Galway singer-songwriter Niamh Regan spoke to David Hennessy ahead of her coming to London this week.
Choice Music Prize-nominated Galway singer- songwriter Niamh Regan comes to London this month swiftly on the heels of her Irish tour.
The London date and indeed her largely sold out Irish tour have been long time coming as Niamh delayed the release of her acclaimed debut album Hemet due to the pandemic before finally having to release it still in lockdown last year.
Niamh’s debut record received much praise on its release.
Hot Press magazine called it ‘stunning’, the Irish Independent said it was ‘bewitching’.
Speaking ahead of her Irish tour dates, Niamh told The Irish World: “It’s madness to think that it’s almost 2022 and I haven’t gotten the chance to tour the album yet.
“It’s great but I’m kind of getting a bit nervous about it but very excited all the same.”
The live shows have been so long coming that Niamh has even produced another body of work.
Her current offering Love You Senseless follows Happy Again as the second single from her forthcoming EP, In the Meantime.
“I couldn’t wait,” she says.
“There was so much time sitting around, but it was perfect to keep writing.
“I had a bit of luck. Galway Arts Festival got behind me and gave me a little bit of help to put out an EP called In The Meantime.
“The title sums it up, that period of waiting.
“I didn’t feel like it was right to launch into writing the second album until I could air the first one to an audience.
“So it’s just a few songs I wrote during lockdown that I was proud of.
“I’m glad that I’m going to get to air them with the album now. It will be fun.”
Written in lockdown, it should come as no surprise that the EP ponders themes like acceptance, uncertainty, family and guilt.
“I think it was very cathartic to write songs like that. A little bit self- indulgent, I suppose.
“I am proud of them but I do feel like they will be time stamped for me because they came from a weird time in lockdown.
“But I think Happy Again had a better response than I was expecting just because I think a lot of people did kind of feel the same, kind of having to tell themselves, ‘It will be grand. It will be fine again. We just have to get through this nonsense’.
“I definitely always lean into music in the good times and the bad times.
“I definitely don’t want to complain. I had a relatively good experience during the pandemic, you know what I mean?
“I was warm, healthy and safe and I had the opportunity to be locked away with the piano so I have no complaints there.
“It was just unusual to not get to gig when we were revving up to do so.
“I wouldn’t say I was unfortunate in any way other than not being able to play a bit of music to an audience. Not too hard done by at all.
“I think we all had a period of reflection whether we wanted it or not, just kind of stuck with one another.
“So I poured it all into the songs and I’m ready to move on already from them.
“It was fun recording and producing them all the same.”
Niamh’s debut album also came from a difficult time as the year before she released it, she had lost her mother, got married and returned to education. She describes it as a year when her world got bigger and smaller at the same time and she grew up a lot.
Is it hard to sing these songs if they take her back to hard times? “It’s a mixture, I think.
“Sometimes I get tripped up if I really get into it.
“If I tap into something or a memory pops up, it can be a bit of like, ‘Oh God, here we go again’.
“It can be a bit different when you’re playing with a band, you’re playing with people that weren’t a part of those memories and bring something different musically to the piece.
“It brings kind of a new lease to it.
“The album did come from a strange time. But what I’m finding is it’s never not a strange time in life.
“There’s always something going on, so might as well lean into the drama of it all and enjoy it somehow, get something out of it.”
So what is it like for Niamh to be getting back to live performances?
“To tell you the truth, it’s kind of a mixed bag.
“I think now that I’m getting ready to go to these venues, I’m getting a bit worried about safety and stuff just because there’s 3,000 cases announced every day.
“You would be afraid somebody might get hurt or bring some sickness into their life from you performing.
“I think most artists are a little bit worried that way, but also itching to do what they do.
“We don’t know what to do but proceed with caution and hope it’ll be okay.
“There are definitely mixed messages in the media.
“But I’ve gone to see so many great artists since things opened up and it’s kind of given everyone a new lease of life.”
Niamh recently got to open a show for former Frames frontman and Oscar-winning songwriter Glen Hansard, something she says meant a lot to her as she idolised him and his music through her teenage years.
“It was actually bonkers.
“I hadn’t played to a theatre that big. I don’t know how many were there but I’ve never played to a seated crowd with listening ears.
“At a festival or something, you might get people’s attention for a few songs, but that was an excellent experience and a real privilege.
“I grew up listening to The Frames and idolizing him.
“I went through a big period of covering all the songs from Once when I was a teenager.
“So it was mad. He’s a real idol to a lot of Irish songwriters.
“Hopefully I’ll get to do it again.”
Although bands and performers resorted to live streams and virtual events during the crisis, Niamh says such things do not come close to matching the live experience.
