Guitar and vocals with The Hothouse Flowers and broadcaster, writes Hilary Fennel.
I always harboured a secret desire to be a musician.
I started piano at seven and then the tin whistle. It was the arrival of a guitar in the house when I was 11 that really began to inspire me.
I was good in school but by the time I got to Secondary in Coláiste Eoin there was already an emphasis on music. There was a ready-made traditional music community. It gave us great confidence and freedom.
When I left school I went to UCD to study law but that first summer I started busking with my old school friend Liam Ó Maonlaí as the Incomparable Benzini Brothers and that changed everything.
We were making more than pocket money and it seemed as if the town was ours for the taking.
We formed The Hothouse Flowers but going back to university was heartbreaking. I went up there on my bike but I didn’t go to any lectures. Instead, I’d hang out with the band. We started getting booked for bigger and bigger gigs. Gradually people in the business started to notice us and we were spotted by Bono which led to a deal with Mother Records.
Half way through my second year of law, I left to concentrate on the band.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face was when the band took a break, over 20 years ago now. In retrospect of course it was a good thing as it made us all do other stuff and forced us to shed our dependence on the unit. But it was my only source of income and I was a single father of three-year-old twins.
However you soon learn that when one door closes another one really does open. Michelle Shocked asked me to join her in LA to work together. She encouraged me to write and sing independently of The Flowers and that gave me another layer of self confidence.
Performing in public with the band came easily enough to me but when I was asked to present Late Date on RTÉ Radio 1 it was really nerve-wracking. I’d spent so many nights driving back from gigs listening to Val Joyce and Lilian Smyth doing the show that it was bizarre to be on air myself.
I got one great piece of advice: to imagine that I am speaking to just one person and that they are there in the room with me.
I’m not religious in any way. I lost any belief in Catholicism when I was 11 although for years I’d cycle to church and simply pretend I was going to Mass.
The traits I most admire in others are honesty and and loyalty.
If I could be someone else for a day I’d be Elvis Presley in the late 1970s. The soulfulness of his voice completely captivated me.
If I could change one thing in Irish society I’d make tolerance and joy compulsory.
My biggest fault is time management. Thankfully my wife Siona is brilliantly organised. She worked in the music industry for years.
We met in London at a mutual friend’s birthday party 10 years ago and moved back here. I’m no good at all at having a work life balance, it’s all one to me — but then I love what I do. We both work for ourselves which brings it’s own surprises and means it is hard to say no to things when they come along.
I don’t have much time for songwriting these days as besides the band being back together and the radio work, I have a two-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son. The twins will be 27 in September and my 12-year-old daughter lives in France with her mother for most of the year.
My idea of bliss is going for a walk in Carraroe or Roundstone followed by a pint of Guinness and some oysters.
My idea of misery is feeling trapped. Or being so busy that you don’t even have time to do the things that you don’t want to do.
So far life has taught me to have faith and to keep going. I say that with with optimism, and with a smile on my face because I’ve learned how to remain mostly calm — well how not to panic anyway — even if things get a bit hairy.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved