Magazine: Irish Times
Author: Brian Boyd
She appears at the top of the stairs laughing. “Heh, heh, here I am,” she says as one hand reaches for the bannister and the other secures her teddy bear. Limping down, step by step, she’s off: “It’s these metal rods in me leg. I won’t be long, no – stay there…why do you cut your hair so short, it doesn’t suit you?…no stay there…Did I tell you about Madonna? Can I have a cup of tea?…
Bursting with stories, happy and confident, she’s taking no nonense: “What do you mean you have little sympathy for people who damage their legs because of a skiing accident?”(which is what happened to her). “I’m going to have metal rods in my leg for ages, but it’s much better and it’s only stairs that are difficult now.”
Madonna? “Oh yeah, we were in New York, and she sent her firend down to tell us that she loved us. Imagine, Madonna loves me, heh, heh,” she laughs. “It was really strange though because her friend was sitting there waiting to be introduced to us and I went over to her and she holds out her hand to shake mine. I had a cup of tea in my hand and I stopped for a second to put it down on a table, and when I turned around her hand had gone. I hope she didn’t I was being rude, I was only putting the cup of tea down so I could shake her hand properly.”
The same misunderstanding perhaps that has people closer to home thinking she dyed her brown hair peroxide blonde because that’s what rock stars do (it’s not, it’s what 22-year-olds do); and that she turned up at the church half-naked when she got married during the summer (she didn’t, and the parish priest did not have a heart attack); and that she’s going to move to Los Angeles (she’s not, she just bought a house in the south-west of Ireland).
“People present these storiesas facts,” she says, “people who have never even met me, it’s very silly.”
People find it hard to get a handle on Dolores, mainly because she’s not “cool”. The youngest of seven children from Ballybricken, Co. Limerick, she used to go to Mass three times a week so she could sing in the choir. When she joined a rock-band she would write to journalists telling them about “The Cranberry’s” as she used to spell the band’s name. In early interviews she’d talk in reverential tones about the church and how the first time she saw a black man was when she went to London.
She was grist to the mill of the jaded British music press who used to fly their journalists over to Limerick and insist on getting pictures of Dolores sitting in a field with cows grazing around her. “They wanted a gullible young country girl, so I gave it to them”, she recalls. “I remember one crowd coming over from London to interview the band, which was fine, but when I read the piece it was all about the religious statues around our house. They conveniently over- looked the two Harley Davidsons that were out in the yard. They wanted the innocent young country girl thing, so I gave it to them.” So was it just mischief making? “Yes, but they started it.”
She may have convinced everybody that she spent all her time sitting in fields writing rural verse, but the reality of it was she was doing her Leaving Cert [state exams similar to A-levels in Britain], working part-time in a factory and trying to convince her parents that singing in a rock-band was altogether a more sensible option than going to college.
“I used to say to my mother: “I want to join a rock-band when I leave school” and she’s go: “I’ll rock-band you, go in to your room and do your homework”. Heh, heh.” She was worse at school. other girls got careers talks from past pupils who had gone to work as nurses, doctors and engineers etc; Dolores asked the careers officer to bring her in a rock singer.
“I know it sounds really silly, but I knew I could sing and it was something I had that could win people over. One of my earliest memories is being about five, in school, and the headmistress bringing me up to the sixth class, where the 12-year-olds were. She sat me on top of the teacher’s desk and told me to sing for them. It was the same going around the pubs later on all the men would be saying: ‘here’s the little O’Riordan one, get her to sing something’. But it was the church who really got me into singing. The choir was greatr, I mean I’m not deeply religious but it was very nice to have that sort of background. It made me more spititually aware and I’m thankful for that.”
She’s also thankful for her rural background. “Growing up where I did, you’d get sneered at a lot by the townies but I really believe that growing up in a rural area helps you to form your own head better and become your own person. I don’t think you develop your own mind as much if you grow up in a town because there’s peer pressure around. We’d gop into Limerick city at Christmas to see Santa and we’d be lunatic with joy, but I was very happy and still am, to be from Ballybricken.”
Not so happy with being a girl though. “I hated it, I used to bury my dolls in the back garden and I’d always be putting chewing gum in my hair so my mother would have to cut it short, like a boy’s. I was a real tomboy, I have five brothers and only one sisterand you really had to fight for attention. I used to hate the fact that the boys were allowed to do things that I couldn’t do – but then women are treated differently in Catholic societies.”
While she was at school, she heard about these two brothers (Noel and Mike) and their friend Feargal who had a bit of a band going and didn’t live too far away. Dolores was interested; she decided to check them out. “I went down to see them and said: “Okay boys, let’s hear your stuff,” and I thought it was great. They weren’t doing cover versions like all the other bands, they were writing their own stuff and they were really into The Smiths and so was I. Noel (the guitarist) used to write some chords and stuff and I’d take the tape home with me and set words to it. That’s how we got Linger, that was the first song the Cranberries ever wrote together.”
