Live Music: Valerie June - DeBarra’s, Clonakilty


The concept of ‘West Cork time’ is easily explained: things tend to happen later than advertised.

Valerie June was on stage in Clonakilty’s legendary Debarras on Thursday right on schedule, but you get the feeling she knows about West Cork time. One of her songs is called ‘Tennessee Time’ and the sentiments in it appear to be similar — everything done in its own way, in its own time.

Now living in Brooklyn, June is imbued with the sound of the South, having moved from her native Humboldt to Nashville in Tennessee. She calls it “organic moonshine roots music”, but whatever it is, it held a packed Debarras spellbound on the first night of Clonakilty International Guitar Festival.

Petite, softly spoken and peering out from under a huge mound of hair, June is a true performer. The sounds conjured from her guitar, banjo or voice are accompanied by vigorous physical shakes and flourishes of her fingers.

Alone on stage, she plays the ‘Dust of the Dirty Rambler’ and tells the crowd that yes, she’s on her way home to Tennessee after the show. Revealing that she’s playing on borrowed instruments due to an airline error, she turns to the banjo for ‘The Drifter’, written in honour of her mother, and a spellbinding version of blues classic ‘Rollin and Tumblin’, delivered in the style of Rosa Lee Hill.

June’s performance is part of a festival now in its 11th year. However, while ‘guitar’ might be in the title, pretty much any instrument with strings on it — and some without — are celebrated in a town that, thanks to venues such as DeBarras and Shanleys, has long laid claim as one of Ireland’s music capitals.

This year’s line-up includes US rock outfit the Octopus Project, Iraqi multi-instrumentalist and oud virtuoso Khyam Allami, the Jeffrey Lewis and Peter Stampfel Band, and Irish acts such as the Minutes and Land Crabs. All will be doing well to match the bewitching sound made by the woman with the medusa hair from Humboldt, Tennessee.

Blues in a country style, or vice versa; whatever — it’s elemental stuff, leaving you convinced that a keening voice, a plangent blues chord and plucked banjo notes can be the most beguiling sounds in the world.

Noel Baker


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