Music of Northern Irish Origin

Organiser Foy Vance on the two-day MONIO & Friends festival

What has life been like for Foy Vance since the release of debut album, Hope?
Making albums is like being a farmer. I thought I'd just plant the seed and let it grow organically, but in this day and age you've got to do the watering and the harvest whilst trying to plant the next thing. So 'busy' would be the most concise answer.

I've done some music for a few short films. I've been working in NYC with the Roots, doing some gigs and getting ready for a collaboration album with them. I've also been working on an album with David Holmes, which is going very well. I'm writing to you from my studio in London where I'm meant to be focusing on writing news songs for said project.

Have there been any particular highs on the journey? Festival appearances, collaborations, meetings with the stars?
Playing the Highline Ballroom in New York City last month with the Roots was a real high. Mainly because it was a real challenge. I had to get up after 13 heavy-hitting rappers had taken to the stage, and there was no discussion of what I was to do. I had to just hope that the groove they were in was in a decent key for me to sing something over it. Meanwhile you've got 1,000 people looking on in bewilderment at the only white face on the stage. You could hear them all thinking 'please don't be an Irish Eminem!' When I sang and the key was good, everybody was relieved. It made it extra special.

Are there any plans for records to follow?
I've just released two limited edition EPs which amount to an album. I plan to release my gig with the Ulster Orchestra later this year, and of course the two albums I'm working on with the Roots and David Holmes will be out next year. I'm not sure which will come first, though. If I can find time I might release another couple of limited edition EPs early next year.

What is Monio & Friends 2009?
MONIO & Friends 2009 is a mini festival, a humble beginning if you like, showcasing Music of Northern Irish Origin (MONIO) but also some friends that we've meet along the way from all over Ireland and the UK.

Where did the idea come from?
The original idea came from a guy called Steve Jones, a Bangor musician who's played with everyone from Dead Can Dance and Air to Brian Eno and Herbie Hancock. He, like a lot of people, saw the wealth of talent coming from Northern Ireland alone and thought it should really be celebrated. He then came up with MONIO; a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on MOBO (Music of Black Origin).

The idea was to acknowledge NI music and artists in a way that compliments the Ulster approach to life, namely, not too serious and often taking the mick. For example, next year we plan to have an awards ceremony where the idea is to give out at least one Life Time Lack of Achievement award.

What kind of acts will be playing? Is there variety or is Monio more concerned with rock/pop?
Monio is concerned with good music, which can come from anywhere. At the festival we have indie, rock, acoustic, jazz, classic singer-songwriters, spoken word artists and DJs. The cross section of the line up is amazing for such a small first event: from David Holmes to Polar Bear, from Iain Archer to Ed Zealous, from And So I Watch You From Afar to the 4 of Us, the Lowly Knights and Cashier No9.

Some people may be cynical towards such an idea. Granted NI boasts some major artists, and a host of lesser known acts. But is there enough talent to warrant such a showcase?
There's absolutely enough talent to warrant this event and more. The idea is not to get carried away here, it's merely trying to support what's happening in Northern Irish music. Putting on some gigs, raise a bit of money and help younger bands coming up through the ranks, so to speak.

I get excited by our lineage and looking to what might be next. Also, when you look at our population and the amount of great artists and bands we've produced or are producing, it's quite something. It's well worth celebrating - as long as we don't end up taking it too seriously, of course. It's another reason for a knees-up. 

There are some big names playing the inaugural event. As an organiser yourself, did it take a lot of persuasion to secure names like David Holmes, or did the line-up take to the idea from the get go?
It didn't take a lot of persuasion at all. All we had to do was explain the ethos behind what we're doing. That was enough for people to commit to it, even though it's just an intimate event.

Why choose the King's Head (in Belfast) as the venue?
The festival was originally going to be in a field or a marquee but Steve, Paul Hamilton and I thought the first venture should be a more intimate affair. Like a house party, but with some of the best artists that NI has to offer. There are only 400 tickets per day. We've also got the Master Distiller from Bushmills Whiskey factory coming to lead us in a grand scale tasting, and I reckon 400 people on whiskey is safer than a whole festival crowd... not that we won't be drinking sensibly.

Can visitors to Monio look forward to a Foy Vance guest appearance?
I have a gig in September at the Open House Festival, so I'm not allowed to do a gig in Belfast before that. But you never know, eh? Be there or be wick.

Lee Henry

The MONIO Festival takes place at the King's Head, Belfast, August 1-2. Click here to book tickets.