A bonus when heading over to FolkEast for Usher’s Island (Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Michael McGoldrick and John Doyle) in August was an opportunity to meet with Daoirí Farrell. Back in July, I’d rather belatedly reviewed his first album (read it here) and found it a delight from start to finish. With his second album due to be released this month, the timing seemed perfect to find out more about this fine singer from Dublin. Before meeting him, just about all I knew was he’d recorded The First Turn album back in 2009 and subsequently chosen education over full-time performance for the following few years but he was now back on the scene full time.
As I arrived at FolkEast, a man with a strong Dublin accent was entertaining the Production Office with tales of his early morning journey over from Ireland the previous day. I’d found Daoirí, and was left in no doubt that interviewing him could easily turn into a rather one-sided conversation. This was going to be fun. But first I’d be able to listen to his second set of the weekend, this time on FolkEast’s open air Sunset Stage. He’d played a set the previous day and clearly generated quite some interest as a good crowd gathered in anticipation. Early in his set, he showed that while his style and repertoire are deeply rooted in Ireland, a good song is a good song wherever it comes from. So we were treated to a fine version of Paul Metser’s tale of New Zealand gold prospectors, Farewell to the Gold. Most of the time Daoirí accompanies his singing on a bouzouki named Beatrice, a fine instrument made by Joe Foley in Dublin. However, it wasn’t long before we had the delight of an unaccompanied song, a song that Liam Weldon wrote for his wife, Nellie. I praised Daoirí’s unaccompanied singing when reviewing The First Turn, but listening to him live, the experience was even more impressive. The man has a superb command of his voice, able to add beautiful ornamentation to a melody.
With this fresh in my memory, I first asked him about unaccompanied singing…
“It’s my thing, I love it, I actually feel more comfortable singing without the instruments. But, the instruments, especially that bouzouki, that particular one, just adds so much more to a song.”
His set included many of the songs from his first album but I was keen to hear more about the album that’s about to be released, True Born Irishman.
“Well, I can tell you it caused me an awful lot of stress.” Then, after a lot of laughter, “no, it’s great and you could say it’s a continuation of the last one, in the way that they are songs that I really, really love and I just needed to record…”
“The person that said that to me first was me father, he said, ‘You just have to go in and record them’. We even had a row about it one day, I was saying ‘I know, I know’ but [his reply was] ‘you say you know but you’re not listening to me’.”
How many father’s must have said that over the years? But Daoirí’s father wasn’t finished…
“He was in town, in Dublin City centre, queueing for a coffee, the guy standing in front of him was on his phone, searching the web for microphones… My Dad gave him a dig on his shoulder and says ‘Hey, what do you do for a living?’. The man says ‘I’m a sound engineer’… ‘Will you record my son?’ The man obviously thought my father was nuts but… it turns out he was Liam Mulvanny of Asylum Studios and that’s who I’ve just recorded the album with.
“So, I’ve been in recording with Liam and it was just a pleasure, it was laid back, it was relaxed… You go in and your phone doesn’t work, I don’t know why, his does, but no one can get in touch with you.”
I wondered how long it had taken to record, but that question prompted Daoirí to think back to the recording of The First Turn.
“When I recorded that it was with Alan Doherty and James Ryan friends of mine and Robbie Walsh, one of my best pals. It was kind of like a learning curve for everybody… I think it turned out pretty well for guys who were learning. It actually started out as something small, as a college project. But Alan Doherty said, ‘No, we’re putting everything into it, we’re doing it as best we can.’ So we took our time doing that album, now this one I had to set myself a deadline…
“I just needed to get it out, like I’m 33 now and I just needed to record a new album. Terry [Terry O’Brien his agent] kind of helped me along, if it hadn’t of been for Terry and my father and a couple of other people, I’d still be sitting on that album going…[mumbles] so it is great that people are there to help… I’m fairly critical of myself and my singing… so, yeah, it’s done and how long did it take? A couple of weeks”
So I got an answer in the end but heard a lot about more interesting things, how Daoirí feels about his work and the support of family and friends. He’d introduced a few songs that afternoon saying that he’d played them the previous day but had been asked to do them again and so I wondered if he’d come to FolkEast prepared to do two completely different sets.
“Well, this morning I came in the gate and immediately I had people asking if I’d sing songs that I’d done yesterday. So I got up on stage and I could see them sitting there so I did [sing those songs]. I did the gig yesterday and that was a set and literally, I could have done a whole different set today but … I just wanted to please everybody as much as I could and sing the best songs I know. Normally, I would write a set list but I don’t necessarily stick to it. But I really don’t know what I’m thinking when I’m up there, I really don’t… when I close my eyes I’m picturing …especially with The Creggan White Hare and The Mickey Dam, I can see that stuff happening I my head… it really is coming from the heart.”
