By David Hennessy
X Factor presenter Dermot O’Leary reveals all about the music that has influenced his life in his new book, The Soundtrack to my Life. The television host recounts his first ever concert which was when Brendan Shine came to Colchester when O’Leary was eight years old. He also talks about his admiration for Terry Wogan who had much to do with inspiring his career choice and the influence of The Pogues when he was a teenager.
The very first chapter, about Brendan Shine’s Catch Me if You Can, begins: “Ok, to kick things off, I’m Irish. I know I don’t sound it but I am, and of all the rich and varied musical heritage the land of my parents and forefathers has given the world, of all the great folk that have sprung from the heartbreak of conflict, famine and emigration that mother Erin has had to endure, it’s extraordinary that the track that is the first stop in my soundtrack is a song about a middle-aged farmer, effectively… pimping himself out.”
Writing about his upbringing, Dermot, who has roots in Wexford, says: “It’s a strange enough experience to be brought up Irish in Britain.
“I have it on good authority I was ‘Made in Ireland’. Something I dread thinking about.”
Dermot remembers hearing Irish music at ‘O’Leary ceilis’: “My dad also tells me that, exclusive to Ireland, they had the showband scene. These were big bands such as Big Tom and the Mainliners who played the most popular tunes of the day, and toured constantly. This bands and this music, exported to London, formed a big part of the music scene for the Irish diaspora in clubs like the Galtymore, and it’s where, in the sixties, many a young couple met, courted and cemented their relationships.”
Although a young Dermot was able to convince his parents to take him to see Brendan Shine, he fell asleep by the time he took to the stage. However, his father was able to talk him and his son backstage to meet him.
Dermot refers to his father’s days as a “star hurler”. O’Leary senior missed out on playing with the Wexford All-Ireland winners the year after his move to England. He did play with Father Murphys in London and Dermot also remembers these trips to North West London.
Dermot also remembers meeting Terry Wogan as a young boy and credits Terry with inspiring him to want to work in television: “In the seventies, if you were part of an Irish family living in England, Wogan was kind of like your connection to home. If my dad was lucky, he would call home to Ireland once a week, and write a weekly letter to my grandmother. There was obviously no email, no skype, quite often, when you left home, that was it, you never went back. So an Irish voice and face made people a little less homesick. Terry felt like part of the furniture over here, he was accepted, he was our boy, one of us who made good.”
Shane MacGowan’s The Pogues pop up in a later chapter as Dermot writes: “The Pogues were the first band that us second-generation Irishers could call our own. The Pogues were tailor made for me and those of my ilk.”
Seeing Shane MacGowan’s band in Brixkton was the first concert O’Leary went to as a teenager: “Like any good concert, if you are under thirty, it is practically a prerequisite to spend some of it ‘down the front’. In a Pogues concert, however, this means you have to be prepared to kiss your friends, your drink and sometimes your shirt goodbye. Being at the front of a Pogues concert essentially means that you are picked up at the start and put down at the end.
“Since that night I’ve seen so many concerts. I’ve seen the Pogues play many times again, seen Shane collapse drunk and be carried off (which at the time seemed fun, but was actually very sad). I’ve even seen the God that was Joe Strummer play with them. But the first cut really is the deepest. So I thank you, or go raibh maith agaibh, Shane and the boys. I don’t know where I’d be without you (though I do know that, nine times out of ten, I’d have been a lot less hung-over).”
The Soundtrack to my Life by Dermot O’Leary is out now on Hodder and Stoughton.