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Central And Remote: Iarla Ó Lionáird

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Interview with Iarla Ó Lionáird.

“So you manage to track the different phases of life through music which is also for me very important to realize that music could have a real function in society, a real place in everyday life.”

— Iarla Ó Lionáird

Words: Mark Carry, Design: Craig Carry

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The Gloaming’s self-titled debut album has been gracing the earth’s atmosphere ever since its release back in 2013. The super-group features New York pianist Thomas Bartlett (Doveman, Anthony and the Johnsons, Martha Wainwright), Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill, Irish sean-nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, fiddler and hardanger innovator Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and fiddle master Martin Hayes. A common thread that connects these gifted musicians together is the masterful use of language, sentiment and desire to elicit emotion of the truest and rawest kind. Ó Lionáird’s mesmerising voice blends majestically alongside the fiddle of Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh’s trusted Hardanger d’Amore. The opening ‘Song 44’ comprises of lyrics adapted from original poem no. 44 by poet Domhnall Mac Cárthaigh. An unfathomable beauty is unleashed by The Gloaming that utters, with every sacred note, to phrase a poet: “the godly-given prize” of true art and treasured music. ‘The Necklace of Wrens’ contains lyrics adapted from the original poem by Michael Hartnett. The piano line of Bartlett serves the aching pulse to Ó Lionáird’s fragile vocal delivery. Some moments later, Cahill’s guitar adds new layers of depth and elegance. The words and music of ‘Opening Set’ — the album’s longest cut — represents the crowning jewel of the group’s towering debut album. Distinct movements begin and end throughout the heavenly sixteen minutes, as the instrumentation of guitar, voice, fiddle and piano casts an everlasting spell upon you that further confirms the abundance and exceeding beauty of its native music.

I feel the beautiful poem ‘The Music or the Folk’ by Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil translates the sheer beauty of The Gloaming’s truly transcendent work into fitting words:

From time eterne unto these living hours
 They count their heritage;
 And fresh as wood-bells wet with April showers
 It wears its weight of age.
 The stream of nature-song runs quick the-day
 As it ran in the world of years away.”

One of Iarla’s latest projects is the special collaboration with American composer Dan Trueman, poet Paul Muldoon and American ensemble eighth blackbird, entitled Olagón. In the legendary Irish tale Táin Bó Cúailnge, two brothers are forced to battle one another for three days. Cuchulainn slays Ferdia, and lets loose a powerful, guttural, mournful cry, the cry known as “olagón”. The rich and conflicted notion of “olagón” is the starting point for a new hour-long concert work, created by composer/performer Dan Trueman, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and ensemble eighth blackbird.

For all the latest projects and releases from Iarla Ó Lionáird, please visit:
http://www.iarla.com/
https://www.facebook.com/iarlaolionaird

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Interview with Iarla O’ Lionaird.

It would be wonderful first of all to talk about The Gloaming; it’s such a special album with all these incredible musicians and the result when you all come together and in turn, what you create is so magical.

Iarla Ó Lionáird: Well we don’t get to play together too often and maybe that’s why it works out [laughs]. But it is part of it I think that we don’t do it too often, funnily enough because I think when you do something very often – and you’re very good at it – the problem is you’re very good at doing the same thing. And I think the way The Gloaming is set up, you don’t get to do it so often and falling into an habitual way of playing so it always feels fresh and on the edge and at the risk of doing ourselves some reputational damage we’re always a little bit under-rehearsed as well but just enough to do the gig. And even the last time we played, we had an hour’s worth of new material – quite fresh and not totally understood maybe but we were going to go for it anyway – so I think there are some of the other things that keep things fresh for us and it creates a sense of adventure when we meet because you don’t know for example how long a tune is going to last or how quite to set up something; we just let things happen as much as possible. That is not to say we’re lazy about it, we do want to hit the sweet spot if possible and that’s the biggest challenge to stay fresh and to hit the sweet spot and to keep doing it.

The fact that you are all involved with your own projects as well, for example with the projects you’re involved with in the meantime and then when you go back and for the others too, it must give you new perspective when going back to The Gloaming and you may have a different approach than the last time?

IÓL: Yeah I mean I think a couple of things happen when we get back together that I really like. First of all, I’m always a bit surprised at how nice it is, how nice it feels you know and how powerful and emotional it is. I suppose it’s how good these guys are, I’m speaking just as a singer. These guys are so good, they’re able to do things on the fly and they’re so responsive to each other. I mean from the very early time, I was surprised by that, you know. I mean it’s an odd thing to say that I would be surprised by such a thing because I have worked with other bands and other groups but these guys are very instinctive and lead-footed and also they reach into emotional territory very quickly by the way they play, each and every one of them. So when you’re in their midst and you haven’t been for a while, I always get this powerful feeling you know. There is this energy generated and it’s a very emotional feeling, very emotional energy and I love it and it surprises me usually.

You’re right, when you’re away from it and you’re doing other things, some of the things I undertake when I’m away from it are very difficult – I find them difficult anyway – complicated and I end up outside of my comfort zone but when I meet the Gloaming, the challenge is different. I find it’s very comfortable but at the same time it’s edgy and I’m on the edge of my seat wondering what’s going to happen and also really enjoying the feelings that we generate with the audience, I think that also came as a surprise to me compared to other things that I’ve done which might be a bit cerebral comparatively. This stuff with the Gloaming especially as we don’t do it too often to become too self-aware, it always moves us a lot as well which is a huge bonus.

I love how the album itself – and it’s been a common theme from previous records in the past – takes traditional material and utilizing or adapting it to your own needs and into music. It’s something very powerful, even some of the specific lyrics on the album for example.

IÓL: Well the funny thing is of all of us in the band the only person who really decided to be a traditional musician was Caoimhín [Ó Raghallaigh] if you like because he grew up in Dublin that’s not to say that Dublin is any lesser of an area for traditional music. But Martin [Hayes] and I were born into it, do you know what I mean, we just didn’t have a choice. And Thomas [Bartlett] also comes from the outside but I feel that myself and Martin if we hadn’t grown up with traditional music, we could have become something else entirely even if we were musicians we could be other kinds of musicians. So I think there is a desire amongst us – certainly myself and I’ve discussed it with the lads many times – to bend the tradition to our will and to imagine ourselves maybe not even as traditional musicians. It just so happens that is the sandbox we find ourselves in and this area of play if you like and that’s the language we use.

To all intents and purposes I mean –I’ve often said it before – if you listen to the playlists that people have on their iPods in the Gloaming you might be surprised of the lack of traditional music through it [laughs]. It might be embarrassing but the fact is many of my colleagues in the Gloaming would spend much more time listening to other forms whether it be interpretative jazz or progressive alternative music in the pop area and then also mixing that up with very old retrieval stance when it comes to traditional music. So we try to bend it to our will.

I love old text sources. Just to give you the impact, I was down in the studio working on something for this group 3epkano who do movie soundtracks and I’m a guest vocalist with them and my usual aim there is I listen to the backing track and I have a bunch of lyrics and I just let things happen. I just see what pops out and then I start crafting that so there is no plan; whatever comes out is already inside but I didn’t see it. So, it’s almost like a question of I really believe it’s inside and I just let it out.

Even in this day and age, there are so many artists that can’t be pigeon-holed in the best way possible in the sense that people like yourself there is no boundaries and you wouldn’t know what project you’d do next which is obviously a great thing.

IÓL: Yeah I mean there is a certain amount of freedom, obviously there are some limits, I mean people would be shocked –perhaps horrified – if I did rap or something like that, I would be more shocked even [laughs]. But there are limits I mean there are aesthetic directions that we are drawn to but the interesting thing is these aesthetic directions, they superimpose, they overlord genre. That’s an interesting distinction I would like to make, these aesthetic choices musicians make today, they have an overlordship over genre, historically derived consideration. So that in other words, someone of my own background in traditional singing doesn’t have a philosophical difficulty with working in neo-classical or in realms of music that is more alternative pop or whatever or alternative rock or progressive modern music.

There are limits to my own creativity and my aesthetic is what creates boundaries for me more than anything else, things that I would like, things that would appeal but not genre so much funnily enough. But that also speaks to the truth that genre all over the world is opening up, not just our traditional music. In other words there is more permeability in the pop world to a degree, in the classical world to a degree and folk music has gone through a huge revolution in the last ten years. It’s very trendy to be a folk musician now [laughs]. I mean I even see on your own stuff online under Fractured Air, folk is there as well as these other forms of modern music. So like when I was growing up, folk was not trendy [laughs]. I’m not saying you’re trendy but it was very much in its own –I don’t want to use the word get-out because that would suggest people didn’t like being in it – but it was in its own zone and the freedom of movement between genre that we see now simply didn’t exist so it’s actually a great time to be creative.

