[Interview] Exclusive interview with Alison O’Donnell

Dear readers, we have the honour and pleasure to present in this article an interview with an Irish artist active from the 1960s to the present day between Progressive Rock and Folk. We welcome Alison O’Donnell.

Hello, how are you?

I am currently a busy woman. I was recently the recipient of a basic income for the arts from the Irish Department of Culture, a three-year pilot scheme. Of 2000 people awarded across the arts, 584 musicians were successful. I am part of an ensemble to perform the music from the 1973 film The Wicker Man in a show entitled ‘Music From Summerisle’ at the Barbican in London in June. I will also be showcasing songs from my 2022 solo album, ‘Hark The Voice That Sings For All’ at the Leigh-on-Sea Free Folk Festival and a set with United Bible Studies on the same day. I regularly participate in singers’ clubs and on Zoom, and I also run a weekly session at The Wishing Well in Dublin. I have contributed to albums by Mark Mortimer and Colin Harper this year and continue with interviews for my recent solo album, which was released on CD in 2022 and on vinyl in 2023..

Your artistic career started very early when you were still a child, how did your passion for music start?

At the convent school which I attended, I met Clodagh Simonds. We shared a desire to create music together from the age of 11. It was a natural process. She was taking music lessons and we were both listening to a lot of 60s British pop and American soul music.

Also at a young age you co-founded the band Mellow Candle, how did the project come about?

Together with Clodagh and Maria White, the three of us practised singing with percussion and Clodagh on piano on a daily basis. After a few years we started to incorporate original songs and performed in a few concerts. At the age of 15 we recorded a single in London and at 17 with several male musicians added to the line-up, we recorded our album ‘Swaddling Songs.

A mixture of Prog and Folk Rock, how would you describe the band’s sound?

The vocal harmonies stand out at the forefront of our music. They were created in a spirit of originality. The album stands the test of time as as influence on the next generation of musicians. Prog and folk rock fans hold ‘Swaddling Songs’ in high esteem.

With the band you played in the golden age of Rock music, what memories do you have of those magical years?

The late 60s/early 70s were an extremely fertile time for the genre of music which we created and performed. In Dublin many like-minded musicians were hanging out together discussing ideas and jamming together. We all worked very hard at our craft and were extremely serious about our intentions to put the best of ourselves out in the public domain.

You have subsequently collaborated with many artists as well as recorded some solo albums, how would you describe these experiences?

I have remained true to my roots of originality. I have made 4 solo albums, with all songs written by me. I am frequently asked to contribute to other musicians’ work, which I usually accept, as long as it is interesting. I have also recorded with a number of bands over the years, namely Flibbertigibbet, Plastik Mak, Earthlings, Ouda, Éishtlinn, The Owl Service, Head South By Weaving, as well as 15 years or recording and live performances with United Bible Studies. I enjoy experimenting and improvising across a number of genres, which can be very fulfilling. That kind of work is often more stimulating than merely singing backing vocals on someone’s else’s record, although I do like the precision involved in harmonising for back-ups on
another artist’s song. I always strive to be professional when other musicians ask me to contribute to their output. I have a good work ethic dating back many years so both structured and spontaneous work piques my interest.

You have remained attached to Folk sounds, exploring both the Psychedelic and the more traditional sides, how has your style evolved over your long career?

When I discovered in my early 20s that many of my maternal ancestors were highly regarded in military music, I also found out that they had come from a background of traditional Irish music in Galway in the 1850s and 60s. It seemed logicical therefore, that I should follow that path more closely. There are psychedelic elements throughout much of my work over the years, which fits well together with a more traditional folk stance. In recent years I have explored traditional songs and writing in the traditional idiom much more deeply.

Your repertoire is very broad, will there be a chance to hear your music live in the near future?

I am doing several live concerts in England this year and I’m out and about at singing sessions in Dublin every week.

Given your long career and experience, what advice would you give to young artists who decide to offer more sophisticated sounds like yours?

Well one has to work at it – practise, hone one’s craft, do the research, and love it with all your heart. Technical improvement and stagecraft are aspects I continue to pursue. Take useful advice from older artists if offered in good spirit.

Do you have any projects in the pipeline for the future, such as an album planned?

I am always looking to the next album. Five or six years ago I had five main projects. I have completed them all, so I have some thinking to do in a few months. I need to get back to writing more. An album about Scottish and Irish birds through mythology with Gayle Brogan will hopefully see the light of day later this year.

Do you have any other activity or artistic passion outside music?

I enjoy good drama but music is my overriding passion.

The last question, as usual, I leave it free to talk about any topic not covered in the previous ones.

I realise that listeners are still discovering Mellow Candle and that is great but I have a lot of more recent music in my back catalogue. I would be delighted if people would consider exploring some of those recordings.

I thank Alison for taking the time to talk to us and for the opportunity of this interview, wishing her all the best for the continuation of her artistic career.

Alison O’Donnell |Official Website|Bandcamp|Facebook Page|Twitter|Instagram|Spotify|YouTube Channel|

Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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