By Michael McDonagh
Manchester’s Marian Waldron is part of a new generation of Country and Irish singers.
Her family roots are in Ballyhaunis and Lahardane in Mayo, and in Stockport.
She had been working in broadcasting and a familiar voice on local radio in and around Manchester for many years but it was only after a move to New York that she decided to sing full time.
She moved back to Manchester to record her first album and now has a TV series on Spotlight (formerly Keep It Country TV) and her second album is out this month.
I asked her how she came to sing professionally:
“I came into it professionally late but have always been involved in music.
“I had been singing with various bands and a lot of people had suggested that I make an album on my own but for a while I steered away from it, as I did not have the confidence.
“I went on holiday to the Great Wall of China and had time to reflect and I thought if I don’t make this album now, I am never going to do it.
“I had been thinking about it and had wanted to do it for many years. I’d been living in New York 25 years ago and singing in bands over there, singing Irish country until I came back to live in the UK.
“I had been in a covers band and a blues band and was lead singer in these bands and I did guest singing with Irish bands, so I had always wanted to do it.”
You and I were both born in Manchester – albeit many, many years apart – to Irish families, are your Irish roots important to you?
“Oh yes massively so.
“I grew up in Manchester, well Stockport really, and both my parents were from Mayo. We did the car trip back to Mayo every year all our lives and we listened to Irish and country music all the time.
“I remember when I was aged four, we used to play Rhinestone Cowboy when we came back from Mass on a Sunday and there was always music in the house, so all our family had that musical influence.
“There was the ballad-y stuff, I have always had a leaning towards ballads and love singing them, and my grandparents would do that very old traditional Irish singing and you would have that mixing with the Rosary every night, that was on my dad’s side.
“On my mother’s side it would be a bit more fun-loving and the accordion would always come out and there was always a singsong and I was always asked to get up and sing.
“The first time I sang in public I was 11 and I sang Foster & Allen’s The Blacksmith.
“There was a lot of music around and we would listen to Larry Cunningham, Brendan Shine, Foster and Allen, Margo and all those classic artistes from that era.
“Of course, when we were teenagers, we were only allowed to go to the Irish clubs where they had the Irish dances when country and Irish music was played.
“All our friends were, like, Irish Catholic kids, that was our circle, going to clubs like the 32 Club in Ardwick Green, or The Chorlton Club, and St Brendan’s and the Cheetham Hill Irish Club, the old one. There was St Edward’s or St Kentigern’s Irish Club in Wilbraham Road, that is still there.
“They would have Trad nights and Country nights and that was our circle, all of us kids of the same age, we all learned to dance, and all learned to jive, and grew up to love the country music scene.”
So that is how you started to sing?
“Whenever there was a get together, I was asked to get up and sing, which terrified the life out of me. It all really started from there. If somebody heard me, they would ask me to sing for them, so I sang at people’s weddings and receptions. I did all of that.
“Then I sang as a guest with bands and then I joined a band. A man called Alan Keegan, who before he went to the BBC was in radio in Manchester, and who is now the ‘Voice of Manchester United’, called me and thought I should sing solo, so he got me to record The Rose and he played it on radio.
“It is a lovely song, from there people asked me to do more but I had stage fright. I just could not do it.
“I loved radio so when I came back from New York Manchester Irish Radio was just starting and I got in at ground level by doing everything from making tea and doing the mail shots and PR before being given my break with my own show.
“I got the graveyard shifts in the 3 am to 6 am slots but progressed from that and the following year I was given my own daytime show, which was a chart show.
“I interviewed bands who were coming through like the Sawdoctors and Daniel O’Donnell. That was “The Full Irish for twenty-odd years. I loved it. I also did a stint with the BBC.
“Then I was asked to present a show on Irish TV, my first face to face job on TV, but the station collapsed.
“I went to China to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, £200,000 I raised.
