Christy Dignam is bruised but unbowed. “There’s no cure for the condition I have,” says the Aslan frontman, who has returned to touring after a very public battle with cancer.
“I did chemo two and a half years ago and that is holding it at bay at the moment. The doctors have told me there is a four-year hiatus. So I have just over a year to go.”
With the singer’s health relatively precarious, Aslan have had to pick and choose their live shows. Ahead of a highly-anticipated concert at Cork Opera House on Friday, Dignam explains that, though he still enjoys the road, it can’t be like the old days any more.
“My heart was badly damaged by the cancer,” he says. “I’m operating at about two thirds capacity. That will obviously have repercussions. There won’t be as much jumping around as in the past. You have to pace yourself.”
He was in the trenches of his battle with disease when, in June 2013, friends and fans came together for a concert in his honour at Dublin’s Olympia. Paul Brady and The Coronas’ Danny O’Reilly performed with the rest of Aslan; U2 delivered a cover of the Finglas group’s signature hit ‘This Is’ by satellite from New York. “Bono has been very supportive,” says Dignam, 55. “He came up to the house after I got out of hospital. U2 brought me on stage when they performed last year.
“The Olympia event was fantastic. It was like being a fan of the band. I got to be in the audience and see an Aslan gig. I’d always wondered what it would be like to watch us. Now I know. It meant a lot.”
His sprits were in dire need of lifting. Dignam had ignored his flagging health for months before slipping into a coma. He was rushed to hospital, requiring a double adrenaline shot to regain consciousness.
“When I first got sick I became really depressed and thought, ‘what a waste — I’ve thrown my life away being a musician. Who cares?’ I went to a really dark place for while. Gradually my confidence came back. I got into gigging again.”
Aslan formed in Dublin in 1982. With debut single ‘This Is’ a big airplay hit, they were soon Ireland’s most buzzed about group. The UK’smusic newspaper became a cheerleader and they were signed by EMI records.
However, strife in the ranks and rumours of heroin use by Dignam caused them to break up with just a solitary album released. When they got back together in 1993 it was ostensibly for a charity show. Such was the reception, they were convinced to stay together. They’ve been hard at it ever since.
Understandably, Aslan have not been very prolific of late. It’s four years since their last album,. However, they have recently returned to the studio and are working through new ideas. Despite his health difficulties, it is a source of immense pride to Dignam that, nearly 30 years on, Aslan remain beloved across Ireland and continue to move forward creatively.
“Just before the band took off me and the wife went to Australia for a holiday,” he says. “I loved it out there. We decided we would give Aslan a year and if it didn’t work out, we’d move to Australia. All these years later we’re still here.”
He is looking forward to performing in Cork. The city holds a special place for him. “I remember in the 80s, ‘This Is’ came out and we were getting loads of airplay. We didn’t really have a sense of what that meant. So we went down to Cork for a gig called Lark by the Lee. We were the first band on and the reception was incredible. We started with ‘This Is’ and everyone in the audience knew the words. It was amazing and ever since, Cork has meant a lot to us.”