Interview with Tom Dunne – On The Road Again

Interview with Tom Dunne – On The Road Again
by Killian Laher


24th September: Cyprus Avenue, Cork 
20th October : Dolans, Limerick
22nd October : Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire

No More Workhorse caught up with Tom Dunne to talk about his tour with Fiachna O’Braonáin and Alan Connor, and a whole lot else:

Tell me about this tour. You’re doing it with Fiachna O’Braonáin and Alan Connor, is that right?

Tom Dunne: Yeah. Myself and Fiachna were asked back in October last year when Féile was on, could we go on the Ray D’Arcy show?  I think just to freshen things up.  So we did that and then I just kind of thought there’d be an opportunity to do things that you wouldn’t normally do with Something Happens.  I’ve been kind of gently suggesting a Christy Moore song called John O’Dreams for years, and just wasn’t on their radar, wasn’t a song that they got.  Never any wild enthusiasm – we work on the principle of wild enthusiasm!

But I just thought maybe this might be a chance to do it, because I’ve been fascinated by it for years. When I was in college, he (Christy Moore) came to play and I would have been a punk rocker at the time.  I just went along and saw him in Theatre L and he did John O’Dreams.  When he played it I was transported to a parallel universe and I have remained besotted by it ever since.  As the years have gone by you put down your prejudices from your youth, when you listened to punk rock and nothing else, you don’t realise there’s a whole other world of music that you don’t know an awful lot about.  My brother did a little bit of folk music and it was… 62 pints and lads with beards singing rebel songs. That was my view of folk music, fairly limited to put things mildly.  You start tracing it back, Dylan starts to come into the equation, Woody Guthrie.

To cut a long story short, I thought this was the opportunity to do John O’Dreams. So I said it to Fiachna and when we were doing it he started singing along and that was revelatory to me.  Nobody in Something Happens would sing!  We’ve loads of songs with backing vocals in them but live no one would attempt to do any of them.  And it was brilliant, the two voices, it’s very easy to do a harmony.  I was blown away.  We did On The Road Again, the Willie Nelson song and we were chatting and kind of bonding over our love of Willie Nelson and songwriting and I said we should do a gig together, half expecting it to be laughed off.  As the months went by, I think what made up both of our minds was when we bumped into each other again and said, ‘that isn’t that crazy an idea’.

So we said we’d do the Whale Theatre and named a date.  And once you name a date and go to a studio and start working on things it all got very real and we went for it.  I was able to do a song from the world of Something Happens and then to play acoustic while he did one of his. I love backing vocals, I’m all over his songs and he’s all over my songs.  It was brilliant.  Alan Connor is a force of nature. He’s a joy, a beautiful player.  You want him around, you want to be on stage with him.

After the summer, now we’re back in business and we have two little shows.

Is it primarily folky stuff? Is there a bit of Something Happens thrown in?

It’s both. I did Forget Georgia, Parachute, loads of beautiful songs from the Hothouse Flowers, I’m learning…. re-learning how to play guitar.  I’m reclaiming a song, I’ve a serious grá for a man called Thom Moore who was in a band called Midnight Well. The song Carolina Rua was a hit for Mary Black.  The real story of that song is that he couldn’t make money from music so he was a translator for NATO!  I’ve been kind of pushing that one forward to see if we can do it. It’s much more real and rocky, how we do it, so I’m very happy with that.  It has that kind of heady excitement that you have when you form a band first, and you’re just seeing where it goes, it’s remarkable.  It’s great craic, we’re really enjoying it. Early days. I’m also playing guitar which I never played before.

Did you learn to play guitar over lockdown?

I did, yeah.  Finally.  I was going for long walks, which we all were.  Songs were coming into my mind and I couldn’t do anything with the guys, couldn’t go into rehearsal, so I was beaten.  It felt like one of those ads where people can’t read in their 40s.  I had to put my hand up to Alan Connor, a great guitar teacher, and I started Zoom guitar lessons.  Again, like booking a venue, when you have a class at 11 on a Friday morning – you have to start practising.  There was a good six months when I thought: ‘I’m not one of those people’.  But now it’s great, I love it.  It’s something I’ve never had in my life before. If you leave me alone in the room now, I can pick up a guitar and play a song, I can write songs on it too.  I might use some of these with Fiachna and we’ll see where it goes. We’re doing some of his as well.

Do you think you might write some new songs together?

Yeah, it’s possible.  We’re both very experienced songwriters.  But we’ll see.  I don’t want to put any expectations on it, it’s so much fun at the moment, and we’re really enjoying the gigs.

You played the Thin Lizzy gig with an orchestra recently, is that right?

Yeah.  There were so many of them, millions of them.  It was the RTE Concert Orchestra.  And a guy called John Metcalfe did all the arrangements.  It’s very intimidating because they’re very sharp.

It was incredible, the songs are sensational.  I got to do Sara and Kathleen, which are the two songs Phil Lynott wrote for his daughters.  They were actually there, I got to meet them afterwards.  Kathleen in particular was over the moon!  It was like a dream sequence.

You’re still doing the show on Newstalk, is that right?

Yeah, absolutely. Four nights a week, still loving it.

Do you think music radio still has a role to play in music discovery?

I think it does. I don’t know if it plays that role very well.  I think it’s harder to get new songs out there.  Bands can promote and stream and go on youtube, stuff like CMAT.  But late-night shows are happy to champion and promote new talent.  I think it could do better.  Part of that platform is songs you champion in the evening can end up on daytime radio.  I’m not sure if that’s still happening.

What do you think about the current state of music? 

Definitely.  I think we live in an interesting time. One thing that streaming has caused is young people can discover music from all genres right across the board.  My 15-year-old has great taste, when I go by her room you hear… David Bowie – Starman, Kirsty MacColl – A New England, really good stuff. There seems to be this real natural curiosity about music where they’ll just listen to anything and I think you can see that in songs they’re writing is where it is limitless, whereas we were very genre specific.  There would have been stuff I wouldn’t have listened to from a world that, for whatever reason, was the enemy, it wasn’t punk rock.

This generation has access to all of the music that’s ever written so if they have a curiosity they can find it.  I think it makes for interesting times.

How are you keeping yourself? You had a health scare a couple of years ago. Are you feeling well?

Yeah. 100%. It was a remarkable thing.  I’m in exactly the same boat as anyone my age.  It really is brilliant. I do have good energy.  A lot of people in a similar situation have been getting in touch via the show and I met a few people for coffee. It’s nice to tell people about what they go through, you can’t go through it for them.  It is daunting.  It will stay with me forever.  It was a miracle.

Fair play to you

Fair play to the surgeon, all I did was lie there!

As regards reissues, any plans for Something Happens reissues?

It seems like every band has one person who drives that forward, and we don’t seem to have that person.  Everybody is very busy.  It might fall to me, I’d love to try but at the moment it’s just ‘busy-ness’ stopping all of us.  We just moved house and I always kept a spot in the attic with one copy of everything.  Vinyl, ten-inch singles, gatefold sleeves.  They’re all gorgeous, I would love to. No plans at the moment.

Anything else coming up that you’re working on or any Something happens gigs coming up around Christmas?

We have our Christmas gig. And the gigs with Fiachna and Alan and then loads of other things in the air, we haven’t really decided. Summer was mad busy… and then we just moved.  I want to write songs, and a huge part of it is going to be the gigs… and we’ll just see how they go.

[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]

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