By David Hennessy
On the scene since the 1980s, Longford country singer Declan Nerney is marking 25 years in the business. Known for songs like Marquee in Drumlish, Declan has played to a packed Croke Park on All-Ireland final day and sang for an American television audience on St Patrick’s Day.
But asked what his proudest moment of over two decades in the music business and Declan has no hesitation. It has to be performing Time after Time with his niece Una Healy of The Saturdays on Ireland’s most loved chat show.
Declan told The Irish World: “Being honest about it, that’s the most emotional thing I’ve ever done. She used to visit at Christmas and she would sing songs and I always said she had a lovely little voice and she would be composing songs of her own. Then eventually she started going out and doing auditions and she got herself into that band and it became hugely popular.
“She came back and RTE, The Late Late Show were looking to know would we go on and perform something on it together. Being honest about it, to this day it has been the highlight of my career. It was the most emotional moment I have ever had, to be out there with someone of your own family and to see her doing something far greater than anything I achieved.”
Asked about help he provided to Una when she was a budding performer, Declan says: “I would have contributed, I wouldn’t say that I was any huge help or anything because I would never like to force anyone to do anything, but she obviously took some inspiration from what I was on about and that in itself was very nice thing to see happening.
“She would (ask advice), what I thought when she would be doing earlier auditions and when she would be feeling despondent about it one thing and another that it wasn’t all going to work in the first week, the same way as any plan is.
“You put a plan together and it either works or it doesn’t work and it doesn’t mean that you don’t have another plan, and another plan, and another plan. It’s all about that, it’s all about saying there’s a road ahead and you have to make suitable arrangements to be able to go down that road.”
Someone Declan met on many occasions was the former Taoiseach who was buried last week, Albert Reynolds: “I knew Albert very, very well. I was in New York at the time he was a special guest of the Longford Association at the very, very pinnacle of the highest point of the peace treaty being signed. He was over at that time and he was telling me that he liked our band, he would have known the songs Marquee in Drumlish and all that was a big affiliation with him. He told me and his words were, ‘Nerney, I’ll have you playing at the White House next St Patrick’s day’. But alas, he wasn’t Taoiseach then, that government fell so it didn’t happen. That would have been something.
“He was a man of his word, a man who was able to stand on his own two shoes and take decisions, be they popular or not, and you can’t discredit a man who can do that, that would be prepared to stand up and you’re not going to please all of the people all of the time. Fair play to him, he did what he did and he did it well and he got to the top of the charts in what he achieved.”
What are Declan’s impressions of the whole Garth Brooks fiasco that has already covered so many tabloid inches this summer? “It was a bit ridiculous but in my book, it was a whole chain of mistakes from the top. First of all, the man who was booking should have sat down (to ensure five concerts could be allowed) because it was a serious undertaking that was never done before, to arrange five concerts. Anyone would have been honoured to fill Croke Park to capacity one night, never mind three nights. Somebody along the way between the councils and all should have sat down and said: ‘Lads, this won’t be allowed, don’t let people down’. Somebody somewhere should have spoken earlier in the campaign even when people had their tickets bought, and given it such a time, so that an allowance could have been made to reschedule some of the shows to a different time and make provisions. As it transpired, it was a fiasco.”
Young performers like Nathan Carter and Lisa McHugh seem to be breathing new life into Irish country while Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift are making country cool again in the states. What are Declan’s thoughts on young performers that he sees emerging? “They come and go. Being very honest about it, I’ve often seen entertainers, young people male and female, and they would be good and I think ‘they’re destined for the top’. And then within a very short space of time, they would be gone and then there would be other songs that would be on release and you wonder why they catch on and they do catch on.
“It’s a similar situation with my own material, some of the songs that I have released particularly Stop the World and Let me Off, that was just put down as just another track: ‘Let it off, it will be a nice little album song, it will be a nice track on the stage and in the halls…’ And lo and behold, it’s the track that’s out there and it grows wings itself and it has a whole life of its own.
“Not even the artist themselves ( can predict it). You can get wound up in the studio about a particular track and a particular tune, thinking this is great because it sounds, everybody has an idea of what they think is the perfect sound but that’s only the perfect sound to yourself, it doesn’t mean it’s going to necessarily please the masses out there. That’s probably the little trick within the whole thing and that’s the decoy amongst it, you can get caught up in that trap of what you think is the perfect sound.”
Has the scene changed beyond recognition since Declan started off 25 years ago as a performer? “The scene has changed but people haven’t changed. CDs are only a vehicle, LPs were only a vehicle, YouTube at the end of the day all it is the same format, still the same thing. At the end of the day, people sit on their own chair and they reminisce and they take in and hang their hat upon the emotions of a particular song and it stays with them or not. That’s what makes a popular song, that’s what makes the jukebox play.”
For the full interview, see the September 6 Irish World.
Declan is currently working on a new album and DVD.
He will be coming to play Conways 3 at the end of November.
For more information, go to declannerney.com.