“But I always had this burning ambition to make an album so in 2017 I made my first album. I did it with no expectations, but it was really well received. I now have my second album coming out on 10 October.”
Who are your musical influences?
“I like the older country classics. It was wonderful to work with Philomena Begley on the cruises. I love Michael English and would love to do a duets album with him, or Dominic Kirwan whose voice is great.”
Doing all this independently must be hard work, do you find it daunting?
“It certainly is very expensive to record an album, which is why it takes so long. It has all changed, people are not buying CDs like they used to. You’d have to generate an exorbitant number of downloads to make a living as it costs so much to produce an album in the first place.
“Now I do so much by myself and use social media to publicise my music.”
Are you doing many gigs?
“Last year I made my debut appearance in New York. On the back of that I was asked back to do Gertie Byrne’s Irish Cruise and I did that with Philomena Begley and lots of other artistes. This year I was invited to do the big Irish Festival in New York. I have gigs coming up in Birmingham, did two tours with Manchester Trad Fest and had a great time with the Manchester in Mayo festival.
“The Mayo Manchester Tradfest Charity Gala in August, at the Ballina Arts Centre in Mayo, was in aid of the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund to raise money for the families of the 22 victims who were killed, and the 250 people injured, in that terrible terrorist attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert so, it was a great cause close to my heart.”
Michael McGoldrick the pipe player recently told us how strong the traditional music scene is in Manchester these days…
“Yes, the Manchester trad scene is now fabulous and is really thriving. Unfortunately for the country and Irish scene there’s just not the venues and places to play in Manchester anymore.
“If I gig out of Manchester, I get plenty of support but if I play in Manchester it is hard.
“Even people like Dominic Kirwan have a hard time drawing a crowd in Manchester.
“I played a country club in Shrewsbury that has been going for over 40 years and on a Monday night it will get between 180 and 200 people – but you could not get that in Manchester City Centre on Saturday night at the minute.
“It is an amazing club and I have done it four or five times. The thing is – they love the Irish country music although they are not Irish but mainly English people in the crowd, they love it and, you know what, they listen a lot more and pay attention.
“They don’t want anybody to make a sound and they sit and listen and are more supportive and in America the following I have there is brilliant.”
Will we see you playing live soon?
“There are some bookings in for next year, I want to concentrate on the gigs, for the bigger stages I would want to put a band together but it is very expensive, and you can’t really, at this stage, keep a band on the road all the time as it would cost too much.
“I’d love to do a support tour, definitely Dominic Kirwan and I’d love to support Michael English.
“The way I want to go is to do those weekend events like the Phil Mack Country Weekends, they are great to do, and the concerts are great. I will also do some more gigs in America as I do quite well over there.”
So even though it is a hard slog, your passion to be a singer is undeterred?
“People give me advice all the time like ‘it is much harder for women’ or ‘don’t put a band on the road as all you will do is lose money’, all that kind of thing.
“But that is the business, it is tough and cutthroat, you have to do what you need to do if that is your ambition, if your passion is there.
“I love singing and that’s what I want to do, and I love that genre of music.
“But you can do nothing without the support of people and without radio play to make some kind of modicum of an impression and to build up a following which is why I work with a lot of the radio stations here and in Ireland to build that following as my records get played.
“It takes time and a lot of hard work, it does not just happen, it takes a long time.”
You have a broadcasting background and also present a TV show, so I suppose that helps your profile now.
“I have the TV show for Spotlight and that has kept me busy this year as there is filming to do. We have done two series and I have now been given a third series to make, so we are going to be filming towards the end of the year.
“My show gets really good coverage in Ireland and we’ve been in the top ten of shows a few times, which is fabulous – it is incredible the people that watch from America, from Europe, and from Ireland and England. It is amazing the messages I get.
“When I look at the demographics of where my music sells I am always amazed – I see Japan and Norway or Sweden or Germany and I think ‘God, this is incredible’, so I am excited and I am going to keep working at it as I just love to sing.”