“There’s a certain poetry in a Grafton Street busker playing the Oscars”.
Glen Hansard’s rapid rise to fame reads like a Hollywood script but the reality is somewhat different. The singer song-writer started busking on the streets of Dublin at the age of 13 and his meteoric rise unfolded over two decades leading to his Oscars performance in 2008. Glen and co-writer Markéta Irglová having just won the Academy Award for Best Original Song 2007 with their song ‘Falling Slowly’ from the film ONCE.
Following his busking apprenticeship, Hansard has become a passionate performer pouring emotion into his wonderfully crafted shows. Encouraged by his headmaster – also a radio DJ – to leave school and start his music career early, he explains, “Busking gave me everything. Five years on Grafton Street was all the education I ever needed.”
In 1991 Glen had his first brush with cinematic fame, starring in Alan Parker’s BAFTA award-winning ‘The Commitments’. In the film about an Irish Soul Band, he played the foul-mouthed, red-headed guitar-playing Outspan. Hansard admits to having loved making it but that “everything afterwards was very confusing. And I was stuck with Outspan for years. Everybody thought I was that guy." But he has no regrets about being involved, “It was brilliant. I just regretted having to talk about it forever. It overshadowed my own band The Frames”.
Glen had formed ‘The Frames’ “a band of street musicians” in 1990 and they have since become one of Ireland's most popular live bands. Six albums later their style of atmospheric rock has won them the adoration of domestic fans but International stardom and commercial success eludes them. “I've never felt that success on a grand scale was something I was chasing. Is the work any good, that's the question I ask myself”. The Frames most recent album ‘The Cost’ was released in 2006
And then there’s Hollywood. In 2006 his life took another twist when he was approached by writer/director and ex-Frames bassist John Carney to compose the soundtrack for ONCE; a shoe-string budget film about an Irish busker who meets a Czech immigrant flower-seller, played by Markéta Irglová. The couple are drawn together by their mutual love of music. A month before shooting began, leading Irish actor Cillian Murphy dropped out of the lead role and Glen stepped in.
Glen’s ONCE experience was quite different to his earlier work on The Commitments. “With ONCE the whole thing was very handmade and we shot the film in 17 days. Halfway through shooting we were still writing songs for it”. The songs were released as ‘The Swell Season’ long before the film's mercurial success. A simple love story about the developing relationship between two musicians, it went on to exceed all expectations, striking a chord with audiences. It won the World Cinema Audience Award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and became one of the art-house hits of the year. The Oscar followed.
The ensuing real life romance between Glen and Markéta has been the subject of many column inches – the couple became an item during the filming of the movie, “I had been falling in love with her for a long time. I think it was just a very natural part of what we were doing together”. But love blossomed all too fleetingly and the stars are no longer romantically linked, remaining good friends and recording and performing as ‘The Swell Season’ – the name derived from a Josef Škvorecký novel.
Their self-named debut album was released in 2006 and in 2009 their second album ‘Strict Joy’ included the powerful single ‘In These Arms’, a story of falling out of love, “It's like life imitating art, and art imitating life at the same time”. Hansard describes the album as “an audio diary”.
Despite his Hollywood credentials, Glen remains distinctly untouched by stardom and almost relieved to be back in his natural environment after his brush with movie-land notoriety. In December 2009, ever true to his roots, he busked on Grafton Street - joined by Bono and Damien Rice - in aid of the Simon Community.
Glens solo performances stripped down to one man and a guitar are possibly the most emotionally powerful of his career. “In a rock band, the music does the emotional work. With just a guitar and vocal, there is something so much more potent.”
Glen will bring his brand of solo potency to the Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris on 20 & 21-September as part of his ‘holiday trip’ in Europe. Ostensibly the holiday is to re-charge his batteries before the next round of touring and release of his new album in early 2012. Over the next fortnight he plays Basel, Rome, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Barcelona and London; a working holiday sans doute!