By David Hennessy
Well known as lead singer and violinist of the hugely successful traditional band Beoga, Niamh Dunne has just launched her debut solo album. Entitled Portraits, the new collection boasts old traditional numbers and fresh compositions from writers such as John Spillane: Many chosen to reflect the rich musical tradition of Limerick. Established in 2002, Antrim based Beoga have recorded four studio albums including the incident which was shortlisted for a Grammy award in 2010.
Used to having her four bandmates there for support, how does it feel for Niamh to be solo? “I think gathering the songs and choosing what I wanted to do and putting all the music together: That was grand. That was no bother but this side of it now, trying to get it out there and make people aware of it, selling it: That’s a little bit new to me. To be doing it on my own is different to doing it with the support network of other people that are as invested in it as you are. It’s definitely been a learning curve to tackle all the commercial side of it on my own.”
In 2005, Niamh recorded the album Legacy with her sister Brid and her well known musician father Mickey Dunne who also plays on this album. Portraits also features her Beoga bandmates Eamon Murray and Seán Óg Graham: “I’ve loads of support from the band and my family and that kind of thing but Seán Óg produced it, he recorded it in his studio, he plays all over it- The only thing he didn’t do really was sing on the fecking thing. He would have been massively involved and he’s been doing all the launches around Ireland with me the last few months. He’d be a big support now. He’s great.”
Expectations were high for Niamh’s first solo project and the reviews have been excellent: “So far, so good. I’ve been delighted. It’s just been such a labour of love for me and I’ve been working really hard for maybe a year on this so when you start getting the feedback and people seem to appreciate your efforts, it’s nice.”
While Niamh has been working on the album solidly for a year, the idea has existed for much longer: “I think it’s always kind of been in the back of my head and just because I play with Beoga and we’ve had a really busy, I suppose, seven years where we’ve been flat out that it was really an issue of not really having the time more than anything else but it was really an itch I needed to scratch, I think.”
Asked if the Limerick theme was intended from the beginning or something subconscious, the singer explains it was actually the folk singer Damien O’Kane, who plays banjo on one of the tracks, that she got the idea from: “I kind of got inspired, I kind of got the idea from Damien O’Kane. He brought out an album last year (Summer Hill) and it was a beautiful album and he sang a lot of songs from Ulster. I suppose because of all the travelling I’ve been doing in the last however many years and now I’m living in Antrim as well, I just kind of thought it’s important to remember where you came from. I just became interested in exploring the traditions and the songs and the singers of my own area. Limerick is where I learned all my music so it was kind of a bit of a love letter to Limerick really to kind of recognise its importance in my musical upbringing. I nearly got a bit obsessed with the whole thing at one stage, it’s really interesting. In order to move forward, you have a respect and understanding of how it all started.”
For the full interview, see the July 27 print edition of The Irish World.
Portraits by Niamh Dunne is out now. For more information, go to: niamhdunne.com/.
Beoga are touring Ireland. Fore more information, go to: http://www.beogamusic.com/.