Michael McDonagh meets country newcomer Ciaran Rosney, a classically-trained guitarist who has two master’s degrees in music.
IW: You started off when very young. Were you from a musical family?
“I’m the youngest of three boys in our family I grew up on the road between Ballycumber and Pullough in County Offaly and my older brothers all played music, as we were a very musical family. My parents loved country music, so it was on all the time on the radio. I went to guitar lessons with my brothers from the age of six and just kept going.”
IW: When did you first start to perform and where was that?
“My brothers had a band and my parents used to drive me around to the pubs they used to play in country pubs all around the midlands and they would call me up to do a song and then it became two songs then three and it started from there. I then joined the band when I was about 12 or 13 and played with my brothers all through my youth.”
IW: Instead of joining a band though when you were ready to leave school you actually carried on to study music formally?
“Yes, I put myself through college and stayed in school. People go in different directions and when I was doing my Leaving Cert, I had the opportunity to go on the road with a band full time, but we just felt I was a bit young and my parents were worried about me going on the road. I stayed in school then got the opportunity to study music in college and I went on from there and went on to study classical guitar for some years then did various degrees.”
IW: You actually did not one but two Masters’ Degrees, which is an unusual achievement.
“I did two Masters, one in Music Technology and one in Classical Guitar, at the College of Music in Dublin then taught classical guitar at various universities around Ireland, at Maynooth and St Pat’s University in Dublin and also in Dundalk.
“I used to go around Europe for the different Classical Guitar festivals and the great John Williams actually gave me a few pointers.”
“I told Ciaran that before he was born, I had produced the video for John Williams’ huge 1970s hit Cavatina (also known as the theme from the hit movie The Deer Hunter) and that we used the ITN News studio between bulletins .
“That is amazing, what a good story and what a genius he is. I just wanted to improve my technique on the guitar, so when I went to college I studied Classical Guitar and followed it on from my Leaving Cert through university.
“I got a full-time job teaching music and guitar in Dundalk Institute of Technology but I just walked out on that about seven years ago to go full time as solo artiste, just on my own singing country music, which I loved.
“I was doing a one-man show and went all around Ireland and I put my debut album together, which had a song called Willie’s Shoes on it. That was a popular song. It was written by Kevin Sheerin from Athlone, who actually taught me the guitar. He is a legend.
“I live in Castleblaney now, with my wife, and (veteran Irish Country music singer and sister of Daniel O’Donnell) Margo lives quite close, so I got to know her, and she gave me lots of advice. Then she kindly said she would do the duet with me and we did an old Vince Gill track called My Kind of Woman My Kind of Man and that was really special.”
IW: You have your own dance band now?
“In March last year we launched our five-piece band in Castleblaney, and we have been on the road with them since.
“Wagon Wheel was a major hit for Nathan Carter and there is no doubt whatsoever that he brought young people back into the dance halls in droves and brought a whole new life to them with all the young people that started coming in.
“Not just Nathan but also Derek Ryan and Cliona Hagan who all brought young people back in.
“But now it has all changed again and young people are not so obvious at the gigs now. It keeps turning in circles.”
IW: You’re doing ok then and making a living at it?
“We are just hanging in – it is very tough and competitive, but we are still on the road and that’s it.
“To be honest because of the costs of being on the road I am driving the van and setting up the gear myself, then taking it down at the end of the night and talking to everybody and then going home again and even then, I’m probably losing money.
“If you want good musicians you have to pay them and then they are not inclined to carry gear and you have to respect that, so it is very tough.
“It is hard to pay the wages of a roadie or a soundman. It is all very expensive these days…but, hopefully, you are just waiting for the break of a hit song.”
IW: Do you think that it is harder now for somebody starting up than it was in the day for the big Irish Country stars like Big Tom?
“I suppose it is. I was saying to Barry Kirwan at the recent Late Late Show Country Music Special on RTE that these days it is almost impossible.
“It’s not just a case of doing the gig because without a big record company behind you, you have to pay to make your own recordings and that is expensive, then you have to pay for the video.
“I’ve been on iTunes and other streaming and download platforms for five or six years now, but you only just get enough from it to keep renewing the stream.
“At the end of the day though it is old school. People want to see you on the stage.
“The numbers have gone down dramatically for everybody but those that do come love it and it is them that hopefully still buy the CDs.
“There are probably only about four or five bands that are doing OK really. I’d say that if there was a new band starting out now, they would have about twelve months to make it or break it – after that it is down to how much money you’ve got.”
IW: Maybe it will happen with your forthcoming album?
“You never know; you just don’t know, but fingers crossed anyway, and we are about halfway through that album now. I have about five or six singles gone from it and I hope to have it out soon enough.”
IW: Will we be seeing you on tour in the UK anytime soon?
“We are busy through the summer doing lots of festivals and I am touring Ireland with a show featuring Glen Campbell songs. I am also doing Opry le Daniel in June, the show they do for TG4, where we will be doing two Glen Campbell songs on that.
“Keep it Country TV is also great exposure for any band and we recently did the Late Late Show Country Music Special on RTE, which was fantastic. It is all great that way.”