The Olympia Theatre, a dressing room near the stage, sometime in 2012. The barely audible tones of Sinead O’Connor’s gig are wafting gently across the room. Spirits are high. Myself and Something Happens are appearing at a multi-band charity gig. It’s just four songs, a great cause and great to catch up. What could go wrong?
The wisdom of going on after Sinead O’Connor had been briefly discussed but at this point it had been five years since her Theology album and apparently she had stopped performing Nothing Compares To You. Mind you I’d seen her singing Scarlet Ribbons accapella a few months previously so I wasn’t completely at ease.
But, we reasoned, she would be quiet and we would be very loud and loud will generally do it. However, as we laughed and sipped beer, the opening strains of her new single The Wolf is Getting Married drifted across the air. We’d all heard it before and really liked it but we hushed each other to listen properly.
We started to share those knowing, concerned, looks that only a band thirty years together can share. “Tune,” said one; “A keeper,” said another. When it ended the audience went into one of those sustained outbursts of love that you think might never end. “As long as she doesn’t do Nothing Compares next we’ll be grand,” we all said, as the beers went flat.
The words, “It’s been seven hours and 15 days”, suddenly pierced the air.
I’d like to say that this is the point at which I woke up, but life isn’t like that. As the panic subsided we did what you should do in these situations, try and surf the other act’s wave. Try and catch the euphoria and play something that at least doesn’t deflate it. To this day my therapist tells me we did well.
I’m happy to say that most of my other encounters with Sinead have not been in the ring, where I am out-boxed, out-reached, out-manoeuvred and out-classed, but in the safer settings of a radio studio. Here I have faders, knobs and red lights to protect me, and here, as you probably know, Sinead is a great guest, funny, honest and mischievous.
But she is above all else a music fan. She will talk to you of new songs with an enthusiasm undiminished by time. She will write down the names of albums you “must hear”, and singers you “must check out”. If you praise a song on her album her eyes will light up in gratitude. “Yeah! Deadly isn’t it?” she might say.
When she talked about the time in her life when she identified as a priest it all made sense. She explained she was just so grateful that this gift of singing came through her and touched the audience, and she felt like a tiny part of it, like a priest saying mass, a servant, facilitating the message. It was pure gratitude.
Anyone who has seen her live will attest to that power. I most recently saw it at Feile ‘19. A rain sodden night in Thurles. She ambled onstage in the dark and the rain, tiny and barefooted. But once she sang it was like all the energy and emotion in the world was channelling through her.
About two songs in she briefly raised her head, smiled and acknowledged the audience. The outpouring of love was instant and overwhelming. Like that moment with Bowie at the Point in 2003, when the audience feels it only has this moment to let that person know what they’ve meant to them their whole lives.
To read her new autobiography is very uplifting. The music business is a savage one. Google the band Badfinger if you want an example of its all-encompassing destruction. It can destroy the toughest of people. What it does to sensitive singer songwriters, well, don’t ask.
Hence to see Sinead, experience its highs and jaw dropping lows, and emerge with her wit, enthusiasm and talent intact is very inspiring. After all she has been through, to have her and that talent still with us at all, seems almost miraculous.
The first time I heard of Sinead, I’d missed her. It was a venue called The Ha’penny Market in Dublin. She played a gig with TonTon Macoute that I missed by minutes. The word in the venue was unanimous. We had missed someone destined to light up the world. And hasn’t she just?