‘I hoped Iveagh Gardens pilot event would show the powers that be what’s possible. It was performative on their part’ – James Vincent McMorrow

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IT WAS supposed to be the start of something special. On June 10 , James Vincent McMorrow stepped out on to the stage at Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens and, in front of a crowd of 500 socially distanced spectators, performed the first outdoor Irish show in almost 15 months.

he gig (then heralded as a ‘pilot’ event for Ireland’s live music sector) was a hit. It seemed the door was finally open, and that things were back on track for Irish musicians. Then, without warning – and without explanation – the door firmly closed.

When we meet McMorrow at the end of August (the week before the Government unveils its Covid exit strategy), the gig, and everything that happened afterwards, continues to play heavily on his mind.

“I made a conscious choice going into it to be very positive,” he says, “like, ‘Let’s use this as an opportunity to say this is what the music business can be, look at how professional these people are, look what’s possible.’

“We get on stage after a year-and-a-half, and I think we put on a great show, and I hoped that that would be enough to show whatever the powers that be are what is possible. That didn’t happen. It was performative on their part.”

Indeed, the live music scene went quiet again.

McMorrow understood what he was getting into. The original idea was for 2,000 people to attend the Iveagh Gardens show. He wanted to set a benchmark – but external factors were at play, and there wasn’t a lot he could do about it.

“This is a big industry,” he says, “[the Government] really undervalued the voices and the abilities of the people within it. I think they still are. I don’t know why. I engage, as much as I can, but I get so frustrated that, during the summer, I just kind of stepped away from it.

“And I know that that looked like I had played this show and then f**ked off into the distance.

“I know a lot of people were going, ‘What were we trying to pilot? What were we trying to prove?’

“And I completely get that, but I thought that we were kind of doing something that we could then increase the ambition on as we went through the summer.

“I’ve seen a big talent drain in the last year, a lot of people moving away, going to England, because England is open and they can play shows, and they can be in studios and that’s something that the Government here should be really concerned about.

“Because they rely on this industry so much more than they realise, you know, it’s not just the creativity that they kind of like, through osmosis, grab for themselves and take photos and talk, you know, with Joe Biden about how great Ireland is, and ‘here’s some shamrock’ and all this sort of f**king stuff. It’s the commercial reality.

“There are some huge Irish artists in the world, they should be trying to build an infrastructure here that reflects just what a big machine it is, and they don’t and it’s f**king baffling. Absolutely baffling.”

It’s McMorrow’s passion, not to mention his honesty and integrity, that has resulted in some of his finest work these past few years.

On his forthcoming fifth album, Grapefruit Season, the Malahide music-maker digs deeper than before, pouring his heart and soul into a rich and rewarding collection of confessional and delightful pop and RnB numbers.

McMorrow’s evolution from one of Ireland’s favourite falsetto folksmen to internationally renowned RnB maestro has been a joy to experience from the outside. He, too, is happier than he’s ever been.

“Honestly, my 20s weren’t the greatest time for me,” he says, “my teens weren’t the greatest time, you know, I had friends and I had different things, but internally, I was not the happiest individual.

“But I always just saw music, and I saw the future as being the time when I would find, I guess, an internal understanding of myself that might make life a bit more enjoyable for me overall – which I have to say I have done, and more so in the last five years than in the previous 15 as an adult.”

Everything changed when he and his wife Emma welcomed their daughter Margot (2) into the world.

McMorrow (who recently turned 40) admits that family life has made him a better person. But he’s not yet ready to start writing Hallmark card tunes about being a dad.

“Yeah, I think Paul Simon probably got away with it,” he says, laughing, “you probably get one in 50,000 musicians that get away with writing a song about having kids and it not being just a bunch of crap!

“Having a structure, in terms of a family structure, has been amazing for me because I needed it,” he says.

“As a musician, having done this for 10 years and having had an amount of infrastructure built up around me that takes care of me and means I don’t have to interact with the world in a functional way very often – that was to my detriment. I think I got worse as a person, not in like a diva-ish kind of way, just like functionality in my day.

“I’d get home and I’d be like, ‘I don’t know what the f**k to do with myself.’ I don’t want to be that – I don’t want to be a caricature of a person.”

Indeed, McMorrow’s priorities have shifted. He is more at ease with himself, with his music and with everything that comes with it. He also goes out of his way to put a smile on his daughter’s face.

“The agenda for my day is to try and make her laugh,” he says, “I’d be in the street and I’m doing silly s**t with her and I’m kind of making a fool of myself and not caring.

“If you’d have told me that even five or six years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. I wake up and I feel this sense of purpose, and that has definitely communicated its way into the music…”

Grapefruit Season is released on September 17. James Vincent McMorrow is live at the Olympia Theatre, April 19 and 20, 2022. Visit https://www.jamesvmcmorrow.com/