Mary Duff regularly tours the world with Daniel O’Donnell always delighting audiences with her beautiful voice and her self-effacing humour.
Mary has just released Turn Back the Years produced by Steve Milne. It was recorded in Jealoustown Studios Ireland with additional tracking created in Nashville. She recently spoke with Michael McDonagh.
IW: Hi Mary, you are just back from a world tour with Daniel O’Donnell on tour – you were in Sri Lanka, where we just had those terrible bombings.
“Yes, we have just come back and were in Australia and we finished off in Sri Lanka, so we feel especially close to the people there and send our condolences to all those people who have lost their loved ones in those terrorist bombs.
“We had been playing in Colombo, where the bombs went off. I didn’t know the hotel were one of the bombs killed so many as we don’t have a lot of time to look around, we just go in and do the show.
“We went there about five years ago with Daniel and we did not know what to expect but they are all local people from Sri Lanka and they just love the Country Music.
“There is a radio station called Gold FM and they play all our music and they love all the old Country stuff, so they sing absolutely everything and know all the words of the songs I’m singing.
“It’s amazing and they are such happy people with lovely smiling faces, so it is devastating that this should happen to them.
“They got their freedom only about ten years ago so it is terrible that this should happen to them now altogether and we are all so upset for them.
“It is shocking and of course there are loads of tourists there who go to see the Temples and sights and I went to one myself with Stephen, when I had a chance with a day off.
“It was a big one, a Buddhist Temple and it had a big tree in the middle and you take water in a little container and sprinkle the water on to the tree and ask forgiveness for your sins or whatever or pray and you take your shoes off as it is very religious and spiritual. They are respectful of all religions there, so it is terrible that these bombs have gone off there.
“None of us are safe wherever you go but what can you do but carry on.
“I am meant to go back there next March and do shows on my own. Because of the radio I am as well-known there as Daniel is, we are both equal out there now, but I don’t know what will happen.
“I hope I can still go as I had been back on my own to do two shows in the same place we had played with Daniel.
“When you go to these places you meet a lot of people and get to know them and they are very good to us, so it is especially sad when a tragedy like this comes close to places and people you know. It’s very sad altogether.”
IW: Tell us about your new album Turn Back The Years.
Well, it is a compilation of some favourite, classic Country songs from people like Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Spears and Patsy Cline. They are songs I have loved from way back. I love them all.
“I sang a lot of them with my father when I started when I was at school and sang with his band at weekends. Some of them I would have sat down with Daniel and talked about what songs we should have in his programme and a lot of these songs came up as people were asking for them, as they are very popular.
“You and I worked together all those years ago, you worked with me then doing all the videos and pictures for me. I used to love you getting me all those lovely clothes in London, who wouldn’t, and we had such good fun in loads of places.”
IW: Are these songs on the record ones that fans have requested?
“A lot of them are ones the fans would have heard me sing with Daniel, or on my own shows, but there are other classic country songs I love to sing and more.
“I have done songs like the Leo Sayer’s When I Need You, the Merle Haggard song Sing Me Back Home which he wrote when he was in prison, not many women would have sung that song.
“I think people like to pick up an album and know the songs as they know what they like and want to have them on the CD, if they can still find a record shop anymore to buy it.”
IW: Do you think it is harder now for women than for male singers to make it?
“I think it has always been harder for women to make it. It has been hard all the time as it is male dominated business. Women like the music but if they go out, they will see a male singer and think ‘Oh he is good looking’ but they don’t so much like to see a woman.
“If you are a woman on stage, you get criticised if your skirt is too short but then if you cover yourself up, they say you are frumpy looking – so you can’t win.
“Men singers don’t have that problem. In America it is not the same, and audiences there with both men and woman seem to embrace women singers and don’t judge them in the same way.
“They are so appreciative of both women and men singers and they always start cheering if you make a high note or sing a song well. They just think if you are good you are good, and I suppose that is why America has so many successful women singers like Dolly Parton and others.”