- 16 Jan 12
Your correspondent gives the inside line on the folk acts set to break huge in the year ahead.
If there was a grandfather rule for music, we would surely be claiming Ed Sheeran as the hottest new Irish folk artist to emerge in 2011. However, the soccer fraternity seem to have cornered the market on co-opting solid players who happen to have been born in the fifth province and we’ll have to keep the search, by and large, on home turf. So which, if any, new Irish folk artist or traditional act is going to blow up huge in 2012?
David Hope has been hovering in the wings for a while and has already released an album and a couple of EPs. With a work-rate that would shame all but the most industrious, one reason he isn’t better known is that he spends a fair amount of time gigging out of the country and he’s starting to cultivate healthy audiences on the Continent. At home he splits his time between booking bands for Kenny’s of Lahinch and making music himself.
His ability to write effortlessly in any genre from bluegrass to dark folk is probably cause enough to keep an eye for him, but his voice lifts him way above most other performers. He’s an imposing figure of a man, looming over most people – I’ve heard him referred to jokingly as ‘Hagrid’ – and out of that huge barrel of a chest he can produce a sweet but cracked tenor that’s part Pavarotti, part Buckley.
Another magnificently-voiced singer is Belfast-born Gareth Dunlop whose rich vocal textures are sure to draw comparisons with Van Morrison. He’s had a good year already with songs showing up in places as disparate as TV show Cougar Town and Snow Patrol’s live set. Last year’s Devil Mocks Me EP, which he co-produced as well as writing and performing, engages with the mores of ‘60s and ‘70s folk-soul crossover in a distinctly Morrison-esque fashion. As with last year’s ‘Most Likely To’, James Vincent McMorrow, he suffers from a surfeit of production in the studio. Stripped back to the bare bones, he might produce a truly great record. With a top team around him, a commercial breakthrough seems to be a relatively certain outcome. He’ll need to navigate that success wisely.
Marc O’Reilly’s My Friend Marx album was a favourite amongst many of last year’s end of year list compilers. It’s a beautifully recorded album which scarcely puts a foot out of place. I have to admit when I saw the track ‘Lord Of War’ I feared a kind of pastiche of Dylan’s ‘Masters Of War’. However, the track is closer to the Subterranean Homesick Dylan than it is to the song with which it almost shares a name. (interestingly the track ‘Get Back’ is unnervingly like ‘Come Together’ – Freudian or wha’?)
The Bonnymen also emerged last year, winning the RTÉ ‘Breakthough Bursary’ only months after forming. They seem likely to continue their meteoric rise on the cusp of the folk and traditional genres. Weighing in at eight members (bafflingly, there are 11 people in the band photo on their website), they’ll find it tough to carve out a niche for themselves internationally unless they land a track in a major movie or the like, but you wouldn’t rule out just such a possibility. Their sound is enigmatic, modern enough in its way and yet tinged with a drop of the age-old. Though harmonium features, it is incongruously performed on a modern keyboard. There have already been comparisons to The Bothy Band, a heady compliment for an outfit together only a year. Then again, with a couple of sets of siblings in the band, they may have that natural ability to gel. Moving Hearts would also be a fair comparison and there is a touch of the very early Pink Floyd too – back when Syd Barrett was still in the thrall of the English folk movement. They have wasted no time in clocking up a debut album recorded live in Windmill Lane over the course of four days.
You could hardly call Garrett Wall a newcomer. Still, the Madrid-based singer is certainly capable of a freshness in his approach that would shame most younger musicians. 2012 sees him launch a new band Looking At Joe with a bunch of other Madrid-based expatriates. Building on the same exquisite pop sensibility that has made him one of the most engaging exponents of the singer-songwriter arm of folk music since he first emerged in the ‘90s, Looking At Joe throws a slowcore pulse into the mix. The result is an accessible, melodic folk music that could easily creep into the mainstream.
For a good left-field punt for 2012, you could do a lot worse than put a tenner on Dominic Mac Giolla Bhride for this year’s Choice Music Prize. Not many traditional musicians mix sean nós, awkward time signatures and drum ‘n’ bass. It’s a concoction that holds no fears for the Donegal man, who is already creeping towards a cult audience in the traditional community where his penchant for going head to head with the great songs of the traditional repertoire and coming out on top has invigorated what can often be a staid and excessively polite area. His beautifully understated accordion playing allows him to approach songs in a fresh way, injecting a new life into them without ever losing a sense of respect for the spirit of the originals.