- 04 Dec 23
Fresh from sharing his second album Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, hometown hero John Francis Flynn offered up an industrial, mystical and unforgettable show at Dublin's historic Vicar Street on Saturday evening.
In a recent interview with Hot Press, acclaimed Dublin folk musician John Francis Flynn professed his contempt for the skewed perception of Ireland held in many parts of the world – that gleeful, inebriated, shamrock-clad stereotype.
His renditions of traditional tunes stray away from these exhausted tropes. Evident throughout his stellar sophomore LP Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, his exploratory performances act as visceral representations of his homeland. Complex and haunting, there's nonetheless a radiating sense of hopefulness beneath his drones.
An intimate, fully seated affair at the storied Vicar St venue, Flynn started the set with his version of The Dubliners’ ‘Zoological Gardens'. Accompanied by two crushing synths, he created an audible steamroller as his deep croons set the tone for the evening.
‘Mole In The Ground’, brought a burst of energy with its driving drums and hypnotic melody. A cover of an American anti-establishment song by Bascom Lamar from the 1920s, Flynn’s version highlighted his capacity to reimagine. Despite the song being almost 100 years old, he gave it an indie-rock twist which sounded unmistakably modern.
It’s clear that the Marino native is someone who can’t be put in a box easily. 'Willie Crotty’ was a mammoth of a tune. A slow burner, Flynn sang like he had a light glowing in his chest – accompanied by his exceptional band, the digital noises and atonal strings coagulated around him to form an utterly absorbing live experience.
As well as being refreshingly experimental, there’s a familiarity in his delivery. The deep Dublin annunciations nestled atop glitchy cacophonies make you feel like you’re simultaneously in outer space and down at your local – a sentiment exuded with his otherworldly cover of Christy Moore’s ‘I Wish I Was In England’.
Flynn’s stage presence added to this homely vibe. He’s charismatic and funny in a uniquely reserved way. Working the crowd with rambling anecdotes punctuated by deadpan one-liners, he crafted an atmosphere that was solemn during the songs, but light-hearted and familial during any breaks.
A more than capable guitar player, Flynn also plies his trade as a talented multi-instrumentalist. He mesmerised onlookers as he shredded on his Frankenstein tin whistle (which was essentially two instruments taped together). The dichotomy of traditional piped sounds over grinding electronic soundscapes very much encapsulates the John Francis Flynn experience – unusual, yet addictingly captivating.
It had been a sad couple of days for Irish music lovers. The weekend of gigs across the country, and the world, would undoubtedly be full of tributes to the late Shane MacGowan. With two Pogues reimaginations on his latest record, it seemed as if no one else would be better equipped to pay homage to the great songsmith than John Francis Flynn.
He delivered ‘Kitty’ with raw emotional power. Much like the afromentioned ‘Mole In The Ground’, Flynn took a tune that has been covered thousands of times, and forged it into something wholly original. Swelling with noisy, computerised goodness, his version had the crowd in a trancelike state.
Capping the night off was an ethereal depiction of ‘Dirty Old Town’. Last in the track listing for Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, and a fitting closer to the evening, he stood there with his guitar and delivered the emotional apex of the night.
Perhaps the only time of the evening they could realistically sing along, spectators hummed the melody of the timeless classic. No one was belting it out - it was as if each audience member was having their own personal moment. Flynn’s vocals were at their sweetest as he sang the chorus over and over again. No one – himself included - wanted it to end.