Some people have a talent for life. No matter what happens, they just keep going. Cork man Fergus O'Farrell is one of them. Gifted with a special voice and a rare touch for writing melody, he's one of Ireland's unsung heroes of music. He's also got muscular dystrophy - a debilitating condition that slowly saps a person's strength, by breaking down their muscle tissue.
More than 20 years ago, Fergus and his band Interference released a self-titled album, to much critical acclaim. Yet, the deserved commercial success didn't follow. And even though their live performances garnered them a legendary status amongst musicians and fans alike, the Interference line-up fragmented. Reforming really only an ad hoc basis.
But, none of this cooled Fergus' ardour; not even fighting a disease, relentless in its pursuit to rob him of his dream. First it took his ability to hold a guitar; then it stole his capacity to raise his hands to a piano. And along the way, it confined him to a wheelchair. But somehow, he continued: composing, collaborating (with the best in the business), and most importantly - singing.
Maybe, it's to do with his belief, from a young age, that he was destined to pursue music, which kept him going. And still does. Or perhaps, it's his sheer doggedness that drives him to adapt and re-learn how to use his unique voice, through each stage of his muscular dystrophy. Whatever it is, Fergus has refused to be overwhelmed.
Even when it's looked like he's reached the end of the road, as another bout of pneumonia takes a grip and hospitalizes him, Fergus has rallied to defy the odds. You could say that conviction carries a man a long way when it comes to fulfilling his fate. Fergus, though, would credit his very tight-knit family, who are all based around him in Schull, and of course, his Chinese wife, Li, for him making it this far.
And so, Fergus has done what any other musician does - he's gone on the road. From performing at festivals in eastern Europe to sharing the stage with Glen Hansard in Radio City, Fergus' keeps on keeping on. It's this very spirit that has drawn others to work with him - inspired by his ethos and skill.
You could say there's a touch of poetic justice, at last, about how his song Gold, as sung by him in person in the Oscar-winning movie Once, has nudged now him into view and earshot for a whole new audience. Call it good fortune or serendipity, or even due reward for the years of graft that have gone before, but Fergus O'Farrell is today on the cusp of something very new.
The fabled second album, the Sweet Spot, which so many have waited for so long to hear, is set for imminent release. The stage production of Once is also about to wheel into town. And Fergus is readying himself to perform live, again.
That's a gift, alright.
Produced and narrated by David Young.
Production supervision by Sarah Blake.
Sound supervision by Mark Dwyer.
First Broadcast on 23rd Feb 2012.
The album 'Interference' is now reissued and is available.
Also for sale is the 'Live in St. James Church, Dingle' CD (from the 'Other voices' television show).