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Iarla Ó Lionáird: Records that changed my life

Iarla Ó Lionáird: Records that changed my life

Twice Grammy-nominated iconic Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird reveals the records that changed his life

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of The Moon

Arriving into my teen years in the 1980s I remember clearly when I purchased my first Walkman and how it changed how I listened to music. Those early headphones with their spindly steel headband and bright-orange ear foam might not have looked like much but they were the first experience I had with the notion of super stereo and the feeling of being enveloped by music. To celebrate the purchase, I bought, aptly enough, a cassette of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I played it until the cassette gave out!

Van Morrison: Inarticulate Speech of The Heart

Though not regarded as one of his classics by any means, I have always been very fond of Van Morrison’s Inarticulate Speech of The Heart. This recording—perhaps because of the prevalence of instrumentals—has an emotional colour unique to his oeuvre. Van’s own vocalisations here are also intriguing—more settings for the maintenance of a certain mood than informational or discursive, I especially love his vocal improvisations. The whole thing is submerged in a dreamy and dark atmosphere suggestive of a mystery-filled, nocturnal world.

Paul Brady: Welcome Here Kind Stranger

I have been asked which folk album or artist might have influenced me. It’s a difficult one to answer as folk now embraces so many intergeneric kinds of music. Back in the day, however, the answer would have been much simpler and my choice would have to be Paul Brady’s 1978 Welcome Here Kind Stranger—still, I think, possibly the finest folk album ever recorded.

Joni Mitchell: Hejira

Joni Mitchell Hejira album cover

It's impossible for me to imagine my love of music and song without feeling deeply indebted to Joni Mitchell. Song for song, I have always felt that her work towers over all others. Deeply experimental as a writer, composer and peerless chanteuse her work has such a quality to it, lyrically and emotionally that it will never go out of fashion. She likely will never be eclipsed. And as for an album that I would choose: it would have to be Hejira.

Bob Dylan: Oh Mercy

Beside my computer keyboard in my home studio is a book of Bob Dylan’s Lyrics—a treasured gift from a friend. It’s not that I even open it for an occasional look—it just sits there emanating, reminding me of the potential of song, as a path to self-transformation, a companion to the poet’s lonely journey of self-discovery. A conjurer’s magic wand. Bob Dylan more than any, cut that path into the world of song for us all. I adore his work. He continues to teach me, to beguile and entrance. His work with Daniel Lanois is hard to surpass and if I had to choose, it would be the album Oh Mercy.

Talking Heads: Fear of Music

I remember tossing a coin in a record store in Paris years ago for the last copy of the then-new Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues. I had by then been a devotee of this amazing band for about five or six years. Listening in the dark in my Dublin flat to Fear of Music, seeking out the various experimental forays with Brian Eno, ie, The Catherine Wheel and My Life in The Bush of Ghosts—everything they or David Byrne touched just blew me away and still does.

They’re so far ahead of their time in terms of the collage of sound, the experimental approach to found sounds and a multitude of ethnic influences. It delights me when my eldest daughter, now 19, plays their music on car journeys. She says he sounds like a preacher! Preaching a music of fun, goofiness and a strange mystical possibility. Maybe she’s just humouring me.

Peter Gabriel: Passion Sources

Some recordings mark a moment in time for the listener, some can bring about a change of direction in one’s own life trajectory and some still can tantalise the heart with artistic possibility and spiritual elevation. Peter Gabriel’s second album resulting from his compositional work on the film The Last Temptation of Christ, Passion Sources had all three impacts on me. Soon after I began imagining what new directions my own music could take, coming from a tradition of unaccompanied vocal music.

Listening to both the soundtrack to the film and then the subsequent albums inspired me to such a degree that I would eventually pen a letter to Realworld Records, convinced that I might be able to finally realise a vision for these old Sean Nós (Old Style) traditional songs that was beyond the cliché, so often surrounding the deportment of Irish music. Still, today listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and all the other extraordinary contributions to that recording I am astonished—as though hearing these glorious musical expressions for the first time. And I am thankful.


Catch Iarla Ó Lionáird’s performance with Julie Fowlis at Kings Place on September 24  

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