Farewell to Maeve, my Liza

In May 2008 I spent a wonderful few days at the Listowel Writers’ Week, where my friend David and I had decided to join a series of songwriting workshops. Glen Hansard had originally been slated to lead the course, but being in unexpectedly high demand having won himself an Oscar, he pulled out a few weeks ahead of the event and handed the reins over to Freddie White. The latter is a fine guitarist and singer, but is not notable as a songwriter, so it didn’t result in the participants making great strides in that department. Nevertheless we had some memorable musical adventures, and if I hadn’t been there I would never have met Maeve Sweeney O’Connor.

Maeve was from Donegal and had joined the workshop to see whether she could scratch a persistent musical itch. She was someone who, as I recall, was always scribbling down potential lyrics. She played a bit of guitar, but hadn’t done a whole lot of songwriting. My most vivid memory of her in Listowel was during an afternoon song session in a pub, when she sang a beautiful unaccompanied version of Rufus Wainwright’s Vibrate.

Maeve Sweeney, August 2008

Maeve Sweeney at Silverwood Studios, Wicklow, August 2008

I had been writing songs for a few years prior to my trip to Listowel. One that I was really excited about was a duet called Dear Liza, based on the famous children’s song about the hole in the bucket. I was planning to spend some time in a recording studio later that summer, but wasn’t confident I’d be able to include Dear Liza as didn’t have a female vocalist. I remember nervously asking Maeve if she’d let me play the song for her and perhaps have a go at the female part. She sang it perfectly almost instantly and we even recorded a rough demo version there and then (to which I later added some additional guitar lines).

I was thrilled when she agreed to travel down to Wicklow from Donegal when I was back in Ireland for the recording sessions in August. In the end she sang on every track that we recorded over those two days at Gavin Ralston’s Silverwood Studios. I’m very proud of those songs. Maeve’s vocal on Dear Liza is spot on. It has always reminded me of Briana Corrigan’s singing on The Beautiful South song A Little Time: strong and direct, but with buckets of passion. Maeve’s Donegal lilt adds a welcome measure of feistiness too.

Maeve died on 24 July 2016. I had been in touch with her on and off over the years, but – regrettably – not in recent times. I had sent her a note via Facebook in early July, just to say that I had been thinking of her and was pleased to see that her FB timeline suggested she was about and active. Just a few days later her husband Derek sent an email to say that she was in a hospice and had stage four bowel cancer. She died the following Sunday.

I didn’t know Maeve well, but we shared the intimate experience of making music together. She was a warm, caring person, hugely proud of her children and passionate about theatre and music. She was only 44 when she died.

I don’t think any of us needs reminding that life is short and fragile. (Once again my friend Iain Twigg comes to mind.) Maeve was the kind of person who would accept an invitation from someone she barely knew to drive half the length of Ireland and spend two days hanging around a recording studio to sing backing vocals on a few songs simply because it seemed like a fun and interesting thing to do. She was the kind of person who said, yes, let’s give it a go. I will think of her often.

Here’s the studio version of Dear Liza that we recorded in August 2008 at Silverwood Studios in Newtownmountkennedy:

Maeve also did a superb job on backing vocals on the other songs recorded at that session. You can listen to them all on SoundCloud.

Eoghan O'Sullivan and Maeve Sweeney

We spent long hours hanging around on the Control Room couch at Silverwood, Maeve smiling through it all.

 

Released!

Front cover of The Best of Radio Reddit album

The front cover

I had a pleasant surprise about six weeks ago when an email from the administrators at Radio Reddit popped into my inbox asking whether I’d agree to having one of  my songs on a compiliation album they were putting together. Fast forward to tomorrow, the release day for The Best of Radio Reddit, where track 15 of 17 is my song The Night Before. The publicity blurb for the album says:

The Best of Radio Reddit features 17 artists from the website RadioReddit.com. All artists on the compilation are users of reddit.com. The CD features many genres and only high quality tracks.

If you’re not familiar with Reddit, it’s a website where users post links to interesting content and vote on the links posted by others. There are also comment threads for each link posted, often more interesting and entertaining than the links themselves. To get the best out of it you should create a user account and choose which sub-reddits (groupings of links on specific topics) you want to populate your front page.

Over the last five years Reddit has taught me, inspired me, amused me, annoyed me and distracted me endlessly. It really is great. (And growing more popular all the time, surpassing 37 billion page views in 2012.)

And then, a couple of years ago, someone had the idea of making a sub-reddit where users could upload their own recordings, creating a radio station where listeners vote on what gets played most often. Of course the music isn’t the usual well-known stuff that’s heard on other radio stations – it comes entirely from (mostly unsigned) musicians who are Reddit users. The quality varies, but the idea is that via the up- and down-votes the cream should rise to the top.

I uploaded some tracks to the site a couple of years ago, including The Night Before, which has always been one of the most popular for me in live situations and has proved to be the most popular of those that I sent to Reddit. It’s one of the recordings I did in Ireland at Silverwood Studios in August 2008, including the wonderful Maeve Sweeney on backing vocals and Gavin Ralston & Co. in the band. I’m really pleased that it was selected for this release. I don’t know what impact, if any, it’ll have on my musical activities, but it’s an endorsement of some sort I guess.

If you’re interested in checking out some of the other songs that were selected, then I encourage you to buy the CD (hard copy or download). My tracks have always been available for free download anyway – The Night Before is right beneath this post. And you can find more of my music on my Songs & Music page.

And, in case you’re wondering, neither I nor any of the featured musicians will profit from this project. Some of the money goes to VH1’s Save the Music charity, and the rest will be ploughed back into the project.