Formed after a chance encounter on a ferry to Inis Oírr, the Connemara trio reflect on their evolving sound, raising children in the wild West, playing pool with Larry Mullen and saunas at weddings
Yvonne Tiernan is remembering the late Paddy Moloney. In the 1990s she ran the Chieftains’ management office in Dublin. One day Paddy heard that Yvonne moonlighted as a singer with the successful Abba tribute band Abbaesque. The Chieftains were rehearsing for a tour of Japan and were looking for a singer .
“Paddy asked me to learn a Japanese song called ‘Sake in the Jar,’” she says, smiling fondly at the memory.
“I’ll never know if he was just messing or serious. Either way, I learnt the entire song phonetically.
“As rehearsals finished and the lads were packing up their instruments, I reminded Paddy about the song. I sang it from beginning to end, and there was a pause after, of disbelief.
There’s a freedom now in that I don’t really care what anyone else thinks as long as I’m enjoying the adventure
“From that moment on I toured as singer with The Chieftains all over the world for 15 years – singing in Carnegie Hall, and at the Royal Albert Hall. I still can’t believe Paddy is gone and am waiting for a call from him and the old familiar: ‘There she is now, the Mammy.’ That was my nickname in the band.”
The mammy link was very much in evidence a few decades later.
In the summer of 2018, Ruth Dillon and Juliana Erkkonen were playing a gig on Inis Oírr, which was attended – as luck would have it – by Yvonne and her husband, comedian and TV presenter Tommy Tiernan.
Earlier that evening on the ferry from Rossaveal to Inis Oírr, Ruth had had a chance meeting with Yvonne. Seeing Ruth with a guitar over her shoulder, Yvonne struck up a conversation about music en route to the smallest of the Aran Islands where she and Tommy had a cottage.
By the time the ferry docked, Yvonne and Tommy had been invited to the show.
“I remember when we first met,” says Ruth. “Juliana and I were doing a gig on Inis Oírr. Yvonne and Tommy came for a chat after the show. Juliana had her little baby Emily with her, and Yvonne asked if she could hold her. She all but kidnapped the child!
“We immediately connected as mothers, and then friendships formed – and as we learned our musical tastes were similar, The Raines evolved. We were excited about the potential of merging our styles and creating something original.”
For Yvonne the timing was perfect.
“The Raines band came together just as I qualified as a psychotherapist and opened my practice. It makes sense to me that the hundreds of hours of therapy I had to do as part of my training helped me get here.
“There’s a freedom now in that I don’t really care what anyone else thinks as long as I’m enjoying the adventure,” she says.
“Now that my kids are a little older, I’m excited to get back on the road again. I’m still wife and mammy – but at the weekend I get to put my cowboy boots on and hit the road with the band.”
The road has brought its own adventures, good and bad.
One night, in 2021, coming home from a gig in Sligo they ended up in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
“We – Ruth, Isobel my daughter, and I – got lost once on small back roads and ended up in a dead-end lane – beside a house with broken dolls glued to the wall outside. You’ve never seen anyone reverse faster than Ruth did that night.
Galway is full of truly wonderful musicians and outstanding songwriters and I wish the whole world could get to hear them
“We make each other laugh until we cry and sometimes can’t look each other in the eye on stage for laughing.”
Ruth lives in Inverin in Connemara, down a boreen that leads on to the sea, with her husband and 10-year-old son Oisín.
“It’s close enough to Galway city to not feel isolated, but just far enough away to be able to enjoy the quiet and solitude of the country,” she says.
“It’s a beautiful spot in the Gaeltacht. My son speaks the most beautiful Irish I’ve ever heard. I have school Irish – Munster Irish, as I’m originally from Clonmel, in Tipperary – and I’m slowly trying to improve my Irish.
“Galway is an electric place, full of truly wonderful musicians and outstanding songwriters and I wish the whole world could get to hear them. I feel blessed to live here.”
She moved from Clonmel to Galway in the late 1980s to train in hotel management. Once her course finished, she wanted to “have some fun and travel. So I spent some time in America where I bought my first guitar and started writing songs.”
It was during a short tour in San Francisco that musician John Faulkner – then husband of Dolores Keane – approached Ruth after a gig and asked if she’d sing on Dolores’s album Night Owl.
She subsequently became a member of her band, and spent four years touring Europe and America. During these years, Dolores would “very graciously insist” that Ruth step up and sing a few of her own songs at every gig.
“This was a fantastic opportunity for me to hone my song-writing and solo singing skills in front of huge audiences. She was hugely generous on so many levels.”
Yvonne, who moved west from Dublin in 2004, lives in the West with Tommy and the kids.
“Spring has sprung in Connemara,” she says with a smile. “The colours of the sky over the Atlantic are extraordinary.”
You wonder how she gets time to appreciate it all.
“I’m part of a working band with The Raines – and yet somehow our calendar flows well allowing for plenty of family time.”
Still, their home is an especially frantic household. She has her own thriving private psychotherapy practice at Naduir in Furbo, while her husband is far from lying on the couch scratching his behind.
“Tommy and I have a very busy work life, both together and individually, with his standup tours both here and abroad,” she says.
“He’s about to tour the US in May for the first time in years. There’s The Tommy Tiernan Show – which has become an integral part of Irish culture and a place for the important and honest conversations to be had – as well as the juggernaut that is The Tommy, Hector & Laurita podcast.
