales and then people started paying attention. It’s a good lesson for anyone, just because something’s turned down doesn’t mean it’s of lesser value.
Two things happened at the time. One was, my dad gave me a loan of €500 and said, if you finish your album, you don’t have to pay that back. So I had that on one side, and on the other David, who sent over musical equipment for me to record with and money to pay some musicians. Having the combination of my dad and David, those two things – the challenge that my dad gave me and the musical connection and support that I got from David – gave me a platform on which I could get done what needed to be done.
David and I were on the same wavelength and that was a really nice thing. It’s still like that between us. I’m a bit of a gypsy and have been for the last bunch of years, so I haven’t seen him in a while, but we’ll catch up with each other.
My father’s family are from the Liberties, my mother’s from Ballyfermot. My dad plays guitar and sings but he’s more into scuba diving now. My grandmother, Mary, is all about just enjoying life, about not taking things too seriously.
I consider David one of my friends, one of those good buddies to call if you want to get a second opinion on something. That would be a small circle, a handful of people. David and I would talk about personal stuff, but in a very light-hearted way. With other friends I might dig in and have a serious heart to heart; with David, we dig in, talk about it, then laugh about it.
David Arnold is a Grammy- and Emmy-award winning English composer who wrote the music for films ‘Independence Day’, five James Bond films, including ‘Casino Royale’, TV shows ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Little Britain’, and most recently, the stage musical ‘Made in Dagenham’. Originally from Luton, he now lives in London
My dad was one of 21 children, born in Thomas Street in Dublin. Pretty much every summer we would visit Ireland, go to the Oliver Bond buildings opposite the Guinness brewery in the Liberties. My dad’s older sister, my aunt, is Damien’s grandmother. I’d met Damien but only when he was about four, five, six. I remember being at his dad’s house and Damien sprinting around the kitchen on a tricycle.
Some of my fondest memories of being in Dublin with the family are nights where you go to the pub and sing. My dad and all my uncles, cousins – they can all hold a tune, take the roof off. They do Delilah and you wouldn’t be disappointed.
I didn’t know that Damien played or wrote music. Then my aunt phoned me and said, I know you’re in the music industry. Could he come over and talk about things he wants to do, see if you can give him some advice? It’s slightly worrying when someone in your family says “I’ve got some songs, can you help me to do something with them?” You don’t really know whether it’s going to be any good or not. And you do feel obliged. You’re hoping it’s not going to be terrible.
So about 14 years ago, Damien came over to my house in London: he had a guitar and some CDs with about 40 songs. We sat down and had a little talk and he played me three or four of them. I thought they were some of the best I’d heard in years. I was a) astonished and b) really happy. I took them to every music publisher and record company I knew in London. They all said “we’re not interested”, which I couldn’t quite fathom. So I bought him some equipment and over the next eight months, he finished the album.
He’d come over here, sometimes stay in my house, sometimes in my PA’s place. After O was released we just watched it grow: it was extraordinary. When it did become successful, I thought, well I’m glad my ears haven’t packed in.
I do regard Damien as a great artist. He packs a backpack and a guitar, drives to places he wants to be, stays there and just writes. One minute he’s in Reykjavik, another in Spain, then California. We email; he’ll be playing somewhere and I’ll turn up and play piano on a few songs.
David Arnold joins the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and New Dublin Voices for an evening of his film and TV music on Thursday, January 22nd in the National Concert Hall, nch.ie