Radio review: Student favourite Janis Ian refuses to be bitter about being unable to sing

Singer-songwriter Janis Ian was guest on Brendan O'Connor's RTÉ show
Singer-songwriter Janis Ian was guest on Brendan O'Connor's RTÉ show

Brendan O’Connor, RTÉ Radio 1

PEOPLE of a certain vintage will have fond memories of singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who was interviewed by Brendan O’Connor ahead of her return to Ireland as part of Tradfest.

The good news is that she’s coming; the bad news is that she won’t be singing. A virus that led to vocal scarring means she can’t sing publicly any more and has had to cancel a tour.

Janis Ian was a favourite in student days – some called her the queen of bedsit land – and her hit song Seventeen sang to so many about love and loss.

Play The Other Side of the Sun and I’m back in a student house in Dublin sharing with four other girls and 15 mice and living on chocolate cheese cake, Black Tower and Blue Nun.

This was a laid-back interview that revealed Ian’s close connection with Ireland – she’s been coming since the mid-1970s and her wife lived here for a while, she said.

Big shout out for Ballybofey – she had a wonderful three days there, the river was beautiful and the people were really nice, she said… high praise indeed.

O’Connor asked her about the vocal scarring and how she has responded to not being able to sing. Some people might have been bitter, but she chose instead to accept her limitations.

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Yes, it had been extremely difficult and she had had to make the “really horrendous” decision to back off from a year’s touring. She has never lived anywhere as long as she has lived on stage, she said.

But her fans have been amazing. She received more than 10,000 emails of support when she cancelled her tour.

And apart from that honourable mention for Ballybofey – go Donegal – she also said that Ireland was the one place where she has heard Seventeen sung back at her in perfect harmony.

O’Connor gave her space and time and what we got was a rounded picture of an older woman – she’s 72 – who refuses to be bitter at what life has thrown her way.

She has seen too many artists become bitter and she believes it kills your art, she said.

So she can’t perform, but she can still write and she can still sing in the shower... just like the rest of us.