The 50 best Irish music acts right now
Four Ticket music journalists - JIM CARROLL, TONY CLAYTON-LEA, SINÉAD GLEESONand LAUREN MURPHY- have stuck their necks out and named the best acts on the Irish music scene. Here are the results
50: MICHAEL KNIGHT
It’s baffling how this band’s output has been mostly neglected by Irish audiences - so much so that its underappreciated protagonist has relocated to Berlin. But Michael Knight, aka Richie Murphy, is a songwriter of the highest calibre. His 2005 debut, Youth Is Wasted on the Young, was a fine album of joyous, harmony-laden indie-pop, tempered by Murphy’s dour vocals and witty repartee. 2008’s I’m Not Entirely Clear How I Ended Up Like This was a darker affair, but no less satisfying. As far as Irish indie-pop goes, this is consummate stuff. www.myspace.com/michael knight.ie LM
49: DAVID TURPIN
“Whimsical”, “endearing”, “strikingly original”, “dark and dreamy” ... You will read and hear many positive things about Dubliner David Turpin’s 2008 debut album Sweet Used to Be. And so you should. Turpin has managed to transform indifference into engagement. One album does not a legacy make, however; there are times when this young artist’s affectations threaten to undermine his intentions, but there’s no doubt that Sweet Used to Bis a superb calling card that bodes well for future moves. TCL
They don’t gig regularly or release an album every 18 months, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore one of the best Irish bands of the past decade. Fusing mod stylings with hints of psychedelia and dashes of punk/pop, Dublin’s Saville form a sturdy bridge between ambition and pragmatism. There should always be room for talented artists whom fate has denied commercial success, but can’t this trend be bucked? Will someone in the know please pass on their excellent Nostalgia album to a US TV show? TCL www.myspace.com/savilleofficial
47: ANN SCOTT
Scott fluttered to the top of 2006’s end-of-year lists with her superb album, We’re Smiling, but has since retreated into a vague space, occasionally filled by support slots and guest appearances. ( We’re Smilingdid recently receive a belated UK release.) Now in her 30s, Scott seems to have developed a more focused methodology. Despite a once proclaimed frivolous approach to her art, she remains the dark horse that many hope will win the race. www.annscott.net TCL
46: MICK FLANNERY
2008 was a good year for Mick Flannery. The former stonemason had hung up his chisel in search of musical fulfilment several years back, yet his 2005 debut album ( Evening Train) failed to make any huge impression, despite the Corkonian’s talent as a writer and performer. Last year’s Choice- nominated White Lieschanged everything. With this stunning exhibition of the gravel-voiced musician’s abilities, Flannery turned his hand to mournful piano ballads and catchy guitar tunes with a flair that far surpasses his 25 years. LM
45: EVIL HARRISONS
This Dundalk trio aren’t especially well-known; they’re not part of any scene, they don’t have a deliberate “angle”, and they haven’t scored a single hit. Yet their In If It Is (2007) was one of the best EPs by an Irish band in recent memory. Singer and lyricist Ronan Murphy is influenced by literature and pop culture, but his wordy concoctions are clever, carefully thought-out and crucially unpretentious. Warm, bouncy jangle-pop with a bite, swoonsome torch songs . . . they’ve got it all. Evil Harrisons’ debut album, due this year, should fortify their standing as the best unsigned band in Ireland. LM
44: THE BLIZZARDS
“Pop” is a dirty word in some elitist music circles, but there’s no denying that The Blizzards are masters of their art. The first time they played Dublin in 2005, the quintet shipped a coachload of adoring fans from their native Mullingar to throng Whelan’s. It was a raucous night and an impressive display of watertight power-pop, with concentrated harmonies and elements of punk and ska. Two albums in, the quintet are as enthusiastic and hard-working as ever, and continue to evolve their style while writing infectious, unapologetically radio-friendly hits. LM
43: IAIN ARCHER
Bangor performer and songwriter Archer has put the hard graft in, from doing time with The Reindeer Section and Snow Patrol to working in a hostel for homeless young people. Two mid-1990s folksy albums ( Playing Dead, Crazy Bird) paved the way for a stint in Rock’n’Roll Babylon, as a touring member and a co-writer with Snow Patrol. (The radio play rate of Run alone means that Archer will most certainly weather the recession). But with 2004’s classy pop/rock Flood the Tanks and last month’s filigree-folk To the Pine Roots, Archer finally blew his cover.
