Daniel O’Donnell, MBE, singer, television presenter and philanthropist chats with Kevin Cooper about his performance of Remember Me on The Late, Late Show, recording Ed Sheeran’s Perfect, streaming his first live internet concert and the release of his latest album, Daniel.

Daniel O’Donnell, MBE is an Irish singer, television presenter and philanthropist. After rising to public attention in 1983 he has since become a household name in Ireland and Britain; he has also had considerable success in the USA and Australia. In 2012, he became the first artist to have a different album in the British charts every year for twenty five consecutive years.

Known for his close relationship with his fan base, and his charismatic and engaging stage presence, O’Donnell’s music has been described as a mix of country and Irish folk, and he has sold over ten million records to date. Affectionately known as ‘Wee Daniel’, O’Donnell is a prominent ambassador for his home county of Donegal.

In 1983 he recorded his first single, My Donegal Shore, with £1,200 of his own money. He was soon introduced to Sean Reilly, who became his manager and who remains so to this day. By the mid 90’s he had become a household name across Ireland and Great Britain, amassing various accolades on the way. In 1989 he was named Donegal Person of the Year and in 1989, 1992, and 1996 he was presented with the Irish Entertainer of the Year award.

In 2002 he was awarded an Honorary MBE for his services to the music industry.

Whilst relaxing at home during the Covid-19 pandemic he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Daniel good morning, how are you today?

I’m very well thank you Kevin, how are you doing?

I could complain but who would listen (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s true, very true indeed.

Before we move on, let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, in fact, thank you for your time as well.

We will be chatting about the new album, aptly entitled Daniel, but firstly, if I may, I have to say that I personally think that it is a wonderful gesture by you to have visited a number of hospitals and care homes and performing for the patients and residents; people who are currently facing a very difficult time.

Thank you for saying that Kevin, it really is appreciated. Well, you know what; it really didn’t take a lot out of me. It is something that I can do. I couldn’t do a lot in these times that would help people, but I knew that I could do that. It wasn’t as though I had thought it through; I really didn’t think it through at all (laughter). In fact, I was sitting at home one day thinking that I could go up to the hospital and sing if I had a speaker that I could take along with me. I said to Majella “I need to get a speaker” so I got one. I then contacted the Garda and asked them if I could travel slightly further than was allowed at that moment in time. Thankfully they wrote back to me and said that it would be okay and that if I got stopped by the Garda, I just had to show them the letter and, touch wood, everything would be okay.

So, I did a number of places. I did a number of nursing homes and hospitals where I would stand outside of the windows and sing. I suppose that to anyone who was passing by it would seem funny (laughter). I have to say that it didn’t make a difference, nor did it change anything, but for a wee period it possibly lifted the mood even for the staff. Their task is very difficult. As well as trying to keep people safe, they are trying to motivate them. It really is a very difficult position which the staff find themselves in. I just hope that it made a wee bit of difference.

I’m sure that it did. We are living in very strange times at the moment.

Yes, we certainly are, and just who would ever have anticipated the like of this ever happening. As you know I sometimes have to go over to the UK just for a week in order to do some promotion for the album, and you find yourself walking along seeing everyone wearing face masks, and it is so surreal but, this is how we are living. You see someone who you would normally have embraced this time last year, but now you can’t even go near them, it’s amazing. But I suppose that this is the way that we are, and until we get through it, we just have to do our best.

The old stiff upper lip syndrome comes into play.

I know, yes it does but sometimes that is not that easy. This pandemic is affecting some people a lot more than others, including me. We have had a lot of tour dates either cancelled or postponed but I have to say that I personally feel that it is not such a terrible thing for me. May I ask you a question Kevin?

Of course, ask away.

Listening to your voice, I have a very strong feeling that you and I have met before. Have we?

Yes, we have. Whenever you appear at The Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham, I am the one who gets to both photograph and review the shows.

(Laughter) oh for God’s sake, so that’s who you are. If my memory serves me correctly, then you were the one perched on the balcony and I was the one who was always telling you to take the right picture (laughter). We have had many good nights in The Concert Hall up there in Nottingham and I really can’t wait to get back over there performing.

Well I suppose that we really should talk about your latest album, Daniel, and if my maths are correct this is your forty sixth album?

Yes, that’s right, so they tell me. Isn’t that amazing. I first started recording way back in 1984 and some years I would release two albums in the same year, so I suppose working forward from 1984 that would be thirty something years. As I have said, there were some years when I would release two albums so I would have to say that your maths are right (laughter).

Well I have been playing Daniel for the past few days and I have to say that I absolutely love it.

