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Coming up Roses

Niamh Bury told David Hennessy about her debut album, being inspired by myth, legend and nature, and returning to Norwich where much of her original songs were given their first airing.

Portmarnock folk singer-songwriter Niamh Bury released her debut album Yellow Roses recently on Claddagh Records.

Since she released her debut single Beehive last year, Niam has become known for her uniquely stirring vocals, adept lyricism, and striking interpretations of old songs.

Golden Plec say: “‘Yellow Roses’ poses itself as an immaculate debut album from quickly rising folk wonder Niamh Bury.”

The respected UK music magazine CLASH said of Niamh: “The rising voice breaking boundaries for Irish folk”.

Last December, Niamh stunned audiences at Other Voices Dingle.

2024 began with Niamh being named in The Irish Times’ noted ’50 People to Watch in 2024’ list, shortlisted in the Best Emerging Artist category at the the RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards and added to the Tradition Now line-up at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

April saw Niamh embark upon a live tour of Ireland and the UK, with a hometown date at Whelan’s Main Room in Dublin.

We chatted to you around the release of your debut single Beehive, how does it feel to have your album out now?
“It feels amazing to have the whole album out now.

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“The response has been really heartwarming and lovely so I’m really delighted that I can be proud of it now and kind of move on to the next thing, in my head anyway.”

Niamh’s recent tour was a return to these shores as she completed her Masters in Norwich.

How did you enjoy touring around the UK?

“It was my first time playing in England as a solo act and singing my own songs so they were all really nice.

“Brighton the Folklore Rooms was a really beautiful show.

“London was really lovely.

“I think I was a little bit intimidated that no one would show up to London just because it’s such a big place and there’s so much going on on any given night, but it was actually really lovely and there was a good turnout.

“And then I played in Norwich which is kind of my second home town because my partner is from there and I lived there for three years, so that was really gorgeous.

“We went back to a place we used to play and there were just loads of lovely people there.

“It was really lovely actually because the songs that I ended up recording for the album, a lot of those songs would have gotten their first airing in Norwich at various gigs however many years ago when I lived there so it was kind of a nice full circle moment as well.”

Niamh also released the single Bite The Bridle which she wrote directly after an encounter she had with a horse in Dublin’s Temple Bar.

That song says something about how we treat not just horses but ourselves. We pile so much on ourselves and eventually something breaks…

“Yeah, that’s really what I was feeling.

“I came across the horse in Temple Bar which is obviously the busiest kind of tourist hotspot.

“It was a very hot night and she had about six men loaded into her carriage and she wouldn’t go for the driver.

“She started stomping her hooves and sparks were flying up from the cobblestones which is just an amazing image.

“But I really felt for her in that moment.

“I think you’re right.

“Obviously it’s sort of a comment on how we treat the wilderness and animals and wild things and how we ask too much of them but also, sometimes we can ask too much of ourselves and at a certain point, if we’re going against our own natures or nature in general, something’s gonna break.

“And so yeah, I was encouraging the horse in that moment to bite the bridle and run away to the country.”

Temple Bar inspired that track but which of the tracks were written in Norwich? Some are inspired by members of your family so I wondered if they written over this side..

“Yeah, actually quite a few of them. I wrote Yellow Roses, the title track, in Norwich.

“My grandmother died in 2017 and I wasn’t able to go to the funeral so actually, that song was really in place of not being able to go and be with my family and celebrate her life.

“Instead I wrote a song for her and that was when I was in Norwich.

“And I wrote Beehive in Norwich.

“I wrote The Ballad of Margaret Reed on the North Norfolk coast, not actually in Norwich.

“Quite a few of them were written in England.”

That was sad that you couldn’t get home to your grandmother’s funeral but did writing that song bring you solace in that hard time?

“Yeah, definitely. The song is really just a collection of memories I have about her and just the positivity with which she led her life.

“And the refrain, ‘We’re doing fine’ is my sister who happened to be with her in her final hours and she was just telling my Nana, ‘we’re all fine. We’re all doing fine so it’s okay. You can go now’.

“It was very much cathartic for me to write that song and to send her off in a way.”

There is also a song about your mother, who was a classically trained pianist, on the album..

“Yes, Pianos in the Snow is just a collection of anecdotes my mum has told me over the years.

“She’s had an amazing adventurous life as well so that song is is about her and what she got up to during her career.”

What does she make of the song herself?

“Yeah. I think she likes it. She definitely cried the first time she heard it but she’s maybe a bit less sensitive towards it now having heard it probably 100 times.”

Tell us about The Ballad of Margaret Reed..

“Yes, I was living on the North Norfolk coast and a little town called Weybourne which is a really beautiful part of the world as well.

“I lived there for a year by the sea and I was just kind of really taken with the amount of folklore and rich history in that part of England in general.

“I was reading a lot about the witch trials and I came across a story about a woman who lived in King’s Lynn in probably the 15 or 1600s.

