Folk singer Paddy Dennehy told David Hennessy about his new album that was five years in the making only for Covid-19 to prevent him from launching it and touring with it, how losing a friend inspired the album’s title track and he got to perform with Glen Hansard despite being too scared to talk to him.
He has performed on Ireland’s famous chat show The Late Late Show played, by special invitation, with Glen Hansard and supported Imelda May in his home city while Rolling Stone magazine say, “Few possess such rare talent, and we can only advise you to keep an eye — and both ears — on [him].”
Now Limerick’s emerging folk star Paddy Dennehy is preparing to release his debut album Little Light with the first single Feed the Full released last week.
The Cork-based singer-songwriter told The Irish World that the album was a long time coming. We asked if it stings to be releasing an album in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown: “It did a bit to be honest but that was only because I started recording it five or six years ago and when we recorded most of it, I thought it was sh*t,” he laughs.
took me an awful lot longer to record a second one. I wanted to make sure it was half decent and even now I still listen back to it and go, ‘Ah jesus…’
“It was a little bit of a kick in the teeth when you’re trying to get this out for five years and then it’s finally ready and you think it’s good but nobody can leave the house.”
The album explores themes such as love, loss and religion. “All the good bits. I’m a pretty fun guy,” he quips before going to explain the origin of the album’s title track.
“I remember chatting to my mum and she was just saying I was a pain in the arse. Ya know jokes with your parents: ‘You better not be dead now when I come back tomorrow’.
“And it’s only when you’re older you appreciate that, ‘Oh, I was very lucky to have someone looking out for me’. That’s where that song came from and then I couldn’t finish it. I knew it needed a bridge.
“Sorry to be so heavy straight away in the interview but a buddy of mine who I worked with passed away unexpectedly and I remember we were all called in at work and told that it happened.
“I just didn’t react whatsoever. It felt like I didn’t react anyway whereas everyone else did. I just didn’t have a reaction for about a week until I was driving my girlfriend home, we were just pulling into the house and I just stopped, had a quick cry and I came in for a bit and we were just sitting down on the bed chatting.
“This is actually true, I swear because it sounds so silly. She had this sh*tty little guitar in her room and I was just playing away for a minute and got the bridge straight away from what I thought would be his mum’s perspective, just the whole ‘f**k everything’. And really when you’re giving out about everything, God is a good place to start.
“I’m not particularly religious. It’s probably mostly out of jealousy because you know people who are religious, who feel like they have that hand on their shoulder all the time that’s looking out for them whereas I wouldn’t feel like that.
“I’m kind of pissed off that I don’t have it (faith) and then if it (God) is there, I’m pissed off that maybe it’s not looking out for me.”
It was a more romantic loss that inspired Feed the Full, Paddy’s current single that boasts a catchy chorus reminiscent of Hozier for its gospel feel.
“I’m going to sound like the antithesis of a zealot. When I was living in Limerick two years ago, I had just broken up with someone and it was like a week later and I was just driving down the road.
“She wasn’t even holding hands with someone, she was just walking beside someone and I was just like, ‘F**k it anyway, f**k it’. That was kind of the spark of it.
“This is in all the major religions: God isn’t like a man in the clouds, God is the feeling of love between you and someone else. When I didn’t have that love, then I was like, ‘If God is love and I don’t have love, then there’s no God for me’. That’s what that one’s about so I put a big chorus on it so it’s easier to listen to.
“I only saw them from the back so it might not have even been her but I remember going home and I started the song straight away. It’s one of the only songs where I’ve ever had the thing and then just written it straight away. Usually it would take me months.”
Paddy’s gravelly voice is reminiscent of Tom Waits and this is not a coincidence as Paddy is inspired by the American experimental blues artist.
“I listen to way too much Tom Waits. I lost so many years trying to do a stupid Tom Waits voice and I was 20, 21 so I sounded like a puppy with a cough. It was stupid. People were so nice. They tried to tell me. They were like, ‘Maybe you should sing in your own voice’.
“I was like, ‘No, no, no, that is my voice’. Do you know when you’re that special kind of stupid you can only be at 21? I’m a much more toned down version of that now, I hope.”
Paddy’s album was produced by Mick Flannery’s drummer Christian Best. This was a big deal for Paddy who has also been a big fan of Mick Flannery for some time.
“I remember going to see Mick Flannery when I was 17 and being really excited because I came out of the bathroom and I told my friends, ‘Oh my God, I just peed beside Christian Best.
“I showed him one or two songs and he was up for working on it.
“Because he had heard my older stuff, he was able to pinpoint the problems and be like, ‘You’re doing that stupid voice again’. We have so many takes where it’s rolling and you can just hear him commenting, ‘Paddy, you’re doing it again’.”
Paddy played alongside Glen Hansard, well known for fronting The Frames and his solo work, at Cork’s Everyman Theatre. This was an opportunity that came from a brief meeting in Dingle.
“I was down at Other Voices which is an absolutely brilliant festival. Glen Hansard was there.
“I was too afraid to talk to him. He was actually dancing with somebody and he danced near us and he gave my buddy his pint. He was like, ‘I’m sorry, would you hold this for two seconds’. My buddy was very sweet and said, ‘Take his pint. Now you will have to talk to him’. Which was really cool.
“He came over to grab his pint, ‘I’m so sorry about that’. I just said, ‘Can I play you a song? There’s a piano over there’. I just blurted it out and he said, ‘Yeah, of course’.
“We go over to the piano and I play him something and he’s like, ‘That’s deadly’.
“And at the end of the festival, I was driving out of Dingle and he gives me a buzz. He says, ‘Are you around for the next couple of days?’ I said, ‘I’m actually heading back up to Cork’.
“He was like, ‘That’s brilliant. I’m doing a show in Cork next month. Do you want to come up and join me?’
“He said, ‘Just come in an hour or two before showtime and we’ll run the song’. And he ended up doing backing vocals on Hard Times which is absolutely ridiculous. It’s great.”
Although all album launch shows have been cancelled, Paddy hopes to be able to launch his new music in months to come.
“Hopefully by September we can start gigging again. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be singing to people who are two metres apart which would give me lots of room to walk around.
“The album will be out and that’s the main thing for me now, that people hear it.”
The single Feed the Full is out now.
The follow-up single Painting of a New Country will be out on 29 May.
The album Little Light is out on 12 June.
For more information, go to Paddy’s Facebook page here.