As a child Martin McCool remembers growing up listening to the soft–sounding lyrics of Frank Sinatra in the sitting room of his Stranolar home. His mother, Rosaleen (nee Molloy) who was from Letterkenny and his father Donal McCool were both very fond of music and this great love undoubtedly was undoubtedly passed on to Martin.
“I remember growing up listening to Sinatra. My mother and my father had a great love of music. One of the songs I remember my parents playing when I was a child was the ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and that has always stayed with me,” he said. It was no surprise to anyone when Martin himself began to take part in singing competitions and becoming more than adept on the piano. After teaching for a number of years Martin decided to pursue his passion for music. 1999 marked the beginning of a remarkable era for him, he moved to Wexford and became part of the music scene.
“Paul Finnegan had a fantastic pub in town and he was a great music patron. I met a local folk singer called Darren Byrne who ran a songclub there. McCool met many interesting characters in Finnegan’s such as ‘Digsy’ who worked on several Oasis albums.
A surprise encounter with an American folk singer in Wexford on a quiet November night in 2005 changed McCool’s musical life. “Paul Finegan phoned and asked me if two American guys could stay with me. I opened the door to find a man standing there in a fedora hat like in a gangster movie. I asked him in. The man’s name was Michael McDermott and he is the favourite singer of author Stephen King. When I heard him perform that night with his bodhran player everything that I’d ever heard in music was blown away. I got to know him well and became his Irish manager. We’ve done several tours since,” he said.
It was with McDermott that Martin experienced his first music tour. “I travelled the country with this great rock star for an eight-day tour in 2009 and it was a very exciting thing to do. I witnessed how musicians lived their lives on the road. It was a great experience and it’s always a privilege to work with Michael McDermott,” he recalls.
Martin has rubbed shoulders with many musical greats. In 2005 when he was backstage at the JFK-Dunbrody Festival he met Liam Clancy, Finbar Furey, Ronnie Drew and Johnny McEvoy. “Two of them have since passed away. I got them all to sign my notebook, I will never forget it. Liam Clancy made a great impression on me. I looked into his eyes and I thought ‘Now there is a man who has really lived.’ He played before John F. Kennedy and Bob Dylan paid Clancy one of the greatest tributes he’s ever paid anyone when he called him ‘the best ballad singer I have ever heard in my life.’
Martin returned from Wexford in 2008 and became involved in the promotion of music on a local level which is something that he felt was very important: “I like to make things happen and I started doing shows in Jackson’s Hotel. Barry Jackson and I had a meeting and we agreed to run a Friday night Club. The opening act was singer/actress Maria Doyle Kennedy. The night was a huge success,” he said.
Since then the club has attracted such great names as Liam O’Flynn, Paddy Glackin, Michael McDermott and Steve Wickham of The Waterboys. Martin works with several Donegal acts, including Liam Deery, Kathy O’Hara and Karl McHugh “all very inspiring people to work with.”
Martin McCool’s favourite artists include Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan however one of his greatest loves of all is film music. “I love film scores and it’s fascinating how a piece of music can transform a film – think of the scores of Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone. John Debney’s score for ‘The Passion of The Christ’ is possibly the most powerful I have ever heard. Martin is equally well known for his film work, being a film critic and author of two successful books ‘Remembering Private Ryan in Ireland’ and ‘The power of The Passion of The Christ’ and is working on his third.
Martin McCool is sent many CDs and tries his utmost to listen to all of them. He said: “It’s important to expand your horizons and discover something else. I’ve been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to meet so many great people. It’s been an amazing journey. Michael McDermott once told me “So far we’ve come and many miles to go…” On October 29, Martin McCool will present the iconic ballad singer Dolores Keane and the extremely talented Mary Gillespie in Jackson’s. “It promises to be a very good night. Dolores is a great storyteller as well as being a fantastic singer and Mary is building up a huge fan base throughout the county. She deserves it and it should be a great night,” he said. He is also hosting an exhibition ‘Autumn in Jackson’s until the end of the month.