Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making a splash in Irish waters

There you are approaching the famed Emerald Isle, the wondrous greenery already visible from your little boat as you float ever closer. As your vessel nears the shore and the mythical fog clears, what sights do you first feast your eyes on? Enya high up in her Celtic tower nursing sick fairies back to health; Sinead O’Connor begging you to believe that nothing compares to you; while nearby U2 epically pose to heal the world via a trademark guitar riff? This is Ireland from the outside - you need to step off that boat and dive into the vibrant, diverse Irish music scene of 2010.

Ireland’s musical output has been nothing, if not varied. We’ve had wool-wearing traditional singers such as the Clancy Brothers making waves in the 60s (hey, even Dylan dug them); Horslips trad-rocked their way through the 70s; and Thin Lizzy simply rocked. Then the 80s happened, and U2, Enya and Sinead O’Connor came to signify the be-all and end-all of Irish music. A culture of manufactured pop dominated the 90s, often including large measures of faux-Irishness for the global market.

But what a difference a millennium makes. The past decade has seen a broadening of horizons and a diversification of genres, with many Irish acts showing the confidence and desire to forge their own musical path. So what is the soundtrack to Irish life in 2010? Here are a few appetizers for your aural consumption…

Republic of Loose
Where to start with these funk soul brothers? Loose being the operative word, they have chosen to make the kind of music that nobody seems to make anymore; authentic modern soul records, with healthy slices of funk and rock thrown in for good measure.
With "The Loose", as they’re affectionately known to fans, you have to see them to believe what you hear, and hear them to believe what you see.
Enigmatic front man Mick Pyro's scruffy beard, dirty ponytail and Miami Vice-style dress sense seem completely at odds with his rusty, growling vocals and deliberately disgruntled onstage persona. Sassy call-and-answer vocals bounce back and forth between Pyro and his backing singers, while the faultless funk bass lines, choppy guitar work and tight drumming behind them make it all so sound effortlessly easy that you wish you had thought of doing it first.

Recommended track: 13 Shots from the album Johnny Pyro and the Dance of Evil

Cathy Davey
So, a female with a guitar who writes her own material: girly singer-songwriter alert?
Not quite. Dublin native Davey is three albums in to her ever evolving career and is finally receiving wider recognition for her innovative and intelligent music. Elfin in stature and voice, Davey is a multi-instrumentalist who seems to find novel uses for anything that holds a tune and knows the value of a well-placed yelp or whoop, which lends an originality and magnetism to her songs that is hard to forget.
Her second album, Tales of Silversleeve, centred around compelling, haunting drum rhythms while her most recent release The Nameless continues her flair for layered vocals and wonderful phrasing. Davey’s work is fresh, engaging and most certainly unlike any of her peers’, yet it still retains an accessible, radio-friendly charm.

Recommended track: Little Red from the album The Nameless

Fionn Regan
Regan’s tussled mop of hair and shuffling, guitar-slinger looks have critics frequently drawing comparisons with the young Bob Dylan, and his stripped down recordings have certainly shown a preference for getting back to basics; allowing intricate, intelligent  lyrics to drive simple yet strong melodies.
His debut album, The End of History, was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, and it expertly demonstrates Regan's ability to conjure images of love and loss in three-minute acoustic vignettes. It often seems to reveal the singer's own character traits and flaws, and this, added to an authentic delivery in his native accent, makes for intimate and pensive listening.
The Dylan parallels have continued as Regan “went electric” on his recently released second album, The Shadow of an Empire. Jangly riffs, primitive drums and sweet backing vocals have been added to the mix, and like it’s predecessor, the music isn’t overly fussy; it simply provides a platform for the stories and the storyteller.

Recommended track: Put a Penny in the Slot from the album The End of History

Imelda May
Dublin's rockabilly queen has injected the 21st century with a dose of retro glamour, and counts Jeff Beck, with whom she performed at this year’s Grammys, and Eddi Reader among her many admirers. An overnight success that was 20 years in the making, May's music unapologetically employs dirty brass sections, double bass rhythms and surf guitar licks, not to mention a voice that can jump from soulful depths to rough-and-ready delivery in an instant.
With May it’s a complete package; the glossy red lips, big quiffs and 50s glamour go hand in hand with the rootsy, energetic feel-good music that wouldn’t sound out of place in a seedy old New Orleans burlesque house. Her live shows mix early rock ‘n’ roll dance floor fillers with similarly infused original material, such as Big Bad Handsome Man from her critically acclaimed debut album, Love Tattoo. While her work is heavily indebted to the past, May has more than enough spark and wit to remain relevant and interesting. And with her follow-up album Mayhem already released, she’ll be quiffing that hair for quite a while yet.

Recommended track: Johnny Got a Boom Boom from the album Love Tattoo

* This article also featured in The Irish News, an Irish culture magazine published in Sweden

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Putting the 'arty' in party

I've got a cosy little secret. A place with enveloping armchairs, vintage clocks, inviting lanterns and deer's antlers protruding from the wall for good measure. Dickens' drawing room? Sherlock Holmes' study? David Norris' parlour? Nope, nope, nope.

The 'Arty Party' at the Dark Horse on Dublin's Tara street is a monthly art/social evening (so far on Thursdays from 8pm) that allows unknown artists to display their work for sale in the charming upstairs space of the quay-side pub. The evening upgrades the usual pub experience to one of appreciated (and these days, unexpected) originality and character. The space that unfolds as you climb the stairs is in stark contrast to most Dublin pubs, bar a select few. The old-world style and the little details, such as well-thumbed books with model birds perched on top, immediately instill the intimate and welcoming atmosphere. Ok, and the strategically placed offerings of Dolly Mixture, iced buns and cookies helped too...

But here I am unashamedly bowled over by aesthetics again. The evening gives a platform to artists of various degrees and forms. There are those who seek an audience, a place to meet like-minded individuals, those just starting out, appreciative of a friendly leg-up, art enthusiasts or anyone looking for new social nooks and crannies to discover. And not to be outdone by the decor, the art really leaps off the walls. Paintings, sketches, photographs, embroidery, portraits, abstracts, works of all materials, textures, shapes and sizes, are all framed and vying for attention.

Such nights are in demand when the strains of 'Don't Stop Believing' interrupting your conversation, just doesn't cut it anymore. It's out with the old and in with the new, it's not arty farty, it's Arty Party.