“I like that our kids live in a house where they witness parents who have created work that leans into their individual strengths and talents,” she says. “A home with a band rehearsing in the living room and a podcast being recorded in the shed in the garden.
“I hope this experience teaches them to create a working life that suits their individuality.
“Tommy and I are together for 20 years now and are still learning from each other. He has great taste in music and regularly introduces me to obscure songs or artists that deepen my pool of inspiration.”
Once upon a time, Yvonne’s life was in the concrete jungle of Dublin. She worked at The Factory, the Barrow Street studios, during a time where Bob Dylan, U2, and David Bowie recorded for months at a time in the early 1990s.
“It soon became everyday to play pool with Larry or pass the salt to Bowie in the canteen,” she recalls. “A door opened one morning and Johnny Cash walked in and said good morning, as only he can.
“As a thank you at the end of Zooropa pre-production, U2 told a handful of the staff to be at the studio early one morning with our passports. They flew us to Lisbon on their private plane for a show and home the same evening, dropping each of us off to our front door.”
Juliana is from the south of Finland, just outside Tampere – “a place of forests and lakes” – but has lived in Ireland since 2003.
“We live by the lake near Headford, Co Galway, which has a vibrant cultural scene centred around the amazing Campbell’s Tavern in Cloughanover,” she says.
“The surrounding area has become a hub for talented musicians of all styles and genres – both local and those who moved to the area looking for a gentler pace of life, while still being surrounded by a thriving music scene.
“It’s a great place to settle down and raise kids. The sense of community and the creative energy that flow through the place make it a very rewarding place to live.”
Juliana played violin, classically and in folk groups, since the age of seven. The move to Galway, she says, saw her becoming immersed in its vibrant music scene and “joining a diverse range of bands was a natural step”.
“Now as I’ve got into my 40s and have a husband and two kids, my style and taste have changed. In the past I used to get the thrill from fast, bluegrass, gypsy or technically challenging music.” That has changed with The Raines’ debut album, Reverie, which is out this Friday.
“This record is more of a reflection of my current state of mind musically,” says Juliana. “This has naturally led to a more relaxing and soothing album, with much more thought, time and work put behind it.
“We made sure to get the best version of our own true sound, focusing on song choices, instrumentation, harmonies, arrangements, quality of recording, mixing, mastering, design and photography.
“It’s also been a great honour to be joined by some amazing guest musicians and friends who we are really lucky to work with.
“I always find folk music and drums are a really hard thing to do right, so that was definitely something we explored. We ended up with a softer folky Americana sound, with more subtle drums.
“This album is much darker and edgier than any of us expected,” she says.
Certainly it’s a departure from ‘Bare Feet on Grass’ – their debut single released in late 2020 – which was written, says Ruth, on a “swaying hammock in Connemara during the first lockdown and released during the second lockdown.”
I kept telling everyone how all the guests would have to go the sauna and go skinny dipping in the lake
It was playlisted on RTÉ Radio 1 and went to Number 1 in the singer-songwriter charts of iTunes.
Asked to pinpoint the darkness on Reverie, Yvonne lists ‘Flower on Your Sill’, ‘Blanket Woven’ and ‘Lost On You’.
“The addition of dobro and slide guitar is particularly thrilling,” continues Yvonne. “We also have a touch of drums and bowed bass, which both add a new texture – and then legendry engineer Brian Masterson sprinkled his magic in the final mix to pull it all together beautifully.”
“It still has the trademark strong harmonies and lush strings as a constant,” adds Ruth. “For me, the music that emerged in the making of this album is a culmination of the years we all spent individually singing and playing with other bands, and in other genres and styles.
“I wrote many of the songs on the album, so I personally found it a thrilling challenge to write some of the darker songs in such a way that they blended with the lighter ones, to allow for continuity throughout the record.”
What is ‘Love is Sublime (Til it Draws Out its Gun)’ about?
“In this song,” she says, “I compare love to some kind of trap. It can draw us in and send us into a fantastical, magical spin – but then, just when we feel safe, the rug can be pulled from under us. We’ve all been there. It’s a beautiful thing, until it’s not anymore.”
Is ‘Another Lover’ autobiographical?
“This song asks the question if we truly know the people we have fallen in love with. I think when I write songs, a lot of the time I draw from my own experiences – past and present, and also from the stories of those who I spend time with.
“If I’m truthful, I sometimes don’t know where some of the songs I’ve written come from or why, they just come through me. It’s a bit of a mystery to me, but I like it that way.”
As you will no doubt do when you listen to the off-kilter folk Americana with a West-of-Ireland twist that is Reverie.
What are they like as women?
Juliana pipes up first.
“We’re all very passionate, busy women – mothers, wives, hard-working and with a lot on our plates. I think we inspire each other and are hugely supportive of each other when it comes to life’s ups and downs – in music and personal lives.
“We all juggle a lot of things between music – other work, kids and our special husbands.”
Juliana is not finished. She has something to say. It is far from dark.
“I wouldn’t be Finnish if I didn’t mention the sauna,” she laughs.
“I got married to a Mayo man last August and, as is Finnish tradition, we had a sauna at the wedding. I kept telling everyone how all the guests would have to go the sauna and go skinny dipping in the lake. We live on the shores of Lough Corrib and held our wedding there.
“While many people tried the Finnish tradition at the wedding, only one person fell asleep in the sauna... Suit on and everything! Turns out it was one of the musicians on our album.”
The Raines launch their album and kick off a nationwide tour in Sea Church, Ballycotton, Co Cork on March 24. theraines.ie