RISING STAR: Maranna McCloskey

The traditional singer releases her critically acclaimed debut album. Click Play Audio to listen to the track 'Going to Mass Last Sunday'

How did you enter the music bizz - were you always interested in music?
I have always been interested in music and dance. From the age of seven I was singing at Fleadh competitions and when I studied music at secondary school I began to embrace many styles in addition to folk.

At 19, I was very fortunate to be invited to perform with Oige in their Celtic Connections gig after (my predecessor) Cara Dillon had decided to pursue her singing career with Equation. I then recorded an album with Oige called Bang On and toured Europe and the UK to promote it. It was great fun and since then I’ve enjoyed every opportunity to sing at festivals locally and further afield.

You took over from Cara Dillon in Ogie - pretty big shoes to fill. How did you establish yourself within the act?
Indeed, Cara Dillon was a hard act to follow. Cara is a soprano and I am an alto and while we grew up singing the same songs we still established our own distinctive styles. It also helped that I knew the other three members of Oige before I started singing with them, as we are all from Dungiven. We had a super time arranging and performing new songs for our album, Bang On and I really cherish my memories of working and touring with them.

You've released your debut album, At Last. Was it a long time in the making, as the title suggests?At Last
Yes! I released a four track EP in 2002 with the intention of recording a full album immediately after. Seven years later, and the full album is complete, so I thought it was appropriate to entitle it At Last; supported by the fact that the last track on the album is also called ‘At Last’.

One of the reasons for the delay was my determination to fund the album myself and this was possible after selling my house just a couple of years ago. I know that selling my house to fund the album sounds like a huge risk to take but I am very passionate about singing and I have no regrets about taking the chance.

With albums come touring opportunities and this August I have been invited to America’s largest Irish Fest in Milwaukee. I am so grateful for the chance to perform in America as audiences there show huge appreciation for traditional music.

It seems that a lot of NI acts record in America. You recorded your album in Avoca Studios in San Diego - how did you find the experience?
Hard, hard work. There were many reasons for recording in America. Avoca Studios is owned by producer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Baynes. We had previously met and performed together at a Celtic Celebration concert in San Diego’s Copley Hall and after discussing my ideas for recording a full album we later agreed to record at his studio. I took four weeks annual leave from my work at University of Ulster, Coleraine and travelled to San Diego to lay down the tracks.

I never imagined it would be such hard work, but I was very particular about how I wanted it to sound so maybe that contributed to the difficulties I encountered. One great thing about travelling thousands of miles to record the album was that I was able to focus 100% on the project without any distractions from my normal daily routine at home. It meant the time in the studio was spent very efficiently and I imagine this helped the project to be completed more quickly.

How would you describe the album, and your own sound?
At Last is fundamentally traditional in style with six of the tracks sourced from the large pot of traditional material out there. The four remaining tracks are self-compositions but still have a very folky sound. ‘Our Last Embrace’ is definitely more contemporary in feel, suitably arranged for the lyrics. Clearly, the choice of material is a reflection of what I have been doing for years, singing traditional songs.

How have your Dungiven/Derry roots influenced your work?
We are surrounded by many wonderful singers in Derry and we feel it is important that both the singers and songs of the area are heard and celebrated. I often attend singing sessions in Dungiven and other towns within Derry and that’s where I pick up new songs, some of which feature on At Last. Also on the album is an air I wrote for the townland I was brought up in, ‘The Cashel Air’ played by Titanic piper Eric Rigler.

Your album has already received the Vocal Album of the Year Award from LiveIreland.com, and good reviews across the board. Can we expect massive riders and Beyonce-like diva antics in the months ahead?
What I love about folk music is that you can just be yourself on stage (http://www.youtube.com/user/bennyram). I am extremely happy with the response to the album, it's wonderful to get such positive feedback.

What are the plans for the months ahead?
I am not signed to a label. The album was self-funded and it was important to me that I had complete control over the material included in the album and the consequent steps I would take to promote and distribute it. I have a busy singing summer ahead and look forward in particular to performing at Celtic Fusion Festival in Castlewellan and Milwaukee’s Irish Festival in August.

We've attached a song from your album above, 'Going to Mass Last Sunday'. What's the song about?
‘Going to Mass Last Sunday’ is the first track on the album. It is a County Antrim song, and the man in the story is broken hearted to learn that the woman he loves (Molly) is not interested in him. He knew by the ‘roving of her eye’! Feeling such despair that Molly could never be his, he left his Ballymoney home for America. It is a great song and very enjoyable to sing and I hope it’s enjoyable to listen to as well.

To buy Maranna McCloskey's ‘At Last’ visit her website at www.marannamccloskey.com.

Lee Henry