Irish-American singer Andy Cooney tells Adam Shaw about his plans to promote all things Ireland in the US
A host of Irish music stars, on a boat, in the States. It sounds like a fine idea, and one that would be sure to bring Hibernophiles from America and beyond together for a night of joy and revelry. And it appears that it does.
One of the cruise’s chief organisers, Andy Cooney, explains how year on year, more people are getting involved.
“The thing is: Irish musicians are very talented. We try and get as many to come over as possible. We recently had Mike Denver and everybody loved him,” he says. “It’s a very Irish thing we’re trying to do there. We have a céilídh band and some Irish dancing and there’s a good mix of music.
“You have ballad bands that will play things like The Wolfe Tones, and then we have the country side and also some great Irish tenors.”
Andy has always been surrounded by Irish culture and Irish music. His grandparents – originally from Dublin and Monaghan – passed through Ellis Island and settled in Flushing, Queens.
They would “always try to maintain their heritage” and his grandfather, Andy Feehan, was a well-known singer who would perform at every wedding and funeral at the local parish, St Mary’s. Their tastes were passed down to Andy’s mother and then Andy himself meaning that, by the time he was 17 he was firmly set on establishing an Irish-American identity.
“My mum was a big fan of Irish country music; she loved the likes of Larry Cunningham and Brendan Shine,” he explains. “I loved the more traditional stuff and so I had a very well-rounded education when it came to Irish music.”
He began touring with Paddy Noonan and travelled all across North America before he decided to adopt a solo path.
“I’ve been very lucky to have the career that I’ve had. It’s allowed me to travel all over the States and I’ve also been able to go abroad.
“I realised that there was definitely more of an ‘Irish’ scene rather than a ‘country’ scene.
“Obviously country music is massive over here but people never really think of Irish country, even though I was very aware of it from a young age.
“Shows like Celtic Thunder and Celtic Women are very popular whereas people would be less likely to know of Nathan Carter or Mike Denver.
“I think it’s a shame because there are so many great Irish country music artists and they really should get more airtime.”
This is something he believes could change in the future and, hopefully, he can be a part of it. His music – including his latest album Irish Country Skyline – is his way of bringing this genre to a wider audience. And with the success of the cruises, combined with the growing number of appearances from country singers, there could be the opportunity for it to grow around the US.
“We have a big market here. Every city in the States has a strong Irish presence; if we wanted to, we could be on the road all the time,” Andy says.
“I guess with Irish country, the thing is that it’s a very unique scene in that it’s very intertwined with dancing.
“People would love to go out and listen to the songs but also have a dance – they’d meet their friends and jive and waltz together.”
Perhaps this is a route which could be taken on the cruises? The transferral of the show band era could certainly spark a greater interest in Irish country music. But whatever the case, Andy believes that Irish music in general will always have a place in the hearts of Americans.
“It’s very real. It’s real, it’s honest and there’s nothing like it when you start breaking into reels and you feel that energy.
“I haven’t been able to experience anything quite like it anywhere else.
“And I think that people can relate to the music because, often, it’s about a journey. This is something that, whether you’re Irish- American, Anglo-American or whatever, you can understand.”
His own personal journey has taken him back to Ireland on several occasions, meaning that, in his eyes, things have come “full-circle”.
“It’s been an absolute honour to perform in Ireland, the place where my family are originally from.
“I’ve played in Carnegie Hall in New York and lots of other great venues but playing with Phil Coulter at the National Concert Hall in Dublin was undoubtedly one of my career highlights.”
Now he wants to capture the spirit of America, and in particular New York, with his latest venture. Working as part of The New York Tenors, he has brought together the different aspects of the city which he believes make it so great.
“In New York we have a lot of different nationalities but some of the strongest ones are the Irish, the Italians and the Puerto Ricans.
“So we have Daniel Rodriquez who is the ‘Latino’ tenor, Christopher Macchio as the ‘Italian’ tenor and me as the ‘Irish’ tenor.
“And with this act we have a show which includes elements of heritage, faith and friendship – things which have always been important to Irish-Americans.”
Andy hopes to take the group to Ireland and there is talk of them setting up a date for next year in Dublin. Then, he says, they will try and “pop over to London” for a gig and “give Londoners the chance to be in New York for a couple of hours”.
In any case, it will give him the opportunity to strengthen the special bond between Ireland and America as well as his own personal relationship with the two countries. And in the meantime he will continue to act as “an American gift to Ireland’s heritage” and push for more people to listen to Irish country, put on their dancing shoes and join him on his famous Irish cruise.
• For more information, visit www.andycooney.com