Artist Spotlight: Shane Ó Fearghail - It's All About The Song
Defining the word ‘Nomad’ can be partly described as: ‘A person at one roaming about for pasture, pastoral tribe, a member of a community of people who live in different locations, moving from one place to another. Let’s add a sprinkling of: ‘Seriously good singer songwriter, solo artist and musician’ and we have Shane Ó Fearghail.
In an interview from his base in Vienna, Austria, Shane talks to me about performing live and his uncanny ability to write songs with catchy hook lines and melodies that are heavily influenced by his Irish background.
“As a songwriter here in Vienna, I seem to be in a place where by so many other cultures are feeding back into my own. It’s like one big loop”, says Shane. “It’s also great to see a lot of modern writers scripting their own songs with this same style of writing, an Appalachian indie influence similar to nu folk, and a style that
would have had its roots in Ireland and Scotland. So it all feels like it's coming full circle.
Being in a new city mixes it up. It's a good thing and essential for songwriters to keep on top of their game. In the present climate there are so many distractions, especially within social media where kids are drawn hard to this medium. I often wonder if they are really listening to the artists or the songs anymore. The way we used to. I’m writing songs that not only have catchy hook lines, but also have good content within a story line. So I'd like to think so. I hope so.”
Anyone who is into guitar music, can’t help but acknowledge some of the finest players that have come from Ireland, the likes of Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore for example and Thin Lizzy bassist Phil Lynott who was a massive influence on Shane, as he explains,
“Back in the old days I was the guitarist in a three piece rock band called Stone, we were an original band but loved playing all the classic songs on the circuit and was in awe of so many iconic Irish musicians especially Phil Lynott. I Loved
the cultural content he expressed within Thin Lizzie songs during the 70’s, not only was he a fine lyricist, it was the way he sang in such a strong Dublin accent. It’s not often that singers actually perform in their native or natural voice, Phil Lynott did and was a huge influence on me.
I’m also from Dublin and conscious to sing with my native voice, an Irish accent with a Dublin drawl. It's all about relaxing the jaw. I typically talk with a Dublin lilt and if I sing the same way, the words just flow and I mould my voice to suit. It feels good and feels natural. Phil was a fine example of that Dublin Irish drawl he projected so well in rock music. I enjoyed being in a rock band but I was conscious that my voice was getting lost and eventually decided that I would be stronger as a solo artist, so I quit the band and started writing my acoustic songs drawing on an Irish traditional Gaelic past.
I’ve toured so much now that people here in Vienna have started to call me an emotional refugee”, laughs Shane. “On the road I met an Austrian girl back home in Clonakilty, West Cork, Ireland's sunny south west in 2010, we kept in touch and met up later when I was touring Vienna. As my background is also arts and music, I fell in love with the city and the girl, not sure which came first (wink wink). After I had my guitars shipped out here it all fell into place, I felt like a guiding light had been shone on the path so to speak. Very Spinal Tap!
It was in Austria the new album ‘They Might See Dolphins’ grew legs, recorded between Crosslight Records in Passau in Germany and Vienna, it is released on the Sad Opera Entertainment label and published by Sentric Music. A video single taken from the album called The Faerie Tree, is released on St. Patrick’s Day March 17th. This is my 3rd album after ‘Everything You Need’ and ‘The Watcher And The Comet’.”
Living in such a beautiful city and surroundings, must surely be inspiring for songwriters.
“There’s a lot of inspiration here in Austria, I’m constantly jotting down ideas and lyrics on anything that’s available, be it a notebook, napkin or even my girlfriend's arm if all else fails. I remember reading how the American folk singer songwriter Arlo Guthrie compared songwriting to a fisherman sat on a river bank, if he didn’t fish out the ideas someone else would. I could relate to that for a long time, but now I feel I’m a lyricist in the true sense of the craft. There are a lot of ideas in my head at the moment inspired by so many things happening in the world right now.