“They kind of were the bandage and they were absolutely fine when we were figuring it all out together.
“Live shows are a buzz that you just can’t beat.
“Also being part of an audience, I love that so much myself.
“You kind of forget how much energy people give each other when they’re listening to music.”
Niamh thought someone was having a joke with her when they said her debut album Hemet could be honoured with an RTÉ Choice Music Prize nomination.
“I did think they were joking. I still chuckle to this day thinking about it. I still get a kick out of it. It was totally unexpected. I stood in disbelief, stunned for a moment reading the texts. Then I had a little happy cry and told my husband and Da… it was a lovely moment.”
Now that she is getting out to play live, can she believe it all now finally? “It is beginning to sink in now.
“When I got the email to say that the few dates had sold out, I couldn’t really believe that there would be that many people who would want to come and hear it.
“That’s been really beautiful.
“It motivates you as well. I’ve been practicing non-stop because I want to do them the best I possibly can with the band.
“It’s great. It’s been a good confidence booster.
“It feels more concrete now that people are actually buying tickets.”
When she takes to the stage at the Green Note, it will be Niamh’s first headline show in London but she has played in the city before and not too far away from the Camden venue.
“I had the pleasure of supporting Damien Dempsey in the London Irish Centre not so long ago.
“It was one of the first gigs that I had ever played in England.
“I had studied in Newcastle before and I played a few gigs but not as Niamh Regan.
“I was just a music student playing where I could with people.
“Yeah, that was madness altogether. And he brings a whole different level of buzz to his audiences.
“There were groups of grown men bawling crying and shouting and laughing all in the same breath.
“It was mad to be a part of, and it was deadly.
“As he says, it’s a very healing experience to sing with others in the crowd. And he does that in a very non-cheesy way.
“So I was really impressed by that. But that said, I’ve never done a headline show on my own.
“So I don’t know what to expect heading over there.
“I don’t know if there will be a massive crowd or not, but I’m going to bring the best show I could possibly do anyway and hope for the best.”
While she may have been a new name to many when she released Hemet, to some Niamh was delivering on promise that had been evident for many years.
When she released her debut solo EP in 2017, she drew comparisons with contemporary artists such as Laura Marling and Lisa Hannigan.
Niamh grew up in a very musical house, her late mother was a singer. “I was a Fleadh baby – but I never had success there,” she laughs. “I never won a medal, but I suppose that’s where I got the love for the stage and the camaraderie. It was great.
“From an early age, we were all playing music. It was a natural enough kind of thing. It was always around.
“My poor brother was more forced into it. I wouldn’t stop practising and you had to try and get him to practise.”
Niamh believes her trad background is a good musical grounding. Apart from anything else, she says, it stops you getting a big head because there’s no room for egos in the trad community. “It’s great to be good at something but it’s better to have a love for the music and an appreciation. There’s nothing better than coming together with people who share that.
At seventeen she won a Paul Brady scholarship to study flute and guitar in the University of Limerick.
And, as she mentions, this took her to Newcastle.
“I did an Erasmus for half a year.
“I did a few gigs there.
“It was really, really good. I was studying flute at the time, so I had this teacher from Kerry, Aoife Granville.
“She’s a wonderful flute player and I just had a whale of a time. It was just great, you’re always a novelty when you’re the student that flies in and out for a few months so everyone was happy to play and jam.
“It was lovely. I learned a lot. It was a real privilege, and I would love to go back at some point. It’s a great city.”
If she did not feel right about launching straight into writing the second album without touring the first, is she now collecting material with a view to the second collection? “Yeah, it’s very early stages but a lot of drafts.
“Like the last album as well, you write about three albums before you find the one.
“I’m going through a lot of stuff.
“I’m kind of trying to set myself a target of writing five kind of semi- drafted songs a month.
“They mightn’t all work but that’s kind of the minimum I’m allowing myself to get by with until I find the perfect few.
“I’m hoping to have something by early 2023 or very, very late 2022.
“That’s the goal.
“But as we all know, we can only plan so much and see where life takes us.
“I wish it was as simple as just ticking boxes. There’s no blueprint to these things.”
However, in one way you could say Niamh is collecting songs for her third album if you count the one she put together when she was 14 years of age.
“What was I doing at 14? I was just messing. I thought I would get some gigs. I sent them to radio stations, and I think I sent one to a local radio station who said, ‘Maybe hold off until you get a little bit better’.
“It wasn’t the words I wanted to hear at the time, but I always had that drive though. I always knew I wanted to be doing this kind of hustle.
“What was I at? I think only my auntie has a copy of it, one that’s buried in the archives at home somewhere.”
Niamh plays The Green Note in London on Wednesday 24 November.
Love You Senseless is out now.
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