Most Leaving Cert students would have enough on their plates, but not Dublin sisters Louise and Ellie McNamara. They spent last year’s exam season thinking about their just-released debut album and an impending US tour. Heathers cut their teeth on the all-ages gig scene around south Dublin and north Wicklow before releasing their sparkling, spirited punk-folk album, Here, Not There, via Hideaway House dude Dylan Haskins’s label. Now third-level students, they return to the US in June for a tour with Ghost Mice.
www.myspace.com/heathers whatsyourdamage JC
41: THE SCRIPT
Look on you indie snobs and despair. Much of the disdain about The Script springs from the fact that two of the three members cut their teeth in also-ran boyband MyTown. That was then, though, and this is now. The release of their debut album last year showed that the Dubliners have a solid way with penning commercial songs full of punch, hooks and gusto. If they keep coming up with radio-friendly songs such as We Cryand The Man Who Can’t Be Moved, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with for some time to come.
40: DARK ROOM NOTES
Taking a tried-and-trusted entry route into music (release a single, then an EP and now an album), this Dublin/Galway/Wicklow quartet have been turning heads over the past two years. Dark Room Notes’ Dead StartProgram EP was an atmospheric blur of electro- rock. Legendary producer Flood provided a B-side remix for their debut single, but the band decamped to London with an Irish producer to record their full-length debut, We Love You Dark Matter. It gets a release via Gonzo Records on April 10th. www.darkroomnotes.com SG
1996: a time of baggy jumpers, stonewashed jeans and Nirvana fixations. Along came this skinny Downpatrick trio, who looked like they’d just walked off stage at their school’s Battle of the Bands competition. Ash released what remains their definitive album ( 1977), but they’ve since excelled at catchy pop-punk anthems ( Shining Light, Burn Baby Burn, Envy). Their last album, Twilight of the Innocents, was unfairly maligned - but who will deny, even now, that their heart swells when a sweeping orchestration ushers in the chorus of Oh Yeah?
38: THE JIMMY CAKE
The last decade has a seen a flourishing of instrumental music in Ireland, with The Jimmy Cake at the forefront. An evolving line-up of musicians has given them the time and space to experiment with composition and tone, creating something both experimental and accessible. The nine-piece were at the top of their game with last year’s Sceptre &Although constantly hit with the post-rock tag, the musicianship on offer amounts to far more. There are echoes of US composer Steve Reich, but The Jimmy Cake criss- cross several genres. www.thejimmycake.org SG
37: REPUBLIC OF LOOSE
Mick Pyro is a true one-off. Simultaneously channelling the spirits of James Brown and James Joyce in one fell swoop, the gruff singer with the extraordinary soul voice leads Republic of Loose, one of Ireland’s most original bands. The Dubliners haven’t broken the UK or US markets mainly because they shatter preconceived notions of what an Irish funk and soul band should be. Bono is a fan, but the slick, stylish and eclectic sextet don’t need the patronage: the musical evolution displayed on their three diverse albums is enough to substantiate their value.
36: IARLA Ó LIONÁIRD
Renowned for his lilting vocal range, Iarla Ó Lionáird is more than just a gifted sean-nós singer. Ó Lionáird hails from west Cork’s Gaeltacht and learnt his vocal craft as part of Seán Ó Riada’s choir. He has raised the profile of ancient Irish vocal techniques, incorporating modern twists into something traditional and sparse, best evidenced in his most recent album, Invisible Fields. His compositional skills have won him soundtrack work and Grammy nominations (as part of Afro Celt Soundsystem), while his most recent collaboration was a live piece with the Crash Ensemble. www.iarla.com SG
35: DUKE SPECIAL
Peter Wilson is the curious one in the list. The dreadlocked, eye- linered musician surrounds himself with arcane recording artefacts and even, on occasion, borrows from the music of long- gone Northern Ireland stars. (Ruby Murray springs to mind; ask your Grandad.) Yet Wilson/Special has a unique take on matters: he’s conventional enough to enjoy a fair amount of radio airplay, yet bizarre enough to pepper his songs with esoteric references to the underworld, gravediggers, death and other Tim Burton-esque stylings.