When you write by yourself, you have to up the game all the time to keep the song content fresh, there is a danger of becoming complacent or tedious. I’m also inspired by other songwriters and I enjoy working with them. So when I first came to Vienna, I set up the Vienna Songwriting Circle which is highly successful, we now have 45 members that meet once a month. As a songwriter it’s nice to have fresh blood and swap ideas to keep you on your toes… and scare you a little if I'm honest.
Whilst I’m primarily a solo artist, I’m always busy with other side projects. I've recently set up a "Fair Play Concert" concept here in Vienna and at the moment I’m excited about an acoustic band and new musicians I've put together to perform the songs off the new record. The songs have taken on an acoustic Appalachian Irish feel, laced with an acoustic-folk punk theme. It’s all sounding quite vibey and we've already but pen to paper, with new songs in the mix focusing on this dynamic. I'm loving this side to my music and enjoying being in a band again.”
Performing hundreds of shows a year, it’s inevitable that instrument wear and tear is going to be high, Shane’s acoustic guitar has more than a few battle scars.
“I have no worries for the protection on my guitar whilst traveling. My Fusion case sees to that, it's a serious piece of kit,” says Shane. “On stage is where my guitar get’s a pounding. My fingerpicking and plectrum technique has actually worn a hole through the soundboard of my faithful Takemine G Series electro-acoustic. I call her 'Cleopatra" and she's a great guitar. She's been through the wars with me and still seems to warm to any desk I plug her into, live or in the studio. Sadly I have had to fit her with a scratchplate to cover the hole, as I’ve had a few splinters lately. I’ve also fitted a CD in the soundhole which works fine as a feedback buster, as well as dazzling the audience. A little bit of glitz for the good lady herself.
In my arsenal I have an old Fender Gemini acoustic which is kept at home or in the studio for purely writing. I’ve penned a lot of songs with that guitar. Like so many traditional acoustic players, I write a lot in open G and DADGAD tunings. These tunings deliver chords with such a broad variety that creates a bigger sound and a platform for alternative lyrics. I'll always try new tunings. Like I said, it’s all about keeping it fresh. I like to try new songs on piano if I’m looking for a new direction.
Touring solo does have its advantages, I don’t have to sit in the back of the van with the rest of the band, but it can be a lonesome track, although that could be set to change soon with these new musicians. I still need to carry quite a lot of gear though, not so much an amp but pedal boards, leads, a host of guitar accessories including cleaning equipment strings, hardware, spares, shakers, merchandise and of course, the guitars themselves.
Even with all that gear, it looks like I’m traveling light. It’s all in my Fusion Acoustic gig bag. It's a 'Tardis’. Within the last month I’ve toured through Austria, Germany, Ireland back to Germany and onward to Italy with peace of mind about the guitar comfortably on my back… and it looks cool.
I have tours lined up for 2017 which take in some big venues, but you know, I really loving the house concerts which I perform at between the bigger shows. These are really popular now and I love being up close to the audience. It's like being at home at an Irish session. I sing in Irish too and the funny thing is, when I hit an Irish song in a room I see them whispering ‘that’s Irish, that’s Gaelic’. It almost feels like the old Bardic and Celtic traditions where the musician and poet would travel from place presenting songs about their world. It all harkens back to the ancient traditions of the traveling, songwriting performer and for me, that's where I feel I belong, in that world of song".Fusion have nailed it with creative ideas within their designs that really do take the load off whilst traveling with a guitar. No matter where I end up I am constantly asked "where I got the bag?" and "where do I get one?" Maybe a job in Fusion Marketing is on the horizon. To be honest, it was my girlfriend who put me on to Fusion. I was lugging around a hard case for years, with sore hands and healing knees. With this guitar bag it's easy and solid and my arms aren't as long as they use to be. So it's safe to say Fusion are here to stay… They're part of the family.
Interview by Lars Mullen