Trying to find new interviews with The Cranberries this year has been a bit like hunting Yeti. But luckily, a new interview with Fergal Lawler is being published this week in book form, thanks to author Alan Swan. Alan has been working on his new book “From the Cradle to the Stage” for the past year and a half, and it’s turned into quite an impressive project with interviews from over 70 Irish musicians, including Damien Rice, Damien Dempsey, The Frames, Mundy, David Kitt, Christy Moore, The Corrs, Relish, Ronan Keating, Westlife, Bellefire, Six, and oh-so-many more.
Perhaps the best part is that it’s all for a good cause: all profits from the book will be donated to Irish charity Fighting Blindness. According to their press release, “Fighting Blindness has been in existence since 1983. It is a small but dynamic charity made up of families and individuals affected by progressive blindness. The charity is determined to investigate every avenue where a realistic hope of finding a cure exists. The projects it funds are at the cutting edge of international research and have become global leaders in the search for treatments for blindness. 65,000 Irish adults and children are currently losing their sight to progressive blinding conditions known as retinal degenerations. Funds raised through the sale of this book will ensure this vital work is maintained and developed, bringing hope of a bright future to those currently affected by blindness and to future generations.”
“From the Cradle to the Stage” will be released on Wednesday, November 10th for €14.99 ($15 US). You can order the book now from the publisher,Poolbeg (direct link to the book) or from Fighting Blindness.
A full review of the book will come soon, but in the meantime, Alan Swan sat down with Zombieguide’s Alex Kraus to talk about his interview with Fergal, Fighting Blindness, and the current state of Irish music…
Zombieguide: First of all, when did you come up with the idea for this book?
Alan Swan: It was brewing around in my mind for a long time but it
wasn’t until March of 2002 that I sat down and started the ball rolling
on the project. I was presenting a breakfast show on CKRfm, a
commercial station for counties Carlow and Kildare, at the time, so I was up early in the morning, in for work at 5 am, on air at 6 am, finished work at 11 am. I was getting into the habit of sitting down at home pottering around at this and that and not really making use of the time that I had in the afternoons. So one day I just switched on the laptop and got going.
Zombieguide: What was the idea behind the book?
Alan Swan: The creative idea behind the book was very simple. I’m a massive fan of music, always have been. I wanted to put together a book where the artist, speaking in their own words could talk about there younger years and why they choose the road they travel. I’ve always been fascinated about what lights the spark. I wanted all original material. So I set about interviewing over 70-75 acts either face to face, by phone or by e-mail. Hoping that I could get little snippets of information that would give the book a little edge. Because I only had space for 80,000 words myself and my editor felt that we would have to give each artist around 800-1000 words each. Looking at the book now I feel we have a nice mix, some chapters run a bit more, some are short and get the message across. I’m happy with the finished product and extremely proud. I hope that someday someone might pick it up and that it might inspire them to take up music.
Zombieguide: How many pages will the final book have?
Alan Swan: Well it comes in at around 80,000 words, so 200 words a page, 400 pages. To tell you the truth, I have no idea. I still haven’t seen the finished product yet… I have seen the cover and it looks great. It has lots of different shots of different acts, including the Cranberries.
Zombieguide: Nice… when did Fighting Blindness come into the picture?
Alan Swan: Fighting Blindness came in from the start. I wanted a charity involved because I knew it would the perfect vehicle for them to promote themselves. I am good friends with one of there chief fund raising managers in Fighting Blindness and out of courtesy I asked him first before I pitched the idea to other charities. His Chief Exec. liked the idea, got the board to approve it and here we are. I’m thrilled the proceeds of this book is going to charity, Fighting Blindness are an incredible organization and quoting their Chief Exec. Micahel Griffith “Its flagship project in Trinity College is a world leader in the development of gene therapy for dominantly inherited retinopathies and the contribution of this group to the global research effort to find treatments for blindness has been truly outstanding by international terms.” I knew by having the charity on board that it would make it a lot easier to have all the other pieces to come together. The result is that from all of us combined, ie., from publishers to record companies, from artists to me, all our efforts will result in the proceeds from this book going to charity.
Zombieguide: I would assume then that not only was it easier to publish the book once you got a charity sponsor, but that it was a lot easier to get artists to jump in once you told them that it was for
Alan Swan: It was in a way – but there was an awful lot of work and presentations to do. Our publishers are great, like myself they are very passionate about the book and have put so much effort into it. The artists have been great too – a few due to work commitments weren’t able to contribute (which I totally understand) but I would hope they would make the second edition which I would love to put together in a few years time. Those who did contribute in fairness gave up there time to take part, for example Donal Lunny wrote a beautiful piece from Japan which he e-mailed to me. A lot of artists really took the project to heart and were very generous.
Zombieguide: It looks like the book has gone under a few changes since the first press releases were put out. Originally, the press release stated that Dolores wasto appear in the book, but now it’s Fergal who will appear in the final version. Was Dolores originally supposed to be interviewed? What happened?
Alan Swan: It was a simple case of crossed wires. Nothing more. It was a really early Press Release that wasn’t really finalized before it went out into the public domain. We are delighted to have Fergal on board and I think you will like his contribution. I honestly think that all our contributors have great little stories to tell.
Zombieguide: Yeah, can’t wait to check it out. This question comes from Brad from the Zombieguide Forums… What makes this book unique and not just a mini-biography? I mean, a lot of us diehard fans have already read many, many biographies already, especially about the band’s early days. Just last year, Niall Quinn published his own story online about the earliest days of The Cranberry Saw Us in his own words. Can you promise us something new?
Alan Swan: To be honest I can’t promise anything.
