It’s not often, in fact I’d guess never, that you’ve found Folk Radio reviewing an album with a release date from 7 years ago. But having released his debut album, The First Turn, Daoirí Farrell adopted a lower profile, putting his efforts into furthering his education. With a BA and an MA under his belt, his return to performance resulted in some significant awards, becoming the All Ireland Champion Singer at the Co. Derry Fleadh in 2013 and, as one quarter of Four Winds, winning the Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections 2015. Now, with a second album due for release in the autumn and a UK tour planned for November, it’s time to make some noise in praise of a fine singer and musician. A man who Dónal Lunny has hailed as “one of the most important traditional singers to emerge in recent years”.
The 10 tracks on The First Turn are a mix of traditional and… well I hesitate to say contemporary as, whilst Daoirí, in his liner notes, assigns an origin to most tracks, ones such as The Mickey Dam, have a long, long history. On the other hand, The Pool Song, bemoaning the ruination of Irish pubs following the almost universal introduction of pool tables must be pretty recent. The truth is, though, it doesn’t matter. Daoirí has a voice that imparts a timeless quality to all the songs, creating a style that is uniquely his own, whilst paying its respects to great Irish singers of the last few decades, Frank Harte, Christy Moore, Andy Irvine and Paul Brady amongst others.
At the time of recording The First Turn, Daoirí was a relative newcomer to the instrumental side of his music and two of the songs, The Pool Song and The Shamrock Shore are sung unaccompanied. As far as I’m concerned this was a great move. Used well, a solo voice, by varying the timing of a line, by adding grace notes, by using all the tricks of the singer’s trade, can truly sharpen focus on the emotions embedded in the lyrics. For The Pool Song this mainly benefits the humour but leaves us in no doubt that the author, Con Fada Ó’Drisceoil, also felt a genuine anger that his beloved pubs were no longer the social gathering places they had been. Shamrock Shore is a very different kettle of fish; the song is a serious political commentary on the disastrous consequences that befell Ireland in the first half of the 19th Century, following the dissolution of the Irish Parliament in 1801. Emigration, famine, absentee landlords asset stripping the country, families being torn apart, Daoirí’s voice perfectly captures the mixture of emotions stirred by recounting these events.
For the remaining songs, Daoirí played mandola and recruited a couple of fine musicians to accompany him, James Ryan, of Dublin band The Jeremiahs (a band that’s recently impressed me), on guitar, tenor guitar and mandola and Alan Doherty on flutes, whistles and percussion who fronted Gráda. They both add additional voices when needed on choruses. Other musicians appear on some of the tracks, notably Robbie Walsh whose bodhrán rhythms are vital to the instrumentation on three of the faster paced songs. The opener, McShane, The Creggan White Hare and the closer, Tipping it up to Nancy.
Having had a great reception at Celtic Connections in 2015 as part of Four Winds, Daoirí returned in January this year for a UK launch of his solo career. He’s already played a short tour in May and will play Moseley, Broadstairs and FolkEast festivals over this summer, followed by a tour in November. So, with a second album promised for around the same time, Daoirí is a voice that’s going to be hard to avoid during the rest of this year. Give The First Turn a listen now, it should convince you avoiding him is the last thing you’d want to do.
The First Turn is available via Daoirí’s website here: daoiri.com