Foy Vance Will Blow You Away

Kirsten Kearney interrogates the man with the oddest name in music

'Homebird' mp3
'Gabriel & the Vagabond' video

So, is Foy an abbreviation? We’re thinking Alfonso, descended from Italy?

'[Laughs] No. I think it’s after St Foy of Bordeaux [blank silence on the telephone]. You know, the historic figure in France?

'I think it’s also a wine. More weirdly it’s Dutch for 'a tip'. Someone found me some skins, you know, roll up papers, called 'Foy'. I have no idea what my parents were thinking of.'

You’ve been in the US with lots of NI singer songwriters.

'Yes, a whole crowd of us - Iain Archer, Duke Special, Oppenheimer. Two of my songs, ‘Homebird’ and ‘Gabriel and the Vagabond’ were used on the TV series Gray’s Anatomy, so the US audience is primed for the music.'

What made you move from NI to London?

'At the time, everyone was in London. My record label. All my people and the gigs. I think it’s easy to build an empire in Belfast and it can be a nice safe environment. It suits some people but sometimes there’s a problem with headspace in NI. We’d got to the stage where we felt we needed repotted. We moved to London to live on the breadline and see what happened. As it’s turned out we’ve gone from strength to strength.'

On your blog you recently you wrote the following words:

'I've always known how beautiful Belfast is, but I don't think I fully appreciated it until I left. Is it like this for everyone, or is it mainly Irish artists? Every Irish artist that writes about, sings about or paints the beauty of Ireland seems to be someone that has long since left its shores.'

So are you tempted to move back to Belfast?

'I don’t think so. I’m happy where I am. I used to be more of a homebird, but I’m not that sentimental anymore.'

Vance has just spent 3 weeks living as a hermit in a remote cottage in the Mourne Mountains, with no telephone or internet - just a guitar, drums and recording equipment for company.

Why did you retreat to the Mournes?

'I find playing in a studio a bit surreal. It’s all very prescriptive. Like if you stay after 10pm they start charging you through the nose, so it’s hard to be spontaneous.

'Parts of this album were recorded at 10am, other parts at 3am. If you have your own space you can record on your own terms.'

Why do you produce your own work?

'Well, I brought in Sam Johnson, Peter Gabriel’s assistant engineer, but I like the feel of doing your own producing. It’s unadulterated.'

Vance is famed for finding strange corners to record in to get the sound he wants. Broom cupboards, underneath pianos and toilets seem to feature prominently. He even has an EP entitled The Birth of the Toilet Tour...

'It’s never the same process twice. I churn out songs constantly. I’m always recording something on my phone. A melody, a line, a rhythm or beat. These days, the age of the generic band is leaving. At least for me. Some bands' material sounds the same and they get into a rut.

'But now that you can download specific tracks, people are becoming more choosey. It's more important to have variation in your work.'

What labels have people put on your music?

'Chrissie Hind once said that there are only two types of music: good music and bad music. I don’t differentiate between the genres and don’t really see the point in it.

'I’m into punk, jazz, blues, country, gospel... you can’t be the son of a preacher man without those feelings drifting into your music.

Do people try to pigeonhole you as a Christian artist?

'I’ve never come across it. Maybe it’s a NI thing. For me, ‘Christian’ is a bit of a hateful term. It has so many connotations. I have no time for religion. Religion kills what faith births. But I am interested in issues of faith. I think people should sing about something. But yeah, I reckon I am destined for Paisley to be dancing round angrily outside a gig of mine, someday.'