independent

Tuesday 24 October 2017

50 years on and Declan is still playing a sweet tune

By Esther Hayden

Declan Sinnott & Vickie Keating. Declan Sinnott's new solo album is entitled Window On The World.
Declan Sinnott & Vickie Keating. Declan Sinnott's new solo album is entitled Window On The World.
Declan Sinnott & Vickie Keating. Declan Sinnott's new solo album is entitled Window On The World.
Declan Sinnott - Window On The World
Declan Sinnott and Vickie Keating.

One of Wexford's most famous sons, Declan Sinnott, will perform a triumphant homecoming gig in the Riverbank House Hotel on July 3 at 8pm.

Declan has been making music for 50 years. He was a founding member of Horslips and Moving Hearts and guided the career of Mary Black for 13 years. More recently he has been Christy Moore's right-hand man and producer. In 2012 he made his first solo album 'I Love The Noise It Makes'

While cut from similar cloth, Declan's second album 'Window On The World' is a stronger, more confident record. His singing has taken on a new edge and surety, helped in no small part by the beautiful harmonies of Vickie Keating who will perform with him at the Riverbank.

'Window On The World' is a lean record with the songs very much taking centre stage. Declan is a guitarist who weighs each phrase with care, and never wears out his welcome. There is no shortage of lovely playing, but serving the song comes first.

'The songs push me around', he said. 'I don't have nearly as much choice as you might imagine. I did my best to keep that banjo off 'Walk With You' (being a gentleman) but I had to give up in the end. Now I love it, of course. I shape the songs and then they shape me. Push and pull.'

Declan plays all instruments on both his solo albums. 'I'm a nuts and bolts man. I enjoy the process. I come from jewellers and opticians so tinkering is in my blood.'

The album took a year to make, though some of the recordings are from two or three years ago. 'I never throw anything out. One song which didn't make the first record ended up being used. It needed a middle bit, and got one.'

The songs are either co-writes with his friend Owen O'Brien, or Declan's own songs.

'Owen got me talking, in that little room, opened up the skylight, pointed to the moon. I could feel the blood flow, running through our veins. He showed me where the road lay, handed me the reins.'

Owen loves a good hook, classic pop music, the chorus you can't forget. He has a no nonsense approach. He doesn't work as a musician, he has more sense. Declan is immersed in music. He listens to Vaughan Williams, Duke Ellington, Jon Hopkins, Bill Frisell, Laura Veirs, Jerry Garcia, the Beatles, Eels and most points in between.They still find a lot of common ground.

'Owen and I will sit down and write together for a few hours and come up with something we're really excited about. Jumping up and down excited. Literally.

'Then I may work on it for the next few months, a word here a chord there. I can go to sleep trying to find a phrase, and it's arrived when I wake up. Once again the process is what does it for me. I write for the person who will play the songs over and over. I know that most of us don't listen like that, but that's my yardstick: the microscope.

'I go back to when I only owned four records, so I knew them inside out. I think that if you put your heart and soul into it, a small amount of people will get that, and that makes it worthwhile. After most of our gigs someone will come up and express how much they like your work. It's there in their eyes. That makes my day. A need to be understood? Maybe.'

The songs cover a wide range of topics, but seldom broach the predictable. There are no obvious love songs or 'You done me wrong' songs.

'Welcome To Your iLife' is sung from the point of view of a mobile phone. 'Lightbox' is about a camera (Declan is a keen photographer and makes videos for his tracks - nuts and bolts again). 'Time to Gather In' is encouragement to would-be songwriters. He is well aware of the irony, having struggled for years to write.

'I Can Hear You' is a song of unimaginable loss. 'Trust' deals with hard won wisdom. 'Sleep Out On The Beach' questions our man-made world.

'You've Got One Wrong Move Left' is a weighty song about someone who has run out of road. 'One more mistake and they lose everything. No punches pulled. No silver lining', said Declan.

Lots of the songs poke at the fabric of how we live, but in a thoughtful way. There are no slogans, no banners, nothing that could be called a protest song. Even when he is lighthearted, as in 'Walk With You', there's a point being made.

Declan spent many of his years in music producing and playing, but not writing very much. So he has his first ideas still to play with. Writing blogs on his Facebook page feeds into his songwriting.

'I have fallen in love with the word. I enjoy trying to get complex ideas across in a succinct way. I heard Yoko Ono talking for quite a while on radio about chauvinism in England followed by John Lennon saying "Don't touch the paper 'til your father's read it". I love that.'

Declan's obsession with music started with a boy strumming a tennis racquet and continues unabated 50 years later. In fact it seems to be gaining momentum!

Declan Sinnott appears at the Riverbank House Hotel on July 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost €20 and are on sale at Wexford Arts Centre or the venue.

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