The Panti Personals Season 3 Episode 1 Pauline Scanlon
The Panti Personals is back for a new season of conversations and first up is the singer Pauline Scanlon whose new album ‘The Unquiet’ is a collection of songs inspired by the traumatic life of her mother Eileen.
Pauline comes from the Dingle Gaeltacht but has made Headford, Co Galway her home, along with her husband and fellow musician, Eamon Murray and their young daughter Kitty. Pauline performs two of her songs live for the Queen with the accompaniment of guitarist Caoimhe Hopkinson Byrne.
Pauline performs two songs live for Panti Bliss in the show (The Old Churchyard and Felton Lannin) but you also here these tracks mixed in to illustrated her story:
Lumiere (Pauline’s first band)- Fair and Tender Ladies
Bird On The Wire (Pauline’s Leonard Cohen project) – First We Take Manhattan
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Pauline Scanlon – The Two Magicians (from The Unquiet album)
Pauline Scanlon – Lady Leroy (from The Unquiet album)
Pauline Scanlon – Sambo Aera (from The Unquiet album)
Pauline Scanlon – The Bird In The Bush (from The Unquiet album)
Panti, Pauline and Caoimhe
You can find out more about Pauline’s work here: www.paulinescanlon.net
The Panti Personals is an independent podcast by Athena Media. The producer is Helen Shaw, the digital editor is John Howard. Research and support by Dara Shaw. Our theme music is ‘Knots’ by Lisa Hannigan used with her kind permission.
Well, Hello. I’m Panti Bliss, and this is The Panti Personals, my pandemic podcast, which is a bit like the pandemic itself, that it just keeps coming back and back again. A year after we first started, we have a brand new season of conversational delights and musical treasures. And now The Panti Personals has joined forces with Go Loud to make sure you can always find us. Of course, we’ll still be in all the usual podcast places, from iTunes to Spotify and the rest. But we’ll also now be on the Go Live app. So check it out. And if you love us, do tell your mates. And if you don’t, well, nobody likes a whinger.
So first up in season three, I’ve invited a gorgeous gaeilgeoir, a woman of talent and story, into my parlour. It’s Dingle native, Pauline Scanlon, whose voice has been described by the Irish Times as a superb mix of china cup fragility and steely strength, kind of like my goddess, Dolly Parton. Pauline has been singing professionally since she was 15, and while the Kerry Gaeltacht is her roots, she now calls Headford County Gallery home, along with her Nordie man, fellow musician Eamon Murray, and their daughter Kitty, Hello, Kitty, down in Headford.
She is one of the founders of Fair Play, which we’ll be talking about later, pushing for gender equality in traditional music. And Pauline’s new album, The Unquiet, is a remarkable collection of songs inspired by her late mother, Eileen, that get beneath the lives of women in Ireland and reclaims their agency. Pauline, welcome.
Thanks. Thanks for having me. I’m delighted to be here.
Lovely to have you. Because obviously, you’re Kerry, I’m Mayo. But now that you’re Headford and I’m very South County Mayo, I feel we have this sort of connection. Before we get into the real chat, I want to first bring up the thing that made me laugh out loud as I was reading up about you. You do your own stuff and you collaborate with many people. And one of those collaborations is Lumiere. But that band was originally called, Dingle White Female, that is genius. Dingle White Female. I was cackling at home and then texting Helen the producer, saying, that is fucking funny. It just is so funny.
And it was such a joke because when we got together, myself and my friend Éilís and we became Lumiere, we used to drink white wine around the table and learn songs. And that was just our buzz. And it was really like, what do we call ourselves? Dingle? And then we ended up getting asked to do something, we’d no other name.
Cause Éilís is Kerry as well.
It’s a little stroke of genius. I’m sort of annoyed that I understand why you changed it to Lumiere. I totally understand, but I wish you could have kept it because it is so good. Dingle White Female. Well, okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, because I had to bring it up. Well, actually, we’ve been talking about your collaboration. So with Éilís, you’re Lumiere and you’ve had two albums.
Two albums. Yeah, two albums. And we’re always threatening another one. And then Covid got in the way. And so we’ll definitely do more together. But I’ve moved from West Kerry now, so I don’t see her as much. And we’re very much like we used to get together a lot and get songs together very actively and very regularly. So now that I don’t see her, it’s kind of more labored.
She won’t go to Headford?
You couldn’t get her out of Kerry for love nor money.
Fair and Tender Ladies by Lumiere plays.
Sinéad O’Connor, Damo Dempsey who of course, we’ve had on the podcast before, Sharon Shannon, John Spillane. But obviously I’m a giant homosexual and so my eye immediately landed on Belinda Carlisle. Tell me about that.
Well, I never actually met Belinda Carlisle, but John Reynolds, who produces my albums, all of my albums, actually, bar one was producing an album of French songs for her. So I just ended up going in and doing backing vocals on a couple of the tracks. But I never actually met her or hung out with her.
Because obviously I’m an 80s gay, Belinda is in my pantheon. Okay, well so, I want to talk to you first about one of your many projects, because you’re very prolific, really, aren’t you?
Yeah. Well, I like collaborating and I like to be active, but I get very bored of myself. The solo endeavors and the solo missions, I find kind of lonely, and I prefer to be working with people.
I sort of get that. I mostly do shows on my own and that and probably it suits me in lots of ways. But then I love the gas craic that you get doing shows with other people. There’s a different vibe. And, you know, if you come off stage and you’ve had a buzz, it’s gone well, you’ve had a buzz, and then you go back to your dressing room but you’re on your own.
I know it really is. And it can just be a bit like. It can be a bit shit.
Yeah it can. Or like a letdown or something.
It is. Yeah. You’ve no one to sort of like.
Wasn’t I great?
Or even, oh, my God, when that awful thing happened. Whatever. Yeah. It’s definitely an entirely different experience. But anyway, one of your big projects of recent years is the Leonard Cohen Project. Tell me about that.
Yeah. Friends of mine own the INEC, the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney, Eileen and Patrick. And they were married for 25 years. And Eileen is an avid reader and she loves poetry and she absolutely loves Leonard Cohen. But her husband rang me one day, Patrick, and said they were going to be married 25 years and would I put together ten Leonard Cohen songs, get a band together just for a surprise party for her.
But why specifically did he ask you, did he know you were a Leonard Cohen fan.
Yeah. So I was raised kind of listening. My mother used to listen to Joe Dolan, Leonard Cohen and Springsteen. That was the sound of our house. And mainly Joe Dolan, actually.
That’s funny. That’s not the sound of the house, I imagined.
Yeah. Joe Dolan was like the.
Well, Joe maybe. I suppose.
But Eileen and I would always be talking about Leonard Cohen and Leonard Cohen lyrics. And we’d be sitting drinking into the late hours of the night. And then Patrick just said, Would you put a band together and do this surprise thing for her? And that would be his gift to her for their 25th wedding anniversary. So we did that.
Like, you say so we did that. That’s really a musical thing, so we just did that. That’s not a small ask.
No, it’s not.
Because you don’t have a permanent band. So you had to pull a Leonard Cohen band together.
So pulled a Leonard Cohen band together and got Galway band, The Whileaways, who are very dear friends and neighbours of mine, and incredible harmony singers. So we became a kind of co-op, almost like a Leonard co-op. And then we had.
A Leonard co-op.
A Leonard co-op. Then we had an amazing squad of musicians that live locally in Headford, actually, you know, all based in around Campbell’s Tavern there. So it’s like they’re calling us now the Nashville of Galway, but, South Mayo.
Headford has gotten notions.
Notions, serious notions. So we pulled a band together and then we actually took a month to work out all the music. It took us a month to properly go through all the songs and work out all the harmonies and just make it beautiful. And people just started ringing us like the word just traveled and spread. And then we found ourselves in the Olympia. As you do.
First We Take Manhattan by Bird On The Wire plays.
And that was kind of a pandemic project?
So it was just before, the year before. And then it bled into the pandemic. Yes. So, like it was just, we’d loads of gigs booked for it and then they.
Yeah, because the Olympia gig was cancelled and rescheduled.
Three times or something. Yeah.
And what is it about Leonard Cohen? I mean, Leonard Cohen fans are kind of obsessive, aren’t they? You know?
Oh it’s a spiritual experience, going to the gigs and whatever.
Like, I’ve never been to a gig, but he was around just in my ether, in my subconscious, in my conscious, my whole life growing up. But it wasn’t until I became an adult, obviously really, that I started to absorb it. And really he writes about women so succinctly and so accurately. Like, he describes female sensuality like nobody else. It’s not patronizing, it’s not pervy and sleazy. He just has this beautiful way of doing that. And I think he just does that whole just the human condition, just really isolating and describing emotions. And so it’s a little bit of work to kind of get into the lyrics. I just absolutely love it. And then because of his style of singing. It’s, like quite monotonal and it’s very linear. But then when you actually, as a singer, go in to sing them, you realize that there’s huge range in them and there’s real amazing melodies. So I just love it. I love it.
