I wanna make loads of money,” howls Rory Nellis with a handful of gravel, a hint of age, “to justify all this time.”

His opening outburst on this new record exists alongside the type of sustained feedback / acoustic strums combo which made multi-millionaires of the Followills. Just 20 seconds in and Written & Underlined sounds very bold indeed.

Previously, Nellis downplayed his own ability. ‘There Are Enough Songs in the World’ was the lead single and title track on his previous record, during which you got the impression he’d happily permit taking or leaving what he had to offer. This time around – throughout an expansive, sublimely produced, detailed and thoughtful collection of songs – he’s given up on indifference, choosing instead to attempt and drag you right onboard.

It helps that every word is believable. On ‘Video Shop’ – a straight-up, unashamed country ballad – Rory speaks for us all.

I wish that I could go back in time – and take it less for granted.” Of course you do!

Later, he’ll unveil the joy of simple pleasures – specifically escaping this decade’s horror with a cosy movie seen so many times one can “shout out all the good lines”. Again – we all know the feeling. Comfort in the snatches of familiarity we have left.

Rory Nellis by Joe Laverty

‘The Fear’ is wonderfully confused, dinky and sweet despite the song’s theme. Rory’s declaration “we’re all in this together… everything is going to be alright,” feels unconvincing, which we can assume was the intention. Later, on ‘Old Town Revelry’ there’s real heartache, encouraging the finest vocal performance of Rory’s output to date.

Finally, ‘Be the Sea’ guides us towards some kind of conclusion. “Be the sea, stronger than oxen….be the cheetah, gone in a second.”

As advice, it lands as if from someone who’s been there, done that – yet barely survived. The poignancy – especially throughout the “another day, another chance gone begging” refrain – helps make this the standout on a fine album. The stand-out from Rory’s notably solid output to date, in fact.

It’s an incredible end to an engaging record both musically and lyrically. Perhaps the lack of a proper playlist friendly hit – of sorts – could keep Nellis a relative secret, shielding him from the huge acclaim he deserves as a songwriter. But this is a record with a long tail – charm and subtle charisma ensuring it will age very well.

I wanna be remembered… in time” sang Nellis, back on that opening track. In fairness, that at least feels like a given.

Rigsy

 

Q&A with Rory Nellis

On the title track, ‘Written & Underlined’, you consider giving up on music. How come?

That’s a bit of a narrative of the whole album. It’s where I was in my head four or five years ago. I was thinking that that time to push it properly has passed – I’ve missed my chance there. ‘I’m too old, basically’, was what I thought.

Then in 2019 I went to Nashville for a week. I played the Bluebird Café. It was a life-changing experience. I realised then that I could do it. I could stand up against these other songwriters and hold my own.

That was an epiphany moment and I decided I wasn’t too old to give it a good go. And then me being me, I decided that if I’m gonna do it, then I’m gonna try and do it right. So I threw everything into doing it and doing it properly. I had a new-found desire to make this my job.

Rory Nellis by Joe Laverty

‘Video Shop’ is one of the stand-out tracks on the record. Very powerful and there are references in the lyrics to life during the pandemic.

You can actually hear my voice is quite emotional. I was welling up myself when we went to record the vocal. That’s real. It hit me like a freight train. It all came flooding in.

You mention some characters in the song – Mark and Jack. Are they real?

At the start of the pandemic, my friend Mark dropped around with a home-baked sourdough bread. Everyone was baking. They say it’s as easy to make two as it is one. So Mark and my son Jack had a chat over the wall in the garden. Mark’s a DJ. I’ve known him from school.

You finish the record with ‘Be the Sea’. That’s quite the farewell.

Funny enough, I had ‘Bumper Sticker as the finale, in my head. Which is why it’s nearly the finale. And then when we came to mix of ‘Be the Sea’ and the way it came out, with all the vocals and the big strong, loud ending, it was obvious. It sort of wrote itself in that way, in terms of the order.

A beautiful surrender, you might say.

Yes, there’s a sort of an ‘into the sunset’ kind of vibe to it.

(Rory was talking to Stuart Bailie)

 

This review is featured in Issue 7 of Dig With It magazine, out February 4 2022. Please support the efforts of Dig With It by buying the issue or subscribing. More information at this link.

 

This is the season of the Vigilante Cannibal Nun. Her name is Maggie Murtagh and she’s made an online visitation from the Irish famine, feasting on the raw innards of clergy, nobility and English soldiers. She wears hip-hop bling and commits heretical acts. She channels trauma and terror and often, she’s as funny as all get-out.

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In her novels to date, the Belfast writer Jan Carson has always explored overarching themes of trauma and guilt in inventive and witty ways, often through the voices of children. In her debut novel Malcolm Orange Disappears, her 11-year-old protagonist begins to literally vanish because of the stress of his difficult family life. In her critically acclaimed second novel The Fire Starters, which won the EU Prize for Literature, two very different fathers in Belfast wrestle with concerns for their children against a backdrop of fire and the threat of violence.

