An Interview with Dolores Keane
by Maireid Sullivan
Dolores was born on September 26,1953, in Caherlistrane, County Galway, Ireland. A former member of Irish folk group, DeDannan, her first solo album, which received a gold disc, was produced by ex-Silly Wizard member Phil Cunningham, and included the Si Kahn classic 'Aragon Mill', Kate And Anna McGarrigle's much covered 'Heart Like A Wheel' and, most surprisingly, Marlene Dietrich 's 'Lili Marlene'.
Farewell to Eirinn, which included John Faulkner and Eamonn Curran, featured songs describing the story of the Irish emigration to America from 1845 to1855, when nearly two million people (or 25 per cent of the population), left Ireland. Lion in A Cage remained in the contemporary setting, with songs by Chris Rea, Paul Brady and Kieran Halpin.
The title track was a reference to Nelson Mandela, who was still a political prisoner in South Africa at the time. As with many songs of social statement, political changes often render them out of date very quickly. However, despite the freeing of Mandela, 'Lion in A Cage' remains a powerful song, and one of the better of the genre. Dolores participated in the television series Bringing It All Back Home, in 1991, performing with Mary Black and Emmylou Harris. In by a band comprising John Faulkner Daragh Connelly (keyboards), Liam Bradley (drums/vocals), and Eddie Lee (bass). She is also featured singing with Tommy Sands the title track of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone", a celebration album of 39 songs written by Pete Seeger. Also participating in this album are, among others, Bruce Sringsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls, Judy Collins and Roger McGuinn.
In 2000, Dolores
decided, after 25 years on the road, to "take it easy" for a while - if the
production of two new music albums and a book plus a possible film role can
be called "easy" ! We suspect that she will also be persuaded to make a (very)
few concert appearances but she ain't sayin' nuthin' right now.She is also featured
singing with Tommy Sands the title track of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone",
a celebration album of 39 songs written by Pete Seeger. Also participating in
this album are, among others, Bruce Sringsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt,
Indigo Girls, Judy Collins and Roger McGuinn.
Interview with Dolores Keane
M.S. Have they expressed an interest in music yet?
D.K. When you ask what kind of music they're interested in, they pull back. But they'ee interested in everything that is going on. You know how kids are. It could be Boys of the Lough today, Spice Girls tomorrow, and some folk song the next day. Tommy Sands brought out a children's tape a few years ago, and I got them a copy of that. Joseph was mad about it! Tommy sings all kinds of songs on the tape and tells stories, and they just loved it.
M.S. You're trying to give them the options, so their horizons will broaden a bit.
D.K. I would hate to start buying them instruments, I would prefer that they made their own minds up about all of that when they'ee ready. We have music sessions here in the house with all kinds of instruments being played, and we take them out to sessions. They know it's live, and it's happening, and it's not just something they see on the television or whatever. They'ee being exposed to a lot of new music.
M.S. Do they dance?
D.K. Oh, Tara is mad for dancing! She loves to hop around the floor. She knows the basic steps.
M.S. Youhave been playing out for quite a long time. Do you remember when you first started singing?
D.K. The RTE presenter, Cieran Mac Mathuna taped me when I was around four or five. He worked for radio and television. He used to travel around the country with a mobile recorder and tape people, collecting songs for his programs. That was back in the late 1950's. He used to come twice a year to Rita and Sarah's house, my two Aunts. He would come to record them, and I was there once when he came over, and he recorded me.
M.S. So you knew songs then?
D.K. I knew bits of songs and I loved to sing. I did sing a bit of a song for Cieran. That encouraged me, from then on, to learn and sing songs.
M.S. You did the rounds at the competitions too, when you were young? A lot of people Ihave talked to say how important they were to them in terms of giving them self-confidence and a forum when they were very young.
D.K. They were great. Once you were singing in a competition, then you knew you were going to the Fleadh as well, and it was wonderful to get away for a weekend. When I was going to secondary school, all the girls would stay in the convents when we traveled to the Fleadh. The girls were madly into pop music and, obviously, I was. But, my first love was for traditional and folk music and I didn really say that much about it when I was in school. Even when I was on television, I didn't mention it, because it was considered very old fashioned and behind the times.
