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On the Rise
Niamh Bury

18 April 2024, 11:00
Words by Jen Long

Photography by Ellius Grace

Irish singer-songwriter Niamh Bury transforms her love of language into captivating stories rooted in folk.

“I think I've always been really obsessed with language,” smiles Niamh Bury from her home in Dublin. “With my songs, lyrics are always the first place I go to, so I think my love of English Literature made its way in there.”

On her debut album Yellow Roses, Bury shows an extraordinary talent for weaving the most captivating and poetic tales from a wide range of influence and inspiration. Released through the newly revived Claddagh Records, a label steeped in Irish heritage, it's been winning acclaim far beyond her country’s borders.

Playing shows this week in the UK, including a trip to her former hometown of Norwich, it’s a chance for Bury to explore her intimate creations while platforming the traditional songs she grew up with. “In my live repertoire I will definitely mix in really old songs with my own songs,” she says. “On the album there's only one trad song in there, but live I tend to play more trad and I think there's a trad album in me as well.”


Growing up in the North of Dublin, Bury was surrounded by music. Her mum is a classically trained pianist and would always be playing around the house. “Her pride and joy is her baby grand piano in the living room,” she smiles. Her brother is a guitarist, her sister a classically trained opera singer, and her dad sings and plays guitar too.

Alongside the traditional Irish festivals she was taken to as a kid, she also developed a taste for rock and nu-metal, bands like Tool and System of a Down. “My big brother was great in handing down music to me, so I got a lot of grunge,” she says. “I was very into Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins and I came to Fiona Apple through him, who was a big influence for me. So it's all a melting pot of everything in there.”

Copy of 1 Niamh Bury WAITTH Credit Ellius Grace

After school, she attended music college but quickly dropped out, aware she didn’t want to train her voice in the same manner she’d seen her sister’s practice take. Instead she switched to a course in English Literature, making music with her brother and as a duo with a friend from school. “I was very aware of not wanting to train my voice in a formal way. I just liked the natural way my voice was and I didn't want to tamper with that,” she says.

After college, she moved to Norfolk to continue her studies with a masters in English Literature at UEA. After falling in love, she stayed in Norwich for three years, writing and performing her music, contributing to the city’s vibrant DIY scene. “It's pretty grassroots and people are just doing things for themselves, but there’s some great bands at the moment,” she says.


After moving back to Dublin, she again immersed herself in the city’s thriving scene, organising the traditional singing session The Night Before Larry Got Stretched. Prison-slang for hanged, the name borrows from an old local song. “Our session is very close to where the prison was, so that's why the name was chosen,” she explains. “It's really just a community space for people who are interested in traditional singing of all kinds. You don't have to be the best singer. It's really much more about just coming together and sharing our history and our songs.”

It’s that sentiment of continuing traditions that holds strong across Bury’s debut. Although only one of the tracks is based on a traditional song, she uses the genre’s roots as a starting point, spinning contemporary folk with a classical approach to create something that’s all-embracing. Similarly to labelmates ØXN, Bury’s music feels both progressive and protective.

On “The Ballad of Margaret Reed” she uses Norfolk folklore as inspiration for commentary on the treatment of women in modern day society. “There was a real woman in King’s Lynn who was burned at the stake and I was thinking a lot about the witch trials and that history and how it's still present today. I think there's still a lot of hatred of women,” she says. “Usually in folk songs, the woman will be the victim, whether it's of the murder or she's feeling very lovelorn. I like to choose songs in my own repertoire that subvert that as much as possible. I think traditional ballads, they're a way for women of our age to grapple with those themes a little bit.”

On Yellow Roses, Bury balances her formative alt-rock, classical and trad influences with her striking talent for language and storytelling, creating a captivating world of delicate, broad and striking folk songs. Tracks like debut single “Beehive” are poetic yet direct, the production a subtle and warm accompaniment to her arresting vocal. On album highlight “Pianos In The Snow” her intricate musicianship is laid raw against her imagery-heavy storytelling. It’s a record that grips with a tender touch.

Working with producer Brían Mac Gloinn of Ye Vagabonds, the two had been friends for a long time before he suggested they work together on bringing Bury’s songs to life. Starting the recording process towards the end of the pandemic, as restrictions were lifted but tours still cancelled, they pulled in friends from Dublin’s compact but rich pool of talent. The album features Ryan Hargadon on piano, Caimin Gilmore on double bass, Kate Ellis on cello and harpist Alannah Thornburgh. “It was a great selection of instruments and musicians and they're all absolutely incredible. I was kind of blown away that they were able to just take the songs and elevate them and it was a really fun experience,” says Bury. “It's something I wanted to do for a long time, so it was great to finally get the opportunity.”


Recorded at Black Mountain Studios in County Louth, it was a prime location to escape into her own creative world. “It's up on a hill and it's a residential studio, so you stay there, which was perfect,” says Bury. “You're just totally in it and you don't have to leave and go and see the outside world if you don't want to. It was really amazing.” The record was completed in 2022 and Bury was ready to self-release until local label Claddagh, famous for its archive of Irish heritage acts, was given a new lease of life and reached out.

Touring the UK this week, Bury is set to win over audiences just as she did with her debut performance at Ireland’s esteemed tastemaker festival Other Voices. “I've been watching that festival from afar since I was a kid, so it was a really big honour to go and play,” she smiles. We’re sure the feeling was mutual.

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