Michael McDonagh thinks Dominic Kirwan was never properly marketed as the raunchy singer he can be
With a new 20 track Irish CD compilation just released, and a full diary of tour dates, Dominic Kirwan is doing very well and has been doing so for many years. He began his career signed to Ritz Records in 1989 where they insisted on marketing him just like their other artiste and they would not look beyond that strategy.
It was a missed opportunity because Dominic, blessed with a big voice and dynamic stage presence, could have been Ireland’s to Daniel’s Cliff Richard. Whereas Daniel O’Donnell was always projected as safe, and wholesome, and built his shows around Country and Irish songs, Dominic was always willing to work with raunchier material. He was not afraid of big ballads with more sexual overtones, which appealed to a younger, wider female audience.
Around the time Dominic started his label he produced a TV advertising campaign for Joe Longthorne and it sold huge numbers of albums for Telstar. Dominic could have easily moved into this market but his record company just would not allow a sexy Dominic who could have attracted fans of Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck, and even Neil Diamond. Or so I have always felt.
Do you think mistakes were made with your image and career?
“Yes, and it’s been said many times but there always seemed to be a blockage somewhere. I was more Light Entertainment Middle of the Road (although) I was coming at it with a bigger voice (while) Daniel was more laid back with a Pat Boone approach.
“Terry Bradford, my producer at the time, felt there was a more powerful sound for me and wanted me to do more in that direction…I suppose I did not have the right channel or the right people around me to help push me in that direction.
“You have to remember it was a closed shop and I had to go with the way they worked. (But) look, I have no regrets signing with the label or working with them, it was a great opportunity and they were very good to me.
“To this day I have worked with them again on a couple of albums. But it still was a closed shop back then.
“A lot of the things I was given a chance to do were right but it was just not sold right and the balls were just not there to push it a wee bit more.
“There was a time when I saw some of the other things they ploughed loads of money into, and I thought ‘Jazus, I’m not even getting half of this’ although I was doing well and had a good run selling out lots of concerts and lots of albums.
“I began to think ‘What’s this all about? Something is wrong here!’ and and so I always had a feeling somebody was blocking me – but it is water under the bridge now.
“I could never understand why the big companies like Telstar did not pick up on me as I was selling lots of albums. There is not much we can say about it now. It was the time and it is what happened and I continued my career and am doing fine now. “
Given your own experience is it harder or easier for young musicians starting out now?
“I don’t think it is easier by any means. I know we have all these social platforms like Facebook and Twitter but nobody has really proved to me that those things work and the new artistes get themselves so engrossed and so indulged in these things and are forever picking photographs and posting them or whatever.
“They forget what it is all about and much of it means nothing.
“At least when we started we had some regional television and could get some radio and it was not as national as what it is today.
“You can look at all your X Factors and Britain’s Got Talent but whom do you really see out of those shows at the end. “There is only one winner and the others fall by the wayside, so I think it is more difficult.
“I have a son Barrie, who is a great singer with a big vocal range, and he is trying to get into the Irish Music scene and it seems that scene is run by a small cartel, or Mafiosi type group, of guys controlling the business. That is wrong.
“When I began there were so many venues from the little Catholic clubs to the big ballrooms like the Galtymore or the Hibernian, which gave us opportunities to play but they have all gone.
“There’s not as many venues and these guys are over-indulging themselves in it and taking the cream out of it, leaving the younger boys and girls that are trying to get on that platform left with the scraps. In Ireland venues are controlled by just six or seven people which is not right.
“There is still a market there but it has become such a money orientated thing.
“People should just sit for a while and let the thing build. As far as the media is concerned, I don’t know where that is going. It is very hard to get on TV now and even to get a spot on programmes like This Morning or Loose Women has become really hard and you need that national profile. So getting back to your question – yes, I do think it is a lot more difficult.”
How do you balance the material you use?
“Out of the show I am doing now, which is about and hour and forty minutes, I’d say that a good forty minutes of it is Irish with songs like Noreen Bawn and a couple of medleys…and Galway Girl.
“I recorded Galway Girl in 2002 but the label did not release it or use it and then Mike Denver came along and got a lot of exposure for his recording of it but my version should have been pushed -I did the first version after Steve Earle who wrote it.
It is something of a family affair now as your son is working with you?
“My band is a band that my son Barrie and I use together, it is a very young band, it’s kinda his band.
“I kept looking and seeing how he was struggling a bit to get it all going and I was looking at my band and then my drummer was going to take some time out and I thought I can’t be bothered keeping trying to put bands together again.
“Then I saw there were gaps in his diary and I thought I can fill these so now we work 50/50 and work well together. For my shows he is very much a guest doing his thing and the punters like to see that and they like to see him being there and part of it all.
“My family is so important to me, my son Colm is a songwriter who has been living in Nashville for seven years. He wrote the song The Grass is Always Greener on my album.”
Like many Irish musicians on the road during The Troubles Dominic can well remember the Border and the bad old days, does he have views on the current state of the Good Friday Agreement and the threats to it?
“Things were on edge in those days and we were very fortunate in that we were able to do what we needed to do, nobody liked being stopped at checkpoints coming home from gigs. It was a different time.
“Then came the tragedy of that bomb in Omagh, which is where I come from, it is now 20 years since that happened but it is what I grew up with.
“The 20 years since then have brought so many really nice changes and it is so different now and if there is one thing I know it is that the people here can work together but the politicians really need to get it together.
“The people here do not want to go back to any of that. This old Brexit thing is leaving people on an edge and they are worried, they just can’t go back to a hard border and Europe is going to have to look at that as a special case.
“It is a different time now and the younger generation, Thank God, have grown up not knowing about any of those bad times and they have not got a clue what it was like back then.
“At the time of Drumcree I had my van and all my equipment hijacked and I lost everything. Thankfully no members of my crew were involved or hurt but we came through it all and we don’t want to go backwards. As Bertie Ahern recently put it, hard border, soft border, there mustn’t be ANY border.
“Thankfully in my family I did not lose anyone but I am a Christian and we just need to move on from the past and have love and respect for one another and put all those times in the past and move on. “The politicians just have to get back around the table and get it sorted.”
After all these years in the business and having seen all the changes how do you feel about it now and in the future?
“I am a positive person and am always optimistic so contented, yes (but) satisfied, no.”