- 04 Jan 12
Despite surviving on about five minutes sleep per night, new daddy Greg McAteer somehow also found time to lend his ears to the good, the bad and the ugly among 2011’s folk releases...
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind year round here. Having become a father in February, I’m looking back at 2011 through a sleep-starved haze. It has certainly been a year in which I’ve come up against some extraordinary music: good, bad and ugly. One of the most encouraging things for me this year has been to watch some great bands go from strength. Although I was pretty much otherwise engaged when the Southern Tenant Folk Union visited in February promoting last year’s stunningly impressive The New Farming Scene, I’m happy to say that whatever laurels they picked up from that release weren’t rested on. Midway through the year they released the almost equally unstoppable Pencaitland, which saw their writing base expand. Happily they also made a second (admittedly fairly whistle-stop) visit to bestow their bounty on the bluegrass-loving audiences of Ireland in November.
One of our own bluegrass (or is it alt. country?) institutions – the splendidly named Sick And Indigent Song Club – bites the dust as Gary Fitzpatrick decides to be noisy again and hooks up with his former Great Western Squares bandmate Alan Murphy to form Dead Zoo who play acoustic guitars but use distortion pedals too. Then just as you thought it was all over, the Sick And Indigents resurrect themselves from the ashes as Minnie And The Illywhackers, with Angie McLaughlin taking over the lioness’ share of the vocals and playing that ukelele like a thing possessed. Cunningly, Christian Volkmann straddles both bands like the colossus he is and all is once again well with the world, equilibrium is restored and Angie/Minnie proves that a band can make just as rambunctious a noise without the aid of distortion pedals. I caught the new band at the Gram Parsons International gig on what would have been his 65th birthday. Although their set was understandably pretty heavy on Gram Parsons covers and the sound did them no favours, it was clear that they’ve lost none of their good time mojo in the transition.
As in many a year previously, Paul Lee proved to be one of the most inventive bookers on the folk and traditional scene. Faced with the prospect of falling ticket sales and lacklustre crowds, he raised a virtual two-fingered salute to our straitened times and decided to bring the mountain to Mohammad, putting together the musical revue Folk The Recession, which brought together Eleanor Shanley, Frankie Lane, Mick Hanley and Paul Kelly to counter the general state of doom and gloom.
After starting in the capital with shows in the Cherrytree, the show has now gone on to tour most of the country. While these old hands certainly know how to keep a pot boiling, 2011 was also a year in which a few new faces proved themselves capable of burning it up live. Louisiana’s Pokey Lafarge toured here with his band The South City Three. Their performances were incandescent, mixing up a brew that was equal parts western swing and mountain swagger, while the revelation of the Westport Folk And Bluegrass Festival, for me, was Shannon-based David Hope, whose voice has one of those deep-etched timbres that lesser singers attempt to imitate. I’ve seen him compared variously to Tom Waits and to Jeff Buckley. He has a complexity all his own, though, and doesn’t need the comparisons. Having released the Hell Or High Water EP this year, we have a full-length album, produced by Declan Sinnott, to look forward to at some point in the future.
As the year drew to a close and we faced into the long dark night of the X-Factor, it looked like we were going to end the year with a new Irish folk star. Janet Devlin, hailing from not a million miles away from where Cara Dillon grew up, stood on the stage of doom and let them have it with that trademark northern-Irish lilt. As the ‘competition’ progressed, it became increasingly obvious that she was struggling to make sense of why exactly she was taking part. What had begun with aping a few Ellie Goulding vocal mannerisms progressed into a grotesque self-parody as her own accent disappeared only to be replaced with a garbled version of a middle England accent. Meanwhile, she assured us that all the styling and grooming would not change her and that she had something to say. I hope, now that she has evaded the clutches of the hooded claw, that she does in fact prove to have something to say — and that she manages to recover her own accent from lost luggage to say it with.
As always, we’ve lost a few souls along the way. Charlie Louvin, having outlived his brother Ira by over 40 years, passed from this life in January, to be followed by Hazel Dickens, one of the most influential of American folk singers. Sadder still though is the fate of Glen Campbell, the musical icon who had already played with Nat King Cole and The Beach Boys before his own interpretations of Jimmy Webb’s lonesome tales made him a star. This year he released what he already knows will be his last album Ghost On The Canvas, before the slide into the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease becomes too steep.