Vocal Chords is a multi award winning music documentary series made by Athena Media for RTÉ Lyric fm presented by one of Ireland’s most acclaimed sean-nós singers Iarla Ó Lionáird made with the funding support of the BAI and the TV licence fee. The initial project, in 2015, An Odyssey of the Human Voice, maps a global exploration of the power of song. In a sonic journey across the world Iarla and the production team, including Robert Hope and Michael Gallen, recorded the stories and journeys of vocal experiences from South Africa to Siberia. The series posed that eternal question of ‘why do we sing, and what happens when we sing?’
Following from that initial five part series, the production team created a second strand Vocal Chords In Conversation where Iarla meets and records with outstanding singers and discovers their motivation, influences and their life’s relationship with their voice and singing. We started with Peter Gabriel (2015) and then added episodes with Sinead Ó Connor, Christy Moore, Julie Fowlis, Paul Brady, Peggy Seeger and Maighread & Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. More recent guests include Glen Hansard, Linda Buckley and Veronica Dunne, with the full series now having been broadcast, all episodes are available to stream via Soundcloud.
The series has won Gold three times at the New York Radio Festival – first in 2016 for the initial 5 part series and then in 2017 for the Paul Brady episode and more recently for Peggy Seeger in 2018. The prototype for the In Conversation series with Peter Gabriel won Silver in New York for global music programme in 2015.
Iarla’s guest in this special Christmas edition of Vocal Chords is the singer and vocal coach Veronica Dunne. Veronica or ‘Ronnie’ as everyone knows her celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year and in this extended interview at her home she traces her life in song from her childhood, when singing competed with horses for her attention, to her debut at Covent Garden in La Boheme.
As a young woman she went to Rome to study and train as a bel canto opera singer and in her years in Rome and in London at the Royal Opera she met the stars of her age, including Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland.
From the early 1960s Dunne turned from singing and performance to teaching and across the last fifty five years she has been the force behind a generation of vocal talent including Ann Murray, Celine Byrne and more recently Tara Erraught. Veronice Dunne established the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition ten years ago.
Iarla’s guest in this episode is the Cork born composer Linda Buckley whose work explores and uses the human voice. Linda comes from a family of 9 from the Old Head of Kinsale and grew up in a traditional music environment before studying music at UCC and Trinity College Dublin.
Linda Buckley is a composer/performer based in Dublin/Kinsale who has written extensively for orchestra, and has a particular interest in merging her classical training with the worlds of post punk, folk and ambient electronica. Her work has been described as “fantastically brutal, reminiscent of the glitch music of acts such as Autechre” (Liam Cagney, Composing the Island) and “engaging with an area of experience that new music is generally shy of, which, simplified and reduced to a single word, I’d call ecstasy” (Bob Gilmore, Journal of Music).
Music for theatre includes work by Enda Walsh (Bedbound) and film by Pat Collins (Living in a Coded Land) and Tadhg O’Sullivan (Solas Céad Bliain). Awards include a Fulbright scholarship to NYU and the Frankfurt Visual Music Award 2011 (Silk Chroma).
Glen is in conversation with fellow singer Iarla Ó Lionáird about his life and work in song. Glen Hansard’s vocal journey began as a young teenager busking on the streets of Dublin but it has taken him to some of the biggest arenas in the world and an academy award for best song in the film ‘Once’. That film was inspired by Glen’s own busking life and he also got to play the lead role.
His film work began in ‘The Commitments’ while he was fronting his band ‘The Frames’ and since then he has worked with his idols Bob Dylan, and the late Leonard Cohen, as well as sharing a stage with international performers like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. Glen talks with Iarla of a life dedicated to music and shares a song ‘Didn’t He Ramble’ written after the death of his father.
Iarla Ó Lionáird meets sisters Maighread and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, two of Ireland’s most respected traditional singers, and shares a conversation of family, song and language with them; from the stories of their father, the singer and folk song collector Aodh Ó Domhnaill, and his sister, the blind singer Neilí Ni Domhnaill, natives of Rann na Feirste, Donegal, to their own roots in the Meath Gaeltacht.
