Interview by Barry Egan
Shakespeare noted in Measure for Measure: “Our doubts are traitors/and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” These lines from the 17th Century resonate with one of Ireland’s most celebrated musicians — the one and only Declan Sinnott.
He’s in Windmill Lane Studios to record The Windmill Lane Sessions for Independent.ie; a quietly spoken, renaissance man who founded Moving Hearts and Horslips back in the day, and is often referred to as Christy Moore’s “right-hand man”.
He’s talking about his own moments of crippling self-doubt. This only emerged when I asked him why he waited until 2012 to record his first solo album I Love The Noise I Make. “I didn’t feel I was waiting. I felt I couldn’t. It was lack of confidence. My self-critical faculties had a grip on me — every time I wrote something I would compare it to the best line I ever heard and throw it away.”
How Declan, who is also credited with giving Mary Black some creative guidance through the years, loosened the death-grip on his creativity was, he says, with the help of his pal Owen O’Brien.
“He was a motivator, an enabler. I had an idea which terrified me and he said, ‘C’mon lets write’. He told me that we would edit later and ‘Don’t look at the songs’. He pushed me through the process. Then I would look at it and wonder, ‘How did that happen?’,” he says, his voice conveying the insecure place he was in.
I say to him that people probably won’t understand how this man who founded Moving Hearts and plays with Christy Moore etc hadn’t the inner self-belief in his own work to write.
“Music has always been a tunnel,” he begins his explanation of his music’s raison d’etre, “a tunnel out of where I was. When I was a kid, it was always a solution out of the world I didn’t want to be in. You are trying to solve your vulnerability or assuage, whatever the word is, your vulnerability by using music. And I would play for hours, 10 hours a day, because that was the only world I wished to be in. The only world I felt I was welcome in, to some extent.
“And that is still my. . .” Declan says and stops. The pause is verging on the Harold Pinteresque.
“You know, that is at the bottom of my reason for playing music. And if I forget to play for a few days, as I do when I get involved in things — kids over or fooling with the computer — then I go wrong. And I have to go find the guitar, sit down and ‘zen in’ again. So confidence is not that easily come by.
“I see with Paul McCartney, by his eyes, that he is not all that confident. That is much more extreme with him than it is with me. But I know he isn’t. I know by the look of him, that he worries about how he is seen and stuff like that. I’ve seen it in other people. I’ve seen it in Christy, when I work with him. Sometimes someone will praise him and he will blossom under it. And you think, ‘The whole world is praising him all the time but still...’ And it applies to so many people.”
I ask possibly the person that knows him best — his girlfriend of five years, Vicky Keating — the big question: what kind of man is Declan Sinnott?
“What kind of man is he? How long have you got?” smiles Vicky who sings, beautifully, on Declan’s sublime new album Window On The World.
“He is funny. He is smart. He is beautiful. He is loving, talented, creative, thoughtful...”
Declan chips in, “Cranky?”
What’s he like when he’s cranky?
Declan: “Oh Jesus!”
Vicky: “Very cranky. I’m cranky too. So there is a good old arg there!”
Declan: “We have argued very little over the last five years. Less than I have argued with anyone ever in a relationship.”
Windmill Lane Sessions: The creative wisdom of the Young Folk