Tyrone country singer- songwriter Gary Quinn told David Hennessy about winning his seventh British Country Music Award at the recent awards ceremony in London, returning to live performance last summer and why, despite many years in Greater Manchester, Omagh will always be home.
Northern Irish country singer-songwriter, Gary Quinn took the UK Male Vocalist’ honour at the recent British Country Music Awards held in London.
Gary said of receiving the award: “I’m incredibly humbled to be taking this award home when I consider the amount of extremely talented male artists releasing country music in the UK right now. Winning Male Vocalist for a third time means so much and I’m so thankful to the BCMA, all those that voted and especially to everyone who continues to support my music.”
This was not Gary’s first BCMA award but he confessed this one felt particularly poignant as he beat stiff competition from Alan Finlan, Jake Morrell, Kevin McGuire and Tom Prottey- Jones and coming after the bleak times of the pandemic.
Gary told The Irish World: “I think this one felt a little more special to me.
“There’s been such a great movement of British country music over the last couple of years, so to be back in the mix of all of that was great after an 18 month hiatus due to COVID.
“To come away a winner in that male category was fantastic, because the guys in that category that I was up against have come out of the blocks really strongly through COVID with their releases and streaming numbers.
“I didn’t expect it, just happy to be in the mix.”
His recent win was Gary’s seventh BCMA award, an incredible record and he says this one felt like a vindication of his new musical direction.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up a couple of awards from the British Country Music Association.
“This being the seventh, it was quite sweet.
“I think what was really exciting for me was to be back amongst the mix and feel relevant. I consciously made a decision about my own musical output.
“The Nashville sound in particular has become quite country pop with different releases. You have got to have your finger on the pulse and keep up with those changes.
“As an artist, and as a business, you can’t just say, ‘I’m going to write for the sake of writing for me personally’.
“You have to think, ‘Is this commercial enough? Is this going to resonate?’
“So the three releases I have done through 2021 have kind of vindicated that move.
“That was something that felt a little out of my comfort zone.
“Credit has to go to my producer Richard Alex who helped me navigate that and did push me, and I think we’ve come up with something quite cool.
“So it was nice to pick up the award on that behalf.”
The current EP I’m Just Me Being Me’s title alludes to this change of style.
“I’m Just Me Being Me is a line from Nobody Somebody, the single I released at the beginning of the year.
“And it resonated because even though there’s a bit of a musical change, it’s still me being me.
“I’m putting out my own music, putting my own stamp on it and what I love about country music.”
The win comes on the back of a busy year for the Omagh man who is based in the Manchester area with releases with Nobody Somebody and Catch Me placing at #1 and #2 on the UK Country Chart respectively as well as being championed by Ty Bentli (Ty Bentli Show, Apple Music) and being selected as Chris Country Radio’s ‘Single of the Week’ in the months of January and June. Nobody Somebody also placed on Spotify’s ‘Wild Country’ and Apple Music’s ‘Today’s Country’ curated playlists.
A founder of the Buckle & Boots country music festival, it was all a very busy year for Gary bringing the event back with none other than The Shires headlining.
He also performed at and helped to organise Craic by the Creek ‘in the background’, the brand new festival that featured Nathan Carter.
How did it feel to return to live performance? “It felt brilliant. To be behind doors for the last 12 to 14 months and then the first thing that we’re able to do coming out of lockdown were festivals in the summer, that felt amazing.
“As an artist, just getting back on that stage and performing in front of people and hearing them sing your music back to you for the first time in nearly 18 months was fantastic.
“And a lot of hard work had gone into shuffling dates around, making sure artists could commit to different things. Everybody was eager to make it work because they hadn’t done anything for so long.
“I had a small part to play in the background with Craic by the Creek.
“They came to Buckle and Boots, to the site here to see how it operated and then I got a chance to perform there as well.
“I know the Craic by the Creek lads, they’re fantastic guys.
“We ended up running Craic By The Creek back to back with Buckle & Boots.
“And I think that was a lot to take on after not doing a lot for so long.
“So we were all pretty tired after the first couple of events, but it was just great to see those crowds, see happy faces, people dancing, having a good time.
“Connecting with people again, getting in front of live audiences and feeling that atmosphere was incredible.
“A special part was seeing so many artists come along to Buckle & Boots who weren’t performing. They wanted to just come along and experience the festival, feel a connection with the other artists. A lot of networking goes on at Buckle & Boots.
“I see Buckle & Boots as an opportunity and platform for collaboration for artists in the country scene particularly, to have an aim that they want to play at it, but also where they can meet like-minded people and hopefully new developments, new collaboration can come out of Buckle & Boots.”
Gary remembers the bleak times when people did not know when live performance would return and confesses he did think hard about his career choice in spite of all his success.
“I think anybody within the entertainment industry felt quite isolated, forgotten.
“A lot of other sectors seemed to be looked after really well and you started questioning if you have made the right decision to follow a passion.
“As a dad, I have responsibilities and I don’t want to be letting anybody down.
“And there are those bleak times where you’re actually questioning, ‘Should you be doing what you’re doing?’
“Do you need to go back and find a 9-5 job, do something that you’re not entirely happy doing?
“Coming out of those bleak times was fantastic, it almost justified that you made the right decision sticking tight.
“And eventually some support came through from the government.
“Wonderful charities like Help Musicians were fantastic to people who couldn’t get back out performing.
“But you have got to experience those bleak times, you have got to experience those times of down to fully appreciate those ups whenever they come around.
“And there was a lot of ups this summer that I wasn’t the only one to experience.
“Even talking to Nathan Carter, who I would be friendly enough with, at Craic By the Creek, it was hitting everybody at different stages of their careers.
“It wasn’t just the roots musicians who were struggling to get gigs, or it wasn’t just the guys playing main stages at different festivals, it was guys who were relying on pub gigs for their income.
“It was just great to see everybody getting back to doing what it is they love to do.”
Garth Brooks inspired Gary’s single Nobody Somebody.
Gary told The Irish World last year: “The idea came from watching Garth Brooks thing on YouTube. Garth does a thing onstage that once he finishes his last song he’ll give his guitar to somebody in the audience. He gave it to this young kid and the kid was obviously crying that he gets the guitar and he’s saying thank you but Garth is repeating back to him, ‘No, thank you for making this nobody feel like somebody’.”
Was Gary pleased to see the news about Garth coming back to Ireland? “It was great to see it.
“I was one of the guys first time around who was lucky enough to snag some tickets, but then he had to cancel.
“And I was one of the ones waiting in the queue yesterday at 8am trying to get tickets and thankfully I did, so I’ll be headed over to Dublin early September to catch the main man himself.
“I met him ten years ago maybe now.
“He’s had a huge love affair with Ireland and always spoken lovely about Ireland.
“So it was sad to see the first round of concerts a couple of years ago fell apart and I know that he himself would have been disappointed about that.
“It’s just great to see him come back this way and choose Dublin as his main European slot.
“Huge credit to Dublin, huge credit to Croke Park and all the Irish people that have loved his music for the last twenty years or so.”
Now living here for eleven years, Greater Manchester became Gary’s base when he first came her as a student and met the women who would become his wife.
“I moved over eleven years ago now but I had been back and forth through studying in Manchester, met my ex-wife and settled in Greater Manchester before trying a few things back in Omagh.
“We tried to make it work back in the UK.
“Unfortunately the marriage didn’t work but I’m still here with the two kids to see them as much as I can and their dad’s around.
“It is good to have them but I think it’s worth it musically.
“Mainland UK probably suits my music a lot stronger than Ireland.
“Although I’m a country artist from Ireland, I’m not an Irish country artist.”
Is it almost home for him at this point? “It’s a hard one. I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt settled away from home but I knew that I had to get away.
“Omagh will always be home.
“I suppose home is not really about location, it is more about the people you’re around.
“So wherever the kids are would be home and within the music industry, I have friends dotted all over the UK.
“There’s elements of feeling at home here but it’s hard to feel settled here, I think.
“I don’t know if that will never come but I’ll always gravitate back to Omagh one day I imagine.”
Gary told us last year that he was hoping to get home for Christmas with the kids although whether he would or not was somewhat unclear due to the virus and the travel restrictions.
Did they get there? “We did in the end. We were fortunate enough that our dates allowed us to travel back and forth.
“The kids were with me for Christmas in Omagh. We had a fantastic time, it was good for them to see everybody again.
“I’ll be heading back again this Christmas as well. I love Christmas at home. It’s my favourite time of year.”
It was many years ago that Gary and another Tyrone musician came up with a GAA song for the Red Hands.
Of course, it got an airing this past year with Tyrone overcoming Mayo.
“Back a couple of years ago, myself and Justin McGurk from Cookstown wrote a song called Heaven in Tyrone.
“I responded to Justin’s idea of trying to pick out some of the colloquial names for some of the counties that would had strong heritage.
“You’ve got the Kingdom, The Orchard County, we mentioned Molly Malone from Dublin and the Tribesmen from Galway to keep these rivalries that we have in Gaelic, acknowledging that these are the places that Sam has visited but ultimately it does just want to come back to Tyrone because that’s where Heaven is.”
Gary will soon be touring with a fellow Tyrone man, the well known country singer Dominic Kirwan.
“Dominic approached me in the summer time, another Omagh man.
“Dominic has been good to me when I first started out.
“He lives not that far from my mum and dad, where I grew up, a couple of houses away.
“I would have been friendly with his son growing up as well.
“So he reached out there in the summer, ‘Fancy coming out on the road to do this acoustic singer-songwriter thing?’
“I’m excited about that because it’s gonna put me in front of a different audience that wouldn’t have seen me on the circuit that I do.
“It’s going to be a chance to pick up new fans hopefully, get out there and continue on with me being me.
“I’m a guy who likes getting out there writing songs and singing them for people.
“I’m really excited.”
London-based fans will get a chance to see Gary before that as he- along with Kezia Gill and Jade Helliwell (who have both been featured in The Irish World and who both picked up awards at the recent BCMA awards- brings the Honky Tonk Roadshow to Sutton.
“We’re doing contemporary country songs in venues around the UK, and our next one is in London.
“We’re doing the hits of Luke Combs, Karl Urban, Carrie Underwood, it’s all things we think you would hear on Broadway in Nashville.”
I’m Just Me Being Me is out now.
Gary tours with Dominic Kirwan and Stacey Breen next year from March.
The Honky Tonk Roadshow, featuring Gary, Kezia Gill and Jade Helliwell, comes to The Sound Lounge in Sutton on Saturday 11 December.
For more information, click here.