This feature documentary, in the award winning Vocal Chords series, is a unique insight into a family whose work has played a profound part in preserving the traditional culture and soundscape of Ireland and gives an intimate portrait of sisters, and singers, who share a deep and instinctive bond in song and life.
Iarla Ó Lionáird meets folk singer Peggy Seeger at her home in Oxford to explore her life’s journey in song and song composition. Peggy talks of her childhood growing up under the influence of her older half brother Peter Seeger and in a home where legendary singers like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie would visit to meet her parents, song collectors and composers Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger.
Peggy met, and later married folk singer and writer Ewan MacColl, and she shares her experience of working with Ewan from the late 1950s until his death in the late 1980s. Since then Peggy has continued to write and perform and she now works with her musician sons Neill and Calum and she is now in a civil partnership with Irene Pyper Scott, a Northern Irish singer she first met in 1964 in Belfast.
Brady charts over 50 years in performance from his roots in Strabane and Donegal, to the early days with bands like ‘The Johnstons’ and ‘Planxty’ to later writing hit songs like ‘Steel Claw’ and ‘Beautiful World’.
He shares the joy of singing and the story behind crafting songs like ‘Nothing But The Same Old Story’ and ‘Hard Station’ as well as his approach to shaping definitive versions of traditional songs like ‘Arthur McBride’ and ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’.
Iarla O Lionaird talks to friend and fellow Celtic singer Julie Fowlis about her journey as a singer, a performer and a mother, through the songs that are rooted in the Scottish tradition as they find common ground and a sense of connectedness as native gaelic speakers.
Speaking of this connection through tradition and song Julie says:
“It’s such an incredible connection of community and tradition and language they’re all so interlocked……from the bottom of Ireland right the way through and then right through Scotland it feels like you are following a map of the dialects and language, and thats musical dialect and language dialects also.. you just follow this path and it changes shape and evolves as you move but the line, the connectedness is always there.”
A life lived with the company of song and the singing voice is how Christy Moore describes it and in this his 70th year he shares his journey with fellow singer The Gloamings frontman Iarla O Lionaird. Moore traces his vocal story from his childhood growing up not just in a singing family but in friendship with his boyhood friend Donal Lunny.
For this compelling one-on-one interview, Iarla visits Christy Moore at his home in Dublin to talk about his relationship with the voice and songs, and what it means to be a singer. Sitting in the very room where Moore creates his music, he shares with Iarla the inspiration for his songs, his love of the folk tradition, and his many influences over the years including Ewan MacColl, The Clancy Brothers, and even being at singers’ clubs like ‘An Goilín’.
As part of the Vocal Chords series, Iarla and recordist Michael Gallen travelled to Sinéad O’Connor’s home to talk to her about singing and what the voice means to her. Sinéad is widely regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest vocal talents and has a strong global following, her success in the late 80’s and early 90’s included the iconic cover of “Nothing compares 2 u” by Prince, and a grammy winning album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”.
They talk about the healing and spiritual powers of the voice and Sinéad reveals how significant singing is in her life, describing singing as a rope and songs the ropes she hangs on to in life. Sinéad O’Connor’s latest album I’m not bossy, I’m the Boss was shortlisted for a Meteor Choice Music Prize Irish Album of the Year Award, the award was won by The Gloaming.
As part of Vocal Chords Iarla visited the home of world renowned singer Peter Gabriel to talk to him about the voice and what singing means in his life. They share a wide ranging discussion about the voice and singing. He talks about his journey as a singer and what performance, song and singing means to him and Gabriel shares his favourite music, from the Beatles’ ‘Love me do’ and songs of the “Pakistani Pavarotti”, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to his key musical influences including Otis Redding and Nina Simone.
“I think everyone, musical or not, should learn to sing and find out about their voice…..I think it’s an understanding of interpretation, as well as delivering melody.” – Peter Gabriel
How to Listen?
You can listen to the series via: