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“I Got to Visit Chez O’Riordan On Several Occasions, With Dolores Taking Care Of Tea Duties Herself…”

Ireland’s ‘Hot Press’ magazine has just announced the career-spanning book about The Cranberries, ‘WHY CAN’T WE: The Story of The Cranberries and The Band’s Iconic Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan’

Stuart Clark Sep 09, 2021

The cover of 'WHY CAN’T WE? – The Story of The Cranberries and The Band’s Iconic Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan (As Told Through The Pages Of Hot Press).' Photo: Courtesy of Hot Press

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The first time I had a proper chat with Dolores O’Riordan was in 1990, at the Glentworth Hotel in Limerick. 

Just 19 and waiting on her Leaving Certificate exam results at the end of what’s called secondary school in Ireland, the aspiring young singer from the farming townland of Ballybricken, was making serious inroads into a pint of Guinness and wondering whether she should put college ‘on hold’ to join up with three scruffy-looking individuals who were calling themselves The Cranberry Saw Us.

I was equally scruffy, but Dolores was different, looking very much like the girl next-door. The nice one, that is. 

I don’t know if me telling her that they were a sound bunch of lads, and she should give it a whirl, had much bearing on Dolores’ decision to go for the rock ‘n’ roll option, but as it happened, I was in the right place at the right time. 

It was the start of an extraordinary journey, during which I was able to witness, often at close quarters, the re-christened Cranberries, as they went from being the humblest of support bands to selling upwards of 40 million albums, and hitting the upper echelons of the charts in countless territories all over the world.

The Cranberries. Photo: Cathal Dawson/Hot Press

We all know that with fame came wealth – the platinum Am-Ex card was secured as early as their Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? debut album, which went Top 20 in the United States. But it also offered Dolores the chance to hang out with big hitters like U2, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Princess Diana, George Clooney, Pavarotti and not one but two Popes. 

She wasn’t afraid to spill the beans afterwards either, with Dolores always reveling in the kind of colorful storytelling that spared few blushes when we spoke.

Faith was incredibly important to her, as were family and friendship. Once she’d decided that, as she put it, you were a decent skin, Dolores was loyal in the extreme.

I experienced that myself, with Dolores making a point of talking to me or one of my Hot Press colleagues whenever she was back in Ireland. It’s not every gazillion-selling rock star that invites you into their home, but I got to visit chez O’Riordan on several occasions, with Dolores taking care of welcoming cup of tea duties herself. It was an established Irish ritual that – global success notwithstanding – she clearly enjoyed immensely.

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These many, and ultimately career-spanning interviews are vital to the rolling verité-style narrative of the book we are currently bunkered down working on in Hot Press HQ, entitled Why Can’t We? – The Story Of The Cranberries And The Band’s Iconic Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan (As Told Through The Pages Of Hot Press). They reveal just how stunningly direct and honest Dolores was whenever she spoke to Hot Press. 

Whether talking about overzealous fans, stalkers, blackmailers, kidnap threats, court bust-ups, the pressures of parenthood or her battles with drink, depression and paranoia, virtually nothing was off-limits when I had my numerous sit-downs with Dolores.

She was also a great one for homespun philosophy. “You’re always best to play the sweet Colleen, if you can,” she told me with a humorous twinkle in her eye, before adding: “You catch more flies with honey than you do shite.”

Dolores always did have a way with words!

Talking about O’Riordan, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe said, “She never showed fear of any kind and was a natural on stage.” Photo: Mick Quinn/Hot Press

Something which keeps striking me as we revisit all of the brilliant early reviews, end-of-year dispatches and critical appraisals, and gather powerful, brand-new material together for Why Can’t We? is the incredible emotional bond that Dolores had with not only Cranberries fans, but also her fellow musicians, who recognized her as the real rock ‘n’ roll deal.

“There’s a storytelling tradition in Ireland that’s handed down, and she wound up inheriting that,” Michael Stipe told me, in an interview conducted specially for Why Can’t We?. “She never showed fear of any kind and was a natural on stage. I speak on behalf of all of R.E.M. when I say Dolores and the guys brought us great joy.”

Michael also told me a great story about him squeezing into one of Dolores’ dresses – but you’re going to have to wait for the book to hear that!

To add another lucid and authoritative musician’s voice to the narrative, I sought an interview with Simon Le Bon – who had got to know Dolores when The Cranberries supported Duran Duran on an early tour. He was in the middle of making a new record, but the word came back that he would love to speak about Dolores – and he made a special effort to carve out the time.  

“We talked about family, relationships, love affairs, partners,” Simon recalled, when we spoke. “She was cool. The phrase ‘still waters run deep’ comes to mind when I think of her.” And then the memories started to flow. It was a real pleasure to listen, as Simon enthusiastically evoked those precious moments when The Cranberries took their first vital steps up the ladder of rock ‘n’ roll success. 

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Of course, you are inevitably drawn into deep emotional terrain when the story is being told of a band – like The Cranberries – whose singer and lyricist has died in tragic circumstances. That’s ever-present in what Cranberries producer Stephen Street has to say. And in what the award-winning writer and old Limerick buddy Kevin Barry remembers too, about a city that was reborn, in part at least because The Cranberries infused it with a fresh sense of pride and belonging.

The terrible ensuing upheavals that followed Dolores’ passing were addressed by the clan in Hot Press, in a way that still feels profoundly moving, over three years on. That said, some of the most poignant pages of Why Can’t We? are devoted to an arresting new interview with her boyfriend and D.A.R.K. bandmate Olé Koretsky. Dolores, he told me in a voice that seemed likely to crack at any moment, was creatively on fire at the time of her tragic death in January 2018 – and she was looking forward to more musical adventures with The Cranberries.

It was a tough interview to do – not because Olé was anything less than a gentleman, but because it brought all of the sadness and the longing for what might have been flooding back. 

Dolores’ loss will be acutely felt by all of us on September 6th, 2021, the date of what would have been her 50th birthday. She should be alive, grinning that mischievous grin and making us all feel better about ourselves and about the world. But she is not, and we are left to mourn her.

I still find it really hard to write about her in the past tense. But I feel forever grateful that I got to know the real Dolores O’Riordan – and to share in the remarkable rock ‘n’ roll story she fashioned alongside Noel, Mike and Fergal in The Cranberries, as well as solo, which will be told fully for the first time in Why Can’t We?

WHY CAN’T WE?The Story of The Cranberries and The Band’s Iconic Frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan (As Told Through The Pages Of Hot Press),’ curated by Stuart Clark, will be available in a Limited Edition Deluxe Large Format, individually numbered and signed by the band; and in a Gold Edition. To pre-order go now to https://shop.hotpress.com

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