Singer embraces movement and visual performance as she embarks in a new theatrical direction, says Padraic Killeen
In the nine years since her debut album, 13 Songs, won the Choice Music Prize, Julie Feeney has restlessly sought new ways to evolve as an artist.
Her second album, Pages, with its lush chamber-pop broke her in the mainstream and brought her to international attention.
Yet, rather than follow it up with more of the same, she took a left turn with her wonderful third album Clocks in 2012, a unique and disarming collection of pop treasures that blended her choral singing style, traditional instruments, and a dash of beguiling minimalism.
Promoting the latter album, the Galway girl even scored her music for 10 different choirs in 10 different towns.
Unsurprisingly, her new endeavour pushes her to the creative edge once more.
Feeney is currently on a 13-night residency in Project Arts Centre where she performs solo in The Girl Who Believed in Magic, an intriguing mix of theatre and musical performance that features songs from each of her three albums as well as fresh material.
— Project Arts Centre (@projectarts) March 28, 2015
The show has been devised with the assistance of director Mikel Murfi, one of the country’s most thrilling physical theatre artists, and it’s inspired by Feeney’s life and music.
“I found this cardboard sign for a magic show that I had made when I was five,” explains Feeney.
“And that’s something I did. I used to make magic shows as a child. I had magic sets and I’d invite people in and there was a fee at the door. I even had an assistant — my brother. So when I found this old bit of cardboard I couldn’t believe it was completely intact and I knew that this was a sign — I had to make a show about the girl who believed in magic.”
This motif of magic is the frame for the new show.
“You come in and you see this girl preparing to do a magic show,” says Feeney. “There’s a narrative arc with different threads running through it and hopefully I bring you on a journey. It’s pure performance.”
As it weaves its way through Feeney’s back catalogue, meanwhile, the show teases out the recurrent theme of love in her music.
— Sheila Ahern (@SheilaPAhern) March 29, 2015
“That was the great thing about working with Mikel Murfi,” she says.
“He had the job of analysing what I was actually spouting on about. It sounds like therapy but it was funny. And I couldn’t believe the amount of songs that were about love. And you always think that you’re not writing about love. You think you’re writing about loads of other things. But, actually, an awful lot of my songs are about love, but in the sense of love as a search for magic.”
Among the songs Feeney is revisiting in the show are hits like ‘Impossibly Beautiful’ but also much loved album tracks such as ‘Imperfect Love’ and ‘Life’s Nudge’.
Meanwhile, though there has always been a striking theatrical element to her style, she is more fully embracing movement and visual performance.
“Mikel came to see me in Wexford and he said ‘I can’t wait to get working on you,’” she laughs.
“He felt I needed a lot of work movement-wise. And we did an awful lot of physical work and I’m using the whole stage. And that’s what I wanted. I have dabbled in contemporary dance in the past and I did ballet when I was small. But in terms of developing as an artist this was the next stage. To have just gone straight into a new album, that would have been too one-dimensional. But this is an area that I definitely want to develop as an artist.”
Fans awaiting the follow-up to Clocks needn’t worry, however. Once she’s finished with The Girl Who Believed in Magic, Feeney plans to launch herself into recording the new record.
“The next one is going to have things that I’ve never done before. In the new material I’ve written for this show there’s a definite hint about the direction of the new album. I think people will be going, ‘Oh, my God’. People will be taken aback, I think.”
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