That’s lovely to hear, so thanks very much for saying that. The album is a mixture of songs a wee bit different maybe from what I would have done in the past. I have recorded this album with a producer called Nigel Wright who has worked with a lot of people from Britain’s Got Talent and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and a lot of that stuff. So maybe he had a different approach, and I must say that I have enjoyed working with him. In fact, I have just finished recording another album with Nigel which will be released sometime next year. I enjoy the opportunity to work with Nigel and I have to say that I love the way that he does things.

And if you take the time to look into Nigel’s background you will see that he was once a member of Jazz Funk band Shakatak.

That’s right, he was. Nigel and I were talking, and he said, “when I was a part of a little group called Shakatak” and I have to keep telling him “sure, it wasn’t so little” (laughter). Working with Nigel is such good fun. He has a really nice approach in the studio and he certainly gets the best out of me.

So, you have recorded two albums with Nigel, and you have enjoyed working with him. Did he pass the audition; has he got the job?

Well I think he has. Although, thinking about it, I wouldn’t say that he is there yet, especially if he is reading this (laughter). Being serious I enjoyed it very much. He is so very easy to work with, and he is always ready to help you in any way that he can.

Are you happy with the album?

Yes, I am, I am very happy with it. This album is a wee bit of a departure; it has a more edgy sound. The mixture is probably not what I would have recorded but that is purely down to me, I am responsible for picking the songs. It just felt like at this moment in time, these are songs which presented themselves to me, in my mind. I have a list of songs as long as your arm that I would like to record. Occasionally, I do record original stuff too. However, on this album it is all covers of other songs. There are some very old songs, together with some more modern songs like Ed Sheeran’s Perfect, which is the most recently written song. I really love that song and it was the first that I had in my head. I always thought that I would record it someday so someday is now.

Putting you on the spot, where would you say that the album would sit in a Daniel O’Donnell top five?

Oh Lord, I suppose that you always think that your most recent album is always the best simply because it is where you are now. I think that I am very happy with it. I’m very happy with the songs and I am also happy with the fact that with this album I have actually stretched myself a wee bit; maybe singing songs such as Perfect, which ten years ago I probably wouldn’t have considered singing, and yet I feel that I wanted to try that and the Bob Dylan song Forever Young, which I have to say is in keeping with where I am at this moment in time musically. Having said that, I probably still wouldn’t have tried that some ten years ago.

You have covered some big names on the album; Perry Como, Bob Dylan, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin to name but a few. Are these songs that are special to you?

Well, I have to say that I have always loved these songs and I always love listening to them. Going all the way back to 1972 and Eurovision when Vicky Leandros won the competition for Luxembourg with Come What May well, Come What May is the first song on the album. I can clearly remember that evening, sitting at home watching The Eurovision Song Contest, and loving the song. Why it has taken me this long to record it, I honestly don’t know. I suppose that when you are putting together an album, for me it is like Lego blocks, and the songs have to blend and I think that this album, although it’s not themed, there is no theme running through the album, it seems that the songs sit okay.

Whilst making my notes on the album with today in mind, I have written the following; ‘in these troubled times, it is most definitely a feel-good album’. Would you agree with me on that?

Yes, I would, I truly would, and I am so pleased and thankful to you for saying that. I really do hope that the people out there enjoy it. In these times we need something that takes us away from the everyday story; the story which is all about the virus, Covid-19 and the lockdown. And I suppose that it is nice to read something that doesn’t have anything to do with it.

As I was listening to the album, I looked round and all of my family were singing and dancing around the lounge to it (laughter).

(Laughter) well that’s not too bad.

You have mentioned Ed (Sheeran) and his song Perfect which I have to say I think is a wonderful song. What is it that makes him so special?

Yes, I totally agree with you, it really is a beautiful song, plus Ed is such a wonderful talent. I went to see him when he was over here playing in Belfast, and you know, I liked a lot of his songs but I most probably wouldn’t have recorded any of them but I thought that there were a few that I could have a go at. Perfect is the first of his songs that I felt confident at having a go at. He is a great performer too. He was very good on the stage; he managed to draw in the entire audience, and I have to say that there was no void between Ed and the audience. He was there for us; it was totally amazing. It was wonderful to see someone who has such talent, alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, being able to have the entire audience in the palm of his hand. In this business, you need the breaks as well. And with Ed, it is so good to see that it can still happen. That gives so many people the hope that it can happen for them.

I personally think that Ed has taken over the world (laughter).

(Laughter) I have to agree with you, he totally has. He really is amazing.

Have you had any feedback from him regarding your version of his song?

No, not as yet but I doubt very much that he has heard my version. I honestly don’t know if he has heard it, I don’t know. At this moment in time the whole world is currently recording a song so he can’t keep his finger on everyone who records a song. But I would like to think that he would be happy with the way that I did it. My version has more of a country feel to it, more than a poppy feel, which is where I wanted the songs on the album to be.

Having said that you did take us upbeat with your version of The Mavericks Tex-Mex hit, Dance The Night Away didn’t you (laughter).

