fri 14/06/2024

John Francis Flynn, The Dome review - new trad and taped tin whistles | reviews, news & interviews

John Francis Flynn, The Dome review - new trad and taped tin whistles

John Francis Flynn, The Dome review - new trad and taped tin whistles

A night of reinterpreted jigs and ballads from a rising star in Ireland's folk scene

'Consummate musicianship from the whole band was a great addition to Flynn’s voice'John Lyons

The Dome, as the opening act, Clara Mann noted, is a normally a heavy metal venue (black or dark purple tour bus parked outside, a long queue of piercings and mohawks). It was a lovely confounding of expectations, therefore, to stage Mann’s own plaintive “sad sad” guitar songs (her description) and John Francis Flynn’s inventive and reinterpreted trad folk here. 

Mann’s voice is beautifully clear, with just the right amount of ornamentation to simplicity, her accompaniment on guitar undercutting her songs without overwhelming their sparse, quietude. A highlight was a song she introduced cheerfully as "It Only Hurts", whose more complex melodies had echoes of something like Portishead’s sublimely constructed "The Rip".

John Francis Flynn’s set began with a swell of sound, a gentle bow drawn across double bass, playing into the first song on his new album (2023’s Look Over the Wall, See the Sky), "The Zoological Gardens", an Irish classic most famously played by The Dubliners. Set in Dublin itself, it is the prelude to an album that feels like a trip around the city looked at with new, critical, yet still fond eyes. It’s also a subtle example of the knowingly sexual, slightly nostalgic, and definitely seedier end of folk (see also "The Bonny Black Hare"). Followed by "Mole in the Ground" (itself an American classic), both songs are excellent demonstrations of the reinterpretation of these standards, Flynn’s deep voice cutting through double bass, guitars, drums, and electronic oddness, lending a stability to the shift into the new. 

The night was peppered with jigs, crashing through into trad and into something a little more hardcore, like "My Son Tim", which dissolved into discordant guitar at points. Flynn turned to the band and back again, softening again after the crescendo, ending in a mutter. His next, "Tralee Gaol’ (from I Would Not Live Always), was arguably his best, requiring him to play two taped-together tin whistles in absolutely astounding fashion, with not a note out of place. 

Throughout, consummate musicianship from the whole band was a great addition to Flynn’s voice: a mournful French horn and clarinet, a well-used double bass, and various percussion and guitars. The brass undercut a Christy Moore cover, "I Wish I Was in England", and the Shane MacGowan tribute, "Kitty". "Kitty" is a dreamy, soft song, demonstrating the mournfulness that infuses many of Flynn’s music. Between a number of these songs, Flynn told some great anecdotes in a sublimely deadpan voice, most notably about entering Katie Price’s dressing room during an adult pantomime in North Shields.

Flynn’s penultimate song before the encore, "The Seasons" was another in his folk/trad trip around the Western world, finishing up in Scotland. It swept between a soft snare, clarinet, and double bass, a touch of jazz, before another dissolution into a jig (accompanied by great whoops from the audience). 

The encores were two excellent end points – "Shallow Brown", from his first album, an aching lament for lost freedom; and the classic, "Dirty Old Town", a song (written by Ewan MacColl about Salford, funnily enough) that my Dubliner friend told me is the one that all the lads, drunk at the end of the night, gather together and sing terrible renditions of. I would (perhaps controversially) say that this was the best version that I have heard.

‘Kitty’ is a dreamy, soft song, demonstrating the mournfulness that infuses many of Flynn’s music

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters