Derek Ryan, Ireland’s number one country star, said Banbridge is a place he will ‘never forget’ when he played to a record crowd at the Bannville House Hotel on Friday night.
Speaking to the Leader ahead of the show, the Life is a River singer described how Banbridge fans gave him his first ever standing ovation as a country artist, a precious memory for the Carlow man.
A former member of the boyband D-Side, Derek is now a top country star in his own right, with his latest album ‘The Simple Things’ reaching number one in the Irish album chart, holding off the likes of Ed Sheeran and Paolo Nutini, and number one in the UK country chart.
Looking forward to last Friday night’s show, Derek said: “We’ve played the Bannville now a few times and it’s been lively, a full house every time, so hopefully tonight will be no different. It’s always a great crowd.”
It certainly was a similar reaction at this gig, with a record crowd turning out for what he later called ‘a mighty night’.
With five studio albums and one live album under his belt, Derek Ryan has built up a loyal following and he spoke of how he recognises local people at his various shows.
“I do see the same faces,” he said.
“It’s well located as well so people from a lot of areas can come, so it’s great,” he commented.
“I always say it’s an exciting time to be involved in country music and there’s a great mix at the gigs as well.
“It’s not just all young people or all old people, it’s kind of a nice mix that we get, which I think is a nice element to the show as well because sometimes you could have, especially at concerts, four generations at gigs which is nice to see.”
Currently on the road with his ‘Simple Things tour’, Derek said it has been ‘brilliant.’
“It was the most successful album to date, sales went through the roof for us so we were delighted. We couldn’t wait to get on the road, I get excited about doing the new songs live because it’s all about the performance.
“I enjoy writing the songs for the album, I enjoy the process of going through it, but when you do it live you see which ones go down better and then you adapt, you kind of edit the show, put in new songs here and there, so it’s kind of an exciting time.”
He added: “My dad was a country and Irish singer and still is. His latest band has been on the road for thirty years, so we grew up going to his gigs and just generally listening to the cd’s that he’d have or whatever.
“It’s funny, we always loved it, some of my friends at home would be like, ‘What are you listening to?’ they’d be listening to pop music or whatever, but when you grow up with something, it’s natural and just becomes like second nature really.”
Speaking about which artists inspire him, Derek said: “I would’ve listened to the old American country like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams especially, Hank Locklin, all those type of guys and then of course, Big Tom, Brian Coll.
“Then as I got older we went actually dancing. We went to follow Declan Nerney and all those types of singers, Mick Flavin and Jimmy Buckley, so they would’ve infuenced me I suppose at getting to know the scene as such but as a songwriter, Johnny McEvoy would be a big influence on me and then the American guys like Garth Brooks and Keith Urban.”
Fulfilling an ambition to collaborate with Sharon Shannon, Derek said another artist he would love to work with would be Johnny McEvoy.
“I am a big fan of Johnny McEvoy, so I’d like to work with him. He’s had some fantastic songs so if it ever happens it’d be great.”
Picking out some of his highlights, Derek said: “One of the highlights was kind of a mixture, it was working with Sharon and then we performed on The Late Late Show, which was amazing. I had done The Late Late before and I had worked with Sharon but to do both on the same night was pretty cool. That was definitely a hightlight.
“And then just every night we have a big theatre show, I think it’s amazing because you kind of feel how far you’ve come, not too long ago I was playing in pubs to two people so you every so often you go, ‘this is great’.”
Derek will perform his first show in Belfast in the new year when he will play at the Europa Hotel, whilst he will fulfil another highlight when he will play at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin in March.
“That’ll be our first Belfast gig,” he said of his Europa show. “The Olympia was definitely a highlight as well. Because so many artists have played the Olympia, to get the call to do that was just definitely a milestone and the number one album was another highlight.
“I’ve been gigging since I was thirteen. There was a big time between the pop and the country where I didn’t do a whole lot, I went back to college and gigged a little bit here and there in pubs in London, but I kind of took a break from it and looking back that was when I wrote a lot of songs that I’ve released since so it was a good time creatively but not really I suppose gigging wise.
“Now if something good comes along we’ve always been taught, my dad especially, not to make the most of it, so we’ll never sit down, we’ll work hard.”
With a new single, ‘Pick a Bale of Cotton’ being released in the next couple of weeks, Derek has been busy during the past week making a video to accompany the song.
Last week he even invited fans to be extras in the video, tweeting details at the last minute.
“It went well,” he said. “I was surprised, you never know, because I only gave them two hours notice because believe it or not if you give them too much notice you could have a massive crowd and then it’s trouble because people mightn’t get in.
“So we just left it till the last minute and then I was thinking, will anybody come? We got about 40 all in all which for two hours notice wasn’t bad.
“It worked out well, it was a Tuesday night and people were working, but if you did it at the weekend I’d say you’d have a crazy crowd but we had just the perfect amount and then we did another scene today so we’re all done now.”
With fans having their own opinions on their favourite song, does Derek have a favourite song he has written?
“Probably Life is a River,” he commented. “Because of the connection it’s made with people. It is a sad song, but that’s probably my favourite song. I just wrote a song as you write a song, but to have that impact with people, it’s an important song, it’s probably the most important song that I’ve released.”
Sending a message to local fans, Derek added. “One of my first ever gigs was in the Iveagh Theatre, just a spot, and I’ll never forget it.
“It was my first standing ovation as a country artist and I’ll never ever forget it.
“We may go back there, we haven’t been with the full show,” he said.
“Banbridge and surrounding areas have been very very good to me, so long may it continue and thanks very much to everyone.”
For a review of the show at the Bannville, see this week’s Banbridge Leader.