Keane is from an artistic family — actor father, Eamonn, musician mother, journalist brother, Fergal, playwright uncle, John B — and his talents are eclectic. This year, the former Newstalk presenter has sold out the National Concert Hall twice, and composed the score for Mná Dibhearta, the TV series about the Famine. His concerts with Dubliner, John Sheahan, sell out. His album, Hang The Moon, is close to achieving ‘gold’ sales.
Now he’s back in Cork, where his parents first met in the early 1960s, during the premiere production of John B’s play, Sharon’s Grave. It’s a rare opportunity to hear Keane in one of the country’s finest venues — one that can do justice to his earthy vocals, heartrending lyrics and breathtaking piano improvisations.
He says he’s come full circle for this concert. “We moved to Cork when I was 11, when my mother, Maura, took up a teaching post at Ashton School. At home, she would play Chopin and Beethoven and I’d listen and pick up those pieces by ear. She then sent me to the School of Music, and now I’m back there performing.”
The influences that have shaped Keane’s work range as far as South Africa.
“I played in some of the night clubs there, with black musicians, and you’d get an amazing mix of styles. I got lucky and was asked to write the music for a TV musical with kids from Soweto — so we had township jazz and rap,” he says.
He even met Nelson Mandela. “My brother, Fergal, was working over there for the BBC and I found myself chaperoning EU groups around. Through an ANC contact, we had an amazing hour with Mandela, who had just been released from prison.”
Keane was so deeply affected that when he returned to Ireland he trained as a counsellor. “Well, I was always interested in that area, especially after what I saw in South Africa, so I did a diploma and postgrad in counselling skills,” he says.
How do these different careers — composer, performer, counsellor — fit together? Keane is alight with enthusiasm. “We have only one life, and you simply have to fit everything in that calls to you. A pal of mine passed away, and that really brought it home to me that you only get one go. For me, it was always music, and then came the counselling.
“I lectured in UCC and set up a scheme for people coming back to education, and I work with Suicide Aware.”
He is also composing the music for a new movie, and writing a crime novel. What, one wonders, does he do in his spare time? Keane laughs delightedly. “I love the sea. The music business is tough and if ever I’m losing proportion, I go out and I walk on the beach, go fishing, go swimming.
“This morning, I was looking at the first cuts of the new movie, then I had clients, then this evening I’m going in to rehearse on the Steinway. I’m lucky, because I love what I’m doing. I love having the balance,” he says.
Creativity is all about getting underneath, getting at the truth, he says.
In a film score, he tries to reflect the director’s idea; in songs and music, he tries to express the basic human truths.
“In counselling, it is also all about looking underneath, discovering why things are happening in this way or that,” he says.
* Eamon Keane, CIT Cork School of Music, Dec 20, 8pm. Tickets www.everymancork.com or 021-4501673; Everyman, McCurtain Street, Cork.