Her themes and distinctive magic realist style coalesce in The Raptures, her hugely engaging new novel which tells the story of Hannah Adger, an awkward and quiet 11-year-old, whose life – and the lives of all everyone in her small town of Ballylack – is thrown into chaos when her classmates start to get ill and die. Hannah’s main problem is that her classmates are paying her visits after they are dead and while the local community tries to figure out what is causing their deaths, Hannah struggles to tell her Evangelical Protestant parents about her ghostly visitors, while facing the knowledge that death might also be coming for her.

Jan Carson photo by Stuart Bailie

Carson, a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast but originally from Ballymena, perfectly captures small-town life and her use of idiom and vernacular adds an immediacy that roots her characters and her narrative firmly in a very particular place.

Just as Hannah is on the cusp of adulthood, Northern Ireland is on the cusp of peace and Carson navigates the personal and the socially changing worlds with a lightness of touch, exploring this most liminal of places with a welcome wit. “The people here are sick of death”, she writes, “This is Britain. Or this is Ireland. Or both. Or neither. Or its own institution, peculiar as a maiden aunt. Either way, it’s a civilised country. It’s been a whole two years since McDonald’s arrived.

The Raptures is a captivating novel, balancing warm humour and dark subject matter with a consummate ease. Carson’s distinctive style works to great advantage in this sharp exploration of the ongoing repercussions of the religious fundamentalism that continues to impact on life in Northern Ireland and the ramifications that has for a younger generation.

Cathy Brown

 

(This review is extracted for the upcoming, Issue 7 of Dig With It magazine, out on January 28. The magazine also includes a Jan Carson interview. The pre-order the magazine or subscribe, see here.)

 

 

In my time as Online Writer-In-Residence for the Irish Writers Centre I attended an open mic poetry night in Dublin. Slots for reading filled up well before the night itself and the room was packed. Queer poets read alongside straight and cisgender poets and I found myself alarmingly surprised at the ease of it, wondering why I had never, not once, as a straight cisgender person, been to a mainstream poetry evening in the North which featured poetry about queer lives, queer love, queer sex.

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Brian Smyth – Playlisted

December 7, 2021

Brian Smyth is a Green Party Councillor for the Lisnasharragh area in Belfast. In a previous existence, he fronted the band Dirty Stevie, releasing an album, A Beginner’s Guide To Levitation, in 2010. With this in mind, Dig With It put in a request for playlist and Brian obliged with his personal soundtrack.

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‘Holy Show’ is the first affirmative moment of the night and it’s the best. Pillow Queens putting a voice to difficult times, watching the replays and then walking out of the ruins.

We project our own feelings into songs of course and ‘Holy Show’ may have other readings. But for some of us, it became a soundtrack to lockdown and all of the self-examination we put on ourselves. It was about fading horizons and bad decisions but importantly, it also sang of escape and a life outside. ‘Holy Show’ was like ‘Born To Run’ or ‘Land’ or ‘Running Scared’. Every time you listened back, you could hear the glimmer of deliverance. Continue Reading…

In Issue 6 of Dig With It magazine, we profiled the shortlisted albums for the NI Music Prize. The list arrived shortly before the press deadline and with a further, dramatic stroke, the two additional public choices for album of the year came in at the very last moment.

You can order up the for Music Prize special in the magazine here. But here is the gist of it – a wonderful array of records, Nordy singularity, ambition and style.

Thanks to the Dig With It contributors whose reviews and interviews we quote from. Geat work, all.

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“So many people have Mike Edgar to thank for a life in music. He has been a true champion, mentor, driving force and friend to the musicians of NI. His enthusiasm has never waned and we are so delighted to make him our Outstanding Contribution to Music recipient for 2021.” 

Charlotte Dryden, CEO, Oh Yeah Music Centre

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Gender Chores play a version of ‘Brand New House’ by Mob Wife. Later in the night, Mob Wife play the song again, but somehow make it sound like Gender Chores. A tribute to a tribute. Everybody cheers. Good work, Bangers ‘N’ Mash (Ups).

Here’s something that flourished in the summer of 2020. It became an online album of pals and peers, respecting and reinventing each other’s work. Bangers ‘N’ Mash (Ups) raised funds for She Sells Sanctuary / Women’s Aid. It was a support network when gigs were impossible and it transmitted creativity and soul.

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Remember when Joshua Burnside put out a momentous album last year and we wondered how cool it would be if we ever witnessed it live? Well, here’s the time. It’s the first of three sold-out nights at the Sports Club, as Belfast gets weirdly to terms with unchecked, unmasked gigs in tight proximity to mates and musicians.

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