Thursday, December 1, 2011
A Sense of Dublin with Glen Hansard
In this week's "Cool Music Stuff on the Internet", I mentioned a new piece on NPR Music's World Cafe called Sense of Place, where the World Cafe folks will be taking a closer look at places around the world and their musical culture. The first installment takes a look at Dublin, Ireland, with all of its buskers and traditional music and pub atmospheres, in a remarkable piece that really shines a light on the unique musicality of this town (and the whole country for that matter).
World Cafe host David Dye interviewed Hot Press editor Niall Stokes and musician Conor O'Brien for this piece, but it is Glen Hansard's tour of the city that is the highlight. Glen Hansard, for those that may not recall, was the star of the film Once, which won critical acclaim and box office success. The film is circled around the music within it - and rightly so- "Falling Slowly" won Best Original Song at the Oscars.
Hansard has brought new glory to busking (the age-old ritual of musicians putting themselves out there for the world to see by performing on streets). In the film Once (written and directed by John Carney, who was the bassist in The Frames), Hansard plays a busker on Grafton Street, the main shopping thoroughfare in Dublin. He began his musical career in this manner, shown in this video from the NPR piece:
A born and raised Dubliner influenced by Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, he has appeared in two films: the aforementioned Once as well as The Commitments. He is also a member of two Irish bands: The Swell Season (with Once co-star Marketa Irglova) and Irish alternative band The Frames. Hansard founded The Frames in the early 90's and the band has enjoyed popular success in Ireland over the years, having released 10 albums.
After the success of Once, Hansard and co-star Marketa Irglova started The Swell Season. In a you-can't-make-this-stuff-up twist, Irglova and Hansard fell in love while filming, then formed The Swell Season which led to recording and touring - and a breakup, no doubt adding to their already electric chemistry. The Swell Season has released three albums (including the Once soundtrack), most recently the critically acclaimed Strict Joy in 2009.
Hansard has an all-or-nothing approach to singing. His version of how a song should be sung is not something seen often, with his strained neck muscles and vocal chords that sound as if they would snap if he held notes just one second longer. He strums his well-worn, full-of-holes guitar with such ferocity that one expects strings to break constantly, yet they somehow hold. It is this type of control - the ability to bring everything to the edge, then pull it back- that makes him a unique artist. Having wrapped up a summer tour with Eddie Vedder and a European solo tour, he is currently recording a solo album, to be released in 2012.
Here's some classic Glen, singing "Falling Slowly" with Eddie Vedder, The Swell Season covering a rousing rendition of Van Morrison's classic "Into The Mystic", and Glen Hansard busking with Damien Rice on Grafton Street in Dublin: