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The next chapter

Danny O’Reilly told David Hennessy about The Coronas’ new best of compilation, how they could never have foreseen the success they have had when starting out and the band’s new chapter after a change in line-up.

Following an incredible year that includes playing support for Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park to performing for President Biden in Mayo, The Coronas are releasing the greatest hits album The Best Of The Early Days.

Earlier this year, the band led by Danny O’Reilly made chart history as the only independent Irish band to have scored three consecutive chart-topping albums and were also voted #1 Live Act of the Year by Hot Press.

Danny O’Reilly was born into the famous musical Black family. His mother is Mary Black meaning his auntie is Frances Black. His sister Roisin O and cousin Aoife Scott are also well known singer- songwriters.

The Coronas have a devoted following, much of which as been with them since their 2007 debut Heroes or Ghosts.

The band are currently touring as far away as Australia and a four-night residency in their hometown in December sold out in a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, as a treat for ‘the eager fans’, the trio have delved back through their archives for a special collection of songs.

The Best of The Early Days is a dozen tracks compiled from The Coronas’ first three albums, all only now being released on vinyl, plus a special new song, closer One Last Time.

Four songs each come from their 2007 debut Heroes or Ghosts, their 2009 breakthrough Tony Was an Ex-Con (winner of Best Album at 2010’s Meteor Awards, to which they beat U2 and Snow Patrol) and 2011’s Closer to You, their first Irish chart topper.

The Coronas’ ever-evolving sound is captured on the new compilation.

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Danny told The Irish World: “It’s a really busy time.”

Was it a bit strange to go through your back catalogue and select ‘favourites’?

“Yeah, it is strange.

“Initially it came about when we were having a discussion about putting our first three albums on vinyl.

“We just said, ‘You know what? We should do a little collection, a special collection for the eager fans, and something a bit different’.

“So we picked our favourite songs off the first three albums, put it together and then found a song that hadn’t seen the light of day from that time so we decided to add that as well.

“It’s a cool thing to get out as we’re between albums.

“It’s something extra I think for, I suppose, the eager Coronas fans. It’s something different for them.

“I don’t think we’re pushing it too much as something more than a collector’s item.”

Was there some debate about what songs were selected and which didn’t make it?

“Yeah, always.

“Every set list or every album list, there is always a conversation.

“I think actually for this one, we were sort of on the same page.

“We decided initially, ‘Okay, we’ll do four songs off each album, off the first three albums’.

“And then we just sort of leaned towards songs we play live, we didn’t want to bother putting on songs that we haven’t played in a good few years and that we probably won’t play again.

“So they sort of picked themselves to certain extent.

“And even going back through the old pictures and stuff, it was a nice little sort of retrospective  moment for us going, ‘God remember them?’

“And looking at the old pictures. Even my voice sounded very different back then as well, it’s funny how you evolve without even really noticing it over the years.

“It made sense to put these three albums together because the album after, Closer to You, our fourth album, was when we moved to London and signed to Island Records, and I think that was sort of a turning point for the band.

“I feel like the first three albums was like an early chapter together and then I think we had our Island album and then I feel like we’ve had three more since as our own label here in Ireland.

“So in my mind, it almost feels like three little chapters of the band.”

According to Wikipedia and other sources, The Coronas have been around since 2003 but in reality it is not as clear as that. Danny met his bandmates Graham Knox and Conor Egan in secondary school with guitarist Dave McPhillips not joining until later.

“Well it’s a hard one to judge.

“Myself, Knoxy and Conor have been playing music together probably since we were about 15.

“I remember playing in a band when we were 14 in second year in school, starting messing around.

“We played together then but we had lots of different lineups.

“We were a school band that was just taking the p*ss and doing a few covers and it wasn’t really until we got into college and started doing our own music that we really started to take it a bit more seriously.

“The starting point of the Coronas really is when Dave joined.

“That’s when we went from being a three piece just messing about to taking it a bit more seriously.

“We struggled for what seemed like a long time trying to come up with a name for the band and eventually we were booking gigs and we were doing everything else around being a band.

“We were like, ‘Listen, we have to pick something quick’.

“So that’s what happened, and it stuck with us.

“And thankfully we’ve come out the other side of not only being compared to the beer, but also the virus.

