David Hennessy talks to Eleanor McEvoy about touring in a hearse and the legacy of one special album
Fresh from playing to a sold-out Olympia Theatre in Dublin to celebrate the 20th anniversary
of her breakthrough hit Only A Woman’s Heart with Gemma Hayes, Mary Coughlan, Sharon Shannon, Dolores Keane, Wallis Bird, and Hermione Hennessy, Eleanor McEvoy has brought her latest album Alone to
“It’s fantastic to be back,” the singer-songwriter told the Irish World . “I’ve been coming here since around the year 2000. Prior to that, most of my work had been in America but I love it here now, I really do, I come back as often as I can.”
So what can her UK fans expect when they come out to see/hear Eleanor in action? Well actually, a better question might be: what can Eleanor expect from her fans? She feeds off her audience and that determines the direction in which a show goes: “I don’t work with a set list. I usually decide on the first number before
I go on but after that, I just see what the energy in the room is and that will dictate what songs
I’ll tend to play. “I’ve a freedom to do that because I’m on my own, I’ve no band. If you have a band, it ties you to the set list a little bit. You have to at least pick thirty songs that the band are going to know, be familiar with. I have a couple of hundred songs and someone might shout out for one and I’ll try to do it for them.
“I did a gig in a crypt which is a very different vibe to an outdoor gig. Gigging in a crypt, gigging outdoor, gigging in a pub, gigging in a theatre: They’re all very different experiences and I don’t think the same set list
would serve all those venues well. So I’ll go in, see what the sound is like, see what the room is like, see how full the room is, the energy of the people in it. A Monday audience is very different to a Saturday night audience so I tend to not want to do the same thing every night.
I’m trying to capture whatever magic I can on that particular night and that means tapping into the energy of whoever’s there.”
While she plays the big cities like London and Glasgow, it is noticeable from a look through her planned dates that Eleanor also takes in the smaller locales. This ties in with the Dublin-born but now Wexford-based
singer’s tur ethos: “I always try and do that to be honest. You do have to hit a few of the big cities but we really love the out of the way places, you get more stories and more craic in the out of the way places.
“I always try and include a Scottish island, this time it’s the Isle of Bute which I played in a couple of times before but I’ve also been on the island of Arran. It’s about going into somebody else’s community and seeing what’s going on there, visiting the local library, going to the Co-Op and looking at the noticeboard.That to me is kind of what it’s about: you get a feel for the area, the accent, the local industry.
“I don’t think Madonna gets that. Madonna goes to play in Berlin and her dressing room is probably the same as it was in Paris because she had the couch and the curtains shipped over in a lorry and the crew put
it up for her. People come from all around Germany then to see her. I do the opposite. People don’t come to me. I go into their communities to see them.”
And there’s something unique about how this singer is coming to meet her public.
Known as The Girl in a Black Car tour, Eleanor is travelling in a hearse. “My funeral limousine,” she laughs. “There was a couple of reasons why I wanted to do it. I can fit a lot of gear in the back which is always important. Neil Young did it so I always hankered after this idea of Neil Young touring around in one. He
used to use the little roller for the coffin to load and unload the amplifiers. I won’t actually be doing that but they’re actually very comfortable vehicles to tour in.
“I also just thought it was quite funny and significant at the moment with the music
industry having died to an extent, the old industry as we knew it with the multinational record labels and publishing companies. That world is really over now. I heard Noel Gallagher say the other day that there’s no
such thing as a rock ‘n roll musician anymore, there’s only jobbing musicians. For me that’s a good thing. I don’t think you could be quaffing champagne and be in touch with the ordinary person. It always amuses me when you go to these big, huge, gigs, how there’s backstage passes, access all areas passes… for an industry that’s supposed to be about the common man, it’s all segregated into VIP lounges and VVIP lounges so in a way, I think it’s good that that world is dying and that a new world is starting.”
Most successful album
Only A Woman’s Heart made the compilation album it first appeared on the most successful Irish album of all time and Eleanor was signed to big label Geffen as a result.
