Image description: O’Neill’s latest album cover
When Lisa O’Neill stepped on the stage and went straight for the microphone without stopping to pick up an instrument, and delivered a rendition of an old roamer tale, the tone was set for what was to follow. Uncompromisingly traditional, unapologetically Irish, the beautiful coming together of History, folk, humour and protest was the key to this performance.
Uncompromisingly traditional, unapologetically Irish.
Songs about her hometown in County Cavan and personal experiences, interspersed with covers from Ivor Cutler and Shane McGowan, giants of comedy and folk music alike, made for an entertaining evening from start to finish. The truly incredible thing to be said for this performance, was that the audience was as captivated by the story behind each song, as it was by the entrancing music itself. It was Woody Guthrie who, in the 1940s, wrote ‘This machine kills fascists’ on his guitar; an acoustic guitar and a banjo were the weapons of choice for Lisa, supported by a fiddle and electric harmonium piano. In this case, however, it was Violet Gibson who went off to shoot Mussolini in 1926 and whose name has now been solidified in history thanks to Lisa’s tune in her dedication.
When Lisa played Rock the Machine, off her 2018 album, Heard a Long Gone Song, her most successful number to date, in which an unemployed dockworker invokes the River Liffey to destroy the modern machinery that has stolen his livelihood and his dignity, a chill ran through the room. In many ways, this song personified Lisa’s oeuvre.
A voice in the wilderness cries out against the current music trends and holds on determinedly to the music that has been so important, for so long, to a people and a nation.
Violet Gibson was an individual; Shane McGowan and Ivor Cutler were individuals; Lisa O’Neill is an individual as well, and very unique in her own way. If the pressure of taking the proverbial baton, flying the flag for music of a previous age, evident in her latest album: The Wren The Wren, for the most current stretch of the race, was weighing heavily on Lisa, her legs showed no sign of giving way, that powerful voice of hers showed no sign of faltering. Hopefully, she can begin to attract a broader audience to share in the joys of such a lovely sound.
Image credit: provided with permission by Lisa O’Neill