And your mother liked Leonard Cohen, too?
She did. She went to boarding school in Loretta in Killarney and for her leaving Cert, she wrote the words of Suzanne for all her exams.
Suzanne by Leonard Cohen plays.
She wrote the words.
So she didn’t do the exams, she just went in and she wrote Suzanne.
I know. She still managed to get a job in the bank so I don’t know.
That is like a cinematic thing, too.
Yeah. Isn’t it? Yeah. She just loved him. And even now when my dad hears the music, like, he’s just so misty, I can just see that it’s so evocative for him, just that music.
I am absolutely taken by your mother doing that.
It’s also a very brave thing to do.
She was a brave person, and she came from a family of teachers as well so education was everything, but that was just what she did. I think she was just really pig sick of nuns and their shit.
Wow. That’s an amazing story. And it feels like something that could be Leonard Cohen song.
Yeah, it could be, couldn’t it? Yeah, totally.
Well, you mentioned your mother and women so let’s talk about Fair Play for a second, because we had Karen Casey on the show a good few years ago now. So I’ve been very aware of Fair Play for ages, but for people who aren’t explain your involvement, what it is and your involvement.
So Fair Play is an organization that was started kind of basically through conversations between women who play traditional and folk music. It really started off with gender representation. So we were all just sick of being the only girl, the only girl here and the only girl there. And I mean, all music really. But traditional music has been populated largely with men over generations and generations. And we just had had enough. And we were widely and really acutely aware that they are just amazing musicians, but they just weren’t getting the gigs. And if they were, it was just one, two here and there. And frequently I’d be looking at lineups that were just all male.
So we started the organization about six of us. And Karen was absolutely the head honcho, our fearless leader. She’s amazing. And then very quickly we became aware of we had to really deal with the underlying issues around the representation. And why is it maybe that some women play for a while and leave. And then it kind of evolved then into Mise Fosta, which was a Me Too movement. We started Fair Play in 2018. So I suppose we felt that because of the lack of gender representation, but because we’re a community of people that the solutions to that would be relatively easy.
So it would be something that would be easily remedied. And I thought, Oh we’ll just point this out, and they’ll all say, great, yes, come on let’s all do that. But that was not the case. And it appears that because traditional music is almost like a sacred cow or something in Ireland, it’s beyond reproach. People hold it very dear. It’s in people’s families, it’s in people’s communities. So I don’t think people were used to it being criticized. And I would hear things like music doesn’t recognize gender. And I was like, well, neither did my breakfast this morning. So I think people felt probably like it was an attack on the culture, which I suppose it was.
So it surprises me that there was so much pushback, in a way.
Yeah. They got pretty heated and pretty abusive at times, the pushback. Yeah. And I was not like, I was really ill-prepared for that. But I’m much tougher now.
Yeah. Do you know Linda Coogan Byrne?
I do. I work with her a lot.
Oh, you do.
Yeah. Just on the gender equality stuff.
Yeah. Because, you know, her thing is her main focus is about radio play and all of that kind of thing. And it’s amazing to pushback she’s had.
It’s amazing the pushback that there’s been that when I honestly would not have expected that kind of pushback in that field in particular.
We were all surprised. And I guess particularly in the realm of singing, like, a lot of the singers are female and they’d be really good and really well known. But then when you get into the.
And also not shrinking violets.
The women in that industry.
But when you go into the instrumental stuff, that’s where it kind of really starts. And also it appears that if you have, and it has been said to me several times, you know, like when I’d be pitching for a festival or whatever, they’d be like, oh, no, we have our female act. So it’s like you’d never get them all together in the same place once. So it’s like when you look at them, they are very striking. But then when you dig a little deeper into it, the representation is really bad usually. And after two years of Covid where everybody’s resetting and we really hoped that now that we’d pointed this out, that two years to reset everybody’s programming again, we’re now like taking all the festivals and doing the stats and the data, and it is running around 20-25%. So I think people will have to be gender quotas.
I think people will have to be forced into it. Nearly have to be legislated for. Particularly if you’re getting public money. So if you’re funded by the Arts Council or you’re funded by the County Council or it’s taxpayers money, then I believe since 50% of that tax or whatever, you know, comes from women, that they’re going to need to be more conscientious with them.
Yeah. Well so, I mean, you mentioned your mother, and I suspect that your mother’s story in some way has played into your passion or drive for gender equality and all that. So tell me your mother’s story.
