Only Eleanor’s heart

Eleanor McEvoy told David Hennessy about her new album that deals with the break-up of a 23-year relationship, how the title track is dedicated to her late collaborator and friend and why it was so scary to be in Abu Dhabi last year hoping she did not have a temperature.

She penned the immortal line, ‘As only a woman’s heart can know’, and Eleanor McEvoy has endured a rough few years with the break-up of her marriage after 23 years and the death of her father.

But the Dublin singer-songwriter who found fame with the iconic song in the 1990s has channelled her experiences of the last few years into her latest album, Gimme Some Wine.

Mostly written and recorded during lockdown, the album is the sixteenth of her career.

Eleanor told The Irish World: “It has been a very rough few years. I had a horrific breakup there two and a half years ago after 23 years. It is a long time to be with somebody.

“I’m nowhere near being able to talk about it because it was really bad. I will talk about it at some stage but not yet.

“But I kind of had to start again. I moved back to Dublin and I just kind of began a new life and God, it’s been great. It’s been really good.

“I had to go, ‘Jesus, there are actually elements to being a single woman in Dublin that are pretty brilliant’.

“I’m out on my bike, fiddle on the back, even during lockdown. It kind of brought me back to my college days.”

Indeed, the current single South Anne Street is nostalgic as it is inspired by a chance meeting she had with an ex- boyfriend in the city one day.

“It brought me back and there was one day there a couple years ago, I bumped into an ex on South Anne Street and we ended up in McDaid’s pub in the afternoon.

“I hadn’t seen him in oh my God, 20 years, 30 years, something like that.

“And it was just an afternoon in the pub but it kind of stayed with me and I started thinking, ‘God, what if I’d gone down that road…’

“It was a sliding doors moment.

“What if I had gone down that road instead of going down this road? Where would I be now?

“Would it be different? Would it be better? Would it be worse?

“So it’s contemplative. It’s looking back at stuff.

“Obviously it’s touched a chord. It’s being played off the air here, it’s number one in the airplay on RTE this week, and I know the album is album of the week so that’s been extraordinary.

“The messages I’m getting from people are saying, ‘God, exactly the same thing happened me. I met an ex after 20 years…’

“I think it’s actually something that happens quite a bit.

“And of course when you write these songs, you’re writing them just about your own experience.

“It was initially just about that. You kind of write them thinking, ‘I won’t put this on an album. I’ll just write it to get it out of my system’.

“But of course, very often they’re the songs people identify with.

“There’s a simplicity in them.

“People sometimes say, ‘You must have a great imagination to be a songwriter’.

“And I always think, ‘I have no Imagination at all’.

“That’s probably a quirky viewpoint but it’s not like you have to make stuff up.

“I find truth is stranger than fiction, you know?”

Another track on the album Almost Beautiful, written with Dave Rotheray formerly of The Beautiful South, is about the heartbreak of watching a loved one mentally decline.

“I think he had somebody close to him that had that mental decline and I had both my parents. Actually my dad just died about two and a half years ago as well, around the time I was breaking up and all that.

“It’s very hard to see that, to watch that decline in somebody.

“I’ve seen it quite a lot in various people close to me.

“You have all sorts of thoughts about what is kinder to the person.

“You know they’re no longer the person they once were and it’s just contemplating all of that.”

A break-up and a bereavement all at once? It must have been tough but Eleanor sounds upbeat and in good form.

Is she okay now despite the tough times she has had? “I’m in a great space. I’m very lucky and I don’t take it for granted. I’ve got brilliant friends around me and my daughter.

“I live in a house in a city where a lot of people are homeless.

“I have a job I love. I love my music. Music has always been there for me. It has never let me down in life, you know?

“I’m pretty lucky.”

The title track ‘Gimme Some Wine’ is dedicated to British artist Chris Gollon, Eleanor’s artistic collaborator who passed away suddenly in 2017 after falling ill on the eve of an exhibition of paintings based on Eleanor’s music.

“There was an artist called Chris Gollon, who sadly has died.

“I had fallen in love with one of his paintings and went to one of his exhibitions. I actually ended up meeting him.

“He came to my gig that night in Norwich and said, ‘Look, I’d love to work with you’.

“I said, ‘I’d love to work with you but you paint, I sing. How would we work together?

“And we started this kind of boundary crossing thing.

“He did the cover of the album.

“He listened to the record and he did a beautiful painting for the cover.

“And he kept painting until he had 24 paintings all based on the songs from this particular album, Naked Music.

“And one of them was a song I’d written with Lloyd Cole called Dreaming of Leaving. And he painted a painting called Dreaming of Leaving.

“So I then wrote a song called Gimme Some Wine about his painting, which is based on one of my songs.

“He loved the song Gimme Some Wine, and he painted 23 paintings based on Gimme Some Wine and did a whole exhibition around England and Wales.

“Sadly, the night before it opened, he wasn’t feeling well and eight weeks later, he died which was dreadful and awful and horrible.

“I dedicate the song to him on the album, and to his family.

“I really think he was an artist in the true sense word.”

Eleanor spoke to the Irish World just as she was packing for a tour of Germany.

She reveals it is ‘a little scary’ to be getting back on the road as she has not been onstage since she had to cancel some Australian shows on account of the pandemic.

“The last time I was properly on stage was in Melbourne on the 12th of March (2020).

“I left the stage that night thinking everything was fine, had to cancel the whole tour the next day and haven’t been on stage properly since.

“So it’s a bit nerve racking but I’ll be in Oldenburg On Friday night and we’ll see what happens.”

Was it scary to be in Australia for a tour and then all of a sudden have to be rushing home due to this virus that nobody knew anything about?

