By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERUQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – June 25, 2015) — Irish singer, Foy Vance’s, father was a preacher, both in Ireland and the United States. And to say his son followed in his footsteps would be a slight misunderstanding. No, Foy didn’t enter the ministry; but, yes, he has the fiery soul of a preacher, and the vocal nuances and power of a pipe organ.
I approached Foy after his performance in Albuquerque at a small nightclub. “Foy, your dad was a preacher, wasn’t he,” I ask. “Yes, he was,” Foy responded. “I miss him very much,” he continued. I saw a genuine honesty in his eyes. “I bet you do,” I replied, having lost my father as well. Foy’s daughter stood close by, the heat of the evening upon us. We talked some more—about places to visit in the Southwest. And as I turned to walk away, Foy says, “Thank you, brother, I appreciate your kind words.”
I didn’t say anything back to him. I should have. Something like, “please continue to honor your dad, sing like he preached; continue to make the soul’s cry your aim.”
And If I know the music of Foy Vance, this will be his aspiration.
Born in Bangor, Northern Ireland, Foy Vance is a musical force. With hit records in Ireland and the UK, an award-winning documentary on the making of his album, Joy of Nothing, and a new live album recorded at Bangor Abbey, Foy has had a taste of success in Europe.
And more recently, Foy has opened up for Ed Sheeran, the British superstar, who often will close his concerts with Vance’s song, “Guiding Light.”
But as the Belfast Telegraph reported, “Celebrity attention is not something the boy who grew up in Bangor’s Breezemount estate would ever have imagined.
One of four sons, he was just eight months old when the family emigrated to Oklahoma in the US, where his father, a preacher with the American Church of Christ, was given the chance to build a new church.
“During the family’s five years there, he absorbed the rich musical traditions of the Midwest and he also recalls his father – ‘a fine singer and a great guitar player’ – sitting singing with him on their return to Northern Ireland.
“His musical genes also come from his grandmother, who used to record old hymns on tape for him to listen to.”
It was this mixture of Irish soul, Americana, and Blues/Gospel that a small group of us experienced in Albuquerque. Not only did Vance sing many of his notable works, he tossed in songs by Van Morrison, Kelly Joe Phelps, James Taylor, a hymn, and songs-in-progress.
Among this confluence of influences one thing rang clear: his impressive vocal range. One moment he’s singing like a rock star, the next like a Mississippian bluesman, then an impassioned Irish sean nós singer. It’s all there tucked away in the vocal chords of one man.
Vance began the concert at the keyboard singing the lead track from the album, Joy of Nothing (released February 2013), “Closed Hand, Full of Friend.” And then switching to guitar, Vance brought us along on a musical journey, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but always heartfelt.
In between songs he told stories and tested us with wry, Irish wit. He sang a song for us (an off-colored, but funny tune) that he recently sang in front of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. “Now you guys have something in common with them,” he joked.
Wearing shorts, a white t-shirt, flip-flops, and complemented by his notable flat cap and mustache, Vance looked more like a beachcomber than an Irish bard. But that didn’t stop this vagabond from treating the audience with kindness and charm.
When Vance asked if the concert was “what you expected,” a few people yelled out, “No. It’s much better,” Vance replied, “I’m honestly please to hear.” When guitar strings broke or went out of tune, he apologized for the infractions, stating, “you never know what to expect,” then proceeded to scare us with a holler. “You didn’t expect that did you?”
It’s not often that you get to witness a fine musician, songwriter, and performer in a small setting. But through this intimate venue, I noticed that much of what Vance did might have stemmed from those early years in church: fervent singing, hand clapping, the encouragement of group participation, and words inspired by life, loss, and love.
Out by his rented RV (which, he told us started to leak gas) I told Vance that he deserved more recognition than many of the people he preforms along side; that his songs pack passion and purpose. Foy looked at me, “Do I? Aren’t we all receiving a portion of what we give?” I stopped. Not what I expected, I thought.
As I drove off around midnight, I pondered his words. In his own way, Vance brought us to church, his small congregation of committed devotees, a place of giving and receiving. I’m sure he’d be making his father proud, continuing a ministry of love and longing, as delivered through the wonder of words and music.
To learn more, click here: http://www.foyvance.com/
Photo captions: 1) Foy Vance playing the keyboard in Albuquerque, New Mexico.2) Joy of Nothing by Foy Vance. 3) Foy Vance Live at Bangor Abbey. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist, Brian spends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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