Ronan Collins, 69, grew up in Glasnevin, Dublin. He was a drummer for bands such as The Others and Dickie Rock. In 1979 he joined RTÉ as a radio DJ, as part of the Radio 2 launch team, later moving to Radio 1. The Ronan Collins Show, which has the biggest audience of any music show radio on the island of Ireland, is weekdays. at noon, RTÉ Radio 1.
When the Beatles arrived, I was only about 12 years old. I was perfect fodder to be influenced by pop music. Liverpool were not far from Ireland. There just seemed to be a connection with them. They were ordinary. They didn’t look like Elvis. They didn’t look like pop stars. They didn’t look like movie stars. Just four guys. It appealed. It happened to be the Beatles; it could have been anyone.
But the Beatles were above all others because they had their own songs. The songs were straightforward: boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. The boy falls in love. The girl meets someone else. It was extraordinarily melodic, very melodious and played with great simplicity. Sometimes, as I found out later, the simple things are the hardest to play.
Much of my introduction to music came through my sister’s record collection from early Motown. I remember she had a self-titled Four Tops album. It was fantastic. It seemed to me at the time that no one else knew about them except my sister, her boyfriend and me. The sound was phenomenal. It was different from Elvis. It was different from the Beatles. It was my introduction to black music and soul music. It was incredibly good.
There were so many different sides to music in the 1960s. I remember hearing Taj Mahal, a blues guitarist and singer, and thinking he was amazing. It was only later that I learned that it followed the great bluesmen. If you had to put a label on it, it was pop blues rather than pure blues. He was a guitarist of great notoriety. He is still alive.
As far back as I can remember, I loved The Chieftains. When they arrived I thought they were something very special. At the time, I had more than a passing interest in American swing bands – Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, all those great American bands.
When I heard The Chieftains I thought they could swing as well as any of those American bands, but they were playing traditional Irish music. But by God, could they swing? They just have a natural rhythm to them.
There’s a Christy Moore track on her Ordinary Man album called St Brendan’s Voyage. Dónal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn play on it. It’s a Christy Moore-like piece with the bodhrán and Christy’s vocals and Christy playing guitar. Towards the end, the last third, Liam O’Flynn enters the pipes and Dónal Lunny begins to really work on his bouzouki. It really swings. A swinging uilleann piper is a magical thing.
American swing bands stem from Louis Armstrong and the great jazz bands of Dixieland. I had the chance to travel to countries in the Horn of Africa. I heard them play their version of rock, their contemporary music.
When I was in Addis Ababa. I listened to this group with two guitarists, a keyboardist, a drummer, a percussionist and singers. I could have listened to those great English ska reggae bands like The Selecter or The Beat. It’s all black music. And it is extraordinary! It’s incredible.
There is no one to match Larry Gogan as a radio presenter. Larry brought the music to you with enthusiasm, with great enthusiasm. He had such a good path, a great passion and a great knowledge of music. He loved the whole game.
I had the chance to meet him, to know him. We have become great, great friends. He was the quintessence – in this country – of the messenger of music. Larry never got in the way. It wasn’t about Larry. It was about the music.
Brendan Balfe was also an excellent radio presenter. He was like a magpie in the way he compiled things. He picked things here, there and there and put them together seamlessly. Whether it was social documentaries, entertainment documentaries or music documentaries, he was very, very good. The style in which he made them no longer exists. He was a guy I would have fed off of over the years because I was lucky enough to work with him. He was exceptional.
John Bowman is amazing. He takes very serious subjects and makes them very docile. If you hear John Bowman on Sunday mornings on RTÉ Radio One, what he gets in 28 minutes is amazing. He is a brilliant communicator. I was lucky to be surrounded by people like him at the same time in my career.
In relatively recent times, I remember seeing Donal McCann at the Gate Theater in Sebastian Barry’s The Steward of Christendom. It was in 1995. I knew Donal McCann through my old mentor Bill O’Donovan, who was very good friends with Donal. I met Donal from time to time. He was a wonderful character.
Seeing Donal portray this man, becoming this man in The Steward of Christendom was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen on stage in my life. I was delighted to see a revival with Owen Roe – as Donald – this summer.
I met Sebastian Barry a few times. I knew his mother – Joan O’Hara, the actress – from being here at RTÉ. When I was introduced to Sebastian Barry, I remember saying, “I know your mother.” He was fascinated by this: “Really? We talked about his mother. One day he came and asked, “Would you mind if you were one of the subjects of my new play?” I have a story about two subjects who are in prison and they have a radio and they listen to Ronan Collins.
The room is On Blueberry Hill. For me to even be mentioned in something as fantastic as the writings of Sebastian Barry is a big thrill.