She died in 2012. She was from Dingle like myself, all belonging to me. She was an amazing person. Bright, extraordinarily bright, really witty. Dark, dark, dark sense of humor, some of the stuff that she used to say, like I used to be just like you can’t say that. But anyway, she did. But she suffered profound childhood sexual abuse when she was a very young child. And I was talking to my aunt on the phone the other day and she was saying to me that that kind of trauma is quite often just the start of a pathway to just more lifelong trauma. So she then became pregnant when she was 19 with my father. And they gave the baby up for adoption through St. Patrick’s Guild, illegally registered, funny business going on there.
Well, St. Patrick’s Guild until the recent scandals, I’d never even heard of it.
And then she literally blocked everything out from when she was, so she went on to marry my father two years later. And then she put all of her trauma into a box somewhere in the back of her head and never thought about it. But it lived in her. So my whole life, I think I became aware of her, I don’t even know, trauma, I don’t even know what to call it. It’s been called so many things over the years, diagnosed and pathologized. But when I was about 12 or 13, and when she went to St. Pats and Dublin, all the way up from Dingle for the first time, she went away for four months, five months maybe. And that cycle continued then every year, pretty much until she passed away young at 57. So she lived a life of that. The box opened, the box opened, and it all came out. My father said the other day we were talking about her, and he just said that when that box reopened, that he never got her back and they loved each other. They were such a strong couple and so united in the face of all of the stuff that life threw at them. But, yeah, the box opened and we kind of never really got her back.
And how did you come to know her story? You know, was she open about it, telling you?
Well, you know, it’s funny. I’m only recently kind of able to articulate all of this myself because I’m putting pieces of it together because we never actually sat around as a family with her extended family and my family and kind of discussed all of this. And people have slivers of memory here and there, it’s 30 years ago now, you know. But she was going to hospital in Dublin and part, imagine this now, like when all we know about trauma informed counseling and responses to things. But she went to Dublin and she went away for four or five months. And part of her therapy was that she would come home to West Kerry and confront the man who had abused her. So her doctor told her to come down to Dingle, go into the garda station, tell them where she was going, and then go up and knock on this man’s door and walk in the door and confront this, which she did. It just sent her spiralling. It literally drove the poor woman nuts. And so part of her thing, I would have been about 12, 13 kind of then and part of her therapy or whatever at the time was that she was journaling and she had this old-style, you know, the old-style copy books.
She’d one of those old-style copy books, and she had loads of stuff written in it. But she’d left it on the kitchen table in our old house. I didn’t know what it was. And I went up and I picked it up and I read it, and that’s how I found out. And then, it was just, it was a shit show is the only word to describe it. There’s no other word for it. And then I left that house. I was living independently from when I was 16. You know, it was a painful place to be, and it’s second generation pain and trauma. And I suppose that’s why I question the nature of traditional music, because they’re the two things in my life that have been really significant, and both things are passed down. And so I’m like constantly questioning that the things that we inherit, the things that we’re given, you know, we need to examine them and really figure out the bits that we want to keep and what we want to just leave in the past where it belongs. But there is intergenerational shame. And I suppose what I’m trying to do with this album, The Unquiet, is I hate this term, but I can’t think of any other one, it was said to me, ancestral healing. You know, that you go back into the darkness of your past and you just try and illuminate it somehow.
The Unquiet Dead by Pauline Scanlon plays
I’m on board with ancestral healing.
Oh good. Good.
It’s interesting, though, to me. I know that people who experience that kind of trauma and then are dealing with it, you know, later in life and, you know, in and out of hospital and all that. There’s a lot of pain involved there for them. But it’s also very difficult for family members to also live with that, you know, other loved ones pain too. And you can get in the way of your relationship with that person and complicate things because you may understand why they behave in certain ways and all that, but it doesn’t make it easy to accept at the same time. And yet, you know, I get from you a very uncomplicated love for your mother there.
It wasn’t always like that.
Yeah, that’s what I’m sort of wondering.
No, it wasn’t always like that. It definitely wasn’t always like that. It was very fraught for a lot of years. And I suppose she’s dead. She’ll be dead ten years now in May. But there were definitely dark days in our relationship. But I think she was so acutely aware. I hate to use the word shortcomings, but I think she knew that because of her illness and her trauma that she needed to do some extra work with me in terms of preparing me to kind of deal with it down the line, if you know what I mean. So she was very open, and she talked a lot about feelings and about owning your feelings about, it’s okay to be angry. And she prepared me. She raised a feminist, you know, so she really drilled that into me. I remember even the Kerry babies at the time was huge, you know, for us being obviously from Kerry. But she was in outside for Joanne Hayes. And I remember her always really schooling me on the fact that you’re going to need to know this like you’re going to need because this is going to come up for you down the line.
