Eleanor McEvoy suffered the tragic loss of her collaborator while making her new album, writes Ed Power.
ELEANOR McEvoy wishes her latest album was arriving in happier circumstances.
The plan had been to release The Thomas Moore Project – a valentine to the under-appreciated Irish popular songwriter of the 18th and 19th centuries – next year.
In the meantime the Dublin singer-songwriter would continue her collaboration with visual artist Chris Gollon, with McEvoy writing material inspired by his work and Gollon creating images informed by her music.
“Chris had been suffering really bad pains,” she says.
“He went to the doctor. A few weeks later he was dead. It was a terrible shock.
“I was just about to go on tour with him. I was asked if I wanted to cancel. Instead, I did the tour and had one of his paintings onstage with me. The audiences were understanding. But it was very bittersweet.”
In addition to mourning a friend, McEvoy (50) has many additional demands on her time. Alongside the Moore album, she recently became chair of the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO).
“We need to fight for copyright now more than ever,” she says.
“I know a band who are huge in England – you’d be shocked at how broke they are. A lot of artists are in that situation. But they can’t say so publicly - they have to put on this front of being successful.”
She blames Big Technology for filling its coffers with money that would previously have gone to performers.
In particular she is eager for YouTube to reach what she hopes will be a more equitable arrangement with musicians.
“If we don’t change it only the wealthy will be able to afford to make music,” says McEvoy. “It will be something they dabble in. That’s not right – we need normal people to do this.”
The new album is a labour of passion for McEvoy. She has re-contextualised several of Moore’s most familiar compositions for a contemporary audience.
That his stock is so low in modern Ireland is a source of deep bafflement to her.
In his day, he was one of the world’s great songwriters – down the centuries, his fanbase is said to have included Beethoven, Jane Austen and Dickens, while James Joyce worshipped him and Lord Byron counted him as a trusted acquaintances.
“Classical musicians in Ireland hate him – they look down their noses. And traditional musicians hate him because they seem to think he sold us out to the British. In fact he did a huge amount for the emancipation of the Irish people, but with a piano. We should be celebrating him,” she says.
“And nobody really cares. I am frustrated by our attitude towards Moore. We have all this iconic people who adored him, said he was amazing.”
“He wrote all of these amazing songs. ‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ – these were written by a fella from Aungier Street whose mother was from Wexford and father from Kerry. He deserves to be remembered.”
McEvoy has had a long and winding career. Her big commercial moment was A Woman’s Heart, the 1992 compilation she put together with Mary Black, Sharon Shannon and others and which sold 750,000 copies in Ireland alone.
In 2012, she marked its 20th anniversary with a residency at Dublin’s Olympia, at which performers from the original record were joined by younger artists such as Gemma Hayes and Wallis Bird.
“Around 1996, when I was in a completely different place, people would still come to the gigs expecting me to sit on a stool playing an accordion.
The Thomas Moore Project is released July 28. Eleanor McEvoy plays at the Theatre Royal Waterford the following day
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