Niamh Parsons is one of the freshest and most powerful voices out of Ireland today. The great Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher says of Niamh, “a voice like hers comes along once or twice in a generation.” Likened to such singers as Mary Black, Dolores Keane or the late Sandy Denny, Niamh’s smoky, silken voice stands on its own on traditional Irish or contemporary pop songs.
Born and raised in Dublin, Niamh (pronounced “Neeve”) was surrounded by music from an early age. She and her sister learned traditional Irish songs and harmonizing from their father, who instilled in them the joy of singing. “Daddy has a beautiful voice,” says Niamh, “and a great ear for a good song.”
As a young woman, she came upon a traditional song session at Dublin’s Brazen Head Pub, where she expanded her repertoire. Gerry “Banjo” O’Connor heard her there, asking her to join the band Killera, with which she sang for two years. In 1989, she was invited by Mike Scott of The Waterboys to sing with him at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.
Niamh’s meeting with Belfast musician Dee Moore led to a partnership in both music and life. The songwriter and bass-player found in Niamh a perfect voice for his songs. With their band of top-notch Belfast musicians, The Loose Connections, Niamh and Dee were invited to play the Edinburgh (Scotland) Folk Festival. Ian Green of the Celtic label Greentrax heard Niamh sing at an Edinburgh club, and offered her a recording contract on the spot.
Niamh’s debut recording, Loosely Connected (Greentrax 1992, Green Linnet 1995) met with the highest of praise. A beautiful mix of traditional Irish and contemporary songs, it featured what would come to be Niamh’s signature song, the stunning “Tinkerman’s Daughter.” Produced by Vinnie Kilduff, the album had a cast of hand-picked Belfast musicians many of whom have become stars in their own right, including Brian Kennedy, piper John McSherry (Lúnasa, Coolfin), accordionist Alan Kelly, and session players from the bands of Van Morrison and Mary Black.
One month after the release of the album, renowned bodhran player Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh of De Dannan fame heard the disc, and invited Niamh to join his traditional Irish band Arcady, as singer Frances Black was leaving to pursue a solo career. Niamh is still a member of the band, and appears on their Shanachie recording Many Happy Returns.
Touring with both her band The Loose Connections and Arcady, Niamh has appeared at festivals around the world, including Tönder (Denmark), Gasport (UK), Schaffhiusen (Switzerland), Wolfenbottle (Germany), The Hong Kong Folk Festival, and in America at The San Francisco and Dallas Celtic festivals, and the Edmonton and Calgary (Canada) Folk Festivals.
Niamh’s first record was released in America on the Green Linnet label, followed up by a worldwide recording deal with the label. Her second album, Loosen Up (Green Linnet, 1997) was another buoyant mix of Moore’s originals and well-chosen contemporary ballads, like the gorgeous “Cloinhinne Winds” and Tom Waits’ “The Briar and the Rose,” a powerful a cappella duet with Fran McPhail of the Voice Squad. Once again the album had first-class musicians, including guitarist Gavin Ralston (Mike Scott, Sharon Shannon) and young Kilkenny accordion player Mick McAuley (now with Solas).
1999 saw Niamh with a brilliant new release of traditional Irish ballads, called Blackbirds and Thrushes. The collection of songs span over 15 years of Niamh’s singing repertoire. She has painstakingly collected and researched the history of each song, creating an album that is a deep reflection of her. In Niamh’s own words, “these songs are living in me.”
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.