We all get a little jaded at times. Even though music plays a major part in our lives, there are times when we all feel that we’ve heard it all before, that there really isn’t anything new and exciting that really touches us. This feeling thankfully doesn’t usually last too long and one of the reasons is because an album like Martin A. Egan’s ‘The Tune’ unexpectedly lands on the doormat and ignites your passion for music once again.

The striking artwork on Martin’s debut CD is the first sign that this album might just be that little bit different to most others released recently. I knew very little about Martin at the time except that he was a singer-songwriter hailing from Ireland, and it was easy to have preconceived ideas about how his music would sound, but little about the music that Martin A. Egan produces can be described easily. While Martin’s music is instantly accessible, ‘The Tune’ is a complex set of songs that, even months down the road after initially hearing the album, it is still throwing up new surprises with each play.

Like many others Martin’s name was a new one to me when ‘The Tune’ reached me. The fact is though that I’d been listening to some of Martin’s music for years. ‘Casey’, a highlight on Christy Moore’s ‘Live at the Point’ album, was written by Martin after the acclaimed Irish singer had heard a Martin original and asked to hear more. Martin has also worked with the Hothouse Flowers and Poppy Gonzalez (ex Mojave 3) amongst others. ‘The Tune’ is one of those rare albums that sounds at once familiar yet refreshingly new at the same time. It’s certainly one of those albums that you will never tire of hearing.

But it appears that music is only one part of Martin Egan’s life. Martin has had exhibitions of his art, which is as striking and captivating as the music he makes. He also writes poetry. It shows in the music that he makes that Martin takes chances. In spreading his talents over a number of different projects, it’s amazing that one individual can be so successful in each area.

I admit to knowing next to nothing about art, but there is something in Martin’s paintings that I find fascinating. I can lose myself in them. As for his songs, after more than four decades of listening, loving and growing to all types of music, Martin’s songs never fail to move me.

Most people are good at least one thing, Martin seems to have the golden touch when it comes to music, art and poetry. From the little I’ve seen and heard from him so far, Martin always delivers the unexpected so when the opportunity arose to ask him some questions I jumped at the chance. Martin was very open in his answers, but even so I feel that we have only just scratched the surface of this talented man. With Martin currently working on a three-album project, I hope that we can catch up with him at a later date to hear more from him.

PB: You’ve come to our attention via your debut album ,’The Tune’, but you’ve been painting for a number of years with some success too. Did your painting develop from your song writing or vice-versa?

ME: My painting came about as a result of a number of things, but started because I had two very good art teachers at school in London, John and Susan McLaren.

Prior to their arrival our art teachers were people like domestic science teachers teaching how to make Raffia table lamps, formal crow on a ditch paintings, or classical drawing techniques, pottery and such stuff, most of which I had no skills at nor interest in. The McLarens introduced me to a whole new world - Writers and poets such as Antonin Artaud, T.S. Eliot, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and painters such as Van Gogh and the Blue Rider School. In fact Susan’s first words on her first day (after producing a print of a Paul Klee painting on glass) were “Draw or Paint anything you like,” and it went from there.

PB: You’ve had a number of exhibitions of your art but none very recently. Has your music taken over from painting now?

ME: For the moment, writing and at this stage finishing a triple album is my major focus, but I have also decided (finances permitting) to publish a book of poetry, with the lyrics of ‘The Tune’ and the first part of the triple album, and also some pastel drawings I have been doing over the last couple of years.

In Kerry in the South West of Ireland, where I used to live, I had an enormous studio up in the mountains. Now that I live in Dublin, I don’t have the space to paint. Also I reached a point in 1997 with painting where I felt I had begun to repeat myself, and that is not what I began painting to do. So I took time out to try to find another way of painting that would lead me in a new direction.

PB: How did you get involved in writing songs for Christy Moore?

ME: I have known Christy on and off since the early to mid 70s. In fact the first place after Ireland in 1972 or so that I began to know Christy as a friend was in Edinburgh, when Planxty played the Aula Maxima in Edinburgh University where I was studying at the time. Every time I met him he asked me the same question - “Any gigs, man? Any gigs?” I was living in Rosemount near the whisky distillery at the time and singing at sessions in Rose Street and Sandy Bell’s pub on Forrest Road when they arrived.

