Cork singer Marlene Enright is one of the nominees for the Choice Music Prize. It’s an unexpected reward for her hard work in the music business, writes Ellie O’Byrne
THE Cork singer-songwriter is nestled in a small coffee shop close to her home. “No, seriously, I don’t think I’d be comfortable without it for any length of time,” says Marlene Enright. “I just need to be able to tinkle away for a while.”
Enright’s debut solo album, Placemats and Second Cuts, is shortlisted for the Choice Music Prize for best Irish album of 2017.
“It was a huge surprise,” she says. “I always thought that if you were getting one of these nominations, you’d be told about it a few hours in advance, but I literally heard about it on the radio.”
Now, she’s contemplating her ambitions, which seem modest by the standards of the music industry: Does she want to play stadiums? She shudders: “God, no! I’d crumble and fall apart in a pile on the stage, I’d be so nervous.
“I’d always like to make albums, and I’d like music-making to be able to sustain itself,” she says. “I’d love to be able to tour internationally as well: I’ve never been able to go off for six-month trips because I’d miss the piano too much, so combining the two would be great.”
Placemats and Second Cuts, a collection of songs stamped with Enright’s gentle introspection, may be her solo debut but she’s no rookie: The 32-year-old from Bantry was a formative force in the Hard Ground, an outfit that met with critical acclaim for their Triptych project in 2015: Three EPs, followed by a compendium album of all the releases.
Full-length albums seem to be a dying art these days. Streaming services like Spotify have altered the consumption of music, and bands who self-promote are realising the benefits of staggered releases with associated video, which provide publicity for their work with a continuous stream of social media “content”.
Enright, who self-released Placemats and Second Cuts, doesn’t want the art of the album to die. “If you had any type of logical brain at all, you wouldn’t go putting out albums,” she says. “I know it doesn’t really make sense, but it’s one of those things you want to do from a creative point of view. It’s a body of work: With an album, there’s a story arc. But it’s not the easiest financially.”
Despite this, she’s in good company vying for the 13th annual prize for best Irish album. The Choice Prize shortlist includes fellow Cork musician Talos, Dublin folksters Lankum, and garage punk act Otherkin. “It’s an amazing list,” she says. “It makes you feel a bit, ‘Oh Jesus Christ: Me? And them?’”
Gently spoken and as quietly contemplative as her music would suggest, Enright has had something of a battle to get over stage nerves: The writing and recording aspects of music come easier to her, she says, while becoming comfortable on stage, especially while performing her own highly personal, soul-searching material, has taken time.
“In the Hard Ground, Pat did most of the talking, and I would be over on the side with my head down,” she says, referring to fellow UCC music graduate Pat Carey, with whom she formed the band.
As Marlene Enright and band, she says the most difficult thing is “having to stand up in the middle in front of the audience and carry it for an hour-and-a-half. It was a thing I had to learn, but I’m beginning to like it more now.”
Following a few years of intensive gigging, the Hard Ground are on a break. “We’re not broken up; we’re just dormant,” she says. “We might pop up again.”
Enright’s day job is managing band bookings with Ballincollig venue the White Horse, which boasts an impressive array of gigs from some of Ireland’s best-known independent acts, and the annual Ballincollig Winter Music Festival, now in its ninth year.
She says working with the venue has given her an industry perspective valuable for her own career. “It’s been a great eye-opener for me. The music industry is difficult all-round, not just for artists, and it’s been good to see that.
“The Cork music scene is beginning to be as recognised as Dublin, but it’s becoming recognised for how community-based it is,” she says. “It’s a small city. Most people know each other and are rooting for each other and collaborating. It’s lovely to see Cork’s scene developing, and to be a part of that.”
RTÉ Choice Music Prize event is in Vicar Street, Dublin, and broadcast live on RTÉ 2FM, 7pm-11pm, Thursday, March 8