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Unveiling the Tapestry of Folk: A Journey with Niamh Bury

In the vast and storied realm of music, few genres possess the timeless allure and profound storytelling capacity of folk. Rooted in tradition yet ever-evolving, folk music serves as a conduit for human experience, weaving tales of love, loss, and life’s myriad complexities into its melodic fabric.

At the forefront of this captivating landscape stands Niamh Bury, a luminary whose musical journey embodies the very essence of folk tradition. Nurtured in a family steeped in musical heritage, Niamh’s formative years were imbued with the soul-stirring sounds of folk legends such as Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. These early influences laid the groundwork for a lifelong passion for music and storytelling.

Now, on the cusp of unveiling her debut album, “Yellow Roses,” Niamh Bury invites us to embark on a soul-stirring odyssey through a collection of songs that resonate with raw emotion and heartfelt introspection. Each track serves as a window into Niamh’s world, where personal narratives intertwine with universal truths, creating a tapestry of sound that speaks to the depths of the human experience.

Join us as we journey into the heart of folk music, guided by the luminous melodies and captivating storytelling of Niamh Bury. Through her music, we’ll explore the essence of human emotion, finding solace and inspiration in the timeless art of songwriting. Welcome to the unfolding saga of Niamh Bury – where every chord struck and every lyric penned serves as a testament to the enduring power of folk music.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical journey and what inspired you to pursue a career in folk music? 

I come from a very musical family, so there was always singing and tunes playing around the house. I was taken to traditional folk music festivals when I was very young, and some of my earliest memories are of sitting on someone’s lap in a pub listening to a session. I started learning guitar when I was about 10 and began to write songs properly as a teenager. I don’t know if I decided to pursue a career; singing and performing is something I’ve just always done. I’ve always wanted to record an album, so I’m really grateful I got to do that and can’t wait for people to hear it.

How did your upbringing in a musical household influence your musical style and approach to songwriting? 

I guess I have my family to thank for bringing me up on good music. There was always a lot of ’60s and ’70s folk like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Carole King, and Van Morrison – all of whom have influenced my songwriting in some way. As a teenager, my brother introduced me to artists like Fiona Apple and Conor Oberst, who blew my mind and made me want to write.

Were there specific mentors or experiences during your education that significantly influenced your approach to music? 

I started learning guitar in school with our teacher, Mrs. Furlong. There were about 15 of us in the class, and we would learn songs like “Let It Be” and “Streets of London.” I think it set me up to be able to accompany myself on guitar from an early age, so I’ve always been very grateful for it!

Congratulations on your upcoming debut album, “Yellow Roses.” Can you share the inspiration behind the title and the overall theme of the album?

The title comes from a track on the album by the same name. It’s a song I wrote about my grandmother, who was a person who found strength and positivity in beautiful things, despite whatever hardship was going on in her life. I guess it’s a good overall analogy for the album itself – there’s darkness and sorrow in there, but it’s mixed in with a lot of hope.

“Yellow Roses” features a diverse range of influences. How did you go about incorporating these influences into your music, and what was the creative process like during the making of the album? 

I think folk is probably the easiest way to describe the music, but I hear a lot of classical and jazz elements – this is mainly down to the instrumentation and the musicians on the record. I was lucky enough to have some of the best musicians I’ve ever met in the studio with me – a few of them play in orchestras, and they’re all geniuses at what they do. The songs were all very solid before going into the studio, so I recorded most of them first, and then Ryan, Caimin, Kate, and Alannah mostly improvised over them. I produced the album with my friend Brían Mac Gloinn (who also engineered and mixed it) – we were swapping notes and references for months before, so we had a good sketch of what we wanted things to sound like before recording.

In the process of creating your debut album, “Yellow Roses,” what are some key lessons you’ve learned about yourself as an artist and the music industry in general? 

I think the biggest thing I learned was how much of a team effort making and releasing music is. Prior to recording the album, my music was much more of a solo project, but working with an incredible team of musicians brought it to a place I couldn’t have gotten to on my own. I felt really inspired by the process and can’t wait to get back in the studio for album two.

Your debut single, ‘Beehive,’ explores the overlapping of myth, folk wisdom, and science. Can you elaborate on your songwriting process and how you approach blending these elements in your music? 

My songs will usually start with a lyrical idea. To me, language is magic – I’m fascinated by the way a murky emotion or thought can be transformed into something crystal clear just by finding the right combination of words to describe it. Then I’ll usually pick up the guitar, and the lyrics and melody will often grow simultaneously. Sometimes a song writes itself – other times it can take years to solidify. I’m often inspired by books, so at the time of writing “Beehive,” I was reading one called “Wisdom of the Elders.” There was a passage in it talking about a tribe in the Amazon describing the human mind as a beehive. I was struck by the image, and the song came from there.

