Aoife Kelleher: ‘At my 30th my friends had to rescue the party from my morose playlist’

Soundtrack of My Life: The director on her lockdown listening, Francophilia, and Peppa Pig

Director Aoife Kelleher: ‘The first spring in lockdown was hard, but there was a strange novelty to it.’

Director Aoife Kelleher: ‘The first spring in lockdown was hard, but there was a strange novelty to it.’

 

For the first few months of the first lockdown I was ghostwriting a memoir with Majella Moynihan, so I was quite insulated. My husband was doing all the shopping, and in the thick of it, while I was ensconced in the bedroom upstairs, writing.

That’s where the classical music in the playlist comes from: I can’t listen to music with lyrics, or even instrumental music that does anything particularly exciting, while I’m writing or studying, because I just lose focus immediately. So I was listening to lots of Philip Glass or Bach and Mahler during that whole period. It all felt quite gentle and soothing, but once that finished I had to engage with the reality of the world outside. Then everything felt very different.

So much of what I was listening to was dictated by the tastes of my almost-two-year-old

Generally, my music taste is quite downbeat – I remember at my 30th birthday party, my friends had to rescue the party from my deeply morose playlist, and they put on Prince and David Bowie, both of whom I love, but I do love a good dirge.

I’ve loved Elliott Smith since I was in college. A song of his features in an episode of Normal People, and it reignited the love there. Television has played a really important role in all of our lives this year. Programmes like I May Destroy You, The Great and Normal People became important parts of the cultural landscape.

Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith performs at the 70th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 23rd, 1998. File photograph: AP Photo/Susan Sterner
Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith performs at the 70th Academy Awards in Los Angeles on March 23rd, 1998. File photograph: AP Photo/Susan Sterner

I normally try to listen to a lot of new artists, but I found that this year I reverted to artists that I’d known and loved for years. There was lots of Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Frank Ocean and Devendra Banhart. It was all about comfort listening, and I saw that in my reading as well – I’d go back to books that I’d loved in my teens by David Sedaris, Jane Austen, George Eliot and John le Carré.

A few new albums broke through. I loved folklore by Taylor Swift and Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple. But I’ve been listening to Fiona Apple since I was in secondary school, so maybe even that was just more of the familiar.

From the playlist, I might come across like a total Francophile. My last holiday before the pandemic was a trip to Nice, in August 2019, with my husband, our daughter, who was a newborn, and my mother-in-law. The radio in our rental apartment was tuned to FIP, a French radio station that plays a gorgeous mix of music styles.

We brought that discovery home with us, and it was a great addition to our lives in lockdown. I love Serge Gainsbourg and Carla Bruni, but I’ve been introduced to lots of new French artists through FIP, like Line Renaud.

To go through all the different artists that I’ve listened to throughout the various phases of lockdown is evocative

At this point my routine is returning a bit. I’m preparing to start filming again, so it does feel like my patterns are returning to normal. I’ve been trying to introduce myself to some new Irish artists, and I’ve been listening to Denise Chaila, Pillow Queens and a really gorgeous album by my friend Hilary Woods called Birthmarks.

So much of what I was listening to was dictated by the tastes of my almost-two-year-old. She likes artists such as Lizzo and Joanna Newsom, but first and foremost she’s a big Peppa Pig fan. Whenever she’s cranky, whenever she’s tired, we stick on the Peppa Pig album and she just absolutely loves it. I can only apologise to anyone actually listening to the playlist, but it would have been a misrepresentation of my songs of recent times if Peppa Pig hadn’t made it on to the list.

Peppa Pig. Photograph: Channel 5/PA Wire
Peppa Pig. Photograph: Channel 5/PA Wire

Jumping in Muddy Puddles is my daughter’s favourite song. Actually, she loves jumping in muddy puddles, and I don’t know is it just because she’s seen Peppa Pig do it, or she has her own independent enthusiasm for it. She’s spent very little time with other children – she’s a little Covid hermit – and is actually quite frightened of other children when she sees them. But her one bonding experience is jumping in muddy puddles – that’s where she’s been able to make friends.

We’ve had a whole year in lockdown, and to go through all the different artists that I’ve listened to throughout the various phases is evocative. The first spring in lockdown was hard, but there was a strange novelty to it. I think things gradually got tougher, so to look back on all of it, and to realise what a journey it’s been up to this point, was emotional. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra

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