There’s no denying the lure of country music; homely, comforting and it brings people together like no other – sure you only have to look at the string of upcoming Garth Brooks shows and artists racing up the charts to see how popular it is here! Of course included in this list of chart toppers, is Galway man Mike Denver, who kindly opened his front door to VIP Magazine. Joined by his beautiful wife Liz and their adorable daughter Mia, we spent the day checking out the sights and surrounds of Portumna, before the weather took a blustery turn and we settled down in their home for the evening.
Mike and Liz have spent over a decade putting their own stamp on the place – but it was the smallest member of the family who was most excited to show it off. Leading us around every room, little Mia beamed with pride as we went around her favourite spots; where mammy sits and plays, where daddy sings and where they spend their mornings laughing and giggling over a bottle and a cuppa – ideal. After the tour and shoot, we chat to Mike about fatherhood, family influences, the return of live shows and how it feels to finally get back on the road…
Mike, happy new year year! Did you make any resolutions or set any goals for the year?
Same to you! To be honest with you, I don’t really make any resolutions in January, I try to be as good as I can all year long. I guess everyone starts looking after their health more, getting out for walks or going to the gym, and I do the same, but I wouldn’t give up much.
Is there anything in particular you’ll be happy to leave behind in 2021?
I hope we’ll be leaving a lot of Covid-19 behind, we’d all be very happy to see the back of that! If we could learn to live with it and get back to some sense of former normality, it would be great. There’s so much uncertainty, whether we’re going to work or not, going out for an evening or not…I’d be a very happy man if we got to leave that behind.
It was certainly a whirlwind two years but in the midst of the madness you and Liz welcomed the adorable little Mia to the world. Tell us about her birth, it was quite an emotional time for you all, wasn’t it?
We were right in the heart of the restrictions when she was born, March 2020. I wasn’t allowed into the hospital for the last week or two before Mia arrived so Liz was sitting in the hospital on her own. She was in and out of hospital from late October for about four or five months. There was a few complications and the doctors wanted to keep a close eye on her. Like all the partners of people giving birth right across the country, I spent every day in the carpark. I’d go to the door to see if I could go say hello, sometimes you could but others you couldn’t. It was very strange. It was our first baby and it had to have been very hard on Liz. It was a horrible time.
When they returned home, you got to spend time in a bubble, enjoying life as a family of three. It was probably the only upside of lockdown…
Absolutely, that was the greatest part of Covid. If I was gigging, I wouldn’t have been able to spend as much time here with Liz and Mia. Timing was a blessing in disguise, even if it did go on, and on, and on. We got lots of daddy and daughter time together.
How have you found fatherhood so far?
I’m absolutely loving it. There’s not a minute of it that I haven’t enjoyed. There’s no time like it, it’s just amazing! Whenever you get a few cuddles and kisses, that’s the best part.
Your mam was with us during the shoot and her relationship with Mia is so cute. It’s easy to see how much she adores her…
Ah mam is great with her! From day one when Mia was born, she was coming down. We were in the heart of lockdown so she’d keep her distance and it was a couple of months before she even got to hold her. For the first few months she’d look through the window or the front door until she took the chance of coming in. Everyone was so frightened, we didn’t know what Covid could do but now it’s great that she can come down as she pleases and Mia loves spending time with her.
Music has been in your family for decades… did your mam influence your decision to get into this career, having played in bands herself?
Music was a huge part of our house. She had a huge influence on me growing up as I always watched her play. I think I only accidentally got into this industry though. I’d hop up and sing one song with mam, and then it progressed. I never planned on it being my full time career. When I started out, I was a plumber but the music took off and I was very lucky to do a job that I loved.
Growing up, Garth Brooks had quite the impact on you too, didn’t he?
I’m a huge, huge fan and always idolised him as a singer from a very young age. He was probably an influence in directing me into country music. I have tickets for two of his Croke Park shows so I’ll definitely be going to them and I might get to another couple as well closer to the occasion.
As a performer, it must have been tough being away from the stage for so long during the various lockdowns over the last two years.
The first few months I loved it because we hadn’t had a big, big break in close on 20 years. We might have had 10 days or two weeks off at the very most, but it was just go, go, go from one thing to the next. We’d tour Ireland, then England, Scotland and do a few trips to Spain and Portugal for shows. It was like clockwork, you knew exactly where you’d be at various points of the year. The very beginning was great, having the time off was rare. I was very relaxed, Mia was keeping my mind occupied but then as time went on, I started to miss it more and more.
How did your first show back feel? Was it as if you’d never left?
There was a few songs I thought I wasn’t going to remember but as soon as I started singing them, the words came flying back. After two decades, I love performing more and more with each passing year. It becomes part of you. If you’re not into it, you won’t last because it’s such a long, hard job. I’m so lucky I have such a great team, you need a good crew who you get on with, and I’ve a wonderful bunch in the band.
You and Liz actually met through your music, didn’t you?
Liz arrived to a gig one with night with her mam and sisters, many years ago. She tells me it was her mam who was the fan, but I think it was her and she just won’t say it [laughs].
With such a long career, we’re sure you’ve an incredible fanbase. Do you notice any of the same people watching your shows up and down the country?
Yeah, we’d have a few people who’d watch us week in, week out when we’re on the road. You could see the same people three or four nights a week and it’s a great feeling. Ireland is so small, you get to know people so well and you strike up a great bond.
Has Mia been to any of your shows yet?
Not yet, but my God she will the first chance we get! Mia came to a soundcheck in Killarney, but that was it. Liz hasn’t been to any gigs since lockdown either, it’s been about two years since she seen me live on stage.
It must be tough being away from them when you’re on tour…
It is, but the only good thing is that I come home every night. I’m only gone from the afternoon until late at night, but I’m always there in the morning when she wakes up unless we’re abroad. Daddy’s there to pull her out of bed and give her a cuddle in the morning with her first bottle.
Obviously little Mia takes up a lot of time and attention, but do you and Liz still take time out for yourselves to enjoy date nights?
We do, but as you said, Mia takes up a lot of time. It’s nearly always three instead of two. The odd time, whenever we get the chance, we might go out for a pint. There’s nothing better than life with her though, we wouldn’t swap it for anything.
It’ll be your 10th wedding anniversary next year… how time flies! Will you do anything special to mark the occasion?
It is, in March! We’re like everyone at this stage, sitting, hoping and praying that we might be able to go somewhere. We got married in Kilronan Castle in Roscommon so it’d be nice to go back there for a night or two. It’d be nice to go on a little holiday as the three of us.
Interview: Michelle Dardis
Photography: Joe and AnnMarie Crean
Makeup: Mary Burke; Empire Portuma
Hair: Edele Burke; Empire Portuma
Styling: Mike styled himself throughout, thanks to Anthony and Kara Kearns in GuyClothing Tullamore, Zeda The Architect styled Liz and Mia
For more on Mike’s upcoming shows, check out www.themikedenverband.com