Ahead of their upcoming 40th anniversary concert in the Fairways Hotel the Democrat chatted to Aslan frontman Christy Dignam about music, Covid grants and forty years on stage.
Aslan are no strangers to playing in Dundalk and it’s a place Christy says he always enjoys performing in:
“I always love playing in Dundalk, the crowds are always very good”, he said.
“We used to play in the Fairways years ago, I think that was actually the first place we ever played in Dundalk thirty or forty years ago.”
Aslan kicked off their new tour playing gigs in Belfast and Galway, their first since March 2020, and in that time Christy says he’s really come to appreciate the importance of a live audience to his performances.
“It was brilliant, amazing, because people had been excluded from gigs for so long. I think they really appreciated it and so did we.
“We did a thing a while ago down at the INEC in Killarney, a livestream, it was just us in front of a few cameras going live to the INEC’s YouTube page and after it was broadcast our manager put it up on our social media platforms.
“I rang her about ten minutes after it went up telling her to take it down immediately because it was just awful.
“You know I’ve always appreciated how important the audience are to us, but I’ve never realised just how integral they are to the whole thing and without the audience it's just s**t.
“The spirit was gone out of it, it was like playing without drums or something, it was horrible.
“But the first song we opened with in Belfast was called “You gotta make it” the plan was the band would start playing it and I’d walk out halfway through the song and start singing like a sort of intro thing, but in Belfast I couldn’t even hear the band the crowd were screaming that much.
“It's not that we’re that great or anything, I think it's just that people are happy to be out and going to a live gig.”
However the two years away from the stage weren't unproductive for Christy as he released a solo album “The Man Who Stayed Alive” in September 2021, the culmination of months of work and writing during the Covid lockdowns.
“It’s something I always wanted to do and see if I could do it and it went down really well, to be honest with you it’s one of the best things I’ve done in a long time.
“I did it with a guy called Don Mescall and we wrote the album together and started recording in a studio up in Cavan but it was a two hour drive from where I live and with my chemo and everything I was getting very tired and wouldn’t be able to sing or anything so eventually we set up here in my house and we did a lot of vocals here in the house.
The album’s name is an obvious nod to Christy’s health issues which he’s been open about having been diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer called amyloidosis in 2013.
“Look I was given six months to live on Patrick’s weekend 2013 and I’m still here nine years later so I just take every day as a bonus but I’m grand at the moment and it goes up and down because I’m constantly in treatment.
“I’m either doing chemo or I’ve just finished chemo or just about to start chemo so it can be hard but it’s definitely better than the alternative.”
During Covid Christy was quite vocal about the covid support schemes set up for live musicians and Aslan's inability to get in on any of the rounds of funding. It’s clearly something he still feels strongly about.
“It’s outrageous, I was talking to Brian Whitehead who manages the band ‘Picture This', during the whole covid thing as the grants were being announced and we weren’t getting any of them.
“The last batch of grants that came out were specifically for live music and live bands, now we’re forty years doing this, forty years paying taxes in this country, we epitomise a live band, you couldn’t have a more justified band to give a grant to than Aslan, I don't think.
“Anyway we were refused the last batch of grants as well and he (Brian Whitehead) rang me asking if we had gotten any of the grants and I told him no and he told me that the bloke that sang at his Da’s funeral got one, so I don’t know where to go from there… It was outrageous.”
Despite a success that has allowed the band to grace prestigious venues like the Olympia, which they’ll perform at in September, Christy says that it’s the smaller venues that he prefers playing in.
“I prefer to do a smaller gig because there’s usually a better vibe but the fact that we’re able to do the likes of the 3 Arena at this stage in our careers is great and it's a nice way to end the tour.
It’s the appreciation from the fans that keeps him coming back to the stage forty years after the band first performed.
“I could never think of doing anything else, I always said that if I thought we were flogging a dead horse and if people were saying ‘do they not know that somebody rang the bell years ago and they’re brutal’ I’d split the band up in a heartbeat, I’d hate to be that kind of band.
“But people are still coming so it’s not the case yet, and I don’t know what I’d do if we weren't gigging. That's why the pandemic drove me mad and I had to do a solo album just to be able to sing.
Christy revealed that far from winding down, the group are working on a new album.
The last few years have been a bit mad and Billy had that dancing with the stars thing and was always rehearsing but we’ve settled down now and are working on some new stuff and we’re writing the album at the moment so hopefully that’s something that'll be coming in the future.
Aslan are coming to perform at Fairways, Dundalk on 13th May with tickets available on Ticketmaster.ie.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.