And I really feel like she kind of gave me an education in that or it was radicalization. I’m not sure what it was.
You know, they’re interchangeable. It’s quite the story. I mean, remarkable in many ways. And she sounds like a remarkable woman. And obviously her story has so clearly influenced your own work. That’s kind of lovely.
It is, because through the Fair Play journey, because I was working very much on the gender balance, and then I wanted a creative response to it, and also simultaneously, because I sing old songs and I sing traditional songs, the agency of women wouldn’t be fantastic, for want of a better word, in that. So I was like, somehow I can marry these. I need to make I refuse to not make these songs work for me as a modern-era woman. They’re all about women from the past.
Lady Leroy by Pauline Scanlon plays.
And so I was like, I need to make these work for me. I need to recontextualize these songs so that I can sing these looking forward, not back. And then I just thought that that’s what I’d do with my mother’s story. I was like, okay, I can sing about her life because, I mean, it’s all in there.
Lady Leroy by Pauline Scanlon plays.
And then your mother died in her sleep. And, you know, I don’t know whether this is something I should say to you or not, but, you know, when I read that, I thought that’s how I would like to go. And so in a way, I kind of thought, I’m glad for her that she went to bed one night and.
She did. And you know what? This is like a really terrible thing to say but she was ready. She was very tired at that point. She was very tired.
I don’t think that’s a terrible thing to say.
You know, like, she was. And I talked to my brother about it recently, and we were talking about would she be into this way that I’m speaking about her life now, which was like when I found out about when I read that copy-book, she’d said to me, don’t tell anyone. And that just cut so deep. And then I didn’t I was just like I didn’t even tell myself. And I’ve had this burden of this kind of secretive, weird, shame thing my whole life. So I was saying it to my brother, you know, I was saying, God, I wonder, like, is this awful now to be talking about this, you know, would she support it? And he was just like, oh, she was too tired to even think about it. She was wrecked.
And also, you know, to be super blunt, the dead don’t feel shame.
They’ve moved on to something however you want to whether you believe in an afterlife or not, they are somewhere else. And the kind of earthly, bothersome stuff of embarrassment and all that is, they’re way beyond that now.
And in a way, isn’t that the most incredible, like, very dark but incredible release from that? And I really do think she needed to just exhale.
Well, we are going to talk more in detail about, you know, your album, The Unquiet, but let’s maybe take a little break here now to hear a song, and then we’ll go back and talk a bit more about it. What is the song you’re going to do for us first?
I’m going to sing The Old Churchyard, which is a song, it’s an old song. It’s a traditional song, really old song that I learned from a very handsome American called Jefferson Hamer. But, yeah, it’s a beautiful song.
And you’re going to be accompanied.
By Caoimhe Hopkinson Byrne, who is just the most gorgeous guitar player I think I’ve ever worked with. She’s amazing.
And I love a Caoimhe because my niece is a Caoimhe. And I love a Caoimhe who then has the confidence to hyphenate Hopkinson Byrne after a solid, you know, first name Caoimhe.
Pauline Scanlon performs The Old Churchyard.
Gorgeous. Yes. I have to remark though, Caoimhe is very cool.
Sickeningly one may say.
One last thing. I want to just talk about your mother’s story, because it’s now relevant to yours. Your mother gave up a baby for adoption, and you are now searching for a sibling you have out there.
I am. I can’t describe what that’s like, because I suppose when you kind of grow up with this, real, like, this is not something we’re ever going to talk about. It’s too painful. And also, I think when people gave up children for adoption at that time, it was really drummed into them. Like, that the worst thing, the closed adoption system, the worst thing you can ever do is interfere in that person’s life because you’ve just signed away any right at all that you have to even love them. So I was raised not talking about that, but somehow knowing it and it becomes a kind of an inherent thing. So at the moment, now, I’m going through the process of I’m just initiating it really.
Do you know anything about them?
No. Just the date of birth.
Is it a boy or a girl?
It’s a boy. And you have no idea if he’s in Ireland or elsewhere, alive or dead.
I’ve done all the DNA stuff, and nothing’s come up. I don’t know anything yet. But the strange thing is, I was talking to a very helpful and nice man in Tusla the other day because all the St. Patrick’s Guild files went to Tusla, who was, like, helping me with this, and I’d initiated the trace. So what happens then is you get assigned a number, and a social worker, but they can’t tell you how long the waiting list is. And he was like, he rang me from a mobile number, and he said, can you just give me a few more details? I’m having a bit of trouble pulling up the file. And then he was asking me a few questions, and then he said, oh, I have the file here. So I was on the other end of the phone from a person who was looking at all the information, and I have none, like, it’s mental.
