Metronome Features

Talking folk with Lisa O’Neill

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Lisa Oneill press image

In 2018 Lisa O’Neill became the first artist to be signed to Rough Trade’s folk subsidiary River Lea. It was through them that she released her fourth album, Heard a Long Gone Song, which sees a progression in her distinct sound as well as a firm nod to her heritage with three traditional Irish songs and a cover of The Pogues’ Lullaby of London.

No stranger to our shores, Lisa has supported the likes of David Gray and The Divine Comedy in the UK, but signing to River Lea has given her a string of headline shows this side of the Irish Sea. And it’s on stage that not only does her haunting voice really shines, but the stories behind her music. “I feel the need to give my songs context when I’m on stage, to try to explain the stories and why they matter to me. There’s so much to say, but a song’s such a compact thing and all the research is not so literal in the song.” With songs that range from the struggles of the men who worked Dublin’s docklands, to Violet Gibson’s attempted assassination of Mussolini, she draws from more than her own past. 

It should come as no surprise to learn that during her formative years she was fond of musical raconteurs. “I always liked songs with stories. I was really into Willie Nelson when I was younger, and as I got older, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. And Nick Cave, he was a huge inspiration. Joni Mitchell eventually.” It’s doubtful that as a teenager she would have imagined herself singing on stage with The Pogues, alongside the likes of Nick Cave, Bono and Cerys Matthews. But that’s exactly where she found herself at the beginning of 2018, playing at Shane McGowan’s 60th birthday gig. That was amazing, it was a magic night. I was learning to walk and talk when The Pogues would have been on Top of the Pops, so it was an extra honour to be considered because I’m of a different generation.”

As to what the future holds, she’s already working on her next album. “They don’t often come so fast, but I’m so inspired. Every year doesn’t feel that that, but this year does.” Not only that, she’s trying her hand at something a bit different. “I’m off to Australia for a couple of weeks, writing songs for a play called The Man Who Talked to Dogs for a children’s theatre company. I’m very excited, it’s about an Irishman who’s very well respected in Australia as a dog healer and he seems to be able to communicate with them. There’s magic in there, for sure.”

Lisa O’Neill plays at Metronome on Wednesday 8 May as part of a string of dates which see her performing in London, Belfash and Brighton before setting off to tour with Iron and Wine in November. To find out more about Lisa O’Neill, have a look at her feature in the Guardian.