VANCOUVER FOLK MUSIC FESTIVAL 2023
A Festival Favourite: Ireland’s Susan O’Neill
Up and coming Irish star Susan O’Neill’s four appearances with her band at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival got attention. Her one-hour daytime concert and a brief appearance between sets on the evening Main Stage were highlights.
One of Ireland’s most popular musicians, Mick Flannery, teamed up with O’Neill to co-write and record the award-winning 2020 album In the Game.
SUSAN O’NEILL: NOW YOU SEE HER
Assured singer-songwriter is true to herself and her audience
Direct and soulful, Irish musician Susan O’Neill has a compelling edge on both her voice and in her lyrics. Her distinctive and melodic vocal rasp adds character to her poetic writing. On stage her song introductions are succinct. Setting up a tune during one of her Vancouver Folk Music Festival performances she said: “This next song is about overcomin’ whatever it is that your journey is about. Because everyone’s got their own fingerprint on their own story.”
In her insightful, award-winning song, 2022’s Now You See It, she is matter-of-fact about life’s fleeting reality:
“I was a free bird sailing through the blackened starry sky, I was a reverie.
Onto the wide open spaces where a mind can be a mind without a memory.
Now you see it, now it’s gone, now you feel it, now it’s gone.”
Hailing from County Clare, known for its legacy of traditional Irish music, O’Neill – aka SON – presented her debut collection Found Myself Lost in 2017. She told online magazine Line of Best Fit, “I just recorded a bunch of songs and went on to CD Baby and uploaded them.
“I had no management or anything, so they were not there one day and they were there the next. That was the extent of my release strategy.”
Since then the 33 year-old has been steadily honing her craft and building a reputation in Ireland’s tightly knit music community for her traditional playing as well as a mix of soul, folk and rock.
In The Game
During the COVID pandemic she deepened a nascent collaboration with popular Irish musician Mick Flannery. Working remotely and online, the duo co-wrote and recorded the album In The Game. The collection won praise and recognition with single Baby Talk winning Best Original Folk Track at the renowned RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards. (RTÉ is the Irish public broadcaster). Now You See It won the award in 2022 and is the title track of a six-song solo EP O’Neill released last September.
In The Game is a concept album centred on the relationship of two musicians – one a confident diva, the other an ambitious but insecure male. Adopting a persona offered O’Neill a new insight into lyric writing. “I detrimentally thought I had to live through everything. In order to write about it I would create tensions within my life,” she told The Line of Best Fit.
“It’s been amazing to look into the benefits, and I’m exploring it a lot more since. Really going into a story and tapping into the empathy of it and then removing yourself, that it’s not actually a personal thing, but being an observer and using that as the little gold bit in the middle.”
It’s likely there’ll be more musical gold coming soon from the talented O’Neill as she readies to make her next recordings. Her Festival presentations included several songs that aren’t available online. Following her final performance of the weekend I asked her what a fan like me could do to support her. “Just spread the word,” she laughed, “Spread the word.” Consider it done.
Tune in! Tell your friends!
30 July 2023
Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill
There are two playlists and one track list below.
- The live recordings from the Vancouver Folk Music Festival were posted on YouTube by an audience member. The sound quality varies. The videos give you a glimpse of O’Neill in action.
- The Spotify and YouTube collections are drawn from what I could find of O’Neill’s solo work over the years as well as her collaborations with Mick Flannery. Only the title track from the first album, 2017’s Found Myself Lost, is available online. The two playlists vary from each other since YouTube has a broader selection.