34: DAMIEN RICE
Damien Rice is the quiet one, the intense one, the singer-songwriter most revered by the other quiet and intense ones. He’s been almost too quiet of late: aside from a guest slot at Leonard Cohen’s 2008 Dublin show, Rice has been busy writing and recording the follow-up to 2006’s 9. This will be his first album without musical foil Lisa Hannigan (see separate entry), so we’ll see and hear what we’ll see and hear. Suffice to say that if all the malarkey about Rice’s creative and performing sensitivities can be ignored, he remains a most excruciatingly honest songwriter. www.damienrice.com TCL
33: SI SCHROEDER
Simon Kenny isn’t short on musical influences, and even when he left behind the guitar fuzz of his former project (Schroeder’s Cat), he brought something of its epic noise to his solo work. Electronic, folky drones form the backdrop to Kenny’s whispered take on the world around him. For every pattern of bleeps, there are dusty chimes and organic beats. Coping Mechanisms, his many-layered debut album, grabbed hearts and minds, and pushed his live performances from solo electronics to a full-band experience. A follow-up is in the works and due later this year.
32: MARTIN HAYES & DENNIS CAHILL
Clare-born fiddle maestro Martin Hayes first met up with Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill in the 1980s, when they were members of Windy City fusion band Midnight Court. A musical match was struck when the fiddler returned to his musical roots and the Cahill came along. Theirs is a fluid relationship that has produced some brilliant albums (especially 1999’s Live in Seattleand last year’s Welcome Here Again). But the true measure of the partnership is in the live shows, when each sparks off the other and the music transcends the setting.
31: THE SPOOK OF THE THIRTEENTH LOCK
There was both eating and drinking in last year’s hugely engaging debut album from these Dublin freak-folk rockers. While it offered proof that Horslips’ warped Celtic acid-rock still had plenty of traction, Allen Bligh and friends updated and upholstered all the traditional trimmings. A merry banquet of clattering banjos, Krautrock psych-outs and space- age flights of fancy: God only knows what comes next, but it will be well worth hearing.
www.myspace.com/thespookof thethirteenthlock JC
30: GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT
These quiet-loud-quiet, post-rock maestros from the Glen of the Downs in Co Wicklow are proof that some Irish bands do think outside the box. Whatever about their domestic standing, God Is an Astronaut’s beautifully measured albums, such as All Is Violent, All Is Brightand the current self-titled release, have given them a growing profile much further afield. They’re now at the start of an extensive European tour that will see them going east, north and south for the rest of 2009, bringing an explosive live performance with them. JC
29: JULIE FEENEY
Julie Feeney’s 13 songs came out of nowhere in 2005. Self-financed and produced, with Feeney’s beautiful vocals soaring over multiple instruments she played herself, it bagged the inaugural Choice Music Prize. She has since signed to SonyBMG, composed two pieces with the Crash Ensemble, written electronic scores for theatre and contemporary dance, and conducted a 65-piece orchestra. Her second album is set for release in Ireland on May 29th.
