Country music sensation Máiréad told David Hennessy about her new Christmas single This Time of Year, what Christmas means to her and why she rang Philomena Begley for advice when she was starting out in the business.
Described as one of the brightest rising stars on the UK country scene, Máiréad from Tyrone has just released a single for everyone who is missing someone this Christmas.
The singer has been based in the London area for over season years now and This Time of Year comes hot on the heels of her hit Crying on the Dancefloor which was a breakout success for the singer-songwriter.
Máiréad told The Irish World: “The song’s about missing someone at Christmas time. It was written about loss and bereavement. It’s for a friend who had lost someone very special to them. It can be for anybody really.
“I just hope people can take some comfort in it and take some meaning out of it for them.
“Christmas means something different to everybody.”
Asked what Christmas means to her, Máiréad says: “We’re a big family so I always go home for Christmas. I have three little nieces and they’re all a buzz and there’s all the craic going on at home.
“It’s my dad’s birthday on Christmas Eve so our Christmas tradition is actually having a Chinese takeaway on Christmas Eve because it was always the only place open in the town.
“We used to do that on Christmas Eve and watch all the Christmas movies from when we were younger and we still kind of try to do most of that.
“On Christmas Day we all go over to my granny’s house. Everyone piles in and we play lots of games and music and everything.”
And will she be getting back to Cookstown this year? Well, like any of us, she can’t be certain: “I hope so. I’m hoping to get home if I can. All my family are in Tyrone and I’m hoping to be able to go and stay with them. I don’t know with all the restrictions. I’m trying to get to understand them. That’s the plan at the minute anyway.
“It would be awful if I couldn’t. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I think people have had such a hard year that everyone just needs that opportunity to hopefully- and carefullly and safely- reunite over the holidays. Fingers crossed anyway.”
Máiréad has earned comparisons to big American singers like Leann Rimes and Faith Hill and her most recent release Crying on the Dancefloor, a country number infused with an electronic beat, really captured people’s imaginations with UK Country duo The Shires among those who championed the track.
“Crying on the Dancefloor is still doing well. The Shires have a radio show and they had me and the song as the spotlight artist and track. That was really exciting.
“It was picked up by Apple New in Country and then the British Country Music Association also had it as their track of the week.
“It should have come out earlier this year. I had planned a headline show for that single which sold out really quickly but it had to get cancelled.
“The track has been doing well and helped me gain some more momentum. It had been almost a year since I put out a single actually. I was really pleased with the traction that it did get.”
With Cliona Hagan and Donna Taggart also coming from Tyrone it is a county with a wealth of country stars and Máiréad sought out its biggest name on the scene when she was looking for advice early on in her career.
“I remember years ago calling Philomena Begley when I was starting in country music. The guy who played piano for me at weddings had given me her number. I phoned her. She was really helpful and gave me some advice on the phone about getting into the industry but we talked more about what my vision was for my music. She was really lovely. I’m not sure I would have the guts to call her now,” she laughs.
Crying on the Dancefloor’s dancey feel demonstrates that Máiréad has a sound of her own.
“I would say I’m definitely modern country. I love Americana so I love Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert. Dolly Parton is my biggest influence. I always liked her. She just said, ‘When you’re writing a song, although you might be a country singer, the song will take you where it needs to go and if it’s going to be a more modern song it will go that direction. If it’s going to be a more rootsy song, it will go that direction’.
“I try to just move wherever the song’s going and not try to stick too much to pop/ country. There is a bit of variation in the songs I would write.”
After coming to London more than seven years ago, the singer moved to Hertfordshire in January.
“I actually moved here and then went into lockdown so haven’t been able to experience it. I was in South West London before that. When I first moved over, it was to Battersea.”
With a day job as a qualified speech therapist who works with children with autism, it was her musical ambitions that motivated her move to the big city.
“Coming to London was more for music, to be able to write more and collaborate and gig in some quite iconic venues which I have managed to do. I just want to keep moving forward with my music, reach more people. I think being in London has definitely helped me do that.”
Máiréad has known she wanted to be a singer ever since she was singing up and down the country from the age of seven. She credits her mother and her music teachers from primary school, who she is still in touch with, with encouraging her love of music.
“The primary school choir was so serious we would be on UTV School Choir of the Year and get to go to loads of competitions.
My mum just had me at every sesh all over the country. It was really fun actually. We used to go to Portrush and Portstewart. I would go to lots of competitions every year. It was always something I really enjoyed.”
Máiréad had joined forces with fellow UK-based country singers Lucy Blu and Shannon Hynes under the moniker The Isles before lockdown prevented them doing the sort of tour they had planned.
“Obviously that tour got delayed but we did manage to put on a show in Morden just as lockdown was lifted the first time. That was amazing to get back onstage for that gig.
“I think people are just dying to get back out there and hear live music and go to gigs.
“I really can’t wait to get out there again in front of a live audience.”
This Time of Year is out now.
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