"I SEEM to write a lot of songs about dead people. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older,” Mary Greene smiles ruefully. She’s describing how a tribute to Kurt Cobain ended up on the latest album by Greenshine, a Mukerry-based family trio comprising Greene, husband Noel Shine, and their daughter Ellie Shine.
Singer-songwriter Greene’s current single on release with Cork troubadour Hank Wedel, ‘Too Gone Too Young’, pays tribute to Irish songwriter Noel Brazil, and she’s penned songs in honour of Gram Parsons and Rick Danko of The Band. But Greenshine’s gentle roots sound is a far cry from Cobain’s heroin-fuelled torment.
“I was actually listening to a lot of Nirvana when I wrote ‘The City of Dreams’,” she says. “I stumbled across an article in the Irish Examiner, an interview with the late Desi Blair. Desi was a great promoter of music and a great music fan; it’s amazing how often those two don’t go hand in hand. Desi told an anecdote about the time Nirvana played Cork.”
In Cork to support Sonic Youth, Blair found Nirvana “hungry, broke, introvert, polite,” as Greene’s song goes, and he footed the bill for a meal for the starving trio. When the receipt came back, they’d consumed four bottles of wine and a bowl of nachos. Amused by the tale, Greene delved further and stumbled on a recording of Cobain talking about his Cork connections.
“The whole thing just really caught me; his genius, the sadness and the madness of the whole situation. This young man looking for a home, and what happened to him. In the song I put the question, what would have happened if he’d ended up here.”
The result is a finely woven mesh of harmonies that’s a good counterpoint to the more upbeat single from the album, ‘The Girl in The Lavender Dress’, which Greene also wrote. Although both Greene and her husband are firm fixtures on the Irish music scene, working with everyone from Christy Moore to The Republic of Loose, the level of success The Girl in the Lavender Dress has met with has been a new high for them.
The song reached number one in the iTunes Ireland Singer/Songwriter chart and got airplay on RTÉ Radio 1. “It came out at a time when there was the most awful news every day, stories of bombings and killings. It’s a very positive song; I wrote it when I had two small daughters. I had a daydream of being a footloose and fancy free girl, wearing a lavender dress walking through a summer field with all her life ahead of her. Ellie sang it in that beautiful young voice and people just went crazy for it and it got shared and shared.”
Playing together as a family was a natural evolution for Greenshine: “Ellie’s been singing with us since she was about 13 years old.”
Greene was the daughter of the owners of The Anchor Bar in Dunmore East, Co Waterford, a regular venue on the gig trail. She wore a path up the N25 to Cork to busk in her late teens.
Later, romance blossomed when The Anchor Bar sought resident musicians, and songwriter Jimmy MacCarthy recommended Shine.
“We’re not hugely ambitious,” Greene says of the musical couple. “What we want, and what we’re getting more and more, is great gigs where people want to be there and have paid to come to see you. We’re never going to be a ‘main stage at Electric Picnic’ band, because for starters we’d hate that.”
The Girl in the Lavender Dress album launch is in The Corner House, Coburg Street, Cork, on Saturday
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