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Award winning singer and multi-instrumentalist John Francis Flynn's new single ‘Mole In The Ground’ has just landed alongside news of his new album Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, to be released via River Lea Recordings on November 10th 2023.
A founding member of the band, Skipper’s Alley, with whom he has toured extensively throughout Europe and America. While supporting Lankum on their 2019 UK tour he caught the eye of Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee who quickly signed John to Rough Trade imprint label, River Lea. His debut album I Would Not Live Always subsequently won over critics across the board, including being MOJO magazine’s ‘Folk Album Of The Year’ and it led to him being crowned "Best Singer" and "Best Emerging Artist" at the 2021 RTE Folk Awards.
John Francis Flynn’s music evolves around traditional and folk material from Ireland, but that is only the starting point. On the first single from the album ‘Mole In The Ground’, a cover of an American anti-establishment folk song recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928, John evokes the rebellious energy he felt in his home of Dublin during a time when it was being “torn to shreds by property developers and vulture funds.”
As John explains, “I was drawn to this song for its almost hallucinatory, anti-authoritian spirit at a time when Dublin was being torn to shreds by property developers and vulture funds. Nothing much has changed there if I'm honest, but there's always hope when people are willing to fight for their communities. I wanted to get to grips with the rebellious energy I felt in the city through the jagged arrangement and to highlight the visceral language used in the song by speaking the lyrics as opposed to singing them.”
Often, to imagine Ireland is to fantasise about rolling hills, giants, saints and snakes. As John Francis Flynn says, it involves “a fair bit of paddywhackery and I hate paddywhackery.” The psyche-celtic album artwork for John’s second album Look Over The Wall, See The Sky, hints at this too though: a crystal goblet of luminous green Crème de Menthe resting upon a mossy ledge, perfectly encapsulating this imagined idea of Ireland in a way that is both funny and poignant. But, if you have to imagine Ireland in the first place, then you’re probably not too familiar with its reality: the towering glass giants of Google and Facebook, the unaffordable luxury hotels lining the Liffey amidst a homelessness epidemic and the highest rents in Europe.
To listen to Look Over The Wall, See The Sky is to witness history through a modern lens in a trance-like state. As expected, Flynn’s contemporary influences are sufficiently esoteric, from ‘The Heart Pumps Kool Aid’ by —__–___ to ‘The invention of the Human’ by Dylan Henner (a concept album about an AI learning to sing). However, he was also inspired by his contemporaries in the traditional music scene in Ireland, many of whom contributed to the album, as well as those outside of it, such as noise-rockers Gilla Band and Rising Damp.
Traditional music of course is not one-size-fits-all. Each song has its own story, history and characters which the singer must serve. “You can't sing all the songs. Well some people do. But you can tell if someone doesn’t connect with that song…” On the record’s closer, ‘Dirty Old Town’ by Ewan McColl, John takes a song that’s been “done to death”, strips it back, slows it down and unexpectedly adds brass, harking back to the working-class colliers bands of the early 20th Century. In his reimagining of the song, rather than intensifying it he does the opposite, offering a calm and grounding resolution to an otherwise otherworldly album.
On his last record, I Would Not Live Always, John was much more conscious of bringing acoustic instruments and weird synthesized sounds together as a concept. But now with his unique musical language fully formed, “I feel freer within that language to experiment and take it further without it being too conscious or premeditated”.
Instead, the songs seem to live somewhere in John’s subconscious, as he is often able to visualize exactly how they will sound before putting them down. With ‘Kitty’, (famously recorded by Shane MacGowan on The Pogues’ debut, ‘Red Roses For Me,’) John had already heard a version of this song structured loosely in his head involving a drone, a warped clarinet, and a simple Robert Wyatt-esque beat. The result is a two minute lament after which sudden distortion punctures through a wall of sadness before pulling back completely to just a singular drone.
The sonic landscape created through the unconventional use of instruments jagged arrangements often teeters on the edge of disharmony, but it gives the work a magnetism by drawing you into its curious orbit of experimental folk. John masterfully unpicks traditional songs and rearranges them with an emotional force that sometimes leaves them unanchored. They float in a surreal space between the past and the present, the analog and the digital, between love and tragedy. Look Over The Wall, See The Sky is an album concerned with imagination, but not only with what John calls, “an imagined Ireland,” but also the re-imagining of traditional Irish music and the hopeful fantasy of an Ireland that could exist ‘over the wall’: powerful, hopeful and free.
Press Reaction to John’s debut album I Would Not Live Always:
'his solo flight swoops and soars with the confidence'
The Irish Times
'Folk Album of the Year'
Mojo Magazine ****
'Human experience burns ferociously on this extraordinary debut from the uncompromising Irish artist John Francis Flynn. An extraordinary debut.'
The Guardian ****
'Double Tin Whistle and Tape-Loops. Revelatory new takes on English and Irish folk songs in the manner of Sam Amidon. A singular and striking clarity of vision…. An extraordinary debut by any standard.'
Uncut Magazine ****
'A distinct and innovative debut.'
Songlines **** Top Ten Album Of The Year
'Immediately evident that he is deserving of the acclaim.'