When Irish author John Boyne won Celebrity Home of the Year a couple of years ago, viewers got to see his self-described “ego room”, the place where he keeps trophy copies of his many novels.
When I video called the musician and Eurovision legend Johnny Logan at his home in Ashbourne, Co Meath, it was clear he was sitting in a large room that was equally good for the ego. It was full of Eurovision awards, gold discs, photographs and various mementos from an extraordinary career that’s lasted more than four decades.
Silver-haired Logan, who admirers say has a look of Patrick Swayze about him and can still rock a pair of leather trousers, got one of his three adult sons to assist with the call – “the family won’t even let me near the TV remote controls, I’m so bad with technology”, says the singer who will celebrate his 66th birthday on May 13th.
He is “spoiled” in lockdown with his wife, Ailis Sherrard, and two of his sons. “I can’t cook. I am useless. I’m very good with the credit card. That’s my frying pan,” he says.
Social distancing is not part of my character... But I know I am in a privileged position, I have money, all my dates are moving to next year
Maybe he could use this opportunity and the enforced time off his hectic touring schedule to learn some cooking? He picks up a nearby acoustic guitar and starts playing it to drown out this outlandish suggestion.
“Sorry? Singer-songwriter, here,” he laughs. “I’m the only person I know who can burn tea, Róisín . . . my efforts were in different directions throughout my life.”
Above his head, hanging on a purple-painted wall, is an example of one life-changing road he took. The eye-catching black and white photo shows him returning to Dublin Airport after his first Eurovision win in 1980, with Shay Healy’s What’s Another Year. It’s exactly 40 years ago last month since Ireland, and the whole of Europe, fell in love with Logan and his white suit.
He’s the only person to win the trophy three times, once with Healy’s song, then singing his own composition Hold Me Now in 1987 and in 1992 when Linda Martin won the contest with Logan’s song Why Me? (Not forgetting the pop banger Terminal 3 which he also wrote, earning second place for Ireland in 1984. We were robbed, etc.)
In the photo, fresh-faced, sunglasses-wearing Logan is surrounded on all sides by frenzied fans trying to reach across uniformed gardaí to touch the newly minted star. Logan had come through the wrong door so had to be rescued by the police and helped to a waiting limo.
The truth is I ask Johnny Logan about the story behind the photograph to change the subject after our conversation takes a turn for the awkward. But we’ll get to that later.
Up to this point, the interview is going well. We chat about Logan’s thoughts on the pandemic and about how he is coping in lockdown. Not the best, it turns out. “I’m a hugger . . . social distancing is not part of my character.” His tours have all been cancelled. “But I know I am in a privileged position, I have money, all my dates are moving to next year.” He’d love nothing more than to get into the car and drive to Howth, to relax and enjoy the sea air, “it would be good for my head but we’re all in this together, people on the frontline need us to do this”.
He is trying to keep his fitness regime going. “When I am not working I have to do something to remain strong. The last show I did was 3½ hours long in Denmark and I was still jumping around at the end of it.” So he does daily physio, watches what he eats. “Because you’re locked in the house you’re not moving around as much and your body starts telling you . . . I feel like an accordion in the morning,” he says of his creaking limbs.
Logan’s warmth shines through, even with screens between us. He doesn’t talk to many journalists and has often complained of a difficult relationship with the Irish media over the years. He says he wants to “lift people’s spirits” so he has done a few interviews including one on YouTube with far right commentator Rowan Croft – aka Grand Torino. He was heavily criticised by some for giving the interview.
He says it happened because a friend asked him for a favour. It was agreed beforehand that politics were “off the table . . . I have my own views which are nothing to do with his. I am totally non-racist and non-bigoted . . . just because you talk to someone doesn’t mean you share their political views.”
In the hour we spend together – apart – Logan is funny, thoughtful, self-aware, open and generous. He says he is looking forward to May 16th when he will appear on a Eurovision programme slated for the night when the final would have taken place. He’ll sing a pre-recorded version of What’s Another Year and there’ll be “some surprises”. He also features in the lockdown-themed song Stay At Home Stay Alive along with other Irish singers including Brian Kennedy and Nathan Carter. He is proud, when we speak, that it is number one in the Irish country charts.
He talks a lot about his “gentle, very religious” Derry-born father Charles Sherrard, who, as a tenor, had the stage name Patrick O’Hagan. His dad spent a lot of time away touring while his mother, a fiery Kilkenny woman, Eily, held the fort at home with the children.
Christened Seán Patrick Michael Sherrard, Logan’s parents moved from Ireland to Australia, where he was born, and back to Howth and then Drogheda, before his parents settled later in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia, where his dad enjoyed a singing career. Logan says he was a “really shit” electrician before music beckoned. “It wouldn’t leave me alone,” is how he puts it.
His mother – “a stunning looking woman” he says – was engaged 11 times before she met his father, who had studied to be a priest at one point. “My father obviously found the love of his life in my mum.”
By the age of 28, his father had rheumatoid arthritis in his hand, which meant he couldn’t earn a living doing a trade. “My dad had this belief in his life that God would make everything all right,” he says. “You know, whatever happened good and bad everything would ultimately be okay. And I grew up with that attitude. Academically I was very bad but I married a schoolteacher so my children got a wonderful education, she took care of that. And did what basically my mother did, watched over the boys and I went out and made the money and came back and then we educated and brought up our sons to be the wonderful human beings they are now. They are really stable because they have solid backgrounds.”
