by Shona Hickey
In a year when the reign of Ed Sheeran seems endless and Galway Girl is filling the ‘country’ hit position, it may feel like searching for some exciting new Irish folk music is futile. However, while Ed continues to dominate the chart scene, his music label Gingerbread Man Records is providing us with something new. In 2016, Foy Vance’s album The Wild Swan was released by Gingerbread Man Records and was given instant critical gratification. The Irish Times declared him to be ‘one of our most talented singer-songwriters, injecting passion and power into his performance instead of the half-hearted whimper of most of his contemporaries’.
Having travelled around as a child, Foy Vance’s music encompasses northern Irish folk and Southern American Country to create a unique sound which tells the story of his travels. Peaceful ballads such as Bangor Town and The Wild Swans on the Lake take inspiration from Vance’s homeland in Northern Ireland. Vance spent his first five years of his life traveling around churches in the Southern states of America with his preacher father. Obviously the gospel, soul, and blues music which surrounded him as a child never left him, and now have clear influences in much of his album (see Upbeat, Feel Good). The diversity doesn’t end there, Noam Chomsky is a Soft Revolution and Casanova are straight-up rock and roll tracks, fueled with energy and clever lyrics.
Although Vance’s fame cannot compare to that of his friend and collaborator Sheeran, his following is rapidly increasing, particularly after creating the feature song for the new film Live by Night starring Ben Affleck. The song Moonshine featuring country singer Kacey Musgraves captures Florida during the prohibition era in Vance’s unique folky style. I’m hoping this track will feature in Vance’s 2017 tour set list and that he may have some new pieces to test out. However, I have to say I would be completely content if Vance played his album start to finish with no other bells and whistles. As much as I appreciate Sheeran’s nod to his Irish heritage in tracks like Galway Girl (although bless him, there’s no bars on Grafton Street, there’s a Burger King though!), I would definitely recommend seeing Foy Vance at Exeter’s Phoenix for some much more authentic, exciting and creative Irish folk music.