Dana: All Kinds of Everything is my signature song but it also belongs to the people
So famous she hasn't needed a surname since her teens, Dana has been back in the recording studio to make her first album in seven years. She spoke to Gail Bell about music, politics, her talented family and why 'that song' is now part of a popular memory
IRISH songstress and enduring Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon is both terrified and ecstatically happy – a rare paradox for the unflappable 68-year-old who has come out of semi-retirement to release her first album in seven years, fittingly entitled, My Time.
For the singer catapulted to international stardom as a teenager after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam in1970 with All Kinds of Everything, it has been a "terrifyingly wonderful" experience to go back into the studio again. "Terrifying" she says, because she lost confidence during a long, musical absence, and "wonderful" because she has discovered a new depth to her voice.
"It's still me," she says assuredly, in the soft, honey-toned burr that is quintessentially Dana, "but I think it's also the sound of someone who has lived a life. I am still moving forwards and making myself step out there and not feel afraid to do so. Out of all the things I have done in my career to date, I think this album is up there; it is just so special to me."
One of the reasons for that has been the collaboration the project afforded with both her son, Robert – who helped write one of the new tracks, Breaking Free – and her nephew and nieces who make up successful English Indie-pop band, The Rua.
Siblings Roseanna, Alanna and Jonathan Brown are based outside London but have recently been making chart-topping noises in the US where one commentator described their sound as a mix of The Corrs and The Cranberries with a little Taylor Swift tossed in.
The trio penned several new tunes and also lend vocals to their famous aunt's new album which, as well featuring original tracks, showcases a number of cover versions, including Ash's Shining Light, Roxy Music's Just Like You (interestingly reworked with a Dixieland trad-jazz band) and "stand-out track" I Will Never Let You Know – originally written for TV series Nashville but never released as a single.
All are personal favourites of Dana, devoted grandmother, former Derry girl and erstwhile politician (she served five years as an Independent MEP for Connacht-Ulster, from 1999 to 2004) who says she found the trip to the historic Forum Studios in Rome an unexpected highlight in itself.
"Recording My Time – produced by Bob Rose – in that studio which is so atmospheric and so steeped in history was a truly wonderful experience for me," she enthuses. "It only came about after The Rua were in Germany doing some television work and it came up in conversation with a director that I was their aunt. I had had a lot of chart success in Germany many years ago and this director happened to be a fan. I was asked if I would be interested in recording, but at the time I said, 'No' because I had gone through a period where I had just lost all confidence, really."
But although delighted to be back behind the mic, the recent reality TV convert admits to having felt a little "intimitated at the thought of making her first album "of this type" in around 25 years while in the company of esteemed musicians such as Manny Elias (Tears For Fears) on drums and Blondie's Nigel Harrison (bass), as wells as instrumentalists from the Rome Santa Cecilia Orchestra.
"All are stars in their own right, so I was a bit nervous, but I am delighted with the result," says the singer who lives in rural Co Galway. "I also love the fact we recorded in analogue which was the way I first began my recording career. There is a subtle but distinct difference to the sound quality, compared to modern digital, and a lot of artists today are going back to it."
The trip to the Eternal City stirred up many happy memories for Dana who took part in Pilgrimage: The Road To Rome, for BBC earlier this year – her first tentative step into reality TV and a world away from the comfort zone of her own series on US television which she enjoyed in the early part of her career.
"I enjoy TV work," she says, "and I think it was good for me to have done both the Pilgrimage programme in Italy and also Celebrity Globetrotters, a travel programme for RTÉ which recently took me to Morocco. You learn a lot about yourself during those experiences and even though they can be physically and emotionally tough, you make friendships that last a lifetime."
Now she's stepping back on to our television screens again, this time for a TV documentary being made by Holywood, Co Down-based Waddell Media to be broadcast on BBC and RTÉ next year, marking the 50th anniversary of her Eurovision win with that iconic song, a song still close to her heart and of which she remains refreshingly fond.
"My son, Robert, is a co-producer on the documentary and I was back in Derry a couple of weeks ago to film at the Guildhall, which was an emotional return to the city for me," she says. "It was the 10th anniversary of my mother's death this October and I like to go back and visit the graveyard. I still have very close friends in Derry from my school days and we meet up every chance we get.
"For this new documentary, we had a lovely gathering of choirs including Voices of Foyle and Musical Memories, a choir for Alzheimer's patients and their families which was founded by my niece, Debbie Kelly. It was a very moving experience."
As for her forever "signature tune", singing All Kinds of Everything is akin to "putting on a pair of comfortable slippers", still beautiful after a lifetime of loving wear and tear.
"There was a period when I thought, I can't sing that song any more," she laughs, "so I just stopped singing it. But, now, almost on a daily basis, I meet people that will share a little bit of their life with me, telling me who was with them when they watched the Eurovision, where they were, what was happening in their lives at the time...
"When I was in politics, I found it a huge sacrifice family-wise, but I always felt it was a tremendous honour to be trusted by people to carry out that role. That is the way I feel when people today stop me and trust me with their memories of All Kinds of Everything. I think that is so lovely; it is like a common, shared memory.
"The funny thing is, children as young as nine or 10 will say to me, 'Oh, Dana, I saw you singing that on Eurovision! I think they mean they watched it on YouTube or something, but it makes me smile to thing that it is a timeless type of song. It is definitely my signature song, but it's also a a song that belongs to the people."
:: Dana's new album My Time is out now.