There’s a line from Dónal Lunny that often appears in articles about Daoirí, ‘Daoirí is one of the most important traditional singers to emerge in the last decade’. I didn’t embarrass him by quoting it but I was interested to know what he considered to have been the most significant influences that had helped shape his singing. There was no hesitation from him when reeling off names,
“Liam Weldon, Christy Moore, Frank Harte, Len Graham”
Liam Weldon and Frank Harte had both died before Daoirí got into traditional music…
“but, by God, if I could bring any two people back it would be them two, to see them and take from their knowledge. It’s just unbelievable, the songs they used to sing and the way they sung them, it was just totally from the heart. They had the power, through song, to grab your emotions and that’s what I want to do. They’re musicians that turned me from being an electrician to being a musician”.
He had nothing but praise for the support he’d received from the traditional singers he had been fortunate enough to meet
“they’ve just been so nice to me and given me songs throughout the years and at times when I’ve been feeling a little bit useless they’ve given me a ring”
There’s no doubt it’s Daoirí’s voice that is building his reputation but to put on a performance he needs to provide accompaniment and so our conversation turned back to Beatrice the bouzouki and how he’s developing the instrumental side of his music.
“Well, with a lot of practice… I try my best but it’s getting really busy lately, there’s lots to do… it’s like cycling on a bike and I’m at the stage where it’s very wobbly at the moment, hopefully it’ll straighten out a bit. I try and sit down and practice and I try to get out to a couple of different sessions, backing tunes is really good… so there are nights when I’ll go out and I’ll play and I wouldn’t sing, just sit there and back tunes. Occasionally I’d bring my banjo.”
So he is branching out to other instruments.
“This is the way it went, the first instrument I ever owned was a bodhrán, classical guitar was the second and I got lessons on it. Classical Spanish guitar, flamenco stuff, and I got 10 lessons with this guy Bernard in Dublin. The first 2 or 3 lessons he was teaching me the difference between major, minor and modal… didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, I think I was about 17. On the 5th, 6th and 7th lessons I had a bit of a barney with him… I just wanted to learn Nirvana, Oasis and stuff like that. On the 8th lesson he gave in and taught me some but on the 9th lesson he gave me a test and said I had a really good ear…I was at the start of my apprenticeship as an electrician at the time and he told me, you either throw in the electrical thing and become a musician or else don’t come bothering me. The next week when I came in for the 10th lesson, he wasn’t there… He was the first person who ever said anything like that to me… I suppose he was right but I just didn’t believe in myself back then. But I kept playing and learned all the Oasis songs and then I just found the music that I love, and I found it with traditional music. One the earliest memories was seeing Christy Moore on The Late Late Show on RTE with a bodhrán, just the bodhrán and the voice and it blew the place away. With having all that lot knocking around you, you’re bound to sing a song at some stage.”
Moving on from past influences to the present scene in Dublin…
“It’s great, it’s very busy, there’s musicians there that nobody has a clue who they are and they should, everybody should see these musicians, but there’s so many of them. Every single night of the week you could be out playing music, it’s very dangerous…but it’s great. The musicians are very supportive and people will do their best to come out to gigs.”
Lynched, long time pals with Daoirí, have now emerged from this scene to become much more widely known and appreciated. Daoirí was particularly keen to praise the detailed background knowledge of the songs that Lynched try to amass. I pointed out this was an aspect Daoirí himself seems to have a rare talent for. This reminded Daoirí of a major source of inspiration and influence he’d not mentioned before, An Góilín, Dublin’s traditional singers club where singers like Jerry O’Reilly, Fergus Russell and Antaine Ó Faracháin can regularly be found. Singers who’ve helped Daoirí over the years.
“They just sit down and sing away, not a care in the world, it’s absolutely brilliant craic. Those guys are the guys I would’ve got the background off for some of the songs. I’d go in and I’d be trying to trick them, I’d probably been down in the archives and pick up a song. I’d go in and sing it and Jerry O’Reilly would come up to me and say ‘Nice song, Daoirí. There’s another 4 or 5 different versions and he’d sing them all to me’. I’ve not bested them yet. Those guys were a good influence for the new album.”
And with that, we went off to catch the end of Andy Irvine’s solo set. It was shaping up to be a great afternoon and evening, thanks FolkEast.
Daoirí will be launching his second solo album titled ‘True Born Irishman’ in Whelan’s on the 25 of October 2016
True Born Irishman is released 21 October 2016