Foy Vance on how the Scottish Highlands saved him
Bangor man Foy Vance says personal misfortune and a move to the Scottish highlands set him back on track for his long-awaited second album
“I don’t mean to disrespect Hope because I know that there are people out there who enjoy it and I don’t want to piss on it, but I didn’t really like it,” he explains. “I liked the songs, but it didn’t really feel like a record to me – and I didn’t realise that until I released it. There are some strong songs that are honest and articulate and reflect what was going on at the time, but the album as a piece of art doesn’t work. That was probably the main reason it’s taken me so long [to follow it up].”
Although he had been continuously writing over the years, nothing seemed to click – until a move to the Scottish highlands town of Aberfeldy, coupled with the end of a personal relationship, generated something of a lightbulb moment.
“I went through this phase of being quite down, and quite depressed, and thinking, ‘unless you can write an Innervisions or an Astral Weeks, what’s the point?’” he laughs. “I went through this phase of thinking, ‘what is worth saying?’ And I guess lately – maybe it’s an age thing – but I realised that actually, nothing’s worth saying! But this is what you do, so you may as well just say . . . well, something. When I came to that conclusion, it just so happened to collide with a time that I was moving up to the highlands, and I was feeling like a man let loose, shot right out of a cannon after living in the humdrum of London for seven years. The silence of the place really struck me quite hard; I had a load to write about and I felt very inspired. And during the course of that, I had a personal marital split – and that then gave the record a fervent beginning, but also an ending, too. So I thought ‘OK, there you go – there’s an album. It might not be the best collection of songs in the world, but it definitely sums up the year that I’ve just had.’”
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Once he had the songs written, Vance decamped to Attica Audio in rural Donegal, the studio owned by Villagers guitarist Tommy McLaughlin, to record with producer Michael Keeney and a group of “very talented musicians” to fill in the gaps.
“You can get a great studio in London, but then you’ve gotta walk out the door and be in London,” he smirks. “Which is great if you’re making that kind of record, but I wasn’t making a ‘city’ record. I wanted to walk out of the studio and stand around a fire pit with no one about, bar cows and hills. When we saw the space and the set-up, the room sounds great, the gear is incredible, and I would sit in the room and look out these big glass windows at the hills. It was absolutely perfect.”
Although in recent years he has worked with fellow Northern Irishman David Holmes – most notably on the soundtrack to Oscar-winning short film The Shore – bringing him on board to produce the album wasn’t an option.
“I think David has such a vision for everything that he does; sometimes he starts things with scraps, but the second it comes alive he has a very definitive vision and I think we would have just done each other’s head in with this record,” he says. “I don’t think David would have been right for this project, but you can’t work with someone like him and not be influenced. He is the opposite of me, in that he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. That boy plays musicians like musicians play instruments. He’s a very special guy to work with, and I learnt a lot from working with him.”