28: COLM MAC CON IOMAIRE
As a founder of Kila, and member of both The Frames and Glen Hansards Swell Season, Colm Mac Con Iomaire has taken his time in venturing outside of an ensemble. His debut solo album The Hare's Corner, released last year, while rooted in traditional Irish music, has managed to gather many modern threads together. It garnered praise from bloggers and non-trad fans alike. A stunning record with a brooding, free-flowing feel centred around his accomplished fiddle-playing.
www.myspace.com/ theharescorner SG
27: CATHAL COUGHLAN
The frontman of two of the most disaffected Irish rock bands of the past 30 years - Microdisney and Fatima Mansions - Cathal Coughlan stands alone in the pantheon of disgruntled Irish shruggers. Through a sequence of solo albums over the past 10 years, however - as well as projects that could easily fall into avant-garde categories in the areas of theatre and spoken word - Coughlan has steered clear of placing himself and his music in a corner. Despite the “avant-art” tag, Coughlan adheres to a traditional work ethic. In short? A smart cage rattler. www.cathalcoughlan.com TCL
26: KATIE KIM
Formerly of Dae Kim, Katie Sullivan’s debut album Twelve was one of 2008’s most pleasant bolts from the blue. Released with the minimum of fuss, Twelve simply let the Waterford singer-songwriter’s elegant, fully-rounded songs, such as Radio, and her bespoke command of graceful indie stylings do all the talking. Oodles of radio play, particularly on a national level, further testified to the album’s winning ways. She is currently based in Canada.
www.myspace.com/ dancekatiekimdance JC
25: DAVID KITT
He’s had his ups (those beautiful early albums) and downs (that would probably be Square One), but David Kitt is still producing exciting new music. His latest album, Nightsaver, is a perfect example of Kitt’s ability to match experimental leanings with laidback, melodic songs. Like his last album, No Fade Away, it’s a further sign of Kitt digging in and bedding down for the long run. We await further developments - and perhaps a record from Kitt-kin side-project Spilly Walker - with interest. www.davidkitt.net JC
24: MY BLOODY VALENTINE
My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album, Loveless, doesn’t consistently top “Most Influential” polls for no reason. News of their reformation in 2007 made grown men cry, and that was before they were exposed to ear-bleeding levels of feedback at the comeback gigs. Their Electric Picnic performance in 2008 should have been a let-down, considering the high expectations, but their set was incendiary. A pulverising, body-shuddering experience, it proved that the quartet still have the potential to blow away a new generation of fans. www.mybloodyvalentine.co.uk LM
23: MESSIAH J THE EXPERT
Messiah J and The Expert are regularly cited as one of the best musical acts in Ireland, but it’s often imparted in a patronising, tokenistic manner. Irish hip-hop? Sure, at least they’re trying something different. The duo deserve recognition because they’re making music that speaks to a varied cross-section of the general public. Mixing accessible, sample-heavy tunes with incisive lyrics - their third album From the Word Gois their best yet - MJEX may have many influences, but they brand it with own inimitable style. www.messiahjandtheexpert.com LM
22: SNOW PATROL
After U2, Snow Patrol are probably Ireland’s next-best-selling rock act - and rightly so, despite forays into areas that press the audience appreciation buttons a tad too much. Three multi-million-selling albums (2003’s The Final Straw, 2006’s Eyes Openand last year’s A Hundred Million Suns) are enough to push any band into commercial overdrive, yet recent live shows have proved that Snow Patrol are blending granite hard edges into a mix that already includes sturdy pop/rock and quite lyrical ballads. As yet the balance isn’t quite right, but optimism prevails.
21: IMELDA MAY
Few would have guessed a year ago that one of the most successful Irish acts of 2009 would be a rockabilly singer from Dublin’s Liberties. Despite appearances to the contrary, Imelda May is no overnight success story. Her first paying gig came flogging fish fingers in an ad as a 14 year-old and she spent many years on the live music and corporate gig circuit since. When the time eventually came to set out her solo stall, May recorded that fantastic Love Tattooalbum and things began to fall into place.
