This summer I attended the Fête de Rosette, in the Savoie region of France. A fledgling festival of Irish talents both established and fringe, Connor McCann was a highlight among his contemporaries – his Americana-infused balladry, married with the atmosphere of the Alpine valleys, was a treat for the senses. That’s not to say he’s any less enthralling when playing closer to home.
The influence McCann is having on the candle-lit folk sessions of Belfast’s music bars seems initially novel, but in fact has been brewing for some time. While the Glenravel-born artist has pedigree as frontman of disbanded alt-rockers Stonemasons, he’s turned his attention to folk music in the years since. With his band The Heroine Choir, comprised of Kira Topalian, Kristen Hansen and Solstice Ribiansky-Bihler (with serious vocals from each) they’re set to become a powerhouse of the city’s folk scene.
McCann’s been busy this year, with headline gigs at Belfast’s Madden’s, Sunflower and The American promoting his solo debut Without Wax. Releasing in March ‘24, three singles have been unveiled – ‘I Believe’ harkens to his Stonemasons stompers, while ‘Lady Rest’ and ‘Hard Times’ represent a change of focus. Lush cello melds into deftly-picked guitars, with McCann’s vocal chops being star of show. Hozier is a clear inspiration, but notes of Guy Garvey and Mark Kozelek indicate he can belt out singalongs and introspective heartbreakers both. There’s more on the horizon, with talk of conceptual EPs at the end of the Without Wax tour that will further involve his Heroine Choir bandmates.
Years of experience bring quiet confidence to his songs, and an earnest attitude to songwriting that contrasts his powerful playing. On stage and in a songwriter’s circle, one unifying feature of his performance is his ability to rouse the room into chorus – McCann will rarely find himself singing alone. Aaron Hamilton
Photo by David McEneaney