Thursday 18 January 2018

Life lessons with Bronagh Gallagher

Bronagh Gallagher: 'You have to stay mentally and physically fit, and positive'. Photo: Conor Masterson
Bronagh Gallagher: 'You have to stay mentally and physically fit, and positive'. Photo: Conor Masterson
Bronagh with her Commitments co-stars Angeline Ball and Maria Doyle Kennedy

Joe O'Shea

She was just 17, still in school, and only really starting to learn about music and acting when The Commitments changed the course of her life.

Bronagh Gallagher was the slight-framed girl with the broad Derry accent who had to do a crash course in sounding like a true blue Dub for the Alan Parker-directed musical. Her role as the feisty backing-singer Bernie made her (along with the rest of the ensemble cast) internationally famous.

As well as playing roles in Pulp Fiction and a Star Wars movie, to big budget TV dramas and a recent run in the National Theatre's War Horse in London, Bronagh also runs her own band and record label, and is planning to release her third album later this year. Now 42, she divides her time mostly between her homes in Dublin and London. She loves soul music, singing with friends and is, as she says herself, "an absolute hoor for the yoga".

I travel a lot, there's always a suitcase by the door. I've been working on a new TV drama for Sky and NBC called Apocalypse Slough and it's meant working in London and Malta. I've always travelled, it's just second nature now. This gig has been an absolute blast. You have just got to throw yourself into it and enjoy the experience.

The way the crew are treated on set tells you a lot about the people in charge. It's something I always look out for. Of course, the big actors have people following them around with bottles of water and fruit. But if you see the camera or sound guys standing there for hour after hour in the hot sun and nobody bringing them water, it's a very bad sign.

It's a fundamental issue; respect for all the people you work with. On this last job, they regularly carted in big buckets of ice-pops for everybody, it just gave us all a lift. You feel that we all get treated the same and that's so important in any work situation.

If I don't do my yoga every day I start to rust. I used to run a lot. Then I was visiting my old school in Derry when I was in my early 20s and I had a really bad fall. I ended up seriously hurting my hip. But I tried every doctor, every test, you name it, and I really couldn't get it fixed. Then I started doing yoga and now I don't think I could go through a day without it. It's very important for me, physically and mentally. When I was in pretty chronic pain I told myself; "Right, you can sit here and be depressed or hit the yoga mat".

I run my own record company now. And my own band. I'm the manager, the tour manager, I book gigs, sing and put out records. I don't think I'm a control freak. But I am in control.

I started in the game very young. And being involved in this phenomenon called The Commitments, this sudden fame and success and how it affected us all, I got a very good education on the positives and negatives of the business. I try to use what I have learned in my own career. And if I'm still unsure, I'll ask one of my friends because a lot of them will have already been down that road. And I trust them.

I have been in London for 20 years now and I have seen a big change in the mentality of the young Irish people who come here. They are no longer just happy to get any job or anywhere to live. They are confident, well-educated, they'll stand up and say: "I'm what you need" or "I'm good enough, I deserve this". It's great to see. We are more worldly now, there's been big changes.

Irish people have always had humility as well. We know what it's like to be oppressed, to have nothing, to be the underdog. I hope we don't lose that. It's fantastic to be confident, but a bit of humility is important too, it gives you balance, makes you more rounded.

You have to have good people around you. I remember a few years ago, I was lucky enough to see Amy Winehouse perform in London. I was standing in the wings before she went on, and I saw people putting out bottles of drink in various spots on the stage. All for Amy. She was amazing, but in a pretty bad state by the end of the show. She was only a wee little thing, tottering around on big heels and she couldn't handle it. I don't know if anybody was really ready or able to help her. I'm very lucky with my friends. But in music and acting, at that level, if you don't have people who are able to really care for you, there are a lot of dangers.

I went back to LA 10 years ago to give the business a go and it just didn't work out for me then. It was a very hard experience, very lonely. I don't drive so I was walking around Los Angeles by myself, the only person walking anywhere. But I used the time to think about what I had done so far and what I wanted to do in the future. What I needed to do was to stay mentally and physically fit and positive. A good friend of mine says success happens when opportunity meets preparation. So you have to be ready because you will get that opportunity.

Through yoga, I've looked at Eastern and Buddhist philosophy. And I know this can sound a bit silly and I'm not claiming to be a great Buddhist guru. But I think you can take some of the lessons and boil them down to a simple phrase: "You are the one you are waiting for". I love that idea, that it's already all within you, what you need to be happy, successful, a good friend. Just find a way to encourage that and bring it out.

Music means so much to me. I've always been drawn to women singer-songwriters, to the great soul singers, strong women who innovated. I'll be in Dublin next month finishing my album. And I get to sing first at the National Concert Hall with some amazing people in the Carole King show. That's probably where I am happiest, singing with a great band.

Bronagh Gallagher performs alongside Cathy Davey, Mary Coughlan and special guests in the National Concert Hall on Friday July 17 in 'The Art of the Song', a special evening of music from the classic Carole King album 'Tapestry'

Irish Independent

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