Logan’s own attitude to religion was coloured, he says, by experiences in school. In Drogheda, at a Christian Brothers school where he was badly beaten up one day by a lay teacher who thought Logan had been laughing at him (he hadn’t been). And in Chanel College in Coolock, Dublin when he was younger. He remembers the Marist fathers, putting strange ideas in his and fellow classmate’s heads. “It didn’t leave me in a nice place,” he says. “Hearing a Marist father tell us kids, age 11 or 12: ‘these young girls, I see them, and I know the way you look at them. But if you saw the state of their underwear.’ As I grew older I understand how sick he was but those things have an effect on you growing up.”
He believes in God, and an afterlife but “humans have distorted the word of Christ and I find it very hard to believe the word of the church. At the same time, I’m a hypocrite because I still go to church and when this is all over, when the doors of the church open up, I’ll be in lighting candles for my parents and praying, you know.”
Logan says he never wanted to be in the music industry, it just happened. “When I was an electrician I carried a guitar and a toolbox into work. And I would entertain fitters and welders and everybody on the building site. In the evenings, on jobs down the country, I’d play guitar in the pubs … it integrated us into the community.”
What would Dickie Rock know about being a musician? My life was a lot different from Dickie's
I blame Dickie Rock (okay, and my prurient line of questioning) for the awkward moment in the conversation. When I interviewed Rock, the showband star, a few years ago, he admitted to having been unfaithful to his wife during his heyday. I used Rock as a jumping off point to ask Logan about the challenges of maintaining family life when you spend a lot of time away from home. In addition to performing at a string of lucrative Schlager festivals across Europe, Logan's career base and his band is in Germany.
My first mistake is mentioning Dickie Rock. Just hearing his name seems to set Johnny Logan off.
“What would Dickie Rock know about being a musician?” he asks, not expecting an answer. “My life was a lot different from Dickie’s,” he goes on, in what turns into a lengthy assessment of his own career versus Rock’s. “Dickie’s idea of an international tour was to have a gig in England. He bought a pub in Spain so he could gig there. That’s the reality of it. We know Dickie in Ireland but go out of here and say ‘Dickie Rock’ and people will think you are talking about some kind of stone you’d find in a museum.
“I love Dickie but he’s a legend in his own head... He lives in a fantasy world. You know, I’ve sang for Pope John Paul, for the queen of England, for Prince Charles, for Lady Diana – when she was alive – for the government of Ireland, for every head of state in Europe . . . I toured with the Royal Symphony Orchestra. I’ve done the London Palladium, about 20 times, Top of the Pops about 14 times. Get Dickie to match one of those, you know? I’m still touring. And I’m busier now than ever.”
When I'm on stage I don't tell people I've played for the queen of England... I know who I am and I know what I can do
I interrupt to explain I am not comparing Logan to Dickie Rock career-wise. That I am more interested in the challenges to family life of being away from home so much.
“Yes, of course. It was very, very difficult,” he says. “I was an electrician, you know, and then I was a singer, and then I was a really successful singer. It still is difficult sometimes . . . although it’s not as difficult now, something happened when my mother died. When my father died I drank my way through that. But when my mother died, I sang at her funeral and I spoke about her.
“I stopped trying to be someone else,” he says. “I just became myself. When I’m on stage I don’t tell people I’ve played for the queen of England . . . I know who I am and I know what I can do.”
He mentions making, in 2005, an album of “Irish drinking songs”, ironically, when he’d just got sober. (When I express admiration for his strength in giving up alcohol, he says: “It’s not a case of strength of character; you either do it or you die.”) The album went double platinum in Norway and knocked Coldplay off the number one spot in Denmark. The album’s success opened up a massive touring market for the singer.
“I didn’t have the worry of my family when I was away from it,” he says. “You learn during that period to be two different people. One who was on the road and one who came home and that was never difficult for me because I really was two different people.”
I tell him what I am getting at with my question is the fact that Dickie Rock said his life as a star meant he wasn’t a very good husband, though Rock also said his wife had forgiven him. “That’s none of your business, Róisín,” Logan says. “The short answer to whether I was a good husband is none of your business. Dickie is Dickie, I’m still here.”
I apologise for offending him. “You didn’t,” he replies. “I find a lot of journalists use side doors in interviews.” I worry our conversation could get derailed, but Logan is gracious and we continue on, talking about that stunning photograph, his appreciation for the reception he gets from audiences in Ireland, his pride in his Eurovision legacy and his fondness for Shay Healy.
“I emailed him on the 40th anniversary of What’s Another Year just to tell him I loved him. I’m an emotional person,” he says. “The fact that 40 years on from What’s Another Year, people still want me to sing that song is huge for me.”
He has a note from musician Bill Whelan to hand, who he worked with on the Eurovision. He reads it out: “Our times working together have been the best of times, working with that voice of yours and your songs has never been less than a privilege and a joyful experience”.
I ask if he's experienced that well-known phenomenon, Irish begrudgery, over the years. "Not from the Irish people," he says. "In Ireland there is a terrible clique. There are certain people who are trendy and cool, and certain people who are not … I've never doubted my relationship with the Irish people but I've never been popular with the media and the media have never been popular with me.
"I have no problem with it any more … I don't need the media here. I do interviews because at the moment I think it's really important for people to have something to read and to interest them.
“The life I’ve led, the success I’ve had, will not be measured by the people who sit in judgement in Ireland about what I do with my career. It’ll be judged in history, by the people I’ve worked with, who I’ve influenced and who I’ve been lucky enough to share parts of my life with”.
With all the rescheduled bookings, he has a very full diary for next year. “When this is all finished I can’t wait to get out and sing and make people happy again. Including me.”
Before we end the call, I ask whether with all his achievements and even a film about him – working title, Mr Eurovision – in the works, has he any outstanding ambitions.
“To keep my hair. And to outlive Dickie Rock,” he deadpans.
Europe Shine a Light, a two-hour live show, will be broadcast on Saturday, May 16th