- 23 Jan 23
As the Bob Marley song says, there is so much trouble in the world. And yet we retain the right to hop and dream of a better future. Wrapped up in that is the love of art and music that can act both as a salve and an inspiration. And in Ireland, music is thriving. Which is why our Hot for 2023 issue looks ahead in confidence, highlighting the bright new things that are likely to make an impact...
The start of a new year. Strange, in a way, how deeply it affects us, but it does.
Over what we call the festive season, there is a bit more time to stop and think. To evaluate where we are at, what we are doing and in what direction we might be heading. To feel, in our very bones, the rhythms of nature and the cycle of the seasons. And then to ring out the old, ring in the new.
That happens in a more visceral way than Alfred Lord Tennyson might have imagined, in his famous turn-of-the-year poem ‘In Memoriam (Ring Out Wild Bells)’. We have just seen a spate of deaths in music, in Ireland and further afield. Jeff Beck, Irish guitarist Pat Farrell, Lisa Marie Presley, Alan Rankine of The Associates, Anita Pointer of The Pointer Sisters, Jeremiah Green of Modest Mouse, Fred White of Earth, Wind & Fire, Ian Tyson of Ian & Sylvia, Maxi Jazz of Faithless, Harvey Jett of Black Oak Arkansas, Terry Hall of The Specials and Martin Duffy of Primal Scream have all checked out since a week before Christmas.
Word has very sadly come through in recent days that Irish rock legend Christy Dignam of Aslan is on palliative care, and in the departure lounge, after a long period of cancer treatment. Irish rock pioneer Philip Lynott died in January, So, too, did Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries. And, of course, David Bowie.
In his landmark poem ‘The Waste Land’, T. S. Elliot wrote that “April is the is the cruellest month” – and the case has been made elsewhere for September. But surely, it must really be the month that starts in the middle of December and runs till the third week in January, four weeks and three days in which far too many of the greats have fallen. And far too many of the rest of us as well.
It is as if the early sunsets and long nights of winter offer a hint of the absolute calm and peace that the eternal darkness on the other side holds in store, and something inside us longs sufficiently for it to decide the way in which we respond to the question asked by The Clash: “Should I stay or should I go?”
It’s time to go. The body says so.
Or is it just that spirits – which might yearn inside is for fresh impetus – cannot be successfully lifted again for one more turn on the merry-go-round and finally raise the white flag in acquiescence, realising: “I’ve had enough”? You couldn’t blame them, or anyone. Looking around at the horrific violence, wanton destruction, brutal murder, rampant cruelty and lumpen hatred that is so widely on display right now – most visibly in the grotesque evils and barbarism of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also in Syria, Sudan, Iran and indeed wherever autocracies and dictators exert their pernicious control – it is hard to summon up anything other than despair.
And yet we do. It is one of the great triumphs of human nature – that we can tap again and again into deep reservoirs of hope and love despite everything that makes this place feel like a vale of tears…
In my experience, it is in other people that we can find – if we are open to it – an inexhaustible source of truly inspiring, self-regenerating joy.
Life is a struggle. It is painful to witness the scale of the inequalities that are deeply embedded within society. The rich take far too much and the rest are left to flounder. There is insufficient compassion in how we treat the marginalised and the vulnerable. And so on.
It is worse, of course, to be directly on the receiving end of hostility and hatred, as newly arrived refugees are too frequently now in Ireland, with the odious lowlife of the far right – small in number but nastily aggressive – spreading rumours and lies and stirring up the kind of bigoted nationalism that amounts to fascism. Or even just to be met by institutional neglect – as far too many also are. But even against that backdrop, hope can find a way of blossoming. And often that same hope finds its most eloquent expression in art, in culture and, in particular, in music.
There are those who question the value of what artists do, and who see it as a form of indulgence. But, of course, at its best, it is nothing of the sort.
It can be, and often is, a compulsion. Something that, for the artist, really has to be done.
Most frequently, it is our way of making sense – or trying to make sense – of what we see and hear and feel. It is a response to the indignities of the world, and of the systems that regulate our lives. It is sometimes a protest or, more often perhaps, a statement of despair. But it is also, on occasion at least, a way of trying to crystallise, and to express, the qualities of beauty, kindness, love and solidarity. Even when it is angry or shocking, art can retain a sense of mystery. It is at once active and exploratory. And, at its most affecting, it can be a source of healing and, ultimately, of strength. It can be both uplifting and nourishing.
It is like an adrenaline shot that counters an allergic reaction to a bite, a sting, or a toxin that has entered the bloodstream. Sometimes, it is desperately, urgently needed. And when it is administered, we feel we can breathe again. Rather than succumbing, we can go on. And so we do...
SO MUCH HAPPENING
In Hot Press, we receive the fruits of the hard labours of Irish artists and musicians on an almost round-the-clock basis. As a writer, journalist or broadcaster, there are times when you feel badly for the people who are having to ask you – doubtless among countless others – to pay attention to their creative endeavours. It is a natural instinct to want your work to be recognised.
