Dublin, County Dublin, Leinster, Ireland
Niamh Parsons (born in Dublin, Ireland, 1958) is an Irish singer of contemporary and traditional music. In addition to her solo recordings, she released two CDs in the 1990s with her band Niamh Parsons & The Loose Connections (featuring her then husband David Dee Moore) and has recorded as Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne.
In 1996 Parsons sang with folk musician Jon Hicks on his album Chasing the Bear. She then toured extensively in Europe and the USA as Niamh Parsons & The Loose Connections, with the traditional group Arcady and with Dublin guitarist Graham Dunne, with whom she has been playing as Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne since 1999. She has also appeared solo at many festivals and venues in Ireland and Great Britain. Her 2002 album "Heart's Desire" won the 2003 Association for Independent Music award.
Parsons is one of the most distinctive voices in Irish music. Her voice has drawn comparisons to such venerated singers as Dolores Keane, June Tabor and Sandy Denny. The great Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher said of Parsons, "a songstress like her comes along once or twice in a generation."
It has been said that Parsons may not be the most famous Irish Balladeer, but many feel she's the best. Described in the Boston Herald as both emotionally haunting and tonally as clear as crystal, Parsons's albums have been 'must-have' collector's items for any lover of songs and singing. Parsons has recorded a series of studio albums and live albums. From 1999, Parsons has been playing in a duet with Ennis-based guitarist Graham Dunne as recorded as Niamh Parsons & Graham Dunne.
Growing up in Dublin, Parsons's music loving parents brought herself and her sister to the local folk club in The Old Shieling Hotel in Raheny, where the young girls were exposed to songs and singing from the likes of The Johnstons, Emmet Spiceland, Sweeney's Men, Dolly McMahon, Danny Doyle and many of the other musicians and singers that were playing in Folk clubs at that time. "My father was a great singer, and on long journeys the family used to sing in the car—I don't remember a time in my life when I was not singing—I love songs."
Parsons developed this love into a penchant for collecting songs. She is always on the lookout for songs that speak to her—listening to new albums, scouring the Traditional Music Archives in Dublin, sharing notes with a network of friends and other singers. Once she discovers a song she likes, Parsons views herself as the vehicle for the music. "For me the song is more important than listening to my voice," she says. "I consider myself more a songstress than a singer—a carrier of tradition."
Throughout her career, Parsons has performed with a wide variety of artists, and has appeared at nearly every prestigious folk festival on either side of the Atlantic. As a member of the traditional Irish band Arcady (led by De Dannan's Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh), she sang on their Shanachie recording Many Happy Returns. She appeared before President Clinton and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Capitol Hill, Washington, joined Grammy Award winner Paul Winter for an album and a summer concert in New York, and performed on "A Prairie Home Companion" when the show broadcast live from Dublin.
Parsons's recording career began as Niamh Parsons & The Loose Connections, her band of top-notch Belfast musicians she formed with songwriter and bass-player Dee Moore. The band recorded two albums of contemporary and traditional material together. Their debut recording, Loosely Connected (Greentrax, 1992) met with the highest of praise. A beautiful mix of traditional Irish and contemporary songs, it featured the memorable "Tinkerman's Daughter" and featured Brian Kennedy, piper John McSherry, guitarist Paul McSherry and a variety of wonderful Belfast musicians.
The second album, Loosen Up (Green Linnet, 1997), was another buoyant mix of originals and well-chosen contemporary ballads, like Brid Murphy's gorgeous "Clohinne Winds" and Tom Waits' "The Briar and the Rose," a powerful a cappella duet with Fran McPhail of the Voice Squad. Once again the album featured first-class musicians, including guitarist Gavin Ralston, world-renowned saxophone player Ritchie Buckley and Kilkenny accordion player Mick McAuley (now with Solas).
In 1999, Parsons took a bold step and returned to her roots with her first solo album, Blackbirds and Thrushes (Green Linnet) a collection of traditional Irish ballads gathered from over 15 years of Parsons's singing repertoire. In her words, "these songs are living in me." The album won instant acclaim as a welcome return to traditionalism. The Boston Globe declared that it "expressed the sorrow and longing of the Celtic soul more deeply than any within recent memory", and Irish Music Magazine called it "simply magnificent traditional singing."
At this stage, Parsons found her self alone, without a band, and called on the talents of her friend Graham Dunne. They formed a strong bond from the outset, and without doubt, he was the perfect foil for her voice.
Keeping in form, Parsons's next CD In My Prime (Green Linnet 2000) was another collection of mostly traditional material, and again received widespread praise. Folk Roots named it one of the top albums of the year and The Irish Voice called the album "a must-have disc for lovers of Irish song." The album was nominated for Album of the Year by BBC Radio 2 (UK) and the Association for Independent Music (US).
Over the next two years Parsons and Graham toured constantly, and Heart's Desire was released in 2002. This album furthers the tradition of Irish song with unadorned settings and heartfelt delivery. She gathered together a collection of songs drawn from both traditional sources and modern writers including Mark Knopfler and Andy Irvine. The talented musicians who play on the album include in addition to her main accompanist, guitarist Graham Dunne, accordionist Josephine Marsh and Dennis Cahill, who produced the CD, and calls it "her best work yet." Heart's Desire is dedicated to the memory of her father, Jack Parsons. "Daddy had a beautiful voice," says Parsons, "and a great ear for a good song."
In September 2005, Parsons and Dunne recorded a concert at the Fylde Folk Festival, in the UK, and released this as a live album Live at Fylde which features many favourite of Parsons's traditional songs, all on one album. The Old Simplicity is the latest CD to be released with Dunne. Produced by Dennis Cahill again this album contains songs of hunger, of danger, of death and defeat, and ultimately, of love.
This is a body of work that has proven Parsons one of the premier vocalists of her time and a keeper of the flame in Irish traditional song.
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