Sunday 18 August 2019

'My dad said I was prone to melancholia' - singer Niall Colfer

Singer Niall Colfer tells our reporter what his wife Lisa thinks of him, how music can be healing, and the impact his father's death had on him and his music: he lost all fear of life

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Two days after our interview, I bump into Niall Colfer in the sunshine in Marlay Park with his kids. He says his young son is a bit grumpy because the queue for the ice-cream van was too long and they didn't get their ice-creams.

It would be difficult to feel grumpy if you listened to Niall's new project Dovecote - the eponymous CD has an insouciance that is broody but ultimately uplifting. Listening back to the new album and its lyrics about life and the world, however, you wonder where Niall Colfer ends and Dovecote begins...

"Well," he begins, addressing the question, "I released my last album under my name Niall Colfer [in 2009] and this one took a few years to make. Stylistically, it was different. I was very much a different person."

The difference manifested itself in several ways.

"I became a dad. My life was very much in a different place - a very good place - and I thought it would be a nice idea...I won't say hide behind a name...but just to release it under a different name.

"Dovecote is related also to my name Colfer, because apparently Colfer is a Norman name that arrived in the 13th Century to Ireland," says Niall, who hails from Wexford and is the younger brother of author Eoin, "and we were the dove-keepers. So that's where it comes from - the doves were kept in the dovecote."

Does he keep doves at home in Terenure?

"No, no, there are a few pigeons who coo outside the window, but that is about it," he laughs.

Asked how his wife-of-10-years Lisa - who photographed the cover image for the CD in Beirut - would describe him, Niall smiles.

"She would say that I am really laid back, which I am. If you ask her, she would quote my dad, who used to say that I was prone to melancholia. But mostly she would say I'm happy."

Was his father's analysis of Niall as prone to melancholia correct?

"He was right in that I worked out issues I had/have in my songs," Niall says, citing Mean Times and Before The Night Goes, "but overall, I think he saw me as contented. He taught me to keep busy, keep moving, to work hard and be creative and make the most out of life.

"My lyrics are sometimes melancholic, but because I can write it, it makes me a happier person. Surely the job of the artist or writer is to take the personal and make it universal?" Niall asks rhetorically.

"That's why music lends itself sometimes to people who think a lot," he continues. "I think that's why people relate to a certain type of music because they hear themselves in the music and in the lyrics. That's why it is healing."

The Dovecote album was healing for Niall "on many levels", not least because of the surreally bitter-sweet song Indrifting - which he played at the Windmill Lane Sessions on Independent.ie - about his beloved Billy, his father who died three and a half years ago.

"For a while, I thought I wouldn't make music any more. Then I got the itch, so it was healing that I was making music," the enigmatic genius Niall adds.

"And also I became very unafraid to make the music that I wanted to make. I think the last album I made was very much a mishmash of styles and second-guessing myself but this album was the album I wanted to make."

Is that because when his father died Niall lost all fear, in a sense?

"I think there is a lot in that. You become that person. You are next up, as such. And you stop caring about what people think, which is very liberating, extremely liberating. So that's what this album was for me."

For the full interview, plus two exclusive performances, see the Windmill Lane Sessions at independent.ie

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