Bronagh Gallagher: ‘I’ve been through lean times, and when they arrive, I write songs'

When it comes to her music, Bronagh Gallagher is artist, manager and label boss all in one committed package. ‘Discipline is good for a creative mind,’ she says

Bronagh Gallagher: “Proactivity can either choke you or give you a strong spine.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES

Bronagh Gallagher: “Proactivity can either choke you or give you a strong spine.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES

 

As someone who regularly appears on TV shows and co-stars in movies, Bronagh Gallagher is used to faking it so well you can’t see the joins. When it comes to music, however, she takes the ‘me, myself and I’ approach, delivering original songs framed by the lost and lonely language of soul. The fact that her Christian name means ‘sorrow’ is an irony not lost on her.

Gallagher is in great form, and eager to let music take over her life, if only for a while. Now back in Dublin after spending some time working the day job in the US and Germany (locations where she has just finished filming her part in Return to Montauk, a movie directed by Volker Schlöndorff, scripted by Colm Tóibín, and co-starring Stellan Skarsgård), she arrives in a flurry of activity.

She is, after all, the boss of herself, and when it comes to her music, she is the no-nonsense manager, the shrewd label boss, the strategic PR clipboard supremo and the chief bottle washer in one committed package. In an ideal world, of course, Bronagh Gallagher would be a full-time soul singer. Damn those day jobs.

“There is no rhythm to acting roles, no guarantees,” she says. “I’ve been through lean times, and when they arrive, I write songs. There’s little else that I can do. I know that I’ve got great people representing me, and I know I have a good body of work behind me – when feelers are sent out you get good feedback, and you sense you’re somewhat respected. You never know, of course, because you’re not going to be everybody’s cup of tea.”

It’s difficult to credit that Gallagher has been in our faces (in a nice way) for more than 25 years. Can a mention of her in any section of the media exclude the fact that she came to international recognition in Alan Parker’s 1991 adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s 1987 book The Commitments? Absolutely not. And that she followed it with minor roles in Pulp Fiction and a Star Wars movie? Absolutely not. We decide not to talk about any of this, and her relief is obvious.

“I’ve seen great times and barren times, so through keeping myself active, creative, from feeling bored, I’m just putting the work out there. Proactivity can either choke you or give you a strong spine.”

Work ethic
Gallagher has the latter work ethic. She is friends with many music industry people, some of whom are hugely successful, and down through the years she has noticed how they approach their work.

“They get up every morning and go to work, and whether or not they write a masterpiece doesn’t matter. Creativity isn’t always – or even often – about a bolt of lightning. If you’re writer, then you write.

“So I took my destiny in my own hands. I can’t wake up in the morning waiting for the phone to ring – that game is over for some people, and so many actors let themselves fall down with that approach. It’s all about getting up every day. Some say that routine is the death of creativity, but I think discipline is good for a creative mind.”

Gallagher’s new album, Gather your Greatness, was, she says, forged out of a need to write about the woman she is at the age she is (early 40s). “The older I get, as a woman, I ask myself what am I writing about? And will people find it interesting?”

The backbone of the writing focuses, she adds, on self-acceptance and self-respect.

“There are so many women of my age who grew up with fairy-tale social conditioning – that you’re going to have this, that, the house, the family, and so on. Yet there are so many of us who don’t have that, and I don’t think you should let that cloud your 40s, if it hasn’t happened to you, if you don’t have kids. The way I look at it is I am as free as a bird.”

Movies are terrific and music is a life-saver, but what’s important to Gallagher is that she gets up every day and does what she does. She is, after all, a soul survivor.

“Don’t focus on things that so many people my age do – that something has gone wrong with your life, or that your life is lacking something. It isn’t wrong, and it isn’t sad.

“I know so many people in long-term relationships that are really sad. All I care about now is that I have the physical and mental health to get up and do things I love. Any other attitude is just a waste of energy.”

- Gather your Greatness is out now. Bronagh Gallagher plays Millennium Forum, Derry, on June 11th and Whelan’s, Dublin on June 17th

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