Zombieguide: Then can you give us a little taste of what to expect?
Alan Swan: Each chapter contains small snapshots of the artists life. In Fergal’s case he talks about his first gig, listening to the radio, singing songs in his father’s rocking chair and so on. It would be unfair of me to say “Ah yeah, it’s full of so much new info, lots of it, go out and buy it.” I wouldn’t lie to you, it’s only when you read through the whole book that you get a sense of Irish life and how these stories compare. I found Fergal’s chapter really interesting and I hope whoever buys the book finds this too. Remember too it’s in his own words like all the chapters in the book. I would hope that whoever buys the book would enjoy the other artists stories too, and go, “Jaysus did that happen to Jim Corr, or I never knew that about James Galway or Damien Rice, was THAT the first ever song he learned?” It’s really a celebration of Irish music and that we as a small country have such an array of different styles and singers. I think it’s unique in the way that I don’t think there has been a book that gives such a broad taste of Irish music through the artists own words.
Zombieguide: Oh, really? So the chapters are in first-person monologue style, like an autobiography? Dolores did something very similar for Liz Evans’s book “Women, Sex, and Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1994, only Evans had to turn the interview into a monologue on her own, since Dolores was in a hospital bed from her skiing accident in the Alps.
Alan Swan: Yes they are. I felt it would be more personal to the reader if it was written like that. I tried to have it flow like a natural conversation, snippets here, snippets there. I hope it works.
Zombieguide: When exactly did you get to interview Fergal? Was it a face-to- face interview or by phone or…? What were your overall impressions of him?
Alan Swan: Because the band where busy, I conducted Fergal’s interview via e-mail and he was very open and obliging. He also wished the project the very best of luck.
Zombieguide: Wow, so did you get Fergal’s personal email address? If you did, I think you just captured the envy of everyone reading this.
Alan Swan: Actually, I have a good friend who acted as a third party for me. E-Mails were then just forwarded to me through that address. I was delighted Fergal had the time to do it because he was on tour at the time. He also left a lovely good luck message for me at the end which was very kind.
Zombieguide: We know that “Cradle to the Stage” covers artists’ roots and early days, but what other subject matter is in the book? Did Fergal get the chance to talk about The Cranberries’ current or future projects?
Alan Swan: No I’m sorry he didn’t, because we asked the artists to focus so much on the past we tended not to get so much info on the future, In some cases we did, but in Fergal’s case we didn’t. Sorry…
Zombieguide: It’s alright. Dolores has been quoted as saying that she doesn’t like to incorporate “trad” elements into The Cranberries’ music because she feels that it’s too much of a cliché for an Irish band. In a sense, its one distinction that separates The Cranberries from other modern Irish, particularly female acts like Enya and The Corrs. Do you feel that a lot of new bands agree with Dolores’ sentiment, or are there still a number that have that “Irish” sound?
Alan Swan: Not to be arguing with Dolores, but in my honest opinion and in a sense I think Dolores’s main instrument, her voice, has a massive Irish traditional Sean Nos sense to it. Her voice is sensational and much of their early material had an Irish feel to it. Recently it has shifted away from that. I can see her point though; some Irish acts do go with the trad element. I don’t think it’s a cliché, I think if it works for Enya and The Corrs and the fans like it well then it works. There are a lot of Irish acts that don’t go with the Trad slant — JJ72, Ash and The Frames. I think it’s great for the Irish sound to be still around, it’s what makes us distinctive, different.
Zombieguide: About the Irish elements, I think everyone would have to agree that Dolores’ voice has a very inherently Celtic quality. But what she means to say is that she’s very much against incorporating stuff like the fiddle or the tin whistle unless it’s absolutely necessary…
Alan Swan: I know exactly where you’re coming from. With regards to Enya and so if it works it works. What the Cranberries do also works and works incredibly well.
Zombieguide: On a broader scale, there is this fear among some cultural purists that Ireland is losing a lot of its ethnic identity and “Irish charm.” (Not to be confused with Lucky Charms, of course.) A hundred years ago, it was a fear of Ireland becoming Anglicized, but today, there’s just as much of a fear of becoming Americanized, or even just “globalized” in general. Do you feel this social trend is having a large impact on music?
Alan Swan: It is in a way. A few years back, and to some small extent now, an awful lot of bands were trying to sound like Radiohead, singer- songwriters were trying to sound like David Gray, and many would follow what was the in sound at the time. I think you will get that in every country though and not just in Ireland. I don’t think Irish music is dying though, I think it’s stronger the ever and a lot of acts are going back to basics and bringing an Irish folk kind of feel to there music. In that I mean that many of our best artists have always been unique story tellers. We have a new generation of artists such as Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, David Kitt, Mundy and so on who all have there own unique sound and bring something fresh to Irish music. I’ve always said it but for a country as small as Ireland we really do produce amazing things. On the other side Trad music is as popular as ever and seems to have lost the stupid stigma that was attached to it. Acts like Altan, Donal Lunny, Dervish and as always The Chieftains are leading the way.
Zombieguide: One radio-related website that I ran across said that “From the Cradle to the Stage,” is your first book but that you have “several others in the pipeline.” Is that right?
Alan Swan: It is, I’m going to take a bit of break from writing for a while, maybe six months or so. I want to write a book about my grandmother, it’s a personal story and really a celebration of her life, she was an amazing woman and I’m really looking forward to sitting down and starting the research work on that. I also want to work on some other biogs but that’s a long way down the road.
Zombieguide: Any chance of another Cranberries-related book?
Alan Swan: Who knows, maybe some day… never say never!
Zombieguide would like to thank Alan Swan for his time and wish best of luck to him and Fighting Blindness.