Olivia Douglas, one of the more recent Irish country music singing talents, talks to Michael McDonagh about keeping on her job in a care home and saving up for her own band
Olivia Douglas grew up in a popular country music pub in Ferbane, Co. Offaly so it is hardly surprising she turned to country music as a career. She released her first, well-received, album in 2015 and since then has been building up a strong following and a fine reputation for her voice and her shows. I caught up with her as she returned from a trip to Donegal.
You are just back from the Mary Of Dungloe festival. How did that go?
“It was the Country Sunday and it was on the gig rig outside in the main street. It was great, I’d say there were about 2,000 out there on the street. It seems to be building every year. It was really good, now, and a really good day, so it was, and thank God there was no rain.”
You have been doing very well but it’s not that long since you started your career. Was it the TG4 Glór Tíre show that gave you your big break although you had an album our before that in 2015?
“I had the album launch in October and that was the start of it, then I went on Glór Tíre in the November with Sandy Kelly. The shows were done in November but did not go out on TV until January– February of 2016 and that was really the start for me and how my name got around.”
You started with traditional music first with your whistle and accordion. How old were you when you started that and how long was it before you moved over to country music?
“I started the button accordion when I was six years of age and I also played the tin whistle and I’d be listening to the likes of Sharon Shannon and the great accordion player Jo Burke but as I grew up country was always my thing, that I loved, and I was always listening to Philomena Begley, Susan McCann and Louise Morrissey and they were always played in the house.”
Was it because you grew up in a pub (Tom’s Tavern in Ferbane Co. Offaly) that had live music that you got into country?
“Yes. We always had live bands and still do, every Saturday and Sunday night, and I used to get up and sing with the bands and play with them. People like Mike Denver, before he went with the big band. He used to play there and Seamus Shannon and PJ Murrihy. They would be fairly renowned, and I loved joining them on stage”
You recently did a cover of a Bob Dylan song Don’t Think Twice on your last album, which was quite an unusual song to pick.
“Yes ,I just thought it was something different but of course it was Dolly Parton’s version that I liked and that’s really where I got the song from and it was her version that I had listened to actually, not the Bob Dylan original at all.
How do you choose songs?
“I hear a lot on Spotify I suppose but the last one, The Leaving of Tipperary, my dad had actually said to me about a year ago that I should record that. It was Derek Warfield’s version he heard, I think. It was a really, really old song so we put our own twist to it.”
I reminded her that it that it was an old Irish American Music Hall song from the 1920s revived around 1978 before asking about who influences and inspires her.
“Well Philomena and Dolly Parton and actually for a female singer I also love Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. I have not recorded any of their stuff yet but hope to on the next album. Miranda Lambert, I love her stuff and did one of hers on the first album but Dolly Parton is special and on the Irish level Philomena is always my favourite and to this day her voice is so strong.”
Some of the younger country singers have turned to poppier material, is that something you would consider doing?
“No. I’ll stick with traditional country – that is what I like and that’s what I know.”
Are your gigs mainly dances or concerts?
“It’s actually both. I do the one piece for some shows but then I do a lot of guest spots with other artistes and have been in England and Scotland and have been on the Phil Mack tours but I do my own one piece for dances, where I appear solo playing the keyboards as well.”
Are you going for the same audience as, say, Cliona Hagan or Nathan Carter? Or are you doing something different?
“I’m doing more or less the same but there is a different twist really as I play the accordion…although I suppose Nathan does also play the accordion in his shows.
“The audience is a mixture of ages as there are not as many young people as there has been, you are not getting them at the dances as much, so what I’d be playing to would be a mixture, so that I have stuff to suit the young and to suit the older ones.”
Are you signed to a record company or do you do it all yourself?
“No, I do it all myself which is hard but I have actually been very, very lucky as people have given me great chances and great breaks. Michael English has been great, and the Phil Mack stuff has been good, and so has Sandy Kelly, so it all helps the profile and with the internet and the website it spreads the word. Last week there was an Australian DJ looking for my stuff, which is amazing.”
You were working in a nursing home before you got into entertainment, have you now been able to give up the day job to make a living from music?
“I just don’t want to leave yet. My job is only three minutes up the road from me and now I am only working part-time and I like what I do here as well – and the music world is so uncertain. Some weeks you might have loads of gigs and some weeks you might not have as many so at least I have something regular by keeping this on.”
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
“Well, I’ve just done Oprey Le Daniel with Daniel O’Donnell there back in May and it has not been broadcast yet. He is a lovely man and gave us all such a great time. He was very nice and very down to earth. I was with Michael English in Spain and that was great, and I am doing two nights in Budapest in September.”
What plans have you for the rest of the year?
“I have the two albums done and I hope to have a new album out next year.”
Will you be touring in the UK at all?
“Yes, I will have four trips to England next year as I will be doing the Phil Mack weekend because the Keep it Country on satellite TV has been huge and is very big in Scotland and England, so I’ll be doing a good few weekends in Scotland as well.
“Every artiste wants to front their own band and it is something I hope to be able to do, to put my own band together, but it is down the road a bit yet as it costs a lot to keep a band on the road – but if you get that one song that takes off, it makes it a bit easier. The costs of a band are collossal but I am my own boss now and what I am doing is keeping me out there.”
Do you think the country music resurgence will continue?
“Everything comes and goes and it IS huge at the moment but with the likes of the people coming up I think it is going to keep going for a long time yet anyway.
“To be honest, my friends would not be into it and when I was growing up they would not have been into it, and you would nearly be laughed at playing the accordion and going to music lessons.
“But now it is cool, now for the younger people it is good and there are so many people going to jiving lessons and learning how to dance.
“I was at somewhere last week and there was a six-year-old jiving and you should have seen it. If we have the likes of them coming up it will always stay popular.”
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