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I can’t wait to hear your newer project with Dan Trueman, Olagón, which sounds really interesting altogether.

IÓL: [laughs] That’s going to be very weird, I can definitely say that. One of the challenges with Olagón is that we went to Paul Muldoon with this rather nice idea you know, an idea that had a certain coherence: Cuchulainn’s lament for Ferdia upon killing him which in itself is rather Irish – I’ll kill you but then I’ll lament you [laughs] – almost thespian. We went to him with that idea and we came back with something really quite evocatively different. And then because he had done it and because he worked so hard on it and it was so good, we have had to mock-run it and one of the challenges for me in that piece which we’re working on at the moment with eighth blackbird, we meet every 3 or 4 months to workshop it, usually in the United States and right now Dan Trueman is working quite feverishly at aspects of it. I had to decide at one point how many Iarlas there are. Normally I could be one sort of character doing a show, you know the Gloaming or whatever but in this project I’m having to unpack what it is to be an Irish folk musician into many different and distinct parts. I’ve been listening to The Dubliners, I’ve been listening to traveller music, I’ve been listening to sean-nós all of them are finding a voice in me so that’s very odd for me and very good for me I think.

I suppose you crossed paths with Dan Trueman quite a while ago, Iarla?

IÓL: Oh I did. Actually the funny thing is when I first got to know Caoimhín O’ Raghallaigh, he’s a great pal of mine: I adore Caoimhín, he’s such a wonderful friend and such a beautiful presence in our musical lives and he is a true friend. And he brought Dan down to see me when Dan was visiting Ireland having spoken to me about him quite a bit. So ever since then Dan and I have been very good friends and he’s a wonderful man, he did quite a lot of work for me a couple of years ago when I was performing with the RTÉ National Concert Orchestra, he did three of my songs for orchestra and he did a magnificent job, a standout job. So I’ve been over and back to him quite a bit in Princeton where he works and it’s been very interesting and very challenging I hasten to add. Dan likes complex music, I think he is aware of my limitations but I suppose quite rightly he’s not making it easier for me either [laughs], sometimes I wish he did.

When you’re writing new works, for example the Vanburgh String Quartet earlier this year, you’re working away quietly and then when it comes to the performance and the touring; it must be very rewarding to see how an idea unfolds to the resultant music.

IÓL: It is, I mean you are quite right a lot of it is quiet backroom stuff for months and months and months and in the case of Olagón with Dan Trueman years, we won’t actually perform that to the public until 2017 having started talking about it a year ago. With the Linda Buckley pieces for the Vanburgh that was a very enjoyable experience for me. I felt that she wrote very beautifully for me, very knowing of what I would like to do but at the same time, bringing me somewhere I hadn’t been. A lot of it is because she is a singer herself and I remember listening to the mock-ups and I thought they were so beautiful and at one point I told her maybe I shouldn’t sing on them at all, she should do it herself [laughs] because they sounded so good.

You’re right there is an aspect of you’re sitting in the studio on your own a fair bit for long periods of time. And you’re always working closely with colleagues on imagining many different things: first of all, it changes from composer to composer, in the case of Dan Trueman I’m co-writing with him so I end up frequently writing a lot of the melodic lines I sing myself, in the case of Linda, I asked her to create something and I’m glad I did so it can change. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing in terms of the fine detail and then there’s the rehearsal phase, which is very difficult sometimes because I don’t read music functionally and so therefore I have to learn things by heart and I have to find a way of being in the place I’m supposed to be with an ensemble and at the same time understanding their dynamic, their sense of flow and their sense of time and then at the same time performing and it really takes me up to the wire to get it. I mean in the case of Linda, I do remember the rehearsals being worrisome – that was the only worrisome part of it – the performances were just great and it’s beautiful when it comes together in the end, you get a sense that you created something that didn’t exist before which is very special.

Your collaboration with Gavin Bryars was very special as well and the setting of the old Irish text formed the basis of it I suppose. I just loved the instrumentation with your voice on that particular record.

IÓL: That’s right. We were very lucky that some academic work had been done on providing a collection of ‘Lon Anama’, which is Food for the Soul which was a spiritual text or collections down through the ages, going back 1500 years, a long way back. We’re uniquely positioned in Ireland because you can locate very ancient textual poetic works – by any standard very ancient in written form through the various phases in history, medieval, pre-Christian, Early Christian and through the phases of the evolution of the Irish language. It does change quite a bit, I mean early Irish is almost unrecognizable compared to modern Irish in its syntax and structure and sound. I don’t obsess over it every day of the week but I absolutely love being aware of our pre-history not just as Irish people but as human beings, our mysterious paleontology going way, way back to when we stood upright at all.

And our own story as Irish people is mostly overlooked really by people because it’s in a language that they’re not comfortable with, which is tragic but understandable. I remember I grew up speaking Irish – I made no effort to learn Irish – had I made an effort I wouldn’t speak it at all. So I’m very sympathetic to people who don’t share my fluency or my ease with the language but what it does allow me to do is to navigate through time at will and I absolutely have a huge yearning for that. I inherited it from my parents actually. And even with the Gloaming I was using very ancient text sources because they’re just so beautiful and they’re so poignant and they still speak very clearly to me today with absolute clarity they speak out and they do to most people who are interested in words if they could take the time to read them, even in translation and to sound them out in their own language is also very beautiful.

And the other thing I should say is I find the Irish language a very beautiful thing to sing. It just sounds great, it’s got a beautiful vowel-shaped structure and sound meaning in itself and I feel very comfortable with it and I feel blessed that I love doing it. There are those who would say you’re a missionary to bring it into the contemporary world; I don’t see it that way as such but having said that it’s probably inevitable because I listen to so much music from now and so my ears and my eyes they meet inside the text and inevitably then I make it contemporary.

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I love also the aesthetic of The Gloaming’s album where there is obviously periods of instrumental music and then your voice coming in at the different parts, almost like a collage in a way. It makes it more poignant then when your voice returns.

IÓL: Yeah I suppose so, that’s the kind of band it is. It’s not a band in the sense that there will be a song followed by a song followed by another song. And curiously enough when you look at my career such as it is that was the kind of thing I was always doing even with the Afro Celt Soundsystem. Each album was pretty much a mixture of songs and instrumental work. I like it because in a sense although I listen to a lot of instrumental music and singing, the human voice is interesting because when you’re not hearing it, part of you is waiting for it and then when you hear it you get this massive –well probably automatic so it’s not always noticeable – but you do get this sense that there is a connection made. So in a sense the fact that I’m not always there is a huge advantage for me because when I come in, it’s audibly an additional, humanised message.

But having said that again I have to remind myself that to compare like Martin Hayes, he uses his instrument as though it were a voice: it’s so liquid and it’s so languid and he tells me that he feels like he’s singing and he breathes when he’s playing as though he were singing. And that’s also fascinating for me to consider and I never really considered it until I was with The Gloaming. But each instrument that these guys play is an extension of their human, physical desire to express and to emote and to feel. Each of them are saturated in this sound field that they create which is a feedback loop, which manipulates their intonation and every aspect of the sound that they’re making so that they’re satisfying a message they want to send out.

It’s a beautiful complex and to be in the middle of that in a live show, you know I often think that I’m cheating because the harmonium allows me to sit there with them; thank God for the harmonium because I don’t want to be walking on and off. Even though I do walk on and off as it were on the records, I’m there all the time onstage, I absolutely love it, it’s an incredible privilege. I’ve always wanted to be in sessions but I couldn’t [laughs] so I was very jealous at that. As a singer you wouldn’t be involved in the same way, you know.

I’d love for you to go back Iarla to the period of time when you were in a choir and the whole world of sean-nos and how you developed your singing voice.

IÓL: Well I was in a choir from the time I was a little boy and it was a great proving ground. I’ve often used the metaphor that it was like being in a little group of trees and there were little trees and there were big trees and the big trees shaded you and allowed you to grow. It was a safe place to be, you weren’t exposed and also there was great listening. I recall particularly being in listening mode whilst singing: hearing the different voices, the different colours and also there was of course the exploration of repertoire and the different things that asks of your voice all inside a sort of protected sphere that helps you to nurture your talents. And I’ll be honest as well, there came a time when I started imagining how would I do this where the “I” started to be more important than the “we” but that’s natural and that’s also a good place for that to happen: a choir. Many is the singer across the world have started their singing experience in choirs; it gives you a confidence, it gives you some knowledge of the range of what’s possible but it also is a safe place to expand and to grow.

