Home Lifestyle Entertainment Declan Nerney says ‘Don’t Let Me Off’

Declan Nerney says ‘Don’t Let Me Off’

Declan Nerney spoke to David Hennessy ahead of his forthcoming UK dates that includes a show at London Irish Centre.

Declan Nerney is one of Ireland’s best known country singers.

Known for songs like Stop the World (and Let Me Off) and Marquee in Drumlish, he was inducted into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame on The Late Late Show country music special in October.

From Drumlish in Co. Longford, Declan started playing music with bands such as The Hi- Lows, Gene Stuart and then Brian Coll and the Buckaroos.

He has now been on the road for 35 years with his own band with only a pandemic putting a stop to his constant gigging in all that time He has also been leading his Hooley in the Sun celebration for 20 years this year.

Declan has also been rocked in recent times when Chris Bradley, his drummer, died in a car crash leaving behind two young children last October.

This month Declan comes to England for some shows including one at London Irish Centre on 22 March.

Declan told The Irish World: “It’s always good to see our old fans in the UK.

“We have built up a lot of them over the years and a lot of them stuck with us. That’s the great thing about it, you know?”

You’ve been coming over to play the UK since your days with Brian Coll, haven’t you?

“Oh, it was the days of Gene Stuart even further back. They were the hey days of the whole thing. It’s an amazing thing that we might never see those sorts of times again. It’s a pity too because there was a huge camaraderie there, a huge togetherness so that’s going to be lost now.”

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One of your first hits was Marquee in Drumlish…

“It’s probably one of the best dances in Ireland at this time. It’s on in August and it turns about 6000 people over the four days which is probably treble the amount of people who were going to it at that time. But the problem about the Marquee in Drumlish, it’s only in Drumlish now whereas every village had their own marquee and there was 300 bands in Ireland at that particular time.

“There were marquees all over Ireland. It was a very healthy scene at that time. The thing about it is there’s big festivals now but they’re few and far between. There’s still big festivals and there’s still huge crowds going to those festivals. [But] the amount of big drawing acts are scarce. That’s the problem.”

You started in the business young when there was a thriving scene..

“There was a real thriving scene and there was no other scene.

“It was a monopoly in a way because the showbands grew out of the ceili bands.

“Irish people still love going out, they still love socialising.

“They still love gatherings together.

“Now it’s being done in bigger ways, but fewer.

“That’s what’s happening.”

When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
“I had a ferocious love for music.

“I thought that performing music was a great thing.

“If there was nobody coming to the gigs, I’d still play.

“That’s the difference between some of these fellas that wants to be stars and want to be one thing or another.

“It’s not about that in our lives, it’s not about that.

“It’s about enjoying what you’re doing as well.

“And if you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will rub off on other people as well.

“That’s the roundabout way that it operates.”

Did you ever do anything else other than music?

“No, we were farming people at home and everybody from that generation and that era will tell you farming back in the 60s and 70s was a survival scenario.

“Everybody in the household had to give a hand whether you were young, old, middle age, whatever you were, you had to do some little  tasks or some chore that helped the ship along, to keep it surviving and to keep it turning over, and get it to a better day as we did. That’s what happened.

“That’s just the way it was in every household in Ireland.

“That’s what led to mass emigration at the time because there was no jobs here. There was no outlook, there wasn’t very much and our great people who left our shores worked with honour and dignity.

“They were very productive, kept their heads high and did well and I have to say in many, many cases that they flourished.”

You never had to emigrate yourself..

“We got a reasonably good education.

“I went to St Mel’s College in Longford and sat my Leaving Cert.

“I wouldn’t have been the sharpest knife in the drawer by any means but it gives you a good start in life and your parents didn’t get that opportunity or that chance so they sent you there so that it would make a better life for you.

“I’m 35 years now with my own band.

“Going from the days of playing in the Galtymores and the Greshams and all of those ballrooms now to the places that are left now like Quex Road.

“They were wonderful days: Crowds of people who were going there for entertainment and they went at the weekends to sort of renew their vows of Irishness.

“It gave them a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose from their own people.

“Whether you were from Kerry, Donegal, Longford or Dublin, whatever, when you were in that Galtymore, you were from Ireland. You belonged to everybody, and everybody belonged to you.

“It was a great atmosphere, no doubt about it, fantastic.”

In addition to your upcoming UK dates you are also taking your show around Ireland..

“We’ve got a big concert tour and it goes to basically every county of Ireland.

“That’s the way it is now because a lot of the dancers that were going dancing in those earlier years that we started have stopped going dancing but they like to come in and sit down and listen to the tunes in concert, that’s what gives it that little new edge and makes the concerts so successful.”

You’re joined on that by Irish World award winner John McNicholl. You two have recorded a song together, haven’t you?

“Yeah, we have a new release there ready for action myself and John.

“He is a very popular man, a great entertainer and a very lively act.”

Do you still enjoy the music after all these years? “I do, I enjoy it from the point of view that I suppose people bought into my songs and accepted them and took them  on board and got some satisfaction from them.

“It’s nice that people will tell you, ‘God, we played your CD all the way from Holyhead to Birmingham, or Holyhead to Manchester, Holyhead to London.

“Some youngsters now would say, ‘Jesus, we had to listen to you from London to Holyhead going home on holidays when we were visiting granny in Mayo.

“The father and mother would be playing the CD and the children would be sitting in the back of the car having to listen to it all day, so little stories like that are fantastic as well.”

You have a special relationship with your fans. In fact you don’t like to call them ‘fans’, do you?

“Yeah, I think ‘fans’ is belitting.

“Fans are fine for big, huge stars like The Beatles, Taylor Swift or somebody like that.

“But ourselves we’re part of the fabric of what it is.

“We’re not beneath it or above it, we’re part of the people who come to it.

“They’re our friends.”

Is it two whole decades of your Hooley in the Sun now?

“Yeah, this is the 20th anniversary of it this year.

“We started that back in the day.

“They were bad summers in Ireland at the time and the amount of people would tell you, ‘We were on holidays in Tenerife and we had a great enough time but there was very bad entertainment’.

“I thought to myself, ‘Hold on a second here now…’

“We brought over a few good entertainers and put on a bit of a show for people to see would they support it or would they come to it.

“We started it off and the first year we had a couple of hundred people, then it built up and built up over the years and we went to various venues, various parts of Spain, Mallorca and everywhere.

“And eventually, it caught on.

“And now I think there’s an awful lot of the rest of them are trying to emulate it and there’s a lot of other trips have spawned off the idea of the hooley in the sun.”

It is not just established stars that you have on the hooley, you also like to help emerging acts, don’t you?

“It’s important to give somebody else a lift on the cart as you’re going along through life.

“It’s part of Irishness as well.

“Irish people were always great at helping each other out.”

Weren’t you playing on a cruise ship somewhere when COVID came along, was that scary?

“It was but there wasn’t very much information, information about it was a little bit sparse.

“People were listening to it alright, but they weren’t hearing it.

“It took another few weeks after that for it to really sink in that this thing was really coming down the line and that it could be a very, very dangerous scenario.

“We got home quite safe thank God but eventually after that, everything locked down.

“The first few weeks of it was fine because it was a total novelty to be off the road.

“I had never had that scenario ever in my life.

“I was never got off the road bar a couple of weeks holiday of the year, that was it.

“I was never unemployed from the time I started playing music full-time but then the Christmas came and the government says, ‘We’re locking everything down’, then that became scary alright.

“Eventually it wound up.

“In a very short time, there won’t be a word about it.

“It will be like it never happened.”

Declan had to come to terms with the tragic death of his drummer Chris Bradley in a car crash last October.

Chris, who was in his 30s and married with two young children, died instantly when the car in which he was a passenger was in collision with a tractor at 2am on the M1 motorway in Co Louth.

A native of Desertmartin, Co Derry, Chris had been Declan Nerney’s drummer for eight years.

He is survived by his wife, Gabrielle, and two children.

Nerney hosted A Night for Chris Bradley at the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena on 13 February.

It featured an all-star bill including Margo, Philomena Begley, Derek Ryan, Jimmy Buckley, Robert Mizzell, Patrick Feeney, The Tumbling Paddies, Dominic and Barry Kirwan, Kieran and Jason McGilligan, Mick Flavin and Hugo Duncan.

“It’s one of those unmerciful scenarios that nobody ever wants to envisage nevermind having to deal with in reality,” Declan says of Chris’ sad passing.

“It’s very, very tough.

“In a band, there’s a serious togetherness and you get to know people even better than their own families  know them.

“It becomes a little family.

“When something like that happens, it really disrupts what’s going on.

“We did the concert and it was very, very successful, seriously well supported by a lot of people from all over the country.

“People came from Birmingham to it as well.

“The venue was absolutely packed to capacity, we had great artists. Every artist that came performed to top class.

“It gave the family a great lift.

“And while we miss Chris very much and he’s in our thoughts and hearts every night we go out to play, we think of his family who miss him most and have to deal with the heartache of it heavier and more severe than we do.

“These accidents are happening in Ireland every day of the week now.

“It’s such a heartbreak to hear what young families have to go through.”

Your niece is Una Healy well known from girl band The Saturdays and now a country singer herself. Could you always see the potential in her?

“When she was a very young child, she was always writing little songs, singing and playing her guitar.

“She got the old bug for the music the same as her uncle.

“That’s what got her to where she is today.

“She’s enjoyed it all.

“She had great success with The Saturdays and it’s brilliant when something turns out that way.”

I’m sure your duet on The Late Late would be a highlight for you but what else from your long career would be special for you?

“I got to perform at the 1990 All- Ireland final between Meath and Cork.

“That was a great experience.”

You’re passionate about GAA, did you play yourself? “I did at underage.

“I would have played an awful lot of football, then music got in the way and I wasn’t around on Sundays when the matches were being played, you were gone off to play in Cork or Donegal or somewhere else.”

I recall you being one of many to pay respects to our founder Paddy Cowan when he passed away in 2020…

“Yeah, Paddy was a fantastic man.

“Paddy was the man who had a great vision, a good advisor as well.

“He had his ear to the ground all the time so much so that that his paper that paper that you’re writing with was so successful.

“We were very proud of Paddy Cowan in Longford. Very, very proud of him.

“Paddy was one of those visionaries.

“He was a huge asset to Irish people and particularly abroad.”

Declan Nerney and his band play London Irish Centre on Friday 22 March.

For tickets and more information, click here.

For more information about Declan Nerney, click here.

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