Folk singer Aoife Scott told David Hennessy about the scary times she had getting out of America where she was on tour when Covid-19 forced lockdowns and closed borders, how a London gig ‘kick started’ her career and what it was really like growing up in the famous musical family that includes ballad singers Frances and Mary Black and Danny O’Reilly of the Coronas.
“It was a bit scary,” Aoife Scott told The Irish World of her recent trip to America. Aoife and her band had just travelled to the USA in February to tour through the month of March and was due to return home just before Easter.
However, Aoife and everybody else had failed to plan for Covid-19 and was forced to call off her tour after playing only one show and get herself and her band home while they still could.
“I think we were a bit naive going over when we did fly over. We had gotten a message about our house for a concert being cancelled.
“In America there are a lot of people where if they have a large house, they will host you for a concert.
“They were kind of elderly hosts. They had cancelled because they had underlying health problems.
“I totally understood and was like, ‘Yeah that’s grand’.
“But there was no other idea. America didn’t have a clue what was hitting them. Ireland was well ahead so we were kind of flying over going, ‘This is weird. I wonder what’s going to happen’.
“Our first gig was in Florida and then we were flying to Nashville that weekend. We were in Florida and we were thinking, ‘I wonder is anyone going to come to this gig. Let’s just go and turn up but nobody’s going to come out’. Things were starting to get a bit tetchy.
“But the place was full, everybody was there and some people weren’t shaking hands and other people were just hugging and kissing me. I looked at my phone after the gig and I had a load of messages from Irish people in America going, ‘I just heard about the travel ban. If you need somewhere to stay..’,
“Trump had announced his travel ban for anybody coming into America so I started trying to figure out what I was going to do. We said we would just go to Nashville anyway because there was a possibility of maybe doing one show on Paddy’s Day which is the big reason why we go out for March, St. Patrick’s Day obviously and everything revolves around that.
“Then it all started falling apart. Other bands that were flying to Nashville just decided they were just going straight home. They were saying, ‘Aoife, we’re not going to get home, flights are going to be cancelled. If there’s nobody coming into America, then there’ll be no flights going home’.
“It just all got very scary all of a sudden and I was just on the phone 4 o’clock in the morning trying to ring Aer Lingus.
“We were meant to be out there for six weeks and we had only just started and I had other musicians out with us and was just trying to manoeuvre it all. Then we managed to get something and we landed home on Paddy’s Day, Tuesday morning, into Dublin. The flight was empty and it was just really eery and scary. It was just a really, really weird feeling. We were so relieved, we didn’t realise how scared we were until we saw our front door.
“We just felt really relieved that we got out when we did and that we didn’t end up having to be locked down because we were really worried that Ireland might close its borders. Especially if we ended up catching it while we were there, we wouldn’t have been able to stay with anybody. Just a messy situation to be in. We got home in the end and we are so grateful, so lucky.”
Being forced to cancel such an extensive tour can be devastating for any independent artist as expenses like visas, accommodation, inter-city travel has to be paid for up front while sales and the shows should allow you to claw this back.
The depth of the hole Aoife’s disastrous tour put her in even made her question her decision to pursue a career in performing. However, people’s generosity came to her rescue.
“Before we left, we did a fundraiser. We did an online stream and raised the fact that we were in a lot of debt. It takes a lot of money to go out to America. We were about $10,000 in debt.
“I was being honest with people. I was like, ‘This is the reality. I’m actually considering now if I made the right decision to actually become a musician’.
“I have been a proper worker before I became a musician. I was working in media and I had a 9 to 5 job. I was kind of unhappy there so I left and became this vagabond not knowing where the money was coming from.
“It really made me consider what it would mean if we went home with -$10,000 and how I would come back from that.
“It was the first time I ever thought of it. All the times I have been broke as a musician, I’d never doubted that I would get a few bob to pay the rent. When it all fell apart, I just went, ‘What will I do? Is this the right decision?’
“I said, ‘If you’re enjoying this online stream, you can tip us whatever you want’. People ended up being so generous they dug us out of a hole so we came home not in debt. The ultimate relief was seeing our front door and not being -$10,000 and we felt so lucky and so grateful to not be sick and just be safe and out of it all, scary time.”
Coronavirus has also ruled out Aoife’s gig at Hammersmith’s Irish Cultural Centre planned for this month.
“I’m really disappointed about that because I was really looking forward to it.”
It was a London show that kick-started Aoife’s career as she won a competition to play at the London Feis in 2011 alongside names like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.
“I was still working at the time and I was living in Galway. I entered a thing called Fast Track to Feis. I went over for a heat with my band and we got through and then we had to go back again for the semi-final and we flew over again. I was travelling from Galway to Dublin, flying over, doing the heat and coming back straight away, back into work on the Monday.
“We won the competiton and we ended up getting to play at the Feis in Finsbury Park. It was the first ever proper show that I ever did really. I didn’t have an album to my name, I hadn’t anything recorded. After I won that competition, I handed in my notice. It gave me enough confidence to go, ‘Okay I think I’m going to try and do this full -time’.
“I was really looking forward to coming back to London because I haven’t been to London in years. Hopefully it will happen again in the future.”
Aoife has two of Ireland’s best known ballad singers Frances and Mary Black as her mother and auntie. Not only that but her cousin Danny O’Reilly is lead singer of The Coronas while his little sister Roisin is also a well known solo performer.
Frances told us some months ago that they’re just a normal family and Aoife agrees: “There’s nothing really special about it because we’ve all grown up with it.
“As kids, my mam or Mary would be sound checking in the Olympia and we would be playing hide and seek in the Olympia Ballroom, around the seats and that was just part of our growing up.
“One of my first memories is of my mam playing with the Black Familiy in Belfast and she convinced us to come out for the encore and I’ll never forget my leg was shaking, wouldn’t stop shaking. I think I was about five or six.
“It was just part of my mam’s job so being onstage is something that is very natural for all of us because it’s something we grew up with.”
Aoife’s album Home Bird is out now. For more information, go to her website here.