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18 May 2022

Linda Martin and Eurovision legends for charity spectacular

TONY

Hot Country's Hugh O'Brien presents On the right Trax Tribune columnist Anthony Sullivan with an award for his Outstanding Contribution to Country Music at the recent Hot Country TV Awards

Late last year, when it was beginning to look like we had finally reached a point where 'normal service' in the music world could at last resume,  Linda Martin  - one of Ireland's greatest voices and entertainers - had two fabulous concerts lined up for Dublin's Pro Cathedral in December. 

The first of those was a very special Christmas show featuring Celine Byrne, Michael English, Mary Byrne, Red Hurley, Anna Kearney, the Halleluia Gospel Choir, and, of course, Linda herself. The second was a Eurovision special, with Paul Harrington, Charlie McGettigan, and Niamh Kavanagh joining Linda, with Anna Kearney and the Halleluia Gospel Choir also due to perform again. 

As well as being sure of two unforgettable nights, the audience for both shows would have been contributing to two fine charities, both of whom carry out monumental work; Dogs Aid Ireland, and the Peter McVerry Trust. 

Alas, with case numbers on the rise and everybody's health of primary concern to Linda and all involved, the decision to put these shows on hold became an inevitable one. As disappointing as that was at the time, the good news is that the new date for the  Eurovision Voices  show is almost upon us! Linda, Paul, Charlie, Johnny, Dana, and Niamh, joined by Secret Garden, and Anna Kearney and the Halleluia Gospel Choir are all set to light up the night of  Monday, April 25. 

Because this show is such a unique and historic occasion, as well as being in aid of such worthy causes, we wanted to take  this opportunity to remind everyone about it by revisiting our chat of November last with the woman behind it all, the legend and the lady that is...Linda Martin. 

First Published November 2021 

The thrill of watching  Linda Martin  win the Eurovision for Ireland when singing Johnny Logan's brilliant  Why Me?  is a memory that will never leave me. Nor will hearing it ever fail to stir those same emotions of excitement and pride that I felt bursting in my heart as I watched  Linda  cast her spell over a continent back in 1992. Hearing her perform  Why Me?  in person in the Tullamore Court Hotel a couple of years ago was just like travelling back in time. I wasn't a sixteen year old sitting at home in the kitchen in Lusmagh anymore, but I might as well have been.  Music  is magical, and songs like  Why Me?,  performed by artists like  Linda  prove why that's true. 

Little did I know way back then, of course, that one day I'd have the pleasure of working on a project with the very lady who won the first of Ireland's famous three-in-a-row, leading the way for Niamh Kavanagh who took the crown in 1993 with  In Your Eyes  from the pen of Jimmy Walsh, before Charlie McGettigan and Paul Harrington gave us the hat-trick with Brendan Graham's  Rock 'n' Roll Kids  in 1994. But, that pleasure did indeed come my way. And just last week, it was my privilege to sit down for another chat with  Linda. 

We'd been meaning to get around to this for a while now, and with  Linda  having two spectacular concerts coming up in Dublin's Pro Cathedral next month, what better time to finally make it happen?! 

"I'm grand, back to work again",  revealed  Linda, as our chat got underway.  "I had a year and a half off like everybody else. What can you do? You just get on with your life. But it's been so difficult for everybody. I mean, looking back on it, I can't believe that for a year and a half there wasn't any gigging, or meeting musicians, or setting keys for songs, or doing something. It's just incredible."

One of the charities  Linda  will be helping to raise funds for is the Dog and Animal Sanctuary, and animals - dogs in particular - are and have always been a hugely important part of her life. In fact,  Linda  has twelve - that's twelve - rescue dogs living with her. I wondered was there a moment, or perhaps a combination of certain moments in her life, that her love of dogs grew from? 

"Ah yeah, it's twelve. But listen, for this house, that's quite a small number. Trust me. Trust me! I remember one Christmas many years ago, there were twenty-four dogs in this house. I couldn't walk across the kitchen [laughs]. But sure I don't care, I love them! My father's family were the same, they always had animals, always. So it comes from that side. When I was a child, I didn't actually play with dolls and prams and things like that, it was always a dog. And I was always allowed to have dogs as a child. But my mam, she used to say to me, she never had to worry if I was lost, she just had to look for a tail wagging somewhere and she knew i'd be beside it. So it's just in my heart. I just adore them." 

Eurovision is the theme of one of  Linda's concert nights, and no-one in this country is more connected to Ireland's Eurovision history than  Linda. Not only did she win it in 1992 with  Why Me?, she also came second in the contest in 1984 singing  Terminal 3, and has been a National Song Contest entrant nine times, a number that is - to the best of my knowledge - still a record. But in recent years...ok, decades at this stage, sadly... Ireland has badly lost its way in the Eurovision. There's a Late Late Show Eurosong special coming up again soon, something which doesn't fill me any hope because this is an event that deserves and warrants its own stand-alone show, not simply being tagged as another Late Late Show special, or indeed, having anything to do with The Late Late Show. How would  Linda  go about putting us back on the right path again? 

"Well, exactly what you said. I'd make a special night of it. It could be in one of the studios in Dublin, but you could make it special [for the night], or else you could go to one of the theatres in Dublin and make money out of it. I truly believe that you'd be able to sell tickets. It's a competition alright, but you could also have stars from Eurovision [as guest artists], you could bring them in. Think of Brotherhood of Man, for instance, they could be brought in. You would obviously go for the Irish winners, but you could go outside the box as well. Different countries that have won, RTE could approach them and just ask how they would feel about taking part in a show like that. It could be anybody. I think that would be a huge success, and it would make it something special again. When we don't make it special, then the public tends to dismiss it. And Terry Wogan, God rest him, he was the worst! Jesus, the things he used to say about it [laughs]. But at the same time, he loved it. Graham Norton absolutely adores it. And I just think if we made this something special, whether we made the competition a stand-alone event, or really started trying to change the public's opinion of it, because when you think about it on a base level, you're providing work for an awful lot of people. Songwriters. The studios where the songs are recorded. Employees involved in putting the show together. There's so much work in it that people would benefit from. People shouldn't dismiss it, but think of it as a platform. If you can get your voice out in Europe in front of four-hundred-million people, that's a platform for you! I just think we have to make something special of it. And we also have to take into consideration the days when we were all performing in cabarets, discos, variety shows on RTE and in the theatres, people got to know you, and you got your experience. So by the time that you had a few years under your belt, RTE would have heard about you, and you could put your name in the hat, and they would say well this song would suit X, Y, or Z."

Linda  continued, "Now I'm well aware that those situations don't exist anymore. But, it's not a contest for beginners. There's no point unless you've got experience, are used to crowds, and dealing with people, don't touch it. Seriously. If you think of last year's Eurovision, and the amazing acts, all of those acts were brilliant. And I'm thinking of the women in particular. They were beautiful, dressed immaculately, smiling, dancing, singing, and they looked as if they owned the stage. And that only comes from experience. That applies to the boys as well. I remember suggesting to RTE one time, why didn't they go around the karaoke competitions in Ireland. And they looked at me as if I'd just grown two heads! But it's the only way these days that you'll actually see and hear somebody. But I don't know what we are going to do, because we can't compete monetarily, or with some club-beat song, it doesn't work for us. The Europeans have that nailed down. You know what their tracks and everything sounds like. We've always won with the big ballad. And I think we have to stick to that. Don't try to compete with the other ones." 

So, what  Linda  is really saying, if I'm correct, is that it all comes down to the song still? Or at least it should all come down to the  song? 

"Yeah. Yeah. It really does. The song should be the most important thing. But it means nothing if you haven't got a package around it. There has to be a 'look.' There has to be good vocals. They have to be camera-friendly. It's a complete package that's needed. And it's very, very difficult to get that." 

It's funny that  Linda  mentioned her karaoke idea to RTE all those years ago, because with their latest show -  Last Singer Standing  - well, it's basically just karaoke and nothing more. When it comes to TV shows like this, of course,  Linda  has been there, done that, and went home with the tee-shirt as well, as they say. She worked with Louis on  The X-Factor, and she played a major role on  You're A Star, so she knows what these shows are like. But in terms of something like  Last Singer Standing, and indeed, the recent mess that was Virgin Media One's  The Big Deal  (definitely not a big deal!), what were thoughts? 

"I have to give kudos to people who are actually trying to bring things forward. From what I've seen, there wasn't anybody that sort of stood out and made me say oh Jesus Christ, you've got to sign that guy or that girl, you know. I did notice the winner of the first week of Last Singer Standing, a guy called Alex King, I remember Alex when he auditioned for Louis's bands and things like that. And he's a fine singer alright. But trying to get a record deal [now], it sounds to me like you need to have millions of followers on Facebook, then the record companies take notice, then possibly they'll sign you to something. But there's no money involved anymore. There isn't. In days gone by you might have got €100,000 up front. That doesn't happen anymore. Unless you're Lady Gaga or somebody like that, that's a different thing altogether. But no, I have seen anybody standing out. And Louis Walsh watches these things like a hawk. And nothing has come to his mind either. But he is putting some sort of a new act together. He's looking for 'something', or 'somebody', or maybe a group, or people that he can put in a group, sixteen to twenty-one years old. He's going to do something, he just doesn't know what. The way he feels about it is when he sees it, he'll know. And then he'll push with a record company. But like I said, it's very, very, very difficult." 

Is it so difficult now because so many people try to just copy what's already out there, rather than trying to be themselves and stand out as an individual? 

"There's some unique people alright [that stand out]. Dua Lipa, I think she's fantastic. There's some around. But I don't know if copying is the right word because you fall into that trap anyway without realising it. Somebody could sit down and start writing a song and then realise it sounds like Elton John, but listen, that's just the way it goes.  Music  selling, of course, has been destroyed because of Spotify and all of those things. Songwriters are making nothing because of that. It's so easy to go online, listen to a song or listen to an album, and if you don't like it, you don't buy it. In the old days, you had to buy the album to listen to the one song. We're caught in that trap as well." 

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