Cliona Hagan has been on the cusp of stardom for a decade but 2017 was her breakthrough year, she tells Mick McDonagh
Cliona Hagan has spent the last decade working to be an overnight success. That hard slog is beginning to pay off for the Irish country singer from Tyrone whose audiences range in age from 18 to 80.
Early in 2017 the Irish World was among those to “discover” or “rediscover” the singing talent of Tyrone country music singer Cliona Hagan.
She has certainly kept up the momentum throughout the year so we thought we’d check in with her once more to see what she plans for 2018.
“Oh it has been a fantastic year. I was awarded female vocalist of the year, we played the SSC Arena and I’ve been supporting Nathan Carter and have my own band which has been going down really well on the dance circuit.
“I released my first album Straight To You last year and am about to release my second in March. The first album was No 1 on the i-Tunes chart, which I was delighted about. It has been a phenomenal year and everybody’s been extremely supportive.”
Philomena Begley, the mother of Cliona’s manager Aidan Quinn, famously told Daniel O’Donnell to stick to his books when he asked her for advice about becoming a professional singer. Daniel famously ignored her. But it seems Cliona took that advice, albeit from a different source, at first and began an academic career – she did a Master’s Degree and became a teacher – before leaving it for show business.
Was it a hard decision to leave teaching for show business?
“It was always a passion of mine to want to be on the stage and I always knew I would want to do something with music but I went on to university get my degree and do my masters to get a better understanding of music and then I went on to teach, which I really enjoyed.
“But I knew what was in my dreams and that I wanted to be on stage and so decided to go down that route and I’d have to follow that and give it a go and hope for the best. I’m delighted that I did give it a go and it has all worked out brilliantly.”
Why choose the very competitive field of Irish Country music?
“I always loved pop music and dancing to pop music and going out with my friends who were into pop music but I always loved Country Music as it was always in our house for years.
“We’d listen to the likes of the or and I’ve always loved the sound of country music and then I’ve got that break in my voice, a kind of Patsy Cline kind of feel to it, which lends itself well to singing in this genre so it seemed like the natural thing to do.
“I have always loved Country Music as there is a song for every emotion and I always loved singing it so that’s why I wanted to go down that route.”
Are there any female singers out there you especially admire?
“I absolutely love and, of course, our Queen Philomena (Begley), so I’d have to say the both of them and also I always loved Shania Twain and would watch her videos and learn her moves.
“When I was at primary school I did a performance of one of her songs. With her and Taylor Swift, who is brilliant and writes her own songs, it is a mixture of them all.
“I think it is brilliant the way Taylor has been able to cross over into the pop genre but keeps and element of the country music in there. I think she is phenomenal.”
Cliona is now building up quite a following of her own loyal fans but is it young people of her own generation, or drawn from those same older audiences of an older generation that perhaps liked Daniel O’Donnell?
“Well my crowd is quite a mixture, we are getting from eighteen to eighty and I think that’s partly due to the music we play. It’s not just for one generation as we do old Classic Country songs for the older generation and we have some new jiving flash country pop so it is a mixture, which is really cool.”
Cliona Hagan first come to public notice in Ireland in 2009 when she came second on the RTE TV reality programme The All Ireland Talent Show and was mentored by Eurovision winner and former MEP Dana.
It’s been a long slog since then so how important was that first break?
“I did that when I was 18 and it was a big learning curve for me as I was singing classical music at the time and I really enjoyed it and it was really helpful being on stage learning our craft.
“As it was televised I learned how to relate to an audience.
“I sang Ave Maria and You’ll Never Walk Alone and at the time I never knew You’ll Never Walk Alone was the Liverpool FC anthem. I had no idea whatsoever until a Manchester United fan told me. Ave Maria was one of my Granny’s favourites.
“Dana is a fantastic person and she was very interested when I told her that when I was thirteen at school we did a nativity play where we did all the Eurovision winners and I got to sing All Kinds Of Everything.
“Then she became my mentor on the programme that was cool. She is a lovely lady. She gave me great advice, to look after your instrument and be true to yourself.”
So that was then, and nearly a decade ago, how can 2018 top 2017?
“I am delighted to have been asked to be an Ambassador for Breast Cancer Research so we’re going away to Nashville in April and I’ll sing at the Grand Ole Opry to raise awareness and money for research into Breast Cancer.
My new album will be out in March, and I will be doing some shows with Nathan Carter in Blackpool then at the end of the year will be doing my own dates in the UK.”
To find out more about the ‘Nashville Walking Challenge’ in aid of Breast Cancer Research visit http://www.breastcancerresearch.ie/attention-country-music-fans-were-off-to-nashville/ and http://www.breastcancerresearch.ie/join-us-with-country-music-star-cliona-hagan-in-nashville/
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