Yeah. So the information is literally in front of him.
It’s literally there, and he can’t tell you. And you’re asking him, can he give me any nonidentifying things? And he’s like, I can’t, but I’m part of the adoption alliance that’s run by Claire McGettrick.
Oh yes. Claire is fabulous.
Yeah. So she’s personally emailed me, you know, instructions as to how you can, there’s processes. And there are things that you can do. And I think if you can get access to some documents that are redacted, from what I understand, I haven’t got any of these yet, but some of them could be quite badly redacted. And you might get bits of information and then you can get another bit of information, you know.
Yeah, it’s incredible. The whole thing.
Yeah, it is incredible. And I mean, I was reading about it before I left the house today. I woke up at half 5 in the morning and I was looking on the phone and they were saying that they’ve done the case study, that it could be affecting like 20,000 people.
Yeah, easily, I think. You know, I’m not that old. A number of girls in my social circle, you know, when we were teens and slightly later, you know, gave up babies for adoption.
And mine too, I’m 42. It’s bananas. I have another really dear, very close friend of mine who’s really great, who was third-generation mother and baby home. Her mother was in one, she was in one, and her grandmother was in one. And she’s my friend, we’re tight friends, you know, it’s nuts.
Yeah. Because I think younger people think it’s really far in the past.
And I visited, I have been in physically a mother and baby home when it was a mother and baby home, visiting a friend.
There you go. This is because of the repercussions of that are current it’s still our current. And all of this talking that I’m doing. Like, I am 42 years of age, I am Liberal. I vote, I think, for myself. And I have lots of friends from all walks of life and everything. And it’s really difficult for me to go back to my current family and have these conversations. And I would look at other people having these conversations going, aren’t they great? And it’s of course, sure that’s the way we are now. That’s just the way everybody is. But, you know, it’s not. It’s not when you have to point it in. Similarly with all our biases and all our own kind of internal stuff, like when you have to go back the way it’s much closer to the surface than we think.
Well, let’s talk about the music. So tell me the starting point with Unquiet, which is the album.
Yeah. So I took Eileen’s life and I broke it down into kind of ten phases. And then I emailed out, like the community of singers, I suppose, that I admire. And song collectors and asked them, sent them like, do you think of a song for this, this, this. So started at birth, started out and it was actually a song called Sambó Éara that drew me to that. And it was more about the air, the melody of that song, actually, that was just really innocent. And it just reminded me of the innocence of new babies. And, you know, so started at the start of her life and then worked chronologically through what I felt.
Sambó Éara by Pauline Scanlon plays.
Where it started with her, it did become more broad. There’s a few bits of my own things in there. So then I researched traditional songs and then for the ten parts, I just specifically took a traditional song and then I really love singing with other singers. So I duetted with a few people on a few of them.
And they’re not all Irish traditional songs, right?
Yeah, there’s a few from, one is from, Felton Lannin is from Northumberland. And then like The Two Magicians, that’s kind of questionable. There’s versions of it in Scotland and in Ireland as well. It’s kind of broader folk, I suppose.
The Two Magicians by Pauline Scanlon plays.
But your interest really is to take a traditional song and somehow root it in the present at the same time.
Yeah. The way I view it is that there’s traditional material, songs, poems, stories, mythology that is of the people of Ireland. Whoever identifies as being one of those people has complete entitlement and ownership to use that material however they see fit. Not everybody shares that point of view. And then there’s the aesthetic, I suppose, which I see as being kind of separate, you know, like the traditional music aesthetic, like what it sounds like and, you know, instruments and the way it should be played, you know, and all of that. I kind of see that as quite separate. And I suppose my aesthetic isn’t really that. So I’ve always just made music that is a kind of a jumbled up version of all of the music that I like. My influence is the stuff that I like to listen to. So I’ve never felt overly tied to the traditional music aesthetic, but I absolutely have to the material.
Well, speaking of a lost child and a sibling that you’re looking for, you’re going to do another song for us and tell us about it.
This song is a ballad from Northumberland, and it is called Felton Lannin. And I searched high up and low down for a song. You know, one would think, you know, if you think about Irish songs, we have so many songs about the emotion of rebellion or the emotion of moving to England for work. But considering that we have this painful history with our relationship with women, there are absolutely no songs about it, you know. There are also very few about the famine, but, you know, so I had to go as far as Northumberland, basically, is what I’m saying to find this song, which is called Felton Lannin, and it is a song about a missing child.
