*I was so sad to hear of the passing of Fergus O’Farrell of Interference on Tuesday. I didn’t know him well (I interviewed him at his home in West Cork in 2011 and we kept in touch afterwards by email) but I was so struck by his decision to keep making art, music and visual, in the face of such serious illness. He couldn’t walk, he could barely use one of his arms, but he kept going. His music was magnificent — everyone who knows Interference knows that, and I feel so lucky to have seen them perform live — but Ferg’s entire life was an inspiration. If anyone wants to find out a little more about him, here’s the interview I did with him in 2011: may you rest in peace, Ferg. x
Redemption songs, The Sunday Business Post
BY NADINE O’REGAN ON JUNE 4, 2011
Muscular dystrophy robbed Fergus O’Farrell’s muscles of their strength, but it has failed to sap his songs of their power
Just before Christmas, Fergus O’Farrell nearly died.
He developed serious pneumonia – it was the sixth time he’d had pneumonia – and a kidney stone.
He was on a ventilator in hospital for 20 days. But O’Farrell doesn’t have much interest in talking about his near-death experience. He faces down those threats most days of his life.
O’Farrell suffers from muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes his muscles to slowly waste away. Doctors told his parents that he would be in a wheelchair by 14 and dead by 20. At 43,O’Farrell has no interest in talking about death.
Instead he talks about his pneumonia only in the context of what’s really important to him: his music. ‘‘It delayed getting the album finished,” he says. ‘‘I won’t release it if I’m not happy with it. But I definitely want to have it ready soon.”
Small shouldered, clad in a hoody top and sporting a well-trimmed beard, O’Farrell, the frontman of renowned cult Irish band Interference, has blue eyes that have seen pain, but which also radiate a sturdy form of optimism against the odds.
The room he’s sitting in couldn’t help but inspire positivity in a person. Bordered on three sides by windows, it faces directly onto Schull harbour in West Cork, with the east end of Long Island and its Copper Point light beacon just visible.
When I arrive, sunlight is filling the spacious room holding a piano, a large wooden table covered with art created in watercolours, acrylic paint and ink pens, and a leafy potted plant in one corner. It’s beautiful and you feel glad that it’s so.
This room is where O’Farrell spends most of his time. In a wheelchair, O’Farrell’s hands are no longer strong enough to play guitar anymore, so, in the past few years he has learned to express himself through visual art. ‘‘When you’re playing a musical instrument you become one with it,” he says.
‘‘And a song emerges. I use the same process with painting. I start improvising with the colours.”
Right now, he’s sighing over one of his mixed media works. A few nights ago, O’Farrell poured some white paint on it ‘‘and ruined it’’.
He’s cross with himself, thinking of the time he had to spend scraping the white paint off, the work that has been potentially wasted and must be started again.
O’Farrell is a perfectionist – it’s one reason why his band Interference are so revered – and not just by DJs such as RTE’s Dave Fanning and Dan Hegarty, but by musicians, young and old, all around the country.
‘‘I’ll give 150 per cent,” says O’Farrell. ‘‘I always wanted to be so good that it’d never be this [pity thing].” It never has been.
In his salad days, O’Farrell, born in Cork, spent ten years living in Dublin, where, as Glen Hansard, one of his biggest fans, explains in an e-mail, ‘‘they were looked up to by all the biggest bands in town, and yet they were a secret kept from the common music fan’’.
Decades later, owing to O’Farrell’s condition, Interference are rarely in the public eye, but music fans are still in thrall to them. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was on my way to see O’Farrell in West Cork, musicians, including Choice Music Prize winner Jape, got in touch to ask me to pass on their best regards.
There’s a love there for the band that is rooted in a genuine admiration for their artistry. Live, Interference are something to behold.
Their music washes over you, all held together by O’Farrell’s voice, which is a remarkable instrument. His phrasing has an incredible elegance to it and his tone is warm, world-weary and beguiling. Cumulatively the band make you think of two of the most hyped young acts of today, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear.
When Interference performed last year at the Cork X Southwest festival, they were better than both. Next Friday, they will perform at the Temple House festival in Sligo – a rare gig for them that represents quite a coup for the festival.
Every gig O’Farrell travels to costs him far more physically than most musicians – and in a week when Prime Time Investigates exposed the gaping holes in the health care system, it’s easy to imagine how difficult his life – even in such beautiful surroundings – must often be.
O’Farrell rattles off the background details of his diagnosis in a matter-of-fact fashion. ‘‘I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophyat the age of eight,’’ he says. ‘‘Your muscles get worn away. They don’t get replaced. I was cycling until I was 15, on a motorbike until I was 16. I was walking until my early twenties. Then I was in a wheelchair. By the end of the first album I was in an electric wheelchair. ‘‘With some conditions you inherit them in your genes. In my case, it’s not present in the genes of my mother or father.