Feelings from the death of several close family members in recent years have been channelled into music, writes
The photograph of Mary Greene’s grandfather in his boyhood, standing in front of a cottage alongside family members, is most remarkable for its ordinariness.
It’s the sort of picture found in boxes of family momentoes or gathering dust on mantlepieces in homes all over Ireland.
But sifting through the personal effects of her father and two brothers, all of whom passed away within the last three years, this particular black and white image attracted Mary’s attention and refused to depart her consciousness.
It now graces the cover of the singer’s new single, All the Ones That Came Before Us, which “asks more questions than it answers” about life, death, and uncertainty during Covid-19 lockdown.
“There was something about the photograph that really connected with me on an emotional level, especially in the light of the fact that I was going through my father’s and my two brothers’ effects in the house,” says Mary, who comes from a Waterford family of singers and musicians.
“In my father’s house since 2017 there have been three Greene men that have died. My father was the first in 2017, then my brother Jason, and then my brother Willie was the most recent one in April.”
In the solitude of loss, Mary found herself turning back to an unrecorded song she wrote following the death of her sister-in-law in 2014.
‘All the Ones That Came Before Us’ “sprang from personal loss when it was first written, and it’s gathered more resonance as the years have gone by and I lost members of my own family,” says Mary, who is one third of Cork-based family trio Greenshine.
During Covid-19 lockdown and “up to my eyes in Netflix, I was there one night watching something really boring,” Mary adds. “I went upstairs, picked up the guitar, and this was the first song that came into my head.”
A video of the song, recorded in her home studio in Réidh na nDoirí, near Macroom, was released on social media and, with the track also creeping up radio airplay charts, the response from listeners has been an emotional one.
“I couldn’t get over the way it seems to resonate with people,” says Mary. “On a very personal level, some people are responding to questions they had in their own minds over people they had lost.” Though it speaks of “floods of tears that felt like they’d go on for years”, the song is also about possibilities after death, says Mary.
“These energetic beings we have around us in our lives, full of life, and all of a sudden that ends. How can it end? Where does all the energy go?
I left it very open-ended and people have said that was one of the things that really struck them, that it wasn’t the end, but a jumping-off point for them thinking about would they see their loved ones again? Where are they?
Questions about the new reality of living during a pandemic are as poignant as those posed about life and death in ‘All the Ones That Came Before Us’.
As commercial life restarts under Covid-19 restrictions, Mary asks: “Are we going to regret opening up again and how quickly or slowly should we do it? Everybody is in a state of uncertainty and I think that’s what [listeners] responded to. It just puts a voice on that uncertainty.”
Greenshine, comprising Mary, her husband Noel Shine, and their daughter Ellie, recently played their first online concert since lockdown for ‘Coughlan’s Live’, and Clonakilty Guitar Festival in September is on the cards, but without live venues, making a living as an artist has become more precarious than ever.
Greenshine are soon to release a cover of Patsy Cline’s ‘Sweet Dreams’, a precursor to a future album, but their schedule of gigs accompanying their previous CD fell victim to Covid-19.
“We had released our latest album, Family, and we had a whole amazing spring, summer, and autumn of gigs, festivals, concerts organised,” says Mary.
But the thing that worries me is that going forward, I don’t know when any of us are going to get back to sitting in front of an audience inside in a room, playing songs.
“People need to think about the things that kept them going in lockdown – their music, their poetry, their books, their movies – they’re the things that are going to suffer the most. If people can think of ways of supporting arts and music, even from a remote standpoint like online concerts; people have CDs for sale, pieces of art, photographs, paintings, books – maybe try and give back a little bit to the things that were keeping them from falling into a pit of boredom and depression. The importance of the arts was really seen during lockdown.”
Greenshinemusic.com or Facebook @greenshinepeople