When I was growing up, there was very little to do around home, especially in the countryside. If you lived in a town there would be a youth club or something like that. When we went to a Fleadh, not only did we mix with our own age group, but with adults as well. All the age groups were there, together, enjoying themselves. You never felt left out, whereas, when you came back home again, our parent's would go out on weekends, but you were left at home.
M.S. Did you go to sessions much?
D.K. Yes. When I went to sessions, I played the whistle and the flute, so I was singing and playing as well. I always played the flute in sessions, in whatever tunes that I knew. I was always picking up tunes as well, and learning new ones.
M.S. Do you do that still?
D.K. I do, oh yes!
M.S. When you became an adult, an independent person, was it obvious that music was taking over your life?
D.K. Not really. I never got that feeling. Even now, people ask me about when I decided to go professional? The only answer I can come up with is that I don think I ever did. It's obviously something that I do, but I never see it as something that encroached upon my life. Iham quite lucky. Ihave been able to do lots of other things as well. For example, Iham able to have the children and be at home with them. I suppose I see the children more than anyone with a nine to five job would. I go on tours and come back and Iham home for three or four weeks, and then I leave again, maybe for a weekend or week, and then Iham back again.
M.S. Have you ever taken your children with you?
D.K. Yes, lots of times, but I wouldn take them abroad now. They'ee too young. It's too early. It would be too hard for them. On tour, you get up in the morning, you get in the car and you drive to the next venue, you go to the sound check, you go and have dinner -- if you have time, then you'ee back, and you'ee up on stage. There's nothing there that would be enjoyable for the kids. Tara doesn mind the traveling, but Joseph gets mad with long journeys in cars. He loves to get in an airplane, and say Äúoh! Iham in an airplaneÄù but then he falls asleep. Three weeks ago I was presenting a television program with my brother, Sean, and I brought the children along. We were out on location and the weather was really cold. I felt bad because they were back in the hotel and it was a bit too cold to go over on the town and look at shops, etc. They had the television and video to occupy them, and seemed to be happy enough, but I just feel sad about it. I realized this wasn a good idea. In the summer time it's much easier.
M.S. Youhave traveled a lot, you'ee a seasoned traveler now. Have you been all over the globe?
D.K. Ihave been to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America, and different parts of Europe.
M.S. Have you gone to Asian countries?
D.K. No, but I would love to, well, actually I was in Hong Kong in June, and Ihave done a few concerts in Bahrain in the Middle East. Europe is great. I did a lot of work in Germany a few years ago. The German's are incredible. I love the festivals in the states.
M.S. When you first started out, traveling the world, it must have been a real eye-opener for you, a real education.
D.K. It was fabulous. It's a brilliant education to go and hear different languages and eat different food, see a different culture. It's great because it broadens the mind. You tend to draw parallels between how they are living, and how you are living. We'ee very lucky to be musicians, to be able to do all that. Other people pay thousands and thousands of pounds to go on holiday, and we get paid to do it. Ihall be visiting Norway again soon, it's fabulous.
M.S. Do you spend extra time exploring when you'ee traveling? Do you take a few extra days?
D.K. If we can, we always do, depending on how things are going. Right now, Ihad just love to go over to London and just have a day off, just to see a bit of it again. It's changing all the time.
M.S. You live outside Galway, how is it there these days?
D.K. Galway is really going through changes! It's a boomtown. There are huge hotels going up all over the place. There have been awful changes. I would like to see it slow down. There are an awful lot of people from outside of Galway, and outside of the County, coming in to stay and building all kinds of developments. We live eighteen miles north East of Galway, near the town of Headford.
M.S. There are a lot of musicians from that area.
D.K. There's a lot of good music happening around here. The Saw Doctors come from Tuam. They are all very good friends of ours. We have sessions together all the time.
