A piano piece by an Irish musician which took him 5 minutes to compose has been racking up huge numbers on Spotify over the past few months. 'Solas' by 20-year old Jamie Duffy from Glaslough, County Monaghan is number 2 in the streaming service’s charts in France and ranks in the streaming charts in at least 15 other countries across Europe; including Ukraine and Russia. The composer and politics student paid a visit to Ryan Tubridy in studio to chat about how the ‘Solas’ piece came about, how he feels about his worldwide success and his dreams for the future.
Jamie says he’s loving life at the moment because he's able to attend courses in person at Queen’s University Belfast where he’s studying Politics and International Relations. But in spite of the restrictions, he says, the period of lockdown was quite positive for him as a musician. It gave him a chance to hone his skills, he tells Ryan:
"I was sitting at the piano most days doing bits and pieces. Then I started a TikTok account and I started posting videos and I started writing music. It allowed me to do that; every cloud has a silver lining, I suppose."
This became a regular thing for Jamie, until one night he was in his flat in Belfast and he realised he hadn’t posted anything for a while, and that’s when ‘Solas’ came to him. It happened really quickly, Jamie says:
"I didn’t know what to post, so I just played the first melody that came into my head that I could make up. It came to me in about five minutes and I really mean that. I didn’t put too much thought into it at the time. I put it up and woke up the next morning and I’m here talking to you."
The piece was an overnight success on social media and Jamie thinks people took to it because it inspires hope:
"It means ‘light’ in Irish, which I think represents hope and for me that’s what the piece is, the influences when I was writing the piece, just to instil a bit of hope. Everybody needs a little bit of hope and if I can bring people hope and light, I think that’s a really important thing."
Ryan asks if the song appeared at that time for any particular reason. Jamie says there wasn’t one particular trigger which inspired ‘Solas’; it could have been influenced by many things. He feels that whatever was inside him at the time found its way into the music:
"There was a lot going on at the time and I feel like this song was just sort of given to me nearly, because I, as I said, it just sort of came to me. There was just a lot happening around me and I feel obviously, with whatever within must have just come out on the piano keys."
‘Solas’ has brought Jamie on a virtual world tour without leaving the country. He says the streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music make listener metrics available to artists and he can see the demographics of where his music is being listened to. The results surprised him initially:
"The 10th biggest listeners of this music are Ukrainians. I can go on and look at a map of Ukraine and see all the cities you’re seeing on the news: Kharkiv, Mariopol even, Kyiv. It’s overwhelming as a musician to see that piece that you wrote in an apartment in Belfast is now being listened to by these wonderful people out there in Ukraine."
Ryan mentioned the piano players in Ukraine who have been seen on social media playing works by composers like Hans Zimmer, even as the air-raid sirens are going off. Jamie says he’s a big fan of Zimmer and of the idea of music as an antidote to the horrors of war. He’s also happy if his own music can contribute in any way:
"People find comfort in music, and I hope that whoever is listening out there, in Ukraine or wherever who might need a bit of hope can get some comfort from that."
Jamie’s family are hugely supportive of his musical career, particularly his grandfather, who he describes as "the main music man of the family". Both of his grandparents are "an inspiration", Jamie says. His granny, who is mayor of his home town of Glaslough, gave him instructions to include her in one or two of the opportunities that come his way, as he told Ryan:
"Granny did say now, if I got in front of Ryan Tubridy, you know, she wants her moment on the Late Late Show."
Ryan asked Jamie where he would like to go from here? The young composer and politics student didn’t get too specific about his ambitions, but he didn’t rule out combining other interests with his musical success:
"I mean, of course there’s a lot of dreams, I suppose. Just to be able to do something you love and make a career out of it and be happy with that would be the ultimate dream. You know, I’m doing a politics degree – I don’t know where that’s going to take me. If you could mix that in somehow, I don’t know how? The world’s your oyster."
You can hear all about the sheep that wandered into Jamie's talks with a record company, how the ‘manifestation’ craze may have paid off for him and full version of Jamie’s piece ‘Solas’ in the complete interview with Ryan Tubridy here.