All Naked Flames
Sullem Voe has Garbhan Downey revelling in a fiery new album with a long-lasting burn
It’s important to preface this review by stating that I’m already pretty well-acquainted with Sullem Voe’s Rory Donaghy. In the not-too-distant past, he’s kicked me around more football pitches than John Terry has had hot strippers. I mean ‘suppers’.
I was aware too of Donaghy’s skills as a musician and vocalist, from his days duetting with Deccy McLaughlin (Whole Tribe Sings) in the early 1990s. And I knew, of course, of his talent as a producer, having enjoyed and admired his work with the Undertones, folk legend Eamon Friel, and a host of new Irish guitar bands.
What I didn’t expect, however, was that Donaghy would also be a first-class composer and lyricist. But by the time I’d finished listening to All Naked Flames for the third time, my only thought was how long would it be before I am boring my children with my stories about how I once bled all over Donaghy’s boot, the way I currently bore them with stories about learning the riff to 'Nights in White Satin' from Peter ‘D:Ream’ Cunnah, and my interview with Nadine Coyle...
Sullem Voe’s new album, not to overstate it, is a master-class in rock music, from easy-listening to hip-hop to grunge. It is beautifully scored, intelligently scripted, funny and sad, bitter and sweet. It is an album that, if it ever finds its way into the hands of a semi-decent Hollywood TV producer, will be providing soundtracks to your favourite US imports for years to come. It contains something for everyone - as the notes say, from ‘sugar to sulphuric acid’.
And yet, for all that, it’s also essentially Irish. The soft lament, 'How Come', samples voice-clips from Radio Free Derry in the 1970s, including speeches from Eamonn McCann and Paddy ‘Bogside’ Doherty. And Mary Dillon’s lilting Dungiven voice lends an extraordinary dimension to the album’s standout track - the sweet, uplifting finale, 'Satyr’s Lullaby'.
But in fairness, Flames is riddled with quality throughout – and its symphonic track arrangements mean that single songs work supremely in their given sequence, as part of the whole.
That’s not to say that they don’t impress as a standalone features. I particularly loved 'Homeland', a quirky and humorous piece that could sit easily on a Talking Heads best-of collection. 'Fresh Hell', in turn, is a classic retro-heavy anthem. And the guitar line to 'The Lonely Planet' will have Glen Frey wanting to give up his day job.
But the mark of a truly great song, as John Peel once noted, is that you want to hear it again and again.
Only once in my adult life have I ever finished a book and immediately started it again – Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark.
And it is, I’m sure, at least 20 years since I knew I wanted to listen to a new song again before it even ended; the Pogues’ Rainy Night in Soho was the last that did it for me.
But then this week, I heard 'Satyr’s Lullaby' for the first time. And, well, you know the rest. Try it yourself. You’ll thank me.
Sullem Voe will be playing at the 'Derry for Haiti' concert at Bound For Boston on Thursday, February 25. Simultaneous gigs will also take place at the Nerve Centre, Sandino's and Mason's. Other confirmed acts include Triggerman, Skruff, Futurechaser, Vox Pops, Flying Castros, Furlo, We Are Resistance and Deccy McLaughlin. Tickets, which are good for all four venues, cost £8.00 at the Nerve Centre - although you can donate more if you wish.