Arts

Singer Iarla on Brooklyn and The Gloaming ahead of northern gigs

The Gloaming singer Iarla Ó Lionáird has worked with Peter Gabriel and Robert Plant and recently found himself appearing in the hit film Brooklyn alongside Saoirse Ronan and Jim Broadbent. Ahead of three gigs in the north, he talks to Brian Campbell

Iarla Ó Lionáird plays Armagh, Dungiven and Omagh this weekend

IARLA Ó Lionáird is an unlikely movie star but the Co Cork singer has an incredibly powerful cameo in the Oscar-tipped film Brooklyn.

In the film, based on the Colm Tóibín book, young Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) navigates her way through 1950s Brooklyn.

In one scene Eilis and other volunteers are serving a communal Christmas dinner to downtrodden men who "built the tunnels and bridges" in New York, when Frankie (Ó Lionáird) stands up and delivers a stunning rendition of Casadh an tSúgáin.

“When the director John Crowley asked me to do it, I didn’t want to – because I’m not an actor,” says the sean-nós singer, known for his bands The Gloaming and Afro Celt Sound System.

“And even if I had a vague fantasy about being an actor, I wouldn’t allow myself to indulge in it. But John told me that Colm Tóibín had asked him to ask me and was very specific about it in terms of what he wanted me to sing.

“So I thought about and I did it because Colm is somebody I know and respect. I was on set for a day – for 11 hours, so a long day. I don’t know how many times I walked up for my food. And I never got any, by the way,” he laughs.

“It was fascinating and I’m incredibly happy with the end result. I’m even happier with how people have responded to my cameo. Somebody messages me about it every day.”

He says it was great to work with Saoirse Ronan, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and the rest of the cast and hopes that Ronan gets recognition for her remarkable performance come awards season.

“She has the chops, so it’s not just that she’s Irish. She’s already proven herself. She’s such a fine actress and if anything she underplays this role.”

Ó Lionáird says he had never actually sung Casadh an tSúgáin – which roughly translates as Twisting the Rope – before.

“I knew of it from Mícheál Ó Domhnaill [The Bothy Band]. I know his family and his sisters Maighread and Tríona were here [at his home in Inistioge, Co Kilkenny] with me over the summer.”

He says he went to the Brooklyn premiere in Dublin. “That was a bit of craic. I met Nick Hornby, the screenwriter, who was lovely. We had quite a chat about jazz.”

Over the years Ó Lionáird has worked with talent including Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant and Sinead O'Connor but this weekend he’s playing three gigs in the north alongside Steve Cooney.

“I’m looking forward to the gigs. I haven’t toured with Steve in a while. He’s probably the best guitar accompanist I’ve ever worked with. He’s a gifted musician and a very sensitive player. I’ve known him for over 20 years and everybody in traditional music knows Steve Cooney.”

The Gloaming – Ó Lionáird, Thomas Bartlett, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh – are about to record a new album, which will be released in February ahead of five sold-out gigs at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

“We have most of the repertoire in place. In mid-December I fly back from the US to meet the lads in London and we’ll go to Peter Gabriel’s studio and hopefully within a week we’ll have everything done,” he says.

He is going to the US to work on another musical project with Co Armagh native Paul Muldoon and the Chicago ensemble eighth blackbird. He says he is a huge fan of Muldoon and is also full of praise for Peter Gabriel, whose Real World Records label signed both Ó Lionáird and The Gloaming.

“I worked with him on his record OVO and he sang on one of the Afro Celt records as well. I’ve known Peter for quite a while. I don’t ring him up every day, but he’s a wonderful friend and he’s been very supportive.”

:: Iarla Ó Lionáird & Steve Cooney + Mischa Macpherson play the Slieve Gullion Courtyard in Armagh tomorrow at 7.30pm, St Canice’s Hall in Dungiven on Saturday at 8pm and Dún Uladh Cultural Heritage Centre in Omagh on Sunday at 7.30pm. Tickets £10. For information on all three gigs, see culturlann-doire.ie

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