By the time April is out, Oppenheimer will have another US tour done. This time round will be with Presidents of the United States of America and it will be the third US tour Rocky O’Reilly and Shaun Robinson have done this year alone. The boisterous fizzy and fuzzy pop from the hardest-working duo in Ireland has been greeted with open arms across the Atlantic, where songs have aired on such TV shows as Ugly Betty, Gossip Girland How I Met Your Mother. Back home, O’Reilly has also gained a rep for his production skills. www.oppenheimermusic.co.uk JC
There are many one-man-and-his- guitar outfits in Irish music, but none quite like Dubliner John Lambert. Blending the acoustic (guitar) with a clutch of electronic flourishes, his 2007 album Penny Blackreceived much critical acclaim. The album by this accomplished graphic artist united the visual and aural to create a portfolio of instrumental moods. Synth and percussion-heavy melodies are spliced with Lambert’s Spanish-style guitar plucking. It’s a compact set-up, but one that produces a huge, orchestral sound. www.chequerboard.net SG
They’d be in the “Top 50 Irish Acts Right Now” of any year of the past 30, such is their commercial profile and critical cachet. Yet their recently-released album, No Line on the Horizon, is less of a masterpiece than many critics are claiming; indeed, it contains some of the most mediocre music U2 have created, something that seems to have been doggedly overlooked in the rush to lionise them (which is also occasionally justified). The next album had better be very much in the zone, otherwise we’re outta here. TCL
17: CAP PAS CAP
Edgy, daring and sparky, Dublin band Cap Pas Cap play a hugely alluring post-everything game. There has only been a handful of releases to date, but each one has seen them pulling new shapes from the bag. Their best moment to date was last year’s hypnotic and spacey We Are Mensingle on the Skinny Wolves label, a pointer to the new-wave-no-wave-what-wave terrain they’re calling their own. Cap Pas Cap’s debut album should be one of this year’s highlights.
Even when Delorentos were supporting nonentity bands in Crawdaddy on dreary Tuesday nights in 2005, their spark was unwaveringly evident. An obviously well-rehearsed group - this writer has never witnessed a sloppy performance by the Dubliners - their 2007 debut In Love With Detailwas stuffed with razor-sharp and radio-friendly guitar-pop. News of their forthcoming split came as a blow to fans who expected great things from the young quartet. At least, like The Immediate, they’ll have lived fast, died young and left a beautiful corpse. www.delorentos.net LM
15: JINX LENNON
Wilfully provocative, perversely kicking against the pricks, spitting invective, pissing off dyed-in-the-wool Christy Moore fans - you have to hand it to Dundalk’s Jinx Lennon for telling it like it is in an accent that could cut strips off a shank of ham, and for fearlessly eyeballing a non-partisan audience. Is he any good? Here’s what we really think: Jinx is a mixture of the woefully unlistenable and the stirringly excellent, and his credo appears to be that of his more famous namesake: gimme some truth. We can live with that, no problem. www.jinxlennon.com TCL
14: FIONN REGAN
In one short and very sweet 2006 debut collection, Fionn Regan managed to shatter the po-faced stereotype of the singer- songwriter. With its liberal sprinkling of humour and literary references, The End of Historygave us surreal stories with a philosophical heart. The Wicklow man has carved out a profile outside of Ireland thanks to subversive tales about life and growing up. Single Be Good or Be Gone became a big hit and got a US TV outing on Grey’s Anatomy. A follow-up album is slated for 2009. www.fionnregan.com SG
A drummer from the Marble City, Jeremy Hickey finds himself on this list chiefly because of his Organic Sampleralbum from last year. While Hickey may have gained some traction for his previous work with Blue Ghost, it was that album and the one-man live shows which came with it that really pulled in the rave reviews. Hickey has shown that he’s second to none when it comes to producing powerhouse tracks which are funky, compelling, dramatic and exciting. The best thing to come out of Kilkenny since Henry Sheflin. www.myspace.com/rarelyseen aboveground JC
12: THE DIVINE COMEDY
He’s a bit young to be described as an “elder statesman” of Irish music, but Neil Hannon’s legacy is already evident. With his band The Divine Comedy, the Derry-born musician’s career has spanned two decades, but it’s not just the critical praise that makes him a significant figure - it’s his trademark velvety baritone, his infamous dry wit, and a panache that’s evident both on record and live. Hannon is simply one of the best songwriters this country has produced, and his name will be uttered alongside such greats as his hero Scott Walker, long after he’s gone. www.thedivinecomedy.com LM
11: THE FRAMES/SWELL SEASON/GLEN HANSARD
While the award-winning and career-defining Oncemay have taken some cues from Glen Hansard’s own beginnings as a Grafton Street busker, the story of his band The Frames is the stuff of a great movie or documentary in its own right. For 20 years, Hansard and co have been at the forefront of Irish rock and have seen their star continue to rise abroad. The success of Oncemeans a bigger audience anticipation for Hansard’s next move, be that a new Frames or Swell Season album.
