Declan Sinnott; wit, wisdom and staying individual.
By Eimear O’ Dwyer
Declan Sinnott is a renowned Irish musician and producer, originally from Wexford Town, now settled in Bandon, County Cork.
He tells us about new music he is working on and reminisces on highlights from his successful career.
“You can kind of do anything you want. I don’t know how true that is. But I had a dream when I was a teenager of playing in the local parish hall and I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. My ambitions certainly didn’t go any higher than that.”
Declan began playing guitar as a teenager and “everything has branched out from there,” he says.
“When I was a kid I got really lucky, and a pure accident helped me. I bothered my mother constantly until she got me a guitar when I was 13.”
Declan says there was only one music book available at that time in Wexford town, in 1963.
“And I opened the book and the first sentence was ‘in order to be able to play the guitar you have to be able to read music’. This is completely untrue but I believed it because there was no other evidence. So I learned to read music from the book”
He learned to play classical pieces from the second music book that became available. He learned how to play the songs. At the same time, he was listening to the Beatles on the radio and learning through listening.
“I actually got the two most important methods of learning at the same time, purely by accident.”
Declan can also play “a little bit of piano, drums and bass.”
Knowing how to play these instruments and how they should sound enriches his work as a producer.
A chuckle escapes Declan as he talks about his creative process.
“I’m constantly looking for something that annoys me. And then I change it, and then I look for the next thing that annoys me.”
“And I keep doing it until the next thing that annoys me.”
He likens creating a piece of music to painting the road ahead of you, there are no rules to govern how the song will unfold.
“The beginning of any process with a song is often really difficult. I’m trying to fall into it so that once I’m inside I can see all the faults. But I’m just trying to find some way in the door.”
“And also, sometimes I’ll do a bunch of stuff that I’ll think is rubbish and the next day I wake up and I listen to it and I’ll think, oh that’s actually going somewhere.”
Working with artist Mary Black was a highlight for Declan. Particularly their third record with the single ‘Katie.’
He listened to the charts that week for the first time in 20 years.
“I got up to number 15 and I thought it couldn’t possibly be higher than that.”
“And then one of my kids came running down and said, you should come, the song is on the radio.”
“And I knew at that point that my life was never going to be the same again.”
Another fond memory for Declan is playing with the band Horslips. He takes us back to the band’s first gig in 1970 “in a little arts place at the back of Trinity College,” with 30-40 spectators.
The band then got a manager who got them on the bottom of a bill of about ten bands, sparking their success.
“We went on first and we got a standing ovation, and we were made in one night. So that’s something else when that happens to you.”
Declan was also offered his first record deal at the age of 61.
“It really changed my life in lots of ways,” he says.
Declan has achieved many great successes in his career and still, he maintains a genuine and humble character.
He speaks of his career achievements as demonstrative success.
However, he has many moments of recall that stuck with him over the years on a personal level.
“Whereas I remember small things that happen where you figure out that you can actually play.”
Painting a picture of a gig he played over 50 years ago with Horslips in the National Stadium, he says an American man came backstage and said he liked Declan’s guitar playing. Declan says he didn’t think he was any good at the time.
“He started telling me what I was doing in a way that he was looking right inside of what I was doing and seeing something in it that I wouldn’t have been able to describe.”
Moments like this shine through for Declan because, he says, “It’s really hard to be confident when you’re just making things up. There is no right or wrong.”
“Be as individual as you can. Be yourself. Base everything on your own opinion, on your own way of doing things.”
“If people consider you odd in the way you do things, keep doing it.”
“Don’t try and be anyone else.”
In the pipeline
Declan is currently working on several different projects. He has been writing songs with Evelyn Kallansee. He is working on an album with singer, Niamh Murphy. He is also recording with Hank Wedel at present.
Declan retains his passion for music and remains ambitious with his creative endeavours.
“It is an ambition of mine still to do things that are not typical of what I do.”