- 22 Jul 13
Trad man John McSherry has turned the folk genre inside out on several occasions. Now he’s doing it all over again with his new project...
If Jesus loves a trier he’ll certainly be a John McSherry fan. There isn’t a whole lot that the Belfast piper hasn’t had a crack at over the years. Very few stones have been left unturned. A founder member of Lunasa, he also – and almost simultaneously – bent and stretched Irish traditional music in the company of his siblings as part of the unfortunately short lived Tamalin. That was a band whose time came and went and would surely come again if there was any justice in the world.
He’s also pushed the boundaries as part of Donal Lunny’s extraordinary Coolfin. That was a group which poked and pulled at the relationships between Irish and other traditional music in a way that was revolutionary at the time, producing one of the best genre-bending albums ever. Kíla are really the only thing that I can think of that comes close to giving it a run for its money. Currently he treads the boards as part of At First Lightm, an outfit that’s just as revolutionary in its own way.
He’s generous towards young artists too. Most people would run a mile from anyone to whom the term ‘stalker fan’ might be applied. But when Michigan teenager Tyler Duncan stared fixedly at him for a solid half-hour during a Willie Week session in Miltown Malbay a decade back, the Belfast man more than just kept his cool – he welcomed the youngster, mentored him and helped him to forge his own musical identity. He is now the motor of Irish/jazz crossover band Millish and also plays with dance rock group Ella Riot. Roping in his go-to drummer Michael Shimmin as co-conspirator, Duncan started the process, early in 2012, of composing and recording an album with his hero and mentor. They jammed on Skype, rehearsing and composing live in separate timezones and swapping tracks on email.
The record is a lush soundscape of trance-like melodies, instrumental virtuosity and a marriage of tradition and technology. It catapults the listener into a space somewhere between Radiohead and Planxty.
Simplicity is the trio’s touchstone. They wanted their musical ideas to mature organically in a controlled environment, rather than produce anything contrived or over-composed.
It’s their collective flair for arrangement that gives the album its distinct style and form. The trio’s approach to composition is unique in Irish music as well, in that they forego the familiar jigs and reels.
“We really wanted to investigate the melodies but focus on simplicity. Everything had a purpose with no excess,” comments Duncan. “Together we created a narrative, each song is highly personal and tells a story. There are verses, pre-choruses and bridges instead of the traditional Irish tune forms.”
Mid-July sees the band take their unique folk hybrid to Hawk’s Well, Sligo (July 17); Monroe’s, Galway (19); The Lodge, Castlewellan (20); Whelan’s, Dublin (23); Pavilion, Cork (24); Dolan’s, Limerick (25) and The MAC, Belfast (26). They promise to be very special shows.