Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Essential Dolores Keane

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2007

Dolores Keane, the great diva of Irish music is never far from music lovers’ hearts and minds. A new collection of her work ‘The Essential Dolores Keane’ captures the wonderful breadth of her artistry selected from the vast body of songs she has interpreted and recorded.

Dolores like most of her family lives quite near their family home in Caherlistrane, Co. Galway. It’s a beautiful part of the country, with fine neighbours and some semblance of the old and friendly way of life we once had all over Ireland.

She has a busy household as she says herself that consists of “2 dogs, 4 birds, 3 fish, 5 cats, 2 kids, 2 adults and the neighbours – the neighbours are great!” Her partner of more than thirteen years is Barry ‘Bazza’ Farmer, a studio technician who has worked with Rory Gallagher and Kirsty McColl in the past. Out the back of their house, Dolores points to an old bath in which she very successfully grew a fine crop of potatoes this year. Further on there’s a grassy path under arched willows that she notes need trimming. We talk about gooseberries and currants and she oozes enthusiasm when we get to her favourite occupation. “I love to cook” she says, “I absolutely love to cook. I love Indian food and I love working with marinades and stuff like that. I adore fish and lamb but I’d prefer mutton especially for curries but it’s very difficult to get mutton now.” There’s plenty to talk about but I have to ask about a curiosity I spot in the back yard, an old, old car – a Hillman Minx. “I love vintage cars” she says, “I bought that three years ago in Knock and I love it.”

While Dolores’ music is firmly rooted in the tradition, she moved effortlessly onto modern and popular compositions during her career. You could say her greatest work came in the second phase of her solo career with the release of the albums ‘Dolores Keane’, ‘Solid Ground’ & ‘Lion in a Cage’. Dolores transcended generations and genres and she admits to loving all kinds of music with perhaps one or two small exceptions. “The only kind of music I wasn’t interested in was Opera and I think that was from pure ignorance on my part” she says. “Other than that, any kind of music. I love Classical music, I always have done. I love Gypsy Romany music, Spanish Flamenco and all that. Certain parts of jazz I don’t like but there again I just don’t know enough about it.”

A broad minded lady with a broad range of interests, Dolores came from a house where music was part of life – and it wasn’t just traditional music it was all kinds of music. She made her first recording for Radio Éireann at the age of five and appeared on many television programmes, usually with her aunts Rita and Sarah with whom she lived. Dolores is third youngest in the family and her aunts and grandparents lived nearby. As a child she loved visiting their house and on one occasion she stayed. “I went down and I wouldn’t come home” she says. “That’s what happened. I suppose they spoiled me rotten. Sure they’re still spoiling us” she laughs.

Dolores has always had a knack for choosing songs that flow melodiously from her lips. She has taught us how to love songs we might never have heard were it not for her performing or recording them. I wonder if she ever recorded a song she was not happy with? She does remember one, and only one that might not have been her best choice. Not because of the song itself or the recording or arrangement but because it wasn’t the best suited to her voice.

Like all singers, she has fielded more cassettes and demos than you could count. “A lot of them ended up filed in the back seat of the car” she says. “I wouldn’t call them bad songs, they were good songs but they just weren’t suited to me.”

Her son Joseph is twenty and her daughter Tara is thirteen. They are both musical but there’s no pressure to play or sing. “I wouldn’t push them” says Dolores, “to do anything. I wouldn’t say do this or do that.” She did however teach Tara tin whistle. “Myself and herself, just sitting here playing with one another across the table” she says. The tin whistle is never far from her hand and her great pleasure these days is joining in an informal session whenever she can. “I always bring the whistle in my bag or there’ll be a few of them in the glove compartment” she says. She mentions Tigh Cóilí's and Taaffes in Galway as places where she has recently enjoyed a few tunes.

Having toured constantly for some twenty and more years, Dolores finally took a break when Tara was very young. “I just got a bit tired, Tara was small and I wanted to be here with her because when Joseph was a ladeen I was on the road all the time. So it was the right time for me to do it. I just couldn’t give it my whole, my best.” The hardship of touring takes its toll too. “When I used to go away on tour, I had to pack three bags and I had to farm out the kids. It’s a very lonely life, it really is, people don’t realise that. You’d miss home, you’d miss the kids, you’d be weepy when you’d talk to them on the phone, my heart used to be broken.” She does think about gigging again and about recording, but would prefer doing shorter sets or guest appearances to full length concerts.

While she has left the touring behind, she loved the work and the musicians she worked with. Jim Corr gets special mention; he toured with Dolores in the early 1990’s, as does Ted Ponsonby whose great sense of humour provided lots of giggles on stage. “He is a great very talented man and a lovely man to travel with” Dolores says. “He’s fun, he’s talented and he’s so laid back.” Ted was also very good at selecting material for Dolores and helping out in studio rehearsing songs and working out arrangements with her. She also fondly mentions Phil Cunningham who produced the album ‘Dolores Keane’, one of her own personal favourites. “I really enjoyed making that album” she says adding “I loved doing the ‘Lion in a Cage’ album as well; Donal Lunny was involved in that.”

In her long career the most memorable times were with DeDanann. “The craic between us when we were travelling with Mary Black and all, it was fabulous. Mary is great, brilliant, we became such close friends.” Although it wasn’t easy at the start “Ringo (McDonagh) that said to me one night in Cullen’s pub they were starting off a group and would I like to join. So I said I’d give it a go. I really enjoyed it but it was difficult getting from Caherlistrane out to Spiddal to rehearse. But we did it and recorded the first album. And then of course I left them and went to London and worked freelance for the BBC doing documentaries and films. That was brilliant and very interesting.”

That was when she teamed up with John Faulkner; they were married and recorded several albums together. Dolores also took to the stage in a different kind of performance acting in the plays ‘The Hostage’ and ‘The Playboy of the Western World”. She returned to DeDanann in the 80s and recorded two more albums with them. She featured in the ‘Bringing it all Back Home’ series and worked with Mary Black and Emmylou Harris, The Chieftains, Planxty, and was part of the memorable ‘Woman’s Heart’ recordings and tours. She had a most successful solo run with a series of stunning albums in the late 80s which moved her from the firmly traditional into the popular ballad sphere and the enormous success of the No. 1 hit ‘Lion in a Cage’. It wasn’t her only No.1 – her first recording with DeDanann ‘The Rambling Irishman’ also made No.1 in it’s day and many of her fans would cite songs such as ‘Galway Bay’, ‘Teddy O’Neill’, ‘Caledonia’ and the list goes on as their own personal No.1s.

All these past favourites are present on this new collection, some 28 tracks in all. It’s a trip down memory lane in many ways, but what a pleasant journey, in the company of a lady who is undoubtedly one of the greatest voices of all time.

Click here to buy 'The Essential Dolores Keane' from the .tradnet store on Amazon.

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