“It’s hard to believe that it’s 25 years,” says Omagh country singer Dominic Kirwan whose most recent compilation, Twenty Five Years- To Be Continued, celebrates his longevity in the business.
“You just look back on it and say, ‘where have those years gone?’ When I first started touring and went to England, I played the Irish circuit in and around London: I played the Galty, I played the National, I played the Fulham, Birmingham, so those 25 years have just flown by but now that I am here at this stage, I am excited. I’ve loved every minute of putting this album together.”
When pushed for a highlight on his extended career, Dominic goes all the way back to the beginning when he toured with country superstar Charley Pride. He has since toured with Kenny Rogers and other greats but Charley inspired him both professionally and personally: “Well, I think the most stand out ‘pinch yourself’ moment was my very first tour with an international act, Charley Pride in 1990.
“We all knew the enormity of this major country artist who had crossed the genres into pop music at the time and here I was getting an opportunity, then to get to know him because he has that wonderful warm personality of being able to talk to people, to have that rapport with him throughout the next five weeks. To this day to still have a Christmas card come from him and his wife every year, that’s a pinch yourself moment. It’s because of his enormity but it’s also about the normal human being that he is. He is the man who has taught me that no matter who you are in this business, no matter how big you are, you’ve got to give time to the people at all the different levels because you never know who the next star is going to be. You’ve got to remember your roots, and he has done that.”
The album’s title suggests Dominic will be around for a long time yet. He laughs when asked if he thinks he could still be singing in 25 more years: “I am a performer. You know the way people talk about longevity and I’m not by any means putting myself into any bracket at all but I happened to watch a programme by Tom Jones the other night and he was interviewed at 74 years of age. When I looked at him, I was thinking: ‘That’s an interesting one, where I will be when I’m 74? Will I still be an entertainer?’ Obviously he comes from a completely different market, he’s in a world market. My market is big but it wouldn’t be as vast as that so would I have a place in it in 20 years time? I’m not 100% sure.
“To be Continued is more, I suppose, a little bit tongue in cheek, it was a bit like, ‘I haven’t gone away and there’s a load more in me really’.”
Does putting the record together cause Dominic to reflect on the changes the record industry has seen in 25 years? “It does. It’s wonderful in some ways and very sad in many other ways.
“When I first started, there was that vibrant buzz for the Irish market where you knew when you got in the van with the boys and you felt if you were making your way to London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, there was a community there to welcome you and there is an element of that still there but it’s not what it used to be. I went to London and played all those clubs I mentioned but I also played little clubs as well and they stand out in my mind, these wonderful little Catholic clubs that gave you another opportunity to get to an audience. That’s all gone.
“I look at the younger acts. Yes, there’s one or two breaking through but they’re breaking through in a completely different way and you wonder if that longevity is still going to be there because now when our youth move to these massively big cities, there isn’t an Irish community to go to. They become part of what’s cosmopolitan within these cities. I see radio has changed, television has changed, all the outlets that we had are not what they used to be so it has become a lot more difficult.
“I think it is difficult for young performers these days, it’s getting their platform. I can talk about Derek Ryan or Nathan Carter, I could talk about two names that are standing out at the moment and we’re talking about an Irish music industry here. Mike Denver’s still doing wonderful business, Jimmy Buckley’s still out there, Robert Mizzell, Declan Nerney after all these years is still holding great crowds but you’re talking about a very small minority of people that are holding this circuit together. There are young people trying to get onto it but it’s not opening up the way it used to.”
Dominic has seen this very close to home as all his children are musical to some degree. His son Colm has recorded his debut album and currently touring with Don Williams. His son Barry drums with Derek Ryan while Jonathan is a Glasgow based singer-songwriter and he has a daughter studying music in Liverpool: “I would encourage any kid. I would tell them all the same thing: Follow your dream, work hard at it, do your utmost to get into a certain thing but do not let go of what is making your living. Don’t just think that you’ll be that recognised star tomorrow because it doesn’t work like that no more, it just doesn’t happen.
“You can have all these X Factor television shows, they’re wonderful and they’re platforms but a lot of these people fall by the wayside afterwards because they don’t have that investor. They get the exposure quickly but they don’t get the investment and then if they do get a little bit of investment, they haven’t done their ground work to be able to entertain these big audiences from different angles. My encouragement would be to say: Work hard, believe, follow your dream but at the same time secure something that’s solid and that you can fall onto.”
Splitting his time between his homes in Omagh and Britain, has Dominic seen an improvement in the relations between Catholics and Protestants in the north of Ireland? “The politics and religion have never been an issue for me because from my early days, I have played everywhere. I have played in Belfast, west Belfast, east Belfast, I played in British legion halls and Orange halls, I’ve played everywhere so that’s never been an issue in my life. Through all the troubled times, I’ve never seen it. I’ve known it’s there but I’ve never seen it so I’ve never made that an issue and I never will make that an issue.
“I think sometimes that it’s taken completely out of context because entertainment has always crossed the barriers and it has never been anything different. The fact that there’s a little bit of ease in the whole scenario here has made it look as if there’s a major change. It was never any different. We still do the same things, go to the same places and have always been accepted by the same communities, so I have never seen a difference.
“The community of Omagh, we’re always a strong community. This town was always a very good well mixed town. I had both sides of the community as friends when I was growing up and I grew up in those troubled times.
“Sadly, a major atrocity [the Omagh bomb of 1998] took place in it and many families were affected by it and we were all affected because we knew families who were affected. I remember those days, going to all those wakes and going to both sides of the communities’ wakes because everybody pulled together but the town has grown from that, it has gone further away from it and of course the politics has changed a lot and there’s a lot more positivity than there’s ever been in Northern Ireland.
“You will go on the news and you will get a minority thing going on but you’re in London, there’s stuff happening around you every day and probably worse.”
Asked if he was following the fiasco around the Garth Brooks Croke Park concerts that never were, Dominic says: “Everyone was disappointed at what happened but Garth Brooks is Garth Brooks. We don’t know the complete politics no matter what we’ve been told, I think there’s probably a bigger story to it.
“I think on a personal note, no matter what anyone else says: He should have done the three shows. I think that the Irish audiences and the people from the UK who bought and supported him were definitely badly treated and I think no matter what we’re told he should have done the three and rescheduled to do the other two at another date. That’s my total belief. He’s an entertainer and a lot of people spent a lot of money and a lot of organisation to get to Dublin for that weekend and a lot of people got hit hard for it.”
Looking to the future, what is next for Dominic? “That album’s now in the can and life is moving on. I’m already talking to my producer about a concept for next year. There are plans for Mary Duff and myself to tour next year which is going to be something different. Daniel’s off the road for a few years and Mary obviously has a few gaps in her diary and I thought, ‘this will be different for my audience and it will give Mary something different as well’ so we’re going to get together and tour.”
Twenty Five Years- To Be Continued by Dominic Kirwan is out now. Dominic tours the UK extensively from early next year, playing some dates with Mary Duff.
For more information, go to http://www.dominickirwan.com.