Stars starting from scratch

They’ve gone from headlining the O2 to playing tiny venues in Britain. Danny O’Reilly of The Coronas tells Ed Power why the band is happy to be back at the bottom

DANNY O’Reilly doesn’t want to talk about his famous ex-girlfriend Laura Whitmore. The Coronas frontman recently split from the Wicklow-born MTV presenter, an event treated by the tabloid press as though it were slightly more significant than the election of a new Pope.

Two months on, his PR people have let it be known that the singer won’t be fielding personal questions. Why ever not Danny? “The best thing you can do is say nothing to anyone,” laughs O’Reilly. “We are quite good at managing the press. It’s about being careful — not talking too much about your personal life. I mean, yeah, it’s strange when people are writing about you. I don’t know how anyone could get used to that. The smartest step you can take is have a really good team around you and to stay grounded. Not that I want to come off as complaining. I think we’ve received pretty decent treatment from the press.”

To be fair, media intrusion isn’t something The Coronas have had to worry about lately. Last summer, the group relocated to London with dreams of cracking the UK. In a heartbeat they’ve gone from headlining Dublin’s 14,000 capacity O2 to playing to crowds of 200 in provincial venues around Britain. By anyone’s standards, that’s a comedown. A born optimist, O’Reilly is inclined to look on the bright side.

“When we started off we always thought someone from the UK or America would spot us in Ireland, see we were doing very well and take an interest,” he says. “Last year, we slowly realised we have to be more proactive. Hence us moving over and putting ourselves in a position where we can compete with British bands. It’s all about putting yourself in a situation where you can progress.”

Far from an anti-climax, The Coronas, he says, are delighted to be taking on the UK one concert at a time.

“Recently we sold out a 700-capacity venue in Islington. We filled King Tuts in Glasgow, a very famous theatre with capacity of 250. To us, it’s like starting out in Ireland again. We couldn’t believe it the first time we filled Whelan’s. Then we sold out The Academy. That was amazing too. You are always happy to progress.”

Still, it must be disorientating for a band to relocate from a country where they are stars to one where their profile is negligible. There is a long, inglorious history of Irish groups trying to make a breakthrough in Britain only to skulk home with tails between legs.

“There is something nice about coming from a place that you have had success in to one in which you find yourself at the bottom of the ladder again,” says O’Reilly. “It gives you something to push against. In terms of songwriting, I have definitely benefited.”

The son of singer Mary Black, at home, the stylish, articulate O’Reilly remains a bona fide rock star. Starting with their 2007 hit single San Diego Song, The Coronas were an instant sensation on the student circuit. From there, they’ve arguably blossomed into Ireland’s most popular mainstream rock outfit. In particular they are one of the few contemporary Irish groups you will hear on daytime radio. Their crowning moment came last November when they filled the O2, a feat beyond all but the very biggest entertainers.

“Our PR people in the UK do mention that we sell out big venues back home. It is an angle for them to use — ‘these guys are one of the biggest indie bands in Ireland’.” Another fact which is mentioned a great deal is that The Coronas beat U2 to win album of the year at the 2010 Meteor Awards.

“It is one of this things that comes up over and over,” says Danny. “I’m sure it is useful in terms of raising awareness of the band. It is a question we get asked a great deal. Internationally, it seems to be one of those things that jumps out. I’m sure U2 didn’t mind. You would imagine they have enough awards already.”

If Britain is taking its time warming to the group, at least their Irish fans haven’t forgotten them. At several gigs around England, they have been delighted to see familiar faces in the audience. “We have some really big supporters who would maybe fly over from Ireland for the gigs. Afterwards, they’d wait around and have a chat. They’d be like ‘I can’t believe you’re playing this size venue after filling the O2’. And we’re like ‘we can’t believe you would fly all the way over here!’ The band continue to put out albums on their own record label.

“Ireland is a small territory so you can do most things yourself,” he says. “We are working on our next album now. The plan is to record the LP and shop it around, see what the best arrangement is for us. We are taking things one step at a time. It is a challenge. But we are enjoying ourselves.”

*The Coronas play Live at the Marquee Cork, June 29


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