“I always had aspirations to be a singer, there were so many times as a kid when I’d be standing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush imagining myself on stage in a stadium full of people but if you’d told me when I was ten years of age and learning my first country songs in my bedroom in Louisiana that I’d be someday playing in front of such a huge orchestra in Ireland, I’d have said you were lying!”
Robert Mizzell still marvels at his life’s journey which started growing up in The Bayou State; brought him into US Military Service for several years as a young man; and then a third major chapter in his life commencing when he moved to Ireland to begin a career in singing country music, which this weekend brings him to Live At The Marquee where he will be performing with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra as part of ‘Country Roads Live’.
Robert will be joined on the night by a host of other leading members of the Irish Country Music scene such as Michael English, Lisa McHugh, Ray Lynam, Patrick Feeney, Sandy Kelly, Roly Daniels and Ashley Campbell.
The 50 strong orchestra will be performing some of the most iconic country songs, along with a band made up of classic country music instrumentation: drums, bass, guitar and pedal steel guitar.
That combination is crucial for Robert: “the pedal steel in particular will compliment the violins and other strings of the orchestra, it’s an instrument that is almost synonymous with country and country-influenced music.”
The trio of songs Robert will be singing will show his range as a singer: “I’m doing ‘Wichita Lineman’, Glen Campbell’s version is probably the best known and that had a string section on it’s original release. (The producer of the original track Al DeLory had the iconic strings arrangement made to mimic the sighing sound of the telephone wires). I’m also doing the ‘Ring Of Fire’ and Garth Brook’s ‘Friends In Low Places’.
“I don’t think I’ve heard either of those sung with an orchestra before so I’m very excited to have that depth of music behind me.
“The strings, the brass, the woodwind, the rhythm, all those sections will layer everything and make it sound so much bigger and more powerful.
“My preparation will be the same though ... I have the same rule for any concert I play no matter what size it is — make sure I don’t forget the words!”
Robert has performed with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra before so he has some experience to share with his fellow singers. “I’ve known and heard the Orchestra for years now, I’ve sung with them before at the Rose Of Tralee Festival and I’ve also performed with them as part of The Three Amigos. (A popular ‘supergroup’ he is part of with Jimmy Buckley and Patrick Feeney.)”
Indeed sharing his experience is something Robert isn’t afraid to do, which is notable in such a competitive industry. “For my generation of singers — I’m a few years away from 50 — we know that in 10 or 15 years time there’ll be another wave of young talent and I’ll be trying to help them in the right direction and I’ll be taking more of a backseat.”
Throughout his career in Ireland Robert has performed to many audiences in different venues and he has some strong memories of Cork. “One gig I’ve enjoyed doing for as long as I can remember is the Hazeltree in Mallow, and I also used to love Maudie Macs in Newtwopothouse too. I’ve been all over Cork playing, I always remember doing the Community Hall in Ballydehob, some people came up to me afterwards and gave me a gift of a cooked duck… and it was gratefully received I must tell you.”
That part of Ireland seems to get the best part of the sun too, a great place to vacation. Cork definitely has a different feel to the country, obviously Galway and Dublin have distinct personalities too but I think the county of Cork is a great city with a country feeling, there’s so many good country people surrounding the city, it’s a place I always enjoy going to.”
While some people say country music is having a renaissance, Robert doesn’t necessarily agree: “I hear people talking a lot about Irish country music and how it is “coming back again”, but the truth is it never went anywhere, I’m playing professionally non-stop in Ireland for 25 years, I’ve been on the road making a living since the early 90s — and so have many other artists — it’s just that the spotlight moves from time to time.
“I’m very honoured to have been able to be part of the business as long as I have and this weekend to be part of such a prestigious event in such a well regarded venue.”
The love of the country music in Ireland was marked by President Michael D Higgins last weekend, which Robert was touched by. “It was recognised by the president himself, he invited many members of the Irish country scene — and I was lucky to be one those — to one of his garden parties at the Áras to celebrate the music. I invited him down to Cork for the marquee so let’s see if he turns up!”
Robert is looking forward to hearing the others sing on the night: “As a country music fan I will love getting to hear my friends and peers performing too, for all of us it will be a special moment. We’ve spent years going past each other up and down the Irish roads, I hope we all get the chance to enjoy each others company too, have a cup of tea before the doors open. It’ll be such a great musical event.”
While the old saying of ‘becoming as Irish as the Irish themselves’ doesn’t completely apply to Robert, he certainly considers Ireland home now, “I’ve loved my time in Ireland, I’ve been here 28 years.
“All three of my children were born here so they are Irish to all intents and purposes, I’m still American and proud to be one even though we are going through rocky times at the moment with our… leadership difficulties. I love the fact that I can say I’m American but I also love the fact that Ireland is my home now, I can’t see myself anywhere else to be honest.”
- Country Roads Live with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra will be Live At The Marquee on Saturday June 29. Tickets available at www.ticketmaster.ie.