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10 Questions with Limerick Singer/Songwriter John Steele

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John Steele is a solo artist and the guitarist for the local band ‘The Flag Listeners’

10 Questions with Limerick Singer/Songwriter John Steele

By I Love Limerick Correspondent Tara Byrne

John Steele is a solo Limerick musician and the guitarist for local band, The Flag Listeners. His first album, ‘All My Days’, was released on December 4 last year and the second ‘Naturally Nocturnal’ was released on June 4 of this year. John is a firm believer in discovering the music that surrounds you and is a fan of many local bands, believing that Limerick has always produced quality music. He believes in proudly celebrating our musical achievements in this city and county as much as we do with our sports.


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Tell us about growing up in Limerick

I’ve always loved Limerick, particularly the humour. I went to St Enda’s school and I could be here all day telling you about the characters and stories from my time there but I made friends there, who remain friends to this day. When I started going to see bands, there was a real shock at the sheer quality of musicians we’ve always had here. Anyone who knows the scene knows what I’m talking about. For some reason, Limerick has always punched well above our weight in the sheer quality of the music that comes out of here and it hasn’t stopped. Unfortunately, we don’t have the infrastructure to expose everybody to some of the amazing music that’s been made here right now. It’s great to have places like The Commercial, Mother Macs, Charlie Malones and, of course, Dolans, to showcase the amount of creativity we have here but there really should be more venues for original bands. It would be great if our local council could provide rates relief to the venues that are supporting the creative side of our city and keeping that heart beating. I shudder to think how lost Limerick would be without Dolans.

When did you learn that you wanted to be a singer/songwriter?

The earliest memory I have of falling in love with music was listening to my father singing in the kitchen. He’d just sing quietly to himself but I’d always listen to him. He was a sax player himself but he had a beautiful quality to his singing voice that I just loved listening to. My sister, Susan, is a little older than me and she really kind of woke me up to the songwriters. Dad had introduced me to an eclectic mix from Tony Bennett to Rory Gallagher and Jimi Hendrix but Susan started buying albums and the three that really took over back then were Desire by Bob Dylan, The River by Bruce Springsteen and Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout. I had also discovered Arrival by Abba. They are much maligned but talk about structure and composition! My influences have become more varied since but I’m still a fan of these artists, particularly Prefab Sprout. I hadn’t really considered lyrics to be all that important until I was introduced to these artists and I just wanted to make good music and write songs. I just assumed you could just kind of do what they do but quickly realised why it’s only the very few who make it as songwriters.

Who inspires you?

Influences are so varied. My inspiration to play music definitely came from my father and the guitar was the instrument I fell totally in love with. I remember going to The Pits in the old Savoy to see the O’Malleys and my first introduction to local musicianship. All those guys are incredible but, when I walked into that gig, Des O’Dwyer was in full flight on guitar and he kind of became my first hero. A few years later, I got to play in a band with him and we became good mates but I had to learn guitar after hearing him. Other influences are Bowie, Radiohead, Talking Heads, PJ Harvey and Massive Attack but I’m still influenced by the likes of Dylan, Tony Bennett, Paddy McAloon and Tom Waits. I get to work with one of the best Limerick songwriters, Eamonn Hehir, so that’s also very inspiring.

Tell us about your latest album ‘Naturally Nocturnal’

John Steele

John’s second album ‘Naturally Nocturnal’ was released on June 4

After I released my first album, I just kept writing songs. The songs seemed kind of more personal than they were on the first one and it seemed to be turning into a collection of songs that were very different from the first. I originally decided that I’d release an EP, because the songs were finished and I liked the mixes. When I set about selecting songs, I was finding it hard to leave out other songs so I just bit the bullet and decided it had to be another album. I suppose, if there’s any meaning in the album, the recurring theme is bringing light into darkness. I’ve always been a night owl and I really love how the world feels at night. It just seems a lot more peaceful to me so, while it’s not a concept album, a lot of songs are about finding light in the darkness.

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?

At the start of lockdown, nobody was sure when we’d be able to play live again. I don’t do it for a living but I love playing live and the thought of not being able to play music was really getting me down. I had only been using an 8-track recorder to put song ideas down at the time so I decided to learn to record properly and invested in some studio equipment. I set myself the challenge of releasing an album of brand-new material by the end of the year and I did it. I’m very proud of the album but, in normal circumstances, I don’t think twice about letting a challenge fade away. I stuck at this one and I am proud of what I achieved with it. John Steele

What has been challenging about being a singer/songwriter?

I suppose the most challenging thing is making people aware of your music. I’ve had some great reviews but the audience you tend to capture is still quite small. That’s absolutely ok but, even to get that small audience is difficult enough because of the way things are set up these days. I look at the work that other people have to put into promoting themselves on a daily basis and it really is awe-inspiring. I’m watching younger artists that aren’t just incredibly talented but have this dogged determination to keep working at it. They’re at the coalface every day. It really is something. The problem is that, if people stopped buying cars, nobody would build them People stopped buying music ages ago but songwriters and musicians have to make music. It’s what we do.  John Steele

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

I’ve been working with other artists lately and I love it. I produced, mixed and played a couple of instruments for Aileen Downes’ latest release, Saoirse and I love working on her stuff. She’s an absolutely wonderfully talented artist. I’ve also been playing a bit of guitar for new music that my great friend and collaborator, Eamonn Hehir is working on. Now that things are opening up a bit, The Flag Listeners are gearing up to finish our second album. I’m also slowly getting my third album together. I’m about four songs in but I’ll be taking my time with that one.

How have you found making music during a pandemic?

Making music during the Pandemic has probably saved my bacon. I’m not generally into watching TV but I definitely think I could have ended up binge-watching everything on Netflix. As it happened, I just made myself go into the studio every day and at least play some music. I think I’m coming out of this a better musician but with a new passion for recording.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years, I hope to be looking back on being involved in several exciting projects. I’m toying around with the idea of doing some more electronic music under a different project name. I hope to be involved in Aileen Downes’ first album because the world could really do with hearing her music. I’m looking forward to continuing to play great gigs with The Flag Listeners but I hope to have a few gigs playing my solo material under the belt too. Mostly, I can’t wait to play to packed venues again, when it’s safe to do so. We’ve lived through an extraordinary time and it will be great to see it only in the rearview mirror.

What do you love most about I Love Limerick?

I’m a very proud Limerick man and I love how I Love Limerick rose out of a very difficult time for Limerick. The media seemed to be obsessed only with the negative side of Limerick and this site decided to stress the positive and get the real message of Limerick out there. It continues to do that, even though we are now in a much better place as a city. Long may it keep going.

For more stories about music go HERE 

To listen to John Steele go HERE 

Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the ilovelimerick.com concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.