Interview by Barry Egan
Pauline Scanlon’s producer John Reynolds hits the nail on the head when he says (on the phone last week from San Francisco where he was on tour with Damien Dempsey, who he also produces along with Herbie Hancock, Sinead O’Connor, Cara Dillion, and “hundreds of others”) of the sublime Ms Scanlon from Dingle. . .
“Her voice is heavenly, beautifully pure and always deeply connected to the song she’s singing. Songs are her life. She is also a seriously good craic!”
All of this is evident when Pauline — whose new much-touted solo album, as yet untitled, is out in a few months — comes in to record The Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie.
“I come from a family of singers in West Kerry,” she smiles.
Is there anyone in Dingle who doesn’t sing well if not surreally beautifully (as Pauline does)?
“Very few, actually!” she laughs.“Most people would have a song to sing or a poem to say.”
What would happen if you were shy and introspective in West Kerry? “Shunned is what you’d be!” laughs Pauline who is also a member of vocal duo Lumiere.
You’d be put on a boat and pushed out to sea?
“Or put in a cardboard box and left in a corner,” she jokes (presumably).
“No, a lot of people don’t sing but there definitely is loads of music there.”
Pauline, who did her first gigs, in pubs, when she was 15 years of age, was blessed with good luck from the beginning...
“My mother was very good friends with a celebrated song archivist and song writer and song gatherer called Tony Small. He knew that I really loved singing.
“So he gave me my first repertoire of traditional folk songs that I didn’t learn from my family or from school.
“He gave me a repertoire to go and gig with — and then he threw me a few gigs.”
“It was all sorts of songs,” she continues, “like child ballads and English folk songs. Folk revival songs from America and a lot of old time American songs and Irish songs.”
“He didn’t do Irish language songs with me. They were all English. They were the songs of this island, I suppose, and the neighbouring island.”
What was it about the buzz of singing that so resonated with you from an early age?
“It’s the act of singing that I like the most,” she says.
“I also find traditional songs and folk songs really interesting — for the reason that there are lots of people writing songs. It is an amazing and a noble thing to do, and it is really interesting to listen to, but, I think what I like about traditional songs is that you are almost like a ghost singer singing somebody else’s story.”
“They’re not self-indulgent. They are somebody else’s story but they unified in the way that the stories keep getting told over and over again.”
“People are always having their heart broken. There are always wars. There are always people migrating from place to place...”
So have you personally experienced famine and been chased by wailing banshees?
“Not personally,” she laughs.
“But I suppose you can read about the famine. Actually, there aren’t that many songs about the Irish famine because there wasn’t a whole lot of people at the time writing songs about it.”
“Also,” she smiles, “I find that with history books you can read about the facts but songs are almost like the emotions. And that is infinitely more interesting to me.”
You can also catch Windmill Lane Sessions on TG4.
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