Let’s hear it.
Pauline Scanlon performs Felton Lannin.
Beautiful. That line, I’d rather lose all my cows than my young laddie. Which on the surface seems well, I would bloody hope so. But on the other hand, it also speaks to a time when.
It does. And I think imagine how difficult until very recently it was for us to talk about, I mean, even repeal, you know, I mean, I think that was just such a big time for the letting go of shame, you know. So you can imagine when people were trying to say or express what it was back then that they had to say. So they had to say everything in code.
You know, so I’d rather lose all the cows, as you say. It seems like this really tiny thing, but that’s huge.
Yeah. Some of the other songs are interesting, too, because I was reading lots of interviews and you’re talking about sort of, you know, reclaiming a sort of female sensuality from traditional songs. And one of the songs does that sort of beautifully about the spirits.
The Bird in the Bush by Pauline Scanlon plays.
Yeah. It’s actually called The Bird in the Bush.
Yeah, I know. I was giggling about that, too.
It’s perfect isn’t it. The bird it flew in and the bird it flew out of the bush. I mean, it’s mental. Like, it’s brilliant. You know. So I was trying to find a song about female sensuality without a trace of shame, where it was just like basically someone going for the ride, for the craic. And obviously they’re not in abundance. But I did find that one and it was just. Oh, well, there you go. There is one. And her petticoats, to and fro. But it really is sensual and it’s not a projection. It’s not a sexuality that’s projected on it feels inherent and real.
The Bird in the Bush by Pauline Scanlon plays.
I think that one particularly struck me because I was reading about you and the album and the stories behind it, and that one in particular struck me because at the same time, I was rewatching Ryan’s Daughter and, of course, sweeping Kerry beaches and all of that. And the whole movie is about repressed female sexuality. So it seemed like the right movie to be watching while reading about you. Your own musical story starts when?
15. Yeah. So I left home and I was just about to turn 15, found myself in a squat in Amsterdam, as you do, and then moved back home. And then I went out to Australia when I was 18. And I’ve just kind of been singing for my supper since. All manner of bits and pieces and lovely gigs and crap gigs and all of it.
So you’d usually be described as a folk singer, traditional singer, but your inferences are actually everything and anything. I mean, when you were living in a squat in Amsterdam or in whatever part of Sydney, you know, you weren’t only going to Trad gigs.
I most certainly wasn’t. Like when I moved to Sydney was when I really got into funk and soul and disco. And that’s just I danced. Like I just danced and danced. I always loved nightclub and late night culture, but I actually never liked the music until I went to Sydney, until I actually got and I properly heard. Like, we didn’t have Donna Summer in West Kerry growing up. But, you know, like, it wasn’t until then that I got into dancing to really good music.
It sounds to me like you discovered the gays is what happened in Sydney.
You’re listening to disco and soul when you’re in nightclubs. That’s definitely a gay venue. You know, you’re living in Headford now with your fellow who’s also a musician.
Yeah. Eamon, yeah.
And you have a daughter.
Five and a half.
Five and a half.
Would I be right to imagine that maybe having a daughter of that age now also in some ways feeds your sense of urgency around all of these things we’ve been talking about?
Absolutely. And particularly, like with the inheritance of shame. And I’m doing a degree in NUIG at the moment in social science because I felt like when I was doing all of this work, I don’t even know what to call it, that there were large gaps in my understanding of society and my understanding of the workings of things. So I said, okay, I’ll just go and do a degree, which I’m just now like. But I’ll just go and do it. Because I never went. Sure I was in a squat in Holland when I was 16. I didn’t darken the door of a school again until recently. So it is for that reason, you know. It is so that these links and these chains that run through my own family, that it ends here. And when she looks to me and all of this stuff is coming out and she’s learning about how Ireland hopefully used to be, that I’ll be able to just eyeball her and say, well, look, here it is. This is it. And this is what I’ve done to just really try and square the circle or whatever you say, but to stop to stop it for you. And that’s very, very, very important to me because I see how that don’t tell anyone moment in my life really impacted how I lived my life, how I felt about myself, how I felt about other women.
What I internalized at that time. Somebody said to me recently like that those secrets snowball internally, you know, they just get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until it’s just something that’s just alive, you know? So that was really important for me to do and really important for me to do for her.
Well, I think if I was a betting woman, I would bet that it is ending with you and your family line, because it’s amazing to talk to you.
I want to ask you one other thing, and I don’t know why, but I just enjoyed the idea of saying this line. Tell me about your Bell’s palsy. Because everybody knows Bell’s palsy because it always comes out of the blue. It’s on your face.