I took a lot of lessons from Peader O’ Riada then on weekends – a small group of us used to go to his house – and that was really great where I started digging more deeply into very old songs. I was very young, I mean I started going there when I was about eight or nine and continued until I started recording my early recordings of these big vision songs. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been doing it when I was only a little boy but I was very drawn to them even though I didn’t understand really fully perhaps what emotional language they were trying to express because they were adult themes. But singing in the choir was a beautiful experience for me. I mean I do tend to idolize it but it was great craic as well, the Cuil Aodha people were great craic and there was great craic to be had travelling with them, a joyousness. Also we would sing of course in a cultural sense like in our own small society, we had a function you know: singing at mass, singing at funerals, things like that. So you manage to track the different phases of life through music which is also for me very important to realize that music could have a real function in society, a real place in everyday life as it does in many countries other than the west.

Like with any artist when you look through the different albums, I love how each album tells its own unique story but there is a certain special space in time for each one where there is that particular place that each one brings you to as a listener.

IÓL: That’s true I mean it’s almost impossible to make a record, in a way there would be something wrong with a record if it didn’t in somehow or other demonstrate the “now” of your life, you know even if you don’t want it to it will. My first recording with Real World [‘The Seven Steps to Mercy’], I was much younger – it was 1997 – I suppose they wanted me to do a record that had evidence of an older culture but at the same time, was brought into the contemporary world. The next record then I made [‘I Could Read The Sky’] – I made it here at home where I’m sitting here now – in my studio and that was a very personal record; very empowering because I was producing it myself and I had a great colleague with me, Kieren Lynch; an engineer for many movies and many different people, he’s a great guy from Donegal. And he worked so hard and he was so dedicated. On that record I was able to write about the fact that I had just become a Dad and so forth. My little son is in it actually, saying the word ‘hedgehog’ [laughs], it’s the only thing he says in it [laughs] because I actually liked the way he said it, you can barely hear it. There’s a song on there about my daughter.

Then the next record, ‘Foxlight’ I made with a really great English producer Leo Abrahams. I made that here and in London. I was a good bit older by then and really when you turn forty you start thinking in a different way; maybe I was suffering from tired Dad syndrome to some extent. These things track different phases of your life in an odd kind of way. I’m not sure if The Gloaming has done that funnily enough because it’s not that autobiographical but we’ll see what the next record turns out like.

As you say that Iarla, I wonder can you shed some light on the new music because there must be a considerable amount of material collected at this stage?

IÓL: There is actually. When we played last spring in Dublin we felt we really needed to start creating new material, so we did go into a studio for a while – or into a room rather – and we created about an hour and a half of new material including lots of new songs. We’ve decided we’re going into the studio sometime in early December, it’s all booked and we’re going to put those down. I mean some of them aren’t fixed yet. There is one song of my own which I have written myself which is not finished so I’ll have to sit down with Thomas one of these days [laughs] and get him to finish it with me. But there is a lot of new material and I like it I must say. It’s using what we have learned in terms of how to be together a bit better and it’s not throwing the baby out of the bath water because we don’t need to do that yet, it’s stepping further into the water of being together.

So when we made the first record it came together very quick. We may not have fully understood; what the first record told us was that there was so much we could do, you know. It only told us that afterwards really and this next record is just another step in that direction. But I have a fair idea about what it’s going to be like and I’m quite excited about it. There will be just a bit more integration with the songs and the tunes. The first record was like two people watching each other in a dance hall [laughs], wondering which one is going to blink first but on this new record they get to dance more.

One last thing Iarla, has there been any music, books or films you’ve been inspired by in the past while?

IÓL: I’m inspired by every kind of thing that’s the truth now. I made a distinct decision about less than a year ago to start listening to more music. When you’re a Dad with young kids for a period of time your life really changes and it takes a while to get back into sort of ‘me’ mode. But I have a new stereo [laughs] and I’ve been listening to a huge amount of music. One of the things I like very much is listening to all kinds of things and there is something to be got from everything. I’m buying a lot of vinyl now with my son – he’s fourteen – he’s into Godspeed! You Black Emperor and whenever I say that to people they say, wow, he’s cool; he’s a lot cooler than I am [laughs]. He found that himself and he listens to a lot of things himself online and he knows what he likes. But we’re buying a lot of vinyl, most of the vinyl came out in the 70’s and 60’s, we’ve been buying a lot of jazz from the 50’s and early 60’s, we’ve been buying a lot of American music from 60’s and early 70’s, everything from Marvin Gaye to Tom Waits. He’s very much into ambient music so we’ve been listening to a lot of that; everything from Roedelius to Brian Eno.

I have a huge collection of Brian Eno here, I’ve been listening to him for years. It’s a bit easy to say but it’s true, I used to buy his LP’s in Crowley’s in Cork when I was a young boy, as a teenager. I hitch-hiked to Cork from Ballyvourney when I was my son’s age. Now would I let him hitch to Dublin? I wouldn’t, I mean life has changed hasn’t it? But I remember buying ‘Music For Airports’ and God knows what else years ago. So it’s great having kids; I’m very fortunate my kids are into music and my son is just so into music, he’s so into listening to it and he’s a good piano player, he wants to learn the guitar and my girls and my wife, they’re mad into music – they love Lorde – I’ve been trying to get them into St. Vincent but they’re not biting – maybe they’re a little young, they’re like nine and twelve but they love Lorde. There’s a lot of good young women musicians out there now. I mean there always was, I was a huge fan of Joni Mitchell and people like that. I love listening to vinyl I must say, I don’t know why, I just like putting them on. I’ve been listening to Early Music for example and Early Baroque. I’ve been listening to The Books, I love their stuff.

 

 


 

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The Gloaming’s self-titled debut album is available now on Real World (EU) & Brassland (USA).

http://thegloaming.net/
https://www.facebook.com/TheGloamingOfficial

For all the latest projects and releases from Iarla O’ Lionáird, please visit:

http://www.iarla.com/
https://www.facebook.com/iarlaolionaird

 

Albums & Reissues Of The Year: 2014

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The following is a selection of the albums and re-issues that had the greatest impact on us for a wide range of different reasons. As difficult as it proved to settle on a final (and very concise) selection, we both turned to these special albums most often throughout the year. 2014 has been a year which has produced so many absolutely wonderful and truly special albums, here’s our personal selection of some of these (with a selection of ten albums and five re-issues).

Words: Mark & Craig Carry, All artwork: Craig Carry

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Albums of the year:

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Grouper ‘Ruins’ (Kranky)

‘Ruins’ was made while U.S. musician and artist Liz Harris was on an artist residency (set up by Galeria Zé dos Bois) during 2011 in Portugal’s Aljezur region. The location would provide a striking influence to Harris’s subsequent recordings (recorded in typically minimal fashion: a portable 4-track, Sony stereo mic and an upright piano) while the sense of both departure and a new-found freedom flow throughout ‘Ruins’ and its majestic and dreamlike eight tracks. During her Aljezur residency, Harris would embark on daily hikes to the nearest beach where she would encounter the ruins of several old estates and a small village. As Harris has said: “The album is a document. A nod to that daily walk. Failed structures. Living in the remains of love. I left the songs the way they came (microwave beep from when power went out after a storm); I hope that the album bears some resemblance to the place that I was in.”

‘Ruins’ is a stunning achievement which proves all the more astonishing considering the already extensive (and consistently breathtaking) recorded output of Grouper since the mid 00’s. ‘Clearing’ is arguably Harris’s most singularly beautiful song conceived to date. As Harris sings: “What has been done / Can never be undone” over a gorgeously delicate piano line we embark on yet another wholly unique and deeply personal odyssey under the stewardship of Harris’s very heart. Like a silent witness we hold our breath as we remain under Harris’s spell throughout (from the timeless ballad ‘Holding’ to the closing epic drone-heavy tour-de-force ‘Made of Air’). ‘Ruins’ is a quietly breathtaking force of nature: an album made as much by Harris’s own hands as by the moonlight’s illumination in the night sky or the evening sun’s last rays of faded half-light.