Then many years afterwards, in the mid to late 80s, Christy was on the upsurge that made him a household name and an international name as well, and he played a show at the Hillgrove Hotel in Dingle, County Kerry where I was living at the time. Prior to the show, he went to Dick Mack’s pub in Green Street for a pint with the owner of the hotel, Tommy McCarthy, and where I was playing a gig.

I was singing a local satirical song I’d written about going to cut peat in the bog called ‘Knightley’s Trailer’, and Christy waited till I had finished and asked me who wrote it, and when I told him that I did he said, “Have you got any more?,” and I said, “A houseful,” and the subsequent tape I sent him had ‘Casey’, the song about our notorious local bishop Eamonn Casey on it, and the rest is history as they say. He came down to Annascaul where I was living and spent the day with me going through songs, but ‘Casey’ was and is to date the only one he’s recorded. And he had several goes at recording it before deciding that live was best.

PB: As far back as 1997 you were nominated for the German Music Award for your work on Mary O’Regan’s ‘Every Punch Needs a Kiss’ album. So there was never any doubt about your musical talents. Why did it take so long for you to release your debut album?

ME: That’s a good question. Mary O’Regan was and is a very fine singer from Tralee, Co. Kerry, and is also a very honest and ethical person. When she joined Draoicht, an Irish new age band, she sang my songs as part of her set, particularly ‘At Rest’ and ‘Every Punch Needs a Kiss’. Draoicht toured Europe extensively, especially the German-speaking countries and recorded two very good albums upon which all their songs were written by Tom Mulcahy. They were also very popular in Scandinavia, where most of them now live, but ultimately they never recorded anything of mine, so when Mary eventually left she recorded those two songs plus ‘This Time Round’ and ‘Welcome to the World’, a song I had written as a means of saying all the things I had not had an opportunity to say to my deceased children, who were stillborn in 1980.

‘Every Punch Needs a Kiss’ was embraced by the Germans in particular, and she toured extensively there. ‘At Rest’ got an enormous amount of airplay and I did very well.

I had the good fortune to meet Rick Nowels, Madonna’s and Stevie Nicks’ producer at the time. He and his wife Maria were holidaying in Dingle and heard me busking outside a supermarket. In those days I painted all winter, and busked and held exhibitions in the summer. Rick took four songs back to America and played them to Madonna. What this did for me was to make me take my songwriting seriously.

PB: Why did it take you so long to put ‘The Tune’ out?

ME: To put it bluntly, I froze up completely. There was very, very little support or aftercare for bereaved parents in those times, especially in the middle of nowhere as we were. My ex-wife was completely devastated and so was I.

The difference was she expressed it and I buried it. I do not recommend burying anything to anyone. It can eat you up inside and it did me. I was very bitter and closed off for a long time, almost fourteen years before I started (when I had no choice) to deal with it. I was dealing with it all along, but trying to express it through music and later painting. It worked up to a point, but not at any great depth. It is easy to write about something. It is not easy to write from inside a traumatic experience like we had experienced. My ex-wife did better than I did to her credit.

PB: You are working on the trilogy. Is there a theme connecting all three albums?

ME: Yes, I can’t really quantify it in any sense until it’s out there, it’s a huge canvas. I have been extraordinarily lucky in the people that have become involved. James Marsh was the graphic artist for all the Talk Talk Albums and Kevin Whyte, the engineer, worked at Mayfair Studios and Trevor Horn’s Sarm 2 Studios for many years. James worked with one of my paintings, and has used it as the basis for all the artwork for the three albums. I waited a year for Kevin to set up his studio in order to work with him.

I have also got the cream of the crop if you like in the new generation of experimental Irish musicians - Brian Conniffe who has re-mixed Nurse With Wound; Dara “Dip” Higgins who plays with Irish Noise/Experimental Band, the Jimmy Cake, and Tommy O’Sullivan from Estel, who not only recorded but played on the last Iggy and the Stooges Album. He engineered the demo sessions in Ashtown Studios, and has also played drums and guitar, along with Paul “Binzer” Brennan who was the original drummer with the Frames, on ‘Part 1’.

Musically it’s difficult to talk about or describe. It’s more to be experienced than written or talked about. It will speak for itself. It’s like Samuel Beckett said about ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ - “It is not about anything. It is the thing” That’s not quite the story with the trilogy, but there are elements of that in it. Suffice to say it is very, very, different from ‘The Tune’.

