For some time now, Bangor songwriter Foy Vance was one of this island’s best-kept secrets, but over the past 10 years (in particular with the release of 2013 album Joy of Nothing, which won the inaugural Northern Ireland Music Prize) he has gradually increased his profile. And yet it seems that working with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Kacey Musgraves and Alicia Keys, and touring with the likes of Snow Patrol and Sir Elton John, isn’t something that can always soothe a man’s soul.
Come March 2020, Vance’s outlet for touring was removed. So too were his daily lifestyle habits of, he says, “two bottles of wine and at least a half bottle of vodka . . . I’d start the day with codeine to get myself sorted, and I’d smoke joints throughout the day . . .” Signs of Life, then, is aptly titled, its songs topically pointing to a re-emergence of sorts after a period of volatility.
It starts with Sapling, a song of real intent that filters classic Van Morrison through a range of more contemporary songwriters (Sheeran, David Gray, Dermot Kennedy et al). Continuing in a similar vein – that is, liberal measures of sensitivity and strength – the album’s virtues lie in Vance’s acute and sometimes denouncing self-awareness; its flaws are, perhaps inevitably, boosted by over-familiarity with what is far too often a generic form.