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‘Ruins’ is available now on Kranky.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grouper/
http://www.kranky.net/

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Caribou ‘Our Love’ (City Slang/Merge)

One of my most memorable moments of this past year was undoubtedly witnessing Caribou’s storming live set at 2014’s Body & Soul festival. A euphoric feeling ascended into the summer evening skyline as each transcendent beat and luminous pop-laden hook flooded our senses. The majority of 2010’s glorious LP ‘Swim’ was revisited, from the tropicalia-infused ‘Odessa’ to the hypnotic ‘Sun’ and all points in between. Dan Snaith & co’s set further confirmed the legendary status of Caribou; whose innovative and utterly compelling sonic creations (where elements of krautrock, dance, jazz, soul, hip-hop, and electronic soundscapes form one irresistible, mind-blowing sound spectrum) have long served a trusted companion for the independent music collector.

This year marked the highly anticipated fifth Caribou studio album, ‘Our Love’, which, in many ways, nestles beautifully between its predecessor ‘Swim’ and Snaith’s more techno-oriented project of Daphni. Lead single ‘Can’t Do Without You’ is an instant classic with a seamless array of melodic patterns and soulful vocals that evokes the soul-stirring songbook of Al Green as much as it spans the history of the dance floor. Several of the songs were co-written by gifted Canadian composer/violinist Owen Pallett (whose own solo record ‘In Conflict’ has been one of the most original, daring and innovative records of 2014) and Pallett’s distinctive violin-led melodies coalesce effortlessly with Snaith’s visionary dance structures.

Numerous remixes have since seen the light of day (where new perspectives and insights are drawn and re-configured) with the latest example being Carl Craig’s techno mix of ‘Your Love Will Set You Free’. Much in the same way as ‘Swim’, I know (and firmly believe) ‘Our Love’ will remain as vital and significant for many more years and decades to come.

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‘Our Love’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Merge (USA).

http://www.caribou.fm

http://cityslang.com
http://www.mergerecords.com

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Sharon Van Etten ‘Are We There’ (Jagjaguwar)

When Jersey-native and New York-based songwriter Sharon Van Etten first announced the arrival of ‘Are We There’, Van Etten’s fourth full-length and follow-up to her 2011 seminal work ‘Tramp’, she had these words to share: “I really hope that when someone puts my record on that they hear me.” Of course, Van Etten’s wishes have clearly been fulfilled. If there’s one thing we can firmly establish by now it is this: Van Etten makes music from the real world; a world of real events and real people with real feelings. Subsequently, steeped in a sometimes harsh reality, Van Etten’s songs are imbued with fears, struggles and (often) much pain. Much like Chan Marshall’s pre ‘The Greatest’ recorded output, Van Etten bravely examines her own life’s immediate surroundings and relationships to share her most innermost confessions and feelings for us all to bear witness. Through Van Etten’s songs we too can find our own deepest feelings long hidden in the shadows of some forgotten, distant dream.

‘Are We There’ is Van Etten’s first self-produced album (The National’s Aaron Dessner produced its predecessor ‘Tramp’) and features a host of wonderful musicians, including: Torres’s Mackenzie Scott on vocals (who toured extensively supporting Van Etten); Heather Woods-Broderick (on strings and vocals); Mary Lattimore (harp) as well as Van Etten’s trusted and formidable rhythm section (Zeke Hutchins on drums and David Hartley on bass). The use of vocal harmonies (Van Etten, Scott and Woods-Broderick) is a pure joy to witness. The resultant musical arrangements are stunningly cohesive and yet genuinely innovative, providing for many moments of challenging and divine musicianship — at times wonderfully dense and strikingly tactile (‘Our Love’ or ‘Every Time The Sun Coms Up’) — other times remain starkly sparse (‘I Know’) but, importantly, such intricacies of musicianship and arrangements only ever serve the song.

“Everybody needs to feel” sings Van Etten on ‘Your Love Is Killing Me’. It’s a sentiment that best serves the phenomenal and beloved artist that is Sharon Van Etten and ‘Are We There’. It’s another step to becoming your own true self. It’s a destination no one is ever likely to realistically reach but striving for it is proving to be Van Etten (and her sacred songbook)’s true towering achievement.

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‘Are We There’ is available now on Jagjaguwar.

http://www.sharonvanetten.com/
http://www.jagjaguwar.com/

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Clark ‘Clark’ (Warp)

‘I Dream Of Wires’ is a documentary based on the phenomenal resurgence of the modular synthesizer; exploring the passions and dreams of people who have dedicated part of their lives to this electronic music machine. The splendid documentary — released earlier this year — features interviews with Ghostly’s Solvent (who co-wrote the film in addition to composing the film score), Carl Craig, Jeremy Greenspan (Junior Boys) and Warp’s Clark. Reflecting on this particular film now, I feel it is precisely this exploration of passions and dreams that filters into the dazzling music of  UK’s Chris Clark. The unique blend of utterly transcendent electronic creations is forever steeped in a rare beauty, filled with endless moments of divine transcendence.

This year marked the eagerly awaited release of new self-titled full-length (and seventh for Warp), following up 2012’s magical ‘Iradelphic’. The gifted producer’s meticulous touch can be felt throughout, from the cold-cut classic ‘Unfurla’ to the blissful synth-laden ‘The Grit In The Pearl’. Dance music for the here-and-now that breathes life and meaning into music’s endless possibilities.

As Clark has said: “Music is like sculpture. It’s like trying to capture a moment of ultimate momentum, and distill it forever”.

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‘Clark’ is available now on Warp.

http://throttleclark.com/
http://warp.net/

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Hauschka ‘Abandoned City’ (City Slang/Temporary Residence Ltd)

Witnessing Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann — whether in live setting during his renowned concert performances or in recorded contexts — a certain sense of magic fills the air. Sylvain Chomet’s 2010 animated marvel ‘The Illusionist’ comes to mind, as we are left in wonderment to observe the artist’s vast collection of skills and unlimited wells of talent. Known worldwide as one of the most recognizable 21st Century proponents of what is known as Prepared Piano, Bertelmann has amassed a considerable body of work over the last decade, ceaselessly weaving his own singular path — and on his own terms — to wondrous effect (much like fellow modern composers and restless souls Nils Frahm and Max Richter or such Twentieth Century masters as Eric Satie, John Cage and Steve Reich). Importantly, the album itself draws from research Bertelmann made (after the discovery of a series of photographic prints depicting the subject of abandoned cities) on the number of actual vacated cities in existence (each track title references a particular city). As Bertelmann has said: “I was interested in finding a metaphor for the inner tension I feel when I’m composing music, a state of mind where I’m lonely and happy at the same time.”

‘Abandoned City’ proves a certain milestone in Hauschka’s recorded output to date. An intriguing sense of both adventure and discovery seeps through every pore of the album’s ten compositions. Like all of Hauschka’s art, nothing is as it first seems. As we delve further into this abandoned city Hauschka has built for us we begin to lose all sense of what we initially thought was important in the process. We lose all traces of ourselves for that beautiful instant we are under Bertelmann’s sacred spell and that is what Hauschka’s divine art forever manages to do.

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‘Abandoned City’ is available now on City Slang (EU) and Temporary Residence Ltd (USA).

http://hauschka-net.de/

http://cityslang.com/
http://temporaryresidence.com/

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Steve Gunn ‘Way Out Weather’ (Paradise Of Bachelors)

The flawless North Carolina-based independent label Paradise of Bachelors has yet again been responsible for a string of modern-day Americana masterpieces, not least the latest tour-de-force from the ever-prolific, Brooklyn-based guitar prodigy and songsmith, Steve Gunn. This year’s ‘Way Out Weather’ feels like a natural culmination where every aspect of Gunn’s deeply-affecting songs — poignant story-telling quality, immaculate instrumentation and intricate musical arrangements — is heightened as the towering eight creations hits you profoundly and stirs your soul. 2013’s ‘Time Off’ was the starting point of Gunn’s song-writing path, having collaborated closely with Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman, Mike Cooper, The Black Twig Pickers and a host of others in recent times.

A timeless feel permeates every corner of the record. The recording sessions took place at Black Dirt Studio in Westtown, New York, featuring a formidable cast of musicians (and Gunn’s long-term collaborators) further adding to the widescreen, cinematic sound to ‘Way Out Weather’s sprawling sonic canvas. Longtime musical brothers and kindred spirits Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and John Truscinski (drums), in addition to newcomers Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, keys: Black Twig Pickers, Pelt); James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro: Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy); Mary Lattimore (harp, keys: Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile); and Jimy SeiTang (synths, electronics: Stygian Stride, Rhyton.)

