A Question of Taste: Niamh Kavanagh

A Question of Taste: Niamh Kavanagh

Niamh Kavanagh In Conversation with Des O'Driscoll.

Niamh Kavanagh is a singer from Dublin. In 1993, she won the Eurovision with ‘In Your Eyes’. 

Her current band, The Illegals, pay tribute to the music of Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. 

They were due to perform at the Everyman in Cork this week, but the gig has been postponed until a later date.

How are you spending your time in lockdown?

Passing the time during the lockdown will Involve walking and I reckon I will have a list of challenges for myself to give me things to keep me active. 

God knows there are plenty of things i need to do around the house.

Best recent book you’ve read:

I have just started Actress by the wonderful Anne Enright. 

However. my favourite that I recently read was Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler. 

There is a wee story connected with this. I read this book in my 20s, and I found it beautifully written, but sad, and poignant. 

As it’s a book about a woman in her 40s I promised myself I would re-read it when I was older. 

I found the book last year and fulfilled this promise and although I still think it is beautifully written and has poignant moments I have to admit I laughed quite a lot. 

Just goes to show perspective is everything.

Best recent film you’ve seen:

I love movies and there have been a couple recently that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Knives Out and 1917 are up there, but my award goes to Judy with Renee Zellwegger. 

Perhaps it’’s because I love Judy Garland, but it is just such a fantastic portrayal by Rene and tells a great part of Judy’s life not many people really know about. 

I am not ashamed to say that I cried at times, but I also laughed plenty too. Might have sung along a bit too (shocker I know)!

Best recent show or gig you’ve seen:

As I mostly work when gigs happen, surprisingly I haven’t been to many lately. 

I did have a rollicking great time at Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert at the Bord Gais in Dublin. 

But if I had to choose the best thing I have seen gig wise, it would be James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt on the same bill. Just heaven on a stick for me. 

Two of my favourite singers and ridiculously great musicians (including the Steve Gadd on drums), performing some of my all time favourite songs. 

I did battle with jealousy through it, because let’s face it, what musician wouldn’t want that gig!

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately (new or old):

I listen to a lot of music when I am learning new shows, so sometimes I don’t listen much outside that, but lately I have been doing a lot of painting in my house and you can’t beat Paul Simon. 

From his storytelling to his jaunty songs. Just gets you through it.

First ever piece of music that really moved you:

Hard to remember exactly what the first ever piece of music was that moved me, because I was an emotional child. 

Bonnie Raitt, of whom Niamh Kavanagh is a big fan
Bonnie Raitt, of whom Niamh Kavanagh is a big fan

However, my very first tear jerker was ‘Stairway to Heaven’, which I listened to in the early ’80s because I had danced with a boy at the school disco to it and then we split up not long after, so there was a lot of sad listening sessions there. 

I guess something if I am selecting something that profoundly affects you I would have to say ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ by Bonnie Raitt in the early ’90s. 

I was at her concert in the National stadium and I don’t think I took a breath the whole time she was singing. 

I loved that song from that first time. It is one of the most beautiful songs about what it is to love where love is not reciprocated.

The best gig or show you’ve ever seen (if you had to pick one!):

I absolutely loved the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, it was so moving and so well done. 

I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see it, I really wasn’t sure how the people who animated animals would fit into production but oh my, it was so beautiful and moving. 

The puppeteers breathed and moved as one with the animal so much that half way through you are almost unaware they are there. 

I still can feel the effect that show had on me when I am writing this.

Tell us about your TV viewing:

I love TV but realistically I don’t get to watch a lot because I work the way I do. 

By the time I sit down I love to have something that makes me laugh, or cry. 

I watch a broad scale of things, from comedy to drama to reality. 

BBC Four is great for documentaries and this time of year I love to watch Endeavor or Vera or other serial dramas. 

I don’t watch any soaps, but I am not adverse to watching a bit of dancing or cooking or dating on the TV.

Radio listening and/or podcasts:

I love radio, I listen primarily to talk radio or classical. 

Mainly because I spend a lot of time with music in my job, which is enjoyable, but on my long hours on the road I love podcasts, audio books and good talk radio, or beautiful classical music, mainly from Lyric, where me auld friend Marty Whelan and many other great presenters play something beautiful to accompany the roads I travel.

Your best celebrity encounter:

This is a tough one, because I have met a whole gang in my life. 

From the surreal experience of the Grammy’s in 1992 where I met most of my musical heroes, to the time I got to sing with Joe Dolan. 

But I guess the best was sitting in the same green room as Spike Milligan. 

Pre- Eurovision I was invited to sing for him on a TV show he did in RTÉ. I was reading a Terry Pratchett book and he asked what I was reading. 

I explained it was a book about how death has to retire because he gets to like people, and he looked at me for a long while and said “you have a very strange sense of humour” and smiled. 

I have never had a better compliment!

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history or music event — where, when, and why?

I have never really thought about this, I am a moving forward kind of person. 

I think I would have loved to watch Ella Fitzgerald sing live, wouldn’t really matter which era. She was stunning.

You are curating your dream festival — which three artists are on the bill (living or dead)?

Always I will start with Bonnie Raitt, her voice, her guitar and just her whole vibe about music and musicians will always give you something special. 

Secondly I would add Donald Fagan, preferably with Steely Dan. Great songs with amazing playing. 

Lastly I would love to have Carol King, her songs and storytelling just move me.

Do you have any interesting ancestors or family?

I am not sure if we have anyone famous but plenty of interesting characters. 

I come from a big family from both of my parents. 

I was informed that I am descended from Diarmuid MacMurrough who was the 12th century King of Leinster, on my father’s side, but most Irish families can probably trace back their lineage to one of the High Kings.

Unsung hero — individual or group you think don’t get the praise they deserve:

I’m going to say to musicians, not specific ones, but musicians in general. 

Now I know you are going to say musicians get lots of credit, but I am talking about musicians who strive to create music everyday, who won’t necessarily achieve fame or fortune, precious few of us do to any massive degree, but to all who work just to create and share something that affects pretty much everyone on the planet. 

Music is around us all of the time and musicians bring it to you, not always knowing if they will be able to support themselves with it, but they do it anyway.

You are queen for a day — what’s your first decree?

My first decree is to be kind.

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