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From wannabe to mentor

Country singer Olivia Douglas told David Hennessy about returning to Glór Tíre, the show where it all started for her in 2016, as a mentor, the time she rang Philomena Begley when she was a child and being shocked by the death of Ashling Murphy who was part of the same Comhaltas branch as her albeit later.

Offaly country music singer Olivia Douglas recently returned to where it all started for her in 2016, TG4’s Glór Tíre.

Then she was a contestant but more recently she was a mentor to two hopefuls who hoped to follow her into the business.

Olivia told The Irish World: “It’s great to be back. The whole start for me was Glór Tíre back in 2016. Thankfully, I haven’t looked back.

“To be back now mentoring- I couldn’t believe it really when I got the call to do it.”

Olivia describes her time on the show six years ago, in which she was mentored by country legend Sandy Kelly, as a whirlwind.

“I wasn’t even really gigging before that, I had just done a few gigs in Daddy’s pub. Next thing, all of a sudden, I was up with TV cameras and lights and the whole lot. It was very daunting, let me tell you.

“I was very, very nervous. I was very lucky, I had Sandy Kelly as my mentor, she was an absolute gem. She was a great help. To be picked by Sandy, I couldn’t believe it to be honest.

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“When I sent in the video when I applied, I actually done it to keep everyone quiet. My cousin was like, ‘Send in the video and see what happens’. The same with mammy and daddy. I nearly did it to actually keep them quiet because I didn’t think anything would come out of it.

“I remember being at the final when Lisa McHugh was in it and looking up you think, ‘I want to be up there. I want to do that’ but I just kept leaving it because I thought, ‘Ah sure, maybe I wouldn’t be able’ – the confidence thing.

“I would have been thinking, ‘I’m not going for it. They’re not going to pick me, but I’ll send it in anyway’.

“So, to be picked like that by Sandy was really, really nice. We’re in touch to this day. I rang her there to tell her that I was a mentor and she was delighted.

“It’s really, really good to have that relationship after that it. That’s important.”

Olivia discovered the tin whistle at an early age, then the button accordion which she demonstrated at Fleadh Cheoils around Ireland.

In 2005 she placed second at the All-Ireland Fleadh in the under-18s. Was she a a ‘Fleadh baby’? “I was definitely one of them. Traditional music is definitely my background. I was involved in Comhaltas. I used to teach music as well to the children, entered all the Fleadhs down through the years, was in ceili bands, duets and trios so that was that was a big part of my life.

“I was very much involved in in the Irish music. The button accordion was always in the household.

“Thankfully, mammy and daddy were absolutely brilliant. They brought me everywhere for music lessons, down to the festivals. Willie Clancy (Summer School) was my holiday every year. We used to go for the week.”

Along with her passion for music, Olivia also pursued a business degree.

“I did always want to do music but I always had it as a sideline. I always did try to keep my day job and be sensible about things. When I was in college, I would have been gigging in a tourist pub in Banagher, Hough’s, four or five nights a week. I knew it was something that I always wanted to do but I wasn’t singing there, it was all Irish music.

“I wanted to be a singer but a lot of it is the confidence, to get the confidence is not easy.

“When I was growing up, I would look at the likes of Philomena (Begley), I wanted to be onstage, I just wanted to be like her.”

As a young girl Olivia ‘tortured’ her father to get Philomena’s, aka The Queen of Irish Country Music’s phone number from a musician who visited the family pub, Tom’s Tavern in Ferbane, Co. Offaly.

“My dad used to, and still does, have country music in the pub every weekend and there were a few solo artists that would have been in the likes of Philomena’s band. There was this man playing in the pub one night, Dan O’Hara, God Rest Him.

“It’s not the thing. You don’t be asking these people for the likes of Philomena Begley’s number, but I had daddy absolutely tortured, so he got Philomena’s number and I remember ringing her one morning. I couldn’t believe that I was actually talking to Philomena down the phone, you know? She was chatting away. It was as if I had known her all my life.”

