Hello and welcome to my humble home. I will try to give you an idea of who I am, it’s been a long circuitous road to a pinnacle that I don’t want to see until I am incapable of climbing any further, so it’s impossible to tell you everything.
I made my first solo album for the English label Beggars Banquet Records in 1987. There was great excitement around it here in Greenwich Village. My previous lives with a futuristic folk-rock duo (Turner and Kirwan of Wexford) and post punk/new wave band (The Major Thinkers) had rolled into the downtown art scene here, where I was composing music for modern dance and involved with Mary Ellen Strom(my girlfriend at the time), Cyndi Lee and Candy Jernigan (later to marry Philip Glass) in a company called XXY (I was the Y) all of whom were very supportive of my solo career and the first album “It’s only a Long Way Across” (there are many many more names too numerous to list). With this powerful scene rallying behind me, I embarked on an event called “The Tour of Manhattan” – 16 dates on this island within a month. Word got around, and as the tour picked up steam, BMG Records signed up to release the album stateside.
With the U.S. deal came big management, a top-flight booking agency, New York Times articles and movie stars in the audience. Sparks began to fly, and even a few rockets. Prime-time at England’s Glastonbury Music Festival and introduced by the headliner Suzanne Vega (a fellow stable-mate and supporter), I peered out at 60,000 people stretched all over the dark hilly landscape, cigarette lights and small fires signaling the depth of distance. There were backstage flowers (what to do with them?), MTV, CNN, PBS, BBC, RTE. I had a full road crew, a handsome young band all excitedly checking out each other’s passport photos.
By the time I got to my third album “Now Is Heaven”, all this forward motion began to reverse, even though that was the album that got the best reviews. The BBC loved it and it was a top five album at years end in Ireland where I was voted solo performer of the year in a field with Sinead O’Connor and Christy Moore. But the American label BMG didn’t even want to put it out – it didn’t bother me much: if they could make a hames of the hottest band in England at the time (The Stone Roses), something was amiss besides me. Irish-American labels like Green Linnet were begging for it, but I had never wanted to play up on my Irishness and was not interested in their involvement. The American musician Steve Katz who had originally formed The Blues Project and Blood Sweat and Tears and had been a part of the Village folk scene with greats like John Sebastian of the Loving Spoonful (ironically this was stuff that floored me as a teenager in my parents record shop) was now Managing Director of Green Linnet Records and he wrote me a letter describing what he felt about “Now is Heaven”. It was so flattering to see a man of his calibre putting such effort into getting me to go with the label, promising me that he really got it, and knew what to do with it. He even came to a gig at Sin É on St Marks Place, sitting in the front row mouthing all the lyrics: I was sold. As soon as I signed it over to them, he left – his wife’s ceramic business had taken off and he wanted to help with it. Now I was on this crappy little Irish label without the person that took me there, and that I had never wanted anything to do with – I was really slipping it seemed.
Everyone was put out about my slippage except me. My manager Ron Fierstein (Harvey’s brother) called me in for an emergency meeting, sensing that I wasn’t as panicked as I should be. “I want to change your life,” he pleaded. I was numb to this suggestion – eventually I part company with anyone that wants to change my interior – and part we did.
After that a bunch of doors closed and a whole new world of independence opened up. I began recording for my own label and started performing live with a string quartet. A whole new sound and following developed, we recorded an album called Manana In Manhattan Live and made it on to the cover of New York Magazine as “one of the city’s great undiscovered gems”. Aer Lingus showed a video on its States-bound flights showing us performing at Swift (“The place to go in New York”). Philip Glass invited me to perform at Carnegie Hall (for the legendary Tibet House benefit) at a sold out show with Iggy Pop and Patti Smith on the bill. Sufjan Stevens had been in the same slot the year before.
So here’s where I am, moving at the same tempo as time, I have no desire to jump over it. I’m not really a hurrier I suppose, like the line from my song “More”: “Don’t surge on full speed to your own tombstone”.
My friend Philip Glass once asked:
“How often do you make an album?”
“About every seven years or so”
“Oh everyone’s different”, he whispered, “I like to do two or three a year”.
I feel like I have to make an excuse for my apparent lack of ambition, but I can’t think of one because I feel quite ambitious. I wake up most mornings all excited about music and can’t wait to write or play an instrument. There were times when I stopped and thought about my age and the uncertain future for whatever I create, but I don’t burden myself with that anymore, I just think about the present. When the future gets here, I’ll be present too.