All Heart, No Poses – Interview
As a long-time fan of Sean Tyrrell’s and a regular devotee of his Sunday evening sessions at the Roisin Dubh in Galway I was delighted to hear that he, at last, had an album out. I arranged to meet him at his home to talk about his music and his, I knew, long struggle to get it on record.
Sean’s house sits in a hollow among low hills not far from Bellharbour village on the south side of Galway bay. Low, spring sun lit the conservatory where we sat and talked, surrounded by Sean’s collection of beautiful old instruments. The mandocello looked wonderfully baroque and glowed wood-gold in the sunlight. In the living room a stone, open fireplace with a large Godin stove spoke of many fine winter sessions in the house working on material for the album.
Talking to Sean about a song on the album I get some idea of his general approach to material plus a little bit of history going back twenty years.
‘Johnny Mulhern’s, who wrote ‘Mattie’ was in my first group. The Freedom Folk we were called because I was so skinny people used to call me Freedom. If you remember the Freedom from Hunger campaign poster.
“I wanted Mattie as near to what I could do live. I wanted a blues harmonica. There used to be a character in Galway called J.J. Gaffey – one of the first bohemians. And it used to be if you were walking in from Salthill in the night you’d hear him walking along playing the harmonica.
“Very, very Galway song. Johnny lived there for a long time and a lot of his songs ‘Delaney Gone Back on the Wine’, ‘The Magdalen Laundry’ are very heavily influenced by Galway. Hughes’ Bar in Wood Quay is where Johnny saw Mattie going to. It stirs me and it stirs people in Galway. But it’s not provincial in that it’s only understood there. Anybody gone on alcohol anywhere in the world can easily relate to it.”
He talked about singing. “Musically I don’t care what has to suffer – be it time or whatever, if the word is in the right place at the right time – that’s essential to me and always has been.”
“People say to me, ‘Jeez you’re a great singer’. I never can understand because I really do not think that in terms of voice, I’m a great singer. I mean Sean Keane, Declan Burke… they’re great singers. Maybe what I do have, and I’m not saying they don’t have it as well, is look for, if a song interests me and what makes it what it is and then get that out. The writer’s idea is there, whether it be a poet or a songwriter and I’m the interpreter of those ideas. I’m the singer and I link the listener very well with the writer. I’m a communicator, a conveyor.”
Taking lyrics as seriously as he does it’s not surprising to find a large number of poems set to Sean’s music on the album. So, apart from musical instruments, the other thing to note in the house is books. Sean talks with delight about finding each poem; its source, his mood of the time, how the music came about. Constantly having his ear turned to the slightest half-chance of turning a lyric into a song, or spotting a hidden classic by a contemporary songwriter, is certainly one of Sean’s strengths. So much so that he has written an entire musical based on the famous, bawdy, satirical, Irish epic poem ‘The Midnight Court’ by Brian Merrimen. It’s been performed in Ireland and he can’t wait to bring it to the U.K.
Another dream come true?
Sean’s answers mingle satisfaction that at last things are beginning to happen for him with frustration at all the years spent waiting.
With so much obvious talent to hand it really begs the question, “Why so long before a solo album?” Sean and friends and backers eventually had to set up their own company to make “Cry of a Dreamer”. Nobody else interested?
It would appear not. “We tried all the Irish record companies. One had a problem because I didn’t sing everything in Irish. Another thought I might become ‘too popular’”. A commercial success on their hands? Heaven forbid. Another thought they were too small and he might get too big, another that they were too big and he was too small.
Talking to Sean now you get the sense of a man who has been struck in a traffic jam for a very long time and is just now getting his first glimpse of the open road. Not so much, ‘Too Much Too Soon’, as, ‘Too Late to Stop Now.” He is enthusiastic about getting on the U.K. and European festival circuit in a big way next year, maybe touring in America where he lived for quite a while.
What it boils down to is that, for all his years on the go and his local fame, practically all of Sean’s musical reputation has been based on word of mouth. There’s a whole world out there with a great big pleasant surprise called Sean Tyrrell waiting for it. Whatever happens I’ll take bets that it won’t be twenty years before he makes another album.
Phil Gaston, Folk Roots.