“She was unfortunately named a witch and was executed but in King’s Lynn, to this day, one of the buildings has a little heart carved into it and the story goes that when she was being burned at the stake, her heart burst out of her chest, hit the building and then bounced back down into the river where it was quenched of the flames.

“I’m just really taken with that kind of imagery and that kind of storytelling.

“So it’s written in the first person attempting to just give voice to her and to the women that were affected by that period of history.

“It’s really, really awful and often just because they were unmarried or they were widows or they were healers and they in some way just didn’t fit into the norm: Mother/ wife/ saint.

“It’s just kind of trying to reckon with that part of history.”
Your debut single Beehive was about the overlapping of myth, folk wisdom and science. You’re taken with myth and otherworldly stories, aren’t you?

“Yeah, definitely. I’m really interested in folklore in general.

“And yeah, I guess beliefs and customs and myths.

“Beehive is partly inspired by something like that as well.

“Again, I was reading a book about an Amazonian tribe who just have different ways of describing different parts of the body or different phenomena and they say that the human brain is like a beehive because all the neurons are firing and it’s really busy and chaotic, but at the same time, it’s very ordered and can do amazing things as well.

“So that was just another image I really loved and the song came from there.”

Another theme on the album is the role of women in domestic life. You like to challenge traditional belief systems, don’t you?

“The majority of the album was written when I was sort of in my mid 20s.

“I suppose figuring out what kind of life and relationships and all the rest I wanted to have.

“I suppose I look to the past a lot either to interrogate or to be inspired by it.

“So it was really an album of just figuring out my own values as well.”

The song Who Am I To Tell Him? cautions against judging people by their circumstances.

Was there any special inspiration for the song?

“When I was much younger, I feel like I was quite judgmental.

“I was like an old soul and I thought I knew everything about everyone.

“I think it took just being more open to the world and learning more about the world to kind of realise that I wasn’t correct.

“That song is just about maybe challenging beliefs or opinions you have about other people and just realising that we’re all just doing our best, and you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life.

“It’s just kind of a lesson and a reminder to myself as well to just be kind to people, I suppose.”

You also played Whelan’s on your recent tour, how was that?

“It was huge for me actually. Whelan’s has been a venue that I’ve always dreamed of playing just because I started going there when I was probably 16 and I have a really strong memory of seeing Lisa Hannigan there when she put out her first album.

“I remember where I was standing in the room and just being completely blown away.

“I’ve always wanted to put on a show there and we sold it out, which was also amazing.

“I’ve been playing around for years but that was my first actual Dublin headline show so I really didn’t expect it to sell out. It was really, really special gig and felt like a dream.

“The next day I was there just kind of looking at videos that people were sending me and I was like, ‘Oh, this actually did happen’.

“Because it all felt totally dreamlike and magical.

“So yeah, I’d love to do it again someday.”

What about some of the other honours that have come your way such as your RTE Folk Awards nomination?

“It’s nice. Obviously it’s really nice to be to be nominated for things.

“I guess the thing I’m proud of most is just actually making the music and getting it out there. If people like it, that’s a bonus and if I’m awarded or nominated for things, that’s obviously a huge bonus, but it’s not my aim to be collecting accolades.”

The album was produced by Brían Mac Gloinn  of Ye Vagabonds, what did he bring to the record?

“I think asides from being an incredible musician, he’s just got such an ear and such great taste.

“Honestly, it was just his friendship and encouragement.

“I think I’ve wanted to record an album for years.

“It’s really important to have people around you who are like, ‘Right, we’re going to do this now’, and sort of give you the push. I know a lot of solo people experience that.

“I think that was a huge thing for me.

“It sort of happened during lockdown-ish period.

“We started recording it in 2021 and obviously Ye Vagabonds had been touring non-stop in the years before lockdown with their second album.

“I think it was just kind of that twist of fate that he didn’t have a lot of stuff going on so he was ready to take on a big recording project, which was great.

“It was the first album he had engineered and produced from start to finish so I think it was a nice challenge and experience for him as well.

“He’s got great musical insights.

“I don’t know if he’s gonna be around for album two. He’s a very, very busy man so we’ll see what happens with that.”

Speaking of album number two, have you started collecting material for that in early stage or even not so early stages?

“Yes, the writing has definitely started. That’s the part that just takes the longest time. I think everyone is different but I am quite a slow, meticulous writer.

“It just takes me a long time to get that process done but it’s one of my favourite processes; Writing.

“So album two is very much a seedling at the moment but it’s something I definitely want to make happen sooner rather than later.”

Will there similar inspirations for songs on the next album?

“Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see where it goes. I think at the moment, there might be just more love songs actually, which didn’t really come up in album one so we’ll see. We’ll see where that goes.

“I never write sort of classical love songs.

“There’s always something else going on even if there is, like mentioned, loved ones in in my songs it’s never really the focus so I’m interested to see myself where that goes and where that takes me.”

Yellow Roses is out now.

Niamh hopes to get back to the UK soon for shows.

For more information, click here.

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