PB: Planning a three album set is a mammoth task. When are you hoping it will be completed? I would think that you want to release them as close together as possible.

ME: Yes, in 2009 I inherited some money which allowed me to release the debut album, and I must say that psychologically it has been an enormous help and a massive rite of passage. I was still vacillating between putting ‘The Tune’ out and trying to make ‘Part 1’ at the same time that I met Billy Bragg after a show he did in Vicar Street. I was waiting to have an operation for a shoulder injury, and was telling Billy the problems I was having playing the guitar, and his response was “Well, hire a bloody guitar player and make the record.” He said it very nicely and humorously I hasten to add, but very directly as only Billy can. So that was that.

I set up my own label Slinky Vibe and put ‘The Tune’ out. ‘The Tune’ thankfully has thus far paid for recording and rehearsals to mixing and mastering ‘Part 1’, and paid for the peripherals like the album artwork which is absolutely beautiful. I went into debt to finish it but I don’t regret it for a moment.

At the moment the dichotomy is between spending what I have on putting ‘Part 1’ out and using that to fund ‘Part 2’ or recording ‘Part 2’ first. I get distinctly uncomfortable if I let writing and/or recording rest for too long.

PB: If you have the material written already for three albums, presumably the songs that make up ‘The Tune’ were written some years ago. By getting what I guess are the older songs released has that in some way closed a chapter on your past so you can now move on musically?

ME: Some years ago is a bit of an understatement. It feels like half a lifetime ago. Most definitely I feel that I have finished a huge chunk of my past. But at the same time the most wonderful thing about songs is that they are shape-shifters in the most eerie fashion. They seem to resonate very strongly especially with my female fans. My fan-base for that album is a good 75-80% female.

Most of the set that I do acoustically now are from that period and a slightly later period, but by some quirk have begun to take on completely new meanings. For instance ‘The Tune’, which I wrote as a means of reaching out to my parents, a sort of palm leaf gesture of understanding towards them (we had quite a difficult relationship), has taken on a completely different meaning since they both passed away. I prefer to think I have become more forgiving and compassionate with age and certainly more understanding of their experiences, and I experience the song from that point of view these days. They sacrificed a lot of their dreams for us, and I’m only beginning to appreciate that now.

PB: With a diverse mixture of styles covered successfully on your album, which is one of its major attractions, as it appeals to a wide audience, it’s difficult to make a guess as to what music Martin A. Egan listens to for pleasure. Do you listen to much music and who?

ME: Oh, God, How long do we have? I joke that I live in a corridor, one side of which is books and the other is vinyl, CDs and paintings, and at the end of the corridor is the bedroom and bathroom. I have a vast collection, most of which gets an outing at some point in every year.

But the current favourites off the top of my head would be Annie Briggs, (whom I discovered I had seen with Johnny Moynihan in London in the 1960s. I just didn’t know her name); Kate Rusby’s current album, ‘Make the Light’, which I think is an extraordinarily honest, courageous and beautiful piece of work; Dick Gaughan’s early work up to the ‘Handful of Dust’/’Different Kind of Love Song’ years; all the Talk Talk albums to which I was introduced by Poppy Gonzalez, formerly of Mojave 3 and Sing Sing (when I was working with her and her Hush Collector on their Debut EP, ‘Flowby’, which I co-wrote); and of course Mark Hollis’ solo album. They get played to death regularly, as does Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Tim Buckley and his ‘Blue Afternoon’ especially. I have the Box Set on CD, but cherry pick my favourites like “Song to the Siren’.

I like Tim Hardin, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Guy Clark as well, and just about anything by Mark E. Smith and the Fall, and the Irish Band Whipping Boy, and primarily ‘Heartworm’ and ‘Submarine’ and not just because I wrote their current single, ‘No-One Takes Prisoners Anymore’, with them.) I think Fearghal McKee and the Whips are the only band that could give the Fall a good run for their money.

I also like Martin Bramah and Factory Star (I’ve been a Fan of Martin’s solo work since the Blue Orchids days), Jonathan Beckett of Moscow Circus, Scott Walker, Richard and Linda Thompson and Richard’s solo stuff up to the current album, ‘Dream Alley’, Sigur Ros, George Moustaki, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Elbow, Pentangle, the late great Bert Jansch, Nic Jones, Planxty, Tommy Potts, Altan (Mark Kelly is a great friend and played with me at my Coming out of Retirement Show), a Band from the UK named Tri whose song arrangements I find amazing, the Unthanks, Damien O’Kane and particularly the solo Album of Belfast songs he’s just recorded called ‘Summerhill’ (I love his song ‘Raven’s Wing’ as well. It is quite bitter in its lyrics, but all the better for that. Sincerity in lyrics isn’t and shouldn’t always be about the more attractive emotions.), and of course all the usual English folkies. We’d need a much longer interview to cover the rest.

PB: What inspires the music you write? Do you ever write from your own experiences? ‘Nearly Got Glassed’ from ‘The Tune’ is a remarkable story-song that sounds like it comes from the heart. It sounds like that at least a part of Martin A Egan is in there.

ME: Oh God, Just about anything musically as you’ll hear when ‘Part 1’ comes out in May. It is presently being reproduced. For instance ‘This Time Round’ was inspired musically by a five bar tubular gate that the cross bars fell off of and the wind blew through the holes, so it came from Aeolus the God of Winds if you like, and its lyrics by the fact that I was living beside one of the oldest pre-Christian Sites in Western Europe, a place on the Dingle Peninsula called Kinard. It means High Point or High Head in Irish.

My lyrics are nearly always personal concerns, but I have written many topical and local and national, but not nationalist songs purely to poke fun at the usual human and professional failings.

As to ‘Nearly Got Glassed’? There is actually a long story to that song that I tell during shows. The song was inspired by an incident outside Trinity College between a drunk student lying in the street, a young guy and his girlfriend, a briefcase and me after one of my Dublin gigs. Suffice to say that it’s about what the song says it is, a meditation on whether violence and viciousness are inculcated in the individual by ill-treatment as a child or as a spur of the moment random reaction (usually fuelled by booze or drugs.) At this stage I think it’s probably both.

PB: What is a typical day in the life of Martin A. Egan? You have your music, poetry and art. Do you have certain things planned for each day or just go where your muse takes you?

ME: My usual day starts at between 3.30 and 5.30 a.m. when I wake up and begin writing. If I’m feeling particularly disorientated, I do a couple of pastel drawings. I’m not much of a doodler. It’s been going on now for so long in that vein that I just accept it.

I get up and read some poetry or some other kind of writing or listen to some music on headphones until something surfaces. I rarely watch TV because frankly the majority of it is so formulaic and boring it’s not worth watching. It goes under the general heading in Ireland of “Awful Shite”. I have a vast collection of film DVDs and music documentaries and videos, so hardly watch TV at all.

Then I write until about 8.00 a.m. and possibly eat and have something to drink (tea mostly) while I’m working. If I wake up in the middle of something I was dreaming (not very often lately),I will work on that immediately using journals I keep beside my bed. In my younger days I used to lie in bed cursing my luck until I got the message to just get up and write. My brain would like me to stay in bed and worry about the rest of the day, or better still the rest of my life and how little of it I have left. It is important to get moving as fast as possible with the work in hand.

I usually have at least twenty different pieces in various stages of construction, not just songs but short stories and poems so it is easy to hop from one to the other. I painted like that as well, and would tape canvas to the wall and work my way round the room. With songwriting I nearly always write the words first.

If none of this works I’ll watch a DVD of someone talking about their work process and how they deal with the difficulties of writing, because one of the realities of writing is there are always obstacles to be overcome. I have a library of books about writing, not just songwriting but every kind of writing.

If I am really tired, I will go to bed for three or four hours, and then get up at about 11.00 a.m., make and have lunch and begin writing again. When I have done what I feel I need to with writing, I deal with e-mails, online stuff, promo post, go for a walk or do the shopping. I stock up regularly so I don’t have to shop every day. I try to meet up with friends at least two or three times a week, and I also talk to close friends on the phone for some portion of the day. If I’m going away, I deal with tickets online or if I have rehearsals I book the room, co-ordinate all the musicians and make sure I have things like strings, batteries etc all stocked up.

