- 04 Feb 21
Described as "celestial" by Liam Gallagher, ‘Hot For 2021’ Irish artist Lucy Gaffney has emerged as one of the country’s most promising indie-pop prospects. She reflects on her early days busking in Belfast; going solo; and drawing inspiration from Sinéad O’Connor.
From out of the ashes of her acclaimed alt-rock sibling duo MMODE, Lucy Gaffney has emerged as one of Ireland’s brightest new solo artists, with a lushly textured dream-pop sound that harks back to the best of the '90s indie icons. Of course, the political/social/economic/cultural volatility of 2021 is by no means the ideal environment to launch a solo career – but Lucy’s first two singles, ‘Can’t Escape’ and ‘Send Me Away’, have resonated powerfully with her rapidly-growing fanbase.
“At the beginning of lockdown, I was apprehensive about coming out as a new act, and trying to make it work,” she tells me. “But the timing ended up working out well for me. We were all in this really weird situation, but it felt like everyone was embracing music and creativity.”
Social media has also proved crucial to her solo success – allowing her to engage with fans from afar, despite the lack of gigs.
“I had to figure all of that out,” she reveals. “Apart from posting the odd photo, I’m definitely not in that world. But it was good for me to get to grips with doing the online gigs and the livestreams. I actually feel like I’ve gotten better at performing, just from having to do it on my phone. There’s something a little bit scarier about it!”
It was through this online activity that her voice ultimately reached Liam Gallagher – who described her cover of Oasis’ ‘Songbird’ as “celestial”.
“I don’t even play covers that often, but that’s one Oasis song that I’ve always really loved – I think because it’s quite Beatles-y,” Lucy reflects. “I just stuck it up on Twitter, and within a couple of hours I had a fan messaging me, telling me that Liam had commented on it. I was like, ‘Wait, what?!’”
Although she was raised in Belfast, Lucy has been based in Liverpool in recent years – working in the city’s iconic Parr Street Studios with James Skelly on her first two singles. Skelly, who she first met while touring with his band The Coral, was a crucial force behind her evolution into a solo artist.
“I was coming out of a different band, where it was really veering towards me just being the lead singer,” she explains. “James Skelly was like, ‘These songs are really good. Have you recorded any of them?’ So me and the band went into the studio with him, and what we did felt more like a solo project. I decided that’s the way it should go, and James helped develop it – along with my brother. It just fell into place, and we went with it.”
As Lucy went solo, so did her brother and collaborator Thom Southern – who released two lauded singles ‘Shivers’ and ‘Perfect Someone’ in 2020, as well as a stunning reimagining of Billie Eilish’s ‘everything i ever wanted’.
“We work so closely together all the time, and we have done for years,” Lucy says. “We first started when Thom got a guitar, and we used to busk in Belfast. I used to sing harmonies with him. We never really did covers – we just started writing our own ambient sort of songs, and they always went quite leftfield. From that, we grew as songwriters together.”
Despite having spent a good deal of their early career on the other side of the Irish Sea, both siblings remain deeply connected to the scene on these shores – with Lucy performing a live-streamed gig from The Workman’s Club in Dublin over Christmas.
“”I’ve been travelling around for years, but because of the lockdown I moved home,” Lucy reveals. “I haven’t spent this much time in Ireland in a while, just staying put. Our family were all from Belfast originally, but then everyone moved to Dublin after the Troubles. I’d love to be based in Dublin in the future.
“Irish music has always been really strong, but especially so at the minute – when you see how Fontaines D.C. have just taken over,” she continues. “I know I’m biased, but I feel like Irish acts have this really pure kind of talent. It goes back to Phil Lynott, and then U2. There’s always been very classic songwriting here – I suppose because there’s so much literature. You can’t get away from it. It’s in our blood.”
Placing her within this legacy of Irish talent, Lucy’s already been compared to the likes of Sinéad O’Connor.
“Sinéad O’Connor is amazing,” she enthuses. “Her track ‘Mandinka’ really inspired a lot of my new songs that haven’t come out yet. I first heard that when I was listening to Cillian Murphy’s show on BBC Radio 6 Music. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, why have I never heard this track?’ She’s got a great energy to her, and a bit of spunk, which I like.”
You can expect some of those Sinéad-inspired tracks in the months ahead – as Lucy reveals that she hasn’t been resting on her laurels over lockdown.
“I’ve got quite a lot to come out this year,” she says. “I was fairly busy towards the end of last year – working with a producer in LA, and a producer in England. I’m also writing some stuff with Bill Ryder-Jones at the minute. I should be releasing my next single and an EP in March. So it’s been a pretty busy year, in a weird way!”
•‘Send Me Away’ is out now
Order the Hot Press Hot For 2021 Special Issue below: