Medicine, Malaria and Music - Interview with Eoghan Colgan

Roisin Brady - May, 2009.

Photo: eoghan colgan. In recent times the music industry, like every other business, has felt the impact of the Internet and the downturn in the economy. In the context of this climate of change, Roisin Brady talks to singer-songwriter Eoghan Colgan about his journey from medic to musician, and how he envisions the future of the business.

When Eoghan Colgan walks into a room, he exudes an instant likeability that draws people to him. He has an approachable and enthusiastic manner and his warm Northern Irish accent is beguiling. However, it's when he picks up his guitar and begins to sing that the room falls silent and the real magic happens.

Like many artists, Eoghan pursued an alternative profession before realising his true passion. Born and raised in Co Down, Eoghan decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother and two sisters by going to University to study medicine:

"I don't know where the notion came from for all of us to do medicine, but we laugh about it because my Mum was a career's adviser and I distinctly remember her trying to talk me out of it. However, even though she doesn't watch a lot of TV, there are two shows my Mum can't miss. Holby City and Casualty. She loves her medical dramas".


Although there may have been some parental influence in his University education, it was Eoghan's older brother Simon who sparked his love of music.

"People always ask me who my influences are, and although my family aren't really that musical, my brother is a massive music lover and he passed me down his old cassettes. He works as a doctor out in Canada now, but he still emails me about bands that are worth checking out. Most of my favourite albums have been recommendations from him. I suppose he helped shape my musical tastes, which in turn shaped my style of writing".

When, in his late teens, Eoghan began to play guitar, an eleven year journey began that saw him combine his medical training, gigging, and travelling around the world.

"I wanted to go to a French-speaking area to improve my French and get some hospital experience so I ended up in the Ivory Coast for a summer. While I was there, I contracted malaria and was in isolation while I recovered. No one spoke English, and this was in 1998, so there were no iPods. My only comfort was to lie there in my bed, listening to a cassette of Jeff Buckley's Grace album over and over again".

It is no surprise then that critics often compare Eoghan to his departed hero.

"I aimed to have a similar range in my voice when I came back from Africa, just so I could do justice to covering all of his songs"!

When hearing Eoghan's soulful, bluesy vocals, it is clear that Buckley's influence was a positive one.

A journey

From the Ivory Coast, to Australia, Eoghan continued to struggle, juggling his job with his growing passion for music, and finally he sought a solid base, leading him to Glasgow. This would be the move which would cement his musical future. While training as a GP in Stirling, Eoghan began playing local Glasgow venues and soon became a prominent face on the music scene.

"In the past 4 years I have released two self produced E.P's as well as playing sold-out shows in some of the best venues in Glasgow (The Classic Grand, Tron Theatre, King Tut's, ABC and the Arches), performed at festivals in Australia, Norway, Scotland and my homeland, Ireland. I debuted on BBC Radio Scotland and followed this with a live session on Q96 and more recently had the honour of 'Artist of the Week' from XFM Scotland and the Daily Record too".

In April 2007, all of this experience paid off.

"I'm part of a Glasgow-based mailing list which musicians can sign up to and it was suggested that up and coming artists enter this competition, O2 Undiscovered. So I sent in a song and never thought another second about it, and randomly a couple of months later when I'd long forgotten about it, I got an email saying I'd made it through to the final 30, then final ten, then it was off to London and the rest is history"!
That history included winning the top spot as O2's finest unsigned act, a cash prize and the opportunity to play at the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park.
"It gave me a lot of exposure, especially in London, and money to buy instruments. After winning the O2 Undiscovered, I played The Grazia Magazine Fashion Awards and most recently the Q Awards Nomination Ceremony at the London's O2 Arena alongside Athlete, Hard-Fi and the Manic Street Preachers".

Full time musician

This was also the final push which gave him the confidence to quit his career as a doctor and focus fully on his music.

"I had been talking about it for years, and although I had pangs of guilt about giving up a career I'd worked so hard for, I knew I wanted to tour more".

Jumping full time into the UK music industry, Eoghan would have some fierce competition. When acts like Lily Allen and The Arctic Monkeys first hit the music scene, both the media and fans went into frenzy over their Cinderella-style fame. If these bands could find over-night success by promoting themselves virally and through social networking sites such as MySpace, could the power of record companies and live promoters be hanging in the balance?

Although Eoghan received major exposure from winning an online-based competition, he is sceptical that such acts were truly a rags-to-riches story.

Music and the Internet

"The internet is a really powerful tool, and you can build up a good fan base. However, there are a lot of acts like Lily Allen, The Arctic Monkeys and Amy McDonald, who were signed, but who claimed to have been discovered on the internet and I think the hype surrounding their online success was just a really good marketing tool by the record company. I think they've manipulated the story to give the press a good angle. I find more comfort in the success of artists like David Grey and KT Tunstall."

Therefore, instead of placing his fate into the volatile hands of any major record labels, Eoghan has his own ideas.

"I can approach people now who were unapproachable before and say 'this is what I do, this is what I've won' and people will give you a bit more time. So when it came to doing this tour and deciding to set up my own record label, I was able to approach well respected radio pluggers and promo people".

Credit Crunch and Music

The current economic climate is also an essential factor to his decision to set up his own label.

"I read that in every economic downturn, it is culture and entertainment that actually benefit. People are so depressed about finances; they want to be cheered up. However, the music industry has been in its own credit crunch for about five years now because of illegal downloading, and hopefully if I work with the right people I can make it on my own".
The right people would include Amanda Ghost, President of Epic Records. Speaking of his triumph at the O2 Undiscovered competition, Ghost remarked that Eoghan:
"is the only artist in the competition with a God-given talent. That being his incredible voice. With the right help and development he could go on to sell millions of records."

Well he's certainly on the right track.

The future

And Eoghan's plans for the future?

"We've just finished the tour and if you push me, I might cry. I'm very emotional about the fact that it's over; we had such an awesome time. I released my single, Dream Satellite, at the end of April, and now I'm concentrating on getting my album. Then I want to tour everywhere, more of the UK, then Europe, then North America, South America, the world. We want to go global".

Well it seems that while the recession continues, so does Eoghan's talent and determination. Pretty inspirational and certainly something to cheer us up.

Roisin Brady May, 2009.