10 talking points of Irish music in 2021

1. We all wanna be cowboys, baby!

The ever-growing popstar CMAT, who supported Declan McKenna on a UK tour in the fall and performs at the Hot Festival for 2022 Eurosonic in January, released a bevy of great songs in 2021, the highlight being ” No More Virgos “(better than anything on ABBA’s comeback album?). Her debut single, “I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!” From last year, was one of containment hits and left us all yearning for a Stetson and a linedance.


Inventive Cork musician Yenkee – aka Graham Cooney – was also influenced by the track “Dolly” from his latest single. Considering her attire in the accompanying video (directed by Kojaque), we can’t help but notice a trend. Add in the return of Garth Brooks’ five sold-out nights at Croke Park and it looks like we all wanna be cowboys, baby!

2. Artist of the year

Tolu Makay.
Tolu Makay.

Tolu Makay covered Saw Doctor’s “N17” with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for the station’s NYE ​​countdown last year – and topped the next year. The track was an instant radio hit.

From there Makay, born in Nigeria and raised in the Irish Midlands, spoke to Saw Doctors frontman Leo Moran for RTÉ’s ever-excellent art show, Arena, and alongside the poet and friend. Felispeaks, hosted the Tommy Tiernan Show. The pair have since started a podcast / streaming chat show.

After touring Ireland, Makay looked like a superstar as she walked the aisle of St James’s Church in Dingle for Other Voices to cap off a remarkable year. She released her first album in early 2022 – Tolu Makay is just getting started.

3. Pilots nailed to the ground

The government has dragged its feet to hold pilot concerts this year, with James Vincent McMorrow performing in front of 500 socially distant people in Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens in June. However, the crowd was not tested so we wondered what this is for.

The on-screen suggestion to participants of one of the official pilot events before the partial reopening of the concerts.
The on-screen suggestion to participants of one of the official pilot events before the partial reopening of the concerts.

A ‘festival’ at Royal Hospital Kilmainham saw 3,500 attendees pass tests before they could enter, though they still had to sit in pods at picnic tables. Add fences as far as the eye can see and a dystopian post on the social media post of the fun you’re having fun… well, the call didn’t last.

When concerts were finally given the green light to resume from September 6, they were at 60% capacity and no testing was required. That sounded like an arbitrary number until full capacity concerts finally returned on October 22. So what did we learn from the two pilot events? Uh …

4. Artists prioritize mental health – and in lyrics

Seeing the incredible For These I Love perform in front of an audience in Dublin for the first time, at the Olympia last month, was an experience. Dave Balfe’s self-titled debut album is raw, revealing, and emotional – fear, anger and yes, love – and live the crowd wipes away tears. An example of lyrics, from “Birthday / The Pain:” You spend your whole life being brave and you hope things will change.

Balfe is one of a growing cohort of Irish artists who put mental health at the center of their lyrics. Galway singer-songwriter Maria Kelly, who recently backed Kodaline on their Irish tour, released the stunning debut album The Sum of the In-Between in October, a collection of tracks bringing together her worries and hopes. .

Fears – aka Constance Keane, who is part of the aforementioned M (h) aol – on her Oiche debut, took us to the hospital with her lyrics. The West Cork artist Rushes, meanwhile, released a contagious song, the title of which needs no explanation: “Lost in Therapy”.

5. Where are the night clubs?

Nancy Spain was one of the old sites that faced the wrecking ball.
Nancy Spain was one of the old sites that faced the wrecking ball.

The demolition of the building adjoining the Granary in Limerick City at the end of November, as part of the redevelopment of the Opera House, seemed symbolic. Although closed for a number of years, it had previously hosted nightclubs like Trinity Rooms, Doc’s, and Crush.

In Galway, meanwhile, Electric announced that the pandemic and the ever-changing restrictions had taken their toll: “There are only a limited number of times we can go back to our community and ask them to stay with it. us for a few more weeks. Now that day has come that we cannot wait any longer. We have no other choice but to bring this building to the market.

