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A wee gem
Despite a series of major label knockbacks, Gemma Hayes has not only survived but established herself as one of the country’s most individual talents. She talks to Olaf Tyaransen about her new album, Let It Break, falling in love, courting Hollywood – and dancing a jig for Ronald Reagan.
Olaf Tyaransen, 29 Jun 2011
“Oh... shit!” Gemma Hayes shrieks. “I forgot to put more money in the parking meter!”
Just as Hot Press is about to press the record button, the beautiful 33-year-old singer-songwriter jumps from her seat and dashes daintily out the door of Dublin’s Herbert Park Hotel. Thankfully, when she returns she’s smiling the triumphant smile of the unclamped.
“I got away with it,” she laughs. “The clampers must all be in the city centre because of the Queen’s visit.”
Ah yes, Her Maj is in town today, stopping traffic wherever she waves. Speaking of prominent visitors, US President Barack Obama will be here in a couple of days, but Hayes isn’t amongst the artists chosen to perform for him. Which doesn’t especially bother her. She ticked the POTUS box many years ago.
“Yeah, I danced a jig and a reel for Ronald Reagan in Ballyporeen when I was six,” she recalls. “I just kind of remember this old man, and a lot of fuss being made about him. And all the cameras of the world there. And myself and my two sisters did a little jig. It didn’t mean very much to me back then.”
Do you still have old TV footage or press photos
“No, I’ve nothing at all,” she says. “I’ve tried to find it. Because there were all these TV cameras, but I’ve never actually seen any footage. It’s funny because Ballyporeen became a shrine to Reagan, and Moneygall is now gonna become a shrine to Obama. The local pub became The Ronald Reagan Lounge and there was a big plaque for him, and for years afterwards busloads of Americans – older ones, like The Quiet Man-type Americans – would come to Ballyporeen and love the place. It kept Ballyporeen going for years.”
Hayes’ family still live in the small Tipperary village where she grew up. Although now based in Dublin, she returns frequently to the family nest.
“Even when I lived in Los Angeles for four years, I was always over and back.”
Slightly shy, genuinely nice, and stunningly gorgeous, you get the sense that she’s an old style country girl at heart – though she has mischievous hints of the Edna O’Brien variety. We’re meeting to discuss her soon-to-be-released fourth studio album, Let It Break, her first new release since 2008’s well-received The Hollow Of Morning. Although she had originally announced that she’d be releasing an acoustic album next, that project was abandoned.