AFTER more than 30 years in the business, accordion extraordinaire Sharon Shannon is as energetic as ever about her craft.
The Co. Clare native, who has carved a name for herself internationally as one of Ireland’s best traditional musicians, is busy recording and preparing to return to Britain with her latest tour.
That kicks off in February 2023, before which the acclaimed button accordion player will be at the Hoolie in the Hydro in Glasgow in December.
This week she took time out to tell Ri-Ra what we can expect from the upcoming tour, where she finds her inspiration for her music and what plans she has for Christmas…
You are heading to England with a 2023 tour – how are you feeling about it?
I’m really looking forward to the tour.
I’ve got a long history touring England going back to Cómhaltas tours as a teenager playing tunes for the Irish communities in various cities all over the country.
From there with The Waterboys, who were at the time, a Scottish, English and Irish band, the audience was primarily a rock audience and a much wider audience.
This certainly broadened my audience to include English people with no Irish connections other than they loved the music.
I am very grateful that the UK audience has remained incredibly loyal to me over the past 30 years.
Where will this tour take you?
We were delighted that we got to see many of our amazing supporters during the summer of 2022, as we played Wickham festival, Ely, Pairc Festival and many more, but this time we're doing a fair sweep of the country through from February 3, 2023 to February 19, 2023.
Can we expect to hear any new music?
We have lots of new tunes on the go and we're loving playing them live.
What’s inspired your most recent tunes?
A good pub session always inspires me to learn or to write new tunes and I get a great buzz from that.
Most of the time I write tunes at home with an instrument in my hand. If I'm not at home, it can happen when I'm out walking the dogs or even on car journeys.
I diddle the ideas into my phone for safe keeping until I get home.
You will return to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith next year, are you looking forward to the gig?
That’s the one thing about playing in the UK - you can be in a concert hall one night, a folk club next night, Irish centre next night and an arts centre the following.
Last year, when we played, we did King's Place - a lovely venue in King's Cross that caters for classical, jazz, all types of music. The time before that was The Irish Centre in Camden. This time marks a return to Irish Centre in Hammersmith for the first time in 17 years - I think.
Last time was with two great Manchester musicians--Mike Mc Goldrick and Dezi Donnelly. Legends both of them.
Your UK gigs planned for March 2020 didn’t go ahead due to Covid-19. How does it feel to be back on tour again?
Well, that tour in 2020 finally went ahead last February 2022.
It was the first tour we did after lockdown and restrictions had been lifted much earlier in England than in Ireland, so when we arrived over for the first show in Cambridge, it really felt like...’Yes, it’s over’.
Normal service resumed after two years. It was a wonderful feeling and really makes you appreciate what you have missed for two years.
What was the worst thing about Covid-19 for you?
The worst thing for me was not being able to hug my elderly father.
Did you find any positives through the pandemic?
For me there were lots of positives. I'm a home bird so I got to spend loads of quality time at home with the dogs and cats. Also, I had loads of time to learn and write new music and I really great a great buzz from that.
I also recorded wrote and recorded a full album The Reckoning during lockdown and presented a four-part TV series called Heartlands for TG4.
You’ve been making music for more than three decades. What inspires you to keep going?
I just love music and all the great adventures it brings me on and all the great people I get to meet through the music. I can't imagine ever having to stop playing.
When not making your own music, what do you like to listen to?
I love listening to the recordings that inspired me in the first place.
For example, Tommy Peoples, Matt Molloy, The Bothy Band, Stockton's Wing, Dé Dannan and Tony Linnanne and Noel Hill’s duet album.
You’ve collaborated with many musicians over the years, whose been your favourite to work with?
That's a hard question to answer. I don't really have any one favourite as such. I really enjoyed all the different collaborations over the years.
I suppose the ones we got the most mileage out of and the most craic out of are Dessie O Halloran, who toured with us for years, and then of course the Galway Girl collaboration with Steve Earle which took on an amazing life of its own.
Is there anyone you have yet to work with who you would like to?
All the collaborations so far have all happened very organically, as in I already knew the people beforehand.
I have lots of heroes in music but it's not necessarily a goal for me to get to collaborate with the people that I admire. I'm happy to admire them from a distance.
If various opportunities arise and I get to meet and play with amazing new people, I'm honoured and excited to do so.
Your UK tour starts in February 2o23, what do you have planned before then?
There's a very interesting Scottish show coming up on December 17 in Glasgow at the SEC and I'm really excited about it.
It's called the Hoolie in the Hydro featuring great Scottish bands like Skerryvore, Manran and the legendary Dougie Mc Lean. It's being billed as The Biggest Ceili in the world. What a great name for it.
What are your plans for Christmas – is it a time of year that you enjoy?
My father died on the day before Christmas eve last year, so it was a very sad time for us last year.
I don't know yet what I'll be doing this year. No plans yet apart from the fact that I intend to relax and take it easy. I love any excuse to get cosy in front of a big open fire and Christmas is always a great time for that.
I enjoy catching up with the family and neighbours down in Co. Clare where I grew up.
Sharon Shannon’s 2023 UK tour kicks off at the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith on February 3, 2023. It moves on to venues in the likes of Colchester, Bury, Sunderland, Sheffield and Exeter, with stops in between. For full gig listings and tickets click here.