By Michael McDonagh
Claudia Buckley, 21, is a fast-rising Irish singer who also happens to be the daughter of famous Irish country singer Jimmy Buckley with whom she had a hit when she was just 15. She grew up surrounded by music and spoke to Michael J. McDonagh about following in the footsteps of people like her dad and Philomena Begley.
“When I was growing up there was always music around the house, and I suppose I got a real understanding of dad’s work and his job.
“When was around 5 or 6 I remember going into school and all the kids would be talking about their mums and dads going off to work and them dropping them off at school in the morning before work, whereas I knew my dad was coming home from his work in the morning when I was going to school. I knew there was something a little bit different about what he did.
“Then as a child, we would be going places and people would stop and talk to him in the street and some would take pictures. It happened a lot and I remember saying to my mum ‘Is dad famous?’ and she said, ‘Well, kind of’.
“Music was all around the house then and mum would always be playing dad’s records going along in the car when we were small and my ear, I think, got trained very early to recognise a certain style of country music, I suppose when I look back that’s where my love of it began.”
IW: Did you learn other songs at school?
I studied music for Leaving Cert subjects, learned classical like Tchaikovsky and did Bohemian Rhapsody as one of my pieces for the Leaving. I loved rock, folk and bluegrass but even without noticing it, I would start singing something and it would come out with a country twist as it was the way my ear was trained to hear it and thought it was the most comfortable to sing.
“It sounded best when I did it like that, putting my own stamp on it, there is no point in just doing a copy.”
IW: Was it always country music or did you not think of doing pop stuff?
“At about 11 or 12 the cool thing was pop – that’s when I knew I was different musically, as all the others would be talking about all these big boy bands like One Direction and all the rest…and I would be saying ‘Oh my God! Did you hear my dad did a duet with George Jones!’ I thought it was so cool, but the other kids did not.
“My dad says I look up to a lot of the guys in country but of course I look up to the female country singers. I love Lorrie Morgan, I go back and listen to her albums, but I also look up to George Jones and Buck Owens and that old-style authentic country music from Nashville, Tennessee, the old type stuff.
“Of course, I like Dolly Parton and Vince Gill and they would always influence the way that I interpret a song and sing.
“It always has to come from the song and I have to listen to it and get my own understanding of the feelings behind it and that way it will come out authentic and true and I think that is what those singers have done as well.
“When I’ve listened to interviews with them that’s what they always say, that they really listen to the songs to understand them and that is what I have always done before I sing them and that’s the way you pack more of a punch with it. It has made me really think about the way I interpret songs and that is something that I carry with me now and always will, I think.”
IW: When did you decide you wanted to be a singer too?
“Dad had always put it out there I guess but I was always exposed to what a tough industry it was and that it was very cutthroat and very difficult for women as well.
“The country scene is really saturated by men and in the industry in Ireland there are only a handful of girls who are doing it successfully. I always tried to figure out why that was, but I knew that even when I was younger, I would want to give it a shot and see what I could do and hopefully could help bring that kind of younger audience back in.
“I have made a lot of my friends listen to country music and now they go to the shows and love it.
“So, I thought, you know what I love this, I really want to do it, my dad does it and I know it is tough, so tough. I’ve seen the ups and the downs but there is only so far you can go with putting something off.”
IW: What was the first professional gig you did and how old were you?
“When I was 15, I said to my dad that I wanted to record a song with him, and he wanted to do one as well, but we thought we would just keep it simple, just to have it as a memory. We recorded I Told You So, the song Randy Travers did as a duet with Cary Underwood.
“We never actually thought that something big would come out of it and that it would get so much recognition.
“It turned out really nice and the vocals were really strong, so we sent it out to a couple of stations to see what they thought. It just exploded and we won Best Duet at the Country Music Awards that year – for a fifteen-year-old that was massive and gave me my first taste of what it could be like.
“Later that year I performed on a show in Castlebar and there must have been two to three thousand people there and that was huge for me.
“I loved the buzz, I knew I wanted to do this, it was the best feeling in the world.
“I’ve finished my studies and now, at 21, I can really put my time and effort into this, it will be a long slow process and be hard work – but I’ll do whatever it takes.
“My single went straight to No 1 on the Irish Country Charts, I was blown away by the reaction with radio stations playing it and people contacting me and following me on Twitter and social media.”
IW: Is it harder for girls?
“Right now, there are a lot of girl singers trying to get into the industry – it is working for some and not working for others. If you really, really, love it and if you are a nice person and if you show that you are passionate about something and if you are willing to go out and meet the people before or after the show and you like meeting the people – then that’s how you get the people on your side and how you build a following.
“It is also down to having a good song and good musicians – it does not matter if you are a boy or a girl you have to have a good song.
“And you need a bit of luck as well, but it has always been like that.
“Philomena (Begley), for whom I have so much respect, has given me advice. There’s her and singers like Louise Morrisey, women who have been around a long time, for whom people have such a lot and they have done so well. Of course, they are great musicians and good at performing but they are genuinely really nice people and people like nice people.”
IW: Do you think it is harder now for people starting out than it was for your dad?
“Yes and no. In Philomena’s time when she was starting out, and then after the showbands, there was a massive peak in country music in the ballrooms. Then Daniel (O’Donnell) came along and that gave it a good push but now you have to be willing to put in the hours and work hard and realise that it is not all glamour but hard work going up and down the road and banging on doors trying to get people to listen to you.
“We all have to do that, but I am sure that back then they had to do that too. Now we have social media so you can put out the video and stay in touch with your growing fan base so people can get to know your music.
“The boys in our band tell me you can never be a princess you have to be able to put in the work and there are going to be slumps and bumps in the road and let the good times come and if they are going to come they will come. I have a strong faith in that.
IW: Do you think that country music is more acceptable in Ireland and even ‘cool’?
“People outside the industry who have not really listened to country music have this perception that it is all cowboy hats and cowboy boots but it is really much more than that.
“Country music is all about storytelling and if you just give it a chance it is the coolest thing in the world.
“There will always be an element who sneer at it but now it is accepted much more, especially by the media here.”
IW: Will we get a chance to see you perform over here anytime soon?
“Yes, I will be here touring with my dad and his band next year in Scotland in March and England in April.”