“It’s to do with Ireland but modern Ireland,” begins the enduringly popular Irish singer songwriter Eleanor McEvoy.
“I’m not singing about dowries or women in shawls, I’m singing about corruption in the government, I’m singing about corruption in the church. I’m singing about internet dating because that’s what people are doing now. We don’t have dowries anymore. We’re meeting people online so it is very Irish but it’s a very modern Ireland I’m talking about.”
Eleanor is not known for shying away from difficult subjects and Ireland’s difficult relationship with the church in recent years has got ‘under her skin’ enough to inspire her.
“Without wanting to get too graphic about it, the rape of children is pretty serious and people keep silent about it and I don’t know how you can keep silent about it. I don’t want to turn into Bono but, actually he’s been pretty silent on the whole issue too, the hierarchy of the Catholic church, not people on the ground- I know a lot of good priests, good nuns, genuinely good people but- the hierarchy of these organisations: They covered up and they moved these people around to other places where they caused carnage in people’s lives and human misery and nobody’s really been held to account for the covering up.
There’s certain priests that ended up in prison from the actual abuse itself but what about the people that covered up, knew what was going on, didn’t do anything about it? There’s still not mandatory reporting in the Catholic church. Even the present pope hasn’t come out and said: ‘Look, mandatory reporting now’. Very easy for him to do, it’s one stroke of his pen and yet it would do more to safeguard children around the planet than anything else would and they don’t do it. As long as they don’t do it, I’m going to keep singing Deliver Me.
“It doesn’t make a lot of people angry though. A lot of people still put money on the collection plate and you’ve got to hit them where it hurts. I think if you stop giving them money, they’ll maybe reassess things.
“I guess I was unfortunate that I was from the parish of Christ the king where father Ivan Payne was active and he was in charge of the folk group. That was rife and we had a very courageous guy in the folk group, Andrew Madden who spoke out about that. He was the first guy to speak out about it actually, ever.
I don’t understand why there’s not more about it actually. A lot of the people who suffer are the good priests and the good religious people because they’ve been tarred with the same brush which is unfair as well.”
The Woman’s Heart singer’s latest single The Thought of You shows this: “It’s a song about not having an affair. I don’t care who you are.
At some stage, everybody’s fancied somebody they shouldn’t have. Maybe because that person is married or maybe they’re married themselves or maybe because they’re related to them or maybe the person is their teacher or their boss or something, so it’s a very human thing, I think the decision not to act on that is quite a difficult one but it’s maybe the right one and it’s about that struggle and saying, ‘well maybe I can make do with the thought of you, maybe
I can make do with not actually acting on this’. But even the fact that you’re thinking about it gives you a certain thing that just gets you through the day and I think that’s okay.”
Based in Wexford, Dublin-born McEvoy’s career originally started as a session musician, which included a long stint with The Irish National Symphony Orchestra.
It was whilst playing with The Mary Black Band that McEvoy decided to develop her own career, and in 1992 two life-changing opportunities came along. Mary Black and her record company manager/husband decided that McEvoy’s song ‘A Woman’s Heart’ would be a fitting title and lead track for the compilation they were putting together of contemporary Irish female performers.
Simultaneously, Tom Zutaut, the legendary A&R of Geffen Records (who had previously signed Guns & Roses, Motley Crue, and Edie Brickell), was on a scouting mission to Dublin. After hearing McEvoy perform at The Baggott Inn pub, he offered her a worldwide recording deal on the spot. McEvoy was soon touring the world to promote her eponymous debut album for Geffen, which went on to sell 250,000 copies.
At the same time, ‘A Woman’s Heart’ entered the Irish charts, selling over 750,000 copies – and remains one of Ireland’s biggest selling albums of all-time. These successes established McEvoy as one of Ireland’s biggest stars, launching a career that has since seen her release twelve studio albums and tour the world.
Known for travelling in a black hearse, McEvoy has said before that this was a metaphor for how the music industry was dying but has had a change of heart: “I’m actually in a brighter place looking at this. I mean I have to say the prominence of people like Ed Sheeran at the moment and also Adele.
“In this world that we live in of smoke and mirrors and X Factor and backing tracks, Adele is not a size ten model, she just has a fantastic voice, she looks brilliant and she gets out and sings songs which are superb, really well written songs. She penetrates the mainstream to that level, I think that’s brilliant. Ed Sheeran, look at what he’s doing: One bloke with a guitar singing great songs, so I have a lot of faith in the music scene at the moment. I’m feeling good about it. People want stuff that’s real and genuine.”
