“It’s funny, it’s amazing the amount of songs I recorded over the years,” ‘Ireland’s First Lady of Country and Irish Music’ Susan McCann begins, as she talks to The Irish World about her new compilation, Through the Years.
“Somewhere in the region of 650 songs. That’s a lot, isn’t it? We picked the best of them but I recorded some great songs over the years, I really did.
Susan’s incredible career has included singing for world statesmen, President George W Bush and his father George Bush, as well as touring the entire globe to entertain loyal fans.
Susan’s first single Santa and the Kids was a big success but it was her second release Big Tom is still the King which took her to number one in the Irish Pop charts in May 1977. The song remained in the top 20 for 11 weeks and was the hit that launched her to international fame. By 1979 Susan made her first appearance at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, her first of many.
Through the Years, like the name suggests, takes the listener through Susan’s career with tracks old and new and also an interview that sees Susan talk about her time in music. “It will be 40 years now in November,” says Susan.
Can Susan believe it has been almost four decades now in the music business? “No. Do you know what? It has flown by. If someone had said to me 40 years ago, I would still be working and recording, I would have laughed at them to be honest with you. It’s amazing.
“It’s difficult to choose (a highlight). I suppose the Gold Star Award when I won it the first year. It opened up doors for me in all the various countries: I have a record deal in South Africa and I was in Russia. I did a lot of work that I wouldn’t be doing only for the Gold Star Award so I suppose you could say that, success wise, the Gold Star Award would have been the big thing. It opened up a lot of doors for me.
“But I’ve been to Carnegie Hall. I’ve been to loads of places that are prestige halls. They’re all great. I did the Strawberry Festival and I sang at Dollywood so there’s loads of things that I did that, only for singing, I would have never done. I did lots of exciting things over the years when I was a young woman and able to do it,” Susan laughs.
“I’m glad to be doing what I’m doing and I’m glad I’m still hanging in there. To be able to sing at this stage of my life, I’ve five grandchildren and I do enjoy spending time with them. That’s what it’s all about.”
Although many are now available on Susan’s new triple CD Through the Years, for many years Susan’s recordings were available on different labels, sometimes being released without consultation by companies Susan did not even know: “That was hell. That went on for about five years, trying to get them back.”
In 2006, after a lot of negotiation she was able to acquire control of these recordings and selected a new UK based label, H & H Music: “It didn’t go that far (as legal action). If it went that far, the only people that would make money would be the solicitors and lawyers. We did a deal.
“The times were different then. You signed contracts and you don’t know what you’re signing and that’s just the way it was. I’m one of many. I wasn’t the only one so I really don’t think about it now. I don’t look back. I look forward. I have them all and that’s the main thing.”
It was in 1980 that Susan won the European Gold Star Award, beating competition from many other European countries. Although there is no shortage of talent shows now, Susan says she does not envy performers trying to start a career now.
“I was doing an interview today and I was saying, ‘I don’t know why but Philomena and me seem to go on forever’.
“It seems to be the boys that it’s happening for now. There’s a lot of good wee singers out there but it seems to be harder for a girl to make it now for what reason, it seems to be harder on women than it is on men.
“Nathan Carter and Derek Ryan, they seem to be doing extremely well for themselves. I would like to see a few more girls, Lisa McHugh seems to be getting there but she’s been around quite a while too. She’s not new anymore.”
Susan has become a mentor to an aspiring singer from Tyrone: “There’s a wee girl, she rang me a few weeks ago looking for advice on how to become a singer and her name was Cliona Hagan. What a singer, she is just a fabulous singer, she really is. She’s a music teacher but she’s never sang in public before. She really has a lovely voice. I’m taking her on with me just to give her a bit of exposure and see what happens because I’d love to help any young one that I could to get them up there because it’s not easy.”
Cliona has appeared reality shows like the All Ireland Talent Show. Would Susan think about taking part in anything like The X Factor if she was starting now? “No, I think they’re a great way of knocking your confidence for all time. I don’t agree with those shows at all. Some of them be totally ridiculous on it. I think years ago, it was easier for us to make it because there were so many halls in Ireland.
“There was that many dance halls in the country that time, you could have played Donegal for six weeks without playing the same hall twice. It was amazing. There were dance halls in every part of Ireland but there’s none of that now.
“There’s only a few gigs altogether that’s doing business so it’s harder for the bands to make it now because there’s not so many venues. And people have so much entertainment at home anyway now that people think twice about going out now. It’s just not the same as it used to be at all.
“I think young people have changed their whole way of living since I was young anyway. They seem to party in houses now and take their wine or drink and pizzas and that kind of stuff, they don’t go out near as much as they used to go out. The whole way of life has changed.
Will we see Susan in the UK in the near future? “I’m planning on going next year. I’m working on a show at the minute. It would have to be something different. There’s nothing much happening over there really since the Galtymore closed. It was a sad day (the Galtymore closed). You could build a wee tour around the Galtymore. People were devastated when the Galtymore closed down.
“I just loved London, I really really did. I met so many nice people.”
Through the Years by Susan McCann is out now. For more information, go to www.susanmccann.com.