On the utterly transcendent album closer, ‘Tommy’s Congo’, shades of Sonny Sharrock beautifully surfaces beneath the artefacts of time. The deep groove and rhythm interwoven with this vivid catharsis is nothing short of staggering. The cosmic spirit captured on the closing cut — and each of these sublime recordings — permanently occupies a state of transcendence. As each song-cycle unfolds, the shimmering worlds of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue or the Stones’ ‘Exile On Main St.’ fades into focus. ‘Way Out Weather’ is dotted with captivating moments from the ways of a true master.

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‘Way Out Weather’ is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.

http://steve-gunn.com/
http://paradiseofbachelors.com/

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Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Dan Trueman ‘Laghdú’ (Irishmusic.net)

2014 has been a remarkable year for Ireland-based composer Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Firstly, January saw the release of contemporary quintet The Gloaming’s stunning self-titled debut album via Real World Records. Subsequent concerts would be performed across the globe (including Sydney’s Opera House) to mass celebration and widespread critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as touring with his other band, the Irish/Swedish quartet This Is How We Fly, across both Ireland and Europe, Ó Raghallaigh also performed a series of truly special solo concerts (entitled “In My Mind”, a solo fiddle and film show) across the length of Ireland for the month of October. Despite the hectic touring schedules, Ó Raghallaigh also released two stunning works: the solo album ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ (via Dublin-based label Diatribe Records) and the mesmerizing ‘Laghdú’, a collaboration with U.S. fiddle player Dan Trueman.

‘Laghdú’ (an Irish word which translates as: a lessening, a decrease, a reduction) is a hugely significant work for many reasons. Most notably, it was Trueman who first introduced Ó Raghallaigh to his beloved ten-string hardanger d’amore fiddle (custom-made in Norway by Salve Håkedal) during September 2000. It is the simple dialogue and deep connection which exists between the pair (both performing identical instruments and identical baroque bows) which is a pure joy to savor. Two traditional pieces are performed by the pair (‘The Jack of Diamonds Three’ and ‘Fead an Iolair’) while the remainder of ‘Laghdú’ comprises original compositions written and arranged by Trueman and Ó Raghallaigh. The dynamic range is nothing short of staggering — from the near-silent to the nigh-on orchestral, at times exploding joyously from their hybrid 10-string fiddles, at times barely there — holding time still in the process. The resultant eleven heavenly tracks occupy both the realms populated by the most ancient forms of traditional music as well as those thrillingly in-between spaces carved out and inhabited in modern neoclassical composition of the most utterly enchanting and truly sacred kind.

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‘Laghdú’ is available now via Irishmusic.net HERE.

http://www.caoimhinoraghallaigh.com/
http://www.manyarrowsmusic.com/
http://irishmusic.net/

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Christina Vantzou ‘N°2’ (Kranky)

‘N°2’ is the second solo album by the Brussels-based artist and Kansas-born composer Christina Vantzou and, like its predecessor, ‘N°1’, was issued by the formidable Chicago-based independent label Kranky. Written over a period of four years, ‘N°2’ finds Vantzou reunited with Minna Choi — of the San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra — and regular contributor Adam Wiltzie (A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Stars Of The Lid) who Vantzou effectively began her musical career with when the duo made music as The Dead Texan (Vantzou was keyboardist as well as film-maker, illustrator and animator). A wide sonic palette is used throughout, from the gentle ripple-flow of piano notes on the album’s penultimate track, ‘Vostok’ and prominence of harp on the achingly beautiful ‘VHS’ to the rapturous crescendo of strings of ‘Going Backwards To Recover What Was Left Behind’ where an emotion-filled sadness engulfs every pore. Elsewhere, slowly shifting layers of brass and woodwind drifts majestically in ‘Brain Fog’ before brooding strings come to the fore, resulting in a cathartic release of energy. Layers of angelic voices appear and disappear throughout, forming not only a monumental symphonic movement but also an other-worldly choral work.

Indeed, the most appropriate analogy to imagine while attempting to surmise the sheer magic of ‘N°2’ is the act of making those frame-by-frame animations Vantzou has so patiently and laboriously created in the past: while they are meticulously worked on, over such a long and painfully slow process, the results yielded are both stunningly imperfect and remarkably pure. It’s a characteristic which runs through all of Vantzou’s breathtaking art (from her drawings and sleeve artwork to her dreamlike slow motion film works) which truly heightens all that surrounds you.

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‘N°2’ is available now on Kranky.

http://www.christinavantzou.com/
http://www.kranky.net/

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Birds Of Passage ‘This Kindly Slumber’ (Denovali)

New Zealand-based composer Alicia Merz has been quietly amassing a soul-stirring collection of albums under her Birds Of Passage moniker over the past five years or so. ‘This Kindly Slumber’ — released by German independent label Denovali Records — is Merz’s third solo full-length album and features Merz’s spellbinding lyricism (at times recalling Mark Linkous or Daniel Johnston in their open honesty and raw emotion). Like Grouper’s Liz Harris, Birds Of Passage’s power emanates from minimal musical arrangements (vocal takes are often first takes) where a sense of both purity and intimacy is conjured by Merz throughout, providing for an unforgettable listening experience. As we delve into the innermost caverns of ‘This Kindly Slumber’s mysterious and complex maze of real and imagined landscapes; the sensation one feels is akin to the finest of Murakami’s fictional prose or the most ancient of children’s nursery rhymes and folklore tales. Interestingly, Merz holds a deep fascination with nursery rhymes since a very young age and ‘Ladybird, Ladybird’ is combined with ‘And All Of Your Dreams’ to powerful effect. Elsewhere, the deeply personal ‘Yesterday’s Stains’ contains an openness and honesty rare in music.

‘This Kindly Slumber’ is a life-affirming journey which finds Merz navigating the darkest of nights while facing her gravest of fears. On the other side of this kindly slumber we realize that even the darkest of shadows lie closest to light: through the sacred and secret songs of Birds Of Passage we learn that in every moment of hopelessness exists hope. For that, we can be eternally grateful.

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‘This Kindly Slumber’ is available now on Denovali.

http://birdsofpassagemusic.com/
http://www.denovali.com/

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Marissa Nadler ‘July’ (Bella Union/Sacred Bones)

‘July’ (which documents Nadler’s life events from one July to the next) is the ever-prolific U.S. songwriter’s latest opus of longing and hope. The album can be read and interpreted autobiographically but, crucially, like all of Nadler’s songbook, songs are masterfully left open to the listener’s interpretation. Interestingly, Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), is at the helm of production duties on ‘July’; providing a first-time collaboration for the pair. Accompanying Nadler is Eyvind Kang (strings), Steve Moore (synths) and Phil Wandscher (Jesse Sykes, Whiskeytown) on lead guitar. However, as is always the case with such a truly unique songwriter, it is Nadler’s breathtaking voice and impeccable lyricism which quietly dominate proceedings. Like such kindred spirits as Missourri songwriter Angel Olsen or British folk legends Vashti Bunyan and Bridget St. John, Nadler’s music captivates the mind (and heart) of each and every listener fortunate enough to cross paths with her. From album opener ‘Drive’ to the forlorn closing piano ballad ‘Nothing In my Heart’, immediacy and directness prevails throughout ‘July’. Transcendental moments abound, from the poetic lyricism to ‘We Are Coming Back’ (“Still I live many miles away / So I can miss you a little everyday”) to the brooding tour-de-force ‘Dead City Emily’ which combines both gut-wrenching honesty (“I was coming apart those days”) and heart-stopping beauty as, ultimately, the prevailing sense of hope outlasts all struggle and inner-conflict (“Oh I saw the light today / Opened up the door”).

As the lyrics of ‘Drive’ return to my mind: “Still remember all the words to every song you ever heard”; I feel those very words reflect the empowering feeling in which the cherished songbook of Marissa Nadler ceaselessly awakens (and continues to re-awaken) in me.

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‘July’ is available now on Bella Union (EU) and Sacred Bones (USA).

http://www.marissanadler.com/

http://bellaunion.com/
http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

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Reissues of the year:

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The Moles ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’ (Fire)

Looking back on 2014, the first sounds which come to my mind is Australian band The Moles and the magical first-time discovery of their music in the form of their first retrospective ‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’, released via Fire Records. The double-album is packed to the brim with impeccably constructed pop songs, heart-breaking love songs and just about every shade and nuance in between (spanning punk, shoe gaze and indie rock). ‘Flashbacks and Dream Sequences: The Story of The Moles’ contains the band’s two studio albums; debut full-length ‘Untune The Sky’ (originally released in 1991) and follow-up ‘Instinct’ (the latter was heralded by The Sea And Cake’s Archer Prewitt as being “as close to perfection as any Beatles or Beach Boys record and it stands on its own as a classic in my book”) and a whole plethora of b-sides and rarities, culled from various EP’s and singles. Led by Richard Davies (who later would join Eric Mathews and form Cardinal), The Moles were formed in Sydney in the late 80’s and unleashed a resolutely unique songbook which would prove hugely influential on a whole host of diverse bands (The Flaming Lips, The Sea And Cake). The original band line-up consisted of Glenn Fredericks, Richard Davies, Warren Armstrong and Carl Zadra, friends from law school who were fans of Flying Nun, The Fall and The Go Betweens, drawing their name from a reference to ‘Wind In The Willows’ and spy novels (John Le Carré and Graham Greene).