It’s a cliché, but it really is the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Back in 2005, Dublin duo Halfset released their debut album, Dramanalog. The pairing of musician/producer Stephen Shannon and musician Jeff Martin resulted in a great idea not fully realised, but between the acoustic jigs and the chill-out reels, the duo bided their time. Fast-forward to 2008, and Halfset - by this stage doubled to four members with the inclusion of harpist/pianist Sinéad Nic Gearailt and drummer Cillian McDonnell - released the utterly beguiling, quietly triumphant Another Way of Being There. That the release revisited the kind of album cover that a totally skint Pink Floyd might have used in the 1970s was one thing; that the music was a seriously astute mixture of gleaming, glitch-free ambient and stirring, effortlessly smooth electronica was another. Finally, Halfset had arrived.
9: BELL X1
Irish rock’s most likeable band? Probably, but a likeability factor in rock music means nothing if you haven’t got the songs (or, indeed, the fans) as back-up. Prior to the release of Bell X1’s recently-released fourth album, Blue Lights on the Runway,there was a suspicion floating about that it would be a white-flag-waving swansong - what with no major record label support and the departure of original member Brian Crosby. Yet the success of the album in this country and beyond (coupled with a nationwide tour of virtually sell-out shows, plus appearances on US chat shows hosted by Conan O’Brien and David Letterman) shows how these fears were misplaced. An all-too obvious liking for Talking Heads notwithstanding (eg, single The Great Defector), it seems that Bell X1 are refusing to give up. Likeable guys getting ruthless on our asses? Bring it on.
8: ADRIAN CROWLEY
Later this month, Adrian Crowley will release his fifth album, Season of the Sparks. Unlike his previous albums, there’s a lot of expectation about Crowley’s new release. This is due to the success of 2007’s Long Distance Swimmer,an album which saw the Galway-born, Dublin-based singer-songwriter win over a new audience with his majestic songs, rich voice and subtle blend of atmospherics and master-level wordplay. He capitalised on the last release through tours with Silver Jews, James Yorkston and Vetiver, so it will be interesting to note just how well the new album will be received.
7: RÓISÍN MURPHY
When Moloko cracked the charts in 1999 with the club classic Sing It Backmany assumptions were made about the female singer. Not least that she was just the pretty vocal vehicle for some button-pushing producer; but also Róisín Murphy has proved herself to be not only an exceptional songwriter, but something of a musical chameleon. Pushing through disco house to the darker ends of electronica, she wears her influences (and some pretty crazy haute couture costumes) on her sleeve. Her post-modern take on electro-pop icluded various styles and genres. But it is Murphy’s distinctive voice that elevates her above her contemporaries. Her 2007 album Overpoweredwas nominated for the Choice Music Prize, and her vocal performance on the night - from heart-broken whisper to diva holler - left the crowd gasping. A talented innovator and unique musician possessed of a sublime voice.
When hotly-tipped Dublin hopefuls The Immediate suddenly imploded over a year ago, it seemed as if the band’s lead singer Conor O’Brien would retreat into early retirement and be remembered solely for the “coulda-been-a-contender” status afforded to so many bands residing in the elephant’s graveyard. Not so. Following a stint as one of Cathy Davey’s backing musicians, O’Brien quickly regrouped his thoughts and created Villagers, a band that to date has officially released just one four-track EP, Hollow Kind.An album will follow later this year, and from what we’ve heard and seen live so far, Villagers generate the type of music (sparse, eerie, casually dishevelled, tangibly cool) that will spread beyond the confines of niche appreciation into a great blue yonder.