M.S. Are you interested in history? Do you study the Irish history?
D.K. I am interested, but I didn't have a lot of time for that since I was so busy with music. I know the contemporary history. You notice that there is a change of attitude, even with the younger people in Ireland. When Riverdance started, or when Phillip King did with Bringing it all Back Home. That brought out the history of the music, and what Irish people had achieved abroad and suddenly the world became smaller. I think since then people are more interested in listening to different types of Irish music and other music styles as well. If they have a hardanger fiddler, or an old timey fiddle player they had be more inclined to listen to it now, rather than saying, "That has nothing to do with us, we don't know anything about that". Now they listen and they say, "one of our lads heard the tune, and that's his version of it".
People are much more open now. The songs now, as well, are coming away from themes of the troubles. At one time, say with the Wolf Tones, wehad be waving banners and saying free the Irish people! What we'ee talking about now in songs, and what the writers are doing is saying, they look, either keep it or give it away. Do what you like with it, but don't be killing people in the process. It's not the people who are at fault here. It's the authorities. They are the people making these decisions, to set one group of people up against another.
Because everyone now has a television, they are able to see it all. Just a few years ago, youhad see the politicians shouting, up in the local Parish Church, and gathering the people around. They had to be telling them what was right and what was wrong, and saying "vote for me", and then they had go off and do the opposite. Nowadays, we actually see all the Minister's on the television, the whole lot, in their own building shouting across at each other. We'ee getting a closer look at them all the time. A lot more people are aware, and they know a lot more now. It's not just the troubles in the North that people are informed about.
Sean and I went to Omagh, in Northern Ireland, to turn on the Christmas lights, and they were symbolic of peace lights. Everyone had candles and it was just an incredible experience. It was outdoors, and thousands of people turned out. There was a beautiful choir on stage. The different Bishops, Catholics, and Protestants, and whoever else, were all there. Sean and I did a song written by Tommy Sands "Like the First Time, its Christmas Time", about the peace process.
"Like the first time,
We sang the first part and then a choir came in, it was lovely.
M.S. That's what I have been hearing is happening up there. People are actually taking it into themselves now, not focusing on the politics so much, but really looking at the community.
D.K. That was the point I was telling you about. People are beginning to see now, and say, "hold on a second, this has been going on for too long. Let's make proper decisions here ourselves."
M.S. In Ireland, the musician, and the poet, has always had a leadership role in the community. Today, you can see yourself, you as a singer, being put in a leadership position because there's no controversy there, you are trusted by everyone. You are a leader because the arts can draw people's attention and focus, and give it back to them in a way that unites them. When you'ee bringing people together in a concert situation, it is thrilling, but when you'ee doing it as a political statement it must be incredible for you to experience that. How do you carry that responsibility?
D.K. I think because the people would listen to me, that when I get up on a stage, and basically the stage is mine for however long, I have to be very, very careful about what I say, especially in singing the kind of songs that I sing. Now, with the Peace process in motion, it gets a bit easier. Years ago when I would sing a political song, they were in a Peace mode as well, but you had to be very careful. You don want to give the wrong impression to people either. You have to get them to resonate with each other. The one thing I never did, and I made this decision years ago, was never to take sides on anything, because I was brought up as a singer, and Iham a singer of songs. I want to sing any kind of song as long as it's a good song. Ihave always made that point very clear.
M.S. Are you getting enough good songs right now?
D.K. Well, there are a lot of people writing songs and some very good songs among them. But to find a song that has a tune that appeals to me, along with lyrics that I feel I want to be identified with, really isn't that easy. We usually accumulate a whole box of "demo" tapes during the course of the year or so, between recording new albums, and then have a blitz of listening to them and trying them out with the band, etc., and it's usually less than one percent make it to the studio. So, it's both a yes and a no answer to your question. There are certainly good songs and songwriters about, but getting the right one at the right time is something else!
For more info, vist Delores on the
Night Owl 1998
COMPILATIONS & GUEST ARTIST
The Man from God Knows Where with
Tom Russell (1999)