After more than 18 months of silence, nightclubs only had three weeks from the end of October before a midnight closing time was put in place. Some swiveled to open earlier, although they were quickly closed. So not only do we wonder when we will dance again, but also where will it be staying to dance?

6. Speaking of the word

Dry Cleaning’s debut album, New Long Leg, is the one you’ll see on many best-of lists in December.

The post-punk group is led by Florence Shaw, whose reflections are a collage of everyday life, spoken rather than shouted. It became a prolific style, ranging from the Soulwax remix of Fountains DC’s “A Hero’s Death” to the hottest band of the year, Wet Leg from Isle of Wight (“Chaise Longue”) as well as Irish artists like Sinead O’Brien and M (h) aol.

The Ringer website pointed out that there is of course a German word for this kind of “spoken song” – expect to hear a lot more sprechgesang over the next 12 months.

7. Fight for culture

The historic and closed Nancy Spains pub in Cork was closed this summer, leading to a coterie of misty-eyed tweets about concerts over the years, from David Gray to Fugazi to Therapy?

Human remains have since been found on the site, planned for a social housing complex of 32 units, which should of course be accommodated in the midst of the housing crisis.

In Dublin, meanwhile, another musical institution, the Cobblestone in Smithfield, found itself the subject of a building permit for a hotel. The pub is renowned for its traditional sessions, and the protests in the town center drew thousands in the weeks after the plans were revealed. At the end of November, the city council announced that more than 700 objections had been filed and that it had refused permission.

It sounded like a symbolic victory for Irish musicians.

8. FTW teamwork

Susan O'Neill and Mick Flannery.
Susan O’Neill and Mick Flannery.

One of the themes of the year across Irish music this year has been collaboration. Perhaps the most obvious and successful is Mick Flannery and SON: In The Game is one of the albums of the year and has seen them announced for Iveagh Gardens next summer (surely back to full capacity as more than 5,000 by then?).

HousePlants saw electronic producer Daithi team up with Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan, the resulting live shows to accompany the LP Dry Goods will fill the LCD Soundsystem shaped hole in your dance shoes.

The X Collective launched last year, with music, collaboration, and artistic expression at its heart; Led by singers Jess Kav, Senita and Toshín, a mass collaborative album featuring more than 35 backers is slated for release in 2022.

Meanwhile, Clare Sands released four singles this year to coincide with the seasons, traveling to each province to record with a musician. The resulting pieces are among the strongest works of any artist this year.

9. Girls’ group imitators

Gilla Band (who changed their name from Girl Band) are the most influential group to come out of Ireland in the last decade and it is not surprising to see young suitors emerging.

Melts and Sprints are both highly anticipated for 2022 and are infused with the sound of Gilla Band – indeed, both have recorded with Gilla Band bassist and producer Daniel Fox.

We’re also starting to see Fountains DC’s influence – Galway is taking action, the Clockworks are acclaimed in the UK and have signed with Alan McGee’s latest label, It’s Creation Baby.

10. Songs of the year

    Conor O'Brien of the Villagers
Conor O’Brien of the Villagers

Gemma Dunleavy’s “Up De Flats” was released in 2020 but it still resonates.

When she performed it at the It Takes a Village festival in Trabolgan in September, it was joyful. Joined by family and friends for her headliner at the Dublin Academy a month later, the crowd could be felt shaking 18 months of stagnation. It’s already one of the songs of the decade.

The development of Villagers and Conor O’Brien continues, with the fifth album Fever Dreams, a love affair with the lead single “The First Day”, a touching appeal of blissful wonder. Brass shakes your bones.

Galway’s NewDad has become a favorite on BBC6 Music’s playlists this year and their sunny slacker pop brand is contagious. It is impossible not to leave ‘Ladybird’ on a loop.

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