Singer Barry Kirwan talks to Michael McDonagh about following in the footsteps of his dad Dominic
Barry Kirwan was born on the 14th February 1986 with music in the very makeup of his DNA. As the son of Irish country music singing sensation Dominic Kirwan, it comes as no surprise that Barry had showbiz aspirations from a very early age.
Growing up, Barry was a committed member of his school’s choir and devoted much of his time performing in school productions or competing in various solo singing feis’. At the age of 5 he joined the Seamus Kerrigan School of Traditional Irish Dance where he stayed until the age of 18. Here Barry had the amazing opportunity to travel throughout Ireland taking part in a range of competitions, such as the All Ireland Dancing championships and Scór to name a few.
A triple threat, Barry can also add acting to his ever increasing list of talents after the years he spent as a member of theHazel Wand drama school in his hometown of Omagh. No stranger to the stage, Barry was destined to return and seize the spotlight later on in life.
At age 11, Barry fell in love with drumming and excelled from grade 1- 8 within the space of five years. His passion for the instrument led him to further study in London at Drumtech college, part of the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) schools. Shortly after college Barry decided to join his father’s band as his drummer and provided backing vocals for over 4 years.
Constantly growing as a musician, Barry left Dominic’s band in September 2010 and had the opportunity to live with his brother Colm in Nashville. During his time in the US he stayed with close friends, American country duo Joey & Rory where he had the incredible honour to play drums for 4 of their US shows.
As January 2011 came to a close, Barry had began to work with Ireland’s princess of country, Lisa McHugh and performed with her until September 2011 before becoming the drummer and backing vocalist for hit recording artist Derek Ryan.
During his 4 and a half years working with the Derek Ryan band, Barry toured all around Ireland, the U.K and Australia. With every show in every city, Barry’s desires became more apparent and in February 2016 he left the Derek Ryan band to pursue his own dream of a solo career in the Irish country music scene.
For the past 4 months he has been touring with his father as the support act on the ‘Here For A Good Time’ tour throughout the UK and Ireland which has proven to be an excellent platform to prepare before his own live shows this summer.
On 6th May 2016, Barry released his first solo single ‘‘Keep It In The Middle Of The Road’ from his debut studio album. The song shot to No. 1 spot on the Irish iTunes Country chart and No.2 in the UK iTunes Country chart – a foretelling of the successful career this rising star will undoubtedly have in the years ahead.
Having already been nominated ‘Newcomer of the Year’ at the 2016 RTE Irish Country Music Awards, Barry Kirwan is set to take the Irish country music scene by storm!
With such a famous Irish singer as your dad, Dominic Kirwan, do you think it was inevitable that you would go into music?
“Well a lot of people think it was solely my dad that got us into music but actually my mum is very musical as well. Growing up, especially when we were at primary school, my brother and I took part in little feis type competitions and my mum would have been encouraging us in all that. It was her that would be getting us to learn the words of the songs and how to perform, as at that time dad was away on the road a lot. We knew our dad was a singer but it was my mum at that time that was in control of our music.
After school like a lot of young Irish musicians you came to London to study music as a drummer. Where was that?
“I went to Thames Valley in Ealing, which is part of the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM), now but then it was called Drumtech but the degree course was run through Thames Valley. I did a degree in Music Performance. Ireland itself does not really have such places, especially when you leave school to do popular music courses. You can do media courses or go on to places like Queens University to do follow-on courses like music degrees but there was nowhere to do performance, so I came to London.
“I had started to play drums from the age of about 11 and did all my grades right up through High School and the next step was to head for London, where I was for nearly three years and I had a great time. I was a rock drummer right through my early days at school and right up to going to Drumtech and I was still a rock drummer in London. I dropped out of my course after two and half years as whilst I still liked drumming I had fallen out with the learning process of drumming. Then I was back living in Ireland”.
So almost straight out of college you went to work for your dad?
“It so happened that my dad’s drummer was leaving so it seemed natural that I would step in. Dad had said to me look you are not going to be sitting at home on your arse you might as well come and work for me and that’s pretty much how it started doing the Country Music drumming thing. I was always into Country but it so happened that until then I had not really played Country Music in a band.
So who were your influences?
“I was always into drummers who could sing so I was in to Phil Collins and Don Henley was always a big favourite of mine. Those kind of guys were great as they did both, which is what I had done as well.
“Although I had dropped out of college I still wanted to play drums so when dad gave me the opportunity I jumped at it especially as I would start getting paid to play drums, which was a better idea, as it would give me some money as well.
“People think playing drums for country music is easy but it is not, there are a lot of difficult dynamic things in it to learn and it took me a good year for me to get a good feel around it.”
The next thing you did was to go to Nashville…
“I went to Nashville in 2010, I came back on Christmas Eve and at the end of January I’d got a job with Lisa McHugh, which I did for about eight months until Derek Ryan gave me a call and then worked with him for four and a half years. I went solo in June 2016, after playing Irish music for eleven years.
“In my gigs I play some acoustic guitar and do a little bit of drumming. I also do a little set where I play the drums then do some Irish dancing, as I grew up being an Irish dancer as well.”
Are you going for the younger market that Nathan Carter and Cliona Hagan have gone for?
“Well,…yeah, we are all striving for that market. The growing market in Ireland is for that age group and you have to use all the tools in your box to get them through the door.
“My first few things were pretty much all jives, as that’s effectively the market you are in here, so I am in the dance market and I have to have a set jives, waltzes and foxtrots. I have recently done some ballads as singles but the live set is mainly for dancing.”
It looks like your dad, Dominic Kirwan, has nicked your band?
“Ha ha. It was not quite like that but it made a lot of sense for us to pool resources and come together and to keep the band working.
“They back him on his concert tours and they back me on mine. Then on my dad’s concert shows I come on and do maybe six or seven songs in the first half and don’t really play drums, then in the second half I join him in his set.
“On my own dance show I’ll do say the first half hour or more, then Dad may come along and do about twenty minutes, then I’ll finish the show off. “It works well with my dad’s shows and we had the pleasure of doing that a few years ago when Colm was in the band too.”
Your dad has a wealth of music business experience, does he share it with you?
“I have been working with my dad for quite a bit which is great and he has been looking over my career with eagle eyes and is very protective of me. Hopefully I won’t make mistakes as he teaches me to avoid some of the pitfalls.”
Do you think it is harder now starting out with no big record companies to support you?
“Well, now you pay for it all yourself – but then you own it all and the companies, like Rosette, just distribute the albums but for me.
“I think it is harder because I am Dominic Kirwan’s son some people judge me on that. As Dad’s kind of music changed from Country to Easy Listening, so some people in Ireland judge me and think I am doing that, which I am not. By putting my own stuff out there and doing the videos hopefully people will discover me and like what I do.”