10 Minutes With: Foy Vance

Beatrice Cook

Foy Vance brings unmistakable Irish charm and soul to his own take on gospel-style folk music; hailing from the Northern Irish town of Bangor, County Down. Vance’s music, influenced by his childhood move to the southern belt of America, is deeply emotive and soulful, whilst his onstage banter is sure to amuse all. Not one to do things by halves, the singer-songwriter’s recent gig at the atmospheric Oran Mor on the 3rd of March was a sell-out, and with the release of more tickets for the night, the venue was unsurprisingly packed out.

After his support bands, comprising of crowd-pleasers Farriers and Foreign Slippers, left the stage, Vance stepped up to the mic to a loud and ecstatic reaction from the room, his dapper tweed jacket, recently acquired from the £10 Thrift Store up the road from the venue, acknowledged by a humorous rendition of the Macklemore track ‘Thrift Store’. ‘The Joy of Nothing’, title track from his forthcoming album, silenced the crowd, with its soft and earthy tones creating a feeling of reminiscence and summer days long since passed. Vance’s infectious banter was seen following the audience’s positive response to the song, saying ‘Don’t be too excited, it might be shit yet,’ drawing a further laugh from the already entranced audience. Rousing performances of ‘Janey’, a song dedicated to a friend of Vance, and ‘Indiscrimate Act of Kindness’ evoked a feeling of melancholy and poignancy, both songs showcasing Vance’s incredibly powerful Irish accent, whilst undoubtedly bringing a tear to many an eye. Expressing his love for Scotland, Foy revealed a recent move from London to Aberfeldy, saying that it was ‘nice to be an honorary one of yours!’ to which many members of the audience voiced their approval.

Vance went on to dedicate his final song in the set, ‘Homebird’, taken from his debut album ‘Hope’ released in 2007, to his daughter Ella, who, after a superbly tender and loving performance, joined him on stage whilst the crowd sang in unison, making for a moving and unforgettable experience for all.

Foy Vance is a man of many talents, his rapidly growing popularity all over the UK showing that his music, as soulful and emotive as it is, has touched the hearts of many a person, and with the release of his next album ‘The Joy of Nothing’ this summer, we will undoubtedly be seeing more of this guy in the coming year.

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The Glasgow Guardian was also lucky enough to grab an interview with the man himself just before the gig:

Guardian: How would you describe your sound?

Vance: I don’t know, hopefully true? That’s the main thing for me, that it’s articulate. Listening to the songs and seeing what they need and trying to articulate that as clearly as possible. I’ve never been one for trying to make it sound one thing or the other. I think it’s better to go in with a blank canvas and see what happens, go with whatever feels good.

Guardian: Do you think that where and when you grew up influenced your music?

Vance: It can’t not, really. The first few years of my life were spent in Oklahoma; my Dad was a preacher and it was this strain of church that didn’t allow musical instruments, which I find very weird. The good thing about that was that everybody used their voices in interesting ways, so you would have people singing bass, baritone, soprano, alto and all that, so I think that influenced me a lot.

Guardian: Where you a choir boy then?

Vance: No, it was a very American strain of church; it wasn’t choral, more like old hymns, hymnal stuff. That music still impacts me, irrespective of what I think of the lyrical content.

Guardian: Gospel music has religious influences- do you feel  that this is still relevant today?

Vance: There is that whole era of gospel that, like Mahalia Jackson for instance, informed R’n’B, that’s why we have R’n’B. All that old stuff’s got real nuggets in it, real gems, chorally and lyrically; blood soaked lyrics. I think [today’s youth would still be connected] if they were exposed to it; there are people who expose them to that sort of sensibility, like Jack White. He’s got that same gospel-spirit if you ask me. The Black Keys too. There are people who have got that old, early sixties R’n’B style, bands who are harking back to that. Mostly R’n’B and gospel aren’t great, aside from that Macklemore, “I’m gonna pop some tags…” I went and popped some tags today actually, at the Thrift Shop next door, good stuff.

Guardian: The new album ‘Joy of Nothing’ is released this summer- is there a set date?

Vance: It’s a bit generic at the minute; I recorded three new songs just before this tour which we need to mix and all that craic. It will come out when it’s ready, there’s no mad rush. The single ‘Joy of Nothing’ is available now. The song, to me, is a bit like in early America when the pioneers, or whatever they were, staked out the land, it sets out the parameters for the record. It’s not that it is my favourite song on the album, it just made sense, the album is the ‘Joy of Nothing’, most of the songs tie in with that song one way or another.

Guardian: What are your expectations for the tour?

Vance: I’m feeling good about it; I mean it’s an interesting tour in that I don’t have the album yet. I’m just doing this to kind of see people again, to meet up and hang out for a night, sing some songs and have a bit of fun.

Guardian: You supported Ed Sheeran live late last year- how does that compare with this tour?

Vance: It’s completely different. My crowd have been built up over years and years and years, Ed’s at that stage now where he’d built up a really great following, people would come to his gigs and tune in to what he was doing, and then he burst through the barriers and he became ‘pop’. Not necessarily him, but he became popular, you get football hooligans coming to his gigs, “He’s on the radio so we’ll go and see him,” that kind of thing.

Guardian: Ed covered your song ‘Guiding Light’- how did you feel about that?

Vance: It was a lovely tip of the hat. If anyone wants to do one of your tunes, it is lovely, that’s what they’re for: sharing.

Guardian: Describe yourself in 5 words.

Vance: I wouldn’t really like to. If you can describe yourself in five words you’re living life wrong.

Guardian: Do you think you’re music is received differently depending on where you’re playing?

Vance: I think music is received differently by every single person, I don’t think any two people hear anything the same way. I mean this is to do with visual but, (points to the wall) we call that brown, but you might be seeing a different colour to what I’m seeing. I think music is similar in that, you might describe a band as folk, but someone might describe them as something completely different. There are pockets of places where it goes down better. Glasgow and Scotland, I’ve always done well here gig-wise, [tonight’s gig] sold out, so we had to open up the back bit. Last time there were people at the bar, screaming and drinking pints all night, and we thought “Well this is kind of spoiling it for everyone.” I don’t mind people talking at all, it’s the fact that other folk have paid and want to listen. I’ll happily look like an arse for those people.

Guardian: Do you have a favourite venue to play in the UK?

Vance: Ah, that’s too hard; they’re all good for different reasons. When I play Belfast, it’s like a homecoming. That’s beautiful. When I play Scotland, it’s like a home-from-homecoming. With places that are akin to where I’m from, there’s sort of an unsaid…we played Newcastle last night, it’s a very working class town even though it’s very up and coming, very affluent, it’s still essentially very working class. They’ve got a similar sense of humour to what you have here, and what I’d have back home. There are certain places I’ve played where you’re kind of watching your p’s and q’s because of the area.

Guardian: How do you start the song writing process?

Vance: Generally speaking, it just comes from a vibe, like, feeling a certain way. I like it to happen naturally; I’ve got a lot of friends that are songwriters for a living, they sit down at nine in the morning and break at eleven, and then work until teatime, that’s what they do, day in and day out. They make it happen. I wouldn’t be as cold-faced about it. For me personally, its better if I just live life, go around doing what I’m doing around the house, school runs, making packing lunches, hoovering. [Family life] has influenced it, just from a muse point of view. Its better if I only write songs when I feel like I can’t set my guitar down, can’t stop playing this one section on the piano, playing it over and over again, and suddenly a song comes out. I don’t like to push it or force it.