5: LISA HANNIGAN
We probably all know by now that Co Meath’s Lisa Hannigan was at one time a strategic music assistant of/foil to Damien Rice (see separate entry), and that the partnership dissolved abruptly, leaving Hannigan to concentrate on her solo material.
What we would not have been aware of prior to the release of Hannigan’s debut solo album - last year’s Sea Sew - was the breadth of her talent. There have been many critically lauded (and hyped) music acts over the years that have quickly turned from snow to slush overnight, but Hannigan’s songs have, virtually uniquely, managed to stay fresh - despite having received far more airplay than would be usual for a singer of her lowly stature. Did we actually say “lowly stature”? Perish that thought immediately: Hannigan is slowly becoming the darling of the US courtesy of support slots with the likes of Jason Mraz and soundtrack play on television über-hit Grey’s Anatomy. Hey Lisa - we loved you first. It’s important you remember that.
4: FIGHT LIKE APES
Ireland has, quite simply, never seen a band like Fight Like Apes. It’s not because they eschew guitars, or use kitchen implements as stage props. It’s not because they treat each gig as if it were their last, and it’s certainly not because they’re inevitably destined for international renown. Mostly, it’s because the quartet refuse to take themselves seriously, acting as a palette-cleansing antidote to the dour “woolly jumper brigade” that dragged Irish music into the depths of despair not a decade ago. They’ve polarised opinions like no other band in recent memory too; those who “get” Fight Like Apes adore them unswervingly, while their detractors gnash teeth in search of adjectives to describe their “gimmick”. Yet it’s only a gimmick if there’s no substance underneath, and their astonishing debut album Fight Like Apes and The Mystery of the Golden Medallion, an album that encompasses melancholy and whimsy (both lyrically and musically), is testament to their worth.
3: CATHY DAVEY
Cathy Davey’s debut album Something Ilk(2004) slipped under the radar upon its release, but reparations were made with its follow-up Tales of Silversleevein 2007. An album to fall instantantly in love with, it exhibited a singer and songwriter who had come on in great strides in just three short years. Steered by producer Liam Howe’s (Sneaker Pimps) creative hand, Davey’s talent as a writer of intelligent, deliciously addictive pop songs of depth and composure - as well as her apparently innate understanding of melody and rhythm - resulted in an album that stood head, shoulders and torso above anything else released that year, Irish or otherwise. Her live performances have been consistently enriching - witness her tremendous Electric Picnic performance last year (which even Elbow failed to worm their way into the packed tent to witness). There’s no better female songwriter in Irish music right now.
Once best known as bassist for über-respected instrumentalists The Redneck Manifesto, Richie Egan’s side project, Jape, originally began as an outlet for his own mellow acoustic meanderings. Although he dabbled in electronica on his first two albums, it wasn’t until 2008’s Ritualthat he embraced sampling and synths wholeheartedly, subsequently hitting his stride - and a career high - in emphatic fashion. A dream signing to V2 Records turned sour when the label folded in 2007, but Egan rose from the ashes, re-signed to The Co-Op and released a Choice Music Prize-winning record of heart-soaringly, lovingly crafted electro-pop songs that are as endearing as they are enduring. Forget the irrelevant fact that he may or may not be a nice guy: above all, Egan is a master songwriter with an extremely exciting creative vision, and is an absolutely vital component of the Irish music scene. LM
1: DAVID HOLMES
It has been one hell of a trip. I mean, who would have thought that David Holmes would end up scoring movies in Hollywood? Certainly not any of those who paid him to cut their hair when he was a young hairdresser in a salon called Zakk's in Belfast.
The rise and rise of David Holmes is quite marvellous to behold. At every juncture, from the days when his Sugar Sweet club was one of the very best techno nights out in Europe to last year's remarkable The Holy Picturesalbum, Holmes has demonstrated a sure-fire ability to shake things up and move the story on.
