Sunday 22 October 2017

Guess who's back...

Ailbhe Malone

Dido hasn't been on the publicity circuit for some time. In fact, Dido doesn't really do the publicity circuit. Reluctance is probably the best way to describe her approach to the media machine. And it's been the best part of five years since Dido released an album, and almost fifteen years since her debut LP No Angel came out.

No Angel was the second-best selling album of the 2000's (nudged out of first place by James Blunts' Back To Bedlam). Its successor, 2003's Life For Rent was the seventh-best selling album of the same decade. No mean feat.

Follow-up, 2008's Safe Trip Home was a more muted – though critically-lauded – affair, written in the wake of the death of Dido's father. In the interim, life caught up with the London singer, and a husband and a young son came along.

Mind you, the singer, now 41, doesn't appear to have aged in the slightest.

Sitting at a table in a bustling private London club, clad in a leather jacket and trinkety necklace, she's unexpectedly eager to chat in this rare interview with Day & Night.

Her new release The Girl Who Got Away is the cause of her excitement. With collaborators including Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen), Brian Eno, Kendrick Lamar and Rizzle Kicks, it's surprisingly banging for an artist best known for mid-tempo tunes. Dido is reluctant to categorise the sound, however.

"The songs dictate the sound. One of the first songs I wrote for the record was Blackbird, and it was at a certain tempo and Rollo (Armstrong, Dido's brother, and founding member of Faithless) wrote this beat for it.

"And it seemed like it was shaping up to being an electronic album. If I set out to do anything, it was to feel as free as I did when I made No Angel – to feel like I could make any kind of music that I wanted. That's why I love this record – it reminds me of a time when I didn't have any pressure."

The spectre of past successes hangs over the conversation. Later on, Dido will re-affirm that "I still get to make the music that I want to make – nobody is breathing down my neck." And when asked which track she's most proud of, she answers without hesitation.

"I think I'm pretty proud of White Flag. It was sort of an emotional moment. And at the time there was a lot of pressure on me to do as well with the second album, and it still felt like I wrote something honest. I managed to retreat and write something like that. But also Grafton Street off the last album, I'm very proud of."

She continues, "of all the songs, Grafton Street (from Safe Trip Home) would be the most personal and heartfelt song I've ever written. I wrote it straight after dad died.

"And that was a completely honest and direct song. That was where you are so upset about something that the only thing you can do at that point is write a song about it. And the recorder at the end echoes my childhood history. It's just so personal.

"Because the Grafton Street in the song, there are two. One is where dad's office was in London, and the other is the Grafton Street in Dublin, where we would go for tea at the Shelbourne if there was a special occasion. It only happened around five times. Those things are etched in my memory."

Born on Christmas Day, Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong grew up in London, but with strong Irish roots. Her father – William O'Malley Armstrong – came from a surprising union (for the time) of a Catholic woman from Ireland, and a Protestant man from Northern Ireland.

"It was really hard, I think for my grandparents – and there were definite problems," Dido reminisces. "It's quite a rich family history, going right back to Grace O'Malley. I remember once trying to find Grace O'Malley's castle in Mayo. I went on a sort of mad bus journey on my own, I was about 15, to try to find it. Which I did, eventually. It was this little sort of turret thing on the coast. I spent so much of my childhood in Ireland, and I love it."

She's keen to bring her son to Ireland, "and meet that side of the family. I loved my childhood. Spending so much time in Limerick and stuff. They were just really happy times."

Her son, Stanley, is just 18 months old, but already she can see a lot of similarities "between me as a child and Stanley. I loved being around people, but I was definitely quite shy.

"I sort of kept myself to myself. You know, and I was just really into music and that was all I wanted to do. I was very self-sufficient, but also quite shy. Not a nervous kid, but not out-going 'hello look at me!' My brother Rollo was definitely the boss.

"I have a sociable side, but I'm quite happy on my own, and feel grounded in the world," she philosophises. "You know what it is? I think it comes from having music. I think that when you've got something like that, it's like I've had a friend my whole life that I can rely on.

"I don't know if that sounds a bit naff. Music's always been there for me. And it means that in my life I'll never be bored. There'll always be something that I can do. So I think having that as a kid counted for a lot – it gives you this confidence because there's always something that you can do."

Self-sufficient is the right way to describe the singer. Amiable, but self-contained, she lights up when music is discussed. And not just her tracks – any music. From obsessively replaying songs – "the last song I was obsessed with was Why? by Carly Simon," she offers. "It's such a brilliant song. I just play one song on repeat for quite a long time. And then there are tracks that are just comfort because you can put it on and you love it" – to discussing new singers – "I love Emeli Sandé, I love Adele. There are so many brilliant female artists at the moment. I love Christina Train as well – I love her voice".

It must be hard to be part of her life, if one isn't musical, I venture. How do non-musicians get in? She empathises, "I think it's probably hard for people if they don't have something that they're really passionate about.

"If they're not musical, or if they don't have something that they're really good at, or really passionate about. It's more about having something that you love doing. I've done jobs where I just didn't love doing it – and that's hard. It's hard to go to work every day and not feel that same amount of passion."

She concedes, that "it's a pretty luxurious position to be in fifteen years after your first record came out. And in that way, I feel pretty lucky and special. And anything over and above that in life is a bonus."

The Girl Who Got Away is released today through Sony Ireland.

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment