25 Feb 2024

‘The wind whistling you in behind the springtime’: celebrated Irish musician Lisa O’Neill

From Culture 101, 1:07 pm on 25 February 2024
Lisa O'Neill

Lisa O'Neill Photo: supplied

Acclaimed Irish singer songwriter Lisa O’Neill has been enjoying some wider attention lately for two reasons. Firstly, a spellbinding rendition of ‘Fairytale of New York’ sung alongside Glen Hansard at the funeral of her friend Shane McGowan. And secondly for her cover of Bob Dylan's ‘All the Tired Horses’ on the last ever episode of popular TV series Peaky Blinders.

Yet, the real magic of O’Neill’s work is found in her own songs. Her live performances and her fifth album, 2023’s All of This is Chance are seeing her singled out as one of today’s great folk singers - by critics and fellow musicians, ranging from U2’s The Edge to Iggy Pop. 

There’s an organic, hypnotic poetry in O’Neill’s plaintive voice and distinctive approach to writing that feels true and heartfelt. It’s as if, spellbound, she weaves words in the air as a painter might commune with nature through paint. 

It’s an approach steeped in oral culture and history. There’s the sense, she tells Culture 101’s Mark Amery, that the music is moving through her, not from her. 

As she writes in ‘Old Note’, the first single from All of This is Chance,:

“The wind whistled you in behind the springtime
Float, Old Note, new among my mind
You hold the note, the note just moves to move mine
Let go the note and so move everything”

Lisa O’Neill spoke to Culture 101 from Australia where she has been touring, ahead of appearing at WOMAD in Taranaki with concertina player Cormac Begley, 15-17 March.