Olivia paid a special tribute to her hero on TG4’s Opry le Daniel (O’Donnell) when she and Claudia Buckley sang a medley of her best known songs in front of Philomena.

“I was honoured to be involved in that show. Philomena is just the best craic. You’re guaranteed a laugh when she is there, she’s just such a lovely person and very down to earth.

“It’s funny. The night of the Opry Le Daniel we were talking about that phone conversation and I said to her, ‘You don’t remember that’. She says, ‘I DO remember that call’.”

Olivia released her debut album, Another Heartache, in 2015. After Glór Tíre, she had number one hits on the iTunes Country Music chart with singles Leaving Tipperary and Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice. Her second album, Forever Country (2018) followed. Olivia won numerous awards and toured with Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan – while holding down a full-time day job. The toll of being out late the night before to perform shows and be in the office at 9.00 am the next morning meant she eventually had to choose one over the other. A full-time music career won.

“I had to choose – no matter what age you are, it will take a toll. People say, ‘You’re well able for it’ but when you’re coming in at four or five in the morning and then in work for nine o’clock, literally taking off the make-up from the night before.

“Another girl in the office was like, ‘Olivia, you can’t keep going like this’. I kept it going. I went down to three days, and then I went down to two days. I literally just couldn’t do it. I eventually left, it took me a while to go, I was nearly pushed out the door, it just had to be done. And then the pandemic began.

“I took a year out in January 2019 so I could have gone back in January 2020 – but at that time, the diary was full for the next year and things were looking really, really busy so I didn’t go back to (the office job), then 13 March was the last gig of that year.

“At the time I (might have) but I don’t regret it now because I’ve had that time with my parents. I’ll never get that again, so I’ve enjoyed the time to be quite honest.”

A refreshed format for this year’s Glór Tíre saw mentors take two candidates each. Olivia had Rachel McConnell and Colin Kenny under her wing.

“I’ve known Rachel since she was a little girl coming to our pub because her dad plays music. Himself and the son, Rachel’s brother Fergal, used to play in our pub and Rachel used to come down with them from Fermanagh.

“She used to get up and sing and I can remember her singing. It’s nice to be able to help her in whatever way I can.

“Colin is local to me. He’s originally an Offaly man from Banagher and I would have got to know Colin from Hough’s pub, he used to come in and sing a few songs.

“He’s been on the scene for the last few years, he’s been writing his own stuff as well.”

When she was younger, Olivia was in the same Ballyboy Comhaltas with whom the late Ashling Murphy performed. Olivia knows the Murphy family but not Ashling and was one of the musicians who played at Ashling’s wake.

“I didn’t know Ashling personally, her local Comhaltas would have been Ballyboy Comhaltas and I would have been in Ballyboy Comhaltas at one stage as well. I would have known the family. I would have known Ray, the father. He was in a well known band, Best Foot Forward. They would have played in our pub as well. They’re only living about 20, 25 minutes from me. Just such a lovely family.

“She was an unreal musician. Unbelievably really, really, really good. It’s just terrible. Really terrible. It’s an awful thing to happen. It’s just so hard to believe. It’s so hard to believe that something like that could happen on your own doorstep. It’s really tough on the family.

“I was at the funeral, and we played a few tunes in the house, which was nice. It was just something nice to do because her life was music. It really has struck a chord all over the world actually.

“I was just talking to a friend of mine that’s involved in Ballyboy Comhaltas and they had got an email from Melbourne sending their sympathies. That’s how much it has struck a chord with everybody all over the world.

“Hopefully something will be done now. She only went for a run.”

Olivia is performing a music festival in Norway in the summer and plan to have an album out by the end of this year.

“This week I was hoping to get into studio to put the finishing touches to a new single, it will be next week now. I am going to try and get an album sorted for this year. I have been chipping away at little bits.”

For more information, go to oliviadouglasmusic.com.

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