Riding the celebrity wave

 

Áine O'Doherty never imagined that making music during transition year would take her so close to representing Ireland at Eurovision, writes Louise Holden

Aine O'Doherty may have been knocked out of You're A Star on Sunday, but her trip from transition-year music to stardom is not over yet, she says. O'Doherty started her musical career in a transition-year band at Magh Ene College, in Bundoran. Before she stood up to play on the school stage, Áine had never performed in public and knew only a few chords on the guitar. The Co Donegal school's music teacher, Collette McRea, decided to draw some of the school's musical talent out of the woodwork in transition year, and a star was born.

Áine made it to the final five contestants in this year's You're A Star search for an Irish Eurovision entrant. It's easy to assume that television-talent-search finalists are just lucky types who wander in off the streets and land careers. In Áine's case, the road to stardom has been a long and arduous one that will continue after Eurovision 2005, she hopes.

"This competition has taught me that a career is music is not an easy option," says Áine. "I've always worked hard at writing music and touring, but before now I'd get up on stage in a tracksuit and not bother too much about image. Now I realise that there is more to a career in music than just the music."

Áine is not so keen on groups that are all about image, with lyrics she describes as pathetic. "I've no time for bands such as McFly and Busted. But I now know that I have to keep an eye on commercial music and keep a balance between originality and radio-friendliness."

She describes her music as folk rock, and she bases her lyrics on her experiences of touring. She has played support slots for big names such as Damien Rice, Damien Dempsey and Juliet Turner. She has huge respect for artists such as Rice and Glen Hansard, of The Frames, who have committed themselves to their music and stuck with the business despite considerable challenges.

Knowing how fickle the music business can be, Áine completed a diploma in outdoor education and leisure at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology before going on the road. As soon as she had finished college she toured Europe, playing in venues in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Her travels have helped her to mature as a songwriter, and many of her songs are about her experiences in bars and clubs across Ireland and Europe. "I like to write about 'touring and hooring', describing people I meet on the road," says Áine. "I also steal stories from the experiences of friends and write about their love affairs and heartbreak. I never reveal my sources, though."

Áine's favourite composition was played on Dave Fanning's radio show last week, and she found the experience thrilling. Pass The Bottle gives two fingers to those who complain about the lifestyles of those who like to drink and smoke. Her chorus tells those who look down on her weekend ways to get over it and pass her the bottle. Áine did not get a chance to play an original song on You're A Star, but she's determined to get her own material out there over the next few years.

"I used to be quite precious about my music, and if you had asked me three months ago to play the Eurovision Song Contest I would have said no," Áine admits. "Now that I've had the experience of You're A Star I recognise the need to take criticism and to leap at any opportunity that presents itself. The Eurovision is changing, and there's room for a wider range of music now."

She is glad that she had the space in transition year to examine her musical ability. She spent most of the time developing her performance skills and making her first attempts at writing songs. "The margins of all my copybooks are full of bits of lyrics and poetry. I'm still drawing from some of the work I wrote then for songs I write today."

Last week Áine visited her old school to take part in a music workshop with this year's transition-year students. She was asked for her autograph that day - even though many of the Magh Ene students are neighbours. Áine has "kept her options open", as the favourite phrase of many a parent goes, by investing some of her spare time developing her skills as a surfing teacher at Donegal Adventure Centre, in Bundoran. Her home town is renowned for its surfing, and she competed with the Irish surf squad junior team in France in 1998.

Áine's not bound for Eurovision this year, but will continue to pursue music. She has her leisure diploma and teaching experience to return to if the choppy waters of the music industry get too rough.