He has never been afraid to do the unexpected. After all, Holmes could have become another techno kingpin or taken all the Hollywood work he could handle and live the Vinny Chase lifestyle in La-La-Land, but he chose other avenues. Even after the huge love for last year's album, you can be sure that his next steps will take him in yet another direction
Holmes first appeared on the scene as one half of the Sugar Sweet team alongside Iain McCready in Belfast. From late 1989 onwards, the pair would rock the city's art college once a month with such guests as Orbital, Sabres Of Paradise, Chemical Brothers, Slam and the other figureheads of that era.
It was around then that Holmes began to cut his teeth in the studio. Early releases, such as De Niro, a Positivasingle with Ashley Beedle under the Disco Evangalists banner, led to more work. From that era, his evocative, emotional remix of Smokebelch IIby Andy Weatherall's Sabres of Paradise from 1993 still stands tall.
But Holmes knew he was just starting out and there was a long way to go. "Nobody's perfect, we all have off days when we produce duff work which isn't very inspiring," he said in one interview. "I mean, I'm not a studio wizard, I know how I want something to sound and I'm constantly surprised by what gets put down. When I listen to something like De Nironow, I cringe a bit. I've covered a lot of ground since then."
His first couple of albums saw him doing that and more. Holmes's 1995 debut This Film's Crap, Let's Slash The Seatswasn't bad, but the follow-up, 1997's Let's Get Killed,featuring a bug-eyed Holmes roaming around New York with a dictaphone and taking everything in, was far better.
Given the hugely cinematic quality of his work and the fact that Holmes spoke regularly of his desire to score movies in interviews, film-makers were soon on the phone. He was tapped for the score for the 1998 Shankhill Butchers flick Resurrection Manbefore Hollywood came calling.
Holmes began a long and prosperous relationship with director Steven Soderbergh with on the score for Out Of Sight. Since then, he's also worked on Ocean's 11(and 12 and 13), Anazlyze That, Buffalo Soldiersand Hunger.
"I still live in Belfast and it's a big part of my life. I don't see the need to go to live somewhere else. I can fly to LA to do a film, but I do come back," Holmes told one interviewer.
Last year saw Holmes coming home in a creative sense. The Holy Pictureswas a record about Holmes and his people. It was both his family album and a beautifully melancholic and haunted homage to Belfast.
It's certainly the most personal thing Holmes has ever done. "There's a lot of emotion in it," he says. "I'm like most people when it comes to making music in that I try to reinvent myself every time and make it interesting for myself and follow my heart. You're trying to do something genuine and you're not being contrived about it. With this album, that honesty was the driving force because those emotions had to do with my life, and the people and places which meant a lot to me."
Holmes is currently working in Belfast on the scores to a number of movies.
www.myspace.com/ davidholmesofficial. JC
Where did this list come from?
First, we laid down some ground rules. 1. Solo acts had to have been born on the island of Ireland or to hold an Irish passport. 2. In the case of bands, half or more of the members had to have been born on the island of Ireland or to hold an Irish passport. 3. Bands had to have recorded or released music since January 2008, or to have played a gig since January 2008.
Our panel of four music journalists (Jim Carroll, Tony Clayton-Lea, Sinéad Gleeson and Lauren Murphy) each worked independently and, without conferring, submitted a list of their Top 50 Irish Acts Right Now. Each judge's number 1 was awarded 50 points, number 2 was awarded 49 points and so on.
The lists were merged, the scores added, and what you see here are the top 50 from all four judges. None of them has seen the full list before this morning.
There were several ties, and the panellists were asked to re-vote on these in a second round of voting. Those unresolved were sorted by counting how many lists an act had appeared upon.
WE DO DECLARE
Each panellist was asked to disclose any personal acquaintances. Lauren Murphy knows a member of Evil Harrisons. Sinéad Gleeson is personally acquainted with Adrian Crowley and David Turpin, and is married to a member of Halfset.
What can you do? It's a small country.