Interview with Mary Black

“When I Sing I Forget about Everything Else…”

Mary Black and Róisín O play the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, August 13, 2017 – tickets

So this is the second leg of the “The Last Call Tour” – and we are honored to have you back in the US playing at a wonderful selection of venues across the country. That’s a lot of time on the road. What were the highlights of this last leg of your international tour and what are you looking forward to for these last few shows?

This second leg has brought me to more places off the beaten track which I find really interesting and most enjoyable, places and venues I’ve played over my 30 year career and didn’t get to return to on the first half of this tour. The highlights have been meeting people again who I’ve gotten to know through my travels and having my daughter opening the shows and getting to sing with her every night.

You have certainly paved the way for recognition of Irish female artists both at home and at an international level. What were the challenges in your early years as an Irish woman taking on the international circuit?

My career started in the trad/folk area of music playing in folk clubs and bars around Dublin. In 1983, I joined a traditional band called De Danann who had a following in America and Europe and so I gained an introduction. After recording my solo album, No Frontiers, I was signed and I started to tour here. My music had developed into a more contemporary style with obvious folk influences. My first tour of America in 1987 was challenging because the audiences were expecting a more traditional sound, but they soon came around.

Why is this album “By The Time it Gets Dark” one of your favorites, and how did you choose it for this tour, rather than a retrospective of your life’s work so far?

It’s 30 years since this album was released in Ireland, and it was a milestone for me. It was originally only released on vinyl, and I felt that when it was adapted for CD something was lost in the transfer. I was never happy with the CD sound and so took the opportunity to remix and remaster it and add some bonus tracks for the reissue – I felt we restored it to its original sound (if not better).

Coming from a renowned Irish musical family yourself, it has to be inspiring to have your children and nieces and nephews carrying the tradition forward – for your family as well as Ireland. You are now on the road with your daughter, Roisín O, an established musician in her own right, and your son Danny is a chart-topping artist with The Coronas – what’s it like being a musical mum?

It’s wonderful to see your children embark on a musical journey like myself. They were warned that it could be tough, and still they were not deterred and both are really enjoying their careers. It’s great to able to watch them from the sidelines.

As an ambassador of the Irish female artist abroad, what changes have you seen over your 30 years of touring in terms of recognition of Irish women abroad?

It’s about the individual as opposed to where you’re from, and it’s never easy to break through internationally – there’s some great female talent in Ireland at the present.

What excites you about the next generation of Irish musicians you see emerging? What in the ever-changing industry has made it easier? Or more difficult?

I think the young people of today are more confident and from my perspective there’s a huge amount of emerging talent in Ireland today.

I feel in a way it was easier for me because radio stations were more open to playing many genres of music as opposed to just pop music. It was less congested as well, and if you got signed with a record label, they were more inclined to stick with the artist; whereas now I see that young artists who get signed by major labels get dropped if they’re not immediately successful . The upside to that is that there are more indie labels who are passionate about the music and support their artists .

So, this is your 30th Anniversary Tour, and that’s 30 years of being a star on the road. It seems that success and fame have not changed your down-to-earth persona – what do you attribute that to?

Being a mother and having that alternative life of normal domestic day-to-day living has kept me very grounded. Living in Ireland also has been an advantage because Irish people are less inclined to put people on a pedestal.

On a personal note, I was photographing an event for the Rape Crisis Center at the Gaiety in Dublin in the 1980s and you came to do a sound check before the gig, in your jeans and t-shirt, and were just humming and singing to yourself, and I remember thinking, wow, what a voice! and wondering, “does this woman just sing all the time while going about her everyday business?” Is singing an integral part of your life and has it kept you going through challenging times?

Yes, from as far back as I can remember I loved singing to myself…I would sing myself to sleep at night and as I got older it became even more important. When I sing I forget about everything else, and no matter what worries I would have, they would disappear when I sang and and consequently it has been very therapeutic.

What’s next for you after this tour?
A week’s holiday in California with my brothers who live there and then home and into the studio to record some Jimmy McCarthy songs for a compilation dedicated to his writings.

Interview with Irish Culture Bay Area’s Catherine Barry

Mary Black and Róisín O play the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, August 13, 2017 – tickets