Eileen Keane - Epic voyages, broken hearts, beautiful music

CONNEMARA SINGER-songwriter Eileen Keane has just released her debut EP Spaces and the life experiences that went into its six exquisite songs are quite something.

“Seven years ago my life changed dramatically when I met ‘the man of my dreams’,” Keane tells me. “He asked me to sail with him to Brazil. We sailed from Dingle under a full moon on September 16 2008, just before the banking crisis hit. With Fungi, Dingle’s famous dolphin, playing in our bow wave, it was a surreal beginning to the adventure of a lifetime.

“We sailed for four years, going all the way to Argentina, back up to north Brazil and on up to the Guyanas, a madcap journey up the Essequibo river, the third largest in South America, and then on up to Tobago and the Caribbean where we eventually parted ways.

“Having no previous sailing experience, my decision to stow away with a man I had only known for a year was probably rather rash. However I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ We could sink, be raided by pirates, get caught in a horrific storm or ‘we’ could go wrong.

“Well we didn’t, despite a few close shaves, sink or get waylaid by pirates, the worst weather we experienced was a mere gale with some heavy seas, but we did, after four very intense years of living together on a 44ft yacht ‘go wrong’.

“The hardest day of my life was leaving my home, the boat, and my relationship. I arrived back in Dublin Airport in a pair of badly misshapen tracksuit bottoms, a worn out fleece, a shattered heart, a sea salted guitar, and not much else. I headed back west to the barren lands. That was February 1 2012. This EP is the coloured glass and tiny shells that I brought back from my adventures.”

It sounds like an adventure from some great romantic novel or movie and the ‘coloured glass and tiny shells’ of the resulting songs gleam with an affecting glow that delights the ear and moves the heart.

Jimmy Fitzgerald’s production - he also plays guitar - provides a warm and sensitive setting for each song and, allied to Keane’s equally sensitive singing and fine songwriting, adds up to an impressive collection.

The title track sets the mood as Keane sings: “Regretting the paths untaken/Remembering sweet love forsaken and there is no going back, simply/space to begin”.

The air of sweet regret, of pain endured and transcended is carried through in ‘Shadows’, ‘Sea of Dreams’, ‘Broken Wing’ and ‘Ink Blue Scarf’ (“Today I bought an ink-blue scarf/To tie around my shattered heart” ). Completing the sextet of tracks is the traditional Spanish-language song ‘Cucurucucu’, the lyrics of which also speak of the heart’s yearning.

“I made a few recordings before but never released anything officially, I came close a few times but never managed to do it until now,” Keane says. “Some of the songs have been around for a while.

“‘Shadows’ is a Connemara song and would have been one of the first songs that I wrote. ‘Spaces’ is a song I had written before but then completely reworked when I came back from sea. I went to a workshop in Dublin with this woman who had written for Frank Sinatra. She really complimented me on that song and told me I was a strong lyricist but she said to go back and re-write it, so I did, and I was very pleased with the result. There are new songs there as well.”

I ask where she discovered ‘Cucurucucu’.

“I first came across that in Pedro Almodovar’s film Talk to Her where it is sung by Caetano Veloso” she says. “In the movie it is very different to the version I sing. When I first heard it I became obsessed with the song, I couldn’t stop listening to it. I speak a bit of Spanish and I was in Uruguay and I wanted a Spanish song and I was so in love with that song I learned it.”

Spaces is, in short essential listening. Eileen plays Renvyle House this evening at 8.30pm and the Monastery Hotel in Letterfrack on Saturday May 31 at 8pm.

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