WHAT HAPPENS when an actress hits a mid-life crisis and things start to unravel? Does she buy a Harley-Davidson and join a gang of burly bikers burning up Route 66? Or does she get a part in a TV drama series and go instead on an inner adventure that yields up unexpected treasures?
Ann Marie Horan did the latter, finding excitement, danger and an album of songs on a road less travelled. She now invites listeners to celebrate the launch of this debut album AM I AM with her, on Saturday December 9 at 8pm in the Town Hall Theatre.
A native of Galway, the well-known actress has been a regular on TG4’s Ros na Rún since 2007. She also worked for many years in RTÉ, on programmes such as Fair City and most recently she produced and performed her own one-woman show, Norah Barnacle-Signora Joyce. AM I AM was recorded in Creg na Vagabones, New Quay, Clare, by producer and multi-instrumentalist Garry Ó Briain, who composed arrangements combining Irish and other traditional styles to create a light and deft “folk fusion”.
Dónal Lunny and Garry Ó Briain joined Ann Marie in the Town Hall for the album launch concert, along with the IGNITE Gospel Choir and her colleagues from Ros na Rún. Other artists featured on the album are Gradam Ceoil TG4 winner Dermot Byrne (accordion), Brian Fleming (percussion), Paul Johnson (double bass), Tommy Keane (uileann pipes, whistles), Maureen Browne (fiddle), and Laura Lynn and Keara Rose Mac Dhómhnaill (backing vocals). Lack of availability meant that Dermot and Maureen couldn’t join the band for the launch, but Mary Staunton and Ciara O’Connor did a wonderful job in their place.
Over an afternoon coffee, Ann Marie spoke with me about the album and I began by confessing I never knew singing was part of her skill set. “I sang in bands when I lived in Dublin, but it was low-key because I was primarily working as an actress,” she tells me. “I also sang in choirs. When I came back to Galway 10 years ago, I started singing with the Ignite Gospel Choir and that built up my confidence, so the singing has developed in the years since then.
“The songs started coming to me 15/20 years ago. They are dialogues with myself; between the inner me and the outer me; between the soul and the spirit. I’ve always been a bit of a seeker – the material world makes little sense to me. There was a period when I lost a lot of people through death or other losses and life’s Big Questions came up. Instead of buying a Harley Davidson and going down Route 66 (which I nearly did, I was signed up for it) I went around the world and shaved my head, so I did a bit of craziness. But then I settled down and the journey was more inward. The writing happened then.”
Songs like ‘Set My Spirit Free’, ‘The I Dissolves’, ‘Leap of Faith’ and ‘All I Am’ attest to the reflective and questing nature of the music on the album. “About three or four years ago I decided I was going to try and record the songs I’d been writing,” Ann Marie says. “Fred McCloskey, who acts with me in Ros na Rún, introduced me to Dónal Lunny who I initially wanted to produce the album. We met and he was so kind – I couldn’t get over that he would listen to a musical greenhorn like me! I sent him some stuff but time-wise it didn’t work out. Then I was in Newquay, Co Clare, which is one of my favourite places on earth, and I met my friend Pádraic O’Maille there. He told me that the renowned Garry O’Briain had a studio just up the road.
“Garry and I hit it off immediately. We started working together, pretty much just the two of us laying down tracks. He would play and I would sing; it was just guitar and my voice for a good while. Then Dónal became available again and he came and played, along with all the other amazing musicians on the album. I am thrilled with how it turned out. When the songs came to me intially, I could hear the tunes and the lyrics, and I had some ideas as to what instruments I would like used. But Garry is a genius with his arrangements, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist. I was awed and overjoyed with what I heard developing over the recording process.”
Ann Marie shares her insights on the contrast between acting and singing, and discovering her voice as a singer, which she exhibits so compellingly on the album: “I did the Artist’s Way programme years ago, which is a 12-step programme to discover and recover one’s inner artist. When I was doing that, a lot of songs started to come to me and I rediscovered my own voice. When I am acting a role it is not me; yes, Ann Marie is in there and has to feel the feelings and be authentic, but they are not my words or my situation. The songs are much more authentic from a personal point of view. They describe a spiritual journey, partly mine and partly universal, dare I say! It’s like they came to me and I feel it was my job to get them out there as best as I could.
Now that the songs are out there, I wonder what will happen next…..”