Arts Q&A: Singer-songwriter Brigid O'Neill on Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Colm Tóibín

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Downpatrick singer-songwriter Brigid O'Neill

Downpatrick singer-songwriter Brigid O'Neill

1. When did you think about a career in music and what were your first steps into it?

I always sang and performed but didn’t think of it as being my career. I had a successful career working in conservation science since university, with music squeezed in between it and a busy family life. I eventually realised that people really saw me as a musician and, like a persistent suitor, eventually gave in to it.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Paul Simon's farewell tour with none other than my favourite singers Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne; Stevie Scullion (aka Malojian) with Laura McFadden in Down Arts Centre last year – every single audience member was spellbound. And, as I love small intimate gigs, one of the very best memories for me was a sizzling live acoustic one with batá drums, guitars and double bass that I came across by accident in a backyard in Trinidad, Cuba, when I was travelling. Felt very privileged to have witnessed such musicianship.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Bruce Springsteen and the band he had with him doing the Seeger Sessions. I saw them in Belfast and Dublin – pure intoxicating musical fun.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

Relaxin with the The Miles Davis Quintet. It calms me and motivates me in equal measure – that’s what I’d need there, right?

5. And the book?

Practicing the Power of Now by Echkhart Tolle.

6. Top three films?

Brooklyn – I thought it stayed so true to the novel (by Colm Tóibín) and was extremely powerful. I was forever affected by the scene of Christmas Day in the Irish Centre, depicting the many who had nowhere else to be and the incredible healing power of music.

Whiplash – I loved the musical detail and the tension in the movie had me on tenterhooks throughout. Pillow Talk – smart, stylish and funny, it demonstrated just how good Doris Day was as a comedic actress.

7. Worst film you’ve seen?

I find it really hard to remember bad films.

8. Favourite authors?

Ian McEwan, Colm Tóibín and Maggie O’Farrell.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

I love to canoe and walk up mountains and I find myself following Glasgow Celtic by default due to my father’s commitment to the vicissitudes of their fortunes.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Zanzibar is pretty special.

11. Pet hate?

People getting really angry on the road. Chill.

12. What’s your favourite...

Dinner? Steak, chips and mushrooms.

Dessert? Mum’s pavlova.

Drink? A lovely robust glass of red.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

My husband Barra. We got married 25 years ago and he's still my top confidant, top travel companion and unofficial manager.

14. Is there a God?

Who knows? I tend to trust in the universe these days.

:: Brigid O'Neill will perform as Belfast's Oh Yeah Music Centre (Rooftop) on Thursday June 6 as part of the Women's Work 2019. The five-day festival celebrates women in music, with a host of gigs, panels, talks and workshops. For tickets and full programme visit

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