“We did a tour in Europe and this girl in Germany came up to me and I asked her how had she heard about the band, ‘Had she ever been to Ireland? Or any Irish relations or whatever?’

“And she was like, ‘No, I just heard about your band through the pandemic’.

“I was like, ‘No way, it’s actually a positive thing then’.”

You mention Dave joining. Of course he left the band a few years back.

But as he was still involved in the early years, did you talk to him about this ‘best of’?

“Absolutely. Yeah, of course.

“The first thing we did when our old label in Ireland came to us with the idea was I said, ‘Well, we’re gonna have to run it by Dave as well because those are his songs as well as ours.

“He was delighted and he gave us the thumbs up.

“It’s funny because initially when he left, it was at the start of the pandemic and we went a full two years without doing shows without him even though he had left the band.

“But now, it sort of feels like we’re fully embracing this new chapter.

“The first album we did on our own label was True Love Waits and he was partly involved in that album.

“But Time Stopped, the album last year, he didn’t have any anything to do with so it feels like we’re on the next chapter now fully.

“And thankfully, we’re still all friends and he’s given us his blessing.

“And I do think, hopefully, he’ll play with us again at some stage.

“It would be great to get him out and play a couple of songs.

“But we’ll see.

“The way it ended up happening initially, when he said he was leaving, it sort of hit me hard and I really thought that it might have been the beginning of the end for us.

“I was struggling to see how we’d move forward.

“He had been there for so long but it has been a new chapter for us, and a new era.

“If anything the band has gotten bigger and louder and we’ve sort of just embraced that and it’s been a fun time.

“It’s given us a new lease of life now for these last two albums.”

So there was really a moment after Dave left that you did not know if the band was going to continue?

“For sure.

There were definitely a moment where I was like, ‘Okay, well, you’re one quarter of this band, or 1/5 if you include our manager Jim’.

“But in fairness to Dave, he was the one who was encouraging us to go forward.

“He knew that we still had the hunger and we were still enjoying.

“The last year or so that he was in the band, I think his mind had been made up. He knew he wasn’t enjoying it anymore. He wanted to do something different.

“Initially when we left the university we sort of said, ‘Let’s give this band thing a year’.

“That was 13 years ago and we didn’t really talk about it since.

“I think Dave, in the back of his mind, probably always thought that it might just be a couple of albums and then maybe move on to something else in his life.

“And it went on and went on and went on and eventually he was like, ‘Listen I’m not enjoying it as much’.

“But as I said, he was the one who was like, ‘But I think you guys should keep going’.

“I remember having a conversation with our drummer Conor and I was a bit downbeat about the whole thing.

“He was like, ‘Danny, listen, this is an opportunity for us, this is going to be a new start’.

“And it was really the support from Knoxy and Conor that made me sure that it was right to keep going.”

And now- with three number one albums in a row, the band is definitely in a good place…

“It is something to be proud of and more important than the number ones, we’re enjoying it as much as ever and thankfully we’re still selling tickets.

“I would take it if we were just a nostalgia band being wheeled out once a year to do San Diego song and Heroes or Ghosts, there could be worse things to be than that.

“But thankfully, the new stuff is still connecting with people and things are still moving in the right direction.

“The industry is very tough and we do feel very lucky that we’re in a position where we can be creative.

“We don’t have record labels telling us what to do or who to be.

“We have control over our own music and what we want to do.

“It’s a very, very lucky position to be in and it’s sort of unusual in this climate with the way the industry is at the moment.

“It’s just so different to when we started so we’re very grateful to still be there in the conversation.”

Could you have foreseen in those early days that you would still here so many years and albums down the road and talking about a ‘best of’ compilation?

“No, not at all. Not at all.

“When we started out we didn’t know what we were doing.

“We were making it up as we were going along.

“We just had a batch of songs but there’s a naivety to that first album that connected with people and I wouldn’t change our journey for the world.

“People often say, ‘If you guys had maybe waited and tried to get a big record deal earlier. Just held off, you never know what would have happened…’

“But I have absolutely no regrets, we have had an amazing journey and it’s still going.

“We’re going off to Australia now and America in March, doing a new album and still getting away with it, and still loving it.

“We’re blessed.

“But we never really look past the next album, to be honest and that’s always the way, that’s the way we are now.

“I’m literally just out of a writing session now.

“I’ve got all the songs pretty much written for the next album but I know after we record and things calm down in February and March, I’m going to be sort of almost burned out and I’m going to have doubts whether I’ll ever be able to write another album.

“I have that feeling after every single album.

“And then you write one or two songs and you go, ‘Okay, I could sort of see the next album, what it could be and it comes together’.

“But every time you finish, you’re like, ‘I don’t know, that could be it. The well might be empty’.

“Like, ‘That’s it, that’s everything I have’.

“But thankfully, barring a couple of moments in our career when I’ve sort of struggled a little bit with having some sort of writer’s block.

“That definitely hit me after we moved back from London.

“When I came back from London after we got dropped from Island Records, I probably went about six months without writing anything.

“That was probably the hardest time.

“But thankfully since then, and especially with the last few albums, the songs have just kept coming and I’ve been in a good place to write and enjoy the process of writing.

“We never could have foreseen that we’d be still doing it this long.

“It sounds like we’re ancient but I still think we’re a band with something to prove.

“We’re still young enough. We’re still in our 30s and I think we’re a better live band than we ever were.

“I think we’re writing better albums than we ever were as well.

“I sort of think that we’ve improved, we’re still yet to hit our peak.

“That’s what I’m hoping anyway.”

You’ve played for President Obama on his visit to Ireland as well as President Biden on his more recent visit. What stands out for you as a highlight of all your years playing now?

“Those sort of things are great.

“They’re great for the bio.

“I’ve been doing a few interviews this week and everyone’s asking about playing for Biden and supporting Bruce Springsteen in London which are cool moments and things that you remember.

“The big one for me is obviously supporting Paul McCartney back in the day.

“Obviously we’re huge Beatles fans and always have been.

“But for me the highlights are the gigs, the big shows in Ireland especially.

“I mean the longer we do it, the more I’m proud of our longevity.

“We had a big gig in the summer here in Dublin, Fairview Park and it was sold out, and it was just a massive gig.

“I didn’t know if we were still that relevant, I suppose, to sell that many tickets and I’d be okay if we weren’t.

“But it’s still going.

“We’re starting work on album eight now.

“We’re well into our 30s.

“The longer we do it, the more appreciative I am of it.

“The highlights are the big shows for me.

“They’re the things that stand out to me where I go, ‘Remember that gig? That was amazing’.

“For the most part, it’s those things as opposed to any awards or meeting people and stuff like that.

“Those things are great but I’d take a sold out Olympia over meeting a President to be honest.”

In his time in London Danny played GAA with North London Shamrocks. He was sad to hear of the recent passing of Tosh Kilcommons.

“Absolute legend,” he says. “Tosh coached me when I was playing there: An amazing manager.

“Such a lovely man and such a great club man.

“It was actually really nice when we played in London recently, a couple of good friends came down from the club and we had some stories about Tosh.

“It was nice to see some of the lads.

“My time with the Shamrocks was really special and it is really special to me now.

“I made friends for life.

“It was very sad when Tosh passed away.

“He was so young and such a great guy.

“He was always very good to me: Great football man, great club man and did so much for the club.

“He’ll be sorely missed.”

You’ve released the best of the early years now, will we have more of an anthology. You’re going since 2006/ 2007, will there be another 17 years of The Coronas?

“Who knows?

“We’ll keep taking it one album at a time.

“But we’re enjoying it. We’re loving it, we’re happy.

“But who knows what will happen to be honest?

“You just never know what’s around the corner.

“I remember having a meeting with the band a couple of years before Dave left and someone said something about, ‘If anyone leaves this band…’

“And we were all laughing like, ‘That would never happen in a million years’.

“And then a couple years later, Dave did leave so you never know what’s around the corner.

“But at the moment, we’re loving it as much as ever.

“As long as that continues, I can’t see why we’d stop.

“We love it. We love the process. We love the journey of trying to write and record new music as well.

“And I still think we have something to give and we have stuff to say as a band.

“And I still think we’re evolving and improving.

“I think that’s important.

“You have to love what you do and we still do. Long may it continue.”

The Coronas- The Best Of The Early Days is out December.

For more information, click here.

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