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Covered in glory
Canadian songwriter Emm Gryner has released a covers album of Irish rock classics. But what inspired her to tackle Horslips, The Undertones and Gilbeert O'Sullivan? And why didn't The Pogues make the cut?
Colm O Hare, 02 Nov 2005
Covers albums are all the rage these days. Everyone from Paul Weller and The Beautiful South to Tori Amos and David Kitt has had a go at interpreting the work of others. It’s not everyday, however, that a successful Canadian singer-songwriter of Filipino extraction records an album of mainly left-field Irish pop and rock songs.
But Emm Gryner, who has sung backing vocals for David Bowie and is an occasional member of The Cardigans, has done just that.
Songs Of Love And Death offers her singular take on an eclectic selection of numbers, including Something Happens’ gem ‘Forget Georgia’, the Virgin Prunes’ ‘Bau – Dachong’, Ash’s ‘Shining Light’ and Therapy?’s ‘Nowhere’.
She has also re-interpreted better known songs like Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Nothing Rhymed’, The Corrs' ‘Breathless’ and Horslips' ‘Dearg Doom’.
How did it all come about?
“Well, I’m part Irish, though no-one really knows that,” she laughs. “My mum’s Filipino, which takes care of my appearance, but my grandmother is from here.”
Having visited this country on several occasions, she was eager to show the wider world that Irish music goes further than traditional airs.
“I run my own record label, so I decided to do an album of Irish covers. A lot of people thought it would be traditional songs. It’s kinda cool to be able to say, ‘No that’s not what Irish music is all about.’”
She hasn’t gone for the more obvious choices. There are no U2, Cranberries or Van Morrison songs. Presumably, this was a conscious decision?
“I tend to relate to bands in Canada who are just popular in Canada,” Emm explains. “I wanted to cover some bands who are big in Ireland but not anywhere else.”
To this end, she sought out collections of contemporary Irish music.
“I listened to Tom Dunne’s compilations. They were a great help. And I asked every Irish person I know to enlighten me. Gerry Leonard (ex-Hinterland, now Bowie’s guitarist) turned me onto Thin Lizzy, who I’d known about but not a lot.”
Some of her treatments might raise eyebrows. Her bass-heavy take on ‘Dearg Doom’, for example, is markedly different from the one we’re familiar with.
“There were a few people who thought it should be left off the album because it’s such an anthem here. But I thought it was a fabulous song and I tend to work in a way that I don’t think about the outcome.”
Horslips were generally positive about her reading of the track.
“I thought Eamon Carr wouldn’t approve of the drum machine, but he was cool about it.”
As for Gilbert O'Sullivan, is Gryner a fan?
“The first version of ‘Nothing Rhymed' I heard was actually on a Morrissey bootleg," she smiles. "He’d performed it live and I thought, ‘What a great song’.”
The lyrics caused the occasional moment of confusion, though.
“A journalist in Canada took me round to all these Irish pubs in Ottawa to find out what a ‘Bonaparte Shandy’ was because of the line in the song 'When I’m drinking my Bonaparte Shandy'."
No one knew the answer, but the journalist got hold of Gilbert O’Sullivan, who revealed that it was a play on words. He couldn’t, for reasons of copyright, say Napoleon Brandy so he changed it to Bonaparte Shandy.
Also treated to an unorthodox makeover is The Undertones' ‘Julie Ocean’.
“I listened to a bunch of Undertones albums, but didn’t want to do any of the punk rock anthems," Gryner explains. "What was great is that I was on radio in Canada promoting the album and the DJ had somehow found [Undertones guitarist] Mickey Bradley and got him on the air to talk about my version, which he liked.”
What songs did she consider that didn’t make the cut?
“I recorded ‘Fairytale Of New York’ which I wasn’t happy with, and really liked The Blades ‘Downmarket’, but ran out of room!”
Here's to Volume 2, then!