What’s most apparent on this defining release is that the truly unique vision (in both Davies’s songwriting and The Moles’ music) deserves to be known — and embraced — the world over. “It’s always an adventure. There’s an element of a well that never runs dry,” Richard Davies told us earlier in the year, on discussing The Moles. It’s a sentiment which could not be more true for The Moles and their utterly visionary and absolutely essential music.

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‘Flashbacks And Dream Sequences: The Story Of The Moles’ is available now on Fire Records.

[Richard Davies Facebook Page]
http://www.firerecords.com/

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Lewis ‘L’Amour’ (Light In The Attic)

When Light In The Attic Records reissued the much-fabled, timeless cult-classic ‘L’Amour’ by Lewis (originally released in 1983 on the unknown label R.A.W.) not much was known about the whereabouts of its esteemed author, not least the actual identity of “Lewis”, for that matter. The sense of mystery only deepened when consulting the album’s liner notes: Was Lewis still alive? What has he been doing in the intervening years? What other musical treasures are lying around only awaiting to be discovered written by this elusive figure? Crucially, without even beginning to dig any further into biographical detail (or absence thereof), it’s clear that, on listening to ‘L’Amour’, Lewis created nothing short of a bona-fide masterpiece. Heartbreak is immediately evident from Lewis’s lonesome, brooding, ghostly baritone from album opener ‘Things Just Happen That Way’ (“I took her hand / She took my heart”) while a sparse set-up of whispered voice together with only piano, synthesizer (or an occasional plucked guitar) remains throughout — recalling Waits or Springsteen at their most hushed and introspective best — creating a defining album of heartbreak — and love — in the process.

And what about the biographical gaps? Indeed Lewis was, as it turned out, a pseudonym. Lewis’s true identity has proved to be that of Randall Wulff (as confirmed by famed L.A. photographer Ed Colver, who had shot the über-cool cover-shoot for L’Amour’s album sleeve). However, for the purposes of the Light In The Attic liner notes, the mystery remained unsolved (after a long two-and-a-half year search). That is, until August 2014, when the real-life Randall Wulff was found (read Light In The Attic’s amazing article HERE) — alive and well and still quietly making his own masterful music — in what must have been the year’s most enchanting and heart-warming of stories.

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L’Amour’ is available now on Light In The Attic.

http://lightintheattic.net/artists/691-lewis
http://lightintheattic.net/

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One Of You ‘One Of You’ (Little Axe)

One of the most stunning re-issues of recent times came this year via the Portland, Oregon-based label Little Axe Records (a label founded when Mississippi Records split into two labels in 2011), with it’s issuing of a self-titled LP by One Of You. The author’s name and identity remains anonymous but we do know this startling collection was made by a Czech immigrant to Canada who set up her own Scarab label in the early ‘80’s, releasing music under the pseudonyms One of You and The Triffids. Having fled her homeland in the late sixties to emigrate to Canada for hopes of a better future and life there, One Of You’s music would be imbued with a prevailing sense of loss, regret and much hardships. The music itself, written in both Czech and English, and arranged in typically minimal fashion (synthesizer, guitar, organ) touches upon outsider folk, folk-psych, Eastern European folk and minimalist music traditions. One Of You’s deeply affecting, timeless music yields moments of powerful intensity while a whole spectrum of emotions, images and textures are unleashed beautifully upon the listener all at once.

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‘One Of You’ is available now on Little Axe.

http://littleaxerecords.bandcamp.com/album/one-of-you-s-t
http://www.littleaxerecords.com/

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K. Leimer ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ (RVNG Intl)

RVNG Intl. is a Brooklyn-based music institution that operates on few but heavily fortified principles, dealing with forward-reaching artists that ceaselessly push the sonic envelope. From visionary luminaries such as Julia Holter, Holly Herndon, Blondes, Maxmillion Dunbar et al, RVNG Intl. has consistently delivered some of the most adventurous, enthralling and breathtaking records this past decade. One of the label’s cornerstones has become the awe-inspiring archival series which has featured (and celebrated) musical pioneers Craig Leon, Ariel Kalma and K. Leimer. The third installment of the archival series — released earlier this year — was Seattle-based sound sculptor, K. Leimer and a vast treasure of ambient voyages entitled ‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’. I simply cannot think of a more special musical document to have graced my life this past year than Kerry Leimer’s resolutely unique and deeply human canon of pioneering ambient music.

A glimpse into Leimer’s creative process is touched upon on the compilation’s liner notes: “The loop provided an instant structure – a sort of fatalism – the participation of the tape machine in shaping and extending the music was a key to setting self-deterministic systems in motion and held clear relationship to my interests in fine art.”

‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’ offers the perfect entry point (across an exhaustive double-album and thirty spellbinding tracks) into the beautifully enthralling and ever-revolving world inhabited by the special soul of Mr. Kerry Leimer.

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‘A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)’  is available now on RVNG Intl.

http://www.palaceoflights.com/
http://igetrvng.com/

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Fikret Kızılok ‘Anadolu’yum’ (Pharaway Sounds)

Although technically issued at the tail end of 2013, legendary Turkish folk singer Fikret Kızılok (1947-2001)’s exquisite collection of singles from 1971-75 (compiled into a 14-track set entitled ‘Anadolu’yum’ and issued by Pharaway Sounds, a subsidiary label of Light In The Attic Records) proved — like the many equally formidable Pharaway Sounds releases — a true haven for music lovers. Merging genres and fuzing styles almost at will (as evidenced by the immense musical arrangements drawing from such diverse sources as Western influences, India and his own native Turkey), Kızılok’s diverse appetite and deep appreciation for music shines through in every one of this magical compilation’s fourteen tracks. From the heavenly and beautifully forlorn Anatolian folk masterpiece ‘Anadolu’yum (1972&1975)’ to the irresistible sitar-aided ‘Gün Ola Devran Döne’ (1971), Kızılok’s musical path would be dictated by numerous external obstacles of the day (namely, the political unrest of his native Turkey throughout the 1970’s) while a pressure to conform to audience’s expectations (Kızılok was a pop phenomenon in Turkey, regularly charting instant hits) proved immense in the intervening years, while he would become most often associated with his best known love ballads from his considerable 1970’s output.

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‘Anadolu’yum’  is available now on Pharaway Sounds.

http://lightintheattic.net/

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All designs and artwork by Craig Carry: http://craigcarry.net

With very special thanks to all the wonderful musicians and labels for the true gift of their music. And a special thank you to all our readers for reading during the year.

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Web: http://fracturedair.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FracturedAir
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Fractured_Air
Mixcloud: http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/

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Mixtape: Your Heart Is So Loud [A Fractured Air Mix]

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Your Heart Is So Loud [A Fractured Air Mix]
To listen on Mixcloud:

http://www.mixcloud.com/Fractured_Air/your-heart-is-so-loud-a-fractured-air-mix/

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Tracklisting:

01. Colleen ‘Your Heart Is So Loud’ [The Leaf Label]
02. Vashti Bunyan ‘The Boy’ [FatCat]
03. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis ‘West of Memphis’ [J-2 Music]
04. Linda Perhacs ‘Prisms Of Glass’ [Asthmatic Kitty]
05. The Troggs ‘You Can Cry If You Want To’ [Repertoire]
06. Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler ‘Echo Sounder’ [Thrill Jockey]
07. Steve Gunn ‘Tommy’s Congo’ [Paradise Of Bachelors]
08. Xylouris White ‘Old School Sousta’ [Other Music Recording Co.]
09. Tinariwen ‘Toumast Tincha’ [Anti-]
10. Smog ‘Strayed’ [Drag City / Domino]
11. The Brothers And Sisters ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ [Light In The Attic]
12. Calexico ‘Untitled II’ [City Slang]
13. Brigid Power-Ryce ‘Let Love’ [Abandon Reason]
14. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh And Dan Trueman ‘Laghdú’ [Irishmusic.net]
15. Hildur Guðnadóttir ‘Til baka’ [Touch]
16. Stina Nordenstam ‘The World Is Saved’ [V2]

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The copyright in these recordings is the property of the individual artists and/or their respective record labels. If you like the music, please support the artist by buying their records.

