A Woman’s Heart creator Eleanor McEvoy speaks to Fiona O’Brien about turning 50, and the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking album for Irish women’s voices
The internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy is bringing her ‘Naked… Live’ tour to the UK this month, leaving her with little time to reflect on the upcoming 25th anniversary of the album that made her a star. Her latest project sees her team up with artist Chris Gollon, whose involvement initially came from being commissioned to just doing the album cover before it led to more.
“I have done a stripped down acoustic version of my songs before as an album, but it wasn’t decided upon. Someone just recorded me in rehearsals and sent it to the record company and that decision was made for me,” she says. “And it was all my hits like Sophie and A Woman’s Heart that everyone knows. This time around I wanted to plan it and orchestrate it myself. It’s my lesser-known songs and it’s just me. Very raw, it was recorded live in a studio, but planned. I really like it.”
Gollon then was inspired by the Naked album, so much so that he created his own series of paintings for an exhibition, and the two of them embarked on a ‘muse-on-muse’ relationship.
“It was extraordinary really. It was an unusual thing for me to do with Naked music anyway to get a painter to do the cover. But I love his work, I had bought one of his paintings and I don’t know what it was. I felt most women in pictures and in magazines are all perfect. They’re all models and airbrushed. His paintings aren’t like that, they are women who are slightly older and flawed and all have these freakishly big hands, but yet they’re very compelling and beautiful in some level.
“That to me was like the characters in my songs so I think we had a natural rapport on an artistic level. He did four paintings for the album, but then he kept painting until he had 25 paintings. Gallery Different in Fitzrovia said they wanted to put on an Exhibition called Naked Music just with his 25 paintings and with my album playing in a loop in the background. So when I heard that I thought Jesus why don’t I go over and play live for a couple of days.
“So I did and it was just amazing, and it ran for three weeks and it was incredible to see all these paintings inspired by the songs. And then I started to write songs inspired by the paintings he did inspired by the songs. There was a song called Dreaming of You that I recorded with Lloyd Cole and Chris Gobben then painted one called Dreaming of Leaving based on the character in our song. But I loved the painting so much that I then wrote another song called Gimme Some Wine based on it.
Art inspires art
“And he has now done an exhibition based on Gimme Some Wine in Monmouth, with 23 new paintings. I went over and played for that as well. And with stuff I said about how I love Picasso, particularly his blue period, that he created all of this incredible art with just one tool, just blue, and confined himself but didn’t let it confine him. That is kind of how I see Naked, me creating a project with just one element, me and no orchestra or anything like that.”
And the collaboration led Eleanor to creating her first ever songbook, something she wanted to do for years.
“I think when people heard I had a songbook they were expecting my memoirs. But at least six more people have to die before I’m ready for that,” she jokes in her typical black-humoured dry wit.
The publication features lyrics and melodies from the songs on Naked Music alongside 24 of Gollon’s stunning paintings inspired by the music on that album.
“I’d be at gigs and people would ask me about my songs, that they had been trying and trying to play them themselves but would get stuck on certain sections.
“So I put it all in a book, all simplified with the chords and everything so fans can have a go if they wish. And with the art and lyrics, it’s beautiful. I’m just really, really proud of it.”
Eleanor’s tour of the UK starts on May 4 at The Playhouse in Cheltenham, and is 14 dates over 17 nights.
“I like it that way because if I have a night off, I’m like ‘oh I wish I was just playing now instead’, although it does tire me out, but I don’t notice. Others have to tell me to take a break. In fact, there is a gap of three nights but that’s because I’m jetting off to Europe for something else.
“I love touring England. I love the big cities of course, but I love the little villages and going into the museums and galleries and libraries, and reading the notices in the church halls and shops, you really feel like the community is really present.” It is far-flung from the huge international tours that Eleanor embarked on with A Woman’s Heart that saw her pen the title track and give two songs along with other Irish heavyweights Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon and Mary Black. Looking back she notes the enormity of the project, and how it all fell to her at the age of 25.
Now based in Wexford, Dublin-born McEvoy’s career originally started as a session musician, which included a long stint with The Irish National Symphony Orchestra.However, it was whilst playing with The Mary Black Band that McEvoy decided to develop her own career, and in 1992 two life-changing opportunities came along.
Mary Black and her record company manager/husband decided that McEvoy’s song A Woman’s Heart would be a fitting title and lead track for the compilation they were putting together of contemporary Irish female performers. Simultaneously, Tom Zutaut, the legendary A&R of Geffen Records (who had previously signed Guns & Roses, Motley Crue, and Edie Brickell), was on a scouting mission to Dublin. After hearing McEvoy perform at The Baggott Inn pub, he offered her a worldwide recording deal on the spot.
“I don’t think I really ever thought of it like that back then. I thought I was very grown up. I had been in the Royal Orchestra, had a degree in music from Trinity College. But it did effect me, the fame side of it. That’s not what I was looking for. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I never lost the run of myself, or go mad with money, I’ve always been quite good that way. But it was a bit intimidating to be up there with all of these really really established artists.
“But for the 20th anniversary in 2012 we went on a worldwide tour and I think that was the first time any of us really had a chance to reflect and realise just how huge it was. There were 26 year olds in the audience and we were like, how did you ever get into this?!
“But they said that their mothers and grandmothers would have it playing as they grew up, so we would have three generations of women together in the audience. I suppose that was really special.”
But since then Eleanor has made her own living, and has released 13 albums to date, which have sold millions worldwide. And no two albums are the same. While A Woman’s Heart sold 750,000 copies, her own debut album for Geffen went on to sell 250,000.
Eleanor’s debut album, which she was given a record deal for on the spot after being heard perform in Dublin the same week A Woman’s Heart was finalised, was more of a rock sound.
“I suppose people at first want to come and assume you are doing trad. But as much as I love that music, rock was more my sound at the time. Thank god I have a really loyal fanbase that will buy any old thing I put out!” she jokes. “Although there is one album I can’t even give it away it did so badly.
“But experimenting, isn’t that the point. To see what new things you can do. Take Chrissy Hynde for example, she’s amazing. But it’s almost like a blueprint. You know what you are going to get with her for every album she brings out.
“And then you have David Bowie. Everything is always different, evolving. Now I love mainstream artists, I really like what Adele and Ed Sheeran are doing. But I was never really in it for that level of fame. I just want to play music.
“I’ve made the master tape of my next album, and am actually in London now having dropped it off to the record label. It is very ‘out there’. Very different, I’m excited for it. There will be big announcements soon.”
Eleanor turned 50 in January, and was surprised at how the milestone affected her, if only for a moment. “I remember sailing through my 40th birthday and was quite judgemental towards these women who seen it as such a big deal! I was like this is fine, and assumed I would be the same for my 50th.
“But then a few days before the big day I was listening to the radio and the news came on about a car crash. And they reported that a woman in her 50s had died. And I thought ‘Oh my God, that will be me. I will be reported on like a woman in her 50s’.
And it took me back a little bit. Then I kept seeing all of these advertisements for holidays for over 50s, and I thought is this what it is now, is this all there is for me.
“But that didn’t last very long, and I got over it! But I will never judge those women who have mini-crises about reaching those milestones again!”
• Visit www.eleanormcevoy.com for ticketing information and England and Wales tour dates