Interview with Mícheál Ó Caoinleain

I'd like to introduce to you a gentleman I had first met on Irish Gaelic Translator, a forum for all things Gaelic. He is a very talented musician, a true witty comic as you will see first hand, and a very dear friend of mine. His name is Mícheál Ó Caoinleain, the man responsible for the making and release of the Ræliksen Soundtrack in both Europe and the U.S.

He has generously given up some of his time to answer a few questions for me, as many of my readers have inquired about the mysterious man behind the arrangements. So without further delay, here we go.

Past The Print: Tell us a little bit about yourself ...

Mícheál: I'm Irish and I live in The Netherlands with my lovely wife, Catharina. Modesty however prevents me from telling you how incredibly handsome, intelligent, witty, and talented I actually am.

Past The Print: At what age did you start playing music and what was your first instrument?

Mícheál: There was always music around our house. We used to have card evenings at our house, a game called Thirty-one, and usually someone brought a fiddle or a melodeon or a whistle, or a mouth organ along as well. An uncle of mine taught me the basics of the melodeon when I was about seven or eight. But I wasn't that interested at that age, I regret it now. It wasn't until I started grammar school that I actually started getting to appreciate music. It was semi-compulsory in our school to learn a musical instrument when you reached the second year. I started on trumpet, but that was a failure and I eventually moved on to doublebass and guitar

Past The Print: What instruments can you play? Which one is your favorite?

Mícheál: I'm not sure I can play anything really well, but I have over the years studied a brave few instruments and the techniques involved in their playing. I think the instrument I feel most at home on is the guitar or bass guitar.

Past The Print: How did you come up with the idea of making a Ræliksen Soundtrack and why?

Mícheál: Well now, that's a hard one. It started out when Renee asked me if she could use a piece of music I had already recorded for her book trailer. With the help of Renee I rearranged the piece to better fit the video. While we were doing this we joked a bit about if Ræliksen ever became a film that I would write the soundtrack.

Well anyway, while I was reading the book on the tram on my way to work, I was listening to my ipod as well, and a piece of my own music came up and it seemed to match the scene in the book. I thought about it for a few days and then presented the idea to Renee. I must admit I was a little nervous in case she didn't like the idea. And even when she told me that she did like it, I thought she was just being polite. But how wrong I was. Renee embraced the idea with enthusiasm, and I can honestly say if it had not been for her enthusiasm, constant support, and input I would probably never have gotten this idea off the ground.

Past The Print: Which song on the soundtrack is your favorite?

Mícheál: I suppose my favourite is probably the one song on the CD that is not part of the soundtrack, Carolan's Sí Beag Sí Mór. I was not going to include it at all, it's just a recording of me playing the guitar to which I later added a synth pad in the background as a bit of filling, but again Renee convinced me to include it. And a lot of people who have bought the CD have told me they really liked that track too.

Past The Print: Are there any musicians (past and/or present) that have influenced your music?

Mícheál: It would be very difficult to pin this down. I don't think I could make a short list and many of the people that have influenced my music are not really famous or even known outside some very small circles. There is one man however that I would like to mention.But first the story. Well maybe not. We have a saying in Irish, is túisce deoch ná scéal, a drink comes before a story.

Past The Print: I couldn't agree more! I see you brought a beverage with you - and Tequila! Good choice, mate! Let's have that drink!

Mícheál: Well I enjoyed that! Now the story.

Years ago I had an industrial accident which lead to me being unable to use one of my hands for a long time, so I had to give up playing music. When eventually the hand had healed and I could use it again, I had somehow lost the drive to play music. I felt that I was not as good as before the accident, so I gave up playing in public and this in turn lead to me practically giving up playing altogether. But one day I met Tommy G, a fellow carpenter and a fine Irish traditional musician. He learned that I used to be a musician and encouraged me to start coming along to sessions he was playing at. Bit by bit, he got me back into playing. So Tomáisín has probably had the greatest influence of anyone on my music.

Past The Print: Are you working on any future projects?

Mícheál: After the success of the Carolan guitar piece on the CD, I'm seriously thinking of reviving a project I started years ago involving a midi guitar and a computer. I tried this once live but it wasn't a great success, but now that laptops are more powerful I may try this again, although midi tracking guitar hardware is still not great.

Renee has also given me the go ahead to write some stuff for her sequel MacLiam, for which I have written one track already, although that still needs a fair bit of work yet.

And I have had a digital CD available for a couple of years that I'm thinking of remastering and releasing as a hard CD. It's a collection of early music pieces and dance tunes from around Europe.

Past The Print: What parts of the world have you visited? Do you have a favorite place?

Mícheál: I've worked in a number of different places in Europe: Holland, Germany, Belgium, France, England, Wales, Luxemburg, and of course Ireland. I have also spent a few months picking up odd jobs and bumming around Greece and Israel, when I was much younger. I did a six month stint in the Falkland Islands building timber frame houses, but I never got to see the penguins. I have in the past few years, with Catharina, travelled extensively in Thailand and Vietnam. I have seen Prague and bits of Hungary, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Austria. Of course my favourite place is Ireland. Although Vietnam would be a close second. And even if Ireland will always have a special place in my heart, I am more than content to live in Holland, because my wife, Catharina, is here.

Past The Print: Where in Ireland is your favorite place to visit?

Mícheál: I really don't have one particular favourite place, but there are a few places that I always try to visit when I'm in Ireland.
  • The Giant's Causeway in Antrim
  • The Cliffs of Moher in Clare
  • The Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry
  • The Ards Peninsula in Down
  • The Wicklow Hills
Those are just the more famous of them. There are lots of smaller, lesser-known places that I love for personal reasons, but I'm afraid they have to remain personal.

Past The Print: Is there a place you really want to visit but haven't yet?

Mícheál: Kentucky

Past The Print: Aww...aren't you sweet. So when you are not being a musician, what are your hobbies?
Mícheál: I've recently bought a new camera, so I intend to get back into photography, which was a hobby of mine, back when you had film in the camera, and spent hours in a darkroom developing and printing it. Ah the good old days ...
And I run with a club called the Hash House Harriers, an international drinking club with a running problem. There are branches, known in hash-speak as kennels, all over the world, but you won't see much about them anywhere. It's a very informal network. I remember someone being amazed when I told him I was a "hasher". He had heard vague reports of the hash but thought it was just one of those urban legends, he didn't believe that anyone would spend two or three hours running around a wood following a trail of breadcrumbs.....only stopping to drink beer now and again.

Past The Print: Now if you don't mind, I'd like to dig a little deeper. Your Irish name is Mícheál Ó Caoinleain. Have you always used the Gaelic version? And if not, what made you start?

Mícheál: Because I come from an Irish speaking family I've known my name in Gaelic since I was a child, even though we always used the English version officially.

When did I decide to use my Gaelic name? There's a story there as well ... must be time for another deoch, haha.

Well we were playing at a Celtic Music festival in Brittany in France one time and one of the organizers asked us for a list of the band members. There were only two of us who had Irish names, the other members were Dutch and German, and we decided to give the Gaelic versions. So Tom gave his name in Irish and as he'd just had a son whose name was also Thomas, he decided on Tomás mór Ó G. As my father was still alive then, I decided on Mícheál óg Ó C. I explained to the organizer about the mór and the óg that they meant literally "big" and "young", but in Irish they were the equivalent of senior and junior. Now all this was going on in French, and something may have been lost in the translation because when they announced us, they introduced us as Big Tomás Ó More and his younger brother Mícheál. The irony is, of course, that I was five years older than Tom. Tom never used his Irish name again in my company. But I continued to use mine.

Past The Print: Grand story! Well, considering I know you pretty well, you tend to frequent the pubs now and again. Do you have a favorite Irish toast you'd like to share?

Mícheál: Sláinte an bhradáin: croí folláin agus gob fliuch. To which one would reply: Agus bás i nÉirinn.
(Translation: The health of the salmon: a stout heart and a wet mouth. The reply: And death in Ireland.)

Past The Print: OK, now for the good stuff. As you are well aware, Mícheál, this is essentially a romance book blog, so I'd like to ask you those inner-most, sensitive questions that appeal to our soft feminine hearts. What is your concept of an ideal date?

Mícheál: An seachtú lá deag de Mhárta would be one.

Past The Print: Realize, for those of you who do not speak a lick of Irish, he just said "the seventeenth of March."

Mícheál: Hmm...It's difficult to say. But I suppose because I enjoy cooking, inviting the woman to my place for a candlelit meal I've prepared myself, with a fine wine, and some soft music would be well up the list.

Of course her turning up naked with a six-pack would not be at the bottom of the list either.

Past The Print: Well I'm glad I didn't seem to warp the rudimentary and unpolished, masculine mind with that little question. Try this one. If you could be the hero of a romance novel, what sort of hero would best suit you?

Mícheál: Probably the poor but honest working class lad who rises through the ranks of the union or party to eventually lead the proletariat to a successful revolution and so gains the hand of the king's daughter.
**Thank you Mícheál for a great interview!
Mícheál Ó Caoinleain's Links:

Order the Ræliksen CD
A More Personal Website
More Music From Ó Caoinleain
Leave a comment on this blog and be automatically entered to win both an autographed copy of my historical romance, Ræliksen, and the Ræliksen Soundtrack CD. The winner will be randomly drawn on August 1, 2009 and notified through email. See here for contest details.


Authors Promoting Authors said...

I loved this post!
Thanks for having such an interesting and lively guest, Renee.
I must go and hear some of Mícheál's music.

I am a rather novice student of Gaelic and I am always looking for new resources to help in this study, I will check out the Irish Gaelic Translator forum.

Renee Vincent said...

Thank you for taking the time to visit and leaving a comment! I have been on the forum for a little under two years and I love it there. The regulars are so helpful and fun to be around. Look me up - my name on the forum is "10th" Century and Mícheál's is "Caffler". Hope to see you there!

Mícheál Ó Caoinleain said...

Aye indeed we would look forward to seeing you on the IGTF.
thank you for your comment.