Michael McDonagh meets Dundalk man Steve Carroll who, with partner Megan Luna Rhodes, from Yorkshire, has carved out a very nice niche performing in well-heeled Berkshire.
Steve Carroll is a singer and songwriter who came over from Dundalk in Co Louth and settled in Berkshire 30 years ago. He has not looked back since. Such is his popularity as a performer that he has built up a big following and has worked regularly as a solo singer, booked back by a range of venues in and around Berkshire.
Five years ago he teamed up with Megan Luna Rhodes, from Leeds. Steve’s classic gravelly vocals and Megan’s extraordinary voice, have seen them build a loyal fan base across the UK and Ireland.
Their repertoire includes songs The Dubliners, The White Stripes, Christy Moore, Beyoncé, Kodaline, The Carpenters, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Kate Bush, U2, The Cranberries, The Corrs, and many more.
They will be the resident band at Newbury Racecourse and have two weekly residencies in Windsor The Duke Of York, (every Wednesday night) and the Old Ticket Hall every Sunday night. The rest of the week they can be found anywhere from The King’s Arms in Cookham, Sexton’s on The Green in Thames Ditton or even The Castle Bar or Russell’s Tavern in Dundalk.
How did you end up in Berkshire?
“I came in 1987, I was working at the time in Ireland and me and my mate came over just for a change really and thought we would go on an adventure and see what it was like over in England.
“When we came over we opened up a menswear shop in Maidenhead. We had been over the year before for a holiday around Halloween and we met some people and they invited us back and it was with them that we opened the shop. “We did that for a couple of years then I moved on to sales for a print business – which I hated – and I just started doing a bit of music in the evenings and I loved that so decided to try to make a go of it.”
When did you start to play music?
“I used to sit in the occasional session on a Tuesday night in a pub in Dundalk called McManus’s, which had so many great musicians and sessions there. When I would sit in the corner playing, Jim Corr would be sitting next to me playing there too, and his sisters, The Corrs, would be serving behind the bar, as their uncle owned it.
“It was a great little music venue but it was not serious for me then and I also played trumpet for years.”
How did you team up with Megan?
“Well, Megan Lunar Rhodes is a painter and that is the name that her work is sold under. We lived in villages next to each other in Hampshire and became friends and she came along to one of my gigs one afternoon in O’Neill’s in Winchester.
“It was a quiet afternoon and I was singing a Lana Del Rey song, Video Games, and she began to sing along, so I said come on and sing. Even though she had never sung in public she got up and sang with me and it was incredible. I could not believe it, so I just decided right there and then that she was not going anywhere. It grew from there.
“She came to more gigs and our repertoire grew and grew. At first there was a bit of a kick back as I had been so long on my own that people were not used to seeing me with a girl singing but it did not take long for them to come around.
“To be honest, she is the attraction now, much more than I am. Which is great for me as it has given me a whole new lease of life. It has just been fabulous.” Describe your music with Megan.
“Eclectic is an overused word but it truly is what we do – songs from the ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ to songs from the White Stripes.
“Megan has recently been doing an incredible cover version of Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, which is 40 years old this year.
“When she does it she just stops people in their tracks. We are guitar based so we have two guitars and two vocals and although that sounds small it is actually quite a big sound.
“We have played in people’s kitchens but also in front of thousands of people at places like Newbury Races and we have more than held our own.”
How much of your set is still of Irish origin?
“Well it is really strange, as she has embraced the Irish thing really well. She is Yorkshire through and through, from Leeds, but she thinks there must have been an Irish granny or a connection somewhere, sure don’t we all have an Irish granny anyway.
“But if Irish is a state of mind not about geography, she has definitely got that and the Irish people take to Megan like I have never seen, they just love her. When we play in Ireland it is incredible.
“We play in packed pubs but it is like a concert as they sit and hang on every note. It is just amazing, we go back all the time now and if we had the time we could spend a year playing in Ireland and get loads of bookings from recommendations. It is great as we can get a bit of a holiday and make a few quid as well.
“When we went the first time I just asked in Dundalk if there was a place we could play. I was not looking for money just somewhere we could play and a friend said there was this pub and there would be no money, just drinks on a Wednesday night, which I said was great.
“When we got there, from the strength and power of Facebook and Twitter, the place was packed.
“At the end of the night the guy said to me ‘Steve we have music here three nights a week and have done for the last 15 years but we have never had anything like what you have just done’ and he insisted that he pay us a really good fee. That was the Castle Bar in Dundalk.”
Do you still record albums and release them yourself?
“We haven’t yet as a duo although I have always sold my own CDs but we are planning to record some stuff now and have bought some recording equipment.
“We both write so we have decided to record as a duo but to be honest we have been so busy and we have not had time to do it. We were also thinking of getting a little band name together but strangely as people grew to know us as ‘Steve & Megan’ it did not matter what we called ourselves, so for now we have carried on as that for the moment. We may do something later on and we have a few names and ideas we might like to go with.
Is it harder to sell CDs in this age of streaming music?
“No, not at all, quite the opposite really – the digital age and all the new technology has made it all so accessible for people like us, to be able to record and create a product and for people to buy that product either as a physical CD at gigs or they can even download or stream it whilst at the gig.”
You always worked many gigs, is that still the case and what are the main gigs you do?
“Oh yes we do five gigs every week, last week we did seven gigs in five days. We do the regular pub gigs we have always done but we do corporate gigs and parties and special events like weddings and garden parties and a lot of clubs, anything where music might be appropriate.
“We do lots of private things so I can’t mention the names, but one we can is a party for Chris Tarrant, which was great. He had seen one of our gigs in a pub in Upper Bucklebury and immediately asked us to come and play in his house for one of his famous parties.”
What is happening for you for the rest of 2018?
“Newbury races have really taken us on and we really enjoying doing that, although I have nothing to do with horses at all but I love the whole racing scene so they are great gigs. Recently a big stable contacted us to do something special for them. We live half a mile from Ascot so I’d love to do an Irish Night there or at Windsor Races.”