Susan McCann told David Hennessy about launching her career in the midst of the troubles, why it was a sad day the Galytmore closed and this weekend’s ICC fundraiser.
Known as Irelands First Lady Of Country Music, Susan McCann comes to the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith this week to raise funds for Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma.
Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma was established in 2016 by Michael O’Hare, a friend of this paper and someone who would always be seen at our awards back in the Galtymore.
Michael’s sister Majella was shot dead in 1976 when she was just 12 years old.
Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma aims to highlight legacy issues with regards to the troubles in Northern Ireland and encourage reconciliation.
Susan looks forward to the show for this reason and also because Michael O’Hare is a long time friend of hers.
Susan told The Irish World: “I’m looking forward to it.”
Susan made her name in 1977 with Big Tom is Still the King.
The troubles were at their height at that time but thankfully we live in a brighter time now.
“I started in the midst of the troubles.
“They were hard times. We wouldn’t want to go through them again, that’s for sure.
“It’s great (now), everyone wants to get on.
“It’s much, much better than it was.
“I suppose it’s not perfect but then it’s a whole lot better than it was.
“We can go about our business and not fear getting blown up.
“The Good Friday Agreement made a great difference.
“I have grandkids there and I just pray every night that they get leave to have the life that they deserve, that they can go about their business and go to university, enjoy Ireland, enjoy Northern Ireland like they should.
“I would not want my grandkids to go through life the way my kids went through it when I was scared of them going down the town and scared of them getting caught up in bombs.
“It was a worry and I wouldn’t want that for my children to go through it with their children.
“It’s good at the minute, I can go to bed at night and the kids are safe.”
Susan McCann has spoken about her Co Armagh childhood and the impact the Troubles had on day-to-day life.
She revealed in an interview last year that her family didn’t have electricity or running water due to the tensions close to the border and described feeling like “second class citizens”.
However, this is not to say it was an unhappy childhood. She describes it as a great childhood.
Did you feel forgotten? “We were.
“Where we lived, we didn’t have any electricity on our road. That was one of the things, we walked three miles to school. We didn’t get the same facilities they got.
“All the lads in our family, there was four of them and they all left home to go to England to work just to earn a living to send money back home to mammy and daddy to rear the other four.
“It wasn’t easy but you know what? Everybody was in the same boat and we made the best of it.
“We had a great childhood looking back, the things we did, the simple things that we did and enjoyed.
“There’s nothing simple about life for young ones now, that’s for sure. I don’t know whether it’s for the better or not to be honest with you.
“I sometimes think I’d love our wee ones to see what we had to do when we were at school.
“When we came home from school, we had to gather spuds in the evening and you had to help with the farm in the morning before you go. It was part of growing up.
“We didn’t pass any remarks on it and then we became 16, 17 we went to all the markets and carnivals in Ireland, we had great craic.
“But there were no cars around at the time, you walked or you took the bike, one of the two,” she laughs.
So it was a happy childhood? “Absolutely, we had great times.
“Our granny- My father’s mother- lived with us.
“When mam died, God rest her soul, we got all the photographs that mam kept over the years and there were photographs of us when we were kids playing shop with granny.
“That wouldn’t happen now.
“There was no such thing as playing with toys, couldn’t afford to buy them so you made the best of what you had.
“We had a nice upbringing, we really had.
“It was hard but it was lovely.”
Susan says she is delighted we have come a long way since the time when her family were ‘forgotten’.
“Times were very different that time in the rural areas, but that’s the past.
“It’s all changed now, there’s no point in looking back. You look on, you look ahead, there’s great opportunities now for children, great opportunities for young ones.
“All my grandchildren are doing so well at their school, we wouldn’t have got the opportunity to do it.
“Everybody should be treated the same. I don’t care what position you hold in life or what nationality you are, that’s my motto: We’re all God’s children and we’re all entitled to the same treatment.
“That’s my philosophy in life and I tried to teach that to my kids down through the years and my grandkids feel that way too.
“They would have no animosity.
“Ireland is a very cosmopolitan country now and it’s not like it used to be.
“The mix of children getting on together, it’s wonderful.”
McCann has enjoyed a career of more than four decades and played on all the major stages such as Carnegie Hall in New York and the Royal Albert Hall but it is her family and moments with them that give her the most pride.