(Laughter) yes, I did but, in all honesty, everyone has recorded that tune. I like the song; I have jigged along to it at home and whenever I hear it in the car, I’ve always sung along to it. So, I thought, ‘well why not, why not record it’ (laughter). When you get to the stage where I am in my career, you might as well please yourself, hoping that the people will like it. My fans are very loyal and every time that I have released an album, they have managed to get it into the charts. Perhaps this year may be different; maybe it is not as easy to get out of the house in order to buy albums this year. Who knows whether it will get into the charts or not, that really doesn’t concern me. As long as whenever they do manage to acquire a copy of the album, they enjoy it. That’s all that I want really.

One of my favourite songs on the album is Remember Me, the song that you recorded with your wife, Majella (McLennan). What is the story behind that?

Remember Me was written by an Irish singer-songwriter named Christie Hennessy, who passed away some seventeen years ago now. He was very highly thought of over here in Ireland despite living over there in London for a number of years where he wrote some great songs. He passed away quite young from cancer, but I have to say that having met him and been lucky enough to interview him on various TV shows, he really was a very nice man. He wrote the song for a Commemoration gathering at the Garden Of Remembrance here in Dublin and that was his reason for writing that particular song. I had already recorded it for the album but then I went on The Late, Late Show during the lockdown where every week they had a charity that they championed

Majella and I were on the show to speak about The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul which exists here in Ireland and exists to fight poverty. I was singing a few songs and I said, “Majella sings too, she loves harmonising” so she joined in with me and we sang Remember Me together. It received such a super reaction from the audience that we went back into the studio and re-recorded the song simply because it felt nicer than what I had done. What we had recorded in the studio was a much more driven version, but what we ended up doing was an almost acoustic version of the song complete with more harmonising. So that was the only song that we recorded this year in April and May time whilst all of the other songs on the album were recorded last year.

Whenever I hear the lyrics you soon realise that it is such a powerful song.

The funny thing about it is, whenever you listen to Forever Young, Remember Me, Love Can Build A Bridge and Come What May, during these times that we currently find ourselves in during the pandemic, they kind of take on a different meaning. When we did Remember Me on the show that night, before we sang it, I dedicated it to all of those people who had lost loved ones, just a little something to remember them. The song just takes on a different meaning, and that’s the same with Love Can Build A Bridge. It emphasises just how much we are relying upon one another, in order to stay apart.

We are relying upon one another to put on a mask, stay a wee bit away from me, I will stay a wee bit away from you, and even though we all know that love can build a bridge, we are all currently reaching out but not touching.

We have mentioned that you recorded Remember Me with your good lady, Majella, what I have to ask is was there any arguments or was she always right? (laughter).

(Laughter) of course, your wife is always right (laughter). But, being serious, no there were no arguments at all. Majella loves to sing, but she loves to sing on her terms (laughter). She doesn’t want to sing every day and she doesn’t want to travel to do shows but, to be honest, she actually loves harmonising more than she does singing. Majella and I were fine, and we are actually going to record another song together for the next album. We are planning to record Something Stupid together. We will be doing it simply for the fun of it. If she was at a show then she would get up and sing with me, or sing a song on her own, but she certainly wouldn’t come to a show in order to sing, if you know what I mean (laughter).

There are thirteen songs on the album. Just how many songs did you start with?

Oh god, I am always listening to different genres of music. I have just recorded another sixteen songs this week, and they would have been on the list last year too. I am always writing down songs which I think it would be fun to record. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally get sent original songs too which I like. However, because I have always recorded covers, I am never without a song.

How difficult is it for you to select a final thirteen songs?

Let me say that it just happens. One song tends to lead to the other, and from that I just decide which I would like to have on the album, and that’s it. The secret is that I just have to love the song. I really have to want to record a song, but sometimes I will try a song and I won’t have that feeling for it after singing it through a couple of times, so I won’t go ahead with it. I will simply feel that it doesn’t quite work for me. Having said all of that, generally, I will have them all thought out before I decide to record them.

You mention that you have been working on a new album during the last few weeks. How many of the songs that didn’t make it onto Daniel will make it onto the next album?

To be honest with you, I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t make it. It’s just that we got these done and the others were always going to be done. It’s not that they weren’t good enough for this album; it’s just that when we had enough recorded, then we stopped, and the list is put away until I need to look at it again.

I have to offer you my congratulations for being the first artist to have a different album in the British charts every year for thirty-two consecutive years.

I know, it’s amazing. But that again is totally down to the public. You have seen them at my shows, they are so very loyal; they come to see me time and time and time again. People have been following me for over thirty-five years, and it was way back in 1987 that I did my very first concert tour. I had done a few shows the year before but my very first proper UK Tour was in 1987 and I have to say that people have been coming for that long. I also have a new audience too, because a lot of the older people have now passed away, but I find it amazing that every year, a younger audience comes along to my shows.

