Diane Cannon is not one to rest on her laurels.
The West Donegal singer was gearing up to have the best year of her musical career to-date when the world was hit by the Coronavirus pandemic.
After spending a lot of time promoting her last album, Idir Mhuir agus Sliabh, the Meenlaragh woman was due to begin a busy year by performing for the Donegal Association New York for St Patrick’s Day and tour along the East Coast when the world locked down.
This was to be followed by a ten-day residency Oslo, Norway, tours of Germany, Sicily (Italy), Cambodia and more until April 2021 before it all fell apart.
“You couldn’t be angry, because everybody was in the same boat, you just had to suck it up in terms of how much you lost because there was always going to be someone worse off than you. But that didn’t make it any easier. It was a huge blow.
“People who don’t really understand how the music business works would say ‘sure maybe next year, you can start off you can go back to touring’, but they don’t realise it took me well over four years just to get to that point.
“You don’t just pick up next April and say ‘OK, let’s do what we were meant to do last year’, as a lot of those festivals book their acts two to three years in advance. So by the time you get back, your new album is ‘old news’,” Diane said.
Planning ahead for this, Diane decided to get stuck into her next album once again teaming up with renowned musician, producer and television presenter, Dónal O’Connor.
She said: “We have put new arrangements by Dónal to traditional, local songs and they sound great. For this album we also worked with Ulster Orchestra on a number of songs. Dónal is absolutely fantastic at arranging.
“It’s hard to motivate yourself, to push through and push on with them [the recordings], because you know that there’s no point in releasing an album at the moment as it’s like throwing ten, twenty grand down the drain, when you have no work for it. But at the same time it’s nice to have it on the back burner and it’s keeping me going.”
Being a hard grafter, who likes to keep herself busy, Diane jumped right into the deep end of online performance in the early days of lockdown, including a very well-received online performance from Magheroarty Beach for the Culture Ireland #IrelandPerforms series.
“That went really well and at the time it was new and people didn’t mind watching online performances. But to be honest after a while, I just got burned out doing it myself, and also burned out trying to support other people’s online gigs, it was driving me up the wall. I did have to give it a bit of a rest.
“I did as much as I could [when asked], but there were times I couldn’t even switch on the phone or the video recorder. I didn’t want to sing or anything, I just wanted to go walk on the beach and do what everybody else was doing while I was sitting in the house day after day going crazy thinking I could salvage this career. It was just panic mode. So I put it to rest for a while.”
Not only had Diane been doing online performances, she also started online classes teaching songs to children, and adult students, around the world.
“There were days I would log onto Zoom at 10am and I wouldn’t get up from that chair until ten, eleven, sometimes 12 o’clock at night,” she said.
With a strong family history in the tourism and hospitality sector, Diane always had plans to set up a business providing music-themed tours in West Donegal, long before the pandemic hit.
She said: “We, as a family, ran Ostan Loch Altan for 13 years, before my parents and sister took over the Gweedore Bar & Restaurant in Falcarragh.
“I haven’t been as hands on there in recent years, but always had it in the back of my mind to combine those two passions of, hospitality and music with Donegal Music Trails.” Find out more on the Donegal Music trails Facebook Page
When the original lockdown lifted and Donegal tourism went through the roof when thousands choosing Donegal for their staycations, demand soared for her service.
“Living in Meenlaragh, I have a great love for the sea and I thought I’ll give it a trial run with one day trip for a friend who was celebrating her 30th birthday. From there the boat trips really grew legs, including the sunset and prosecco cruise.”
Diane’s playlist kicks off with Homer’s Reel by Capercaillie, a go-to tune by one of her favourite bands. “People may think, as I singer, I would veer more towards songs, but I nearly prefer instrumental music.
“I find I don’t chill out to songs as you’re are listening too much to the singer and words. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but I love them for a different reason. So when I want to totally switch off, I listen to instrumental music be the likes of Capercaillie.”
Next on Diane’s playlist is another ground-breaking band with very strong ties to County Donegal, Skara Brae, featuring siblings Micheál Ó Dohmnaill, Maighread & Triona Ní Dohmnaill, and Daithí Sproule, with the song Bánchnoic Éireann Ó.
Diane said: “This was one of the first albums I got when I was young and made me fall in love with the singing of Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill.
“I like this particular song as the three of them are singing together. There is something special and magical about a family singing in unison, especially for someone like myself who comes from a family of musicians and singers, I would have been singing with my dad for years in his band and then with my daughter.
