This much I know Steve Cooney

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Upfront - In con­ver­sa­tion with Hi­lary Fen­nell

I hate be­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. I don’t like do­ing gigs. I’m only there un­der suf­fer­ance. I pre­fer be­ing in the stu­dio.

Grow­ing up in Aus­tralia, mu­sic was al­ways in my fam­ily. I was the youngest of five, brought up in a very reli­gious house­hold with a lot of hymn singing. When I was 16, I was lis­ten­ing to The Bea­tles and songs with the sen­ti­ments of ‘All You Need Is Love’. I left school and be­came a mu­si­cian and started teach­ing mu­sic. If I’d stayed on in school I’d have been con­scripted into the Viet­nam War. I wound up in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory and was ini­ti­ated into an Abo­rig­i­nal tribe. It was a com­pletely ego shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. All the lessons I have learned about gen­eros­ity and how to be a de­cent hu­man be­ing I learned from them.

I moved to Ire­land in the late 1970s. My big­gest chal­lenge in life has been sur­vival – deal­ing with the ma­te­rial re­al­i­ties such as pay­ing the mort­gage. One of the most hurt­ful things peo­ple say to me is ‘Oh, you must have your money made by now’. I find that cruel. They see you on tele­vi­sion and pre­sume you are mak­ing loads of money which is not the case.

I think con­fi­dence is as im­por­tant as tal­ent in the mu­sic busi­ness. Sadly I of­ten see very tal­ented peo­ple who are lack­ing in con­fi­dence and the abil­ity to per­form, be­ing out­shone by less tal­ented peo­ple with a brass neck and the con­fi­dence to de­liver a per­for­mance to an au­di­ence.

The traits I most ad­mire in oth­ers are sen­si­tiv­ity, gen­tle­ness and pa­tience.

If I could change one thing in our so­ci­ety I’d like to see a re­ally pow­er­ful tra­di­tional mu­si­cian’s union help­ing to fight the big record and tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies. And on a cul­tural level I’d like to see Ir­ish peo­ple hav­ing more of an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for their own her­itage. We should be proud of speak­ing Ir­ish, rather than call­ing it a dy­ing lan­guage. The mu­sic comes from the lan­guage. I spent 12 years in the Kerry Gaeltacht and my re­gret is that I haven’t be­come flu­ent. Yet.

I have de­signed a new no­ta­tion sys­tem for teach­ing mu­sic to chil­dren. The cur­rent sys­tem is too dif­fi­cult for many peo­ple. I’m six months away from com­plet­ing a PhD on the sub­ject. My method will help chil­dren with spe­cial needs. The thing that ir­ri­tates me most about other peo­ple is scorn­ful­ness. My big­gest fault is pro­cras­ti­na­tion.

I have learned to be dis­ci­plined with my time. When­ever I’m per­form­ing, I work back­wards from the sound-check time and add on an hour to fig­ure out when I have to be ready.

I don’t be­lieve in fate as such. The Abo­rig­ines re­duce it to a sim­pler con­cept of syn­chronic­ity. And I don’t think in terms of there be­ing a dis­tinct after life, I be­lieve that the jour­ney sim­ply goes on.

I’m in the process of mak­ing a new record of old Ir­ish mu­sic for solo gui­tar. Martin Hayes chal­lenged me to do it and it is prov­ing to be a good chal­lenge.

I’ve been liv­ing in Done­gal near Slieve League since 2002 and I love the iso­la­tion. When­ever I get back from a Euro­pean tour or big fes­ti­val crowds and a lot of ego pan­der­ing, I stand on the cliffs and re­alise how in­signif­i­cant I am. I am cur­rently sin­gle. I have a 14 year old son.

So far life has taught me to seize the day and that you’ve got to be a lit­tle bit ruth­less to sur­vive in this in­dus­try. I’ve learnt that it doesn’t al­ways pay to be Mr Nice Guy. When­ever you do that, it in­evitably ends up go­ing wrong. Op­por­tu­ni­ties are fleet­ing. If you don’t grab them– bang! They’re gone. I re­gret that in the past I may have been too shy or too bash­ful to step up to the plate and grab cer­tain things.

Steve Cooney will be ap­pear­ing at the 15th Mas­ters of Tra­di­tion in Bantry, West Cork, from Au­gust 23-27. He will be play­ing along­side Mick O’Brien, Caoimhín Ó Raghal­laigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird and Mícheál Ó Súil­leab­háin on Fri­day, Au­gust 23 in Bantry House. www.west­cork­mu­sic.ie; 027 52788

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