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A voice from beyond the grave

Dublin singer- songwriter Keeley told David Hennessy about her debut album inspired by Inga Maria Hauser, the 18 year old German backpacker who was brutally butchered in Northern Ireland in 1988.

Dublin singer- songwriter Keeley, full name Keeley Moss, released her debut album on 30 June.

The album Floating above Everything Else- and indeed all of Keeley’s material- is dedicated to Inga Maria Hauser, the German backpacker who was murdered in 1988 in Northern Ireland.

From Munich, Inga was just 18 years old.

She was last seen on the Stranraer to Larne ferry on 6 April.

She was found two weeks later on 20 April in Ballypatrick Forest, Ballycastle, a remote forest in North Antrim.

No-one has even been charged over her murder.

“I’m drawn to the flame,” Keeley told The Irish World.

This is the title of her previous EP but also the best way to describe Keeley, a songwriter who writes about no one and nothing except Inga.

“She is the shining source, she is everything. It emanates from her inspiration and I go where I’m led by her inspiration.

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“She looms so largely over the landscape of my life and my art is my life. It’s inextricably linked.

“A lot from musicians and songwriters say they have a life outside the band or outside of music, I don’t really have a life outside my music and I don’t want one either.

“I believe in music to such an unbridled intensity that I have to pursue it and I have to give it my all.

“It’s the only way for me to try and reach the levels I need to reach hopefully in terms of quality and productivity and consistency and also largely in terms of honouring my muse who is Inga.

“I was so struck by her inspiration and so horrified by the story of what had happened to her and so moved by the circumstances involved that I resolved to write only about her for as long as I felt like and that feeling hasn’t waned or dissipated in any way over the last seven years, it’s only intensified.

“I find myself seven years on from when I first read about her and she’s still all I want to write about.”

But why Inga? Why did her case speak to you so vividly? Is it because she was also a musician and artist?

“Not at first because I actually wasn’t aware.

“When I first read about her story, it wasn’t public knowledge that she had been a musician or an artist or anything like that.

“The stories that had been published about the case gave so little background on her as a person, they provided the basic facts of the case but without any of the background of who she was and I was really intrigued about, ‘Who was she? What was she like? Where had she been? Why was she there?’

“There’s no other case like Inga’s.

“There’s no other instance of a tourist who has been the victim of a sexually motivated murder in Northern Ireland.

“There was all sorts of aspects that intrigued me and moved me but I couldn’t put my finger on any one specific one.

“I’m still searching for the reason.

“I’d never met her.

“It’s still a mystery to me as to why this person, this one case would effectively take over my life and my head and my heart to such a degree but it has so I’ve just gone with my heart with it and here we are.

“There’s several details that I think render the story even more heart breaking than it otherwise would be.

“The fact that she was only 18 years old. She was on her first trip abroad away from her family. It was her dream to travel the world and the highlight of her trip was going to Ireland and we know this because it’s something that she wrote in a postcard on 4 April 1988 when she said, ‘The day after tomorrow, I go on to Ireland. I’m looking forward to that the best’, so we know that to her this was the crescendo, this was everything.

“She had travelled 1,000 miles for her fate to culminate in this horrendous slaying, this wretched, horrendous butchering of her because it was such a degree of overkill deployed in the course of her murder which makes it even more grotesque.

“The fact that she was, as I subsequently learned, such a beautiful person.

“She was someone who was always smiling, always shining and was a very captivatingly charismatic and friendly person with a really kind heart and obviously a very artistic person.

Inga Maria Hauser was murdered in 1988.

“I think she had so much to offer which was effectively squandered as a result of the barbaric actions of her killers.

“But what I find so inspiring and such a testament to Inga’s spirit is the fact that here we are 35 years on and she’s still in the conversation.

“She’s become a creative influence all these years later in an island where, other than her killers, no one even met her.

“How many art works have her killers inspired in the 35 years that they’ve been living on the earth? None, but Inga has from beyond the grave. I think that’s an incredible thing that she’s been able to have this impact on people and not just me.

“She’s inspired poems to be written, she’s inspired paintings to be painted and all of this without her even in the world.

“To me the more art that’s created in her honour keeps her in the world and minimizes, even in a small way, the extent of her absence from the world over the last 35 years.

“I love the idea of her lasting legacy being something so powerful and so compelling that it carries on.

“If Inga can inspire the writing of great songs, then Inga will live forever.

“I suppose I didn’t anticipate the extent to which I would feel so close to her.

“Alan (Maguire), my producer and musical partner, asked me when we were working on the first record Drawn to the Flame, ‘What are you going to do when the record is finished?’

“And I said, ‘What do you mean?’

“And he said, ‘Are you going to stop writing songs about Inga?’

“And it hadn’t even occurred to me that that might happen.

“I couldn’t bare the thought of it because by that stage I had been writing about her so long in my blog The Keeley Chronicles and also my songwriting that the thought of stopping writing about her would feel like such a loss.

“I could write about things that happened to me but it just feels a bit vacant to do that, a bit redundant.

“Because I don’t need to have songs written about me, I’m getting to live my life.”

Have you had contact with Inga’s own family? “The very first thing I tried to do once the blog that I published went viral to my amazement in 2016, I tried to write to her mum.

“Her mum had said something in 1989.

“She said, ‘I hope that the people of Northern Ireland do not forget Inga’.

“So when the blog went viral and the bulk of the interest was in Northern Ireland I thought, ‘Well, this is something I can tell Inga’s mum, that all these years later the people of Northern Ireland haven’t forgotten Inga’.

“I wasn’t aware that there was this groundswell of interest in Inga’s case that had been lying there dormant all that time.

“No one I spoke to in Dublin had heard of her so I thought, ‘Well, clearly  the case appears dead’.

