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Taking the plunge

Aoife Scott spoke to David Hennessy about her upcoming tour of the UK, coming from the famous Black musical family and giving up her job to pursue music.

Aoife Scott is about to return for her second headline tour of the UK.

Born into the legendary Black family, Aoife has two of Ireland’s best known ballad singers Frances and Mary Black as her mother and aunt respectively. Not only that but her cousin Danny O’Reilly is lead singer of The Coronas while his little sister Roisin is known as Róisín O.

Although there was a time when she was holding herself back from pursuing music herself, Aoife has established herself with her albums Carry the Day and Homebird being acclaimed both at home and abroad.

Aoife has been described as one of Ireland’s best folk artists second only to the legendary Christy Moore and up there with Lankum as voted by the readers of Hot Press in 2021.

Aoife’s single, All Along the Wild Atlantic Way, hit number 1 in Ireland, knocking Ed Sheeran off the top spot as well as being named ‘Song of the Year’ at the Irish Folk Music Awards.

Not long after this, Aoife got together with her cousins, Róisín O and Danny O’Reilly to release the single Grace, which again went straight to the number 1 spot on iTunes in Ireland. The trio’s performance at Kilmainham Gaol as part of Centenary on RTE1 gained over 2 million streams across YouTube and Spotify.

Aoife told The Irish World: “It’s amazing coming back to the UK.

“The history there is incredible.

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“It’s definitely a box ticked on my things to achieve and this tour now coming up is mad because we’ve never been to any of these.

“I’ve never been to any of these places except London.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them.

“I find gigging in the UK is amazing because I think that the audiences are really good listeners.

“They know good music and you have to step up to the plate to make sure you’re good as the music that they’re listening to.

“We really look forward to it. We always enjoy it. We haven’t had a bad English tour yet so we’re looking forward to this one now. It’s going to be great.”

It all started for Aoife in the UK.

It was a Vince Power festival in London 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.

“It made me leave my job,” she says of it.

“After winning that competition, I decided I was gonna knock the full- time job on the head and try and go after the dream of being a full- time musician.

“I moved back to Dublin to be around the people that I was playing music with and so we started gigging.

“I got the odd freelance job here and there and finally then, when I made my first album, I knocked all the work on the head.

“I said, ‘Alright, I’m going to try and do this and try and go for it as a touring artist, try and make a living off it’.

“It’s a hard thing to leave the very comfortable job: You know where the rent is coming from, you know where your wages are coming from.

“It’s hard because it takes a good while to get it off the ground.

“But it happened in 2015, 2016 and then from there, I just started to tour.

“And since then I’ve just been living this mad life in airports and in cars but it’s a good life.

“I don’t think I’d swap it because of the experiences I’ve had since becoming a musician and getting to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing even though I had kind of told myself I didn’t really want to do it.

“I was just living in fear, the fear of taking on that and putting yourself out there.

“Because it’s a hard job, because people have to like you for it to go well.

“People have to like what you’re singing about, people have to like your voice. You can’t just go to work and nobody likes you.

“You have to be liked and that fear of rejection was really there.

“Hoping that people would buy my music and come to my shows is a big plunge but I managed to maneuver it somehow.”

Before taking the ‘plunge’, Aoife was working in documentaries for TG4.

“I made a documentary called Seachtar Na Cásca for TG4 and that’s actually how I ended up getting confidence.

“I was production manager and I was faffing around trying to all the jobs.

“We were in a warehouse in Connemara and we rebuilt the set for the 1916 GPO.

“And they were filming the drama parts and it was after the fifth day of the occupation and they were all exhausted.

“They asked an actor to sing a song to make it very sad and get the energy of the end of this trying to take back our country and they knew they’d have to give up.

“And anyway, this actor ended up having to go and pick up his kids.

 “I was standing there with a clipboard and the director came up to me and said, ‘Aoife, would you sing a song for the lads?’

“And I was like, ‘What?’

“So I sang.

“I didn’t know what I was doing but I was singing it standing there with a clipboard going, ‘What am I doing?’

“And the director came up to me and he said, ‘Aoife, that was amazing, will you sing on the soundtrack?’

“So I ended up going into the studio while I was doing all this work for the documentary.

“I was like, ‘Maybe I could be a singer’.”

It was a combination of winning Fast Track to Feis and her singing being so well received on the documentary that assured Aoife she could go for a career in performing.

“I was chasing my dreams of becoming a musician.

“I just knew that that was it because it was all at the same time.

“That documentary, I sang on the soundtrack.

“I went into the competition, and I won the competition.

“That was it, I knew then that I could do it.”

Aoife’s work in documentaries would bring her to Kilmainham Gaol to interview historians.

She would go back there years later with her well known cousins to perform a special version of Grace for the centenary celebrations in 2026.

She and her cousin Róisín O would also give a spine-tingling version of Grace for Belfast boxer Michael Conlan’s homecoming fight in 2021.

“Róisín and Danny got asked to sing Grace and they were asking me what I thought.

“And I was like, ‘Well, it’s kind of a romantic song. It’s kind of weird that a brother and sister would do it’.

“So then they said to me, ‘Aoife, will you sing it and then we’ll turn it into a family thing?’

“And I was like, ‘Ah yeah, that makes sense’.

“We didn’t think it was going to be any good.

“And from that, Michael got really into the song and he used to listen to it while he was training.

“And then he was going to be in Madison Square Garden boxing and he asked us could he use it as his opening?

“So from there, we went into the studio properly and we recorded it the three of us.

“And from that we released the song because at that stage, we hadn’t even thought about recording it.

“He (Conlan) just always used it as his opening and it’s something that we’re really proud of because he’s a great sportsman for Ireland and he’s so successful and he’s such a lovely fella as well.

“Myself and Roisin the last time we performed it, we performed it live for him in Belfast.

“It was amazing because it was still Covid restrictions in the south and we went up to the north and we were just freaked out.

“People were still staying two metres from each other in the south and then we went to the north, and they had this massive boxing match with 10,000 people there.

“We were like, ‘Oh my God’.

“They were just celebrating being out again, we sang and it was amazing for them to sing it with us.

“It was powerful. It was really, really incredible.”

Mentioning Covid Aoife and her band had just travelled to America in 2020 when they had a large tour planned.

However they would have to return home after just a couple of shows when the pandemic hit.

“We had to leave suddenly when the lockdown started.

“We flew over and then we had to come home in a hurry and then we were home for two years or whatever it was.

“So yeah, being back gigging and being able to travel is unbelievable.

“I pray that it will never happen that we have to do that again.

“Because I think I’d be lost.

“I think I’m actually a bit of a nomad in my blood.

“I start getting itchy feet if I’m home longer than two or three weeks.”

Aoife has admitted it was ‘scary’ to be so far from home with talk of closing borders.

“It was about four days of panic, because it happened suddenly.

“We flew over and then Trump mentioned that he was closing down the borders.

“I was onstage and I starting getting messages on my Facebook saying, ‘Aoife, if you need somewhere to stay in America, let me know’.

“I was like, ‘What? Why would I need somewhere to stay?’

“So we had to kind of figure out what we were doing.

“We were lucky.

“We got out in time before they shutdown.

“So we ended up getting on an Aer Lingus flight and we got home on St Patrick’s Day and it was like a zombie apocalypse had hit the country.

“It was mad to be Patrick’s Day and nothing open.

“It was a bit of a shock to come home as fast as we did.

“But it was more of a shock to be not working for as long as we ended up being.

“COVID for me was not an inspiring time.

“It wasn’t like every other musician. I didn’t find it inspiring for me to write songs.

“I just felt I got really low.

“I realised that the job that I ended up picking in the end is nearly like a vocation and when that was kind of taken away from me and I wasn’t sure whether it was going to be coming back either.

“I just got really low, I got really depressed and it took me a good year, year and a half to come out of it.

“I just went into a hole.

“I didn’t feel inspired.

“I’m really honest about my mental health.

“I always tell people that I tend to suffer from depression, and it wasn’t until I actually became a singer, a musician that it actually released a lot of my sadness.

“I actually was squishing down a lot of my fears.

“I wanted to become a musician but I actually told myself I wasn’t good enough.

“I faced that but it didn’t go away.

“There’s always that kind of negative voice in your head telling you, you’re not good enough to be doing this job.

“But then when you have expansive time in front of you and you’re sitting in COVID, and you don’t have anything to do, your life has been taken away from you, you don’t have the thing that you were spending all your time doing is gone…. You start to wonder, what is it all about?

“And so you go down a dark hole, and I think a lot of people did.

“And for me, I don’t mind talking about it because I think the more that we talk about people’s mental health, the more lives we might end up saving because it’s something that affects everybody.

 “I don’t call it depression, I just call it the sadness.

“When it comes on me, I have to work really hard to try and figure out coping strategies to get out of it.

“But it might not happen when you want it to happen, you can’t just snap your fingers and it be done.

“You have to work on it and it’s horrible.

“Eventually, eventually you see the light and I think that’s why we take our chances when we can to go seeking joy as much as we can.

“Life is short and you just don’t know when you’ll be able to do it again.

“And now it’s coming out the other side and we’re back to normal.

“I’m writing songs and I feel inspired by other people’s music.

“We’re starting to record a new album. It’s exciting.”

Aoife says she has been blessed to come from the family she is from but she has had to make peace with certain things.

“I have had a really privileged upbringing in the sense that when I realised that I wanted to do it and I was able to have that knowledge behind me and have the connections that they brought me.

“I’m very privileged in that sense but it also doesn’t mean that it makes it any easier.

“Because you’re always going to be compared to the rest of your family and everybody is always gonna want to talk about them all the time.

“I had to really get my head around that and realise that it’s gonna be the reality of going into the industry and realising I’m always going to be compared to the rest of my family and I had to just kind of do my peace with that and be okay with it and just accept that that’s just what happens.

“And I don’t really mind it as such because I feel very honoured to be compared to such amazing musicians as my mam and my aunt and my cousins and my uncles as well because that’s who I learned from, I learned from all of those people and I feel privileged to be from the family that I’m from.”

You certainly are from a well known family. Do you remember a moment when it dawned on you that your mother wasn’t like other kids’ mothers? “Yeah, usually in the shop actually.

“Because we grew up kind of at soundchecks running around, playing hide and seek in venues and that was just normal.

“But it was in Dunnes, Tesco or any kind of shop and my mam would be stopped every five seconds.

“I was like, ‘What the hell like?’

“It seemed normal to me until the point that we couldn’t do our grocery shops when people were stopping my mam and telling her their life story.

“I realised that this isn’t actually like a normal family, ‘Nobody knows who anybody else’s mas are’.

“That was something that I had to get my head around.”

Aoife Scott plays Square Chapel in Halifax on 15 June, The London Irish Centre on 16 June, The Bear Club in Luton on 17 June, Temperance in Leamington Spa on 21 June, The Met in Bury on 22 June, The Courthouse in Otley on 23 June and The Pound in Corsham on 24 June.

For more information, click here.

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