On the up - John Doherty
There's plenty of activity in the main bar of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Letterkenny on a dreary Monday lunchtime.
For John Doherty of Little Hours, who made the one-hour journey from his native Killybegs for the interview, all is good. Pleasant, mannerly, outgoing and laid back, he possesses a level of maturity beyond his 23 years.
Little Hours first came to prominence in 2015. Back then it was a two-piece, with fellow Killybegs man, Ryan McCloskey, the other half of the duo.
On reflection, John agrees that Little Hours got extremely big, extremely quickly.
“At the start, I guess it did. We recorded to singles in the Attica Studio in Termon, and put one of them, 'It's Still Love' out then. It got loads of radio play and that gave us a huge boost at the start.”
The debut track was nominated for Irish Song of the Year at Meteor Choice Awards.
It was going to come to pass that John and Ryan, with similar backgrounds and tastes in music, would team up.
“We knew each other from school and would have played in local bands,” he says.
“So we decided to give it a go together and it worked out very well.”
Getting signed by the RCA Label Group UK - a flagship recording label of Sony Music - took John by surprise.
“We got the deal so quick after just a few songs,” he recalls.
Little Hours entered a competition to play Electric Picnic in 2015. They were one of the top five acts and duly took their place at the gig. That was where their management team, headed up by Brian Bradley, first saw Little Hours.
“Basically, they took our hands, showed us what to do and took a lot of pressure in terms of organising and planning off us. That left us freer to write and record, what we are supposed to do.”
Shortly after, Little Hours played a show in Dublin which sold out.
“Basically, it was friends and family. We told everybody and when you're from Donegal, people just get behind you which was great. We did another show soon afterwards and there was a bit of a good buzz around us because we had been played on the radio. A number of labels came to see us at that night. The biggest was RCA in the UK and they signed us the next day.”
The band put the brakes on a bit thereafter.
“We had to go and write the songs and record them. So we intentionally sort of disappeared for a while. It's actually only now that all the tracks are ready to go. That EP was like breaking the ice after we've been gone so long. Now we're ready to take two steps forward.”
Since then, the guts of an album have been written and recorded. Another EP is due to be released around Christmas, this one live.
“One track, ‘Losing Light’, has been put out already, so the EP will be built around that. There will be a few new tracks on it and all of tracks will be live.”
December will see Little Hours playing at An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny for the second time in the space of two months. They played to a packed house at the end of October, and within a few hours of the tickets going on sale for the December 28th gig, it was sold out.
“We were looking at the possibility of playing a second night in December, but the availability wasn't there,” he says.
A local date has been added to the April tour and that will see Little Hours playing to around 1,000 people on Easter Sunday in 2018.
Playing the Olympia in 2018 is one of John's ambitions. He also wants to travel more and break into Europe and America.
“We've really only done Ireland and the UK so far. For me I'd really love to be going to do some shows in Europe.”
Back in the summer, Ryan McCloskey announced he was leaving the band. For himself and John, it had been a happy to meet, sorry to part sort of thing. They parted ways on good terms.
While John Doherty is now the artist that is Little Hours, the session players are very much part of the new package.
“I know them all so well since I was young. They're all from Donegal, too, so it feels like a proper band. Hopefully it will stay like that. I'd love to get to a stage where I can say that they are actually the band. The budget really isn't there until we get to that next level.”
Losing Ryan, who decided he wanted to do his own thing, took a bit of getting used to for John. While it may have come as a surprise to many, Ryan's departure had been in the pipeline for quite a while before he made the announcement in September.
“It meant, basically, that I took over everything. Before it was sort of 50-50. But it's fine and a wee bit less complicated. All credit to Ryan for the way he handled it. He stayed on for six months after deciding he wanted to go and do other things, just to make sure the transition went smoothly.”
Kevin Herron from Portnoo has filled the void on guitar, and John can't speak highly enough of him.
“Kevin's just come in and has completely smashed it,” he enthuses. “Honestly, playing live now is exciting because it's different - there's a slightly different dynamic.”
Music has always been foremost in John Doherty's life. As a 12-year-old, he started out as a bass player with lads a few years older. He learned early and fast, and grew up at the same pace.
He played his first gig with a band called Soap in the Harbour Bar in Killybegs when he was 13. Other band members included Karl Neilis from Killybegs and Jordan Carty, who is the drummer with Little Hours.
“My father was in the crowd to make sure I wasn't doing anything I shouldn't have been.”
After secondary school, John headed to BIMM in Dublin to study music - it's more centred around modern and commercial music, as opposed to classical music studies.
“I was there for a year and did a songwriting course. After that, we started to kick off and things became very busy. So I just left.”
It was a good year to be in the Big Smoke musically and it helped the band that Dublin was its base.
There have been many high points in his career, but the October tour is, for John, up with the best of experiences to date.
“It gave a few 'holy shit!' moments,” he muses.
Every night was different, yet as good, if not better, than the night before.
“There have been some surreal moments, too, like when Elton John played us on his radio show. Just to hear Elton John talk about you is amazing. Playing main stage at Electric Picnic is something else we always wanted to to and we ticked that box this year.”
John's taste in music is understandably varied. His first album was “Live and Dangerous” by Thin Lizzy - his parents bought it for him when he was 12.
“Phil Lynott has always been the main man for me.”
More recently, it's been Van Morrison, Kings of Leon, Damian Rice and Ben Howard.
Many more big moments await Little Hours.