Niamh Bury is quickly becoming one of the hottest commodities in the Irish folk scene sharing stages with the likes of Ye Vagabonds, Martin Hayes, Myles O’Reilly, Niamh Regan and Cinder Well in recent times.
Home-grown international superstar Dermot Kennedy hand-picked her to appear alongside him at The Long Hall, as part of Guinness’s Live and Rising campaign.
Alongside members of Lankum, Bury is also one of the founding organisers of the beloved 'The Night Before Larry Got Stretched' session in The Cobblestone, putting Bury at a unique position at the centre of the Irish Folk universe.
At long last the artist is finding fame for her own work with the release of 'Beehive' and 'Who Am I To Tell Him?’ this year via Irish Folk institution Claddagh Records. With an album to follow what better time to catch up with Niamh Bury.
How long have you been playing music and how did it start?
My family are all very musical, so I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. I started piano lessons when I was about 7, and then moved on to learning guitar with my teacher Mrs.Furlong. She was amazing – there were about 15 of us in the class playing Let It Be and Streets of London. We probably sounded awful, but we'd play for the school concerts like a little guitar orchestra and we thought we were the bees knees. It gave me a great foundation for accompanying myself singing, so it was really important for what I do now.
You're involved in The Cobblestone's singing session, 'The Night Before Larry Got Stretched'. How did that come about?
Almost ten years ago I went up to the Inishowen Singing Weekend – a hardcore traditional singing festival in Donegal. I say hardcore because it’s pretty much 24-hour singing and the sessions go on until 7 or 8 in the morning. It kind of blew my mind to meet people my age there who were into old songs and it turned out that they ran ‘Larry' back in Dublin, so I started going. I moved to England for a few years, but when I came back I started helping out with organising it. We celebrated our 10th birthday last year. You’ll still find us in the back room of the Cobblestone on the first Sunday of every month – singer and listeners are welcome!
How did you feel when The Cobblestone was under threat of being replaced by another hotel, and ultimately saved?
There was definitely a collective feeling of anger but also defiance. Traditional music and culture is one of the few things that’s actually thriving in the city, so to see The Cobblestone being threatened struck a very deep chord. It was incredible seeing everyone come together so quickly to object to the plans – the DCC online system was inundated with hundreds of heartfelt letters, and the Dublin is Dying protests got a tonne of media attention here and abroad. It was a real display of people power in action and sent a strong message to unwitting developers that they can’t mess with our most important social and cultural institutions and expect to get away with it.
You said in the Sunday Times recently that you think Irish people are realising how unique and rich our heritage is in the face of globalisation. Can you expand on that?
It’s a big meaty topic that’s hard to summarise, but I don’t think this feeling is exclusive to Ireland. It’s happening in a broader global context – you can see it reflected in things like the popularity of the Dust-to-Digital Instagram page. For decades traditional arts everywhere were sidelined, but I think we’re definitely in a period where people are celebrating the vernacular again. It’s very much connected to decolonisation and even the current biodiversity crisis.
Traditional folk music in particular is about community, and it provides the perfect antidote to the relentless consumerism we experience on a daily basis, which is one reason why I think it’s having a resurgence. The songs, stories and tunes run deeper than trends and put us back in touch with who we are and where we come from.
You played with Dermot Kennedy in the Long Hall in Dublin for one of Guinness's 'Live & Rising' gigs recently. What was that like?
The Long Hall is a beautiful pub, so it was really nice to play there. To be honest, I didn’t really realise how massive Dermot was before the whole experience. I hadn’t really heard much of his music, but he’s got a great voice and was very sound. He played before me and I said something along the lines of, “You know you’ve hit the big time when Dermot Kennedy is your opening act”, which apparently got a good laugh from his dad!
What do you think of musicians doing cross-genre collaborations and covers? Do you enjoy them or are you more of a purist when it comes to Irish folk music? For example, things like the 2018 collaboration between Saint Sister, Jafaris and Kormac.
I’m all for it if it feels right. Genres are handy labels we use to describe something quickly, but most music I’m excited by is a mix of different styles anyway. I think it’s great when artists bring influences outside of their given genre into the mix, and collaboration is probably the best way to create something new that neither artist would come up with alone.
I think there’s a time and place for purism in Irish folk – like there are unwritten etiquette rules in sessions that help respect the music and protect it from becoming something else entirely. But I wouldn't say I’m a purist outside of that. In my experience, traditional music and singing is alive and well, so I don’t think there’s any need to be afraid of experimenting with it in a way that feels true. I sing a lot of traditional songs in sessions and among friends, but the music I write is a culmination of everything I’m into.
Are there any artists you'd love to collaborate with? Irish or international?
A friend recently got me on to Floating Points, who’s a producer that mixes electronic, jazz and classical music. He made an album called 'Promises' with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra, which I’ve been listening to loads recently. It would be cool to collaborate with someone like that production-wise.
What else can we expect from Niamh Bury over the coming months?
More music! I’ve had a collection of songs floating around for a little while now, so it’s great to finally let them out for new ears to listen to. I’ve got a couple other things upcoming that are under wraps for now, but I’m excited for the next few months and the way things are going.