Having said she doesn’t want to sound like Bono earlier, she laughs when asked for her opinion about the band’s controversial iTunes giveaway: “I don’t know. It’s hard to take them seriously at this point, I think. The music industry is in a terrible state, there’s kind of anarchy going on in it at the moment. I don’t think it helps if U2 gives the songs away for free.
“The whole thing of not paying tax there in Ireland and also going on simultaneously about forgiving the debt for third world nations- I’m not saying we shouldn’t but you can’t not pay tax in the country that you’re asking to forgive the debt, then ask them to forgive the debt. To me, that’s just incredibly hypocritical. I think at this point no matter what they do, there’s a lot of the Irish people that are just going to go, ‘forget it’. I think they’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”
A song that remains one of Eleanor’s most popular is Sophie, a song that deals with eating disorders and strikes a chord with anyone who has gone through or knows someone who has gone through something like that: “I do (still get requests for it). There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get messages on Twitter or Facebook, or letters. I get a lot of letters from people with eating disorders or their family members sometimes contact me.
“I would say every second or third gig, I have a note from somebody beforehand: ‘Can you play Sophie?’ Sometimes, sadly, it’s people who have lost somebody which is heartbreaking but the death rate is quite high from anorexia.
“Again, I suppose things get under your skin and you want to shake people and say: ‘Why are we doing this? Men are getting it more now too. We have these ridiculous body images, pictures in magazines of models who are skeletally thin. Some of the models themselves are saying: ‘This is ridiculous, I don’t look like this. You’re airbrushing me’.
“Kate Winslet’s a gorgeous looking woman, an absolutely fabulous looking woman and they airbrush her and she keeps saying: ‘I don’t want to be airbrushed to look thinner, this is the way I am’. She’s a really great confident woman, happy with how she looks and they airbrush her to look unrealistic.”
McEvoy’s latest album, ‘Stuff’, was release in May 2014 to great acclaim. The project was the result of a purposeful mission by McEvoy to find and release the ‘stuff’ the fans wanted but couldn’t find. The eleven-track miscellany tells tales of unrequited love, lust and eloquent farewell.
“It’s very unusual for me because usually I’d have a very strong artistic vision of what I’m about to do with an album but this wasn’t like that, this was songs that had been requested. People had been requesting certain songs from me so we said we would put it together, just a small thing, really for fans and we would sell it at gigs but we wouldn’t put it on general release.
“But we put it together and it seemed to flow very well and I was much happier with it than I thought I was going to be. Then Terry Wogan took it up and started playing it, then Chris Evans did, and Graham Norton and stuff so it ended up on the BBC play list and the distributor said: ‘You have to release this now, you can’t do this and not release it’.”
Looking ahead to her forthcoming UK tour, Eleanor says: “My aim is to uplift. After the end of the night, you should be excited, you should have had goosebumps and you should feel uplifted, on a high going home. If you don’t do that, I haven’t done my job right.”
In 2012, Eleanor and several other performers like Gemma Hayes and Sharon Shannon joined together for some special shows to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that very important album named after Eleanor’s song with several sold out nights at the Olympia. Are there already plans for something to mark 25 years? “I’m certainly not (thinking about it),” Eleanor laughs. “Maybe 30. If I’m still alive and if people still want it, we’ll do a 30th.”
Eleanor McEvoy’s forthcoming UK tour dates are as follows:
Friday, 20th February – Penylan Hall, Meifod, Powys
Saturday, 21st February – Arts Centre School Lane, Dorchester
Sunday, 22nd February – The Cellars, Portsmouth
Tuesday, 24th February – The Bicycle Shop, Norwich
Wednesday, 4th March – Trades Club, Hebden Bridge,
Thursday, 5th March – Gala Studio, Durham
Friday, 6th March – Neuadd Ogwen, Bethesda
Saturday, 7th March – Fairwarp, Lower Brailes
Sunday, 8th March – Artrix, Bromsrove
Tuesday, 10th March – Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
Wednesday, 11th March – The Stables, Milton Keynes
Thursday, 12th March – Alexanders, Chester
Friday, 13th March – St Michael Irish Centre, Liverpool
Tuesday, 17th March – St Mary’s Parish Church, Kingskerswell
Wednesday, 18th March – Prince Albert, Stroud
Thursday, 19th March – Joiners, Southampton
Friday, 20th March – Arnold House, Masonic Buildings, Rugby
Saturday, 21st March – The Greystones, Sheffield
Sunday, 22nd March – Chapel Arts, Bath.
For more information, go to www.eleanormcevoy.com.