finding the THREAD

Michelle Burke was determined not to pander to 'cool' in selecting album songs

George Byrne

Seven years ago, michelle burke visited Edinburgh with the intention of staying a few weeks. The Cork woman is still there and marvels at how her career has blossomed since she left Ireland. "I ended up getting loads of teaching work," Michelle explains. Having studied music in Cork and Limerick, where she was the first student to graduate from Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's masters course in traditional music, Michelle was drawn to Edinburgh's busy jazz scene. "I got involved," she says.

Two years ago, as Michelle began work on her debut album, she met an old friend who invited her to join the Irish-American vocal group, Cherish the Ladies.

"One of the girls in the band is from Glasgow," says Michelle. "I'd recorded a demo with her years ago and hadn't seen her since because she was always in America. Then I bumped into her at Celtic Connections Festival and it went from there."

In between touring with Cherish, and recording their most recent album, A Star in the East, Michelle completed her solo debut, Pulling Threads. It's an eclectic repertoire ranging from Bob Dylan and Tom Waits to Fran Landesman's The Ballad of the Sad Young Men and an Elvis favourite, I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen.

"It's kinda mad," laughs Michelle. "I don't know how that song ended up on the album. It's a tearjerker for me. My granny used to sing it and we hadn't long lost her. She used to go to every single gig I did. She'd sit there eating a bag of sweets. I didn't know whether to put it on the album or not. She used to sing it so I had to sing it. I did it in one take because I couldn't stop crying. It is what it is and I don't give a shite what anyone thinks about it."

Michelle clearly enjoys her music. Fads and trends don't concern her. Given her extensive knowledge of music, the final selection of songs for Pulling Threads proved difficult.

"That was the hardest part," she says. "It's probably all over the place in terms of where the songs come from. In a way that's where the name Pulling Threads came from. I thought: 'You're just trying to be cool.' So I said: 'People will either like it or hate it but I'm just going to sing songs I like.'"

Among her guests on the album is the very hip, award-winning Karine Polwart. "I love her singing. I've known her from doing community projects together over the years," enthuses Michelle.

Tomorrow, Michelle heads off on a two-month American tour with Cherish the Ladies. "Touring is not what I expected," she says. "It's hard work. The gigs are the easy part. America is so big, the travelling is a killer." - EC

Michelle Burke's Pulling Threads is out now and on iTunes