On June 19, 2017, New York Festivals held the International Radio Awards Gala and award-winners from around the globe attended the festive event in New York City. That night, the presenter for RTÉ lyric fm/The Lyric Feature – “Vocal Chords” stepped up to the podium to accept the Gold Trophy for Biography/Profiles for the outstanding program: “Paul Brady and Iarla Ó Lionáird in Conversation.” NYF had the pleasure of meeting Iarla and asked if he’d spend a few minutes sharing his insights about his award-winning program with NYF.
This week Open Mic Spotlight interviews the international talent, Iarla Ó Lionáird. Iarla is presenter of RTÉ lyric fm’s award-winning program “Vocal Chords” and lead singer for The Gloaming, the contemporary Irish music supergroup formed in Ireland in 2011. As one of the leading figures in traditional Irish music, he sings in the traditional sean-nos style, he’s lent his voice to movie soundtracks including “Gangs of New York” and “Calvary.” He has had success with such groups as The Crash and Afro Celt Ensemble and has toured with some of the music industry’s biggest names including Peter Gabriel, Nick Cave, Robert Plant and Sinead O’Connor. Iarla has a strong interest in all music culture with a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, he is also a frequent lecturer at Princeton University.
In this interview, larla shares the inside story on his award-winning program, how he recruits exceptional musicians to share their story, the creative and logistical challenges involved in producing Vocal Chords, his dream project and much more.
NYF Radio: RTÉ lyric fm/The Lyric Feature – Vocal Chords earned the Gold Trophy for their outstanding programs: Paul Brady and Iarla Ó Lionáird in Conversation, to what do you attribute the success of this program?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: I think Paul Brady is a fascinating subject for a documentary about the nature of song, the art of songwriting and the personal quest to become an artist. I say this in particular because Paul came to folk music as an outsider and yet early seminal recordings which he achieved redefined Irish folk music and are seen as landmark works to this day. He then went on to record contemporary rock and pop songs several of which were recorded by major artists such as Tina Turner. So, all in all his achievement is huge and his story traverses a large chunk of 20th-century Irish music.
NYF Radio: How did you come up with the idea for this project and to what efforts did it take to connect with Paul Brady to create this program?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: Well, the series has been running for some years now and I had always wanted to include Paul sooner or later. I happen to know Paul Brady through my own work in music and have even collaborated with him in the past. And so therefore connecting with them for this project seemed natural and he was eager to get involved.
NYF Radio: What creative and logistical challenges were involved and how did you utilize technology to solve those challenges?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: The recording of these programs in essence is reasonably simple from a technological point of view and like most location recordings these days we use various tools such as zoom recorders and the like. A large part of the programme’s achievement however occurs on the editing bench as it were, where we trawl through vast amounts of archival material and knit them into a narrative pleases both from storytelling point of view and from a purely our aural perspective.
NYF Radio: Vocal Chords continues to rack up awards in broadcasting for their extraordinary stories and conversations, what is involved in finding and convincing these exceptional musicians people to share their stories?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: Sometimes it takes quite an amount of time to gain the confidence of artists who rightly wish to be involved in programs of merit and depth. Artists we wish to speak to are frequently on tour or otherwise engaged in various projects and so therefore it takes time to find time even after they have agreed in principle to get involved. But as we make more programmes and build on our achievements I feel that prospective artists have more confidence in the outcome and show an interest in other programs are achieved and the issues which they raise and reveal.
NYF Radio: As a singer yourself, what do you personally take away from these exceptional interviews?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: I always learn quite a lot myself from these programs. There is always so much one can take away from a conversation with an artist. Each individual has their own unique engagement with the creative process, something that they often feel is magical and largely ineffable. Our job is to reveal as much as possible about that process and about the life that give rise to the art itself without compromising the artist or breaking the spell.
NYF Radio: Where did the idea come from to produce stories/conversations that provide insight into music and the creation of music? Can you talk about your creative process?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: The idea for this series came I believe as a result of a program series called vocal chords where I myself was interviewed and as a result Helen Shaw felt the perhaps I might be an appropriate choice as an interviewer who could engage with individual artists and have an empathy which would allow them to feel comfortable in talking about something deeply personal, and mysterious-their own art. My own creative process is as messy as one might imagine I perform, I write collaborate with many composers on an ongoing basis and the processes by turns fascinating and very challenging. There are times like every artist when I feel tremendous pressure and indeed a degree of trepidation but on the whole, it is a very interesting occupation which would be hard to match in any other walk of life.
NYF Radio: What is your personal dream project that you’d like to create? Or have you already created it and if so, what was it?
Iarla Ó Lionáird: Well I’m hoping to record an album next year thereafter of traditional science, ancient melodies and words from the Irish traditional music Canon with orchestra. And although I have worked with forces of that size before I have never had the opportunity to commit it to recording for posterity as it were. And this project involves have a dozen or more international composers who have studied these melodies and have provided beautiful highly individual accompaniments. I think, and I hope that it will give these old songs and new life.
For more information on Vocal Chords, please visit: http://vocalchords.ie/
To learn more about New York Festivals International Radio Awards, visit: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/radio/