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Friday, May 16, 2008

A Woman's Heart

My interview with Eleanor McEvoy in today's Irish Daily Mail
When the first words you hear on an album are, ‘What a drag it is getting old’, it would be natural to assume the singer has some major issues with the whole ageing process.

Not so with Eleanor McEvoy, despite picking a cover of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ to open her new record Love Must Be Tough.

“I’m loving getting older,” the 41-year-old Dubliner tells me on a day off during her current Irish tour. “I’m genuinely enjoying it. I don’t want to look 18. Don’t get me wrong, I want to look good, but I feel I’ve earned the lines that I have!”

Love Must Be Tough is suffused with that same kind of refreshing, ballsy attitude. Recorded with the backing of The South King Street Band, the record is a jazzy, jaunty re-interpretation of some of McEvoy’s favourite songs and artists, as well as some new material of her own, all shot through with a retro, 1960s feel.

As the album’s title implies, McEvoy looks at love and relationships through the prism of cold, hard experience, but yet, at the same time, never strips the material of its sense of fun and hope.
Furthermore, it will come as little surprise that the feelings and experiences of women take centre stage on Love Must Be Tough – coming as it does from the singer-songwriter who penned the immortal ‘A Woman’s Heart’ (more of that anon).

That the women in question are far from perfect was an added draw for McEvoy. “I liked the idea of these songs being about women who had a past, and who were flawed,” she explains. “I wanted to explore those flaws - too much booze, too many men - in a light hearted way on songs like ‘Mother’s Little Helper’, Nick Lowe’s ‘I Knew The Bride When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and Terry Allen’s ‘Lubbock Woman’.

“These are songs about women that were written and sung by men. I thought it would be fun to interpret and sing them from a female point of view. It kind of changes the whole meaning of the song and I get a kick out of that.”

Love Must Be Tough will yet again stymie any attempts to pigeonhole McEvoy in one particular genre. Her previous six albums – from her self-titled 1993 debut through to the award-winning Out There (2006) – have all experimented with different sounds and styles, and she assures me that album number eight will mark yet another change in direction.

“It’s probably not a great career move,” she laughs. “You’re meant to pick one genre or style and stick with it so you can be put in the same section in the record store every time. I’ve been in folk, rock and pop, Irish, I was even in New Age one time! For me, it’s about what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’d be bored to tears doing the same thing over and over again.”

It was this commitment to keeping her career fresh that caused McEvoy to withdraw from the ‘A Woman’s Heart’ phenomenon – for there is no other word for it - in the mid 1990s.

The song, which she wrote when she was 25, inspired the all-female tour of the same name, and made stars of everyone involved, including McEvoy (who was rhapsodised by publications as varied as Vogue and Playboy), Mary Black, Sharon Shannon and Dolores Keane. What’s more, the Woman’s Heart anthology is the best-selling album in Irish history, with some 700,000 copies sold since 1992.

McEvoy spoke at the time of her conflicted feelings towards that success, but how does she feel now that she has more distance from it? “I feel great about it now,” she admits. “There was a stage there around 1996-97 where, like a lot of people around the country, I just thought it was overplayed.

“But it’s been great to me financially, and I still like the song, and I’m proud of it. I still feel chuffed if I’m out and about and I hear someone sing it.”

Since those heady days, McEvoy says she has drawn her creative power from another source – her six-year-old daughter Sarah Jane. “Being a mother has given me a bit more energy which is surprising,” she says. “It’s made me happier I suppose. I thought maybe domestic bliss would be incompatible with the artistic temperament, but for me it’s been the opposite. In the six years since I’ve had Sarah Jane I’ve brought out four albums, plus other projects with other artists.”

One such project involved sitting on the judging panel that picked the six finalists for this year’s Eurosong, which resulted in Dustin the Turkey winning the spot to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest next weekend.

“I was actually in Kuala Lumper for a gig during the voting part of the show,” she recalls. “Afterwards I went to a bar and someone must have read the news on the web because an Irish guy and an English guy were having a fight over the fact that Dustin had been picked!

“We picked the best six songs and then everyone voted – we didn’t do it just to get a reaction. I haven’t a clue how he will do, though. It’s up to forces far beyond our control now!”

*Love Must Be Tough is released today. Eleanor McEvoy plays Aras Chronain in Clondalkin, Dublin tonight (May 16); the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh tomorrow; and Burnavon Arts and Cultural Centre in Cookstown, Co Antrim next Friday (May 23). For more dates in Ireland and the UK see

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