Songwriters and players have given us a lot in 2021. Local music has been the sweetest rescue, support and relief. So a fitting tribute in December would be to give these artists some extra revenge and give them back some of that love.
Below I have listed some of the notable acts. Even in the most difficult of times, they delivered the tunes, performed the shows (where possible) and handled the messy logistics of the pressing factories, late schedules, and tours that crashed and fell repeatedly. .
Every artist I’ve met this year has a story about stress and tough finances. Organizations such as Help Musicians UK and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have stepped in to provide emergency aid.
They worked hard to mend damaged spirits and depleted supplies. In the meantime, the music community has also come together and put forth so much altruistic energy.
Hannah peel provided a soundtrack in the first half of the year with the magnificent album Fir Wave. It was about the healing potential of music and electronic rhythms that could accentuate the process. It was the best tonic, your accompaniment to confinement walks and the restorative power of spring. Fittingly, he was shortlisted for the Mercury Prize.
Holy sister also received their due when the album, Where I Should End, won the NI Music Prize. Gemma and Morgan’s voices matched perfectly and they revealed new sides of fun, storytelling, and political thinking. Karaoke Song was the sound of a number escaping all categories.
Dani Larkin was the most exciting outlier of 2011. She timed her releases to coincide with the Celtic calendar, and when all parties came together on the record, Notes for a Maiden Warrior, the big picture was revealed. She sang about Irish archetypes and blood rites, then linked the landscape to her own feelings of displacement and passion.
biceps took another triumphant turn with the Islands record. A few critics felt that the smooth beats were meant for dinner, but that ignored the deep reservations of a song like Atlas and the duo’s skill with samples and vibe. Even if you don’t know Biceps, the song Apricots has surrounded you like the greatest dream state.
Leo Miyagee reminded us that hip hop is a point of arrival for so many diverse voices and talents. His OG Kung Fu III record is like an action movie episode, full of gritty Belfast interludes and revealing drama.
Joshua Burnside is a major songwriting talent and when he returned to the Ulster Sports Club for a three night residency in November, the skill and charisma seemed to outnumber the tune itself. He embraces Irish trad and African groove and bewitching threads. Josh is one big song away from the big hits, but right now he’s our big secret.
TRU also apply to ancient traditions of song. They relate to the working songs of Donegal and the Hebrides, but they also extend to new places. The album No Fixed Abode deserved repeated visits, a mixture of flute, ancestral voices and digital effects.
New Pagans were surely the most intense guitar group of the year. Loud and howling like the Pixies and Nirvana and also informed by the presence of Lindsey McDowall, an intellectual firestorm. Their evening show at the Stendhal Festival in July was a mind-boggling array of fair rage, distortion, and many album songs from The Seed, The Vessel the Roots and All.
Stendhal festival tested the return of live music in June then followed by magnificent nights in July and August. We missed the festival culture, wild camping and the chance to see people like Ash, Special Duke and And so I look at you from afar in their true wild habitat.
The easy way to reward these acts is to buy the records. Belfast has Starr Records, Dragon Records and Sound Advice. Derry has Abbazappa and Cool Discs. In Omagh, there are Boneyard Records, while Bangor has Bending Sound and Choons.
Another huge giveaway for the music fan is a pre-order for next year’s Stendhal Festival – a real license to be captivated.
Streaming services have an abusive relationship with songwriters, but Bandcamp is a chance to convey financial gratitude to music creators and order their merchandise – one of the lifesavers of the current music model.
It was the year we paid tribute to the Music Agent Steve strange – a force of nature so immense that his departure seemed particularly abrupt. We also lost the musician Joe cassidy, moved from Belfast to Chicago, but still admired by many of us. Her work as Butterfly Child is a beautiful legacy and there will be brilliant and posthumous works to console us for years to come.
In the final days of 2021, it was also established, after 46 years, that three members of The Miami Show Band had been murdered by the side of the road by a combination of paramilitaries and state agents.
Even though we had suspected the truth, it was still a shock to hear that musicians were somehow seen as “legitimate” targets by those tasked with saving us. The tenacity of the surviving band members – Stephen Travers and Des McAlea – brought the truth to light and we mourn Fran O’Toole, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty once again.