One of the finest singer/songwriters Northern Ireland has ever produced, Foy Vance announces a headline show at the Ulster Hall, Belfast on Saturday 10th December 2016.
Foy Vance knows how to write a song. It’s a naturally-born but dedicatedly-finessed skill that has led him to collaborate with artists as diverse as Plan B, Sheryl Crow and Rudimental, synced his music on multiple TV shows ranging from Grey’s Anatomy to the finale of Sons Of Anarchy, and caught the ears of some of the biggest players (in every sense) in music, from Elton John to Ed Sheeran.
So it is that in the run-up to the release of his new album, Vance travelled to Nashville. It’s a long way from home for the Irishman, both from the place of his birth (Bangor, Northern Ireland) and the place of his residence (Aberfeldy, Scotland). But for an inveterate songwriter, Music City is an irresistible draw, a place where Vance can work with the best of the best. Not, Vance clarifies, for himself or his own material. For one thing, he’s already completed his new album, and with songs of the calibre and single-minded brilliance of the dozen that comprise The Wild Swan, there’s no need for any outside assistance.
But for another, “I’m not snobby about it, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing with other people for myself. That feels like it’s my own private joy,” adds a man who crafted The Wild Swan entirely to his own vision, in Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, aided by Jacquire King, who recorded and mixed one of his favourite albums, Tom Waits’ Mule Variations.
“And I used to steer clear of writing with other people altogether until I started doing it just by chance. And then I realised that even when it goes shit, it’s still a learning curve,” Vance notes with a smile. “Every wrong path is a way to the right path. I keep it pretty lean. But when good people come up, I give it a go.”
One of those good people is Sheeran. Vance co-wrote “Tenerife Sea” and “Afire Love” from 2014’s multi-million- selling X, and he wrote “Make It Rain”, which Sheeran sang over the final episode of cult biker drama Sons Of Anarchy.
“Ed’s like a wee song machine,” Vance notes approvingly. “He would always go places lyrically that I wouldn’t go myself, so he makes me think about the lyrical choices I make. Working with Ed made me a better writer.”
Now, with the impassioned, rootsy, rousing The Wild Swan – an album that makes nods to, and takes cues from, proper heroes ranging from Noam Chomsky to Ziggy Stardust to WB Yeats – the pair’s relationship moves to another level. Sheeran has signed Vance to Gingerbread Man Records, the label he launched in 2015 with Jamie Lawson and his self-titled, chart-topping debut album.
Vance’s rich, rich voice also gets up close and personal on the hymnal “Burden”, then digs deep for “She Burns”, a song and a performance evocative of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel Of Love”.
There are other, equally deeply felt glories too, like the ancient-but-modern “Be Like You Belong”, Vance’s soulful rasp weaving through pedal-steel and simple piano chords, or “Ziggy Looked Me In The Eye”. The latter is a piano-based, strings-buoyed soul-stirrer that compresses anthemic cri de coeur into four minutes of dignified tribute to, says Vance, “various people who I think have been part of a revolution. I’m not talking about Che Guevara or Ghandi or even Russell Brand for that matter – I’m talking about personal revolution. I like that idea constantly revolting against your own parameters.”
This thinking no doubt informs Vance’s embracing the opportunity of a summer tour with Elton John. Ever attuned to passionate artists, and forever intent on giving audiences the best possible night, Elton has invited Vance to support him on the British and European legs of his Wonderful Crazy Tour. But Elton’s enthusiasm for Vance goes deeper, still, than that – he’s Executive Producer of The Wild Swan.
“I feel so privileged to be a part of this remarkable artist’s first album on Gingerbread Man Records,” says Elton. “He is an extraordinary writer and singer.”
As seals of approval go, they don’t come much better than the imprimatur of one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
Referring to the album’s penultimate song, the “antsy”, agit-folk “Fire It Up”, this tyro-troubador sets straight his goals: “|t just has to be real. You go back to ancient Irish music, or Native American music, or people out on the plains of Africa – those people who are struggling for food, sometimes not eating for weeks on end, and having to hydrate themselves by piercing the neck of a wildebeest. But every single night the drums are out, and they’re singing around the fire.
“That tells you something about what music actually is. Whereas we’ve turned into a commodity – it’s become something to sell, a vehicle to get money or fame,” Foy Vance says with cheerful distaste. “That’s not what has ever interested me. It’s the music itself that matters. It has to be real.”
Tickets on sale Friday May 06th at 10am – buy yours here.