However, she has long lost interest in the corporate music scene: “I went independent in the year 2000. I had done the first album for Geffen and then I did two albums for Columbia Records. I don’t know, they’re just not for me. I’m not that kind of person, I’m not that kind of artist. I think they’re probablygood for the huge girl bands and boy bands but if you’re an artist that just wants a long term career and is interested in the act of making music, they don’t make good bedfellows,
they really don’t.
“I work now with independent companies all over the world now and there’s not one of those people that I don’t want to lift the phone to, there’s not one of those people that I don’t want to go for a pint with. They always start by asking about the family before they go into the business stuff. There’s a human vibe about them that I didn’t always find in the other world. They’re in it because they’re fans.”
That very special song has just enjoyed a very special milestone. Can Eleanor believe it has been twenty years since Mary Black and herself first sang Only A Woman’s Heart ? “I really, really can’t. They came to me last year and said they were thinking of doing a date, because it was ‘a date’ at the time, they said: ‘Will we do a night in the Olympia to celebrate the 20th anniversary?’ And I said: ‘Ah yeah, it would be great to celebrate the 20th anniversary, when is it? How many years away?’ They said ‘next year’ and I really had to sit down and do the maths and think: ‘Oh my God, it’s next year’.
“And it sold out immediately, and we put on an extra three nights and they sold outimmediately, and they wanted to go withextra nights straight away but scheduleswouldn’t allow for it so we did an extra five
nights we just finished. They were all packedso if you had told me 20 years ago that there would be so much interest in it still… I have to say I was flabberghasted even by new people coming out to it. I hadn’t realised that 26-, 27-, 28- or 29-year olds would be coming out to the gigs because they were six, seven, eight or
nine when the song was released and it was kind of a nostalgia thing for them and they were bringing their mums and stuff. It was extraordinary.”
And bringing A Woman’s Heart to a whole new generation proved emotional for its creator: “The 20thanniversary was more emotional than the original. For the original, I was just doing what I do and when I was finished,
I was onto the next thing but 20 years on, you hear people’s stories. I met children who had been born to the sound of the album playing. There was one girl and her mother used to play it incessantly in the house and the mother died when she was seven. She said: ‘We played it at her funeral and every time I hear it, I think of my mum’. I just heard how much it had gone into the Irish psyche and it really meant a lot to me.”
She has been playing it for 20 years, could Eleanor ever get sick of playing it? “I’m delighted to be well known for it. I think around ‘96 or ’97, I was tired of it and actually I didn’t do it for a long time which wasn’t really a problem. My big hit in America then was a song called Precious Little and that was the one I had to keep playing. I actually got much more tired of that song than I did Only A Woman’s Heart. It’s such an unusual song, there’s only been three or four songs in the history of pop music that have been hits with no rhymes in them and that leads to you being able to play it and sing it without really getting tired of it. And I shake up the arrangement so the version I play now would be very different to the version I played 20 years ago.”
Another of Eleanor’s songs, Sophie , has become an anthem for those who struggle with eating disorders and the singer explains that this song receives more feedback than even Only A Woman’s Heart : “I’ve got more letters or messages over Sophie than I have over any other song. It’s extraordinary the effect it has had over that whole eating disorder community. I’ve had messages from girls, it is mostly girls, I’ve had messages from the boyfriends, their families. Not a gig goes by now that I don’t get a note beforehand
saying: ‘Will you please play Sophie ?’ And usually at least two or three people come up to afterwards
and say either ‘we have a sufferer at home’ or ‘we’ve lost someone to that’. It’s much more prevalent than we think. It’s not talked about that much, really.”
So what is next for Eleanor? The single Don’t Blame The Tune is available now and there is also her forthcoming album that has been called Codename Brian but she giggles when the Irish World calls
it by that name: “Actually Codename Brian is a working title, it’s probably gonna be called Brian . It’s kinda loosely based on Brian Jones. I had a picture of Brian Jones on the wall as I was writing a lot of it. That’s kind of a loose theme to it. It’s nearly finished recording but it won’t be out for quite some time but you’vegot a lot of processes to go through before it actually hits the shops. It’s quite bluesy in style, quite old bluesy with of course what I do for a living you’ve got the modern singer songwriter in there as well. It’s a mixture of
those two genres if you like.”
• Eleanor is currently touring the UK.
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