With over 50 years in music, Johnny McEvoy has many stories to tell. I had the pleasure of sitting with Johnny and asking him some questions about his life in music, how he is coping with the pandemic, his childhood, and more.
How did growing up in Banagher influence your music?
I don’t think Banagher had a great influence on my music, but I used to ding there all the time. I was 5 when my neighbor heard me sing in his house for the first time, so I was always singing there. Some of the songs I remember from that time, like ‘On top of old Smokey’, by The Weavers that I'd heard and liked, then many years later I went on to find out who they were and what the songs was, so it obviously caught my imagination. We then came to Dublin when I was six and even when I was at school I was always into different types of music, folk and stories, I love short stories and books. I listened to radio Luxemburg while my brother would listen to the Irish singers of the time, but they didn’t catch my imagination.
I was listening to the folk songs, Hank Williams, but it never crossed my mind that I would do this professionally. But I bought all of Hanks’s records and sold his old ones so I could buy the new ones. I would play him non-stop, and my family would never stop me.
Another big influence for me and a lot of people was Bob Dylan. Not many people were writing sings at the time. People who were on their own like me, not necessarily people in groups, certainly not show bands. You’d never heard a Dylan song from a show band. I did like some of the pop songs at the time, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Everly Brothers, all those people, because they were good! I regret that those days are gone and I don’t really find any good songs now.
But I didn’t know in some time I’d be doing the same thing myself performing shows. I was going around Dublin on my own, but to go back further I was in a duo called the Wranglers and we travelled around England singing the ballads. Definitely at that time the Clancy brother influenced me. Clancy Brothers had a good image and great songs, fascinated me.
But then I went on my own and that was great. I loved that. I used to play around the folk’s clubs in Dublin and a couple down the country, a couple of concerts in Liberty Hall, Francis Xavier Hall, places like that. There was a great patriotic feeling in Ireland at the time.
You’re used to constantly playing shows and performing, how have you navigated this past year putting everything to a halt?
I've been navigating it very well and I'm at an age where I wouldn't be working as much as some of the younger fellas and the new guys singing, and the fellas in the pubs. I mean, I'm at a stage in my life where I'm very grateful that I'm still able to sing and to go on and still do a couple tours a year. And that's all I want to do; I don’t want any hassle or stress. I’m not interested in television anymore, it’s too stressful.
My last gig actually was in the Opera House in Cork, and the next one was supposed to be in Killarney and there were all these rumours going around about a lockdown what was going to happen, and pubs open till December and you know, shops are closed, and cafes are closing, because there's almost a panic. But at the same time I, I found during the summer that people were actually enjoying it early in the first lockdown even though it was scary, people were spending time with their kids doing things at they weren’t doing before, doing the garden and that.
So I was down in Cork for 5 weeks in early lockdown and I had my guitar. I thought sure I’ll get the guitar and record the song, make a video of it on my phone, put it on Facebook and see how it goes. And there was a great reaction to them, so that was the start of it up until last night and I’ll do another one tonight. There’s been about 50 songs, one every week, every Wednesday. And it was a great help to me because I was performing and I miss that, so even though I’m doing this in my own sitting room, the camera infront of me, I am preforming, I am sing, the quality might not be too good but its good enough. So that’s got me through it.
I go for my walk every day and made sure of that, I find it very difficult to get my head straight, to function well, if I don't have my walk. I mean, it's not a long walk, I do the same walk every day, I'm a creature of habit, I see the sea and I look out and see people, you don't shake hands anymore, which is you know what I found the most difficult thing, lack of lack of contact with people physical contact, I think it's so unnatural. But I’m doing pretty well, I’ve never been a highflier, I miss the theatre, I didn’t go often but when I did go, I really enjoyed it. But I watch Netflix and that’s been a great leap through the pandemic, I know I probably wouldn’t handle it as well if it wasn’t for Netflix. As I’ve gotten older, I look for rest in life. I enjoy my own company, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel now.
What music would you listen to?
The music I like now it was a lot different than what I liked when I was younger. Strangely enough, when I was going to school, the old radio Eireann and pre RTE, used to have a classical music on constantly in the nights, and I used to listen to that. I didn’t actually know what I was listening to, but I liked it and my father thought I was mad. It caught my attention though, and as I got older, I liked it quite a lot. I can never remember their names but there’s one I play and it’s a Mozart piece, Piano Concerto and it reminds me of when my kids were young. I like American Country music of the 60s and 70s, the likes of Johnny Cash of course, Charlie Pride, Waylon Jennings. Country music has become more poppy but it’s still its own genre.
Through the 70s and 80s I loved ABBA. The 90s with U2, they were fantastic. I used to love Leonard Cohen from the early 60s, saw him twice in Dublin. The first one I saw was the finest Concert I’ve seen in my life. I like Michael Bublé, fantastic personality and singer. I really like his personality, seems to be a nice guy, a family man.
I don’t like rap, but if you listen carefully to the lyrics, some of it has very good and clever words. Not my type of music but it’s very clever, a different culture to mine.
I like jazz too, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, I put him on when I’m writing.
What’s your fondest memories of your years in music?
The fondest memories, when I look back over the years are when I was about 18 and starting out and gone to the folk clubs and we travelled around England and play over there. It's all brand new and it's all fresh and I was learning the game. We were teenagers and we just enjoyed ourselves. I mean, I have to say my teenage years were the most enjoyable years, you could imagine, you know, our teenage years are tough, but I really enjoyed it. What got me through the difficult times was the music I listened to.
But when I look back and think about what my fondest memories are, the time I enjoyed best came later in my life, touring around Ireland in the last 4 years, I really missed it this last year. I missed the whole package. I missed the people I was working with, I missed the gang, I missed the musicians, I missed all the craic, I missed all the jokes and all the performing and the warming up. It was tough going. It wasn't easy. And I found on stage a lot of pressure, you know, because I've got to live up to this here, tonight has to be better than last night. Even when I had laryngitis, I said feck this I’m going on! Now it was disastrous, but people appreciated it and it really gave a boost to my confidence and my self-respect. That was always the attitude I had, you go and do it, and if it’s bad its bad if its good its good, you do it anyway no matter what.
I loved the performing of it. The journey down to the gig, we would stop, and we'd have a coffee and a bun or a chocolate or something and head off to the to the gig and we go in and we do the soundcheck and warm up, a bit of banter going on between everybody. Everybody not quite awake, not quite settle down after the journey. And then the meal comes around, we all sit at the same table, and we all had a meal, and the jokes are flying around, and we all got on well, then we go on and do the show. I can’t think of a bad moment in all of those four tours now.
Do you have a plan for hat your next endeavour will be?
To be honest I can’t make a plan. I’m going to be 76 in April, I’ve had a long career behind me, seven decades, so that's a long time you know and with this going on at the moment that has stopped everybody in the tracks, we didn't expect it. As I said the Facebook, that’s kept my interest and helped my self-esteem. But I have found out certain things about myself that I didn’t know before and discovered things I like. I am still writing, which I lost there for a while, and then just before Christmas I started again. When I go for my walk, I think of my stories and it helps me with ideas. I look forward to that it’s a great satisfaction. For me it’s the act of writing it and then I never read it again. That’s done now and I make sure it’s okay. I like evoking memories in people when they read them.
You can follow Johnny on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/johnnymcevoy, where every Wednesday he releases a song around 2pm. He also has
a newsletter each month and you can catch all his past stories on his