“It really was because that last night when I was on stage, the place was sold out but then people hadn’t turned up because of this virus.

“And I was thinking, ‘That’s interesting. People didn’t show up. Wow, that’s gas’.

“And then I was thinking, ‘Geez, maybe I should get some hand sanitizer for the CD stand…’

“That was the level I was at: No masks, nothing like that.

“But the next morning, the world changed, and it was like, ‘Can I get a flight out of here?’

“I got one of the last seats on one of the last planes just before they closed Abu Dhabi Airport, and I was going through Abu Dhabi and they took my temperature.

“They said, ‘If you have a temperature, you have to quarantine’.

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to quarantine in Abu Dhabi. I want to go home’.

“Yeah, it was a bit scary.

“Of course, I travel on my own which most of the time is fine but when stuff like that happens, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, Lord, what series of decisions have I made throughout my life to end up in Abu Dhabi Airport hoping I don’t have a temperature?’”

The pandemic did not stop Eleanor being creative as she wrote and recorded most of the album throughout the crisis although she did have to find a new way of doing some things.

How has the last year and a half been for her? “To be honest- and I hate saying this because I know a lot of people have been very badly affected- It was great to get a rest.

“I’ve been touring constantly pretty much for 30 something years.

“About six weeks, seven weeks into it I realized I hadn’t been that long in the same bed for over 30 years.

“And that does something to your psyche, I think, constant travel.

“You don’t have a minute to catch up so it was really good from that point of view.

“I took the time to restructure everything about how I do things and I’m kind of doing it in a more holistic way for me.

“Of course, the other thing I always did was I always rocked up to the studio with all my gear and recorded live.

“This new album I did remotely.”

Gimme Some Wine is both nostalgic and contemporary as it features older genres of music juxtaposed with contemporary drums, bass, or drum loops.

“There’s a lot of old time stuff, but with a real modern twist.

“There’s an almost English music hall vibe to one song, but then there’ll be nearly a hip hop drum and bass thing underneath it.

“It’s a weird thing looking back at the past and looking at the future and looking back at  relationships and what might have been, and then looking to the future.”

Eleanor recently featured on Irish Women in Harmony A Woman’s Heart, a reworking of her own original song that spawned its own album, tour and movement back in the 90s and still goes strong.

The new version features spoken word and rap rather than being a carbon copy and Eleanor loved that.

“It was brilliant. In a way, it’s kind of a whole new creation.

“We were telling the story about women in 1992, that’s what was going on in life then. It’s all moved on a bit now. It’s a very different kind of story.

“And I think they put their own twist on that in a brilliant way and it was real joy to be involved in it and a bit of a privilege 30 years on, people are still interested in the song and still singing it and still want to do stuff with it.

“It’s great. How many songwriters get that? I’m a very lucky woman to be honest.”

Since RuthAnne and several more Irish females including Caroline Corr, Una Healy, Lisa Hannigan, Moya Brennan and Imelda May banded together to tackle gender disparity on Irish radio last year, they have been compared to the A Woman’s Heart movement that started in the 1990s and continues still.

“I think it’s great to see the creative process continue.

“I mean, anytime I ever do something with A Woman’s Heart, we’ve always tried to keep it fresh, we’ve never repeated the same thing over again.

“Every time I’ve ever been involved in it, I’ve always tried to move it on and do something different.

“I think Irish Women in Harmony is kind of a natural extension of that.

“It’s RuthAnne’s project, it’s her baby.

“But it was great to do it.”

Was Eleanor chuffed to be asked by RuthAnne and her collective to a) let them cover the song and b) to feature on it?

“Of course I was. I’ve been looking at what they’ve been doing for a long time and really thinking, ‘God, fair play, that’s brilliant’.

“We have a big issue here with gender quotas on radio.

“Women do not get played very much here on radio which is an awful pity. The reports are shocking.

“When you see the figures, you go, ‘Oh, my God, we’re releasing music here and we’re just not getting played’.

“And the obvious exception to that is RTE who are very good about it. They have nearly 50/50 or close on that anyway.

“It doesn’t occur to you until you actually look at the stats and go, ‘This person is getting played on Spotify so is very popular and yet it’s not reflected in the airplay charts’. So it’s very weird.

“So I think Irish Women in Harmony were great when they got started, they were one of the first ones to start getting played, so hopefully the tide is turning.”

Eleanor also co-wrote the single If They Build Their Wall with Bernadette Morris, a reaction to Trump’s rhetoric about building a wall between the United States and Mexico.

“That’s right. I did her single which was produced there by Declan Sinnott, another old colleague of mine from the old Mary Black band days.

“I really, really loved what they did with it.

“That whole thing of people wanting to build walls and divide societies.

“We should be doing the opposite. We should be knocking down walls.”

When will we see Eleanor over here for some UK dates? “It will probably be 2022 now.

“I had been hoping for 2021 but with COVID and stuff, it’s just too hard to know. And then we’ve got the Brexit restrictions now on top of that.

“There’s all sorts of issues with me bringing my equipment over there, for example. That’s a whole other level of bureaucracy.

“I’ve just got to see what the ramifications of Brexit are on that and my tours over there.

“So I’ll let it lie another couple of months and then I’ll look at it.

“I really, really love touring over there. It’s one of the best places for me to tour.

“I love the audiences there. I love playing the big cities and I love playing the small rural villages too.

“I love the dichotomy of one night you’re playing in central Manchester, and then the next you’re playing the Peak Districts.

“I just love the way you can do that in Britain.

“But for this year, it’s just not possible.

“I’ll look at it in 2022 to see how things are going to work out.

“Hopefully 2022.”

Gimme Some Wine is out now.

The single South Anne Street is out now.

For more information, click here.

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