Letterkenny teacher Bri Carr is breathing life into her 'big blue book' of songs which she has composed over the past 25 years.
This Wild Atlantic Woman’s new album ‘Full Circle… Rotha an tSaoil’ hit shelves this year to an incredible response. Local and national radio stations such as Midwest Radio, Midlands Radio, and Donegal’s Highland Radio have played her songs, amassing fans across the country.
‘Where We Went to School’ is debuting on this album, which was inspired by her aunties.
Bri’s mother’s sisters Madge and Annie moved to the now 99-year-old Scoil Aphoirt when the family moved to the other side of Arranmore during the 1950s while they were only 9 or 10, and the song is an exercise in imagining what it would have been like to change schools at that age.
The song is a nostalgic look back at the past, although written from her aunties’ point of view, this song can be translated to any school; striking a chord with people of all ages who enjoy casting their minds back to a time when they were carefree, relished the freedom that came with the summer holidays, and enjoyed nothing more than playing with friends.
The lyrics “to the children we once knew, every family passing through, their echoes in the halls, their footsteps big and small, their voices, their faces we recall” are a testament to the fact that happy memories of school and childhood stay with you forever, instilling a sense of gratitude to the teachers and friends who made school time so much more than just lessons and tests.
Bri says; “‘Where We Went to School’ is a song that everyone always asks for and that everyone can relate to. I have had people of all different ages telling me it resonates with them. The song could be about a school in Killybegs, off the coast of Kerry, or in Arranmore! When I play this song, everyone joins in and sings the chorus with me.”
“It’s most important that the lyrics and music are real to the songwriter, and if their music helps someone else that is just a plus.”
Although Bri was raised in Letterkenny, her mother and grandmother were Arranmore women, and she says she feels a strong affinity with the island. Her grandmother Bridget Kelly, who was the parochial housekeeper for 25 years, always told Bri that “if you can get to my age and say you have no regrets – you’ve had a good life.” After releasing this album, Bri beams “I can now say that I have no regrets.”
Bri says “I find it easier to write and sing in Irish”, with her hit Árainn Mhór being the first iTunes chart song as Gaelige in the top 200, peaking at number 3!
‘Stad an Rás’ is another breathtaking ballad focused on Arranmore, with an air reminiscent of Enya’s ethereal tone. Father Pat Ward of Burtonport filmed a stunning video of Arranmore for the music video.
‘My Father’s Legacy’, in honour of Barney McDaid, is extra special to Bri as her daughter Caela took part in making the song come to life. The song peaked at number two in the Easy Listening charts. At just seven years old, Caela is already following in her mother’s musical footsteps by playing the harp. Caela is also in the Wild Atlantic Wains and Bri says that hosting jam sessions is a special way she bonds with Caela.
Bri’s Blue Book
Some of the songs on the new album have a special meaning for Bri. ‘Smile Again’ and ‘Yesterday’ were written when she was a teenager, marking the beginning of her melodic career.
These songs lay between the pages of Bri’s blue book for 25 years before she recorded them for her new album.
“I wrote ‘Smile Again’ when I was seventeen after the death of my uncle John, the song is more about hope instead of despair as he was so full of life. ‘Yesterday’ was written for a friend who was going through a tough time.
“I would go to the blue book and write down whatever I was feeling and I always felt better; whether they were sad feelings or happy feelings.
“However while I was playing ‘Yesterday’ for a group of friends, some kids overheard and laughed. And that was it for 25 years.”
Following the successful promotion of the Wild Atlantic Wains, Bri’s producer told her it was time to “bite the bullet”, and encouraged her to share with the world the 90 songs that lay between the pages of her blue book.
“I had always encouraged the children at Blue Ribbon to sing my songs, I was so nervous. It was only people close to me that would ask me to play certain songs.”
Having built the confidence to share “the music that was my secret in the blue book”, Bri says she feels overwhelmed by the support from fans and the opportunities that have come about have been incredible. She aptly sums it up by saying; “I feel as though opportunities are helium balloons in the air, and I just have to pull one down!”
