Louis is on song

As they lim­ber up to rep­re­sent Ire­land at the Euro­vi­sion, pop mogul Louis Walsh tells us why the con­test will be the be­gin­ning of a solo ca­reer for singer Bren­dan Mur­ray

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS -

For years, we en­joyed an easy reign at the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test, cruis­ing to vic­tory a mam­moth seven times (in­clud­ing a three-year streak in the 1990s). We ap­peared so in­sur­mount­able, in fact, that the on­go­ing joke was that we would need to start send­ing be­low­par en­tries be­cause we wouldn’t af­ford to host the megabucks con­test.

Since then, how­ever, our Euro­vi­sion for­tunes have waned. We fin­ished last in 2007 and 2013, and since the in­tro­duc­tion of the semi-fi­nal round in 2004, Ire­land has failed to reach the fi­nal six times (in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2016). In fact, last year – with for­merWestlifer Nicky Byrne fly­ing the Tri­color in Stock­holm – marked the first time that Ire­land failed to qual­ify in three con­sec­u­tive years.

And when it came to break­ing that los­ing streak, RTÉ (who pick and send our en­tries) de­cided to bring in the mu­sic big guns.

Louis Walsh has had a long history with the Euro­vi­sion. As for­mer man­ager of dou­ble win­ner Johnny Lo­gan and long-time friend of 1992 win­ner Linda Martin, he has been to more than a dozen com­pe­ti­tions as an in­sider. It’s safe to say, too, that The X Fac­tor judge knows a thing or two about pop mu­sic, so it’s lit­tle won­der that Michael Kealy, head of the Ir­ish del­e­ga­tion, came knock­ing on his door.

But a lot has hap­pened in the years since Johnny Lo­gan’s glory days at the Euro­vi­sion and Louis is now part of the big­gest pop jug­ger­naut on TV, for a start, so why dip his toes back in the murky waters of Euro­vi­sion?

‘Be­cause Michael asked me to!’ says Louis. ‘He’s in charge and for the first time in a long time, RTÉ know what they want and what they’re do­ing, so we have to take it se­ri­ously. We need to stand out, and when [Michael] asked me, he told me we can’t just get any singer, or any song.’ And Louis didn’t have to look too far for his se­cret weapon. Bren­dan Mur­ray, a mem­ber of Louis’ on-hia­tus boy­band Home­town, was the artist that he picked for this year’s com­pe­ti­tion. ‘He’s got the most amaz­ing voice, with a great range,’ Louis en­thuses. ‘The sec­ond you hear it, you know it’s Bren­dan. Best of all, he doesn’t know he’s that good, and he’s the only per­son I thought of for Euro­vi­sion. Where is he go­ing to score big? On the live show. Why? Be­cause he can sing live.’

All told, the 20-year-old Gal­we­gian is like­able and whole­some. He first picked up a gui­tar at 13 and was busk­ing on Gal­way’s Shop Street for pocket money the fol­low­ing year. A cousin alerted Bren­dan in 2013 that Walsh was putting a boy­band to­gether. ‘I wasn’t even go­ing to go to the au­di­tions, be­cause I was stuck in bed with a sore throat. But I’m glad I did,’ says Bren­dan.

He has scant rec­ol­lec­tion of Ire­land’s Euro­vi­sion hey­day. ‘My ear­li­est mem­ory was of Mickey Joe Harte,’ he says. ‘I caught up on all the other stuff when I was picked [to rep­re­sent Ire­land].’

‘I was on [RTÉ’s] You’re A Star back then!’ Louis adds. ‘Oh God, don’t re­mind me!’

That was job done on se­cur­ing a singer. The next big box to tick on the list was to find a core-shaker of a song. Louis pulled out his hefty black book of pop con­tacts and scoured the far reaches of the in­dus­try. Even­tu­ally, Louis ac­quired 300 songs. An RTÉ panel lis­tened to all 300, then whit­tled it down to 10, and pre­sented Louis and Bren­dan with the short­list. Of the 300 songs, many were de­liv­ered from some of the world’s big­gest song­writ­ers (Louis won’t say whom). The pair even­tu­ally set­tled on a bal­lad, Dy­ing To Try, by Swedish song­writer Jör­gen Elof­s­son and Bri­tish song­writer James New­man. Elof­s­son in par­tic­u­lar has a stel­lar pedi­gree: a Grammy-win­ning pro­ducer, he has worked with Kelly Clark­son, Brit­ney Spears, Jen­nifer Lopez, Ce­line Dion and, of course, Westlife.

‘I called him up as I know him from years

‘Years ago, you could live off the Euro­vi­sion’

ago… even though he’s Swedish, he’s never been in­volved in the Euro­vi­sion,’ says Louis.

Bren­dan is de­lighted with the song choice. ‘I ab­so­lutely love it, from the in­stant I heard it,’ he says. ‘My mam welled up when she heard it too.’

A num­ber of Ir­ish song­writ­ers and pro­duc­ers were ap­proached, but none ap­peared to make the grade.

‘It’s not a hip or trendy thing in Ire­land, Euro­vi­sion, and I rang a lot of peo­ple who didn’t want to get in­volved in it,’ re­calls Louis. ‘Some Euro­vi­sion fans wrote songs too, but what’s not the way it works. You need the pro­fes­sion­als.

‘We won be­fore with bal­lads with a key change. It’s about get­ting the right mix of things. You need to ap­peal to the house­wives in Nor­way.’

Does he think the likes of Lo­gan’s Hold Me Now or What’s An­other Year? would be a hit with to­day’s Euro­vi­sion fans?

‘Ab­so­lutely,” he af­firms. ‘They’ll al­ways stand up. They still end up on the ra­dio.’

It had been re­ported that Louis had reached out to his for­mer charge, pub­licly say­ing that he would have loved Johnny to pen Ire­land’s 2017 entry.

‘I never asked him about writ­ing a song,’ coun­ters Louis. ‘I think he’s done it, he’s a part of history and he wouldn’t want to go back to Euro­vi­sion with­out win­ning it. We’re still good friends, I like him and we get on, but I didn’t ask him.’

Ahead of the Euro­vi­sion con­test in Kiev, Ukraine, both Bren­dan and Louis are ex­cited, but they have tem­pered their ex­pec­ta­tions, not least given that Italy and Bel­gium are the favourites to romp home to vic­tory: ‘I think we’ve a great chance, but I don’t think we’re go­ing to win – I’ll say that now,’ says Louis.

‘Be­cause of all the pol­i­tics. You’ve al­ways got these coun­tries from Eastern Europe and they all vote for each other, and all take it very, very se­ri­ously. They send their best singers and song­writ­ers, peo­ple we’ll never have heard of, whereas in the last few, we’ve kind of just… sent a singer. You have to be se­ri­ous about it. Why don’t we qual­ify [for the fi­nal] for a change? I mean, that would be progress.’

Of course, the Ir­ish pub­lic are rarely kind when the Ir­ish entry doesn’t fare well: the glo­ries from years past still cast a long shadow, and there is gen­uine dis­ap­point­ment among some fans. Last year’s entry, Nicky Byrne was slated on­line after fail­ing to make it to the semi-fi­nal. How does Bren­dan think he might take all of that?

‘I haven’t thought about it,’ he states, not es­pe­cially con­vinc­ingly. ‘I think my main fo­cus is look­ing after my nerves on the night and, who knows, it might open a few doors af­ter­wards.’

In­deed, Louis and Bren­dan very much have their eye on the long game. Cit­ing artists whose ca­reers he ad­mires, Bren­dan men­tions Ed Sheeran, James May and Sam Smith. And for both of them, it’s clearly what hap­pens after Euro­vi­sion that is of more sig­nif­i­cance. ‘I want him to get a record deal,’ says Louis, who is man­ag­ing Bren­dan’s whole ca­reer. ‘This is the start of peo­ple know­ing who he is, and he’s learn­ing the game. Years ago, if you were in the Euro­vi­sion you could live off it for the year – you got the gigs, a hit record, and the record com­pany took you on. It meant some­thing then.’

As to whether Louis would ever en­cour­age Bren­dan to take a punt on The X Fac­tor, he is cir­cum­spect, and per­haps with good rea­son: in 2014, Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent bosses had to deny that Home­town were fast-tracked through the show’s au­di­tion process. ‘He can do what­ever he wants,’ he says. ‘I won’t push him into do­ing any­thing he wants.’

What­ever hap­pens next, Louis is adamant that the Euro­vi­sion, come what may, will land Bren­dan firmly on the map as a solo singer.

‘I don’t want him to overdo it [at Euro­vi­sion]… I want him to show peo­ple he can sing well and play gui­tar. Once that’s in the bag, you don’t need the silly dancers and the gim­micks.’

‘You need to get the house­wives in Nor­way to like it ’

Eur a star: Louis Walsh chose Bren­dan Mur­ray to sing this year’s Ir­ish entry for the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test in Kiev

Home boys: Bren­dan Mur­ray (sec­ond from left) with his band­mates from Home­town

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