There followed a bizarre story about how The Cranberries were eaten up and spat out by the music industry in the space of 12 months. The recorded a demo tape in 1991 that was hailed as “a masterpiece” and “the future” and record companies queued up to offer them big money contracts. But when they brought out their eagerly-awaited first single a few months later, it was a dud. The interest disappeared as quickly as it arrived, and although they were still in their teens, they were being described as “has-beens”. Dolores took to her bed.
“After all the hype disappeared and we were left with nothing, I began to lose faith in the music industry and then began to lose faith in the world. I was 18, at home in Limerick, and I got really sick. I was really depressed and I went to the doctor and I told him it was a horrible world.”
On the verge of the band breaking up, Dolores remembered someone she had met in London, someone who was “genuine”. She rang Geoff Travis, boss of Rough Trade record company and asked him would he manage them.
In March 1993, and long since forgotten by a music industry that had moved on to other new bands, The Cranberries released their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? It didn’t sell, it was just like the first single all over again.
“I was furious”, she says. “We knew it was good and it was just so frustrating. Nothing was happening. I really though that it was my fault, that maybe I should be using my sexuality more or giving out about men more, but I wasn’t prepared to do that.
We remember who stood by us back then and had faith in us. That’s when we really needed the help and we’ll never forget that. We also remember the people who didn’t like us back then and now pretend to love us, just because we’re successful. We remember everything.”
With nothing happening, they went off to the States as a support act for a British band. “We decided to forget about the album and we were thinking “heh, heh, we’re going to America, we’re going to see skyscrapers and we’re going to be playing with a really cool band.” We had a great time, just seeing the sights but in the background the album was beginning to sell. We’d be told ‘you’ve just sold another 70,000 records’ and we’d be going ‘is that good?’ We had no idea of the American market and we were just hoping that our record company would give us $20 a week more to spend.”
By the end of 1993 The Cranberries had sold one million records in the US and in the space of four months had broken the biggest music market in the world. The Mayor of Limerick was waiting for them when they returned home for Christmas.
“I remember walking in the door in Ballybricken and crying. I went away a nobody and came back to all this attention. It was really strange, people were treating me like some sort of star. I think a lot of people in Ireland were embarrassed by our success, simply because they didn’t believe in us in the first place. The people in the Dublin music scene had turned their backs on us, I mean we used to be sneered at for being from Limerick. I’m glad we’re a success because it annoyed them that we were successful without their help… What happened with The Cranberries was very spectacular, and it was overnight in a sense. And then the album went to No 1 in Ireland and in Britain. We’ve now sold 4 million copies of our little album. That’s an awful lot… My God, four million.”
Behind all that, things were going heart-breakingly wrong for Dolores. “I was home for Christmas but I was very unhappy. My professional life was great, my personal life was a disaster.” She took to her bed again. “There were big changes going on in my personal life and I was really down and really upset and I sat down on my bed, cried my eyes out and wrote a song called no need to argue.”
The song is the title of The Cranberries’ new album, released on October 4th. The album has hurt written all over it and is a very personal piece of work – “I’m not ashamed of the way I feel, why should I be?” she says. Dolores wrote most of the words for the new album while lying on a bunk on a tour-bus in the States. “Touring is funny, because you’ve all these people at the gigs telling you they love you and throwing you roses and all of that, but then I used to climb into my bunk by myself. The others would be out in the front of the bus going ‘heh, heh, let’s party’ but I can’t drink on tour because of my voice. I’d lie there in the bunk and get really sad thinking about my life in Limerick and whether it would still be there for me when I got back.”
While the new album is not a major musical departure for The Cranberries ,its first single, Zombie, is – and it didn’t get playlisted on BBC radio because of its noise value. “There was time last year when I thought that a great evil had entered the world,” she says about some of the songs on the new album.”There was the Warrington bombing and then all these child abduction stories in Britain and, of course, the jamie Bulger story. I thought there was some evil in the world that had come to take away all the young children… there’s other songs like Ode To My Family which isn’t very rock’n'roll, it’s about my parents and growing up in Limerick. The only song on the new album which reflects my new life is a song called Dreamin’ My Dreams.”
Her new life is one she has with Don Burton, her Canadian husband who also works in the music industry. She is cheekily dismissive of the press interest in their wedding last July and particularly how her dress was reported. “All I’ll say is, it was my day; it was a day for family and friends, not journalists.” Three years ago she was sitting in a theatre in Limerick watching some band up on the stage and feeling restless. She turned to her friend and said: “Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” Three years on she says: “We’ve answered our own question and that’s the most important thing for The Cranberries. For Dolores, Mike, Noel and Feargal. We have proved it to ourselves. The title of the first album has come true for us… and so will the second.”