When asked what she would say to a young musician, poet, or writer who has a hidden blue book of their own and does not have the confidence to share their talent, Bri shares the lyrics of one of her songs, ‘Time to Fly’, with a message of positivity and perseverance.
“Don’t give up until you try all your chances, your life’s too short to let a moment pass you by. Reach for your rainbows, dare to believe, you can anything, be anybody, you choose to be.
“Take each miracle and make it happen, you have the choice to let your voice ring out and say, you can have it all if you rise when you fall, nothing’s gonna take your dreams away.
“Take it all, you know that you can make it, it’s your call, it’s your life, there’s nothing you can’t try. Give it everything you can, your fate lies in your hands, take time to spread your wings and learn to fly.
“Don’t lose heart if you should face disillusion, sometimes the road is rough and you feel like giving in. Look to tomorrow, stand and be strong, your dreams will find a way to shine and you’ll find where you belong.”
In memory of a little girl who wore a blue ribbon
Blue Ribbon was established by Bri almost twenty years ago, and has brought ceol and craic to the lives of hundreds of children throughout the years.
“I started Blue Ribbon to encourage kids to not be nervous and to encourage them to express themselves.”
The name Blue Ribbon is a tribute to one of Bri’s students, who sadly passed away.
“I was teaching 4th/5th class in Lurgybrack, and lost a beautiful pupil, Nicki Taylor, due to a cycling accident in 1997. When her twin, Kerry, returned to school, we started off the new school year in September ’97, and put back the chairs and tables in the old school for an hours music and dancing one evening after school.
“The second week we were doing this, children from the other classes wanted to join in, so after the third week, we had to move to the Cheshire apartments in town as their friends from town schools wanted to join in. After a month or so in this venue, we discovered that more children wanted to be a part of it, so I was lucky enough to secure the convent concert hall and gym in February ’98.
“The twins were identical, but Nicki always wore her hair up in a ponytail and Kerry’s was loose. The girls used to play tricks on us teachers by swapping styles, and I had a couple of gorgeous photos of Nicki with a blue ribbon in her hair. Their pal Natasha Melaugh, who was also a Blue Ribbon dancer, lost her battle to CF two years later.
“When Blue Ribbon officially became a performing arts company in 1999, we felt the need to commemorate the girls by sponsoring two members’ seats in the Grianan Theatre after our first show, simply called The Blue Ribbon Show.
“The name stuck, and although I had been writing songs for children in those years, in ’99, I wrote and recorded my first song in Irish, ‘Saor’, which was dedicated to Nicki.
“Nicki’s family and all the Blue Ribbon family approved greatly of my songwriting, and encouraged me to continue. I was always shy about it, I loved to hear the children sing my songs, and I never dreamed we would still have the club going all this time.”
Bri explained how touching it is when past Blue Ribbon members reach out to her, as for Bri, Blue Ribbon is all about making happy memories.
“I often get texts, calls or cards from past members, now grown up with children of their own, which is lovely, and truly rewarding, which is part of how I came up with the title of the whole album ‘Full Circle/Rotha an tsaoil’.
“I also played in Dad’s group, The Circle, when I was young and carefree, so the whole journey for me is reflected in the choice of songs – from the first song I wrote at 17 ‘Smile Again, to this one ‘Where We Went to School’, which I wrote for the Centenary in 2016, the first summer I was brave enough to whip out the guitar in Arran!”
Bri’s album, an eclectic blend of country, pop, and new-age music, is available on iTunes, Spotify, and in selected stores. You can also find Bri on Facebook and Youtube, where she will be releasing more gems from the blue book in the coming months.
“I’ve been blessed with my parents and their support in all my mad ideas!”
“I’d like to thank my producer, Jim Corbett, Newton Studios, Bundoran, and his engineer, Kev Corrigan, who are both hugely supportive of my songwriting. The musicians who accompany us are Tommy Byrne, Mountcharles, Martin McGowan, Ballyshannon, Mary Rodgers, Acres and Eoin Orr, Calhame.”
Bri’s biggest inspirations however, are her sixteen-year-old son Ben, seven-year-old daughter Caela, and husband Enda.
When I asked Bri what is next for her, her response was not surprising! Well, “I’m dying to get back to the studio,” she replied with a laugh.