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So you wanna be a rock ’n’ roll star? No, a folk singer

Daoiri Farrell: fine performances of traditional songs of everyday Ireland

Andrew Curry writes: The Irish bouzouki player and singer Daoirí Farrell comes with some strong recommendations. Christy Moore says that he has taken on the mantle of Luke Kelly. Donal Lunny calls him one of “the most important traditional singers” to emerge in Ireland in the last decade.

His first record, True Born Irishman, won two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2017. But I was alerted to him by the Salut! Live reader who added him and his song Creggan White Hare when Colin and I were compiling our “big box set” of all the Irish performers we’d overlooked when we assembled our playlist for St Patrick’s Day.

(Daoirí Farrell, accompanied by ‘a pint of plain’. Photo: Daoirí.com)

And then it turned out that he was playing two nights at the Irish Cultural Centre in west London, close enough to where I live, right at the end of a world tour that has taken in Australia and America, Uxbridge and Ystradgynlais. The first night, with his trio, was sold out by the time I booked, so I saw him solo. It was a full hall.

What you get on stage is some fine bouzouki playing, a voice that’s well-suited to the Irish traditional repertoire, and a set that includes some songs from unfamiliar parts of the repertoire.

He also brings quite a lot of humour, both between the songs and in some of them, and an occasional sprinkling of what he called “cuss words”, as he apologised for them. Ask your kids to cover their ears. He’s also careful to trace the history of the versions he’s singing, and the debts he owes to the rest of the traditional community. He’s clearly steeped in this stuff.

The first song he played on the evening, Plains of Kildare, was also the first song he ever recorded.

He found it on a 4-CD compilation of Irish music in a bargain bin in the electricals shop in Tallaght, where he grew up, when he was 10 or 11, in the 1990s. (“CDs were big then, and it was green and it had shamrocks all over it, you’ll know the thing I mean”.) The version he learnt from the CD was by Eddie Furey.

From that we went into Sonny’s Dream, one of two songs on the night by the prolific Canadian songwriter Ron Hynes, and Shamrock Shore, learned from the singing of the Irish collector Frank Harte.

By this time he was encouraging us to sing along with the choruses, and with some success. He’d run a free singing class for ticket holders before the show and some people were in good voice from the off.

Songs about travelling and about migrating for work were scattered through the set. Rambler from Clare tells the story of an Irish labourer who builds bridges and roads on the British mainland, retiring broken and poor in his mid-40s. He learned the version he sang here from Shamie O’Dowd, in Sligo. Pat Rainey, written by Fergus Russell, is of a famous member of the traveller community, to whom Farrell might be distantly related. His father’s mother, Shelagh, was a Rainey. (“Not that I’d ever have called her Shelagh. She’d have slapped my head off.”) Clasped to the Pig may also be a travellers’ song, about a man who is so drunk that he settles down for the night with the pig rather than his wife.

The singer Pat Good, who’s helped Farrell with some of his songwriting, had put a tune to a set of verses in praise of Guinness called A Pint of Plain. The phrase reminded me immediately of the great Irish humourist and satirist Flann O’Brien, and when I looked it up I discovered that Flann O’Brien had written the words.

In a similarly Irish vein, he also performed another Pat Good song, an uptempo number written after slipping on “dog shite” in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, a sorry tale in which he can’t go out without slipping over yet again. By this time the audience was in full voice on the chorus.

Somewhere around here Farrell did a request for someone in the audience. He explained that he‘d been approached by someone during the interval while he was at the merchandise stall. “He was tall and broad and I was a bit afraid of him”.

The other Ron Hynes’ song in the set was his current single, confusingly called Blackwater Side, but with no connection to the classic—and famous—Irish song. Hynes’ song is about an Irish couple being parted by migration, in which the girl tries to persuade the boy not to go.

He recorded a video for the song on Killiney Hill near Dublin, on a freezing cold day in January. The winds were high, the drone they were using to film an overhead shot was blown off course, and Farrell could see it about to disappear out of range. Then the wind suddenly dropped, “and I saw €2,000-worth of drone heading back towards me again.”

Daoirí Farrell doesn’t do encores, ever since a German sound engineer that he knew well played a practical joke on him. Somewhere in the last three songs he stood up and took a bow, and then sat down and played on. It was a strong end to the set, with The Foggy Dew followed by Tippin’ It Up To Nancy, and then rounded off by The Creggan White Hare.


Daoirí Farrell came late to professional music, working as an electrician for ten years before going full-time as a musician. I think you see some of that in his performance—he’s very down to earth. And these are very down to earth songs. He fits them like a glove.

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