tweety stuff @ronanfromcork

first published in @The Evening Echo 2015-04-23

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Interview with Paul Dunlea


While a few songs each by Mick Flannery, Cathal Coughlan, Camille O’Sullivan, John Spillane, Laoise O’Hanlon, Karen Underwood and Niall McCabe would make a pretty thorough mix CD of Cork singing and songwriting talent, the chance to see them play at the same concert promises to be an even richer musical experience. All seven of them are special guests of the 18 member Paul Dunlea Big Band who are playing the Cork Opera House on Sunday 26 April.

Speaking with Ronan Leonard ahead of the concert, Paul is very excited about his involvement, “I’ve been playing professionally for about 20 years and I’ve played in big bands at different levels for all that time. I was always listening to those type of records since I started learning to play the Trombone and hoped to be able play at that level, but the fact that I’m leading one and writing for a Big Band is something I never foresaw to be honest.”

The task of putting together the band and preparing all the songs has been quite a task, “as an arranger and as a musician it’s been quite a challenge. It was January when Mary Hickson in the Cork Opera House contacted me about doing this concert  and since then I’ve had to do 15 song arrangements. They take a week each so it’s been every waking minute in front of the computer and piano. I do my work on the piano and then use a piece of software that notates the music, then I can render it as a sound file which I can send it to the singers so they can prepare. For instance I’ve been bouncing emails back and forth with Cathal Coughlan with recordings of what I’ve working on for his songs, there’s no way we could have done it 15 years ago!”

Finding a way of harnessing the best attributes of Big Band musicians but also doing justice to the song is one biggest challenges of arrangement, one which Paul relished, ”the structure and form of the songs haven’t changed, the singers will be performing the songs the way they always sing them, but what’s going behind them will be completely different. I needed to remain true to the style of a big band, but without going over the top. At the end of the day the song is still the same, and I have married the two styles. So fans of those artists will know the songs but won’t have heard them performed like this before. We’ve been somewhat restricted as we won’t all be able to rehearse until the day itself but that’s not a worry as these guys will just open up the sheets and be able to play it perfectly.”

While his name is leading the band, Paul is adamant that all involved with the Saxophone, Trombone and Trumpet Sections be given credit as well as those in the Rhythm Section, “this is absolutely about giving a spotlight to all of the different musicians. My mum is giving out to me that my face isn’t on the poster but I don’t care, usually with concerts focus is on the main singer, which is fair enough because they’d have built up their career and stuff like that but this concert is about the band, and there is serious talent in this band. They are all as talented as Mick, John and the rest of the singers but aren’t as known. Between them they’ve played with everyone from Van Morrison to Ray Lamontagne, basically if you’ve bought an album in the last 10 years there’s a good chance one of them is on it! You’d have heard them over the radio loads of times but not know it’s them, so this is a great opportunity to see them playing in Cork doing what they do best.”

All the singing talent on the night are Cork born or based singers, and Paul is delighted that the same can be said for most of that for the band too, “I’m very proud of the fact that most of the band I’ve put together is from Cork, they are also of the top standard too, everyone is there on merit. Of course some of them have moved to other places but they are coming back for this concert. A lot of us that are still living in Cork are part of the teaching faculty of the Cork School of Music, and we all cut our teeth in their Big Band when we were studying so there’s a nice continuation there.”

The Paul Dunlea Big Band & Special Guests will be playing in The Cork Opera House on Sunday 26 April, tickets are available via or their Box Office.


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