A River of Music Runs Through Her
PLUS Biography (Courtesy of Daisy Discs, 2005)
Sharon Shannon has a tip for all those people out there who ever went home feeling miserable for having failed to pluck up the courage to ask the object of their desire to dance.
Go to County Clare. Find a ceili and wait for the band to strike up the Haymakers Jig. "Everybody lines up in fours," Shannon explains. "You dance with the person opposite, then you move on to next couple and eventually you get to dance with everyone in the hall. So if you fancy someone, you know you'll get to dance with them sooner or later."
Shannon learned this strategy at the age of fourteen, she says. It comes as something of a surprise to hear her talking about being on the dance floor because the way her music teacher tells it, she was usually too busy playing music to have time to dance to it.
"I used to borrow a horse-box from Sharon's father," says Frank Custy, a musical legend around the Shannon homeland in North Clare. "And every time I phoned the house, this kid was playing the accordion in the background. It didn't matter if it was nine in the morning or nine at night, that accordion would be going."
Shannon was just ten when Custy first heard her play, but right from the start, he says, she had the golden touch. P J Curtis agrees. A record producer whose dozens of credits include albums by Mary Black, Dolores Keane and Altan, Curtis recalls hearing Shannon in a crowded session where she shone through "like a beacon of light through an Atlantic fog."
By this time Shannon was eighteen, now playing fiddle and tin whistle as well as accordion, and was, unbeknownst to her, about to take off on a career that has seen her play for Bill Clinton in the White House and for Lech Walesa in Warsaw's Royal Palace and accompany Irish President Mary McAleese on an Australian tour.
It was the Waterboys who took Shannon away from playing sessions, village dances and pub gigs and transported her on to the international stage. Mike Scott and the team were recording their Fisherman's Blues album in Spiddal when fiddler Steve Wickham introduced Shannon into their late-night impromptu sessions. Scott was so impressed that he invited Shannon to join for one gig - Glastonbury Festival. She stayed on for eighteen months.
"I'd been playing this pub in Galway and suddenly we were doing these huge gigs," recalls Shannon. "The whole thing was just amazing. We were in Spain and Portugal and it was like The Beatles or something, thousands of people trying to pull us out of the van. It was such a big culture shock but I really enjoyed it."
Back in Ireland, having acquired a manager and host of admirers including Adam Clayton of U2 and Liam O Maonlaigh of Hothouse Flowers, Shannon set about finishing the solo album she'd started before going off with the Waterboys.
Having also acquired a whole lot of tunes in her travels and a different musical perspective, however, she scrapped it and started again. Clayton, O Maonlaigh, sundry Waterboys and Shannon's future 'boss' and partner Donal Lunny lent a hand and, in 1991, 'Sharon Shannon' was unleashed on a receptive audience. It went platinum in Ireland and led to Shannon featuring on the A Woman's Heart album, the phenomenally successful compilation of leading Irish female artists, and its subsequent tour.
With Shannon's nimble fingers ripping through Portuguese, Cajun and French-Canadian pieces as well as Irish reels, her first solo album also gave notice of a philosophy that says a good tune's a good tune, no matter where it comes from, an openness that has seen Shannon go on to adapt songs by Grace Jones and Fleetwood Mac and record half an album, Out the Gap, with reggae master Denis Bovell, in 1994.
"I've always liked to listen to melodies and if I like a tune, I'll play it," she says. "It never mattered to me where it came from, if it was Irish or whatever. I suppose 99% of what I heard at home was traditional music in some shape or form. But I listened to other stuff. Lots of obscure American bands, country music and bits and pieces of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor and Bob Marley - stuff like that.
"When we did Out the Gap, I had no plan at all. We'd been doing the tune Mighty Sparrow on gigs in a reggae style, so we thought, Okay, we'll get started with that. Then we thought we should get a real reggae man to do it with us, otherwise it might end up sounding real Mickey Mouse. For all we knew, working with Denis could have been a total disaster. But as soon as we met him and his band we knew it would work. We went into the studio and had an amazing time."
More recently Shannon has been a regular contributor to Donal Lunny's various projects, including the star-studded Common Ground album and his superb Coolfin band, as well as maintaining a hectic touring schedule with her own band. She has also 'done a Chieftains' - recording her 2000 release The Diamond Mountain Sessions CD with an array of guests straight out of Paddy Moloney's phone book including Galician piper Carlos Nunez, singer-songwriters Jackson Browne, Steve Earle and John Prine.
She still gets back to Clare for a tune as often as possible and despite hanging out with presidents and rubbing shoulders with big names such as Bono, Mark Knopfler and Kate Bush in recording studios, she remains very much a traditional musician at heart.
"I don't worry about the future," she says. "Because I'll always have music whatever happens. I'm having a great time but if this big stuff doesn't happen anymore, I'll still have the little stuff I had before and that's brilliant too."
� 2001 Rob Adams
Biography (Courtesy of The Daisy Label, 2005).
Sharon Shannon comes from Clare on the West coast of Ireland, an area historically steeped in music. She began playing music as a young child and while still in her teens was asked by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Field) to provide the music for his stage production of Behan�s The Hostage. She began her solo recording career in l989. Waterboy�s producer John Dunford gathered together a wide variety of musicians including Donal Lunny, Philip King, Mary Custy, U2s Adam Clayton, Steve Wickham, and Mike Scott. Shortly after this Mike asked Sharon to join him in The Waterboys. This collaboration also involved her featuring in their �Room to Roam� album.
By l99l Sharon had completed her own album, which included tracks from Stephen Cooney, Trevor Hutchinson and Hot House Flowers� Liam O�Maonlai. This album, a stunning cocktail of Portuguese, Cajun, Swedish, Scottish and French-Canadian influences rapidly secured a place in the history books by becoming the most successful Irish traditional music album ever released. Hailed as the �traditional album of the nineties� it was also described by New Musical Express as a crossover record which �was creative, deft and lovely�.
The inclusion of two of Sharon�s tracks on the all female compilation �A WOMANS HEART� which sold a staggering 500,000 copies, increased Sharon�s profile but it was The Late Late Show tribute to Sharon which included all the guests from her debut album that made Sharon Shannon a household name. Viewed by over one million people this show firmly established Sharon as one of Ireland's leading musicians.
The release of her second album �Out the Gap� broke further musical boundaries, reflecting the many musical influences which she has absorbed, and although maintaining her own unique style she has expanded her musical versatility by teaming up with veteran reggae artiste and producer Denis Bovell. Recorded almost exclusively in Brixton, London, it featuring a Jamaican rhythm section and a collection of Irish and English musicians including the great Richie Buckley on saxophone. The lead track called �The Mighty Sparrow� (in honour of the diminutive Caribbean singer) was a favourite with Irish radio.
In l996 Sharon was amongst a host of international musicians, Bono and Adam Clayton, Elvis Costello, Neill and Tim Finn, Mark Knopfler, Kate Bush, Liam O�Maonlai, Brian Kennedy, Christy Moore and Sinead O�Connor to appear on the EMI album �Common Ground�. During that summer she returned to the studio to record her own album which, amongst other guest musicians, features a collaboration with Kirsty McColl on a Grace Jones song. �Each Little Thing�, which is her third album, was released in February l997. A dance remix of a track called �The Bag of Cats� released as a single stayed in the Irish top 20 pop charts for six weeks.
Her fourth album titled �Spellbound� was released in September 1998. This compilation featured new material, live tracks and tracks taken from her previous albums. During the same year, Sharon was asked by classical violinist Nigel Kennedy to join a combo of musicians to perform his �Jimi Hendrix Suite�. They performed this work in some of the major European cities. Over the past few years Sharon has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe, also visiting Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong and Japan. Her increasing popularity in the U.K. has brought her music to an ever-growing audience. She has played for Irish President Mary Robinson, for Lech Walesa in Warsaw and for President Clinton in the White House. Sharon also accompanied President Mary McAleese on her Australian State visit.
On the live front, Sharon has toured extensively - Japan, the US and the UK. In July 1999 she played with Coolfin around Ireland as part of their warm up tour for a show with the Kodo Drummers from Japan which took place in the RDS, Dublin. She has also guested on the band�s album �Coolfin�. Sharon�s groundbreaking album, the �Diamond Mountain Sessions� released in Autumn 2000 took her in a very different direction. Her own accordion and fiddle playing was as full of virtuosity as ever but this time she was accompanied by stirring vocal performances from the likes of Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, John Prine and Dessie O�Halloran from the island of Inishbofin off the Galway coast.
The album went triple platinum in Ireland and was widely critically acclaimed. Sharon and her band -The Woodchoppers - toured for a year worldwide and it was a recording of the band�s performance in Galway that gave Sharon her next album. Released in December 2001 on Sharon own Daisy label LIVE IN GALWAY captures Sharon and the Woodchoppers in rare form. �Live in Galway�, release date January 2002, features tracks from all Sharon�s former albums as well as two previously unreleased tracks. Sharon is joined on the album by her touring band �The Woodchoppers�. The album was recorded live in Galway in May 2001 and is a great reflection of Sharon�s talent with a unique live feel. In 2002 Sharon takes to the road with a scaled-down band comprised of guitarist Jim Murray, Mary Shannon on banjo and mandolin and introducing newcomer Pauline Scanlon on vocals.
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