INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SPILLANE

tweety stuff @ronanfromcork

first published in @The Evening Echo 2017-03-16

text under photo of article

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Renowned for their live music broadcasting, this St Patricks Day TG4 will be transmitting a special concert that will be recorded on Friday 24 February in ‘Live At Saint Lukes’ with John Spillane and an array of guests.

Speaking with Ronan Leonard ahead of the concert Tony McCarthy, the programme’s producer and director, gave a background to his and John’s long lasting working relationship, “my company ForeFront Productions and John go back a long way, in the late 80s we produced a video for his song ‘Prince’s Street’ which was shown on ‘Nighthawks’. Since then he’s been a host on ‘Geantraí’; presented ‘Spillane an Fánaí’ where John visited and worked behind the bar of pubs in some small towns in Ireland; and ‘Na Bailéid’ was our most recent project, where we traced the history of the Big Ballads of Ireland. In all we focused on 24 songs and included performances from many of Ireland’s great singers.”


Taking up that point John explaining the structure to the concert “it’s a development from that series I did on TG4 with Tony, we’ll be calling it ‘Na Bailéid Beo from St Lukes’, so on the night I’ll be singing ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ and ‘Mo Ghile Mear’, both of which we investigated in the series.”

Their working relationship is one that John is incredibly happy with, “Tony sets things up for TG4 that are exactly the way I’d like to have it myself anyway. He’s the controller, I trust him and I do exactly what I’m told – he has a good sense of me, and of what I do.”

Bearing in mind that the venue will be both a concert and a television set at the same time John is focusing solely on the musical side of things, “in a visual sense, Tony will be taking charge of the whole night, but Joe Kelly who is one of the people running Live At St Lukes, also has an input, he has a good graphical taste, their posters always look brilliant. The venue itself looks great anyway but they are bringing in extra lighting for the occasion to make it looks it’s absolute best, it is the recording of a television show but it will be a great experience for the people who come to the gig too, it will be a real proper concert as well.”

This is the first time St Lukes has been used to record a full concert, so Tony is aware of how good an opportunity it is, “TG4 are always looking for programmes from Cork, their flagship music awards concert Gradam Ceoil will be televised live from the Cork Opera House on Sunday (19 February). This programme that John will be fronting is ideal, the venue is magnificent looking and will lend itself to an intimate and entertaining recording as well as celebrating our songs and culture.”

John is delighted with the performers Tony has programmed for the concert recording, he continued, “it’s a beautiful line up, I love it. It was my idea to bring in Jimmy Crowley, I think he’s been underappreciated to a certain extent. I played bass with Jimmy when I was 20 or so, it was a great apprenticeship. We actually played together in St Lukes Church last year, and when Jimmy played ‘Salonika’ it struck me that this very Church was used by the soldiers, who were stationed in the Barracks just up the road, who served in that very same era. When he does songs like that and ‘The Boys From Fairhill’, ‘The Armoured Car’, ‘I Know My Love’ and all those Cork songs, it’s a fantastic sound in a fabulous venue.”

The rest of the concert’s line up excites John just as much, “I’m a big fan of ‘The Unwanted’, and they are lovely people. Seamie O’Dowd is a great character and a brilliant Sligo fiddle player but around there they say that ‘he was lost to rock and roll’, Seamie going to sing ‘Out On The Western Plain’ by Rory Gallagher. That trio are all great musicians, Rick Epping is one of the best mouth organ players you’ll ever hear and Cathy Jordan, best know for the work with Dervish, is a fantastic singer too.”

Continuing through the impressive line up John spoke of Mick Flannery’s contribution, “I’m very fond of Mick, we have the same manager, we gig a bit and we’ve toured Australia and New Zealand together, I think he’s brilliant, he’s a great singer and we’ll be doing a duet of my song ‘Passage West’”

It’s not just musicians that he will be collaborating with that will be on the stage as Cork Poet Conal Creedon will also be performing, John explained his long standing connection with him, “Conal does a spot with me every year in my Christmas Concert in The Everyman, we will do a piece together on the night called ‘Follow Your Nose’, it’s a piece from his play ‘The Cure’, its about the smells of Cork all the way from Blackpool into the City Centre.”

The continuing support of TG4 to John and Forefront’s production is something that John doesn’t forget, “I’m a huge fan of TG4, I was quite involved with speaking Irish before TG4 started, I remember it was scoffed at but it’s a great channel; small independent producers making fantastic documentaries; then they’ve the rugby; the trad music and the westerns on a Friday night. It’s a great channel, a brilliant crazy combination of stuff!”

The live recording of ‘Beo ó St. Luke’s with John Spillane’ will take place on Friday 24 February, tickets available at www.uticket.ie

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