Fiachna Ó Braonáin can only be described as one of the champions of the Irish music scene.
Between family life, music and work, Fiachna has had a lot to keep focussed on over the past six months.
“Being on the radio took on a whole new meaning over the past six months, particularly in the early stages of lockdown when nobody was allowed out.
“There was a real heightened sense of people tuned into music on the radio and people exchanging their thoughts with you on Twitter, texts and e-mail.
“But also, music itself resonated in a whole new way, it was amazing. It was a very privileged place for me to be, and very lucky for me as a musician to have that work when there were no gigs.”
Fiachna said he ‘fell’ into broadcasting a decade ago by virtue of the fact that the band was not touring as much. Having young kids at the time, he was also looking for something that would allow him to stay home a bit more.
These days he hosts Late Date on RTÉ Radio 1 (Sunday – Friday 11pm to 2am | Saturday midnight to 2am), one of the most worldwide streamed Irish-based music shows, Friday to Sunday, while his colleague Cathal Murray covers Monday to Thursday.
“What you realise after while is that as a broadcaster you become company for people. I’ve always felt, broadcasting, the listener is company for me. It’s very important that you feel there is that exchange between listener and myself.
“One of the best pieces of advice I was given ten years ago when I first started presenting radio programmes was to think of the audience as a listener, rather than a whole bunch of listeners. Have it in your mind that it’s one person, because most of the time it is just one person listening to you.
“There’s a relationship, an intimacy and dialogue that goes on between myself and the listener and, of course, many of them send messages back and forth.
“I started realising, when he was getting hand-written letters, particularly from people that little bit older and aren’t necessarily on social media, or even on e-mail and literally listening to their transistor radio late night at home on their own, or perhaps with their spouse, who might be a sleep or unwell in certain cases, and you become aware of the fact that you become part of that person’s line of communication and connection to the outside world and that’s a really privileged place to be. I’m really lucky,” he said.
The world has become a much smaller place and Late Date attracts a worldwide listenership, tuning in and listening back at various times of the day.
And those listeners are regularly treated to best that the Irish music scene has to offer by the show with a great focus on local acts.
“That’s something that just came very naturally to me. It’s interesting that in recent months two issues have been highlighted, in terms of Irish music broadcasting, one being the gender disparity, and the other being supporting homegrown music.”
Fiachna said one of the breakout singles of the summer for him was Can’t Trust The Moon by Donegal’s own Megan Nic Ruairí. The talented young singer from Rann na Feirste featured in this series earlier this week.
Not only has Fiachna been busy on the airwaves, but he took the opportunity during the country’s first full lockdown to re-release his debut solo album, Bougainvillea, recorded nearly twenty years ago in France.
He said: “I wrote and recorded that album quite a while back, around the time that I met my wife and before we had kids. I was living in Paris at the time and I had lots of time, when the band wasn’t touring, to write songs and got involved with various music projects.”
Fiachna said American singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked, with whom he was touring a lot at the time, gave him great encouragement to step forward as a songwriter. “ I wrote a whole bunch of songs with her and she would invite me to sing some of my songs during her shows on tour.
“I was always used to working with record labels with the [Hothouse] Flowers, so I had no idea about self-releasing. I marginally released it in 2008, but didn’t have the wherewithal to invest in a big marketing campaign at the time.
“So then when the lockdown happened, with the ability to promote your own stuff through social media, I put it out again and it got a lot more attention.”
Fiachna then more recently followed it up with an EP entitled Winter Sun featuring sea-themed music he worked on completing in more recent months.
“It came together quite organically, as well. There’s instrumental piece featuring Clare Sands on fiddle, Winter Sun, which became the title of the EP, and was written for a wonderful film of the sea made by photographer Niall Meehan.
“At the same time Clare Sands was doing a Masters in Music at the University of Limerick and wanted to use one of my songs from Bougainvillea which she really liked called Bottle of Rum.
“She asked me would I do a new version of it, featuring just me on the guitar and she would orchestrate a string quartet for it and use it as part of her Masters.
“Then I found another song called ‘Take A Look Around With You’ which I had written around the time of living in France which I had completely forgotten about and hadn’t made Bougainvillea. It actually sounded a lot more complete than I had remembered. So Clare also did a bunch of work on that song, adding her own voice and fiddle. So there were three songs.”
“While I was living in France two South African friends and I had a notion of fusing sean-nos songs with South African voices and rhythms, and visa versa. And before we knew it we had a number of pieces finished, including the one that made the EP, Amhrán na Trá Báine. I put that out on Bandcamp Friday a month ago and it’s been great fun,” he said.
Following its release, Fiachna’s Winter Sun EP went to Number 1 in the iTunes Singer Songwriter Charts and to Number 2 in the overall iTunes Charts and has received rave reviews from critics and fans alike.
Fiachna said it has been great to ‘keep those create wheels turning’ in more ways than one, from writing and releasing new music, to performing at a number of online events.
“We’ve seen people dipping their toes into socially-distanced gigs, and while nobody is going to be making huge amounts of money doing that, it’s a positive move.
“The ticket sales may be sales, but you’re better off trying to do that and maybe scale down the production. There is a yearning and appetite for live music as playing online is just not the same. Yet, there has been value in that, enabling some artists to keep the wolf from the door,” he said.
If are a fan of Late Date, then Fiachna’s curated playlist for our community mixtape has everything you are looking for, from Paddy Dennehy, Niamh Regan, Mick Flannery and SON, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Jack O’Rourke, Emma Langford, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Villagers, Denise Chaila, Lost Brothers, Bronagh Gallagher, Mark Geary and many more.
A big shout-out to Emma Swift and her song, You’re a Big Girl Now, which was also featured on Fiachna’s list. While the song was not available for this Spotify list, it is available to listen to on YouTube HERE
The Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny is proudly funded by Donegal County Council and Arts Council Ireland.