Labour of love

Going Out

‘Something in a Melody’ Brian Duffy. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Ciara Moynihan

As the world reels from the recent triumph of hate speak and self-interest in the US, perhaps it’s time to return to the values espoused by late ’60s and early ’70s Americana folk rock, to its appeals for harmony, its rejection of war and greed, its odes to empathy, connection, love.
Before the beeps and beats of 24-hour news cycles and mind-numbing techno, before the tyranny of repetitious rhythms, catchy slogans and shallow soundbites in both politics and song (I refer the doubtful reader to Dylan Moran’s eloquent riff on ‘Funk Soul Brother’), lyrics were concerned with matters of the heart and hope for a better world. It is in this gentler genre of folk that Westport singer/songwriter Brian Duffy resides, and into which his soon-to-be released second album ‘Something in a Melody’ sits comfortably.
Duffy’s stripped-down lyrics are often comprised of love declarations, warm wishes and gentle goodbyes. His songs bring the listener back to a simple time when lovers were invited to ‘dance by the river in the pale moonlight’ and people believed in the power of ‘hope to see you through’.
Duffy’s voice, words and melodies have been likened to Cat Stevens and Jim Croce, and the similarity is undeniable. The tracks ‘If I Smile at You, ‘Anything Left to Do’ and ‘Feeling You So Fine’ are very Cat, while the title track ‘Something in a Melody’ wouldn’t be out of place on Croce’s 1972 album ‘You Don’t Mess Around with Jim’. ‘A Bit of Hope’ carries strains of James Taylor, while a drop of Dylan’s indignation colours ‘One Foot upon My Soil’.
However, Duffy’s Irish roots have also shaped his music, and trad has exerted its influence, especially in the presence of the lilting low whistle.  
Duffy returned to Westport in 2008, after five years living and touring in Spain with his trad/folk trio On The Level. In 2012, he released his first album as an independent solo artist, ‘I Am So’.
‘Something in a Melody’ will be released on December 2, with a free launch concert taking place from 8pm in the Westport Town Hall Theatre. Duffy will be supported on the night by guest artist, the ‘smokey voiced’ Cousin Alice and her banjo-ukulele from London.
The album features Donogh Hennessy on guitars, fiddler player Laura Kerr, Aldoc’s Alan Doherty on low whistles, percussionist Raphael Dziubinski, Martin Brunsden on double bass (Sinéad O’Connor, Hot House Flowers, P J Harvey) and Teresa Horgan (Fullset) on backing vocals. It was produced and engineered by Hennessy at his studios in Dingle and mastered by Grammy-nominated producer Jim Salamone at Cambridge Sound Studios, Philadelphia, USA.
Here, Duffy chats about his evolution as a musician, his approach to the creative process and his inspirations.

CM Your first album, ‘I Am So’, was released four years ago. How would you say your music or approach has developed in that time?
BD I feel my first album was a very good starting point; an incredible learning experience in every way. It helped me develop skills and craft in songwriting, and I learned a lot about production. I feel more comfortable within myself; with who I am as a person and what I do now as a musician and songwriter. I had a clearer idea of what I wanted musically and lyrically with this album.

CM Lyric-wise, have you found yourself embracing new themes, or do you find yourself returning to familiar preoccupations?
BD Some themes have remained the same… Love – I’m a hopeless romantic! But there’s also a song about brotherly love and just being there for a friend ‘Stay By My Side.’ I also feel that there’s a vulnerability and honesty around certain themes on this album. For instance, ‘Anything Left To Do’ is personal experience about letting go of a work relationship but could be about any type of relationship. I also explore recovery, healing and hope in some of these songs, for example, ‘A Bit Of Hope’.

CM The tone of ‘One Foot upon My Soil’ struck me as different to the other songs on the album I have listened to. Can you explain a little about the song’s subject?
BD This song is about betrayal … by people we often think are close to us, over-stepping boundaries and trying to take what’s not theirs; taking advantage of the vulnerability of others and trying to manipulate them. It’s also about standing up to all of that; waking up to what’s actually happening and finding one’s voice. ‘Leave things as they are… concentrate on being you…’ ‘Walk away… It’s not your choice’ – those words are of a person telling someone to mind their own business.
Again, it can relate to many situations – for example, this song comes to my mind when I think of the Dakota Pipeline.

CM Which song on the new album came together for you most quickly, and which one took the longest?
BD ‘Something In A Melody’ came to me very quickly. It was in my head for a long time. Essentially for me, this is a love song. It’s also about the power of music.
‘Feeling You So Fine’ took the longest. The music/melody was instant, and I had written a lot of the lyrics but was struggling to make them work. There were a lot of changes in the lyrics. Sometimes it’s like a jigsaw puzzle … all the bits need to fit together in a certain way.

CM What is your earliest memory of playing music?
BD I was about nine or ten and was in Westport Town Hall singing on stage with John Hoban. I loved it. That’s where my grá for performing began. Shortly after that I started learning guitar with John.

CM When did you know that you wanted to pursue a life as a musician, and what have you found most rewarding about that choice? And the most challenging?
BD I was about 15 or 16 and in a rock cover band called Texas Stinks with David Warde, Michael Dalton and Michael Hastings. I was lead vocals and played rhythm guitar, Michael Hastings was lead guitar and Michael Dalton played drums and David on bass. It was then I knew I wanted to pursue this as a career.
Initially, the most challenging thing is taking the plunge and putting original material out there for all the world to hear, but directly after it’s done, it becomes the most rewarding.
Live performance is also one of the most exciting things for me. Putting a smile on someone’s face though music is a beautiful thing.

CM Which do you prefer, the act of composing and recording songs or performing them live?
BD On this album, ‘Something In A Melody’, the whole process has been amazing. From writing and sculpting my songs and melodies then heading off to Dingle to record with Donogh. I feel honoured to have worked on this album with him. I’d spend the day in the studio then go check out the local music scene. Just being in Dingle was incredible for me. It’s a mecca for music and I made the most of that while I was there. The ultimate for me is performing my own work live and the connection with an audience that comes from that.

CM You have lived and performed extensively in both Ireland and Spain. Which country did you find most supportive of musical artists, and why?
BD I had an amazing time in Spain and toured extensively throughout Spain and Europe, but after several years, I realise there’s no place like home and the music I grew up on. I still love and play a lot of Irish traditional music. I feel privileged to be Irish and that our rich culture of music, song, dance, art, craft and the written word are alive in the way that they are today. This is where I feel most comfortable and inspired. Making a living solely from music is challenging anywhere in the world.

CM What in the world do you find most inspiring as a songwriter?
BD My inspirations vary. Love, acts of kindness. Life is fascinating and inspiring to me. Living and experiencing life. People and how they overcome challenges inspire me.

CM Finally, if there was one singer you could do a duet with, who would it be, and what would you choose to sing?
BD Guy Clark’s ‘Magnolia Wind’ with Emmylou Harris.

Brian Duffy’s ‘Something in a Melody’ will be Released on Friday, December 2, and available from, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play and locally from Downtown Records, SuperValu, Duffy’s Bookstore, McLoughlin’s Book Shop. Upcoming performances include the launch party in Westport Town Hall on December 2 (details above). He will also play support to Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny on December 3 at Foxford Wollen Mills, and travel to The Hague for gigs between December 29 and January 3.