David Kitt: ‘I listened to Irish acts when I was on my own in a new city, craving home’
Soundtrack of My Life: The musician on songs that made him feel less alone during lockdown
David Kitt: ‘During lockdown I went through a big Joni Mitchell phase.’
The week the pandemic kicked off I relocated to Paris for an artist residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, ahead of a planned move to Australia in September. My partner left for Australia, and we were braced to not see each other for six months, but it’s been 13 months now. So it’s affected my big life plans, regardless of the professional side of things.
It turned out everyone else who had residencies at the centre decided not to come. So it was me, an Irish priest from Donegal, an ex-Army officer, a law student and 24-hour security. We were right by the Panthéon, and it’s probably the quietest anyone is going to ever see that part of Paris.
The Jungle Line is probably my favourite Joni Mitchell track. It’s so mysterious and weird that you could write a book on that one tune alone
I listened to the first five tracks on my playlist, all Irish acts, when I was on my own in a new city at a heightened time, where you crave the familiarity of home. It felt like the international music scene went quiet, with bands postponing records and tours, and my focus was on Irish acts such as Gemma Dunleavy. There’s a strong message of community in Up de Flats. CMAT’s I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby really connected with me too. For someone’s second release, I thought it was so brilliantly composed and fully formed.
Then Guerrilla Studios started doing online live streams, so that got me listening to acts such as The Bonk, Myles Manley and Aoife Nessa Frances.
Sansbut was a record that I made at this time, and it probably captured the mood that I was in. August was the first time that other people arrived to the Irish Cultural Centre, and among them was Catherine Sikora, the amazing free-jazz saxophonist who contributed to Rêve Élève, so it’s on there for that reason.
During lockdown I went through a big Joni Mitchell phase. I went on YouTube a lot, and played her interviews and solo guitar performances. It was hard to pick one track, but The Jungle Line is probably my favourite Joni Mitchell track. It’s so mysterious and weird that you could write a book on that one tune alone.
With Paul McCartney I found myself exploring the outer reaches of his work. Jenny Wren is on a record that he made with Nigel Godrich, who produces all of Radiohead’s work too. It’s such a beautiful song. It’s one of those instances where you find it and can’t believe it’s only got 60,000 views on YouTube, given he’s a Beatle.
John Prine is on there because he passed away a year ago. I was devastated by his death. I cried for days after he died. It almost felt like losing an uncle, because I grew up on his music. I got to see him a few years ago in Vicar Street in Dublin, and it was a magical night. There was something very poetic about When I Get to Heaven being the last song on the last record that he released - it’s basically about the fun he’s going to have when he gets to heaven. It’s a beautiful swan song.
Similarly, Bill Withers and MF Doom were other greats that we lost last year. The Notorious BIG track was inspired by the recent Netflix documentary, which made me go back and explore his work.
Mary Margaret O’Hara is a massive hero of mine and my favourite vocalist of all time, it was a privilege to work with her
Another two obsessions of the past months have been Erykah Badu and J Dilla, and I decided to go for Didn’t Cha Know because he produced the track. For some reason I found myself fascinated by Erykah’s work. She was doing online concerts and used lockdown quite creatively. She seemed to have a real power and connection, especially throughout the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd. It led me down a rabbit hole of exploring her work a bit deeper.
The last five tracks I’d associate with returning to Ireland and moving to Kerry in September. I did an artist residency for two weeks at Cill Rialaig, which is in an old village up on Bolus Head. It’s very remote and about as far west as you can go in Ireland. I couldn’t afford to live in Dublin, and I have a couple of friends here, so I found somewhere to live, and I’ve been here since. It’s been a solitary chapter of my life but I’ve always loved Kerry, and it’s a place that makes it easier to be on your own.
Mary Margaret O’Hara is on my playlist because I recently got to collaborate with her. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to finish a project called Cornaleena with the Irish writer Kevin Barry, the film-makers Frank Sweeney and Cóilín O’Connell, and a whole cast of musical contributors, including Mary Margaret O’Hara. She’s a massive hero of mine and probably my favourite vocalist of all time, so it was a privilege to work with her.
Ultimately, these were all pieces of work that made me feel less alone at a period when a lot of us were more alone than normal. For me, great art has that element, that emotional connection. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra
David Kitt releases 20, a rerecording of 20 songs from across 20 years, in the coming weeks. See davidkitt.com for more