She has recorded duets with her granddaughter Sinead.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is the fact that my grandkids sing with me now, and the fact that mam and dad lived long enough to see my success.
“I suppose that’s the thing I’m most proud of.
“Dad and mum came with me quite a bit in the early stages of my career.
“They came with me around Ireland
“I did the Royal Albert and I did Carnegie and I did Wembley Festival every Easter.
“I did the Strawberry Festival in Florida.
“I’m the only Irish singer, the only European singer that ever did it.
“I did that for about seven or eight years in a row.
“I was very lucky I did so well and I met so many nice people really and remained friends over the years.”
Someone Susan remains friends with is the founder of Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma, the organisation this Friday’s fundraiser is for.
“I’m great friends with Michael O’Hare.
“We go back to school days.
“Mick was probably raised about ten or fifteen miles away from us and his sister was a hairdresser in the village Forkhill where I was raised and I got to meet Marie and through that I met Michael.
“I was only about 15 or 16 and he was too because we were both the one age so we became great friends and then the very first band that I had, Mick was in it.
“That’s how far back we go, that’s a long time ago.”
Susan would see Mick in the Galtymore when she came to play the renowned Irish venue in Cricklewood.
“He was there with Johnny Minogue and all the boys in the Galtymore.
“Sure it was great, the craic was great in the Galty.
“It was a sad day the day the Galty closed, that’s for sure. I was at the closing of it actually.
“I flew over just to be there.
“Anyone who was worth their salt played the Galtymore.
“When I started, there was three or four ballrooms in it and they would all be going on at the same time.
“There was ceili in one place, there was Irish country in another ballroom and then there was pop and a disco in another.
“It was a massive place.
“It was just a hub of entertainment in the Irish area in London really.
“I played the Galtymore at least four times a year when I started in 1976 so we have great memories of the Galtymore, made loads of friends there from all over Ireland through the Galtymore.
“All my brothers went to England as all the young fellas went to England in the 60s to earn their living and they would tell me, ‘When you go to London the first place you would go to is the Galtymore’.
“You would meet all the contractors there and get work there.
“It was a great place to meet your fellow Irishmen.
“There was more Irish in Cricklewood than there was Londoners, that’s for sure.
“It was just great fun and the guest houses that we used to stay in were all owned by Irish people.
“Everything about it was Irish.
“There were more Irish over there than we were here.”
He was remembered at the Hot Country awards recently and Big Tom was also a big part of Susan’s story.
“My first hit single was Big Tom is still the King.
“If it hadn’t been for that, I probably would have never been heard of.
“I always say that and I mean what I say because the time we were just another band.
“When I started, Big Tom was massive.
“I recorded it and every Big Tom fan in the country bought it.
“It went to number one within weeks of it being released and the rest is history.”
Big Tom was a friend and mentor to Susan.
“He gave me great advice.
“I was only 27 coming into the big bad world of- Well not the big bad world but the big world of music that I knew nothing about really.
“He certainly helped me, there’s no doubt about it. Gave me great advice and stuck with me.
“He’s sadly missed. He never stops being talked about. His fans will never stop talking about him.
“He’s still as big as he always was in everybody’s mind.
“He’ll never be forgotten about, Big Tom.
“He was a treasure.
“He definitely was a national treasure.
“He was, there’s no doubt about that.
“He was a great friend.”
Susan looks forward to coming back to London and seeing some old friends.
“I haven’t been in London in I don’t know how long and I’m looking forward to it because I know there will be lots of people there from the Galtymore years, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Susan will be playing some dates in Ireland towards the end of the year.
“I’m doing two dates a week. I’m 74 now. I wouldn’t be able to be out on the road every night.
“But thank God I’m happy and I live in Newry.
“I live in an area where it’s near all the schools my grandkids go to so they all come into me in the evening time to have granny’s sandwiches.
“I have the kids every evening so life’s great at the minute.
“Thank God and we’re healthy and well and that’s the main thing.
“What else can you ask for? At 74 you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Susan McCann performs for a Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma fundraiser this Friday 28 April.
For information and to book, click here.
For more information on Troubles, Tragedy and Trauma, click here.
For more information on Susan McCann, click here.