This much I know Steve Cooney
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