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Fractured Air. The universe is making music all the time.

Mixcloud / Facebook / Twitter

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Central And Remote: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

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Interview with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh.

“The Earth orbiting the Sun describes an ellipse, and traditional music is at the heart of my own elliptical orbit. Sometimes I’m very close to it, sometimes a little more distant, and this record feels like I’m a little further towards the outer edge of that trajectory. Winter, night-time, facing out.”

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh

Words: Mark Carry

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Ireland’s Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh plays traditional and contemporary folk music on Hardanger d’Amore and other fiddles. The masterful musician and gifted composer is undoubtedly a national treasure; heralding a distinctive and utterly compelling voice in Irish contemporary music. In addition to being an established solo artist, he performs with two groups The Gloaming and This is How we Fly, in duos with Dan Trueman, Mick O’Brien & Brendan Begley, a trio with Martin Hayes & Peadar Ó Riada, and as part of many other collaborative projects.

Last August saw the eagerly awaited release of Dublin-based independent label, Diatribe’s Solo Series Phase II which features some of the country’s most exciting and ground-breaking musicians making music today: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (Hardanger d’Amore); Kate Ellis (cello); Adrian Hart (violin) and Cora Venus Lunny (violin, viola). Each of these stunning solo works represents the utterly transcendent sonic creations currently being unearthed from Ireland’s vivid, imaginative and striking musical landscape. In the words of label Director, Nick Roth: “I feel privileged to have been party to sharing these journeys; four circuitous paths across wild terrain which converged, finally, on the top of the mountain, looking out. I am so happy to introduce this music to its audience at last, and I look forward to seeing it march on from here – sliding across the other side of the scree, and on into the world.”

Ó Raghallaigh’s newest solo work, ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ contains some of the most beautiful and visceral musical compositions to have graced this earth. The album closer, ‘What What What’ is an intimate re-work of a timeless gem that forms a vital pulse to This Is How We Fly’s self-titled debut record. Elsewhere, the experimental sounds of ‘Rún’ inhabits the cosmic space of the late great, Arthur Russell. The traditional ‘Easter Snow’ is beautifully re-interpreted by Ó Raghallaigh on the album’s penultimate track. A beguiling atmosphere is immediately cast upon us with the album’s mesmerising opening pieces of music, ‘Litosphere’ and ‘Cloud’. As ever, with Ó Raghallaigh’s deft touch of hand, an ocean’s depth of raw emotion and rare beauty seeps through the aching pores of the listener’s heart and mind.

Laghdú, the title of this debut album by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Dan Trueman, translates as: a lessening, a decrease, a reduction. The music they have written evokes a purity and timeless quality as the majestic fiddle notes becomes a dialogue between two close friends. In essence, the universal language of music is instilled in each of Laghdú’s eleven evocative compositions. The dynamic range is nothing short of staggering — from the near-silent to the nigh-on orchestral, at times exploding joyously from their hybrid 10-string fiddles, at times barely there — holding time still. Laghdú is a revelatory, awe-inspiring and exhilarating experience.

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Interview with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh.

It’s such a pleasure to ask you some questions about your music, Caoimhín. Since the last time we spoke quite a lot has happened, music-wise, so it’s very exciting to talk to you once again! You have recently returned from California where you were teaching fiddle as part of the 31st annual Valley of the Moon fiddling school. The photographs from this place looks spectacularly beautiful; this must have been a very special experience for you. I would love for you to recount your memories of your stay there and indeed, the lessons in particular that you taught to your students? What sort of advice would you share to people who are starting to learn a musical instrument, Caoimhín? 

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh: California was indeed beautiful. I was teaching the fiddle there among the redwoods at the invitation of Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before — an incredibly strong sense of community, a wonderful openness and welcome for everyone, a very special atmosphere. Nearly 250 people in a self-contained bubble for an entire week, an immensely enjoyable and nourishing bubble, hugely inspiring for tutors and students alike. The sense of fun and play are a very strong part of it, both such important aspects of real learning.

In terms of the lessons in particular, I had three classes a day of between 30 and 50 people each, and it was certainly a challenge at first to figure how to teach a group that large effectively. I guess my aim was to help people discover ways to expand time, and expand the notes of the music, to get to a point where every note feels huge and bursting, where they feel like they have all the time in the world to spend on that enjoying note before going on to the next, and through that feel what it’s like to play music that’s full of heart. Quite simple, but beautiful too, and so rewarding.

For people starting to learn an instrument, one bit of advice would be this: not to think of the aim as to play that instrument, but to both find a way to let the music that’s inside you to burst out, and to enrich the music that’s inside you. Pick some favourite tunes to sing to yourself over and over and over again, hum or whistle them all the time, become so familiar with them that you are bordering on boredom, and then turn the tunes into playgrounds for fun and adventure for yourself. Of course you need some technical ability on the instrument, but I really feel like you don’t need that much, far less than most people think, and if you have music inside you that is just bursting to get out, your body will find a way. It is SO easy to become bogged down in the technique of playing the instrument and never get above and beyond that, and to lose sight of the music and the reason why you wanted to play in the first place.

Play. It’s an important word we use to describe making music. If you can have immense fun in playing music without your instrument, the instrument then just becomes a tool to let that music out in another way. Pick one tune, an incredibly simple tune, immerse yourself in it, get to know it inside out upside down, and then start playing with it through your voice, be audacious, make yourself laugh with the ridiculous things you do when you are truly playing with it and having too much fun, embrace all the idiosyncratic things peculiar to you, your voice, your mind, yourself.

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Congratulations on your new solo album, ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’. It’s such an incredible journey that really captivates your heart. This album was made as part of the wonderful Diatribe Solo Series II that has been an ongoing project from 2009 to its eventual release this year. Firstly, please discuss this particular project for me, Caoimhín and what you set out to create and capture from the outset? I would be very interested to know in what way do you see ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ fitting alongside your previous marvel work of ‘Where The One-Eyed Man Was King’?

CÓR: Nick Roth approached me a few years ago now to ask if I’d be interested in making a solo record for Diatribe as part of a String Series, along with Kate Ellis, Cora Venus Lunny and Adrian Hart. I really like what Diatribe do, and what I thought it might allow me to do, too, and I viewed it as a wonderful chance to push things a little further than The One-Eyed Man, and put out some music that I might not otherwise have a chance to release. The actual recording of it was up in Wicklow, in the most beautiful little cottage in the mountains, with some lovely mics and Keith Lindsay engineering. We spent two or three days there, recording both things I had intended to record, plus some improvisations and other things on the suggestion of Nick Roth. It must have been fairly chilly — I remember that between pieces, when there’d be a break, we had all four of the gas cooker’s ring firing full blast, the oven the same, in an effort to thaw into the bones. I’m particularly delighted with ‘Cloud’, which is a decomposed version of the very common traditional reel, Miss McLeod, because I’d never played it like that before and only did so because Nick pushed me to, and I love the result. I love the two Mammoths [‘Big Mammoth’ & ‘Little Mammoth’], too — they totally delight me, how ridiculous they are on first listen, but so beautiful once you get over that.

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In terms of solo music, your fiddle music belongs in the same illuminating stratosphere as say, Satie’s piano works, Bach’s cello concertos, Frahm’s piano and so on. What is immediately apparent on ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ is your singular style of instrumental music; the timeless sound you create could be only made by you (and isn’t that the hallmark of a great artist?) I would love for you to shed some light your approach to composition and the trusted tool of the Hardanger d’Amore fiddle with which you create such beautiful music? Can you discuss the choice of the album-title and the central narrative that you feel runs through the collection of songs? I feel the title serves the perfect embodiment to the resultant music contained on ‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’. 

CÓR: That’s kind and generous in the extreme of you. I feel quite embarrassed by such a statement, and absolutely can’t imagine how anyone could think that, but graciously accept the compliment, too. Thank you! In terms of composition, I like to improvise, and record the improvisation, then review it and extract what I think has promise, be that extracting the finished recording, or extracting material with which to craft a performable piece of music. I  like to think about space, sound, texture, feel and effect on state of mind as opposed than notes, chords and musical ideas.