“But I felt that inspired and that interested in it that I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to publish this anyway even if no one reads it’ and it was to my total surprise the day that there was such a lightning reaction to it in terms of the public response.

“So I thought, ‘I’ll write to Inga’s mum and I’ll inform her of this’.

“I wrote her a letter and I sent it off and didn’t hear anything back.

“I was trying repeatedly to reach her and then the letters would come back unopened.

“Inga’s mum had suffered a stroke which led to heavy dementia and she had lost all memory.

“So eventually one of my letters was passed onto Inga’s nephew and we became friends so I’m in touch with Inga’s nephew and Inga’s niece and I’ve had some contact in the past with Inga’s sister so that’s all the family members of Inga’s that remain because her dad passed away in 2006. Her mum sadly passed away in the years since but it’s been a really lovely vivid experience getting to meet and speak with as many of Inga’s friends as I have.”

So your work couldn’t bring any solace to Inga’s mother, sadly, but has it to Inga’s family members that you mention?

“I think so. I’m so glad I can at least communicate with blood relatives of Inga and they’re aware, particularly Inga’s nephew and niece, of what I’m trying to do and how, to quote Elvis Costello, my aim is true.

“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Would you ever write about another true crime case?’

““I just couldn’t, there’s no other Inga. It would feel like a betrayal or something. I just couldn’t do it. What fuels this is from an emotional level so it feels very instinctive and very emotional.”

Keeley recently appeared in the Murder in the Badlands BBC documentary and is working on a brand new film on the subject.

“The documentary film is going to be an extraordinary film and something that will hopefully bring Inga’s story to a much wider audience and hopefully will turn up the heat on Inga’s killers because to quote a Northern Irish figure with regards to other Northern Irish figures, ‘They haven’t gone away, you know?’”

No one has been charged with Inga’s murder but there have been arrests. Keeley has been disappointed that things did not go further.

Do you have hope that there can be justice after 35 years?

“I do still hold out hope.

“However those hopes were diminished, not dashed, but diminished since the PPS of Northern Ireland handed down their ruling that they were not going to bring (to trial) either of the two individuals who had been reported by the PSNI to trial, or the other individual who was released unconditionally.

“I do hold out hope.

“In  2018, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Inga’s case, I remember being asked, ‘This case has been in the headlines so many times before and it has never been solved, why would it be any different now?’

“And what I said was in any criminal case loyalties over a period of time may well change, people who were unwilling to cooperate with the authorities before may suddenly become willing, might suddenly become cognizant of the need to get certain issues off their conscience.

“So I do hold out hope and I think I’ll always retain hope but there’s no doubt that the PPS decision is a significant setback in the striving for justice on Inga’s behalf.”

The Irish World was there at The Water Rats in Kings Cross for Keeley’s recent London show and have to say it was a hell of a gig.

Keeley has already been getting UK support from BBC 6Music with Steve Lamacq and Radcliffe & Maconie championing her.

In their native Dublin she has sold out shows at Whelan’s, The Thomas House and The Grand Social and been championed by Hot Press.

Keeley also curates and broadcasts her own weekly radio show Keeley’s Blissed-Out Bangers on Radio Wigwam (UK), Bombshell Radio (Canada) and Eardrum Buzz Radio (USA).

Keeley lists The Smiths, Pink Floyd and Lush as her biggest musical inspirations.

She has already earned the acclaim from Miki Berenyi, former lead singer of Lush and now of Piorshka.

Jason Pierce of Spiritualised is another well known fan.

“That means a lot because Jason Pierce and Miki Berenyni are two artists I have loved for years.

“I’m a huge fan of Lush, Piorshka and Spiritualised and I’m well aware of the integrity that they possess as artists.

“To me that praise means even more so for the fact that in my native Ireland I get comparatively little press attention, I get quite a lot of airplay but the music that I create and the art that I’m in the process of building it generally gets more awareness overseas even in places like Brazil where I’ve never toured and I’ve never been.

“I suppose that there are people out there who are genuine artists who have said such favourable things means a lot.

“I’m a lone wolf in a lot of respects and other artists have picked up on me a lot more so than the press but I suppose that wouldn’t be so surprising given precedents that have been set by other bands and other artists whose work was overlooked to a large degree in their own country. One prime example would be that of Microdisney.

“Of course I’m very honoured to have Microdisney’s drummer Tom Fenner in my band now.

“Microdisney are my favourite Irish band ever, one of the greatest Irish bands ever but a band who really went entirely unrecognised in Ireland for decades.

“It’s only been in recent years that there has been degree of acclaim from the press or even notice for their work in Ireland.

“In the 80s no one in Ireland gave a fuck about Microdisney so all these johnny come latelys who are very wise after the fact but if the modern day Microdisney was playing in their back garden they would be oblivious to it.

“At the end of the day I’m not a mainstream kind of act, I’m someone with very staunch indie values so maybe that’s a factor as well.

“But it’s interesting that so far everything that’s in my life, everything that’s happened has been from things outside of Ireland.

“The radio show that I present three stations outside of Ireland In Wales, Canada and the USA took the show on, my publisher is based in LA, my record label is based in south London

“The film that I’m involved in making, the production company are in Scotland and Germany.

“Everything that’s in my life is something that has come to me from somewhere outside of Ireland.”

Keeley’s bandmates are based in London. Could she see herself relocating from Dublin? “The prime mover of that would be the housing situation in Ireland which is catastrophic.

“I’m very happy with where I’m living at the moment which I was very lucky to get by the skin of my teeth nine months ago.

“But if for whatever reason I have to leave my current home, I see no option but to emigrate because there’s nowhere to live in Ireland.”

Keeleys plays Dublin Castle in London on Thursday 14 September.

Floating Above Everything Else is out now on Dimple Records.

For more information, click here.

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