“It was so interesting, when I added her on my last album, most people [even my own family] never noticed when she jumped in for a verse and back out again. That family connection is special in singing and Skara Brae were just beyond their time.”
“That album kept very true to the tradition of the songs, but was so contemporary at the time that the record is still modern to this day, it’s ageless.
“It’s very important for music to evolve, to bring younger people into music, otherwise it will die. Some people like things to stay pure, especially sean-nós songs, without any accompaniment, but then things become stagnant. It’s great to have the likes of Skara Brae, and Micheál and Tríona’s arrangements for inspiration.”
Diane said, Damien O’Kane (featured in her list with the song The Close of an Irish Sky) is another good example of bringing a contemporary feel to Irish music. “I think it gives it a new edge and Damien does that really well. And he’s just a dream to listen to.”
A musician who features in Diane’s list on a number of occasions is the ‘Pride of Manchester, multi-instrumentalist, Michael McGoldrick. A member of Capercaillie since 1997, Mike was also involved in the next track featured, the Full Moon Reel from Katie Morag (Music from the BBC Series), alongside Capercaillie founding member Donald Shaw, who composed the reel.
“The music may have been made for a children’s programme, but it’s so uplifting. Because I did a lot of Country music with my dad, I also love the American influence on this album, similar to The Transatlantic Sessions which I also loved growing up.”
Next in Diane’s list is legendary Donegal group Altan with a set of tunes, Yellow Tinker, Lady Montgomery and The Marry Harriers from the 1990 album, The Red Crow.
She said: “I think this was an album I bought myself when I was young, on cassette, in fact. I used to learn fiddle from Francie Mooney [Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s father], which was all very traditional. But that album was probably my first taste of more contemporary fiddle music.
“Mairéad and [the late] Frankie (Kennedy) were just magical together. I can still feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand every time I listen to that opening tune, Yellow Tinker.” Click here to read Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s In Conversation with RCC SOUNDS interview and listen to her playlist.
Western Isles by Peat and Diesel, ‘bat crazy lads from The Hebrides’, was added by Diane as a bit of escapism. “When you want to let your hair down and go a bit mad, Peat and Diesel is the way go to – I love that track,” she said.
When she started listening to the next featured artist, Margaret Barry may not have been considered ‘cool’ by her peers, but Diane has always admired Barry’s authentic, raw and original sound, as can be heard on this track, The Hills of Donegal.
“She’s an absolute legend! I veer towards singers that have character in their voice. In sean-nós you’re told, don’t make it about you the singer, make it about the story and reach into people’s hearts. When you listen to someone like Barry, you know she’s been through the wars.”
Diane was heavily influenced by the television series, Transatlantic Sessions, and therefore features the track The Boys of 25/The Glass of Beer, by Aly Bain, Jerry Dougles & Co.
She said: “Growing up and watching the likes of Aly Bain and Donald Shaw collaborate with Alison Krauss and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh was inspirational and gave me so much courage to say it was K to like the two music styles [Traditional and Country].
“It’s not about a type of music. Mairéad has told me that so many times. It’s just music, don’t put it into a box, because you will never grow as an artist Always be willing and open. I think they [Transatlantic Sessions] really helped me personally as a singer and artist, to be more willing to push the boundaries and not to be pushed into a box.”
Not the first time to be featured (See Mark Geary’s In Conversation with RCC SOUNDS), Diane selected J.J. Cale with his song, Call Me The Breeze. “Again, I remember a time I’d say I like JJ Cale and was told, ‘Oh, that’s Country’, but I thought it was edgy and cool. He had some amazing songs,” Diane said.
Born in Scotland, but raised in Donegal, Diane has always had a great love of Scottish music and so, for her next track, she chose Strathpey: King George IV from the album Waiting for A Call by the late Donegal fiddle player Tommy Peoples, who was in fact a far out relation of Diane’s.
“My grandad was very proud of being related to Tommy. I still play a bit of fiddle from time to time and Tommy was a big influence on me. An absolutely fantastic player, with his own style, he was in a league of his own.”
It is only fitting that Diane once again chose one of her favourite artists, this time in a solo capacity to bringing her RCC SOUNDS playlist to a close.
“I was blessed and feel so honoured to have Mike (McGoldrick) play on my last album and hopefully get him to play on my upcoming one. His skill for writing tunes, such as Wassalou River, is just unbelievable.”
The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny is proudly funded by Donegal County Council and Arts Council Ireland.