I use the local library as a resource as well. I have a huge collection of modern literature that I am always adding to and spend a lot of time in various book and record shops (which are getting harder to find all the time) around the city. I write in cafés as well around Dublin. A couple of evenings a week I’ll go out for something to eat with friends or to a movie. I have some good female friends I like to spend time with. I don’t really feel that a relationship is of the utmost importance at present, as, to be honest, I’m too busy making the triple album and I just don’t have the energy for one. I suppose I’m simply focusing on what’s important to me at the moment. I’m enjoying myself immensely.

PB: You have the art book planned which takes in both your art and poems. Can you tell us a little about that?

ME: Yes, I’m working on the book on and off in between all the other stuff, I have all the drawings, all the lyrics and all the poems ready to go but doing things like trademarking names and images takes forever alongside all the other stuff that I usually do.

I am a one-man band if you like, and I have found lately – It must be something to do with hitting 60 - that I get tired far more easily than I have previously, and I also think that its time I delegated a lot more. I’m proud of myself for getting it all back together in spite of myself, but I do seriously need to find someone to run the day to day business end of things from now on. I have approached a couple of people that I know via other artists, and am going to be approaching a couple of more in the near future to cover management and agency and so on.

‘PB: The Tune’ album consists of nine songs. You’ve added two bonus tracks to the album. Why were those two particular songs not considered part of the album?

There were at least eighteen songs recorded over ten days for the original album, and the two extra songs, which I worked on with Peter O’Toole, were recorded a good five years after the original album Tracks.

I was not happy with some of the songs, even though both of the bonus tracks were recorded in the initial session. I had a song called ‘Lakes’ where the word “lakes” came out sounding like “legs” because I changed the tempo from slow to very fast, so we dumped that one and another one named ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, which was frankly about the “Kick the dog” syndrome. I didn’t like the tempo on that either because it suffered from being played in sessions and so sped up in one or two places ,and I had in fact also dealt with the subject matter in ‘Nearly’ albeit from a different perspective. “

‘At Rest’ got major airplay in Germany, Austria and Switzerland from the Mary O’Regan Album, and, as it was a very melodic acoustic version, I wanted an alternative version on my album and that’s what happened. Des O’Byrne of the Irish Band the Golden Horde played the very loud electric guitar on it which juxtaposed (as far as I was concerned) with the very gentle lyrics. I felt it signified the more intense side of the loss for me, and it bound whatever hurt angry and childlike part of my psyche needed to bind itself to the cover image and the attempt to talk to the ghosts of the children that I expressed in ‘Welcome to the World’. I liked the version so I put it on.

‘Welcome to the World’ was included after I decided to use the painting visualizing what my dead children would have looked like if they had been born. I wasn’t allowed to see my wife for twenty four hours after the birth of the twins, and the hospital refused pointblank to let me see the remains of the children citing upset as the reason. I was at that time an organic farmer and delivered animals myself all the time, so it really annoyed and upset me and my ex-wife also. I really resented the hospital’s attitude to us both, so it seemed very important that I included the song to complement the cover art as they were integrally interconnected and shared meaning and expression.

PB: To end on another question about ‘The Tune’ album ; the vocals are outstanding. Especially on the title track, ‘I Know’ and ‘Touch’. Which songs did you take all the vocals on? The background vocals on those particular songs are brilliant.

ME: Oh dear, my apologies, I forgot to include Nuala Finnegan who was then using her married name of Marchetti in the credits. Nuala is a wonderful Irish singer whom unfortunately I rarely see these days. She sang backing vocals on ‘Every Punch Needs a Kiss’, ‘I Know’, ‘Touch’ ‘Sweeter Side’ and ‘At Rest’. Donal Lunny and Nuala did the backing vocals on ‘Welcome to the World’ along with me as far as I can remember. That’s what comes of waiting nearly twenty years to put an album out.

I did all the vocals on ‘The Tune’ itself purely because it was such a personal song. But then most of my songs are personal. It reminds me of an interview I heard Leonard Cohen doing on YouTube. The interviewer asked him why he always wrote about himself, and his answer was, “I don’t know anything about anyone else.” That’s about it.

PB: Thank you.

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Commenting On: Interview - Martin A. Egan

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20568 Posted By: Tina Rock (Ireland)

Yay Martin Knowing about yourself certainly is worth Knowing..Nice words to follow for others in search of Inspiration..Love the Language of the Tongue..the story of the Mind..the Rambles , the TRUTH..from the mouth of a complicated world.

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