Music and theatrical magic

THE CRITICALLY acclaimed singer-composer Julie Feeney will mesmorise her audience with a spell binding performance at the Watergate on November 22. and will be joined on stage by the CBS Secondary School choir.

THE CRITICALLY acclaimed singer-composer Julie Feeney will mesmorise her audience with a spell binding performance at the Watergate on November 22. and will be joined on stage by the CBS Secondary School choir.

The multi-award winning artist will release her third album Clocks this Friday (November 16). Hailed by the New York Times as “charming, urbane and dreamy…theatrical on the shell, intricate at the core”, Julie’s sound is unquestionably original, rooted in classical whilst comfortably straddling pop and theatre. Clocks was written in Ballinahinch Castle and Lough Inagh Cottages in Galway and was recorded at Kylemore Abbey Gothic Church, a return to home ground for Julie.

 Julie will undertake an extensive Irish tour in November and December, taking an avant-garde approach to her performances by scoring music for ten different choirs to part accompany her at each concert. 
Julie has just returned from New York following a sold out performance at the Highline Ballroom. Earlier this year, she completed a ten show sell-out residency in the Irish Arts Centre there. She also recently wrote and performed her first opera Bird at The Project Arts Centre, as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. In keeping with Julie’s considerable creative output, she is currently in advanced stages of creating videos, both live and animated, for each track on the new album. 

Back in the mid-Noughties, Galway’s Julie Feeney was positioned very much on the outer fringes of the Irish music scene. In fact, despite her background as someone with so many strings to her bow she could have been mistaken for an orchestra of harps, she was virtually anonymous, a position that, ironically, stood to her advantage. Her 2005 debut album, 13 Songs, arrived out of a place that people often feared to tread, yet this curve-ball of a record went on to win the inaugural Choice Music Prize in 2006. Its success took her completely by surprise. “I’d no idea what would happen,” Julie recalls. “I finished making the record, and then I put the CD into envelopes and posted them off to people.” 13 Songs, though, sent Julie travelling on a path that she has yet to step off from. Almost four years later, she released the lowercase follow-up album, Pages. Once again, it beckoned the listener into a world that wasn’t visited by the usual stock-in-trade formats. If 13 Songs was little more than a loose collection of wonderful, non-formulaic tunes, then pages proved more cohesive, with Julie reviewing her creative stimuli and branching out into what could safely be termed orchestrated pop music.

And so, three years later, to Julie’s new album: Clocks. If Pages is effectively and efficiently a pop album using an orchestra with the songs, then Clocks is something else altogether. “Pages took on a whole other life of its own,” says Julie, remarking that the success of the live shows, particularly in New York earlier this year, came as a pleasant shock to her, “but through all of that I was letting things develop in my head. I always let songs come to me, in that once they arrive I feel they want to be here.” As these early thoughts filtered through, it became clear to Julie that a loose theme was emerging – one of close family, generations past, the value of personal roots, all of which are referenced on Clocks. “I’m not into the notion of a concept album – you’d have to contrive something, which is not really what I’m into – but I knew I wanted to write songs and make a record about some amazing people in my family tree.”

When Julie wasn’t wowing audiences and critics in America she was visiting her family in Galway, asking questions about the Feeney and Murphy elders, both present and departed. It was, she says, a profound experience to hear stories of those she only knew through meandering family conversations, vivid hearsay and monochrome images. “You think that your own life is busy and complex, but these people that lived before me felt exactly the same emotions – heartbreak and loss don’t change – whilst living in a less hectic time period. History tells us they had a much harder time – more simple, perhaps, but certainly harder. Once that clicked with me, I felt like I was sitting on time in history – a history very much based in Galway.”

To root herself and her thoughts even further – as well as wanting to experience an authentic sense of location – Julie undertook songwriting spells in Ballynahinch Castle and Lough Inagh Cottages, and recorded all the album’s vocals (over eight nights in the freezing Irish winter of 2012) at the inspirational Kylemore Abbey Gothic Church. She sensed, she says, “as if I was being minded by my ancestors… I felt very comfortable in places, not scared. And it was a natural, often intense connection with these people…”

As a whole, says Julie, the mood, feel, sound and creative sensibilities of Clocks hints at her rockier debut album rather than its chamber-pop follow-up. “It has a new direction for me. It’s much more vibey and far more assured. It’s fair to say that I’m going out on a limb a little bit, creatively.” Not that Julie is overly concerned about what people may say about that. “My job as an artist is to create something that is true, to grow and develop - and the music has to reflect that. I could easily make another album like Pages but, really, what’s the point?”

Julie Feeney will perform along with the CBS Secondary School at the Watergate on November 22.