The reality, more than ever, is that there is so much happening – so many records being released, so much cultural product being created – that it would be impossible for any one individual to keep up.
In Ireland right now, much of this work is genuinely interesting and good. Never before have so many Irish artists been making music that really does stand favourable comparison with the best of what is being released internationally.
There is a ferment of activity. We have better producers. More ambition. The possibility of jumping three hurdles at once if we get things right. It can be a song that clicks in a big way. It can be a video. A movie placement. An approach to social media. Or it can be the kind of incendiary power as a live performer that claims big-stage status way ahead of schedule.
What’s wonderful and tantalising is that you never do know what’s going to click.
Who, eighteen months ago, could have predicted the success of Belters Only? And yet, in ‘Make Me Feel Good’, the Irish dance duo produced a superb debut single that went to No.1 in Ireland, No. 4 in the UK and was a hit elsewhere in Europe, racking up a huge number of streams, with close to 30 million views on YouTube alone. With one utterly brilliant track, they propelled themselves into main stage consideration at festivals.
The beauty of what’s happening here in music at the moment is that it covers all genres. Take hip-hop. Sello might not have made a big commercial breakthrough yet, but he has produced a first album that deserves to win international acclaim, packed as it is with fine lyrical forays and beats that matter. The rapper Malaki, a Hot Press favourite, has continued to progress in leaps and bounds, delivering magnificent live shows. Shiv has just been signed to a deal by Warner Music. Wild and risk-taking, Khakikid is already on the road to becoming a phenomenon.
And there’s more, of many different hues.
Having won the A New Local Hero Award towards the end of 2021, Chameleon has come out all guns blazing with ‘Show Me Where Your Heart Is’ – just this week releasing a superb new video that will give the track, and his career, fresh momentum. With her new record All of This Is Chance – it’s our current album of the month – Lisa O’Neill is busy confirming that sometimes the long road is the best one to travel. And what about the marvellously talented Jessie Buckley whose album with Bernard Butler, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart, was the Hot Press Folk Album of the Year?
We have put The Murder Capital on the cover of this issue of Hot Press for very good reason: the band’s new album Gigi’s Recovery is full of fine and challenging sounds that could catapult them to the forefront of international rock. Next issue – don’t tell anyone – we’ll feature Inhaler and The Academic, who both have big new records to promote. They too are knocking on the door that says World Domination.
The big new guns are being rolled out early in the year. There is great folk, brilliant rap, inspired rock, powerful indie, excellent pop and even impressive country and western being forged here in the smithy of young Irish souls – and even some not so young.
Individually, these records recount stories or offer narratives that are potentially capable of inspiring us or leading us into mischief of one kind or another. Collectively, they represent a source of wonder and of pride. And the best is that we know that there is so much more to come. In recent times, Dermot Kennedy, Fontaines D.C., Rejjie Snow, Inhaler, Denise Chaila and CMAT have blazed a trail. So who will be the next to raise the bar?
That’s the question we aim to answer – albeit obliquely – in our listing of artists and bands that are Hot for 2023. Will it be 49th & Main? Sprints? Celaviedmai? Lyra? Junior Brother? Ailbhe Reddy? Susan O’Neill? Roe Byrne? Saibh Skelly? Soda Blonde? Lea Heart? Abi Coulibaly? Ryan Mack? Basht? The High Kings? Badscandal? Or Louis Walsh’s brand new band of hopefuls, Next In Line? Some of these artists have been featured in our previous Hot For Lists, and so don’t figure this time. Others are newer to the game.
When it comes to making a breakthrough, either here or globally, there is always a hill to climb. But there are neither rules nor regulations and we feel confident that Ireland is in a better position than ever to deliver sustained success. In all, we have highlighted circa 70 artists in this issue. What we are saying is that they are all deserving of your attention. That if you see their names on a poster, the gig is worth checking out. That if you hear them on the radio, it is worth turning up the volume.
People talk about music being like the lottery, but the comparison is not really apt. Luck can, of course, and does play a part. But you have to have the creative spark, the drive and the desire. Some of these artists will stall. Others will take flight. And others again, that we haven’t mentioned, will come up on the inside.
However all of that takes shape in 2023, it is up to us all to do everything we can to support Irish artists and Irish music. Ireland has the potential to become the music capital of Europe. Let’s make that ambition a reality – and enjoy the mystery and the magic of great and inspiring music along the way.
It won’t solve the world’s problems. But it might just make it easier for us to play our part in getting on with that herculean task. I wouldn’t often quote Tennyson, but he had a few good, aspirational lines after all.
They may not rival Yeats or Heaney, but these, also from In Memoriam, still resonate:
“Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.”
Read more in the Hot for 2023 issue of Hot Press, starring The Murder Capital and Sam Smith - out now.