By Michael McDonagh
Dubliners Danny O’Reilly, Graham Knox and Conor Egan met at Terenure College, formed a band called Kiros with a friend that, when joined by Dave McPhillips, became The Coronas.
They went on to release five acclaimed multi-platinum studio albums, including 2017’s No.1 album Trust the Wire, numerous singles, and their group is now one of the biggest working in Ireland today.
We caught up with lead singer Danny O’Reilly, whose mum is acclaimed singer Mary Black, formerly of De Danaan.
IW: You come from a very musical family.
“People always ask me ‘which was the first gig’ I was at, I was at gigs in my mum’s belly and taken to other gigs as a baby but I always consider my first gig was when my dad brought me to Slane in 1995 to see REM.
“Other than that, there must have been a hundred Mary Black gigs before then.
“Growing up I would never really have appreciated my mother’s music but now as I have got older, I really appreciate it, more so the early stuff that she sang with De Danann or Arcady is brilliant, especially songs like Hard Times and Song for Ireland.”
IW: The Coronas are now recognised as one of the biggest bands in Ireland, how did that happen?
“When we started out as a young Dublin band, we were just winging it and we did not really know what we were doing. We went into record the first album before we had even toured outside Dublin, let alone toured outside Ireland.
“We didn’t really know what our sound was it was just that we had a bunch of songs and then this small label said they would give us a few bob to make an album and we thought ‘Let’s just do it’.
“Then we moved and signed to Island and now we have our own record label, which has worked out really well for us to be honest. The last couple of years have been the most fruitful for us in terms of touring and planning our releases and being in control of everything.”
IW: Is it harder for a band now than it was with the way the business has changed?
“It suits us, we are in a very lucky situation, we have a big foundation in Ireland already, and have monetary backing in that we still sell gigs at home and can pay our way and reinvest money the way we want. For a new band today, it must be tough.
“People ask me all the time what advice I would give to a band starting out and I just don’t know what to say, as the industry has changed so much.
“When we started it was all still physical. We sold CDs and it was before downloads came in, never mind streaming. Now the industry seems to change every couple of years, so I have no idea what it would be like to start off now.
“It used to be all about personal relationships and trust between the characters in the record companies and the artists and their managers that made things happen.
“When we signed to Island, we caught the tail-end of that vibe.
“Now you need to be on playlists before a label even sees you.
“Spotify seems to have a lot of power now to get your numbers up and it has gone all corporate within the record companies.
“You know what? I am satisfied with my ignorance of the industry and am better off not knowing about all that stuff. Now I worry about what I am good at and what I need to worry about, which is writing songs singing and doing the best for the band.
“Between all our videos on YouTube we have probably had about ten million hits – but all we have ever got is about five-grand between all of us. It is crazy.
“Thank God the live music scene is thriving a hundred per cent – the numbers we get for gigs in Ireland are amazing, and in America we can see the numbers building.”
IW: Playing for President Obama in Dublin must have been special.
“That was unbelievable playing for all those people and then getting to shake his hand it was such an honour and now we have Trump, so don’t get me started.
“The buzz around Ireland when Obama came over was just amazing, the whole country really warmed to him and we were able to say hello and we met Michelle as well and when it was over, we had to pinch ourselves and ask ‘how did that happen?’ We have had some other big ones as well like supporting Macca aka Sir Paul McCartney.”
IW: He loved the De Danann version of Hey Jude
“As I grew up, we loved the Beatles, and I remember my parents had the tape of Revolver, which they played in the car and that was really my first introduction to them. Up to then, I’d just been listening to Oasis, but Revolver was great so just getting to meet him and opening for him was fantastic.
“Even just watching his soundcheck was such an amazing experience. He would just turn around to the band and call out the name of a song that was not even on the setlist like, say Penny Lane, and the band would just look up and go into it.
“We were like ‘jaws on the floor’ watching the soundcheck. Then we saw him again as we were doing Austin City Limits in America and he was there too, so we got to see him again.”
IW: Are live concerts where it’s at for you in the future?
“Yes because these big shows are going so well for us, we have had some amazing gigs, this summer we did Musgrave Park in Cork and it was our first sold-out stadium show, it was great, 12,000 people there for us, so live is the thing that has always kept us going and that is the future.
“I lived in North London for four years (during which time he played Gaelic Football for North London Shamrocks), which I really enjoyed.
“I loved living near Highbury and Islington, but I always knew I would go back as Dublin has always been home to me and I have just bought a house, so I am close to the family. My brother has two kids now and we are all a tight-knit family unit, but I love travelling too.
“I remember coming over here when we were starting and even though we were big in Ireland some of the media over here were so sneery and dismissive about the significance of being big in Ireland like saying ‘So what’ about Ireland.
“We were not getting any respect from some of them even though we were not an Irish-sounding band. We were not doing diddly-aye, but they were looking down their nose at us and I wondered what would have happened if we had been accepted earlier.
“But even now I am very grateful for our journey and where we are now. I am grateful we are still doing our own music and are still enjoying it so long may it continue.”