Maybe not as many as the older people but a younger group come along to the shows and discover my music. A lot of them will bring somebody older with them, then they end up staying at the show and they become a part of the audience. It really is quite incredible just how people get into my music.

Regarding the thirty-two consecutive years in the charts, I personally cannot see anyone beating that record, can you?

Well, I suppose that there are very few people who record as much as I do, that’s number one. I was recently speaking to Sir Cliff (Richard) who as you know was eighty years old recently. We were recording for an episode of Songs Of Praise, and Sir Cliff said to me, “I can’t believe that you have been thirty-two years in the charts, and the BBC or the newspapers are not talking about it”. It really is amazing, there is no doubt it.

You have mentioned your good friend Sir Cliff who as we all know is still recording and performing at eighty years old. Can you see yourself still recording and performing in another twenty-two years?

Being totally honest with you, I’m not sure. Having said that, I honestly don’t think so (laughter). I love Sir Cliff and he is fantastic, but I simply don’t know whether I will or not. Whilst we accept that he is still doing it, you have to remember that he is doing it on his own terms. So, maybe if I was able to do less, whilst still doing some, that, for me, really would be good. I do think that as you start to get older, it is not as easy to continually do these sorts of things.

Coming right up to date, on Sunday 1st November you will be streaming your very first live internet concert. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes, I am, I am really looking forward to it. This will be something that I suppose I would not have done, if it hadn’t been for the opportunity to get the band and crew together and earn some money. Being totally honest with you, that is the purpose of the show. During this period, I have been on Facebook sitting on a chair in the kitchen, and I have sung into the computer, just very casually. And that’s fine, some nights we would have up to eight thousand people watching live. However, I am aware that the band and the crew haven’t been able to work, so I asked them if they wanted to come together and I was happy to join them.

Once the expenses are paid; I personally didn’t want any money from the show, the crew can divide any money that is made amongst themselves. So that is exactly what is going to happen on the 1st November. There are thirteen of them who will divide the money between themselves. We have sold some tickets but nowhere near the amount who would watch us for free every night (laughter). It is a twenty Euro subscription, and on the 1st at 7 o’clock you can watch it live, or you can watch it at another time if you would prefer to do that. You can also watch it as many times as you want during the following week.

At this moment, there are a lot of difficulties facing people, but I personally felt that by doing this for the band, if I came together with them, maybe a few thousand people would watch and pay the twenty Euros. I just hope that enough people subscribe in order for the band and crew to have a decent payday.

Do you think that this could be the way forward or do you still need that audience interaction?

I don’t know if I would like to do live streams all of the time. I honestly don’t think so. For me, it is not always about making money, so why would you do that if you were having to charge. You would be doing it just to get the money. I would rather wait and do a live concert somewhere. I am very fortunate, I have been quite successful, and I could stop right now. I don’t have to continue on doing this. That’s why I can say to the band, “come and do the stream, I don’t need any money from it”. I can let them have all of the proceeds. I might do the Facebook things because people can watch it for free and they can have a dance round their living room or kitchen, but I simply don’t know going forward. If we weren’t able to go back to the way that we used to do it, then I would not continue.

Taking you back to 2002 when you were awarded an Honorary MBE for your services to the music industry. Just how did that feel?

That really was amazing. I had never even thought that I could ever receive an Honorary MBE as I am not from the Commonwealth. However, when I received the information, I suddenly realised that it was the fans who had written to Buckingham Palace regarding the award. A lot of them had written individually to say that my music was so important to them, and could I be honoured in some way. That is where it came from; it was all to do with the music. As you can image, I was very grateful, as it is always amazing whenever you have these things given to you.

You have now been in the business for some forty years. Would you do it all again?

Oh God I would. I most certainly would. I would encourage anyone who has a love of music to give it a try. I just think that you need to believe in what you are doing. Believe in what you are doing and be what you are. There is no room for an imitation of somebody else but there is loads of room for you.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Amazing Grace by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.

Who did you first see performing live?

My God. I suppose that the first person that I can ever remember seeing who was well known was Bridget ‘Bridie’ Gallagher who was an Irish singer, affectionately known as ‘The Girl from Donegal’. Bridie was widely regarded as Ireland’s first international pop star. I saw her at the Annagry Hall here in Ireland. I was only small at the time, so it would have to have been sometime back in the 1970s.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh, my goodness, the last that made me cry, let me see, I honestly can’t remember. I won’t make something up because I can’t remember, I’m sorry.

On that note Daniel, let me once again thank you for your time, it’s been delightful. You stay safe and speak soon.

Thanks for your time Kevin, it’s been lovely speaking to you and let’s just hope that I will be standing in front of you once again, sometime soon. You take care and bye for now.