It’s on your face.
And no one ever knows how long it’s going to stay. There’s something uniquely terrifying about it. But because most people recover beautifully and all that, you feel like it’s a terror we can talk about.
Have you had it?
No, but I’m always interested when I meet people who’ve had it and I’m always like.
Yeah. So I had my daughter in Belfast, and I woke up the next day and her grandmother, my husband’s mother, Mary, who is so nice. And so I was in one, like, after having two days, I was trying to have the bloody child. And then anyway, I was lying back in the bed, and she came in kind of looking at me. And I was like, what’s wrong with this one? I know I’m not at my best, but she was kind of gawking at me. So then I came home and I got a bit of sleep, and then I got up when my father was there, and he was gawking at me as well. And he was just like, you look really strange. So it was literally the next day. And so then over the space of, like, 72 hours in a line down the middle of my face just gone. So I didn’t blink. And my mouth was like going through a stroke. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t sing.
Yeah. Because that’s why I think the story is particularly interesting when it happens to someone like you, because you’re a singer. And like all singers, singing is a huge part of your identity and who you are. It’s also your living and all of these things. But to suddenly wake up one morning and that’s all.
It was all gone.
And so I’d have to go out and put a kind of, tape my eye shut and tape my eye shut at night because you can get, like, corneal damage and stuff, because you can’t blink. So it was nearly bones of six months coming back. It was terrifying. The first part, like, for the first four months, there was absolutely no movement whatsoever. It was just completely all lopsided. And then slowly. So I used to sit up in the bed and whistle, try and whistle every morning. And then, like, six months later, I sat up and went whoo, and I was like, but it’s still when I get tired now, one side is still like a bit lazy.
So that’s five and a half years ago now.
Yeah. And I’m always terrified, like, the minute I get a little earache or anything like that, because it can come back. But I think it’s like in 40% of people don’t fully recover.
Anything to do with your face of course, it’s so public, and we get a spot and we don’t want to leave the house.
You don’t. And then you have to do that thing where you go, okay, this might be, I mean I might be disfigured. And do you know, weirdly, you just kind of go, well, you know what there’s worse things. Like, it’s amazing how your mind does. You know, you just kind of go, it’ll be grand. It’ll be fine.
Well, you know, what I always say, you know. You know, when I was diagnosed with what was at the time a life-ending condition in the 1990s. And people want you to have learned something from that. And the only thing I ever learned from it is that you still need to get bin bags.
And so no matter what happens to you, you’re forced to continue because you need to get fucking bin bags.
Because you do like.
And what are you going to do? Only just put one foot in front of the other and go out to the shop and get bin bags.
So it’s amazing what you can just okay, well I just got to get on with that or whatever. but anyway, your face is beautiful again. I’m sure it was, you know, beautiful even when it was all droopy.
It was a bit slimmer, I think. But anyway.
Six months, you had to tape your eye closed at nighttime and all.
Yeah. And going out. Yeah, it was a real dose actually. It was a real dose. I remember the nurse saying to me the midwife that used to come around after I had Kitty, And she used to say, just take pictures. Just really take pictures because you won’t have them and you won’t have pictures of you and your daughter. But I didn’t. So I was just like I was just so conscious of it. so I have no pictures of her. But by the last kind of two months though, I got my head around it, really. To be honest, I really had. And I was like, you know, it’ll be fine. I’ll just do something else.
I’ll go to college. I’ll get a degree. It’s been a total delight talking to you.
Thank you. Ditto.
And so many interesting things. And best of luck with all of your endeavors, including the degree. When is the degree meant to be finished?
Oh Jesus, four years. I’ve just done the first year, so I’ve another three. I just don’t want to think about it. It’s traumatic. It’s more traumatic than Bell’s palsy I’ll tell you.
What do you have coming up professionally? The album is out.
The album’s out, The Unquiet. And then a couple of bits over the summer and then a lot of Leonard Cohen stuff actually, towards the end of the year.
That project is called Bird On The Wire.
That’s Bird On The Wire with The Whileaways.
And you’re going to be doing more live shows and people can go and see that.
Yeah, we’re going to be back in The Olympia and we’re doing one in The Ulster Hall in Belfast and, yeah, all around the country from kind of November on. And then I’ll be doing festivals and gigs and stuff around for summer.
Okay. Well Pauline, thank you.
Thank you very much.
For being our very first guest back, you know, in this third season of The Panti Personals. It’s been lovely to have you. And I hope all the gigs go well and best of luck with the album and love to Kitty.
And thank you all out there for listening.