The Earth orbiting the Sun describes an ellipse, and traditional music is at the heart of my own elliptical orbit. Sometimes I’m very close to it, sometimes a little more distant, and this record feels like I’m a little further towards the outer edge of that trajectory. Winter, night-time, facing out.

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‘Má Tá’ is my current favourite; a piece of music that elicits a full spectrum of human emotion. What are your memories of writing this particular piece, Caoimhín? I would love to know how much are these pieces of music improvisation-based or spontaneously created or is it a case of taking time for the music to naturally take flight where a piece of music will eventually bloom?

CÓR: A few years ago I had a three-month residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, and improvised every day for an hour or two in the beautiful chapel there. Má Tá popped out one day there, one of the very few “traditional tunes” that wrote themselves there for me. I loved the discipline of that residency, and the wonder of taking a blank sheet of time every single day, whether you felt like it or not, and painting sound onto it until something new and beautiful would pop out, which it inevitably would.

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Please discuss the act of improvisation and the creative process involved? Already this year, you have made utterly transcendent music — borne from live improvisation and for live performance — with the likes of cellist Julia Kent in Cork and Bill Frisell as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival, and Iceland’s Amiina sometime ago in Dublin, among many others. I can only imagine how special the feeling is when music created by a collaboration of this kind (and in this live context) ascends into the atmosphere. Is there a certain approach or path you seek when exploring sounds through live improvisation?

CÓR: The creative process for me begins with the desire to be at that point where things come into existence, the desire to start with a blank canvas and to not know what the first brush stroke will be, plus the ensuing reaction to that. Improvisation for me is being in the moment, reacting in that moment, being open to anything and everything, being willing to go wherever it is that you will be taken, relinquishing control, embracing chance. What I seek when playing live is a change in the state of mind in both myself and the listeners, more-so than following any musical ideas through. I’m drawn to less, to paring back and inviting space and silence into play, playing so quiet and so little that the silence becomes a magnifying glass for extraneous sound; for a while, at least, until something changes, until the balloon of sound wants something to inflate it again, fill up the room with notes that now sound big and bold and beautiful, after the quiet, and make you breathe in a different way, larger, after the whispers.

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I must congratulate you on the phenomenal Laghdú record, which is the ground-breaking collaboration between you and Dan Trueman. I can’t begin to describe the sheer beauty and joy this album ceaselessly transmits. You and Dan must feel deeply proud of this gorgeous record. Please give me the background to Laghdu’s inception? When did you first cross paths with Dan? I feel this deep connection between you both with the music of ‘Laghdú’ casts its magnificent spell. Can you describe the musical connection that exists between you both, Caoimhín? It’s such a joy to witness each artist’s devoted instruments coalesce together, almost like an intangible symbiosis that gravitates between the soaring notes and masterful musicians. 

CÓR: I first met Dan in September 2000. He was the first person I ever saw play the hardanger fiddle, and that obviously has had a fairly monumental impact on where my music has gone since then. He had just brought out a record with his wife, Monica, called “Trollstilt”, which remains one of my favourite albums, and one I have listened to a very very large number of times. We started making music together in 2010-11, when Dan lived in Dublin for a year with his family. In addition to being a phenomenal composer and a frightening fiddler, Dan is also a computer music genius, and initially we toyed with various programmes, electronics and tools before deciding not to go down that particular rabbit hole, and instead focus solely on the pure joy of playing two fiddles together. While he was living in Dublin, Dan went to Norway to collect an instrument that had been made specifically for him by Salve Håkedal, a strange and beautiful 10-string version of the hardanger fiddle. It was the most beautiful instrument I’d ever had the privilege to play, and immediately asked Salve to make me one too — it’s the only instrument I play now, and I find it near-impossible to go back to playing anything else, such is the beauty of it. Equally special are the bows we play with, baroque and transitional bows from French bowmaker Michel Jamonneau. And though we have identical instruments and identical bows, the sound and music we both look for and get is really quite different to the other. Writing music with Dan is such a thrill, crafting things phrase by phrase, interlocked parts. And playing that music together is the most absolutely satisfying and rewarding experience, utterly thrilling and delightful.

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Can you talk about the choice of the two traditional songs on Laghdu: ‘The Jack of Diamonds Three’ and ‘Fead an Iolair’ (the latter was also recorded in s different version for ‘Where The One Eyed Man Is King’)? What are your memories of first hearing and indeed playing these particular tunes?

CÓR: The Jack of Diamonds Three is a set of three tunes from three different traditions: an old-time American tune (Jack of Diamonds), an Irish tune (Garrett Barry’s) and a Norwegian (a mazurka from Vidar Lande). When Dan suggested Vidar’s, I immediately thought of Garrett Barry’s. They seemed to fit nicely together, and we liked the idea of a set of traditional tunes that represented all three countries from whose traditions we had been extracting DNA. Garrett Barry’s is a tune I associate with Willie Clancy, of course, as Garrett Barry was a huge influence on him, although I think I first learned it on the whistle and flute from Michael Tubridy as a teenager, who I was lucky enough to have as my teacher on those instruments for many years. And speaking of Michael Tubridy, his solo record from 1979 is called “The Eagle’s Whistle”, which is what “Fead an Iolair” translates as, and it is from Michael I learned that tune many years ago. I also associate it with Séamus Ennis, and particularly his playing of it on the “Feidhlim Tonn Ri’s Castle” LP, an epic story punctuated with a few scattered tunes. I love playing it with Dan, and in addition to it in its innocent and beautiful state, there’s also a much much darker version of it on the record, “Tuireamh na n-Iolar”. Gnarled, twisted and powerful.

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‘What What What’ is one of those awe-inspiring pieces of music that never ceases to amaze. I love how this piece (and others too, of course) has mutated, transformed and evolved across various incarnations; belonging nicely on This Is How We Fly’s debut record, your newest solo work and again on Laghdú. As a musician and composer, it must be wonderful to witness a piece of music you wrote evolve and change depending on the context — space and time — in which you find yourself in. I wonder is this one of the endearing thrills of a musician as his/her work continues to explore new terrain? I would love for you to recount your memories of ‘What What What’ and the moment in time which this beautiful song came into glittering life? 

CÓR: I’ve always loved having recordings of the same person playing the same tune at different points in their life, seeing how it had evolved — different versions of the same thing by the same person. And I love the idea of letting a piece go where it wants depending on the people you’re playing with, too. As far as I remember, I wrote “What What What” down at the Baltimore Fiddle Fair in 2007 or 2008. I think I’d just heard Brittany Haas play the fiddle for the first time, and was totally blown away by what she was doing — I couldn’t understand her bowing, went back to where I was staying, took out the fiddle and tried to figure it out, but somehow this tune popped out instead. Brittany is a phenomenal fiddler, frightening, from a kind of old-time music background. Herself and Dan have a beautiful record out, too, of music they wrote together, called “Crisscross”.

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It is very exciting to see your forthcoming solo Irish tour this Autumn which is based on your love of traditional music and its importance on you as a musician and person. Please discuss this special project and what other projects do you have in the pipeline, Caoimhín? As with any project you have been involved in, it is with a special sense of anticipation we await your next work of art. Thank you for the truly beautiful music you have crafted thus far and the very best wishes with all your future endeavours. 

CÓR: The project for the Music Network tour is a solo show I’m making. I’ve wanted to find a really satisfying way to perform a show solo that offers a bit more than just me on stage with only my fiddle. With this show, while it includes some sections of me playing totally solo, I’ve also got sections with live looping and some sections where I play with projected “virtual guests” — friends of mine who play or dance that I’ve made videos of. I love photography, and this is a way to integrate that into what I do, too. I’d be hoping that it becomes the way I play solo shows in the future, and that I’d be constantly making new little films and pieces, continually evolving new sections and enriching what I’ve already made.

 


 

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‘Music For An Elliptical Orbit’ by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh is available now on Diatribe Records (Buy HERE).

‘Laghdú’ by Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Dan Trueman is available now on Irishmusic.net (Buy HERE).

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http://www.caoimhinoraghallaigh.com
http://www.diatribe.ie
http://irishmusic.net

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Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s “In My Mind”, a solo fiddle and film show, tours Ireland from 11—19 October 2014 courtesy of Music Network Ireland. Tour dates are as follows:

11 Oct   Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny
12 Oct   The Model, Sligo
13 Oct   Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar
14 Oct   Sugar Club, Dublin
15 Oct   Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray
16 Oct   Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge
17 Oct   Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire
18 Oct   Triskel Christchurch, Cork
19 Oct   Tipperary Excel Centre, Tipperary

For bookings and further information CLICK HERE.

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