‘Budapest’ is described as a song about escaping to imaginary places. Can you share more about the inspiration behind this particular track and the message you aim to convey through it?

Yes, “Budapest” is about chasing that feeling of being a small part of a big world. Like when you look up at the night sky and feel so tiny, but somehow very connected to the cosmos and everything around you. Or when you’re alone in a big city and no one knows your name. I think there’s a great freedom in that – in forgetting yourself and your own story for a little while and getting lost in something bigger. I think most of us live such insular lives these days that it’s important to remember that we’re all just tiny specs in a big old universe. The press release mentions influences from artists like Fiona Apple, Bright Eyes, and Paul Simon. 

How do you see these influences shaping your unique musical style, and what elements do you think you bring to the folk music scene? 

I think each of those artists has a really unique way of using lyrics and music to tell a story. The way Fiona Apple uses internal rhyme and rhythm really inspired me as a kid. Similarly, the metaphors and associations in Conor Oberst’s (Bright Eyes) songwriting are so wild and clever – it kind of makes you laugh and cry at the same time. Same with Paul Simon. I suppose I’m always trying to achieve that in some way – there has to be a balance of joy and pathos, whether it’s coming from the music or the lyrics.

If given the opportunity, which artist would you most desire to collaborate with, and what aspects of their work or personality make them your ideal choice for collaboration? 

I’m a big fan of the producer Floating Points (Sam Shepard). I love the expansiveness of jazz and electronic music on the album Promises, and I think it would be really interesting to travel into that territory at some point.

Beyond your musical pursuits, do you have any hobbies or interests that you find influence or complement your creative process? 

I love cooking, and I’m slowly getting better at knitting over the years. I find the songwriting process can be a lot of headwork, so I find it helpful to come back into the body and do something with my hands. I also love being in the hills – we’ve got some beautiful walks and places to visit not too far from Dublin, so that’s also a great way to clear the head.

You’ll be embarking on a live tour in the UK and Ireland in April. What can fans expect from your live performances, and do you have any specific rituals or preparations before going on stage?

I’m playing in the Folklore Rooms in Brighton on the 16th of April and in The Slaughtered Lamb in London on the 17th of April, so I’m really excited to be playing my songs in England for the first time. I have a bunch of shows around Ireland too. I want the shows to feel intimate, so we’ve chosen some really nice venues where hopefully people can feel cozy and connected. In terms of rituals, I think just eating a good meal a few hours before usually does the trick for me!

Are there any particular tour dates or venues that you’re especially looking forward to during the upcoming tour? 

I’m really looking forward to playing in London, and I’ll also be rounding off the tour with a homecoming gig in Dublin on the 28th of April. I’ll have a full band for this show, so it’ll be really special.

Several tracks on the album seem to carry personal and meaningful stories, such as ‘Pianos In The Snow’ and ‘The Ballad of Margaret Reed.’ Could you share more about the significance of these tracks and the stories behind them? 

“Piano’s In The Snow” is based on a collection of anecdotes from my mom’s life before I was born. She’s always been a big inspiration for me, so it was inevitable that she’d make her way into a song at some point! She was a science teacher during her career, and in 1991 she went on a school tour to Moscow as the Soviet Union was still falling. Some of the students swapped their jeans and Nike jumpers with uniforms from the disbanding soldiers, which I thought was an amazing image, so that’s what I’m referring to in the second verse. “The Ballad of Margaret Reed” is a song I wrote from the perspective of a real woman who was accused of being a witch and was burned at the stake in King’s Lynn in Norfolk in 1590. I wanted to give her a voice, and in a way, this song is a mourning for that terrible period of history that still ripples through to today.

Congratulations on being listed in The Irish Times’ ’50 People to Watch in 2024′ and the RTÉ Radio 1 Folk Awards. How do you feel about the recognition, and how has it impacted your musical journey so far? 

It’s obviously very nice, but I never want to put too much weight on that kind of thing. I would be making music, whether or not I was getting any recognition (as I have been for years!) Being awarded for things and getting good reviews is great, but I think those things should be far from your mind when creating good work.

With the release of “Yellow Roses” and the upcoming tour, what are your future plans and aspirations as a folk artist? Are there any collaborations or projects you’re particularly excited about? 

I’m excited to be playing some shows and festivals in Ireland and Europe this summer, and then honestly I’m excited to getting back to writing. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process, so I’m looking forward to sketching out ideas for my next project. We’ll see what happens!

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